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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22587

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Mary went back to Boston and to school, where old acquaintances were renewed and new ones made. The Misses Cabot welcomed her with fussy and dignified condescension. Barbara Howe hugged and kissed her and vowed she had not seen a girl all summer who was half so sweet.

"Why in the world someone doesn't run off with you and marry you this very minute I cannot see," declared the vivacious young lady. "If I were a man I should."

Mary, who was used to Miss Howe's outbursts, merely smiled.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't," she replied. "I should hope you would be more sensible. No one will run off with me; at least I wouldn't run off with them."

"Why not? Don't you think an elopement is perfectly splendid-so romantic and all that? Suppose you were head over heels in love with someone and his people were dead set against his marrying you, wouldn't you elope then?"

"I think I shouldn't. I think I should try to find out why they were so opposed to me. Perhaps there might be some good reason. If there were no good reason, then-why, then-well, I don't know. But I should hesitate a long while before I came between a person and his family. It must be dreadful to do that."

Barbara laughed. "Nonsense!" she cried. "It's done every day in the best families, my dear. And then the reconciliation is all the sweeter. You just wait! Some of these days I expect to read: 'Elopement in South Harniss High Life. Beautiful Society Maiden Weds Famous Former Football-er-er-I want another F-Oh, yes, Famous Former Football Favorite.' Isn't that beautiful? Dear me, how you blush! Or is it sunburn? At any rate, it's very becoming."

The Famous Former Football Favorite called at Mrs. Wyeth's on the evening following that of Mary's return to Boston. He was as big and brown as ever and declared that he had had a wonderful vacation.

"And you're looking awfully well, too," he exclaimed, inspecting her from head to foot. "She is, isn't she, Mrs. Wyeth?"

Mrs. Wyeth admitted that she thought so. Crawford nodded emphatically.

"By George, you are!" he repeated.

There was no doubt of his sincerity. In fact, the admiration in his voice and look was so obvious and unconcealed that Mary, although she could not help being pleased, was a little embarrassed. The embarrassment wore away, however, when he began to tell of his summer in the Sierras and to ask for additional particulars concerning her European trip. He stayed longer than usual that evening and came again a few evenings later-to show them some photographs he had taken in the mountains, so he said. And the following Sunday he dropped in to accompany them to church. And-but why particularize? Perhaps it will be sufficient to say that during that fall and winter the boy and girl friendship progressed as such friendships are likely to do. Miss Pease, the romantic, nodded and looked wise and even Mrs. Wyeth no longer resented her friend's looks and insinuations with the same indignant certainty of denial.

"I don't know, Letitia," she admitted. "I don't know. I'm beginning to think he cares for her and may be really serious about it. Whether or not she cares for him is quite another thing and I am sure I shan't presume to guess. If she does she keeps it to herself, as she does so many other things. She knows how to mind her own business and that is a gift possessed by few, Letitia Pease."

Mary went home for the Christmas vacation and spent the holidays, as she had spent those of the previous year, in helping her uncles at the store. The Christmas trade, although not so brisk as she had seen it, was not so bad as to alarm her, and the partners were optimistic as ever. Isaiah, who had been talked to like a Dutch uncle by Captain Shad and was consequently in deadly fear of the latter's wrath, declared that as far as he could see everything was all right. So Mary left South Harniss and returned to school and the duties of the winter term with few misgivings concerning matters at home. Crawford met her at the train and came to the Pinckney Street house that evening to hear the news from the Cape. It was surprising, the interest in Cape Cod matters manifested of late by that young man.

On a day in early April, Mary, hurrying to Mrs. Wyeth's after school, found a letter awaiting her. She glanced at the postmark, which was South Harniss, and the handwriting, which was Isaiah's, and then laid it aside to be read later on at her leisure. After many postponements and with considerable reluctance she had accepted an invitation to dine with Barbara Howe at the latter's home in Brookline and this evening was the time appointed. It would be her first plunge into society-the home life of society, that is. The Howes were an old family, wealthy and well-connected, and Mary could not help feeling somewhat nervous at the ordeal before her. She knew something of the number and variety of expensive gowns possessed by her young hostess and her own limited wardrobe seemed doubly limited and plain by comparison. But she summoned her unfailing common sense to her rescue and found consolation in the fact that Barbara and her people knew she was, comparatively speaking, a poor girl, and therefore could hardly have invited her with the expectation of seeing her arrayed in fine clothes. And if they had done so-here was a bit of the old Mary-'Gusta philosophy-their opinion was not worth consideration anyhow, and the sooner they and she reached mutual disgust and parting the better.

But although her best gown was not new nor expensive, and her jewels were conspicuous by their absence, the picture she made as she stood before the mirror giving the last touches to her hair was distinctly not an unpleasing one. Maggie, the maid, who entered the room to announce a caller, was extravagant in her praises.

"Ah, sure, Miss, you look fine," she declared. "You're that sweet one look at you would sugar a cup of tea. Ah, he'll be that proud of you and he ought to be, too. But he's a fine young man, and-"

"Who? What are you talking about, Maggie?" interrupted Mary. "Who will be proud of me and who is a fine young fellow?"

"Who? Why, Mr. Smith, of course; who else? He's down in the parlor waitin' for you now. I'll tell him you'll be down."

Before Mary could stop her she had left the room and was on her way downstairs. Mary followed a moment later. She had not expected a visit from Crawford, who had called already that week. She wondered why he had come.

She found him in the parlor. Mrs. Wyeth was out shopping with Miss Pease, and he and she were alone. He rose to meet her as she entered.

"Why, Crawford," she said, "what is the matter? Has anything happened? Why do you look so serious?"

He smiled ruefully. "I guess because I am rather serious," he answered. "I've had some news and I came to tell you about it." Then, noticing her gown, he added: "But you're going out, aren't you?"

"I am going out by and by. I am going to dine and spend the evening with Barbara Howe. But I am not going yet. Won't you sit down?"

"I will if you're sure you can spare the time. I hope you can, because-well, because I do want to talk to you. I've had bad news from home. My father is ill-and in the doctor's care."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I hope it isn't serious."

"I don't know whether it is or not. It can't be desperately serious, because he wrote the letter himself. But at any rate it's serious enough for me. He wants me to give up my work here at the Harvard Medical and come West."

Mary gasped. "Give it up!" she repeated. "Give up your studies? Give up medicine? Surely he doesn't want you to do that!"

Crawford shook his head. "No, not quite that," he replied. "I wouldn't do that, even for him. But he writes that he is not well and is not likely to be better for a good while, if ever, and he would be very much happier if I were nearer at hand. He wants me to give up here at the Harvard Med. and take up my work again at Denver or Salt Lake City or somewhere out there. Even Chicago would seem much nearer, he says. It's a pitiful sort of letter. The old chap seems dreadfully down in the dumps. He wants me, that's plain enough, and he seems to think he needs me. Says if I were at Denver I could come home every little while, whereas here I can't. What ought I to do? I hate to say no, and I hate just as much to say yes."

Mary considered.

"I think you must decide for yourself," she said after a moment. "You have your career to consider, of course."

"Yes, I have. But, to be perfectly honest, I suppose my career would not be influenced greatly if I went. There are plenty of good medical colleges in the West. It is only that I am a Harvard man and I hoped to finish at the Harvard school, that is all. But I COULD go. What do you advise?"

Again Mary took time for consideration. Her face now was as grave as his. At last she said, without raising her eyes: "I think you ought to go."

He groaned. "I was afraid you would say that," he admitted. "And I suppose you are right."

"Yes, I think I am. If your father needs you and wants you, and if your career will not be influenced for harm, I-well, I think you should do as he wishes."

"And my own wishes shouldn't count, I suppose?"

"Why, no, not in this case; not much, at any rate. Do you think they should?"

"Perhaps not. But-but yours?"

"Mine?"

"Yes. Do YOU want me to go away?" He leaned forward in his chair and repeated earnestly: "Do you, Mary?"

She looked at him and her eyes fell before the look in his. Her heart began to beat quickly and she glanced apprehensively toward the partly opened door. He rose and closed it. Then he came close to her.

"Mary," he said, earnestly, "do you know why this appeal of Dad's has hit me so very hard? Why it is going to be so mighty difficult to say yes and leave here? It isn't because I hate to give up Harvard. I do hate that, of course, but I'd do it in a minute for Dad. It isn't that. It's because I can't-I just can't think of leaving you. You have come to be-"

She interrupted. "Please don't," she begged. "Please!"

He went on, unheeding:

"You have come to mean about all there is in life for me," he declared. "It isn't money or success or reputation I've been working and plugging for these last few months; it's just you. I didn't think so once-I used to think such things were just in books-but now I know. I love you, Mary."

Again she protested. "Oh, Crawford," she begged, "please!"

"No; you've got to hear me. It's true; I love you, and if you can care for me, I am going to marry you. Not now, of course; I've got my way to make first; but some day, if I live."

His teeth set in the determined fashion she had learned to know meant unswerving purpose. She looked up, saw the expression of his face, and for the instant forgot everything except her pride in him and her joy that she should have awakened such feelings. Then she remembered other things, things which she had spent many hours of many nights in debating and considering. As he bent toward her she evaded him and rose.

"Don't, Crawford! Please!" she said again. "You mustn't say such things to me. It isn't right that you should."

He looked puzzled. "Why not?" he asked. "At any rate, right or wrong

, I must say them, Mary. I've been holding them in for months and now I've just got to say them. I love you and I want to marry you. May I?"

"Oh, no, Crawford! No! It is impossible."

"Impossible! Why? Is it-is it because you don't care for me? Don't you, Mary?"

She did not answer.

"Don't you?" he repeated. "Look at me! Can't you care, Mary?"

She was silent. But when he took a step toward her she raised her hands in protest.

"Please don't!" she pleaded. "No, you mustn't-we mustn't think-Oh, no, it is impossible!"

"It isn't impossible. If you love me as I do you it is the only possible thing in the world. Listen, dear-"

"Hush! I mustn't listen. Be sensible, Crawford! think! We are both so young. You are only beginning your studies. It will be years before you can-before you should consider marrying."

"But we can wait. I am willing to wait if you will only promise to wait for me. I'll work-HOW I'll work!-and-"

"I know, but we both have others besides ourselves to consider. I have my uncles. They have done everything for me. And you have your father. Does he know-about me-about what you have just said to me?"

And now Crawford hesitated. Not long, but long enough for Mary to know what the answer would be before it was spoken.

"He doesn't know," she said. "I thought not. Do you think he will approve?"

"I hope he will. There is every reason why he should and absolutely none why he shouldn't. Of course he'll approve; he's sensible."

"Yes, but he may have plans of his own for you, and your marrying an Eastern girl may not be one of them. You have often told me how prejudiced he is against the East and Eastern people. He may disapprove strongly."

Crawford squared his shoulders. There was no hesitation or doubt in his next speech.

"If he does it will make no difference," he declared. "I care a whole lot for Dad and I'd do anything on earth for him-anything but the one thing, that is: I won't give you up-provided you care for me-for him or for anyone else. That's final."

He certainly looked as if it were. But Mary only shook her head. In the new thoughts and new imaginings which had come to her during the past winter there had been a vague foreshadowing of a possible situation somewhat like this. She had her answer ready.

"Oh, no, it isn't," she said. "You are his son, his only child, Crawford. He cares so much for you. You have often told me that, and-and I know he must. And you and he have been so happy together. Do you think I would be the cause of breaking that relationship?"

He waved the question aside and asked one of his own.

"Do you love me, Mary?" he asked.

"You mustn't ask me, Crawford. Write your father. Tell him everything. Will you?"

"Yes, I will. I should have done it, anyway. If I go home, and I suppose I must, I shall tell him; it will be better than writing. But I want your answer before I go. Won't you give it to me?"

He looked very handsome and very manly, as he stood there pleading. But Mary had made up her mind.

"I can't, Crawford," she said. "Perhaps I don't know. I do know that it would not be right for me to say what you want me to say-now. Go home to your father; he needs you. Tell him everything and then-write me."

He looked at her, a long, long look. Then he nodded slowly.

"All right," he said; "I will. I will tell him that I mean to marry you. If he says yes-as he will, I'm sure-then I'll write you that. If he says no, I'll write you that. But in either case, Mary Lathrop, I shall marry you just the same. Your own no will be the only thing that can prevent it. And now may I come and see you tomorrow evening?"

"Not tomorrow, Crawford. When will you start for home?"

"Saturday, I think. May I come the day after tomorrow? Just to say good-by, you know."

Mary was troubled. She could not deny him and yet she was certain it would be better for them both if he did not come.

"Perhaps," she said doubtfully. "But only to say good-by. You must promise that."

There was a ring at the bell. Then Maggie, the maid, appeared to announce that the Howe motor car was waiting at the curb. A few moments later Mary was in her room adjusting her new hat before the mirror. Ordinarily, adjusting that hat would have been an absorbing and painstaking performance; just now it was done with scarcely a thought. How devoutly she wished that the Howe car and the Howe dinner were waiting for anyone in the wide world but her! She did not wish to meet strangers; she did not wish to go anywhere, above all she did not wish to eat. That evening, of all evenings in her life, she wished to be alone. However, accepted invitations are implied obligations and Mary, having adjusted the hat, gave her eyes a final dab with a handkerchief and cold water and hastened down to answer the call to social martyrdom.

It was not excruciating torture, that dinner in the Howe dining-room, even to a young lady who had just listened to a proposal of marriage and desired to think of nothing less important. Mr. Howe was big and jolly. Mrs. Howe was gray-haired and gracious and Barbara was-Barbara. Also, there was a friend of Mr. Howe's, an elderly gentleman named Green, who it seemed was one of a firm of wholesale grocers downtown, and who told funny stories and, by way of proving that they were funny, laughed heartiest of all at the ending of each. He sat next Mrs. Howe during dinner, but later, when they were all in the handsome drawing-room, he came over and seated himself upon the sofa next Mary and entered into conversation with her.

"You are not a born Bostonian, I understand, Miss Lathrop," he observed. "An importation, eh? Ho, ho! Yes. Well, how do you like us?"

Mary smiled. "Oh, I like Boston very much, Mr. Green," she answered. "I know it better than any other American city, perhaps that is why. It was the only city I had ever seen until quite recently. I am imported-as you call it-from not so far away. My home is on Cape Cod."

Mr. Green regarded her with interest.

"So?" he said. "From Cape Cod, eh? That's rather peculiar. I have been very much interested in the Cape for the past day or so. Something has occurred in connection with my business which brought the Cape to mind. My attention has been-er-as you may say, gripped by the strong right arm of Massachusetts. Eh? Ho, ho!"

He chuckled at his own joke. Mary was rather bored, but she tried not to show it.

"What part of the Cape has interested you, Mr. Green?" she inquired for the sake of saying something.

"Eh? Oh-er-South Harniss. Little town down near the elbow. Do you know it?"

Mary was surprised, of course. The answer which was on the tip of her tongue was naturally, "Why, yes, I live there." But she did not make that answer, although she has often wondered, since, why. What she said was: "Yes, I know South Harniss."

"Do you, indeed?" went on Green. "Well, I don't, but I have known some people who live there for ever so long. My father knew them before me. They were customers of his and they have been buying of our firm for years. Two old chaps who keep what I believe they would call a 'general store.' Fine old fellows, both of them! Different as can be, and characters, but pure gold inside. I have had some bad news concerning them. They're in trouble and I'm mighty sorry."

Mary was bored no longer. She leaned forward and asked breathlessly:

"What are their names, Mr. Green?"

"Eh? Oh, the firm name is Hamilton and Company. That is simple and sane enough, but the names of the partners were cribbed from the book of Leviticus, I should imagine-Zoeth and Shadrach! Ho, ho! Think of it! Think of wishing a name like Shadrach upon a helpless infant. The S. P. C. A. or C. C. or something ought to be told of it. Ho, ho!"

He laughed aloud. Mary did not laugh.

"They-you said they were in trouble," she said slowly. "What sort of trouble?"

"Eh? Oh, the usual kind. The kind of goblin, young lady, which is likely to get us business men if we don't watch out-financial trouble. The firm of Hamilton and Company has not kept abreast of the times, that's all. For years they did a good business and then some new competitors with up-to-date ideas came to town and-puff!-good-by to the old fogies. They are in a bad way, I'm afraid, and will have to go under, unless-eh? But there! you aren't particularly interested, I dare say. It was your mention of Cape Cod which set me going."

"Oh, but I am interested; I am, really. They must go under, you say? Fail, do you mean?"

"Yes, that is what I mean. I am very sorry. Our firm would go on selling them goods almost indefinitely for, as I have said, they are old customers and in a way old friends. But they are absolutely honest and they will not buy what they cannot pay for. We have some pitiful letters from them-not whining, you know, but straightforward and frank. They don't ask favors, but tell us just where they stand and leave it to us to refuse credit if we see fit. It is just one of the little tragedies of life, Miss Lathrop, but I'm mighty sorry for those two old friends of my father's and mine. And the worst of it is that, from inquiries I have made, it would seem that they have been sacrificing themselves by spending their money lavishly and uselessly on someone else. They have a girl in the family, a sort of adopted niece, whatever that is, and, not content with bringing her up like a sensible, respectable country girl, they must dress her like a millionaire's daughter and send her off to some extravagantly expensive seminary where-Why, what is the matter? Eh? Good heavens! What have I been saying? You don't know these people, do you?"

Mary turned a very white face toward his.

"They are my uncles," she said. "My home is at South Harniss. Please excuse me, Mr. Green."

She rose and walked away. A few minutes later, when Mr. Howe approached the sofa, he found his friend sitting thereon, staring at nothing in particular and fervently repeating under his breath, "The devil! The devil! The devil!"

Mary got away as soon as she could. Her looks attracted Barbara's attention and the young lady asked if she were not feeling well. Mary replied that she was not, and although it was not serious please might she be permitted to go home at once? She was sent home in the automobile and when she reached her own room her first act was to find and open Isaiah's letter which had arrived that afternoon. With trembling fingers she held it beneath the gas jet and this is what she read:

DEAR MARY AUGUSTA:

I had not ought to write you this and your Uncles would pretty nigh kill me if they knew I done so but I am going to just the same. Busines has gone to rack and ruin. Hamilton & Co. thanks to those and other darned stores, ain't making enough to keep boddy and soul together and they are making themselves sick over it. I don't know what will become of them to if something or someboddy does not think up some way to help them over the shoals. They do not tell anyone and least of all they wouldent want you to be told, but I think you ought to be. They have done a whole lot for you. Can't you think up some way to do something for them. For god Sakes write right off.

Yours truly,

ISAIAH CHASE.

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