BEEN quite some time since I've heard tell of a due bill. Are they used nowadays? Most of the small town weekly newspapers did a lot of business with due bills. Instead of collecting money from an advertiser, you took your value in goods or services. One editor I knew got a new Pontiac every year, and because no money ever changed hands he had to be careful about making out the bills. Local dealers who advertised Pontiacs could get half the cost back from GM, so the editor and the dealer connived, and probably GM knew all about it. Along in the 1920s and the '30s, a lot of Florida hotels began advertising in northern newspapers to catch the attention of the first covey of ``snowbirds,'' and any Maine editor who wanted a Florida vacation could run up due bills in December and January and then spend February and March in Miami.
Mr. Frank B. Nichols, who was publisher of the Bath Daily Times, used to do that, and in his later years we staffers wouldn't see him until he showed up sometime in April with an oak-leaf tan. It wasn't noised about that Mr. Nichols made use of due bills, and he enjoyed the sporty nuances of a Florida vacation just as if he paid cash. Almost, that is.
One spring after Mr. Nichols got home, he asked me if I were acquainted with a certain Mrs. Sarah Blodgett Freeman. I was the reporter who roamed the area looking for grist, and I was supposed to know everybody. I said I was well acquainted with Mrs. Sarah Blodgett Freeman, and why did he ask?
That wasn't her real name. Call her that. She was from Harpswell, which she always pronounced correctly as hairp-s'l. Her daddy had been one of the big shipowners in the magnificent, and profitable, days of Down-East sail. Money, he had. Now as Miss Sarah came along she lacked certain qualities and didn't attract suitors. Culturally, she was a dandy. Her daddy sent her to Westbrook Seminary for Females, where she mastered languages, propriety, and the flute, acquiring sufficient nicety to matriculate at Vassar, from which she was graduated summa cum.
But back in Hairp-s'l she was a lemon in the garden of love and old Captain Freeman seemed to be stuck with her. She looked like something then called an Old Maid. Her femininity reminded of a stepladder, and she had the total voluptuousness of a green hubbard squash. Her voice had the serenity of what Maine seafaring people call a groaner, which is a foghorn. When Miss Sarah spoke up at table to be passed the pepper shaker, windows rattled four houses down the street.
But as was related, Father Freeman had money. Bethinking he should bestir himself, he looked about, and three towns away he became acquainted with a young man named, for our purposes, Lemuel F. Guppy. Guppy is a common family name in those parts. He shortly made Lemuel a proposition. He said that if Lemuel would court the damsel Sarah and woo her to successful matrimony, he would build the happy lovers the finest house in town, on 50 acres of choice land, Lemuel's to have and to hold, and he would also deed to Lemuel full title in the barque Lady Sarah, which was on the ways in the Freeman Shipyard and was scheduled for a June launch.
Lemuel is said to have given this offer his attention for a few days, and then he came to Father Freeman and said, ``I like your offer. It seems to me fair enough - but will there be a dowry?'' In this way young Guppy reached his 19th birthday a bridegroom, a sea captain, a wealthy man, and a misogynist. Sarah lived in the big house, and Cap'n Lem went to sea for years at a time.
Long after Cap'n Lem had retired from the sea and had set sail on his last eternal voyage, Sarah lived on in the big house, a town character, and every winter she would go to live in a hotel down in Miami. She had a suite in the finest hotel of all.
So it happened that our Mr. Nichols arrived on his due bill, and the first night at dinner Widow Sarah approached him to say, ``I see you're from Maine - do you mind if I join your party?''
According to Mr. Nichols, she stayed in his hair (a figure of speech as concerns Mr. Nichols) and completely spoiled his visit to Florida. He tried every way to shed her without being rude. He even appealed to the hotel management. Nothing changed. The hotel manager explained his predicament. He said, ``You see, Mr. Nichols, I have you on a due bill, but Mrs. Freeman pays in cash every Saturday night.''