After tea I drifted round to the public library at the back and at last found my way into the old curiosity shop at the corner of Marsham Street. I had heard so much about it, how a pony used to walk into the shop and such like eccentricities etc. etc. and also how the owner had relics of the Inquisition. So this evening I went in ostensibly to ask about some jars and we got into conversation.
The owner is a funny hunch-backed little man with a queer smile and I pointed to some leather figures and he told me they came from the Inquisition Chamber at Lisbon and pointed to a fearsome devil hanging from the ceiling, which with four others used to hang from the ceiling of the Chamber. The Devil was horrid to look at with grinning and diabolical jaws and clasping a ‘stone’ of leather in which was a leather snake with long fangs which could drop out (like a concertina) four feet or so, he told me he had the whole collection, a large number of figures all made of leather because, it almost made me shudder as he said it, ‘leather deadens all sound!’ Can one conceive of anything more gruesome?
He said he had the two door keepers larger than human beings one holding a sword which could descend on an unfortunate wretches head and the other a pistol which could be fired by pulling a string. But the way he came into the possession of these things is as mysterious as anything in their history. The former owner having made up his mind to sell them sent two men with two figures to see what they could get for them, one came to this shop and the owner seeing they were something quite out of the common offered to buy it and gave the money for it. The other man sold his figure but the money was not paid down nor was it as much as my hunchback acquaintance was willing to give. Therefore for 10 years he steadily bought the lot not knowing who was selling them to him and moreover these figures used to arrive often at midnight and when he asked the man who brought them why he came at such extraordinary times all he would say was that he had to bring them 40 miles in from the country and go back again.
And that is all the present owner knows, nor has he the slightest idea who he bought them from and all he knows is that they are genuine and were stolen from Lisbon 300 years ago by Don Sebastian (I think he said) a seaman who brought them to England. What they have been doing in the meanwhile no-one knows. I said I should like to see them. He has them in a house at Kennington or Kensington and didn’t say much, as I said it was purely a matter of interest on my part, but as I was going out he said that if I really cared to come in a fortnight hence he would arrange to show them to me.
If I go I shall insist on having a companion, they are too gruesome without and the owner has an unfathomable smile which I vaguely mistrust. He seems in keeping with them and might do a little ÔÇ£inquisitioningÔÇØ on me on his own account. He added he couldn’t show them to me till about a fortnight hence as he had some other people going and ‘we mustn’t get muddled up’, whatever that ungrammatical sentence may mean. He wants, he told me, ┬ú25,000 for the lost, but he will only sell them altogether. I must say it was an extraordinarily interesting story as he unfolded it to me.
I forgot to say that I had a slight shock (still in keeping with the Inquisition!) when I found he had locked the door behind me and had to unlock it before I went out. It was an incident and I fancy he always keeps his door locked, it was so when I came, but it gave me rather a surprise! I don’t know why but I feel that I shall never trust my precious bones to him alone, it’s too creepy.