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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 17998

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The white house on Phinney's Hill looked desolate and mournful when the buggy containing Judge Baxter and his two companions drove into the yard. The wagon belonging to Mr. Hallett, the undertaker, was at the front door, and Hallett and his assistant were loading in the folding chairs. Mr. Hallett was whistling a popular melody, but, somehow or other, the music only emphasized the lonesomeness. There is little cheer in an undertaker's whistle.

Captain Gould, acting under the Judge's orders, piloted his horse up the driveway and into the back yard. The animal was made fast to the back fence and the three men alighted from the buggy and walked up to the side door of the house.

"Say, Judge," whispered the Captain, as they halted by the step, "you don't cal'late I can find out who loaded up that music-box chair on me, do you? If I could meet that feller for two or three minutes I might feel more reconciled at bein' fool enough to come over here."

Mrs. Hobbs answered the knock at the door-she invited them in. When told that they had come to see Mary-'Gusta she sniffed.

"She's in her room," she said, rather sharply. "She hadn't ought to be let out, but of course if you want to see her, Judge Baxter, I presume likely she'll have to be. I'll go fetch her."

"Wait a minute, Mrs. Hobbs," said Baxter. "What's the matter? Has the child been behaving badly?"

Mrs. Hobbs' lean fingers clinched. "Behavin' badly!" she repeated. "I should say she had! I never was so mortified in my life. And at her own father's funeral, too!"

"What has she done?"

"Done? She-" Mrs. Hobbs hesitated, glanced at Captain Shadrach, and left her sentence unfinished. "Never mind what she done," she went on. "I can't tell you now; I declare I'd be ashamed to. I'll go get her."

She marched from the room. Zoeth rubbed his forehead.

"She seems sort of put out, don't she," he observed, mildly.

Baxter nodded. "Susan Hobbs has the reputation of getting 'put out' pretty often," he said. "She has a temper and it isn't a long one."

"Has she been takin' care of Marcellus's girl?" asked Zoeth.

"Yes. As much care as the child has had."

Captain Shad snorted. It was evident that the housekeeper's manner had not impressed him favorably.

"Humph!" he said. "I'd hate to have her take care of me, judgin' by the way she looked just now. Say," hopefully, "do you suppose SHE was the one fixed that chair?"

They heard Mrs. Hobbs on the floor above, shouting:

"Mary-'Gusta! Mary-'Gusta! Where are you? Answer me this minute!"

"Don't seem to be in that room she was talkin' about," grumbled Shadrach. "Tut! Tut! What a voice that is! Got a rasp to it like a rusty saw."

Mrs. Hobbs was heard descending the stairs. Her face, when she reentered the sitting-room, was red and she looked more "put out" than ever.

"She ain't there," she answered, angrily. "She's gone."

"Gone?" repeated Zoeth and Shadrach in chorus.

"Gone?" repeated the Judge. "Do you mean she's run away?"

"No, no! She ain't run away-not for good; she knows better than that. She's sneaked off and hid, I suppose. But I know where she is. I'll have her here in a minute."

She was hurrying out again, but the Captain detained her.

"Wait!" he commanded. "What's that you say? You know where she is?"

"Yes, or I can guess. Nine chances to one she's out in that barn."

"In the barn? What's she doin' there-playin' horse?"

"No, no. She's hidin' in the carriage room. Seems as if the child was possessed to get out in that dusty place and perch herself in the old carryall. She calls it her playhouse and you'd think 'twas Heaven the way she loves to stay there. But today of all days! And with her best clothes on! And after I expressly told her-"

"Yes, yes; all right. Humph! Well, Zoeth, what do you say? Shall we go to Heaven and hunt for her? Maybe 'twill be the only chance some of us'll get, you can't tell," with a wink at Baxter.

"Hush, Shadrach! How you do talk!" protested the shocked Mr. Hamilton.

"Let's go out to the barn and find the young-one ourselves," said the Captain. "Seems the simplest thing to do, don't it?"

Mrs. Hobbs interrupted.

"You don't need to go at all," she declared. "I'll get her and bring her here. Perhaps she ain't there, anyway."

"Well, if she ain't there we can come back again. Come on, boys."

He led the way to the door. The housekeeper would have accompanied them, but he prevented her doing so.

"Don't you trouble yourself, ma'am," he said. "We'll find her. I'm older'n I used to be, but I ain't so blind but what I can locate a barn without a spyglass."

"It won't be any trouble," protested the lady.

"I know, but it might be. We'll go alone."

When the three were in the back yard, and the discomfited housekeeper was watching them from the door, he added:

"I don't know why that woman rubs my fur the wrong way, but she does. Isaiah Chase says he don't like mosquitoes 'cause they get on his nerves. I never thought I wore my nerves on the back of my neck, which is where Isaiah gets skeeter-bit mostly, but anyhow, wherever they be, that Hobbs woman bothers 'em. There's the barn, ain't it? Don't look very heavenly, but it may seem that way after a spell in t'other place. Now where's the carriage room?"

The door of the carriage room was open, and they entered. A buggy and the muslin draped surrey were there, but no living creature was in sight. They listened, but heard nothing.

"Mary! Mary-'Gusta!" called Baxter. "Are you here?"

No answer. And then, from beneath the cover of the surrey, appeared a fat tortoise-shell cat, who jumped lightly to the floor, yawned, stretched, and blinked suspiciously at the visitors.

"Humph!" grunted Captain Shadrach. "There's one stowaway, anyhow. Maybe there's another; I've had 'em come aboard in pairs."

The Judge walked over to the surrey, and raised the cover. From behind it came a frightened little squeal.

"Oh, there you are!" said Baxter. "Mary-'Gusta, is that you?"

There was a rustle, a sob, and then a timid voice said, chokingly, "Yes, sir."

"Come out," said the Judge, kindly. "Come out; here are some friends who want to meet you."

Another sob and then: "I-I don't want to."

"Oh, yes, you do. We won't hurt you. We only want to see you and talk with you, that's all. Come, that's a good girl."

"I-I ain't a good girl."

"Never mind. We want to see you, anyway. I guess you're not very bad."

"Yes, I-I am. Is-is Mrs. Hobbs there?"

"No. Come now, please."

A moment's wait, then, from beneath the cover, appeared a small foot and leg, the latter covered by a black stocking. The foot wiggled about, feeling for the step. It found it, the cover was thrown aside and Mary-'Gusta appeared, a pathetic little figure, with rumpled hair and tear-stained cheeks. Rose and Rosette, the two dolls, were hugged in her arms.

Judge Baxter patted her on the head. Zoeth and Shadrach looked solemn and ill at ease. Mary-'Gusta looked at the floor and sniffed dolefully.

"Mary-'Gusta," said the Judge, "these two gentlemen are old friends of your father's and," with a pardonable stretching of the truth, "they have come all the way from South Harniss to meet you. Now you must shake hands with them. They like little girls."

Mary-'Gusta obediently moved forward, shifted Rosette to the arm clasping Rose, and extended a hand. Slowly she raised her eyes, saw Mr. Hamilton's mild, gentle face and then, beside it, the face of Captain Shadrach Gould. With a cry she dropped both dolls, ran back to the surrey and fumbled frantically with the dust cover.

Baxter, surprised and puzzled, ran after her and prevented her climbing into the carriage.

"Why, Mary-'Gusta," he demanded, "what is the matter?"

The child struggled and then, bursting into a storm of sobs, hid her face in the dust cover.

"I-I didn't mean to," she sobbed, wildly. "I didn't mean to. Honest I didn't. I-I didn't know. I didn't mean to. Please don't let him. PLEASE!"

The Judge held her close and did his best to calm her.

"There, there, child," he said. "No one's going to hurt you."

"Yes-yes, they are. Mrs. Hobbs said she shouldn't wonder if he knocked my-my head right off."

"Knocked your head off! Who?"

"Him."

She raised her hand and pointed a shaking finger straight at Captain Shadrach.

All three of her hearers were surprised, of course, but in the case of the Captain himself amazement was coupled with righteous indignation.

"Wha-what?" he stammered. "Who said so? What kind of talk's that? Said I was goin' to knock your head off? I was?"

Baxter laughed. "No, no, Mary-'Gusta," he said; "you're mistaken. Mrs. Hobbs couldn't have said any such thing. You're mistaken, dear."

"No, I ain't," with another sob; "she did say so. She said he would knock my head-ah-ah-off and-and put me in jail, too. And I didn't mean to do it; honest, truly I didn't."

The Judge looked at his companions

and shook his head as if the conundrum was beyond his guessing. Captain Shad groaned.

"By fire!" he ejaculated. "All hands have gone loony, young-ones and all. And," with conviction, "I'm on the road myself."

Zoeth Hamilton stepped forward and held out his hands.

"Come here, dearie," he said, gently; "come here and tell me all about it. Neither me nor the Cap'n's goin' to hurt you a mite. We like little girls, both of us do. Now you come and tell me about it."

Mary-'Gusta's sobs ceased. She looked at the speaker doubtfully.

"Come, don't be scared," begged Zoeth. "We're goin' to be good friends to you. We knew your father and he thought everything of us. You ain't goin' to be afraid of folks that was your Pa's chums. You come here and let's talk it over."

Slowly Mary-'Gusta crossed the room. Zoeth sat down upon an empty box near the door and lifted the girl to his knee.

"Now you ain't afraid of me, be you?" he asked quietly.

Mary-'Gusta shook her head, but her big eyes were fixed upon Captain Shadrach's face.

"No-o," she faltered. "I-I guess I ain't. But you wasn't the one I did it to. It was him."

Judging by the Captain's expression his conviction that all hands, himself included, had lost their reason was momentarily growing firmer.

"ME?" he gasped. "You done somethin' to me and I-well, by Judas, this is-"

"Hush, Shadrach! What was it you done, Mary, that made you afraid of Cap'n Gould? Tell me. I won't hurt you and I won't let anybody else."

"YOU won't let-Zoeth Hamilton, I swan, I-"

"Be still, Shadrach, for mercy sakes! Now, what was it, dearie?"

Mary-'Gusta hesitated. Then she buried her face in Mr. Hamilton's jacket and sobbed a confession.

"I-I made it go," she cried. "I-I broke the-the catch-and it was wound up and-and it went off. But I didn't know. I didn't mean-"

"There, there, course you didn't. We know you didn't. What was it that went off?"

"The-the music chair. It was in the corner and Mr. Hallett took it and-and I couldn't say anything 'cause Mrs. Hobbs said I mustn't speak a word at the funeral. And-and he set in it and it played and-Oh, don't let him put me in jail! Please don't."

Another burst of tears. Mary-'Gusta clung tightly to the Hamilton jacket. Judge Baxter looked as if a light had suddenly broken upon the darkness of his mind.

"I see," he said. "You were responsible for the 'Campbells.' I see."

Shadrach drew a long breath.

"Whew!" he whistled. "So she was the one. Well, I swan!"

Zoeth stroked the child's hair.

"That's all right, dearie," he said. "Now don't you worry about that. We didn't know who did it, but now we do and it's all right. We know you didn't mean to."

"Won't-won't he knock my head off?"

"No, no, course he won't. Tell her so, Shadrach."

Captain Shadrach pulled at his beard. Then he burst into a laugh.

"I won't hurt you for nothin', sis," he said, heartily. "It's all right and don't you fret about it. Accidents will happen even in the best regulated-er-funerals; though," with a broad grin, "I hope another one like that'll never happen to ME. Now don't you cry any more."

Mary-'Gusta raised her head and regarded him steadily.

"Won't I be put in jail?" she asked, more hopefully.

"Indeed you won't. I never put anybody in jail in my life; though," with an emphatic nod, "there's some folks ought to go there for frightenin' children out of their senses. Did that Mrs. Hobbs tell you I was goin' to-what was it?-knock your head off and all the rest?"

"Yes, sir, she did."

"Well, she's a-she's what she is. What else did she say to you?"

"She-she said I was a bad, wicked child and she hoped I'd be sent to the-the orphans' home. If she was to have the care of me, she said, she'd make me walk a chalk or know why. And she sent me to my room and said I couldn't have any supper."

Zoeth and the Captain looked at each other. Baxter frowned.

"On the very day of her father's funeral," he muttered.

"Can't I have any supper?" begged Mary-'Gusta. "I'm awful hungry; I didn't want much dinner."

Zoeth nodded. His tone, when he spoke, was not so mild as was usual with him.

"You shall have your supper," he said.

"And-and must I go to the orphans' home?"

No one answered at once. Zoeth and Captain Shad again looked at each other and the Judge looked at them both.

"Must I?" repeated Mary-'Gusta. "I-I don't want to. I'd rather die, I guess, and go to Heaven, same as Mother and Father. But Mrs. Hobbs says they don't have any dolls nor cats in Heaven, so I don't know's I'd want to go there."

Baxter walked to the window and looked out. Captain Shadrach reached into his pocket, produced a crumpled handkerchief, and blew his nose violently. Zoeth stroked the child's hair.

"Mary-'Gusta," he said, after a moment, "how would you like to go over to South Harniss and-and see me and Cap'n Gould a little while? Just make us a visit, you know. Think you'd like that?"

The Captain started. "Good land, Zoeth!" he exclaimed. "Be careful what you're sayin'."

"I ain't sayin' anything definite, Shadrach. I know how you feel about it. I just wanted to see how she felt herself, that's all. Think you'd like that, Mary-'Gusta?"

Mary-'Gusta thought it over. "I guess maybe I would," she said, "if I could take my dolls and David. I wouldn't want to leave David. Mrs. Hobbs don't like cats."

And at that moment Mrs. Hobbs herself appeared in the doorway of the carriage room. She saw the child and her eyes snapped.

"So she was here," she said. "I thought as much. Mary-'Gusta, what did you run away from that room for? Didn't I forbid you leavin' it? She's been a bad girl, Judge Baxter," she added, "and I can't make her behave. I try my best, but I'm sure I don't know what to do."

Captain Shadrach thrust both hands into his pockets.

"I tell you what to do," he said, sharply. "You go into the house and put some of her things into a valise or satchel or somethin'. And hurry up as fast as you can."

Mrs. Hobbs was astonished.

"Put 'em in a satchel?" she repeated. "What for? Where's she goin'?"

"She's goin' home along with me and Zoeth. And she's got to start inside of half an hour. You hurry."

"But-but-"

"There ain't any 'buts'; haven't got time for 'em."

Mr. Hamilton regarded his friend with an odd expression.

"Shadrach," he asked, "do you realize what you're sayin'?"

"Who's sayin'? You said it, I didn't. Besides takin' her home with us today don't mean nothin', does it? A visit won't hurt us. Visits don't bind anybody to anything. Jumpin' Judas! I guess we've got room enough in the house to have one young-one come visitin' for-for a couple of days, if we want to. What are you makin' such a fuss about? Here you," turning to the housekeeper, "ain't you gone yet? You've got just thirteen minutes to get that satchel ready."

Mrs. Hobbs departed, outraged dignity in her walk and manner.

"Am-am I goin'?" faltered Mary-'Gusta.

Zoeth nodded.

"Yes," he said, "you're goin'. Unless, of course, you'd rather stay here."

"No, I'd rather go, if-if I can take David and the dolls. Can I?"

"Can she, Shadrach?"

Captain Shad, who was pacing the floor, turned savagely.

"What do you ask me that for?" he demanded. "This is your doin's, 'tain't mine. You said it first, didn't you? Yes, yes, let her take the dolls and cats-and cows and pigs, too, if she wants to. Jumpin' fire! What do I care? If a feller's bound to be a fool, a little live stock more or less don't make him any bigger one. . . . Land sakes! I believe she's goin' to cry again. Don't do that! What's the matter now?"

The tears were starting once more in the girl's eyes.

"I-I don't think you want me," she stammered. "If you did you-you wouldn't talk so."

The Captain was greatly taken aback. He hesitated, tugged at his beard, and then, walking over to the child, took her by the hand.

"Don't you mind the way I talk, Mary-'Gusta," he said. "I'm liable to talk 'most any way, but I don't mean nothin' by it. I like little girls, same as Zoeth said. And I ain't mad about the jig-tune chair, neither. Say," with a sudden inspiration; "here we are settin' here and one of our passengers has left the dock. We got to find that cat, ain't we? What did you say his name was-Solomon?"

"No, sir; David."

"David, sure enough. If I'd been up in Scripture the way Zoeth-Mr. Hamilton, here-is, I wouldn't have made that mistake, would I? Come on, let's you and me go find David and break the news to him. Say, he'll be some surprised to find he's booked for a foreign v'yage, won't he? Come on, we'll go find him."

Mary-'Gusta slowly rose from Mr. Hamilton's knee. She regarded the Captain steadily for a moment; then, hand in hand, they left the barn together.

Judge Baxter whistled. "Well!" he exclaimed. "I must say I didn't expect this."

Zoeth smiled. "There ain't many better men than Shadrach Gould," he observed, quietly.

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