for their wakes that the great pencil, with one mighty
stroke of terrible finality, ran like a sword through
their names, wiping their very memories from the hillsides.
All purchases were entered up in Festus Clasby’s
mighty record without vulgar discussions as to price.
The business of the establishment was conducted on
the basis of a belief in the man who sold and acquiescence
in that belief on the part of the man who purchased.
The customers of Festus Clasby would as soon have
thought of questioning his prices as they would of
questioning the right of the earth to revolve round
the sun. Festus Clasby was the planet around
which this constellation of small farmers, herds,
and hardy little dark mountainy men revolved; from
his shop they drew the light and heat and food which
kept them going. Their very emotions were registered
at his counter. To the man with a religious turn
he was able, at a price, to hand down from his shelves
the Key of Heaven
; the other side of the box
he comforted the man who came panting to his taps
to drown the memory of some chronic impertinence.
He gave a very long credit, and a very long credit,
in his philosophy, justified a very, very long profit.
As to security, if Festus Clasby’s customers
had not a great deal of money they had grass which
grew every year, and the beasts which Festus Clasby
fattened and sold at the fairs had sometimes to eat
his debtors out of his book. If his bullocks were
not able to do even this, then Festus Clasby talked
to the small farmer about a mortgage on the land,
so that now and again small farmers became herds for
Festus Clasby. In this way was he able to maintain
his position with his back to the hills and his toes
in the valley, striding his territory like a Colossus.
When you saw his name on the signboard standing stark
from the landscape, and when you saw Festus Clasby
behind his counter, you knew instinctively that both
had always stood for at least twenty shillings in
Now, it came to pass that on a certain day Festus
Clasby was passing through the outskirts of the nearest
country town on his homeward journey, his cart laden
with provisions. At the same moment the spare
figure of a tinker whose name was Mac-an-Ward, the
Son of the Bard, veered around the corner of a street
with a new tin can under his arm. It was the
Can with the Diamond Notch.
Mac-an-Ward approached Festus Clasby, who pulled up
“Well, my good man?” queried Festus Clasby,
a phrase usually addressed across his counter, his
hands outspread, to longstanding customers.
“The last of a rare lot,” said Mac-an-Ward,
deftly poising the tin can on the top of his fingers,
so that it stood level with Festus Clasby’s
great face. Festus Clasby took this as a business
proposition, and the soul of the trader revolved within
him. Why not buy the tin can from this tinker
and sell it at a profit across his counter, even as
he would sell the flitches of bacon that were wrapped
in sacking upon his cart? He was in mellow mood,
and laid down the reins in the cart beside him.