The bronze stood on a small stand in my local antique shop. I know little about antiques even less about bronze statues, but this one held an appeal, not least price-wise, which seemed irresistible. It was a statuette of a young woman dancing. Yes, this was a bronze all right; weighty, solid, copper, shiny and in perfect condition. Her graceful limbs, the pleasing expression on her face, decided me. I bought her.
Two weeks later I was walking my dog across a field near my home. As I strolled along, I came face to face with the man who had sold me the statue. As he approached, he called out:
‘Where have you put her?’
I pulled on Percy the dog’s lead and we both came to a halt.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, going up to him, ‘Where did I put what?’
‘Why, the girl. The bronze figurine that you bought from my shop.’
‘I put her on top of my piano.’
‘A good place to home her. I’m glad. She’s a lovely example of Art Nouveau.’
Percy was pulling at the lead, eager to be off.
‘I like your dog,’ he went on. ‘I’m looking to buy a retriever. Gives me a good excuse to go walking. I need to walk. Get rid of some of this.’ He gave his corpulant middle a sharp tap. ‘Would you recommend the breed?’
‘Oh yes. Very obedient and they are so affectionate.’
‘Good. Well, nice to have bumped into you, madam. Badgers the name: Gordon Badger. I have your details. Mrs Kneale, isn’t it? Should anything that I think may interest you come into my shop, I’ll give you a 'phone call, unless you would prefer me to email or text?’
‘I prefer to speak,’ I said. ‘But I won’t be buying again for a while. Thank you.’
‘Of course. I understand. Well, good day Mrs Kneale.’
Mr Badger bowed and walked on. Percy growled. It was dusk, so I decided to turn back and go home.
The man retreated into the distance: small with balding head and an unsteady gait. Well, good luck to him. Buying and selling antiques required stamina and patience. A difficult living to make unless one was lucky.
That summer was very hot. So much so, I was apt to leave my French windows open and at times went out without locking them or my side gate. I lived in a Cotswold village in England and people were deemed trustworthy and kindly. So imagine my horror when on yet another sweltering day, I returned home from the shops to find my bronze figure gone. At first I thought that I had moved it and searched the cottage upstairs and down and then the drawers, but nothing. I stared at the now vacant spot where once she had stood and felt the tears well up. Stolen! It must have been stolen. The thief had surely entered the side gate into the garden and through the French windows, taken it off the piano and exited via the same route. I had grown so used to seeing her perched above my music stand on the piano. She had become like a friend. In frustration and misery I walked round and round the room willing her to return. For as I had played my pieces of music, I would imagine the young woman’s life as it might have been – fun and bright with many admirers; a woman who could bring laughter to any party. Someone who could dance the hours away. I was so angry with myself for the carelessness of my actions that I determined to find the thief without police aid. In any case they would take a very dim view of my casual behaviour: leaving a window and side gate open. However, I have discovered in life that sometimes the more we delve the less we find and that chance is the one blessing and reward that on occasion may lead us to our goal.
Every morning and evening, I took Percy for his walks and my route was usually the same: across several fields, down a winding, narrow lane that eventually led back to my cottage. One day, I saw, in the distance, Mr Badger out for his walk. True to his word he had bought a Golden Cocker Retriever. He did not see me as we were some distance from each other but l noticed that his dog was off the lead and bounding ahead of him. I quickened my pace. The fact that I had lost my figurine, that I had bought it from his shop in the first place, made me feel pretty bad and I didn’t want to confess the fact to this rather pompous man.
That night there was a storm. The windows rattled, the doors and building shook and rain lashed against my windows. The next morning when I opened the back door I saw the devastation of my garden. A small crab apple tree was lying on its side and the rain had flattened some of my less robust plants. There was debris everywhere, and I sighed to think of all the clearing up I would need to do during the day. I walked towards a couple of large terracotta pots that had smashed in the wind and it was then that I saw it: lying face down and half covered in earth was the bronze figurine. How on earth did she get there? What was going on? I lifted her out of the soil. She was miraculously still in one piece. I brushed away the sodden earth then carried her into the kitchen and gave her a thorough wash before placing her once more on the piano. I was ridiculously happy at seeing her back where she belonged. So thrilled was I, so relieved to have her safe again, I decided to put the incident to the back of my mind, delighting in the young lady who watched me once again with curious, kind eyes, as I sang and played my favourite tunes.
I was practising a piece of Mozart one afternoon, when the front doorbell rang. It was Mr Badger.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you, Mrs Kneale, but have you seen Bramble?’
‘My new dog. He’s gone and I’m nearly out of my mind with worry. Where could he be?’
‘Well, no Mr Badger. Why should I have seen your dog?’
He hesitated. ‘Well, I eh … it’s just that your having the same breed, I thought perhaps you might be familiar with their habits. Do they wander off at all?’
He stood on one foot and then the other pulling at his camel overcoat as though it didn’t quite fit. In a weak moment I asked him in. And in he came, muddy shoes leaving mud stains on the pale carpet. He stopped suddenly when he saw the statue. I thought he paled.
‘I see you have placed her on your piano, Mrs Kneale. She looks well. Catches the light. A handsome piece.’ But his voice shook and I sensed his tension.
‘May I?’ He picked her up, took an eye glass from out of his coat pocket and examined the figure closely.
‘You, eh, wouldn’t, I suppose, consider selling her back to me?’
‘No!’ My answer was more abrupt than I had intended.
‘She’s a beauty, Mrs Kneale. One rather rare beauty, I think, Her patina is rich and the face and hands are exceptionally well finished. But we take our chances in this business. You bought her from me for a very reasonable price, I can tell you.’
He straightened his back, took a deep breath and gazed glum-faced out of the French window.
‘Mr Badger,’ I said, my confidence returned. ‘What is it you really want? Your dog or my statue?’
He paused for a moment, eyebrows raised, startled by my directness.
‘Well, both of course, Mrs Kneale. Let me just say, I would pay you a handsome price for the bronze. You would not regret it.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong, Mr Badger. I would regret it, dearly. Sometimes money cannot replace an object. Not when it is loved. The answer is no, I will not sell her back to you.’
Mr Badger continued to stare through the panes of glass as though transfixed.
‘Is something wrong?’ I asked.
‘My dog. I must find my dog!’
And with these words he turned and rushed out of the room. Seconds later I heard the front door bang shut.
My suspicions were immediately aroused. Why had he come? Surely not about his Bramble. And why had he stared so intently out of my French window.
I went into the back garden, knelt down near where I had found the figurine and rummaged around a bit, moving soil and digging with a small trowel. Something shone – a piece of mettle. I picked it up. It was a cuff link with initials on it. I took it inside and rinsed it under the tap. And then taking a magnifying glass I looked more closely. The initials read GB. Gordon Badger! Could it be? It would explain his recent behaviour. My heart pounded as I went over things in my mind.
That day, the day the bronze had vanished, I had left the window and side gate open so giving a passing Mr Badger. I was sure, an opportunist at heart, a golden opportunity. Regretting his inexpensive sale of the figurine to me, and now realising its potential value, he determined to get it back. On seeing the open gate, he crept in, and finding the window also unlocked made an entry without necessitating forcing the locks. And so easy was it to spot the bronze standing on top of the piano, all he had to do was pick it up and go. At that precise moment I must have returned, and on hearing the front door unlock, he panicked. Now realising that he had nothing in which to conceal the bronze, he quickly hid it in a little soil amongst the overgrowth hoping that he might soon seize another opportunity to return for it at a later date. It was a risk he would have been forced to take.
The day he called round claiming to have lost his dog was nothing more than a ruse to baffle me. Bramble was probably safe and sound at home.
All this happened a couple of years ago. I was never able to prove anything, nor did I attempt to do so. Apart from the cuff link, and that might have belonged to an ex house owner with similar initials, I had no substantial evidence to take it further. The statue was with me not with him. But judging from Mr Badger’s behaviour that day he called to see me, I had little doubt that he had taken the bronze.
I still come across him walking his dog. He always greets me briefly but his eyes never quite meet mine.
Sadly, I was eventually obliged to sell the statue, my figurine.. Not to him of course, but at an auction. It sold for twenty thousand pounds!
And yet for all of that, had I had the choice, I would still have preferred to keep her. My dancing lady.