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   Chapter 25 25

Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 18215

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


That difficult letter was never written. In the afternoon, business at the store being rather quiet and Mrs. Atkins, the nurse, desiring an hour's leave to do an errand in the village, Mary had taken her place in the sickroom. Zoeth was improving slowly, so the doctor said, but he took very little interest in what went on, speaking but seldom, asking few questions, and seeming to be but partially sensible of his surroundings. Best not to try to rouse him, the physician said. Little by little he would gain mentally as well as physically and, by and by, there was reason to hope, would be up and about again. Probably, however, he would never be so strong as he had been before his sudden seizure, the cause of which-if there had been a definite cause-was still unknown.

Just then he was asleep and Mary, sitting in the rocking-chair by the bed, was thinking, thinking, thinking. If she could only stop thinking for a little while! Uncle Zoeth, there on the bed, looked so calm and peaceful. If only she might have rest and peace again! If she might be allowed to forget!

The door opened gently and Mr. Chase appeared. He beckoned to her to come out. With a glance at the patient, she tiptoed from the room into the hall.

"What is it, Isaiah?" she asked.

Isaiah seemed to be excited about something.

"I've got a surprise for you, Mary-'Gusta," he whispered. "There's somebody downstairs to see you."

His manner was so important and mysterious that Mary was puzzled.

"Someone to see me?" she repeated. "Who is it?"

Mr. Chase winked.

"It's somebody you wan't expectin' to see, I bet you!" he declared. "I know I wan't. When I opened the door and see him standin' there I-"

"Saw him? Who? Who is it, Isaiah? Stop that ridiculous winking this instant. Who is it?"

"It's that young Crawford Smith feller from way out West, that's who 'tis. Ah, ha! I told you you'd be surprised."

She was surprised, there could be no doubt of that. For a moment she stood perfectly still. Had it not been that the hall was almost dark in the shadows of the late afternoon Isaiah would have noticed how pale she had become. But it was evident that he did not notice it, for he chuckled.

"I told you you'd be some surprised," he crowed. "Well, ain't you comin' on down to see him? Seems to me if I had a beau-excuse me, a gentleman friend-who come a-cruisin' all the way from t'other side of creation to see me I wouldn't keep him waitin' very long. Ho! ho!"

Mary did not answer at once. When she did she was surprised to find that she was able to speak so calmly.

"I shall be down in a moment," she said. "Isaiah, will you please go in and stay with Uncle Zoeth until I come?"

Isaiah looked chagrined and disappointed. Visitors from the far West were rare and especially rare was a young gentleman who Mr. Chase, with what Captain Shadrach termed his "lovesick imagination," surmised was Mary-'Gusta's beau. He wished to see more of him.

"Aw, say, Mary-'Gusta," he pleaded, "I'm awful busy. I don't see how I can set along of Zoeth-Say, Mary'Gusta!"

But Mary had gone. She was hurrying along the hall toward her own room. So Isaiah, remembering that the doctor had said Mr. Hamilton must not be left alone, grumblingly obeyed orders and went in to sit beside him.

In her own room Mary stood, white and shaken, striving to regain her composure. She must regain it, she must be cool and calm in order to go through the ordeal she knew was before her. His coming could mean but one thing: his father had still refused consent and he had come to tell her so and to beg her to wait for him in spite of it. If only he had written saying he was coming, if she had been forewarned, then she might have been more ready, more prepared. Now she must summon all her resolution and be firm and unwavering. Her purpose was as set and strong as ever, but ah, it would be so hard to tell him! To write the letter she had meant to write would have been easy compared to this. However, it must be done-and done now. She went down the stairs and entered the sitting-room.

He was sitting in the rocker by the window and when she came into the room he sprang to his feet and came toward her. His face, or so it seemed to her, showed some traces of the trouble and anxiety through which he had passed so recently. He was a little thinner and he looked less boyish. He held out his hands.

"Well, Mary," he cried, eagerly, "here I am. Aren't you glad to see me?"

He seized both her hands in his. She disengaged them gently. Her manner seemed odd to him and he regarded her in a puzzled way.

"AREN'T you glad?" he repeated. "Why, Mary, what is the matter?"

She smiled sadly and shook her head. "Oh, Crawford," she said, "why did you come? Or, at least, why didn't you write me you were coming?"

He laughed. "I didn't write," he answered, "because I was afraid if I did you would write me not to come."

"I certainly should."

"Of course you would. So I took no chances but just came instead."

"But why did you come?"

"Why? To see you, of course."

"Oh, Crawford, please don't joke. You know I asked you not to come here. When we last spoke together, over the telephone, I told you that if you came here I should not see you. And yet you came."

His manner changed. He was serious enough now.

"I came," he said, "because-well, because I felt that I must. I had many things to tell you, Mary, and something to ask. And I could neither tell nor ask in a letter. Dad and I have quarreled-we've parted company."

She had expected to hear it, but it shocked and grieved her, nevertheless. She knew how he had loved his father.

"Sit down, Crawford," she said gently. "Sit down and tell me all about it."

He told her. There was little more to tell than he had written. His father had not become more reconciled to the idea of his marrying Mary. Instead his opposition was just as violent and, to his son's mind, as unreasonably absurd. Day after day Crawford waited, hoping that time would bring a change or that his own arguments might have an effect, but neither time nor argument softened Edwin Smith's obstinacy.

"He behaved like a madman at times," declared Crawford. "And at others he would almost beg me on his knees to give you up. I asked him why. I told him over and over again that he should be proud to have such a girl for his daughter-in-law. I said everything I could. I told him I would do anything for him-anything he asked-except give you up. That I would not do. And it was the only thing he seemed to wish me to do. Talked about bringing shame and disgrace on his head and mine-and all sorts of wild nonsense. When I asked what he meant by disgrace he could not tell me. Of course he couldn't."

That was true, of course he could not tell. Mary knew, and she realized once more the tortures which the man must have suffered, must be suffering at that moment.

"So at last we parted," said Crawford. "I left word-left a letter saying that, so far as I could see, it was best that I went away. We could not agree apparently, he and I, upon the one point which, as I saw it, was the most important decision of my life. And I had made that decision. I told him how much I hated to leave him; that I loved him as much as I ever did. 'But,' I said, 'I shall not give up my happiness and my future merely to gratify your unreasonable whim.' Then I came away and started East to you."

He paused, evidently expecting Mary to make some comment or ask a question, but she was silent. After a moment he went on.

"I haven't made any definite plans as yet," he said. "I have another year at the Medical School-or should have it. I am hoping that I may be able to go back to the Harvard Med. here in Boston and work my way through. Other chaps have done it and I'm sure I can. And after that-well, after that I must take my chance at finding a location and a practice, like any other young M.D. But first of all, Mary, I want you to tell me that you will wait for me. It's a lot to ask; I know how much. But will you, Mary dear? That's what I've come here for-to get you to say that you will. After that I can face anything-yes, and win out, too."

Mary looked at him. His face was aglow with earnestness and his voice shook as he finished speaking. He rose and held out his hands.

"Will you, Mary?" he begged.

She looked at him no longer. She was afraid to do so-afraid of her own weakness. But no sign of that weakness showed itself in her tone as she answered.

"I'm sorry, Crawford," she said, gently. "I wish I could, but I can't."

"Can't! Can't wait for me?"

"I could wait for you, it isn't that. If it were merely a question of waiting-if that were all-how easy it would be! But it isn't. Crawford, you must go back to your father. You must go back to him and forget all about me. You must."

He stared at her for a moment. Then he laughed.

"Forget you!" he repeated. "Mary, are you-"

"Oh, please, Crawford! Don't make this any harder for both of us than it has to be. You must go back to your father and you mu

st forget me. I can not marry you, I can't."

He came toward her.

"But, Mary," he cried, "I-I-Of course I know you can't-now. I know how you feel about your duty to your uncles. I know they need you. I am not asking that you leave them. I ask only that you say you will wait until-until by and by, when-"

"Please, Crawford! No, I can't."

"Mary! You-Oh, but you must say it! Don't tell me you don't love me!"

She was silent. He put his hands upon her shoulders. She could feel them tremble.

"Don't you love me, Mary?" he repeated. "Look up! Look at me! DON'T you love me?"

She did not look up, but she shook her head.

"No, Crawford," she said. "I'm afraid not. Not enough."

She heard him catch his breath, and she longed-Oh, how she longed!-to throw her arms about him, tell him that it was all a lie, that she did love him. But she forced herself not to think of her own love, only of those whom she loved and what disgrace and shame and misery would come upon them if she yielded.

"Not enough?" she heard him repeat slowly. "You-you don't love me? Oh, Mary!"

She shook her head.

"I am sorry, Crawford," she said. "I can't tell you how sorry. Please-please don't think hardly of me, not too hardly. I wish-I wish it were different."

Neither spoke for a moment. Then he said:

"I'm afraid I don't understand. Is there someone else?"

"Oh, no, no! There isn't anyone."

"Then-But you told me-You have let me think-"

"Please! I told you I was not sure of my own feelings. I-I am sure now. I am so sorry you came. I should have written you. I had begun the letter."

Again silence. Then he laughed, a short, bitter laugh with anything but mirth in it.

"I am a fool," he said. "WHAT a fool I have been!"

"Please, Crawford, don't speak so. . . . Oh, where are you going?"

"I? I don't know. What difference does it make where I go? Good-by."

"Stop, Crawford! Wait! It makes a difference to your father where you go. It makes a difference to me. I-I value your friendship very highly. I hoped I might keep that. I hoped you would let me be your friend, even though the other could not be. I hoped that."

The minute before she had asked him to forget her, but she did not remember that, nor did he. He was standing by the door, looking out. For a moment he stood there. Then he turned and held out his hand.

"Forgive me, Mary," he said. "I have behaved like a cad, I'm afraid. When a fellow has been building air castles and all at once they tumble down upon his head he-well, he is likely to forget other things. Forgive me."

She took his hand. She could keep back the tears no longer; her eyes filled.

"There is nothing for me to forgive," she said. "If you will forgive me, that is all I ask. And-and let me still be your friend."

"Of course. Bless you, Mary! I-I can't talk any more now. You'll-" with an attempt at a smile-"you'll have to give me a little time to get my bearings, as your Uncle Shad would say."

"And-and won't you go back to your father? I shall feel so much happier if you do."

He hesitated. Then he nodded.

"If you wish it-yes," he said. "I suppose it is the thing I ought to do. Dad will be happy, at any rate. Oh, Mary, CAN'T you?"

"No, Crawford, no. Yes, your father will be happy. And-and by and by you will be, too, I know. Are you going?"

"Yes, I think I had better. I don't feel like meeting anyone and your Uncle Shad will be here soon, I suppose. Your man here-Isaiah-told me of Mr. Hamilton's sickness. I'm sorry."

"Yes, poor Uncle Zoeth! He is gaining a little, however. Crawford, I won't ask you to stay. Perhaps it will be best for both of us if you do not. But won't you write me just once more? Just to tell me that you and your father are reconciled? I should like to know that. And do forgive me-Oh, do! I HAD to say it, Crawford!"

"I forgive you, Mary. Of course you had to say it. . . . But . . . Well, never mind. Yes, I'll write, of course. I hope . . . No, I can't say that, not now. I'd better go at once, I think, before I . . . Good-by."

He seized her hand, pressed it tightly, took his hat from the table and his bag from the floor and swung out of the door. In the doorway she stood looking after him. At the gate he turned, waved his hand, and hurried on. He did not look back again.

When at half-past six Captain Shadrach, having left Annabel and the boy in charge of the store, came home for supper, Isaiah had some news to tell him. It was surprising news.

"You don't say!" exclaimed the Captain. "Well, well, I want to know! All the way from out West, eh? Sho! Where is he now?"

Isaiah shook his head. "That's the funny part of it, he's gone," he said.

"Gone? Gone where?"

"I don't know. All I know is he come and said he wanted to see Mary-'Gusta-I went up and told her and she come down to see him. I stayed up along of Zoeth until Debby T. came back from her shoppin' cruise. Then I come downstairs again and his hat and bag was gone. There wan't nobody here."

"Where was Mary-'Gusta? Where is she now?"

"Up in her room, I cal'late. I heard her movin' round there a spell ago."

Shadrach went up the stairs, along the hall, and knocked at Mary's door.

"Who is it?" asked a faint voice within.

"It's your Uncle Shad, Mary-'Gusta. Can I come in?"

"Yes."

He entered. There was no lamp and the room was dark.

"Where are you?" he demanded.

"Here, by the window, Uncle Shad."

She was sitting in the rocker by the window. He could not see her face, but as he bent and kissed her cheek he found it wet.

"Mercy on us! You've been cryin'!" he declared.

"Oh-Oh, no, I haven't! I-"

"Rubbish! Yes, you have, too. Settin' alone up here in the dark and cryin'! Mary-'Gusta Lathrop, come here!"

She had risen from the rocking-chair, but he seized her in his arms, sat down in the chair himself, and lifted her to his knee just as he used to do when she was the little Mary-'Gusta.

"Now there, dearie," he said. "You'll tell your Uncle Shad. What is it?"

"Oh, nothing, Uncle Shad, dear. I was-I'm feeling just a little silly this afternoon, I guess. You mustn't ask me."

"All right, I won't ask-I'll tell. That young feller from out West, the feller with the uncommon name-Brown-Jones-Oh, no, Smith, that was it-he came cruisin' around here and-"

"Uncle Shad, how did you know?"

"A little bird told me. A long-legged bird without much hair on top-a bald-headed eagle, I cal'late he must be. Hops round our kitchen daytimes and roosts in the attic nights."

"Isaiah! Of course he would tell."

"Of course he would-BEIN' Isaiah. Well, this Smith critter, he came and-and-well, I guess you'll have to tell me the rest."

"There isn't much to tell. He came and-and then he went away again."

"Went away-where?"

"Out to Carson City, I suppose."

"Ain't he comin' back any more?"

"No."

"Why? Don't you want him to come, Mary-'Gusta?"

"Oh, Uncle Shad, please don't. I don't feel as if I could answer. Don't ask me."

"There, there, dearie; don't you answer nothin'. You set still here and be my baby. I ain't had a chance to baby you for a long spell and it seems good."

Silence. Suddenly the Captain felt the head which nestled against his shoulder stir.

"Uncle Shadrach," said Mary-'Gusta, "what do you do when you want to forget?"

"Eh? Want to forget? Oh, I don't know! Cal'late I turn to and sail in and work a little harder, maybe. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. . . But I am much obliged for the suggestion. Now I am going to work. I shall begin tomorrow morning. I wish it was tomorrow right now."

"Don't. Jumpin' fire! Don't wish time away; some of us ain't got too much to spare. But ain't you BEEN workin', for mercy sakes? I should say you had."

Another interval of silence. Then Mary said:

"Uncle Shad, a good while ago, when you asked me about-about him, I promised you I would tell when there was anything to tell. I am going to keep my promise. He came today and asked me-asked me to marry him-not now, of course, but by and by."

Shadrach was not greatly surprised. Nevertheless it was a moment before he spoke. Mary felt his arms tighten about her and she realized a little of the struggle he was making. Yet his tone was brave and cheerful.

"Yes," he said. "Well, I-I kind of cal'lated that would come some day or other. It's all right, Mary-'Gusta. Zoeth and me have talked it over and all we want is to see you happy. If you said yes to him, Zoeth and I'll say 'God bless you' to both of you."

She reached for his hand and lifted it to her lips. "I know you would," she said. "All your lives you have been thinking of others and not of yourselves. But I didn't say yes, Uncle Shad. I am not going to be married now or by and by. I don't want to be. I am the silent partner of Hamilton and Company. I am a business woman and I am going to work-REALLY work-from now on. No, you mustn't ask me any more questions. We'll try to forget it all. Kiss me, Uncle Shad, dear. That's it. Now you go down to supper. I shall stay here; I am not hungry tonight."

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