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    The Shopman

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    Chapter 17
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    If I were really opulent, I would not go into a shop at all--I would
    have a private secretary. If I were really determined, Euphemia would do
    these things. As it is, I find buying things in a shop the most
    exasperating of all the many trying duties of life. I am sometimes
    almost tempted to declare myself Adamite to escape it. The way the
    shopman eyes you as you enter his den, the very spread of his fingers,
    irritate me. "What can I have the pleasure?" he says, bowing forward at
    me, and with his eye on my chin--and so waits.

    Now I hate incomplete sentences, and confound his pleasure! I don't go
    into a shop to give a shopman pleasure. But your ordinary shopman must
    needs pretend you delight and amuse him. I say, trying to display my
    dislike as plainly as possible, "Gloves." "Gloves, yessir," he says. Why
    should he? I suppose he thinks I require to be confirmed in my
    persuasion that I want gloves. "Calf--kid--dogskin?" How should _I_ know
    the technicalities of his traffic? "Ordinary gloves," I say, disdaining
    his petty distinctions. "About what price, sir?" he asks.

    Now that always maddens me. Why should I be expected to know the price
    of gloves? I'm not a commercial traveller nor a wholesale dealer, and I
    don't look like one. Neither am I constitutionally parsimonious nor
    petty. I am a literary man, unworldly, and I wear long hair and a soft
    hat and a peculiar overcoat to indicate the same to ordinary people.
    Why, I say, should I know the price of gloves? I know they are some
    ordinary price--elevenpence-halfpenny, or three-and-six, or
    seven-and-six, or something--one of those prices that everything is
    sold at--but further I don't go. Perhaps I say elevenpence-halfpenny at
    a venture.

    His face lights up with quiet malice. "Don't keep them, sir," he says. I
    can tell by his expression that I am ridiculously low, and so being
    snubbed. I think of trying with three-and-six, or seven-and-six; the
    only other probable prices for things that I know, except a guinea and
    five pounds. Then I see the absurdity of the business, and my anger
    comes surging up.

    "Look here!" I say, as bitterly as possible. "I don't come here to play
    at Guessing Games. Never mind your prices. I want some gloves. Get me
    some!"

    This cows him a little, but very little. "May I ask your size, sir?" he
    says, a trifle more respectfully.

    One would think I spent all my time remembering the size of my gloves.
    However, it is no good resenting it. "It's either seven or nine," I say
    in a tired way.

    He just begins another question, and then he catches my eye and stops
    and goes away to obtain some gloves, and I get a breathing space. But
    why do they keep on with this cross-examination? If I knew exactly what
    I wanted--description, price, size--I should not go to a shop at all, it
    would save me such a lot of trouble just to send a cheque to the Stores.
    The only reason why I go into a tradesman's shop is because I don't know
    what I want exactly, am in doubt about the name or the size, or the
    price, or the fashion, and want a specialist to help me. The only reason
    for having shopmen instead of automatic machines is that one requires
    help in buying things. When I want gloves, the shopman ought to
    understand his business sufficiently well to know better than I do what
    particular kind of gloves I ought to be wearing, and what is a fair
    price for them. I don't see why I should teach him what is in fashion
    and what is not. A doctor does not ask you what kind of operation you
    want and what price you will pay for it. But I really believe these
    outfitter people would let me run about London wearing white cotton
    gloves and a plaid comforter without lifting a finger to prevent me.

    And, by the bye, that reminds me of a scandalous trick these salesmen
    will play you. Sometimes they have not the thing you want, and then they
    make you buy other things. I happen to have, through no fault of my own,
    a very small head, and consequently for one long summer I wore a little
    boy's straw hat about London with the colours of a Paddington Board
    School, simply because a rascal outfitter hadn't my size in a proper
    kind of headgear, and induced me to buy the thing by specious
    representations. He must have known perfectly well it was not what I
    ought to wear. It seems never to enter into a shopman's code of honour
    that he ought to do his best for his customer. Since that, however, I
    have noticed lots of people about who have struck me in a new light as
    triumphs of the salesman, masterpieces in the art of incongruity; age in
    the garb of youth, corpulence put off with the size called "slender
    men's"; unhappy, gentle, quiet men with ties like oriflammes, breasts
    like a kingfisher's, and cataclysmal trouser patterns. Even so, if the
    shopkeeper had his will, should we all be. Those poor withered maiden
    ladies, too, who fill us with a kind of horror, with their juvenile
    curls, their girlish crudity of colouring, their bonnets, giddy,
    tottering, hectic. It overcomes me with remorse to think that I myself
    have accused them of vanity and folly. It overcomes me with pain to hear
    the thoughtless laugh aloud after them, in the public ways. For they are
    simply short-sighted trustful people, the myopic victims of the salesman
    and saleswoman. The little children gibe at them, pelt even.... And
    somewhere in the world a draper goes unhung.

    However, the gloves are bought. I select a pair haphazard, and he
    pretends to perceive they fit perfectly by putting them over the back of
    my hand. I make him assure me of the fit, and then buy the pair and
    proceed to take my old ones off and put the new on grimly. If they split
    or the fingers are too long--glovemakers have the most erratic
    conceptions of the human finger--I have to buy another pair.

    But the trouble only begins when you have bought your thing. "Nothing
    more, sir?" he says. "Nothing," I say. "Braces?" he says. "No, thank
    you," I say. "Collars, cuffs?" He looks at mine swiftly but keenly, and
    with an unendurable suspicion.

    He goes on, item after item. Am I in rags, that I should endure this
    thing? And I get sick of my everlasting "No, thank you"--the monotony
    shows up so glaringly against his kaleidoscope variety. I feel all the
    unutterable pettiness, the mean want of enterprise of my poor little
    purchase compared with the catholic fling he suggests. I feel angry with
    myself for being thus played upon, furiously angry with him. "_No, no_!"
    I say.

    "These tie-holders are new." He proceeds to show me his infernal
    tie-holders. "They prevent the tie puckering," he says with his eye on
    mine. It's no good. "How much?" I say.

    This whets him to further outrage. "Look here, my man!" I say at last,
    goaded to it, "I came here for gloves. After endless difficulties I at
    last induced you to let me have gloves. I have also been intimidated, by
    the most shameful hints and insinuations, into buying that _beastly_
    tie-holder. I'm not a child that I don't know my own needs. Now _will_
    you let me go? How much do you want?"

    That usually checks him.

    The above is a fair specimen of a shopman--a favourable rendering. There
    are other things they do, but I simply cannot write about them because
    it irritates me so to think of them. One infuriating manoeuvre is to
    correct your pronunciation. Another is to make a terrible ado about your
    name and address--even when it is quite a well-known name.

    After I have bought things at a shop I am quite unfit for social
    intercourse. I have to go home and fume. There was a time when Euphemia
    would come and discuss my purchase with a certain levity, but on one
    occasion....

    Some day these shopmen will goad me too far. It's almost my only
    consolation, indeed, to think what I am going to do when I do break out.
    There is a salesman somewhere in the world, he going on his way and I
    on mine, who will, I know, prove my last straw. It may be he will read
    this--amused--recking little of the mysteries of fate.... Is killing a
    salesman murder, like killing a human being?
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 17
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