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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 21925

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Mary-'Gusta awoke next morning to find the sun shining in at the window of her bedroom. She had no means of knowing the time, but she was certain it must be very late and, in consequence, was almost dressed when Isaiah knocked at the door to tell her breakfast would be ready pretty soon. A few minutes later she appeared in the kitchen bearing the pitcher from the washstand in her room.

"What you doin' with that?" demanded Mr. Chase, who was leaning against the door-post looking out into the yard.

"I was goin' to fill it," said the child. "There wasn't any water to wash with."

Isaiah sniffed. "I ain't had no time to fill wash pitchers," he declared. "That one's been on my mind for more'n a fortni't but I've had other things to do. You can wash yourself in that basin in the sink. That's what the rest of us do."

Mary-'Gusta obediently washed in the tin basin and rubbed her face and hands dry upon the roller towel behind the closet door.

"Am I late for breakfast?" she asked, anxiously.

"No, I guess not. Ain't had breakfast yet. Cap'n Shad's out to the barn 'tendin' to the horse and Zoeth's feedin' the hens. They'll be in pretty soon, if we have luck. Course it's TIME for breakfast, but that's nothing. I'm the only one that has to think about time in this house."

The girl regarded him thoughtfully.

"You have to work awful hard, don't you, Mr. Chase?" she said.

Isaiah looked at her suspiciously.

"Huh?" he grunted. "Who told you that?"

"Nobody. I just guessed it from what you said."

"Humph! Well, you guessed right. I don't have many spare minutes."

"Yes, sir. Are you a perfect slave?"

"Eh? What?"

"Mrs. Hobbs says she is a perfect slave when she has to work hard."

"Who's Mrs. Hobbs?"

"She's-she keeps house-that is, she used to keep house for my father over in Ostable. I don't suppose she will any more now he's dead. She'll be glad, I guess. Perhaps she won't have to be a perfect slave now. She used to wear aprons same as you do. I never saw a man wear an apron before. Do you have to wear one?"

"Hey? Have to? No, course I don't have to unless I want to."

Mary-'Gusta reflected.

"I suppose," she went on, after a moment, "it saves your pants. You'd get 'em all spotted up if you didn't wear the apron. Pneumonia is a good thing to take out Spots."

Isaiah was surprised.

"What is?" he asked.

"Pneumonia. . . . No, I don't think that's right. It's pneumonia that makes you sick. Somethin' else takes out the spots. I know now; it's am-monia. It's very good for spots but you mustn't smell the bottle. I smelled the bottle once and it went right up into my head."

"What on earth are you talkin' about? The bottle went up into your head!"

"No, the ammonia smell did. It was awful; like-like-" she paused, evidently in search of a simile; "like sneezin' backwards," she added. "It was terrible."

Isaiah laughed. "I should think 'twould be," he declared. "Sneezin' backwards! Ho, ho! That's a good one!"

Mary-'Gusta's eyes were still fixed upon the apron.

"Mr.-I mean Cap'n Gould said you was the cook and steward," she observed. "I don't know as I know what a steward is, exactly. Is it the one that stews things?"

"Ha, ha!" roared Isaiah. Mary-'Gusta's dignity was hurt. The color rose in her cheeks.

"Was it funny?" she asked. "I didn't know. I know that a cook cooked things, and a baker baked things, so I thought maybe a steward stewed 'em."

Mr. Chase continued to chuckle. The girl considered.

"I see," she said, with a solemn nod. "It was funny, I guess. I remember now that a friar doesn't fry things. He is a-a kind of minister. Friar Tuck was one in 'Robin Hood,' you know. Mrs. Bailey read about him to me. Do you like 'Robin Hood,' Mr. Chase?"

Isaiah said he didn't cal'late that he knew anybody of that name. The dialogue was interrupted here by the arrival of Zoeth and, a moment later, Captain Shadrach. Breakfast was put upon the table in the dining-room and the quartette sat down to eat.

Mary-'Gusta was quiet during the meal; she answered when spoken to but the only questions she asked were concerning David.

"He's all right," said Captain Shad. "Lively as can be. He'll have a good time out in that barn; there's considerable many mice out there. Likes mice, don't he?"

"Yes, sir. He's a good mouser. Did he look as if he missed me?"

"Eh? Well, I didn't notice. He never mentioned it if he did. You can go see him after breakfast. What do you think she can find to do today, Zoeth?"

Mr. Hamilton had evidently considered the problem.

"I thought maybe she'd like to go up to the store 'long of you and me," he suggested. "Would you, Mary'Gusta?"

Mary-'Gusta hesitated. "I'd like to very much," she said, "only-"

"Only what?"

"Only I've got to see to David and the dolls first. Couldn't I come up to the store afterwards?"

The Captain answered. "Why, I guess likely you could," he said. "It's straight up the road to the corner. You can see the store from the top of the hill back here. Isaiah'll show you the way. But you can 'tend to-what's that cat's name?-Oh, yes, David-you can 'tend to David right off. Isaiah'll give the critter his breakfast, and the dolls can wait 'til noontime, can't they?"

Mary-'Gusta's mind was evidently divided between inclination and duty. Duty won.

"They ain't dressed yet," she said, gravely. "And besides they might think I'd gone off and left 'em and be frightened. This is a strange place to them, same as it is to me and David, you know. None of us have ever been visitin' before."

So it was decided that she should wait until her family had been given parental attention, and come to the store by herself. The partners left for their place of business and she and Mr. Chase remained at the house. Her first act, after leaving the table, was to go to the barn and return bearing the cat in her arms. David ate a hearty breakfast and then, after enduring a motherly lecture concerning prudence and the danger of getting lost, was permitted to go out of doors.

Mary-'Gusta, standing in the doorway, gazed after her pet.

"I hope there's no dogs around here," she said. "It would be dreadful if there was a dog."

Isaiah tried to reassure her. "Oh, I cal'late there ain't no dog nigh enough to do any harm," he said; "besides, most cats can run fast enough to get out of the way."

The child shook her head. "I didn't mean that," she said. "I meant it would be dreadful for the dog. David doesn't have a mite of patience with dogs. He doesn't wait to see if they're nice ones or not, he just goes for 'em and then-Oh! He most always goes for 'em. When he has kittens he ALWAYS does."

Mr. Chase's reply to this illuminating disclosure was that he wanted to know.

"Yes," said Mary-'Gusta, "David doesn't take to dogs, some way. Why don't cats like dogs, Mr. Chase?"

Isaiah said that he cal'lated 'twas the nature of the critters not to. Mary-'Gusta agreed with him.

"Natures are queer things, ain't they?" she said, solemnly. "I guess everybody has a nature, cats and all. Mrs. Hobbs says my nature is a contrary one. What's your kind, Mr. Chase?

"Do you suppose," she said, a few moments later, when the cook and steward had shown symptoms of doing something beside lean against the sink and whistle, "do you suppose you could get along for a few minutes while I went up and dressed my dolls?"

Isaiah turned to stare at her.

"Well," he stammered, "I-I cal'late maybe I could if I tried hard. If you don't beat anything ever I see! What are you doin' with that pitcher?"

The girl was holding the wash pitcher under the pump.

"I'm fillin' it," she answered. "Then you won't have to have it on your mind any more. I'll hurry back just as fast as I can."

She hastened out, bearing the brimming pitcher with both hands. Isaiah gazed after her, muttering a word or two, and then set about clearing the breakfast table.

She was down again shortly, the two favorites, Rose and Rosette, in her arms. She placed them carefully in the kitchen chair and bade them be nice girls and watch mother do the dishes.

"I left the others in the bedroom," she explained. "Minnehaha ain't very well this mornin'. I guess the excitement was too much for her. She is a very nervous child."

Isaiah's evident amusement caused her to make one of her odd changes from childish make-believe to grown-up practicability.

"Of course," she added, with gravity, "I know she ain't really nervous. She's just full of sawdust, same as all dolls are, and she couldn't have any nerves. But I like to play she's nervous and delicate. It's real handy to say that when I don't want to take her with me. I'm a nervous, excitable child myself; Mrs. Hobbs says so. That's why I've hardly ever been anywhere before, I guess."

She insisted upon wiping the dishes while Isaiah washed them. Also, she reminded him that the tablecloth which had been so severely criticized the previous evening had not as yet been changed. The steward was inclined to treat the matter lightly.

"Never mind if 'tain't," he said. "It's good enough for a spell longer. Let it stay. Besides," he added, "the washin' ain't been done this week and there ain't another clean one aboard."

Mary-'Gusta smiled cheerfully.

"Oh, yes, there is," she said. "There's a real nice one in the bottom drawer of the closet. I've been huntin' and I found it. Come and see."

She led him into the dining-room and showed him the cloth she had found.

"It's a real pretty one, I think," she said. "Shall we put it on, Mr. Chase?"

"No, no, course not. That's the best tablecloth. Don't use that only when there's company-or Sundays."

Mary-'Gusta considered. She counted on her fingers.

"How long have we used this dirty one?" she asked.

"Eh? Oh, I don't know. Four or five days, maybe." Then, evidently feeling that the repetition of the "we" implied a sense of unwarranted partnership in the household management, he added with dignity, "That is, I'VE seen fit to use it that long."

The sarcasm was wasted. The girl smiled and nodded.

"That makes it all right," she declared. "If we put this one on now it'll be Sunday long before it's time to change. And we can wash the other one today or tomorrow."

"Oh, WE can, eh?"

"Yes, sir"

Isaiah looked as if he wished to say something but was at a loss for words. The Sunday cloth was spread upon the table while he was still hunting for them.

"And now," said Mary-'Gusta, "if you're sure you don't need me any more just now I guess I'd like to go up and see the store. May I?"

Site found the store of Hamilton and Company an exceedingly interesting place. Zoeth and his partner greeted her cordially and she sat down upon a box at the end of the counter and inspected the establishment. It was not very large, but there was an amazing variety in its stock. Muslin, tape, calico, tacks, groceries,

cases of shoes, a rack with spools of thread, another containing a few pocket knives, barrels, half a dozen salt codfish swinging from nails overhead, some suits of oilskins hanging beside them, a tumbled heap of children's caps and hats, even a glass-covered case containing boxes of candy with placards "1 c. each" or "3 for 1 c." displayed above them.

"Like candy, do you?" asked Mr. Hamilton, noticing her scrutiny of the case and its contents.

"Yes, sir," said Mary-'Gusta.

"How about sassafras lozengers? Like them?"

"Yes, sir."

She was supplied with a roll of the lozenges and munched them gravely. Captain Shad, who had been waiting on a customer, regarded her with an amused twinkle.

"Sassafras lozengers are good enough for anybody, eh?" he observed.

"Yes, sir," replied Mary-'Gusta. Then she added, politely: "Only I guess these are wintergreen."

She stayed at the store until noon. Then she walked home with the Captain whose turn it was to dine first that day. The hiring of Annabel had been an unusual break in the business routine. Ordinarily but one of the partners left that store at a time.

"Well," inquired the Captain, as they walked down the lane, "what do you think of it? Pretty good store for a place like South Harniss, ain't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"I bet you! Different from the Ostable stores, eh?"

"Yes, sir; I-I guess it is."

"Um-hm. Well, how different?"

Mary-'Gusta took her usual interval for consideration.

"I guess there's more-more things in it with separate smells to 'em," she said.

Captain Shad had no remark to make for a moment. Mary-'Gusta, however, was anxious to please.

"They're nice smells," she hastened to add. "I like 'em; only I never smelled 'em all at the same time before. And I like the lozengers VERY much."

The two or three days which Captain Shad had set as the limit of the child's visit passed; as did the next two or three. She was busy and, apparently, enjoying herself. She helped Isaiah with the housework, and although he found the help not altogether unwelcome, he was inclined to grumble a little at what he called her "pesterin' around."

"I never see such a young-one," he told his employers. "I don't ask her to do dishes nor fill pitchers nor nothin'; she just does it on her own hook."

"Humph!" grunted Captain Shadrach. "So I judged from what I see. Does it pretty well, too, don't she?"

"Um-hm. Well enough, I guess. Yes," with a burst of candor, "for her age, she does it mighty well."

"Then what are you kickin' about?"

"I ain't kickin'. Who said I was kickin'? Only-well, all I say is let her do dishes and such, if she wants to, only-only-"

"Only what?"

"Only I ain't goin' to have her heavin' out hints about what I ought to do. There's two skippers aboard this craft now and that's enough. By time!" with another burst, "that kid's a reg'lar born mother. She mothers that cat and them dolls and the hens already, and I swan to man I believe she'd like to adopt me. I ain't goin' to be mothered and hinted at to do this and that and put to bed and tucked in by no kid. I'll heave up my job first."

He had been on the point of heaving up his job ever since the days when he sailed as cook aboard Captain Shadrach's schooner. When the Captain retired from the sea for the last time, and became partner and fellow shopkeeper with Zoeth, Isaiah had retired with him and was engaged to keep house for the two men. The Captain had balked at the idea of a female housekeeper.

"Women aboard ship are a dum nuisance," he declared. "I've carried 'em cabin passage and I know. Isaiah Chase is a good cook, and, besides, if the biscuits are more fit for cod sinkers than they are for grub, I can tell him so in the right kind of language. We don't want no woman steward, Zoeth; you hear ME!"

Zoeth, although the Captain's seafaring language was a trial to his gentle, churchly soul, agreed with his partner on the main point. His experience with the other sex had not been such as to warrant further experiment. So Isaiah was hired and had been cook and steward at the South Harniss home for many years. But he made it a practice to assert his independence at frequent intervals, although, as a matter of fact, he would no more have dreamed of really leaving than his friends and employers would of discharging him. Mr. Chase was as permanent a fixture in that house as the ship's chronometer in the dining-room; and that was screwed to the wall.

And, in spite of his grumbling, he and Mary-'Gusta were rapidly becoming fast friends. Shadrach and Zoeth also were beginning to enjoy her company, her unexpected questions, her interest in the house and the store, and shrewd, old-fashioned comments on persons and things. She was a "queer young-one"; they, like the people of Ostable, agreed on that point, but Mr. Hamilton was inclined to think her ways "sort of takin'" and the Captain admitted that maybe they were. What he would not admit was that the girl's visit, although already prolonged for a fortnight, was anything but a visit.

"I presume likely," hinted Zoeth, "you and me'll have to give the Judge some sort of an answer pretty soon, won't we? He'll be wantin' to know afore long."

"Know? Know what?"

"Why-why whether we're goin' to say yes or no to what Marcellus asked us in that letter."

"He does know. Fur's I'm consarned, he knows. I spoke my mind plain enough to pound through anybody's skull, I should think."

"Yes-yes, I know you did. But, Shadrach, if she don't stay here for good where will she stay? She ain't got anybody else to go to."

"She is stayin', ain't she? She-she's makin' us a visit, same as I said she could. What more do you want? Jumpin' fire! This fix is your doin' anyway. 'Tain't mine. If you had paid attention to what I said, the child wouldn't have been here at all."

"Now, Shadrach! You know you was the one that would fetch her over that very day."

"Oh, blame it onto me, of course!"

"I ain't blamin' anybody. But she's here and we've got to decide whether to send her away or not. Shall we?"

They were interrupted by Mary-'Gusta herself, who entered the barn, where the discussion took place, a doll under one arm and a very serious expression on her face.

"Hello!" hailed Zoeth. "What's the matter?"

Mary-'Gusta seated herself upon an empty cranberry crate. The partners had a joint interest in a small cranberry bog and the crate was one of several unused the previous fall.

"There's nothin' the matter," she said, solemnly. "I've been thinkin', that's all."

"Want to know!" observed the Captain. "Well, what made you do anything as risky as that?"

Mary-'Gusta's forehead puckered.

"I was playin' with Jimmie Bacheldor yesterday," she said, "and he made me think."

Abner Bacheldor was the nearest neighbor. His ramshackle dwelling was an eighth of a mile from the Gould-Hamilton place. Abner had the reputation of being the meanest man in town; also he had a large family, of which Jimmie, eight years old, was the youngest.

"Humph!" sniffed Captain Shad. "So Jimmie Bacheldor made you think, eh? I never should have expected it from one of that tribe. How'd he do it?"

"He asked me about my relations," said Mary-'Gusta, "and when I said I hadn't got any he was awful surprised. He has ever so many, sisters and brothers and aunts and cousins and-Oh, everything. He thought 'twas dreadful funny my not havin' any. I think I'd ought to have some, don't you?"

The partners, looking rather foolish, said nothing for a moment. Then Zoeth muttered that he didn't know but she had.

"Yes," said Mary-'Gusta, "I-I think so. You see I'm-I mean I was a stepchild 'long as father was here. Now he's dead and I ain't even that. And I ain't anybody's cousin nor nephew nor niece. I just ain't anything. I'm different from everybody I know. And-and-" very solemnly-"I don't like to be so different."

Her lip quivered as she said it. Sitting there on the cranberry crate, hugging her dolls, she was a pathetic little figure. Again the partners found it hard to answer. Mr. Hamilton looked at the Captain and the latter, his fingers fidgeting with his watchchain, avoided the look. The girl went on.

"I was thinking," she said, "how nice 'twould have been if I'd had a-a brother or somebody of my very own. I've got children, of course, but they're only dolls and a cat. They're nice, but they ain't real folks. I wish I had some real folks. Do you suppose if-if I have to go to the-the orphans' home, there'd be anybody there that would be my relation? I didn't know but there might be another orphan there who didn't have anybody, same as me, and then we could make believe we was-was cousins or somethin'. That would be better than nothin', wouldn't it?"

Zoeth stepped forward and, bending over, kissed her cheek. "Never you mind, Mary-'Gusta," he said. "You ain't gone there yet and afore you do maybe Cap'n Shad and I can think up some relations for you."

"Real relations?" asked Mary-'Gusta, eagerly.

"Well, no, not real ones; I'm afraid we couldn't do that. But when it comes to make-believe, that might be different." He hesitated an instant, glanced at the Captain, and then added: "I tell you what you do: you just pretend I'm your relation, a-well, an uncle, that's better'n nothin'. You just call me 'Uncle Zoeth.' That'll be a start, anyhow. Think you'd like to call me 'Uncle Zoeth'?"

Mary-'Gusta's eyes shone. "Oh, yes!" she cried. "Then I could tell that Jimmie Bacheldor I had one relation, anyhow. And shall I call Cap'n Gould 'Uncle Shadrach'?"

Zoeth turned to his companion. "Shall she, Shadrach?" he asked, with a mischievous smile.

If it had not been for that smile the Captain's reply might have been different. But the smile irritated him. He strode to the door.

"Zoeth Hamilton," he snapped, "how long are you goin' to set here? If you ain't got anything else to attend to, I have. I'm goin' up to the store. It's pretty nigh eight o'clock in the mornin' and that store ain't open yet."

"Want to come along, Mary-'Gusta?" asked Zoeth. "She can come, can't she, Shad?"

"Yes, yes, course she can," more genially. "Cal'late there's some of those sassafras-checkerberry lozengers left yet. Come on, Mary-'Gusta, if you want to."

But the child shook her head. She looked wistful and a trifle disappointed.

"I-I guess maybe I'd better stay here," she said. "I ought to see to Minnehaha's sore throat. I'm goin' to put some red flannel 'round it; Mr. Chase says he cal'lates he knows where there is some. Good-by, Uncle Zoeth. Good-by-er-Cap'n Gould."

The partners did not converse on the way to the store. Zoeth made an attempt, but Shadrach refused to answer. He was silent and, for him, grumpy all the forenoon. Another fortnight passed before the subject of the decision which must, sooner or later, be given Judge Baxter was mentioned by either of the pair.

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