Rossum's Universal Arts-and-Crafts
by Stewart Wilson
In my years as a man-about-town I have come to meet a number of daring coves that ply their trade as artists and writers and whatnot. Deucedly clever fellows, make no mistake. I've never been one for giving the old bean too much excercise, but I do enjoy keeping company with people who arenb't afraid to create with gay abandon.
It was one of those balmy days in May, when the grass is green and the trees and flowers are in bloom and gurgling of the streams sounds like a girl's laugh — or is it the other way around? I never can remember. What I do remember is that I had it in my head to go a-wooing a pretty young thing by the name of Edith Havershaw. A simply stunning girl, don't you know, with only one problem: her eye never alighted upon me. She had the Artistic Temprement or some sort of thing, and was looking for a man who could put nature to the canvas.
So it was that I was in the front smoking room of my club, enjoying a cigarette and watching the cars go up the road one way and down the road the other. It's where I often sit when contemplating matters of the heart and this particular spring it had been occupied constantly by me, a cigarette and a stiff b.-and-s. as I lost myself in thought. This particular day I was found there by good old Reggie Bartram. He'd seen how I had tried and failed to catch Edith's eye and ever since he himself had got married he had been trying to find someone for me.
"Halloa there, George!"
"Halloa yourself, what?"
"Oh, certainly. Jenkins said I'd find you here." Jenkins was the man who saw to it that the club ran correctly. If ever a member were to forget his name it would be Jenkins who would remember — and would also remember how much he had wagered before his lapse in memory.
"Say much else, did he?"
"Only that a certain Miss Havershaw has drawn you to this corner."
"I wonder how he finds these things out?"
"I must admit that I'm beginning to think he knows everything. he certainly knows that the lady you want to woo has an eye only for gentlemen of an artistic bent."
"I say, don't overestimate him, Reggie! I could have told you that."
"But you," and here Reggie's face cracked with a smile like a man who's just won twenty pounds on a simple game of cards, "didn't think to ask where an aspiring young artist might purchase some materials to get a start in his craft."
"Rossum's Universal Arts-and-Crafts Emporium, just across from the Astoria. They have everything you could need."
"By jove, I'll give it a shot. Find out what it's like to be one of these artist chappies."
"Excellent plan, old bean!"
And so with much hearty talk of my new artistic life and a drink for the both of us I took my leave of the club for the Astoria. I hadn't been there for almost a week as several dashing coves had gone and declared the current show rather sub-par. Even so I couldn't remember seeing a Rossum's Arts and Whatd'youcallit Emporium across the street. I was sure Reggie must have been having me for a lark. Some of the fellows put him up to see if the show had changed without going in to the Astoria and he'd used me as a mug.
When I got there I could see that I was quite correct. There was a side-street, and down there I espied a sign. Sure enough, that was Rossum's, clear as day. Had I made a wager I would have opened my wallet there and then. As it was I made my way to the shop without becoming poorer.
The shop itself was dashed big, the size of a concert-hall at least. What I could only think were materials for all sorts of artistic pursuits were scattered around with no rhyme or reason, easels and canvases leaning against frames and mysterious things which I gather were something to do with needlepoint or one of those arts which the fairer sex are so enamoured. Rossum himself was nowhere to be found and there was no boy to mind the shop for customers, so I thought it only proper to have a look around. If I could give him the impression that I knew what I wanted it'd probably go down favourably with the fellow.
I must admit that there were a number of arts I'd never heard of. One section advertised itself as "Bonsai", a term I can only assume comes from the Orient. In addition to miniature trees there were a number of tiny rocks shaped like mountains. On display under a faded sign was "Dr. Mathers Patented Fijord Creator for the Discerning Planetary Architect." Piled in a corner was a stack of "Galaxy Polish -- Guaranteed to make your stars shine brighter!" A stack of boxes were labeled "Universe Design Kit 1917" with a flash on the front proclaiming that the kit would grow a universe to the owner's specifications, even down to black holes.
I must admit to being rather taken aback by all this. Most of these things were the kinds of object surely only an artist would know about, that much was deucedly certain. It was at this point a jovial fellow walked through from what I assume was some kind of back room. He had the fulles beard I've seen on a man outside of a painting himself, and he introduced himself as Mr. Rossum, the owner of this universal arts and crafts emporium. He had a strange way of saying universal, almost like universe-al.
"Halloa! Halloa! I appear to be in a bit of a pickle, my good fellow."
"How can I help you, sir?"
"Well, you see I was introduced to your business by a good friend of mine. I'm looking to become an artist, you see, and he suggested that you might be able to help."
"Ahh, yes. There is something you can try, sir. We have just in some self-painting canvas. Now, before you object and say that you need to learn real art to impress your peers and perhaps a ladyfriend, this canvas fills in only the lightest of hues. Then all you need to do is paint over the top. Nobody will know that it was anyone but you."
"My word. I'll take it, and the paints and brushes as well."
"Of course, sir."
And so it was that I hailed a taxi and rode back to see Edith and paint her portrait. The canvas worked like a charm, but when I went back to see Rossum to thank him and perhaps purchase some more the street that the emporium had so secretively deposited itself no longer bore such a place. All that street held, informed a resident, was lodgings for the lads and ladies who starred in the Astoria's shows. A deucedly odd trifle and no mistake.