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The Great Quest

A Romance of 1826, Wherein Are Recorded the Experiences of Josiah Woods of Topham and of Those Others with Whom He Sailed for Cuba and the Gulf of Guinea

314 pages
Library of Alexandria
One morning early in the summer of 1826, I brushed the sweat from my forehead and the flour from my clothes, unrolled my shirt-sleeves to my wrists, donned my coat, and, with never a suspicion that that day was to be unlike any other, calmly walked out into the slanting sunshine. Rain had fallen in the night, and the air was still fresh and cool. Although the clock had but just struck six, I had been at work an hour, and now that my uncle, Seth Upham, had come down to take charge of the store, I was glad that some business discussed the evening before gave me an excuse to go on an errand to the other end of the village. Uncle Seth looked up from his ledger as I passed. "You are prompt to go," said he. "I've scarce got my hat on the peg. Well, the sooner the better, I suppose. Young Mackay's last shipment of oil was of poor quality and color. The rascal needs a good wigging, but the best you can do is tell the old man my opinion of his son's goods. If he gets a notion that we're likely to go down to nine cents a gallon on the next lot, he'll bring the boy to taw, I'll warrant you. Well, be gone. The sooner you go, the sooner you'll come, and we're like to have a busy day." I nodded and went down the steps, but turned again and looked back. As Uncle Seth sat at his desk just inside the door, his bald head showing above the ledgers, he made me think of a pigeon-holed document concerned with matters of trade—weights and measures, and dollars and cents. He was a brisk, abrupt little man, with keen eyes and a thin mouth, and lines that cut at sharp angles into his forehead and drew testy curves around his chin; and in his way he was prominent in the village. Though ours was a community of Yankees, he had the reputation, in which he took great pride, of being an uncommonly sharp hand at a bargain. That it could be a doubtful compliment, he never suspected. He owned property in three towns besides our own village of Topham; he kept a very considerable balance in a Boston bank; he loaned money at interest from one end of the county to the other, and he held shares in two schooners and a bark—not to mention the bustling general store that was the keystone of his prosperity. If anyone had presumed so far as to suggest that a close bargain could be aught but creditable, Uncle Seth would have shot a testy glance at him, with some such comment as, "Pooh! He's drunk or crazy!" And he would then have atoned for any little trickery by his generosity, come Sunday, when the offering was taken at church.