Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Oops (01/14/10)
By Carol Slider
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Nice to do a thorough job, she thought, pushing back a strand of grayish-blonde hair. Except for the Sèvres, of course...
The delicate Sèvres porcelain vase had its own lighted alcove in the entryway. A beautiful thing, to be sure—vivid emerald green, edged in gold, with an inlaid Rococo painting—though Doris couldn’t believe it was really worth thirty-five thousand dollars. But since an appraiser had valued it, it must be so.
Miss Farquhar was very protective of the vase, which her family had owned for more than 100 years.
“Never mind about the Sèvres, Doris,” she often said. “I’ll deal with it myself.”
Miss Farquhar had polished it with a soft cloth each week, until her eyesight dimmed and her hands became shaky. Now the vase gathered dust in the alcove, and an impertinent spider had woven a web behind it.
Doris glared at the alcove, hands on hips. The spider did acrobatics above the vase, taunting her, and Doris made her decision. Miss Farquhar was cruising the Mediterranean; she would never know.
Carefully, Doris lifted the vase by its gold-plated handles and stepped backwards. But the well-polished floor betrayed her, and one foot slipped. She flailed and panicked— Instinctive self-preservation prevailed—
She let go of the vase.
For a millisecond, the vase hung cartoon-like in the air. Then it fell, and landed on the marble with an apocalyptic crash.
Doris made no sound: her horror was too profound for that. Only after her husband rushed into the entry and helped her to a sofa did she moan,
“Oh, I’ve done it now, for sure...”
“It’s okay, old girl,” said John Prewitt with admirable calm; he was horror-struck, too.
“How can it be okay?” gasped Doris. “Thirty-five thousand dollars, it was worth!”
“Well, that’s just it. Something worth that much... it’s bound to be insured. We’ll tell Miss Farquhar it was an accident, she’ll call the insurance people, and no harm done.”
“No harm done!” Doris cried. “It’s not just the money. It’s an heirloom!”
“We can’t put it back together. Not many pieces left, even... it’s mostly just dust.”
“We’ll have to replace it, then... so she’ll never know...”
“Replace it? I’m not going into debt for that...”
“Maybe... we won’t have to...”
John hated the idea, but couldn’t fight Doris’s determination. It took her a week, but she found a china painter willing to replicate the vase using old photos Doris found. He smirked in a detestable way, as if he thought she planned to steal an antique Sèvres.
“It’ll look good, but it won’t fool anyone who knows the real thing,” he warned.
The artist charged them three hundred dollars (“Ridiculous!” John grumped). But when the mistress returned from the Mediterranean, the alcove held an emerald green vase which looked very much like the lost Sèvres, and weak-eyed Miss Farquhar smiled benignly at it. Doris breathed again.
In the years that followed, Miss Farquhar entertained less and less, and none of her guests gave the vase more than a cursory glance when she pointed it out. After a while, Doris no longer worried, though she knew John still disliked what they had done.
When Miss Farquhar died, her wealth and possessions were bequeathed to friends and charities. Most of the valuable artifacts went to museums. But the replicated Sèvres remained in its alcove. Doris wondered if it would be sold with the house.
One day, the estate executor arrived and called Doris into the study. She went nervously, not knowing what to expect; but the lawyer said,
“I appreciate you and your husband staying on. I hope you’ll remain until the new owners arrive.”
“Of course—we’ll be glad to. This is our home, for as long as we’re needed.”
“Excellent! The new family may want to retain you... but if not, I’ll see you’re both provided with very good references.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Certainly. And there’s something else...”
The lawyer leaned forward.
“You know, of course, that Miss Farquhar had no living relatives. She thought of you and your husband as her family, I believe. She wanted to leave you a legacy for your retirement years... a nest egg, as it were.”
“Why, that’s generous!”
“Yes, it is,” the lawyer agreed cheerfully. “She left you her Sèvres vase.”
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