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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 17420

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


People grow older, even on the Cape, where hurry-except by the automobiles of summer residents-is not considered good form and where Father Time is supposed to sit down to rest. Judge Baxter, Ostable's leading attorney-at-law, had lived quietly and comfortably during the years which had passed since, as Marcellus Hall's lawyer, he read the astonishing letter to the partners of Hamilton and Company. He was over seventy now, and behind his back Ostable folks referred to him as "old Judge Baxter"; but although his spectacles were stronger than at that time, his mental faculties were not perceptibly weaker, and he walked with as firm, if not so rapid, a stride. So when, at eleven in the forenoon of the day following Mary's dinner at the Howes' home, the Judge heard someone enter the outer room of his offices near the Ostable courthouse, he rose from his chair in the inner room and, without waiting for his clerk to announce the visitor, opened the door himself.

The caller whose question the clerk was about to answer, or would probably have answered as soon as he finished staring in awestruck admiration, was a young lady. The Judge looked at her over his spectacles and then through them and decided that she was a stranger. He stepped forward.

"I am Judge Baxter," he said. "Did you wish to see me?"

She turned toward him. "Yes," she said simply. "I should like to talk with you for a few moments if you are not too busy."

The Judge hesitated momentarily. Only the week before a persistent and fluent young female had talked him into the purchase of a set of "Lives of the Great Jurists," the same to be paid for in thirty-five installments of two dollars each. Mrs. Baxter had pronounced the "Great Jurists" great humbugs, and her husband, although he pretended to find the "Lives" very interesting, was secretly inclined to agree with her. So he hesitated. The young woman, evidently noticing his hesitation, added:

"If you are engaged just now I shall wait. I came to see you on a matter of business, legal business."

Judge Baxter tried to look as if no thought of his visitor's having another purpose had entered his mind.

"Oh, yes, certainly! Of course!" he said hastily, and added: "Will you walk in?"

She walked in-to the private office, that is-and the Judge, following her, closed the door. His clerk stared wistfully at his own side of that door for a full minute, then sighed heavily and resumed his work, which was copying a list of household effects belonging to a late lamented who had willed them, separately and individually, to goodness knew how many cousins, first, second, and third.

In the private office the Judge asked his visitor to be seated. She took the chair he brought forward. Then she said:

"You don't remember me, I think, Judge Baxter. I am Mary Lathrop."

The Judge looked puzzled. The name sounded familiar, but he could not seem to identify its owner.

"Perhaps you would remember me if I told you my whole name," suggested the latter. "I am Mary Augusta Lathrop. I think perhaps you used to call me Mary-'Gusta; most people did."

Then the Judge remembered. His astonishment was great.

"Mary-'Gusta Lathrop!" he repeated. "Mary-'Gusta! Are you-? Why, it scarcely seems possible! And yet, now that I look, I can see that it is. Bless my soul and body! How do you do? It must be almost-er-seven or eight years since I have seen you. South Harniss is only a few miles off, but I am getting-er-older and I don't drive as much as I used to. But there! I am very glad to see you now. And how are Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton? There is no need to ask how you are. Your looks are the best answer to that."

Mary thanked him and said she was very well. Her uncles, too, were well, she added, or they were when she last heard.

"I am on my way home to them now," she added. "For the past two years I have been at school in Boston. I left there this morning and got off the train here because I wished very much to see you, Judge Baxter. Yesterday-last evening-I heard something-I was told something which, if it is true, is-is-"

She bit her lip. She was evidently fighting desperately not to lose self-control. The Judge was surprised and disturbed.

"Why, Mary!" he exclaimed. "I suppose I may call you Mary still; as an old friend I hope I may. What is the matter? What did you hear? What do you wish to see me about?"

She was calm enough now, but her earnestness was unmistakable.

"I heard something concerning myself and my uncles which surprised and shocked me dreadfully," she said. "I can hardly believe it, but I must know whether it is true or not. I must know at once! You can tell me the truth, Judge Baxter, if you only will. That is why I came here this morning. Will you tell it to me? Will you promise that you will answer my questions, every one, with the exact truth and nothing else? And answer them all? Will you promise that?"

The Judge looked even more surprised and puzzled. He rubbed his chin and smiled doubtfully.

"Well, Mary," he said, "I think I can promise that if I answer your questions at all I shall answer them truthfully. But I scarcely like to promise to answer them without knowing what they are. A lawyer has a good many secrets intrusted to him and he is obliged to be careful."

"I know. But this is a secret in which I am interested. I am interested in it more than anyone else. I must know the truth about it! I MUST! If you won't tell me I shall find out somehow. WILL you tell?"

Judge Baxter rubbed his chin again.

"Don't you think you had better ask your questions?" he suggested.

"Yes; yes, I do. I will. How much money did my stepfather, Captain Marcellus Hall, have when he died?"

The Judge's chin-rubbing ceased. His eyebrows drew together.

"Why do you want to know?" he asked, after a moment.

"Because I do. Because it is very important that I should. It is my right to know. Was he a rich man?"

"Um-er-no. I should not call him that. Hardly a rich man."

"Was he very poor?"

"Mary, I don't exactly see why-"

"I do. Oh, Judge Baxter, please don't think I am asking this for any selfish reasons. I am not, indeed I'm not! All my life, ever since I was old enough to think of such things at all, I have supposed-I have been led to believe that my stepfather left me plenty of money-money enough to pay my uncles for taking care of me, for my clothes and board, and now, during these last two years, for my studies in Boston. I never, never should have consented to go to that school if I hadn't supposed I was paying the expenses myself. I knew my uncles were not well-to-do; I knew they could not afford to-to do what they had already done for me, even before that. And now-last night-I was told that-that they were in great financial trouble, that they would probably be obliged to fail in business, and all because they had been spending their money on me, sacrificing themselves and their comfort and happiness in order that 'an adopted niece with extravagant ideas' might be educated above her station; that is the way the gentleman who told me the story put it. Of course he didn't know he was talking to the niece," she added, with a pathetic little smile; "but, oh, Judge, can't you see now why I must know the truth-all of the truth?"

Her fingers clasped and unclasped in her lap. The Judge laid his own hand upon them.

"There, there, my dear," he said soothingly. "Tut, tut, tut! What's all this about your uncles failing in business? That isn't possible, is it? Tell me the whole thing, just as it was told to you."

So Mary told it, concluding by exhibiting Isaiah Chase's letter.

"It must be very bad, you see," she said. "Isaiah never would have written if it had not been. It is hard enough to think that while I was enjoying myself in Europe and at school they were in such trouble and keeping it all to themselves. That is hard enough, when I know how they must have needed me. But if it should be true that it is their money-money they could not possibly spare-that I have been spending-wasting there in Boston, I-I-Please tell me, Judge Baxter! Have I any money of my own? Please tell me."

The Judge rose and walked up and down the floor, his brows drawn together and his right hand slapping his leg at each turn. After seven or eight of these turns he sat down again and faced his caller.

"Mary," he said, "suppose this story about your uncles' financial and business troubles should be true, what will you do?"

Mary met his look bravely. Her eyes were moist, but there was no hesitation in her reply.

"I shall stay at home and help them in any way I can," she said. "There will be no mor

e Boston and no more school for me. They need me there at home and I am going home-to stay."

"Whether it is your money or theirs which has paid for your education?"

"Certainly. Of course I never should have gone away at all if I had not supposed my own money were paying the expenses. Judge, you haven't answered my question-and yet I think-I am afraid that you have answered it. It was their money that paid, wasn't it?"

Judge Baxter was silent for a moment, as if in final deliberation. Then he nodded, solemnly.

"Yes, Mary," he said, "it was their money. In fact, it has been their money which has paid for most things in your life. Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton aren't, maybe, the best business men in the world, but they come pretty near to being the best MEN, in business or out of it, that I have met during seventy odd years on this planet. I think, perhaps, it will be well for you to know just how good they have been to you. Now, listen!"

He began at the beginning, at the day of Marcellus Hall's funeral, when he read the letter to Shadrach and Zoeth, the letter intrusting Mary-'Gusta to their care. He told of Marcellus's unfortunate investments, of the loss of the latter's fortune, and how, when the estate was settled, there were but a few hundreds where it was expected there might be a good many thousands.

"Don't make any mistake, Mary," he said earnestly. "Your uncles knew there was little or no money when they decided to take you. They took you simply for yourself, because they cared so much for you, not because they were to make a cent from the guardianship. Everything you have had for the past two years their money has paid for and you may be absolutely certain they never have grudged a penny of it. The last time I saw Captain Gould he was glorying in having the smartest and best girl in Ostable County. And Mr. Hamilton-"

She interrupted him. "Don't, please!" she said chokingly. "Please don't tell me any more just now. I-I want to think."

"There isn't any more to tell," he said gently. "I am going into the next room. I shall be back in a few minutes. Then, if you care to, we can talk a little more."

When he returned she had risen and was standing by the window looking out into the back yard. She was calm and even smiled a little as he entered, although the smile was a rather pitiful one. Of the two the Judge looked the more perturbed.

"Whew!" he exclaimed, after carefully closing the door behind him. "I've been doing a little thinking my self, young lady, since I left you here. I've been thinking that I had better take a trip to Canada or China or somewhere and start in a hurry, too. When your uncles find out that I told you this thing they have succeeded in keeping from you all this time-well, it will be high time for me to be somewhere else." He laughed and then added gravely: "But I still think I was right in telling you. Under the circumstances it seems to me that you should know."

"Of course I should. If you had not told me I should have found it out, now that my suspicions were aroused. Thank you, Judge Baxter. Now I must go."

"Go? Go where?"

"Home-to South Harniss."

"Nonsense! You're not going to South Harniss yet awhile. You're going to have dinner with my wife and me."

"Thank you. I can't. I must go at once. By the next train."

"There isn't any train until nearly four o'clock." Then, noticing her look of disappointment, he went on to say: "But that shan't make any difference. I'll send you over in my nephew's automobile. I'm not sufficiently up-to-date to own one of the cussed-excuse me things, but he does and I borrow it occasionally. I don't drive it; good heavens, no! But his man shall drive you over and I'll guarantee you beat the train. If you don't, it won't be because you go too slow. Now, of course, you'll stay to dinner."

But Mary shook her head. "You're very kind, Judge," she said, "and I thank you very much, but-"

"Well, but what?"

"But I-I can't. I-I-Oh, don't you see? I couldn't eat, or even try to-now. I want to get home-to them."

"And so you shall, my dear. And in double-quick time, too. Here, Jesse," opening the door to the outer office and addressing the clerk, "you step over and tell Samuel that I want to borrow his car and Jim for two hours. Tell him I want them now. And if his car is busy go to Cahoon's garage and hire one with a driver. Hurry!"

"And now, Mary," turning to her, "can you tell me any more about your plans, provided you have had time to make any? If this story about your uncles' business troubles is true, what do you intend doing? Or don't you know?"

Mary replied that her plans were very indefinite, as yet.

"I have some ideas," she said; "some that I had thought I might use after I had finished school and come back to the store. They may not be worth much; they were schemes for building up the business there and adding some other sorts of business to it. The first thing I shall do is to see how bad the situation really is."

"I hope it isn't bad. Poor Zoeth certainly has had trouble enough in his life."

There was a significance in his tone which Mary plainly did not understand.

"What trouble do you mean?" she asked.

The Judge looked at her, coughed, and then said hastily: "Oh, nothing in particular; every one of us has troubles, I suppose. But, Mary, if-if you find that the story is true and-ahem-a little money might help to-er-tide the firm over-why, I-I think perhaps that it might be-ahem-arranged so that-"

He seemed to be having difficulty in finishing the sentence. Mary did not wait to hear the end.

"Thank you, Judge," she said quickly. "Thank you, but I am hoping it may not be so bad as that. I am going back there, you know, and-well, as Uncle Shadrach would say, we may save the ship yet. At any rate, we won't call for help until the last minute."

Judge Baxter regarded her with admiration.

"Shadrach and Zoeth are rich in one respect," he declared; "they've got you. But it is a wicked shame that you must give up your school and your opportunities to-"

She held up her hand.

"Please don't!" she begged. "If you knew how glad I am to be able to do something, if it is only to give up!"

The car and Jim were at the door a few minutes later and Mary, having said good-by to the Judge and promised faithfully to keep him posted as to events at home, climbed into the tonneau and was whizzed away. Jim, the driver, after a few attempts at conversation, mainly concerning the "unseasonableness" of the weather, finding responses few and absently given, relapsed into silence. Silence was what Mary desired, silence and speed, and Jim obliged with the latter.

Over the road by which, a dozen years before, she had driven in the old buggy she now rode again. Then, as now, she wondered what she should find at her journey's end. Here, however, the resemblance ceased, for whereas then she looked forward, with a child's anticipations, to nothing more definite than new sights and new and excitingly delightful adventures, now she saw ahead-what? Great care and anxiety and trouble certainly, these at the best; and at the worst, failure and disappointment and heartbreak. And behind her she was leaving opportunity and the pleasant school life and friends, leaving them forever.

She was leaving Crawford, too, leaving him without a word of explanation. She had had no time to write even a note. Mrs. Wyeth, after protesting vainly against her guest's decision to leave for the Cape by the earliest train in the morning, had helped to pack a few essential belongings; the others she was to pack and send later on, when she received word to do so. The three, Mrs. Wyeth, Miss Pease, and Mary, had talked and argued and planned until almost daylight. Then followed an hour or two of uneasy sleep, a hurried breakfast, and the rush to the train. Mary had not written Crawford; the shock of what she had been told at the Howes' and her great anxiety to see Judge Baxter and learn if what she had heard was true had driven even her own love story from her mind. Now she remembered that she had given him permission to call, not this evening but the next, to say good-by before leaving for the West. He would be disappointed, poor fellow. Well, she must not think of that. She must not permit herself to think of anyone but her uncles or of anything except the great debt of love and gratitude she owed them and of the sacrifice they had made for her. She could repay a little of that sacrifice now; at least she could try. She would think of that and of nothing else.

And then she wondered what Crawford would think or say when he found she had gone.

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