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THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP ***




Produced by MWS, Martin Pettit and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)






_THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP._

[Illustration: Logo]


THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP.

BY

AMY LEVY.

BOSTON
CUPPLES AND HURD
The Algonquin Press
1889


[Illustration: Decoration]




CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.
PAGE
IN THE BEGINNING 1


CHAPTER II.

FRIENDS IN NEED 16


CHAPTER III.

WAYS AND MEANS 36


CHAPTER IV.

NUMBER TWENTY B. 47


CHAPTER V.

THIS WORKING-DAY WORLD 65


CHAPTER VI.

TO THE RESCUE 77


CHAPTER VII.

A NEW CUSTOMER 93


CHAPTER VIII.

A DISTINGUISHED PERSON 108


CHAPTER IX.

SHOW SUNDAY 125


CHAPTER X.

SUMMING UP 142


CHAPTER XI.

A CONFIDENCE 159


CHAPTER XII.

GERTRUDE IS ANXIOUS 170


CHAPTER XIII.

A ROMANCE 181


CHAPTER XIV.

LUCY 190


CHAPTER XV.

CRESSIDA 203


CHAPTER XVI.

A WEDDING 216


CHAPTER XVII.

A SPECIAL EDITION 225


CHAPTER XVIII.

PHYLLIS 236


CHAPTER XIX.

THE SYCAMORES 246


CHAPTER XX.

IN THE SICK-ROOM 257


CHAPTER XXI.

THE LAST ACT 266


CHAPTER XXII.

HOPE AND A FRIEND 272


CHAPTER XXIII.

A DISMISSAL 281


CHAPTER XXIV.

AT LAST 289


EPILOGUE 298


[Illustration: Decoration]




THE ROMANCE OF A SHOP.




CHAPTER I.

IN THE BEGINNING.

_Turn, Fortune, turn thy wheel and lower the proud;
Turn thy wild wheel through sunshine, storm, and cloud;
Thy wheel and thee we neither love nor hate._
TENNYSON.


There stood on Campden Hill a large, dun-coloured house, enclosed by a
walled-in garden of several acres in extent. It belonged to no
particular order of architecture, and was more suggestive of comfort
than of splendour, with its great windows, and rambling, nondescript
proportions. On one side, built out from the house itself, was a big
glass structure, originally designed for a conservatory. On the April
morning of which I write, the whole place wore a dejected and
dismantled appearance; while in the windows and on the outer wall of the
garden were fixed black and white posters, announcing a sale of effects
to take place on that day week.

The air of desolation which hung about the house had communicated itself
in some vague manner to the garden, where the trees were bright with
blossom, or misty with the tender green of the young leaves. Perhaps the
effect of sadness was produced, or at least heightened, by the pathetic
figure that paced slowly up and down the gravel path immediately before
the 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 listening
attitude, her face uplifted to the sky.

Gertrude Lorimer was not a beautiful woman, and such good looks as she
possessed varied from day to day, almost from hour to hour; but a
certain air of character and distinction clung to her through all her
varying moods, and redeemed her from a possible charge of plainness.

She had an arching, unfashionable forehead, like those of Lionardo da
Vinci's women, short-sighted eyes, and an expressive month and chin. As
she stood in the full light of the spring sunshine, her face pale and
worn with recent sorrow, she looked, perhaps, older than her
twenty-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 hand
across her eyes, with a movement expressive of mingled anxiety and
resolve, she walked quickly to the door of the conservatory, opened it,
and went inside.

The interior of the great glass structure would have presented a
surprise to the stranger expectant of palms and orchids. It was fitted
up as a photographer's studio.

Several cameras, each of a different size, stood about the room. In one
corner was a great screen of white-painted canvas; there were blinds to
the roof adapted for admitting or excluding the light; and paste-pots,
bottles, printing-frames, photographs in various stages of finish - a
nondescript heap of professional litter - were scattered about the place
from end to end.

Standing among these properties was a young girl of about twenty years
of age; fair, slight, upright as a dart, with a glance at once alert and
serene.

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 day
when their unforeseen calamity had overtaken them; a calamity which
seemed to them so mysterious, so unnatural, so past all belief, and yet
which was common-place enough - a sudden loss of fortune, immediately
followed by the sudden death of the father, crushed by the cruel blow
which 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 familiar
details stared at her with a hideous unfamiliarity; "I don't know if it
is a hundred years or yesterday since I put that portrait of Phyllis in
the 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 the
house, 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 other
three, was a stout, fair woman of thirty, presenting somewhat the
appearance of a large and superannuated baby. She had a big face, with
small, meaningless features, and faint, surprised-looking eyebrows. Her
complexion had once been charmingly pink and white, but the tints had
hardened, and a coarse red colour clung to the wide cheeks. At the
present moment, her little, light eyes red with weeping, her eyebrows
arched higher than ever, she looked the picture of impotent distress.
She had come in, hand in hand with Phyllis, the youngest, tallest, and
prettiest of the sisters; a slender, delicate-looking creature of
seventeen, who had outgrown her strength; the spoiled child of the
family 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, "it is a good opportunity for
talking 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 regarded
as her special property, and Fanny sat down on a chair, wiping her eyes
with her black-bordered pocket-handkerchief. Gertrude put her hands
behind her and leaned her head against the wall.

Phyllis's wide, grey eyes, with their half-wistful, half-humorous
expression, glanced slowly from one to the other.

"Now that we are all grouped," she said, "there is nothing left but for
Lucy to focus us."

It was a very small joke indeed, but they all laughed, even Fanny. No
one had laughed for a fortnight, and at this reassertion of youth and
health their spirits rose with unexpected rapidity.

"Now, Gertrude, unfold your plans," said Lucy, in her clear tones and
with her air of calm resolve.

Gertrude played nervously with a copy of the _British Journal of
Photography_ which she held, and began to speak with hesitation, almost
with 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 all
about 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 on her sister's words -

"There is my £50 a-year that my mama left me; I am sure you are all
welcome to that."

"Yes, dear, yes," said Lucy, patting her shoulder; while Gertrude bit
her lip and went on -

"We cannot live for long on £500, as you must know. We must work. People
have been very kind. Uncle Sebastian has telegraphed for two of us to go
out to India; Mrs. Devonshire offers another two of us a home for as
long as we like. But I think we would all rather not accept these kind
offers?"

"Of course not!" cried Lucy and Phyllis in chorus, while Fanny
maintained a meek, consenting silence.

"The question remains," continued the speaker; "what can we do? There is
teaching, of course. We might find places as governesses; but we should
be at a great disadvantage without certificates or training of any sort.
And we should be separated."

"Oh, Gertrude," cried Fanny, "you might write! You write so beautifully!
I am sure you could make your fortune at it."

Gertrude's face flushed, but she controlled all other signs of the
irritation which poor hapless Fan was so wont to excite in her.

"I have thought about that, Fanny," she said; "but I cannot afford to
wait and hammer away at the publishers' doors with a crowd of people
more experienced and better trained than myself. No, I have another plan
to propose to you all. There is one thing, at least, that we can all
do."

"We can all make photographs, except Fan," said Phyllis, in a doubtful
voice.

"Exactly!" cried Gertrude, growing excited, and walking across to the
middle of the room; "we can make photographs! We have had this studio,
with every proper arrangement for light and other things, so that we are
not mere amateurs. Why not turn to account the only thing we can do, and
start as professional photographers? We should all keep together. It
would be a risk, but if we failed we should be very little worse off
than before. I know what Lucy thinks of it, already. What have you
others to say to it?"

"Oh, Gertrude, need it come to that - to open a shop?" cried Fanny,
aghast.

"Fanny, you are behind the age," said Lucy, hastily. "Don't you know
that it is quite distinguished to keep a shop? That poets sell
wall-papers, and first-class honour men sell lamps? That Girton students
make bonnets, and are thought none the worse of for doing so?"

"_I_ think it a perfectly splendid idea," cried Phyllis, sitting up; "we
shall be like that good young man in _Le Nabab_."

"Indeed, I hope we shall not be like André," said Gertrude, sitting down
by Phyllis on the couch and putting her arm round her, "especially as
none of us are likely to write successful tragedies by way of
compensation."

"You two people are getting frivolous," remarked Lucy, severely, "and
there are so many things to consider."

"First of all," answered Gertrude, "I want to convince Fanny. Think of
all the dull little ways by which women, ladies, are generally reduced
to earning their living! But a business - that is so different. It is
progressive; a creature capable of growth; the very qualities in which
women's work is dreadfully lacking."

"We have thought out a good many of the details," went on Lucy, who was
possessed of less imagination than her sister, but had a clearer
perception of what arguments would best appeal to Fanny's understanding.
"It would not absorb all our capital, we have so many properties
already. We thought of buying some nice little business, such as are
advertised every week in _The British Journal_. But of course we should
do nothing rashly, nor without consulting Mr. Grimshaw."

"Not for his advice," put in Gertrude, "but to arrange any transaction
for us."

"Gertrude and I," went on Lucy, "would do the work, and you, Fanny, if
you would, should be our housekeeper."

"And I," cried Phyllis, her great eyes shining, "I would walk up and
down outside, like that man in the High Street, who tells me every day
what a beautiful picture I should make!"

"Our photographs would be so good and our manners so charming that our
fame would travel from one end of the earth to the other!" added Lucy,
with a sudden abandonment of her grave and didactic manner.

"We would have afternoon tea in the studio on Sunday, to which everybody
should flock; duchesses, cabinet ministers, and Mr. Irving. We should
become the fashion, make colossal fortunes, and ultimately marry dukes!"
finished off Gertrude.

Fanny looked up, helpless but unconvinced. The enthusiasm of these young
creatures had failed to communicate itself to her. Their outburst of
spirits at such a time seemed to her simply shocking.

As Lucy had said, Frances Lorimer was behind the age. She was an
anachronism, belonging by rights to the period when young ladies played
the harp, wore ringlets, and went into hysterics.

Living, moving, and having her being well within the vision of three
pairs of searching and intensely modern young eyes, poor Fan could
permit herself neither these nor any kindred indulgences; but went her
way with a vague, inarticulate sense of injury - a round, sentimental peg
in the square, scientific hole of the latter half of the nineteenth
century.

Now, when the little tumult had in some degree subsided, she ventured
once more to address the meeting.

That was the worst of Fan; there was no standing up in fair fight and
having it out with her; you might as soon fight a feather-bed.
Convinced, to all appearances, one moment; the next, she would go back
to the very point from which she had started, with that mild but
terrible obstinacy of the weak.

"I suppose you know," she said, having once more recourse to the
black-bordered pocket-handkerchief, "what every one will think?"

"Every one will be dead against it. We know that, of course," said Lucy,
with the calm confidence of untried strength.

Fortunately the discussion was interrupted at this juncture, by the
loud voice of the gong announcing luncheon.

Fanny rushed off to bathe her eyes. Gertrude ran upstairs to wash her
hands, and the two younger girls lingered together a few moments in the
studio.

"I wonder," said Phyllis, with the complete and unconscious cynicism of
youth, "why Fan has never married; she has just the sort of qualities
that men seem to think desirable in a wife and a mother!"

"Poor Fanny, don't you know?" answered Lucy. "There was a person once,
ages ago, but he was poor and had to go away, and Fan would have no one
else."

This was Lucy's version of that far away, uninteresting little romance;
Fanny's "disappointment," to which the heroine of it was fond of making
vaguely pathetic allusion. Fan would have no one else, her sister had
said; but perhaps another cause lay at the root of her constancy (and of
much feminine constancy besides); but if Lucy did not say no one else
would have Fan, Phyllis, who was younger and more merciless, chose to
accept the statement in its inverted form; which, by the by, neither
she, nor I, nor you, reader, have authentic grounds for doing.

"Oh, I had heard about _that_ before, naturally," she answered; but
further conversation on the subject was cut short by the appearance of
Fanny herself, come to summon them to the dining-room, where lunch was
set out on the great table.

Old Kettle, the butler, waited on them as usual, and there was nothing
in the nature of the viands to bring home to them the fact of their
altered circumstances; but it was a dismal meal, crowned with a sorrow's
crown of sorrow, the remembrance of happier things. In the vacant place
they all seemed to see the dead father, as he had been wont to sit among
them; charming, gay, _debonnair_, the life of the party; delighting no
less in the light-hearted sallies of his daughters, than in his own
neatly-polished epigrams; a man as brilliant as he had been
unsatisfactory; as little able to cope with the hard facts of existence
as he had been reckless in attacking them.

"Oh, girls," said Fanny, when the door had finally closed upon Kettle;
"Oh, girls, I have been thinking. If only circumstances had been
otherwise, if only - things had happened a little differently, I might
have had a home to offer you, a home to which you might all have come!"

Overcome by this vision of possibilities, this resuscitation of her dead
and buried might-have-been, Miss Lorimer began to sob quietly; and the
poor eyes, which she had been at such pains to bathe, overflowed,
deluging the streaky expanses of newly-washed cheeks.

"Oh, I can't help it, I can't help it," moaned this shuttlecock of fate,
appealing to the stern young judges who sat silent around her; an appeal
which, if duly considered, will seem to be even more piteous than the
outbreak of emotion of which it was the cause.

Gertrude got up from her chair and went from the room; Phyllis sat
staring, with beautiful, unmoved, accustomed eyes; only Lucy, laying a
cool hand on her half-sister's burning fingers, spoke words of comfort
and of common sense.


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER II.

FRIENDS IN NEED.

_And never say "no," when the world says "ay,"
For that is fatal._
E. B. BROWNING.


When Gertrude reached her room she flung herself on the bed, and lay
there passive, with face buried from the light.

She was worn out, poor girl, with the strain of the recent weeks; a
period into which a lifetime of events, thoughts, and experience seemed
to have crowded themselves.

Action, or thoughts concerned with plans of action, had become for the
moment impossible to her.

She realised, with a secret thrill of horror, that the moment had at
length come when she must look full in the face the lurking anguish of
which none but herself knew the existence; and which, in the press of
more immediate miseries, she had hitherto contrived to keep well in the
background of her thoughts. Only, she had known dimly throughout, that
face it she must, sooner or later; and now her hour had come.

There was some one, bound to her by every tie but the tie of words, who
had let the days of her trouble go by and had made no sign; a
fair-weather friend, who had fled before the storm.

In these few words are summed up the whole of Gertrude's commonplace
story.

Only to natures as proud and as passionate as hers, can the words convey
their full meaning.

She was not a woman easily won; not till after long siege had come
surrender; but surrender, complete, unquestioning, as only such a woman
can give.

Now, her being seemed shaken at the foundations, hurt at the vital
roots. As a passionate woman will, she thought: "If it had been his
misfortune, not mine!"

In the hall lay a bit of pasteboard with "sincere condolence" inscribed
on it; and Gertrude had not failed to learn, from various sources, of
the presence at half a dozen balls of the owner of the card, and his
projected visit to India.

Gertrude rose from the bed with a choked sound, which was scarcely a
cry, in her throat. She had looked her trouble fairly in the eyes; had
not, as some women would have done, attempted to save her pride by
refusing to acknowledge its existence; but from the depths of her
humiliation, had called upon it by its name. Now for ever and ever she
turned from it, cast it forth from her; cast forth other things,
perhaps, round which it had twined itself; but stood there, at least, a
free woman, ready for action.

Thank God for action; for the decree which made her to some extent the
arbiter of other destinies, the prop and stay of other lives. For the
moment she caught to her breast and held as a friend that weight of
responsibility which before had seemed - and how often afterwards was to
seem - too heavy and too cruel a burden for her young strength.

"And now," she said, setting her lips, "for a clearance."

Soon the floor was strewn with a heap of papers, chiefly manuscripts,
whose dusty and battered air would have suggested to an experienced eye
frequent and fruitless visits to the region of Paternoster Row.

Gertrude, kneeling on the floor, bent over them with anxious face,
setting some aside, consigning others ruthlessly to the waste-paper
basket. One, larger and more travel-worn than the rest, she held some
time in her hand, as though weighing it in the balance. It was labelled:
_Charlotte Corday; a tragedy in five acts_; and for a time its fate
seemed uncertain; but it found its way ultimately to the basket.

A smart tap at the door roused Gertrude from her somewhat melancholy
occupation.

"Come in!" she cried, pushing back the straying locks from the ample
arch of her forehead, but retaining her seat among the manuscripts.

The handle turned briskly, and a blooming young woman, dressed in the
height of fashion, entered the room.

"My dear Gertrude, what's this? Rachel weeping among her children?"

She spoke in high tones, but with an exaggeration of buoyancy which
bespoke nervousness. When last these friends had met, it had been in the
chamber of death itself; it was a little difficult, after that solemn
moment, to renew the every-day relations of life without shock or jar.

"Come in, Conny, and if you must quote the Bible, don't misquote it."

Constance Devonshire, heedless of her magnificent attire, cast herself
down by the side of her friend, and put her arms caressingly round her.
Her quick blue eye fell upon the basket with its overflowing papers.

"Gerty, what is the meaning of this massacre of the innocents?"

"'Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher,' since you seem bent on
Scriptural allusion, Conny."

"But, Gerty, all your tales and things! I should have thought" - she
blushed as she made the suggestion - "that you might have sold them. And
_Charlotte Corday_, too!"

"Poor Charlotte, she has been to market so often that I cannot bear the
sight of her; and now I have given her her quietus as the Republic gave
it to her original. As for the other victims, they are not worth a tear,
and we will not discuss them."

She gathered up the remaining manuscripts, and put them in a drawer;
then, turning to her friend with a smile, demanded from her an account
of herself.

Miss Devonshire's presence, alien as it was to her present mood, acted
with a stimulating effect on Gertrude. To Conny she knew herself to be a
very tower of strength; and such knowledge is apt to make us strong, at
least for the time being.

"Oh, there's nothing new about me!" answered Conny, wrinkling her
handsome, discontented face. "Gerty, why won't you come to us, you and
Lucy, and let the others go to India?"

Gertrude laughed at this summary disposal of the family.

"Of course I knew you wouldn't come," said Conny, in an injured voice;
"but, seriously, Gerty, what are you going to do?"

In a few words Gertrude sketched the plan which she had propounded to
her sisters that morning.

"I don't believe it is possible," said Miss Devonshire, with great
promptness; "but it sounds very nice," she added with a sigh, and
thought, perhaps, of her own prosperous boredom.

The bell rang for tea, and Gertrude began brushing her hair. Constance
endeavoured to seize the brush from her hands.

"You are not coming down, my dear, indeed you are not! You are going to
lie down, while I go and fetch your tea."

"I had much rather not, Conny. I am quite well."

"You look as pale as a ghost. But you always have your own way. By the
by, Fred is downstairs; he walked over with me from Queen's Gate. He's
the only person who is decently civil in the house, just at present."

Tea had been carried into the studio, where the two girls found the rest
of the party assembled. Fan, with an air of elegance, as though
conscious of performing an essentially womanly function, and with much
action of the little finger, was engaged in pouring out tea. In the
middle of the room stood a group of three people: Lucy, Phyllis, and
Fred Devonshire, a tall, heavy young man, elaborately and correctly
dressed, with a fatuous, good-natured, pink and white face.

"Oh, come now, Miss Lucy," he was heard to say, as Gertrude entered with
his sister; "that really is too much for one to swallow!"

"He won't believe it!" cried Phyllis, clasping her hands, and turning
her charming face to the new-comers; "it's quite true, isn't it, Gerty?"


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