“They really knew how to make things in those days, didn’t they? Look at the workmanship.”
The tall slim man in a well- cut suit gave Marianne a warm smile as he ran his hand appreciatively over the satiny finish of the Victorian jewellery box on her market stall.
Brown eyes, blond hair and loads of sex appeal. Devastating, thought Marian.
She’d spotted him immediately he’d paused to look, but she knew how annoying it was to be badgered with offers of help so she’d busied herself polishing a silver cake server until he spoke, or moved on.
“Victorian, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s rosewood. Did you spot the secret compartment at the bottom?” She leant over to show him how to press the little ivory button and laughed at his surprise when the small drawer slid out.
“Just the place for secret love letters,” she said..
“That’s amazing. How can you bear to part with it?” His look was teasing. “No, don’t answer that. I’ll take it.”
He’s right! How can I bear to sell this? Marianne thought with a sudden pang, although her flat was already filled with things she’d bought and couldn’t bring herself to re-sell. After finding the jewellery box at a car boot sale, she’d spent hours polishing the wood to a deep gleaming perfection and cleaning the brass fittings with lemon juice. But a small sensible voice said: Be strong, girl, you’ve got to pay the rent as well as eat. So she just shrugged and smiled at him.
“Everything you see is for sale. Make me an offer”
“My lucky day, then.”
She decided to fish a little as she wrapped the box.
“This is really more a woman’s thing isn’t it? A jewellery box?”
“It’s a surprise gift for my fiancée. She’s going to love it.”
Marianne felt ridiculously disappointed. Of course he was spoken for, no one this fabulous would be walking around unattached.
“ We’re getting married one of these days,” he continued, “So I’m having a great time at auction rooms and car boot sales.”
“Lucky you! Have you found anything good?”
“Sure. So far I’ve bought a beautiful silk Chinese rug, very old, and an Edwardian screen …that was a lucky find. And some wonderful antique silver fish knives and forks.”
Marianne grinned at him. These didn’t sound very practical, but probably his fiancée also loved old and beautiful things. It was too bad that the first man she’d met who shared her passion for antiques belonged to somebody else.
“And your fiancée? Does she like shopping at markets too?”
“Julie? Oh she’s happy with anything I buy. She’s not fussy.”
“I hope she’ll like this box,” she said wistfully.
“She’s going to love it, I know,” he smiled.
He’s so nice, she thought. Julie’s a lucky girl. Well, at least my box is going to a good home.
“By the way,” he went on, “My name’s Mike McLeod.”
“I’m Marianne Allan.”
“Well, Marianne, I’ll come by again next week and see what other treasures you have for me,” he promised.
“So, how’s it going?” Her sister Sue appeared at the stall, carrying two steaming cups of coffee. “You look as if you could use one of these.”
“Oh, thanks, just what I need.” Marianne sat down gratefully on an upturned box. “I’m doing well, so far. It’s only half way through the month and I’ve already covered my rent.”
“That’s great. Leaving that job at the hamburger joint and opening your own stall was the best idea you’ve had in a long time. I love your new hat, by the way. Reminds me of a drunken tea cosy with peacock feathers on it.”
Marianne patted her head in satisfaction. “I found this at that school fete last week. It’s genuine 1920- don’t you think it suits me?”
“Yes. Very cute. They would have had a fit if you’d come to work in that three months ago.”
“I can’t believe I wasted so much time doing a job I loathed,” sighed Marianne, “Do you realise my profit on that box I just sold is more than I earned for six days hard slog at that awful place? Mind you, I overcharged him shamelessly.”
“Did you sell that Victorian jewellery box? Oh, Marianne, I am sorry!” Sue knew how hard it had been for her to part with it. “Who bought it?”
“A really dishy fellow, actually, the nicest guy I’ve met for ages. And great taste too – he collects old stuff and he said he’s be back next week.”
“Oho.” Sue raised her eyebrows, “Sounds promising!”
“He is, but he’s promised to another, so don’t get excited. But he could become a good customer.”
Marianne couldn’t get Mike McLeod out of her mind all week, and when she bought an intricately carved fire screen on the White Elephant stall at a church fete she knew he’d like it as much as she did. She was right.
“Hey, this is great. Perfect.” Mike appeared just after lunch the following Friday. “You’ve got a good eye, you know. This is eighteenth century and the carving is beautiful. I’ll take it.”
“You don’t mind about the crack?”
“Of course not. Adds to the character.” He didn’t bat an eye when she told him the price.
“I hope your fiancée will approve,” she said as he counted out the money, “Do you have a nice cosy fireplace?” Marianne could picture him with his long legs stretched towards the warmth, a friendly dog at his feet. And herself on the sofa beside him. Stop it, stupid!
“Not yet, but I hope to have one day.” Mike looked a bit uncomfortable. “Actually, Julie’s been dropping hints about a stainless steel coffee maker. But I’m sure she’d rather have this.”
Marianne didn’t think that someone who wanted a stainless steel coffee maker would prefer a cracked fire screen, no matter how beautifully it was carved.
From then on, every time she bought something she thought Mike would like, she put it aside for him. He came to the market every Friday after the lunchtime rush, bringing sandwiches and coffee which they shared sitting on milk crates behind her stall. Once he’d inspected her latest find, and paid for it, he’d linger on to talk until she started to pack up for the day.
Marianne found herself looking forward to his visits far too much. Remember he’s engaged, she told herself, while they chatted easily about everything under the sun, he’s just filling in time instead of going back to his office.
“Don’t you have any work to go to?” she teased one afternoon. “Are you one of these executives that takes a three hour lunch?”
“I’m sure they get along just fine without me. You know, I envy you, working with something that interests you.”
“Yes, starting this stall was the best thing I’ve ever done. I love it.”
He paused, looking into the distance. “Doing something you love is pretty important, isn’t it.”
“It’s the most important, I think. Why put up with someone else telling you what to do? I’d never go back to working in a shop.”
“You’re right.” He sighed. “Okay, can you give me a bag for this silver toast-rack? I must be off. See you next week.”
But Mike didn’t come to the market the following week, not the week after, and Marianne, who’d put aside an art deco table lamp complete with the original coloured glass shade, regretfully sold it to another collector. Mike was probably saving for Julie’s stainless steel coffee maker.
“Miscellaneous old bric- a- brac for sale. Reasonable prices for quick sale. Call 17 Tooronga Crescent.”
Marianne held the advertisement in her hand as she knocked on the door of Number 17, wondering what ‘reasonable prices’ meant. She hoped she’d find something here as she was getting low on stock., but the house looked frighteningly smart and the stuff would probably be too expensive.
A sleek haired blond woman opened the door and looked at her coolly.
“I’ve come about the bric-a-brac,” said Marianne.
“It’s in here.” Her heels clicked across the highly polished floor as she led the way through the smart modern rooms to a small, crowded study.
It was an Aladdin’s cave of collectable treasures and Marianne wanted everything she saw. Antique pistols, flowered china jugs, a beautiful silk rug with a delicate pattern of lotus blossom and dragons, a canteen of silver cutlery lined with worn gold velvet, a gleaming rosewood box, a carved fire screen with a small crack across the top…Marianne gasped in recognition. .
This must be Julie. The fiancée who wasn’t fussy and liked everything Mike bought.
“A lot of junk, isn’t it,’ said Julie. “I can’t stand old tat like this, so make me an offer for the lot.”
Marianne found her voice with difficulty.
“Where does it come from? Is it yours?”
“Don’t make me laugh. No, it was my ex-fiancé’s. He was a compulsive junk collector. Then when I tried to improve his taste he just packed his bags and took off. Walked out on a good job too, without giving notice. Well, I’m certainly better off without him.”
Marianne made a small non- committal noise of sympathy. ‘Ex-fiance’ had a nice ring to it.
“He didn’t fit into Daddy’s company at all. Mummy always said we were like chalk and cheese and she was right. Anyway, I warned him that if he didn’t take the rest of his stuff within a week, I’d get rid of it.”
Julie asked a laughably low amount for everything and Marianne decided instantly. There goes my rent, she thought ruefully.
“I’ll take it all,” she said, “Can I give you a deposit now and collect it tomorrow? I’ll have to borrow a van.”
The following Friday as Marianne was setting things out on her table, Mike came round the corner, almost running. She hardly recognized him in jeans and an old sweater. Much better, she thought approvingly.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” he asked, “Julie said a girl with a crazy hat took everything. Please say it was you!”
“Of course it was me,” she said calmly. “I couldn’t let someone else buy your lovely things. They’re all at my flat.”
He gave her a hug which lifted her off her feet and spun her round, laughing with relief.
“You’re terrific, you know that? I could kiss you.”
Which he proceeded to do, most satisfyingly.
When she stepped back, Marianne said, “I gather Julie was a bit more fussy than you thought?”
“I knew she didn’t really appreciate antiques, and like an idiot I kept hoping I could change her mind. But that wasn’t all that was wrong between us- we couldn’t agree on anything. Then she suddenly told me to choose between what she called my old junk, and her.”
“So you chose your old junk?”
“No, I chose a beautiful old silk rug, an Edwardian screen and a Victorian jewellery box, among other things!”
“Very sensible,” she said.
He grinned down at her tenderly. “I love your cheerful hat. A new one, isn’t it?”
She touched her enormous beret with a big pom- pom.
“I got it at the thrift shop. Isn’t it terrific? Couldn’t resist the purple and orange together. I like your jeans and sweater, too. A great improvement.”
“I’m never going to wear a suit to work again. I’ve been taking your advice and arranging things so that I can do what I really want to.”
“And that is?”
“I’ve taken a lease on an empty shop round the corner,” he said. “I want to make it the most interesting place in town, with big comfy chairs where people can sit and read the books I’m going to sell. And I’ll have a little coffee corner and grind my own beans so people won’t be able to resist buying a great big mug of the stuff. “
“That sound fabulous, Mike.” Marianne’s mind leapt ahead. “And you could have authors coming and signing their books, and you could sell paintings as well, and..”
“And I was picturing an antique section in one corner,” he said. “There’s plenty of room for a few trestle tables with some small well chosen things. It would need a person with experience to run that. What do you think?”
Her heart leapt but she looked at him thoughtfully.
“It might be a lot warmer in winter, I suppose. But I’ve always said I’d never work for anyone again. I don’t know, Mike.”
“I was thinking more of a partnership.”
A partnership with Mike. That sounded pretty good.
“Okay,” she said. “That could work. ‘Proprietors McLeod and Evans? Or ‘ Evans and McLeod?’”
“Or McLeod and McLeod. What do you say?”
He was hugging her to him so hard she could hardly breathe but being in his arms felt absolutely right. Her voice was muffled.
“I’ll think about it.”
But Marianne knew she wouldn’t have to think too hard.