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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 22089

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

It was not until a day in mid-September that Captain Shadrach learned his partner's secret. He and Zoeth and Mary were at the store together. Business was still good, but the rush was over. The summer cottages were closing and most of the Cape hotels had already closed. The For'ard Lookout had taken down its sign at the end of the previous week. Its voyage for that year was over. It had been a prosperous one.

Mary was sorry that the busy season was at an end. She was very, very tired; she had allowed herself no rest, had taken no holidays, had done her best to think of nothing except matters connected with Hamilton and Company or the tea-room. These, fortunately, had given her enough to think of; other thoughts she resolutely crowded from her mind. Now there would be no tea-room to plan for, and, thanks to Sim Crocker and the competent way in which he had assumed care of the store, she no longer felt the absolute necessity of remaining there from daylight until late in the evening. Her Uncle Zoeth was almost well, also; she would no longer have his health as an additional burden upon her mind. She was in danger of being forced to think of herself, and that she knew she must not do. Thinking of herself would surely mean thinking of someone else and of what might have been. And what useless, hopeless thinking that would be! No, no! She must find something else to keep her thoughts occupied.

So she was planning the making over and enlarging of the store front, putting in larger and better windows and strengthening the platform. She was discussing the plan with Shadrach and Zoeth when John Keith entered. The Keiths were leaving South Harniss rather early that year and the head of the family had dropped in to say good-by. Mr. Keith's liking for Mary was as strong as ever, and for her uncles he had, by this time, a very real regard, a feeling which was reciprocated by them.

Conversation began in the way the majority of conversations begin, with a discussion of the weather, its recent past, present, and probable future, shifted to the tea-room and its success and then to the visitor's recent trip to New York, from which city he had just returned. It was near the noon hour and there were few customers to interrupt. Those who did come were taken care of by Mr. Crocker.

"Anything new happenin' over there?" inquired Captain Shadrach, asking news of the metropolis exactly as he would have asked concerning the gossip of Harniss Center. "Meet anybody you knew, did you?"

Keith smiled. "Why, yes," he said. "I met the people I went to see. Mine was a business trip. I didn't meet anyone unexpectedly, if that's what you mean."

The Captain nodded. "Didn't get down on South Street, did you?" he asked. "No, I thought not. If you had you'd have met plenty. When I was goin' to sea I bet I never went cruisin' down South Street in my life that I didn't run afoul of somebody I wan't expectin' to. Greatest place for meetin' folks in the world, I cal'late South Street is. Lots of seafarin' men have told me so."

Keith's smile broadened as he was handed this nugget of wisdom. Then he said:

"You remind me, Captain, that I did meet someone, after all. In Boston, not in New York, and I met him only yesterday. It was someone you know, too, and Mary here used to know him quite well, I think-young Crawford Smith, Sam's Harvard friend. He visited us here in South Harniss one summer."

Shadrach was the only one of the trio of listeners who made any comment at all on this speech. Even he did not speak for a moment, glancing apprehensively at Mary before doing so. Mary said nothing, and Zoeth, leaning back in his chair, his face hidden from his partner's gaze by the end of the counter, did not speak.

"Sho!" exclaimed the Captain. "Sho! So you met him, did you! In Boston? That's funny. I had an idea he was out West somewheres."

"So did I. The last I heard concerning him he had given up his studies in the East here-he was studying medicine, as perhaps you know-and had gone back to his home in Nevada. His father, who was not at all well, asked him to do so. He had written Sam once or twice from out there. So I was surprised enough to see him in Boston. I met him in the South Station and we chatted for a few moments. He told me that his father was dead."

From behind the end of the counter where Zoeth sat came an odd sound, a sort of gasp. Shadrach leaned forward quickly.

"What's the matter, Zoeth?" he asked. Before Zoeth could answer Mary spoke:

"Dead!" she repeated. "Mr. Keith, I-did-did you say Crawford Smith's father was DEAD?"

Her tone was so strange that even Mr. Keith could not help noticing it. He looked at her, seemed about to ask a question, and then answered hers instead.

"Why, yes," he said; "he is dead. He had been in poor health for some time, so his son told me, and about two weeks ago he died. Crawford did not tell me any particulars, nor did he say what had brought him East. In fact, he didn't seem anxious to talk; acted as if he had something on his mind. Of course I said I was sorry and he thanked me and inquired regarding Mrs. Keith and Edna and Sam. Then I had to hurry for my train. . . . Oh, are you going, Mary? Well, then, I must say good-by until next summer; we leave tomorrow morning."

Mary explained, rather hurriedly, that she must speak with Simeon for a few minutes, said good-by, shook hands and hastened out. Keith looked after her.

"I hope I haven't made a blunder," he said, "in speaking of young Smith. She and he were quite-er-friendly at one time, weren't they. I understood so from some remarks of Sam's. Didn't put my foot in it by mentioning the boy's name, did I? I certainly hope not."

Zoeth did not speak. Shadrach hastened to reassure him.

"No, no!" he said. "There was one time when even me and Zoeth figgered there might be-er-well, we didn't know but what he and she was liable to be more'n just friends. But it's all off now, seems so. They don't even write each other, I guess. I cal'late maybe Mary-'Gusta got tired of him," he explained. "He was a real nice young feller, but he probably wan't quite good enough for her. Fur's that goes," he added, with the emphasis of absolute conviction, "I never laid eyes on one that was."

Keith looked relieved. "Well, I'm glad if I didn't make a mistake," he said. "She seemed so startled when I said that the man was dead and her manner was so odd. Didn't you notice it yourself, Captain?"

Shadrach nodded.

"I noticed she seemed sort of sot all aback," he said, "but I don't know's that's so strange when you consider that she and Crawford used to be such friends. More'n probable she's heard him talk a good deal about his father."

"Well, perhaps so. No doubt that is it. I'm afraid she is working too hard and worrying too much over her various enterprises here. She is succeeding wonderfully, of course, but I don't like to see her losing those roses in her cheeks. They're much too precious to lose. Keep your eye on her, Captain, and don't let her wear herself out."

He soon said good-by. Captain Shadrach accompanied him to the door. Zoeth remained where he was, not rising even when he shook hands with his departing friend. But when the Captain turned back he saw his partner standing by the end of the counter and clutching it with one hand while he beckoned with the other. Shadrach gave him one look and then crossed the space between them in two strides.

"For the land sakes, Zoeth," he begged, "what's the matter?"

Zoeth waved him to silence. "Sshh! sshh!" he pleaded in a whisper. "Don't holler so; she'll hear you. Shadrach, I-I-"

"What IS it?" broke in his friend. "What's the matter, Zoeth? Shall I fetch the doctor?"

"No, no. I'm-I'm all right, Shadrach. I've just had-had a kind of shock-a surprise, that's all. I ain't very strong yet and it-it kind of upset me. But, Shadrach, I want to talk to you. I want to tell you somethin' right away. I can't keep it to myself any longer. Can't we go home-to my room or somewheres-where we can talk? Please, Shadrach!"

"There, there, shipmate; take it easy. Go home? Course we can! Hey, Sim!" shouting to Mr. Crocker, who was in the back room. "You and Mary can take care of the store, can't you? Zoeth and me are goin' home for dinner."

Simeon replied that Mary was not there; she had gone out the back way, down to the house, he thought. "But you go ahead, Cap'n Shad," he added. "I can take care of the store all right."

At home, and in Mr. Hamilton's room, the Captain pulled forward the most comfortable chair, forced his partner to sit in it, closed and locked the door, sat down on the edge of the bed, and said:

"There! Now we're all taut and shipshape and nobody can get aboard to interrupt. Fire away, Zoeth. What is it you've got to tell?"

Zoeth, his hand trembling, reached into the inside pocket of his coat, took out an old-fashioned wallet and from it produced a much-crumpled envelope.

"Shadrach," he said, "I don't hardly know how to begin. It seems so strange to think that you and me, who've been so close to each other all these years, should have a secret between us, if only for a little while. It seems wicked. I guess 'tis wicked, and I'm the wicked one for keepin' it from you."

The Captain laughed.

"You couldn't be wicked if you was apprenticed to the Old Harry for ten years, Zoeth," he said. "You don't know how to be and the devil himself couldn't teach you. Now, don't waste time tellin' me I'm speaking lightly of sacred things," he added. "For one thing, the Old Scratch ain't sacred, as I know of, and for another I want to hear that secret. What is it?"

Zoeth shook his head. "I am wicked, all the same," he said, "but I guess I've been punished. There wan't any real reason why I shouldn't have told you afore, but somehow I couldn't make up my mind to speak of it. I just couldn't. But I'm goin' to tell you now, Shadrach."

He held up the crumpled envelope.

"You remember when I was took sick?" he said. "You remember I was struck down all of a heap in the kitchen? Yes; well, did you ever wonder what it was struck me down? I'll tell you. 'Twas a letter that came to me in the mail that morning. This was the letter. I managed to put it in my inside vest pocket that time when Isaiah run off after you and left me lyin' there. I didn't want him to see it. I didn't want anybody to-not then. Now I want you to read it, Shadrach. But before you do, let me warn you. You should ask the Almighty to give you strength. You're goin' to be surprised, Shadrach, surprised and shocked. Here it is; read it."

He handed the envelope to his partner. The latter took it, wonderingly, and looked at the inscription.

"Nobody's handwritin' that I know," he said.

"You knew it once well enough."

"I did? And it was mailed out in Carson City, Nevada. Why, that's where the Crawford Smith boy lives, ain't it? What on earth?"

He opened the envelope and from it took several sheets close

ly covered with finely written lines. He began to read and, as he read, his expression changed from curiosity to wonder, to amazement, to anger, to a mixture of the last three. The final sheet fell from his fingers to the floor. He looked up with a very white face.

"My God!" he said solemnly.

A half-hour later they were still talking. Shadrach had not entirely recovered from the surprise, but now he could think and speak more coherently, although the wonder of it all was overpowering.

"It seems as if the hand of the Lord was in it," he declared.

"It is," agreed Zoeth, with absolute conviction. "See how it worked out accordin' to His promise. The wicked flourished for a time, but God sent the punishment in due season, didn't He? Can't you see the poor feller's agonizin' in every line of that letter?"

"POOR feller! Good Lord above, Zoeth Hamilton, you ain't pityin' HIM, are you? You ain't sorry for him-YOU?"

Zoeth nodded. "I wan't at first," he said. "At first the whole thing, comin' on me out of a clear sky as you might say, knocked me flat. The doctor, when he came, said he thought I must have had a sudden shock. I did; that was it, that letter. But later on, when I was gettin' better and could think again, and when I was alone and had the chance and could read the letter again, I began to-to-well, not forgive him for what he done-I don't suppose I can ever do that"

"I should say not! Damn him!"

"Hush, Shadrach; he's dead."

"So he is. I forgot. Then he's damned, I guess, without any orders from me."

"He was damned here on earth, Shadrach. All his life-the last part of it, anyhow-must have been a torment. He must have idolized that boy of his. He says so in the letter, but it's plain on every line of the writin' without his sayin' it. And can't you just imagine him as the boy grew up and they loved each other more and more, tremblin' and scared every minute for fear that somehow or other his son'll learn that the father he loves and respects is a-a thief-and-and worse? Seems to me I can imagine it. And then all at once the boy comes to him and says he wants to marry-Oh, my soul! Shadrach, think of it!-he wants to marry your girl and mine-Marcellus's stepdaughter. Why, it must have driven him nigh crazy. And then they quarrel, and the boy, the only bein' on earth he's livin' for, goes off and leaves him. And he knows he's comin' here-to us-and that some time or other he's sartin to learn everything. No wonder he wrote that letter. No wonder-"

The Captain interrupted.

"Writin' you, of all people!" he said. "Writin' you and beggin' you not to let Mary-'Gusta marry his son: and for what? To save the boy from somethin' bad? No! For all he knew, Mary-'Gusta might be what she is, the best and finest girl on earth. What he was beggin' for was himself-that his son shouldn't know what HE was, that's all. No, Zoeth, I can't pity him much. He's dead, and that's a good thing, too. The wonder of it is that he's been alive all this time and we didn't know. And to think-but there; it's all wonderful."

Both were silent for a moment. Then Zoeth said:

"The one thing that's troubled me most in all this, Shadrach, is about Mary-'Gusta herself. How does she really feel towards Crawford? She sent him away, you told me that, but are you sure she did it because she didn't care enough for him to marry him? Are you sure there wan't any other reason?"

"She gave me to understand there wan't. What other reason could there be?"

"Well-well, Shadrach, it all depends, seems to me. You know Mary-'Gusta; the last person she thinks about on earth is herself. If she did think a sight of Crawford, if she thought ENOUGH of him, she wouldn't let him suffer on account of her, would she? She knew, probably, that he loved and respected his father and a father's good name must mean a lot to a son. Then, there is us-you and me, Shadrach. She wouldn't let us suffer, if she could help it. Do you see what I mean?"

"Humph!" mused the Captain, thinking aloud, "I cal'late I do, Zoeth. You mean if Mary-'Gusta had found out the facts about Ed Farmer, who he was and what he done, and if she knew Crawford Smith's dad WAS Ed Farmer and that Crawford didn't know it and we didn't know it-you mean that, BEIN' Mary-'Gusta, rather than bring sorrow and trouble on Crawford and on us, she'd sacrifice her own feelin's and-and would pretend she didn't care for him so as to get him to go away and save him and us. That's what you mean, I presume likely."

"That's it, Shadrach."

"Um-yes. Well, there's just one thing that makes that notion seem consider'ble more than unlikely. How in the world could she have found out that there ever was an Edgar Farmer-"

"Good many folks in South Harniss could have told her that if they'd had a mind to."

"Maybe so; but they couldn't have told her that Edwin Smith, of Carson City, Nevada, was ever Edgar Farmer. No, sir, they couldn't! Nobody knew it-but Ed Farmer himself. How could our Mary-'Gusta know it?"

"I don't know, Shadrach, unless-she's awful smart, you know-somethin' might have put her on the track and she puzzled it out. I know that ain't likely; but, Shadrach, if she does care for Crawford and he cares for her, I-I want 'em to have each other. I do. They must."

Shadrach stared at him.

"Zoeth Hamilton," he exclaimed, "do you know what you're sayin'? You want our girl to marry the son of the man that-that-"

"I know what he did, Shadrach; you don't need to tell me. But he's dead, and his boy is a good boy-you liked him and so did I. And Shadrach, I've been thinkin' an awful lot about this since I got the letter and have been well enough to think. And I've made up my mind to just this: There has been sorrow and trouble enough brought on already by that wickedness. There shan't be any more. What wrecked all our lives thirty-five years ago shan't wreck these two, if I can help it. If Mary-'Gusta cares for him and he for her they must have each other and be happy. And you and I will be happy watchin' their happiness."

He paused and then added:

"So I wish, Shadrach, there was some way of findin' out for sure that she sent him away because she didn't care for him and not for any other reason."

Shadrach rose from his chair and laid his hand on his friend's shoulder. He cleared his throat once or twice before speaking and there was still a shake in his voice as he said:

"Zoeth, you're a better man than I ever hope to be. I declare you make me ashamed of myself."

Neither of them ate much dinner, although Isaiah had prepared a cranberry pie, made from the first fruit of the fall season, and was correspondingly disappointed when both of his employers left it untouched.

"Ain't a mite of use my slavin' myself to death cookin' fancy vittles for this crew," he grumbled. "I stood over that cookstove this mornin' until I got so everlastin' hot that every time the cold air blowed onto me I steamed. And yet I can't satisfy."

"Oh, yes, you can," observed Captain Shad, rising from the table. "You satisfied us too quick, that was the trouble. We was satisfied afore we got to the pie."

"Umph! I want to know! Well, Mary-'Gusta was satisfied afore that. She didn't eat hardly anything. Said she wan't hungry. I swan if it ain't discouragin'! What's the use of you folks havin' a cook? If you're goin' to have canary-bird appetites, why don't you feed on bird seed and be done with it? And I do believe I never made a better pie than that!"

"Where's Mary-'Gusta?" asked Zoeth.

"I don't know. She went up to her room. She may be there yet, or she may have come down and gone out again-I don't know. If she did come down I didn't see her."

Shadrach looked out of the window. It had been a dark, gloomy morning and now it was beginning to rain. The wind was whining through the tops of the silver-leafs and the moan of the breakers on the bar sounded with a clearness which denoted the approach of a northeaster.

"Dirty weather," observed the Captain. "And it'll be dirtier yet before night. You better stay here in snug harbor this afternoon, Zoeth. Simmie and the boy and Mary-'Gusta and I can tend store all right. Yes, yes, you stay right here and keep dry. Hope Mary-'Gusta took an umbrella when she went."

"I don't know as she has gone," said Isaiah. "She may be upstairs in her room yet. That's where she was."

Shadrach, after calling "Mary-'Gusta" several times at the foot of the stairs, went up to make sure. The door of Mary's room was closed but, as he received no answer to his knock, he opened it and entered. Mary was not there, although it was evident that she had been there very recently.

Apparently she had been writing a letter, for her writing case was spread out upon the table. Also the drawer in which she kept it had been left open, an unusual act of carelessness on her part, for, generally speaking, as her Uncle Shad said, "Nothin's ever out of place in Mary-'Gusta's room except some of the places, and that's the carpenter's fault, not hers."

The Captain stepped over to close the drawer. As he did so his attention was attracted by a photograph lying upon a pile of photographs in a box inside the drawer. He picked up the photograph and looked at it. It was that of Edwin Smith, taken when he seemed to be recovering from his illness, the one which showed him without a beard.

Shadrach's eyes opened wide as he looked at the photograph. He uttered an exclamation, stepped to the door of the upper hall and called, "Zoeth!" Then he returned to the table and took from the drawer the next photograph upon the pile in the box. It was the old, faded picture of the partners of Hall and Company.

Isaiah came stumbling up the stairs.

"Anythin' I can do for you, Cap'n Shad?" he asked. "Zoeth, he's gone out to shut up the barn door. Rain was liable to beat in, he said. I told him I'd do it, but-Godfreys mighty!"

The Captain had paid no attention to him and he had entered the room and approached his employer from behind. Now over the latter's shoulder he saw the two photographs.

"Godfreys mighty!" cried the startled Isaiah.

Shadrach turned and looked at him.

"Well," he demanded, "what's the matter? What are you starin' like that for?"

"Them-them pictures," gasped Mr. Chase.

"Well, what about 'em? Where did Mary-'Gusta get 'em, do you know? Did-Here! Where are you goin'?"

"I-I ain't goin' anywheres. I'm a-goin' downstairs. I got my dishwashin' to do. I-let go of me, Cap'n Shad! I got to go this minute, I tell you."

But the Captain did not let go of him. Instead, keeping a firm hold upon the collar of the frightened cook and steward, he twisted him around until he could look him straight in the eye. This was difficult, for Isaiah plainly did not wish to be looked at in that manner.

"Humph!" grunted Captain Shad, after a moment's inspection. "Humph! I cal'late I've got the right pig by the ear this time. Set down in that chair, Isaiah Chase; I want to talk to you."

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