“It belonged to King Henry VIII. See? It says so on the card.”
“And what’s the proof of that,” Jemma said, snorting. “You could take any old glove and put a card next to it saying it belonged to King Solomon himself. Besides, Poppy, did you know that Henry VIII never bathed? He didn’t like water next to his skin, apparently. My uncle told me that the king’s skin was as smooth as a baby’s behind. But imagine…” She shuddered. “Imagine the inside of that glove!”
It was a small store, painted a pleasing cherry red. Everywhere Poppy looked were boxes topped with glass, glass shelves, even glass pedestals with precious objects on top.
“Ladies,” a man said, coming forward. “You do me too much honor.” He was tall and thin with a wild shock of white hair that made his head appear too large for his body, like a puppet at Barthlomew Fair. “I am Ludwig Grudner. May I show you something? Perhaps the glove of Henry VIII that you admired in the window?”
“No,” Poppy said, smiling at him. “I’m interested in scientific curiosities, if you please.”
“I have a lanhado from Africa,” Mr. Grudner said. “Ten foot wing span, of course, and beautifully stuffed. I have to keep it in another location, but I could have it delivered to you tomorrow morning.”
“Not stuffed animals, but curiosities,” Poppy explained. “I intend to develop my own curiosity cabinet. I saw your advertisement for the horn of a Sisfreyan beast.”
“A notable piece,” Mr. Grudner said. “A true miracle, that. I sold it for three hundred pounds.”
“Three hundred pounds!” Jemma interjected. “That’s an outrage!”
“The only one of its kind,” Mr. Grudner retorted. “It was worth far more than that, and I did it only because Lord Strange is one of my best customers.”
“He is?” Jemma asked.
“Lord Strange is a great naturalist,” Mr. Grudner reported. “And, of course, he is able to indulge his curiosity. He has one of the best collections in En gland, and most of it purchased from this very shop.”
“Oh,” Poppy said, obviously entranced. “I’m so sorry that I didn’t get to see the horn of the beast before it was purchased.”
“The store is full of wonderful objects…Every lady should have her own curiosity cabinet. Can I show you the hand of a mermaid, perhaps?”
Jemma wandered away once Poppy was happily occupied in poring over Mr. Grudner’s unsavory collection. She found a small picture made entirely of feathers and was trying to decide whether it depicted a monkey climbing up the back of a man—or possibly a person climbing a flight of stairs or perhaps a cow next to a tree, when she saw a chess piece, sitting by itself on a small pedestal.
It was the white queen, carved from ivory. She stood with a regal frown, her body shadowed by the enormous crown that bloomed on her head. The crown was a hollow sphere, exquisitely carved with open work, and when Jemma peered inside she saw inside another sphere, also open, and inside that, yet another.
“Exquisite, is it not?” Mr. Grudner said, popping up at her shoulder. “I’m afraid that I have only the one piece. The entire set belongs to Lord Strange and I have not been able to convince him to part with it.”
“Then why on earth did he part with the queen?”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say for certain,” Mr. Grudner said.
“A chess set,” Jemma said, “is nothing without its queen. Useless. Why on earth would Strange give you the queen?”
“He sold it to me, ha ha,” Mr. Grudner said. “Didn’t get to be the richest man in En gland by giving away pieces of artwork like this.”
“Why would he sell it to you?”
“I suppose he must have given up chess,” Mr. Grudner said. “However it may be, Your Grace, I assure you that this piece is quite lovely on its own. There are five nested spheres inside the crown, ending with the smallest ivory marble I’ve ever seen.”
Poppy called from the other side of the store. “Jemma, do look at this!”
Jemma walked over, bringing the queen with her. For some reason she was reluctant to put down her fiendishly frowning little face, so obstinate even in the face of losing her king and the rest of her court.
“I found a marvelous statue of a boy and a butterfly,” Poppy said, holding it out.
“A copy of an ancient Greek statue,” Mr. Grudner said, “and a very fine one, if I say so myself.”
“Just look at the detail on the butterfly!” Poppy exclaimed.
Jemma looked, but it wasn’t the butterfly but the naked youth kneeling before it that struck her as interesting. “Who does the piece represent?” she asked Grudner.
“Eros, or Cupid, in love with Psyche,” he said. “Psyche means butterfly in Greek, of course.”
“And what is that?” Jemma asked, peering at the odd rock in Poppy’s other hand.
“It’s a geode,” Poppy said. She put down the statue of Cupid. “Look. You open it like this.” The two rough bits of rock fell open to reveal a gorgeous amethyst interior. “It’s like a wild little cave that you can hold in your hand,” she said. “A fairy grotto.”
“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” Mr. Grudner said promptly, looking like a man who had no idea what a fairy grotto might be but knew that the phrase suggested pure profit.
“I found this as well,” Poppy said, ignoring him. She held out the pit of a fruit, a small one, perhaps an apricot. Delicately she pulled at it until it fell apart. Inside was a mess of the tiniest spoons Jemma had ever seen.
“That’s darling!” Jemma said, suddenly remembering a little serving set she’d had for a long-lost doll.
“Twenty-four spoons inside a cherry pit,” Poppy said.
“The smallest such in the world,” Mr. Grudner put in.
“That’s no cherry pit,” Jemma stated. “It’s a peach at least.”
“Cherry, Your Grace,” Mr. Grudner said stubbornly.
Jemma sighed. Clearly, Poppy was about to be fleeced of all the money she had taken from her husband’s bank account and yet…why shouldn’t she be fleeced if she wanted to? It was not a Reeve family habit to shelter people from making errors. Cherries, peaches, who cared?
But Poppy surprised her. She dimpled at Mr. Grudner and asked for a chair, and then charmed him into dusting it, and by the time she sat down and took off her gloves, and accepted a cup of tea, Jemma could see exactly where this was going. Sure enough, forty minutes later they walked out of the store leaving a bewildered own er, who had half convinced himself that he had practically given away the cherry stone to the duchess because she was…because she was…
Charming. He sighed and shook his head, thinking about what Mrs. Grudner, God rest her soul, would have said. It wouldn’t have been pretty.
“The worst of it is that I had to pay full price for my chess queen,” Jemma said. “And you bought everything for about half what he first requested. That’s unfair!”
Poppy dimpled at her in complete unrepentance. “My mother says that a lady never bargains for anything.”
“Then what do you call the exchange that just went on there? That poor man asked for fifty pounds for the cherry stone, and you paid him, what, four?”