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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 11406

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

One evening, about a week after Mr. Hamilton's sudden seizure, Mary was in her room alone. She had again reread Crawford's latest letter and was sitting there trying to imagine the scene as he had described it. She was trying to picture Edwin Smith, the man who-as his son had so often told her-indulged that son's every whim, was kindness and parental love personified, and yet had raved and stormed like a madman because the boy wished to marry her, Mary Lathrop.

She rose, opened the drawer of her bureau, and took out the photograph of Mr. Smith, the one which showed him without his beard, the one taken since his illness. Crawford had written that this photograph, too, had been taken on the sly.

"Dad's prejudice against photos is as keen as ever," he wrote. "He would slaughter me on the spot if he knew I had snapped him."

The face in the picture was not that of the savage, unrelenting parent of the old plays, who used to disinherit his sons and drive his daughters out into blinding snowstorms because they dared thwart his imperial will. Edwin Smith was distinctly a handsome man, gray-haired, of course, and strong-featured, but with a kind rather than a stern expression. As Mary had said when she first saw his likeness, he looked as if he might have had experiences. In this photograph he looked very grave, almost sad, but possibly that was because of his recent sickness.

She was looking at the picture when Isaiah's voice was heard outside the door.

"Hi, Mary-'Gusta," whispered Mr. Chase. "Ain't turned in yet, have you? Can I speak with you a minute?"

"Certainly, Isaiah," said Mary. "Come in!"

Isaiah entered. "'Twan't nothin' special," he said. "I was just goin' to tell you that Debby T. cal'lates Zoeth is a little mite easier tonight. She just said so and I thought you'd like to know."

By "Debby T." Isaiah meant Mrs. Atkins. Mary understood.

"Thank you, Isaiah," she said. "I am ever so glad to hear it. Thank you for telling me."

"That's all right, Mary-'Gusta. Hello! who's tintype's that?"

He had caught sight of the photograph upon the arm of Mary's chair. He picked it up and looked at it. She heard him gasp. Turning, she saw him staring at the photograph with an expression of absolute amazement-amazement and alarm.

"Why, Isaiah!" she cried. "What is the matter?"

Isaiah, not taking his eyes from the picture, extended it in one hand and pointed to it excitedly with the other.

"For godfreys mighty sakes!" he demanded. "Where did you get that?"

"Get what? The photograph?"

"Yes! Yes, yes! Where'd you get it? Where'd it come from?"

"It was sent to me. What of it? What is the matter?"

Isaiah answered neither question. He seemed to have heard only the first sentence.

"SENT to you!" he repeated. "Mary-'Gusta Lathrop, have you been tryin' to find out-Look here! who sent you Ed Farmer's picture?"

Mary stared at him. "WHOSE picture?" she said. "What are you talking about, Isaiah?"

Isaiah thrust the photograph still closer to the end of her nose. Also he continued to point at it.

"Who sent you Ed Farmer's picture?" he repeated. "Where-where'd you get it? You tell me, now."

Mary looked him over from head to foot.

"I don't know whether to send for Uncle Shad or the doctor," she said, slowly. "If you don't stop hopping up and down and waving your arms as if they worked by strings I shall probably send for both. Isaiah Chase, behave yourself! What is the matter with you?"

Isaiah, during his years as sea cook, had learned to obey orders. Mary's tone had its effect upon him. He dropped one hand, but he still held the photograph in the other. And he stared at it as if it possessed some sort of horrible charm which frightened and fascinated at the same time. Mary had never seen him so excited.

"Ed Farmer!" he exclaimed. "Oh, I swan to man! I don't see how-Say, it IS him, ain't it, Mary-'Gusta? But of course 'tis! I can see 'tis with my own eyes. My godfreys mighty!"

Mary shook her head. "If I didn't know you were a blue ribboner, Isaiah," she said, "I should be suspicious. That photograph was sent me from the West. It is a picture of a gentleman named Edwin Smith, someone I have never seen and I'm perfectly sure you never have. Why in the world it should make you behave as if you needed a strait-jacket I can't see. Does Mr. Smith resemble someone you know?"

Isaiah's mouth fell open and remained so as he gazed first at the photograph and then at her.

"Ed-Edwin Smith," he repeated. "Edwin Smith! I-I don't know no Edwin Smith. Look here, now; honest, Mary-'Gusta, AIN'T that a picture of Ed Farmer?"

Mary laughed. "Of course it isn't," she said. "Who is Ed Farmer, pray?"

Isaiah did not answer. He was holding the photograph near the end of his own nose now and examining it with eager scrutiny, muttering comments as he did so.

"If it ain't him it's a better picture than if 'twas," was one of his amazing observations. "Don't seem as if two folks could look so much alike and not be. And yet-and yet I can see-I can see now-this feller's hair's pretty nigh white and Ed's was dark brown. But then if this feller was Ed he'd be-he'd be-let's see-he'd be all of thirty-five years older than he was thirty-five years ago and that would account-"

Mary burst out laughing.

"Do be still, Isaiah!" she broke in. "You are perfectly idiotic. That man's name is Smith, I tell you."

Mr. Chase heaved a sigh. "You're sartin 'tis?" he asked.

"Of course I am."

"Well, then I cal'late it must be. But if Ed Farmer had lived all these years and had had his tintype took he wouldn't get one to favor him more than that does, I bet you. My, it give m

e a start, comin' onto me so unexpected!"

"But who is Ed Farmer?" asked Mary. The name had meant nothing to her so far. And yet, even as she spoke she remembered. Her expression changed.

"Do you mean-" she cried, eagerly. "Why, Isaiah, do you mean the man in that old photograph I found in the garret ever and ever so long ago? The one you told me was a-a blackguard?"

Isaiah, still staring at Mr. Smith's likeness, answered emphatically.

"That's the one," he said. "That's the one I meant. My, this feller does look like him, or the way I cal'late he would look if he lived as long as this!"

"Is he dead, then?"

"I don't know. We don't any of us know around here. I ain't laid eyes on him since the day afore it happened. I remember just as well as if 'twas yesterday. He come out of the office onto the wharf where I was workin' and he says to me, 'Isaiah,' he says, knockin' on the head of a barrel with his hand-the right hand 'twas, the one that had the bent finger; he got it smashed under a hogshead of salt one time and it never came straight again-'Isaiah,' says he, 'it's a nice day, ain't it.' And I answered up prompt-I liked him fust-rate; everybody liked him them days-'Yes, sir,' I says, 'this is a good enough day to go see your best girl in.' I never meant nothin' by it, you understand, just a sayin' 'twas, but it seemed to give him a kind of start. He looked at me hard. 'Did anyone tell you where I was goin'?' says he, sharp. 'Why, no,' says I. 'Why should they?' He didn't answer, just kept on starin' at me. Then he laughed and walked away. I didn't know where he was goin' then, but I know now, darn him! And the next day he went-for good."

He stopped speaking. Mary waited a moment and then asked, quietly: "Went where, Isaiah? Where did he go?"

Isaiah, who was standing, the photograph still in his hand, started, turned and looked at her.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I say, where did this Mr. Farmer go?"

"Eh? Oh, I don't know. He went away, that's all. Don't ask me any more questions. I've been talkin' too much, anyhow, I cal'late. Cap'n Shad would skin me alive if he knew I'd said as much as I have. Say, Mary-'Gusta, don't you say nothin' to either him or Zoeth, will you? You see-it's-it's a kind of little secret we have amongst us and-and nobody else is in on it. 'Twas this plaguey tintype got me to talkin'. No wonder neither! I never see such a look on two folks. I-there, there! Good night, Mary-'Gusta, good night."

He tossed the photograph on the bureau and hurried out of the room. Mary called after him, but he would neither stop nor answer.

After he had gone Mary took up the photograph, seated herself once more in the chair, and studied the picture for a long time. Then she rose and, lamp in hand, left the room, tiptoed along the hall past the door of Captain Shadrach's room, and up the narrow stairs to the attic, her old playground.

Her playthings were there still, arranged in her customary orderly fashion along the walls. Rose and Rosette and Minnehaha and the other dolls were seated in their chairs or the doll carriage or with their backs against Shadrach's old sea chest. She had never put them away out of sight. Somehow it seemed more like home to her, the knowledge that though she would never play with them again, they were there waiting for her in their old places. While she was away at school they had been covered from the dust by a cloth, but now the cloth had been taken away and she herself dusted them every other morning before going up to the store. As Shadrach said, no one but Mary-'Gusta would ever have thought of doing such a thing. She did, because she WAS Mary-'Gusta.

However, the dolls did not interest her now. She tiptoed across the garret floor, taking great care to avoid the boards which creaked most, and lifted the lid of the old trunk which she had first opened on that Saturday afternoon nearly ten years before. She found the pocket on the under side of the lid, opened it and inserted her hand. Yes, the photograph of Hall and Company was still there, she could feel the edge of it with her fingers.

She took it out, and closed the pocket and then the trunk, and tiptoed down the stairs and to her room again. She closed the door, locked it-something she had never done in her life before-and placing the photograph she had taken from the trunk beside that sent her by Crawford, sat down to compare them.

And as she looked at the two photographs her wonder at Isaiah's odd behavior ceased. It was not strange that when he saw Mr. Edwin Smith's likeness he was astonished; it was not remarkable that he could scarcely be convinced the photograph was not that of the mysterious Ed Farmer. For here in the old, yellow photograph of the firm of "Hall and Company, Wholesale Fish Dealers," was Edgar S. Farmer, and here in the photograph sent her by Crawford was Edwin Smith. And save that Edgar S. Farmer was a young man and Edwin Smith a man in the middle sixties, they were almost identical in appearance. Each time she had seen Mr. Smith's photograph she had felt certain she must have met the original. Here was the reason-this man in the other photograph. The only difference was the difference of age. Edwin Smith had a nose like Edgar Farmer's, and a chin like his and eyes like his. And Isaiah had just said that Edgar Farmer had a crooked finger on his right hand caused by an accident with a hogshead of salt. Mary remembered well something Crawford had told her, that his father had a finger on the right hand which had been hurt in a mine years before he, Crawford, was born.

It could not be, of course-it could not be-and yet-Oh, WHAT did it mean?

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