The Taggarts weren’t an old county family like the Babingtons, but had gained prominence a generation ago following the success of the Taggart boiled sweets factory in Colchester. Mr. Taggart was also the local MP. Freddie had met him once or twice at his aunt’s house on social occasions and, whenever he got off the train at Abbotshill Halt, couldn’t help seeing the conspicuously large and jarringly modern house where Mr. Taggart lived when Parliamentary duties didn’t keep him in London.
While Freddie wasn’t among Mr. Taggart’s constituents, many of his relatives were. When he gave his name to the parlormaid, he and his companions were shown into the drawing room. Mr. Taggart, a chubby man of about fifty dressed like a country squire, was in conference with a robust lady of middle age whom Freddie had also seen at his aunt’s and assumed to be his wife–but Mr. Taggart introduced her as his sister, Mrs. Broadbelt.
Once Freddie had explained what brought him, Mr. Taggart nodded solemnly. “Nettie and I were just discussing it. It sounds most peculiar.”
“I’ve heard of your investigations from your aunt, Mr. Babington,” said Mrs. Broadbelt, “although I had no idea that you’d taken it up as a profession.”
“I’ve only done it to help members of my family before this,” Freddie acknowledged. “I suppose this will be my first professional case. I’d like to find out more about that cottage,” he began as he took a seat. Billy and Rob remained shyly near the door; Rob twisted his cap in his hands and Billy eyed the cut-glass bowl on the sideboard filled with Taggart Toffee Treats and the red-and-white bull’s-eye candies known as Taggart Targets. “The Fairchilds tell me that it’s your property, Mr. Taggart. It used to belong to your mother?”
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Taggart. “The cottage was Mother’s. She and our father lived there when they first married and when we were small children, before he came into prosperity. Father built this house for her when he had the money, but Mother preferred her old home. After he died, she returned there to live until she passed away last summer. After Mother’s death, the cottage sat empty for months until young Florrie married. I offered it to her and her husband as a honeymoon home.”
“Did anything odd like this happen when your mother lived there?”
“No…” Mr. Taggart glanced significantly at his sister.
“It’s the jewelry,” she concluded. “I’ve always said it was still in that cottage!”
“Jewelry?” said Rob, suddenly alert. “What jewelry is this, Ma’am?”
“Mother’s.” Mrs. Broadbelt explained in more detail, primarily to Freddie: “She had some lovely pieces–pearls, rings, a set of antique gold combs, and a famous emerald necklace worth more than all the rest together. You can see it, there.” She pointed to a portrait on the wall above the fireplace, depicting an elderly lady wearing a dress in the style of 1900 and a magnificent collar of green stones. Rob examined it more closely. “It’d been in Mother’s family for generations before their fortunes took a bad turn. All her own mother had left were these jewels and she held on to them to the end. Mother was just as loath to part with them.”
“I believe she sold a few small pieces to help father begin his business,” Mr. Taggart interjected.
“Yes, but nothing she truly valued. That necklace was her prized possession. It had always gone from mother to daughter and Mother was determined to carry on the tradition. As her eldest daughter, I should’ve received it at her death. From eldest daughter to eldest daughter, it always was, but since I have no children, Mother thought it more fair to divide her jewelry between all her daughters and granddaughters.”
“But the jewels was never given to anybody,” said Billy, speaking for the first time. “What happened to them?”
“Well, you know the way of old ladies,” said Mr. Taggart. “In her last days, Mother grew rather scatter-brained and began to worry about her jewelry box being stolen. We think that she must’ve hidden it someplace safe, but she never told us where. Perhaps she forgot. We went through her things after her funeral, searched the cottage, but never found it. That was well over a year ago.”