The museum is crowded this morning. Lines of schoolchildren wait in the rotunda, with its black marble columns. I follow a group of tourists, gray-headed like myself, into an airy, less-crowded corridor. The others chat about Egyptology and Etruscan art. They enter a gallery flanked by sarcophagi; I continue on alone.
I walk along a colonnaded hallway to reach the Gemstone Room, where visitors stand in line to view the museum’s most precious artifact. When my turn comes at last, I stand very close—so close that my breath fogs the glass.
The Rutherford Blue! The legendary blue diamond, largest in the world, has a color so deep, so rich, that it seems alive. I gaze at it in its nest of velvet, knowing very well that I look like a gawking old woman, more interested in the legend than in the stone itself.
For the tale of the Rutherford Blue is one of violence, misfortune and melodrama. Many have called it "cursed." The Rajah who first owned it died violently, and his two sons killed each other fighting to possess it. Kings and Queens, thieves and middlemen, gamblers and businessmen... all came to grief because of it, so the legend says.
Perhaps I am just a gawker, after all. But others don’t know what I know.
They don’t know that I once held it in my hand.
* * *
“You needn’t wait for me, Betty,” said Mrs. Rutherford, just before she went out for the evening.
“Thank you, Ma'am,” I said. “I’ll tidy up and go to bed.”
A regal woman, Mrs. Rutherford. Even as a young girl, I admired her and felt sorry for her in almost equal measure. Her husband had left her a fortune, yet she was often lonely. Her son and daughter were estranged; both hoped to inherit the priceless blue diamond that her husband had given her just before his death.
When my employer had gone, I took a key from the apron pocket of my maid’s uniform. Mrs. Rutherford’s bedroom was a sleek, elegant haven of black and white, and she kept her jewelry in a simple black lacquer box on her dresser. A bank vault or a safe would have been prudent, but she trusted her staff. Foolish, foolish Mrs. Rutherford!
I unlocked the box and opened it. The Rutherford Blue was at the top, on a tray of white velvet. I picked it up and cradled it in my hand.
And then I saw it: a pulsing flash of intense blue light that seemed to radiate from the diamond’s heart. I gasped; I trembled; and in that moment, I understood the power of beauty. I had always been very practical, never glimpsing what others saw in art or music or poetry. But this mesmerizing blue light was real, and I wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything.
That was why I put it back, locked the box, and went downstairs to the garden, where Joe the gardener waited.
“You got it?” he whispered, when I sat down beside him on an ornamental bench.
“No! What’d you...”
“I couldn’t,” I said, and knew that he was ugly. Not his looks—he was handsome enough—but something else. Perhaps his soul.
“Couldn’t? Couldn’t why?” he asked roughly. “Key not fit?”
“Do you know what would happen if we took it, Joe?”
“Yeah... we’d be rich, Betty! Rich! No more playing servant to rich old prunes...”
“We’d be caught,” I said, “because everyone knows the Rutherford Blue; and if we found someone to cut it for it us, like you want, it wouldn’t be... the same...”
I walked away from him without regret that night, and wondered how I ever could have thought I loved him.
* * *
A long line of children waits behind me now, and I move away from the glass. Perhaps I can come again another day.
“Look!” whispers a girl, pointing to a plaque. “It’s supposed to be cursed...”
I think of my children and my grandchildren, descendants of a far better man than Joe. No, I don’t believe in the curse of the Rutherford Blue. But Mrs. Rutherford was right to bequeath it to the museum. It will never cause another family feud, war, or revolution.
Absolute beauty, I suppose, can never be possessed. But if we can bear to look at it, perhaps its light can show us what we are—and sometimes, what we lack.
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