I really did write a sequel to Hackey’s Novel Shop. There was more that had to be said. You can’t stop Art and Thinking and all that sort of thing, you know.
Back to Hackney’s
Clouds loomed and the wind lashed against the glass front doors of the Novel Shop (B. Hackney, proprietor). Someone scurried in from the wet and cold, jangling the bell above the door. It was the recently-celebrated author Faith Tritely, whose book A Heart’s Cry had made a big hit in the Christian fiction market. “And I owe it all to Hackney!” Faith would say fondly.
Today, as she shook the water from her coat and umbrella, she looked around the shop inquiringly. It wasn’t like Hackney to leave her waiting.
“He’ll be here shortly,” a clerk assured her. In a hushed voice she added, “It’s been a trying day.”
In a few moments, Hackney himself appeared. He looked dapper and, as always, delighted to see her. But there was a tightness about his mouth that concerned Faith.
“Is everything right?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, quite all right.” He paused, and drew an elegant hand across his brow. “I had a difficult customer with the most unsettling requests. Gave me a turn. How refreshing to see you, my dear Ms. Tritely!” His smile returned. “Am I to hope you’re here to announce…” He paused significantly.
Faith beamed. “Yes! I’m going to do a sequel!”
“Marvelous news! Congratulations!” Hackney cried. “Let’s waste no time! What can I do for you?”
Faith hesitated. “The story has been coming to me almost unbidden. I can see if unfolding in my mind’s eye. I hope it isn’t… I hope you have…”
For a fleeting moment, Hackney’s smile slipped. His face took on a white-lipped look of ferocity. But almost as soon as it came, the look vanished, replaced by his usual good-humored expression. Faith told herself that she must have imagined it. “Tell me, Ms. Tritely. I’m confident I can help.”
She began diffidently, but soon warmed to her subject. “Well, the story concerns the daughter of my first heroine. I think I’m going to call her Angeline – you understand the reference, of course?”
“Well, her father has died in a tragic accident, and Angeline feels compelled to discover his roots. Her quest takes her to the South — the war-torn, ravaged South, still on its knees after the fire and blood of the Civil War.” She paused for breath. “She’s inherited a derelict old mansion, you see. Along the way, she meets a nice young minister. But their carriage is held up by a irreverent young highwayman who heeds to pleas not to steal her money, but demands her amethyst necklace and a kiss from her.”
Hackney’s smile was genuinely sunny now. “And that highwayman is really a courageous fighter for the poor – ”
“ – against the false minister and his band of thieves and thugs, yes!” Faith exclaimed.
“And the Christian message is – ”
Together, they sang out, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart!”
Faith gazed at him in amazement. “Mr. Hackney, you are truly astonishing!”
Hackney bowed and beamed. “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to do business with you. Now, let me show you our war-torn South settings!”
They headed for the green door with the gold lettering. But before they reached it, the sound of a muffled bell stopped Hackney abruptly in his tracks. He whipped around, and Faith saw it again — that expression of white ferocity. He glared over her shoulder, and she turned quickly to see who could warrant such a passionate dislike from the affable Mr. Hackney.
It was a middle-aged man, dripping from the rain, still with his hand on the bell to keep it from ringing out. He saw the look that Mr. Hackney gave him, and didn’t seem surprised. He let go of the bell and gently closed the door behind him. Every line in his body begged an apology before he even spoke.
“I’m sorry to disturb you. Just one more question…”
“Leave my store!” Mr. Hackney warned.
“Just one thing, I won’t take much time, just one question -– ”
Mr. Hackney was breathing hard through his nose. “I do not sell settings of small towns without dark horrible secrets.”
“I know, it’s not that -– ”
“And I do not sell good-hearted heroes who are nevertheless thirty-five pounds overweight.”
“Yes, you told me that -– ”
“I do not sell short, plump heroines with bad teeth!”
“That isn’t -– ” But the man interrupted his own protest. “But why not? I mean, I live in the twenty-first century, and my teeth are terrible. You know teeth in earlier eras had to be hideous. They probably didn’t see it as the stigma we would…” He saw Hackney’s expression and quickly added, “But I didn’t come back to discuss that. What I want to know…”
Suddenly remembering Faith, Hackney blushed a deep red and turned to her. “I apologize, Ms. Tritely. I should not have subjected you to my own temper like this. I apologize profusely.”
But Faith understood now. Imagine coming into this store and asking for bilge like that! “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” she snapped. “This is a highly-respected fiction store. It doesn’t carry imperfect and… ugly merchandise!” She turned to Hackney. “I completely sympathize with you. My audience wouldn’t want to read about a plump heroine with bad teeth, honestly!”
The man looked frustrated. “All I want to know is if I can buy one of your heroines.”
Hackney and Faith looked at him suspiciously. “Which one?” Hackney asked. “You didn’t like any of my stock.”
“The brown-haired one, with blue eyes.”
Still suspicious, Hackney replied, “She is flawless and beautiful, with perfect teeth.”
“Yes. All I’m going to do is give her a prominent nose.”
His ire flared again, and Hackney waved at a clerk. “Show this man out! Get out of my shop, sir!”
“But we aren’t all beautiful,” the man protested, backing away from an advance of clerks. “Wouldn’t it be inspiring for readers to identify with a… a pleasant face who can attract… no, wait, listen… attract love anyway… you write Christian romances –- doesn’t God use even the ugly and defiled to show His beauty?” he finished desperately.
The effect was electric. The clerks stopped in mid-stride. Hackney and Faith stared at him, then at each other, in wonder. The man looked from one awe-struck face to another, and suddenly seemed to realize a great horror. He sagged against the doorframe and groaned. “What have I done?”
Hackney called to his head clerk. “Sam! Get the warehouse on the phone! We need to discuss a design for a new heroine. What was it, brown hair, blue eyes, and a prominent nose?”
“But good teeth,” Faith added quickly. “No need to make her repulsive. Just plain.”
“Until love brings out her beauty,” Hackney added. “Why have I overlooked this aspect all this time? Ms. Tritely, I would be honored for you to be the first to use this new line of heroines.”
Blushing faintly, Faith stumbled, “Oh, Mr. Hackney! I –- The possibilities are thrilling! I’d imagined Angeline with raven-dark hair and flashing blue eyes, but she could be plain instead. Until the highwayman sees her inner beauty, and that’s how she finally realizes that God sees it, too!”
They fell into eager conversation, until suddenly Hackney looked up. “And we must thank you,” he said graciously, turning to the man.
But the man was gone, the bell jangling harshly after him. “What have I done?” he was heard to groan as he staggered into the driving rain.
Faith looked at Mr. Hackney, who gazed out the rain-spattered door after the man. “A strange man,” he murmured. “But even the strange ones can come up with a good idea every now and then.”
My soul now rests in peace.