Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Open For Business


Finally, Looking Back Antiques opened for business under new management. Everyone in town was happy to see the shop taken over by Emma and Lily and couldn’t wait to sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy the freshly baked brownies and delicious confections. The Antique store was a huge success. Word started spreading quickly and before long folks from the neighboring towns and eventually from nearby cities started frequenting the antique shop. The Fulbright farm was finally sold and Jonas and Ethel moved to Camden Corners. Jonas was happy to be on hand in the antique shop to greet customers and point out the beauty of each item in the store. Nobody realized how much old Amos had stored. There seemed to be a never ending supply of goods for Jonas to work on. Ethel loved being near her daughter and grandchildren. She was making friends quickly and enjoyed acting as hostess occasionally in the tea room. She wrote to Nettie Dawson excitedly telling her all about the shop and tea room. Nettie missed her dear friend and in a blink of an eye, she was on the train on her way to Camden Corners arriving just in time for tea. Nettie was a perfect match for the now bustling tea room. She was full of chatter and advice to all the patrons.
Emma, Lily and Jonas were working feverishly preparing the last of Amos’ collection before the busy Christmas season began. They discovered there were very few pieces that couldn’t be repaired or cleaned and sold as a valuable antique. Nettie and Ethel were delighted to find a huge crate filled with Tiffany lamps. They spent hours cleaning and shining each and every lamp while they talked about all of the Christmas celebrations they were looking forward to. Their first Christmas in Camden Corners was going to be a very happy one.
One afternoon, the Vicar Willard Duesenberry came into the shop to purchase a lace tea cozy for his faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Schrum. He saw her admiring it in the window one day last week and thought it would make a nice Christmas gift for her. Emma was having a difficult time opening Amos’ old cash register and the vicar offered to take a look at it to see what the problem was. He discovered there was a tiny key that was lodged in the drawer. Emma couldn’t understand why she didn’t discover it when she so painstakingly cleaned and polished it. She took the key and set it aside wondering what the key fit and what it was doing inside the cash register. Another customer was inquiring about a Queen Anne sofa and Emma forgot about the key.
Harvey Wilson was sitting at his usual spot in the old general store cheating at checkers with his cronies. They knew he was cheating but also knew that if they called attention to it old Harvey would throw his considerable weight around and make trouble for his chums. The general store just wasn’t the same now that Amos has passed on and it had been taken over by Harvey. The townspeople of Greensboro often traveled the distance to nearby Kendall to purchase their groceries and supplies at Silas Warren’s store. Harvey did like to make a profit and didn’t notice that he was losing customers one by one. George Whitfield had just returned from Camden Corners and was telling the group how busy the antique store was that Emma Patterson and Lily Kramer bought and how well they were doing selling Amos’ things. Harvey’s ears perked up.
“Excuse me gentlemen I have a little matter of thievery to check into. I do believe the junk Miss Emma stole out of this building was mine and I have the documents to prove it.”
The small group was dumbfounded. This was low even for Harvey.
Emma and Lily were beginning to make a small profit in their antique business and finally had enough extra to bankroll them for their first scavenger hunt. They were anxious to start their journey before the heavy snows came. They took off leaving the shop in the capable hands of Jonas and the women. Susanna offered to pop in occasionally to check on things for them. The first time out they hit the jackpot. The hotel in Porterboro was going to be completely renovated and they were able to salvage almost a wagon full of treasures from there. They stopped at a farmhouse on the way to the next town and found many more items. With a few stops on their way back to Camden Corners they had filled their wagon to the brim and were giggling and laughing as they opened the door to their antique shop.
They were met with tearful eyes and worried faces and standing right smack in the middle of their store was Mr. Harvey Wilson with his smarmy lawyer, Caspar Dewitt standing next to him. Both were smirking as Caspar served the girls with a cease and desist letter demanding they lock the doors of the shop pending a lawsuit for ill gotten goods. Lily was fit to be tied and ready to flatten Mr. Caspar Dewitt but Emma’s cooler head prevailed. She knew they would not be able to fight this fight in the middle of their store and accepted the papers asking them to leave and locking the door behind them.
“We need a lawyer and we need one quickly” Emma said.
Susanna, who happened to be in the shop when Harvey and Caspar walked in had already thought of that and had called Crowley law firm.
Mr. Oscar Crowley was a widower who owned the firm along with his very handsome sons, Robert and Richard. The elder Mr. Crowley was retired but lonely living in a big house by himself. He would find himself at loose ends and wander into the law office just to help out his boys. His office was always open to him and the boys enjoyed having their father around to help out with some of their more difficult clients. Oscar had a way about him that always calmed down the most frazzled and frustrated good folks of Camden Corners.
Susanna explained the situation to Mary, the firm’s receptionist. Mary told Susanna to come right over and bring everyone with her. Mr. Oscar was in his office and would see them right away. Mary knew this was the sort of case Mr. Oscar would enjoy taking on. She knew from experience that Mr. Harvey Wilson didn’t stand a chance against any one of the Crowley men.
The worried group walked into the law firm and Oscar stepped out of his office to greet them and introduce himself to everyone. Pausing for a moment when he looked into the tearful eyes of Miss Nettie Dawson. He invited them into his office as Mary was bringing in some extra chairs. Oscar knew they were upset and in his usual fashion was able to calm everyone’s fears. He had dealt with Caspar Dewitt on a few occasions and knew him to be less than honest in his dealings and his choice of clientele. Oscar looked over the cease and desist letter and told them to feel free to open their doors again. He knew Caspar was using a scare tactic not necessarily a legal one.
Emma explained the situation and the threat made by Mr. Wilson that the contents of Amos' store would be destroyed at her expense if it was not removed. Emma was chastising herself for not getting a copy of the so called deed Mr. Wilson had shown her. Because of grief over losing her beloved grandfather and the shock of Mr. Wilson taking over the store, she wasn't thinking clearly.
Mr. Crowley was understanding of Emma's predicament and seething over the way she had been taken advantage of. He knew old Amos and knew what an honorable man he was. He assured her he would be securing a copy of the deed from the county court house and would get to the bottom of the matter. Emma and Lily were not in a financial position to pay for the services of an attorney. Their little shop was just beginning to turn a profit and they had spent that profit on their new purchases. Nettie spoke up saying she had a little money of her own and it would be her pleasure to pay the legal expenses to keep that snake, Harvey Wilson, out of their lives. Mr. Crowley had Mary draw up a retainer agreement with the amount of one half dollar as the retainer fee. He smiled at Miss Nettie and she blushed like a school girl finding herself wondering if there was a Mrs. Oscar Crowley in the picture.
It was too late in the afternoon for Oscar to make it to the county seat to check the deed to Amos' land but he thought he would check on precedents in one of his old heavy law books. Taking the book off the shelf, he happened to remember that he hadn't had a cup of tea this afternoon and wouldn't that hit the spot right about now? Lugging his oversized law book with him he donned his overcoat and top hat and walked around the corner to visit the Looking Back Antique Shop and the lovely Miss Nettie Dawson.
Nettie saw Oscar walk through the door and her heart skipped a beat. Oscar lost his beloved wife several years before and had not so much as glanced at another woman in all that time. There was something about Miss Nettie that the old gentleman found endearing. He felt like a schoolboy himself as he ordered a cup of tea with just a sliver of banana cake. He invited Miss Nettie to join him at the table.
He asked her what had brought her to Camden Corners and she explained that she had been a schoolmarm until she retired last year. She missed the children and having her very dear friend, Ethel move away was all she needed to make a change in her life. As a young girl she had loved Randolph Evans but three days before their wedding, he had been killed in a fire after heroically saving the lives of three small children and their mother. Her life had been full with so many students through the years. All of the children had loved Miss Nettie and she loved them as if they were her own. She'd had several suitors but none of them had measured up to Randolph. Until now, that is.
Oscar talked about his wife, Louise and what a happy life they had together. They had two active sons who followed in their father's footsteps and studied law. Robert and Richard were both unmarried and Oscar thought it was about time they settled down. Emma and Lily came to mind. What a pair of fine young ladies. Although he didn't need it, he may ask for both his son's assistance in girls' legal matter.
Nettie and Oscar sat and talked for well over an hour. Neither was aware of the time until the sun started to set. Oscar wondered if Miss Nettie would be willing to join him for dinner at the Marino Trattoria. She, of course was delighted and happily accepted the invitation. They had a lovely dinner and Rosa, who could spot a romance blossoming, made sure they didn't lack for wine or delicious food. She asked her her husband Eduardo to take a break from his kitchen duties to play a tune on his violin for the couple. Eduardo was a very romantic fellow himself and enjoyed watching the couple as they gazed into each others eyes.
The following morning, the whole town of Camden Corners was abuzz with talk of the December romance between Oscar and Nettie.
Oscar visited the courthouse and secured a copy of the deed Harvey's lawyer had filed. It was poorly written and it wouldn't be terribly difficult to disprove it's authenticity but it would take time to straighten the matter out and Oscar was hoping to spare the girls that frustration. They had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a success of their shop. He would just have to get Robert and Richard involved. They both happened to be in the office when Oscar returned from the county courthouse. He spoke with them together explaining the situation. Richard left the office chuckling.
“That sly old fox, he obviously has something other than our legal expertise in mind for the Misses Patterson and Kramer.”
“And I'm sure you will set the young ladies straight” replied his brother.
Robert was due in court shortly but Richard had some free time and decided to pay a visit to The Looking Back Antique Shop. He was still amused at his father's obvious ploy as he entered the shop. Emma was busy clearing off a shelf at the back of the store. He spotted Jonas and laughingly told him he was here to check out the merchandise to see if they measured up to his usual standards. His father was pushing him and Robert to find wenches and start producing grandchildren. Suddenly a beautiful red haired girl popped her head up over the counter. She was scowling and her face was getting redder by the minute. Richard's face was as bright red as Lily's. He didn't know what made him say something so crass. He was about to apologize and beg forgiveness when a satin pillow came sailing through the air aimed directly for his head. Emma heard the commotion and came running to the front of the store. Lily was about to pick up a vase that was displayed on the counter when Emma caught her hand and rescued the vase and Richard's handsome face. Jonas was speechless. He had never heard a gentleman speak about a woman like that. At least not in her presence.
Nettie and Ethel had been visiting with Maddie and Diana at one of the tea room tables. They told them that the rude young man was Richard Crowley. He sometimes puts his foot in his mouth but he is really quite a nice and genteel fellow. They explained that his father, Oscar was intent on getting his boys married off and that must have prompted him to speak in such a way. Emma's always cool head prevailed. She was able to calm Lily down somewhat and asked Richard if she could help him. Richard explained who he was and that he meant no disrespect towards either of the girls. He had a long complicated morning and his father was acting like a father and it had rubbed him the wrong way but that was no reason for him to have spoken as he did. Lily was enjoying his discomfort and decided to play the shrew for just a little bit longer. She couldn't help but notice that Richard had the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. His shoulders were so broad, his teeth were so white, his nose was a perfect shape and his raven hair was full and thick. She didn't think she had ever seen a more handsome man.
Emma escorted Richard into the small office partly because she knew he would be talking about their legal trouble and partly to keep Lily away from the poor fellow for his own safety. She knew Lily would calm down but thought it best to give her a little longer to compose herself. Emma told Richard all that had transpired. His father had filled him in but he listened intently to Emma tell her side of the story once again. Like his father, Richard asked if Amos had written a Will or had put anything in writing before he became so ill. To Emma's knowledge, he hadn't. She knew Elmer Mayhew was an attorney and a good friend of Amos' but he had passed away 3 years ago. He had been semi-retired and Emma didn't know what had happened to all his files. He had never married and she didn't believe he had any living relatives. She called Jonas into the office and he couldn't give Richard any more information than that.
Richard was about to leave when he saw the beautiful girl he had insulted standing by the counter. He walked over to her to apologize. She picked up the vase again and he began to duck. Lily couldn't help herself, she started giggling. She told Richard she had never been referred to as a wench before but thought it sounded rather endearing coming from Oscar Crowley's son but she wouldn't recommend he use that term in her presence again. Richard couldn't help but notice that Lily not only had a beautiful face her figure was lovely although he didn't dare lower his eyes for fear of what she may do.
He said his goodbyes and turned to leave the shop when he realized suddenly that he had fallen in love for the first time in his life with the feisty redhead behind the counter.
He turned on his heel and said “I don't suppose you would be willing to go to lunch with an ill mannered lout like me?”
Lily wrapped her cape around her shoulders picked up her handbag and met him at the door. “Ill mannered you might be sir but a lout? Never!”
Emma knew her dear friend would never be the same. Nettie and Ethel, relieved that their young friend was in good hands bid goodbye to Maddie and Diana and went to the store room to carry a small crate to the front of the store. They expected to open it to find more beautiful Tiffany lamps but instead it held two identical mahogany boxes. They lifted one then the other out of the crate. They were both locked.

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