The Shop

Tin-tinkle-tinkle-tinkle went the bell
As I pushed in, and, once again, the smell
Of groceries and news-sheets freshly printed
That always greeted me when I looked in
To buy my evening-paper: but to-night
I wondered not to see the well-known face
With kind brown eyes and ever-friendly smile
Behind the counter, and to find the place
Deserted at this hour, and not a light
In either window. Waiting there a while,
Though wondering at what change these changes hinted,
I yet was grateful for the quiet gloom—
Lit only by a gleam from the back-room,
And here and there a glint of glass or tin—
So pleasant after all the flare and din
And hubbub of the foundry; and my eyes,
Still tingling from the smoke, were glad to rest
Upon the ordered shelves, so neatly dressed
That even in the dusk they seemed to tell
No little of the hand that kept them clean,
And of the head that sorted things so well
That naught of waste or worry could be seen,
But all kept sweet with ever-fresh supplies.
And as I thought upon her quiet way,
Wondering what could have got her that she'd left
The shop unlit, untended and bereft
Of her kind presence, overhead I heard
A tiptoe creak as though somebody stirred
With careful step across the upper floor;
Then all was silent till the back-room door
Swung open and her husband hurried in.
He feared he'd kept me waiting in the dark,
And he was sorry; but his wife, who served
The customers at night-time usually,
While he made up the ledger after tea,
Was busy when I … Well, to tell the truth,
They were in trouble, for their little son
Had come in ill from school … the doctor said
Pneumonia. … They'd been putting him to bed:
Perhaps I heard them moving overhead,
For boards would creak and creak, for all your care.
They hoped the best, for he was young, and youth
Could come through much; and all that could be done
Would be … Then he stood, listening, quite unnerved,
As though he heard a footstep on the stair,
Though I heard nothing: but at my remark
About the fog and sleet he turned
And answered quickly as there burned
In his brown eyes an eager flame:
The raw and damp were much to blame:
If but his son might breathe West-country air!
A certain Cornish village he could name
Was just the place—if he could send him there,
And only for a week, he'd come back stronger. …
And then again he listened; and I took
My paper and went, afraid to keep him longer,
And left him standing with that haggard look.
Next night as I pushed in there was no tinkle
And, glancing up, I saw the bell was gone,
Although in either window the gas shone,
And I was greeted by a cheery twinkle
Of burnished tins and bottles from the shelves:
And now I saw the father busy there
Behind the counter, cutting with a string
A bar of soap up for a customer,
With weary eyes and jerky harassed air
As if his mind were hardly on the task;
And when 'twas done and parcelled up for her
And she had gone, he turned to me and said—
He thought that folk might cut their soap themselves. …
'Twas nothing much … but any little thing
At such a time … And having little doubt
The boy was worse I did not like to ask,
So picked my paper up and hurried out.
And all next day amid the glare and clang
And clatter of the workship his words rang,
And kept on ringing, in my head a-ring—
But any little thing … at such a time …
And kept on chiming to the anvil's chime—
But any little thing … at such a time …
And they were hissed and sputtered in the sizzle
Of water on hot iron— little thing …
At such a time : and when I left at last
The smoke and steam and walked through the cold drizzle
The lumbering of the buses as they passed
Seemed full of it, and to the passing feet
The words kept patter, patter with dull beat.

I almost feared to turn into their street
Lest I should find the blinds down in the shop;
And more than once I'd half-a-mind to stop
And buy my paper from the yelling boys,
Who darted all about with such a noise
That I half-wondered in a foolish way
How they could shriek so, knowing that the sound
Must worry children lying ill in bed. …
Then, thinking even they must earn their bread
As I earned mine, and scarce as noisily!
I wandered on, and very soon I found
I'd followed where my thoughts had been all day,
And stood before the shop, relieved to see
The gases burning, and no down-drawn blind
Of blank foreboding. With an easier mind
I entered slowly, and was glad to find
The father by the counter 'waiting me
With paper ready and a cheery face.
Yes! Yes! the boy was better—took the turn
Last night just after I had left the place.
He feared that he'd been short and cross last night …
But when a little child was suffering
It worried you, and any little thing
At such a moment made you cut up rough:
Though now that he was going on all right—
Well, he'd have patience now to be polite!
And, soon as ever he was well enough,
The boy should go to Cornwall for a change—
Should go to his own home, for he himself
Was Cornish, born and bred, his wife as well;
And still his parents lived at the old place—
A little place as snug as snug could be …
Where apple-blossom dipped into the sea. …
Perhaps to strangers' ears that sounded strange,
But not to any Cornishman who knew
How sea and land ran up into each other,
And how all round each wide blue estuary
The flowers were blooming to the water's edge:
You'd come on bluebells like a sea of blue …
But they would not be out for some while yet—
'Twould be primroses blowing everywhere,
Primroses and primroses and primroses. …
You'd never half-know what primroses were
Unless you'd seen them growing in the West,
But, having seen, would never more forget.
Why, every bank and every lane and hedge
Was just one blaze of yellow, and the smell
When the sun shone upon them after wet! …
And his eyes sparkled as he turned to sell
A penny loaf and half-an-ounce of tea
To a poor child who waited patiently
With hacking cough that tore her hollow chest:
And as she went out, clutching tight the change,
He muttered to himself: It's strange, it's strange
That little ones should suffer so! The light
Had left his eyes, but when he turned to me
I saw a flame leap in them hot and bright.
I'd like to take them all , he said, to-night!

And in the workshop all through the next day
The anvils had another tune to play—
Primroses and primroses and primroses!
The bellows puffing out: It's strange, it's strange
That little ones should suffer so. . . .
And now my hammer at a blow—
I'd like to take them all to-night!
And in the clouds of steam and white-hot glow
I seemed to see primroses everywhere,
Primroses and primroses and primroses.

And each night after that I heard the boy
Was mending quickly and would soon be well,
Till one night I was startled by the bell—
Tin-tinkle-tinkle-tinkle , loud and clear,
And tried to hush it lest the lad should hear.
But, when the father saw me clutch the thing,
He said the boy had missed it yesterday
And wondered why he could not hear it ring,
And wanted it, and had to have his way.
And then with brown eyes burning with deep joy
Told me his son was going to the West—
Was going home … the doctor thought next week
He'd be quite well enough: the way was long,
But trains were quick and he would soon be there;
And on the journey he'd have every care,
His mother being with him. . . . It was best
That she should go, for he would find it strange,
The little chap, at first. She needed change …
And when they'd had a whiff of Western air
'Twould cost a deal, and there was naught to spare:
But what was money if you hadn't health?
And what more could you buy if you'd the wealth. . . .
Yes, 'twould be lonely for himself and rough,
Though on the whole he'd manage well enough:
He'd have a lot to do, and there was naught
Like work to keep folk cheerful: when the hand
Was busy you had little time for thought,
And thinking was the mischief. And 'twas grand
To know that they'd be happy. Then the bell
Went tinkle-tinkle , and he turned to sell.

One night he greeted me with face that shone,
Although the eyes were wistful: they were gone—
Had gone that morning, he was glad to say;
And, though 'twas sore work setting them away,
Still 'twas the best for them … and they would be
Already in the cottage by the sea. . . .
He spoke no more of them, but turned his head
And said he wondered if the price of bread …
And as I went again into the night
I saw his eyes were glistening in the light.

And two nights after that he'd had a letter,
And all was well: the boy was keeping better
And was as happy as a child could be
All day with the primroses and the sea—
And pigs! Of all the wonders of the West,
His mother wrote, he liked the pigs the best.
And now the father laughed until the tears
Were in his eyes, and chuckled—ay, he knew!
Had he not been a boy there once himself?
He'd liked pigs too when he was his son's years.
And then he reached a half-loaf from the shelf
And twisted up a farthing's worth of tea
And a farthing's worth of sugar for the child,
The same poor child who waited patiently,
Still shaken by a hacking, racking cough.

And all next day the anvils rang with jigs:
The bellows roared and rumbled with loud laughter
Until it seemed the workshop had gone wild,
And it would echo, echo ever after
The tune the hammers tinkled on and off—
A silly tune of primroses and pigs. . . .
Of all the wonders of the West
He liked the pigs, he liked the pigs the best!

Next night as I went in I caught
A strange fresh smell. The postman had just brought
A precious box from Cornwall, and the shop
Was lit with primroses that lay atop
A Cornish pasty and a pot of cream;
And as with gentle hands the father lifted
The flowers his little son had plucked for him,
He stood a moment in a far-off dream,
As though in glad remembrances he drifted
On Western seas, and as his eyes grew dim
He stooped and buried them in deep sweet bloom;
Till, hearing once again the poor child's cough,
He served her hurriedly and sent her off
Quite happily with thin hands filled with flowers.
And as I followed to the street the gloom
Was starred with primroses, and many hours
The strange shy flickering surprise
Of that child's keen enchanted eyes
Lit up my heart and brightened my dull room.

Then many nights the foundry kept me late
With overtime, and I was much too tired
To go round by the shop, but made for bed
As straight as I could go; until one night
We'd left off earlier, though 'twas after eight,
I thought I'd like some news about the boy.
I found the shop untended, and the bell
Tin-tinkled-tinkled-tinkled all in vain:
And then I saw through the half-curtained pane
The back-room was a very blaze of joy;
And knew the mother and son had come safe back.
And as I slipped away, now all was well,
I heard the boy shriek out in shrill delight:
And, father, all the little pigs were black!
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