Horace Annesley Vachell.

Quinneys' online

. (page 1 of 19)
Online LibraryHorace Annesley VachellQuinneys' → online text (page 1 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

'7» »»»n "■ r~ , '* , ,, *« * « «»uM ^« "_Vf w 'w *a ut»» <«» '' |B * '* 1 , t ' > '* »«'

R K E L E Y^






















IV. THE INSTALLATION - - - - - 5 1
V. SUSAN PREPARES - - - - - 6" 1


VII. JOSEPHINA - - - - _ - 88


IX. SALVAGE - - - - - - 118



XII. POSY - - - - - _ - 167

XIII. RUCTIONS - - - - - - 181

XIV. JAMES MIGGOTT - - - - - 193





XX. BLACKMAIL - - - 2 82


XXII. A TEST - .... 3 IO









11 Good-evening, Mr. Quinney I"

11 Good-evening !" Quinney replied, as he
passed a stout red-faced fellow-townsman.

With his back to the man, Quinney smiled.
He could remember the day, not so long ago,
when Pinker, the grocer, called him u My lad."
Then his whimsical face grew solemn, as he re-
membered that a smile might be misinterpreted
by others whose eyes were fixed upon him with
sympathy and interest. He walked more slowly,
as befitted a chief mourner returning from his
father's funeral, but he was queerly sensible of
a desire to run and shout and laugh. He wanted
to run from a drab past into a rosy future; he
wanted to shout aloud that he was free — free !
He wanted to laugh, because it seemed so utterly
absurd to pull a long face because a tyrant was
dead and buried. The fact that the old man
was buried made a vast difference.

Suddenly he was confronted by a burly foot-


passenger, who held out a huge hand and spoke
in a deep, muffled voice.

" So, Old Joe is dead, and Young Joe reigns
in, his stead ?"

" Right you are," replied Quinney.

Despite his efforts, a note of triumph escaped

" Left you everything?" continued the burly
man. Quinney nodded, and after a pause the
other continued huskily: " Old Joe had some-
thing snug to leave — hey ?"

" Right again," replied Young Joe.

" More'n you thought for, I'll be bound ?"

" May be."

" Well, my boy, hold on to it — as he did. It's
a damned sight easier to make money than to
keep it."

I made some of it," said Quinney.

" Not much."

Quinney shrugged his shoulders and passed
on, slightly exasperated because a butcher had
stopped him in Mel Street, Melchester, with the
obvious intention of pumping details out of him.
The butcher walked on, chuckling to himself.

" Young Joe," he reflected, " is a-goin' to be
like Old Joe. Rare old skinflint he was, to be
sure !"

Quinney, meantime, had reached the dingy
shop known to all Melchester as " Quinney's."
The shutters were up — stout oak boards sadly
in need of a coat of paint. Quinney opened a
side door, and entered his own house — his — his !
He could think of nothing else. Quinney's, and


all it contained, belonged to him. Immediately
after the funeral, when the house was full of
people, the young man was dazed. And when
the will was opened, and he learned that Old Joe
had saved nearly ten thousand pounds, he felt
positively giddy, replying vaguely to discreet
whispers of congratulation with jerky sentences
such as " By Gum, this is a surprise !" or, with
nervous twitchings of the mouth and eyes,
" Rum go, isn't it, that I should be rich ?"

Later, Young Joe had gone for a walk alone,
seeking the high downs above the ancient town.
The keen air blew the fog out of his brain, and
presently he exclaimed aloud :

" Yes; I am Quinney's."

After a pause he burst out again, speaking
with such vehemence that a fat sheep who was
staring at him ran away.

" Gosh ! I'm jolly glad that I gave him a
tip-top funeral. He'd have pinched something
awful over mine."

After this explosion — silence, broken inter-
mittently by whistling.


Upon entering the house, Quinney went into
the shop, and disdainfully surveyed the stock-
in-trade. Everything lay higgledy-piggledy.
The big window was full of faked brass-work
which seemed to gleam derisively at a dirty card
upon which was inscribed the legend, " Genuine
Antiques." Among the brass-work were bits
of pottery and some framed mezzotints. Inside


the shop, upon an imswept floor, old furniture
was piled ceiling high. Some of it was really
good, for mahogany was just then coming into
fashion again, but in such matters Old Joe had
always been behind his times. He preferred
oak, the more solid the better, buying everything
at country sales that happened to go cheap;
assorted lots allured him irresistibly. He was
incapable of arranging his wares, laughing scorn-
fully at his son's suggestions. In the same
spirit he refused to remove dust and dirt, being
of the opinion that they lent a tone to antiques
which were not quite genuine. He had never
bought realty good stuff to sell to customers
outside the trade.

When, as frequently happened, he came across
a valuable piece of furniture or a bit of fine china,
he would communicate at once with a dealer,
and in particular with a certain Thomas Tamlin,
who invariably paid ten per cent, advance on the
bargain, which might be regarded as a handsome
profit. To the visitors, especially Americans,
who dropped in to Quinney's on their way to
and from the Cathedral, Old Joe would sell at a
huge profit what he contemptuously stigmatized
as rubbish. A few of his regular customers were
well aware that Old Joe knew nothing of the
real value of some of his wares. He bought en-
gravings and prints in colour, and these he sold
at a price about double of what he had paid,
chuckling as he did so.

Porcelain he understood, but not pottery; and
even in porcelain he refused obstinately to pay


a high price, unless he was quite sure of his
turnover. Young Joe had always despised these
primitive methods, and nothing pleased him so
much as when he was able to rub well into his
sire the mortifying fact that ignorance and funk
had prevented him from securing a prize.

As the young man gazed derisively at his
possessions, the roustabout boy told him that
Mr. Tamlin had called, promising to return after
the funeral; and a half an hour later the dealer
arrived, to find Young Joe staring devoutly at
two figures of Bow and a plate of Early Wor-
cester. Tamlin greeted the young man with a
certain deference never exhibited before.

" Sorry to disturb you, Joe, on such a sad

" 'Tain't sad !" snapped Joe. " You know
as well as I do that the old man gave me a hell
of a time. Now he's gone, and that's all there
is about it."

" I came about them." Tamlin indicated the
china. " Last thing your pore father wrote to
me about."

" Nice bits, eh?"

Tamlin examined them. As he did so, a keen
observer might have noticed that Young Joe's
eyes were sparkling with what might have been
excitement or resentment, but not gratification.

11 How much ?" said Tamlin.

" The} 7 're not for sale."

" What ?"

11 I should sa}' that I'm keepin' 'em for a
party I know."


" Anything else to show me ?" grunted Tam-
lin, caressing the Bow glaze with a dirty but
loving finger. " Your father mentioned a mirror
black jar, K'ang He period."

" Keepin' that too/' replied Quinney quietly.

" Sold it?"

" Not yet."

Quinney smiled mysteriously.

" Then what's up ? Ain't my money as good
as the next man's ?"

" If you want a plain answer, Mr. Tamlin, it
ain't — to me."

" Ho ! What d'ye mean ?"

" Just that. It don't pay to deal with the
trade. If I pick up a good thing, you get the
credit; you claim all the credit. Our name is
never mentioned, not a line. In this town we
have the reputation of selling rubbish. I'm
going to change all that."

" Are you ?" Tamlin was visibly impressed
and distressed. " Well, look ye here, take my
advice, and walk in the old man's footsteps. He
done well."

" I shall do better."

Tamlin stared at the speaker, who spoke with
an odd air of conviction. Quinney continued in
the same quiet drawl, " If you want to buy any
of this," he waved a contemptuous hand, " it's
3^ours — cheap !"

" Rubbish !"

" Just so."

Tamlin sat down and wiped his forehead. He
was feeling warm, and the sight of young Quin-


ney so exasperatingly cool and smug in his black
clothes made him warmer.

" Ho ! That's the game, is it ?" As Quinney
nodded, he continued: "Me and you can do
business together."

" Together?"

« I sa y — together. How would a trip abroad

suit you ?"

Quinney lifted his eyebrows; the first indica-
tion of interest in his visitor.
" A trip — abroad ?"

" To France. I've heard of a man in Brittany
— a wonder. His line is old oak; mostly copies
of famous pieces. He's the greatest faker in the
world, and an artist. No blunders ! Would
you like to go into a deal with me ? You know
old oak when you see it ?"
" I think so."

" You go over there and buy five hundred
pounds' worth and put it into this shop, after
you've cleared out the rubbish. I'll go halves.
It's a dead cert, and this is the right place for
the stuff. My pitch wouldn't do, and I haven't
the room. I'll send you customers."
11 It's a go," said Quinney.
"You mean to make things hum? And I
can help you. Never gave you credit for being
so sharp."

Details were then discussed, not worth re-
cording; but during this memorable interview,
which led to so much, Quinney was sensible of
an ever-increasing exaltation and powers of
speech which amazed him as much as the older


man. He announced curtly his intention of
getting rid of the rubbish, repainting and re-
decorating the premises, and dealing for the
future in the best, whether fakes or genuine

11 Never could persuade the old man that the
' Genuine Antiques ' card was a dead give-

Fired with enthusiasm, he seized the card and
tore it up there and then, while Tamlin applauded

" You're yer father without any moss on you,"
he remarked, as he took his leave, promising to
return on the morrow. Upon the threshold he
asked, " Doin' anything particular this even-
ing ?"

" Yes," said Quinney.

Tamlin went out, but returned immediately.

" You ought to have a sign."

" I mean to."

" Thought of that already ?"

" Thousands and thousands o' times. It'll be
a hangin' sign of wrought-iron ; the best; painted
black, with ' Quinney's ' in gold. It'll cost
twenty pounds."

11 That's going it."

" I mean to go it."


Quinney supped simply at seven, and then he

walked across the Cathedral Close, down a small

street, known as Laburnum Row, and knocked

at the door of a genteel, semi-detached cottage.


The very respectable woman who opened the
door drew down the corners of a pleasant mouth
when she beheld the visitor. A note of melan-
choly informed her voice as she greeted him, but
her sharp, brown eyes sparkled joyously as she
said :

" Never expected to see you this evening, Mr.

"I'm tired of doing the things that are ex-
pected," was the surprising reply. Then, with
a flush, he blurted out, " Susan in ?"

" Yes," said Mrs. Biddlecombe, leading the
way into the parlour. " The child's upstairs."

Mother and daughter had seen Quinney ap-
proaching, whereupon Mrs. Biddlecombe had
remarked, " It's all right. You smooth your
hair, dear, and slip on your blue gown."

Meanwhile, Quinney took the most comfort-
able chair, and stared with appraising eye at the
furniture. Above the mantelpiece hung the
portrait in water-colour of a handsome woman,
obviously a lady, as the word was interpreted by
the grandmothers of the present generation.
This was Mrs. Biddlecombe 's mother, the wife
of a doctor, who had been bear-leader to a sprig
of nobility, accomplishing with him the Grand
Tour. In her turn, Mrs. Biddlecombe had
married a medical gentleman (her word), who,
unhappily, was called from the exercise of his
profession in a promising suburb to a place in-
variably designated by Mrs. Biddlecombe as his
last home. Later, the widow, left in very
humble circumstances, had married beneath her


rightful station in life a certain George Biddle-
combe, a small builder and contractor, of Mel-
chester, who, failing in business when Susan was
some five years old, had died of disgust. Since
this second bereavement, Mrs. Biddlecombe sup-
ported herself and her daughter by taking in
lodgers, cleaning lace and fancy work. She was
a stout, energetic creature, not much the worse
for the wear and tear of a never-ending struggle
to raise herself to the position which she had
adorned before her second disastrous marriage.

" The funeral was well attended," she re-

" The old man was hardly what one might call
popular," replied Quinney.

11 He'll be missed in Melchester."
11 Missed, but not regretted," the son replied

" Ah !" murmured Mrs. Biddlecombe, think-
ing of the builder and contractor.

Quinney pulled himself together, sitting up-
right in the arm-chair and speaking firmly.

" I ain't here to talk about him. Less said
on that subject the better. I'm my own master
now, ma'am, able to please myself. Lord !
How he hated my coming here !"
11 I know, I know !"

" Never appreciated Susan, neither. Dessay
you think I ought to be at home, mourning.
Well, he knocked all that out o' me long ago.
Plain talk is best. As a matter o' business, with
an eye on some of our customers in this stoopid
old town, I shall do what is expected in the way


of a tombstone, and I shall try not to sing and
dance in High Street, but between you and me
it's a riddance."

Mrs. Biddlecombe smiled uneasily, but she
said honestlv :

" I've been through it, Mr. Quinney."
" You've had the doose of a time, ma'am —
and a born lady, too."

Mrs. Biddlecombe put her handkerchief to her
eyes, and dabbed them gently. She did not
quite understand her visitor, who was presenting
himself in a new and startling light, but she was
comfortably aware that his own inclination and
nothing else had brought him to Laburnum Row.
For a moment her mind was a welter of confused
excitements and speculations. Would her Susie
rise to this momentous occasion ? Would she
clasp opportunity to her pretty bosom ? And
if so, what might not be done with such clay as
Quinney, plastic to the hand of an experienced
potter. Nevertheless, the young man's too
brutal declaration of independence shocked
cherished conventions. She beheld him shrink-
ingly as an iconoclast, a shatterer of the sacred
Fifth Commandment.

" Are you thinking of leaving Melchester ?"
she asked.

" Not yet, although I am goin' abroad."

" Abroad ?"

" To France, ma'am."

Mrs. Biddlecombe frowned. France was a
godless country, where tempestuous petticoats
abounded. She hoped that Susan was arraying



herself in the blue gown. Blue suited the child's
milk and roses complexion. In blue she might
provoke comparison with the audacious hussies
across the Channel. She was clever enough to
murmur sympathetically, " You need a holiday,
to be sure."

At this Quinney laughed.

11 It's business. I'm after old oak. Want to
work up a connection — hey ?"
" Do you speak French ?"
11 Me ? Do I speak Chocktaw ? Do I speak
English properly ? Do I, now ? O' course you
parleyvoo like a native ?"
" Not quite, Mr. Quinney."
" And Susie — you learned her French, and
the pi-anner ?"
" I did my best."

" Angels can do no more," said Quinney ad-
miringly. " Upset yer neighbours, too."

He smiled maliciously, having suffered long
and patiently at the hands of neighbours. Mrs.
Biddlecombe feigned ignorance of his meaning,
when Quinney laughed again, almost indecorously.
" Lord bless you, I know all about that. You
pinched to get that piano," he indicated an
ancient instrument, " because it was the only
one in the row. And French ! By Gum ! Is
there a girl except Susie who parleyvoos in this
part of the town ? Not one ! The whole row
gnashes its teeth over that."

His pride in Susan's accomplishments touched
the mother's heart. Her voice rang out clearly
and triumphantly:


" It's perfectly true."

At this moment Susan Biddlecombe entered
the parlour, and Quinney sprang to his feet to
greet her. She was just eighteen, and very
pretty and refined, with small hands and feet,
and delicately-cut features. The mother boasted
that she looked a gentlewoman, and for the
purposes of this narrative, it is far more impor-
tant to add that she was innately gentle and
womanly, with no tainting tincture of the ogling,
smirking, provincial coquette.

Quinney kissed her !

Mrs. Biddlecombe blushed scarlet. Susan
smiled, hesitated, and then kissed Quinney.

Mrs. Biddlecombe ejaculated " Gracious !"

" Give us yer blessin'," said Quinney, quite
riotously. Then, masterfully, he kissed the girl
again, turning to confront the astonished mother.

" Settled between us three months ago," he
explained fluently. " We dassen't tell a soul,
not even you, because of the old man. He was
capable of leavin' every bob to an orsepital for
dogs. He said to me once, ' Don't let me hear
anything of goings on between you and that there
Biddlecombe girl !' By Gum, I obeyed him !
He never did hear anything. Me and Susie took
jolly good care o' that. I only hope as he knows

At this Susan murmured :

" Joe, dear, please don't !"

Then mother and daughter solemnly embraced.

11 I hated not to tell you," whispered Susan,
" but Joe would have his way."


" The old 'un told me I might look high with
my prospects, but he never did know quality.
Quantity was what he'd go for. Lord ! How
he fairly wallowed in job lots ! Well, all that's

He began to walk up and down the small
room, telling the two women his plans for the
future. They listened with shadows of per-
plexity in their brown eyes, and presently Mrs.
Biddlecombe carefully cleaned and put on her
spectacles, peering at her future son-in-law with
eyes just dimmed by happy tears.

Presently he spoke of the sign, making a rough
drawing. Mrs. Biddlecombe laughed slily as
she pointed out the apostrophe in " Quinney's."

" Isn't Susie going to help ?" she asked.
" Why not ' Quinneys' ?"

" By Gum, you're right. Of course she's
going to help. Make a rare saleswoman, too."

" I should love to help !" said Susan eagerly.
" You'd soon teach me, Joe."

" All the tricks in the trade, Susie, and per-
haps one or two of our own."

The girl opened wider her honest eyes. " Must
there be tricks ?" she asked, and a finer ear than
Quinney's might have detected a note of anxiety.

" Bless your innocent heart — yes ! Dessay I
shall learn a bit from you. Course o' Shake-
speare now, to improve one's powers o' speech."

He laughed so hilariously that Mrs. Biddle-
combe held up a restraining finger.

" We're semi-detached, you know."

"I'm rich enough not to care what Laburnum


Row thinks or says," he declared. " What day
will suit you to get married, Susie ?"

11 Oh, Joe — this is sudden."

11 Sudden ? I was tellin' your mother that I
had to go to France on biz, but I want you to
come along, too, to do the parleyvooin'. Can
you get ready in a month ?"

Mrs. Biddlecombe frowned, shaking her head.

11 You must wait longer than that."

" Why ?"

" It's customary."

11 Blow that ! I want Susie, and while we're
in France the shop can be overhauled. You'll
keep an eye on it — hey ?"

" I wash my hands of any marriage entered
upon in undue haste."

Finally, he agreed to wait two months, not a
moment longer.

" But I shall order the sign to-morrow —
' Quinneys' ' — with letters cuddling up against
each other. It'll be made in London, quite re-
gardless. Next Sunday, me and you, Susie, will
take a little walk in and about Melchester. I
shan't ask you to pig it over the shop."

" I shouldn't mind that a bit."

" But I should. I'm marrying a lady, one of
the best, and I'll start the thing in style, just
bang up."

" A semi-detached ?"

" Lord, no ! Wouldn't hurt your mother's
feelin's for worlds, but a semi-detached ain't
private enough for me. The neighbours might
hear me yellin' when Susie pulls my hair."


Mrs. Biddlecombe rose majestically.

" I'm going to open a bottle of my ginger
cordial," she said solemnly.

As the door closed behind her, Quinney ex-
claimed, " Now, Susie, you jump on my knee.
I want to tell you that I'm the happiest man on

He spoke in a tone of absolute conviction.



Melchester, although urban in the strict sense
of the word, was sweetly fragrant of the country.
Mel Street, except on Sundays, was always more
or less blocked with country waggons and carts
loaded with Melshire cheeses and butter and
cream and eggs. Melshire bacon is famous the
world over. There were no factories; and ad-
mittedly the town depended upon the surround-
ing country, which included wind-swept downs,
and pleasant valleys, and many woods full of
pheasants, and languid streams full of coarse
fish. Essentially a country town which had
fallen asleep in the middle ages, and went on
slumbering, like a hale old man who has dined
well. The curates and minor canons struggled
gallantly against this somnolence. Vice might
be found in many of the back streets, vice half-
drunk, passive, Laodicean, hardly ever rampa-
geous, save on such rare occasions when the
military were camping just outside the moss-
grown walls.

The townfolk, generally, were content with



themselves and the conditions under which they
strolled from the cradle to the grave. Susan
Biddlecombe, for instance, thanked God morn-
ing and evening because her lines were cast in
pleasant places. Till she met Quinney, her
mind had dwelt placidly in the immediate
present. He hurled it into the future with
a breathless phrase adumbrating incredible possi-
bilities. But that was later, after the death of
his father, who might have lived another twenty
years. Before that great piece of good fortune
Joe indulged in talk that was very small indeed ;
and the one excitement incidental to her en-
gagement was its secrecy. Being a pretty girl,
and half a lady, she had visualized marriage as
a tremendous change, possibly for the better,
quite possibly for the worse. But during these
dreams she beheld herself as herself, never
reckoning that her ideas and ideals might make
another woman of her under conditions and con-
ventions other than what she so thoroughly

She was romantic; but who dares to define
romance ? What does it mean to a girl like
Susan Biddlecombe ? Adventure ? Yes. She
was thrilled to the core when Quinney kissed
her for the first time behind the parlour door;
and her heart beat delightfully fast whenever
she approached their trysting-place in a secluded
corner of the Close. Romance inspired her with
the happy thought of corresponding with her
lover in cypher. The engagement ring became
a treasure indeed, because she dared not wear it


except at night. From the first she had gallantly
faced the fact that her Joe did not look romantic,
but there was a flavour of the bold buccaneer
about his speech, and a sparkle in his eye quite
captivating. His firm, masterful grip of a girl's
waist was most satisfying, although it provoked
protest. She had murmured, " Please — don't !"
And to this he replied tempestuously, " Sue,
darling, you like it ; you know you like it. What's
the use of trying to flimflam me ?" He was not
to be silenced till she whispered blushing that
she did like it. Awfully? Yes — awfully.
The man pressed the point, asking astounding
questions. What ought to be the tale of kisses,
for example ? Could a maid stand five hundred
of 'em ? Why not try the experiment at the
first opportunity ?

In this primitive fashion he captured her.

On the following Sunday the lovers found a

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryHorace Annesley VachellQuinneys' → online text (page 1 of 19)