MRS. URIAH PEEL

The Doctor, Roy, and Dick went up the stream in search of trout, Snip
accompanying them, but Chub and Harry elected to stay behind and go
shopping. And after the others had taken their departure with poles
and tackle they set off for the store. The road ambled across the old
wooden bridge, climbed a little hill between high thickets of sumac,
and dipped again toward the settlement. From the slope, as they trudged
along, they had a view of a wide expanse of farms and orchards with
here and there a snug farm-house nestling under its grove of trees.
The village, if it really deserved the name, consisted by actual
count of seven dwelling-houses and the store. The road they were on
continued along the river, while a second road turned from it at right
angle in front of the store and wound inland. It was a sleepy little
hamlet and the only persons in sight as they reached the corner were
an old man half asleep on the tiny porch of a neighboring house and
an elderly woman pottering about the garden of another. There was a
watering-trough at the edge of the street and three big elms threw a
grateful shade over the place.

The store was a one-story affair and at some time in its history had
been painted white. At the back a small ell with a side door was
evidently the residence of the storekeeper. A brick path led to it
between a bed of sweet-william and a row of tall lilac bushes, to which
still clung the brown and withered flower spikes. The elms bathed the
red brick sidewalk, broken and uneven, and the front of the store in
cool green shadow. Above the narrow doorway, was an ancient sign which
proclaimed that “Uriah Peel” dealt in “General Merchandise.” On each
side of the door was a shallow bay-window fitted with shelves on which
was displayed as heterogeneous a collection of articles as ever came
together: pickles, cough syrup, carpet tacks, a jar of stick candy,
flatirons, horse liniment, toys, a few paper-covered books, a box of
files, women’s shoes, a manicure set in a purple plush case, straw
hats, an assortment of ribbons, tin stew-pans and dippers, and a host
of other things.

[Illustration: She tied together the strings of a quaint little black
bonnet]

“We won’t find anything here that we want,” muttered Chub at the door.

As the door swung open there was a distant tinkling of a bell. The
store was empty when they entered, empty and dim and cool after the
sunny road; but in response to the summons of the bell a little woman
appeared at the back, entering apparently from the ell. She was one of
the tiniest women they had ever seen, and as she hurried toward them
she tied together the strings of a quaint little black bonnet.

“How do you do,” said Harry. “We want to buy an iron kettle if you have
one.”

“An iron kettle,” mused the little woman, taking her chin in her hand
and looking anxiously about her. “Did you want a very large one?”

She seemed to be about fifty years of age, with a thin comely face
and a pleasant voice. Her expression, however, was so troubled and
excited that Chub wondered, and Harry hurriedly assured her that just
a medium-sized one would do and that if she didn’t have it it didn’t
really matter one bit.

“I have some kettles somewhere,” answered the little woman in a flurry,
“only I don’t just remember–”

Then she darted behind one of the counters and disappeared from
sight while a rattling sound told of frantic search. Harry turned
bewilderedly to Chub, and the latter grinned and tapped his forehead
eloquently.

“I thought so!” The storekeeper was beaming triumphantly at them across
the counter and holding out a very dusty and somewhat rusty iron
kettle. It was just what they wanted, Harry declared.

“How much is it, please?”

The little woman turned it bottom up and squinted closely, at last
holding it out for their inspection.

“Can you see any figures there?” she asked. “I left my spectacles in
the kitchen.”

“Looks like $7.00,” replied Chub dubiously.

“Oh, then it’s seventy cents,” was the reply. “Uriah always made a cent
mark like an ought. Was there anything else, Miss?”

“Well,” said Harry, hesitatingly, “we did want some lard and flour,
but–”

“How much lard?”

“Have you a small pail of it?”

“No’m, I haven’t; but I can give you any amount you want. Three or four
pounds, Miss?”

“About five, I guess. And have you flour?”

“Yes, indeed.”

And she had sugar, too, and the purchasers began to entertain a new
respect for the dingy little store.

“I suppose you don’t live around here,” asked the storekeeper as she
bustled excitedly about.

“No, we’re on a boat,” replied Chub.

“I want to know!” was the response. “There was a man in here only last
week who came in a boat. He bought a good deal, too, but there was some
things he wanted I didn’t have. Would you mind just looking out and
seeing if there’s a buggy outside?”

Chub obeyed and reported no buggy in sight. The woman looked anxiously
at an old clock and sighed.

“I don’t quite know whether I’m on my head or my heels,” she said with
a little apologetic laugh. “I’m just upset to-day.”

They murmured inarticulate sympathy.

“I got a telegraph message from my brother-in-law down to Myersville
this morning saying that my sister is real sick and asking me to come
down there. And so I’m going to take the four o’clock train.” She
glanced again at the clock which said a few minutes before three.
“Millie never was very strong and I’m real worried about her. Seems
as though he wouldn’t have sent a telegraph message if things wasn’t
pretty bad, don’t it? I packed my bag right up and wrote a letter to my
niece over in Byers to come and look after the store while I’m gone,
but I haven’t seen sight of her yet. I thought she’d be along on that
two-twenty train and I sent the Hooper boy down to the station to meet
her, and he ain’t back yet. And if he don’t come pretty soon he won’t
be in time to take me to the station. Though I don’t know as I’d ought
to leave the store until Jennie comes.”

“Is your husband away?” ventured Chub sympathetically.

“He died a year ago last April.”

“Oh!” murmured Chub. “I’m very sorry. I didn’t know–”

“Course you didn’t. I ain’t never had the sign changed yet. Don’t know
as I ever will. If business don’t pick up pretty soon I guess I’ll have
to close up. Uriah used to do pretty well here when he was alive, but
there’s a new store opened down to Washington Hills and folks mostly
goes there to buy their things. Is that the buggy?”

“No,” Chub reported. “It hasn’t come yet.”

She looked again at the clock and heaved an audible sigh of relief.

“Well, everything’s all ready when it does come,” she said. “I suppose
you young folks travel a good deal on the trains, but I never have, and
I’m always pretty nigh scared to death at the thought of it. There’s
always so many accidents in the papers.”

“Have you far to go?” asked Harry. The purchases were all ready and
paid for by this time, but neither Harry nor Chub seemed in any hurry
to depart.

“’Bout seventy miles it is. I have to take the train to Jones Point
and then the ferry across to Peekskill. I guess I’ll find a carriage
waiting for me at the other side. Yes, it’s a good deal of a journey.
When Millie was first married it did seem like she was just going
right out of the world. But she’s been to see me plenty of times since
and I’ve been down to Myersville twice. Millie was visiting me only a
little while ago; must be two weeks since she left. Maybe the trip was
too much for her. She ain’t as strong as she used to be, and there’s a
lot of work about a farm. I guess James is a real good husband to her,
but he don’t seem to realize what a sight of work she has to do. Men
are like that–mostly. I do wonder why that trifling boy don’t come
back?”

She hurried to the front door, opened it, and looked anxiously out.

“Well, I suppose he’ll get back when he’s good and ready. I do hope
Jennie can come. If she doesn’t I’ll just have to shut up the store.
’Twon’t make much difference, though, I guess; what’s sold here in two
days wouldn’t pay Jennie’s fare across. But I got everything ready if
she should come. I marked things plain so’s she can tell how much to
ask. I spent about three hours doing it, too.”

She looked proudly about the store and Chub and Harry, their gazes
following hers, saw that almost everything in sight had been labeled
in some way with the price. Usually small paper bags had been laid upon
the article and the figures printed on the bag.

“It must have been a lot of trouble,” murmured Harry.

“So it was, but Jennie hasn’t got enough sense to look after the place
if things aren’t marked right out plain. There he is, ain’t he?”

A buggy containing a small, freckled-faced boy drew slowly up at the
edge of the sidewalk in front of the store. Mrs. Peel’s face fell.

“Jennie didn’t come!” she exclaimed. “Whatever shall I do? I ought to
be starting for the station this very instant. I suppose she’s coming
on the next train, but I can’t wait for her. I do think she might have
come when I told her, after all the things I’ve done for that girl! But
that’s the way of human nature, I suppose! Bennie Hooper, didn’t you
see anything of her?”

“No’m,” answered the boy.

“You sure she didn’t get off and you didn’t see her?”




“Didn’t nobody get off,” answered Benny resentfully.

“Well–” Mrs. Peel’s eyes wavered back and forth from the clock to the
buggy. “I suppose I’ll just have to shut up the store and leave the key
with Martha Hooper. Mrs. Benson was coming in for some onions, but I
suppose she’ll have to wait.”

“When does the next train come?” asked Harry solicitously.

“About six. She’s bound to come on that, but–”

“Then you let us watch the store until she comes,” cried Harry. “We’ll
be very careful, Mrs. Peel. That is, if you think you’d care to trust
us?”

Mrs. Peel’s face had lighted at once.

“You–you wouldn’t mind?” she faltered anxiously. “Jennie’s bound to
come on the six o’clock train and I’ll have Bennie wait over there and
bring her back. She ought to be here by half-past six. It’s a good deal
to ask, especially as you’re strangers to me.”

“We’ll be glad to,” answered Harry promptly. “Won’t we, Chub?” Chub
agreed readily.

“Well, I don’t know how to thank you,” fluttered Mrs. Peel. “I just
don’t, and that’s a fact. But I’m going to take you at your word.
All you’ll have to do is to stay here until she comes and tell her
everything’s marked with the price, and that I’ll be back just as soon
as I can and will write to-morrow and tell her how Millie is. Now I’ll
get my things. You turn that buggy around, Bennie; you know I don’t
like to be in it when it’s turned.”

Mrs. Peel shot a rapid look at the clock and hurried away to the little
door leading to the living-rooms. When she came back Chub took the old
black leather bag from her and put it in the buggy. By this time the
little woman’s excitement was intense.

“Tell Jennie the house door is locked on the inside and that she’s to
be careful to look out for sparks when she goes to bed because the
insurance has run out and I haven’t had time to renew it again. And if
Mrs. Benson comes for the onions you see that she pays for ’em, because
she owes me two dollars and eighteen cents already. I didn’t leave any
money in the till because I had to have it to buy my ticket, but I
guess she’ll have the right change. I’m very much obliged to you, young
lady, and you, sir. And I hope you’ll be here when I get back. Benny,
you’ve got your reins crossed; I do wish you’d be a little careful when
you know how nervous I am about horses. Did I get my spectacles? Yes,
here they are. Go ahead, Bennie, and drive careful. Good-by, Miss!
Good-by, sir! Tell Jennie I’ll write to-morrow surely. If you like
candy there’s some in the jars on the shelf back of the counter on the
left. Help yourself, Miss. Good-by! Bennie, I guess you’ll have to
hurry a little.”

“Got most forty minutes,” growled Bennie.

“Well, I like to be in plenty of time.”

“It don’t take but fifteen minutes,” said Bennie. “Get ap, Cæsar!”

The buggy wobbled around the corner, Mrs. Peel waving an excited
black-mittened hand to the two on the sidewalk, and disappeared. Chub
and Harry looked at each other and laughed.

“Isn’t she a dear!” gasped Harry.

“Funniest ever. Let’s go in and look around the shop.”

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