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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 28729

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Captain Shad did ask more questions, of course. He asked no more that evening-he judged it wisest not to do so; but the next day, seizing an opportunity when he and his niece were alone, he endeavored to learn a little more concerning her reasons for dismissing Crawford. The Captain liked young Smith, he had believed Mary liked him very much, and, although he could not help feeling a guilty sense of relief because the danger that he and Zoeth might have to share her affections with someone else was, for the time at least, out of the way, he was puzzled and troubled by the abruptness of the dismissal. There was something, he felt sure, which he did not understand.

"Of course, Mary-'Gusta," he said, "I ain't askin' anything-that is, I don't mean to put my oar in about what you told me last night, but-well, you see, Zoeth and me was beginnin' to feel that 'twas pretty nigh a settled thing between you and that young man."

Mary was sitting at the desk-she and her uncle were at the store together-and she looked up from the ledger over which she had been bending and shook her head reproachfully. She looked tired and worn, so it seemed to Captain Shadrach, as if she had not slept well the night before, or perhaps for several nights.

"Uncle Shad," she said, "what did I tell you?"

"Eh? Why, you told me-You know what you told me, Mary-'Gusta. What do you ask that for?"

"Because I think you have forgotten the most important part of it. I told you we were going to forget it all. And we are. We are not going to speak of it again."

"But, Mary-'Gusta, why-"

"No, Uncle Shad."

"But do just tell me this much; if you don't I shan't rest in peace: you didn't send him away on account of Zoeth and me? It wan't just because you thought we needed you?"

"No, Uncle Shad."

"Then-"

"That's all. It's over with; it's done with forever. If you really care about me, Uncle Shad-and sometimes, you know, I almost suspect that you really do-you will never, NEVER say another word about it. Now come here and tell me about this account of Heman Rodger's. Isn't it time we tried to get a payment from him?"

The Captain, although still uneasy and far from satisfied, asked no more questions of his niece. It was evident that nothing was to be gained in that way. He did, however, question Isaiah to learn if the latter had noticed anything unusual in Crawford's manner or if Crawford had said anything concerning his reason for coming on at that time, but Isaiah had noticed nothing.

"Umph!" grunted Shadrach, rather impatiently, for the mystery in the affair irritated him. "Of course, you didn't notice. YOU wouldn't notice if your head came off."

Mr. Chase drew himself up. "If I hove out such a statement as that," he observed, scornfully, "you'd call me a fool. 'If my head come off!' How could I notice anything if my head was off? You tell me that!"

His employer grinned. "I cal'late you could do it about as well as you can with it on, Isaiah," he said, and walked away, leaving the cook and steward incoherently anxious to retort but lacking ammunition.

So Shadrach was obliged to give up the riddle. Lovers' quarrels were by no means unusual, he knew that, and many young love affairs came to nothing. Mary had never told him that she cared for Crawford. But she had never said she did not care for him. And now she would say nothing except that it was "done with forever." The Captain shook his head and longed for Zoeth's counsel and advice. But Zoeth would not be able to counsel or advise for months.

And now Mary seemed bent upon proving the truth of her statement that she was henceforth to be solely a business woman. The summer being over-and it had been, everything considered, a successful one for Hamilton and Company-it became time to buy fall and winter goods, also goods for the holidays. Mary went to Boston on a buying expedition. When she returned and informed her uncle what and how much she had bought, he looked almost as if he had been listening to the reading of his death warrant.

"Jumpin' Judas!" he exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me you bought all them things and-and got TRUSTED for 'em?"

"Of course I did, Uncle Shad. It is the only way I could buy them; and, so far as that goes, everyone was glad to sell me. You see, our paying our bills up there in a shorter time than I asked for has made a very good impression. I could have bought ever and ever so much more if I had thought it best."

"Jumpin' fire! Well, I'm glad you didn't think it best. What in the nation we're goin' to do with all we have got I don't see."

"Do with it? Why, sell it, of course."

"Urn-yes, I cal'lated that was the idea, probably; but who's goin' to buy it?"

"Oh, lots of people. You'll see. I am going to advertise this fall, advertise in the papers. Oh, we'll make Baker's Bazaar and the rest worry a little before we're through."

The Captain was inclined to fear that the most of the worrying would be done by Hamilton and Company, but he expressed no more misgivings. Besides, if anyone could sell all those goods, that one was his Mary-'Gusta, he was perfectly sure of that. He believed her quite capable of performing almost any miracle. Had she not pulled the firm off the rocks where he and his partner had almost wrecked it? Wasn't she the most wonderful young woman on earth? Old as he was, Captain Shad would probably have attempted to thrash any person who expressed a doubt of that.

And the goods were sold, all of them and more. The advertisements, temptingly worded, appeared in the county weeklies, and circulars were sent through the mails. Partly by enterprise and partly through influence-Mr. Keith helped here-Mary attained for Hamilton and Company the contract for supplying the furniture and draperies for the new hotel which a New York syndicate was building at Orham Neck. It was purely a commission deal, of course-everything was purchased in Boston-and Hamilton and Company's profit was a percentage, but even a small percentage on so large a sale made a respectable figure on a check and helped to pay more of the firm's debts. And those debts, the old ones, were now reduced to an almost negligible quantity.

The secondhand horse and wagon still continued to go upon their rounds, but the boy had been replaced by an active young fellow whose name was Crocker and who was capable of taking orders as well as delivering them. When Captain Shadrach was told-not consulted concerning but told-the wages this young man was to receive, he was, as he confided to Isaiah afterward, "dismasted, stove in, down by the head and sinkin' fast."

"Mary-'Gusta Lathrop!" he cried, in amazement. "Are you goin' stark loony? Payin' that Simmie Crocker fourteen dollars a WEEK for drivin' team and swappin' our good sugar and flour for sewin'-circle lies over folks' back fences! I never heard such a thing in my life. Why, Baker's Bazaar don't pay the man on their team but ten a week. I know that 'cause he told me so himself. And Baker's Bazaar's got more trade than we have."

"Yes. And that is exactly why we need a better man than they have, so that WE can get more trade. Simeon Crocker is an ambitious young chap. He isn't going to be contented with fourteen long."

"Oh, he ain't, eh? Well, I ain't contented with it now, I tell you that. Fourteen dollars a week for drivin' cart! Jumpin' fire! Why, the cart itself ain't worth more'n fifteen and for twenty-five I'd heave in the horse for good measure. But I'd never get the chance," he added, "unless I could make the trade in the dark."

Mary laughed and patted his shoulder.

"Never mind, Uncle Shad," she said, confidently, "Sim Crocker at fourteen a week is a good investment. He will get us a lot of new business now, and next summer-well, I have some plans of my own for next summer."

The Christmas business was very good indeed. Shadrach, Mary, Annabel, and Simeon were kept busy. Customers came, not only from South Harniss, but from West and East Harniss and even from Orham and Bayport. The newspaper advertisements were responsible for this in the beginning, but those who first came told others that the best stock of Christmas goods in Ostable County was to be found at the store of Hamilton and Company, in South Harniss, and so the indirect, word-of-mouth advertising, which is the best and most convincing kind, spread and brought results.

Christmas itself was a rather dreary day. Zoeth, although improving, was not yet strong enough to leave his room, and so the Christmas dinner lacked his presence at the table. Mary and Shadrach sat with him for an hour or so, but the doctor and nurse had cautioned them against exciting him, so, although the Captain joked continually, his jokes were rather fickle and in his mind was his partner's prophecy of two years before-that the tide which had, up to that time, been coming in for them, would soon begin to go out. Shadrach could not help feeling that it had been going out, for poor Zoeth at any rate. The doctor declared it was coming in again, but how slowly it came! And how far would it come? This was the first Christmas dinner he had eaten in years without seeing Mr. Hamilton's kindly, patient face at the other side of the table.

And Mary, although she tried to appear gay and lighthearted, laughing at her uncle's jokes and attempting a few of her own, was far from happy. Work, Captain Shad's recipe for producing forgetfulness, had helped, but it had not cured. And when, as on a holiday like this, or at night after she had gone to bed, there was no work to occupy her mind, she remembered only too well. Crawford had written her, as he promised, after his return home. He wrote that he and his father were reconciled and that he had resumed his studies. The letter was brave and cheerful, there was not a hint of whining or complaint in it. Mary was proud of him, proud of his courage and self-restraint. She could read between the lines and the loneliness and hopelessness were there but he had done his best to conceal them for her sake. If he felt resentment toward her, he did not show it. Lonely and hopeless as she herself was, her heart went out to him, but she did not repent her decision. It was better, ever and ever so much better, as it was. He would forget and be happy by and by, and would never know his father's shameful story. And poor Uncle Zoeth would never know, either. As for her-well, she must work, work harder than ever. Thank God there were six working days in the week!

She did not answer that letter. After much deliberation she fought down the temptation and decided not to do so. What was the use? If one wished to forget, or wished someone else to forget, if it was a real wish and not merely pretending, the way to bring about that result was to do nothing to cause remembrance. Letters, even the letters of friends, the most platonic letters, were reminders. She had begged for Crawford's friendship-she could not bring herself to let him go without hearing that he forgave her and would think of her as a friend-but now she vowed she would not be so silly and childish as to torture him or herself unnecessarily. She would not do it. And so she did not write.

After Christmas came the long, dull winter. It was the most discouraging season the silent partner of Hamilton and Company had yet put in in her capacity as manager. There were no cottagers to help out with their custom, very few new customers, no fresh faces in the store, the same dreary, deadly round from morning till night. She tried her hardest and, with the able assistance of Sim Crocker who was proving himself a treasure, did succeed in making February's sales larger than January's and those of March larger than either. But she looked forward to April and the real spring with impatience. She had a plan for the spring.

It was in March that she experienced a great satisfaction and gave Shadrach the surprise and delight of his life by collecting the firm's bill against Mr. Jeremiah Clifford. Mr. Clifford, it will be remembered, had owed Hamilton and Company one hundred and ten dollars for a long time. There was every indication that he was perfectly satisfied with the arrangement and intended to owe it forever. Mary had written, had called upon him repeatedly, had even journeyed to Ostable and consulted her friend Judge Baxter. The Judge had promised to look into the matter and he did so, but his letter to her contained little that was hopeful.

There is money there [wrote the Judge]. The man Clifford appears to be in very comfortable circumstances, but he is a shrewd [there were indications here that the word "rascal" had been written and then erased] person and, so far as I can learn, there is not a single item of property, real or otherwise, that is in his own name. If there were, we might attach that property for your debt, but we cannot attach Mrs. Clifford's holdings. All I can advise is to discontinue selling him more goods and to worry him all you can about the old bill. He may grow tired of being dunned and pay, if not all, at least something on account.

When Mary read this portion of the letter to her Uncle Shadrach his scorn was outspoken.

"Get tired!" he scoffed. "Jerry Clifford get tired of bein' dunned! DON'T talk so foolish! Why, he gets fat on that kind of thing; it's the main excitement he has, that and spendin' a cent twice a day for newspapers. Did you ever watch Jerry buy a paper? No? Well, you go up to Ellis's some day when the mornin' papers are put out for sale and watch him. He'll drive up to the door with that old hoopskirt of a horse of his-that's what the critter looks like, one of them old-fashioned hoop-skirts; there was nothin' to them but framework and a hollow inside, and that's all there is to that horse.-Well, Jerry he'll drive up and come in to the paper counter, his eyes shinin' and his nerves all keyed up and one hand shoved down into his britches pocket. He'll stand and look over the papers on the counter, readin' as much of every one as he can for nothin', and then by and by that hand'll come out of his pocket with a cent in it. Then the other hand'll reach over and get hold of the paper he's cal'latin' to buy, get a good clove hitch onto it, and then for a minute he'll stand there lookin' first

at the cent and then at the paper and rubbin' the money between his finger and thumb-he's figgerin' to have a little of the copper smell left on his hand even if he has to let go of the coin, you see-and-"

Mary laughed.

"Uncle Shad," she exclaimed, "what ridiculous nonsense you do talk!"

"No nonsense about it. It's dead serious. It ain't any joke to Jerry, you can bet on that. Well, after a spell, he kind of gets his spunk up to make the plunge, as you might say, lays down the penny-Oh, he never throws it down; he wouldn't treat real money as disrespectful as that-grabs up the paper and makes a break for outdoors, never once lookin' back for fear he might change his mind. When he drives off in his buggy you can see that he's all het up and trembly, like one of them reckless Wall Street speculators you read about. He's spent a cent, but he's had a lovely nerve-wrackin' time doin' it. Oh, a feller has to satisfy his cravin' for excitement somehow, and Jerry satisfies his buyin' one-cent newspapers and seein' his creditors get mad. Do you suppose you can worry such a critter as that by talkin' to him about what he owes? Might as well try to worry a codfish by leanin' over the rail of the boat and hollerin' to it that it's drownin'."

Mary laughed again. "I'm afraid you may be right, Uncle Shad," she said, "but I shan't give up hope. My chance may come some day, if I wait and watch for it."

It came unexpectedly and in a rather odd manner. One raw, windy March afternoon she was very much surprised to see Sam Keith walk into the store. Sam, since his graduation from college, was, as he expressed it, "moaning on the bar" in Boston-that is to say, he was attending the Harvard Law School with the hope, on his parents' part, that he might ultimately become a lawyer.

"Why, Sam!" exclaimed Mary. "Is this you?"

Sam grinned cheerfully. "'Tis I," he declared. "I am here. That is to say, the handsome youth whose footfalls you hear approaching upon horseback is none other than our hero. Mary, you are, as usual, a sight to be thankful for. How do you do?"

Mary admitted that she was in good health and then demanded to know what he was doing down on the Cape at that time of the year. He sat down in a chair by the stove and propped his feet against the hearth before replying.

"Why! Haven't you guessed?" he asked, in mock amazement. "Dear me! I'm surprised. I should have thought the weather would have suggested my errand. Hear that zephyr; doesn't it suggest bathing suits and outing flannels and mosquitoes and hammock flirtations? Eh?"

The zephyr was a sixty-mile-an-hour March gale. Sam replied to his own question.

"Answer," he said, "it does not. Right, my child; go up head. But, honest Injun, I am down here on summer business. That Mr. Raymond, Dad's friend, who was visiting us this summer is crazy about the Cape. He has decided to build a summer home here at South Harniss, and the first requisite being land to build it on he has asked Dad to buy the strip between our own property and the North Inlet, always provided it can be bought. Dad asked me to come down here and see about it, so here I am."

Mary considered. "Oh, yes," she said, after a moment, "I know the land you mean. Who owns it?"

"That's what I didn't know," said Sam. "But I do know now. I asked the first person I met after I got off the train and oddly enough he turned out to be the owner himself. It was old Clifford-Isaiah, Elisha, Hosea-Jeremiah, that's it. I knew it was one of the prophets."

"So Mr. Clifford owns that land. I didn't know that."

"Neither did I. He didn't tell me at first that he did own it. Asked me what I wanted to know for."

"Did you tell him?" asked Mary.

For the first time since Mr. Keith's arrival that young gentleman's easy assurance seemed a little shaken. He appeared to feel rather foolish.

"Why, yes, to be honest, I did," he admitted. "I was an idiot, I suppose, but everyone asks about everyone's else business down here and I didn't think. He kept talking and pumping and before I realized it I told him about Raymond's being so anxious to get that property, being dead set on it and all that, and about my being commissioned to buy at any reasonable figure. And then, after a while, he astonished me by saying he owned the land himself. Confound it! I suppose he'll jam the price away up after what I told him."

"Oh, then you haven't bought?"

"Not yet. I was willing, but for some reason he wouldn't sell at once-wouldn't even talk price. Wanted to think it over, he said. I can't wait now, but I am coming down again on Monday and we shall close the deal then."

That evening Mary told Shadrach what Sam had said. The Captain looked puzzled.

"I didn't know Jerry Clifford owned that land," he said. "I don't believe he does."

"Of course he does, Uncle Shad. He wouldn't have told Sam he did own it if he didn't. What in the world would he gain by that?"

"Why, nothin', I presume likely. But he must have bought it mighty recent. Last I heard Jimmie G. owned that piece. 'Twas part of the property his father left him. Next time I see Jimmie I'll ask him."

So, three days later, when Jimmie G.-his last name was Peters-passed the store the Captain hailed him and, inviting him in, went straight to the point.

"When did you sell Jerry Clifford that North Inlet land of yours, Jim?" he asked.

Jimmie G. looked surprised. "How in time did you know I had sold it?" he demanded. "It beats all how things get around in this town. I never sold that land until day afore yesterday evenin' and the deed didn't pass till yesterday, and yet you know the whole business. Not that I care; 'twas Jerry wanted it kept still. Who told you?"

Captain Shad whistled. "I see," he said slowly. "I see. Yes, yes. When Jerry told Sam he owned that land he . . . Humph! It's just another case of the boy lied, that's all. Tut, tut, tut! When you get ahead of Jerry Clifford you've got to turn out early, ain't you? I hope you got a good price for the land, Jim."

"Well, I didn't; that is, not very big. What's up, anyway? What are you hintin' at, Cap'n Shad?"

Before the Captain could answer, Mary, who had been listening to the conversation, broke in to ask a question.

"Mr. Peters," she cried eagerly, "would you mind telling me this: Whose name is the new deed in, Mr. Clifford's or his wife's?"

Jimmie G. laughed. "Why, that was kind of funny, too," he said. "You know Jerry, Cap'n Shad; he never has nothin' in his own name-it's all in his wife's. That's a principle of his."

"I'd call it a lack of principle," grunted Shadrach. "Never mind, Jim; go on."

"But he was in a terrible rush to close the sale, for some reason or other," went on Peters, "and I forgot, myself, and had the deed made in the name of Jeremiah Clifford. He made a big row at first, but it seemed as if he couldn't wait for me to have it changed, so he handed over his check and-"

"Wait! Wait, please, Mr. Peters!" broke in Mary, her eyes flashing with excitement. "Just tell me if I understand you correctly. You sold that land to Mr. Clifford and he owns it now IN HIS OWN NAME?"

"Why, yes-sartin."

Mary waited to hear no more. She ran out of the store and to the post-office. A few minutes later she was talking with Judge Baxter over the telephone. When she returned the Captain was curious to know where she had been, but she would not tell him.

"Wait," she said. "Wait, Uncle Shad; I think something is going to happen."

It happened on Monday morning. Mary was at the desk; Simeon was in the back room getting ready his early morning orders, and Captain Shad was standing by the window looking out. Suddenly Mary heard him utter an exclamation.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"Oh, nothin'."

"You spoke as if you were in pain."

"No wonder. I'm lookin' at somethin' that gives me a pain. That wizened-up landshark of a Jerry Clifford is in sight, bound to the post-office, I cal'late. Goin' to put a one-cent stamp on a letter and let the feller that gets it pay the other cent, I suppose. He always asks the postmaster to lick the stamp, so's to save the wear and tear on his own tongue. That's a fact. . . . No," he added, a moment later, "he ain't goin' to the office; he's turnin' down the lane here. . . . Eh! Jumpin' fire of brimstone, I do believe-WHAT in the world?"

For Mr. Clifford's step was upon the platform of the store and in another moment the door opened and the tight-fisted one himself appeared. Shadrach said nothing; he could only stare in amazement. It had been more than two years since Jeremiah had crossed that threshold.

But he crossed it now. And, after a look about the place, ignoring the Captain completely, he walked over to the desk. He did not look happy. Mary, on the contrary, looked very much pleased.

"Good morning, Mr. Clifford," she said.

Jeremiah, who was a little thin man, looked up at her from under his heavy gray eyebrows and above his spectacles. He did not acknowledge the salutation.

"Umph!" he grunted savagely. "You think you're smart, don't ye?"

Shadrach started forward.

"Why, you-" he began. Mary held up her hand.

"Don't interfere, Uncle Shad," she ordered. "This is Mr. Clifford's affair and mine. We understand each other perfectly." Then, turning to the frowning Jeremiah, she said: "Why, yes, thank you, Mr. Clifford, I do think I am rather clever-just now. Don't you think I am, yourself?"

Again the visitor ignored the question.

"What did you go and stick an attachment on that land of mine for?" he demanded.

"Surely you don't need to ask me that, Mr. Clifford. The amount is one hundred and ten dollars and sixty-three cents. I remember it and I should imagine you must; certainly it has been called to your attention often enough."

"Umph! Well, you can keep your darned old attachment."

"Very well; and you can keep your land-what is left, I mean. I think you will keep it for some time-after I tell Mr. Keith the facts. He will be here this afternoon, you know."

It was evident that Jeremiah was quite aware of the time of Sam Keith's arrival. His teeth-the few remaining-snapped together and, as Captain Shadrach said afterwards, he looked as if undecided whether to bite or put back his head and howl. Apparently he decided that howling was safer.

"I was cal'latin' to pay that bill of yours, anyhow," he said.

"Of course, and we were calculating that you would," said Mary sweetly. "Your calculations and ours are proving true, Mr. Clifford. That's nice, isn't it?"

From the direction of the back room, where Simeon was busy with his orders, came the sound of a smothered laugh. Shadrach, upon whom understanding of the situation was just beginning to dawn, slapped his knee. Mr. Clifford looked positively venomous.

"If I pay that bill-that-what was it?-that hundred and ten dollars you say I owe you-do I get that attachment off my land right away?" he demanded.

"If you pay the one hundred and ten dollars-and the sixty-three cents-I shall phone Judge Baxter the next minute," said Mary promptly.

Jeremiah hesitated no longer. He had considered the situation in all its phases before leaving home and the one hundred and ten dollars was but a small item compared to his expected profit on the sale of the North Inlet land. He reached into his pocket, produced a long, dingy leather pocketbook wound about with twine, unwound the twine, opened the pocketbook and produced a blank check.

"Give me a pen and ink," he snarled, "and I'll fill this in."

The Captain reached for the pen and ink bottle, but Mary interfered.

"Cash, if you please," she said sweetly.

Jeremiah looked at her steadily for what seemed a long time. Then she was surprised to see the corner of his lip twitch and notice a grim twinkle in his eye. Also there was a grudging note of admiration in his voice when he next spoke.

"Ain't takin' no chances, be you?" he said dryly.

"No. Don't you think we've taken enough already?"

Mr. Clifford did not answer. He replaced the blank check in his pocketbook and, from another compartment, extracted some bills rolled in a tight little cylinder and wound about with elastic.

"There you be," he said shortly. Then, turning to Shadrach, he added: "Don't I get nothin' off for payin' cash?"

From the back room came a vigorous "Haw, haw!" Even Mary laughed aloud. As for Captain Shad, he could only stare, struck speechless by his visitor's audacity. Mary, when she had finished laughing, answered for him.

"We shall deduct the interest we might have charged you, Mr. Clifford," she said. "Thank you. There is your change and there is the receipted bill. Now, I shall call up Judge Baxter."

When she returned from the post-office Jeremiah was still there. Shadrach, all smiles, was doing up parcels.

"What are those, Uncle Shad?" asked Mary. Mr. Clifford answered.

"Oh, I thought I might as well buy a little sugar and flour and such," he said. "Always come in handy, they do. Send 'em up when you get to it. Good-by."

His hand was on the door, but Mary called to him.

"Mr. Clifford," she called; "just a minute, please. Are you in any hurry for these things-the sugar and the rest of it?"

"No, don't know's I be, 'special'; why?"

"Oh, nothing, except that if you were in a hurry I should advise your paying for them. I told you, you remember, that we weren't taking chances."

For an instant Jeremiah stood there glowering. Then he did another astonishing thing. He took out the pocketbook once more and from it extracted a two-dollar bill.

"Take it out of that," he said, "and send me a receipted bill afterwards. I always cal'late to know what I've paid for. And say, you-what's your name-Mary-'Gusta, if you get tired of workin' for Shad Gould and Zoeth Hamilton, come round and see me. I've got-I mean my wife's got-two or three mortgages that's behind on the interest. I ain't been able to collect it for her yet, but-but, by time, I believe YOU could!"

He went out and the next moment Mary was almost smothered in her uncle's embrace.

"After this-after THIS," roared Shadrach, "I'll believe anything's possible if you've got a hand in it, Mary-'Gusta. If YOU'D been Jonah you'd have put the whale in your pocket and swum ashore."

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