Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Schroedinger & Cave--Dealers in Discrete Curiosities

"There was, until a year ago, a little and very grimy-looking shop near Seven Dials over which, in weather-worn yellow lettering, the name of "C. Cave, Naturalist and Dealer in Antiquities," was inscribed. The contents of its window were curiously variegated. They comprised some elephant tusks and an imperfect set of chessmen, beads and weapons, a box of eyes, two skulls of tigers and one human, several moth-eaten stuffed monkeys (one holding a lamp), an old-fashioned cabinet, a flyblown ostrich egg or so, some fishing-tackle, and an extraordinarily dirty, empty glass fish tank. There was also, at the moment the story begins, a mass of crystal, worked into the shape of an egg and brilliantly polished. And at that two people, who stood outside the window, were looking, one of them a tall, thin clergyman, the other a black-bearded young man of dusky complexion and unobtrusive costume. The dusky young man spoke with eager gesticulation, and seemed anxious for his companion to purchase the article."
From The Crystal Egg by H. G. Wells
The Premises
Over the doorway to a scruffy and dingy shop in a seedy part of the low streets, on the bad end of the Burned Over District, there's a cracked and peeling sign that reads 'Schroedinger & Cave: Naturalists, & Dealers in Curiosities, Prodigies & Antiquities. (discrete).' The part where it used to provide the date they were established is worn away, possibly through weathering, more likely from being damaged in a riot or from a lingering miasma. It's a dingy, cramped, piled and messy place. No one has cleaned or dusted the shelves for decades, if anyone has even attempted such a thankless and futile task, which is highly unlikely. Dozens of cats prowl the shop constantly, but only one is ever seen at a given moment and never the same one twice.

The Proprietors
Schroedinger is a third-generation Paranaturalist. He studied at the Academy in Wermspittle, as did his parents and grand parents before him. His family has been here for nearly a century, and still they are seen as upstarts and interlopers by the Established Families. An accomplished dowser, Schroedinger is often consulted in matters regarding Ley-Lines and Weak Points. In his youth he discovered, cataloged and mapped over a hundred Weak Points, but that was before the wars and prior to his unfortunate encounter with a Horla that left him with a slight limp. He doesn't go exploring any more. Those days are over now. He has a business to run and a wife to consider (She is rumored to be a Midwife...). His expertise in matters of the paranormal and knowledge of anomalous phenomena often brings in more money than any of the peculiar artifacts or items that he has collected and made available for sale. There are many students who come to the shop to discuss things with this old man who seems to be far more knowledgeable than their own professors, or at least far more approachable and personable. There are overstuffed chairs, a fireplace and hot tea in the back for those who make a suitable impression on old man Schroedinger. He dearly loves to hear about the exploits of those actively engaged in researching the Weak Points, Ley-Lines, Nexii and related matters. He also acts as an informal mentor to a few exceptionally gifted young people who have all but adopted him.

Where as her partner's obsession with Weak Points has ushered-in a new era of genteel poverty for the shop, Mrs. Cave is much more down-to-earth. A born Praeternaturalist and a trained archaeologist, she has spent a considerable amount of time digging through cellars, tunneling into burial sites and scraping dirt, dust and muck off of many of the more mundane specimens and items scattered about the shop. Her gift for Psychometry is uncannily accurate and has led to her unraveling several imposters, frauds and hoaxes, much to the disappointment of her colleague and co-owner. Her husband, a mid-level non-commissioned officer in the Sewer Militia, disappeared three years ago. He is assumed dead, or worse. Lately she has been contemplating taking a trip down along the Cold Roads. There has to be someplace better than Wermspittle. But under no circumstances will Mrs. Cave abandon the shop, at least not until after her daughter graduates from the Academy, then Mrs. Cave might finally leave this place once and for all. Of course, she expects her daughter to take her place in the shop, as she took her mother's place, as is tradition within their family. Her daughter, however has gotten strange ideas into her head and may break with tradition, effectively stranding her mother in the shop, a situation that has generated much friction and tension between mother and daughter.

The Policies
'Caveat Emptor' is engraved across the ceiling tiles, prominently displayed on dozens of little placards dangling from nearly every shelf, box or display case. Nothing is guaranteed, no claims of authenticity are made, no questions regarding provenance are asked. Much of what they have on display appears to be so much junk and rubbish, but mixed in with the debris and dusty relics are any number of strange and sometimes incredible things. Spurious specimens, anomalous archaeological finds, objects from places unknown to any map or geographer, bizarre artifacts that couldn't possibly be real; the stuff that dreams are made of mingles freely with the fictional and the fraudulent upon the shelves, within the display cases and stacked within the bins and boxes piled willy-nilly anywhere there is room for the stuff.

They do not buy books. The shop has a long-standing agreement with several of the local map-makers, book-sellers and scroll-vendors, originally negotiated by their great-great-grandparents who first established the shop here in Wermspittle after having transferred their operations from another city. There is a framed portrait of the two families disembarking from an airship hung behind the old, manual cash register. None of the faces ever look exactly the same due to a fluke in the preparation of the colloidal baths used by the photographer, or so they'll tell anyone who asks.

The shop does a regular and often brisk trade in reacquired properties, unclaimed goods, lost luggage, found objects and the like. This is a discrete shop after all, so a lot of things pass through here that it were better for all concerned that the fewer questions asked, the better. Unless Mr. Schroedinger or Mrs. Cave wish to volunteer some morsel of lore or make an off-hand observation, completely off the record. Of course in the event of their accepting a 'consultation fee,' the casual prohibition against making indelicate inquiries is waived, to the extent that the money is good, real and of respectable valuation.

Not A Pawn-Shop
Both Mr. Schroedinger and Mrs. Cave would be scandalized and offended were anyone to refer to their operation as some sort of hockshop filled with so much cheap bric-a-brac. Anyone uncouth enough to offend either co-proprietor earns themselves a permanent +20% 'non-discount' on any purchases they might wish to make and the back-rooms are off limits to them. They will also receive low bids (just short of insultingly so) for anything they wish to sell to the shop, unless it is truly exceptional.

That said, they will sometimes make private loans against certain rare heirlooms held in trust against the eventual repayment of the balance, interest free of course, they are not usurers. But this is an exceptional service only offered to certain select, regular and reliable customers who have made a positive impression on one or both of the co-owners.

Some of the Things you Might Find in This Shop

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