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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 16396

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


If time and space did not matter, and if even more important happenings in Mary-'Gusta's life were not as close at hand to claim attention, it would be interesting to describe at length those of that spring and the summer which followed it. Summarized in chronological order, they were these: First, the lengthy discussions between the partners concerning Miss Pease's plan, discussions which ended by Zoeth, as senior partner, writing Miss Pease:

Shadrach and I say yes. We ought to have said it afore but flesh is weak and we found it kind of hard to make up our minds to spare our girl all summer. But we know we ought to spare her and that it will be a splendid chance for her. So we say she shall go and we thank you more than we can say. She will need clothes and fixings to take with her and Shadrach and I wish to ask if you will be kind enough to help her pick out what she needs. Maybe Mrs. Wyeth will help too. It will be a great favor if you two will do this, Shadrach and I not being much good at such things. We will send the money and will pay for all.

Then came the breaking of the news to Mary herself. At first, after she could be made to believe the whole idea a perfectly serious one and realized that a trip to Europe-her dearest day-dream, even when a little girl, and the favorite play with the dolls in the attic at South Harniss-when she at last realized the opportunity that was hers, even then she hesitated to accept it. There were her uncles-they needed her so much in the store-they would miss her so dreadfully. She could not go and leave them. The united efforts of Miss Pease and Mrs. Wyeth could not alter her determination to remain at home; only a joint declaration, amounting to a command and signed by both partners of Hamilton and Company, had that effect. She consented then, but with reluctance.

The steamer sailed from Boston-Miss Pease's civic loyalty forbade her traveling on a New York boat-on the thirtieth of June, the week after Commencement. Mary and Mrs. Wyeth attended the Commencement exercises and festivities as Crawford's guest. Edwin Smith, Crawford's father, did not come on from Carson City to see his son receive his parchment from his Alma Mater. He had planned to come-Crawford had begun to believe he might come-but at the last moment illness had prevented. It was nothing serious, he wrote; he would be well and hearty when the boy came West after graduating.

God bless you, son [the letter ended]. If you knew what it means for your old dad to stay away you'd forgive him for being in the doctor's care. Come home quick when it's over. There's a four-pound trout waiting for one of us up in the lake country somewhere. It's up to you or me to get him.

Crawford showed the letter to Mary. He was disappointed, but not so much so as the girl expected.

"I never really dared to count on his coming," he explained. "It has been this way so many times. Whenever Dad has planned to come East something happens to prevent. Now it has happened again; I was almost sure it would. It's a shame! I wanted you to meet him. And I wanted him to meet you, too," he added.

Mary also was a little disappointed. She had rather looked forward to meeting Mr. Smith. He was her friend's father, of course, and that of itself made him an interesting personality, but there was something more-a sort of mystery about him, inspired in her mind by the photograph which Crawford had shown her, which made her curious. The man in the photograph resembled Crawford, of course, but she had the feeling that he resembled someone else even more-someone she had known or whose picture she had seen. She was sorry she was not to meet him.

Commencement was a wonderful time. Mary was introduced to dozens of young fellows, attended spreads and sings and proms, danced a great deal, was asked to dance ever so much more, chatted and laughed and enjoyed herself as a healthy, happy, and pretty girl should enjoy a college commencement. And on the following Tuesday she and Miss Pease, looking down from the steamer's deck, waved their handkerchiefs to Mrs. Wyeth and Zoeth and Captain Shadrach and Crawford who, standing on the wharf, waved theirs in return as the big ship moved slowly out of the dock and turned her nose toward Minot's Light and the open sea. For the first time since Hamilton and Company put up a sign both partners had come to Boston together.

"Annabel's keepin' store," explained Shadrach, "and Isaiah's helpin'. It'll be the blind leadin' the blind, I cal'late, but we don't care, do we, Zoeth? We made up our mind we'd see you off, Mary-'Gusta, if we had to swim to Provincetown and send up sky-rockets from Race P'int to let you know we was there. Don't forget what I told you: If you should get as fur as Leghorn be sure and hunt up that ship-chandler name of Peroti. Ask him if he remembers Shad Gould that he knew in '65. If he ain't dead I bet you he'll remember."

So Mary-'Gusta sailed away and for ten marvelous weeks daydreams came true and attic make-believes turned to realities. War had not yet come to sow its seed of steel and fire and reap its harvest of blood and death upon the fair valleys and hills of France, and the travelers journeyed leisurely from village to cathedral town and from the Seine to the Loire. They spent three weeks in Switzerland and two in Italy, returning for the final week to London where, under Miss Pease's expert guidance, Mary visited the shops, the big ones on Regent and Oxford Streets and the smaller, equally fascinating-and more expensive-ones on Bond Street and Piccadilly, buying presents and remembrances for the folks at home. And, at last, came the day when, leaning upon the rail, she saw the misty headlands of Ireland sink beneath the horizon and realized that her wonderful holiday was over and that she was homeward bound.

The voyage was rather rough and stormy, as westerly voyages are likely to be, but the ship was comfortable and speedy and they made good time. Mary spent but one day in Boston and, on the morning of the next, started for South Harniss. She had one week before school opened and that week was to be spent with her uncles; no one else, she vowed, should have a minute of it.

Great were the rejoicings in the white house by the shore that day, and marvelous was the dinner Isaiah served in honor of the occasion. Mary was obliged to relate the story of her trip from start to finish, while three rapt listeners nodded and exclaimed in sympathy or broke in to ask questions. She had written faithfully, but, as Isaiah said, "writin' ain't tellin'." So Mary told and her uncles and Mr. Chase listened and questioned. It was twelve o'clock that night before anyone thought of going to bed, and next morning at the breakfast table the questioning began all over again.

"Mrs. Wyeth was down at the dock, I presume likely, to meet you when your ship made port?" queried Zoeth.

"Yes, she was there," replied Mary.

"Anybody else? How about that young Smith feller? Wa'n't he there, too?" asked Captain Shadrach with elaborate innocence.

Mary colored just a little. She knew it was foolish; there was no reason in the world why she should be embarrassed, but she could not help it.

"No, Uncle Shad," she answered. "He wasn't there. He has not returned from the West yet, but he will be in Boston next week when the Medical College opens."

"Been havin' a good time out West there, has he?" inquired the Captain, still with studied unconcern.

"Yes. At least he writes me that he has." She looked from one to the other of her trio of listeners and then added: "I have some of his letters here with me. If you'd like to hear them I'll read them aloud."

"No, no, you needn't do that," protested Shadrach hastily. But after another look at him Mary said, "I think I will," and departed in search of the letters.

Captain Shad, looking a trifle guilty, glanced at his partner.

"She needn't read 'em unless she wants to, need she, Zoeth?" he said. "I-I didn't mean for her to do that."

Mr. Hamilton's face expressed doubt and disapproval.

"Humph!" he said and that was all.

Mary returned bearing the packet o

f letters, some of which she proceeded to read. Crawford had spent the summer either at his home in Carson City or in camping with his father in the Sierras, where he had shot and fished and apparently enjoyed himself hugely. The letters were frank and straightforward, full of fun and exuberance, the sort of letters a robust, clean-minded young fellow ought to write and sometimes does. They were not sentimental; even Isaiah, with what Captain Shadrach termed his "lovesick imagination," would not have called them so.

The partners and Mr. Chase listened with interest to the reading of the letters and expressed their approval. Shadrach's applause was loudest of all, but he seemed to find difficulty in meeting his niece's eye. Just before bedtime, after Zoeth and Isaiah had gone upstairs and he was locking up for the night, Mary, whom he supposed had gone also, reentered the dining-room and stood before him.

"Uncle Shad," she said severely, "come here a minute and sit down. I want to talk with you."

She led him to the big rocker. Then she took the little one beside it.

"Now, look me in the face," she commanded. "No," not out of the window-here. Um . . . yes. I don't wonder you turn red. I should think you might be ashamed."

"I-I-what's that?" stammered Shadrach, turning redder than ever. "What do you mean? Turnin' red! Who's turnin' red?"

"You are," said the young lady, firmly, "and you know it. Now, look me straight in the eye. Uncle Shad Gould, don't you think it would have been more honorable, if you wished to know whether Crawford Smith and I corresponded, to have asked me instead of hinting? Don't you think it would?"

"Hintin'? Why-why, Mary-'Gusta, what-what-?"

His face was a study in expression. Mary bit her lip, but she managed to appear solemn.

"Yes, hinting," she said. "Instead of asking if Crawford and I had written each other you hinted. Well, now you know that we did write, and have heard his letters to me, have you any objection?"

"Objection? No, no, course not. Why-I-I think 'twas a fine thing. I-I like to get letters; a heap better than I do to write 'em," he added truthfully.

"Then why?"

"Well-well-I-I-"

"And aren't you ashamed?" repeated Mary.

"Why-why, yes, by the jumpin' fire, I am! There! I was ashamed when I done it."

"Then why did you do it?"

"Well-well, you see, Mary-'Gusta, I just wanted to know. Your Uncle Zoeth and me have been actin' as your pilots for a consider'ble spell. Course you're gettin' big enough now to cruise on your own hook-that is, in reason, you understand-but-but-well, we've got so used to takin' an observation every noontime, seein' how you're layin' your course, you know, that it's hard to lose the habit. Not that Zoeth was in on this," he added honestly. "He didn't do any of the hintin', as you call it. I imagine he'll preach my head off for doin' it, when he gets me alone."

"You deserve to have it preached off-or partly off, at any rate. Do you beg my pardon?"

"Sartin sure. I'd beg it on my bended knees if 'twa'n't for the rheumatiz."

"And you won't hint any more?"

"Nary a hint."

"That's right. If you want me to tell you anything, please ask. You must trust me, Uncle Shad. I shall always tell-when there is anything to tell."

"I know you will, Mary-'Gusta. I'm ashamed of my hintin'. God bless you, dearie. Now kiss me good night."

He kissed her and, holding her in his arms, looked fondly down into her eyes. And, as she returned his look, suddenly she blushed crimson and hid her face in his jacket. Then she broke away and with a good night ran from the room and up the stairs.

Shadrach looked after her, sighed, and, after finishing his locking up, went upstairs himself. There was a light in his partner's room and he entered to find Mr. Hamilton sitting at the little table with several sheets of paper covered with figures spread out before him. The Captain was so busy with his own thoughts that, for the moment, he did not notice the papers.

"Zoeth," he said, "our Mary-'Gusta's changed into a grown-up woman. Even this last summer has changed her. She don't look any older, and she's prettier than ever, but she thinks different, and I have a notion that, no matter how much we may want to, you and me ain't goin' to be able to keep her to ourselves as we-Eh?" suddenly becoming aware of his friend's occupation. "Are you still fussin' over those things? Didn't I tell you not to worry any more, but to turn in and sleep?"

Zoeth shook his head. His usually placid, gentle face had lost some of its placidity. He looked worn and worried and the shadows thrown by the lamp deepened the lines in his forehead. He looked up over his spectacles.

"Shadrach," he said, "I can't help it. I try not to worry and I try to heave my burdens onto the Almighty, same as we're commanded, but I can't seem to heave the whole of 'em there. If things don't pick up pretty soon, I don't know-I don't know-and I don't dare think," he added despairingly.

The sheet of paper he was holding rattled as his hand shook. Captain Shad scowled.

"If we didn't have our winter goods to buy," he muttered. "Our credit's good, that's one comfort."

"It is up to now, because the Boston folks don't know. But WE know, or we're afraid we know, and that makes it worse. How can we go on buyin' from folks that has stood our friends ever since we went into business, knowin' as we do that-"

His partner interrupted.

"We don't know anything yet," he declared. "Keep a stiff upper lip, Zoeth. Nine chances to one we'll weather it all right. WHAT a summer this has been! And when I think," he added savagely, "of how well we got along afore those new stores came it makes me nigh crazy. I'll go out with a card of matches some night and burn 'em down. Damn pirates! Callin' themselves good Cape Cod names-names that don't belong to 'em! Baker's Bazaar! Ugh! Rheinstein's Robbers' Roost would be nigher the truth. . . . Say, Zoeth, we mustn't hint a word to Mary-'Gusta about this. We've got cash enough on hand to pay her clearance charges up there at school, ain't we?"

"Yes, Shadrach, I've looked out for that. I don't know's I'd ought to. The money maybe had ought to go somewheres else, but-but right or wrong it's goin' for her and I hope the Lord'll forgive me. And what you say's true, she mustn't know we're worried. She's so conscientious she might be for givin' up her schoolin' and comin' down here to help us. She'd be just as liable to do it as not."

"You're right, she would. Good thing she thinks she's got money of her own and that that money is payin' her schoolin' bills. She'd be frettin' all the time about the expense if 'twa'n't for that. You and I must pretend everything's lovely and the goose hangin' high when she's around. And we mustn't let Isaiah drop any hints."

"No. Isaiah has asked me two or three times lately if the new stores was hurtin' our trade. I shouldn't wonder if he had some suspicions down inside him."

"Umph! Well, that's all right, so long as they stay inside. If I see signs of one of those suspicions risin' above his Adam's apple I'll choke 'em down again. I'll put a flea in Isaiah's ear, and I'll put mucilage on its feet so's 'twill stick there."

So although Mary did notice that the two new shops in the village seemed to be prospering and that business at Hamilton and Company's was not rushing even for September, the answers to her questions were so reassuring that her uneasiness was driven away. Her Uncle Zoeth evaded direct reply and Captain Shadrach prevaricated whole-heartedly and cheerfully. Even Isaiah declared that "everything and all hands was doin' fine." But Mary made him promise that should it ever be otherwise than fine he would write her immediately. He gave the promise with some reluctance.

"I cal'late if Cap'n Shad caught me tellin' tales out of school he'd go to work and turn to and bust me over the head with a marlinespike," said Mr. Chase, with the air of one stating a fact.

Mary laughed. "Oh, no, he wouldn't," she declared. "I'll stand back of you, Isaiah. Now mind, you are to keep me posted on JUST how things are here."

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