Will Warburton by George Gissing
It was a week or two after the day in Surrey, that Bertha Cross, needing a small wooden box in which to pack a present for her brothers in British Columbia, bethought herself of Mr. Jollyman. The amiable grocer could probably supply her want, and she went off to the shop. There the assistant and an errand boy were unloading goods just arrived by cart, and behind the counter, reading a newspaper-- for it was early in the morning stood Mr. Jollyman himself. Seeing the young lady enter, he smiled and bowed; not at all with tradesmanlike emphasis, but rather, it seemed to Bertha, like a man tired and absent-minded, performing a civility in the well-bred way. The newspaper thrown aside, he stood with head bent and eyes cast down, listening to her request.
"I think I have something that will do very well," he replied. "Excuse me for a moment."
From regions behind the shop, he produced a serviceable box just of the right dimensions.
"It will do? Then you shall have it in about half an hour."
"I'm ashamed to trouble you," said Bertha "I could carry it--"
"On no account. The boy will be free in a few minutes."
"And I owe you--?" asked Bertha, purse in hand.
"The box has no value," replied Mr. Jollyman, with that smile, suggestive of latent humour, which always caused her to smile responsively. "And at the same time," he continued, a peculiar twinkle in his eyes, "I will ask you to accept one of these packets of chocolate. I am giving one to-day to every customer--to celebrate the anniversary of my opening shop."
"Thank you very much," said Bertha. And, on an impulse, she added: "I will put it with what I am sending in the box--a present for two brothers of mine who are a long way off. in Canada."
His hands upon the counter, his body bent forward, Mr. Jollyman looked her for a moment in the face. A crease appeared on his forehead, as he said slowly and dreamily
"Canada? Do they like their life out there?"
"They seem to enjoy it, on the whole. But it evidently isn't an easy life."
"Not many kinds of life are." rejoined the grocer. "But the open air --the liberty--"
"Oh yes, that must be the good side of it," assented Bertha.
"On a morning like this--"
Mr. Jollyman's eyes wandered to a gleam of sunny sky visible through the shop window. The girl's glance passed quickly over his features, and she was on the point of saying something; but discretion interposed. Instead of the too personal remark, she repeated her thanks, bent her head with perhaps a little more than the wonted graciousness, and left the shop. The grocer stood looking toward the doorway. His countenance had fallen. Something of bitterness showed in the hardness of his lips.