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The Grub-And-Stakers Quilt A Bee
By Charlotte MacLeod
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Charlotte MacLeod
All rights reserved.
"WELL, FRY ME FOR a doughnut!" cried Hazel Munson.
Therese Boulanger whanged her gavel. "May we have that in the form of a motion?" Therese was a stickler for protocol.
"Stuff it, Therese," muttered Dittany Henbit Monk, who was not.
Her utterance was drowned in cries of "I don't believe it!" "My stars and garters," and similar outbursts including a "gadzooks" from Arethusa Monk, the famous author of roguish regency romances. How could their president drag in Robert's Rules of Order at a time like this? Never before in all its long and checkered history had the Grub-and-Stake Gardening and Roving Club of Lobelia Falls, Ontario, received a bequest of any magnitude at all, much less a whole dad-blanged museum.
The "dad-blanged" was contributed by the aforementioned Dittany Henbit Monk. Her vocabulary had taken strange new directions as a result of her recent marriage to Osbert Monk, better known to the sagebrush intelligentsia as Lex Laramie. Osbert would be back at the house on Applewood Avenue right now, throwing his literary lasso over the neck of some dreamed-up maverick and wondering if he'd meant to write "dogie" instead. Did he but know! Dittany could hardly wait to tell him.
She'd jolly well have to wait, though. Therese was no slouch with a gavel. The meeting was back to order.
"For the benefit of those who may not have grasped the details of the matter before us" (Therese meant everybody who'd been too busy gabbling to pay attention, but was too good a parliamentarian to say so) "I shall read the terms of the bequest again. The subject will then be thrown open for discussion. If you wish to speak, please raise your hand and wait to be recognized by the chair. Otherwise," she added, for Therese was human too, "we'll be here all night."
"Read on, Macduff," boomed Arethusa.
Therese cleared her throat. "Under the terms of the holograph will that was found in the files down at the water department after we'd all assumed John Architrave had died intestate, his house on Victoria Street, which we all know to be a fine though sadly rundown example of Early Lobelia Falls architecture, of which we have far too little left, thanks to what some people choose to call progress ..."
"Is that all in the will, for Pete's sake?" Hazel Munson whispered to Dittany.
"Shh!" The shush was Samantha Burberry's. Being an elected town official and chairman of the club's legislative committee, she felt duty-bound to uphold the torch of parliamentarianism.
Therese got herself back in hand. "The gist of it is, John has left his house to the club free and clear, on condition that we maintain and operate it as a museum dedicated to the memory of John's wife, a former president and four-time winner of the Winona Pitcher Award, and that the museum be in fact known and designated by an appropriate sign or plaque as the Aralia Polyphema Architrave Museum. Before we begin our discussion, I'd like to ask our legislative chairman whether there's anything in the bylaws that might preclude our accepting such a bequest."
Samantha rose, poised and elegant as always. "Nothing whatever, to my knowledge. It would appear to fit nicely under Section A, Clause 3 which states that the club shall initiate and carry out projects for the general education and beautification of our community."
"Thank you, Samantha. Any objections?"
Hazel Munson's hand shot up. "I'm not objecting. I'd just like to know if that old meathead left us any funds to run the place with."
For one long, horrified moment, there was not a whisper in the room. Everyone knew John had left his life's savings to his one surviving relative, their own beloved Minerva Oakes, co-chairman of the landscape committee. They also knew how desperately Minerva needed the cash, and they'd rejoiced over the elderly widow's great windfall. Hazel, realizing too late what a brick she'd dropped, clapped her hand over her errant mouth.
Minerva looked stricken, but rose gamely. "I'm quite willing to ...
"Shut up," barked Zilla Trott, the other half of the landscape committee. "You're out of order. Madam Chairman," she waved her hand wildly, "I make a formal motion that the club refuse to accept one plugged nickel from Minerva Oakes."
"Second the motion," cried the members as one voice. Even Therese seconded before she remembered she wasn't supposed to, then called for a vote before Minerva could get another word in. The ayes had it so loudly the windows bulged.
"Now," said Zilla, "I move the chair appoint a ways and means committee."
"Objection," cried Arethusa. "First we elect a board of trustees, then they appoint their own committee."
"That's right," Therese agreed, clearly nonplussed to find Arethusa in possession of so mundane a fact.
"Then I nominate Arethusa chairman of the board of trustees," Zilla amended, nothing daunted. It took a lot to daunt Zilla.
Again there was a free-for-all to second the nomination. Arethusa was not only the club celebrity but the member with the most spare cash. Furthermore, she had Dittany to keep her in hand. While still a Henbit, Dittany had been Arethusa's typing service and voice of reason. As a niece-in-law she packed even more clout. Hence Dittany got nominated forthwith as secretary.
Therese would be a member ex officio, Dot Coskoff would be treasurer because she could both add and subtract. Hazel Munson had to be on the board because she could keep her head when all about her were losing theirs and blaming it on anybody who came handy. Minerva was named vice president as a matter of courtesy and a way of salving her conscience anent the money by giving her a reason to work her head off for the museum, which she'd have done anyway. Zilla Trott came next because nobody could envision a committee that Minerva was on and Zilla wasn't.
Mrs. MacVicar then moved the nominations be closed because six trustees were plenty. Nobody cared to contradict Mrs. MacVicar, whose husband was the law in Lobelia Falls, so they elected the board and broke up the meeting. Instead of staying to participate in the wild babble that followed, Dittany sped home to her husband.
"Eh?" Osbert dragged his attention away from some distant arroyo or mesa and focused it on his wife. "Darling, it's you!"
"And whom were you expecting?"
"Well, you see, Harold the Headless Horse Thief was galloping into the haunted canyon and for just a second there I wondered if—if we mightn't have some of those big molasses cookies with the crinkly edges hanging around anywhere handy?"
"Let's go look," said Dittany, for she loved Osbert dearly.
They went, Osbert nuzzling gently at the back of his bride's neck as the faithful Appaloosa of his hero was wont to do. To the hero's neck, of course. Dittany's was a neck just right for nuzzling, whereas the cowboy's must perforce be tanned to leather and perhaps not very recently washed. Osbert was feeling pleasantly one-up on the Appaloosa as he buckled down to his tea and cookies. The mood was dispelled by his Aunt Arethusa's barging through the back door in full cry as was her lamentable habit.
"Osbert, go away" was her greeting. "We have to hold a trustees' meeting."
"Stuff it, Arethusa," said Dittany, Osbert's mouth being full of cookie at the moment. "A man is king in his own castle."
"What castle, prithee? This house is yours, not his."
It was in fact the ancestral residence of the Henbits, but Dittany refused to yield her point. "It's ours. Osbert's spent more getting the place glued back together than it was worth before he started. Sit down and have a cookie. We can't hold a meeting without the rest of the trustees."
"Why not, egad? We haven't drawn up any bylaws yet, so how can we be in violation of them?"
"I'd have to clear that point with Therese. Anyway, I don't want to hold a trustees' meeting. I want to—"
"I know what you want to and I think it's perfectly disgusting. Can't you wait till bedtime, forsooth?"
"Arethusa, that was not what I meant," said Dittany with quiet dignity.
"Why not? Aha! A rift i' the lute. What's that beastly nephew of mine been up to now?"
"Osbert is not beastly. Osbert is a lambie pie with fur-lined booties on. What I intended to say was that I want to start supper because we horsed around at the meeting this afternoon far too long and I'm practicing to be a perfect wife."
"Darling, you already are," cried Osbert, having coped with the cookie.
"I haven't ironed your shirts yet."
"A bagatelle. I'll wear this same one tomorrow."
"You will not. What would the neighbors think?"
"Figo for the neighbors," said Arethusa. "Could we get on with the meeting? The gist or nub of the matter is that we've got to appoint a curator forthwith."
"Why forthwith?" said Dittany.
"Because I've already been approached by seventeen people who want to donate priceless artifacts to the museum, that's why."
"What priceless artifacts?"
"A hand-embroidered corset cover worn by Samantha Burberry's husband's great-grandmother on the occasion of her presentation to Queen Victoria at the Court of St. James, a set of hand-carved false teeth once owned by a certain Sam Small, the first wagon driver who came to Lobelia Falls, later hanged for cattle rustling in Alberta—"
Osbert brightened. "Now, there's an item of genuine historical interest."
"To whom, prithee? If you think I'm going to accept any bogus bicuspids in my capacity as chairman of the board of trustees of the whatever-her-name-was museum, you can think again, eh. The trouble is, I can't come straight out and say so, because Zilla Trott's the one who wants to donate the teeth."
"I see," said Dittany.
"I don't," said Osbert.
"You wouldn't," snarled Arethusa.
"It's quite simple, darling," Dittany explained. "We need somebody who can winnow out the junk from the good stuff without making everybody hate him."
"Or her. I used the pronoun abstractly. You remember about abstract pronouns, dear?"
"Certainly I remember about abstract pronouns. Aunt Arethusa wouldn't know an abstract pronoun if it walked up and tipped its hat to her."
"I would so," said Arethusa.
"You would not. You only know words like stap my garters."
"Garters. Egad, yes. A pair of red silk arm garters won by old Mr. Busch in a poker game when he was a telegraph operator up in Yellowknife in 1909. You see what we're up against?"
Dittany nodded gloomily. By nightfall they'd have been offered a wealth of hand-crocheted chamber pot covers, secondhand beehives, wooden legs, Moody & Sankey hymnals, autographed photos of Ivor Novello, moth-eaten army uniforms, and that umbrella stand made from interwoven buffalo horns Dot Coskoff's mother had been trying to unload on somebody for the past forty-three years. Would anybody in town have the guts to explain that none of these things was precisely what the Aralia Polyphema Architrave Museum happened to be in urgent need of at the moment? Sighing, she reached for the telephone.
"Whom are you calling, forsooth?" Arethusa demanded.
"Hazel, Dot, Minerva, and Zilla, of course. Much as I hate to admit it, Arethusa, you're right."CHAPTER 2
MANY YEARS HAD PASSED since Aralia Polyphema laid down her bow and gavel for the last time. After her death, John Architrave had lived alone. He'd managed his housekeeping much as he'd managed the water department, and that was as ill as anybody in Lobelia Falls cared to speak of the dead. Before they could start putting things into the museum, an awful lot would have to be taken out.
Osbert donated part of the advance on his latest Western, whose heroine had blue-green eyes, blondish brown hair with highlights the color of dawn on the mesa, and cheeks like the bloom on the yucca, or Spanish bayonet; and happened, by apt coincidence, to be named Dittany. That paid for the hiring of a dump truck to cart away enough trash so that the peeling wallpaper and cobwebbed ceilings could be got at.
Before restoration could begin, though, the problem of what to restore it to had to be resolved. After considerable wrangling, the trustees decided to do what everybody then claimed to have been in favor of all along: namely, to plan the museum as a typical Canadian home of the Early Lobelia Falls period. Only genuine antiques or accurate reproductions would be used, and decisions of the curator would be final. The curator would be kept firmly enthumbed by the trustees, but the general public wasn't to know that. By this stratagem or ruse they hoped to keep out the carved coconuts and art deco smoking stands without antagonizing friends and neighbors who'd been kidding themselves that they'd at last found a place to park the family relics without upsetting the in-laws.
Finding a curator turned out to be a piece of cake. Dot Coskoff's sister's brother-in-law had an uncle who had a cousin who'd just been retired as assistant curator from a museum down in Boston or Chicago or some other benighted outpost of civilization. He wasn't finding retirement to his liking. Since he was already collecting a pension, he'd be willing to accept the meager stipend they could afford, provided the Architrave—that was the first time they'd heard it called that—threw in living quarters for himself and his wife.
That was no problem, either. Old John, in his infinite chuckleheadedness, had installed the one bathroom in a former woodshed off the back entry, as far away as possible from the upstairs bedrooms. Some said it was this inconvenience that had vexed the late Aralia into an early grave, but now John's thoughtlessness worked to the museum's advantage. The bathroom could stay where it was, the big old kitchen be turned into a sitting room, the pantry into a kitchenette, and what had been called the birthing room become a smallish but adequate bedroom. It was doubtful if a pair of retirees would be doing much birthing.
Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield, such being their name, appeared charmed by these plans and set to move in right away, but of course they'd have to wait until the transformation was accomplished. Meanwhile, Minerva Oakes offered them free room and board.
Before coming into John's money, Minerva had eked out her widow's mite by taking in boarders, most of them spectacular duds. Undaunted by disastrous experience, she remained a hospitable soul, didn't mind strangers at her breakfast table, and was still having qualms about her inheritance. Hence nobody tried to talk her out of having the Fairfields, and thus it came to pass.
Once they'd got to meet the newcomers, the trustees saw why Mr. Fairfield had remained an assistant all those years in his old job. He couldn't have given orders to the museum cat, let alone the staff. Nevertheless, he seemed to know his artifacts and to have sound, though diffidently expressed, ideas about what the Architrave ought and ought not to contain.
Mrs. Fairfield was a different matter. Hazel Munson summed up the consensus best. "You sure can tell which of that pair never has to starch her undershirts." The new curator's wife was pleasant-spoken enough, but she did show an awful lot of gum when she smiled. She wasn't lazy, though. Despite a broken wrist sustained, she told them, on moving day by falling over a box, she insisted on pitching right in with the clean-up crew.
Lobelia Falls folk were born pitchers-in, by and large. If you wanted the ghastly old wallpaper stripped, for instance, you had but to drop a hint to Mr. Peavey at the hardware store. Before you could turn around, he'd be on deck with his wallpaper steamer, his four stalwart sons, and their four stalwart girlfriends. If you wanted spiderwebs swept down, you could summon whole platoons of broom wielders who gave neither jot nor tittle for the most fearsome arachnid ever hatched; at least never hatched in Lobelia Falls, where spiders aren't usually very fearsome anyway. If you had mice to be caught, and you did because old John had been an awful slob, you called in a few of the neighborhood cats.
Even Andrew McNaster, who owned the local construction company as well as the inn next door to the Architrave, sent a couple of busboys over one hot afternoon to help with the cleaning up. Everybody's natural reaction was "What's he up to this time?"
"He figures we're all dying of thirst over here from the dust" was Dittany's theory. "He's trying to get us to quit boycotting his lousy den of iniquity and start dropping over for cold beers. Then he'll get us drunk and pull another of his cute tricks."
Excerpted from The Grub-And-Stakers Quilt A Bee by Charlotte MacLeod. Copyright © 1985 Charlotte MacLeod. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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