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Mary-'Gusta By Joseph Crosby Lincoln Characters: 12911

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The northeaster was developing. It was now raining hard and the wind was rising. The gusts swept across the top of the little hill and the window sashes of the For'ard Lookout rattled and the hinges of the ancient blinds squeaked. The yard, which had been so attractive, was shorn of its decorations. The tables had been carried inside; the lanterns taken down; the wonderful sign, pride of the talented Mr. Bemis, had been tenderly conveyed to the attic. Cook, waitresses and salesgirl had departed. The tea-room and gift shop had gone into winter quarters to hibernate until the following spring.

The rooms inside had been thoroughly swept and cleaned and most of the furniture and the best of the old prints covered with dust cloths. Some of the smaller articles, however, were still upon the shelves of the gift shop, Mary having ordered her assistants to leave them there, as she wished to look them over herself before putting them away. Some of her selections for stock had sold remarkably well and she had been obliged to reorder many times; others of which she had been quite confident when purchasing had not sold at all. Both good sellers and bad she meant to list as a guide to future choosing.

She was listing them now. Alone in the room which had once been the sacred best parlor of the little house, she was seated at the table, pencil in hand and memorandum books and paper before her. There was no particular reason why the listing should have been done that day; it might have been done any day until the weather became too cold to work in an unheated house. That morning she had had no idea of doing it that afternoon. She was doing it now because she felt that she must do something to occupy her mind, and because she wished to be alone. Up there at the For'ard Lookout she could combine the two-work and seclusion.

When Mr. Keith told, at the store that morning, the news of Edwin Smith's-or Edgar Farmer's-death she had been dreadfully shaken by it. It was so sudden, so unexpected-when she last heard the man was, so the doctors said, almost well. She had thought of him often enough during the past year; or, rather, she had thought of Crawford as being with him and of the father's joy in his son's return to him and the knowledge that his own disgraceful secret would not be revealed. And she had pictured Crawford as finding solace for his disappointed love in his father's society. That Edgar Farmer had been what Isaiah called him-a blackguard-she realized perfectly, but she was equally sure that, as Edwin Smith, he had been the kindest and most loving of fathers. And Crawford, although he had been willing to leave him because of her, loved him dearly.

And now he was dead, and Crawford was left alone. Somehow she felt responsible for the death. That it had been hastened by the terrible alarm and stress of the previous year was, of course, certain. She thought of Crawford alone and with this new sorrow, and this thought, and that of her responsibility, was almost more than she could bear.

She felt that she must write him, that he must know she had heard and was thinking of him. So, after leaving the store, she had hastened down to the house and up the back stairs to her room. There she had written a few lines, not more than a note, but the composing of that note had been a difficult task. There was so much she longed to say and so little she could say. When it was written she remembered that Crawford was in Boston and she did not know his address. She determined to send the letter to the Nevada home and trust to its being forwarded.

She took from the back of the drawer the box of photographs and looked them over. As she was doing so Isaiah called her to dinner. Then she heard her uncles come in and, because she felt that she could talk with no one just then, she avoided them by hastily going down the front stairs. She made a pretense of eating and left the house. Isaiah did not see her go. After stopping at the store long enough to tell Mr. Crocker she would be at the tea-room that afternoon, she climbed the hill, unlocked the door of the For'ard Lookout, entered and began her work.

The wind howled and whined and the rain beat against the windows. The blinds creaked, the sashes rattled, the gusts moaned in the chimney above the fireplace, and all the hundred and one groanings and wailings, the complaints of an old house in a storm, developed. All these sounds Mary heard absently, her mind upon her work. Then, little by little as they drew nearer, she became conscious of other sounds, footfalls; someone was coming up the walk.

She did not rise from her chair nor look up from her work when the outside door opened. Even when the footsteps sounded in the little hall behind her she did not turn.

"Yes, Uncle Shad," she said. "I am here, and I'm safe and I'm perfectly dry. Also I'm very, very busy. Now, why did you come out in the rain to hunt me up? And I'm quite sure you haven't put on your rubbers."

And then the voice behind her said: "Mary."

She turned now-turned, looked, and rose to her feet. Her face went white, then flushed red, and then paled again.

"Oh!" she gasped.

Crawford Smith was standing there. His light overcoat-it was not a raincoat-dripped water; so did the hat in his hand. He stood there and looked-and dripped.

"Mary," he said again.

She caught her breath, almost with a sob.

"You!" she exclaimed. "YOU! Oh, how could you? WHY did you come?"

He took a step toward her. "Because I felt that I must," he said. "I had to come. I came to see you once more. You must forgive me."

She did not speak. He continued:

"You must forgive me for coming," he said again. "There was a question I had to ask and only you could answer it. It isn't the question I asked before, although perhaps that-But first I must tell you: Mary, my father is dead."

She nodded. She could scarcely trust herself to speak, but she tried.

"Yes, yes," she faltered. "I-I know."

"You know?" he repeated.

"Yes, Mr. Keith told us this morning. He said he met you in Boston."

"Yes, I had forgotten; so he did."

"That is how I knew. Oh, Crawford, I am so sorry for you. I have been writing you. But WHY did you come here again? It-it makes it so much harder for-for both of us."

He did not answer the question. "You knew my father was dead," he said again. "I wonder"-he was speaking slowly and his gaze was fixed upon he

r face-"I wonder how much more you know."

She started back. "How much-" she repeated, "How much more-Oh, what do you mean?"

"I mean how much did you know about my father when you and I were together-when I came on here and asked you to marry me?"

She put a hand to her throat. "Oh!" she cried breathlessly. "YOU know! He told you!"

"Yes, Mary, he told me. Before he died he told me everything. And you knew it! I know now why you would not marry me-the son of a thief."

She looked at him in pained astonishment. The tears sprang to her eyes. "Oh, how can you!" she exclaimed. "How can you say that to me? How can you think it? As if that would make any difference! I learned your father's name and-and what he had done-by accident. It was only the night before you came. It would have made no difference to me. For myself I didn't care-but-Oh, Crawford, how can you think it was because he was-that?"

His eyes were shining.

"I don't think it," he cried triumphantly. "I never have thought it, Mary. I believe-ever since I knew, I have dared to believe that you sent me away because you were trying to save me from disgrace. You had learned who and what my father had been and I did not know. And you feared that if you married me the secret might come out and I would be ashamed, my career would be spoiled, and all that. I have dared to believe this and that is why I came back to you-to ask if it was true. Can't you see? I HAD to come. IS it true, Mary?"

He came toward her. She would have run away if she could, but there was nowhere to run.

"Look at me, Mary," he commanded. "Look at me, and tell me this: It wasn't because you didn't love me that you sent me away? It wasn't really that, was it? Tell me the truth. Look at me now, and tell me."

She tried to look and she tried to speak, but her glance faltered and fell before his and the words would not come. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks. She put up her hands in mute protest, but the protest was unavailing. His arms were about her, his kisses were upon her lips, and he was telling her the things which are told in times like these. And she struggled no longer, but permitted herself to listen, to believe, to accept, and to be swept away by the wonderful current of love and destiny against which she had fought so long.

But the struggle was not entirely over. She made one more effort.

"Oh, Crawford!" she cried a little later. "Oh, Crawford, dear, this is all wrong. It can't be. It mustn't be. Don't you see it mustn't? We have forgotten Uncle Zoeth. He doesn't know whose son you are. If he should learn, it would bring back the old story and the old trouble. He isn't well. The shock might kill him."

But Crawford merely smiled.

"He does know, Mary," he said. "Father wrote him. I shall tell you the whole story just as Dad told it to me. Heaven knows it was not a pleasant one for a son to hear, but I am glad I heard it. The past was bad, but it is past. You and I have the future for our own and I mean to make it a clean one and a happy one for us both, God willing."

Shadrach came up the path to the tea-house, leading Isaiah by the arm. Mr. Chase moved reluctantly, as if led to execution or, at the very least, to immediate trial for his life.

"Now then," commanded Shadrach, "furl that umbrella and come along in here with me. I want you to make Mary-'Gusta understand that you've told me the whole business, about your tellin' her the Ed Farmer yarn and all. After that you can clear out, because I want to talk to her myself."

He opened the door and, still holding his captive by the arm, strode into the parlor. There he stood stock still, staring.

Crawford held out his hand and the Captain found himself shaking it warmly.

"Captain Gould," he said, "I know now what I did not know until two weeks ago, how greatly my father wronged you and your partners. I know the whole miserable story. But, in spite of it, I am here because I love Mary and I want to marry her. She has told me that she loves me. I don't know how you feel about it, but I hope-"

The Captain interrupted. "Wait a minute!" he ordered. "Heave to and come up into the wind a minute; let me get my bearin's. Young feller, if you're goin' to drop down out of the skies unexpected like this, you-Tut! tut! tut! Whew!" He waited a moment, then he said:

"Mary-'Gusta, come here."

He held out his arms. She came to him and he held her close.

"Is it so?" he asked. "Do you care for this young feller enough for that? Do you, Mary-'Gusta?"

He put his finger beneath her chin and lifted her head to look down into her face. The face was crimson.

"Do you, Mary-'Gusta?" he asked.

Mary looked up, wet-eyed but smiling.

"Yes, Uncle Shad," she said, "I think I do."

"And you want to cruise in his company all your life, eh?"

"Yes, Uncle Shad; but not unless you and Uncle Zoeth are willing."

He bent and kissed her.

"Bless your heart, dearie," he said, "it's all right. Zoeth and me were talkin' about this very thing a little while ago. And do you know what he said? He said: 'What wrecked all our lives thirty-five year ago shan't wreck these two, if I can help it. If Mary-'Gusta cares for him and he for her they shall have each other and be happy. And we'll be happy watchin' their happiness.' That's what he said. I don't know's I said 'Amen' exactly, but I thought it, anyhow. God bless you, Mary-'Gusta. Now you and Crawford go and see your Uncle Zoeth. He's down at the house. You just run along and tell him about it."

Mary turned to Mr. Chase.

"Well, Isaiah," she said, "haven't you anything to say to me?"

Isaiah looked at Crawford and then at her.

"I should say you'd better go somewheres, both of you, and get dry," he said. "His overcoat's soakin' wet and your waist ain't much better. I-I-don't know what sort of-of congratulations or-or whatever they be I ought to say, but-but I hope you'll be terrible happy, Mary-'Gusta."

"Thank you, Isaiah," laughed Mary.

"Yes, you're welcome. Now, just let me talk to Cap'n Shad a minute."

He swung about and faced the Captain and in his eye was triumph great and complete.

"Cap'n Shad Gould," crowed Isaiah, "a good many times in the last four or five year you've called me a fool for heavin' out hints that somethin' about like this was liable to happen. Well? WELL? What have you got to say NOW? Who's the fool NOW? Hey? Who is?"

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