Forgotten History - Chapter 1
The little statue was made of garishly painted wood with seashell eyes and feathers for hair. It had to have some value because Ruth had priced it at $600, but Miriam had no idea what it was. She was beginning to feel that way about the entire store. The deeper she delved into the stock, the more mystified she was by her sister’s reasons for buying what she did.
After a hard morning of trying to organize the shop she’d inherited in picturesque Maple Landing, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay, Miriam was entertaining serious doubts about whether she could run her sister’s business. For several weeks Miriam had been trying to ready the store for a mid-June reopening, but she was still at a loss to figure out her sister’s business systems. The stock was a hodgepodge of anything and everything, and the second floor and the cellar were loaded with unsorted boxes and items not in the store inventory—not that Miriam could read many of her sister’s scribbles in the ledger.
Their phone conversations in recent years hadn’t been very informative, especially not where the antiques shop was concerned, and Ruth had always seemed too busy for the long heart-to-heart conversations of earlier times. One of Miriam’s reasons for returning to her hometown was to regain the feeling of closeness she’d once had with her sister, but so far she was only bogged down by dust and confusion.
“At least I’m good at dusting,” Miriam said aloud to bolster her resolve.
She moved her stepladder so she could reach the items on top of a display cabinet. A cobweb dangling from the ceiling brushed against her cheek, but she made short work of it with her feather duster. Thankfully she was wearing old jeans and an oversized plaid shirt with her hair covered by a red bandana. If the students who’d been in her high school business classes back in Indiana could see her now, they might not recognize her.
As she reached over to dust an old weather vane mounted on a wooden base, she was startled by the tinkle of a bell over the front door. The man who entered had carefully styled white hair and was dressed in a finely tailored blazer.
“I’m sorry, we’re not open yet,” she said, brushing a silver lock of hair out of her eyes.
“Miriam? Miriam Davis?”
She looked into the pleasant face of a man with a neatly trimmed snowy-white beard, and could hardly believe her eyes.
“It’s been a long time, Miriam, but I’d recognize you anywhere. What are you doing here?”
“Attempting to reopen my sister’s antiques shop. She passed away this winter and left it to me, but I’m not sure I’m up to it.”
“The girl I knew in high school could handle almost anything,” he said.
Except your going away to the naval academy, she thought, remembering how they’d dated during their junior and senior years. Their separation became permanent when she went off to a teachers’ college, but now the happy memories flooded back.
“Everything but seventh-hour biology,” she said with a laugh. “It still creeps me out to remember the snake Mr. Van Hoff made us touch.”
He laughed with her. “You must have washed your hands twenty times that day.”
“It’s been a long time,” she said, starting to climb down but forgetting how dirty her feather duster had become. A big puff of dust caught her unaware, and she sneezed violently, nearly losing her balance on the ladder.
Samuel rushed over and steadied the ladder, saving her from a fall, and extended his hand to help her down. Grateful for his help but a tad embarrassed, she thanked him and brushed her hands off on the sides of her jeans.
“How long has it been?” he asked thoughtfully.
“More than forty years.” She remembered he was only a few months older than she was. He’d turned sixty in March.
“I’m guessing your name isn’t Davis anymore,” he said, glancing at the wedding ring she still wore.
“Have you and your husband lived here long?”
“It’s Maxwell. Ray passed away nearly five years ago, but I just moved here.”
“I’m sorry to hear about your husband,” he said. “Do you have children?”
“A daughter and son-in-law in Indiana. They have two lovely twins, Becky and Abby. I debated with myself a long time whether to leave Terre Haute to take over Ruth’s antiques shop.”
“How long did you live in Indiana?” Samuel asked.
“We settled in Terre Haute after our marriage. I taught high school business courses for more than thirty years, but I’m retired now—retired from teaching, anyway. I may have bitten off more than I can handle with this shop.” She suddenly felt a little self-conscious telling him more than he’d asked.
“What brings you to Maple Landing? Last I knew you were going to make a career in the navy.”
“Admiral Samuel Bentley, U.S.N., retired,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “I decided to leave the service when they assigned me to a desk in Norfolk. I’m on my own now—my wife passed away suddenly six years ago from an aneurysm, and my two sons are both in the military.”
“You live in Maple Landing now?”
“I just moved here. In fact, I’m furnishing a house near the water. That’s why I came to your shop. I’m in need of a desk.”
“My sister must have liked desks. There are quite a few back here.”
She led the way to the rear of the store where the furniture was on display. They had to step over a child’s wooden wagon and a rusty scooter to reach the desks, reminding Miriam of how badly she needed to hire someone to help organize everything.
Samuel followed her, squeezing past a Victorian love seat and a mid-nineteenth-century cherry dresser with handkerchief drawers on either side of the top.
“Now, this is nice,” Samuel said, peering under and around a Queen Anne desk with inlaid mahogany. It was more table than desk, with only three small drawers across the front, but it was easily the most beautiful piece of furniture on display.
“It isn’t what I had in mind, but this should work better than a rolltop. I work on a laptop computer, but I need a lot of room to spread out my research materials,” Samuel said, pulling out one of the three drawers along the top. “Dovetail construction. I don’t have any doubts about its authenticity.”
Miriam watched as he tried to open a third drawer, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Hmm. Odd, the other two worked fine,” he said, bending to examine the stuck drawer.
“I should have a carpenter look at it,” Miriam said, concerned. Most of the items on display were in good condition.
“I don’t think it’s a major problem. How long would you say the top is?” Samuel didn’t wait for an answer as he used his hands to gauge the length. “Fifty-two, maybe fifty-four inches.”
“You must plan to do a lot of work,” Miriam said for lack of anything else to say.
Turning toward her, he smiled broadly. “Would you believe the guy who struggled in a high school lit class is planning to write a book?”
“Struggled and got an A minus, the only class where you didn’t get a straight A,” she teased, remembering what an outstanding student he’d been. “What kind of book?
“A history of America’s navy,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now’s my chance. That’s part of the reason I retired, although it was time to try something different.”
“That’s wonderful!” she said, genuinely enthused.
“It’s in great shape except for the drawer and the scratch on this side,” Samuel said, still examining the desk from all angles. “I would say it’s the original finish.”
“Oh my!” Miriam bent to see the defect he’d noticed. “I recognize this scratch. This desk was in my family for generations. We always thought some naughty child tried to scratch an initial on the side. I can’t believe I forgot about it.”
“Maybe it’s not something you want to sell,” Samuel said. “I don’t want to deprive you of a family heirloom.”
“No, it’s definitely for sale. The house is so crowded with all my furnishings and everything Ruth left that I can’t possibly find a spot for the desk.”
If there was one thing Miriam had learned about the antiques business from her sister, it was that everything was negotiable. She was debating what kind of discount to give Samuel to compensate for the stuck drawer and the scratch when he took the initiative.
“I’ll take it. How do you want me to make out the check?”
“To Ruthie’s Antiques. I’m keeping her name on the shop as a way to honor her memory.”
“I was so taken aback by seeing you again, I didn’t even ask about your sister. I’m really sorry you lost her. She was considerably older than you, wasn’t she?”
“Ten years older. In fact, she was almost a substitute mother for me after our mother died. She was on a buying trip in Pennsylvania when she suffered a fatal heart attack—although I’m not sure why she needed to find more stock. You wouldn’t believe how jammed full the cellar and second floor are here. But she died doing what she loved best: picking for antiques.”
“I take it she didn’t have children since she left the shop to you,” he said.
“Sadly, no. After her husband died, she put all her energy into finding and selling antiques. I gave a lot of thought to auctioning all her stock and the contents of the house and selling the buildings, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I feel closer to her surrounded by the old things she loved. I just have to figure out if I’m up to running the shop. So far, I haven’t made a very good start.”
“You’ll do fine.” He gave her a warm smile and took her hand between both of his. “Miriam. It’s nice to have you here. I hope we’ll see more of each other.”
“That would be nice,” she said, feeling a bit awkward. “Thank you for buying the desk. I’m glad it’s going to a good home.”
Samuel wrote out a check and handed it to her. “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.”
“Not unless you’re looking for a job,” she teased. “I haven’t had any success finding a sales assistant yet.”
After making arrangements for Samuel to pick up the desk later, Miriam watched him leave, feeling nostalgic about the times they’d shared when they were young, and then her thoughts turned back to the shop.
Could she make a go of living in Maple Landing and running her sister’s business? Maybe she was too old to start a new life. She could retire and enjoy her family, but would she be satisfied with her garden, her bridge friends, and her church work? As fulfilling as her life had been, she still faced long days alone in Terre Haute now that her daughter’s family was planning to move to California. Was this a second chance, or a bad mistake? Only time would tell.
In this warmhearted Guideposts original two-book fiction set, widowed Miriam Maxwell returns to Chesapeake Bay to take over her late sister's antique store and reconnects with old friend Samuel Bentley. When Samuel buys a desk that belonged to Miriam's family for generations, a discovery hidden in a drawer sends the pair off on delightful adventures in mystery and history. shopguideposts.org/ChesapeakeSet