Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ruby's Ring

© Ruby’s Ring

            It was in a small, dark, little shop in a laneway just off the Portobello Road in London 1950 that Robyn found her greatest treasure. Nestled in among the antique galleries, the little shop was actually a pawn-cum-junk shop that had the intriguing name: The Junque Emporium. A bit pretentious, Robyn thought to herself, but then again...weren’t they all? She pushed the door open and the unmistakeable smell of age assailed her senses, whilst the tinkle of the bell made her wince. “Oh God,” she said aloud, “now someone will know I’m inside!”

            “Don’t you worry dearie, I won’t disturb you, take some time – that’s something I’ve got plenty of, ha ha!” An old man’s voice with a trace of something foreign came from the dark interior and startled Robyn.
            “Oh th-thank you,” she stammered. Robyn had lost her family in the Blitz and as a result was quite timid and withdrawn, “I’m just br-browsing.”

            In truth, Robyn had spied a small ring in the shop window, set with what appeared to be a small red ruby on a plain gold band. The shopkeeper, in turn, had actually seen her gazing in the window and being an old rogue with a keen sense of sizing up potential customers, knew the young woman had been looking at the ring. “Here’s a likely prospect”, the old man had said, licking his lips. “Come on dearie in you come; you know you want it!”

            Robyn poked about the shop in a somewhat perfunctory manner, thinking to herself that The Junque Emporium was well-named. Eventually, after rummaging about amidst the aged chinaware and other bric-a-brac, she returned to the counter where the old man stood leaning on the one hand whilst slowly turning over the pages of a newspaper with the other. “So would you like to try on zee ring my dear, it’s a charming little piece, is it not”?
            Robyn was taken aback, “H how, ah that is, did you know”...
            “That you were interested in zee ring?” By way of an answer, the old man brought up his forefinger and tapped the side of his prominent nose and winked at the young woman conspiratorially.
            Robyn was puzzled and said nothing. Time stood still and she had a momentary feeling that she had stepped back in time and was transported to a Dickensian novel; am I dealing with Fagin? She thought to herself, he certainly looks like Fagin with that hooked nose...“Well...yes I might be, but how did you...”?
            “Oh don’t worry about that dearie,” the old man said dismissively, waving his hand above his head, “I’ll just get it for you to try, no obligation”! And in the blinking of an eye he stepped to the end of the counter and plucked the ring in its little blue box out of the window. “It’s a fine unpretentious piece of jewellery,” he went on before Robyn could utter her usual ‘I’ll think about it’ and grabbing her right hand, slipped it on to her second finger. “There you are fits like it vas made for you and only fifty quid – what do you say”?

            Robyn was again taken aback, “F-f- fifty pounds? Oh goodness I couldn’t afford that sort of money; I’m sorry to have troubled you!” She hurriedly took the ring off, put in on the bench and started to make for the door.
            “Not so fast dearie, stay a minute, I’m a reasonable man; genuine rubies don’t come cheap you know and it’s a lovely little about forty?” The shopkeeper went into his full spiel, “I can see you’re a young lady of good taste and discernment.” “Be brave, rubies are the stone of courage...” Robyn had opened the door; “Well thirty then, I can’t do any better than that!” he called after her anxiously.

            Her interest was piqued but Robyn replied, “I...ah couldn’t afford anymore than twenty pounds, that’s more I make in a couple of months – I’m only a cleaning girl you know.”
            “How about twenty-five? And I tell you what, you could pay it off at zay 10 bob a week, ‘won’t take you long. Come on dearie, fortune favours zee brave! It’s a ruby ain’t it?” The old man had played his last gambit.
            “Well I should hope so!” said Robyn returning slowly to the counter, “Couldn’t you make it twenty...please sir?”
            “Oh all right then...twenty pounds! You’re robbing me blind, so you’ll have to pay fifteen shillings a week until zee account is clear – agreed?” The old man was irritated but he had to make a living; he pulled out a grubby sales book. “I’ll keep a note each time you come in; twenty pounds for a ruby ring – I must be going senile.”
            “Oh y yes sir, thank you sir, I can give you a pound today and I could pr-probably manage a pound a week from time to time – could I try it on again...please?

            So over the next few months, Robyn dutifully attended the little dingy shop off the Portobello Road each week and paid another instalment on the Ruby Ring. As she got to know the old shopkeeper – Jacob better, her confidence increased and her stammer faded. Jacob let her wear the ring as she browsed about the shop. Curiously, she saw never another customer enter the shop. Jacob would tell her little snippets of his past life in Europe during the war but never fully revealed his origins, or how he came by the ring; only to say that it was from an old lady’s deceased estate. Every time she gazed at the ring on her hand, Robyn felt a strange sense of power – a feeling of courage, strength. She tried to assure herself that Jacob’s story of ruby being the stone of courage was just a legend.

“Ruby is zee stone of love, energy, passion and power Miss Robyn,” Jacob would say. “It gives you a zest for life; ruby is zee perfect sign for powerful feelings. Ruby is blood; it restores vital life forces and increases energy and vigour.  Ruby is also known as the stone of courage. Legend tells us that a person possessing a ruby can walk through life without fear of evil or misfortune.” “The ruby is you – believe in yourself!” Robyn gave a wan smile...

The weeks and months passed. When Robyn (or Ruby... as she had begun to think of herself) had paid about 15 pounds off the ring, Jacob surprised her one day, “Miss Robyn, I must leave for awhile to attend to, ah, some urgent family business. If you can pay me zay another three pounds today, the ring is yours and your account is paid in full – do we have a deal?”
Robyn could ill afford the extra three pounds but agreed at once. “That’s very generous of you Jacob but I haven’t got it on me at the moment; could I bring it back this afternoon?”
“Excellent my dear and in the meantime I’ll clean and polish it for you.”
“Oh don’t worry yourself Jacob.” said Robyn anxiously. “Nonsense my dear, it will be my pleasure, you run along now.” Jacob replied, with a strange glint in his eyes. “Come back at 5 o’clock.”

When Robyn returned at five, the little laneway was already dark. She was surprised to find the door of the little dingy shop to be locked. Jacob was standing close by in the shadows with his hat and coat on. “Ah you’re here, punctual as ever, do you have zee three pounds?” “Come on girl, I’m in a hurry,” he added brusquely. “Yes of course,” she replied somewhat puzzled and handed it over. “Good, here is your ring polished to perfection and your final receipt - Auf Wiedersehen.” And with that remark, the old man hurriedly left the laneway and disappeared into the throng and deepening gloom of Portobello Road. He was never seen again. Robyn looked down at the little blue box in bewilderment. Back home at her room in the boarding house, Robyn took out the ring – it looked different somehow...


A year or two later, a confident, bright eyed young woman called Ruby Porter disembarked at Sydney off the SS Cheshire. She was looking forward to her new life in Australia. She gazed at the slim gold band with the small ruby on her finger and felt a surge of confidence that was almost mystical. “The ruby is you – believe in yourself!” Jacob’s words came back to her. Within two years, Ruby met and married Bert. The young couple struggled for a few years to make ends meet and eventually scraped together enough money to buy a block of land in the Blue Mountains. Ruby worked as a waitress at the Hydro Majestic Hotel and as a seamstress. Whilst Bert, who was a carpenter, eventually built them a modest but comfortable house; their lives were fulfilling.     

Bert always marvelled at the way that Ruby never let anything stand in her way. She was the most determined woman he ever met. Until the day he died, Bert could not fathom the secret of his wife’s steely resolve. They only had one child – a girl, Dorothy or Dot. She was named after Dorothy, who wore the ruby red slippers in The Wizard of Oz.  Many years later when Ruby lay on her death-bed, the old woman looked up at her daughter with tired eyes although the fierce determination still blazed. “I want you to have my ruby ring, Dot,” she said lovingly. “It’s my most treasured possession, my secret; it’ll give you strength, courage and protect you always.” “The ruby is you – believe in yourself!” “I will Mum, truly,” said Dot, although she retained a healthy scepticism.

Dot had heard the story frequently of how her mother had obtained the ruby ring from the old mysterious shopkeeper in London. Months later after her mother had passed away, Dot decided to have the little ruby ring with the alleged aura valued at her local jeweller. She had found out from the Internet that some ruby rings dating from the 1940s could be quite valuable. The jeweller examined the little ring with his eyepiece at length. “Well Dot, it’s certainly a nice setting, but I’m afraid to say that it’s not a’s glass. Possibly a chip of murano glass from Venice, but glass nevertheless; you might get ten bucks for it at one of the markets.”

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