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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 20851

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

It was late in August when Mary received the letter from Crawford in which he told of his determination to wait no longer but to tell his father of his love for her. Edwin Smith was much better. By way of proof, his son inclosed a photograph which he had taken of his father sitting beneath a tree on the lawn of their home. The picture showed Mr. Smith without his beard, which had been shaved off during his illness. Either this or the illness itself had changed him a great deal. He looked thinner and, which was odd under the circumstances, younger. Mary, looking at this photograph, felt more than ever the impossible conviction that somewhere or other at some time in her life she must have met Mr. Edwin Smith.

So, in my next letter [wrote Crawford], I shall have news to tell. And I am sure it will be good news. "Ask your father first," you said. Of course you remember that, and I have remembered it every moment since. Now I am going to ask him. After that you will give me your answer, won't you? And it can't be anything but yes, because I won't let it be.

What Mary's feelings were when she received this letter, whether or not she slept as soundly that night and other nights immediately following, whether or not the sight of Isaiah returning from the post-office at mail times caused her breath to come a little quicker and her nerves to thrill-these are questions the answers to which must be guessed. Suffice it to say that she manifested no marked symptoms of impatience and anxiety during that week and when at last Isaiah handed her another letter postmarked Carson City the trembling of the hand which received it was so slight as to be unnoticed by Mr. Chase.

She put aside the letter until that night when she was alone in her room. Then she opened it and read what Crawford had written. His father had not only refused consent to his son's contemplated marriage but had manifested such extraordinary agitation and such savage and unreasonable obstinacy that Crawford was almost inclined to believe his parent's recent illness had affected his mind.

That is the only explanation I can think of [he wrote]. It seems as if he must be insane. And yet he seemed rational enough at the beginning of our first interview and during most of the second. Even when I had broken the news that there was a girl in whom I felt an especial interest he did not show any sign of the outbreak that came afterward. It wasn't until I began to tell how I first met you there at South Harniss, who you were, and about Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton, that I noticed he was acting queerly. I was head over heels in my story, trying to make plain how desperate my case was and doing my best to make him appreciate how tremendously lucky his son was to have even a glimmer of a chance to get a girl like you for a wife, when I heard him make an odd noise in his throat. I looked up-I don't know where I had been looking before-certainly not at him-and there he was, leaning back in his chair, his face as white as his collar, and waving a hand at me. I thought he was choking, or was desperately ill or something, and I sprang toward him, but he waved me back. "Stop! Wait!" he said, or stammered, or choked; it was more like a croak than a human voice. "Don't come here! Let me be! What are you trying to tell me? Who-who is this girl?" I asked him what was the matter-his manner and his look frightened me-but he wouldn't answer, kept ordering me to tell him again who you were. So I did tell him that you were the daughter of the Reverend Charles Lathrop and Augusta Lathrop, and of your mother's second marriage to Captain Marcellus Hall. "But he died when she was seven years old," I went on, "and since that time she has been living with her guardians, the two fine old fellows who adopted her, Captain Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton. They live at South Harniss on Cape Cod." I had gotten no further than this when he interrupted me. "She-she has been living with Zoeth Hamilton?" he cried. "With Zoeth Hamilton! Oh, my God! Did-did Zoeth Hamilton send you to me?" Yes, that is exactly what he said: "Did Zoeth Hamilton send you to me?" I stared at him. "Why, no, Dad," I said, as soon as I could say anything. "Of course he didn't. I have met Mr. Hamilton but once in my life. What IS the matter? Sit down again. Don't you think I had better call the doctor?" I thought surely his brain was going. But no, he wouldn't answer or listen. Instead he looked at me with the wildest, craziest expression and said: "Did Zoeth Hamilton tell you?" "He told me nothing, Dad," I said, as gently as I could. "Of course he didn't. I am almost a stranger to him. Besides, what in the world was there to tell? I came to you because I had something to tell. I mean to marry Mary Lathrop, if she will have me-" I got no further than that. "No!" he fairly screamed. "No! No! No! Oh, my God, no!" And then the doctor came running in, we got Dad to bed, and it was all over for that day, except that I naturally was tremendously upset and conscience-stricken. I could see that the doctor thought I was to blame, that I had confessed something or other-something criminal, I imagine he surmised-to Dad and that it had knocked the poor old chap over. And I couldn't explain, because what I had told him was not for outsiders to hear.

Well, after a terribly anxious night and a worrisome forenoon the doctor told me that father was himself again and wanted to see me at once. "I've said all I can against it," said the doctor. "I don't know what sort of rumpus you two had yesterday, but it came dangerously near being the finish for him. And it must not be repeated; I'm making that as emphatic as I can." I assured him that so far as I was concerned there would not be a scene, and then went in to Dad's room. He looked white enough and sick enough but he was rational and his mind was keen and clear. He got me to tell the whole story about you all over again and he asked a lot of questions; in fact, he cross-examined me pretty thoroughly. When I had finished his tone was calm, but I noticed that his hand was shaking and he seemed to be holding himself in. "And so you think you want to marry this down-east country girl, do you?" he said. "I certainly do," said I. He laughed, a forced laugh-didn't sound like his at all-and he said: "Well, my boy, you'll get over it. It's a whole lot better to get over it now than to do so by and by when it's too late. It's a good thing I called you home when I did. You stay here and keep on with your studies and I'll keep on getting into shape again. By next summer, when we go on our fishing trip, you'll have forgotten all about your Down-Easter." Well, THAT was a staggerer, coming from him. It didn't sound like him at all, and again I had that feeling that his mind was going. You see, Mary, I never asked Dad for anything I didn't get-never. Now, I wasn't asking, I was just telling him what I had made up my mind to have, and he treated me this way. I answered him calmly and quietly, telling him I was serious and what you meant to me. He wouldn't listen at first; then when he did, he wouldn't agree. Pleaded with me-he was lonesome, I was his only son, he needed me, he couldn't share me with anyone else, and so on. There is no use going into all the details. We didn't get any nearer an agreement, we did get nearer and nearer to bad temper on my part and shouts and hysterics on his. So I left him, Mary. That was last night. I knew Dad was inclined to be stubborn, and I knew he had strong prejudices, but I never imagined he could behave like this to me. And I am sure he would not if he were himself. So I shall say no more to him on the subject for a day or two. Then, when he is better, as I am hoping he may be soon, he and I will have another talk. But understand, Mary dear, my mind was made up before I spoke to him at all. What he says or what he does will make no difference, so far as you and I are concerned. I know you are a believer in duty; well, so am I. I would stick by Dad through thick and thin. If I knew he was right in asking me to do or not to do a thing, even if I knew he had been wrong in asking other things, I would stick by him and try to do as he asked. But not this. I love Dad, God knows I do, but I love you, Mary, and as I have vowed to myself every day since I last saw you, I am going to marry you if you will only have me. As for Dad-well, we'll hope within a day or two I may have better news to write.

Mary read and reread the long letter. Then she leaned back in her chair and with the letter in her lap sat there-thinking. She had been right in her forebodings; it was as she had expected, had foreseen: Edwin Smith, man of affairs, wealthy, arbitrary, eccentric, accustomed to having his own way and his prejudices, however absurd, respected-a man with an only son for whom, doubtless, plans definite and ambitious had been made, could not be expected calmly to permit the upsetting of those plans by his boy's marriage to a poor "Down-Easter." So much she had foreseen from the first, and she had never shared Crawford's absolute confidence in his parent's acquiescence. She had been prepared, therefore, to read that Mr. Smith had refused his consent.

But to be prepared for a probability and to face a certainty are quite different. It was the certainty she was facing now. Unless Mr. Smith changed his mind, and the chances were ten to one against that, he and his son would quarrel. Crawford had inherited a portion of his father's stubbornness; he was determined, she knew. He loved her and he meant what he said-if she would have him he would marry her in spite of his father. It made her proud and happy to know that. But she, too, was resolute and had meant what she said. She would not be the cause of a separation between father and son. And, besides, marriage had become for her a matter of the distant future; for the present her task was set there at South Harniss.

What should she do? It was hard for Crawford, poor fellow. Yes, but it was hard for her, too. No one but she knew how hard. He would write her again telling her that his decision was unchanged, begging her to say she loved him, pleading with her to wait for him. And she would wait-Oh, how gladly, how joyfully she could wait-for him!-if she knew she was doing right in permitting him to wait for her. If she was sure that in perm

itting him to give up his father's love and his home and money and all that money could buy she was justified. There is a love which asks and a love which gives without asking return; the latter is the greater love and it was hers. She had written Crawford that perhaps she was not sure of her feeling toward him. That was not true. She was sure; but because she was fearful that his knowledge might be the means of entailing a great sacrifice on his part, she would not tell him.

What should she do? She considered, as the little Mary-'Gusta used to consider her small problems in that very room. And the result of her considerations was rather unsatisfactory. There was nothing she could do now, nothing but wait until she heard again from Crawford. Then she would write.

She brushed her eyes with her handkerchief and read the letter again. There were parts of it which she could not understand. She was almost inclined to adopt Crawford's suggestion that his father's mind might have been affected by his illness. Why had he received so passively the news that his son had fallen in love and yet become so violent when told the object of that love? He did not know her, Mary Lathrop; there could be no personal quality in his objection. And what could he have meant by asking if Zoeth Hamilton had sent Crawford to him? That was absolutely absurd. Zoeth, and Shadrach, too, had talked with Mary of Crawford's people in the West, but merely casually, as of complete strangers, which, of course, they were. It was all strange, but explainable if one considered that Mr. Smith was weak and ill and, perhaps, flighty. She must not think any more about it now-that is, she must try not to think. She must not give way, and above all she must not permit her uncles to suspect that she was troubled. She must try hard to put it from her mind until Crawford's next letter came.

But that letter did not come. The week passed, then another, but there was no word from Crawford. Mary's anxiety grew. Each day as Isaiah brought the mail she expected him to give her an envelope addressed in the familiar handwriting, but he did not. She was growing nervous-almost fearful. And then came a happening the shock of which drove everything else from her mind for the time and substituted for that fear another.

It was a Tuesday and one o'clock. Mary and Captain Shadrach, having had an early dinner, had returned to the store. Zoeth, upon their arrival, went down to the house for his own meal. Business, which had been very good indeed, was rather slack just then and Shadrach and Mary were talking together. Suddenly they heard the sound of rapid footsteps in the lane outside.

"Who's hoofin' it up to the main road at that rate?" demanded the Captain, lounging lazily toward the window. "Has the town pump got on fire or is somebody goin' for the doctor?"

He leaned forward to look. His laziness vanished.

"Eh! Jumpin' Judas!" he cried, springing to the door. "It's Isaiah, and runnin' as if the Old Boy was after him! Here! You! Isaiah! What's the matter?"

Isaiah pounded up the platform steps and staggered against the doorpost. His face flamed so red that, as Shadrach said afterward, it was "a wonder the perspiration didn't bile."

"I-I-I-" he stammered. "I-Oh, dear me! What shall I do? He-he-he's there on the floor and-and-Oh, my godfreys! I'm all out of wind! What SHALL I do?"

"Talk!" roared the Captain. "Talk! Use what wind you've got for that! What's happened? Sing out!"

"He's-he's all alone there!" panted Mr. Chase. "He won't speak, scurcely-only moans. I don't know's he ain't dead!"

"Who's dead? Who? Who? Who?" The irate Shadrach seized his steward by the collar and shook him, not too gently. "Who's dead?" he bellowed. "Somebody will be next door to dead right here in a minute if you don't speak up instead of snortin' like a puffin' pig. What's happened?"

Isaiah swallowed, gasped and waved a desperate hand. "Let go of me!" he protested. "Zoeth-he-he's down in a heap on the kitchen floor. He's had a-a stroke or somethin'."

"God A'mighty!" cried Shadrach, and bolted out of the door. Mary followed him and a moment later, Mr. Chase followed her. The store was left to take care of itself.

They found poor Zoeth not exactly in a heap on the floor of the kitchen, but partially propped against one of the kitchen chairs. He was not unconscious but could speak only with difficulty. They carried him to the bedroom and Isaiah was sent on another gallop after the doctor. When the latter came he gave his patient a thorough examination and emerged from the sickroom looking grave.

"You must get a nurse," he said. "This is likely to last a long while. It is a slight paralytic stroke, I should say, though what brought it on I haven't the least idea. Has Mr. Hamilton had any sudden shock or fright or anything of that sort?"

He had not, so far as anyone knew. Isaiah, being questioned, told of Zoeth's coming in for dinner and of his-Isaiah's-handing him the morning's mail.

"I fetched it myself down from the post-office," said Isaiah. "There was a couple of Hamilton and Company letters and the Wellmouth Register and one of them circulum advertisements about So-and-So's horse liniment, and, and-yes, seems to me there was a letter for Zoeth himself. He took 'em all and sot down in the kitchen to look 'em over. I went into the dinin'-room. Next thing I knew I heard him say, 'O God!' just like that."

"Avast heavin', Isaiah!" put in Captain Shadrach. "You're way off your course. Zoeth never said that. That's the way I talk, but he don't."

"He done it this time," persisted Isaiah. "I turned and looked through the doorway at him and he was standin' in the middle of the kitchen floor. Seems to me he had a piece of white paper in his hand-seem's if he did. And then, afore I could say a word, he kind of groaned and sunk down in-in a pile, as you might say, right on the floor. And I couldn't get him up, nor get him to speak to me, nor nothin'. Yet he must have come to enough to move after I left and to crawl acrost and lean against that chair."

The horse liniment circular and the Wellmouth Register were there on the kitchen table just where Mr. Hamilton had laid them. There, also, were the two letters addressed to Hamilton and Company. Of the letter which Isaiah seemed to remember as addressed to Zoeth personally, there was no sign.

"Are you sure there was such a letter, Isaiah?" asked Mary.

Mr. Chase was not sure; that is to say, he was not sure more than a minute at a time. The minute following he was inclined to think he might have been mistaken, perhaps it was yesterday or the day before or even last week that his employer received such a letter.

Captain Shadrach lost patience.

"Sure 'twan't last Thanksgivin'?" he demanded. "Are you sure about anything? Are you sure how old you are?"

"No, by godfreys, I ain't!" roared Isaiah in desperation. "I'm so upsot ever since I looked into that kitchen and see the poor soul down on the floor there that-that all I'm sure of is that I ain't sure of nothin.'"

"Well, I don't know's I blame you much, Isaiah," grunted the Captain. "Anyway, it doesn't make much difference about that letter, so fur as I see, whether there was one or not. What did you want to know for, Mary?"

Mary hesitated. "Why," she answered, "I-perhaps it is foolish, but the doctor said something about a shock being responsible for this dreadful thing and I didn't know-I thought perhaps there might have been something in that letter which shocked or alarmed Uncle Zoeth. Of course it isn't probable that there was."

Shadrach shook his head.

"I guess not," he said. "I can't think of any letter he'd get of that kind. There's nobody to write it. He ain't got any relations nigher than third cousin, Zoeth ain't. Anyhow, we mustn't stop to guess riddles now. I'll hunt up the letter by and by, if there was one and I happen to think of it. Now I've got to hunt up a nurse."

The nurse was found, a Mrs. Deborah Atkins, of Ostable, and she arrived that night, bag and baggage, and took charge of the patient. Deborah was not ornamental, being elderly and, as Captain Shadrach said, built for tonnage more than speed; but she was sensible and capable. Also, her fee was not excessive, although that was by no means the principal reason for her selection.

"Never mind what it costs," said Mary. "Get the best you can. It's for Uncle Zoeth, remember."

Shadrach's voice shook a little as he answered.

"I ain't likely to forget," he said. "Zoeth and I've cruised together for a good many years and if one of us has to go under I'd rather 'twas me. I haven't got much money but what I've got is his, and after that so long as I can get trusted. But there," with an attempt at optimism, "don't you fret, Mary-'Gusta. Nobody's goin' under yet. We'll have Zoeth up on deck doin' the fishers' hornpipe in a couple of weeks."

But it was soon plain to everyone, the Captain included, that many times two weeks must elapse before Mr. Hamilton would be able to appear on deck again, to say nothing of dancing hornpipes. For days he lay in partial coma, rallying occasionally and speaking at rare intervals but evidently never fully aware of where he was and what had happened.

"He will recover, I think," said the doctor, "but it will be a slow job."

Mary did not again refer to the letter regarding which Isaiah's memory was so befogged. In fact, she forgot it entirely. So also did Captain Shad. For both the worry of Zoeth's illness and the care of the store were sufficient to drive trifles from their minds.

And for Mary there was another trouble, one which she must keep to herself. Three weeks had elapsed since Crawford's letter, that telling of his two fateful interviews with his father, and still no word had come from him. Mary could not understand his silence. In vain she called her philosophy to her rescue, striving to think that after all it was best if she never heard from him again, best that a love affair which could never end happily were ended at once, best that he should come to see the question as his father saw it-best for him, that is, for his future would then be one of ease and happiness. All this she thought-and then found herself wondering why he had not written, imagining all sorts of direful happenings and feeling herself responsible.

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