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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 25552

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Neither Mary nor the Captain nor Mr. Hamilton slept much of the few hours until daylight, and Captain Shadrach, who was devoured with curiosity concerning the plans, would have asked particulars before breakfast, but Mary would not listen to questions. It was not until breakfast was over and they were back in the store that she consented to discuss the subject.

The safe was reopened and the books and papers spread out upon the desk. Mary took up one of the sheets of paper; it was covered with rows of figures in her handwriting.

"Now," she said, "it seems to me that the first thing is to find out exactly where we stand. When I say 'we,'" she added, with a nod of great importance, "I mean 'we,' because, as I told you last night, I am a silent partner in the business now."

"Don't seem to be so terrible much silence," observed Shadrach dryly.

"Hush! Another remark of that kind and I shall set you to sweeping out, Uncle Shad. Now, Uncle Zoeth, according to the books this is what we owe."

She read from the paper in her hand.

"That is the total, Uncle Zoeth, isn't it?" she asked. Zoeth groaned and admitted that he cal'lated it was nigh enough.

"Yes. But this," holding up another sheet of paper, "is what is owed us, and it is almost as much as the other."

It was Shadrach's turn to groan. "'Tis if we could get a-hold of it," he muttered. "The heft of the gang on that list ain't got a cent and the bulk of the rest of 'em wouldn't have if they paid what they owed."

Mary nodded determinedly.

"There are some that can pay," she said. "Jeremiah Clifford, for instance. According to the books he owes us over a hundred and ten dollars and part of the account is three years old. Mr. Clifford owns property. He can't be a poor man."

The Captain sniffed. "His wife owns the property," he said. "Every stick's in her name. Jerry Clifford's got enough, but he loves it too well to let go of it. Mean! Why, say! In the old days, when fishin' schooners used to run from South Harniss here, Jerry he was owner and skipper of a little hooker and Solon Black went one v'yage with him. There was another fo'mast hand besides Jerry and Solon aboard and Solon swears that all the hearty provision Jerry put on board for a four-day trip was two sticks of smoked herrin'. For two days, so Solon vows, they ate the herrin' and the other two they chewed the sticks. That may be stretchin' it a mite, but anyhow it goes to show that Jerry Clifford don't shed money same as a cat does its hair."

Zoeth put in a word.

"He says he'll pay pretty soon," he observed plaintively. "He's been sayin' it for over a year, though."

"Humph!" grunted Shadrach. "There's only a difference of one letter between 'sayin'' and 'payin',' but there ain't but two between 'trust' and 'bust.'"

Mary spoke. "Never mind," she said. "I shall see Mr. Clifford myself. And I shall see some of these others, too. Now about our own bills-those we owe. I have a list of the principal creditors. Mr. Green's firm is one of them; we owe them most of all, it seems. I think I shall go and see Mr. Green myself."

"For the land sakes, what for?" demanded Shadrach. "He knows how we're fixed, Zoeth wrote him."

"Yes, but I want to talk with him, nevertheless."

"But what for? You ain't goin' beggin' him to-"

"I'm not going begging at all. When I talked with him at the Howes' he, not knowing in the least who I was or that I was your niece, expressed sympathy for Hamilton and Company and wished there were some way of helping us out of our trouble-something he could do, you know. I'm not sure there isn't something he can do. At any rate, I am going to see him. I shall start for Boston Monday morning."

Zoeth ventured an observation.

"He'll be considerable surprised to see you, won't he?" he said.

Mary laughed. "I think he will," she replied. "Surprised and a little embarrassed. But I imagine his embarrassment will make him all the more anxious to be of service to me, and that's what I want from him-service."

Of course the partners asked hundreds more questions concerning the plans. Mary's answers were still disappointingly vague. Before she could tell just what she meant to do, she said she must be sure, and she was not sure yet. A great deal would depend upon her Boston trip. They must be patient until she returned from that.

So they were patient-that is to say, Zoeth was really so and Captain Shadrach was as patient as it was his nature to be. Mary was absent nearly a week. When she returned she had much to tell. She had visited Mr. Green at his office on Commercial Street. His surprise and embarrassment were all that she had prophesied. He offered profuse apologies for his blunder at the Howes'.

"Of course, if I had known of your relationship to Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton," he began, "I should never-Really, I am-I assure you I hadn't the slightest idea-"

He was floundering like a stranded fish. Mary helped him off the shoals by taking the remainder of his apologies for granted.

"Of course you hadn't," she said. "But I am very glad you told me, Mr. Green. It was high time I knew. Don't say another word about it, please. I have come to you to ask advice and, perhaps, help of a sort. May I have a little of your time?"

Mr. Green seized the opportunity thus offered. Indeed, she might have time, all the time she wanted. Anything in his power to do-and so on. Being a bachelor and something of an elderly beau who prided himself upon making a good impression with the sex, it had annoyed him greatly, the memory of his mistake. Also he had been distinctly taken with Mary and was anxious to reinstate himself in her opinion. So his willingness to atone was even eager.

"As it happens," he said, "I am not at all busy this afternoon. I can give you the rest of the day, if you wish. Now what can I do for you?"

Mary explained that she had come to speak with him concerning her uncles' business affairs, his house being Hamilton and Company's largest creditor. She told of her investigations, of the condition in which she had found the accounts, and of her determination to remain at South Harniss and work for the upbuilding of the concern.

"Of course I am not a business person like yourself, Mr. Green," she said. "I am only a girl. But I worked in my uncles' store and, in a way, managed it for two years or more before I came to Boston to school. Beside that I have talked during these last few days with some of South Harniss's most prominent people-permanent residents, not summer people. From what they and others tell me I am convinced that the sole reason why my uncles' business has fallen behind is because of a lack of keeping up to the times in the face of competition. Everyone likes Uncle Zoeth and Uncle Shadrach and wishes them well-they couldn't help that, you know."

She made this assertion with such evident pride and with such absolute confidence that Mr. Green, although inclined to smile, felt it might be poor judgment to do so. So he agreed that there was no doubt of Shadrach's and Zoeth's universal popularity.

"Yes," went on Mary, "they are dears, both of them, and they think everyone else is as honest as they are, which is a mistake, of course. So some people impose on them and don't pay their bills. I intend to stop that."

She evidently expected her listener to make some comment, so he said, "Oh, indeed!"

"Yes," continued Mary. "I intend to stop their trusting everyone under the sun and I shall try my hardest to collect from those they have already trusted. There is almost enough due to pay every bill we owe, and I believe two-thirds of that is collectible if one really goes after it."

"And you will go after it, I presume?"

"I most certainly shall. You are smiling, Mr. Green. I suppose it sounds like a joke, a girl like myself making such statements about things men are supposed to understand and women not to understand at all. It isn't a joke in this case, because I think I understand my uncles business better than they do. I think I can collect what is owed us, pay what we owe, and make money there in South Harniss. But to do that I must have time and, by and by, credit, for we need goods. And that is what I came to talk to you about."

She had brought with her copies of the Hamilton and Company trial balance, also a list of the firm's debtors and creditors. These she put upon the desk before Mr. Green and ran a finger down the pages with explanatory remarks such as, "This is good, I know," "This can be collected but it may take a lawyer to get it," or, as in the case of 'Rastus Young's long-standing indebtedness, "This isn't worth anything and shouldn't be counted."

"You see," she said, in conclusion, "we aren't in such a VERY bad state; it isn't hopeless, anyway. Now here are the accounts we owe. Yours is the largest. Here are the others. All these bills are going to be paid, just as I said, but they can't be paid at all unless I have time. I have been thinking, thinking very hard, Mr. Green-"

Green nodded. "I can see that," he put in, good-naturedly.

"Yes. Well, this is what I want to ask you: Will you give us six months more to pay the whole of this bill in? I don't think we shall need so much time, but I want to be sure. And if at the end of two months we have paid half of it, will you give us credit for another small bill of goods for the summer season, so that we may be stocked and ready? The summer is our best season, you see," she added.

Mr. Green nodded. Her businesslike manner he found amusing, although he by no means shared her confidence in the future.

"We shall be very glad to extend the time," he said. "You may remember I told you the other evening that so far as our house was concerned, we should probably be willing to sell your uncles indefinitely, for old times' sake."

His visitor frowned.

"We are not asking it for old times' sake," she said. "It is the new times I am interested in. And please understand this isn't sentiment but business. If you do not believe what I ask to be a safe business risk, that one your firm would be justified in accepting from anybody, then you mustn't do it."

Mr. Green hesitated. "Suppose I do not accept that risk," he said; "what then?"

"Then I shall go and see some other creditors, the principal ones, and make them similar propositions."

"And suppose they don't accept?"

"I think they will, most of them. If they don't-well, then there is another way. My uncles own their house and store. They have been thinking of selling their property to pay their debts. I should hate to have them sell, and I don't believe it is necessary. I have been talking with Judge Baxter over at Ostable-I stopped there on my way to Boston-and he suggested that they might mortgage and raise money that way. It could be done, couldn't it? Mortgages are a kind of business I don't know anything about. They sound horrid."

"Sometimes they are. Miss Lathrop, if I were you I shouldn't sell or mortgage yet. I am inclined to believe, judging by this balance sheet and what you say, that you have a chance to pull Hamilton and Company out of the fire, and I'm very sure you can do it if anyone can. Are you going to be in the city for a day or two? Good! Then will you let me consider this whole matter until-say-Thursday? By that time I shall have made up my mind and may have something to say which will be worth while. Can you come in Thursday afternoon at two? And will you? Very well. Oh, don't thank me! I haven't done anything yet. Perhaps I shall not be able to, but we shall hope for the best."

Mary went straight to Mrs. Wyeth's home on Pinckney Street and once more occupied her pleasant room on the third floor. In spite of her determination not to care she could not help feeling a little pang as she walked by the Misses Cabot's school and remembered that she would never again enjoy the privileges and advantages of that exclusive institution. She wondered how the girls, her classmates, had felt and spoken when they heard the news that she had left them and returned to Cape Cod and storekeeping. Some would sneer and laugh-she knew that-and some might be a little sorry. But they would all forget her, of course. Doubtless, most of them had forgotten her already.

But the fact that all had not forgotten was proved that very evening when, as she and Mrs. Wyeth and Miss Pease were sitting talking together in the parlor, Maggie, the maid, answering the ring of the doorbell, ushered in Miss Barbara Howe. Barbara was, as usual, arrayed like the lilies of the field, but her fine petals were decidedly crumpled by the hug which she gave Mary as soon as she laid eyes upon her.

"You bad girl

!" she cried. "Why didn't you tell me you were in town? And why didn't you answer my letter-the one I wrote you at South Harniss? I didn't hear a word and only tonight, after dinner, I had the inspiration of phoning Mrs. Wyeth and trying to learn from her where you were and what you meant by dropping all your friends. Maggie answered the phone and said you were here and I threw on my things-yes, 'threw' is the word; nothing else describes the process-and came straight over. How DO you do? And WHAT are you doing?"

Mary said she was well and that she had been too busy to reply to Miss Howe's letter. But this did not satisfy. Barbara wanted to know why she had been busy and how, so Mary told of her determination to remain in South Harniss and become a business woman, Barbara was greatly excited and enthusiastic.

"Won't it be perfectly splendid!" she exclaimed. "I only wish I were going to do it instead of having to stay at that straight-up-and-down school and listen to Prissy's dissertations on Emerson. She told the Freshman class the other day that she had had the honor of meeting Mr. Emerson when very young-when SHE was young, she meant; she always tells every Freshman class that, you know-and one of the Freshies spoke up and asked if she ever met him afterwards when he was older. They said her face was a picture; I wish I might have seen it. But do tell me more about that wonderful store of yours. I am sure it will be a darling, because anything you have anything to do with is sure to be. Are you going to have a tea-room?"

Mary shook her head. "No," she said, laughing. "I think not. There's too much competition."

"Oh, but you ought to have one. Not of the ordinary kind, you know, but the-the other kind, the unusual kind. Why, I have a cousin-a second-no, third cousin, a relative of Daddy's, she is-who hadn't much money and whose health wasn't good and the doctor sent her to live in the country. Live there all the time! Only fancy! Oh, I forgot you were going to do the same thing. Do forgive me! I'm so sorry! WHAT a perfect gump I am! Oh, dear me! There I go again! And I know you abhor slang, Mrs. Wyeth."

"Tell me more about your cousin, Barbara," put in Mary, before the shocked Mrs. Wyeth could reply.

"Oh, she went to the country and took an old house, the funniest old thing you ever saw. And she put up the quaintest little sign! And opened a tea-room and gift shop. I don't know why they call them 'gift shops.' They certainly don't give away anything. Far, far from that, my dear! Daddy calls this one of Esther's 'The Robbers' Roost' because he says she charges forty cents for a gill of tea and two slices of toast cut in eight pieces. But I tell him he doesn't pay for the tea and toast alone-it is the atmosphere of the place. He says if he had to pay for all his atmosphere at that rate he would be asphyxiated in a few months. But he admires Esther very much. She makes heaps and heaps of money."

"Then her tea-room and gift shop is a success?"

"A success! Oh, my dear! It's a scream of a success! Almost any day in summer there are at least a dozen motor cars outside the door. Everybody goes there; it's the proper thing to do. I know all this because it isn't very far from our summer home in Clayton-in the mountains, you know."

"So she made a success," mused Mary. "Were there other tea-rooms about?"

"Oh, dozens! But they're not original; hers is. They haven't the-the something-you know what I mean, Esther has the style, the knack, the-I can't say it, but you know. And you would have it, too; I'm perfectly sure you would."

Mary was evidently much interested.

"I wish I might meet your cousin," she said.

"Why, you can. She is here in Boston now, buying for the summer. I'll phone her and we three will lunch together tomorrow. Don't say you won't; you've just got to."

So Mary, rather reluctantly, consented to make one of the luncheon party. Afterward she was glad that she did, for Miss Esther Hemingway-this was the cousin's name-was an interesting person. She told Mary all about her tea-room and gift shop, how she started in business, the mistakes she made at first, and the lessons she had learned from experience. Because Barbara had asked her to do so she brought with her photographs of the establishment, its attractive and quaint exterior and its equally delightful interior.

"The whole secret," she said, "is in keeping everything in good taste and simple. Choose the right location, fit up your rooms in taste and cheerfully, serve the best you can find, and sell the unusual and the attractive things that other people do not have, or at least are not likely to have. Then charge adequate prices."

"Adequate being spelled A double D," observed Barbara significantly.

Mary parted from Miss Hemingway with a new idea in her head, an idea that sometime or other she meant to put into practice.

On Thursday afternoon she called upon Mr. Green. That gentleman, having had his opportunity to think, was ready with a proposition. Briefly it was this: He had personally seen the principal creditors of Hamilton and Company-they were all Boston business houses-and he and they had agreed to make the following offer: Hamilton and Company's credit upon debts already owed was to be extended six months. Mary was to go home, endeavor to collect what money she could, and with it buy for cash whatever goods were needed for the summer season. If that season was a success and the business promised well for the future, then arrangements could be made for future buying and for paying the old debt a little at a time.

"At any rate," concluded Mr. Green, "this postpones the mortgaging or selling for a time at least, and you always have it to fall back on if you can't make your new undertaking pay. I believe you can. I advise you to accept. Your other creditors feel the same way."

He did not add, as he might have done, that the opinion of those other creditors had been influenced almost entirely by his own and that in one or two instances he had been obliged practically to underwrite the payment of Hamilton and Company's indebtedness before gaining consent. He had talked with Mr. Howe, who in turn had called his daughter into consultation, and Barbara's enthusiastic praise of her friend had strengthened the favorable impression which the girl had already made upon both gentlemen. "Do you know, I believe she may win out," observed Mr. Howe.

"I am inclined to think she will," concurred Green.

"Of course she will!" declared Barbara hotly. "No one who ever knew her would be silly enough to think she wouldn't."

Hence Mr. Green's underwriting expedition and the proposition to Mary as the representative of Hamilton and Company.

Mary accepted, of course. She was very grateful and said so.

"I don't know how to thank you, Mr. Green. I can't promise anything, but if trying hard will win, I can promise that," she said.

"That's all right, that's all right. I know you'll try, and I think you'll succeed. Now, why don't you go up and pick out some of those summer goods? You don't need them yet, and you needn't pay for them yet, but now is the time to select. Give my regards to your uncles when you see them and tell them I wish them luck. I may be motoring down the Cape this summer and if I do I shall drop in on you and them."

Mary had news to tell when she reached South Harniss. It was listened to with attention, if not entirely in silence. Captain Shadrach's ejaculations of "You don't say!" "I want to know!" and "Jumpin' fire, how you talk!" served as punctuation marks during the narration. When she had finished her story, she said:

"And now, Uncle Zoeth and Uncle Shad-now that you've heard the whole of it, and know what my plan is, what do you think of it?"

Both answers were characteristic. Zoeth drew a long breath.

"The Almighty sent you to us, Mary-'Gusta," he vowed. "There was a time a little spell ago when I begun to think He'd pretty nigh deserted us. I was almost discouraged and it shook my trust-it shook my trust. But now I can see He was just tryin' us out and in His good time He sent you to haul us off the shoals. He'll do it, too; I know it and I'll thank Him tonight on my knees."

Shadrach shook his head. "By fire!" he cried. "Mary-'Gusta, I always said you was a wonder. You've given us a chance to get clear of the breakers, anyhow, and that's somethin' we'd never have done ourselves. Now, if you can collect that money from Jeremiah Clifford I'll-I'll-I swan to man I'll believe anything's possible, even Jonah's swallowin' the whale."

"Oh, Shadrach!" protested his partner. "If you wouldn't be so irreverent!"

"All right, I'll behave. But it's just as I say: if Mary-'Gusta can get Jerry Clifford to pay up I'll swallow Jonah and the whale, too. 'Twas Moses that hit the rock and the water gushed out, wa'n't it? Um-hm! Well, that was somethin' of a miracle, but strikin' Jerry Clifford for ten cents and gettin' it would be a bigger one. Why, that feller's got fists like-like one of those sensitive plants my mother used to have in the settin'-room window when I was a boy. You touch a leaf of one of those plants and 'twould shrivel up tight. Jerry's fists are that way-touch one of 'em with a nickel and 'twill shut up, but not until the nickel's inside. No, sir! Ho, ho!"

"If you knew all this, Uncle Shad," suggested Mary, "why in the world did you sell Mr. Clifford at all? If he wouldn't pay, why sell him?"

Mr. Hamilton answered.

"He always did pay," he said. "You see, he had to have groceries and clothes and such and whenever he needed more and thought he owed us so much we wouldn't put more on the bill he'd pay a little on account. That way we managed to keep up with him."

"Not exactly up with him," commented the Captain. "We was always a couple of laps astern, but we could keep him in sight. Now the new stores have come and he can get trusted there he don't buy from us-or pay, either. What's the use? That's what he thinks, I cal'late."

Mary considered. "The mean old sinner!" she said. "I should judge, Uncle Shad, that what you told me once, when I was a little girl, about the Free Masons might apply to Mr. Clifford's pocketbook. You said that once in Masonry a man never got out. A dollar in Mr. Clifford's pocketbook never gets out, either, does it?"

Shadrach chuckled. "You bet it don't!" he agreed. "It's got a life sentence. And, so fur as that goes, they generally open a Mason lodge meetin' with prayer, but 'twould take more'n that to open Jerry's pocketbook, I'LL bet you!"

"And, nevertheless," declared Mary, laughing, "I mean to make him pay our bill."

She did make the tight-fisted one pay up eventually, but months were to elapse before that desirable consummation was reached. In the meantime she set herself to collecting other amounts owed Hamilton and Company and to building up the trade at the store. The collecting was not so difficult as she had expected. The Captain and Mr. Hamilton had been reluctant to ask their friends and neighbors to be prompt in their payments, and largely through carelessness accounts had been permitted to drop behind. Mary personally saw the debtors and in most cases, by offering slight discounts or by accepting installments, she was able to obtain at least the greater part of the money due. In some cases she could obtain nothing and expected nothing, but these cases, among them that of 'Rastus Young, were rather to be considered in the light of good riddance even at the price. As Shadrach said, it was worth a few dollars not to have to listen to 'Rastus or Mrs. 'Rastus cry over their troubles whenever they wanted to hold up the firm for more plunder.

"Last time 'Rastus was in to buy anything," declared the Captain, "he shed so blamed many tears into my rubber boots that I got wet feet and sent the boots to the cobbler's to have 'em plugged. I cal'lated they leaked; I didn't realize 'twas Rat workin' me out of four dollars worth of groceries by water power."

The collections, then, those from Mr. Young and his ilk excepted, were satisfactory. Mary was enabled to buy and pay for a modest assortment of summer supplies, those she had selected while in Boston. The store she had thoroughly cleaned and renovated. The windows were kept filled with attractive displays of goods, and the prices of these goods, as set forth upon tickets, were attractive also. Business began to pick up, not a great deal at first, but a little, and as May brought the first of the early-bird summer cottagers to South Harniss, the silent partner of Hamilton and Company awaited the coming of what should be the firm's busiest season with hope and some confidence.

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