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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 35195

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Mary-'Gusta was growing accustomed to the life in the South Harniss home. She found it a great improvement over that which she had known on Phinney's Hill at Ostable. There was no Mrs. Hobbs to nag and find fault, there were no lonely meals, no scoldings when stockings were torn or face and hands soiled. And as a playground the beach was a wonderland.

She and Jimmie Bacheldor picked up shells, built sand forts, skipped flat stones along the surface of the water at high tide, and picked up scallops and an occasional quahaug at low water. Jimmie was, generally speaking, a satisfactory playmate, although he usually insisted upon having his own way and, when they got into trouble because of this insistence, did not permit adherence to the truth to obstruct the path to a complete alibi. Mary-'Gusta, who had been taught by the beloved Mrs. Bailey to consider lying a deadly sin, regarded her companion's lapses with alarmed disapproval, but she was too loyal to contradict and more than once endured reproof when the fault was not hers. She had had few playmates in her short life and this one, though far from perfect, was a joy.

They explored the house together and found in the big attic and the stuffy, shut-up best parlor the most fascinating of treasure hordes. The former, with its rows of old trunks and sea chests under the low eaves, the queer garments and discarded hats hanging on the nails, the dusky corners where the light from the little windows scarcely penetrated even on a sunny May afternoon, was the girl's especial Paradise. Here she came to play by herself on rainy days or when she did not care for company. Her love of make-believe and romance had free scope here and with no Jimmie to laugh and make fun of her imaginings she pretended to her heart's content. Different parts of that garret gradually, in her mind, came to have names of their own. In the bright spot, under the north window, was Home, where she and the dolls and David-when the cat could be coaxed from prowlings and mouse hunts to quiet and slumber-lived and dined and entertained and were ill or well or happy or frightened, according to the day's imaginative happenings. Sometimes Home was a castle, sometimes a Swiss Family Robinson cave, sometimes a store which transacted business after the fashion of Hamilton and Company. And in other more or less fixed spots and corners were Europe, to which the family voyaged occasionally; Niagara Falls-Mrs. Bailey's honeymoon had been spent at the real Niagara; the King's palace; the den of the wicked witch; Sherwood Forest; and Jordan, Marsh and Company's store in Boston.

Jimmie Bacheldor liked the garret well enough, but imagination was not his strongest quality and the best parlor had more charms for him. In that parlor were the trophies of Captain Shadrach's seafaring days-whales' teeth, polished and with pictures of ships upon them; the model of a Chinese junk; a sea-turtle shell, flippers, head and all, exactly like a real turtle except, as Mary-'Gusta said, 'it didn't have any works'; a glass bottle with a model of the bark Treasure Seeker inside; an Eskimo lance with a bone handle and an ivory point; a cocoanut carved to look like the head and face of a funny old man; a Cuban machete; and a set of ivory chessmen with Chinese knights and kings and queens, all complete and set out under a glass cover.

The junk and the lance and the machete and the rest had a fascination for Jimmie, as they would have had for most boys, but for him the parlor's strongest temptation lay in the fact that the children were forbidden to play there. Zoeth and the Captain, having been brought up in New England families of the old-fashioned kind, revered their parlor as a place too precious for use. They, themselves, entered it not oftener than three times a year, and Isaiah went there only when he felt inclined to dust, which was not often. Shadrach had exhibited its treasures to the children one Sunday morning when Zoeth was at church, but he cautioned them against going there by themselves. "You'd be liable to break somethin'," he told them, "and some of them things in there you couldn't buy with money. They've been brought from pretty much everywheres in creation, those things have."

But, in spite of the warning, or because of it, Jimmie was, as Isaiah would have said, "possessed" to visit that parlor. He coaxed and teased and dared Mary-'Gusta to take advantage of the steward's stepping out of the house or being busy in the kitchen to open that parlor door and go in with him and peep at and handle the treasures. Mary-'Gusta protested, but young Bacheldor called her a coward and declared he wouldn't play with cowards and 'fraid-cats, so rather than be one of those detestable creatures she usually swallowed her scruples and followed the tempter. It was a risk, of course, but a real adventure; and, like many adventurers, the pair came to grief. They took David into the parlor and the cat wriggled from its owner's arms, jumped upon the table, knocked the case containing the chessmen to the floor, and not only broke the glass but decapitated one of the white knights.

Even the mild Mr. Hamilton was incensed when Isaiah told the news at supper time. And Captain Shad, who had bought those chessmen at Singapore from the savings of a second mate's wages, lost patience entirely.

"Didn't I tell you young-ones not to go into that parlor?" he demanded.

"Yes, sir," admitted Mary-'Gusta, contritely.

"Yes, by fire, I did! And you went just the same."

"Yes, sir."

"And you fetched that everlastin'-er-Goliath in there, too. Don't you know you've been a bad girl?"

"Ye-yes, sir."

Zoeth protested. "She ain't a bad girl, Shadrach," he said. "You know she ain't."

"Well-er-maybe she ain't, generally speakin'. I cal'late 'twas that Bacheldor brat that was responsible; but just the same I ain't goin' to have it happen any more. Mary-'Gusta, if you and that consarned-what's-his-name-Jimmie-go into that parlor again, unless Isaiah or one of us are with you, I-I-by the jumpin' Judas, me and Zoeth won't let you go to the Sunday school picnic. There! I mean that and so does Zoeth. Shut up, Zoeth! You do mean it, too. You know mighty well either your dad or mine would have skinned us alive if we'd done such a thing when we was young-ones. And," turning to the culprit, "if you fetch that cat in there, I'll-I'll-I don't know what I'll do."

The Sunday school picnic was to be held on the second Saturday in June and Mary-'Gusta wished to attend it. She had never been to a real picnic, though the other children in Ostable had described such outings in glowing colors. Now, although she, a visitor, was not a regular member of the South Harniss Methodist Sunday school, the superintendent personally had invited her to go and Zoeth and the Captain had given their consent. Not to go would be a heart-breaking calamity. She finally resolved to be very, very good and obedient from that time on.

But good resolutions are broken occasionally, even by grown-ups, and in childhood much can be forgotten in nine days. So, on the afternoon of the tenth day, which was the day before the picnic, Mary-'Gusta walking alone in the field which separated the Gould-Hamilton property from that of Abner Bacheldor, Jimmie's father-Mary-'Gusta, walking in that field, was depressed and melancholy. Her state of mind was indicated by the fact that she had left all her dolls, even Rose and Rosette, at home. She felt guilty and wicked and conscience-stricken. She had been a bad girl; only one other knew how bad she had been and he, being guilty likewise, would not betray her. But at home Isaiah Chase was, as he said, "heatin' himself to a bile" baking apple turnovers for her to take to the picnic. And Captain Shadrach had announced his intention of bringing her, from the store, candy and bananas to go into the lunch basket with the turnovers and sandwiches and cake. And the Captain had that very day called her a good girl. If he only knew!

There had been a flurry of excitement in the kitchen just after dinner. Mr. Bacheldor had appeared at the door with the request that he might "borrer the loan of Cap'n Gould's shotgun." The day before, at a quarter after four-Mr. Bacheldor was certain as to the time because he had been "layin' down two or three minutes on the sofy afore goin' out to look at some wood there was to cut in the shed, and I'd just got up and looked at the clock afore I looked out of the settin'-room winder"-looking out of that window he had seen a cat running from his henyard with one of his recently hatched Plymouth Rock chickens in its mouth.

"If I'd had a gun then," declared Abner, "I could have blowed the critter to thunder-and-gone. But I'll get him next time. Let me have the gun, will you, Isaiah? I know Shad'll say it's all right when you tell him."

That shotgun was a precious arm. It had been given to the Captain years before by the officers of a sinking schooner, whom Shadrach's boat's crew, led by Shadrach himself, had rescued at a big risk off the Great South School. It had the Captain's name, with an inscription and date, on a silver plate fastened to the stock. Isaiah was not too willing to lend it, but chicken stealing is a capital offense in South Harniss, as it is in most rural communities, and the cat caught in the act is summarily executed.

So Mr. Chase went to the Captain's room and returned with the gun.

"There you be, Ab," he said. "Hope you get the critter."

"Oh, I'll get him all right, don't you fret. Say, Isaiah-er-er-" Mr. Bacheldor hesitated. "Say," he went on, "you couldn't let me have two or three cartridges, could you? I ain't got none in the house."

Isaiah looked more doubtful than ever, but he brought the cartridges. After making sure, by inquiry and inspection, that they were loaded, the borrower started to go.

"Oh, I say, Ab," Mr. Chase called after him; "know whose cat 'twas?"

Mr. Bacheldor did not appear to hear, so the question was repeated. Abner answered without turning.

"I know," he declared. "I know all right," and hurried on. Isaiah looked after him and sniffed disdainfully.

"Anybody on earth but that feller," he said, "would have been ashamed to beg cartridges after beggin' the gun, but not Ab Bacheldor, no sir! Wonder he didn't want to borrer my Sunday hat to practice shootin' at."

Mary-'Gusta considered shooting a cat the height of cruelty and dreadfulness but she was aware of the universal condemnation of chicken stealing and kept her thought to herself. Besides, she had her own wickedness to consider.

She walked slowly on across the field, bound nowhere in particular, thinking hard and feeling very wretched and miserable. The pleasure of the next day, the day she had been anticipating, was spoiled already for her. If she went to that picnic without making a full and free confession she knew she would feel as mean and miserable as she was feeling now. And if she did confess, why then-

Her meditations were interrupted in a startling manner. She was midway of the field, upon the other side of which was a tumbledown stone wall, and a cluster of wild cherry trees and bayberry bushes marking the boundary of the Bacheldor land. From behind the wall and bushes sounded the loud report of a gun; then the tramp of running feet and an excited shouting:

"You missed him," screamed a voice. "You never hit him at all. There he goes! There he goes! Give him t'other barrel quick!"

Mary-'Gusta, who had been startled nearly out of her senses by the shot and the shouting, stood perfectly still, too surprised and frightened even to run. And then out of the bushes before her darted a scared tortoise-shell cat, frantically rushing in her direction. The cat was David.

"He's hidin' in them bushes," shouted the voice again. "Stay where you be, Pop. I'll scare him out and then you give it to him."

Mary-'Gusta stood still no longer. The sight of her idolized pet running for his life was enough to make her forget fright and everything else. She too ran, but not toward home.

"David!" she screamed. "Oh, David! Come here! David!"

David may have recognized the voice, but if so the recognition made no difference. The cat kept straight on. The girl ran across its path. It dodged and darted into a beachplum thicket, a cul-de-sac of tangled branches and thick grass. Before the animal could extricate itself Mary-'Gusta had seized it in her arms. It struggled and fought for freedom but the child held it tight.

"David!" she panted. "Oh, don't, David! Please be still! They shan't hurt you; I won't let 'em. Please!"

Through the bushes above the wall appeared the freckled face of Con-christened Cornelius-Bacheldor. Con was Jimmie's elder brother.

"He must have got through," he shouted. "He-no, there he is. She's got him, Pop. Make her put him down."

Mr. Abner Bacheldor crashed through to his son's side. He was carrying a gun.

"You put that cat down," screamed Con, threateningly.

Mary-'Gusta said nothing. Her heart was beating wildly but she held the struggling David fast.

"It's that kid over to Shad Gould's," declared Con. "Make her give you a shot, Pop."

Mr. Abner Bacheldor took command of the situation.

"Here, you!" he ordered. "Fetch that critter here. I want him."

Still Mary-'Gusta did not answer. She was pale and her small knees shook, but she neither spoke nor moved from where she stood. And her grip upon the cat tightened.

"Fetch that cat here," repeated Abner. "We're goin' to shoot him; he's been stealin' our chickens."

At this accusation and the awful threat accompanying it, Mary-'Gusta forgot her terror of the Bacheldors, of the gun, forgot everything except her pet and its danger.

"I shan't!" she cried frantically. "I shan't! He ain't! He's my cat and he don't steal chickens."

"Yes, he does, too," roared Con. "Pop and I see him doin' it."

"You didn't! I don't believe it! When did you see him?"

"Yesterday afternoon. We see him, didn't we, Pop?"

"You bet your life we did," growled Abner. "And he was on my land again just now; comin' to steal more, I cal'late. Fetch him here."

"I-I shan't! He shan't be shot, even if he did steal 'em. And I know he didn't. If you shoot him I'll-I'll tell Uncle Zoeth and-and Cap'n Gould. And I won't let you have him anyhow. I won't," with savage defiance. "If you shoot him you'll have to shoot me, too."

Con climbed over the wall. "You just wait, Pop," he said. "I'll take him away from her."

But his father hesitated. There were certain reasons why he thought it best not to be too arbitrary.

"Hold on, Con," he said. "Look here, sis, I'm sorry to have to kill your cat, but I've got to. He steals chickens and them kind of cats has to be shot. I see him myself yesterday afternoon. I told Isaiah Chase myself that . . . why, you was there and heard me! You heard me tell how I was lookin' out of the winder at quartet past four and see that cat-"

Mary-'Gusta interrupted. Her expression changed. She was still dreadfully frightened but in her tone was a note of relief, of confident triumph.

"You didn't see him," she cried. "It wasn't David; it wasn't this cat you saw. I KNOW it wasn't."

"Well, I know it was. Now don't argue no more. You fetch that cat here or I'll have Con take him away from you. Hurry up!"

"I know it wasn't David," began Mary-'Gusta. Then, as Con started in her direction, she turned and ran, ran as hard as she could, bearing David in her arms. Con ran after her.

It was the cat that saved the situation and its life at the same time. Mary-'Gusta was near the edge of the pine grove and Con was close at her heels. David gave one more convulsive, desperate wriggle, slid from the girl's arms and disappeared through the pines like a gray projectile.

Mary-'Gusta collapsed on the grass and burst into frightened, hysterical sobs. Con took one or two steps after the flying cat and gave up the chase. Mr. Bacheldor, from behind the wall, swore emphatically and at length.

"Come here, Con, you fool," he yelled, when the expression of his true feelings had reached a temporary end. "Come here! let the kid alone. We'll get into trouble if we don't. As for that dummed cat, we'll get him next time. He'll see his finish. Come on, I tell you."

Con reluctantly rejoined his parent and the pair departed, muttering threats. Mary-'Gusta, the tears running down her cheeks, ran home to find David and plead with Mr. Chase for her pet's safety and protection from its persecutors. But Isaiah had gone up to the store on an errand. David, however, was crouching, a trembling heap, under the kitchen stove. The girl pulled him out, fled with him to the garret, and there, with the door locked, sat shivering and sobbing until Captain Shad came home for supper that night.

The Captain's first question when he arrived was concerning Mary-'Gusta's whereabouts. Isaiah said he had not seen her for two hours or more. And just then the child herself appeared, entering the kitchen from the door leading to the back stairs.

"Hello, Mary-'Gusta!" hailed Shadrach. "Thought you was lost. Supper's about ready to put on the table. Why, what's the matter? Been cryin', ain't you?"

Mary-'Gusta went straight to him and clutched his hand. "Please, Cap'n Gould," she begged, "will you come into the sittin'-room a minute? I-I want to ask you somethin'. I want you to do somethin' for me, will you?"

"Sartin sure I will. What is it?"

Mary-'

Gusta glanced at Isaiah's face. "I'd-I'd rather tell you, just you alone," she said. "Please come into the sittin'-room."

She tugged at his hand. Much puzzled, he followed her through the dining-room and into the sitting-room.

"Well, Mary-'Gusta," he said, kindly, "now what is it? What's the big secret?"

Mary-'Gusta closed the door. She was very solemn and her lip quivered but she did not hesitate.

"It's about David," she said. "Somethin's happened to David. I-I'm goin' to tell you about it, Cap'n Gould."

She told of her adventure and of David's peril. Shadrach listened. When he heard of the accusation which was the cause of the affair he shook his head.

"My, my!" he exclaimed. "That's pretty bad, that is. I'd hate to have your cat killed, Mary-'Gusta, land knows I would. But if the critter's a chicken thief-"

"But he ain't! I KNOW he ain't!"

"Humph! You can't always tell, you know cats are cats and-"

"But I know David wasn't the cat that did it. I KNOW he wasn't"

"Oh, you know, do you. Hm! you do seem pretty sartin, that's a fact. How do you know?"

The girl looked at him. "Please, Cap'n Gould," she said, "I-I'd rather tell you over to Mr. Bacheldor's. That's what I wanted to ask you; won't you please go right over to Mr. Bacheldor's with me? I-I'll tell you how I know when we're there."

Captain Shadrach was more puzzled than ever. "You want me to go to Ab Bacheldor's with you?" he repeated. "You want to tell me somethin' over there? Why not tell me here?"

"'Cause-'cause Mr. Bacheldor thinks David did it and he'll kill him. He said he would. I want HIM to know David wasn't the one. And if, if you're there when he knows, he'll know YOU know he knows and he won't dast shoot at David any more. Please come, Cap'n Gould. Please, right away."

Shadrach tugged at his beard. "Humph!" he muttered. "There's more 'knows' in that than there is knots in a snarled fish line. You want me as a witness, nigh's I can make out. Is that it?"

"Yes, sir. Will you go with me right off?"

"Right off, eh? Can't it wait till after supper?"

"I-I don't want any supper. PLEASE!"

So supper was postponed, in spite of Isaiah's grumblings, and the Captain and Mary-'Gusta started forthwith for the home of their nearest neighbor. Mr. Chase, his curiosity aroused, would have asked a dozen questions, but Mary-'Gusta would neither answer nor permit Shadrach to do so.

The Bacheldor family were at supper when the callers arrived. Abner himself opened the door and he looked rather embarrassed when he saw the pair on the steps. Captain Shad did not wait for an invitation to enter; he walked in and Mary-'Gusta followed him.

"Now then, Ab," said the Captain, briskly, "what's this about our cat stealin' your chickens?"

Mr. Bacheldor and Con, separately and together, burst into a tirade of invective against the offending David.

"That's all right, that's all right," broke in the Captain, crisply. "If that cat stole your chicken it ought to be shot. But are you sure of the cat? Do you know ours did it? This girl here says 'twasn't ours at all."

"I know a dum sight better," began Abner, savagely. But this time it was Mary-'Gusta who interrupted.

"Cap'n Gould," she said, "please ask him what time it was yesterday afternoon when he saw the cat run off with the chicken."

Bacheldor did not wait to be asked.

"'Twas quarter-past four yesterday afternoon," he declared. "I know the time."

"I don't see what the time's got to do with it," put in Shadrach.

"But it's got everything to do with it," urged Mary-'Gusta. "Honest truly it has."

"Oh, it has, eh? Why?"

"'Cause-'cause-Ask him if he's sure?"

Again Abner did not wait. "Course I'm sure," he replied. "I told Isaiah Chase-yes, and I told that young-one, too-that I looked at the clock just afore I looked out of the window and see the critter in the very act. Yes, and Con see him too."

Mary-'Gusta stamped her foot in triumph. "Then it wasn't David," she said. "It wasn't David at all. 'Twas somebody else's cat, Mr. Bacheldor."

"Somebody else's nothin'! Don't you suppose I know-"

"Hold on! Heave to, Ab. Mary-'Gusta, how do you know 'twasn't our cat?"

"'Cause-'cause David was with me from four o'clock till most five; that's how. He was in the-in our house with me. So," triumphantly, "he couldn't have been anywhere else, could he?"

Con and his father both began a protest, but Shadrach cut it short.

"Keep still, for mercy sakes," he ordered. "This ain't Shoutin' Methodist camp meetin'. Let's get soundin's here. Now, Mary-'Gusta, you say the cat was with you from four till five; you're sure of that?"

"Yes, sir. I know because Mr. Chase had gone out and we knew he wouldn't be back until five 'cause he said he wouldn't. So we looked at the clock before we went in."

"Went in? Went in where?"

The girl hung her head. It was evident that the answer to this question was one she dreaded to make. But she made it, nevertheless.

"Before we went into-into the parlor," she said, faintly.

Captain Shad was the only one of her hearers who grasped the full significance of this confession. No, there was one other, and he turned red and then white.

"The parlor?" repeated the Captain, slowly. "The best parlor?"

"Ye-yes, sir."

"Do you mean you went into the best parlor over to our house and-AND TOOK THAT CAT IN WITH YOU?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I swan to man! Did you forget what I told you would happen if you went into that parlor again? And especially if you lugged that cat in? Did you forget that?"

"N-no, sir. I didn't forget it. You-you said I couldn't go to the picnic."

Shadrach shook his head. "Well," he groaned, "if this don't beat the nation! What under the sun did you do it for?"

"'Cause-'cause we wanted to play pirates with-with the swords and things," faltered Mary-'Gusta. "And we took David 'cause he was goin' to be one of the passengers on the ship we took. But," with a sudden return to the main point at issue, "that proves David wasn't the cat he saw, the one that stole his chicken."

The Captain looked at her. "By fire, it does, that's right," he muttered. Abner Bacheldor roared in indignation.

"It don't prove nothin'," he cried. "All it proves is that the kid's a liar. She's lyin' so's to save that dummed thief of a cat. All kids'll lie when they think they can make somethin' out of it."

Shadrach grunted. "Maybe so," he said, "but I ain't caught this one in a lie so far. And I doubt if she's lyin' now. Now, Mary-'Gusta, is there any way you can prove you was in that parlor, and-what's his name-David was there at the time you say? Is there?"

Again Mary-'Gusta hesitated. Her eyes wandered about the faces in the room, until their gaze rested upon the face of Jimmie Bacheldor. And Jimmie looked white and scared.

"N-no, sir, I-I guess not," she faltered.

"I guess not, too," declared Con, with a sarcastic laugh.

But the Captain was suspicious. He had seen the child's look.

"Hold on," he commanded. "There's more to this than a blind man could see through a board fence. Mary-'Gusta, was there anybody else except David in that parlor along with you? Was there?"

Mary-'Gusta looked at the floor.

"Yes, sir," she faltered.

"So? I kind of had an idea there might be. Who was it?"

Again the look and then: "I-I ain't goin' to tell."

Con laughed once more. "You bet she ain't," he exclaimed. "She can't. The whole yarn's a lie. Don't pay no attention to it, Pop."

Shadrach turned sharply in his direction. "I'M payin' attention to it," he snapped, "and that's enough. So you ain't goin' to tell, Mary-'Gusta, eh? Remember now, if you do tell it'll prove your story's true and David'll come out on top. Think it over."

Evidently Mary-'Gusta was thinking it over. Her eyes filled with tears, but she shook her head.

The Captain looked down at her. "Keepin' mum, eh?" he said. "Well, that's all right. I cal'late we're pretty good guessers, some of us, anyway. Jim," with a sudden look straight at the youngest member of his neighbor's family, who was fidgeting with his spoon and acting remarkably nervous, "what have you got to say? Have a good time in that parlor playin' pirates, did you?"

Jimmie gasped. The suddenness of the attack knocked his defenses flat. He gurgled, stammered, and then broke into a wail of distress.

"I-I didn't mean to," he sobbed, wildly. "'Twas her. She said do it; I never. I-I-"

"Why, Jimmie Bacheldor!" exclaimed Mary-'Gusta, shocked into protest by her fellow culprit's distortion of the truth. "How can you say so! What a story! You know-"

"I guess he knows," broke in Shadrach. "And I cal'late I know, too. Now then, Jim, what time was it when you looked at the clock? Shut up, Abner, let the boy answer. Tell us, Jim; nobody'll hurt you."

"It-it was four o'clock," hollered Jimmie, in agony. "I-I never done it a purpose. I won't do so no more."

"No, I don't cal'late you will. Cal'late you won't have a chance. Well, Ab, I guess we've proved our client's case. Next time you go out cat shootin' you better be sure you're gunnin' for the right one. Come on, Mary-'Gusta."

Con Bacheldor sprang to his feet.

"Pop," he shouted, "be you goin' to let 'em go this way? And that cat stealin' our chickens right along. Ain't you goin' to tell 'em you'll kill the critter next time he comes on our land?"

Abner was silent. He seemed oddly anxious to see the last of his visitors. It was the Captain who spoke.

"No, Con," he said, crisply, "he ain't goin' to tell me that. And you listen while I tell YOU somethin'. If that cat of ours gets hurt or don't show up some time I'll know who's responsible. And then-well, then maybe I'LL go gunnin'. Good night, all hands."

All the way back across the fields and through the grove the Captain was silent. Mary-'Gusta clinging to his hand was silent too, dreading what she knew was sure to follow. When they entered the kitchen Shadrach turned to her:

"Well, Mary-'Gusta," he said, "I'm glad your cat's turned out to be no chicken thief, but-but that don't alter what you did, does it?"

"No, sir," stammered the girl.

"No, I'm afraid it don't. I told you what would happen if you went into that parlor, and you went just the same. I cal'late you know what to expect, don't you?"

"Ye-yes, sir," in a low tone. "You mean I can't go to the Sunday school picnic."

Shadrach cleared his throat. He was not enjoying this episode, as a matter of fact his unhappiness was almost as keen as the child's. But as a boy he had been reared in the old-fashioned way, and he felt that he had a duty to perform.

"I'm afraid that's what I mean," he said, gravely. "Now set down and have your supper."

Mary-'Gusta tried hard to be brave, but the disappointment was too great. The tears streamed down her cheeks and she ran from the room. Shadrach strode after her.

"Here!" he called. "Mary-'Gusta, where are you goin'? Come back and have your supper."

But Mary-'Gusta did not come back. She was already on the stairs.

"I-I don't want any supper," she sobbed. "Please, oh, PLEASE don't make me eat it."

The Captain hesitated, turned back, and jerked his own chair to the table.

"Well," he demanded brusquely, "the supper's here and somebody's got to eat it, I cal'late. Fetch it on, Isaiah! What are you starin' at me like that for, you dumbhead?"

Isaiah brought in the supper. Then he demanded to know what the fuss was all about. Shadrach told him. Isaiah's chief interest seemed to center on the attempted shooting.

"Why the son of a swab!" he cried, excitedly. "Of all the cheek I ever heard of in my life that Abner Bacheldor's got the heft! To borrer a man's own gun-yes, and cartridges, too-to kill that man's own cat with! Of all the solid brass! He never told me 'twas our cat. All he wanted to know was could he borrer your gun and somethin' to load it with. If I'd known-"

His employer interrupted him. "WHAT?" he roared. "Do you mean to say that Ab Bacheldor came here and borrowed MY gun to-to do what he done with?"

"Sartin sure he did. And only this very afternoon, too."

"And did he know whose cat 'twas?"

"He said he did. Mary-'Gusta was here 'long with me when he come. I says: 'Know whose cat 'tis?' and says he, 'I know all right!' I thought he acted kind of sheepish and funny. I-Here! where you goin'?"

The Captain was on his feet and his cap was in his hand.

"Goin'!" he snarled. "I'm going to make another call on Abner. And," with his hand on the latch, "if you hear somebody bein' murdered over in that direction you needn't call the constable, neither."

"But-but, hold on, Cap'n Shad! You ain't finished your own supper yet and Zoeth's waiting up to the store for you to come back so's he can come down and get his."

The reply was emphatic and, in its way, conclusive.

"To the blue brimstone with the supper!" roared Shadrach. "It can wait and so can Zoeth. If he can't he can do the next best."

He was absent for half an hour. When he returned Mr. Hamilton was in the dining-room. Shadrach entered, bearing the precious shotgun. He stood it carefully in the corner. There was a satisfied look in his eye.

"For goodness' sake, Shadrach!" exclaimed Zoeth, "what have you been thinkin' of? There I was waitin' and waitin' and hankerin' and hankerin' and no you nor no supper. I had to lock up the store finally. 'Twas either that or starve. I ain't a fault-finder, generally speakin', but I have to eat, same as other folks."

His partner paid not the least attention. His first remark was in the form of a question addressed to Mr. Chase.

"Look here, Isaiah," he demanded, "did I understand you to say that Mary-'Gusta was with you when that sculpin come to borrow my gun?"

"Yup. She was here."

"And she knew that he was goin' to shoot a cat with it?"

"Sartin, she heard him say so."

Shadrach strode to the mantel, took from it a hand-lamp, lighted the lamp and with it in his hand walked from the room and ascended the stairs. Zoeth called after him, but he did not answer.

He entered Mary-'Gusta's room. The child was in bed, the dolls beside her. She was not asleep, however. The tear stains on her cheeks and the dampness of the pillow showed how she had spent the time since leaving the dining-room.

Shadrach put the lamp upon the washstand, pulled a chair beside the bed and sat down. He took her hand in his.

"Mary-'Gusta," he said, gently, "you knew 'twas my gun that Ab Bacheldor was tryin' to shoot David with?"

Mary-'Gusta moved her head up and down on the pillow.

"Yes, sir," she said.

"You was here when he borrowed it?"

"Yes, sir. And then I knew it was yours when he had it there in the field. I saw the silver name thing on the handle. It kind of shined in the sun."

"Um-hm. Yes, yes. I see. You knew it, of course. But you didn't tell me. Why on earth didn't you? Didn't you know that if I'd realized that swab had borrered my gun to kill my cat that would have been enough? If the critter had stole a million chickens 'twouldn't have made any difference if I'd known THAT. The cheeky lubber! Well, he won't shoot at anything of ours for one spell, I'll bet. But why didn't you tell me?"

Mary-'Gusta's answer was promptly given.

"Why, 'cause," she said, "that was just it. I knew if you knew that you wouldn't care whether David stole the chicken or not. And I wanted you to know he didn't."

"Um, I see. But if you had told me you wouldn't have had to tell about the parlor. I'D never asked a single question."

"Ye-yes, sir; but I wanted you to know David doesn't steal chickens."

Shadrach swallowed hard. "I see," he said. "Yes, yes, I see. So just to clear that cat you was willin' to give up the picnic and everything."

Mary-'Gusta sobbed: "I-I did want to go so," she moaned.

The Captain lifted her from the pillow and put his arm about her.

"You ARE goin'," he declared, emphatically, "you just bet you're goin'."

"Oh! Oh, am I? Am I really? I-I know I hadn't ought to. I was a bad girl."

"You! You're a dummed good girl! The best and squarest-yes, and the spunkiest little girl I ever saw. You're a brick."

"I'm awful sorry I went into the parlor, Cap'n Gould."

"Blast the parlor! I don't care if you stay in there a week and smash everything in it. And-and, see here, Mary-'Gusta, don't you call me 'Cap'n Gould' any more. Call me 'Uncle Shad,' will you?"

Just before bedtime that night Mr. Hamilton broached a subject which had troubled him all day.

"Shadrach," he said, timidly. "I-I guess I ought to tell you somethin'. I know you won't want to talk about it, but seems 's if I must tell you. I had a letter this morning from Judge Baxter. He says he can't wait much longer for an answer from us about Marcellus's girl. He's got to know what we've decided to do with her."

Shadrach, who was smoking, took his pipe from his mouth.

"Well, give him the answer then," he said, shortly. "You know what 'tis, well as I do."

Zoeth looked troubled.

"I know you don't want to keep her," he said, "but-"

"Who said I didn't?"

"Who? Why, Shadrach Gould! You said-"

"I said a good many things maybe; but that's nothin'. You knew what I meant as well as I did."

"Why, Shadrach! You-you don't mean you ARE willin' to keep her-here, with us, for good? You don't mean THAT?"

The Captain snorted impatiently. "Don't be so foolish, Zoeth," he protested. "You knew plaguey well I never meant anything else."

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