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Quail Seed
by [?]

“The outlook is not encouraging for us smaller businesses,” said Mr. Scarrick to the artist and his sister, who had taken rooms over his suburban grocery store. “These big concerns are offering all sorts of attractions to the shopping public which we couldn’t afford to imitate, even on a small scale–reading-rooms and play-rooms and gramophones and Heaven knows what. People don’t care to buy half a pound of sugar nowadays unless they can listen to Harry Lauder and have the latest Australian cricket scores ticked off before their eyes. With the big Christmas stock we’ve got in we ought to keep half a dozen assistants hard at work, but as it is my nephew Jimmy and myself can pretty well attend to it ourselves. It’s a nice stock of goods, too, if I could only run it off in a few weeks time, but there’s no chance of that–not unless the London line was to get snowed up for a fortnight before Christmas. I did have a sort of idea of engaging Miss Luffcombe to give recitations during afternoons; she made a great hit at the Post Office entertainment with her rendering of ‘Little Beatrice’s Resolve’.”

“Anything less likely to make your shop a fashionable shopping centre I can’t imagine,” said the artist, with a very genuine shudder; “if I were trying to decide between the merits of Carlsbad plums and confected figs as a winter dessert it would infuriate me to have my train of thought entangled with little Beatrice’s resolve to be an Angel of Light or a girl scout. No,” he continued, “the desire to get something thrown in for nothing is a ruling passion with the feminine shopper, but you can’t afford to pander effectively to it. Why not appeal to another instinct; which dominates not only the woman shopper but the male shopper–in fact, the entire human race?”

“What is that instinct, sir?” said the grocer.

* * *

Mrs. Greyes and Miss Fritten had missed the 2.18 to Town, and as there was not another train till 3.12 they thought that they might as well make their grocery purchases at Scarrick’s. It would not be sensational, they agreed, but it would still be shopping.

For some minutes they had the shop almost to themselves, as far as customers were concerned, but while they were debating the respective virtues and blemishes of two competing brands of anchovy paste they were startled by an order, given across the counter, for six pomegranates and a packet of quail seed. Neither commodity was in general demand in that neighbourhood. Equally unusual was the style and appearance of the customer; about sixteen years old, with dark olive skin, large dusky eyes, and think, low-growing, blue- black hair, he might have made his living as an artist’s model. As a matter of fact he did. The bowl of beaten brass that he produced for the reception of his purchases was distinctly the most astonishing variation on the string bag or marketing basket of suburban civilisation that his fellow-shoppers had ever seen. He threw a gold piece, apparently of some exotic currency, across the counter, and did not seem disposed to wait for any change that might be forthcoming.

“The wine and figs were not paid for yesterday,” he said; “keep what is over of the money for our future purchases.”

“A very strange-looking boy?” said Mrs. Greyes interrogatively to the grocer as soon as his customer had left.

“A foreigner, I believe,” said Mr. Scarrick, with a shortness that was entirely out of keeping with his usually communicative manner.

“I wish for a pound and a half of the best coffee you have,” said an authoritative voice a moment or two later. The speaker was a tall, authoritative-looking man of rather outlandish aspect, remarkable among other things for a full black beard, worn in a style more in vogue in early Assyria than in a London suburb of the present day.