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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 12161

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Early in April, when Mary announced that she was ready to put into operation her biggest and most ambitious plan, suggested the year before by Barbara Howe-the tea-room and gift-shop plan-the Captain did not offer strenuous opposition.

"I can't see much sense in it," he admitted. "I don't know's I know what it's all about. Nigh as I can make out you're figgerin' to open up some kind of a high-toned eatin' house. Is that it?"

"Why, no, Uncle Shad, not exactly," explained Mary.

"Then what is it-a drinkin' house? I presume likely that's it, bein' as you call it a 'tea-room.' Kind of a temperance saloon, eh? Can't a feller get coffee in it, if he wants to? I don't wake up nights much hankerin' for tea myself."

"Listen, Uncle Shad: A tea-room-at least a tearoom of the sort I intend to have-is a place where the summer people, the women and girls especially, will come and sit at little tables and drink tea and eat cakes and ice cream and look off at the ocean, if the weather is pleasant-"

"Yes, and at the fog, if 'tain't; and talk about their neighbor's clothes and run down the characters of their best friends. Yes, yes, I see; sort of a sewin' circle without the sewin'. All right, heave ahead and get your tea-room off the ways if you want to. If anybody can make the thing keep afloat you can, Mary-'Gusta."

So Mary, thus encouraged, went on to put her scheme into effect. She had been planning the details for some time. About halfway down the lane leading to the house from the store was another small story-and-a-half dwelling of the old-fashioned Cape Cod type. It stood upon a little hill and commanded a wide view of ocean and beach and village. There were some weather-beaten trees and a tangle of shrubs about it. It had been untenanted for a good while and was in rather bad repair.

Mary arranged with the owner, a Bayport man, to lease this house and land at a small rental for three years. In the lease was included consent to the making of necessary alterations and repairs and the privilege of purchasing, at a price therein named, at the end of the three years, should the tenant wish to do so.

Then with the aid of soap and water, white paint and whitewash, attractive but inexpensive wall papers, and odds and ends of quaint old furniture, of which the parlor and best bedroom of the Gould-Hamilton home supplied the larger quantity, she proceeded to make over the interior of the little building. To every bit of nautical bric-a-brac, pictures of old sailing ships and sea curios she gave especial prominence. Then the lawn was mowed, the tangled shrubbery untangled and clipped and pruned; cheap but pretty lattices made to look like the shrouds of a ship, over which climbing roses were supposed-some day-to twine, were placed against the walls, and rustic tables set about under the trees and the grape arbor with ship lanterns hung above them. The driveway down to the lane was rolled and hardened, and a sign, painted by Joshua Bemis, the local "House, Boat and Sign Painter, Tinsmith and Glazier"-see Mr. Bemis's advertisement in the Advocate-was hung on a frame by the gateway.

Captain Shad's remarks when he first saw that sign may be worth quoting. Mary had not consulted him concerning it; she deemed it best not to do so. When it was in place, however, she led him out to inspect. Shadrach adjusted his spectacles and read as follows:

THE FOR'ARD LOOKOUT

TEA AND GIFTS

DAINTY THINGS TO EAT

PRETTY THINGS TO BUY

ALL'S WELL!

There was the picture of a full-rigged ship, with every stitch set alow and aloft, sailing through a sea of thick green and white paint toward a kind of green wall with green feather dusters growing out of it.

Shadrach subjected this work of art to a long and searching stare. At last he spoke.

"Carryin' every rag she can h'ist," he observed; "nobody at the wheel, land dead ahead and breakers under the bows. Looks to me as if 'twas liable to be a short v'yage and a lively one. But the for'ard lookout says all's well and he ought to know; he's had more experience aboard gift-shop ships, I presume likely, than I have. What's those bristly things stickin' up along shore there-eel grass or tea grounds?"

For the first few weeks after the tea-room was really "off the ways" the optimistic declaration of the For'ard Lookout seemed scarcely warranted by the facts. Mary was inclined to think that all was by no means well. In fitting out the new venture she had been as economical as she dared, but she had been obliged to spend money and to take on a fresh assortment of debts. Then, too, she had engaged the services of a good cook and two waitresses, so there was a weekly expense bill to consider. And the number of motor cars which turned in at the new driveway was disappointingly small.

But the number grew larger. As people had talked about Hamilton and Company's assortment of Christmas goods, so now they began to talk about the "quaintness and delightful originality" of the For'ard Lookout. The tea was good; the cakes and ices were good; on pleasant days the view was remarkably fine, and the pretty things in the gift shop were temptingly displayed. So, as May passed and June came, and the cottages and hotels began to open, the business of the new tea-room and gift shop grew from fair to good and from that to very good indeed.

Mary divided her time between the store and the tearoom, doing her best to keep a supervising eye on each. She was in no mood to meet people and kept out of the way of strangers as much as possible; even of her former acquaintances who came to the For'ard Lookout she saw but few. If she had not been too busy she might have found it amusing, the contrasting studies in human nature afforded by these former acquaintances in their attitude toward her.

For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Mullet and daughter, Irene, the latter now through school and "finished" until her veneering actually glittered, sat drinking tea at a table on the lawn. Said Mrs. Mullet:

"And THIS is what it's come to; after a

ll the airs and frills and the goin' to Europe and I don't know what all. Here she is keepin' an eatin' house. An eatin' house-just THINK of it! If that ain't a comedown! Wouldn't you think she'd be ashamed, 'Rena?"

Miss Mullet drooped a weary eyelid and sighed a hopeless sigh.

"Oh, Mother," she drawled, in deep disgust, "CAN'T you stop calling me by that outlandish name? I was christened Irene, I believe. PLEASE remember it."

"All right, 'Re-all right, Irene; I won't forget again. Oh, there's Mary-'Gusta, now! Showin' herself out here with all these city folks, when she's nothin' but a hired help-a table girl, as you might say! I shan't notice her, anyway. I may buy her tea and stuff, but I-Who's that runnin' up to her and-and kissin' her-and-mercy on us! You'd think they was sisters, if you didn't know. Who is it? Looks kind of common, she does to me. Don't you think so, 'Rena-Irene, I mean?"

Irene sniffed.

"That," she said with cutting emphasis, "is Barbara Howe. Her people are building that big summer house at Osterville and her father is a millionaire, so they say. And her people wouldn't let her come to the school you sent me to because they thought it wasn't good enough for her. That's how common SHE is. I met her once, but she doesn't know me now, although she is perfectly crazy over that Mary Lathrop. I-Oh, there's Father drinking out of his saucer again! For heaven's sake, let's go home!"

And just then Barbara was enthusiastically hugging her former schoolmate and exclaiming:

"You did it! I knew you would if you would only try. I said it required a knack or a genius or something and that I was certain you had it. It's the dearest place of the kind I've ever seen, my dear, and if every single person I know who is in this vicinity doesn't come here at least once a week and spend lots and lots of money I'll never speak to them again. I'm going to turn myself into a walking phonograph, my dear, with just one record: 'If you love me visit the For'ard Lookout.' And of course everyone loves me-how can they help it? So-well, just wait and see what happens."

So far as spreading abroad the praises of the new tea-room was concerned, she was as good as her word. In August the patronage was so great and continuous that Mary found it necessary to hire three more waitresses and a salesgirl for the gift shop. She spent more of her own time there, leaving the care of the store to Shadrach, Simeon Crocker and a new clerk, who had been hired to help with the summer custom. When early September brought the beginning of the season's end the books of both the Lookout and of Hamilton and Company showed a substantial profit.

While all this was going on Zoeth was steadily gaining in health and strength. In July he was sitting in the sunshine upon the front porch. In August he was able to climb to the buggy seat and be driven up to the store, where day after day he sat in his armchair behind the counter, watching what was going on, listening to his partner's happy chatter-for Shadrach was in high spirits now-and occasionally saying a word or two himself. On pleasant Sundays he was driven to church and the Captain and Mary accompanied him. He was white and frail and thin, but the doctor assured them that, so far as he could see, there was no reason to expect anything but a complete recovery.

It did seem to Captain Shad, however, that his partner had something on his mind. He seemed often to be thinking deeply and at times to be troubled and disturbed. The Captain had never asked, never attempted by questioning to learn what the cause of the trouble-provided there was any-might be. He had been told often enough that the patient must not be excited, so he meant to take no risks, but Zoeth's long silences and the expression on his face as he sat there in the chair, evidently thinking deeply, puzzled and worried his friend and partner. He noticed the same expression at times when Mary was in the room. Zoeth's eyes would follow her as she moved about and in them was the look the Captain could not understand.

Shadrach had told his friend of Mary's sending young Smith away. Zoeth had asked concerning Crawford almost as soon as he was permitted to take part in a lengthy conversation. He appeared greatly interested, even eager.

"But, Shadrach," he said, "are you sure she sent him away because she didn't care for him? Are you sure that was the reason?"

"What other reason could there be?" demanded the Captain. "She as much as told me that was it, herself. I was some surprised, of course, for I'd rather cal'lated 'twas as good as settled between 'em, but it turned out that I didn't know what I was talkin' about. That HAS happened afore in my life, strange as it may seem," he added dryly.

Zoeth sighed. "I wish-" he said slowly, "I wish I knew-"

"What do you wish you knew?"

"Eh? Oh, nothin'. If-if I was only a little mite stronger I'd try to talk with Mary-'Gusta myself. I'd like-I'd like to have her tell me about it."

"Meanin' you don't believe me, eh? There, there, shipmate, it's all right. I was only jokin'. But I wouldn't ask Mary-'Gusta about that, if I was you. Course I know she cares as much or more for her Uncle Zoeth than for anybody on earth, and she'd tell him anything if he asked her; but I don't believe-Well, I wouldn't ask, if I was you. You understand?"

"Yes, yes, Shadrach, I think I understand. You mean she felt bad to have to say-what she did say-to that young man and she wouldn't want to be reminded of it?"

"That's about it, Zoeth."

Silence for some minutes. Both partners were occupied with their thoughts. Then Zoeth said:

"Shadrach, I-I-"

He did not finish the sentence. The Captain ventured to remind him.

"Yes, Zoeth, what is it?" he asked.

"Nothin'. I-I can't tell you now. By and by, if the good Lord gives me strength again, I'll-Never mind, now. Don't ask me, please."

So Shadrach did not ask, but he was puzzled and a little anxious. What was it his partner had to tell and found the telling so difficult?

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