It had sat in the same corner for nearly four years. I hated the sight of the thing, but every time I discretely suggested to my wife Jean that the object should be sold she said a very firm and unwavering. `No.’
It, by the way, was a two foot tall china sheepdog, given to us as a wedding present by great aunt Phylis.
“This is an antique dear,” she said in that awful gushing manner. “and once belonged to a duke you know!” As if that gave it some credibility.
One day, soon after the monstrosity arrived, I was inspecting the beast when I discovered something very interesting. There, plain for all who cared to look, stamped into the china on the base was the name of a well known department store. A store that hadn’t come into being until the early nineteen thirties.
Triumphant, I marched into Jean with the news. “Great aunt Phylis has some explaining to do.” I gloated. I told her of my wonderful discovery. But to my dismay she didn’t receive the news with quite as much enthusiasm as I had hoped. You see, I thought that given the knowledge that the china dog wasn’t an antique of immense value, we could quietly dispose of the thing.
“We simply cannot get rid of a wedding present.” Said Jean. “And what is more you must never tell great aunt Phylis what you have found out, it would break the old girl’s heart.”
The sheepdog remained, a sort of uninvited guest, and to add to the horror the thing even acquired a name. Every time we had visitors Jean would say, `you must see Minstrel, our sheepdog.’ Or, `don’t worry he won’t bite.’ And many other irritating and inane comments.
Friends and relations would smile and pass remarks about it. Mainly sarcastic!
`How nice it is dear.’ Or. `Where did you get him? I would love one for my sitting room.’
It was me that chipped Minstrel’s nose. I banged a chair into him, accidentally, of course. But, he stayed there, as solid and as unmoving as ever. I eventually gave up the idea of breaking the thing, although I did make it my solemn monthly duty to ask Jean if we could sell him.
But alas that wasn’t to be. Minstrel still sat on his same spot, in the corner, doing absolutely nothing. The trouble was that I started to get to like him. You know, I even felt sorry about his nose. Not that I would tell Jean. Oh no! She could never know that I had weakened. To my wife I still referred to Minstrel as great aunt Phylis’ china monstrosity.
So it was with a certain amount of regret on my part, when at last Jean agreed that we sell him.
One Saturday afternoon I dutifully wrapped Minstrel in brown paper and carefully carried him down to the local antique shop. The proprietor, Old Charlie most people called him, looked up from a vase that he was dusting.
“Good afternoon sir.” He mumbled.
He looked at least seventy, but it was said that he was well and truly on the wrong side of ninety.
“What have you got for me then?” He asked, casting a rheumy eye over my parcel.
I unwrapped Minstrel and put him on the counter. Old Charlie looked at him from every angle, all the time he was mumbling incoherently to himself. He seemed to be getting a bit excited, why I didn’t know. I pointed out the maker’s name stamped into the china. At this a twinkle appeared in Old Charlie’s eye.
“Sir,” he said, “this china sheepdog is one of a unique pair that was sold at auction quite a few years ago, well sought-after items they were. Unfortunately one of the pair was accidentally smashed to pieces. So this is the only one of its kind left, even with the damaged nose it is worth somewhere in the region of five thousand.”
“But what about the maker’s name underneath?” I asked when I had recovered sufficiently to speak.
“Now that was a very clever device to foil would-be thieves. You see, the pair were bought by a rich, titled gentleman who was absolutely paranoid about being robbed. He had another piece of china inserted in the base of each figure, with a false name etched into it. Look I’ll show you.”
True to his word Charlie turned Minstrel over and pointed out the slight cracks at the joining of the insert, he also assured me that the newer china had a slightly darker hue. Not the I could see any difference in colour, or the slight cracks, for that matter.
Now I really did have a problem.
Should I sell the sheepdog, and admit that great aunt Phylis was correct in her assumptions about Minstrel being a valuable antique? Or what should I do?
It did occur to me not to tell Jean of the correct value. Five thousand would certainly go along way towards updating my TV and stereo equipment – but no, my conscience would not allow it. In any case I was genuinely beginning to like the thing, and it certainly didn’t want to go walkies on wet nights. Or interrupt my favourite TV programmes.
I came to a decision. “I’m sorry, but I have decided not to sell.” I said to Charlie.
“Very well sir.” He replied. “And very wise, if I may say so. It will no doubt be worth double in a few more years.”
I started to wrap him up again, but the antique dealer took charge. He took more care putting a piece of paper over Minstrel than a mother would take over wrapping her first born in a blanket.
“They didn’t want to buy it.” I said to Jean when I got home. “Not worth the clay it was made from.” I lied.
All of this happened over six years ago, and Minstrel is still sitting in his corner, but things are a bit different now. To Jean he is Minstrel no more, just `that horrible dust catcher of yours.’
Once I even caught her with a hammer in her hand and a nasty glint in her eye.
Maybe one day I’ll pluck up enough courage to tell Jean the truth about Minstrel, but she might want to sell him. And how could any man bear to part with his faithful old sheepdog.
© Peter Ryan 15/07/1997