UNIT EIGHT

TEXT

CLEAR PROFIT

By Don Edwards

The interior of the store was cool and dark against the glare of the summer's day that shone against the doors and windows and sent shifts of steady light across the boxes, shelves, and show cases.

Enid leant against the counter, with stocks of clothing heaped about her. She moved them idly and sat down on the counter. There was a sound of footsteps outside and hastily she sprang down to stand expectantly. It was only Harry Ridley with a note from his

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mother; wanting some groceries on credit again. If she had her way she would give the Ridleys what they wanted. For a moment she thought of telling Lucy, the hired girl, to give Harry anything that the note asked for, but the knowledge of what her husband and father-in-law would say made her remain quiet.

She couldn't understand their attitude. They had plenty; people like the Ridleys had nothing, yet they refused to help the Ridleys in any way.

When she had first arrived here and had heard a local resident say, with a mirthless laugh, "All Days are the same in Delford, anyhow," she thought it just cheap humour. It might have been true of Mr. Day, but it wasn't true of his son. Gordon was different. But now she was discovering the truth. In the last couple of years he had altered, become more like his father, so that she often found herself wishing she hadn't married him. If it were not for the holiday that was so near, she felt she would tell Gordon all the anger that was pent up within her and try to shake him out of this complacency. But the holiday would make things all right again. After a couple of weeks in the city she would be ready to come back to the village and the store. If only she could persuade Gordon to have a holiday now and then, she wouldn't mind the place so much, for she would have something to look forward to, something to break the monotony.

She knew what his father said, "Look at me. Haven't had a holiday for twenty years, and look at me," and she felt like replying, "You're a good argument for my case"; but she said nothing, for even though she accused Gordon of being scared of his father, afraid to stand up for his rights, she was rather frightened of the old man herself, and life was miserable enough without her having rows with Gordon's people. She always felt an outcast as it was, a foreigner who had been taken into the household, but not the family, merely because Gordon had married her, and because she was useful ... It was no good worrying herself about these things now. She walked through the shop to the front door.

Standing in the doorway she looked out at the township, and saw how ugly the place was. The main street stretched out, dusty and hot. The cottages, drab and untidy as the people, straggled along the road, here clustering like groups of gossipers, there spreading apart like folk who had just quarrelled. A few people moved about, and now and then a car passed.

When she had first come from the city to work in Delford she enjoyed the quiet and peace of the place after the noise and hurry of the metropolis. The open spaces, the hot sun, the sense of freedom, had been a pleasing contrast to the city. She had been eager to accept the new life and willing to make a success of things, yet she had been defeated. Now, everything seemed different: the store, the village, the people, her husband. The only one who remained the same was her father-in-law, and as she thought of him, her mind repeated those words, "All Days are the same in Delford."

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What she needed was a holiday, a change in the city. Well, tomorrow she and Gordon would be off for the seaside, and away from the village and old Day and his store.

She felt someone pulling at her arm, and turned to see Lucy. The girl whispered to her, "He's been watching you, Mrs. Day, for quite a time."

She swung round quickly and saw her father-in-law standing in the gloom at the back of the shop, looking at her. At first she felt guilty, then angry, as she realized that in Lucy's eyes she was no better than a hired girl. And that was how all the people regarded her, and how the Days regarded her, and unless she was careful, Gordon would think of her only in that way. The old man just stood there, his whole attitude expressing disapproval because he thought she was wasting time, because he wanted to see everyone working all the while. He wouldn't say anything to her, it wasn't necessary - his manner said enough. She wished he would say something, so that she could have it out with him. Thank goodness she was going on a holiday tomorrow. She knew how that worried him. "A useless waste of money. Haven't had a holiday for twenty years," she had heard him say to Mrs. Day last night.

She walked down the store towards him, challenging him to say something; but he turned and left the building.

As the afternoon drew on towards the time when Gordon was due back, she became more restless, pacing up and down th.5 shop in her excitement, serving the few customers in an absent-minded way. She had finished packing the suit-cases before breakfast and now she had nothing to do but wait for Gordon.

Old Day kept looking into the store, and each time he said to Lucy, "As soon as my son comes in, tell him I'd like to see him."

Probably it was just an excuse to see that she wasn't neglecting her work.

She went into the office at the back of the store and sat down for a few minutes to think about the city and her life here in the village. The heat must have made her doze, for the next thing she knew Lucy was saying, "Your husband is back, Mrs. Day. He's outside talking to his father."

She hurried to the door and saw Gordon and the old man standing on the footpath, talking earnestly. She waited, for although she was anxious to see her husband and talk about the trip, she was afraid to interrupt the old man. Presently her husband came towards her.

"You are earlier than I expected, Gordon," she said. "We could leave here before dark, and have tea on the way down." He didn't answer, so she went on speaking, as if to kill by her eagerness and enthusiasm any protests he might be about to make. "We could have a meal at that little hotel overlooking the sea. You know the place where we stayed when we were returning from our honeymoon."

His voice broke in on her abruptly, "We can't go just yet, Enid. Some important business has cropped up at Hillside."

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She did not give him time to explain. He was captured by the place like the other inhabitants, like his father, who dominated him. She would be the same if she lived here much longer, narrow, unimaginative, complacent, ignorant. She turned away and walked towards the house. Gordon made no attempt to follow her.

Inside the house she went to her room and shut the door. She could hear Mrs. Day and the two girls talking in the kitchen. Even in her own room she had no privacy. It wasn't her room really; they were likely to burst in at any moment without knocking. The sight of the suit-cases, ready packed on the bed, drove away her desire to cry and increased her feeling of revolt. She looked at the clock on her dressing-table. The service car would be through the village in about twenty minutes. Quickly she scribbled a note to Gordon, then picked up her cases and walked out stealthily on to the veranda.

She caught the car at the hotel. The only other passenger was a farmer, so she sat alone in the back seat. At first she felt only anger at her husband, and hatred of the village and the shop, but as night closed in, the purr of the car, and the invigorating coolness of the highland air soothed her till she was surprised and rather afraid at what she had done. Still, it might bring Gordon to his senses and show him and his family that she wasn't to be treated as a hired girl, a servant.

At the station, before she had tim; to leave the car, the station-master cams out and spoke to her. "You must be Mrs. Day," he said. "Mr. Day 'phoned me and asked me to tell you not to catch the train, but to wait for him at the Royal Hotel. He is on his way here now."

She returned to the hotel in the service car, and on the way she heard the train leave. She wondered whether Gordon would want to stay the night at the hotel or whether he would go straight on to the city. It was a beautiful night, clear and cool, and it would be delightful to drive down the pass to the coastal plain and then along the edge of the ocean towards the city. She hoped Gordon wouldn't be angry with her. Now she felt a little ashamed of herself. No doubt she had done Gordon an injustice. Things weren't as bad as she had imagined them to be back in the village. Already she was seeing things differently. She would walk down the street to a restaurant and have some supper and by then it would be almost time for her husband to arrive.

At the hotel she must have slept, for she was startled by a knocking at the door. Eagerly she ran to the door and opened it to see old Mr. Day standing outside. Her sudden feeling of confused disappointment turned to quick anger at the sight of the old man with his bent and almost cringing attitude. At once she seemed to be back in the shop, hating the village, and old Day, and even her husband. Surely Gordon could have left his father at home this time.

"Where is he?" she asked. "Where is Gordon?"

The old man put his hand on her arm, so that despite herself she moved away slightly.

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"Gordon had to go over to Hillside on that business," he said. "He will be away for a few days, so after he read your note he asked me to 'phone you and then come and get you." He looked at her for a few seconds, then he added with a smile that was intended to be placatory, "We can't get along in the store without you, Enid, while Gordon is away. And this business will mean about £ 20 clear profit to him."

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