There had been a christening that afternoon at St. Peter’s, and Albert Foreman still wore his verger’s gown. He busied himself quietly and waited for the vicar to finish in the vestry. Presently he saw him walk across the chancel. The vicar had been but recently appointed, ared-faced energetic man in the early forties, and Albert Foreman still missed his predecessor, a clergyman of the old school who preached leisurely sermons in a silvery voice and dined out a great deal with his more aristocratic parishioners. He liked things in church to be just so, but he never fussed; not like this new man who wanted to have his finger in every pie. But Albert Foreman was tolerant. The new vicar had come from the East End and he couldn’t be expected to fall in at once with the discreet ways of his fashionable congregation.
“A most extraordinary circumstance came to my knowledge the other day,” said the vicar. “Idiscovered to my astonishment that you could neither read nor write, Foreman. That situation is impossible at a church like St. Peter’s. I’m afraid you must go.”
“Yes sir, I quite understand. I shall be happy to hand in my resignation as soon as you’ve found somebody to take my place.”
But when Albert Foreman with his usual politeness had closed the church door behind the vicar he could not sustain the air of unruffled dignity with which he had borne the blow inflicted upon him and his lips quivered. His heart was heavy. He didn’t know what he should do with himself. Albert Foreman was a non-smoker, but with a certain latitude. It occurred to him now that a cigarette would comfort him. He looked about him for a shop where he could buy a packet of Gold Flakes. It was a long street with all sorts of shops, but there was not a single one where you could buy cigarettes.
“I can’t be the only man who walks along this street and wants a fag,” he said. “I shouldn’t wonder but what a fellow might do very well with a little shop here. Tobacco and sweets.”
He gave a sudden start.
“That’s an idea,” he said. “Strange how things come to you when you least expect it.”
Next day he found a little shop to let that looked perfect. He set up in business as a tobacconist and newsagent. His wife said it was a dreadful come-down after being verger of St. Peter’s, but he answered that you had to move with the times. In the course of ten years he had acquired no less than ten shops and was making money hand over fist. He went round to all of them himself every Monday, collected the week’s takings and took them to the bank. One morning he was shown into the manager’s office.
“Mr. Foreman, I wanted to have a talk to you about the money you’ve got on deposit with us. Apart from what you paid in this morning it’s a little over thirty thousand pounds. That’s a large sum to have on deposit and I should have thought you’d better invest it. We’ll make you out a list of absolutely gilt-edged securities. All you’ll have to do next time you come in is just to sign the transfers.”
“I could do that all right, but how should I know what I was signing?” said Albert. “I suppose you can read,” said the manager a trifle sharply.
Mr. Foreman gave him a disarming smile.
“Well, sir, that’s just it. I can’t. I know it sounds funny-like but I can’t read or write.
The manager stared at him as though he were a prehistoric monster.
“And do you mean to say that you’ve built up this important business without being able to read or write? Good God, man, what would you be now if you had been able to?”
“I can tell you that sir,” said Mr. Foreman. “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”
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