The Châtelaine

wpamin_crpTales from the Past

There was a state of tension in the palazzo. Considering the circumstances it was reasonably quiet, however at regular intervals the screaming voice of Contessa Maria Sant Gatto shattered the silence.

“Let me warn whoever it is that whoever stole my châtelaine is going to pay for it dearly. I will not tolerate thieves in my house. It’s prison for you whoever you are. I am giving you till midday to put it back otherwise this house will be swarming with police. The Commissioner is my friend and he will know who is telling lies. He will examine each and every one of you. Do you hear me you little thief. You will not escape.”

The Contessa often wore her beautiful gold châtelaine. Attached to it were some items of great value both in real terms and also in sentimental ones, and there was the key. The key opened the draw of her desk in which she always kept her jewellery. The ball was tomorrow night. She had to get to her emeralds. She was not prepared to break into the marquetry bureau that had belonged to Grand Master Manuel de Rohan. A terrifying thought crossed her mind – had they been stolen too?

The clock finally struck twelve and, in came the Count. “Maria,” he said, “the Commissioner is here and he has brought two special investigators to assist him. Please tell all the maids to wait outside my study.”

Within minutes Maria, Carmela, Antoinetta, Donatina and Giuseppa the maids had assembled to be followed almost instantly by Marianna the reliable old cook and her assistant Fioretta – and Coronella the seamstress. The gardener, who was not allowed into the house anyway, was spared the ordeal, but Elia, who usually ran messages, was also put into the queue outside the Count’s study. When the three police officers scrutinised this mixed assembly, three maids were crying out of sheer terror and the old cook looked angry. It was she who spoke, “If you have done nothing wrong,” she said, “there is nothing to be afraid of. The Police will catch the guilty one.”

The Commissioner had a very gentle manner and asked the youngest into the study. His first words were, “Please sit down.”

“What! Do you mean me?” she answered.

“Yes. Now tell me, what is your name?”

“Antoinetta, Sir.”

“When did you last see her ladyship’s chatelaine?”

“Last night, when I was turning down the bed.”

“Where was it exactly?”

“On her bedside table.”

“Was anybody with you?”

“Yes, Maria.”

“Anybody else?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Thank you. You can go now. Please call Maria.”

Maria’s answers were the same as Antoinetta’s. When asked where she last saw the gold chatelaine, she answered that she had seen it on the edge of the bedside table. The Commissioner thanked her and asked to see nobody else. He then rose and left the room with his investigators. “Madam,” he said, “Please may we enter your bedroom. Is it convenient?”

“Yes, yes,” said the Countess.

The Commissioner assessed the situation. He looked around the room. He looked at the bedside table. He examined the great four-poster bed which was supported on four very flat bun feet – this meant that the bottom of the bed was only two inches off the ground. He tried to look under. As he got there, all he saw was darkness and a great flush rose to his head. He got up again with the help of his assistants. “Right,” he said, “we must move the bed!”

“Impossible,” said the Countess, “It will have to be dismantled. You will need at least four strong men.”

“I have four strong men,” said the Commissioner.

The investigators took their jackets off and asked the two constables waiting outside to come and help. Slowly the curtains came down; then the heavily carved rectangular frieze supported on four columns; then the thick barley sugar walnut columns. The four men tried to move the remainder of the bed, but to no avail. In came the gardener and his brother and four of the stronger maids, and, all together, the bed moved across the room. Almost right in the middle where it had been was the gold châtelaine.

The Countess screamed. “Who did this?” she said.

The Commissioner answered with a look of triumph, “It must have fallen and been accidentally kicked under the bed.”

“You are so clever,” said the Count to the beaming policeman.

On the evening of the following day the Countess unlocked the de Rohan escritoire and wore her emeralds, with perhaps greater satisfaction than ever before.