“It was my grandmother’s.” Miss Prim’s eyes dropped to the gloved hands on her lap, as though she couldn’t bear to see the antique dealer’s hands touch the smooth glaze of the vase.
“It’s old, I’ll give you that,” Jarvis grunted. He picked up the vase and upended it, peering closely with one eye. “There are no hallmarks of any kind.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Not necessarily. It could mean it’s even older than we think. Hmm.” The antique dealer fell into silent examination of the piece. It was delicate work. Hand-painted. What they couldn’t do in those days! The skills, the craftsmanship involved. All gone nowadays. Mass production had put paid to work of this uniqueness and quality. There were figures, watery stains suggesting a line of women coiling around the vase like a procession. It was beautiful, ephemeral, as though the artist had captured their spirits in a few economic brushstrokes.
He stood the vase on the table between them and clasped his hands together. “What do you know of its provenance?”
“Like I say, it belonged to my grandmother. And hers before that, I should think.”
Jarvis nodded. The woman was clearly a fool; she didn’t know what she had, what it was worth and, if he played his cards right, he’d be in clover before the week was out. He sucked in his breath. Miss Prim looked up, her expression pained.
“What do you think?” she ventured to ask, unable to broach the subject of money even though he knew and she knew that was what this visit was all about.
Jarvis puckered his lips. “I can go as far as twenty. Twenty five, tops. Sorry, love. There’s no demand for this kind of thing. Market’s all wrong at the moment.”
“Oh,” Miss Prim’s lips quivered. “Is that all?”
Oh gawd, thought Jarvis. Don’t turn on the waterworks, love. Anything but that. “All right, then. I’m too kind for my own good some times. Thirty knicker and that’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”
He sat back and crossed his arms as if to say the Big Chief has spoken.
Miss Prim eyed the vase and chewed her bottom lip. “Well, I suppose…”
“Deal!” Jarvis startled her. He sprang to his feet and pumped her hand. Then he reached in his pocket, withdrew a roll of banknotes and peeled off three grubby ten-pound notes. He pressed them into her hand and ushered her toward the door. She was out in the street before she knew it, the Closed sign swung in the door behind her and the blinds were down.
“Oh,” said Miss Prim, staggering a little. Then she smiled. The smile spread into a grin, a snarl of malevolent victory. “I’ve done it, Grandmother. You may rest in peace now.”
In the backroom of the shop, Jarvis tittered with glee. He’d got one over that dozy cow and no mistake. What a find! What a bargain! He laughed out loud, delirious with the thought that he had suddenly become an extremely rich man. Ideas bubbled in his imagination, thoughts of holidays and houses, fast cars and faster women.
The lightbulb flickered. The glass rattled in the windowpanes. Jarvis gasped. “Who’s there?” he cried, thrown into panic that someone had come to steal his precious vase.
The next day, Miss Prim returned to the shop. Jarvis’s assistant let her in, claiming to have no idea of his boss’s whereabouts.
“That’s all right,” Miss Prim smirked. “I left him a vase for evaluation but I don’t think I’ll sell it now.”
The assistant nodded and fetched the vase. Miss Prim bade him a good day and virtually skipped out into the sunlight. She held her grandmother’s vase up to the sky, turning it around and around. The line of women was there, their number decreased by one. And at the back, a brighter, newer shape, a man, rendered in the colours the antique dealer had been wearing.
“Rest in peace, Grandmother,” Miss Prim repeated. “I’m going to treat you to some lovely new flowers. About thirty pounds’ worth, I should think. And they’ll look marvellous in your old vase.”