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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22212

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The next day Captain Shadrach drove to Ostable and spent several hours in consultation with Judge Baxter. Adjusting matters by correspondence is a slow process at best, and the Captain, having surrendered unconditionally, was not the man to delay.

"I can settle more in ten minutes' talk," he told his partner, "than the three of us could in a month's letter-writin', especially if I had to write any of the letters. I never was any hand to write letters; you know that, Zoeth. And when I do write one the feller I send it to is liable to come around and ask me to read it 'cause he can't. Like as not I can't either, if it's had time to get cold, and there we are, right where we started. No, I'll go and see the Judge and when I fetch port tonight there'll have been somethin' done."

This prophecy was fulfilled. Before the Captain left Ostable for the homeward drive a good deal had been done. Judge Baxter, in his capacity as administrator, had already been looking into the affairs of his late client and, as he had expected, those affairs were badly tangled. When the outstanding debts were paid there would be little left, a thousand or two, perhaps, but certainly no more.

"So there you are, Shadrach," he said. "I'm mighty glad you and Zoeth have decided to keep the girl, but I'm afraid she'll come to you with very little property of her own. If she is to have the good education and all the rest that Marcellus wanted her to have I guess it'll be your money that pays for it. That's the honest truth, and I think you ought to know it."

The Captain nodded. "That's all right," he said. "I expected just about that, account of what you said the day of the funeral. Me and Zoeth are about, as fur from bein' rich as the ship's cat is from bein' skipper, but we've put by a little and the store fetches us in a decent livin'. We'll take the young-one and do our best by her. Land knows what that best'll be," he added, with a dubious shake of the head. "Speakin' for myself, I feel that I'm about as competent to bring up a child as a clam is to fly."

Baxter laughed. "Marcellus seemed confident that you and Hamilton were perfectly suited to the job," he said.

"Um; yes, I know; Marcellus had confidence in a good many things, the stock market included. However, what is to be will be and we all have to take chances, as the feller that was just married said when he tackled his wife's first mince pie. You get those guardian papers, whatever they are, made out, and Zoeth and me'll sign 'em. As for the competent part-well," with a chuckle, "that child's pretty competent herself. I have a notion that, take it five or six years from now, it'll be her that'll be bringin' us up in the way we should go. I feel a good deal as if I was signin' on for a long voyage with the chances that I'd finish mate instead of skipper."

"Say, Judge," he added, just before leaving for home, "there's one thing more I'd like to say. 'Most everybody thinks Marcellus left his stepdaughter a consider'ble sight of money, don't they?"

"Why, yes; I suppose they do."

"All right, let 'em think so. 'Twill give 'em somethin' to talk about. They'll be guessin' how rich the child is instead of markin' off in the almanac the days afore Zoeth and me head for the poorhouse."

"Humph! I see. You don't care to have it known that you and your partner are adopting and supporting her purely from motives of kindness and generosity."

"Pooh! pooh! No generosity about it. Besides, Marcellus was kind and generous enough to us in the old days. Pity if we couldn't take our trick at the wheel now."

The Judge smiled. "You're a good deal more willing to take that trick than you were when I saw you last, Captain Shad," he observed. "You seem to have changed your mind completely."

The Captain grinned. "Well, yes, I have," he admitted. "Maybe 'tain't so big a change as you think; I have a habit of blowin' up a squall when I'm gettin' ready to calm down. But, anyway, that young-one would change anybody's mind. She's different from any girl of her age ever I saw. She's pretty as a little picture and sweet and wholesome as a-as a summer sweet apple. She don't pester, and she don't tease, and she don't lie-no, sir, not even when I'd consider layin' the course a p'int or two from the truth a justifiable proceedin'. She's got inside my vest, somehow or 'nother, and I did think I was consider'ble of a hard-shell. She's all right, Mary-'Gusta is. I'm about ready to say 'Thank you' to Marcellus."

And so it was settled, and Mary-'Gusta Lathrop was no longer a visitor, but a permanent member of the odd household at South Harniss. She was delighted when she heard the news, although, characteristically, she said very little beyond confiding to her two "uncles" that she was going to be a good girl and not take David into the parlor again. The remainder of her "things" and belongings were sent over by the Judge and, in due time, the guardianship papers were signed.

"There!" exclaimed Zoeth, laying down the pen. "That settles it, I cal'late. Now, Mary-'Gusta, you're our little girl, mine and your Uncle Shad's, for good and all."

"Not quite so long as that, Zoeth," put in the smiling Shadrach. "We'll hang on to her for a spell, I shouldn't wonder; but one of these days, a hundred years from now or such matter, there's liable to be a good-lookin' young feller sparkin' 'round here and he'll want to marry her and take her somewheres else. What'll you say when it comes to that, Mary-'Gusta?"

Mary-'Gusta thought it over. "If 'twas a hundred years from now," she said, "I guess he wouldn't want me."

The Captain laughed uproariously. "Well, maybe we can discount that hundred some for cash," he admitted. "Make it twelve or fifteen years. Then suppose somebody-er-er-" with a wink at Zoeth-"suppose Jimmie Bacheldor, we'll say, comes and wants us to put you in his hands, what'll you say then?"

The answer was prompt enough this time.

"I'll say no," asserted Mary-'Gusta, with decision. "Jimmie Bacheldor hates to wash his hands; he told me so."

All that summer she played about the house or at the store or on the beach and, when the fall term began, the partners sent her to school. They were happy and proud men when Miss Dobson, the primary teacher, said the girl was too far advanced for the first class and entered her in the second. "Just natural smartness," Captain Shadrach declared. "Natural smartness and nothin' else. She ain't had a mite of advantages, but up she goes just the same. Why, Teacher told me she considered her a reg'lar parachute."

"A parachute's somethin' that comes down, ain't it," suggested Zoeth, remembering the balloon ascension he had seen at the county fair.

"Humph! So 'tis. Seems as if 'twasn't parachute she said. 'Twas-'twas-"

"Parasol?" suggested Isaiah, who was an interested listener.

"No, no; nor paralysis neither. Paragon, that's what 'twas. Teacher said that child was a paragon."

"What's a paragon?" asked Mr. Chase.

"I don't know. But it's what she is, anyway."

The paragon continued to progress in her studies. Also she continued, more and more, to take an interest in the housework and the affairs of her adopted uncles and Isaiah Chase. Little by little changes came in the life of the family. On one memorable Sunday Captain Shadrach attended church. It was the first time in a good many years and whether the congregation or Zoeth or the Captain himself was the more astonished at the latter's being there is a question. Mary-'Gusta was not greatly astonished. It was the result of careful planning on her part, planning which had as its object the relieving of Mr. Hamilton's mind. Zoeth never missed a Sunday service or a Friday night prayer meeting. And, being sincerely religious, he was greatly troubled because his friend and partner took little interest in such things.

Shadrach's aversion to churches dated back to a sermon preached by a former minister. The subject of that sermon was Jonah and the whale. The Captain, having been on several whaling voyages in his younger days, had his own opinion concerning the prophet's famous adventure.

If the minister had been a younger and more tactful man the argument which followed might have ended pleasantly and the break have been avoided. But the clergyman was elderly, as set in his ways as the Captain was in his, and the disagreement was absolute and final.

"The feller is a regular wooden-head," declared Shadrach, hotly. "I was willin' to be reasonable; I was willin' to give in that this Jonah man might have been out of his head and, after he was hove overboard and cast ashore, thought he'd been swallowed by a whale or somethin' or 'nother. I picked up a sailor once who'd drifted around in a boat for a week and he couldn't remember nothin' of what happened after the first day or so. If you'd told him he'd been swallowed by a mackerel he wouldn't have said no. But I've helped kill a good many whales-yes, and I've helped cut 'em up, too-and I know what they look like inside. No man, whether his name was Jonah or Jehoshaphat, could have lived three days in a whale's stomach. How'd he breathe in there, eh? Cal'late the whale had ventilators and a skylight in his main deck? How'd the whale live all that time with a man hoppin' 'round inside him? Think I'd live if I-if I swallowed a live mouse or somethin'? No, sir-ee! Either that mouse would die or I would, I bet you! I've seen a whole parcel of things took out of a whale's insides and some of the things had been alive once, too; but they wasn't alive then; they was in chunks and part digested. Jonah wasn't digested, was he? And the whale wasn't dead of dyspepsy neither. That's what I told that minister. 'You try it yourself,' I says to him. 'There's whales enough back of the Crab Ledge, twenty mile off Orham,' said I. 'You're liable to run in sight of 'em most any fair day in summer. You go off there and jump overboard some time and see what happens. First place, no whale would swallow you; next place, if it did 'twould chew you or sift you fine first; and, third place, if you was whole and alive that whale would be dead inside of ten minutes. You try it and see.' Good fair offer, wasn't it? But did he take it up? Not much. Said I was a scoffer and an infidel and didn't know anything about Scripture! 'I know about whales, anyhow,' I told him. And he slammed off and wouldn't speak to me again. Don't talk to ME! I'll never go inside that meetin'-house again."

And he never had until Mary-'Gusta coaxed him into it. She was a regular attendant at Sunday school, but on Sunday mornings in pleasant weather she had been accustomed to take a walk with Shadrach. These walks they both enjoyed hugely, but one bright morning she announced that she was not going for a walk, but was going to church with Uncle Zoeth. Shadrach was disappointed and astonished.

"Land sakes! What's this mean?" he demanded. "Thought you liked to walk with me."

"I do. I like it very much. But I don't think it's fair for me to do it every Sund

ay. Uncle Zoeth ALWAYS goes to church and he feels real bad 'cause you don't go. He told me so. He says the church folks think you won't go to Heaven when you die and that makes him feel dreadful. He's goin' to Heaven, you know."

"Oh, he is, eh?"

"Of course. He couldn't help it, he's so good. Don't you think he'll go to Heaven, Uncle Shad?"

"Who? Zoeth? Sartin I do. If he don't, nobody will."

"Wouldn't it make you feel bad if you was afraid he wouldn't go there?"

"Humph! Maybe so, but I ain't afraid."

"I know, but he is afraid YOU won't. He thinks an awful lot of you; as much as you do of him, you know. Uncle Shad, I'm goin' to meetin' with Uncle Zoeth this mornin', and I want you to go with us; will you?"

The Captain pulled his beard.

"Look here, Mary-'Gusta," he said. "What's all this about, anyway? You don't cal'late I'd take you walkin' Sundays if I thought 'twas wicked, do you?"

"No, sir; but Uncle Zoeth thinks not goin' to church is wicked. If you and I went to church with him 'twould please him ever so much."

"Maybe so, but 'twould please you and me if he went walkin' with us. I've asked him times enough. Why can't he do what I want as well as my doin' what he wants?"

"'Cause he thinks it's wrong. You don't think goin' to church is wrong, do you, Uncle Shad?"

Shadrach shook his head. "By fire!" he exclaimed. "You're a regular young lawyer, you are, Mary-'Gusta. Judge Baxter hasn't got you beat when it comes to makin' out a case. Look here, now; be honest; hadn't you rather go to walk with me than go to that meetin'-house?"

"Yes, sir," frankly; "I'd rather."

"Oh, you had, eh? But all the same you want us to give up our walk and go to church every Sunday just to please Zoeth. Is that it?"

Mary-'Gusta took his hand. "No, sir," she said shyly, "but I thought perhaps we could divide up. You and I could go with him one Sunday and to walk the next Sunday. That would be fair. I'm his little girl same as I am yours, Uncle Shad, ain't I?"

Shadrach was stumped, and he went to church that Sunday morning. The sermon had nothing to do with Jonah or the whale, so his feelings were not ruffled. Zoeth was mightily pleased and Mary-'Gusta was happy because he was. The plan of alternate Sundays was adopted. It was but one instance of the "managing" quality which the girl possessed. Isaiah declared that she wound all hands around her little finger, but even he seemed to enjoy the winding.

As she grew older Mary-'Gusta learned more and more concerning her uncles, their habits, their contrasting temperaments and their past history. She learned a little of Hall and Company, the prosperous firm of which they had been partners, with Marcellus Hall, her stepfather, as the head. Isaiah told her a little concerning the firm: "No bigger on Cape Cod," he declared. She asked why it had not continued in business. Mr. Chase brusquely answered that it hadn't, that's all, and would not give any particulars. She questioned the steward concerning Shadrach and Zoeth. The former had never married; that was funny; why hadn't he? Isaiah said he did not know. Hadn't Uncle Zoeth ever married, either? Yes, Zoeth had married.

"Who did-" began Mary-'Gusta, but Isaiah cut short the catechizing.

"You mustn't ask such questions," he declared.

"Why mustn't I?"

"'Cause you mustn't. Your uncles wouldn't like it a mite if they knew you was pryin' into their affairs. You mustn't ever say a word about your Uncle Zoeth's gettin' married."

"Wouldn't he like me any more if I did?"

"No, you bet he wouldn't; he'd-I don't know's he wouldn't come to hate you. And you mustn't say it to Cap'n Shad neither."

The idea of being hated by Uncle Zoeth was a dreadful one and Mary-'Gusta avoided the tabooed subject. But she thought about it a good deal. She noticed that in neither of the two lots in the cemetery, one where the Goulds were buried and the other the Hamiltons, was a stone erected to the memory of the "beloved wife of Zoeth Hamilton," although other beloved wives of the former generations were commemorated. This seemed odd. As her education progressed she read more and more and from her reading she built up several imaginative romances with Zoeth as the hero, and as the heroines beautiful creatures who had died young, in shipwreck, probably, and whose names were not to be mentioned because. . . . She could not find a satisfactory solution of the because. Shipwreck or burial at sea she deduced from the fact of there being no grave in the cemetery. Mothers and fathers of several of her schoolmates had been buried at sea. Perhaps the late Mrs. Hamilton had been so buried. But Zoeth had never been a seafaring man.

One Saturday afternoon-she was about ten years old at the time-she was in the garret. The garret had taken the place of the old surrey at Ostable, and thither she retired when she wished to be alone to read, or play, or study. This afternoon she was rummaging through the old trunks and sea chests in search of a costume for Rose. It was to be a masculine costume, of course, for there was no feminine apparel in that garret, but in the games which the girl played when alone with her dolls, Rose, the largest of the family, was frequently obliged to change her sex with her raiment.

Mary-'Gusta had ransacked these trunks and chests pretty thoroughly on previous occasions, but this time she made a discovery. In an old trunk which had obviously belonged to Captain Shadrach she found a sort of pocket on the under side of the lid, a pocket closing with a flap and a catch. In this pocket were some papers, old receipts and the like, and a photograph. The photograph interested her exceedingly. It was yellow and faded but still perfectly distinct.

There was a large building standing on posts fixed in the sand, and beyond it were wharves and a glimpse of schooners and the sea. Barrels, a good many barrels, were piled upon the wharves and at the end of the building. Over the door was the sign, "Hall and Company, Wholesale Fish Dealers."

This sign of itself was interesting enough. Evidently here was the place where her stepfather and Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton had done business years before. But more interesting still was the group of men standing on the platform under the sign. There were four of these men, dressed in clothes and hats which-especially the hats-looked queer and old-fashioned now. Two of the men Mary-'Gusta recognized, or thought she did. They were Captain Shadrach and Mr. Hamilton. Much younger they looked, of course; their hair was not gray and Zoeth wore a beard, while Shadrach had only a mustache. But, in spite of these things and the odd clothes they wore, she was sure she recognized them. And, having recognized them, she also recognized the man in the center of the group as her stepfather, Captain Marcellus Hall. The fourth man, evidently younger than the others, a handsome, square-shouldered chap in his shirtsleeves, she did not know.

She turned the photograph over. On its back was written:

Firm of Hall and Company. Taken August 19th, 1877.

Marcellus Hall

Zoeth J. Hamilton

Edgar S. Farmer

Shadrach B. Gould.

The names were in differing handwritings. Evidently each man had signed the photograph.

Mary-'Gusta scrutinized the photograph again. Then, with it in her hand, she descended to the kitchen. Isaiah was sitting in a chair by the stove reading a newspaper.

"Mr. Chase," said Mary-'Gusta, "who was Edgar S. Farmer?"

If that kitchen chair had been the never-to-be-forgotten piece of furniture with the music box beneath it and that box had started to play, Isaiah could not have risen more promptly. He literally jumped to his feet and the paper flew from his hands. He whirled upon the questioner.

"What?" he demanded. "What's that you said?"

He was pale, actually pale. Mary-'Gusta was frightened.

"Why-why, I just asked-" she faltered, "I just asked who-who-What CAN be the matter, Mr. Chase?"

Isaiah waved his hand. "WHAT did you ask?" he demanded.

"I asked-I asked who Edgar S. Farmer was, that's all. I didn't mean-I didn't know-"

"Be still! Be still, for mercy sakes! What do you know about Ed Farmer? Who told you about him?"

The girl was more frightened than ever. Isaiah's next move did not tend to reassure her. He strode to the door, looked up the lane, and closed and locked the door before she could find words to answer.

"Now, then," he said, coming close to her and looking her straight in the face, "who told you about Ed Farmer?"

"Nobody told me. Honest, they didn't."

"Somebody must have told you; else how did you know?"

Mary-'Gusta hesitatingly held up the photograph. "It's written on this," she said.

Mr. Chase snatched it from her hand. He looked at the picture and then at her.

"It's written on the back," went on the girl.

Isaiah turned the photograph over.

"Humph!" he said suspiciously. "I see. Who gave this to you?"

"Nobody gave it to me. I found it in an old trunk up in the attic."

"Humph! You did, eh? Well, I swan to man! Have you showed it to anybody else but me?"

"No, sir. Honest, I haven't. I just found it this minute."

"Well, I swan, that's lucky. 'Twas in a trunk, eh? Whose trunk?"

"One of Uncle Shad's, I guess."

"Humph! I presume likely. Well, what made you ask about-about the one you did ask about?"

"I knew who the others were. I knew my father and Uncle Zoeth and Uncle Shad. But I didn't know who the Farmer one was. It says 'Firm of Hall and Company,' and all those names are signed. So I thought maybe Mr. Farmer was-"

"Never you mind who he was. He was a darned blackguard and his name ain't mentioned in this house. That's all I can tell you and you mustn't ask any more questions. Why, if your Uncle Zoeth-yes, or your Uncle Shad either-was to hear you askin' about him-they'd-I don't know what they'd do. I'm goin' to tear this thing up."

He would have torn the photograph across, but the girl seized his hands.

"Oh, no, you mustn't," she cried. "Please don't. It isn't mine. It belongs to Uncle Shad. You mustn't tear it-give it to me."

Isaiah hesitated. "Give it to you?" he repeated. "What'll you do with it?"

"I'll put it right back where I found it. Truly, I will. I will, honest, Mr. Chase."

Isaiah reflected. Then, and with considerable reluctance, he handed her the photograph.

"All right," he said, "only be sure you do it. And look here, Mary-'Gusta, don't you ever touch it again and don't you ever tell either of your uncles or anybody else that you found it. You hear?"

Mary-'Gusta said that she heard. She ran to the garret and replaced the photograph in the pocket of the trunk. She did not mention it again nor did Isaiah, but thereafter when her active imagination constructed a life romance with Mr. Zoeth Hamilton as its hero, that romance contained a villain also, and the villain's name was Edgar S. Farmer. And the firm of Hall and Company, her father's firm, had a fourth and most mysterious partner who was a blackguard.

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