Monday, October 1, 2012
Millicent Merryweather Stout had never been happier. Her new domestic helpers, Addie and Leo Schmidt brought a ray of sunshine into the old mansion she had called home since the day she was born many years ago. Grady and Elizabeth Murphy were frequent guests along with half the residents of Camden Corners. Millicent enjoyed the visitors. She had been a bit standoffish in the past. The Merryweathers were brought up to believe they were higher in station than the rest of the town and never socialized with their neighbors other than civic affairs. Addie and Leo were delighted with their new home. Leo kept busy with many projects around the mansion while Addie cooked and baked up a storm. She was worried that Millicent was painfully thin. She was determined to fatten her up.
Mr. Harvey from the bank arrived one afternoon. Addie welcomed him into the parlor but Millicent said she had a headache and wouldn't be able to receive him. Addie was suspicious since Millicent had been joking with Leo just moments before Mr. Harvey arrived. He thanked Addie and left in despair. His next stop was at the Crowley Law Firm. He was hoping to catch Oscar in his office and was glad when he indeed was there.
“Oscar, I have been hoping to avoid this conversation but I have no where else to turn. Millicent Merryweather Stout is on the verge of bankruptcy. That mausoleum she lives in has eaten up all the money left to her by her father and her husband. I have tried talking with her about it several times and she either ignores me or refuses to see me. Oscar, I am at my wits end. I know how much she respects you and I was hoping you would be willing to reason with her about this matter. I'm afraid we will be forced to take legal action if we cannot come to an agreement.”
“I've often wondered how she was able to keep up with that old place. Cyrus Merryweather was in over his head when he built the house years ago. I know the Stout fellow poured money into the property when he was still alive. He mentioned one time that Millicent refused to consider moving out of there. I'll go with you to talk to her. Maybe we can convince her it is time to sell but I doubt it. Would you mind if I stopped by the antique shop and asked Nettie to come with us. She has a way with people and it might help to have a woman there to soften the blow.”
Nettie was distraught to hear her friend may be forced to leave the only home she had ever lived in and was happy to accompany her husband and Mr. Harvey.
Millicent knew she had no choice but to listen to Oscar and Mr. Harvey tell her she couldn't afford to live in her home any longer. As much as she tried to ignore her predicament, she had expected this day to come eventually.
After greeting the Crowleys and meeting Mr. Harvey, Addie and Leo excused themselves to leave the guests alone with Millicent.
“No, please stay. This is your home too and I want you to be aware of what is happening. Please, Addie, Leo, sit down while these fine people tell me I have to leave my home.”
Mr. Harvey explained in detail how much it was costing Millicent to keep the house running and how little was left of her inheritance.
“Millicent, it pains me to tell you this but you simply do not have enough money to keep this house going.”
Nettie spoke up. “Millicent, tell me, do you ever use the main floor of your house? I know whenever I have visited you I have always come through the back door and up the stairs to the second floor. You seem to have plenty of room on this level including a very nice roomy kitchen.”
“Oh yes, there are several guest rooms that we never use. Even when I was a girl we rarely spent any time on the main floor. Mama and Papa would open the ballroom several times a year but I don't give fancy parties. Mr. Stout was unlike Papa in so many ways and never cared for large gatherings. He much preferred to entertain company here on the second floor.”
Oscar could tell by the look on his wife's face that she was the perfect person to have along. Nettie Crowley could always come up with a solution to any problem it seemed.
“Nettie dear, I can tell you are forming a plan in your head. Why don't you share your idea with us.”
“I'll have to check with Emma and Lily, but they have been talking about opening another location for their goods. They are running out of display area in the shop. I wonder, if you would be willing to rent out the first floor for that purpose.”
“You mean having a shop on the first floor where people would actually come in and purchase goods?”
“It was just an idea, Millicent.” Nettie said afraid she had offended her friend.
“And a wonderful idea, Nettie. Oh Addie, wouldn't it be delightful to have people coming and going each day? When can we talk to the girls to see if they would be willing to go along with the plan?”
“Mr. Harvey, just how much money do I have left? I will need it to set up the business. Now if you will excuse me, I have some planning to do. Oscar would you be willing to help me with that end of things. Nettie, I would like it if you would come to the third floor with me. I think I have a few things that would be appropriate to sell in the shop. Oh dear, I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe we should speak to the Crowley girls first.”
Addie had never seen Millicent this excited. She was getting into the swing also. She and Leo would be able to scrub and shine the old ballroom. She had only been down there one time but she remembered there were heavy dark curtains on the windows. She would wash them all by hand and pull them back to let the sunshine in. The enormous kitchen could be renovated slightly to make it into a cozy dining area serving breakfast and lunch. Addie's mind was twirling. She felt ten years younger than she did just this morning.
Emma and Lily were receptive to the idea immediately. “Nettie, this is like a dream come true. That old house is the perfect place for an antique shop. What would we ever do without you?”
The young ladies left Ethel and Jonas Fulbright in charge of the shop as they made their way to Millicent's home. Millicent was on the wrap around porch waiting for them as they approached the house.
“Lily, this porch would be perfect in the summer to serve lemonade and cookies in the afternoon. I think we would be able to get a dozen small tables and chairs out here.” Lily nodded in agreement.
They walked into the large foyer picturing at least fifteen pieces fitting in it nicely. Next was the ballroom. The girls had never seen anything quite this beautiful before. The draperies had been pulled back to let the sunshine in. Lily imagined the drapes had been closed for years and that helped preserve the old mahogany floors and even the wallpaper. Off the ballroom were several smaller rooms that had been used as dressing rooms, a library and study. Emma counted ten fireplaces in all. The kitchen was enormous with several wood burning stoves. The equipment was in top shape but may have to be replaced for efficiency.
The girls were delighted with the Merryweather location and would have their husbands draw up the paperwork. They were also pleased that Millicent was interested in lending her hand with the shop. She and the group rode the elevator to the third floor. Addie had never been to that floor and Millicent couldn't remember the last time she was here herself. They stepped off the elevator and everyone gasped. Never had Emma seen so many treasures in one place and she had seen a lot. There was row after row of fine old furniture, lamps, vases and figurines in the main room.
“Mama liked to shop and Papa could never deny her anything. What she couldn't fit in our home she would store up here until she needed it. I don't remember her ever using any of these things.”
“Millicent,” Emma said honestly “You could sell some of these things to pay your taxes on the house and still have money left over. You wouldn't have to turn your house into an antique shop.”
Emma felt disappointment but couldn't let things progress any further until she made Millicent understand by selling these treasures she would be able to keep up with expenses on her own.
“Oh but Emma, I want to open a shop downstairs. This old house has been full of life since Addie and Leo came to live here. I never did like knowing that big space downstairs was empty when it's main purpose was to welcome joyful party goers. Mama enjoyed her shopping expeditions so much I'm just sure she would be happy to have others enjoy picking out their favorite pieces from her collection up here. Honestly, I had no idea there was quite this much.”
Work began on turning the first floor of the Merryweather mansion into Looking Back Antiques II. It became known simply as Merryweather's before too long. A visit to the original Looking Back Antique Shop always ended with a stop at Merryweather's. Some of the village teenaged boys were hired to haul the many items from the third floor to the first. With just a few alterations, the shop was ready to open for business. The kitchen and dining room required major remodeling but that was something Leo and Jonas thought they would be able to handle on their own. Before they knew it they had helpers from all over town. The men and even some of the ladies were glad to help out. It gave them an opportunity to see the inside of the Merryweather mansion. For years they could only imagine what it was like inside. Cyrus Merryweather didn't spare any expense when he had the dwelling built. They were to discover the inlays in the tiles were not merely gold in color, they were solid gold.
The newest treasures being stored in the third floor rooms had been purchased before Millicent's mother passed away over 50 years ago. Most had been new at the time but had been kept in the closed up rooms without ever being used. They were all in excellent condition but not true antiques. These pieces were moved to one of the many rooms off the main showroom. Each room had it's own theme, a young girl's room, a young boy's room, a sewing room, a dining room, parlor, guest room. Once a piece was purchased there were many more to take it's place. As with the original antique shop, the prices were very reasonable which was one reason for its enormous success.
After many days and nights of labor, the doors of Looking Back Antiques II were opened to curious lookers and anxious buyers. Browsing was encouraged in both shops even though no purchases were made. Millicent was happy to greet each and every customer. She began to really know the people in town. For years she had been known only as the rich woman who chaired the Ladies Auxiliary and seemed to make all the decisions concerning the social activities of the community. Millicent insisted she wasn't too old to learn new ways and her best teacher was Addie Schmidt. Addie had a knack for remembering everyone she met and also knew each of their children and even their dog's names. She loved people and it showed. Millicent was learning to listen and even though she had to write down names for future reference she was beginning to show a sincere interest in her neighbor's lives.
Millicent and Addie were admiring the just completed dining room of Merryweather's. They had tables and chairs all in place and were selecting vases for the center of each when the bell rang indicating a customer.
Millicent greeted the young man who looked vaguely familiar to her.
“Good morning and welcome to Merryweather's. I am Millicent Merryweather, I don't believe you are from this area? Is there anything in particular you are looking for?”
“Yes, Aunt Millicent” replied the young man. “I'm looking for my father, Neville Merryweather.”
Addie appeared from the dining room just in time to see her friend collapse onto the ruby red Queen Anne Fireside chair.