KEEPING STORE

It was a queer little store. There was a window on each side of the
front door, a window which peeped out onto the tiny side yard and the
brick walk, and the sweet-williams, and a window directly opposite
which, had the shutters been open, would have given a view of the
houses across the road and the river beyond. At the back of the store
was a door which led into a good-sized yard extending along the backs
of the store and the living house. There were a few bedraggled shrubs
here and a row of hollyhocks nodded along a stretch of the high
board fence which inclosed the space. A door in the fence, securely
padlocked, led onto the road. For the most part the back yard was given
over to barrels and packing cases, but in one corner a tiny shed housed
two green tanks labeled respectively “Gasolene” and “Kerosine.”

From the store to the dwelling-house the way led up a step and through
a door near the back of the store. This door was open and Chub and
Harry allowed themselves a glimpse of a narrow and dim hallway with a
door at the far end. But this was not their territory and they didn’t
intrude. Besides, there was plenty to see in the shop part.

There was a wooden counter along each side on which rested here and
there funny old-fashioned show-cases with mirrors at their backs.
One case held pocket-knives sitting enticingly on their little green
boxes, fish-hooks, lead sinkers, a solitary pair of pruning-shears,
a horn-handled carving-knife and fork, scissors, thimbles, and
knitting-needles. Another case showed ribbons, lace, edgings, and
similar goods. Back of the counters there were narrow aisles, and
beyond the aisles were shelves. On these were dry goods, groceries,
patent medicines, cheap straw hats and woolen caps, overalls and
jumpers, tinware, woodenware, and crockery. Down the center of the
store, between the two counters, leaving an aisle on either side, stood
barrels and boxes, tubs and pails, plowshares and bags of fertilizer,
rakes and hoes and shovels and brooms, bristling from otherwise empty
barrels, and potatoes and onions. There were jars of striped pink and
white candy on the shelves and in the window, a few toys–paper kites,
marbles, and tops scattered around in various places and–oh, heaps of
other things besides.

“Talk about your department stores!” exclaimed Chub. “Isn’t this
palatial!”

“She said we might have some candy,” said Harry, standing on tiptoe and
looking dubiously into one of the jars, “but I don’t believe it is very
nice, do you?”

“I do not!” replied Chub decisively. “But, I think I’ll buy a pair of
these beautiful brown overalls for Dick. He’s got oil and grease on
every pair of trousers he has with him. He’d look perfectly swell in
them, wouldn’t he?” And Chub held up the garments in question. They
looked at least six feet long and correspondingly broad, and Harry
giggled as she mentally pictured Dick in them.

“Chub, you must fold them up nicely again,” she commanded, “and put
them back just where you found them.”

“Don’t you worry,” Chub responded. “I’m the neat little storekeeper, I
am.” He continued his investigations, peering into boxes and barrels
and having a thoroughly enjoyable time. “Harry, here’s some real
old-style brown sugar like grandmother used to have; remember it? It’s
great! Have some?”

Harry had some, nibbling it out of the little tin scoop.

“But we must pay for it, Chub,” she said anxiously.

“Oh, we’ll take this instead of the candy,” Chub replied. “And look
here, here’s some dried apricots. My, but I’m glad I came!”

“Chub, you mustn’t take things!” cried Harry.

“What, just a few old apricots?”

“No, not unless you pay for them.”

“How much?” asked Chub with a grin. Harry examined the end of the box.

“Well, they’re fifteen cents a pound. How many did you take?”

“Six.”

“Then I should think you ought to pay about a cent.”

“Very well.” Chub fished in his pocket and found the required sum.
“What do I do with it?”

“Put it in the till. And we’ll keep a record of everything that’s
sold.” Harry found a paper bag and a pencil and wrote:

“Six Dried Apricots $ .01”

“There now, that’s very businesslike, isn’t it?” she asked. “We’ll put
down everything we sell.”

“I think it won’t be much trouble,” Chub answered as he pulled open the
little till drawer under the counter and dropped his penny in. “We may
be the only ones to buy anything. I wonder if she has any prunes.”

He went on with his investigation and Harry wandered back to the front
of the store. When Chub joined her a few minutes later she was seated
in one of the two old arm-chairs which stood by the open door deeply
immersed in a book.

“What you got?” asked Chub, looking over her shoulder. “My! ‘Little
Goldie’s Vow!’ Where’d you get it? Is it good?”

“Fine! I found it in the window. There are some more there. It’s
awfully exciting.”

“I dare say,” replied Chub, “but I don’t believe I ought to let you
read such things, Harry. That’s just trash.”

“You haven’t read it,” answered Harry rebelliously.

“I don’t need to; the title’s enough. You know your mother wouldn’t
want you to read such things.”

“Well,” sighed Harry. “But please mayn’t I just finish this chapter,
Chub? It’s all about a beautiful girl named Jessica and–”

“Thought her name was Little Goldie,” sniffed Chub.

“Oh, that’s just a nickname that the hero gave her on account of her
wonderful golden tresses. And there’s another girl in it named Alice;
she’s the villain–no, villainess–and a perfectly fascinating man with
beautiful gray eyes and–”

“What’s his name? Tom?”

“Of course not!” exclaimed Harry contemptuously. “His name is Reginald
Forrest. At least, that’s what he calls himself, but of course he’s an
earl or a lord or something in disguise.”

“How do you know?” asked Chub.

“Oh, they always are.”

“Huh! Seems to me you know a good deal about novels, young lady!”

Harry looked a trifle embarrassed.

“Well, sometimes–at school–the girls would bring them to read at
recess,” she explained, “and I borrowed one once–”

“Once?” demanded Chub sternly.

“Once or twice,” laughed Harry.

“I’m afraid you have a very bad taste for literature,” said Chub
severely. “And I don’t believe I ought to let you go on. I’ll have
another look for the prunes.” But his search was unsuccessful and
presently he was back at the doorway. Harry was still deeply absorbed,
and so for awhile Chub studied the landscape. But there wasn’t much to
see until, after awhile, a woman in a brown calico dress turned the
corner and came toward him.

“Look out, Harry!” he whispered. “Here’s a customer!”

The woman, who had a very unattractive aspect, glanced at Chub
curiously and walked past him into the store.

“Where’s Mrs. Peel?” she demanded of Harry.

“She’s gone away to visit her sister, who is ill at–at somewhere down
the river. She’s left us in charge of the store until her niece comes.
Can I do anything for you?”

“Humph!” said the woman. “She always was crazy. Well, I want two quarts
of onions, but I guess I can get them myself, young lady.”

“Oh, Chub will serve you,” said Harry, sweetly. “Chub, please measure
two quarts of onions for this lady.”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Chub. He got a paper sack and found the wooden
measure. “Two quarts, madam?”

“That’s what I said,” replied the woman, sourly. “And I don’t want all
the little runts there are, either. Mr. Benson said last week that he
never seen meaner-lookin’ onions than what I got here.”

“Oh, I think these will suit you,” said Chub, filling the measure. “Let
me see now.” Chub studied the figures on the paper bag which lay on top
of the basket. “Two quarts will be sixty cents, madam.”

“Sixty cents!” almost shrieked the woman. “You must be crazy. I never
paid more than five cents a quart in all my born days!”

Chub looked inquiringly at Harry.

“What is the price on them, Chub?” she asked.

“It says thirty cents, and two quarts at thirty cents–”

“Thirty cents a peck, you stupid!” said the woman.

“It doesn’t say so,” Chub demurred doubtfully.

“It doesn’t say whether they’re thirty cents a pint or thirty cents a
bushel,” answered the customer, acidly, “but onions are always sold by
the peck.”

“Well, maybe you’re right,” said Chub. “So if you’ll take a peck we’ll
call it thirty cents–”

“I don’t want a peck. Who ever heard of any one buying a whole peck of
onions at once?”

“But you just said that they are always sold by the peck, and if that’s
so–”

“I meant they were always _priced_ by the peck, and if you had the
sense of a goose you’d know something about it!”

“I think she must be right, Chub,” observed Harry. “Thirty cents
sounds an awful lot for onions.”

“Well, all right,” answered Chub, cheerfully. “Thirty cents a peck it
is, Mrs. Bronson.”

“My name’s Benson,” replied the woman, tartly. “I hope for Mrs. Peel’s
sake that her niece will come soon.” She held out her hand for the
onions. “These go down to my account.”

“Sorry,” returned Chub, “but Mrs. Peel told us explicitly to sell only
for cash.”

“But I tell you I have my things charged!” said the customer, warmly.

“I don’t doubt it, madam, but as Mrs. Peel would prefer to have the
money, I’ll have to do it.”

“Well, I never heard of anything so idiotic! You give me those onions,
or I’ll send Mr. Benson over here to talk to you, you young jackanapes.”

“I shall be very glad to hear Mr. Benson if he talks interestingly,”
replied Chub, sweetly. “But if he wants the onions he will have to
bring eight cents with him.”

Mrs. Benson looked wrathfully from Chub to the bag of onions and
wrathfully from the bag of onions to Harry.

“You ain’t going to let me have them?” she demanded.

“I shall be glad to, if you’ll pay cash,” replied Chub. “But Mrs. Peel,
I am sure–”

“She’ll rue the day she left you young ninnies in charge here,”
interrupted Mrs. Benson, as she flung herself out of the store. “I was
never so insulted in all my born days! You wait until Mr. Benson hears
of this! You just wait!”

“Phew!” breathed Chub, as he set the bag of onions down. “She has a
horrid disposition, hasn’t she?”

“Maybe,” said Harry, uneasily, “we ought to have let her have them. We
wouldn’t want Mrs. Peel to lose a customer, would we?”

“The loss of that sort of a customer wouldn’t hurt much,” returned
Chub. “Too bad we couldn’t make a sale, though. That cash drawer looks
mighty empty. Hello! there goes an automobile. Did you see it?”

“Yes. Do you–do you suppose she’ll send her husband over?”

“Can’t say,” answered Chub, carelessly.

“But he might be angry and make trouble.”

“Let him try it,” said Chub, grimly. “I’ll take care of him if he tries
to make a fuss.”

At that moment a form appeared at the door.

“Maybe it’s Mr. Benson,” muttered Chub, as he strolled to meet him.

The newcomer was a little wisp of a man, with a nervous smile and a
diffident manner and a thin, high-pitched voice.

“Good afternoon,” said Chub, affably.

“Good afternoon, sir, good afternoon,” squeaked Mr. Benson. “Nice
weather for the time of year.”

“Some of the best,” answered Chub, cheerfully. “Can I do anything for
you, sir?”




“Er–if you please. My wife sent me over for–for two quarts of onions.
She–she was over awhile back and didn’t have the money with her.” He
placed eight cents on the counter and smiled ingratiatingly, rubbing
his hands nervously together.

“Right here,” said Chub, handing him the bag. “Eight cents; quite
correct, thank you. Nothing else to-day?”

“N-nothing else, thank you. Good afternoon.”

“Good afternoon, Mr. Benson.”

When he had gone, Chub sank into a chair and burst out laughing.

“He leads a merry life, Harry,” he gasped. “Wouldn’t I just love to be
Mrs. Benson’s husband!”

“It’s too bad to laugh at him,” replied Harry, suppressing her own
smiles. “He looked like a very nice old man.”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t be in his boots for a fortune. Let’s put the money
away. That’s sale number two. At this rate we’ll make Mrs. Peel rich
before Jennie comes.”

Harry deposited the coins in the till and made another entry on her
record:

2 quarts of onions .08

Then she went back to her book, and Chub took the chair at the other
side of the open door and watched her a while. Presently, “I say,
Harry,” he asked, “what’s the price of that book?”

“Ten cents,” she answered, glancing at the cover.

“Are you going to read it through?”

“I–I don’t know. Do you think I oughtn’t to, Chub?”

“Suit yourself,” answered Chub, with a shrug of his shoulders. “I was
just wondering whether you could afford to read it.”

“Afford to?” asked Harry. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s a ten-cent book, isn’t it?”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “Do you think I ought to pay for it?”

“Why not? You’re getting the use of it, aren’t you? It’s just the same
as though you took it away with you.”

“Why, no, because I’ll put it back in the window and Mrs. Peel can sell
it again.”

“Yes, but if you took it you’d throw it away after you were through
with it. It isn’t any good to you after you’ve read it, you see. How
much have you read so far?”

“Pretty nearly a third.”

“Well, we will call it three cents’ worth if you stop now.”

“But–but I haven’t any money with me, Chub!”

“That’s all right. I’ll lend it to you.”

“Well, couldn’t you–couldn’t you lend me ten cents just as well?”

“No.” Chub shook his head. “I couldn’t trust you for so much. If you
read any more you’ll have to go and get the money before Jennie comes.”

“Chub, I think you’re just horrid!” cried Harry, vexedly.

Chub only grinned. Harry looked hesitatingly at the book for a moment,
and then closed it regretfully and placed it back in the window. Chub
counted out three coppers and dropped them into her hand, and she
placed them in the till. Then she made another entry on the paper bag
as follows:

One third of “Little Goldie’s Vow” .03

After that they drew their chairs to the doorway and sat and looked out
across the quiet, shaded street.

There wasn’t much of interest to look at–a cat washing its face on the
side porch of the little white house opposite, a sparkle of blue where
the river was visible between the branches of a tree and the corner of
a house on the other street, a couple of pigeons parading about in
the road. Twice an old man went by trundling a wheelbarrow, and twice
automobiles flashed along northward on the river road.

“Wonder what time it is,” murmured Chub after a while, as he drew his
watch out. “Hello, almost six! I wonder if one of us hadn’t better go
back to the boat and tell the rest what’s happened to us. Maybe they’ll
be worried.”

“I’ll go,” said Harry. “And I’ll tell them we can’t be back until
half-past six, so that they will keep supper for us.”

“All right,” answered Chub, “if you don’t mind. I’ll keep store. When
did she say that train was due?”

“About six, I think. She said Jennie would surely be here by half-past.”

“Well, only three-quarters of an hour more, then. Run along and tell
them. And you don’t have to come back, Harry, unless you want to.”

“Oh, but I do! I won’t be more than ten minutes, Chub.”

“Take your time,” answered Chub, magnanimously. “I sha’n’t be
overworked, I guess.” He settled down comfortably in his chair and
watched Harry disappear around the corner. “My, but this is an exciting
town!” he muttered. “I wish that cat would fall off the porch, or
something else would happen.” But nothing did, and presently Harry was
back again, and the clock at the back of the store struck six in wheezy
tones. The sun was getting low, and long shafts of amber light swept
down the road that wound up the hill toward the west. A train whistled
in the distance.

“That’s Jennie,” said Chub. “Bennie will be along pretty soon now;
Cæsar and Bennie and Jennie. I’m getting awfully hungry. Do you
remember any of the messages Mrs. Peel left for Jennie?”

Harry did, and to prove it she enumerated them. Chub applauded her
memory.

“All I remember,” he said, “was something about sparks.”

It was almost twenty minutes later when the white horse and the
dilapidated buggy rattled around the corner and pulled up for a moment
in front of the watering-trough. In the buggy sat Bennie and no one
else. He grinned joyously.

“She didn’t come,” he announced. “Get ap!”

“Hold on!” cried Chub, hurrying to the curb. “Are you sure she wasn’t
on the train?”

“Course I am.”

“Didn’t she send any–any message or anything?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“When is the next train?”

“’Bout ’leven o’clock, I guess. Get ap.”

“Well, now what are we going to do?” demanded Chub, as the white horse
ambled away again. Harry shook her head.

“I’d like to tell Jennie what I think of her,” said Chub aggrievedly.
“Nice way for her to act. We can’t sit here until eleven o’clock and
wait for her. We’ll just have to shut up shop.”

“But how will she get into the house?” asked Harry.

“I don’t know.” Chub frowned thoughtfully at the crumbling bricks.

“I suppose we might leave the key across the street and pin a note on
the door telling her to go there and get it. I guess that’s all we can
do, eh?”

Harry agreed that it was. So they saw to the fastenings of the window,
took their iron kettle into which were packed their other purchases,
wrote a line on a paper bag, and locked the door behind them. Then
Harry supplied a pin, and Chub posted the note, which read:

JENNIE: The key to the store is at the white house right across
the street.

At the white house they had some difficulty in explaining their errand
to an elderly woman who was very deaf and very suspicious, but finally
they accomplished it and went off, leaving the key in her hands.

“There’s a chance that Jennie won’t be able to make that old woman
understand what she wants,” growled Chub. “Jennie may have to sleep on
the sidewalk to-night. Well, we’ve done what we could.”

“And then maybe she won’t come at all,” said Harry, hopefully.

“What good will that do?” Chub asked.

“Why, then we can keep store again to-morrow. Wouldn’t you just love
to?”

“H’m,” said Chub, doubtfully.

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