Story One - When Victor met Emily
"Emily, will you marry me?" asked Victor, gazing up at her from his down-on-one-knee position. Her response was to throw her arms around his neck, almost knocking him over.
They had first met about two years earlier at an auction house where they were both bidding on the same sword. Emily thought it would look great in the window of the little antique shop that she had just inherited from her aunt. She had come along on a bit of a whim, really, since the shop was currently well-stocked. But she had a nagging feeling that there was something missing, that the window needed a real feature item to grab the attention of passers-by. A quick flick through the catalogue later, she had decided on the sword and a watercolour of HMS Victory, both valued at around £100. They would be unlikely to sell quickly after she had marked them up but would sit happily in her window for a while at least.
Victor was just as convinced that it belonged above the fireplace in his new flat. The space begged to be filled but he balked at the idea of a painting or, even worse, a mirror. He had been a fan of military memorabilia for most of his life and recognised this as a 1908 Pattern Cavalry Trooper's Sword, the last service sword issued to British cavalry troops. The price tag was almost ridiculously low, too. He had almost missed the auction when he could only find one of the shoes that he wanted to wear. After searching high and low in his bedroom he gave up and wore a different pair. The missing shoe still bothered him a little, though, so it took him a while to realise he was in a bidding war over the sword.
The woman who had just topped his £90 bid was sitting three rows in front and several seats to the left. The auction room was pretty full and all he could really see was the back of her head. She had wavy hair, he noticed. He was about to make another bid when he was beaten to it by an older man with a huge white mustache just to his right. Taking a deep breath, he put his own hand up.
"One thirty!" he said.
The old man shook his head regretfully. One down... The woman turned round with a frown on her face, clearly trying to work out who had just made the bid.
"The current bid is one thirty - one hundred and thirty pounds!" said the auctioneer. "Do I hear one forty?"
"One fifty!" the woman snapped.
There was a small gasp around the room. The auctioneer turned to Victor. "Sir? Would you like to go any further?"
He grinned back. "Two hundred!"
The auctioneer nodded his approval and turned back to the woman. "Madam? No? Then with the bid at two hundred pounds... going once... going twice... sold to the gentleman in the green shirt."
The second time they met was in Emily's antique shop. It was several months after the incident at the auction house, a bitterly cold day in January that had just turned to snow. Victor had heard about the shop several times from friends who had admired his sword and told him that there was one very like it in "that little antique shop off the high street". He had not had any real plans to visit it today but somehow his feet had carried him there. The window did indeed contain a sword very similar to his but it was the 1912 Pattern Cavalry Officer's Sword. He wondered idly which auction the shop's owner had bought it at, since he had not been aware of it at all.
And then the snow started. There was only one thing to do, he decided, ducking through the glass door. A bell rang as he entered, which added to the shop's quaint feel. The girl at the till looked up and smiled at him, then went back to flicking through her magazine, her casualness suggesting that she was not the owner. As well as waiting out the snow storm, he added waiting to see the owner to his list of reasons for staying inside. There would be a better chance of negotiating with the owner over the price of the sword.
He had been in the shop before but it was quite a while ago, now, and he paused for a moment to take a look around. His memory of the place was of endless clutter with tables, chairs and sofas of various types just jumbled together any old how, and every flat surface packed with vases, figuerines, candelabra and other bric-a-brac. The view that met his eyes was much easier to take in. Furniture and objet d'art had been arranged into some semblance of order, usually around the period in which they were made. There were also far fewer items on display, making it far more obvious that the shop operated at the higher end of the market. His eye was caught by a Victorian hat-stand and he ambled over to examine it more closely.
Just then, the shop's bell sounded and a woman entered, quickly closing the door behind her to keep out the flurries of snow that attempted to enter with her. She pulled down the hood on her sensible waterproof coat, revealing her wavy hair. He felt a stab of memory but could not place her.
"Hello, Miss Mason," said the girl at the till.
"Hello, Alice. If you'd like, you can get your things and leave early. It'll give you a chance of getting home before the snow gets too bad and I doubt that we'll have many customers today."
"Oh, thank you, Miss Mason! I was getting a bit worried, to tell you the truth. There is a customer in, actually, over by the Victoriana."
"Thank you, Alice. Well, you get yourself home. I'll take care of everything here."
Pretending to be fascinated by the hat-stand, Victor waited until Alice had left before approaching the woman at the till. She had taken her coat off but had left it on the back of her chair rather than putting it in the back. He guessed that she was waiting for him to leave so that she could close the shop and go home herself.
"Er, Miss... Mason?" he asked and then his voice dried in his throat. She was without doubt the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
She looked up at him from startlingly pretty eyes, clearly expecting him to say something more. When he did not, she attempted to continue the conversation. "Yes?" she prompted.
"Oh, er... Well... It's about the sword in your window..." again he faltered to a complete stop, lost in her eyes.
"The sword, sir? That's priced at two hundred and fifty pounds. Would you like to take a closer look at it?"
"A look...? Oh, no! That is, there's no need. No need at all. I want it. The sword, I mean. Umm..." He was suddenly aware that he was babbling like an idiot and that the woman with the amazing eyes had a wary expression on her face that might, at any moment, turn to outright distrust. "So, can I have it, please? The sword, I mean."
"Yes, sir. I thought you did." Her expression had faded to slight puzzlement but a sale was, of course, a sale and she fetched the sword from the window. "Is there any particular reason that you're interested in the sword?" she asked as she wrapped it.
"Oh, I bought a very similar one at an auction a few months back. Paid over the odds for it, too..." He stopped suddenly, as the memory that had been tugging at him unravelled.
"You!" they exclaimed at the same moment and then laughed.
"Well, I must admit I felt a bit bad about that, afterwards," the woman admitted. "I hadn't had this place for very long and I really wanted something interesting for the window. As soon as you said, 'Two hundred' I realised I was being silly and that I'd forced you into paying too much for it. How about I knock fifty pounds of the price of this one to make up for it?"
"There's no need, really. It's a fair price. But if you really want to make it up to me, let me take you out to dinner when you've closed this place up for the night. Oh, and tell me your first name! I'll feel really awkward calling you 'Miss Mason' all night..."
From there, their relationship had followed a fairly conventional path. They had started by meeting up once or twice a week for dinner or a movie, finding that they shared a taste for Mozart and James Bond films but could not agree on literature. Before long, Victor found that most of his waking thoughts revolved around Emily. He even resurrected his career as a poet, finding love a much more fertile ground than the self-indulgent teenage angst that had fueled his earlier attempts..
After a couple of months, she had invited him round to her flat for dinner and he had spent the night. His friends had all treated this next step as inevitable but somehow it had still taken him by surprise. Then he had made a return invitation and she had arrived with a toothbrush tucked at the bottom of her handbag, "just in case".
After that, they started meeting up more frequently and stayed over at each other's homes more and more often. One day as he was getting dressed, he found that all of the clothes that he wanted to wear were at Emily's. Nobody was surprised, therefore, when they decided to set up a home together within a year of first meeting each other. From living together to marriage was the tiniest of baby-steps and even though Emily was over-joyed to be asked, here at their favourite restaurant, she had never doubted that he would ask her.
The restaurant staff were also very pleased. The sight of the handsome Victor on one knee in front of the beautiful Emily had drawn the eyes of most of the other customers and more than a few tears, too. The manager emerged with a bottle of champagne and there were smiles all round.
Everybody was certain that this particular couple would live happily ever after.
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