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John Paulin. P HERE was not a stranger receptacle in all Low
borough than John Paulin's shop. It was situated in a narrow passage, which led from the market
place to one of the principal streets of the town. The Ginnel, as it was called, had evidently seen better days. Although it was so narrow that it enjoyed only an hour or two of sunshine a day, and not even that in the winter, the houses were all lofty, and had evidently been built for a class of people very different in social position from those who now lived in them. There were a few shops in the passage, one of which was a huckster's, and another a pawnbroker's; but I doubt whether anybody, except John Paulin and the pawnbroker, occupied a whole house. The rest of the houses were let off in tenements, and in some of them I daresay there were not less than half-a-dozen families. It was not a nice place to pass through, but as it was a near cut from the market-place to Nelson Street, a good many people made use of it. I am glad to say that the Ginnel is no longer in existence. It was taken down a few years ago to make way for modern improvements, and our handsome Town Hall covers a great part of the space where it once stood.
But about John Paulin's shop. An old table or two outside, with a few chairs, made it quite plain that John's trade was that of a furniture-broker; whilst in the window, telling the same story, you saw, not always very distinctly, because of the dust which was suffered to remain undisturbed on the panes, a display of articles of the most miscellaneous character. There was an antiquated writing-desk, a fiddle, a picture or two, some dish-covers, a fishing-rod, and I cannot tell what besides. You would hardly have expected, however, from what John thus exhibited, that he had such an extensive stock within. There were seven or eight large rooms filled from floor to ceiling. The fact was that John attended all the sales in the district; and he never suffered anything to pass him on which he was likely to make a profit; and he was just as ready to buy anything privately, i so only that he could get it cheap. Of course John was a well-known character.
Shortly after I went to Lowborough, to the great surprise of many of my hearers—as many as saw him—one Sunday evening, John Paulin was one of the congregation of which I was the minister. He had not been known to enter a place of worship for many years; and he had made no
secret of his disbelief in religion and religious people, and, not least, of his dislike to “parsons,” I never learnt how it was that he was first induced to enter the doors of our church. However, he went again and again, till at length I looked for him regularly.
From what I heard of John, I did not think it advisable to call on him very speedily. I thought it not unlikely, that if I assumed at once that he intended to become one of my hearers, or looked as though I wished him to be so, I might scare him away. I did not call to see him, therefore, till about six weeks or two months after I first saw him in my congregation ; and even then I did not go expressly to see him. I wanted some article in his line, and that furnished the occasion for my first visit.
I was fortunate enough to find John at home on the morning I called ; and it happened too that he had exactly the article I wanted. I had heard that he was fond of money, and that he very seldom indeed sold anything for less than its full value. I took it, therefore, as an indication that he had a kindly feeling towards me, when, having named the price, he said, without the slightest hint on my part that I thought it high, “ But, Mr. Leighton, I got it a bargain, and you shall have it a bargain too.” He then mentioned a lower sum, and he declined taking more.
That matter settled, he asked me if I would look through his rooms, observing that he had a good many curious articles, some of which might possibly tempt me. I accepted his invitation, and I was surprised to find what a large and varied stock he had. I was much more surprised, however, with the man himself. He was shabbily dressed, and his clothes looked as if they had not come in contact with a clothes-brush for months; there was nothing in his face to indicate special intelligence, and he was nervous and shy; still I found him shrewd and thoughtful, and on many points well-informed. He had a good deal of antiquarian knowledge ; his remarks about some pictures he had, showed no little judgment and taste; he had shells, too, from
different quarters of the globe, and he evidently knew all about them. “Well, my friend,” I said, mentally, “ you have a large collection of curiosities; but you, yourself, are the greatest curiosity of all."
We descended into the shop, and I was just going to speak to him about his attendance at our public services, when he anticipated me.
“I don't think it likely you would notice me at your church, Mr. Leighton," he said ; " but I have been there a few times lately, and I intend to go again.”
“ Oh yes, Mr. Paulin," I replied; “I noticed you the first night you were there ; and now I look for you quite regularly. We are all glad to see you.”
Just then a note was put into his hand desiring his immediate presence at the house of a gentleman in the town. He stated the fact, and apologized for leaving me. Of course I bade him good-bye at once; I hoped, however, that he would allow me to call and see him some other time
--in the evening, after he had shut up his shop. There was a little hesitation about his reply. “He was not always at home," he said, “ in the evenings; and besides " Whether or not he had really anything “ besides," which he could allege as a reason for my not calling, I don't know. At any rate the sentence was left unfinished. I believe my guess was not very wide of the mark—that he thought I should want to talk to him pointedly about religious matters.
“Oh, well, Mr. Paulin," I said, “I'll take my chance. My time is not so very precious that I can't afford to call again, if I do not happen to find you in."
Various reasons prevented the fulfilment of my purpose as early as I could have wished; but at length, one evening, about eight o'clock, I found an opportunity of calling. All was closed in ; but on my knocking a light appeared, and by-and-by John opened the door.
“Oh! is that you, Mr. Leighton ?” he asked. “Come in, sir."
He then piloted me through a somewhat zig-zag route, between piles of furniture and other articles, till at length we reached a kind of den at the extreme end of the shop, which served the twofold purpose of an office and a sittingroom. I thought I had scarcely ever seen such a litter. The floor was strewn with handbills and other papers; there were files of invoices on the walls ; a desk was half-covered with letters ; piled against the wall in a corner were some engravings and pictures ; on one of the shelves there was a case of stuffed birds, with other things which seemed to be put there, not because the owner had any special interest in them, but simply because there was room for them nowhere else. On the table there were some accountbooks, with which John was evidently occupied.
The fact was, John had no regular domestic, and what little attention he required was rendered by the wife of a man whom he employed as warehouseman and porter, and who lived in a cottage behind his shop.
I apologized for interrupting him ; but he said it was of no moment, and asked me to take a seat. I found out afterwards John was really anxious to see me, and had been looking for a visit ever since I first called, till at length he thought I had surely forgotten him. I had not learnt then, but I see it now, that beneath a shy, nervous manner, which seems to repel all approach, there is often a lurking, if not even a strong desire for kindly notice. I have made up my mind never to assume that a man is inaccessible till I have done my best to find the way to his heart.
Between my first and second visits, I had learnt a little of John's history, which enabled me, in some degree, the better to deal with him. I found that various circumstances had combined to disappoint and embitter a mind originally, perhaps, disposed to be sensitive and morbid. He had begun business with fair prospects of success, about four and twenty years before I became acquainted with him, but had been completely ruined by a false friend, who had persuaded him to accept a bill to a large amount. The man