The Marriage of Opposites

Page 109


“They’re not taking anything,” Frédéric assured him.
But when they got to the little house on a hillside, they saw that several wooden crates had, indeed, been brought from town and set out in the yard. Frédéric went and immediately introduced himself to Holloway, the solicitor, who although new in Charlotte Amalie, knew of Monsieur Pizzarro and his store.
“I suspect there’s been some confusion,” Holloway said. “There are some items here that belonged to my client’s mother. Perhaps this good woman Mrs. James has had them in safekeeping, but now my client wishes to collect them for her home in Charleston.”
Madame Halevy’s daughter, the one she had lost, was so cool the heat didn’t seem to affect her in the least. She was tall and well formed, an attractive woman. She came to join the discussion, and Pizzarro wondered if that’s what women from Charleston did, act as if they had the rights of men. “I’m thankful that our maid took care of these household items,” she said in her soft, measured voice, “but they belong to me.”
Camille glanced over at Helena James, who shook her head. He elbowed his father and motioned this was not true.
“I’m afraid your mother left these items to Mrs. James,” Frédéric Pizzarro said.
“Really?” Rebecca Halevy-Stein turned to the maid. “What kind of china is it?”
“It’s the green set. The one Madame liked to use for dinner.”
Mrs. Halevy-Stein smirked as she faced Monsieur Pizzarro. “It’s Limoges. Imported from France and quite treasured. They are meant to be in my home.”
“Your mother didn’t like for you to use them because you chipped them,” Mrs. James said. “You know that to be true.”
“Do you have a written statement in your mother’s hand that these are her belongings and meant to go to you?” Monsieur Pizzarro asked Miss Halevy.
“I am my mother’s daughter.” Mrs. Halevy-Stein was agitated. “You heard Helena. She admits they came from my mother’s house. They were used at dinner.” She took note of something else, and her eyes widened. “And that’s the table they set.” Mrs. Halevy pointed into the house. The door was open. “It’s there in the front room. Mahogany. Handmade.”
Monsieur Pizzarro shrugged. This proved nothing. “Perhaps the dishes were borrowed from Mrs. James so that Madame Halevy might use them in her home.”
The solicitor Holloway laughed at the preposterousness of the suggestion that a woman of wealth and standing within her community would need to borrow dishes from her maid. He then saw Monsieur Pizzarro’s expression. “You’re not serious?”
Monsieur Pizzarro turned to his son. “You dined with Madame Halevy. Did you ever see these dishes in her house?”
“I never saw them,” Camille said. But of course he’d never looked. He usually had his dessert on an earthenware platter.
Rebecca Halevy was a pale blonde; now her skin flushed with anger, even more so when she noticed a flash of gold on Mrs. James’s hands. “What do you have there?”
Mrs. James hid her hands under her skirts.
“Those are my mother’s rings,” Mrs. Halevy-Stein said, turning to her solicitor. “She has them on right now!”
“She gave them to me,” Mrs. James told Camille. “She wanted me to have them.”
“This may be an issue for the courts,” Holloway said.
“Not without some paperwork.” Frédéric stared the solicitor down. “Is there a will? You say there’s not. Is there a document connecting your client with Madame Halevy’s personal items? It doesn’t seem to exist.”
“I came from Charleston to take care of this,” Mrs. Halevy-Stein said. “I made a long trip, and I did so in good faith.”
“You didn’t come even once when your mother was alive,” Helena said before she could stop herself. “And you and I know why. It had nothing to do with faith.”
The younger woman turned to Mrs. James. “I should have my mother’s rings,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned they’ve been stolen, along with everything else. Does this woman have a paper that states they’re hers?” she asked Monsieur Pizzarro. “Did my mother sign a document stating so?”
Mrs. James gazed at Madame Halevy’s daughter and shook her head. “I made your porridge when you were a baby. I know you, and I know why you didn’t come back. You never wrote to ask what happened, just left everything in your mother’s hands. I’m the one who helped her. I helped her and she was grateful. So if you want to go to court and charge me with something, then I suppose you will.”