“GASOLINE AND SUPPLIES”

Chub mounted the porch and tapped with the iron knocker, while the rest
waited and watched on the other side of the empty street. After a while
he tapped again, and after a longer while the door opened and the same
old lady peered out, her spectacles astride the tip of her nose. Harry
and Roy and Dick heard the conversation begin, saw the old lady lean
forward and place a hand behind one ear, and saw Chub nerve himself for
a new effort. After that they heard every word beautifully.

“I called for the key of the store,” said Chub, loudly.

“Nothing to-day,” replied the old lady, starting to close the door.
Chub deftly introduced one knee between the door and the frame.

“You don’t understand! I want the key of the store!” He pointed across
the street. “Mrs. Peel’s store!”

The old lady shaded her eyes and peered across at the waiting group.

“Feels sore, does he? Which one is it? How’d he do it?”

“He didn’t! I mean–Look here, ma’am, I want the key we left here last
night! The key! _Key!_”

“Key?” asked the old lady mildly.

“Yes’m.” They could almost hear Chub’s sigh of relief. “We’re going to
open the store. Mrs. Peel’s niece didn’t come.”

“You want the key?”

“Yes’m, please.”

“Are you the gentleman who left it here?”

“Yes’m.”

“What say?”

“_Yes, ma’am!_”

“Well, don’t yell so. I’m a little deaf, but I don’t have to be yelled
at, young man.”

“No’m.”

“Eh? What say?”

“_It’s a nice day!_” bawled Chub, desperately.

“Yes, yes, I’m a-going for it. Ain’t any sense being so impatient. Sit
down and wait a minute. I don’t remember just where I put it.”

Chub retired to the railing and wiped his brow, while the old lady
carefully closed and locked the door. Across the street the others were
struggling with their laughter.

“Did you make her hear?” asked Dick, softly. Chub made a gesture of
despair and felt of his throat gingerly. Presently the door opened
again and the old lady held out the key.

“When’s she coming back?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Chub. “I haven’t heard.”

“Third? Not till then? You going to keep store for her?”

“Just for to-day, I guess,” answered Chub, wearily.

“Eh? I can’t hear you. You don’t talk plain. She ain’t sold out, has
she?”

“_No, ma’am, she hasn’t!_” shouted Chub. Then he plunged across the
porch and made his escape. The old lady remained at her front door,
watching and muttering, long after they had opened the store and
disappeared inside.

[Illustration: “I want the key of the store”]

“Here’s a couple of letters,” said Dick, as Chub raised the
window-curtains. They were lying on the floor just over the threshold,
and he picked them up and examined them. “One for Miss Jennie Frost and
one for Mrs. Amanda Peel. Strange I didn’t get anything.”

He handed them to Harry, and she looked them over critically.

“This one’s from Mrs. Peel to her niece,” she said. “And the
other–Chub, where did you say Jennie lived?”

“Byers, or something like that. Why?”

“Because this other letter is postmarked Byers. It just means, I
suppose, that Jennie can’t come.”

“Probably.”

“I wish we could open the other letter, the one from Mrs. Peel, and see
when she’s coming back.”

“Yes, but of course we can’t,” said Roy. “Besides, what does it matter?”

“Well, it seems too bad to have the store shut up, doesn’t it? I’m sure
Mrs. Peel needs money badly. I’ll put these letters in the cash drawer.”

“Come and look at the pocket-knives, Roy,” called Dick. “I’m going to
have one. There’s a _dandy_ here for seventy-five cents. Look.”

“Oh, do buy one, Dick,” called Harry. “We ought all to buy something
and help her out. I’ve got fifty cents, and I’m going to see what I
want.”

Eventually Harry proudly added the following items to her record of
sales:

One Pocket-knife .75
One ” .75
One pair Canvas Shoes .60
One yard Blue Ribbon .08
One package of Raisins .15
½ pound Crackers .08
¼ ” Cheese .10

Harry frowned and figured for a while and then announced exultantly
that they had already sold two dollars and thirty-three cents’ worth of
goods. “Isn’t that fine?” she asked.

“The old lady hasn’t sold that much before in a week,” said Chub. “Who
wants some crackers and cheese? Or some raisins? The cheese is fine,
but the crackers are a little bit stale.”

They perched themselves on the counter and partook of Chub’s
hospitality, Dick suggested craftily that if they all ate as much as
they could now it wouldn’t be necessary to prepare so much supper when
they went back to camp.

“And there’s something in that, too,” Dick continued, “for our stores
are getting pretty low. We’ll have to have some fresh meat about
to-morrow, and some eggs, and–let me see; what else was it I thought
of? I know; kerosene. And the ice-chest has been empty for nearly a
week.”

“Oh, we don’t need ice,” said Chub.

“We do in this sort of weather if we’re going to keep meat fresh. And
I’d like mighty well to see a little fresh milk and not have to use
that canned stuff. And we’re about out of that, too.”

“We can get condensed milk here,” said Roy. “I saw some over there on
the shelf.”

“Oh, let’s!” said Harry.

“I tell you what,” Chub said. “To-night we’ll look over the boat and
make a list of what we need. Then if we can get any of the things here
we’ll do it. What do you say?”

“Good scheme,” replied Roy. “It’ll put some money in Mrs. Peel’s
pocket.”

They were still discussing it when there was the sound of a wagon
stopping in front of the store. The arrivals proved to be a farmer and
his wife, and for the next quarter of an hour all hands were busy. The
farmer wanted axle-grease, horse liniment, five-pounds of red ocher,
five gallons of kerosene, a bag of flour, and ten pounds of sugar.
While the boys were hunting these things up, Harry was following the
farmer’s wife all around the store, from one show-case to another,
explaining the absence of Mrs. Peel and exhibiting the goods.

“Well, now, I call it right down kind of you young folks to keep store
for her,” declared the woman. “I hope her sister ain’t very sick, but
she didn’t look real strong when she was here awhile back. How much is
that wide yellow ribbon?”

“Fifteen cents a yard,” replied Harry promptly, having thoroughly
investigated the contents of the ribbon-case and the prices earlier in
the afternoon.

“My, ain’t that a lot? Still, I always was partial to yellow; it seems
so sort of cheerful, don’t it? You can cut me a yard and a quarter,
I guess. And I want a dozen sheets of writing-paper, the kind that’s
ruled, you know, and a package of envelopes to fit.”

When the customers departed, Harry reckoned up the sales and announced
gleefully that four dollars and twelve cents had been added to the
treasury.

“I haven’t had so much fun since I had the measles,” said Chub. “Did
you observe the artistic way in which I did up that bundle?”

“And did you see me handle the sugar-scoop?” asked Dick. “I believe I
was cut out for a storekeeper, fellows.”

“We’ll have to order some more kerosene soon,” remarked Roy. “I pumped
the tank almost dry filling the old farmer’s can for him. Where do we
buy our kerosene?”

“Standard Oil Company,” answered Chub, promptly. “I’ll drop a note to
Mr. Rockefeller this evening. I wonder what she keeps gasolene for?”

“Maybe for automobiles,” suggested Harry.

“I don’t believe an automobile ever stopped in this village,” Chub
replied.

“Plenty of them go by, though,” Dick said. “I’ve seen four this
afternoon. I think this is the main road along here, isn’t it?”

“What we ought to do,” announced Chub, “is to let them know that we
keep it. We ought to put a sign out. Wait a minute.”

He went out into the back yard and rummaged around until he found a
board some four feet long by ten inches wide. He brought it in and
pulled a marking-pot and brush from under the counter.

“Now then,” he said as he dipped the brush and began to print, “here
goes for the automobile trade!” Five minutes later the sign was done
and they were nailing it to the corner of the store, where it was
visible for a hundred yards up the road. Chub had lettered it as
follows:

HEADQUARTERS FOR AUTOMOBILISTS
GASOLENE AND SUPPLIES

But Chub wasn’t yet satisfied. On the back of a piece of cardboard
he printed “Midsummer Sale!” This he placed in one of the windows,
saying, “I’m pretty certain that Mrs. Peel is asking a heap less than
her husband did. You see, there’s a store some place near here that’s
getting her trade away from her, and it’s safe to say she’s marked
things pretty low.”





“How about your automobile supplies?” asked Roy. “What do you mean?”

“I didn’t say ‘automobile supplies,’” answered Chub. “I said ‘gasolene
and supplies’. We’ve got all sorts of supplies, haven’t we? ‘Supplies’
means crackers and cheese and such things just as much as it does
carburetors, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose so, but it sounds sort of misleading.”

“Well, if you come right down to it, we’ve got plenty of things
automobilists use. We’ve got grease and wrenches and files and
pliers–and water–”

“That’s right,” agreed Dick. “We don’t claim to have a full line of
supplies. We’re short on goggles, pink veils, spark-plugs, and extra
tires.”

“Wouldn’t it be lovely,” asked Harry, “if a big automobile should stop
and buy a whole lot of things?”

“Yes, say about fifty gallons of gasolene, a dozen files, half a dozen
wrenches, and a pail of water!” laughed Chub.

“Well, they might buy something,” replied Harry, cheerfully. “And if
any one should ask for a pink veil I’d show them the mosquito netting.”

“Harry, you’ve missed your vocation,” Roy laughed. “You should have
been a shopkeeper. Hello, what’s that?”

There was a loud grinding of brakes outside, and a big red touring-car
which had coasted noiselessly down the hill came to a sudden stop at
the corner almost under the new sign. Before they could reach the door
a man in a yellow duster, evidently a chauffeur, hurried in.

“I want some gasolene,” he announced brusquely. “Where do you keep it?”

“In the back yard,” replied Chub, promptly. “Come on. How much do you
want?”

“Five gallons will do. Is it any good?”

“Best made,” answered Chub. “We get it direct. Come on.”

The chauffeur followed him with a growl.

“Bet it’s low-test stuff,” he muttered.

Roy went out with them, while Harry and Dick sauntered out on the
sidewalk, where they could see the car and its occupants. There were
two ladies and a gentleman in the back of the car, and a second
gentleman was seated in front. They all wore dust-coats, and from the
appearance of the car it was evident that they were touring. One of the
ladies glanced around and caught sight of Harry and said something
to the gentleman beside her. He, too, turned, and in a moment they
were all looking. Harry colored and drew back around the corner. Dick,
however, held his ground.

“Got anything to eat in there?” asked the man in front.

“Yes,” Dick answered. “Crackers, cheese, canned things, raisins, dried
apricots–”

There was a burst of laughter from the car.

“Let’s get out and see what we can find,” said one of the ladies. In
a moment the store was invaded. They bought crackers, cheese, canned
peaches, potted ham, and sardines, and did it so merrily that Harry and
Dick had to laugh with them. The party bore their purchases back to the
car, Dick assisting, and immediately began their luncheon or, as one of
the ladies laughingly called it, “afternoon tea.”

“But we haven’t paid for it” she said suddenly. “How much do we owe
you?”

“Let me see,” said Dick, “there was a pound of crackers–”

“Never mind,” said one of the men, taking a bill from his purse.
“Here’s five dollars. I guess that will pay for the gasolene and
everything. You keep the rest.”

“It won’t come to anything like that,” Dick protested. “The crackers
are–”

“We don’t want to hear how much they are,” laughed the second lady.
“They might not taste so well, and when you haven’t had a mouthful to
eat since eleven o’clock–”

“Never mind about counting it up,” said the man to Dick, genially.
“That five dollar bill will cover it all.”

“Thank you,” replied Dick, gravely.

The chauffeur appeared with the gasolene poured it into the tank, and
tossed the can to Dick.

“Poorest stuff I ever saw,” he muttered savagely as he climbed to his
seat. “All right, sir?”

“Go ahead,” replied the gentleman beside him. The car sprang forward
and in a moment had disappeared in a cloud of dust. Dick went back to
the store.

“Did they pay you?” asked Harry, eagerly.

“I should say they did.” Dick exhibited the five-dollar bill. “He said
this would pay for the gasolene and the other stuff, and I was to keep
the change. I kept it.”

“But the chauffeur paid for the gasolene!” cried Roy. “Call them back!”

“You go out and call,” said Dick, dryly. “They’re a mile away by this
time. If they want their money, they’ll come back for it. Meanwhile
it goes to Mrs. Peel.” He deposited the five-dollar note in the till.
Harry clapped her hands ecstatically.

“Six dollars more!” she cried. “You must all help me put it down. How
much were the sardines, Dick?”

Half an hour later a small boy appeared and bought a bottle of
peppermint and two sticks of candy, and that completed the day’s sales.
At six o’clock they closed the store. Chub locked the door into the
living-rooms and put the key on a nearby shelf.

“There’s no use having that open,” he said, “since Jennie isn’t coming.”

On the sidewalk they paused irresolutely.

“You take it over to her,” said Chub to Dick, holding forth the key.
But Dick shrank away from it.

“Not me!” he cried. “I never could make her hear!”

“Look here,” said Roy, “why not keep the key ourselves? It isn’t likely
that Mrs. Peel will be back before to-morrow. We can come over early in
the morning and open up again.”

“Of course,” Harry agreed. “And we’ll leave a note on the door in case
she should come.”

So the note was written and pinned up, and they started back to the
boat.

“Do you think,” asked Harry, uneasily, when they were climbing the
hill, “that it’s quite safe to leave all that money in the store over
night? There’s over twenty dollars.”

Chub waved the key under her nose.

“But some one might break in,” she insisted.

“Shucks! Don’t you worry, Harry; I’ll wager there hasn’t been a robbery
around here since the place was started.”

“You don’t know, Chub. Does he?” she appealed to the others. “If that
money should be stolen, you’ll have to make it good.”

“Me?” asked Chub. “Certainly. I’ll make it good. That’s one of the easy
things I do. I hereby place myself under a thirteen-dollar bond.”

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