A visit to Blow’s, and a bowler hat

In my 1950’s story, Mike Scott is trying to trace who found a bowler hat last seen on a young woman who has now gone missing… he’s been told by a Miss Ross that it was in a second-hand shop called Blow’s:

… Mike could pop into Blow’s right now… except Blow’s was closed. Mike stood staring in through the grimy window at the extraordinary assortment of faded and dusty goods for sale. He was reminded of Dickens’ shops… maybe tonight after dinner he would take down a Dickens from his shelf, choose at random and plunge into a different world… dinner… maybe he would buy some sausages… but maybe the butcher’s wasn’t open on Mondays…  Everything seemed to be bought, and nothing to be sold there…  Now where was that from, Bleak House maybe?
“Can I interest you in something, young man?” a tiny person of indeterminate sex addressed him. The person was wearing layers of clothing and, it appeared, several hats, one of which had a tattered veil. The high quavering voice could have been an elderly man… or an elderly woman…
Mike replied politely that he was interested in a bowler hat which had been purchased here by a young lady.
“Ah, yes, I’ve been expecting you, Miss Ross told me you might call. Allow me to open up and then please, step inside my emporium.”
Emporium was what it was not, this shop was tiny,  made smaller, Mike discovered by the mountains of goods, mostly junk it seemed, within. There was a smell of damp, mouse and mothballs… it was difficult to imagine glamorous Norma whose surname he now knew as Ross, to not only come into this place, but to actually purchase something.
Mike stood looking round the piles of items as the elderly proprietor lit a couple of oil lamps.
“Does Miss Ross visit you often?” he asked.
The old person placed one of the lamps on the counter and answered that from time to time over the last week, Miss Ross had visited. Difficult indeed to imagine anyone visiting more than once.
“No doubt Miss Ross explained that I was interested in the bowler hat she bought from you. I just wondered if you could tell me how you acquired it?”
“I have some lovely fountain pens here, sir. A writing gentleman like yourself may find something to please?” Mike was used to this… making a small purchase would often result in more information, and it could be a bun in the bakery, or half a pint in a pub, or if not financial, then a cigarette, or two.
“This is a Waterman!” Mike exclaimed – the pens he was being shown weren’t what he expected… old certainly, dirty yes, but in actual fact they were in good condition. Their grubbiness he deduced was from constant use. He looked at it in the flickering light. Yes, it was a genuine Waterman. “My father would be delighted with this, yes indeed, he would be pleased…” Dear Dad…
Mike took out his wallet, yes he would buy this for Dad, whatever it cost… The old person who Mike began to think was probably an elderly gentleman rather than an elderly lady despite the veiled hat, wrapped the pen carefully in a torn sheet of newspaper, The Bugle, Mike was tickled to see.
It was a fair price, expensive, but fair, and Mike tucked the pen in his inside pocket, slipped his change into his wallet.
“Thank you, sir, my father will be delighted, good day,” and Mike raised his hat and turned towards the door.
“But excuse me sir, Miss Ross mentioned that you were interested in the bowler hat!”
Well, stap me! Mike thought. What was wrong with him? He’d come in expressly to ask about the blasted hat, and what had he done, bought a fountain pen and not asked about the hat!
“Ah, yes, the hat…”
It was found, apparently and obviously, and with some encouragement and nudging the old gentleman told Mike that it had been brought in by someone he couldn’t remember who, he hadn’t been wearing his glasses and it was a gloomy afternoon and he hadn’t lit his lamp, but it had been found in the old windmill, on the road out of town.
“Lovely nick, it was, in lovely nick as you will know, sir, if you’ve seen the item. I paid good money for it, tried my best but I had to pay up… I didn’t mark it up much for Miss Ross, one of my regulars she is.”
Mike found a couple of bob in his pocket and pushed it across the counter; the old gent had told him all he was going to, experience told Mike that, but he wanted to have him on the lookout for anything else. Wishing him a pleasant afternoon, Mike left the shop…

© Lois Elsden 2018

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