I prescribed for Albert Edward, who was as uncomfortable and feverish as any little sinner in the county of Sussex, and I then promptly proposed going to Buffington in Phoebe’s place.
She did not think it at all proper, and said that, notwithstanding my cotton gown and sailor hat, I looked quite, quite the lydy, and it would never do.
“I cannot get any new orders,” said I, “but I can certainly leave the rabbits and eggs at the customary places. I know Argent’s Dining Parlours, and Songhurst’s Tea Rooms, and the Six Bells Inn, as well as you do.”
So, donning a pair of Phoebe’s large white cotton gloves with open-work wrists (than which I always fancy there is no one article that so disguises the perfect lydy), I set out upon my travels, upborne by a lively sense of amusement that was at least equal to my feeling that I was doing Phoebe Heaven a good turn.
Prices in dressed poultry were fluctuating, but I had a copy of The Trade Review, issued that very day, and was able to get some idea of values and the state of the market as I jogged along. The general movement, I learned, was moderate and of a “selective” character. Choice large capons and ducks were in steady demand, but I blushed for my profession when I read that roasting chickens were running coarse, staggy, and of irregular value. Old hens were held firmly at sixpence, and it is my experience that they always have to be, at whatever price. Geese were plenty, dull, and weak. Old cocks,—why don’t they say roosters?—declined to threepence ha’penny on Thursday in sympathy with fowls,—and who shall say that chivalry is dead? Turkeys were a trifle steadier, and there was a speculative movement in limed eggs. All this was illuminating, and I only wished I were quite certain whether the sympathetic old roosters were threepence ha’penny apiece, or a pound.
Everything happened as it should, on this first business journey of my life, which is equivalent to saying that nothing happened at all. Songhurst’s Tea Rooms took five dozen eggs and told me to bring six dozen the next week. Argent’s Dining Parlours purchased three pairs of chickens and four rabbits. The Six Bells found the last poultry somewhat tough and tasteless; whereupon I said that our orders were more than we could possibly fill, still I hoped we could go on “selling them,” as we never liked to part with old customers, no matter how many new ones there were. Privately, I understood the complaint only too well, for I knew the fowls in question very intimately. Two of them were the runaway rooster and the gadabout hen that never wanted to go to bed with the others. The third was Cannibal Ann. I should have expected them to be tough, but I cannot believe they were lacking in flavour.