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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 36128

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


On the twentieth day of April in the year 19-, the people-that is, a majority of the grown people of Ostable-were talking of Marcellus Hall and Mary-'Gusta.

A part of this statement is not surprising. The average person, no matter how humble or obscure, is pretty certain to be talked about on the day of his funeral, and Marcellus was to be buried that afternoon. Moreover, Marcellus had been neither humble nor obscure; also, he had been talked about a good deal during the fifty-nine years of his sojourn on this planet. So it is not at all surprising that he should be talked about now, when that sojourn was ended. But for all Ostable-yes, and a large part of South Harniss-to be engaged in speculation concerning the future of Mary-'Gusta was surprising, for, prior to Marcellus's death, very few outside of the Hall household had given her or her future a thought.

On this day, however, whenever or wherever the name of Marcellus Hall was mentioned, after the disposition of Marcellus's own bones had been discussed and those of his family skeleton disinterred and articulated, the conversation, in at least eight cases out of ten, resolved itself into a guessing contest, having as its problem this query:

"What's goin' to become of that child?"

For example:

Mr. Bethuel Sparrow, local newsgatherer for the Ostable Enterprise, seated before his desk in the editorial sanctum, was writing an obituary for next week's paper, under the following head:

"A Prominent Citizen Passes Away."

An ordinary man would probably have written "Dies"; but Mr. Sparrow, being a young and very new reporter for a rural weekly, wrote "Passes Away" as more elegant and less shocking to the reader.

It is much more soothing and refined to pass away than to die-unless one happens to be the person most concerned, in which case, perhaps, it may make little difference.

"The Angel of Death," wrote Mr. Sparrow, "passed through our midst on Tuesday last and called to his reward Captain Marcellus Hall, one of Ostable's most well-known and influential residents."

A slight exaggeration here. Marcellus had lived in Ostable but five years altogether and, during the last three, had taken absolutely no part in town affairs-political, religious or social. However, "influential" is a good word and usual in obituaries, so Bethuel let it stand. He continued:

"Captain Hall's sudden death-"

Erasure of "death" and substitution of "demise."

Then:

"-Was a shock to the community at large. It happened on account of-" More erasures and substitutions. "-It was the result of his taking cold owing to exposure during the heavy southeast rains of week before last which developed into pneumonia. He grew rapidly worse and passed away at 3.06 P.M. on Tuesday, leaving a vacancy in our midst which will be hard to fill, if at all. Although Captain Hall had resided in Ostable but a comparatively short period, he was well-known and respected, both as a man and-"

Here, invention failing, Mr. Sparrow called for assistance.

"Hey, Perce," he hailed, addressing his companion, Mr. Percy Clark, who was busy setting type: "What's a good word to use here? I say Marcellus was respected both as a man-and somethin' else."

"Hey?" queried Percy, absently, scanning the eight point case. "What d'ye say?"

"I asked you what would be a good thing to go with 'man'?"

"Hey? I don't know. Woman, I guess."

"Aw, cut it out. Never mind, I got it:

"-As a man and a citizen. Captain Hall was fifty-nine years of age at the time of his demise. He was born in South Harniss and followed the sea until 1871, when he founded the firm of Hall and Company, which was for some years the leading dealer in fresh and salt fish in this section of the state. When the firm-

"I say, Perce! 'Twouldn't do to say Marcellus failed in business, would it? Might seem like hintin' at that stuff about his sister and the rest of it. Might get us into trouble, eh?"

"Humph! I don't know who with. Everybody's talkin' about it, anyway. Up to the boardin' house they've been talking about mighty little else ever since he died."

"I know, but talk's one thing and print's another. I'm goin' to leave it out.

"When the firm went out of business in 1879, Captain Hall followed the sea again, commanding the ships Faraway, Fair Wind, and Treasure Seeker, and the bark Apollo. Later he retired from the sea and has not been active in the same or otherwise since. In 1894 he married Augusta Bangs Lathrop, widow of the late Reverend Charles Lathrop, formerly pastor of the Congregational Church in this town. Captain Hall had been residing in his native town, South Harniss, but after his marriage he took up his residence in Ostable, purchasing the residence formerly owned by Elnathan Phinney on Phinney's Hill, where he lived until his lamented demise. Mrs. Hall passed away in 1896. The sudden removal of Captain Hall from our midst leaves a stepdaughter, Mary Augusta Lathrop, aged seven. The-"

Here Mr. Sparrow's train of thought collided with the obstruction which was derailing many similar trains in Ostable and South Harniss.

"I say, Perce," he observed "what's goin' to become of that kid of Marcellus's-his wife's, I mean? Marcellus didn't have any relations, as far as anybody knows, and neither did his wife. Who's goin' to take care of Mary-'Gusta?"

Percy shook his head. "Don't know," he answered. "That's what all hands are askin'. I presume likely she'll be looked after. Marcellus left plenty of money, didn't he? And kids with money can generally find guardians."

"Yup, I guess that's so. Still, whoever gets her will have their hands full. She's the most old-fashioned, queerest young-one ever I saw."

So much for Mr. Sparrow and his fellow laborer for the Enterprise. Now to listen for a moment to Judge Baxter, who led the legal profession of Ostable; and to Mrs. Baxter who, so common report affirmed, led the Judge. The pair were upstairs in the Baxter house, dressing for the funeral.

"Daniel," declared Mrs. Baxter, "it's the queerest thing I ever heard of. You say they don't know-either of them-and the child herself doesn't know, either."

"That's it, Ophelia. No one knows except myself. Captain Hall read the letter to me and put it in my charge a year ago."

"Well, I must say!"

"Yes, I know, I said it at the time, and I've been saying it to myself ever since. It doesn't mean anything; that is, it is not binding legally, of course. It's absolutely unbusinesslike and unpractical. Simply a letter, asking them, as old friends, to do this thing. Whether they will or not the Almighty only knows."

"Well, Daniel, I must say I shouldn't have thought you, as his lawyer, would have let him do such a thing. Of course, I don't know either of them very well, but, from what little I've heard, I should say they know as much about what they would be supposed to do as-as you do about tying a necktie. For mercy sakes let me fix it! The knot is supposed to be under your chin, not under your ear as if you were going to be hung."

The Judge meekly elevated the chin and his wife pulled the tie into place.

"And so," she said, "they can say yes or no just as they like."

"Yes, it rests entirely with them."

"And suppose they say no, what will become of the child then?"

"I can't tell you. Captain Hall seemed pretty certain they wouldn't say no."

"Humph! There! Now you look a little more presentable. Have you got a clean handkerchief? Well, that's an unexpected miracle; I don't know how you happened to think of it. When are you going to speak with them about it?"

"Today, if they come to the funeral, as I suppose they will."

"I shall be in a fidget until I know whether they say yes or no. And whichever they say I shall keep on fidgeting until I see what happens after that. Poor little Mary-'Gusta! I wonder what WILL become of her."

The Judge shook his head.

Over the road between South Harniss and Ostable a buggy drawn by an aged white horse was moving slowly. On the buggy's seat were two men, Captain Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton. Captain Gould, big, stout, and bearded, was driving. Mr. Hamilton, small, thin, smooth-faced and white-haired, was beside him. Both were obviously dressed in their Sunday clothes, Captain Shadrach's blue, Mr. Hamilton's black. Each wore an uncomfortably high collar and the shoes of each had been laboriously polished. Their faces, utterly unlike in most respects, were very solemn.

"Ah hum!" sighed Mr. Hamilton.

Captain Shadrach snorted impatiently.

"For the land sakes don't do that again, Zoeth," he protested. "That's the tenth 'Ah hum' you've cast loose in a mile. I know we're bound to a funeral but there ain't no need of tollin' the bell all the way. I don't like it and I don't think Marcellus would neither, if he could hear you."

"Perhaps he can hear us, Shadrach," suggested his companion, mildly. "Perhaps he's here with us now; who can tell?"

"Humph! Well, if he is then I KNOW he don't like it. Marcellus never made any fuss whatever happened, and he wouldn't make any at his own funeral no more than at anybody else's. That wasn't his way. Say nothin' and keep her on the course, that was Marcellus. I swan I can hardly make it seem possible that he's gone!"

"Neither can I, Shadrach. And to think that you and me, his old partners and lifelong chums as you might say, hadn't seen nor spoken to him for over two years. It makes me feel bad. Bad and sort of conscience-struck."

"I know; so it does me, in a way. And yet it wasn't our fault, Zoeth. You know as well as I do that Marcellus didn't want to see us. We was over to see him last and he scarcely said a word while we was there. You and me did all the talkin' and he just set and looked at us-when he wasn't lookin' at the floor. I never saw such a change in a man. We asked-yes, by fire, we fairly begged him to come and stay with us for a spell, but he never did. Now it ain't no further from Ostable to South Harniss than it is from South Harniss to Ostable. If he'd wanted to come he could; if he'd wanted to see us he could. We went to see him, didn't we; and WE had a store and a business to leave. He ain't had any business since he give up goin' to sea. He-"

"Sshh! Shh!" interrupted Mr. Hamilton, mildly, "don't talk that way, Shadrach. Don't find fault with the dead."

"Find fault! I ain't findin' fault. I thought as much of Marcellus Hall as any man on earth, and nobody feels worse about his bein' took than I do. But I'm just sayin' what we both know's a fact. He didn't want to see us; he didn't want to see nobody. Since his wife died he lived alone in that house, except for a housekeeper and that stepchild, and never went anywhere or had anybody come to see him if he could help it. A reg'lar hermit-that's what he was, a hermit, like Peleg Myrick down to Setuckit P'int. And when I think what he used to be, smart, lively, able, one of the best skippers and smartest business men afloat or ashore, it don't seem possible a body could change so. 'Twas that woman that done it, that woman that trapped him into gettin' married."

"Sshh! Shh! Shadrach; she's dead, too. And, besides, I guess she was a real good woman; everybody said she was."

"I ain't sayin' she wasn't, am I? What I say is she hadn't no business marryin' a man twenty years older'n she was."

"But," mildly, "you said she trapped him. Now we don't know-"

"Zoeth Hamilton, you know she must have trapped him. You and I agreed that was just what she done. If she hadn't trapped him-set a reg'lar seine for him and hauled him aboard like a school of mackerel-'tain't likely he'd have married her or anybody else, is it? I ain't married nobody, have I? And Marcellus was years older'n I be."

"Well, well, Shadrach!"

"No, 'tain't well; it's bad. He's gone, and-and you and me that was with him for years and years, his very best friends on earth as you might say, wasn't with him when he died. If it hadn't been for her he'd have stayed in South Harniss where he belonged. Consarn women! They're responsible for more cussedness than the smallpox. 'When a man marries his trouble begins'; that's gospel, too."

Zoeth did not answer.

Captain Gould, after a sidelong glance at his companion, took a hand from the reins and laid it on the Hamilton knee.

"I'm sorry, Zoeth," he said, contritely; "I didn't mean to-to rake up bygones; I was blowin' off steam, that's all. I'm sorry."

"I know, Shadrach. It's all right."

"No, 'tain't all right; it's all wrong. Somebody ought to keep a watch on me, and when they see me beginnin' to get hot, set me on the back of the stove or somewheres; I'm always liable to bile over and scald the wrong critter. I've done that all my life. I'm sorry, Zoeth, you know I didn't mean-"

"I know, I know. Ah hum! Poor Marcellus! Here's the first break in the old firm, Shadrach."

"Yup. You and me are all that's left of Hall and Company. That is-"

He stopped short just in time and roared a "Git dap" at the horse. He had been on the point of saying something which would have been far more disastrous than his reference to the troubles following marriage. Zoeth was apparently not curious. To his friend's great relief he did not wait for the sentence to be finished, nor did he ask embarrassing questions. Instead he said:

"I wonder what's goin' to become of that child, Mary Lathrop's girl. Who do you suppose likely will take charge of her?"

"I don't know. I've been wonderin' that myself, Zoeth."

"Kind of a cute little thing, she was, too, as I recollect her. I presume likely she's grown up consid'ble since. You remember how she set and looked at us that last time we was over to see Marcellus, Shadrach?"

"Remember? How she looked at ME, you mean! Shall I ever forget it? I'd just had my hair cut by that new barber, Sim Ellis, that lived here 'long about then, and I told him to cut off the ends. He thought I meant the other ends, I cal'late, for I went to sleep in the chair, same as I generally do, and when I woke up my head looked like the main truck of the old Faraway. All it needed was to have the bald place gilded. I give you my word that if I hadn't been born with my ears set wing and wing like a schooner runnin' afore the wind I'd have been smothered when I put my hat on-nothin' but them ears kept it propped up off my nose. YOU remember that haircut, Zoeth. Well, all the time you and me was in Marcellus's settin'-room that stepchild of his just set and looked at my head. Never took her eyes off it. If she'd said anything 'twouldn't have been so bad; but she didn't-just looked. I could feel my bald spot reddenin' up till I swan to man I thought it must be breakin' out in blisters. 'Never see anybody that looked just like me, did you, Sis?' I says to her, when I couldn't stand it any longer. 'No, sir,' she says, solemn as an owl. She was right out and honest, I'll say that for her. That's the only time Marcellus laughed while we was inside that house. I didn't blame him much. Ho, ho! Well, he ain't laughin' now and neither are we-or we hadn't ought to be. Neither is the child, I cal'late, poor thing. I wonder what will become of her."

And meanwhile the child herself was vaguely, and in childish fashion, wondering that very thing. She was in the carriage room of the barn belonging to the Hall estate-if the few acres of land and the buildings owned by the late Marcellus may be called an estate-curled up on the back seat of the old surrey which had been used so little since the death of her mother, Augusta Hall, four years before. The surrey was shrouded from top to floor with a dust cover of unbleached muslin through which the sunshine from the carriage room windows filtered in a mysterious, softened twilight. The covered surrey was a favorite retreat of Mary-'Gusta's. She had discovered it herself-which made it doubly alluring, of course-and she seldom invited her juvenile friends to share its curtained privacy with her. It was her playhouse, her tent, and her enchanted castle, much too sacred to be made common property. Here she came on rainy Saturdays and on many days not rainy when other children, those possessing brothers or sisters, played out of doors. She liked to play by herself, to invent plays all her own, and these other children-"normal children," their parents called them-were much too likely to laugh instead of solemnly making believe as she did. Mary-'Gusta was not a normal child; she was "that queer Lathrop young-one"-had heard herself so described more than once. She did not like the phrase; "queer" was not so bad-perhaps she was queer-but she had an instinctive repugnance to being called a young-one. Birds and rabbits had young-ones and she was neither feathered nor furred.

So very few of the neighborhood children were invited to the shaded interior of the old surrey. Her dolls-all five of them-spent a good deal of time there and David, the tortoise-shell cat, came often, usually under compulsion. When David had kittens, which interesting domestic event took place pretty frequently, he-or she-positively refused to be an occupant of that surrey, growling and scratching in a decidedly ungentlemanly-or unladylike-manner. Twice Mary-'Gusta had attempted to make David more complacent by bringing the kittens also to the surrey, but their parent had promptly and consecutively seized them by the scruff of their necks and laboriously lugged them up to the haymow again.

Just now, however, there being no kittens, David was slumbering in a furry heap beside Mary-'Gusta at one end of the carriage seat, and Rosette, the smallest of the five dolls, and Rose, the largest, were sitting bolt upright in the corner at the other end. The christening of the smallest and newest doll was the result of a piece of characteristic reasoning on its owner's part. She was very fond of the name Rose, the same being the name of the heroine in "Eight Cousins," which story Mrs. Bailey, ho

usekeeper before last for Marcellus Hall, had read aloud to the child. When the new doll came, at Christmas time, Mary-'Gusta wished that she might christen it Rose also. But there was another and much beloved Rose already in the family. So Mary-'Gusta reflected and observed, and she observed that a big roll of tobacco such as her stepfather smoked was a cigar; while a little one, as smoked by Eben Keeler, the grocer's delivery clerk, was a cigarette. Therefore, the big doll being already Rose, the little one became Rosette.

Mary-'Gusta was not playing with Rose and Rosette at the present time. Neither was she interested in the peaceful slumbers of David. She was not playing at all, but sitting, with feet crossed beneath her on the seat and hands clasped about one knee, thinking. And, although she was thinking of her stepfather who she knew had gone away to a vague place called Heaven-a place variously described by Mrs. Bailey, the former housekeeper, and by Mrs. Susan Hobbs, the present one, and by Mr. Howes, the Sunday school superintendent-she was thinking most of herself, Mary Augusta Lathrop, who was going to a funeral that very afternoon and, after that, no one seemed to know exactly where.

It was a beautiful April day and the doors of the carriage house and the big door of the barn were wide open. Mary-'Gusta could hear the hens clucking and the voices of people talking. The voices were two: one was that of Mrs. Hobbs, the housekeeper, and the other belonged to Mr. Abner Hallett, the undertaker. Mary-'Gusta did not like Mr. Hallett's voice; she liked neither it nor its owner's manner; she described both voice and manner to herself as "too soothy." They gave her the shivers.

Mr. Hallett's tone was subdued at the present time, but a trifle of the professional "soothiness" was lacking. He and Mrs. Hobbs were conversing briskly enough and, although Mary-'Gusta could catch only a word or two at intervals, she was perfectly sure they were talking about her. She was certain that if she were to appear at that moment in the door of the barn they would stop talking immediately and look at her. Everybody whom she had met during the past two days looked at her in that queer way. It made her feel as if she had something catching, like the measles, and as if, somehow or other, she was to blame.

She realized dimly that she should feel very, very badly because her stepfather was dead. Mrs. Hobbs had told her that she should and seemed to regard her as queerer than ever because she had not cried. But, according to the housekeeper, Captain Hall was out of his troubles and had gone where he would be happy for ever and ever. So it seemed to her strange to be expected to cry on his account. He had not been happy here in Ostable, or, at least, he had not shown his happiness in the way other people showed theirs. To her he had been a big, bearded giant of a man, whom she saw at infrequent intervals during the day and always at night just before she went to bed. His room, with the old-fashioned secretary against the wall, and the stuffed gull on the shelf, and the books in the cupboard, and the polished narwhal horn in the corner, was to her a sort of holy of holies, a place where she was led each evening at nine o'clock, at first by Mrs. Bailey and, later, by Mrs. Hobbs, to shake the hand of the big man who looked at her absently over his spectacles and said good night in a voice not unkindly but expressing no particular interest. At other times she was strictly forbidden to enter that room.

Occasionally, but very rarely, she had eaten Sunday dinner with Marcellus. She and the housekeeper usually ate together and Mr. Hall's meals were served in what the child called "the smoke room," meaning the apartment just described, which was at all times strongly scented with tobacco. The Sunday dinners were stately and formal affairs and were prefaced by lectures by the housekeeper concerning sitting up straight and not disturbing Cap'n Hall by talking too much. On the whole Mary-'Gusta was rather glad when the meals were over. She did not dislike her stepfather; he had never been rough or unkind, but she had always stood in awe of him and had felt that he regarded her as a "pesky nuisance," something to be fed and then shooed out of the way, as Mrs. Hobbs regarded David, the cat. As for loving him, as other children seemed to love their fathers; that the girl never did. She was sure he did not love her in that way, and that he would not have welcomed demonstrations of affection on her part. She had learned the reason, or she thought she had: she was a STEPCHILD; that was why, and a stepchild was almost as bad as a "changeling" in a fairy story.

Her mother she remembered dimly and with that recollection were memories of days when she was loved and made much of, not only by Mother, but by Captain Hall also. She asked Mrs. Bailey, whom she had loved and whose leaving was the greatest grief of her life, some questions about these memories. Mrs. Bailey had hugged her and had talked a good deal about Captain Hall's being a changed man since his wife's death. "He used to be so different, jolly and good-natured and sociable; you wouldn't know him now if you seen him then. When your mamma was took it just seemed to wilt him right down. He was awful sick himself for a spell, and when he got better he was like he is today. Seems as if HE died too, as you might say, and ain't really lived since. I'm awful sorry for Cap'n Marcellus. You must be real good to him when you grow up, Mary-'Gusta."

And now he had gone before she had had a chance to grow up, and Mary-'Gusta felt an unreasonable sense of blame. But real grief, the dreadful paralyzing realization of loss which an adult feels when a dear one dies, she did not feel.

She was awed and a little frightened, but she did not feel like crying. Why should she?

"Mary-'Gusta! Mary-'Gusta! Where be you?"

It was Mrs. Hobbs calling. Mary-'Gusta hurriedly untwisted her legs and scrambled from beneath the dust cover of the surrey. David, whose slumbers were disturbed, rose also, yawned and stretched.

"Here I be, Mrs. Hobbs," answered the girl. "I'm a-comin'."

Mrs. Hobbs was standing in the doorway of the barn. Mary-'Gusta noticed that she was not, as usual, garbed in gingham, but was arrayed in her best go-to-meeting gown.

"I'm a-comin'," said the child.

"Comin', yes. But where on earth have you been? I've been hunting all over creation for you. I didn't suppose you'd be out here, on this day of all others, with-with that critter," indicating David, who appeared, blinking sleepily.

"I must say I shouldn't think you'd be fussin' along with a cat today," declared Mrs. Hobbs.

"Yes'm," said Mary-'Gusta. David yawned, apparently expressing a bored contempt for housekeepers in general.

"Come right along into the house," continued Mrs. Hobbs. "It's high time you was gettin' ready for the funeral."

"Ready? How?" queried Mary-'Gusta.

"Why, changin' your clothes, of course."

"Do folks dress up for funerals?"

"Course they do. What a question!"

"I didn't know. I-I've never had one."

"Had one?"

"I mean I've never been to any. What do they dress up for?"

"Why-why, because they do, of course. Now don't ask any more questions, but hurry up. Where are you goin' now, for mercy sakes?"

"I was goin' back after Rose and Rosette. They ought to be dressed up, too, hadn't they?"

"The idea! Playin' dolls today! I declare I never see such a child! You're a reg'lar little-little heathen. Would you want anybody playin' dolls at your own funeral, I'd like to know?"

Mary-'Gusta thought this over. "I don't know," she answered, after reflection. "I guess I'd just as soon. Do they have dolls up in Heaven, Mrs. Hobbs?"

"Mercy on us! I should say not. Dolls in Heaven! The idea!"

"Nor cats either?"

"No. Don't ask such wicked questions."

Mary-'Gusta asked no more questions of that kind, but her conviction that Heaven-Mrs. Hobbs' Heaven-was a good place for housekeepers and grown-ups but a poor one for children was strengthened.

They entered the house by the kitchen door and ascended the back stairs to Mary-'Gusta's room. The shades in all the rooms were drawn and the house was dark and gloomy. The child would have asked the reason for this, but at the first hint of a question Mrs. Hobbs bade her hush.

"You mustn't talk," she said.

"Why mustn't I?"

"Because 'tain't the right thing to do, that's why. Now hurry up and get dressed."

Mary-'Gusta silently wriggled out of her everyday frock, was led to the washstand and vigorously scrubbed. Then Mrs. Hobbs combed and braided what she called her "pigtails" and tied a bow of black ribbon at the end of each.

"There!" exclaimed the lady. "You're clean for once in your life, anyhow. Now hurry up and put on them things on the bed."

The things were Mary-'Gusta's very best shoes and dress; also a pair of new black stockings.

When the dressing was finished the housekeeper stood her in the middle of the floor and walked about her on a final round of inspection.

"There!" she said again, with a sigh of satisfaction. "Nobody can say I ain't took all the pains with you that anybody could. Now you come downstairs and set right where I tell you till I come. And don't you say one single word. Not a word, no matter what happens."

She took the girl's hand and led her down the front stairs. As they descended Mary-'Gusta could scarcely restrain a gasp of surprise. The front door was open-the FRONT door-and the child had never seen it open before, had long ago decided that it was not a truly door at all, but merely a make-believe like the painted windows on the sides of her doll house. But now it was wide open and Mr. Hallett, arrayed in a suit of black, the coat of which puckered under the arms, was standing on the threshold, looking more soothy than ever. The parlor door was open also, and the parlor itself-the best first parlor, more sacred and forbidden even than the "smoke room"-was, as much of it as she could see, filled with chairs.

Mrs. Hobbs led her into the little room off the parlor, the "back settin'-room," and, indicating the haircloth and black walnut sofa against the wall, whispered to her to sit right there and not move.

"Mind now," she whispered, "don't talk and don't stir. I'll be back by and by."

Mary-'Gusta, left alone, looked wide-eyed about the little back sitting-room. It, too, was changed; not changed as much as the front parlor, but changed, nevertheless. Most of the furniture had been removed. The most comfortable chairs, including the rocker with the parrot "tidy" on the back, had been taken away. One or two of the bolt-upright variety remained and the "music chair" was still there, but pushed back into a corner.

Mary-'Gusta saw the music chair and a quiver of guilty fear tinged along her spine; that particular chair had always been, to her, the bright, particular glory of the house. Not because it was beautiful, for that it distinctly was not; but because of the marvellous secret hidden beneath its upholstered seat. Captain Marcellus had brought it home years and years before, when he was a sea-going bachelor and made voyages to Hamburg. In its normal condition it was a perfectly quiet and ugly chair, but there was a catch under one arm and a music box under the seat. And if that catch were released, then when anyone sat in it, the music box played "The Campbell's Are Coming" with spirit and jingle. And, moreover, kept on playing it to the finish unless the catch was pushed back again.

To Mary-'Gusta that chair was a perpetual fascination. She had been expressly forbidden to touch it, had been shut in the dark closet more than once for touching it; but, nevertheless, the temptation was always there and she had yielded to that temptation at intervals when Mrs. Hobbs and her stepfather were out. And the last time she had touched it she had broken the catch. She had wound up the music box, after hearing it play, but the catch which made it a perfectly safe seat and not a trap for the unwary had refused to push back into place. And now there it was, loaded and primed, so to speak, and she was responsible. Suppose-Oh, horrible thought!-suppose anyone should sit in it that afternoon!

She gasped and jumped off the sofa. Then she remembered Mrs. Hobbs' parting command and stopped, hesitating. Mr. Hallett, standing at the end of the hall, by the front door, heard her move and tiptoed to the sitting-room.

"What's the matter, little girl?" he whispered, soothingly.

"No-nothin'," gasped Mary-'Gusta.

"You're sure?"

"Ye-yes, sir."

"All right. Then you set down on the sofa and keep still. You mustn't make any noise. The folks are comin' now. Set right down on the sofy, that's a good girl!"

So back to the sofa went Mary-'Gusta, trembling with apprehension. From her seat she could see along the hall and also through the other door into the "big settin'-room," where, also, there were rows of chairs. And, to her horror, these chairs began to fill. People, most of them dressed in church-going garments which rattled and rustled, were tiptoeing in and sitting down where she could see them and they could see her. She did not dare to move now; did not dare go near the music chair even if going near it would have done any good. She remained upon the sofa, and shivered.

A few moments later Mrs. Hobbs appeared, looking very solemn and Sundayfied, and sat beside her. Then Judge and Mrs. Baxter were shown into the little room and took two of the remaining chairs. The Judge bowed and smiled and Mrs. Baxter leaned over and patted her hand. Mary-'Gusta tried to smile, too, but succeeded only in looking more miserable. Mrs. Hobbs whispered to her to sit up straight.

There was a steady stream of people through the front door now. They all entered the parlor and many stayed there, but others passed on into the "big settin'-room." The chairs there were almost all taken; soon all were taken and Mr. Hallett was obliged to remove one of those in the small room. There were but two left empty, one a tall, straight antique with a rush seat, a family heirloom, and the other the music chair. Mary-'Gusta stared at the music chair and hoped and hoped.

Mr. Sharon, the minister, entered and shook hands with the Judge and Mrs. Baxter and with Mrs. Hobbs and Mary-'Gusta. He also patted the child's hand. Mrs. Hobbs whispered to him, with evident pride, that it was "goin' to be one of the biggest funerals ever given in Ostable." Mr. Sharon nodded. Then, after waiting a moment or two, he tiptoed along the front hall and took up his stand by the parlor door. There was a final rustle of gowns, a final crackle of Sunday shirtfronts, and then a hushed silence.

The silence was broken by the rattle of wheels in the yard. Mr. Hallett at the door held up a warning hand. A moment later he ushered two people in at the front door and led them through the parlor into the "big settin'-room." Mary-'Gusta could see the late comers plainly. They were both men, one big and red-faced and bearded, the other small, and thin, and white-haired. A rustle passed through the crowd and everyone turned to look. Some looked as if they recognized the pair, but they did not bow; evidently it was not proper to bow at funerals.

Mr. Hallett, on tiptoe, of course, glided into the little room from the big one and looked about him. Then, to the absolute stupefaction of Mary-'Gusta, he took the rush-seated chair in one hand and the music chair in the other and tiptoed out. He placed the two chairs in the back row close to the door of the smaller room and motioned to the two men to sit.

Mary-'Gusta could stand it no longer. She was afraid of Mrs. Hobbs, afraid of Mr. Hallett, afraid of the Baxters and all the staring crowd; but she was more afraid of what was going to happen. She tugged at the housekeeper's sleeve.

"Mrs. Hobbs!" she whispered, quiveringly. "Oh, Mrs. Hobbs!"

Mrs. Hobbs shook off the clutch at her sleeve.

"Sshh!" she whispered. "Sshh!"

"But-but please, Mrs. Hobbs-"

"Sshh! You mustn't talk. Be still. Be still, I tell you."

The small, white-haired man sat down in the rush-seated chair. The big man hesitated, separated his coat tails, and then he, too, sat down.

And the music box under the seat of the chair he sat in informed everyone with cheerful vigor that the Campbells were coming, Hurrah! Hurrah!

Captain Shadrach Gould arose from that chair, arose promptly and without hesitation. Mr. Zoeth Hamilton also rose; so did many others in the vicinity. There was a stir and a rustle and whispered exclamations. And still the news of the imminent arrival of the Campbells was tinkled abroad and continued to tinkle. Someone giggled, so did someone else. Others said, "Hush!"

Mrs. Judge Baxter said, "Heavens and earth!"

Mrs. Hobbs looked as if she wished to say something very much indeed.

Captain Shadrach's bald spot blazed a fiery red and he glared about him helplessly.

Mr. Hallett, who was used to unexpected happenings at funerals-though, to do him justice, he had never before had to deal with anything quite like this-rushed to the center of the disturbance. Mrs. Hobbs hastened to help. Together and with whisperings, they fidgeted with the refractory catch. And still the music box played-and played-and played.

At last Mr. Hallett gave it up. He seized the chair and with it in his arms rushed out into the dining-room. Captain Shadrach Gould mopped his face with a handkerchief and stood, because there was nowhere for him to sit. Mrs. Hobbs, almost as red in the face as Captain Shad himself, hastened back and collapsed upon the sofa. Mr. Sharon cleared his throat.

And still, from behind the closed door of the dining-room the music chair tinkled on:

"The Campbells are coming! Hurrah! Hurrah!" Poor little guilty, frightened Mary-'Gusta covered her face with her hands.

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