The Romance of a Shop
THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP.
OF A SHOP.
CUPPLES AND HURD
The Algonquin Press
|IN THE BEGINNING||1|
|FRIENDS IN NEED||16|
|WAYS AND MEANS||36|
|NUMBER TWENTY B.||47|
|THIS WORKING-DAY WORLD||65|
|TO THE RESCUE||77|
|A NEW CUSTOMER||93|
|A DISTINGUISHED PERSON||108|
|GERTRUDE IS ANXIOUS||170|
|A SPECIAL EDITION||225|
|IN THE SICK-ROOM||257|
|THE LAST ACT||266|
|HOPE AND A FRIEND||272|
THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP.
CHAPTER I. IN THE BEGINNING.
There stood on Campden Hill a large, dun-coloured house, enclosed by awalled-in garden of several acres in extent. It belonged to noparticular order of architecture, and was more suggestive of comfortthan of splendour, with its great windows, and rambling, nondescriptproportions. On one side, built out from the house itself, was a bigglass structure, originally designed for a conservatory. On the Aprilmorning[Pg 2] of which I write, the whole place wore a dejected anddismantled appearance; while in the windows and on the outer wall of thegarden were fixed black and white posters, announcing a sale of effectsto take place on that day week.
The air of desolation which hung about the house had communicated itselfin some vague manner to the garden, where the trees were bright withblossom, or misty with the tender green of the young leaves. Perhaps theeffect of sadness was produced, or at least heightened, by the patheticfigure that paced slowly up and down the gravel path immediately beforethe house; the figure of a young woman, slight, not tall, bare-headed,and clothed in deep mourning.
She paused at last in her walk, and stood a moment in a listeningattitude, her face uplifted to the sky.
Gertrude Lorimer was not a beautiful woman, and such good looks as shepossessed varied from day to day, almost from hour to hour; but acertain air of character and distinction clung to her through all hervarying moods, and redeemed her from a possible charge of plainness.
She had an arching, unfashionable forehead, like those of Lionardo daVinci's women, short-sighted eyes, and an expressive month and chin. Asshe stood in the full light of the spring sunshine, her face pale andworn with recent sorrow, she looked, perhaps, older than hertwenty-three years.
Pushing back from her forehead the hair, which, though not cut into a"fringe," had a tendency to stray about her face, and passing her handacross her eyes, with a movement expressive of mingled anxiety andresolve, she walked quickly to the door of the conservatory, opened it,and went inside.
The interior of the great glass structure would have presented asurprise to the stranger expectant of palms and orchids. It was fittedup as a photographer's studio.
Several cameras, each of a different size, stood about the room. In onecorner was a great screen of white-painted canvas; there were blinds tothe roof adapted for admitting or excluding the light; and paste-pots,bottles, printing-frames, photographs in various stages of finish—anondescript[Pg 4] heap of professional litter—were scattered about the placefrom end to end.
Standing among these properties was a young girl of about twenty yearsof age; fair, slight, upright as a dart, with a glance at once alert andserene.
The two young creatures in their black dresses advanced to each other,then stood a moment, clinging to one another in silence.
It was the first time that either had been in the studio since the daywhen their unforeseen calamity had overtaken them; a calamity whichseemed to them so mysterious, so unnatural, so past all belief, and yetwhich was common-place enough—a sudden loss of fortune, immediatelyfollowed by the sudden death of the father, crushed by the cruel blowwhich had fallen on him.
"Lucy," said the elder girl at last, "is it only a fortnight ago?"
"I don't know," answered Lucy, looking round the room, whose familiardetails stared at her with a hideous unfamiliarity; "I don't know if itis a hundred years or yesterday since I put that portrait of Phyllis inthe printing-frame! Have you told Phyllis?"
"No, but I wish to do so at once; and Fanny. But here they come."
Two other black-gowned figures entered by the door which led from thehouse, and helped to form a sad little group in the middle of the room.
Frances Lorimer, the eldest of them all, and half-sister to the otherthree, was a stout, fair woman of thirty, presenting somewhat theappearance of a large and superannuated baby. She had a big face, withsmall, meaningless features, and faint, surprised-looking eyebrows. Hercomplexion had once been charmingly pink and white, but the tints hadhardened, and a coarse red colour clung to the wide cheeks. At thepresent moment, her little, light eyes red with weeping, her eyebrowsarched higher than ever, she looked the picture of impotent distress.She had come in, hand in hand with Phyllis, the youngest, tallest, andprettiest of the sisters; a slender, delicate-looking creature ofseventeen, who had outgrown her strength; the spoiled child of thefamily by virtue of her youth, her weakness, and her personal charms.
Gertrude was the first to speak.
"Now that we are all together," she said,[Pg 6] "it is a good opportunity fortalking over our plans. There are a great many things to be considered,as you know. Phyllis, you had better not stand."
Phyllis cast her long, supple frame into the lounge which was regardedas her special property, and Fanny sat down on a chair, wiping her eyeswith her black-bordered pocket-handkerchief. Gertrude put her handsbehind her and leaned her head against the wall.
Phyllis's wide, grey eyes, with their half-wistful, half-humorousexpression, glanced slowly from one to the other.
"Now that we are all grouped," she said, "there is nothing left but forLucy to focus us."
It was a very small joke indeed, but they all laughed, even Fanny. Noone had laughed for a fortnight, and at this reassertion of youth andhealth their spirits rose with unexpected rapidity.
"Now, Gertrude, unfold your plans," said Lucy, in her clear tones andwith her air of calm resolve.
Gertrude played nervously with a copy of the British Journal ofPhotography which she held, and began to speak with [Pg 7]hesitation, almostwith apology, as one who deprecates any undue assumption of authority.
"You know that Mr. Grimshaw, our father's lawyer, was here last night,"she said; "and that he and I had a long talk together about business.(He was sorry you were too ill to come down, Fanny.) He told me allabout our affairs. We are quite, quite poor. When everything is settled,when the furniture is sold, he thinks there will be about £500 among us,perhaps more, perhaps less."
Fanny's thin, feminine tones broke in