The Wedding Quilt – Episode 17

It was Saturday evening in the Burke household. The store had been closed and the family were in their living quarters, settling down to their various pursuits.

Mamie had cut templates from a box and was busy cutting out pieces for her quilt. She gazed at her handiwork in satisfaction as the little piles of mauve, purple and green fabric grew ever higher on the table in front of her.

Beasie sat in a chair nearby with her legs curled up under her. She sniffed when a tear rolled down her cheek and her mother looked at her in alarm.

“Anything wrong, dear?”

“What? Oh, don’t mind me!” Laughing, Beasie brushed the tear away with her sleeve. “It’s this book I borrowed from Drusilla. ‘Anne’s House Of Dreams’. This bit is awfully sad.”

“I thought I’d read all the Anne books, but that one’s new to me. What’s it about?”

“Anne and Gilbert have just had their first baby, wee Joyce, and she’s dead!”

“Oh, dear! Well, at least we know from the other books that it all comes right in the end. They go on to have several children.”

“Can’t you two stop chattering and give a man peace?” Matt growled.

Bent over his ledgers, he had given several heavy sighs which Mamie had done her best to ignore. Now she felt she had to intervene.

“Will you take a break? I’ll tidy my patches away so they won’t come to harm, then I’ll put the kettle on. How about a raisin scone or two to go with it?”

“It will take more than a mouthful of tea to fix this,” Matt told her, closing the book with a snap.

“Were the takings down this week?”

“Rock bottom! I tell you, Mamie, we’re done for.”

“It can’t be that bad. Just leave those old accounts until Monday. Things may look better when you go back to them.”

Matt shook his head.

“Those figures don’t lie, love. Unless we can come up with some ideas pretty soon, we’ll be closing before summer.”

Beasie felt she had to say something.

“Can’t we have a sale, Dad, like they do in town? That might bring our customers back.”

“What, get rid of everything and have no means of buying new stock? The suppliers won’t wait for their money, you know.”

“Well, put our prices up, then. Maybe a cent or two on each item so nobody will notice.”

“And give folks more reason to shop in town? I’m sorry, Beasie, I don’t mean to shoot down everything you say, but this is just the way it is.”

Matt looked at his wife.

“One thing is certain – we’ll have to stop giving credit. There are people around here who owe us money.

“Starting Monday that will have to change, and you’ll have to try to collect something from the people who are in arrears.”

“Yes, dear.”

Beasie bit her lip. She hated confrontations and the thought of asking people to pay up filled her with dismay.

Worse was to come.

*  *  *  *

On Monday morning Mamie declared that she intended to wash all the blankets in the house.

“If we don’t get on with the spring cleaning soon we won’t have it finished before Stella comes to stay. I’d never get over the disgrace of being found in a muddle!”

“I’ll do that, Mum.”

“No, dear. You can give me a hand pegging them out later, but you’ll have to mind the store for now.

“Your father wants to go to Ararat on what he calls a fact-finding mission. In other words, he wants to check out the opposition’s prices!”

So Beasie sat behind the counter, lost in thought until trouble arrived in the form of Sam Beckett, a large man with whiskers and a bulbous nose.

She bustled about while he barked orders at her, and soon the counter was piled with groceries which he proceeded to stow away in a pair of saddlebags.

“Just put it on the slate,” he told her when she had rung up the total on the till.

She took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Mr Beckett,” she said. “We’re no longer giving credit. Dad would be much obliged if you could pay something on account.”

She took a step back as the man thrust his face closer to hers.

“Who do you think you are?” he sneered. “I’ve got hungry kids to feed. I bet you’ve never gone hungry, have you, Miss Burke?

“You live off the fat of the land here, where everything comes free for the asking.”

“It’s not free,” she retorted. “We have to pay for everything we use.”

“Mebbe, but nothing like the big money you charge your customers. You can tell your dad, missy, that I’ll give you my money when I’m good and ready, and not before!”

Picking up his saddlebags he marched out of the store, leaving her trembling.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.