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Indeed, it was probably a more genuine museum piece than anything in its varied and venerable stock, with its small-paned window bulging in a double curve—as shop-fitters could make them in the eighteenth century—and glazed with the original crown glass, greenish in tone and faintly streaked, like an oyster-shell, with concentric lines. Penrose had indicated his adoption of the coffee-pot, she proceeded to swathe it in tissue-paper and make it up into a presentable parcel; and, meanwhile, I browsed round the premises and inspected those specimens of the stock which were more particularly within my province. Penrose persisted in accompanying me and expounding and commenting upon the various pieces in terms which I found rather distracting. Penrose, as the reader has probably observed, was a wag, and his waggery took the form of calling things by quaintly erroneous names and of using odd and facetious circumlocutions; which was all very well at first and was even mildly amusing, but it very soon became tiresome.
I dated the shop at the first half of the eighteenth century, basing my estimate on a pedimented stone tablet at the corner of the street; which set forth the name, "Nassau Street in Whetten's Buildings," and the date, 1734. Polton, "you can tell us something about that watch. " "Well, ma'am," was the cautious reply, "I see no reason why it should not have belonged to him, if he was not a very punctual gentleman. A constant effort was necessary to arrive at what he really meant. " "Perhaps you did," I admitted, with a slightly sour laugh; at which he smiled his peculiar, foxy smile, looking at me out of the corners of his eyes, and evidently pleased at having "stumped" me.
It was a pleasant and friendly shop, though dingy; dignified and reticent, too, for the fascia above the window bore only, in dull gilt letters, the name of the proprietor, "D. It is said to have belonged to Prince Charlie, and, of course, that would add to its value if it were really the fact. It was made in Edinburgh in 1735, and there is a crucifix engraved inside the outer case. " "I should say," replied the stout gentleman, "that the evidence is conclusive. However, in the end, I lighted upon a bible-box of dark-brown oak, pleasantly carved and bearing the incised date, 1653, and, as the little chest rather took my fancy and the price marked on the attached ticket seemed less than its value, I closed with Mrs. It was a pleasure that he must have enjoyed pretty often.
Parrott." For some time I remained under the belief that this superscription referred to some former incumbent of the premises whose name was retained for the sake of continuity, since the only persons whom I encountered in my early visits were Mrs. I don't know what the significance of that may be." "Neither do I," said the lady. Charles Edward, being a Scotchman, would have a Scottish watch; and being a papistical Romanist would naturally have a crucifix engraved in it. Pettigrew, and, having paid for my purchase and given the address to which it was to be sent, took my departure. "I take it," he resumed, after a short pause, "that you, like myself, are a devotee of St. " I considered this fresh puzzle and decided that the solution was "magpie"; and apparently I was right as he did not correct me.
Pettigrew, who appeared to manage the business, and, more rarely, her daughter, Joan, a strikingly good-looking girl of about twenty; a very modern young lady, frank, friendly and self-possessed, quite well informed on the subject of antiques, though openly contemptuous of the whole genus. She merely agreed that the shape was pleasant and graceful. Pettigrew," said the stout gentleman, regarding the coffee-pot with his head on one side, "that you regard the lactiferous receptacle with favour. The next question is that of the date of its birthday. Polton in his studies of the internal anatomy of the Carolean warming-pan, but I have no skill in galactophorous genealogies. " He held out the coffee-pot engagingly towards the small gentleman, who thereupon laid the watch down tenderly, removed the eye-glass from his eye and smiled. Polton's smile almost as astonishing as the other gentleman's vocabulary. And, as I strolled at a leisurely pace in the direction of Wardour Street, I reflected idly on my late experience, and especially on the three rather unusual persons whose acquaintance I had just made. Admirably as she played her part in the economy of the shop, she did not completely fit her surroundings. She gave me the impression of being very definitely a lady; and I found myself speculating on the turn of the wheel of Fortune that had brought her there. Polton with his strangely prehensile hands and his astonishing memory for hall-marks. And at this point, being then about halfway along Gerrard Street, the subject of my reflections overtook me and announced himself characteristically by expressing the hope that I was pleased with my bacon cupboard. "No," I replied, "there is nothing of the magpie about me. I'm always finding fresh treasures." "By the way," said I, "where do you find the stuff?
Presently, however, I discovered that Parrott, so far from being a mere disembodied name, was a very real person. It was the most amazingly wrinkly smile that I have ever seen, but yet singularly genial and pleasant. By his appearance, he might—in different raiment—have been a dignitary of the Church. I am not in general a curious man, but I found in each of these three persons matter for speculation. One is accustomed nowadays to finding women of a very superior class serving in shops. I replied that I was quite pleased with my purchase and had thought it decidedly cheap. "But our psittacoid friend has the wisdom to temper the breeze to the shorn collector." "Our psittacoid friend? "I refer to the tropic bird who presides over the museum of domestic archaeology," he explained, and, as I still looked at him questioningly, he added, by way of elucidation: "The proprietor of the treasure-house of antiquities in which you discovered the repository of ancestral piety." "Oh! I don't accumulate old things for the sake of forming a collection. One must have furniture of some kind, old or new, and I prefer the old. I am a convinced disciple of the great John Daw, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles, a hoarder of miscellaneous treasure. " "Oh, call it not stuff," he protested, regarding me with a foxy smile. As to where I discover them; well, well, surely there is a mine for silver and a place for gold where they refine it; a place also—many places, mostly cottage parlours, that no bird of prey knoweth, neither hath the travelling dealer's eye seen them, where may be found ancestral Wrotham pots and Staffordshire figures, to say nothing of venerable tickers and crocks from far Cathay.
He was, in fact, the mainspring of the establishment, for he was not only the buyer—and an uncommonly good buyer—but he had quite a genius for converting mere dismembered carcasses into hale and hearty pieces of furniture. And here I may remark that this amiable little gentleman was for some time a profound mystery to me. His deferential manner suggested some superlative kind of manservant, but his hands and his comprehensive and inexhaustible knowledge of the products of the ancient crafts hinted at the dealer or expert collector. Polton carries in his head a complete directory of all the artful craftsmen and crafty artists who ever made anything, with the dates of every piece they made. It was made by men who knew all about it and who enjoyed making it and took their time. Nothing comes amiss to me, from a blue diamond to a Staffordshire dog." "Have you no special fancy? "I have a special fancy for any relic of the past that I can lay hands on," he replied. These the wise collector makes a note of—and locks up the note." I was half amused and half exasperated by his evasive verbiage and his unabashed, and quite unnecessary caution.
Somewhere in the regions behind the shop he had a workshop where, with the aid of an incredibly aged cabinet-maker named Tims, he carried out the necessary restorations. My first visit was undoubtedly due to the ancient shop-front. It was only after I had known him some months that the mystery was resolved through the medium of a legal friend, as will be related in due course. Polton took the coffee-pot in his curiously prehensile hands, beamed on it approvingly, and, having stuck his eye-glass in his eye, examined the hall-mark and the maker's "touch." "It was made," he reported, "in 1765 by a man named John Hammond, who had a shop in Water Lane, Fleet Street. It is much more companionable to live with than new machine-made stuff, turned out by the thousand by people who don't care a straw what it is like. "But perhaps, like the burglars, I have a particular leaning towards precious stones—those and the other kind of stones—the siliceous variety—with which our impolite forefathers used to fracture one another's craniums." "Your collection must take up a lot of space," I remarked. A mighty secretive gentleman, this, I reflected; and proceeded to fire a return shot. He knows all the ropes, and, as we agreed, he doesn't demand payment through the proboscis." "No," said I, "he doesn't appear to be grasping, to judge by the price of my own purchase; and I gather that you have got most of your stuff—I beg pardon; treasure—from him." "Oh, I wouldn't say that," he replied.
Daniel Penrose, and I accordingly do so; but not without reluctance and a feeling that my contribution is but a retailing of the smallest of small beer.
For the truth is that of that strange disappearance I knew nothing at the time, and, even now, my knowledge is limited to what I have learned from those who were directly concerned in the investigation.
Still, I am assured that the little that I have to tell will elucidate the accounts which the investigators will presently render of the affair, and I shall, therefore, with the above disclaimer, proceed with my somewhat trivial narrative.
Whenever my thoughts turn to that extraordinary case, there rises before me the picture of a certain antique shop in a by-street of Soho.
And quite naturally; for it was in that shop that I first set eyes on Daniel Penrose, and it was in connection with that that my not very intimate relations with Penrose existed.