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Saturday, 2 April 2016


Dear Montagu,

 I hope this reaches you as I am not sure I have your current address and I'm not sure what a stranger will make of this.
Do you remember Great Uncle Sebastian? We were finally permitted to declare him legally dead. He had been missing for 15 years after all, and he had been 87 when he went missing, but his will had been contested and... Anyway, to cut a long story short we've now had The Reading of the Will.  

It turned out that Great Uncle Sebastian had three houses that none of the Family knew about. All of them in Blackheath, all of them boarded up and hadn't been lived in in decades. So obviously we've had to clear them out.

Which brings me to the parcel accompanying this letter. In the attic of one of the houses we found a collection of snuff boxes - and remembering your collection of antique pipes, I thought you might be interested in them.

I hope you can use them and that this letter finds you in good health. Do let me know your latest news.

Sincerely, Miriam

Along with the letter, the package contains a small wooden box with a mahogany veneer, brass fittings and a family crest inlaid with mother of pearl on the lid. Inside the box are a dozen or so small containers - each exquisitely hand-decorated and no two the same.

They are snuff boxes.


1 The snuff boxes contain the cremated remains of Burnt Yates (so named because he famously singed his fingers once when cooking toast), a south London undertaker. Burnt Yates was notorious for breeding emperor rats in a bid to create a rat-king. Nobody knows if he succeeded or not.

The crest on the box is a family crest that Yates invented for himself. The box contains (apart from Yates' dusty remains) a secret compartment and in that compartment is Yates' last will and testament.

2 The snuff boxes all contain fine black crystals - a little like obsidian sugar granules.

The crystal are known has "hadgh" and are a dietary supplement required by body thieves. Without regular doses of hadgh the body thief starts to lose control of its host - hadgh is used to supress the victim's spirit. Extended possession can lead to the victim developing mental illness when the body thief finally moves on.

3 The snuff is a set of experimental Victorian snuff, lovingly collected by Sir Cromwell Higgins, the eccentric hunter-explorer.

The bottles are labelled in Sir Cromwell's spidery handwriting and are now rather faded. Deciphering his handwriting reveals titles such as "extract of duck", "scrapings of a Belgian church pew" and "essence of the Kilimanjaro elephant". What they really contain is another matter altogether.

© Steve Hatherley