The shop in Harbour Lane had been a greengrocer’s, a barber’s, a fried-fishmonger’s, and a tripe-seller’s. But chiefly it had been shut up, as it was now. Nobody had ever come into it with much money, it is true, but all had gone out of it with less than they brought. It was said, indeed, that the greengrocer had gone out with nothing but the clothes he wore; but as he went no farther than the end of the street, where he drowned himself from a swing bridge, he needed no more, nor even so much. Mr. Dunkin, the landlord, had bought the place at a low price, as was his way in buying things; but he got very little out of his investment, which was not his way at all. It was a novelty that surprised and irritated Mr. Dunkin. He was a substantial tradesman, who had long relinquished counter work, for there were a dozen assistants in the two departments of his chief shop, eight for grocery and butter, and four for oil and saucepans, paint and mousetraps; and there were half a dozen branches, some in the one trade and some in the other, scattered about in as many neighbouring parishes. He was a large man, of vast p. 76sympathy. The tone of his voice, the grasp of his wide, pulpy hand, told of infinite tenderness toward the sorrows and sins of the world. Even in the early days when he had but one shop (a little one) and no shopman, he would weigh out a pound of treacle with so melting a benignity that the treacle seemed balm of Gilead, and a bounteous gift at the price. He would drive a bargain in a voice of yearning beneficence that left the other party ashamed of his own self-seeking, as well as something the poorer by the deal. It was a voice wherein a purr had a large part—a purr that was hoarse yet soothing, and eloquent of compassion; so that no man was so happy but a talk with Mr. Dunkin would persuade him that the lot was hard indeed, that entitled him to such a wealth of sympathy. It was a wealth that Mr. Dunkin squandered with no restraint but this, that it carried no other sort of wealth with it.
On the whole, Nan May had counted herself fortunate in falling in with Mr. Dunkin. For when, in his fatherly solicitude, he discovered that she had a little money in hand, he undertook to supply her with stock, and to give her certain hints in the mystery of chandlery. He, also, felt no cause for complaint: for he had hoped for a tenant merely, and here was tenant and customer in one. More, she was a widow, knowing nothing of trade, so that it might be possible to sell her what others would not buy, at a little extra profit. As to p. 77rent, moreover, he was doing well. For on the day the deposit was paid, Mrs. May had found little choice among vacant shops, and this was in a situation to suit her plans as to Johnny and his trade; and as she was tired and nervous, full of plain anxiety, sympathetic Mr. Dunkin saw his chance of trying for an extra shilling a week, and got it. And Nan May was left to pay for what painting and cleaning the place might need. It needed a good deal, as Mr. Dunkin had ruefully observed two days before, in expectation of a decorator’s bill if ever a tenant came.