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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 27484

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The school term ended on a Saturday morning in mid-December. Mary's trunk was packed and ready, and she and it reached the South Station long before train time. She was going home, home for the holidays, and if she had been going on a trip around the world she could not have been more delighted at the prospect. And her delight and anticipations were shared in South Harniss. Her uncles' letters for the past fortnight had contained little except joyful announcements of preparations for her coming.

We are counting the minutes [wrote Zoeth]. The first thing Shadrach does every morning is to scratch another day off the calendar. I never saw him so worked up and excited and I calculate I ain't much different myself. I try not to set my heart on things of this world more than I ought to, but it does seem as if I couldn't think of much else but our girl's coming back to us. I am not going to worry the way Shadrach does about your getting here safe and sound. The Lord's been mighty good to us and I am sure He will fetch you to our door all right. I am contented to trust you in His hands.

P.S. One or both of us will meet you at the depot.

Captain Shad's epistle was more worldly but not more coherent.

Be sure and take the train that comes right on through [he wrote]. Don't take the one that goes to Woods Hole. Zoeth is so fidgety and nervous for fear you will make a mistake that he keeps me on pins and needles. Isaiah ain't much better. He swept out the setting-room twice last week and if he don't roast the cat instead of the chicken he is calculating to kill, it will be a mercy. I am the only one aboard the ship that keeps his head and I tell them not to worry. Be sure you take that through train. And look out for them electric cars, if you come to the depot in one. Better settle on the one you are going to take and then take the one ahead of it so as to be sure and not be late. Your train leaves the dock at quarter-past four. The Woods Hole one is two minutes earlier. Look out and not take that. Zoeth is afraid you will make a mistake, but I laugh at him. Don't take the wrong train.

Mary laughed when she read these letters, but there was a choke in the laugh. In spite of the perils of travel by the electrics and the New Haven railroad, she reached South Harniss safe, sound, and reasonably on time. The first person she saw on the platform of the station was Captain Shadrach. He had been pacing that platform for at least forty minutes.

He spied her at the same time and came rushing to greet her, both hands outstretched.

"And here you be!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm.

Mary laughed happily.

"Yes, Uncle Shad, here I am," she said. "Are you glad to see me?"

Shadrach looked at her.

"JUMPIN'!" was the only answer he made, but it was fervent and sufficient.

They rode home together in the old buggy. As they reached the corner by the store Mary expected the vehicle to be brought to a halt at the curb, but it was not. The Captain chirruped to the horse and drove straight on.

"Why, Uncle Shad!" exclaimed the girl. "Aren't you going to stop?"

"Eh? Stop? What for?"

"Why, to see Uncle Zoeth, of course. He's at the store, isn't he?"

Shadrach shook his head.

"No, he ain't," he said. "He's to home."

Mary was amazed and a trifle alarmed. One partner of Hamilton and Company was there in the buggy with her. By all the rules of precedent and South Harniss business the other should have been at the store. She knew that her uncles had employed no clerk or assistant since she left.

"But-but is Uncle Zoeth sick?" she asked.

"Sick? No, no, course he ain't sick. If he didn't have no better sense than to get sick the day you come home I'd-I'd-I don't know's I wouldn't drown him. HE ain't sick-unless," he added, as an afterthought, "he's got Saint Vitus dance from hoppin' up and down to look out of the window, watchin' for us."

"But if he isn't sick, why isn't he at the store? Who is there?"

The Captain chuckled.

"Not a solitary soul," he declared. "That store's shut up tight and it's goin' to stay that way this whole blessed evenin'. Zoeth and me we talked it over. I didn't know but we'd better get Abel Snow's boy or that pesky Annabel or somebody to stay while we was havin' supper. You see, we was both sot on eatin' supper with you tonight, no matter store or not, and Isaiah, he was just as sot as we was. But all to once Zoeth had an idea. 'Shadrach,' he says, 'in Scriptur' times when people was real happy, same as we are now, they used to make a sacrifice to the Almighty to show how glad and grateful they was. Let's you and me make a sacrifice; let's sacrifice this evenin's trade-let's shut up the store on account of our girl's comin' home.' 'Good idea!' says I, so we did it."

Mary looked at him reproachfully.

"Oh, Uncle Shad," she said, "you shouldn't have done that. It was dear and sweet of you to think of it, but you shouldn't have done it. It didn't need any sacrifice to prove that you were glad to see me."

Shadrach winked over his shoulder.

"Don't let that sacrifice worry you any," he observed. "The sacrifice is mainly in Zoeth's eye. Fur's I'm concerned-well, Jabez Hedges told me yesterday that Rastus Young told him he cal'lated he'd have to be droppin' in at the store some of these nights to buy some rubber boots and new ileskins. We sold him the ones he's got four years ago and he ain't paid for 'em yet. No, no, Mary-'Gusta, don't you worry about that sacrifice. I can sacrifice Rastus Young's trade eight days in the week and make money by it. Course I didn't tell Zoeth that; have to humor these pious folks much as we can, you know."

Mary smiled, but she shook her head. "It's no use your talking to me in that way, Uncle Shad," she said. "I know you too well. And right in the Christmas season, too!"

Zoeth's welcome was as hearty, if not as exuberant, as Captain Shad's. He met her at the door and after the first hug and kiss held her off at arm's length and looked her over.

"My! my! my!" he exclaimed. "And this is our little Mary-'Gusta come back again! It don't seem as if it could be, somehow."

"But it is, Uncle Zoeth," declared Mary, laughing. "And ISN'T it good to be here! Well, Isaiah," turning to Mr. Chase, who, aproned and shirtsleeved as usual, had been standing grinning in the background, "haven't you anything to say to me?"

Isaiah had something to say and he said it.

"Glad to see you," he announced. "Feelin' pretty smart? Got a new hat, ain't you? Supper's ready."

During the meal Mary was kept busy answering questions concerning school and her life at Mrs. Wyeth's. In her letters she had endeavored to tell every possible item of news which might be interesting to her uncles, but now these items were one by one recalled, reviewed, and discussed.

"'Twas kind of funny, that young Smith feller's turnin' up for dinner that time," observed Mr. Hamilton. "Cal'late you was some surprised to see him, wan't you?"

Mary smiled. "Why, yes," she said, "but I think he was more surprised to see me, Uncle Zoeth."

Captain Shad laughed heartily. "Shouldn't wonder," he admitted. "Didn't bring any fly paper along with him, did he? No? Well, that was an oversight. Maybe he thought fly time was past and gone. He seemed to be a real nice kind of young feller when he was down here that summer. He's older now; does he seem that way yet?"

"Why, yes, I think so. I only saw him for a little while."

Isaiah seemed to think it time for him to put in a question.

"Good lookin' as ever, I cal'late, ain't he?" he observed.

Mary was much amused. "Why, I suppose he is," she answered. "But why in the world are you interested in his good looks, Isaiah?"

Mr. Chase did his best to assume an expression of deep cunning. He winked at his employers.

"Oh, I ain't interested-not 'special," he declared, "but I didn't know but SOME folks might be. Ho, ho!"

He roared at his own pleasantry. Captain Shadrach, however, did not laugh.

"Some folks?" he repeated, tartly. "What are you talkin' about? What folks?"

"Oh, I ain't sayin' what folks. I'm just sayin' SOME folks. Ho, ho! You know what I mean, don't you, Mary-'Gusta?"

Before Mary could reply the Captain cut in again.

"No, she don't know what you mean, neither," he declared, with emphasis. "That's enough of that now, Isaiah. Don't be any bigger fool than you can help."

The self-satisfied grin faded from Isaiah's face and was succeeded by a look of surprised and righteous indignation.

"Wha-what's that?" he stammered. "What's that you're callin' me?"

"I ain't callin' you nothin'. I'm givin' you some free advice, that's all. Well, Mary-'Gusta, I cal'late, if you've had supper enough, you and me and Zoeth will go into the settin'-room, where we can all talk and I can smoke. I can always talk better under a full head of steam. Come on, Zoeth, Isaiah wants to be clearin' the table."

But Mr. Chase's thoughts were not concerned with table clearing just then. He stepped between Captain Shadrach and the door leading to the sitting-room.

"Cap'n Shad Gould," he sputtered, "you-you said somethin' about a fool. Who's a fool? That's what I want to know-who's a fool?"

The Captain grunted.

"Give it up," he observed. "I never was any hand at riddles. Come, come, Isaiah! Get out of the channel and let us through."

"You hold on, Cap'n Shad! You answer me afore you leave this room. Who's a fool? I want to know who's a fool."

Captain Shad grinned.

"Well, go up to the post-office and ask some of the gang there," he suggested. "Tell 'em you'll give 'em three guesses. There, there!" he added, good-naturedly, pushing the irate Mr. Chase out of the "channel." "Don't block the fairway any longer. It's all right, Isaiah. You and me have been shipmates too long to fight now. You riled me up a little, that's all. Come on, folks."

Two hours later, after Mary had answered the last questions even Captain Shad could think of, had received answers to all her own, and had gone to her room for the night, Mr. Hamilton turned to his partner and observed mildly:

"Shadrach, what made you so dreadful peppery to Isaiah this evenin'? I declare, I thought you was goin' to take his head off."

The Captain grunted. "I will take it off some time," he declared, "if he don't keep the lower end of it shut when he'd ought to. You heard what he said, didn't you?"

"Yes, I heard. That about the Smith boy's good looks, you mean?"

"Sartin. And about Mary-'Gusta's noticin' how good-lookin' he was. Rubbish!"

"Yes-yes, I know, but Isaiah was only jokin'."

"Jokin'! Well, he may LOOK like a comic almanac, but he needn't try to joke like one while that girl of ours is around. Puttin' notions about fellers and good looks and keepin' company into her head! You might expect such stuff from them fool drummers that come to the store, but an old leather-skinned image like Isaiah Chase ought to have more sense. We don't want such notions put in her head, do we?"

Zoeth rubbed his chin. He did not speak and his silence seemed to irritate his partner.

"Well, do we?" repeated the latter, sharply.

Zoeth sighed. "No, Shadrach," he admitted. "I guess likely we don't, but-"

"But what?"

"Well, we've got to realize that those kind of notions come-come sort of natural to young folks Mary-'Gusta's age."

"Rubbish! I don't believe that girl's got a single one of 'em in her mind."

"Maybe not, but they'll be there some day. Ah, well," he added, "we mustn't be selfish, you and me, Shadrach. It'll be dreadful hard to give her up to somebody else, but if that somebody is a good man, kind and straight and honest, why, I for one will try not to complain. But, Oh, Shadrach! Suppose he should turn out to be the other thing. Suppose SHE makes the mistake that I-"

His friend interrupted.

"Shh! shh!" he broke in, quickly. "Don't talk so, Zoeth. Come on to bed," he added, rising from his chair. "This very evenin' I was callin' Isaiah names for talkin' about 'fellers' and such, and here you and I have been sittin' talkin' nothin' else. If you hear me say 'fool' in my sleep tonight just understand I'm talkin' to myself, that's all. Come on aloft, Zoeth, and turn in."

The following morning Mary astonished her uncles by announcing that as soon as she had helped Isaiah with the breakfast dishes and the bed making she was going up to the store.

"What for?" demanded Captain Shad. "Course we'll be mighty glad to have your company, but Zoeth and me presumed likely you'd be for goin' round callin' on some of the other girls today."

"Well, I'm not. If they want to see me they can call on me here. I'm going up to the store with you and Uncle Zoeth. I want to help sell those Christmas goods of ours."

The partners looked at each other. Even Zoeth was moved to protest.

"Now, Mary-'Gusta," he said, "it ain't likely that your Uncle Shadrach and I are goin' to let you sell goods in that store. We won't hear of it, will we, Shadrach?"

"Not by a thunderin' sight!" declared Shadrach, vehemently. "The idea!"

"Why not? I've sold a good many there."

"I don't care if you have. You shan't sell any more. 'Twas all right when you was just a-a girl, a South Harnisser like the rest of us, but now that you're a Boston young lady, up to a fin-er-what-d'ye-call-it -er-endin' school-"

"Finishin' school, Shadrach," corrected Mr. Hamilton.

"Well, whatever 'tis; I know 'twould be the end of ME if I had to live up to the style of it. 'Anyhow, now that you're there, Mary-'Gusta, a young lady, same as I said, we ain't-"

But Mary interrupted. "Hush, Uncle Shad," she commanded. "Hush, th

is minute! You're talking nonsense, I AM a South Harniss girl and I'm NOT a Boston young lady. My chief reasons for being so very happy at the thought of coming home here for my Christmas vacation were, first, that I should see you and Uncle Zoeth and Isaiah and the house and the horse and the cat and the hens, and, next, that I could help you with the Christmas trade at the store. I know perfectly well you need me. I'm certain you have been absolutely lost without me. Now, really and truly, haven't you?"

"Not a mite," declared the Captain, stoutly, spoiling the effect of the denial, however, by adding, although his partner had not spoken: "Shut up, Zoeth! We ain't, neither."

Mary laughed. "Uncle Shad," she said, "I don't believe you. At any rate, I'm going up there this minute to see for myself. Come along!"

She made no comment on what she saw at the store, but for the remainder of the forenoon she was very busy. In spite of the partners' protests, in fact paying no more attention to those perturbed men of business than if they were flies to be brushed aside when bothersome, she went ahead, arranging, rearranging, dusting, writing price tickets, lettering placards, doing all sorts of things, and waiting on customers in the intervals. At noon, when she and her Uncle Zoeth left for home and dinner, she announced herself in a measure satisfied. "Of course there is a great deal to do yet," she said, "but the stock looks a little more as if it were meant to sell and less as if it were heaped up ready to be carted off and buried."

That afternoon the store of Hamilton and Company was visited by a goodly number of South Harniss residents. That evening there were more. The news that Mary-'Gusta Lathrop was at home and was "tendin' store" for her uncles spread and was much discussed. The majority of those who came did so not because they contemplated purchasing extensively, but because they wished to see what effect the fashionable finishing school had had upon the girl. The general opinion seemed to be that it "hadn't changed her a mite." This result, however, was considered a desirable one by the majority, but was by some criticized. Among the critics was Mrs. Rebecca Mullet, whose daughter Irene also was away at school undergoing the finishing process.

"Well!" declared Mrs. Mullet, with decision, as she and her husband emerged from the store together. "Well! If THAT'S a sample of what the school she goes to does for them that spend their money on it, I'm mighty glad we didn't send our Rena there, ain't you, Christopher?"

Mr. Chris Mullet, who had received that very week a bill for his daughter's "extras," uttered a fervent assent.

"You bet you!" he said. "It costs enough where Rena is, without sendin' her to no more expensive place."

This was not exactly the reply his wife had expected.

"Umph!" she grunted, impatiently. "I do wish you could get along for two minutes without puttin' on poor mouth. I suppose likely you tell everybody that you can't afford a new overcoat account of Rena's goin' away to school. You'd ought to be prouder of your daughter than you are of an overcoat, I should think."

Mr. Mullet muttered something to the effect that he was dum sure he was not proud of his present overcoat. His wife ignored the complaint.

"And you'll be proud of Irene when she comes home," she declared. "She won't be like that Mary-'Gusta, standin' up behind the counter and sellin' goods."

"Why, now, Becky, what's the matter with her doin' that? She always used to sell goods, and behind that very counter, too. And she certainly can SELL 'em!" with a reminiscent chuckle.

Mrs. Mullet glared at him. "Yes," she drawled, with sarcasm, "so she can-to some folks. Look at you, with all that Christmas junk under your arm! You didn't need to buy that stuff any more'n you needed to fly. What did you buy it for? Tell me that."

Chris shook his head. "Blessed if I know," he admitted. "I hadn't any idea of buyin' it, but she and me got to talkin', and she kept showin' the things to me, and I kept lookin' at 'em and-"

"Yes, and kept lookin' at her, too! Don't talk to ME! There's no fool like an old fool-and an old man fool is the worst of all."

Her husband, usually meek and long-suffering under wifely discipline, evinced unwonted spirit.

"Well, I tell you this, Becky," he said. "Fur's I can see, Mary-'Gusta's all right. She's as pretty as a picture, to begin with; she's got money of her own to spend; and she's been away among folks that have got a lot more. All them things together are enough to spoil 'most any girl, but they haven't spoiled her. She's come home here not a mite stuck-up, not flirty nor silly nor top-lofty, but just as sensible and capable and common-folksy as ever she was, and that's sayin' somethin'. If our Rena turns out to be the girl Mary-'Gusta Lathrop is I WILL be proud of her, and don't you forget it!"

Which terminated conversation in the Mullet family for that evening.

But if the few, like Mrs. Mullet, were inclined to criticize, the many, like her husband, united in declaring Mary to be "all right." And her rearranging and displaying of the Christmas goods helped her and her uncles to dispose of them. In fact, for the three days before Christmas it became necessary to call in the services of Annabel as assistant saleslady. The store was crowded, particularly in the evenings, and Zoeth and Captain Shad experienced for the first time in months the sensation of being the heads of a prosperous business.

"Looks good to see so many young folks in here, don't it, Zoeth?" observed the Captain. "And not only girls, but fellers, too. Don't know when I've seen so many young fellers in here. Who's that young squirt Mary-'Gusta's waitin' on now? The one with the whittled-in back to his overcoat. Say, Solomon in all his glory wasn't arrayed like one of him! Must be some city feller, eh? Nobody I know."

Zoeth looked at his niece and her customer.

"Humph!" he said. "Guess you ain't rubbed your glasses lately, Shadrach. That's Dan Higgins."

Mr. Higgins it was, home for a few days' relaxation from the fatigues of coffin selling, and garbed as usual in city clothes the splendor of which, as Captain Shad said afterwards, "would have given a blind man eyestrain." Daniel's arms were filled with purchases and he and Mary were standing beside the table where the toys and games were displayed. Mary was gazing at the toys; Mr. Higgins was-not.

The partners regarded the pair for a moment. Shadrach frowned.

"Humph!" he grunted.

"Daniel's tryin' to find somethin' his little brother'll like," explained Zoeth.

"Yes," observed the Captain, dryly. "Well, he looks as if he'd found somethin' HE liked pretty well. Here, Mary-'Gusta, I'll finish waitin' on Dan. You just see what Mrs. Nickerson wants, will you, please?"

Christmas Eve ended the rush of business for Hamilton and Company. The following week, the last of Mary's vacation, was certain to be dull enough. "Nothin' to do but change presents for folks," prophesied Captain Shad. "Give them somethin' they want and take back somethin' we don't want. That kind of trade is like shovelin' fog up hill, more exercise than profit."

Christmas was a happy day at the white house by the shore, a day of surprises. To begin with, there were the presents which were beside the plates at breakfast. Mary had brought gifts for all, Captain Shadrach, Zoeth, and Isaiah. There was nothing expensive, of course, but each had been chosen to fit the taste and liking of the recipient and there was no doubt that each choice was a success. Isaiah proudly displayed a jacknife which was a small toolchest, having four blades, a corkscrew, a screwdriver, a chisel, a button-hook and goodness knows what else besides.

"Look at that!" crowed Isaiah, exhibiting the knife, bristling like a porcupine, on his open palm. "Look at it! By time, there ain't nothin' I can't do with that knife! Every time I look at it I find somethin' new. Now, I wonder what that is," pointing to a particularly large and ferocious-looking implement which projected from the steel tangle. "I cal'late I've sized up about everything else, but I can't seem to make out what that's for. What do you cal'late 'tis, Cap'n Shad?"

Shadrach looked.

"Why, that's simple," he said, gravely. "That's a crust crowbar."

"A what?"

"A crust crowbar. For openin' one of them cast-iron pies same as you made for us last week. You drill a hole in the crust nigh the edge of the plate and then put that thing in and pry the upper deck loose. Good idea, Isaiah! I-"

"Aw, go to grass!" interrupted the indignant Mr. Chase. "I notice you always eat enough of my pies, decks-yes, and hull and riggin', too."

Then there was THE great surprise, that which the partners had prepared for their idolized niece. Mary found beside her plate a small, oblong package, wrapped in tissue paper and labeled, "To Mary-'Gusta, from Uncle Shadrach and Uncle Zoeth, with a Merry Christmas." Inside the paper was a pasteboard box, inside that a leather case, and inside THAT a handsome gold watch and chain. Then there was much excited exclaiming and delighted thanks on Mary's part, and explanations and broad grins on that of the givers.

"But you shouldn't have done it! Of course you shouldn't!" protested Mary. "It's perfectly lovely and I wanted a watch more than anything; but I KNOW this must have cost a great deal."

"Never, neither," protested the Captain. "We got it wholesale. Edgar Emery's nephew is in the business up to Providence and he picked it out for us. Didn't begin to cost what we cal'lated 'twould, did it, Zoeth? When you buy things wholesale that way you can 'most always cal'late to get 'em lower than you cal'late to."

Mary smiled at this somewhat involved statement, but she shook her head.

"I'm sure it cost a great deal more than you should have spent," she said.

"But you like it, don't you?" queried Zoeth, hopefully.

"Like it! Oh, Uncle Zoeth, don't you KNOW I like it! Who could help liking such a beautiful thing?"

"How's it show up alongside the watches the other girls have up to that Boston school?" asked Shadrach, with ill-concealed anxiety. "We wouldn't want our girl's watch to be any cheaper'n theirs, you know."

The answer was enthusiastic enough to satisfy even the Captain and Mr. Hamilton.

"I'm sure there isn't another girl in the school whose watch means to her what this will mean to me," declared Mary. "I shall keep it and love it all my life."

The partners heaved a sigh of relief. Whether or not the watch was fine enough for their Mary-'Gusta had been a source of worriment and much discussion. And then Isaiah, with his customary knack of saying the wrong thing, tossed a brickbat into the puddle of general satisfaction.

"That's so," he said; "that's so, Mary-'Gusta. You can keep it all your life, and when you get to be an old woman and married and have grandchildren then you can give it to them."

Captain Shadrach, who had taken up his napkin preparatory to tucking it under his chin, turned in his chair and glared at the unconscious steward.

"Well, by the jumpin' fire!" he exclaimed, with conviction. "The feller is sartinly possessed. He's lovesick, that's what's the matter with him. All he can talk about is somebody's gettin' married. Are YOU cal'latin' to get married, Isaiah?"

"Me? What kind of fool talk is that?"

"Who's the lucky woman?"

"There ain't no lucky woman. Don't talk so ridic'lous! All I said was that when Mary-'Gusta was old and married and had-"

"There you go again! Married and children! Say, did it ever run acrost your mind that you was a little mite previous?"

"I never said children. What I said was when she was old and had grandchildren."

"Grandchildren! Well, that's a dum sight MORE previous. Let's have breakfast, all hands, for the land sakes! Isaiah'll have us cruisin' along with the third and fourth generation in a few minutes. I'M satisfied with this one!"

That evening, at bedtime, as the partners separated in the upper hall to go to their respective rooms, Zoeth said:

"Shadrach, this has been a mighty nice Christmas for us all, ain't it?"

Captain Shad nodded emphatically. "You bet!" he declared. "Don't seem to me I ever remember a nicer one."

"Nor I, neither. I-I wonder-"

"Well, heave ahead. What are you waitin' for? What do you wonder?"

"I was just wonderin' if 'twas right for us to be so happy."

"Right?"

"Yes. Have we been-well, good enough this past year to deserve happiness like this?"

Shadrach grinned.

"I ain't puttin' in any testimony on my own hook," he said, dryly, "but I don't seem to remember your bein' desperately wicked, Zoeth. Course you MAY have got drunk and disorderly that time when Mary-'Gusta and I left you and went to Boston, but I kind of doubt it."

"Hush, hush, Shadrach! Don't joke about serious things. What I mean is have you and I walked the Lord's way as straight as we'd ought to? We've tried-that is, seems 's if we had-but I don't know. Anyhow, all this afternoon I've had a funny feelin' that you and me and Mary-'Gusta was-well was as if the tide had been comin' in for us all these years since she's been livin' with us, and as if now 'twould begin to go out again."

The Captain laughed. "And that's what you call a FUNNY feelin'!" he exclaimed. "Zoeth, I've got a funny feelin', too, but I know what's the reason for it-the reason is turkey and plum puddin' and mince pie and the land knows what. When a couple of old hulks like you and me h'ist in a cargo of that kind it's no wonder we have feelin's. Good night, shipmate."

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