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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 18189

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

During all this time she had heard from Crawford at least once a week. He would have written oftener than that, had she permitted it. And in spite of her determination so bravely expressed in their interview over the telephone, she had written him more than the one letter she had promised. In that letter-her first-she told him the exact situation there at home; of her discovery that her uncles were in trouble, that the small, but to them precious, business they had conducted so long was in danger, and of her determination to give up school and remain at South Harniss where, she knew, she was needed. Then she went on to tell of her still greater discovery, that instead of being a young woman of independent means, she was and always had been dependent upon the bounty of her uncles.

You can imagine how I felt when I learned this [she wrote], when I thought of all the kindness I had accepted at their hands, accepted it almost as if it was my right, thinking as I did that my own money paid. And now to learn that all the time I had nothing and they had given of their own when they had so little, and given it so cheerfully, so gladly. And, Crawford, when I told them what I had done, they would not accept thanks, they would not let me even speak of the great debt I owed them. So far from that they acted as if they were the ones who owed and as if I had caught them in some disgraceful act. Why, if they could, they would have sent me back to Boston and to school, while they remained here to work and worry until the bankruptcy they expected came.

Do you wonder that I feel my first and whole duty is to them and that nothing, NOTHING must be permitted to interfere with it? I am going to stay here and try to help. Perhaps I shall succeed, and perhaps, which is just as probable, I may fail; but at any rate while my uncles live and need me I shall not leave them. They gave all they had to me when there was no real reason why they should give anything. The very least I can do is to be with them and work for them now when they are growing old.

I am sure you must understand this and that, therefore, you will forget-

She paused. "Forget" was a hard word to write. Fortunately she had written it at the top of a page, so she tore up that sheet and began the line again.

I am sure you will understand and that you will see my duty as I see it myself. It seems to me clear. Everyone has duties, I suppose, but you and I have ours very plainly shown us, I think. Yours is to your father and mine to my uncles.

Bringing that letter to an end was a difficult task. There were things which must be said and they were so very hard to say. At last, after many attempts:

I have not referred [she wrote] to what you said to me when we last met. It seems almost useless to refer to it, doesn't it? You see how I am placed here, and I have written you what I mean to do. And please understand I am doing it gladly, I am happy in having the opportunity to do it; but it does mean that for years my life and interest must be here with them. Even if I were sure of my own feelings-and perhaps I am not really sure-I certainly should not think of asking one I cared for to wait so long. You have your future to think of, Crawford, and you must think of it. And there is your father. Of course, I don't know, but I somehow feel certain that he will not wish you to marry me. Don't you think it better for us both to end it now? It seems so hopeless.

Which, she flattered herself, was brave and sensible and right. And, having reached this commendable conclusion and sealed and posted the letter, she came back to the house, went upstairs to her room, and, throwing herself upon the bed, cried bitterly for many minutes.

Yet, in a way, her tears were wasted. It takes two to make a bargain and although she might notify Crawford Smith that his case was hopeless, it by no means followed that that young gentleman would accept the notification as final. His reply to her letter was prompt and convincing. All the references to ending it were calmly brushed aside. There could be but two endings, one being their marriage-this, of course, the logical and proper ending-and the other Mary's notifying him that she did not love him. Anything else was nonsense and not worth consideration. Wait! He would wait fifty years if necessary, provided she would wait for him. He was about to take up his studies again, but now he would feel that he was working for her. His father, he was sorry to say, was not at all well. He was very nervous, weak and irritable.

I came home [he wrote] fully determined to tell him of you and my determination to marry you-always provided you will have me, you know-on the very night of my arrival. But when I saw how poor old Dad was feeling and after the doctor told me how very necessary it was that his nervous system be allowed a complete rest, I decided I must wait. So I shall wait; perhaps I shall not tell him for months; but just as soon as he is able to hear, I shall speak, and I am sure he will say, "Good luck and God bless you." But if he doesn't, it will make not the slightest difference. If you will have me, Mary dear, nothing on this earth is going to stop my having you. That's as settled and solid a fact as the Rocky Mountains.

He pleaded for a letter at least once a week.

You needn't put a word of love in it [he wrote]. I know how conscientious you are, and I know perfectly well that until your mind is made up you won't feel it right to encourage me in the least. But do please write, if only to tell me how you are getting on with Hamilton and Company. I only wish I were there to help you pull those fine old uncles of yours out of the hot water. I know you'll do it, though. And meanwhile I shall be digging away out here and thinking of you. Please write OFTEN.

So Mary, after considerable thought and indecision, did write, although Crawford's suggestion that her letters have no word of love in them was scrupulously followed. And so, while the summer came and went, the letters crossed and the news of the slow but certain building up of the business of Hamilton and Company was exchanged for that of Edwin Smith's steady regaining of health and strength.

And Hamilton and Company's business was reviving. Even the skeptics could see the signs. The revival began before the summer residents arrived in South Harniss, but after the latter began to come and the cottages to open, it was on in earnest. John Keith helped to give it its first big start. Mrs. Wyeth wrote him of Mary's leaving her school work to go to the rescue of Shadrach and Zoeth, and the girl's pluck and uncomplaining acceptance of the task she considered set for her made Keith's eyes twinkle with admiration as he read the letter. The family came early to South Harniss and this year he came with them. One of his first acts after arrival was to stroll down to the village and enter Hamilton and Company's store. Mary and the partners were there, of course. He shook hands with them cordially.

"Well, Captain," he said, addressing Shadrach, "how is the new hand taking hold?"

Shadrach grinned. "Hand?" he repeated. "I don't know's we've got any new hand, Mr. Keith. Ain't, have we, Zoeth?"

Zoeth did not recognize the joke. "He means Mary-'Gusta, I cal'late, Shadrach," he said. "She's doin' splendid, Mr. Keith. I don't know how we ever got along without her."

"I do," put in his partner promptly; "we didn't, that's how. But, Mr. Keith, you hadn't ought to call Mary-'Gusta a 'hand.' Zoeth and me are the hands aboard this craft. She's skipper, and engineer, and purser, and-yes, and pilot, too. And don't she make us tumble up lively when she whistles! Whew! Don't talk!"

"She is the boss, then, is she?" observed Keith.

"Boss! I guess SO! She's got US trained! Why, I've got so that I jump out of bed nights and run round the room in my sleep thinkin' she's just hollered to me there's a customer waitin'. Oh, she's a hard driver, Mary-'Gusta is. Never had a fust mate aboard drove harder'n she does. And it's havin' its effect on us, too. Look at Zoeth! He's agin' fast; he's a year older'n he was twelve months ago."

Keith laughed, Mary smiled, and Mr. Hamilton, judging by the behavior of the company that there was a joke somewhere on the premises, smiled too.

"You mustn't mind Uncle Shad, Mr. Keith," said Mary. "He talks a great deal."

"Talkin's all the exercise my face gets nowadays," declared the Captain instantly. "She keeps me so busy I don't get time to eat. What do you think of the store, Mr. Keith? Some improvement, ain't it?"

Keith, who had already noticed the trim appearance of the store and the neat and attractive way in which the goods were displayed, expressed his hearty approval.

"And how is business?" he asked.

"Tiptop!" declared Shadrach.

"It's improvin' consider'ble," said Zoeth.

"It is a little better, but it must be far better before I am satisfied," said Mary.

"How is the cottage trade?" asked Keith.

"Why, not so very good. There aren

't many cottagers here yet."

When Keith reached home he called his wife into consultation.

"Gertrude," he asked, "where do we buy our household supplies, groceries and the like?"

"In Boston, most of them. The others-those I am obliged to buy here in South Harniss-at that new store, Baker's."

"I want you to buy them all of Hamilton and Company hereafter."

"THAT old-fogy place! Why?"

"Because the partners, Captain Gould and the other old chap, are having a hard struggle to keep going and I want to help them."

Mrs. Keith tossed her head. "Humph!" she sniffed. "I know why you are so interested. It is because of that upstart girl you think is so wonderful, the one who has been boarding with Clara Wyeth."

"You're right, that's just it. She has given up her studies and her opportunities there in Boston and has come down here to help her uncles. Clara writes me that she was popular there in the school, that the best people were her friends, and you know of her summer in Europe with Letitia Pease. Letitia isn't easy to please and she is enthusiastic about Mary Lathrop. No ordinary girl could give up all that sort of thing and come back to the village where everyone knows her and go to keeping store again, and do it so cheerfully and sensibly and without a word of complaint. She deserves all the help and support we and our friends can give her. I mean to see that she has it."

Mrs. Keith looked disgusted. "You're perfectly infatuated with that girl, John Keith," she said. "It is ridiculous. If I were like some women I should be jealous."

"If I were like some men you might be. Now, Gertrude, you'll buy in future from Hamilton and Company, won't you?"

"I suppose so. When your chin sets that way I know you're going to be stubborn and I may as well give in first as last. I'll patronize your precious Mary-'Gusta, but I WON'T associate with her. You needn't ask that."

"Don't you think we might wait until she asks it first?"

"Tut! tut! Really, John, you disgust me. I wonder you don't order Sam to marry her."

"From what Clara writes he might not have needed any orders if he had received the least encouragement from her. Sam might do worse; I imagine he probably will."

So, because John Keith's chin was set, the Keith custom shifted to Hamilton and Company. And because the Keiths were wealthy and influential, and because the head of the family saw that that influence was brought to bear upon his neighbors and acquaintances, their custom followed. Hamilton and Company put a delivery wagon-a secondhand one-out on the road, and hired a distinctly secondhand boy to drive it. And Mary and Shadrach and Zoeth and, in the evenings, the boy as well, were kept busy waiting on customers. The books showed, since the silent partner took hold, a real and tangible profit, and the collection and payment of old debts went steadily on.

The partners, Shadrach and Zoeth, were no longer silent and glum. The Captain whistled and sang and was in high spirits most of the time. At home he was his old self, chaffing Isaiah about the housekeeping, taking a mischievous delight in shocking his friend and partner by irreverent remarks concerning Jonah or some other Old Testament personage, and occasionally, although not often, throwing out a sly hint to Mary about the frequency of letters from the West. Mary had told her uncles of Crawford's leaving Boston and returning to Nevada because of his father's ill health. The only item of importance she had omitted to tell was that of the proposal of marriage. She could not speak of that even to them. They would ask what her answer was to be, and if she loved Crawford. How could she answer that-truthfully-without causing them to feel that they were blocking her way to happiness? They felt that quite keenly enough, as it was.

So when Captain Shad declared the illness of the South Harniss postmaster-confined to his bed with sciatica-to be due to his having "stooped to pick up one of them eighty-two page Wild West letters of yours, Mary-'Gusta, and 'twas so heavy he sprained his back liftin' it," Mary only laughed and ventured the opinion that the postmaster's sprained back, if he had one, was more likely due to a twist received in trying to read both sides of a postcard at once. Which explanation, being of the Captain's own brand of humor, pleased the latter immensely.

"Maybe you're right, Mary-'Gusta," he chuckled. "Maybe that's what 'twas. Seth [the postmaster] is pure rubber so far as other folks' mail is concerned; maybe he stretched the rubber too far this time and it snapped."

Zoeth did not joke much-joking was not in his line-but he showed his relief at the improvement in the firm's affairs in quieter but as unmistakable ways. When Mary was at the desk in the evenings after the store had closed, busy with the books, he would come and sit beside her, saying little but occasionally laying his hand gently on her shoulder or patting her arm and regarding her with a look so brimful of love and gratitude that it made her feel almost guilty and entirely unworthy.

"Don't, Uncle Zoeth," she protested, on one such occasion. "Don't look at me like that. I-I-Really, you make me feel ashamed. I haven't done anything. I am not doing half enough."

He shook his head.

"You're doin' too much, I'm afraid, Mary-'Gusta," he said. "You're givin' up everything a girl like you had ought to have and that your Uncle Shadrach and I had meant you should have. You're givin' it up just for us and it ain't right. We ain't worthy of it."

"Hush, hush, Uncle Zoeth! Please! When I think what you have given up for me-"

"'Twa'n't nothin', Mary-'Gusta. You came to your Uncle Shadrach and to me just when we needed somethin' to keep our lives sweet. Mine especial was bitter and there was danger 'twould always be so. And then we brought you over from Ostable in the old buggy and-and the Almighty's sunshine came with you. You was His angel. Yes, sir! His angel, that's what you was, only we didn't know it then. I was pretty sore and bitter in those days, thought I never could forget. And yet-and yet, now I really am forgettin'-or, if I don't forget, I'm more reconciled. And you've done it for me, Mary-'Gusta."

Mary was puzzled. "Forget what?" she asked. "Do you mean the business troubles, Uncle Zoeth?"

Zoeth seemed to waken from a sort of dream. "Business troubles?" he repeated. "No, no; long, long afore that these troubles were, Mary-'Gusta. Don't let's talk about 'em. I can't talk about 'em even now-and I mustn't think. There are some troubles that-that-" He caught his breath and his tone changed. "I called you an angel just now, dearie," he went on. "Well, you was and you are. There are angels in this world-but there's devils, too-there's devils, too. There; the Lord forgive me! What am I talkin' about? We'll forget what's gone and be thankful for what's here. Give your old uncle a kiss, Mary-'Gusta."

He was happy in Mary's society and happy in the steady improvement of the business, but the girl and Captain Shadrach were a little worried concerning his general health. For years he had not been a very strong or active man, but now he looked paler and more frail than ever. He walked to and from the store and house several times a day, but he retired almost as soon as he entered the house at night and his appetite was not good.

"His nerves ain't back where they'd ought to be," declared Shadrach. "He was awful shook up when it looked as if Hamilton and Company was goin' to founder. He didn't keep blowin' off steam about it the way I did-my safety-valve's always open-but he kept it all inside his biler and it's put his engine out of gear. He'll get along all right so long's it's smooth sailin', but what I'm afraid of is a rock showin' up in the channel unexpected. The doctor told me that Zoeth mustn't worry any more and he mustn't work too hard. More'n all, he mustn't have any scares or shocks or anything like that."

"We must try to see that he doesn't have any," said Mary.

"Sartin sure we must, but you can't always see those things in time to head 'em off. Now take my own case. I had a shock this mornin'. 'Rastus Young paid me a dollar on account."

"WHAT? 'Rastus Young PAID you?"

"Well, I don't know's he paid it, exactly. He borrowed the dollar of one of those summer fellers over at Cahoon's boardin' house and he was tellin' Ab Bacheldor about it at the corner by the post-office. Ab, naturally, didn't believe any sane man would lend Rastus anything, so he wanted proof. 'Rastus hauled the dollar out of his pocket to show, and I who happened to be standin' behind 'em without their knowin' it reached out and grabbed it."

"You did? Why, Uncle Shad!"

"Yes. I told 'Rastus I'd credit his account with it, but I don't know's I hadn't ought to give it back to the summer feller. Anyhow, gettin' it was a shock, same as I said at the beginnin'. 'Rastus says he's goin' to sue me. I told him I'd have sued HIM long ago if I'd supposed he could STEAL a dollar, let alone borrow one."

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