• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 08

39 St James’s Street

I had been there only once before, maybe three years earlier. The last time had been a hot, airless, sticky day in late May and my dear aunt was already crotchety and more than a little ill tempered. No 39 was not a great deal cooler inside than it was out on the street despite its dark interior and thick walls.

I was mortified when my aunt declared to the waitress that she wasn’t happy with our table and would certainly be needing one by the window. I blushed so much that I fear my face must have been akin to a beetroot.

Why did she always have to make a fuss? It didn’t matter where you went, things were never right, never ever quite good enough and although she was generous in taking me on regular outings I always partly dreaded them due to the excruciating embarrassment I felt more or less whenever she spoke to anyone.

After a minute or so of awkward shuffling and moving of chairs, we were seated by a small window that had been opened just enough to let a small flow of air through, had there been any air that day, but there wasn’t so it was particularly useless.

I sat facing into the room and I will tell you now that the most striking thing about that coffee shop was that the walls were lined with shelves, floor to ceiling, all the way around, on every wall. Dark narrow wooden shelves, filled with all kinds of mysterious objects. Bottles, exotic looking vases with brightly painted birds on them, huge sea shells, bigger than I’ve ever seen before or since, strange stones that had been varnished to bring out their colour, sets of brass scales, an entire shelf of what looked like small telescopes, jars with stuffed frogs inside, although they looked horribly alive and like they might hop about on the white linen table cloths if you dared open a jar.


39 St James’s Street

I had never seen such an incredibly unusual array of objects in all my life, I was exhilarated! The tea and cake arrived but I was so utterly distracted by the riot of treasures before me that I can’t say I recall taking even one sip of tea.

That’s when I first saw The Mermaid. In the dark corner behind my aunt, right on the edge of the shelf, sort of tucked in behind a large piece of knotted rope, there was a small glass dome, maybe about the size of a large coffee pot, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. At first I couldn’t make it out, it looked a bit like a large sea horse or a strange fish. But as I stared I could see it had what looked like a tiny human face, male or female, I couldn’t tell. I had to get a closer look.

My attention snapped back to our table, “Anne, are you listening to me? You really should take my counsel, God knows your mother never gave you any good advice.”