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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 23982

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The summers and winters came and went and Mary-'Gusta's birthdays came and went with them. She grew taller and more mature. Her place as assistant housekeeper was recognized now and even Isaiah consulted her on matters of household management. As for her uncles, she managed them whether consulted or not. They took the place of the discarded dolls; she was too old for dolls now, although David was still mothered and petted as much as ever. But when Uncle Zoeth had a cold it was she who insisted upon his wrapping up and saw that the wraps were ready, and if Uncle Shad was caught wearing socks with holes in them he was scolded and supplied with fresh ones. She selected the clothes they should wear and insisted that they black their boots on Sunday. She helped them in the store and it became occasionally possible for them to leave that place of business at the same time without engaging the services of Annabel. At first the partners, Captain Shadrach especially, protested against the supervision and the innovations, but Mary-'Gusta tactfully and diplomatically carried each point, and, after a time, the Captain ceased to protest and accepted the inevitable almost with meekness.

"No use, Zoeth," he said on one occasion; "I've talked and talked but I'm wearin' the necktie just the same. I told her 'twas too good to wear weekdays and it ought to be saved for Sunday, but it ain't Sunday and I've got it on. She said 'twas becomin' and the one I've been wearin' wasn't and that she crocheted it for me and I don't know what all. So here I am. Got so I ain't even boss of my own neck."

"Well, 'tis becomin'," observed Zoeth. "And she did crochet it for you. I noticed you didn't stop her tyin' it on you even while you was vowin' you wouldn't wear it."

Shadrach sighed. "To think," he groaned, "that I, Cap'n Shad Gould, a man that's handled as many fo'mast hands as I have, should come to be led around by the nose by a slip of a girl! By fire, I-I can't hardly believe it. It's disgraceful."

Zoeth smiled. "Oh, be still, Shadrach," he said. "You bear up under the disgrace as well as anybody ever I saw. You know perfectly well you was tickled to death to have her tie that necktie on you. You was grinnin' like a Chessy cat all the time."

"I wasn't, neither. I was chokin', not grinnin'. You don't know a grin from a choke."

Zoeth changed the subject. "It's a mighty pretty necktie," he declared. "There ain't anybody in this town, unless it's Philander Bearse's wife, that can crochet any better'n that girl of ours."

Shadrach snorted. "What are you talkin' about?" he demanded. "Etta Bearse never saw the day she could crochet like that. No, nor do anything else so well, either. Look at the way our candy trade has picked up since Mary-'Gusta fixed up the showcase. You cal'lated 'twas all right the way 'twas afore and thought 'twas foolish to change, but she changed it and-well, we've sold a third again as much candy."

Zoeth's smile broadened. "Seems as if I remember your sayin' a few things about that showcase," he remarked. "You gave me fits for lettin' her fuss with it. Annabel was in t'other day and she said folks thought 'twas queer enough our lettin' a thirteen-year-old child run our store for us."

"She did, eh? She's jealous, that's what ails her. And to think of HER sayin' it. That Annabel's all brass, like a ship's spyglass. By the jumpin' Judas! I'm proud of that showcase and I'm proud of Mary-'Gusta. She don't make many mistakes: I can't remember of her makin' any."

"Neither can I, not even in neckties. There, there, Shadrach! I know you. You talk about disgrace and such, but you're as crazy about Mary-'Gusta as-as-"

"As you are, eh? Well, maybe I am, Zoeth. When she was first willed to us, as you might say, I used to wonder how we'd ever get along with her; now I wonder how we got along without her. If she should be-er-took away from us, I don't know-"

"Sshh, shh, Shadrach! Don't talk about anything like that."

Mary-'Gusta was making good progress at school. At fourteen she graduated from the grammar school and in the fall was to enter the high school. She was popular among her mates, although she never sought popularity.

At picnics and church sociables she had always a small circle about her and the South Harniss boys were prominent in that circle. But Mary-'Gusta, although she liked boys and girls well enough, never showed a liking for one more than the other and she was too busy at the house and in the store to have her young friends hanging about. They bothered her, she said. As for having a particular friend of the other sex, which some of the girls in her class no older than she seemed to think a necessary proof of being in their teens, she laughed at the idea. She had her adopted uncles and Isaiah to take care of and boy beaux were silly. Talking about them as these girls did was sillier still.

That summer-the summer preceding Mary-'Gusta's fifteenth birthday-was the liveliest South Harniss had known. The village was beginning to feel the first symptoms of its later boom as a summer resort. A number of cottages had been built for people from Boston and New York and Chicago, and there was talk of a new hotel. Also there was talk of several new stores, but Hamilton and Company were inclined to believe this merely talk and did not worry about it. Their trade was unusually brisk and the demand for Mary-'Gusta's services as salesgirl interfered considerably with her duties as assistant housekeeper.

One fine, clear July morning she came up to the store early in order that the partners might go down to the house for breakfast. They had gone and she had just finished placing on the counters and in other likely spots about the store sheets of sticky fly paper. Flies are a nuisance in South Harniss in midsummer and Captain Shad detested them. Just as the last sheet was laid in place, a young fellow and a girl came in. Mary-'Gusta recognized them both. The girl was the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy summer resident, a Mr. Keith from Chicago. The Keiths had a fine cottage on the bluff at the other end of the village. The young chap with her was, so gossip reported, a college friend of her brother. His surname was prosaic enough, being Smith, but his first name was Crawford and his home was somewhere in the Far West. He was big and good-looking, and the Boston papers mentioned him as one of the most promising backs on the Harvard Freshman eleven. Next year, so the sporting writers opined, he would almost certainly make the Varsity team. Most of Mary-'Gusta's feminine friends and acquaintances rated him "perfectly splendid" and regarded Edna Keith with envious eyes.

This morning both he and the Keith girl were arrayed in the gayest of summer regalia. Young Smith's white flannel trousers were carefully creased, his blue serge coat was without a wrinkle, his tie and socks were a perfect match, and his cap was of a style which the youth of South Harniss might be wearing the following summer, but not this one. Take him "by and large," as Captain Shadrach would have said, Crawford Smith was an immaculate and beautiful exhibit; of which fact he, being eighteen years of age, was doubtless quite aware.

He and the Keith girl were, so Mary-'Gusta learned, a committee of two selected to purchase certain supplies for a beach picnic, a combination clambake and marshmallow toast, which was to take place over at Setuckit Point that day. Sam Keith, Edna's brother, and the other members of the party had gone on to Jabez Hedges' residence, where Jabez had promised to meet them with the clams and other things for the bake. Edna and her escort, having made their purchases at Hamilton and Company's, were to join them at the "clam-man's." Then the whole party was to go down to the wharf and the sailboat.

Miss Edna, who was a talkative damsel, informed Mary-'Gusta of these facts at once. Also she announced that they must hurry like everything.

"You see," she said, "we told Sam and the rest we'd be at the clam-man's in ten minutes, and, if we're not there, Sam will be awfully cross. He hates to wait for people. And we've been too long already. It's all your fault, Crawford; you would stop to hear that fruit man talk. I told you you mustn't."

The "fruit man" was Mr. Gaius Small, and, although he stammered, he loved the sound of his own voice. The demand for a dozen oranges furnished Gaius with subject sufficient for a lengthy monologue-"forty drawls and ten stutters to every orange," quoting Captain Shad again.

"I told you you mustn't get him started," went on Miss Keith, gushingly. "He'll talk forever if he has a chance. But you would do it. Asking him if he kept pomegranates and bread-fruit! The idea! I'm sure he doesn't know what a pomegranate is. You were SO solemn and he was SO ridiculous! I thought I should DIE. You really are the drollest person, Crawford Smith! I don't know what I shall do with you."

It was evident that her opinion of young Smith was not different from that of other young ladies of her age. Also that Crawford himself was not entirely unconscious of that opinion. At eighteen, to be set upon a pedestal and worshiped, to have one's feeblest joke hailed as a masterpiece of wit, is dangerous for the idol; the effort of sustaining the elevated position entails the risk of a fall. Crawford was but eighteen and a good fellow, but he had been worshiped a good deal. He was quite as sensible as other young chaps of his age, which statement means exactly that and no more.

"Well," he said, with a complacent grin, "we learned how to pronounce 'pomegranate' at any rate. You begin with a pup-pup-pup, as if you were calling a dog, and you finish with a grunt like a pig. I wish I had asked him for a persimmon; then he'd have made a noise like a cat."

Miss Keith, when she recovered from her spasm of merriment, declared her companion "perfectly killing."

"But we must hurry," she said. "We really must Crawford, you buy the things. I should think of that fruit man and laugh all the time, I know I should."

She remained by the door and the young gentleman strolled to the counter. He cast an amused glance about the store; its display of stock was, thanks to Mary-'Gusta's recent efforts at tidiness, not quite the conglomerate mass it had been when the partners were solely responsible, but the variety was still strikingly obvious.

"Humph!" observed Crawford; "I've forgotten what we came to buy, but I'm sure it is here, whatever it is. Some emporium, this! Introduce me to the proprietor, will you, Edna?"

Edna giggled.

"She isn't the proprietor," she said. "She is just the clerk, that's all. Her name is-I've forgotten your name, dear. What is it?"

"Mary Lathrop," replied Mary-'Gusta, shortly. She objected to being addressed as "dear" and she strongly objected to the patronizing tone in which it was uttered. Edna Keith was older than she, but not old enough to patronize.

"Oh, yes, so it is," said the young lady. "But that isn't what everyone calls you. They call you something else-something funny-Oh, I know! Mary-'Gusta, that's it. I knew it was funny. Mary-'Gusta, this is Mr. Smith. He wants to buy some things. And he's in a GREAT hurry."

"Charmed, Mary-'Gusta," said Mr. Smith. Mary-'Gusta did not appear charmed. She asked him what he wanted.

"Search ME," said the young gentleman, cheerfully. "There was a list, wasn't there, Edna? You have it, I think."

Edna produced the list, scrawled in pencil on the back of an envelope. Crawford looked it over.

"Sam's writing isn't exactly print," he observed, "but I can guess at it. Let's see-a pound of butter. Where's the butter department of this Bon Marche, Edna?"

Edna, after another convulsion, declared she didn't know.

"No doubt Miss-er-Mary Jane knows," went on her companion. "Why, yes, of course she does. Right there, behind the oilskin jacket. Remov

e jacket, open door-behold, the icebox and the butter. Neat, compact, and convenient. One pound only, Elizabeth Eliza. Thank you."

"Her name isn't Elizabeth Eliza," giggled Miss Keith. "Isn't he awful, Mary-'Gusta! You mustn't mind him."

"I don't," said Mary-'Gusta, promptly. "What else do you want?"

Crawford consulted the list. "The next item," he said, "appears to be a-er-certain kind of ham. I blush to mention it, but I must. It is deviled ham. Have you that kind of ham, Mary-'Gusta?"

Mary-'Gusta took the can of deviled ham from the shelf. Crawford shook his head.

"To think that one so young should be so familiar with ham of that kind!" he said. "She didn't speak its name, though. Suppose I had asked you what kind of ham you had, Miss-er-'Gusta how would you have got around it?"

Mary-'Gusta did not answer. She was very angry, but she was determined that her tormentor should not know it.

"A young lady of few words," commented Mr. Smith. "Next item appears to be six boxes of marshmallows. Where is the marshmallow department, Mary Jane?"

Mary-'Gusta hesitated. The tin boxes of marshmallows were on the shelf behind the counter under the candy case. But there was a fresh assortment in an unopened packing box in the back room, a box which had just come from the wholesale confectioner's in Boston. Her Uncle Zoeth had expressed a fear that those beneath the counter were rather stale.

Miss Keith fidgeted. "Oh, dear!" she exclaimed. "This is SO slow. I know Sam and the rest won't wait for us at the clam-man's much longer."

Her companion whistled. "Is the word 'hurry' in the South Harniss dictionary, Edna?" he inquired. "How about it, Mary Jane?"

Mary-'Gusta was determined not to hurry. This superior young man wished her to do so and that was reason sufficient for delay.

Young Smith sighed resignedly. "Edna," he said, "suppose we sit down. The word is NOT in the dictionary."

There was but one chair, except those behind the counters, in the store. Miss Keith took that with an exclamation of impatience. Crawford Smith, whistling a mournful dirge, sauntered to the end of the counter and sat down upon a nail keg.

Mary-'Gusta also uttered an exclamation. It is well to look before one leaps, also, occasionally, before one sits. That keg had, spread across its top, a sheet of the fresh and very sticky fly paper. Before she could have protested, even if she had wished to do so, the young gentleman's spotless white flannels and the fly paper came in contact, close and clinging contact.

Mary-'Gusta put a hand to her mouth. Crawford looked at her, caught the direction of her look, and looked in that direction himself. His whistle stopped in the middle of a note and his face immediately became a match for his socks and tie, a beautiful rich crimson, the chosen color of his University.

Miss Keith, from her seat by the door, could not see beyond the end of the counter. Consequently she was unaware of the mishap to the white flannels. But Mary-'Gusta saw and knew; also she could see that Mr. Smith knew.

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Edna, impatiently. "We are dreadfully late now. We'll never get there on time. Sam won't wait for us; I know he won't. Where are those marshmallows? Can't you please hurry, Mary-'Gusta?"

Mary-'Gusta's eyes were sparkling. Her manner was provokingly deliberate. She took a box of marshmallows from beneath the counter.

"There are some here," she said, "but I'm afraid they aren't very fresh. The fresh ones, those that have just come, are in a box in the back room. That box hasn't been opened yet. If you can wait I'll open it for you."

Young Smith said nothing. Miss Keith, however, spoke her mind.

"Of course we can't wait," she declared. "I'm sure these will do. They will do, won't they, Crawford?"

And still Crawford remained silent. Mary-'Gusta, who was enjoying this portion of the interview as much as she had disliked its beginning, offered a suggestion.

"If you will just come here and look at these," she said, with mischievous gravity, addressing the young gentleman on the nail keg, "perhaps you can tell whether they're fresh enough."

The young gentleman did not rise. His face retained its brilliant color and his lips moved, but his answer was not audible. At his age the dread of appearing ridiculous, especially in the presence of a youthful and charming female, is above all others hateful. And Edna Keith was not the only girl in the picnic party; there were others. She would be certain to tell them. Crawford Smith foresaw a horrible day, a day of disgrace and humiliation, one in which he was destined to furnish amusement without sharing the fun. And Sam Keith, who had remarked upon the splendor of his friend's attire, would gloat-not only here in South Harniss, but elsewhere-in Cambridge, for instance. An older man would have risen, laughed whether he felt like laughing or not-and have expressed his opinion of fly paper. Crawford was not yet a man; he was in the transition stage, a boy fondly hoping that other people might think him a man. So he sat still until it was too late to rise, and then wished he had risen in the first place.

"My goodness!" exclaimed the fidgety Miss Keith, "why don't you look at them, Crawford? What are you waiting for?"

Mary-'Gusta, the box of marshmallows in her hand, regarded the boy on the nail keg. His eyes met hers and in them was a look of such utter misery that the girl relented. Her feeling of satisfied resentment changed to one almost of pity. She had been made to feel ridiculous herself at various times in her short life and she remembered the sensation. Mary-'Gusta, as has been mentioned before in this history, was old for her years.

She considered a moment. Then she thrust the box beneath the counter.

"I guess I'd better not sell you those, anyway," she said with decision. "Uncle Zoeth said they weren't fresh. I'll open the case in the back room."

Edna stamped her foot.

"We can't wait for that," she declared. "We must go without them, I suppose. Oh, dear! And they depended on us to get them. It's so provoking. Now we can't have any toast at all and it would have been such fun."

Mary-'Gusta glanced once more at the occupant of the keg.

"I was thinking," she said, slowly, "that you needn't both wait unless you wanted to. Perhaps Miss Keith might go on and tell the others and-er-Mr. Smith could stay here until I opened the box. Then he could meet you at the boat."

Edna hesitated. "Shall I, Crawford?" she asked.

Her companion did not hesitate. "I think perhaps you'd better, Edna," he said. "I-I guess I won't be long."

Miss Keith hurried out. Mary-'Gusta turned her attention to the remaining visitor.

"You can get up now," she said. "Some of it will tear off, anyway, and if you hurry you will have time to run home and change your-your clothes."

Crawford was evidently much surprised, also his embarrassment was not lessened; but he rose.

"Then-then you knew?" he stammered.

"Of course I knew. I saw you sit down on it, didn't I? If I'd known what you were going to do I'd have told you to look out. But you did it so quick I couldn't. Now tear off as much as you can."

The young gentleman obeyed orders. "Does it show much?" he queried. "I can't see. Is there much left?"

Mary-'Gusta smiled. His contortions were as violent as they were vain. "There's enough," she said simply. "Here are the things you bought. Now go out of the back door and cut across the fields. It's the shortest way home."

Mr. Smith took his various parcels, including the six boxes of marshmallows which Mary-'Gusta produced from beneath the counter. "I thought you said these were stale," he observed, wonderingly.

"I said they weren't real fresh, but they're fresh enough for a toast. I said that so that the Keith girl wouldn't wait. I didn't think you wanted her to."

"You bet your life I didn't! So that's why you said you would have to open the other box? Just-just to help me out?"

"Yes. Now don't stop any longer. You'll have to run, you know. Go out the back way."

Crawford started for the door of the back room, but at that door he paused.

"Say," he said, feelingly, "this is mighty white of you, do you know it? And after the way I guyed you when I first came in! I guess I was rather fresh, wasn't I?"

"Yes, you were."

"Yes, yes, I guess I was. I thought you were just a country kid, you know, and I-say, by George, you WERE white. If I'd been you I'd have got square. You had the chance; 'twould have served me right for playing the smart Aleck. I beg your pardon. You're all RIGHT! And I'm awfully sorry I was such a chump."

It was a straightforward, honest apology and confession of fault. Mary-'Gusta was pleased, but she did not show it. He had referred to her as a kid and she did not like that.

"If you don't hurry-yes, and run like everything," she said, "you won't have time to get home and change and meet the others at the boat. And somebody else will see you, too. You'd better go."

The young man went without further delay. Mary-'Gusta watching from the back door saw him racing across the fields in the direction of the Keith cottage. When her uncles returned she said nothing of the occurrence. She considered it funny, but she knew Crawford Smith did not, and she was sure he would prefer to have the secret kept.

The following afternoon the partners of Hamilton and Company entertained a caller at the store. That evening Shadrach spoke of the call to Mary-'Gusta.

"That young Smith feller that's been visitin' the Keiths was in today," said the Captain. "Didn't want to buy nothin'; said he just happened in, that's all. Asked where you was, he did. I didn't know he knew you, Mary-'Gusta."

Mary-'Gusta, who was busy clearing the supper table, answered without looking round. "He and Edna Keith bought some things at the store yesterday," she said.

"Yes, so he said. He said tell you everything was all right and he had a fine time at the picnic. Seemed to cal'late you was a pretty bright girl. We knew that afore, of course, but it was nice of him to say so. He's leavin' on tomorrow mornin's train. Goin' way out West, he is, to Nevada; that's where he and his dad live. His ma's dead, so he told us. Must be tough to live so fur off from salt water: I couldn't stand it, I know that. Funny thing about that young feller, too; his face looked sort of familiar to me and Zoeth. Seemed as if he looked like somebody we knew, but of course we didn't know any of his folks; we don't know any Smiths from way off there."

The subject was dropped for the time, but two days later the expressman brought a package to the house. The package was addressed to Miss Mary Augusta Lathrop and contained a five-pound basket of expensive chocolates and bonbons. There was a note with it which read as follows:

Hope you'll like these. They are fresh, at least Huyler's people swear they are, but I don't believe they are as good as those marshmallows. And I KNOW they are not as fresh as a certain person was at a certain time. Please eat them and forget the other freshness.

C. S.

You were a perfect little brick not to tell.

Mary-'Gusta was obliged to tell then, but she made her uncles and Isaiah promise not to do so. She, with the able assistance of the other members of the household, ate the contents of the basket in due time. The basket itself was taken to the parlor, where it was given a place beside the other curiosities. As for the note, that disappeared. And yet, if one had investigated the contents of the small drawer of Mary-'Gusta's bureau, where she kept her most intimate treasures, the mystery of its disappearance might have been solved.

It was the only epistle of its kind the girl had yet received; and, after all, good-looking young college men are what they are. And Mary-'Gusta, in spite of her queerness, was feminine-and human.

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