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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 13461

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


At twelve o'clock on a night late in the following week Captain Shadrach, snoring gloriously in his bed, was awakened by his partner's entering the room bearing a lighted lamp. The Captain blinked, raised himself on his elbow, looked at his watch which was on the chair by the bed's head, and then demanded in an outraged whisper:

"What in the nation are you prowlin' around this hour of the night for? You don't want to talk about those divilish bills and credits and things, I hope. What's the use? Talkin' don't help none! Jumpin' fire! I went to bed so's to forget 'em and I was just beginnin' to do it. Now you-"

Zoeth held up his hand. "Sshh! sshh!" he whispered. "Hush, Shadrach! I didn't come to talk about those things. Shadrach, there's-there's somethin' queer goin' on. Get up!"

The Captain was out of bed in a moment.

"What's the matter?" he demanded, in a whisper. "What's queer?"

"I-I don't exactly know. I heard somebody movin' downstairs and-"

Shadrach grunted. "Isaiah!" he exclaimed. "Walkin' in his sleep again, I'll bet a dollar!"

"No, no! It ain't Isaiah. Isaiah ain't walked in his sleep since he was a child."

"Well, he's pretty nigh his second childhood now, judgin' by the way he acts sometimes. It was Isaiah of course! Who else would be walkin' around downstairs this time of night?"

"That's what I thought, so I went and looked. Shadrach, it was Mary-'Gusta. Hush! Let me tell you! She had her things on, hat and all, and she took the lantern and lit it and went out."

"Went OUT!"

"Yes, and-and up the road. Now, where-?"

Shadrach's answer was to stride to the window, pull aside the shade and look out. Along the lane in the direction of the village a fiery spark was bobbing.

"There she goes now," he muttered. "She's pretty nigh to the corner already. What in the world can she be up to? Where is she bound-at twelve o'clock?"

Zoeth did not answer. His partner turned and looked at him.

"Humph!" he exclaimed. "Why don't you tell me the whole of it while you're about it? You're keepin' somethin' back. Out with it! Do YOU know where she's bound?"

Zoeth looked troubled-and guilty. "Why, no, Shadrach," he faltered, "I don't know, but-but I kind of suspect. You see, she-she did the same thing last night."

"She DID! And you never said a word?"

"I didn't know what to say. I heard her go and I looked out of the window and saw her. She come back about three. I thought sure she'd speak of it this mornin', but she didn't and-and-But tonight I watched again and-Shadrach, she's taken the store keys. Anyhow, they're gone from the nail."

The Captain wiped his forehead. "She's gone to the store, then," he muttered. "Jumpin'! That's a relief, anyhow. I was afraid-I didn't know-Whew! I don't know WHAT I didn't know! But what on earth has she gone to the store for? And last night too, you say?"

"Yes. Shadrach, I've been thinkin' and all I can think of is that-that-"

"Well-what?"

"That-that she suspicions how things are with us-somebody that does suspicion has dropped a hint and she has-has gone up to-"

"To do what? Chuck it overboard! Speak it out! To do what?"

"To look at the books or somethin'. She knows the combination of the safe, you recollect."

Captain Shadrach's eyes and mouth opened simultaneously. He made a dive for the hooks on the bedroom wall.

"Jumpin' fire of brimstone!" he roared. "Give me my clothes!"

A half-hour later an interested person-and, so far as that goes, at least every second person in South Harniss would have been interested had he or she been aware of what was going on-an interested and, of course, unscrupulous person peeping in under the shades of Hamilton and Company's window would have seen a curious sight. This person would have seen two elderly men sitting one upon a wooden chair and the other upon a wooden packing case and wearing guilty, not to say hang-dog, expressions, while a young woman standing in front of them delivered pointed and personal remarks.

Captain Shadrach and Zoeth, following their niece to the store, had peeped in and seen her sitting at the desk, the safe open, and account books and papers spread out before her. A board in the platform creaked beneath the Captain's weighty tread and Mary looked up and saw them. Before they could retreat or make up their minds what to do, she had run to the door, thrown it open, and ordered them to come in. Neither answered-they could not at the moment. The certainty that she knew what they had tried so hard to conceal kept them tongue-tied.

"Come in!" repeated Mary. "Come in! And shut the door!"

They came in. Also Captain Shadrach shut the door. Just why he obeyed orders so meekly he could not have told. His niece gave him little time to think.

"I did not exactly expect you," she said, "but, on the whole, I am glad you came. Now sit down, both of you, and listen to me. What do you mean by it?"

Zoeth sat, without a word. Shadrach, however, made a feeble attempt to bluster.

"What do WE mean by it?" he repeated. "What do YOU mean, you mean! Perusin' up here in the middle of the night without a word to your Uncle Zoeth and me, and-and haulin' open that safe-and-"

Again Mary interrupted.

"Be still, Uncle Shad!" she commanded. "Sit down! Sit down on that box and listen to me! That's right. Now tell me! Why have you been telling me fibs for almost a year? Answer me! Why have you?"

Zoeth looked at Shadrach and the latter looked at him.

"Fibs?" stammered Mr. Hamilton. "Fibs? Why-why, Mary-'Gusta!"

"Yes, fibs. I might use a stronger word and not exaggerate very much. You have led me to think that business was good, that you were doing as well or better than when I was here with you. I asked you over and over again and you invariably gave me that answer. And now I know that during all that time you have scarcely been able to make ends meet, that you have been worrying yourselves sick, that you-"

Captain Shad could stand it no longer.

"We ain't, neither!" he declared. "I never was better in my life. I ain't had a doctor for more'n a year. And then I only had him for the heaves-for the horse-a horse doctor, I mean. What are you talkin' about! Sick nothin'! If that swab of an Isaiah has-"

"Stop, Uncle Shad! I told you to listen. And you needn't try to change the subject or to pretend I don't know what I am talking about. I do know. And as for pretending-well, there has been pretending enough. What do you mean-you and Uncle Zoeth-by sending me off to school and to Europe and declaring up and down that you didn't need me here at home?"

"We didn't need you, Mary-'Gusta," vowed Zoeth eagerly. "We got along fust-rate without you. An

d we wanted you to go to school and to Europe. You see, it makes us feel proud to know our girl is gettin' a fine education and seein' the world. It ain't any more than she deserves, but it makes us feel awful pleased to know she's gettin' it."

"And as for the store," broke in the Captain, "I cal'late you've been pawin' over them books and they've kind of-kind of gone to your head. I don't wonder at it, this time of night! Hamilton and Company's all right. We may be a little mite behind in some of our bills, but-er-but. . . . DON'T look at me like that, Mary-'Gusta! What do you do it for? Stop it, won't you?"

Mary shook her head.

"No, Uncle Shad," she said, "I shan't stop it. I know all about Hamilton and Company's condition; perhaps I know it better than you do. This is the fifth night that I have been working over those books and I should know, at least."

"The FIFTH night! Do you mean to say-"

"I mean that I knew you wouldn't tell me what I wanted to know; I had to see these books for myself and at night was the only time I could do it. But never mind that now," she added. "We'll talk of that later. Other things come first. Uncle Shad and Uncle Zoeth, I know not only about the affairs of Hamilton and Company, but about my own as well."

Zoeth leaned forward and stared at her. He seemed to catch the significance of the remark, for he looked frightened, whereas Shadrach was only puzzled.

"You-you know what, Mary-'Gusta?" faltered Zoeth. "You mean-"

"I mean," went on Mary, "that I know where the money came from which has paid my school bills and for my clothes and my traveling things and all the rest. I know whose money has paid all my bills ever since I was seven years old."

Shadrach rose from his chair. He was as frightened as his partner now.

"What are you talkin' about, Mary-'Gusta Lathrop?" he shouted. "You know! You don't know nothin'! You stop sayin' such things! Why don't you stop her, Zoeth Hamilton?"

Zoeth was speechless. Mary went on as if there had been no interruption.

"I know," she said, "that I haven't a penny of my own and never did have and that you two have done it all. I know all about it-at last."

If these two men had been caught stealing they could not have looked more guilty. If, instead of being reminded that their niece had spent their money, they had been accused of misappropriating hers they could not have been more shaken or dumbfounded. Captain Shadrach stood before her, his face a fiery red and his mouth opening and shutting in vain attempts at articulation. Zoeth, his thin fingers extended in appeal, was the first to speak.

"Mary-'Gusta," he stammered, "don't talk so! PLEASE don't!"

Mary smiled. "Oh, yes, I shall, Uncle Zoeth," she said. "I mean to do more than talk from now on, but I must talk a little first. I'm not going to try to tell you what it means to me to learn after all these years that I have been dependent on you for everything I have had, home and luxuries and education and opportunities. I realize now what sacrifices you must have made-"

"We ain't, neither!" roared the Captain, in frantic protest. "We ain't, I tell you. Somebody's been tellin' lies, ain't they, Zoeth? Why-"

"Hush, Uncle Shad! Someone HAS been telling me-er-fibs-I said that at the beginning; but they're not going to tell me any more. I know the truth, every bit of it, about Father's losing his money in stocks and-Uncle Shad, where are you going?"

Captain Shad was halfway to the door. He answered over his shoulder.

"I'm goin' home," he vowed, "and when I get there I'm goin' to choke that dummed tattle-tale of an Isaiah Chase! I'll talk to YOU after I've done it."

Mary ran after him and caught his arm.

"Come back, Uncle Shad!" she ordered. "Come back, sit down, and don't be foolish. I don't want you to talk to me! I am going to talk to you, and I'm not half through yet. Besides, it wasn't Isaiah who told me, it was Judge Baxter."

"Judge Baxter! Why, the everlastin' old-"

"Hush! He couldn't help telling me, I made him do it. Be still, both of you, and I'll tell you all about it."

She did tell them, beginning with her meeting with Mr. Green at the Howe dinner, then of her stop at Ostable and the interview with Baxter.

"So I have found it all out, you see," she said. "I'm not going to try to thank you-I couldn't, if I did try. But I am going to take my turn at the work and the worry. To begin with, of course, you understand that I am through with Boston and school, through forever."

There was an excited and voluble protest, of course, but she paid no heed whatever to commands or entreaties.

"I am through," she declared. "I shall stay here and help you. I am only a girl and I can't do much, perhaps, but I truly believe I can do something. I am a sort of silent partner now; you understand that, don't you?"

Shadrach looked doubtful and anxious.

"If I had my way," he declared, "you'd go straight back to that school and stay there long's we could rake or scrape enough together to keep you there. And I know Zoeth feels the same."

"I sartin do," agreed Zoeth.

Mary laughed softly. "But you haven't your way, you see," she said. "You have had it for ever so long and now I am going to have mine. Your new silent partner is going to begin to boss you."

For the first time since he entered the door of his store that night-or morning-Shadrach smiled. It wasn't a broad smile nor a very gay one, but it was a smile.

"Um-ya-as," he drawled. "I want to know, Mary-'Gusta! I am gettin' some along in years, but my memory ain't failed much. If I could remember any day or hour or minute since Zoeth and me h'isted you into the old buggy to drive you from Ostable here-if I could remember a minute of that time when you HADN'T bossed us, I-well, I'd put it down in the log with a red ink circle around it. No, sir-ee! You've been OUR skipper from the start."

Even Zoeth smiled now and Mary laughed aloud.

"But you haven't objected; you haven't minded being-what shall I call it?-skipped-by me, have you?" she asked.

The Captain grinned. "Mind it!" he exclaimed. "Umph! The only time when we really minded it was these last two years when we ain't had it. We minded missin' it, that's what we minded."

"Well, you won't miss it any more. Now help me put these things back in the safe and we'll go home. Yes, home! Tomorrow morning-this morning, I mean-we'll talk and I'll tell you some of my plans. Oh, yes! I have plans and I am in hopes they may do great things for Hamilton and Company. But no more talk tonight. Remember, the skipper is back on board!"

So to the house they went and to bed, the Captain and Mr. Hamilton under protest.

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