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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22295

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


In his own room at the end of the second-story hall, over the kitchen, Mr. Chase was sitting reading the local paper before retiring. It was a habit he had, one of which Captain Shadrach pretended to approve highly. "Best thing in the world, Isaiah," declared the Captain. "Sleep's what everybody needs and I can't think of any surer way of gettin' to sleep than readin' the South Harniss news in that paper."

Whether or not this unkind joke was deserved is not material; at all events Isaiah was reading the paper when he was very much startled by a knock at the door.

"Who-who is it?" he stammered.

"It is Mary," whispered a voice outside the door. "I want to speak with you, Isaiah. You're not in bed, are you?"

Isaiah reluctantly relinquished the paper. "No, no," he replied, "I ain't in bed. What's the matter? Zoeth ain't no worse, is he?"

"Let me in and I'll tell you."

"Come on in. You don't need no lettin'."

Mary entered. She was very grave and very earnest.

"What in the nation," began Isaiah, "are you prowlin' around this hour of the night for?"

"Hush! Isaiah, you must tell me everything now. There's no use to say you won't-you MUST. Who was Edgar Farmer and what wrong did he do my uncles?"

Isaiah said nothing; he did not attempt to answer. Instead he gaped at her with such an expression of guilty surprise, fright, and apprehension that at any other time she would have laughed. Just now, however, she was far from laughing.

"Come! come!" she said, impatiently. "I mean it. I want you to tell me all about this Edgar Farmer."

"Now-now, Mary-'Gusta, I told you-"

"You told me a very little. Now I want to know the rest. Everyone else in this family knows it and it is time I did. I'm not a child any more. Tell me the whole story, Isaiah."

"I shan't neither. Oh, by godfreys, this is what I get by sayin' more'n I ought to! And yet how could I help it when I see that tintype? It's just my luck! Nobody else but me would have had the dratted luck to have that picture stuck into their face and eyes unexpected. And 'twas just so when you found that other one years ago up attic. I had to be the one you sprung it on! I had to be! But I shan't tell you nothin'!"

"Yes, you will. You must tell me everything."

"Well, I shan't."

"Very well. Then I shall go straight to Uncle Shad."

"To who? To CAP'N SHAD! Oh, my godfreys mighty! You go to him and see what he'll say! Just go! Why, he'd shut up tighter'n a clam at low water and he'd give you fits besides. Go to Cap'n Shad and ask about Ed Farmer! My soul! You try it! Aw, don't be foolish, Mary-'Gusta."

"I'm not going to be foolish, Isaiah. If I go to Uncle Shad I shall tell him that it was through you I learned there was such a person as the Farmer man and that there was a secret connected with him, that it was a disagreeable secret, that-"

"Hush! Land sakes alive! Mary-'Gusta, DON'T talk so! Why, if you told Cap'n Shad he'd-I don't know what he wouldn't do to me. If he knew I told you about Ed Farmer he'd-I swan to man I believe he'd pretty nigh kill me!"

"Well, you'll soon know what he will do, for unless you tell me the whole story, I shall certainly go to him."

"Aw, Mary-'Gusta-"

"I surely shall. And if he won't tell me I shall go to someone outside the family-to Judge Baxter, perhaps. He would tell me, I'm sure, if I asked. No, Isaiah, you tell me. And if you do tell me all freely and frankly, keeping nothing back, I'll say nothing to Uncle Shad or Uncle Zoeth. They shall never know who told."

Mr. Chase wrung his hands. Ever since he had been cook at the white house by the shore he had had this duty laid upon him, the duty of keeping his lips closed upon the name of Edgar Farmer and the story connected with that name. When Captain Shadrach first engaged him for his present situation the Captain had ordered him never to speak the name or mention the happenings of that time. And after little Mary Lathrop became a regular and most important member of the family, the command was repeated. "She mustn't ever know if we can help it, Isaiah," said Shadrach, solemnly. "You know Zoeth and how he feels. For his sake, if nothin' else, we mustn't any of us drop a hint so that she will know. She'll find out, I presume likely, when she gets older; there'll be some kind soul around town that'll tell her, consarn 'em; but WE shan't tell her; and if YOU tell her, Isaiah Chase, I'll-I declare to man I'll heave you overboard!"

And now after all these years of ignorance during which the expected had not happened and no one of the village gossips had revealed the secret to her-now, here she was, demanding that he, Isaiah Chase, reveal it, and threatening to go straight to Captain Gould and tell who had put her upon the scent. No wonder the cook and steward wrung his hands in despair; the heaving overboard was imminent.

Mary, earnest and determined as she was to learn the truth, the truth which she was beginning to believe might mean so much to her, nevertheless could not help pitying him.

"Come, come, Isaiah," she said, "don't look so tragic. There isn't anything so dreadful about it. Have you promised-have you given your word not to tell? Because if you have I shan't ask you to break it. I shall go to Judge Baxter instead-or to Uncle Shad. But of course I shall be obliged to tell how I came to know-the little I do know."

Mr. Chase did not like the prospect of her going to the Captain, that was plain. For the first time his obstinacy seemed to waver.

"I-I don't know's I ever give my word," he admitted. "I never promised nothin', as I recollect. Cap'n Shad he give me orders-"

"Yes, yes, of course he did. Well, now I'M giving you orders. And I promise you, Isaiah, if it ever becomes necessary I'll stand between you and Uncle Shad. Now tell me."

Isaiah sat down upon the bed and wiped his forehead.

"Oh, Lordy!" he moaned. "I wisht my mouth had been sewed up afore ever I said a word about any of it. . . . But-but . . . Well," desperately, "what is it you want to know?"

"I want to know everything. Begin at the beginning and tell me who Mr. Farmer was."

Mr. Chase marked a pattern on the floor with his slippered foot. Then he began:

"He come from up Cape Ann way in the beginnin'," he said. "The rest of the firm was Cape Codders, but he wan't. However, he'd been a-fishin' and he knew fish and after the firm was fust started and needed an extry bookkeeper he applied and got the job. There was three of 'em in Hall and Company at fust, all young men they was, too; your stepfather, Cap'n Marcellus Hall, he was the head one; and Mr. Zoeth, he was next and Cap'n Shad next. 'Twan't until three or four year afterwards that Ed Farmer was took in partner. He was so smart and done so well they give him a share and took him in.

"Everybody liked him, too. He was younger even than the rest, and fine lookin' and he had a-a kind of way with him that just made you like him. The way the business was handled was somethin' like this: Cap'n Marcellus, your stepfather, Mary-'Gusta, he and Cap'n Shad done the outside managin', bossin' the men-we had a lot of 'em on the wharf them days, too, and there was always schooners unloadin' and carts loadin' up and fellers headin' up barrels-Oh, Hall and Company's store and docks was the busiest place on the South Shore. You ask anybody that remembers and they'll tell you so.

"Well, Cap'n Marcellus and Cap'n Shad was sort of outside bosses, same as I said, and Zoeth he was sort of general business boss, 'tendin' to the buyin' supplies and payin' for 'em and gettin' money and the like of that, and Ed-Edgar Farmer, I mean-he was inside office boss, lookin' out for the books and the collections and the bank account and so on. Marcellus and Zoeth and Cap'n Shad was old chums and had been for years; they was as much to each other as brothers and always had been; but it wan't so very long afore they thought as much of Farmer as they did of themselves. He was that kind-you couldn't help takin' a notion to him.

"When I get to talkin' about Hall and Company I could talk for a month of Sundays. Them was great days-yes, sir, great days for South Harniss and the fish business. Why I've seen, of a Saturday mornin' in the mackerel season, as many as forty men ashore right here in town with money in their pockets and their hats on onesided, lookin' for fun or trouble just as happened along. And Cap'n Marcellus and his partners was looked up to and respected; not much more'n boys they wan't, but they was big-bugs, I tell you, and they wore beaver hats to church on Sunday, every man jack of 'em. Fur's that goes, I wore one, too, and you might not think it, but 'twas becomin' to me if I do say it. Yes, sir-ee! 'Twas a kind of curl-up brim one, that hat was, and-"

"Never mind the hat now, Isaiah," interrupted Mary. "Tell me about Mr. Farmer."

Isaiah looked offended. "I am tellin' you, ain't I?" he demanded. "Ain't I tellin' you fast as I can?"

"Perhaps you are. We won't argue about it. Go on."

"Well-well, where was I? You've put me clear off my course."

"You were just going to tell me what Mr. Farmer did."

"What he did! What didn't he do, you'd better say! The blackguard! He smashed the firm flat, that's what he done! And he run off with Marcellus's sister."

"Marcellus's sister! My stepfather's sister! I didn't know he ever had a sister. Are you sure he had?"

"Am I sure! What kind of talk's that? Course I'm sure! She was younger than Marcellus and pretty-say, she WAS pretty! Yes, the outside of her figurehead was mighty hard to beat, everybody said so; but the inside was kind of-well, kind of rattly, as you might say. She'd laugh and talk and go on and Ed Farmer he'd hang over the desk there in the office and look at her. Just look-and look-and look. How many times I've seen 'em that way! It got so that folks begun to talk a little mite. Marcellus didn't, of course; he idolized that girl, worshiped her like a vain thing, so's to speak. And Cap'n Shad, course he wouldn't talk because he's always down on tattle-tales and liars, but I've always thought he was a little mite suspicious and troubled. As for poor Zoeth-well, it's always his kind that are the last to suspect. And Zoeth was as innocent then as he is now. And as good, too.

"And then one day it come out, come down on us like the mainmast goin' by the board. No, come to think of it, it didn't come all to once that way. Part of it did, but the rest didn't. The rest kind of leaked out along slow, gettin' a little mite worse every day. I can see it just as plain as if 'twas yesterday-Marcellus and Shadrach in the office goin' over the books and addin' up on pieces of paper, and it gettin' worse and worse all the time. And the whole town a-talkin'! And poor Zoeth lyin' in his bedroom there to home, out of his mind and ravin' distracted and beggin' and pleadin' with his partners not to chase 'em, to let 'em go free for her sake. And the doctor a-comin'! And-"

Mary began to feel that she, too, was in danger of raving distraction. Between her anxiet

y to hear the story and her forebodings and growing suspicions she was becoming more and more nervous as Isaiah rambled on.

"Wait! Wait, please, Isaiah!" she begged. "I don't understand. What had happened?"

Isaiah regarded her with surprise and impatience.

"Ain't I been tellin' you?" he snapped, testily. "Ain't I this minute told you? This Ed Farmer had cleared out and run off and he'd took with him every cent of Hall and Company's money that he could rake and scrape. He'd been stealin' and speculatin' for years, it turned out. 'Twas him, the dum thief, him and his stealin's that made the firm fail. Wan't that enough to happen, I'd like to know? But that wan't all; no, sir, that wan't the worst of it."

He paused, evidently expecting his hearer to make some comment. She was leaning forward, her eyes fixed upon his face, but she did not speak. Mr. Chase, judging by her expression that he had created the sensation which, as story-teller, he considered his due, went on.

"No, sir-ee! that wan't the worst of it. You and me might have thought losin' all our money was the worst that could be, but Marcellus and Shadrach didn't think so. Marcellus was pretty nigh stove in himself-there was nothin' on earth he loved the way he loved that sister of his-but when he and Cap'n Shad thought of poor Zoeth they couldn't think of much else. Shadrach had liked her and Marcellus had loved her, but Zoeth had fairly bowed down and worshiped the ground she trod on. Anything she wanted, no matter what, she could have if 'twas in Zoeth's power to get it for her. He'd humored her and spiled her as if she was a child and all he asked for doin' it was that she'd pat him on the head once in a while, same as you would a dog. And now she'd gone-run off with that thief! Why-"

Mary interrupted again. "Wait! Wait, Isaiah," she cried. "I tell you I don't understand. You say-you say Captain Hall's sister had gone with Mr. Farmer?"

"Sartin! she run off with him and nobody's laid eyes on either of 'em since. That was why-"

"Stop! stop! What I don't understand is why Uncle Zoeth was so stricken by the news. Why had HE humored and spoiled her? Was he in love with her?"

Isaiah stared at her in blank astonishment.

"In love with her!" he repeated. "Course he was! Why wouldn't he be? Wan't she his wife?"

There was no doubt about the sensation now. The color slowly faded from Mary's cheeks.

"His WIFE?" she repeated slowly.

"Sartin! They'd been married 'most five year. Didn't I tell you? She was a good deal younger'n he was, but-"

"Wait! What-what was her name?"

"Eh? Didn't I tell you that neither? That's funny. Her name was Patience-Patience Hall."

The last doubt was gone. Clear and distinct to Mary's mind came a sentence of Crawford's: "I saw her name first on the gravestone and it made an impression on me because it was so quaint and old-fashioned. 'Patience, wife of Edwin Smith.'"

She heard very little of Isaiah's story thereafter. Scattered sentences reached her ears. Isaiah was telling how, because of Zoeth's pleading and the latter's desire to avoid all the public scandal possible, no attempt was made to trace the fugitives.

"They went West somewheres," said Isaiah. "Anyhow 'twas supposed they did 'cause they was seen together on the Chicago train by an Orham man that knew Farmer. Anybody but Marcellus and your uncles, Mary-'Gusta, would have sot the sheriff on their track and hauled 'em back here and made that Farmer swab give up what he stole. I don't imagine he had such a terrible lot with him, I cal'late the heft of it had gone in stock speculatin', but he must have had somethin' and they could have got a-holt of that. But no, Zoeth he says, 'Don't follow 'em! For her sake and mine-don't make the shame more public than 'tis.' You see, Zoeth was the same then as he is now; you'd have thought HE was to blame to hear him talk. He never said a word against her then nor since. A mighty good man, your Uncle Zoeth Hamilton is, Mary-'Gusta. Saint on earth, I call him."

He went on to tell how Marcellus and Shadrach had fought to keep the firm on its feet, how for a time it struggled on against the load of debt left it by their former partner, only to go down at last.

"Marcellus went down with it, as you might say," continued Isaiah. "Between losin' his sister and losin' his business he never was the same man afterwards, though he did make consider'ble money in other ways. Him and Cap'n Shadrach both went back to seafarin' again and after a spell I went with 'em. Poor Zoeth, when he got on his feet, which took a long spell, he started a little store that by and by, when Cap'n Shad joined in with him, was Hamilton and Company, same as now. And when Shadrach come I come too, as cook and steward, you understand. But from that day to this there's been two names never mentioned in this house, one's Patience Hall's and t'other's Ed Farmer's. You can see now why, when I thought that tintype was his, I was so took aback. You see, don't you, Mary-'Gusta? Why! Where you goin'?"

Mary had risen from her chair, taken up the lamp, and was on her way to the door.

"I'm going to my room," she said. "Good night, Isaiah."

"What are you goin' now for? I could tell you a lot more partic'lars if you wanted to hear 'em. Now I've told so much I might as well tell the rest. If I'm goin' to be hove overboard for tellin' I might as well make a big splash as a little one. If you got any questions to ask, heave ahead and ask 'em. Fire away, I don't care," he added, recklessly.

But Mary shook her head. She did not even turn to look at him.

"Perhaps I may ask them some other time," she said. "Not now. Thank you for telling me so much. Good night."

Alone in her own room once more she sat down to think. It was plain enough now. All the parts of the puzzle fitted together. Edwin Smith having been proved to be Edgar Farmer, everything was explainable. It had seemed queer to her, Mr. Smith's aversion to the East, his refusal to come East even to his son's graduation; but it was not at all queer that Edgar Farmer, the embezzler, should feel such an aversion, or refuse to visit a locality where, even after all these years, he might be recognized. It was not odd that he disliked to be photographed. And it certainly was not strange that he should have behaved as he did when his son announced the intention of marrying her, Mary Lathrop, stepdaughter of one of his former partners and victims' and adopted niece and ward of the other two.

What a terrible surprise and shock Crawford's communication must have been to him! The dead past, the past he no doubt had believed buried forever, had risen from the tomb to confront him. His only son, the boy he idolized, who believed him to be a man of honor, whose love and respect meant more than the world to him-his only son asking to marry the ward of the man whom he had wronged beyond mortal forgiveness, asking to marry her and intimating that he would marry her whether or no. And the secret which he had guarded so jealously, had hidden from his son and the world with such infinite pains, suddenly threatening to be cried aloud in the streets for all, his boy included, to hear. Mary shuddered as she realized what the man must have felt. It must have seemed to him like the direct hand of avenging Providence. No wonder he at first could not believe it to be merely accident, coincidence; no wonder that he asked if Zoeth Hamilton had sent Crawford to him, and had demanded to know what Zoeth Hamilton had told.

It was dreadful, it was pitiful. She found herself pitying Edwin Smith-or Edgar Farmer-even though she knew the retribution which had come upon him was deserved.

She pitied him-yes; but now she could spare little pity for others, she needed as much herself. For minute by minute, as she sat there thinking out this great problem just as the little Mary-'Gusta used to think out her small ones, her duty became clear and more clear to her mind. Edgar Farmer's secret must be kept. For Crawford's sake it must be. He need not-he must not-learn that the father he had honored and respected all his life was unworthy of that honor and respect. And her uncles-they must not know. The old skeleton must not be dug from its grave. Her Uncle Zoeth had told her only a little while before that he was learning to forget, or if not to forget at least to be more reconciled. She did not understand him then; now she did. To have him learn that Edgar Farmer was alive, that his son-Oh, no, he must not learn it! Ill as he was, and weak as he was likely to be always, the shock might kill him. And yet sooner or later he would learn unless the secret remained, as it had been for years, undisclosed.

And to keep it still a secret was, she saw clearly, her duty. She might rebel against it, she might feel that it was wicked and cruel, the spoiling of her life to save these others, but it was her duty nevertheless. Because she loved Crawford-and she was realizing now that she did love him dearly, that there could never be another love in the world for her--she must send him away, she must end the affair at once. If she did that she could save him from learning of his father's disgrace, could avert the otherwise inevitable quarrel between them, could make his career and his future secure. And her uncles would be happy, the skeleton would remain undisturbed.

Yes, she must do it. But it was so hard to do. Philosophy did not help in the least. She had tried to convince herself when she gave up her school work that it meant the end of her romance also. She had tried to tell Crawford so. But she had been weak, she had permitted herself to hope. She had realized that for the present, perhaps for years, she must work for and with the old men who had been father and mother both to her, but-he had said so-Crawford would wait for her, and some day-perhaps-

But now there was no perhaps-now she knew. She must receive no more letters from him. She must never see him again. The break must be absolute and final. And there was but one way to bring that about. He had said repeatedly that only her declaration that she did not love him would ever prevent his marrying her. Very well, then for his sake she must lie to him; she must tell him that very thing. She must write him that she had been considering the matter and had decided she could never love him enough to become his wife.

It was almost two o'clock when she reached this decision but she sat down at her desk to write then and there the letter containing it, the last letter she would ever write him. And when the morning light came streaming in at the windows she still sat there, the letter unwritten. She had made many beginnings, but not an end. She must try again; she was too tired, too nervous, too hopeless and heartbroken to make another attempt that morning, but before the day was over it should be done. She threw herself down upon the bed but she could not sleep. Why had she been selected to bear this burden? What had she done that God should delight to torture her in this way?

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