The Verger

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“…The vicar began briskly.

‘Foreman, we’ve got something rather unpleasant to say to you. You’ve been here a great many years and I think his lordship and the general agree with me that you’ve fulfilled the duties of your office to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.’

The two churchwardens nodded.

‘But a most extraordinary circumstance came to my knowledge the other day and I felt it my duty to impart it to the churchwardens. I discovered to my astonishment that you could neither read nor write.’…

“Well, Foreman, I’ve talked the matter over with these gentlemen and they quite agree with me that the situation is impossible. At a church like St. Peter’s Neville Square, we cannot have a verger who can neither read nor write.”…

Albert Edward Foreman 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, the church wasn’t what it was, and ‘enceforward he was going to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s. 

Albert Edward did very well. He did so well that in a year or so it struck him that he might take a second shop and put a manager in. He looked for another long street that hadn’t got a tobacconist in it and when he found it and a shop to let, took it and stocked it. This was a success too. Then it occurred to him that if he could run two he could run half a dozen, so he began walking about London, and whenever he found a long street that had no tobacconist and a shop to let he took it. 

In the course of ten years he had acquired no less than ten shops and he 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…

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 and amassed a fortune of thirty thousand pounds 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, a little smile on his still aristocratic features. “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square.”

~ W. Somerset Maugham, “The Verger”

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