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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 13461

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The spring term was an interesting one and there were other interests as well. Crawford called more frequently, the plans for Commencement requiring a great deal of discussion. Mary's fondness for managing was, or should have been, gratified, for the talent was in constant demand. Sam Keith, who, after meeting Mary at his cousin's house, had at first developed an amazing fondness for that relative's society, now came less often. He was in the second stage of the pretty-girl disease mentioned by his aunt; the fever and delirium had passed, and he was now cooling off. It cannot be said that the fever had been in the least encouraged. Mary was pleasant and agreeable when he called, but she would not treat him as a confidant or an intimate; she did not accept any of his invitations to dances or the theater, and she would not flirt even the least little bit. The last was the most unsatisfactory drawback, because the susceptible Samuel was fond of flirtations and usually managed to keep at least three going at the same time. Therefore, the cooling-off process was, in this case, a bit more rapid than usual. Sam's calls and dinners at his cousin Emily's residence had decreased from two or three times a week to an uncertain once a fortnight. Mary, of course, noticed this, but she felt no regret. Crawford, Sam's roommate, must have noticed it also, but if he felt regret he managed to conceal the feeling remarkably well.

Early in May Captain Shadrach came up to the city to buy summer goods for the store. He positively refused to make his headquarters at Mrs. Wyeth's, although that lady sent an urgent invitation to him to do so. And, even when Mary added her own plea to that of her landlady, the Captain still refused.

Don't ask me, Mary-'Gusta [he wrote]. For the dear land sakes don't ask me to come to that place and stay. I'd do 'most anything for you, and I will do that if you are dead sot on it, but I do hope you ain't. I will come up there and see you of course and I'll even stay to supper if I get asked, but DON'T ask me to drop anchor and stay there night and day. I couldn't stand it. My backbone's sprung backwards now from settin' up so straight last time I was there.

So Mary had pity upon him and he took a room at the Quincy House where, as he said, he didn't have to keep his nose dead on the course every minute, but could "lay to and be comf'table" if he wanted to. He was invited to supper at the Wyeth house, however, and while there Mrs. Wyeth found an opportunity to take him aside and talk with him on a subject which he found interesting and a trifle disquieting.

"Now mind," said the lady, "I am by no means convinced that the affair is anything but a mere boy and girl friendship, or that it is ever likely to be more than that. But I did think I ought to tell you about it and that you should meet the young man. You have met him, you say?"

"Yes, ma'am," said Shadrach, "I've met him. 'Twan't much more'n that-he just came into our store down home, that's all. But I did meet him and I must say I thought he was a real likely young feller."

"I am glad you thought so. So do I. Has Mary written you of his calls here?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am, she's written. She ain't the kind of girl to keep anything back from us; at least, if she is, she's changed a heap since she came away to school. She's told us about his comin' here and about you and him and her goin' to that-what-d'ye-call-it-hookey game. She wrote all about that 'way last February."

"Yes, we did go to the hockey game. Samuel, my cousin John Keith's boy, played in it. Now, Captain Gould, I have a suggestion to make. It has been some years since you met Crawford Smith and I think, everything considered, you should meet him again and decide for yourself whether or not you still consider him a proper young person to call upon your niece. Suppose you dine with us again tomorrow evening and I invite young Smith also. Then-"

But the Captain interrupted. He had a plan of his own for the following evening and another meal at Mrs. Wyeth's was not a part of it.

"Er-er-excuse me, ma'am," he cut in hastily, "but I had a-a kind of notion that Mary-'Gusta and me might get our supper at a-a eatin'-house or somewhere tomorrow night and then maybe we'd take in-I mean go to a show-a theater, I should say. I didn't know but I'd ask this young Smith feller to go along. And-and-" remembering his politeness, "of course we'd be real glad if you'd come, too," he added.

But Mrs. Wyeth, although she thanked him and expressed herself as heartily in favor of the supper and theater party, refused to become a member of it. The Captain bore the shock of the refusal with, to say the least, manful resignation. He had a huge respect for Mrs. Wyeth, and he liked her because his beloved Mary-'Gusta liked her so well, but his liking was seasoned with awe and her no in this case was a great relief.

So the following evening at six Mary and her uncle met Crawford at the Quincy House and the three dined together, after which they saw the performance of "The Music Master" at the Tremont Theater. Crawford found the dinner quite as entertaining as the play. Captain Shadrach was in high good humor and his remarks during the meal were characteristic. He persisted in addressing the dignified waiter as "Steward" and in referring to the hotel kitchen as the "galley." He consulted his young guests before ordering and accepted their selections gracefully if not always silently.

"All right, Mary-'Gusta," he observed. "All right, just as you say. You're the skipper of this craft tonight, and me and Crawford here are just passengers. If you say we've got to eat-what is it?-consummer soup-why, I suppose likely we have. I'll take my chances if Crawford will. Course, if I was alone here, I'd probably stick to oyster stew and roast beef. I know what they are. And it's some comfort to be sure of what you're gettin', as the sick feller said when the doctor told him he had the smallpox instead of the measles. You don't mind my callin' you 'Crawford,' do you?" he added, turning to that young gentleman. "I'm old enough to be your father, for one thing, and for another a handle's all right on a jug or a sasspan, but don't seem as if 'twas necessary to take hold of a friend's name by. And I hope we're goin' to be friends, we three."

Crawford said he hoped so, too, and he said it with emphasis.

"Good!" exclaimed the Captain with enthusiasm. "And we'll cement the friendship-the book fellers are always tellin' about cementin' friendships-with this supper of ours, eh? If we only had some of Isaiah's last batch of mincemeat we could sartinly do it with that; it was the nighest thing to cem

ent ever I saw put on a table. I asked him if he filled his pies with a trowel and you ought to have heard him sputter. You remember Isaiah, don't you, Crawford? Tall, spindlin' critter, sails cook for Zoeth and me at the house down home. He ain't pretty, but his heart's in the right place. That's kind of strange, too," he added with a chuckle, "when you consider how nigh his shoulder-blades are to the top of his legs."

Between his stories and jokes he found time to ask his male guest a few questions and these questions, although by no means offensively personal, were to the point. He inquired concerning the young man's home life, about his ambitions and plans for the future, about his friends and intimates at college. Crawford, without being in the least aware that he was being catechized, told a good deal, and Captain Shadrach's appraising regard, which had learned to judge men afloat and ashore, read more than was told. The appraisal was apparently satisfactory for, after the young man had gone and the Captain and Mary were saying good night in the Wyeth parlor, Shadrach said:

"A nice boy, I should say. Yes, sir, a real nice young feller, as young fellers go. I like him fust-rate."

"I'm glad, Uncle Shad," said Mary. "I like him, too."

Shadrach regarded her with a little of the questioning scrutiny he had devoted to Crawford during dinner.

"You do, eh?" he mused. "How much?"

"How much?" repeated Mary, puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"I mean how much do you like him? More'n you do your Uncle Zoeth and me, for instance?"

She looked up into his face. What she saw there brought the color to her own. He might have said more, but she put her finger-tips upon his lips.

"Nonsense!" she said hotly. "What wicked, silly nonsense, Uncle Shad! Don't you ever, ever say such a thing to me again. You KNOW better."

Shadrach smiled and shook his head.

"All right, Mary-'Gusta," he said; "I won't say it again-not till you say it to me fust, at any rate. There, there, dearie! Don't blow me clean out of the water. I was only jokin', the same as Isaiah was tryin' to that night when you came home for your Christmas vacation."

"I don't like that kind of joking. I think it's silly."

"I guess maybe 'tis-for a spell, anyhow. We'll heave the jokes overboard. Yes, I like that Crawford Smith fust-rate. But the funniest thing about him is the way he reminds me of somebody else. Who that somebody is I can't make out nor remember. Maybe I'll think sometime or other, but anyhow I like him now for his own sake. I asked him to come down and see us sometime this summer. Wonder if he will."

Mary-'Gusta wondered, too, but she would have wondered more had she known what that coming summer was to mean to her. The morning after the theater party Captain Shadrach called to say good-by to Mrs. Wyeth. That lady asked some questions and listened with interest and approval to his report concerning Crawford Smith.

"I'm glad you were so favorably impressed with the boy," she said. "As I told you, I like him myself. And you approve of his friendship with your niece?"

The Captain rubbed his chin. "Why, yes, ma'am," he said. "I approve of that, all right, and I cal'late Zoeth would, too. Fact is, where Mary-'Gusta's concerned 'tain't nothin' BUT friendship, so fur, and I guess likely 'tain't on his part, either. If it ever should be more, then-well, then, if he turned out to be all that he'd ought to be I can't see where we old folks have much right to put our oar in, do you, ma'am?"

Perhaps Mrs. Wyeth was tired of the subject; perhaps she objected to being addressed as one of the old folks; at any rate, she made no answer, but asked a question instead.

"Captain Gould," she said, "what plans have you and Mr. Hamilton made for Mary this summer?"

"Plans, ma'am? Why, I don't know's we've made any. Of course, we're countin' on her comin' down to South Harniss when she gets through her school, and-"

"Just a moment, Captain. I have a friend who is very anxious to have you change that plan for one of hers. Come in, Letitia. Captain Gould, this is my friend, Miss Pease. Now, Letitia, tell the Captain your plan-the one you told me last night."

Miss Pease told of her plan and Captain Shad listened, at first with astonishment, then with a troubled expression and at last with a combination of both.

"There," said Miss Pease, in conclusion, "that is my plan. It means a great deal to me and I hope it may mean something to Mary."

"It will be a wonderful opportunity for her," declared Mrs. Wyeth emphatically.

"What do you think of it, Captain Gould?" asked Miss Pease.

Shadrach drew a long breath. "I-I don't know hardly what to say, ma'am," he answered. "I can't hardly realize it yet, seems so. It sartinly would be a wonderful chance for her and it's somethin' me and Zoeth could never give her or think of givin'. But-but-"

"Of course," said Miss Pease, as he hesitated, "if she is needed very much at home-if you feel you cannot spare her-"

"'Tain't that, ma'am," interrupted the Captain quickly. "Land knows Zoeth and me would miss her awful, but we wouldn't let that stand in the way-not of anything like this. But-but-well, to be right down honest, ma'am, I don't know's we'd feel like havin' somebody else do so much for her. Course we ain't well off, Zoeth and I ain't, but we ain't right down poor, either. We've been used to doin' for ourselves and-"

And then Miss Pease had an inspiration.

"Oh, dear me!" she broke in hastily. "I do hope you haven't made a mistake, Captain Gould. I hope you don't think I am offering this as a charity or purely as a favor to Mary. No, indeed! I am asking it as a favor to myself. I must have a companion, otherwise I cannot go. And Mary is just the companion I need. I am very fond of her and I think she likes me. I am not going to urge too much, Captain Gould, but I do hope you will consider the matter with Mr. Hamilton and let me hear from you soon. And I am hoping you will consent. I promise to take good care of your girl and bring her back safe and sound in September. And I shall not say one word of my great plan to her until you write me that I may."

So Captain Shadrach, the troubled expression still on his face, returned on the afternoon train to South Harniss to tell his friend and partner of Miss Pease's plan. Mary, who accompanied him to the Boston station, wondered why he seemed so preoccupied and quiet. If she had known what his thoughts were she would have wondered no longer.

Miss Pease planned to travel through Europe during the summer months, and she had asked the Captain's permission to take Mary with her as her guest and friend and companion.

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