ON THE SHELF
“I cannot bear it,” the Tin Soldier said, standing on the shelf, “I cannot bear it. It is so melancholy here. Let me rather go to the wars and lose my arms and legs.”
Hans Andersen: The Old House.
THE TOY SHOP
The lights shining through the rain on the smooth street made of it a golden river.
The shabby old gentleman navigated unsteadily until he came to a corner. A lamp-post offered safe harbor. He steered for it and took his bearings. On each side of the glimmering stream loomed dark houses. A shadowy blot on the triangle he knew to be a church. Beyond the church was the intersecting avenue. Down the avenue were the small exclusive shops which were gradually encroaching on the residence section.
The shabby old gentleman took out his watch. It was a fine old watch, not at all in accord with the rest of him. It was almost six. The darkness of the November afternoon had come at five. The shabby old gentleman swung away from the lamppost and around the corner, then bolted triumphantly into the Toy Shop.
“Here I am,” he said, with an attempt at buoyancy, and sat down.
“Oh,” said the girl behind the counter, “you are wet.”
“Well, I said I’d come, didn’t I? Rain or shine? In five minutes I should have been too late—shop closed—” He lurched a little towards her.
She backed away from him. “You—you are—wet—won’t you take cold—?”
“Never take cold—glad to get here—” He smiled and shut his eyes, opened them and smiled again, nodded and recovered, nodded and came to rest with his head on the counter.
The girl made a sudden rush for the rear door of the shop. “Look here, Emily. Poor old duck!”
Emily, standing in the doorway, surveyed the sleeping derelict scornfully. “You’d better put him out. It is six o’clock, Jean—”
“He was here yesterday—and he was furious because I wouldn’t sell him any soldiers. He said he wanted to make a bonfire of the Prussian ones—and to buy the French and English ones for his son,” she laughed.
“Of course you told him they were not for sale.”
“Yes. But he insisted. And when he went away he told me he’d come again and bring a lot of money—”
The shabby old gentleman, rousing at the psychological moment, threw on the counter a roll of bills and murmured brokenly:
“’Ten little soldiers fighting
on the line,
One was blown to glory, and, then there were nine—!’”
His head fell forward and again he slept.
“Disgusting,” said Emily Bridges; “of course we’ve got to get him out.”
Getting him out, however, offered difficulties. He was a very big old gentleman, and they were little women.