Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Snuff Bottle

George read through the advertisements in the local paper.
     “For sale: several Chinese works of art: soapstone carvings, ink painting of bamboo, blah, blah, amber snuff bottle ….. Hmm, now that might be worth investigating!”
     He had yet to find a really good amber snuff-bottle to add to his collection. Of course, the chances were that this was just some rubbishy modern piece; but even so, it would be silly to let the chance slip away. He dialled the telephone number given on the advert. A woman’s voice answered. He gave his name, and then, in order not too sound too eager, asked about some of the other items first, and only came to the snuff bottle as if was an afterthought.
     The woman gave him a brief description of the object. “It's about two inches high, with a carving of a dragon on it. There's some Chinese writing on the bottom, but of course I can't read it. It's a beautiful golden colour, and it's got a stopper with a little spoon for the snuff", she told him. "I really can’t say how old it is; I’m not an expert at all! You see, I’ve inherited all these things from my aunt, and I need to dispose of them as quickly as I can, because I live abroad. Why don’t you come and have a look at it? And if you think it’s any good, you can have it for ….. what shall we say? ….. fifty pounds? Fine! How about next Tuesday? Three o’clock?  Now, how to get here: do you know Foxton? Well, go out from there on the Brackenford road, and after a couple of miles you’ll see a turning on your left, just opposite the bus stop. Go down there, and after a few hundred yards there’s a big holly hedge on the left and a sign saying Bluebell Cottage. That’s where I am. Park your car in the drive. If no-one answers the bell, it probably means I’m in the back garden, so come and look for me. See you then!”
     After he had put the phone down, it suddenly occurred to George that he might have heard the woman’s voice before, but he couldn’t  quite recall the circumstances.

     As he drove out on Tuesday, George reflected on his possible good luck. The description of the snuff bottle had genuinely excited him: it had sounded exactly like the real business! He wondered how he might turn the situation even more to his advantage. Should he, for instance, regretfully inform the woman that her snuff bottle was a modern fake, but, rather than make the visit fruitless, he would take it off her hands for thirty pounds? or perhaps only twenty?
    He found Bluebell Cottage without difficulty. It was the only building down a narrow country lane. As predicted, a ring of the front door bell brought no response, and he wandered round into the secluded back garden. This also seemed deserted.
     “Hello, George!” came a voice from behind him. He spun round.
     “You!” was all he could manage to say.
     “Yes, George, it’s me! It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? I rented this cottage specially to meet you again, and here you are. I remembered how you used to collect snuff bottles, and I just had to pray you hadn’t given up the hobby. I hope you appreciate the research I put in, to make sure I could describe one that you’d want! So here we are together again, after all those years. It’ll be just like old times. Well; not quite like old times….”
     And she drew a small pistol from her pocket.

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