Baby Grand for sale
It has been suggested that a few of the tales in my book of short stories might provide a light relief, from time to time, from the world’s wearisome worries. This is the first of such stories.
Cousin Jackie, my Uncle Kenneth’s child, married a witty, lovely, lazy but energetic man called Roger Burness. They met at a school where she was a young and pretty Matron and he was an aspiring school teacher. Tall, good looking and with a permanent twinkle in his eye, Roger intrigued this delightful lady and one day offered to go for a walk with her when the rest of the staff wanted to retire to the television set. The seeds of love were sown.
After their marriage it was obvious that Roger was never going to be a business tycoon. His interest in the arrival of the wasps’ nest at the start of summer, his physical valour and determination to make things attractive regardless of the economic cost or commercial benefit and his witty observation of the funny side of life were all wonderful social graces but not big earners. His penchant for fly fishing gave him steadiness of character but little economic push to earn more. His interest in books and learning didn’t extend to accountancy and practical teaching. Roger preferred to laugh rather than to lecture.
This led him to become a representative of the Harrap publishing business. His job description was unusual. He was not there to sell books, or even to take orders. He was there to visit and intrigue the people responsible in schools for buying the teaching literature. His charming and erudite nature suited the job perfectly. Men and women alike fell for his fun and for the gentle way he rubbished so much educational pomposity while clearly endorsing the products of his employer. The greatest salesman is one who doesn’t appear to sell. That is why Roger kept this apparently counter-commercial job for so long and did so well at it.
Living in an old cottage with a corrugated iron roof topped with thatch – a practical if bizarre combination – he drove daily to his work from Bury St Edmunds to the home counties and beyond. He loved listening to music so the classical channel was always on in his car and his appreciation of the great works of the musicians of the Renaissance and beyond filled his long motoring hours and his evenings at home. He could play the piano passably and had an underlying craving to own a grand piano. Only a baby grand would fit into his cottage.
Driving through the wealthier suburbs of Bury one day a notice outside a somewhat palatial house caught his eye as he flashed past. “Baby Grand for sale” it read. Roger was a good driver who didn’t delay so his glancing time was limited. The house, like all those in this particular neighbourhood, had a dual drive. The entrance he passed was the one lower down the hill. There was another, he knew, further up the hill that led to the same front door. On his return in the afternoon he would approach the house by this higher entrance, to save time.
As the sun edged toward the western horizon, Roger began making his way home. He had been thinking of the moral rightness of his enquiring about the piano. Roger was poor. The sort of sums of money he might be talking about seldom even entered his mind let alone his frugal daily budget calculations. He and Jackie had a tiny little cash reserve ‘for a rainy day’ but grand pianos, even baby ones, didn’t really fit that description. He could look, anyway.
The upper drive entrance appeared even sooner than he had anticipated. There was no repeat of the notice he had observed in the morning but his instinct prompted him to work out that if you were putting a furniture sale notice in front of this sort of property it would be on the lower entrance side rather than the upper one. The front door was impressive English oak and wrought iron. He parked the car and rang the bell.
A tall, slim, Army-officer gentleman answered the door, and bowed ever so slightly in a way that substituted for ‘can I help you?’ “I’ve come about the piano,” Roger said. “Oh, yes?” replied the man and, after a slight but noticeable hesitation, “do come in.” He led the way through the large and impressive entrance hall, past the sitting room to what was obviously the music room. This space was dominated by the biggest, most expensive-looking grand piano Roger had ever seen, in person or on film.
Somewhat puzzled to understand how this could be called a Baby Grand, Roger expressed his admiration for it and asked if he might play it. The gentleman indicated ‘certainly’ and Roger sat down to hear his good but simple rendition of part of Grieg’s Piano Concerto transformed into the sound of heaven, as it might have been played by Horowitz himself. The notes swept up to the sky – or, rather, to the very high ceiling, in this carefully planned music hall. The Bösendorfer-like piano needed height to reflect its miraculous tone and range.
Realising that his host was standing, waiting patiently, Roger brought his recital to an end and addressed him. “It’s a truly wonderful piano,” he said, “but I’m afraid it is much too big for me.” “Oh, I am so sorry,” the man replied, looking sad. “It’s hardly what I would call a Baby Grand,’ continued Roger, seeking to find an explanation for his rather presumptive dismissal of the man’s precious property. The tall, thin man murmured another apology and led the way to the front door. He bowed slightly again as he saw Roger off. Roger noticed that he stayed at the front door for as long as he was visible in the car mirror.
Puzzled by the seeming incongruity of his visit, and because it was the obvious route to his home, Roger drove away via the lower drive, the one where he had seen the notice from the road. As it came into sight, he slowed the car so that he could read it properly.
“Baby guinea pigs for sale,” it said. Unmistakably.
13 March 2023