It is said that if you loitered long enough in Fortune, East and Sabre’s you would meet every dignitary of the Church and of education in the United Kingdom; and it was added that you would not have to wait long.
Fortune, East and Sabre, The Precincts, Tidborough.
Maintaining the unshoplike character of the ground-floor rooms upon which the plate-glass windows looked, virtually no business, in the vulgar form of buying and selling, was carried on in the vestry, in the classroom or in the book-lined study. Many modern and entirely worthy businesses are conducted under the strident banner of “Cash Only.” Fortune, East and Sabre’s did not know the word cash. One would as soon look for or expect a till, to say nothing of one of those terrific machines known as cash registers, in the vestry, the classroom or the study as one would look for a lectern or an adjustable school desk in a beer-house. “Credit only” was here the principle, and accounts were rendered, never on delivery, but quarterly. One does not, after all, pay for a font out of one’s trouser pocket and carry it off under one’s arm; nor for a school desk out of a purse and bear it away on one’s head. Only in the book-lined study were trifling transactions occasionally carried out and these very rarely, constituting something of an event (and an event greatly deprecated by the Reverend Sebastian Fortune), the tactless misadventure of some pedagogue or student on excursion to the sights of Tidborough.
No one, in any case, committed twice the indiscretion of purchasing a single volume for cash. The book-lined study was in the care of a Mr. Tombs, a gentleman who combined the appearance of a mute at a funeral with the aloof and mysterious manner of a man waiting for his wife in a ladies’ underwear department, and the peculiar faculty of making the haphazard visitor feel that he had strayed into a ladies’ underwear shop also. “Have you an account with us, sir?” Mr. Tombs would inquire; and on being told “No” would look guiltily all around (as it were at partially undressed ladies) and whisper, “Except to the masters at the School, sir, who all have accounts, we are not supposed to sell single volumes. It is against our rule, sir.”
And no one, once escaped, made Mr. Tombs break the rule on a second occasion.
Business—on credit only—was conducted on the first floor whereon were apartmented the three principals—the Reverend Sebastian Fortune, Mr. Twyning and Sabre. There was no longer an East in the firm. From the central, vestry-like showroom a broad and shallow stairway led to a half-landing, containing the clerks’ office, and thence to the spacious apartment of Mr. Fortune with which, by doors at either end, communicated the offices of Sabre and of Mr. Twyning. Many stately and eminent persons—and no ill-to-do or