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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 20779

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The day after New Year's Mary went back to Boston and to school. The long winter term-the term which Madeline Talbott, whose father was a judge, called "the extreme penalty"-began. Boston's famous east winds, so welcome in summer and so raw and penetrating in winter, brought their usual allowance of snow and sleet, and the walks from Pinckney Street to the school and back were not always pleasant. Mrs. Wyeth had a slight attack of tonsillitis and Miss Pease a bronchial cold, but they united in declaring these afflictions due entirely to their own imprudence and not in the least to the climate, which, being like themselves, thoroughly Bostonian, was expected to maintain a proper degree of chill.

Mary, fortunately, escaped colds and illness. The walks in all sorts of weather did her good and her rosy cheeks and clear eyes were competent witnesses to her state of health. She was getting on well with her studies, and the Misses Cabot, not too easy to please, were apparently pleased with her. At home-for she had come to consider Mrs. Wyeth's comfortable house a home, although not of course to be compared with the real home at South Harniss-at Mrs. Wyeth's she was more of a favorite than ever, not only with the mistress of the house, but with Miss Pease, who was considered eccentric and whose liking was reported hard to win. The two ladies had many talks concerning the girl.

"She is remarkable," declared Miss Pease on one occasion. "Considering her lack of early advantages, I consider her ease of manner and self-possession remarkable. She is a prodigy."

Mrs. Wyeth sniffed. She enjoyed hearing Mary praised, but she objected to her friend's choice of words.

"For mercy sake, Letitia," she said, "don't call her that. The word 'prodigy' always reminds me of the Crummles infant, the one with the green parasol and the white-er-lingerie, in 'Nicholas Nickleby.'"

Miss Pease smiled with the superiority of the corrected who is about to correct.

"I don't see why that should bring the individual you mention to mind," she said. "If I remember correctly-and I was brought up on Dickens-she was a 'phenomenon,' not a prodigy. However, it makes no material difference what you and I call Mary Lathrop, the fact remains that she is an exceptionally well-behaved, good-mannered, polite-"

"Sweet, healthy girl," interrupted Mrs. Wyeth, finishing the sentence. "I know that as well as you do, Letitia Pease. And you know I know it. Now, what have you in your mind concerning Mary? I know there is something, because you have been hinting at it for more than a week. What is it?"

Miss Pease looked wise.

"Oh, I have a plan," she said. "I can't tell even you, Emily, just what it is as yet. You see, it isn't really a plan, but only an idea so far. She doesn't know it herself, of course."

"Hum! Is it a pleasant plan-or idea, whichever you call it? That is, will she think it pleasant when she learns what it is?"

"I certainly hope so."

"Look here, Letitia," with sudden suspicion, "you aren't planning some ridiculous sentimental nonsense for that child, are you? You're not trying to make a match for her, I hope?"

"Match? What are you talking about? If you mean am I trying to get her married to some MAN," with a scornful emphasis on the word, "I most certainly am not.

"Humph! Well, if she ever is married, I presume it will be to a man, or an imitation of one. All right, Letitia. I am glad your great idea isn't that, whatever it is."

"It is not. You know my opinion of marriage, Emily Wyeth. And, so far as matchmaking is concerned, I should say you were a more likely subject for suspicion. That young relative of yours, Sam Keith, appears to be coming here a great deal of late. He MAY come solely to see you, but I doubt it."

Mrs. Wyeth smiled grimly.

"Samuel has been rather prevalent recently," she admitted, "but don't let that trouble you, Letitia. I have had my eye on the young man. Samuel is as susceptible to pretty girls as children are to the measles. And his attacks remind me of the measles as much as anything, sudden outbreak, high fever and delirium, then a general cooling off and a rapid recovery. This seizure isn't alarming and there is absolutely no danger of contagion. Mary doesn't take him seriously at all."

"And how about that other young man?-Smith, I think his name is. He has called here twice since Christmas."

Mrs. Wyeth seemed to be losing patience.

"Well, what of it?" she demanded.

"Why, nothing that I know of, except, perhaps-"

"There is no perhaps at all. The Smith boy appears to be a very nice young fellow, and remarkably sensible for a young person in this hoity-toity age. From what I can learn, his people, although they do live out West-down in a mine or up on a branch or a ranch or something-are respectable. Why shouldn't he call to see Mary occasionally, and why shouldn't she see him? Goodness gracious! What sort of a world would this be if young people didn't see each other? Don't tell me that you never had any young male acquaintances when you were a girl, Letitia, because I shan't believe you."

Miss Pease straightened in her chair.

"It is not likely that I shall make any such preposterous statement," she snapped.

So the "young male acquaintance" called occasionally-not too often-Mrs. Wyeth saw to that; probably not so often as he would have liked; but he did call and the acquaintanceship developed into friendship. That it might develop into something more than friendship no one, except possibly the sentimental Miss Pease, seemed to suspect. Certainly Mary did not, and at this time it is doubtful if Crawford did, either. He liked Mary Lathrop. She was a remarkably pretty girl but, unlike other pretty girls he had known-and as good-looking college football stars are privileged beyond the common herd, he had known at least several-she did not flirt with him, nor look admiringly up into his eyes, nor pronounce his jokes "killingly funny," nor flatter him in any way. If the jokes WERE funny she laughed a healthy, genuine laugh, but if, as sometimes happened, they were rather feeble, she was quite likely to tell him so. She did not always agree with his views, having views of her own on most subjects, and if he asked her opinion the answer he received was always honest, if not precisely what he expected or hoped.

"By George! You're frank, at any rate," he observed, rather ruefully, after asking her opinion as to a point of conduct and receiving it forthwith.

"Didn't you want me to be?" asked Mary. "You asked me what I thought you should have done and I told you."

"Yes, you did. You certainly told me."

"Well, didn't you want me to tell you?"

"I don't know that I wanted you to tell me just that."

"But you asked me what I thought, and that is exactly what I think. Don't YOU think it is what you should have done?"

Crawford hesitated; then he laughed. "Why yes, confound it, I do," he admitted. "But I hoped you would tell me that what I did do was right."

"Whether I thought so or not?"

"Why-well-er-yes. Honestly now, didn't you know I wanted you to say the other thing?"

It was Mary's turn to hesitate; then she, too, laughed.

"Why, yes, I suppose-" she began; and finished with, "Yes, I did."

"Then why didn't you say it? Most girls would."

"Perhaps that is why. I judge that most girls of your acquaintance say just about what you want them to. Don't you think it is good for you to be told the truth occasionally?"

It was good for him, of course, and, incidentally, it had the fascination of novelty. Here was a girl full of fun, ready to take a joke as well as give one, neither flattering nor expecting flattery, a country girl who had kept store, yet speaking of that phase of her life quite as freely as she did of the fashionable Misses Cabot's school, not at all ashamed to say she could not afford this or that, simple and unaffected but self-respecting and proud; a girl who was at all times herself and retained her poise and common sense even in the presence of handsome young demigod who had made two touchdowns against Yale.

It was extremely good for Crawford Smith to know such a girl. She helped him to keep his feet on the ground and his head from swelling. Not that there was much danger of the latter happening, for the head was a pretty good one, but Mary Lathrop's common sense was a stimulating-and fascinating-reenforcement to his own. As he had said on the Sunday afternoon of their first meeting in Boston, it was a relief to have someone to talk to who understood and appreciated a fellow's serious thoughts as well as the frivolous ones. His approaching graduation from Harvard and the work which he would begin at the Medical School in the fall were very much in his mind just now. He told Mary his plans and she and he discussed them. She had plans of her own, principally concerning what she meant to do to make life easier for her uncles when her school days were over, and these also were discussed.

"But," he said, "that's really nonsense, after all, isn't it?"

"What?"

"Why, the idea of your keeping store again. You'll never do that."

"Indeed I shall! Why not?"

"Why, because-"

"Because what?"

"Because-well, because I don't think you will, that's all. Girls like you don't have to keep a country store, you know-at least, not for long."

The remark was intended to please; it might have pleased some girls, but it did not please this one. Mary's dignity was offended. Anything approaching a slur upon her beloved uncles, or their place of business, or South Harniss, or the Cape Cod people, she resented with all her might. Her eyes snapped.

"I do not HAVE to keep store at any time," she said crisply, "in the country or elsewhere. I do it because I wish to and I shall continue to do it as long as I choose. If my friends do not understand that fact and appreciate my reasons, they are not my friends, that is all."

Crawford threw up both hands. "Whew!" he exclaimed. "Don't shoot; I'll come down! Great Scott! If you take a fellow's head off like that when he pays you a compliment what would you do if he dared to criticize?"

"Was that remark of yours intended as a compliment?"

"Not exactly; more as a statement of fact. I meant-I meant-Oh, come now, Mary! You know perfectly well what I mean

t. Own up."

Mary tried hard to be solemn and severe, but the twinkle in his eye was infectious and in spite of her effort her lips twitched.

"Own up, now," persisted Crawford. "You know what I meant. Now, don't you?"

"Well-well, I suppose I do. But I think the remark was a very silly one. That is the way Sam Keith talks."

"Eh? Oh, does he!"

"Yes. Or he would if I would let him. And he does it much better than you do."

"Well, I like that!"

"I don't. That is why I don't want you to do it. I expect you to be more sensible. And, besides, I won't have you or anyone making fun of my uncles' store."

"Making fun of it! I should say not! I have a vivid and most respectful memory of it, as you ought to know. By the way, you told me your uncles had sent you their photographs. May I see them?"

Mary brought the photographs from her room. They had been taken by the photographer at Ostable in compliance with what amounted to an order on her part, and the results showed two elderly martyrs dressed in respectable but uncomfortable Sunday clothes and apparently awaiting execution. On the back of one mournful exhibit was written, "Mary Augusta from Uncle Shadrach," and on the other, "Uncle Zoeth to Mary Augusta, with much love."

"Now, don't laugh," commanded Mary, as she handed the photographs to Crawford. "I know they are funny, but if you laugh I'll never forgive you. The poor dears had them taken expressly to please me, and I am perfectly sure either would have preferred having a tooth out. They ARE the best men in the world and I am more certain of it every day."

Crawford did not laugh at the photographs. He was a young gentleman of considerable discretion and he did not smile, not even at Captain Shad's hands, the left with fingers separated and clutching a knee as if to keep it from shaking, the right laid woodenly upon a gorgeously bound parlor-table copy of "Lucille." Instead of laughing he praised the originals of the pictures, talked reminiscently of his own visit in South Harniss, and finally produced from his pocketbook a small photographic print, which he laid upon the table beside the others.

"I brought that to show you," he said. "You were asking about my father, you know, and I told you I hadn't a respectable photograph of him. That was true; I haven't. Dad has another eccentricity besides his dislike of the East and Eastern ways of living; he has a perfect horror of having his photograph taken. Don't ask me why, because I can't tell you. It isn't because he is ugly; he's a mighty good-looking man for his age, if I do say it. But he has a prejudice against photographs of himself and won't even permit me to take a snapshot if he can prevent it. Says people who are always having their pictures taken are vain, conceited idiots, and so on. However, I catch him unawares occasionally, and this is a snap I took last summer. He and I were on a fishing trip up in the mountains. We're great pals, Dad and I-more than most fathers and sons, I imagine."

Mary took the photograph and studied it with interest. Mr. Smith, senior, was a big man, broad-shouldered and heavy, with a full gray beard and mustache. He wore a broad-brimmed hat, which shaded his forehead somewhat, but his eyes and the shape of his nose were like his son's.

Mary looked at the photograph and Crawford looked at her.

"Well, what do you think of him?" asked the young man after an interval.

"Think?" repeated Mary absently, still staring at the photograph. "Why, I-I don't know what you mean."

"I mean what is your opinion of my respected dad? You must have one by this time. You generally have one on most subjects and you've been looking at that picture for at least five minutes."

"Have I? I beg your pardon; I didn't realize. The picture interested me. I have never seen your father, have I? No, of course I haven't. But it almost seems as if I had. Perhaps I have seen someone who looks like him."

"Shouldn't wonder. Myself, for instance."

"Of course. That was stupid of me, wasn't it? He looks like an interesting man, one who has had experiences."

"He has. Dad doesn't talk about himself much, even to me, but he had some hard rubs before he reached the smooth places. Had to fight his way, I guess."

"He looks as if he had. But he got his way in the end, I should imagine. He doesn't look like one who gives up easily."

"He isn't. Pretty stubborn sometimes, Dad is, but a brick to me, just the same."

"Was your mother an Eastern woman?"

"No. She was a Westerner, from California. Dad was married twice. His first wife came from New England somewhere, I believe. I didn't know there had been another wife until I was nearly fifteen years old, and then I found it out entirely by accident. She was buried in another town, you see. I saw her name first on the gravestone and it made an impression on me because it was so odd and old-fashioned-'Patience, wife of Edwin Smith.' I only mention this to show you how little Dad talks about himself, but it was odd I should find it out that way, wasn't it? But there! I don't suppose you're interested in the Smith genealogy. I apologize. I never think of discussing my family affairs with anyone but you, not even Sam. But you-well, somehow I seem to tell you everything. I wonder why?"

"Perhaps because I ask too many questions."

"No, it isn't that. It is because you act as if you really cared to have me talk about my own affairs. I never met a girl before that did. Now, I want to ask you about that club business. There's going to be the deuce and all to pay in that if I'm not careful. Have you thought it over? What would you do if you were I?"

The matter in question was a somewhat delicate and complicated one, dealing with the admission or rejection of a certain fellow to one of the Harvard societies. There was a strong influence working to get him in and, on the other hand, there were some very good objections to his admission. Crawford, president of the club and one of its most influential members, was undecided what to do. He had explained the case to Mary upon the occasion of his most recent visit to the Pinckney Street house, and had asked her advice. She had taken time for consideration, of course-she was the old Mary-'Gusta still in that-and now the advice was ready.

"It seems to me," she said, "that I should try to settle it like this."

She explained her plan. Crawford listened, at first dubiously and then with steadily growing enthusiasm.

"By George!" he exclaimed, when she had finished. "That would do it, I honestly believe. How in the world did you ever think of that scheme? Say, you really are a wonder at managing. You could manage a big business and make it go, I'm sure. How do you do it? Where do you get your ideas?"

Mary laughed. His praise pleased her.

"I don't know," she answered. "I just think them out, I guess. I do like to manage things for people. Sometimes I do it more than I should, perhaps. Poor Isaiah Chase, at home in South Harniss, says I boss him to death. And my uncles say I manage them, too-but they seem to like it," she added.

"I don't wonder they do. I like it, myself. Will you help manage my affairs between now and Commencement? There'll be a whole lot to manage, between the club and the dance and all the rest of it. And then when you go to Commencement you can see for yourself how they work out."

"Go to Commencement? Am I going to Commencement?"

"Of course you are! You're going with me, I hope. I thought that was understood. It's a long way off yet, but for goodness' sake don't say you won't come. I've been counting on it."

Mary's pleasure showed in her face. All she said, however, was:

"Thank you very much. I shall be very glad to come."

But Commencement was, as Crawford said, still a good way off and in the meantime there were weeks of study. The weeks passed, some of them, and then came the Easter vacation. Mary spent the vacation in South Harniss, of course, and as there was no Christmas rush to make her feel that she was needed at the store, she rested and drove and visited and had a thoroughly happy and profitable holiday. The happiness and profit were shared by her uncles, it is unnecessary to state. When she questioned them concerning business and the outlook for the coming summer, they seemed optimistic and cheerful.

"But Isaiah says there are two new stores to be opened in the village this spring," said Mary. "Don't you think they may hurt your trade a little?"

Captain Shadrach dismissed the idea and his prospective competitors with a condescending wave of the hand. "Not a mite," he declared scornfully. "Not a mite, Mary-'Gusta. Hamilton and Company's a pretty able old craft. She may not show so much gilt paint and brass work as some of the new ones just off the ways, but her passengers know she's staunch and they'll stick by her. Why, Isaiah was sayin' that a feller was tellin' him only yesterday that it didn't make any difference how many new stores was started in this town, he'd never trade anywheres but with Hamilton and Company. That shows you, don't it?"

"Who was it said that, Uncle Shad?" asked Mary.

"Eh? Why, I don't know. Isaiah was tellin' me about it and we was interrupted. Who was it, Isaiah?"

"'Twas Rastus Young," replied Mr. Chase promptly.

Even the Captain was obliged to laugh, although he declared that Mr. Young's constancy was a proof that the firm's prospects were good.

"Rats'll always leave a sinkin' ship," he said, "and if Zoeth and me was goin' under Rat Young would be the first to quit."

Zoeth, when his niece questioned him, expressed confidence that the new competitors would not prove dangerous. "The Almighty has looked after us so far," he added, "unworthy as we be, and I guess he'll carry us the rest of the way. Put your trust in Him, Mary-'Gusta; I hope they teach you that up to school."

So Mary, who had been rather troubled at the news of Hamilton and Company's rivals in the field, dismissed her fears as groundless. Her uncles were old-fashioned and a little behind the times in business methods, but no doubt those methods were suited to South Harniss and there was no cause for worry concerning the firm's future. She made Isaiah promise to keep her posted as to developments and went back to Boston and her schoolwork.

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