The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

Quail Seed
"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.