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Title: Mary-'Gusta
Author: Lincoln, Joseph Crosby
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mary-'Gusta" ***

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MARY-’GUSTA

By Joseph C. Lincoln



MARY-’GUSTA



CHAPTER I


On the twentieth day of April in the year 19--, the people--that is, a
majority of the grown people of Ostable--were talking of Marcellus Hall
and Mary-’Gusta.

A part of this statement is not surprising. The average person, no
matter how humble or obscure, is pretty certain to be talked about on
the day of his funeral, and Marcellus was to be buried that afternoon.
Moreover, Marcellus had been neither humble nor obscure; also, he had
been talked about a good deal during the fifty-nine years of his sojourn
on this planet. So it is not at all surprising that he should be talked
about now, when that sojourn was ended. But for all Ostable--yes, and a
large part of South Harniss--to be engaged in speculation concerning the
future of Mary-’Gusta was surprising, for, prior to Marcellus’s death,
very few outside of the Hall household had given her or her future a
thought.

On this day, however, whenever or wherever the name of Marcellus Hall
was mentioned, after the disposition of Marcellus’s own bones had been
discussed and those of his family skeleton disinterred and articulated,
the conversation, in at least eight cases out of ten, resolved itself
into a guessing contest, having as its problem this query:

“What’s goin’ to become of that child?”

For example:

Mr. Bethuel Sparrow, local newsgatherer for the Ostable Enterprise,
seated before his desk in the editorial sanctum, was writing an obituary
for next week’s paper, under the following head:

“A Prominent Citizen Passes Away.”

An ordinary man would probably have written “Dies”; but Mr. Sparrow,
being a young and very new reporter for a rural weekly, wrote “Passes
Away” as more elegant and less shocking to the reader.

It is much more soothing and refined to pass away than to die--unless
one happens to be the person most concerned, in which case, perhaps, it
may make little difference.

“The Angel of Death,” wrote Mr. Sparrow, “passed through our midst on
Tuesday last and called to his reward Captain Marcellus Hall, one of
Ostable’s most well-known and influential residents.”

A slight exaggeration here. Marcellus had lived in Ostable but five
years altogether and, during the last three, had taken absolutely
no part in town affairs--political, religious or social. However,
“influential” is a good word and usual in obituaries, so Bethuel let it
stand. He continued:

“Captain Hall’s sudden death--”

Erasure of “death” and substitution of “demise.”

Then:

“--Was a shock to the community at large. It happened on account of--”
 More erasures and substitutions. “--It was the result of his taking cold
owing to exposure during the heavy southeast rains of week before last
which developed into pneumonia. He grew rapidly worse and passed away at
3.06 P.M. on Tuesday, leaving a vacancy in our midst which will be hard
to fill, if at all. Although Captain Hall had resided in Ostable but a
comparatively short period, he was well-known and respected, both as a
man and--”

Here, invention failing, Mr. Sparrow called for assistance.

“Hey, Perce,” he hailed, addressing his companion, Mr. Percy Clark, who
was busy setting type: “What’s a good word to use here? I say Marcellus
was respected both as a man--and somethin’ else.”

“Hey?” queried Percy, absently, scanning the eight point case. “What
d’ye say?”

“I asked you what would be a good thing to go with ‘man’?”

“Hey? I don’t know. Woman, I guess.”

“Aw, cut it out. Never mind, I got it:

“--As a man and a citizen. Captain Hall was fifty-nine years of age at
the time of his demise. He was born in South Harniss and followed the
sea until 1871, when he founded the firm of Hall and Company, which was
for some years the leading dealer in fresh and salt fish in this section
of the state. When the firm--

“I say, Perce! ‘Twouldn’t do to say Marcellus failed in business, would
it? Might seem like hintin’ at that stuff about his sister and the rest
of it. Might get us into trouble, eh?”

“Humph! I don’t know who with. Everybody’s talkin’ about it, anyway. Up
to the boardin’ house they’ve been talking about mighty little else ever
since he died.”

“I know, but talk’s one thing and print’s another. I’m goin’ to leave it
out.

“When the firm went out of business in 1879, Captain Hall followed the
sea again, commanding the ships Faraway, Fair Wind, and Treasure Seeker,
and the bark Apollo. Later he retired from the sea and has not been
active in the same or otherwise since. In 1894 he married Augusta Bangs
Lathrop, widow of the late Reverend Charles Lathrop, formerly pastor of
the Congregational Church in this town. Captain Hall had been residing
in his native town, South Harniss, but after his marriage he took up
his residence in Ostable, purchasing the residence formerly owned by
Elnathan Phinney on Phinney’s Hill, where he lived until his lamented
demise. Mrs. Hall passed away in 1896. The sudden removal of Captain
Hall from our midst leaves a stepdaughter, Mary Augusta Lathrop, aged
seven. The--”

Here Mr. Sparrow’s train of thought collided with the obstruction which
was derailing many similar trains in Ostable and South Harniss.

“I say, Perce,” he observed “what’s goin’ to become of that kid of
Marcellus’s--his wife’s, I mean? Marcellus didn’t have any relations, as
far as anybody knows, and neither did his wife. Who’s goin’ to take care
of Mary-’Gusta?”

Percy shook his head. “Don’t know,” he answered. “That’s what all hands
are askin’. I presume likely she’ll be looked after. Marcellus left
plenty of money, didn’t he? And kids with money can generally find
guardians.”

“Yup, I guess that’s so. Still, whoever gets her will have their hands
full. She’s the most old-fashioned, queerest young-one ever I saw.”


So much for Mr. Sparrow and his fellow laborer for the Enterprise. Now
to listen for a moment to Judge Baxter, who led the legal profession
of Ostable; and to Mrs. Baxter who, so common report affirmed, led the
Judge. The pair were upstairs in the Baxter house, dressing for the
funeral.

“Daniel,” declared Mrs. Baxter, “it’s the queerest thing I ever heard
of. You say they don’t know--either of them--and the child herself
doesn’t know, either.”

“That’s it, Ophelia. No one knows except myself. Captain Hall read the
letter to me and put it in my charge a year ago.”

“Well, I must say!”

“Yes, I know, I said it at the time, and I’ve been saying it to myself
ever since. It doesn’t mean anything; that is, it is not binding
legally, of course. It’s absolutely unbusinesslike and unpractical.
Simply a letter, asking them, as old friends, to do this thing. Whether
they will or not the Almighty only knows.”

“Well, Daniel, I must say I shouldn’t have thought you, as his lawyer,
would have let him do such a thing. Of course, I don’t know either of
them very well, but, from what little I’ve heard, I should say they
know as much about what they would be supposed to do as--as you do about
tying a necktie. For mercy sakes let me fix it! The knot is supposed to
be under your chin, not under your ear as if you were going to be hung.”

The Judge meekly elevated the chin and his wife pulled the tie into
place.

“And so,” she said, “they can say yes or no just as they like.”

“Yes, it rests entirely with them.”

“And suppose they say no, what will become of the child then?”

“I can’t tell you. Captain Hall seemed pretty certain they wouldn’t say
no.”

“Humph! There! Now you look a little more presentable. Have you got a
clean handkerchief? Well, that’s an unexpected miracle; I don’t know how
you happened to think of it. When are you going to speak with them about
it?”

“Today, if they come to the funeral, as I suppose they will.”

“I shall be in a fidget until I know whether they say yes or no. And
whichever they say I shall keep on fidgeting until I see what happens
after that. Poor little Mary-’Gusta! I wonder what WILL become of her.”

The Judge shook his head.


Over the road between South Harniss and Ostable a buggy drawn by an aged
white horse was moving slowly. On the buggy’s seat were two men, Captain
Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton. Captain Gould, big, stout, and
bearded, was driving. Mr. Hamilton, small, thin, smooth-faced and
white-haired, was beside him. Both were obviously dressed in their
Sunday clothes, Captain Shadrach’s blue, Mr. Hamilton’s black. Each wore
an uncomfortably high collar and the shoes of each had been laboriously
polished. Their faces, utterly unlike in most respects, were very
solemn.

“Ah hum!” sighed Mr. Hamilton.

Captain Shadrach snorted impatiently.

“For the land sakes don’t do that again, Zoeth,” he protested. “That’s
the tenth ‘Ah hum’ you’ve cast loose in a mile. I know we’re bound to a
funeral but there ain’t no need of tollin’ the bell all the way. I don’t
like it and I don’t think Marcellus would neither, if he could hear
you.”

“Perhaps he can hear us, Shadrach,” suggested his companion, mildly.
“Perhaps he’s here with us now; who can tell?”

“Humph! Well, if he is then I KNOW he don’t like it. Marcellus never
made any fuss whatever happened, and he wouldn’t make any at his own
funeral no more than at anybody else’s. That wasn’t his way. Say nothin’
and keep her on the course, that was Marcellus. I swan I can hardly make
it seem possible that he’s gone!”

“Neither can I, Shadrach. And to think that you and me, his old partners
and lifelong chums as you might say, hadn’t seen nor spoken to him
for over two years. It makes me feel bad. Bad and sort of
conscience-struck.”

“I know; so it does me, in a way. And yet it wasn’t our fault, Zoeth.
You know as well as I do that Marcellus didn’t want to see us. We was
over to see him last and he scarcely said a word while we was there.
You and me did all the talkin’ and he just set and looked at us--when
he wasn’t lookin’ at the floor. I never saw such a change in a man. We
asked--yes, by fire, we fairly begged him to come and stay with us for
a spell, but he never did. Now it ain’t no further from Ostable to South
Harniss than it is from South Harniss to Ostable. If he’d wanted to come
he could; if he’d wanted to see us he could. We went to see him,
didn’t we; and WE had a store and a business to leave. He ain’t had any
business since he give up goin’ to sea. He--”

“Sshh! Shh!” interrupted Mr. Hamilton, mildly, “don’t talk that way,
Shadrach. Don’t find fault with the dead.”

“Find fault! I ain’t findin’ fault. I thought as much of Marcellus Hall
as any man on earth, and nobody feels worse about his bein’ took than
I do. But I’m just sayin’ what we both know’s a fact. He didn’t want to
see us; he didn’t want to see nobody. Since his wife died he lived alone
in that house, except for a housekeeper and that stepchild, and never
went anywhere or had anybody come to see him if he could help it. A
reg’lar hermit--that’s what he was, a hermit, like Peleg Myrick down
to Setuckit P’int. And when I think what he used to be, smart, lively,
able, one of the best skippers and smartest business men afloat or
ashore, it don’t seem possible a body could change so. ‘Twas that woman
that done it, that woman that trapped him into gettin’ married.”

“Sshh! Shh! Shadrach; she’s dead, too. And, besides, I guess she was a
real good woman; everybody said she was.”

“I ain’t sayin’ she wasn’t, am I? What I say is she hadn’t no business
marryin’ a man twenty years older’n she was.”

“But,” mildly, “you said she trapped him. Now we don’t know--”

“Zoeth Hamilton, you know she must have trapped him. You and I agreed
that was just what she done. If she hadn’t trapped him--set a reg’lar
seine for him and hauled him aboard like a school of mackerel--‘tain’t
likely he’d have married her or anybody else, is it? I ain’t married
nobody, have I? And Marcellus was years older’n I be.”

“Well, well, Shadrach!”

“No, ‘tain’t well; it’s bad. He’s gone, and--and you and me that was
with him for years and years, his very best friends on earth as you
might say, wasn’t with him when he died. If it hadn’t been for her he’d
have stayed in South Harniss where he belonged. Consarn women! They’re
responsible for more cussedness than the smallpox. ‘When a man marries
his trouble begins’; that’s gospel, too.”

Zoeth did not answer.

Captain Gould, after a sidelong glance at his companion, took a hand
from the reins and laid it on the Hamilton knee.

“I’m sorry, Zoeth,” he said, contritely; “I didn’t mean to--to rake up
bygones; I was blowin’ off steam, that’s all. I’m sorry.”

“I know, Shadrach. It’s all right.”

“No, ‘tain’t all right; it’s all wrong. Somebody ought to keep a watch
on me, and when they see me beginnin’ to get hot, set me on the back of
the stove or somewheres; I’m always liable to bile over and scald the
wrong critter. I’ve done that all my life. I’m sorry, Zoeth, you know I
didn’t mean--”

“I know, I know. Ah hum! Poor Marcellus! Here’s the first break in the
old firm, Shadrach.”

“Yup. You and me are all that’s left of Hall and Company. That is--”

He stopped short just in time and roared a “Git dap” at the horse. He
had been on the point of saying something which would have been far more
disastrous than his reference to the troubles following marriage. Zoeth
was apparently not curious. To his friend’s great relief he did not wait
for the sentence to be finished, nor did he ask embarrassing questions.
Instead he said:

“I wonder what’s goin’ to become of that child, Mary Lathrop’s girl. Who
do you suppose likely will take charge of her?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been wonderin’ that myself, Zoeth.”

“Kind of a cute little thing, she was, too, as I recollect her. I
presume likely she’s grown up consid’ble since. You remember how she set
and looked at us that last time we was over to see Marcellus, Shadrach?”

“Remember? How she looked at ME, you mean! Shall I ever forget it? I’d
just had my hair cut by that new barber, Sim Ellis, that lived here
‘long about then, and I told him to cut off the ends. He thought I meant
the other ends, I cal’late, for I went to sleep in the chair, same as I
generally do, and when I woke up my head looked like the main truck of
the old Faraway. All it needed was to have the bald place gilded. I give
you my word that if I hadn’t been born with my ears set wing and wing
like a schooner runnin’ afore the wind I’d have been smothered when I
put my hat on--nothin’ but them ears kept it propped up off my nose.
YOU remember that haircut, Zoeth. Well, all the time you and me was in
Marcellus’s settin’-room that stepchild of his just set and looked at my
head. Never took her eyes off it. If she’d said anything ‘twouldn’t
have been so bad; but she didn’t--just looked. I could feel my bald spot
reddenin’ up till I swan to man I thought it must be breakin’ out in
blisters. ‘Never see anybody that looked just like me, did you, Sis?’ I
says to her, when I couldn’t stand it any longer. ‘No, sir,’ she says,
solemn as an owl. She was right out and honest, I’ll say that for her.
That’s the only time Marcellus laughed while we was inside that house.
I didn’t blame him much. Ho, ho! Well, he ain’t laughin’ now and neither
are we--or we hadn’t ought to be. Neither is the child, I cal’late, poor
thing. I wonder what will become of her.”


And meanwhile the child herself was vaguely, and in childish fashion,
wondering that very thing. She was in the carriage room of the barn
belonging to the Hall estate--if the few acres of land and the buildings
owned by the late Marcellus may be called an estate--curled up on the
back seat of the old surrey which had been used so little since the
death of her mother, Augusta Hall, four years before. The surrey was
shrouded from top to floor with a dust cover of unbleached muslin
through which the sunshine from the carriage room windows filtered in a
mysterious, softened twilight. The covered surrey was a favorite retreat
of Mary-’Gusta’s. She had discovered it herself--which made it doubly
alluring, of course--and she seldom invited her juvenile friends to
share its curtained privacy with her. It was her playhouse, her tent,
and her enchanted castle, much too sacred to be made common property.
Here she came on rainy Saturdays and on many days not rainy when other
children, those possessing brothers or sisters, played out of doors. She
liked to play by herself, to invent plays all her own, and these other
children--“normal children,” their parents called them--were much
too likely to laugh instead of solemnly making believe as she did.
Mary-’Gusta was not a normal child; she was “that queer Lathrop
young-one”--had heard herself so described more than once. She did not
like the phrase; “queer” was not so bad--perhaps she was queer--but she
had an instinctive repugnance to being called a young-one. Birds and
rabbits had young-ones and she was neither feathered nor furred.

So very few of the neighborhood children were invited to the shaded
interior of the old surrey. Her dolls--all five of them--spent a good
deal of time there and David, the tortoise-shell cat, came often,
usually under compulsion. When David had kittens, which interesting
domestic event took place pretty frequently, he--or she--positively
refused to be an occupant of that surrey, growling and scratching in a
decidedly ungentlemanly--or unladylike--manner. Twice Mary-’Gusta had
attempted to make David more complacent by bringing the kittens also to
the surrey, but their parent had promptly and consecutively seized
them by the scruff of their necks and laboriously lugged them up to the
haymow again.

Just now, however, there being no kittens, David was slumbering in
a furry heap beside Mary-’Gusta at one end of the carriage seat, and
Rosette, the smallest of the five dolls, and Rose, the largest, were
sitting bolt upright in the corner at the other end. The christening of
the smallest and newest doll was the result of a piece of characteristic
reasoning on its owner’s part. She was very fond of the name Rose, the
same being the name of the heroine in “Eight Cousins,” which story Mrs.
Bailey, housekeeper before last for Marcellus Hall, had read aloud to
the child. When the new doll came, at Christmas time, Mary-’Gusta wished
that she might christen it Rose also. But there was another and much
beloved Rose already in the family. So Mary-’Gusta reflected and
observed, and she observed that a big roll of tobacco such as her
stepfather smoked was a cigar; while a little one, as smoked by Eben
Keeler, the grocer’s delivery clerk, was a cigarette. Therefore, the big
doll being already Rose, the little one became Rosette.

Mary-’Gusta was not playing with Rose and Rosette at the present time.
Neither was she interested in the peaceful slumbers of David. She was
not playing at all, but sitting, with feet crossed beneath her on the
seat and hands clasped about one knee, thinking. And, although she was
thinking of her stepfather who she knew had gone away to a vague place
called Heaven--a place variously described by Mrs. Bailey, the former
housekeeper, and by Mrs. Susan Hobbs, the present one, and by Mr. Howes,
the Sunday school superintendent--she was thinking most of herself, Mary
Augusta Lathrop, who was going to a funeral that very afternoon and,
after that, no one seemed to know exactly where.

It was a beautiful April day and the doors of the carriage house and
the big door of the barn were wide open. Mary-’Gusta could hear the hens
clucking and the voices of people talking. The voices were two: one was
that of Mrs. Hobbs, the housekeeper, and the other belonged to Mr. Abner
Hallett, the undertaker. Mary-’Gusta did not like Mr. Hallett’s voice;
she liked neither it nor its owner’s manner; she described both voice
and manner to herself as “too soothy.” They gave her the shivers.

Mr. Hallett’s tone was subdued at the present time, but a trifle of the
professional “soothiness” was lacking. He and Mrs. Hobbs were conversing
briskly enough and, although Mary-’Gusta could catch only a word or two
at intervals, she was perfectly sure they were talking about her. She
was certain that if she were to appear at that moment in the door of the
barn they would stop talking immediately and look at her. Everybody whom
she had met during the past two days looked at her in that queer way. It
made her feel as if she had something catching, like the measles, and as
if, somehow or other, she was to blame.

She realized dimly that she should feel very, very badly because her
stepfather was dead. Mrs. Hobbs had told her that she should and seemed
to regard her as queerer than ever because she had not cried. But,
according to the housekeeper, Captain Hall was out of his troubles and
had gone where he would be happy for ever and ever. So it seemed to her
strange to be expected to cry on his account. He had not been happy
here in Ostable, or, at least, he had not shown his happiness in the way
other people showed theirs. To her he had been a big, bearded giant of
a man, whom she saw at infrequent intervals during the day and always
at night just before she went to bed. His room, with the old-fashioned
secretary against the wall, and the stuffed gull on the shelf, and the
books in the cupboard, and the polished narwhal horn in the corner, was
to her a sort of holy of holies, a place where she was led each evening
at nine o’clock, at first by Mrs. Bailey and, later, by Mrs. Hobbs,
to shake the hand of the big man who looked at her absently over his
spectacles and said good night in a voice not unkindly but expressing no
particular interest. At other times she was strictly forbidden to enter
that room.

Occasionally, but very rarely, she had eaten Sunday dinner with
Marcellus. She and the housekeeper usually ate together and Mr. Hall’s
meals were served in what the child called “the smoke room,” meaning the
apartment just described, which was at all times strongly scented with
tobacco. The Sunday dinners were stately and formal affairs and were
prefaced by lectures by the housekeeper concerning sitting up straight
and not disturbing Cap’n Hall by talking too much. On the whole
Mary-’Gusta was rather glad when the meals were over. She did not
dislike her stepfather; he had never been rough or unkind, but she had
always stood in awe of him and had felt that he regarded her as a “pesky
nuisance,” something to be fed and then shooed out of the way, as Mrs.
Hobbs regarded David, the cat. As for loving him, as other children
seemed to love their fathers; that the girl never did. She was sure
he did not love her in that way, and that he would not have welcomed
demonstrations of affection on her part. She had learned the reason, or
she thought she had: she was a STEPCHILD; that was why, and a stepchild
was almost as bad as a “changeling” in a fairy story.

Her mother she remembered dimly and with that recollection were memories
of days when she was loved and made much of, not only by Mother, but by
Captain Hall also. She asked Mrs. Bailey, whom she had loved and whose
leaving was the greatest grief of her life, some questions about these
memories. Mrs. Bailey had hugged her and had talked a good deal about
Captain Hall’s being a changed man since his wife’s death. “He used to
be so different, jolly and good-natured and sociable; you wouldn’t know
him now if you seen him then. When your mamma was took it just seemed to
wilt him right down. He was awful sick himself for a spell, and when
he got better he was like he is today. Seems as if HE died too, as
you might say, and ain’t really lived since. I’m awful sorry for Cap’n
Marcellus. You must be real good to him when you grow up, Mary-’Gusta.”

And now he had gone before she had had a chance to grow up, and
Mary-’Gusta felt an unreasonable sense of blame. But real grief, the
dreadful paralyzing realization of loss which an adult feels when a dear
one dies, she did not feel.

She was awed and a little frightened, but she did not feel like crying.
Why should she?

“Mary-’Gusta! Mary-’Gusta! Where be you?”

It was Mrs. Hobbs calling. Mary-’Gusta hurriedly untwisted her legs
and scrambled from beneath the dust cover of the surrey. David, whose
slumbers were disturbed, rose also, yawned and stretched.

“Here I be, Mrs. Hobbs,” answered the girl. “I’m a-comin’.”

Mrs. Hobbs was standing in the doorway of the barn. Mary-’Gusta noticed
that she was not, as usual, garbed in gingham, but was arrayed in her
best go-to-meeting gown.

“I’m a-comin’,” said the child.

“Comin’, yes. But where on earth have you been? I’ve been hunting all
over creation for you. I didn’t suppose you’d be out here, on this day
of all others, with--with that critter,” indicating David, who appeared,
blinking sleepily.

“I must say I shouldn’t think you’d be fussin’ along with a cat today,”
 declared Mrs. Hobbs.

“Yes’m,” said Mary-’Gusta. David yawned, apparently expressing a bored
contempt for housekeepers in general.

“Come right along into the house,” continued Mrs. Hobbs. “It’s high time
you was gettin’ ready for the funeral.”

“Ready? How?” queried Mary-’Gusta.

“Why, changin’ your clothes, of course.”

“Do folks dress up for funerals?”

“Course they do. What a question!”

“I didn’t know. I--I’ve never had one.”

“Had one?”

“I mean I’ve never been to any. What do they dress up for?”

“Why--why, because they do, of course. Now don’t ask any more questions,
but hurry up. Where are you goin’ now, for mercy sakes?”

“I was goin’ back after Rose and Rosette. They ought to be dressed up,
too, hadn’t they?”

“The idea! Playin’ dolls today! I declare I never see such a child!
You’re a reg’lar little--little heathen. Would you want anybody playin’
dolls at your own funeral, I’d like to know?”

Mary-’Gusta thought this over. “I don’t know,” she answered, after
reflection. “I guess I’d just as soon. Do they have dolls up in Heaven,
Mrs. Hobbs?”

“Mercy on us! I should say not. Dolls in Heaven! The idea!”

“Nor cats either?”

“No. Don’t ask such wicked questions.”

Mary-’Gusta asked no more questions of that kind, but her conviction
that Heaven--Mrs. Hobbs’ Heaven--was a good place for housekeepers and
grown-ups but a poor one for children was strengthened.

They entered the house by the kitchen door and ascended the back stairs
to Mary-’Gusta’s room. The shades in all the rooms were drawn and the
house was dark and gloomy. The child would have asked the reason for
this, but at the first hint of a question Mrs. Hobbs bade her hush.

“You mustn’t talk,” she said.

“Why mustn’t I?”

“Because ‘tain’t the right thing to do, that’s why. Now hurry up and get
dressed.”

Mary-’Gusta silently wriggled out of her everyday frock, was led to the
washstand and vigorously scrubbed. Then Mrs. Hobbs combed and braided
what she called her “pigtails” and tied a bow of black ribbon at the end
of each.

“There!” exclaimed the lady. “You’re clean for once in your life,
anyhow. Now hurry up and put on them things on the bed.”

The things were Mary-’Gusta’s very best shoes and dress; also a pair of
new black stockings.

When the dressing was finished the housekeeper stood her in the middle
of the floor and walked about her on a final round of inspection.

“There!” she said again, with a sigh of satisfaction. “Nobody can say
I ain’t took all the pains with you that anybody could. Now you come
downstairs and set right where I tell you till I come. And don’t you say
one single word. Not a word, no matter what happens.”

She took the girl’s hand and led her down the front stairs. As they
descended Mary-’Gusta could scarcely restrain a gasp of surprise. The
front door was open--the FRONT door--and the child had never seen it
open before, had long ago decided that it was not a truly door at all,
but merely a make-believe like the painted windows on the sides of her
doll house. But now it was wide open and Mr. Hallett, arrayed in a suit
of black, the coat of which puckered under the arms, was standing on the
threshold, looking more soothy than ever. The parlor door was open also,
and the parlor itself--the best first parlor, more sacred and forbidden
even than the “smoke room”--was, as much of it as she could see, filled
with chairs.

Mrs. Hobbs led her into the little room off the parlor, the “back
settin’-room,” and, indicating the haircloth and black walnut sofa
against the wall, whispered to her to sit right there and not move.

“Mind now,” she whispered, “don’t talk and don’t stir. I’ll be back by
and by.”

Mary-’Gusta, left alone, looked wide-eyed about the little back
sitting-room. It, too, was changed; not changed as much as the front
parlor, but changed, nevertheless. Most of the furniture had been
removed. The most comfortable chairs, including the rocker with the
parrot “tidy” on the back, had been taken away. One or two of the
bolt-upright variety remained and the “music chair” was still there, but
pushed back into a corner.

Mary-’Gusta saw the music chair and a quiver of guilty fear tinged along
her spine; that particular chair had always been, to her, the bright,
particular glory of the house. Not because it was beautiful, for that it
distinctly was not; but because of the marvellous secret hidden beneath
its upholstered seat. Captain Marcellus had brought it home years and
years before, when he was a sea-going bachelor and made voyages to
Hamburg. In its normal condition it was a perfectly quiet and ugly
chair, but there was a catch under one arm and a music box under the
seat. And if that catch were released, then when anyone sat in it, the
music box played “The Campbell’s Are Coming” with spirit and jingle.
And, moreover, kept on playing it to the finish unless the catch was
pushed back again.

To Mary-’Gusta that chair was a perpetual fascination. She had been
expressly forbidden to touch it, had been shut in the dark closet more
than once for touching it; but, nevertheless, the temptation was always
there and she had yielded to that temptation at intervals when Mrs.
Hobbs and her stepfather were out. And the last time she had touched it
she had broken the catch. She had wound up the music box, after hearing
it play, but the catch which made it a perfectly safe seat and not a
trap for the unwary had refused to push back into place. And now
there it was, loaded and primed, so to speak, and she was responsible.
Suppose--Oh, horrible thought!--suppose anyone should sit in it that
afternoon!

She gasped and jumped off the sofa. Then she remembered Mrs. Hobbs’
parting command and stopped, hesitating. Mr. Hallett, standing at the
end of the hall, by the front door, heard her move and tiptoed to the
sitting-room.

“What’s the matter, little girl?” he whispered, soothingly.

“No-nothin’,” gasped Mary-’Gusta.

“You’re sure?”

“Ye-yes, sir.”

“All right. Then you set down on the sofa and keep still. You mustn’t
make any noise. The folks are comin’ now. Set right down on the sofy,
that’s a good girl!”

So back to the sofa went Mary-’Gusta, trembling with apprehension. From
her seat she could see along the hall and also through the other door
into the “big settin’-room,” where, also, there were rows of chairs.
And, to her horror, these chairs began to fill. People, most of them
dressed in church-going garments which rattled and rustled, were
tiptoeing in and sitting down where she could see them and they could
see her. She did not dare to move now; did not dare go near the music
chair even if going near it would have done any good. She remained upon
the sofa, and shivered.

A few moments later Mrs. Hobbs appeared, looking very solemn and
Sundayfied, and sat beside her. Then Judge and Mrs. Baxter were shown
into the little room and took two of the remaining chairs. The Judge
bowed and smiled and Mrs. Baxter leaned over and patted her hand.
Mary-’Gusta tried to smile, too, but succeeded only in looking more
miserable. Mrs. Hobbs whispered to her to sit up straight.

There was a steady stream of people through the front door now. They all
entered the parlor and many stayed there, but others passed on into the
“big settin’-room.” The chairs there were almost all taken; soon all
were taken and Mr. Hallett was obliged to remove one of those in the
small room. There were but two left empty, one a tall, straight antique
with a rush seat, a family heirloom, and the other the music chair.
Mary-’Gusta stared at the music chair and hoped and hoped.

Mr. Sharon, the minister, entered and shook hands with the Judge and
Mrs. Baxter and with Mrs. Hobbs and Mary-’Gusta. He also patted the
child’s hand. Mrs. Hobbs whispered to him, with evident pride, that it
was “goin’ to be one of the biggest funerals ever given in Ostable.” Mr.
Sharon nodded. Then, after waiting a moment or two, he tiptoed along the
front hall and took up his stand by the parlor door. There was a final
rustle of gowns, a final crackle of Sunday shirtfronts, and then a
hushed silence.

The silence was broken by the rattle of wheels in the yard. Mr. Hallett
at the door held up a warning hand. A moment later he ushered two people
in at the front door and led them through the parlor into the “big
settin’-room.” Mary-’Gusta could see the late comers plainly. They were
both men, one big and red-faced and bearded, the other small, and thin,
and white-haired. A rustle passed through the crowd and everyone turned
to look. Some looked as if they recognized the pair, but they did not
bow; evidently it was not proper to bow at funerals.

Mr. Hallett, on tiptoe, of course, glided into the little room from
the big one and looked about him. Then, to the absolute stupefaction
of Mary-’Gusta, he took the rush-seated chair in one hand and the music
chair in the other and tiptoed out. He placed the two chairs in the back
row close to the door of the smaller room and motioned to the two men to
sit.

Mary-’Gusta could stand it no longer. She was afraid of Mrs. Hobbs,
afraid of Mr. Hallett, afraid of the Baxters and all the staring crowd;
but she was more afraid of what was going to happen. She tugged at the
housekeeper’s sleeve.

“Mrs. Hobbs!” she whispered, quiveringly. “Oh, Mrs. Hobbs!”

Mrs. Hobbs shook off the clutch at her sleeve.

“Sshh!” she whispered. “Sshh!”

“But--but please, Mrs. Hobbs--”

“Sshh! You mustn’t talk. Be still. Be still, I tell you.”

The small, white-haired man sat down in the rush-seated chair. The big
man hesitated, separated his coat tails, and then he, too, sat down.

And the music box under the seat of the chair he sat in informed
everyone with cheerful vigor that the Campbells were coming, Hurrah!
Hurrah!

Captain Shadrach Gould arose from that chair, arose promptly and without
hesitation. Mr. Zoeth Hamilton also rose; so did many others in the
vicinity. There was a stir and a rustle and whispered exclamations.
And still the news of the imminent arrival of the Campbells was tinkled
abroad and continued to tinkle. Someone giggled, so did someone else.
Others said, “Hush!”

Mrs. Judge Baxter said, “Heavens and earth!”

Mrs. Hobbs looked as if she wished to say something very much indeed.

Captain Shadrach’s bald spot blazed a fiery red and he glared about him
helplessly.

Mr. Hallett, who was used to unexpected happenings at funerals--though,
to do him justice, he had never before had to deal with anything quite
like this--rushed to the center of the disturbance. Mrs. Hobbs
hastened to help. Together and with whisperings, they fidgeted with
the refractory catch. And still the music box played--and played--and
played.

At last Mr. Hallett gave it up. He seized the chair and with it in his
arms rushed out into the dining-room. Captain Shadrach Gould mopped his
face with a handkerchief and stood, because there was nowhere for him
to sit. Mrs. Hobbs, almost as red in the face as Captain Shad himself,
hastened back and collapsed upon the sofa. Mr. Sharon cleared his
throat.

And still, from behind the closed door of the dining-room the music
chair tinkled on:

“The Campbells are coming! Hurrah! Hurrah!” Poor little guilty,
frightened Mary-’Gusta covered her face with her hands.



CHAPTER II


“And now, gentlemen,” said Judge Baxter, “here we are. Sit down and make
yourselves comfortable. I shall have a good deal to say and I expect to
surprise you. Sit down.”

Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton were in the Judge’s library at his home.
The funeral was over, all that was mortal of Marcellus Hall had been
laid to rest in the Ostable cemetery, and his two friends and former
partners had, on their return from that cemetery, stopped at the
Judge’s, at the latter’s request. He wished, so he said, to speak with
them on an important matter.

“Why don’t you sit down, Captain?” asked the Judge, noticing that,
although Zoeth had seated himself in the rocker which his host had
indicated, Shadrach was still standing.

Captain Shadrach laid a hand on the back of the armchair and regarded
the lawyer with a very grave face, but with a twinkle in his eye.

“To tell you the truth, Judge,” he said, slowly, “I don’t cal’late I
ever shall set down again quite so whole-hearted as I used to. You spoke
of a surprise, didn’t you? I’ve had one surprise this afternoon that’s
liable to stay with me for a spell. I’m an unsuspectin’ critter,
generally speakin’, but after that--Say, you ain’t got a brass band nor
fireworks hitched to THIS chair, have you?”

Judge Baxter laughed heartily. “No,” he said, as soon as he could speak.
“No, Captain, my furniture isn’t loaded.”

The Captain shook his head. “Whew!” he whistled, sitting down gingerly
in the armchair. “Well, that’s a mercy. I ain’t so young as I used to be
and I couldn’t stand many such shocks. Whew! Don’t talk to ME! When that
devilish jig tune started up underneath me I’ll bet I hopped up three
foot straight. I may be kind of slow sittin’ down, but you’ll bear me
out that I can GET UP sudden when it’s necessary. And I thought the dum
thing never would STOP.”

Mr. Hamilton stirred uneasily. “Hush, hush, Shadrach!” he pleaded.
“Don’t be so profane. Remember you’ve just come from the graveyard.”

“Come from it! By fire! There was a time there when I’d have been
willin’ to go to it--yes, and stay. All I wanted was to get out of that
room and hide somewheres where folks couldn’t look at me. I give you my
word I could feel myself heatin’ up like an airtight stove. Good thing I
didn’t have on a celluloid collar or ‘twould have bust into a blaze. Of
all the dummed outrages to spring on a man, that--”

“Shadrach!”

“There, there, Zoeth! I’ll calm down. But as for swearin’--well, if
you knew how full of cusswords I was there one spell you wouldn’t
find fault; you’d thank me for holdin’ ‘em in. I had to batten down my
hatches to do it, though; I tell you that.”

Mr. Hamilton turned to their host. “You’ll excuse Shadrach, won’t you,
Judge,” he said, apologetically. “He don’t mean nothin’ wicked, really.
And he feels as bad as I do about Marcellus’s bein’ took.”

“Course I do!” put in the Captain. “Zoeth’s always scared to death for
fear I’m bound to the everlastin’ brimstone. He forgets I’ve been to sea
a good part of my life and that a feller has to talk strong aboard ship.
Common language may do for keepin’ store, but it don’t get a vessel
nowheres; the salt sort of takes the tang out of it, seems so. I’m
through for the present, Zoeth. I’ll keep the rest till I meet the swab
that loaded up that chair for me.”

The Judge laughed again. Then he opened his desk and took from a drawer
two folded papers.

“Gentlemen,” he said, gravely, “I asked you to come here with me because
there is an important matter, a very important matter, which I, as
Captain Hall’s legal adviser, must discuss with you.”

Captain Shadrach and Zoeth looked at each other. The former tugged at
his beard.

“Hum!” he mused. “Somethin’ to do with Marcellus’s affairs, is it?”

“Yes.”

“Want to know! And somethin’ to do with me and Zoeth?”

“Yes, with both of you. This,” holding up one of the folded papers, “is
Captain Hall’s will. I drew it for him a year ago and he has appointed
me his executor.”

Zoeth nodded. “We supposed likely he would,” he observed.

“Couldn’t get a better man,” added Shadrach, with emphasis.

“Thank you. Captain Hall leaves all he possessed--practically all; there
is a matter of two hundred dollars for his housekeeper, Mrs. Hobbs, and
a few other personal gifts--but he leaves practically all he possessed
to his stepdaughter, Mary Lathrop.”

Both his hearers nodded again. “We expected that, naturally,” said the
Captain. “It’s what he’d ought to have done, of course. Well, she’ll be
pretty well fixed, won’t she?”

Judge Baxter shook his head. “Why, no--she won’t,” he said, soberly.
“That is a part of the surprise which I mentioned at first. Captain Hall
was, practically, a poor man when he died.”

That the prophesied surprise was now a reality was manifest. Both men
looked aghast.

“You--you don’t mean that, Judge?” gasped Zoeth.

“Poor? Marcellus poor?” cried Shadrach. “Why--why, what kind of talk’s
that? He didn’t have no more than the rest of us when--” he hesitated,
glanced at Zoeth, and continued, “when the firm give up business back in
‘79; but he went to sea again and made considerable, and then he made a
whole lot in stocks. I know he did. You know it, too, Zoeth. How could
he be poor?”

“Because, like so many other fortunate speculators, he continued to
speculate and became unfortunate. He lost the bulk of his winnings in
the stock market and--well, to be quite frank, Captain Hall has been a
broken man, mentally as well as physically, since his wife’s death and
his own serious illness. You, yourselves, must have noticed the change
in his habits. From being an active man, a man of affairs, he became
almost a hermit. He saw but few people, dropped the society of all his
old friends, and lived alone--alone except for his various housekeepers
and Mary-’Gusta--the little girl, I mean. You must have noticed the
change in his relations with you.”

Mr. Hamilton sighed. “Yes,” he said, “we noticed he never came to see us
and--and--”

“And wasn’t over’n above sociable when we come to see him,” finished
Captain Shadrach. “Yes, we noticed that. But I say, Judge, he must have
had SOME money left. What became of it?”

“Goodness knows! He was a child, so far as money matters went, in his
later years. Very likely he frittered it away in more stock ventures; I
know he bought a lot of good for nothing mining shares. At any rate it
has gone, all except a few thousands. The house and land where he lived
is mortgaged up to the handle, and I imagine there are debts, a good
many of them. But whatever there is is left to Mary-’Gusta--everyone
calls her that and I seem to have caught the habit. It is left to
her--in trust.”

Captain Shadrach thought this over. “In trust with you, I presume
likely,” he observed. “Well, as I said afore, he couldn’t have found a
better man.”

“HE thought he could, two better men. I rather think he was right. You
are the two, gentlemen.”

This statement did not have the effect which the Judge expected. He
expected exclamations and protests. Instead his visitors looked at each
other and at him in a puzzled fashion.

“Er--er--what was that?” queried Mr. Hamilton. “I didn’t exactly seem to
catch that, somehow or ‘nother.”

Judge Baxter turned to the Captain.

“You understood me, didn’t you, Captain Gould?” he asked.

Shadrach shook his head.

“Why--why, no,” he stammered; “it didn’t seem to soak in, somehow.
Cal’late my head must have stopped goin’; maybe the shock I had a spell
ago broke the mainspring. All I seem to be real sartin of just now is
that the Campbells are comin’. What was it you said?”

“I said that Captain Marcellus Hall has left whatever property he owned,
after his creditors are satisfied, to his stepdaughter. He has left it
in trust until she becomes of age. And he asks you two to accept that
trust and the care of the child. Is that plain?”

It was plain and they understood. But with understanding came,
apparently, a species of paralysis of the vocal organs. Zoeth turned
pale and leaned back in his chair. Shadrach’s mouth opened and closed
several times, but he said nothing.

“Of course,” went on Baxter, “before I say any more I think you should
be told this: It was Captain Hall’s wish that you jointly accept the
guardianship of Mary-’Gusta--of the girl--that she live with you and
that you use whatever money comes to her from her stepfather’s estate
in educating and clothing her. Also, of course, that a certain sum each
week be paid you from that estate as her board. That was Marcellus’s
wish; but it is a wish, nothing more. It is not binding upon you in any
way. You have a perfect right to decline and--”

Captain Shadrach interrupted.

“Heave to!” he ordered, breathlessly. “Come up into the wind a minute,
for mercy sakes! Do you mean to say that me and Zoeth are asked to
take that young-one home with us, and take care of her, and dress her,
and--and eat her, and bring her up and--and--”

He paused, incoherent in his excitement. The Judge nodded.

“Yes,” he replied, “that is what he asks you to do. But, as I say, you
are not obliged to do it; there is no legal obligation. You can say no,
if you think it best.”

“If we think--for thunder sakes, Baxter, what was the matter with
Marcellus? Was he out of his head? Was he loony?”

“No, he was perfectly sane.”

“Then--then, what--Zoeth,” turning wildly to Mr. Hamilton, who still
sat, pale and speechless, in his chair; “Zoeth,” he demanded, “did you
ever hear such craziness in your life? Did you ever HEAR such stuff?”

Zoeth merely shook his head. His silence appeared to add to his friend’s
excitement.

“Did you?” he roared.

Zoeth muttered something to the effect that he didn’t know as he ever
did.

“You don’t know! Yes, you do know, too. Speak up, why don’t you? Don’t
sit there like a ship’s figgerhead, starin’ at nothin’. You know it’s
craziness as well’s I do. For God sakes, say somethin’! TALK!”

Mr. Hamilton talked--to this extent:

“Hush, Shadrach,” he faltered. “Don’t be profane.”

“Profane! Pup-pup-profane! You set there and--and--Oh, jumpin’, creepin’
Judas! I--I--” Language--even his language--failed to express his
feelings and he waved his fists and sputtered. Baxter seized the
opportunity.

“Before you make your decision, gentlemen,” he said, “I hope you will
consider the situation carefully. The girl is only seven years old; she
has no relations anywhere, so far as we know. If you decline the trust
a guardian will have to be appointed by the courts, I suppose. Who that
guardian will be, or what will become of the poor child I’m sure I don’t
know. And Captain Marcellus was perfectly sane; he knew what he was
doing.”

Shadrach interrupted.

“He did!” he shouted. “Well, then, I must say--”

“Just a minute, please, I have a letter here which he wrote at the time
he made his will. It is addressed to both of you. Here it is. Shall I
read it to you, or had you rather read it yourselves?”

Zoeth answered. “I guess maybe you’d better read it, Judge,” he said. “I
don’t cal’late Shadrach nor me are capable of readin’ much of anything
just this minute. You read it. Shadrach, you be still now and listen.”

The Captain opened his mouth and raised a hand. “Be still, Shadrach,”
 repeated Zoeth. The hand fell. Captain Gould sighed.

“All right, Zoeth,” he said. “I’ll keep my batch closed long’s I can.
Heave ahead, Judge.”

The letter was a long one, covering several sheets of foolscap. It
began:


To Shadrach, Gould and Zoeth Hamilton, my old partners and friends.


DEAR SHAD AND ZOETH:

I am writing this to you because I have known you pretty much all my
life and you are the only real friends I have got in this world.


“I was his friend, or I tried to be,” commented Baxter, interrupting
his reading; “but he considered you two, and always spoke of you, as his
oldest and nearest friends. He has often told me that he knew he could
depend on you. Now listen.”

The letter went on to state that the writer realized his health was
no longer good, that he was likely to die at any time and was quite
reconciled.


I should be glad to go [Captain Hall had written], if it was not for one
thing. Since my wife was took from me I care precious little for life
and the sooner it ends the better. That is the way I look at it. But I
have a stepdaughter, Mary Augusta Lathrop, and for her sake I must stick
to the ship as long as I can. I have not been the right kind of father
to her. I have tried, but I don’t seem to know how and I guess likely
I was too old to learn. When I go she won’t have a relation to look out
for her. That has troubled me a lot and I have thought about it more
than a little, I can tell you. And so I have decided to leave her in
your care. I am hoping you will take charge of her and bring her up to
be a good girl and a good woman, same as her mother was before her. I
know you two will be just the ones for the job.


“Jumpin’ fire!” broke in Shadrach, the irrepressible.

“Hush, Shadrach,” continued Mr. Hamilton. “Go on, Judge.”

Baxter continued his reading. The letter told of the will, of the
property, whatever it might be, left in trust for the child, and of the
writer’s desire that it might be used, when turned into money, for her
education. There were two pages of rambling references to stocks
and investments, the very vagueness of these references proving the
weakening shrewdness and lack of business acumen of Captain Hall in his
later years. Then came this:


When this first comes to you I know you will both feel you are not
fitted to take charge of my girl. You will say that neither of you has
had any children of his own and you have not got experience in that
line. But I have thought it over and I know I am right. I couldn’t find
better pilots afloat or ashore. Shadrach has been to sea and commanded
vessels and is used to giving orders and having them carried out. He
sailed mate with me for a good many voyages and was my partner ashore. I
know him from truck to keelson. He is honest and able and can handle
any craft. He will keep the girl on the course she ought to sail in
her schooling and such and see she does not get on the rocks or take to
cruising in bad company. Zoeth has had the land training. He is a pious
man and as good outside the church as he is in, which is not always the
case according to my experience. He has the name all up and down the
Cape of being a square, honest storekeeper. He will look out for Mary’s
religious bringing up and learn her how to keep straight and think
square. You are both of you different from each other in most ways but
you are each of you honest and straight in his own way. I don’t leave
Mary in the care of one but in the charge of both. I know I am right.


“He said that very thing to me a good many times,” put in the Judge.
“He seemed to feel that the very fact of your being men of different
training and habits of thought made the combination ideal. Between
you, so he seemed to think, the girl could not help but grow up as she
should. I am almost through; there is a little more.”


I want you fellows to do this for my sake. I know you will, after you
have thought it over. You and I have been through good times and bad
together. We have made money and we have seen it go faster than it came.
Shad has seen his savings taken away from him, partly because I trusted
where he did not, and he never spoke a word of complaint nor found a
mite of fault. Zoeth has borne my greatest trouble with me and though
his share was far away bigger than mine, he kept me from breaking under
it. I have not seen as much of you lately as I used to see, but that
was my fault. Not my fault exactly, maybe, but my misfortune. I have not
been the man I was and seeing you made me realize it. That is why I have
not been to South Harniss and why I acted so queer when you came here. I
was sort of ashamed, I guess. You remember when the old Hall and Company
firm started business there were four of us who agreed to stick by each
other through foul weather and fair till we died. One of that four broke
his promise and pretty nigh wrecked us all, as he did wreck the firm.
Now I am asking you two to stick by me and mine. I am trusting and
believing that you are going to do it as I write this. When you read it
I shan’t be on hand. But, if I am where I can see and hear I shall still
be believing you will do this last favor for your old messmate.

MARCELLUS.


Judge Baxter folded the sheets of foolscap and laid them on the table.
Then he took off his spectacles and wiped them with his handkerchief.

“Well, gentlemen?” he said, after a moment.

Captain Gould drew a long breath.

“I don’t think it’s well,” he observed. “I think it’s about as sick as
it can be, and I cal’late Zoeth feels the same; eh, Zoeth?”

Mr. Hamilton did not answer. He neither spoke nor moved.

“Of course,” said the lawyer, “it is not necessary that you make up
your minds this instant. You will probably wish a few days to think the
matter over in and then you can let me know what you decide. You have
heard the letter and I have explained the situation. Are there any
questions you would like to ask?”

Shadrach shook his head.

“No, not far’s I’m concerned,” he said. “My mind is made up now. I did
think there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Marcellus. And I would
have done anything in reason. But this ain’t reason--it’s what I
called it in the beginnin’, craziness. Me and Zoeth can’t go crazy for
anybody.”

“Then you decline?”

“Yes, sir; I’m mighty sorry but of course we can’t do such a thing. Me
and Zoeth, one of us a bach all his life, and t’other one a--a widower
for twenty years, for us to take a child to bring up! My soul and body!
Havin’ hung on to the heft of our senses so far, course we decline! We
can’t do nothin’ else.”

“And you, Mr. Hamilton?”

Zoeth appeared to hesitate. Then he asked:

“What sort of a girl is she?”

“Mary-’Gusta? She’s a bright child, and a well-behaved one, generally
speaking. Rather old for her years, and a little--well, peculiar. That
isn’t strange, considering the life she has led since her mother’s
death. But she is a good girl and a pretty little thing. I like her; so
does my wife.”

“That was her at the cemetery, wasn’t it? She was with that Hobbs
woman?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so. Shadrach and I met her when we was over here two years
ago. I thought the one at the graveyard was her. Poor little critter!
Where is she now; at the house--at Marcellus’s?”

“Yes; that is, I suppose she is.”

“Do you--do you cal’late we could see her if we went there now?”

“Yes, I am sure you could.”

Zoeth rose.

“Come on, Shadrach,” he said, “let’s go.”

The Captain stared at him.

“Go?” he repeated. “Where? Home, do you mean?”

“No, not yet. I mean over to Marcellus’s to see that little girl.”

“Zoeth Hamilton! Do you mean to tell me--What do you want to see her
for? Do you want to make it harder for her and for us and for all hands?
What good is seein’ her goin’ to do? Ain’t it twice as easy to say no
now and be done with it?”

“I suppose likely ‘twould be, but it wouldn’t be right Marcellus asked
us to do this thing for him and--”

“Jumpin’ Judas! ASKED us! Do you mean to say you’re thinkin’ of doin’
what he asked? Are you loony, too? Are you--”

“Shh, Shadrach! He asked us, as a last favor, to take charge of his
girl. I feel as you do that we can’t do it, ‘tain’t sensible nor
possible for us to do it, but--”

“There ain’t any buts.”

“But the very least we can do is go and see her and talk to her.”

“What for? So we’ll feel meaner and more sneaky when we HAVE to say no?
I shan’t go to see her.”

“All right. Then I shall. You can wait here for me till I come back.”

“Hold on, Zoeth! Hold on! Don’t--”

But Mr. Hamilton was at the door and did not turn back. Judge Baxter,
who was following him, spoke.

“Sit right here, Captain,” he said. “Make yourself as comfortable as you
can. We shan’t be long.”

For an instant Shadrach remained where he was. Then he, too, sprang to
his feet. He overtook the lawyer just as the latter reached the side
door.

“Hello, Captain,” exclaimed Baxter, “changed your mind?”

“Changed nothin’. Zoeth’s makin’ a fool of himself and I know it, but he
ain’t goin’ to be a fool ALL by himself. I’ve seen him try it afore and
‘tain’t safe.”

“What do you mean?”

The Captain grunted scornfully.

“I mean there’s safety in numbers, whether it’s the number of fools or
anything else,” he said. “One idiot’s a risky proposition, but two
or three in a bunch can watch each other. Come on, Judge, and be the
third.”



CHAPTER III


The white house on Phinney’s Hill looked desolate and mournful when
the buggy containing Judge Baxter and his two companions drove into the
yard. The wagon belonging to Mr. Hallett, the undertaker, was at the
front door, and Hallett and his assistant were loading in the folding
chairs. Mr. Hallett was whistling a popular melody, but, somehow or
other, the music only emphasized the lonesomeness. There is little cheer
in an undertaker’s whistle.

Captain Gould, acting under the Judge’s orders, piloted his horse up the
driveway and into the back yard. The animal was made fast to the back
fence and the three men alighted from the buggy and walked up to the
side door of the house.

“Say, Judge,” whispered the Captain, as they halted by the step, “you
don’t cal’late I can find out who loaded up that music-box chair on me,
do you? If I could meet that feller for two or three minutes I might
feel more reconciled at bein’ fool enough to come over here.”

Mrs. Hobbs answered the knock at the door--she invited them in. When
told that they had come to see Mary-’Gusta she sniffed.

“She’s in her room,” she said, rather sharply. “She hadn’t ought to be
let out, but of course if you want to see her, Judge Baxter, I presume
likely she’ll have to be. I’ll go fetch her.”

“Wait a minute, Mrs. Hobbs,” said Baxter. “What’s the matter? Has the
child been behaving badly?”

Mrs. Hobbs’ lean fingers clinched. “Behavin’ badly!” she repeated. “I
should say she had! I never was so mortified in my life. And at her own
father’s funeral, too!”

“What has she done?”

“Done? She--” Mrs. Hobbs hesitated, glanced at Captain Shadrach, and
left her sentence unfinished. “Never mind what she done,” she went on.
“I can’t tell you now; I declare I’d be ashamed to. I’ll go get her.”

She marched from the room. Zoeth rubbed his forehead.

“She seems sort of put out, don’t she,” he observed, mildly.

Baxter nodded. “Susan Hobbs has the reputation of getting ‘put out’
pretty often,” he said. “She has a temper and it isn’t a long one.”

“Has she been takin’ care of Marcellus’s girl?” asked Zoeth.

“Yes. As much care as the child has had.”

Captain Shad snorted. It was evident that the housekeeper’s manner had
not impressed him favorably.

“Humph!” he said. “I’d hate to have her take care of me, judgin’ by the
way she looked just now. Say,” hopefully, “do you suppose SHE was the
one fixed that chair?”

They heard Mrs. Hobbs on the floor above, shouting:

“Mary-’Gusta! Mary-’Gusta! Where are you? Answer me this minute!”

“Don’t seem to be in that room she was talkin’ about,” grumbled
Shadrach. “Tut! Tut! What a voice that is! Got a rasp to it like a rusty
saw.”

Mrs. Hobbs was heard descending the stairs. Her face, when she reentered
the sitting-room, was red and she looked more “put out” than ever.

“She ain’t there,” she answered, angrily. “She’s gone.”

“Gone?” repeated Zoeth and Shadrach in chorus.

“Gone?” repeated the Judge. “Do you mean she’s run away?”

“No, no! She ain’t run away--not for good; she knows better than that.
She’s sneaked off and hid, I suppose. But I know where she is. I’ll have
her here in a minute.”

She was hurrying out again, but the Captain detained her.

“Wait!” he commanded. “What’s that you say? You know where she is?”

“Yes, or I can guess. Nine chances to one she’s out in that barn.”

“In the barn? What’s she doin’ there--playin’ horse?”

“No, no. She’s hidin’ in the carriage room. Seems as if the child was
possessed to get out in that dusty place and perch herself in the old
carryall. She calls it her playhouse and you’d think ‘twas Heaven the
way she loves to stay there. But today of all days! And with her best
clothes on! And after I expressly told her--”

“Yes, yes; all right. Humph! Well, Zoeth, what do you say? Shall we
go to Heaven and hunt for her? Maybe ‘twill be the only chance some of
us’ll get, you can’t tell,” with a wink at Baxter.

“Hush, Shadrach! How you do talk!” protested the shocked Mr. Hamilton.

“Let’s go out to the barn and find the young-one ourselves,” said the
Captain. “Seems the simplest thing to do, don’t it?”

Mrs. Hobbs interrupted.

“You don’t need to go at all,” she declared. “I’ll get her and bring her
here. Perhaps she ain’t there, anyway.”

“Well, if she ain’t there we can come back again. Come on, boys.”

He led the way to the door. The housekeeper would have accompanied them,
but he prevented her doing so.

“Don’t you trouble yourself, ma’am,” he said. “We’ll find her. I’m
older’n I used to be, but I ain’t so blind but what I can locate a barn
without a spyglass.”

“It won’t be any trouble,” protested the lady.

“I know, but it might be. We’ll go alone.”

When the three were in the back yard, and the discomfited housekeeper
was watching them from the door, he added:

“I don’t know why that woman rubs my fur the wrong way, but she does.
Isaiah Chase says he don’t like mosquitoes ‘cause they get on his
nerves. I never thought I wore my nerves on the back of my neck, which
is where Isaiah gets skeeter-bit mostly, but anyhow, wherever they be,
that Hobbs woman bothers ‘em. There’s the barn, ain’t it? Don’t look
very heavenly, but it may seem that way after a spell in t’other place.
Now where’s the carriage room?”

The door of the carriage room was open, and they entered. A buggy and
the muslin draped surrey were there, but no living creature was in
sight. They listened, but heard nothing.

“Mary! Mary-’Gusta!” called Baxter. “Are you here?”

No answer. And then, from beneath the cover of the surrey, appeared
a fat tortoise-shell cat, who jumped lightly to the floor, yawned,
stretched, and blinked suspiciously at the visitors.

“Humph!” grunted Captain Shadrach. “There’s one stowaway, anyhow. Maybe
there’s another; I’ve had ‘em come aboard in pairs.”

The Judge walked over to the surrey, and raised the cover. From behind
it came a frightened little squeal.

“Oh, there you are!” said Baxter. “Mary-’Gusta, is that you?”

There was a rustle, a sob, and then a timid voice said, chokingly, “Yes,
sir.”

“Come out,” said the Judge, kindly. “Come out; here are some friends who
want to meet you.”

Another sob and then: “I--I don’t want to.”

“Oh, yes, you do. We won’t hurt you. We only want to see you and talk
with you, that’s all. Come, that’s a good girl.”

“I--I ain’t a good girl.”

“Never mind. We want to see you, anyway. I guess you’re not very bad.”

“Yes, I--I am. Is--is Mrs. Hobbs there?”

“No. Come now, please.”

A moment’s wait, then, from beneath the cover, appeared a small foot
and leg, the latter covered by a black stocking. The foot wiggled
about, feeling for the step. It found it, the cover was thrown aside and
Mary-’Gusta appeared, a pathetic little figure, with rumpled hair and
tear-stained cheeks. Rose and Rosette, the two dolls, were hugged in her
arms.

Judge Baxter patted her on the head. Zoeth and Shadrach looked solemn
and ill at ease. Mary-’Gusta looked at the floor and sniffed dolefully.

“Mary-’Gusta,” said the Judge, “these two gentlemen are old friends of
your father’s and,” with a pardonable stretching of the truth, “they
have come all the way from South Harniss to meet you. Now you must shake
hands with them. They like little girls.”

Mary-’Gusta obediently moved forward, shifted Rosette to the arm
clasping Rose, and extended a hand. Slowly she raised her eyes, saw Mr.
Hamilton’s mild, gentle face and then, beside it, the face of Captain
Shadrach Gould. With a cry she dropped both dolls, ran back to the
surrey and fumbled frantically with the dust cover.

Baxter, surprised and puzzled, ran after her and prevented her climbing
into the carriage.

“Why, Mary-’Gusta,” he demanded, “what is the matter?”

The child struggled and then, bursting into a storm of sobs, hid her
face in the dust cover.

“I--I didn’t mean to,” she sobbed, wildly. “I didn’t mean to. Honest
I didn’t. I--I didn’t know. I didn’t mean to. Please don’t let him.
PLEASE!”

The Judge held her close and did his best to calm her.

“There, there, child,” he said. “No one’s going to hurt you.”

“Yes--yes, they are. Mrs. Hobbs said she shouldn’t wonder if he knocked
my--my head right off.”

“Knocked your head off! Who?”

“Him.”

She raised her hand and pointed a shaking finger straight at Captain
Shadrach.

All three of her hearers were surprised, of course, but in the case of
the Captain himself amazement was coupled with righteous indignation.

“Wha-what?” he stammered. “Who said so? What kind of talk’s that? Said I
was goin’ to knock your head off? I was?”

Baxter laughed. “No, no, Mary-’Gusta,” he said; “you’re mistaken. Mrs.
Hobbs couldn’t have said any such thing. You’re mistaken, dear.”

“No, I ain’t,” with another sob; “she did say so. She said he would
knock my head--ah--ah--off and--and put me in jail, too. And I didn’t
mean to do it; honest, truly I didn’t.”

The Judge looked at his companions and shook his head as if the
conundrum was beyond his guessing. Captain Shad groaned.

“By fire!” he ejaculated. “All hands have gone loony, young-ones and
all. And,” with conviction, “I’m on the road myself.”

Zoeth Hamilton stepped forward and held out his hands.

“Come here, dearie,” he said, gently; “come here and tell me all about
it. Neither me nor the Cap’n’s goin’ to hurt you a mite. We like little
girls, both of us do. Now you come and tell me about it.”

Mary-’Gusta’s sobs ceased. She looked at the speaker doubtfully.

“Come, don’t be scared,” begged Zoeth. “We’re goin’ to be good friends
to you. We knew your father and he thought everything of us. You ain’t
goin’ to be afraid of folks that was your Pa’s chums. You come here and
let’s talk it over.”

Slowly Mary-’Gusta crossed the room. Zoeth sat down upon an empty box
near the door and lifted the girl to his knee.

“Now you ain’t afraid of me, be you?” he asked quietly.

Mary-’Gusta shook her head, but her big eyes were fixed upon Captain
Shadrach’s face.

“No-o,” she faltered. “I--I guess I ain’t. But you wasn’t the one I did
it to. It was him.”

Judging by the Captain’s expression his conviction that all hands,
himself included, had lost their reason was momentarily growing firmer.

“ME?” he gasped. “You done somethin’ to me and I--well, by Judas, this
is--”

“Hush, Shadrach! What was it you done, Mary, that made you afraid of
Cap’n Gould? Tell me. I won’t hurt you and I won’t let anybody else.”

“YOU won’t let--Zoeth Hamilton, I swan, I--”

“Be still, Shadrach, for mercy sakes! Now, what was it, dearie?”

Mary-’Gusta hesitated. Then she buried her face in Mr. Hamilton’s jacket
and sobbed a confession.

“I--I made it go,” she cried. “I--I broke the--the catch--and it was
wound up and--and it went off. But I didn’t know. I didn’t mean--”

“There, there, course you didn’t. We know you didn’t. What was it that
went off?”

“The--the music chair. It was in the corner and Mr. Hallett took it
and--and I couldn’t say anything ‘cause Mrs. Hobbs said I mustn’t speak
a word at the funeral. And--and he set in it and it played and--Oh,
don’t let him put me in jail! Please don’t.”

Another burst of tears. Mary-’Gusta clung tightly to the Hamilton
jacket. Judge Baxter looked as if a light had suddenly broken upon the
darkness of his mind.

“I see,” he said. “You were responsible for the ‘Campbells.’ I see.”

Shadrach drew a long breath.

“Whew!” he whistled. “So she was the one. Well, I swan!”

Zoeth stroked the child’s hair.

“That’s all right, dearie,” he said. “Now don’t you worry about that.
We didn’t know who did it, but now we do and it’s all right. We know you
didn’t mean to.”

“Won’t--won’t he knock my head off?”

“No, no, course he won’t. Tell her so, Shadrach.”

Captain Shadrach pulled at his beard. Then he burst into a laugh.

“I won’t hurt you for nothin’, sis,” he said, heartily. “It’s all right
and don’t you fret about it. Accidents will happen even in the best
regulated--er--funerals; though,” with a broad grin, “I hope another one
like that’ll never happen to ME. Now don’t you cry any more.”

Mary-’Gusta raised her head and regarded him steadily.

“Won’t I be put in jail?” she asked, more hopefully.

“Indeed you won’t. I never put anybody in jail in my life; though,” with
an emphatic nod, “there’s some folks ought to go there for frightenin’
children out of their senses. Did that Mrs. Hobbs tell you I was goin’
to--what was it?--knock your head off and all the rest?”

“Yes, sir, she did.”

“Well, she’s a--she’s what she is. What else did she say to you?”

“She--she said I was a bad, wicked child and she hoped I’d be sent to
the--the orphans’ home. If she was to have the care of me, she said,
she’d make me walk a chalk or know why. And she sent me to my room and
said I couldn’t have any supper.”

Zoeth and the Captain looked at each other. Baxter frowned.

“On the very day of her father’s funeral,” he muttered.

“Can’t I have any supper?” begged Mary-’Gusta. “I’m awful hungry; I
didn’t want much dinner.”

Zoeth nodded. His tone, when he spoke, was not so mild as was usual with
him.

“You shall have your supper,” he said.

“And--and must I go to the orphans’ home?”

No one answered at once. Zoeth and Captain Shad again looked at each
other and the Judge looked at them both.

“Must I?” repeated Mary-’Gusta. “I--I don’t want to. I’d rather die, I
guess, and go to Heaven, same as Mother and Father. But Mrs. Hobbs says
they don’t have any dolls nor cats in Heaven, so I don’t know’s I’d want
to go there.”

Baxter walked to the window and looked out. Captain Shadrach reached
into his pocket, produced a crumpled handkerchief, and blew his nose
violently. Zoeth stroked the child’s hair.

“Mary-’Gusta,” he said, after a moment, “how would you like to go over
to South Harniss and--and see me and Cap’n Gould a little while? Just
make us a visit, you know. Think you’d like that?”

The Captain started. “Good land, Zoeth!” he exclaimed. “Be careful what
you’re sayin’.”

“I ain’t sayin’ anything definite, Shadrach. I know how you feel about
it. I just wanted to see how she felt herself, that’s all. Think you’d
like that, Mary-’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta thought it over. “I guess maybe I would,” she said, “if
I could take my dolls and David. I wouldn’t want to leave David. Mrs.
Hobbs don’t like cats.”

And at that moment Mrs. Hobbs herself appeared in the doorway of the
carriage room. She saw the child and her eyes snapped.

“So she was here,” she said. “I thought as much. Mary-’Gusta, what did
you run away from that room for? Didn’t I forbid you leavin’ it? She’s
been a bad girl, Judge Baxter,” she added, “and I can’t make her behave.
I try my best, but I’m sure I don’t know what to do.”

Captain Shadrach thrust both hands into his pockets.

“I tell you what to do,” he said, sharply. “You go into the house and
put some of her things into a valise or satchel or somethin’. And hurry
up as fast as you can.”

Mrs. Hobbs was astonished.

“Put ‘em in a satchel?” she repeated. “What for? Where’s she goin’?”

“She’s goin’ home along with me and Zoeth. And she’s got to start inside
of half an hour. You hurry.”

“But--but--”

“There ain’t any ‘buts’; haven’t got time for ‘em.”

Mr. Hamilton regarded his friend with an odd expression.

“Shadrach,” he asked, “do you realize what you’re sayin’?”

“Who’s sayin’? You said it, I didn’t. Besides takin’ her home with us
today don’t mean nothin’, does it? A visit won’t hurt us. Visits don’t
bind anybody to anything. Jumpin’ Judas! I guess we’ve got room enough
in the house to have one young-one come visitin’ for--for a couple of
days, if we want to. What are you makin’ such a fuss about? Here
you,” turning to the housekeeper, “ain’t you gone yet? You’ve got just
thirteen minutes to get that satchel ready.”

Mrs. Hobbs departed, outraged dignity in her walk and manner.

“Am--am I goin’?” faltered Mary-’Gusta.

Zoeth nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “you’re goin’. Unless, of course, you’d rather stay
here.”

“No, I’d rather go, if--if I can take David and the dolls. Can I?”

“Can she, Shadrach?”

Captain Shad, who was pacing the floor, turned savagely.

“What do you ask me that for?” he demanded. “This is your doin’s,
‘tain’t mine. You said it first, didn’t you? Yes, yes, let her take the
dolls and cats--and cows and pigs, too, if she wants to. Jumpin’ fire!
What do I care? If a feller’s bound to be a fool, a little live stock
more or less don’t make him any bigger one. . . . Land sakes! I believe
she’s goin’ to cry again. Don’t do that! What’s the matter now?”

The tears were starting once more in the girl’s eyes.

“I--I don’t think you want me,” she stammered. “If you did you--you
wouldn’t talk so.”

The Captain was greatly taken aback. He hesitated, tugged at his beard,
and then, walking over to the child, took her by the hand.

“Don’t you mind the way I talk, Mary-’Gusta,” he said. “I’m liable to
talk ‘most any way, but I don’t mean nothin’ by it. I like little girls,
same as Zoeth said. And I ain’t mad about the jig-tune chair, neither.
Say,” with a sudden inspiration; “here we are settin’ here and one of
our passengers has left the dock. We got to find that cat, ain’t we?
What did you say his name was--Solomon?”

“No, sir; David.”

“David, sure enough. If I’d been up in Scripture the way Zoeth--Mr.
Hamilton, here--is, I wouldn’t have made that mistake, would I? Come on,
let’s you and me go find David and break the news to him. Say, he’ll be
some surprised to find he’s booked for a foreign v’yage, won’t he? Come
on, we’ll go find him.”

Mary-’Gusta slowly rose from Mr. Hamilton’s knee. She regarded the
Captain steadily for a moment; then, hand in hand, they left the barn
together.

Judge Baxter whistled. “Well!” he exclaimed. “I must say I didn’t expect
this.”

Zoeth smiled. “There ain’t many better men than Shadrach Gould,” he
observed, quietly.



CHAPTER IV


Mary-’Gusta, even though she lives to be a very old woman, will never
forget that ride to South Harniss. It was the longest ride she had ever
taken, and that of itself would have made it unforgettable. Then, too,
she was going visiting, and she had never been visiting before. Also,
she was leaving Mrs. Hobbs and, for a time at least, that lady could not
remind her of her queerness and badness. More than all, she was going on
a journey, a real journey, like a grown-up or a person in a story, and
her family--David and the dolls--were journeying with her. What the
journey might mean to her, or to what sort of place she was going--these
questions did not trouble her in the least. Childlike, she was quite
satisfied with the wonderful present, and to the future, even the
dreaded orphans’ home, she gave not a thought.

Perched on the buggy seat, squeezed in between Captain Shad and Mr.
Hamilton, she gazed wide-eyed at the houses and fields and woods along
the roadside. She did not speak, unless spoken to, and the two men spoke
but seldom, each apparently thinking hard. Occasionally the Captain
would sigh, or whistle, or groan, as if his thoughts were disturbing and
most unusual. Once he asked her if she was comfortable.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Havin’ a good time? Like to go to ride, do you?”

Mary-’Gusta assumed her most grown-up air.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “I just love to travel. It’s been the dream of my
life.”

“Gosh! I want to know!” exclaimed the astonished Shadrach; then he shook
his head, chuckled, and ordered the horse to hurry up.

The dolls were arranged in a row against the back of the dashboard. In
front of them, and between the Captain’s feet and Zoeth’s, the battered
satchel containing the child’s everyday dress and visiting essentials
was squeezed. Mary-’Gusta’s feet stuck straight out and rested on the
top of the satchel. David, in a basket with the lid tied fast, was
planted between the last mentioned feet. David did not appear to share
his--or her--owner’s love of travel. The cat wailed lugubriously at
intervals.

Zoeth made the next attempt at conversation.

“Never been to South Harniss, have you, Mary-’Gusta?” he inquired.

“No, sir,” gravely. “But,” remembering the housekeeper’s final charge
not to forget her manners, if she had any, “I’m sure I’ll like it very
much.”

“Oh, you are, eh? Well, that’s nice. What makes you so sure?”

Mary-’Gusta reflected. She remembered what Mrs. Bailey had said after a
week’s visit in Bayport, which is fourteen miles from Ostable. “I think
everybody enjoys a change of air,” she observed.

“My soul and body!” exclaimed Mr. Hamilton.

Captain Shad looked down at his small passenger.

“How old are you, sis?” he demanded.

“I’m seven. But I ain’t a sis; I haven’t got any brothers or sisters.”

“Oh! Well, that’s a fact, too, now I come to think of it. How old did
you say; seventy, was it?”

“No, sir. Seven. Did you think I said seventy?”

“Eh? No, I guess not.”

“I couldn’t be seventy. If I was I’d be lots bigger, you know.”

“That’s so; I presume likely you would.”

More reflection. Then: “If I was seventy I guess you wouldn’t have asked
me.”

“Sho! Wouldn’t I? Why not?”

“‘Cause grown-up folks don’t like to be asked how old they are. I asked
Mrs. Hobbs how old she was once and she didn’t like it.”

“Didn’t she?”

“No, sir. She told me to mind my own business.”

The Captain laughed aloud. Then, turning to Mr. Hamilton, he said: “Say,
Zoeth, Isaiah’ll be a little mite surprised when he sees this craft make
port, eh?”

Zoeth smiled. “I shouldn’t wonder,” he replied.

“Um-hm. I’d like to have a tintype of Isaiah’s face. Well, sis--er,
Mary-’Gusta, I mean--there’s South Harniss dead ahead. How do you like
the looks of it?”

They had emerged from a long stretch of woods and were at the summit of
a little hill. From the crest of this hill the road wound down past an
old cemetery with gray, moss-covered slate tombstones, over a bridge
between a creek and a good-sized pond, on through a clump of pines,
where it joined the main highway along the south shore of the Cape. This
highway, in turn, wound and twisted--there are few straight roads
on Cape Cod--between other and lower hills until it became a village
street, the main street of South Harniss. The sun was low in the west
and its light bathed the clustered roofs in a warm glow, touched
windows and vanes with fire, and twinkled and glittered on the waters
of Nantucket Sound, which filled the whole southern horizon. There was
little breeze and the smoke from the chimneys rose almost straight. So,
too, did the smoke from the distant tugs and steamers. There were two or
three schooners far out, and nearer shore, a sailboat. A pretty picture,
one which artists have painted and summer visitors enthused over many
times.

To Mary-’Gusta it was new and wonderful. The child was in a mood to like
almost anything just then. Mrs. Hobbs was miles away and the memory of
the music chair and her own disgrace and shame were but memories. She
drew a long breath and looked and looked.

“Like it, do you?” asked Zoeth, echoing his friend’s question.

Mary-’Gusta nodded. “Yes, sir,” she said. “It--it’s lovely.”

Captain Shadrach nodded. “Best town on earth, if I do say it,” he said,
emphatically. “So you think it’s lovely, eh?”

“Yes, sir.” Then, pointing, she asked: “Is that your house?”

The Captain grinned. “Well, no, not exactly,” he said. “That’s the town
hall. Nobody lives there but the selectmen and they ain’t permanent
boarders--that is, I have hopes some of ‘em ‘ll move after town-meetin’
day. Our house is over yonder, down nigh the shore.”

The old horse pricked up his ears at sight of home and the buggy moved
faster. It rolled through the main street, where the Captain and
Mr. Hamilton were kept busy answering hails and returning bows from
citizens, male and female. Through the more thickly settled portion of
the village it moved, until at a point where there were fewer shops and
the houses were older and less up-to-date, it reached the corner of a
narrow cross road. There it stopped before a frame building bearing the
sign, “Hamilton and Company, Dry Goods, Groceries, Boots and Shoes and
Notions.” There was a narrow platform at the front of the building and
upon this platform were several men, mostly of middle age or older.
Mary-’Gusta noticed that most of these men were smoking. If she had been
older she might have noticed that each man either sat upon the platform
steps or leaned against the posts supporting its roof. Not one was
depending solely upon his own muscles for support; he sat upon or leaned
against something wooden and substantial.

As the buggy drew alongside the platform the men evinced considerable
interest. Not enough to make them rise or relinquish support, but
interest, nevertheless.

“Hello, Shad!” hailed one. “Home again, be you?”

“Pretty big funeral, was it?” drawled another.

“Who’s that you got aboard?” queried a third.

Captain Shadrach did not answer. Mr. Hamilton leaned forward. “Where’s
Annabel?” he asked.

“She’s inside,” replied the first questioner. “Want to see her? Hi,
Jabe,” turning his head and addressing one of the group nearest the
door, “tell Annabel, Zoeth and Shad’s come.”

“Jabe,” who was propped against a post, languidly pushed himself away
from it, opened the door behind him and shouted: “Annabel, come out
here!” Then he slouched back and leaned against the post again.

The door opened and a stout, red-faced young woman appeared. She looked
much more like an Eliza than an Annabel. She had a newspaper in her
hand.

“Hey?” she drawled. “Who was that hollerin’? Was it you, Jabez Hedges?”

Jabez did not take the trouble to answer. Instead he took a hand from
his trousers pocket and waved it toward the buggy. Annabel looked; then
she came down the steps.

“Hello!” she said. “I see you got back all right.”

Zoeth nodded. “How’d you get along in the store?” he asked, anxiously.
“How’s business?”

“Wasn’t none to speak of,” replied Annabel carelessly. “Sold a couple of
spools of cotton and--and some salt pork and sugar. Ezra Howland bought
the pork. He wasn’t satisfied; said there wasn’t enough lean in it to
suit him, but I let him have it a cent cheaper, so he took it.”

Mr. Hamilton seemed a trifle disappointed. “Was that all?” he asked,
with a sigh.

“Yup. No, ‘twa’n’t neither, come to think of it. Rastus Young’s wife,
come in with her two young-ones and bought some shoes and hats for ‘em.”

“Did she pay cash?” demanded Captain Shadrach sharply.

“No; she said charge ‘em up, so I done it. Say, ain’t you comin’ in
pretty soon? It’s ‘most my supper time.”

Zoeth opened his mouth to answer, but the Captain got ahead of him.

“It’s our supper time, too,” he said, crisply. “When we’ve had it you
can have yours. Get dap, January.”

The horse, whose name was Major but who was accustomed to being
addressed by almost any name, jogged on. Mr. Hamilton sighed once more.

“I’m ‘fraid one of us had ought to stayed in the store, Shadrach,” he
said. “Annabel means well, she’s real obligin’; but she ain’t a good
hand at business.”

Shadrach snorted. “Obligin’ nothin’!” he retorted. “We’re the ones that
was obligin’ when we agreed to pay her seventy-five cents for settin’
astern of the counter and readin’ the Advocate. I told you when you
hired her that she wasn’t good for nothin’ but ballast.”

“I know, Shadrach. I’d ought to have stayed to home and kept store
myself. But I did feel as if I must go to Marcellus’s funeral.”

“Sellin’ them Youngs a whole passel of stuff and lettin’ ‘em charge it
up!” went on Shadrach. “They owe us enough now to keep a decent family
all winter. Reg’lar town dead-beats, that’s what they are. You couldn’t
get a cent out of Rastus Young if you were to run a dredge through him.”

Mr. Hamilton groaned remorsefully. “If I’d only stayed at home!” he
said.

“If you’d stayed to home you’d have charged up the stuff just the same
as she did. You’re the softest thing, outside of a sponge, in this town.
Anybody can impose on you, and you know it, Zoeth.”

Zoeth’s habitual mildness gave way to resentment, mild resentment.

“Why, Shadrach,” he retorted, “how you talk! You was the one that
charged up the last things Rastus’s folks bought. You know you was.”

The Captain looked as if he had been caught napping.

“Well, what’s that got to do with it?” he sputtered. “‘Twasn’t nothin’
but some corn meal and a few yards of calico. How could I help chargin’
it up, with that woman cryin’ and goin’ on about their havin’ nothin’
to eat nor wear in the house? I couldn’t let ‘em starve, could I? Nor
freeze neither?”

“‘Twas only last week she did it,” protested his partner. “Folks don’t
freeze in April, seems to me.”

“Aw, be still! Don’t talk no more about it. By fire!” with a sudden
change of subject and a burst of enthusiasm, “look at that horse, will
you! Turned right in at the gate without my pullin’ the helm once or
sayin’ a word--knows as much as a Christian, that horse does.”

The buggy had rocked and plowed its way over the hummocks and through
the sand of the narrow lane and was at the top of a grass-covered
knoll, a little hill. At the foot of the hill was the beach, strewn
with seaweed, and beyond, the Sound, its waters now a rosy purple in
the sunset light. On the slope of the hill toward the beach stood a low,
rambling, white house, a barn, and several sheds and outbuildings. There
were lilac bushes by the front door of the house, a clam-shell walk from
the lane to that door, and, surrounding the whole, a whitewashed picket
fence. A sandy rutted driveway led from the rear of the house and the
entrance of the barn down to a big gate, now wide open. It was through
this gateway and along this drive that the sagacious Major was pulling
the buggy.

Mary-’Gusta stared at the house. As she stared the back door was thrown
open and a tall, thin man came out. He was in his shirtsleeves, his arms
were bare to the elbow, and to Mary-’Gusta’s astonishment he wore an
apron, a gingham apron similar to those worn by Mrs. Hobbs when at work
in the kitchen.

“Ahoy, there, Isaiah!” hailed the Captain. “Here we are.”

The man with the apron took a big nickel watch from the upper pocket
of his vest, looked at it, and shook his head. Upon his face, which was
long and thin like the rest of him, there was a grieved expression.

“A little mite late, ain’t we, Isaiah?” said Zoeth, hastily. “Hope we
ain’t kept supper waitin’ too long?”

The tall man returned the watch to the pocket.

“Only twenty-three minutes, that’s all,” he drawled, with the
resignation of a martyr. “Twenty-three minutes ain’t much in a lifetime,
maybe--but it don’t help fried potatoes none. Them potatoes was ready at
half-past five.”

“Well, ‘tain’t six yet,” protested Captain Shad.

“Maybe ‘tain’t, but it’s twenty-three minutes later’n half-past five.
Last thing you said to me was, ‘Have supper ready at half-past five!’ I
had it ready. Them potatoes went on the fire at--”

“There! there!” interrupted the Captain. “Never mind the potatoes. We’ll
‘tend to them in a minute. Give us a hand with this dunnage. There’s
a satchel here and some more stuff. Sooner this craft’s unloaded the
sooner we can eat. All ashore that’s goin’ ashore.”

Zoeth climbed out of the buggy. He lifted their passenger to the ground.

“Mary-’Gusta,” he said, “here’s where Cap’n Gould and I live. This is
Mr. Isaiah Chase. Isaiah, this is Mary Lathrop, Cap’n Marcellus’s little
girl. She’s come to--t--”

“To make us a little visit,” put in the Captain, promptly. “You want to
get acquainted with Isaiah, Mary-’Gusta; he’s cook and steward for me
and Mr. Zoeth. That’s right; shake hands and be sociable.”

Mary-’Gusta extended her hand and Mr. Chase, after wiping his own hand
on the apron, pumped hers up and down.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said, solemnly.

“Now for the dunnage,” said Captain Shad. “There’s the satchel and--and
the other things. Look out for that basket! LOOK OUT!”

Mr. Chase had seized the basket and swung it out of the buggy. David,
frightened at the sudden aerial ascension, uttered a howl. Isaiah
dropped the basket as if it was red hot.

“What in tunket!” he exclaimed.

“Nothin’ but a cat,” explained the Captain. “‘Twon’t hurt you.”

“A cat! What--whose cat?”

“Mine,” said Mary-’Gusta, running to the rescue. “He’s a real good cat.
He ain’t cross; he’s scared, that’s all. Honest, he ain’t cross. Are
you, David?”

David howled and clawed at the cover of the basket. Mr. Chase backed
away.

“A cat!” he repeated. “You fetched a cat--here?”

“Sartin we fetched it.” Captain Shadrach was evidently losing patience.
“Did you think we’d fetch an elephant? Now get out them--them doll
babies and things.”

Isaiah stared at the dolls. Mary-’Gusta stopped patting the basket and
hastened to the side of the buggy. “I’ll take the dollies,” she said.
“They’re mine, too.”

A moment later they entered the house. Mary-’Gusta bore three of the
dolls. Mr. Hamilton carried the other two, and Isaiah, with the valise
in one hand and the basket containing the shrieking David at arm’s
length in the other, led the way. Captain Shad, after informing them
that he would be aboard in a jiffy, drove on to the barn.

The room they first entered was the kitchen. It was small, rather
untidy, and smelt strongly of fish and the fried potatoes.

“Come right along with me, Mary-’Gusta,” said Zoeth. “Fetch the satchel,
Isaiah.”

“Hold on,” shouted the perturbed “cook and steward.” “What--what in the
nation will I do with this critter?”

The “critter” was David, who was apparently turning somersaults in the
basket.

Zoeth hesitated. Mary-’Gusta settled the question.

“Put him right down, please,” she said. “He’ll be better soon as he’s
put down. He’s never traveled before and it’s kind of strange to him.
He’ll be all right and I’ll come back and let him out pretty soon.
Mayn’t I, Mr.--Mr. Chase?”

“Huh? Yes, yes, you can if you want to, I cal’late. I don’t want to,
that’s sure.”

He deposited the basket on the floor at his feet. Mary-’Gusta looked at
it rather dubiously and for an instant seemed about to speak, but
she did not, and followed Mr. Hamilton from the kitchen, through the
adjoining room, evidently the dining-room, and up a narrow flight of
stairs.

“I cal’late we’ll put her in the spare room, won’t we, Isaiah?” queried
Zoeth, with some hesitation.

Isaiah grunted. “Guess so,” he said, ungraciously, “Ain’t no other place
that I know of. Bed ain’t made, though.”

The spare room was of good size, and smelled shut up and musty, as
spare rooms in the country usually do. It was furnished with a bureau,
washstand, and two chairs, each painted in a robin’s egg blue with
sprays of yellow roses. There were several pictures on the walls, their
subjects religious and mournful. The bed was, as Mr. Chase had said, not
made; in fact it looked as if it had not been made for some time.

“I’ve been cal’latin’ to make up that bed for more’n a month,” explained
Isaiah. “Last time ‘twas unmade was when Zoeth had that minister from
Trumet here of a Saturday and Sunday. Every day I’ve cal’lated to make
up that bed, but I don’t seem to get no time. I’m so everlastin’ busy I
don’t get time for nothin’, somehow.”

“I can make the bed,” declared Mary-’Gusta, eagerly. “I can make beds
real well. Mrs. Hobbs told me so--once.”

The two men looked at each other. Before either could speak a
tremendous racket broke out on the floor below, a sound of something--or
somebody--tumbling about, a roar in a human voice and a feline screech.
Mary-’Gusta rushed for the stairs.

“I knew he would,” she said, frantically. “I was afraid somebody would.
It was RIGHT in front of the door. Oh! David, dear! I’m a-comin’! I’m
a-comin’!”

From the kitchen came Captain Shadrach’s voice. It sounded excited and
angry.

“Who in blazes left that dum critter right under my feet?” he hollered.
“I--I swan, I believe I’ve broke my neck--or his--one or t’other.”

When Zoeth and Isaiah reached the kitchen they found the Captain sitting
in a chair, rubbing his knees, and Mary-’Gusta seated on the floor
beside the open basket, hugging the frightened and struggling David.

“I--I guess he’s all right,” panted the child. “I was so afraid he’d be
killed. You ain’t killed, are you, David?”

David appeared to be remarkably sound and active. He wriggled from his
owner’s arms and bolted under the stove.

“No; he’s all right,” said Mary-’Gusta. “Isn’t it nice he ain’t hurt,
Mr.--I mean Cap’n Gould?”

Captain Shad rubbed his knee. “Um--yes,” he said, with elaborate
sarcasm; “it’s lovely. Course I don’t mind breakin’ both MY legs, but if
that cat had been--er--bruised or anything I should have felt bad. Well,
Isaiah,” he added, tartly, turning to the grinning “steward,” “are them
fried potatoes of yours real or just in your mind?”

“Eh? Why--why they’re right there on the stove, Cap’n Shad.”

“Want to know! Then suppose you put ‘em on the table. I’m hungry and I’d
like to eat one more square meal afore somethin’ else happens to finish
me altogether. By fire! if this ain’t been a day! First that chair, and
then that will and letter of Marcellus’s, and then this. Humph! Come on,
all hands, let’s eat supper. I need somethin’ solid to brace me up for
tomorrow’s program; if it’s up to this, I’ll need strength to last it
through. Come on!”

That first supper in the white house by the shore was an experience for
Mary-’Gusta. Mrs. Hobbs, in spite of her faultfinding and temper, had
been a competent and careful housekeeper. Meals which she prepared were
well cooked and neatly served. This meal was distinctly different.
There was enough to eat--in fact, an abundance--fried cod and the fried
potatoes and hot biscuits and dried-apple pie; but everything was put
upon the table at the same time, and Mr. Chase sat down with the others
and did not even trouble to take off his apron. The tablecloth was not
very clean and the knives and forks and spoons did not glitter like
those the child had been accustomed to see.

Even Mr. Hamilton, to whom most of the things of this world--his beloved
store excepted--seemed to be unessential trivialities, spoke of the
table linen.

“Seems to me,” he observed, in his gentle and hesitating way, “this
tablecloth’s sort of spotted up. Don’t you think so, Shadrach?”

Captain Shad’s reply was emphatic and to the point.

“Looks as if ‘twas breakin’ out with chicken-pox,” he replied. “Ain’t we
got a clean one in the locker, Isaiah?”

Mr. Chase’s face assumed an aggrieved expression.

“Course we have,” he answered, “but I didn’t know you was goin’ to have
company.”

“Neither did we. But we could stand a clean table-cloth, even at that.”

“I’ve got somethin’ to do besides changin’ tablecloths every day.”

“Every day! Every Thanksgivin’ Day, you mean. This one--”

“Now, look-a-here, Cap’n Shad; you know well as I do that Sarah J.
never come to do the washin’ last week. She was down with the grip and
couldn’t move. If you expect me to do washin’ as well as cook and sweep
and keep house and--and shovel snow, and--”

“Shovel snow! What kind of talk’s that? There ain’t been any snow since
February.”

“Don’t make no difference. When there was I shoveled it, didn’t I? It
ain’t no use; I try and try, but I can’t give satisfaction and I might’s
well quit. I don’t have to stay here and slave myself to death. I can
get another job. There’s folks in this town that’s just dyin’ to have me
work for em.”

Captain Shadrach muttered something to the effect that if Isaiah did
work for them they might die sooner. Mr. Chase rose from his seat.

“All right,” he said, with dignity. “All right, this settles it. I’m
through. After all the years I sailed cook along with you, Shad Gould,
and after you beggin’ me--yes, sir, beggin’ on your knees, as you might
say, for me to run this house for you long as you lived--after that,
to--to--Good-by. I’ll try not to lay it up against you.”

He was moving--not hastily, but actually moving--toward the kitchen
door. Zoeth, who was evidently much disturbed, rose and laid a hand on
his arm.

“There, there, Isaiah,” he pleaded. “Don’t act so. We ain’t findin’ any
fault. Shadrach wasn’t findin’ fault, was you, Shadrach?”

“No, no, course I wasn’t. Don’t talk so foolish, Isaiah. Nobody wants
you to quit. All I said was--Come back here and set down. Your tea’s
gettin’ all cold.”

To Mary-’Gusta it seemed as if the tea had been at least cool to begin
with. However, Mr. Chase suffered himself to be led back to the table
and attacked his supper in injured silence. Mary-’Gusta offered a
suggestion.

“I guess I could wash a tablecloth,” she said. “I always wash my dolls’
things.”

Her three companions were plainly surprised. The Captain was the first
to speak.

“You don’t say!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, sir, I do. And,” with a glance at the silver, “I can scour
knives and forks and spoons, too. I used to help Mrs. Hobbs scour ‘em
sometimes.”

Even Shadrach had no remark to make. He gazed at the child, then at
Zoeth, and drew a long breath.

As soon as supper was over the Captain and Mr. Hamilton hastened up to
the village and the store.

“You better go to bed pretty soon, Mary-’Gusta,” said Zoeth. “You’re
tired, I know. Isaiah’ll make your bed for you. We’ll be on hand and see
you first thing in the morning. Isaiah’ll go up with you and blow out
your light and all. Good night.”

The Captain said good night also and the pair hurried out.

When at ten o’clock they returned they found Mr. Chase up and awaiting
them. Isaiah had a story to tell.

“I never see a young-one like that in this world,” declared Isaiah. “You
know what she done after you left? Helped me do the dishes. Yes, sir,
by time, that’s what she done. And she wiped ‘em first-rate, too; good
enough to satisfy ME, and you know that means somethin’ ‘cause I ain’t
easy to satisfy. And talk! Say, I never had a child talk same as she
does. How old is she, for the land sakes?”

Zoeth told them the visitor’s age.

“Well, maybe so,” went on Isaiah, “but she don’t talk seven; nigher
seventeen, if you ask me. Pumpin’ me about funerals, she was, and about
folks dyin’ and so on. Said she cal’lated she’d have a doll’s funeral
some time. ‘For mercy sakes, what for?’ I says. ‘Can’t you think up
anything pleasanter’n that to play? That kind of game would give me the
blue creeps!’ She, thought that over--she generally thinks about a thing
for five minutes afore she talks about it--and says she, ‘I know,’ she
says, ‘but a person must go to funerals and so it’s better to get used
to ‘em and know how to behave. I shouldn’t want my dolls,’ she says, ‘to
do things at funerals that make people feel bad and laugh.’ I couldn’t
get that through my head. ‘If they felt bad they wouldn’t laugh, would
they?’ says I. ‘THEY wouldn’t--the ones that felt bad wouldn’t,’ says
she, ‘but others might laugh at them. And that would make the person who
was to blame feel TERRIBLY.’ Now what was all that about? Can you make
any sense of it?”

Captain Shadrach smiled sheepishly. “I cal’late me and Zoeth have an
idea what she was drivin’ at,” he said. “Go on, Isaiah; what else did
she say?”

“What didn’t she say? Wanted to know if I thought God would knock
anybody’s head off that had done wrong, even if they didn’t mean to.
Yes, sir, that’s what she said---if God would knock anybody’s head off.
Mine pretty nigh come off when she said that. I told her that, fur’s I
knew, He wasn’t in the habit of doin’ it. She said that Mrs. Hobbs told
her that if she wasn’t punished for her wickedness in this world she
would be in the next. She was real kind of scared about it, seemed to
me. Now what’s she done that’s wicked, a little critter like her?”

Zoeth said nothing, but he looked vexed and disturbed.

“I’d knock SOMEBODY’S head off if I had my way,” observed Shadrach. “Or
if I didn’t, I’d like to. Where is she now, Isaiah?”

“She’s up in the spare room, asleep I cal’late. And she’s got her dolls
along with her, three on one side and two on t’other. Wanted me to be
sure and wake all hands of ‘em up on time in the mornin’. He, he! She
undressed them dolls, every one of ‘em, afore they turned in. Oh, yes,
and she helped me make the bed, too. She CAN make a bed, blessed if she
can’t. And all the time a-talkin’, one minute like a child and the next
like a forty-year-old woman. She’s the queerest young-one!”

“I guess she’s had a kind of queer bringin’ up,” said Zoeth.

“Where’s that--where’s Saul--er--Elijah--what’s his name--David?” asked
the Captain. “Where’s the cat?”

“He’s out in the barn, locked in. She had to go out along with me when
I toted him there, and kiss him good night and tell him not to be
frightened, and goodness knows what all--you’d think she was that cat’s
mother, to hear her. How long’s she goin’ to stay?”

“Don’t know,” replied Shadrach, hastily. “That ain’t settled yet.”

“How’d you come to fetch her over here? You’re the last ones I
ever thought would be fetchin’ a child to visit you. Say, you ain’t
cal’latin’ to keep her for good, are you?”

Zoeth hesitated. Shadrach’s answer was emphatic.

“Course not,” he snapped. “What do Zoeth and me know about managin’ a
child? Keep her for good, the idea!”

Isaiah chuckled. “‘Cordin’ to my notion,” he said, “you wouldn’t have
to know much. You wouldn’t have to manage her. If she wasn’t managin’
you--yes, and me, too--inside of a month, I’d miss my guess. She’s a
born manager. You ought to see her handle them dolls and that cat.”

When the two partners of Hamilton and Company went upstairs to their
own bedrooms they opened the door of the spare room and peeped in.
Mary-’Gusta’s head and those of the dolls were in a row upon the pillow.
It was a strange sight in that room and that house.

“I declare!” whispered Zoeth. “And this mornin’ we never dreamed of such
a thing. How long this day has been!”

“Judgin’ by the state of my nerves and knees it’s been two year,”
 replied Shadrach. “I’ve aged that much, I swan to man. Humph! I wonder
if Marcellus knows what’s happened.”

His tone was not loud, but it or the lamplight in her face awakened
Mary-’Gusta. She stirred, opened her eyes and regarded them sleepily.

“Is it mornin’?” she asked.

“No, no,” replied Zoeth. “It’s only ten o’clock. Captain Shadrach and
I was goin’ to bed and we looked in to see if you was all right, that’s
all. You must go right to sleep again, dearie.”

“Yes, sir,” said Mary-’Gusta, obediently. Then she added, “I said my
prayers to myself but I’ll say ‘em to you if you want me to.”

The embarrassed Captain would have protested, but the girl’s mind seemed
to be made up.

“I guess I will say ‘em again,” she said. “There’s somethin’ in ‘em
maybe you’d ought to hear.” She closed her eyes. “Please God bless
Father--Oh, I forgot--bless Mrs. Hobbs and Cap’n Gould and Mr. Hamilton.
I thought I’d ask him to bless you, you know, because I’m visitin’
here. And bless David and Rose and Rosette and Emma and Christobel and
Minnehaha. They’re my dolls. And please, God, forgive me for breakin’
the music chair and makin’ it go off, because you know I am very sorry
and won’t do it again. And--and, Oh, yes!--bless Mr. Chase, Amen. You
don’t mind my puttin’ you and Mr. Chase in, do you?”

“No, dearie, not a mite,” said Zoeth.

Captain Shad, looking more embarrassed than ever, shook his head. “Good
night,” said Mary-’Gusta. Zoeth hesitated, then he walked over and
kissed her.

“Good night, little girl,” he said.

“Good night, Mr. Hamilton,” said Mary-’Gusta. Then she turned
expectantly toward the Captain. Shadrach fidgeted, turned to go, and
then, turning back, strode to the bed, brushed the soft cheek with his
rough one and hastened out into the hall. Zoeth followed him, bearing
the lamp. At the door of the Captain’s room, they paused.

“Well, good night, Zoeth,” said Shadrach, brusquely.

“Good night, Shadrach. This--this is queer business for you and me,
ain’t it?”

“I should think ‘twas. Humph! You said this morning that maybe Marcellus
was alongside of us today. If he is he knows what’s happened, don’t he?”

“Perhaps he knows that and more, Shadrach. Perhaps he can see what’ll
happen in the future. Perhaps he knows that, too.”

“Humph! Well, if he does, he knows a heap more’n I do. Good night.”



CHAPTER V


Mary-’Gusta awoke next morning to find the sun shining in at the window
of her bedroom. She had no means of knowing the time, but she was
certain it must be very late and, in consequence, was almost dressed
when Isaiah knocked at the door to tell her breakfast would be ready
pretty soon. A few minutes later she appeared in the kitchen bearing the
pitcher from the washstand in her room.

“What you doin’ with that?” demanded Mr. Chase, who was leaning against
the door-post looking out into the yard.

“I was goin’ to fill it,” said the child. “There wasn’t any water to
wash with.”

Isaiah sniffed. “I ain’t had no time to fill wash pitchers,” he
declared. “That one’s been on my mind for more’n a fortni’t but I’ve
had other things to do. You can wash yourself in that basin in the sink.
That’s what the rest of us do.”

Mary-’Gusta obediently washed in the tin basin and rubbed her face and
hands dry upon the roller towel behind the closet door.

“Am I late for breakfast?” she asked, anxiously.

“No, I guess not. Ain’t had breakfast yet. Cap’n Shad’s out to the barn
‘tendin’ to the horse and Zoeth’s feedin’ the hens. They’ll be in
pretty soon, if we have luck. Course it’s TIME for breakfast, but that’s
nothing. I’m the only one that has to think about time in this house.”

The girl regarded him thoughtfully.

“You have to work awful hard, don’t you, Mr. Chase?” she said.

Isaiah looked at her suspiciously.

“Huh?” he grunted. “Who told you that?”

“Nobody. I just guessed it from what you said.”

“Humph! Well, you guessed right. I don’t have many spare minutes.”

“Yes, sir. Are you a perfect slave?”

“Eh? What?”

“Mrs. Hobbs says she is a perfect slave when she has to work hard.”

“Who’s Mrs. Hobbs?”

“She’s--she keeps house--that is, she used to keep house for my father
over in Ostable. I don’t suppose she will any more now he’s dead. She’ll
be glad, I guess. Perhaps she won’t have to be a perfect slave now.
She used to wear aprons same as you do. I never saw a man wear an apron
before. Do you have to wear one?”

“Hey? Have to? No, course I don’t have to unless I want to.”

Mary-’Gusta reflected.

“I suppose,” she went on, after a moment, “it saves your pants. You’d
get ‘em all spotted up if you didn’t wear the apron. Pneumonia is a good
thing to take out Spots.”

Isaiah was surprised.

“What is?” he asked.

“Pneumonia. . . . No, I don’t think that’s right. It’s pneumonia that
makes you sick. Somethin’ else takes out the spots. I know now; it’s
am-monia. It’s very good for spots but you mustn’t smell the bottle. I
smelled the bottle once and it went right up into my head.”

“What on earth are you talkin’ about? The bottle went up into your
head!”

“No, the ammonia smell did. It was awful; like--like--” she paused,
evidently in search of a simile; “like sneezin’ backwards,” she added.
“It was terrible.”

Isaiah laughed. “I should think ‘twould be,” he declared. “Sneezin’
backwards! Ho, ho! That’s a good one!”

Mary-’Gusta’s eyes were still fixed upon the apron.

“Mr.--I mean Cap’n Gould said you was the cook and steward,” she
observed. “I don’t know as I know what a steward is, exactly. Is it the
one that stews things?”

“Ha, ha!” roared Isaiah. Mary-’Gusta’s dignity was hurt. The color rose
in her cheeks.

“Was it funny?” she asked. “I didn’t know. I know that a cook cooked
things, and a baker baked things, so I thought maybe a steward stewed
‘em.”

Mr. Chase continued to chuckle. The girl considered.

“I see,” she said, with a solemn nod. “It was funny, I guess. I remember
now that a friar doesn’t fry things. He is a--a kind of minister. Friar
Tuck was one in ‘Robin Hood,’ you know. Mrs. Bailey read about him to
me. Do you like ‘Robin Hood,’ Mr. Chase?”

Isaiah said he didn’t cal’late that he knew anybody of that name. The
dialogue was interrupted here by the arrival of Zoeth and, a moment
later, Captain Shadrach. Breakfast was put upon the table in the
dining-room and the quartette sat down to eat.

Mary-’Gusta was quiet during the meal; she answered when spoken to but
the only questions she asked were concerning David.

“He’s all right,” said Captain Shad. “Lively as can be. He’ll have a
good time out in that barn; there’s considerable many mice out there.
Likes mice, don’t he?”

“Yes, sir. He’s a good mouser. Did he look as if he missed me?”

“Eh? Well, I didn’t notice. He never mentioned it if he did. You can
go see him after breakfast. What do you think she can find to do today,
Zoeth?”

Mr. Hamilton had evidently considered the problem.

“I thought maybe she’d like to go up to the store ‘long of you and me,”
 he suggested. “Would you, Mary’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta hesitated. “I’d like to very much,” she said, “only--”

“Only what?”

“Only I’ve got to see to David and the dolls first. Couldn’t I come up
to the store afterwards?”

The Captain answered. “Why, I guess likely you could,” he said. “It’s
straight up the road to the corner. You can see the store from the top
of the hill back here. Isaiah’ll show you the way. But you can ‘tend
to--what’s that cat’s name?--Oh, yes, David--you can ‘tend to David
right off. Isaiah’ll give the critter his breakfast, and the dolls can
wait ‘til noontime, can’t they?”

Mary-’Gusta’s mind was evidently divided between inclination and duty.
Duty won.

“They ain’t dressed yet,” she said, gravely. “And besides they might
think I’d gone off and left ‘em and be frightened. This is a strange
place to them, same as it is to me and David, you know. None of us have
ever been visitin’ before.”

So it was decided that she should wait until her family had been given
parental attention, and come to the store by herself. The partners left
for their place of business and she and Mr. Chase remained at the house.
Her first act, after leaving the table, was to go to the barn and return
bearing the cat in her arms. David ate a hearty breakfast and then,
after enduring a motherly lecture concerning prudence and the danger of
getting lost, was permitted to go out of doors.

Mary-’Gusta, standing in the doorway, gazed after her pet.

“I hope there’s no dogs around here,” she said. “It would be dreadful if
there was a dog.”

Isaiah tried to reassure her. “Oh, I cal’late there ain’t no dog nigh
enough to do any harm,” he said; “besides, most cats can run fast enough
to get out of the way.”

The child shook her head. “I didn’t mean that,” she said. “I meant it
would be dreadful for the dog. David doesn’t have a mite of patience
with dogs. He doesn’t wait to see if they’re nice ones or not, he just
goes for ‘em and then--Oh! He most always goes for ‘em. When he has
kittens he ALWAYS does.”

Mr. Chase’s reply to this illuminating disclosure was that he wanted to
know.

“Yes,” said Mary-’Gusta, “David doesn’t take to dogs, some way. Why
don’t cats like dogs, Mr. Chase?”

Isaiah said that he cal’lated ‘twas the nature of the critters not to.
Mary-’Gusta agreed with him.

“Natures are queer things, ain’t they?” she said, solemnly. “I guess
everybody has a nature, cats and all. Mrs. Hobbs says my nature is a
contrary one. What’s your kind, Mr. Chase?

“Do you suppose,” she said, a few moments later, when the cook and
steward had shown symptoms of doing something beside lean against the
sink and whistle, “do you suppose you could get along for a few minutes
while I went up and dressed my dolls?”

Isaiah turned to stare at her.

“Well,” he stammered, “I--I cal’late maybe I could if I tried hard.
If you don’t beat anything ever I see! What are you doin’ with that
pitcher?”

The girl was holding the wash pitcher under the pump.

“I’m fillin’ it,” she answered. “Then you won’t have to have it on your
mind any more. I’ll hurry back just as fast as I can.”

She hastened out, bearing the brimming pitcher with both hands. Isaiah
gazed after her, muttering a word or two, and then set about clearing
the breakfast table.

She was down again shortly, the two favorites, Rose and Rosette, in her
arms. She placed them carefully in the kitchen chair and bade them be
nice girls and watch mother do the dishes.

“I left the others in the bedroom,” she explained. “Minnehaha ain’t very
well this mornin’. I guess the excitement was too much for her. She is a
very nervous child.”

Isaiah’s evident amusement caused her to make one of her odd changes
from childish make-believe to grown-up practicability.

“Of course,” she added, with gravity, “I know she ain’t really nervous.
She’s just full of sawdust, same as all dolls are, and she couldn’t have
any nerves. But I like to play she’s nervous and delicate. It’s real
handy to say that when I don’t want to take her with me. I’m a nervous,
excitable child myself; Mrs. Hobbs says so. That’s why I’ve hardly ever
been anywhere before, I guess.”

She insisted upon wiping the dishes while Isaiah washed them. Also, she
reminded him that the tablecloth which had been so severely criticized
the previous evening had not as yet been changed. The steward was
inclined to treat the matter lightly.

“Never mind if ‘tain’t,” he said. “It’s good enough for a spell longer.
Let it stay. Besides,” he added, “the washin’ ain’t been done this week
and there ain’t another clean one aboard.”

Mary-’Gusta smiled cheerfully.

“Oh, yes, there is,” she said. “There’s a real nice one in the bottom
drawer of the closet. I’ve been huntin’ and I found it. Come and see.”

She led him into the dining-room and showed him the cloth she had found.

“It’s a real pretty one, I think,” she said. “Shall we put it on, Mr.
Chase?”

“No, no, course not. That’s the best tablecloth. Don’t use that only
when there’s company--or Sundays.”

Mary-’Gusta considered. She counted on her fingers.

“How long have we used this dirty one?” she asked.

“Eh? Oh, I don’t know. Four or five days, maybe.” Then, evidently
feeling that the repetition of the “we” implied a sense of unwarranted
partnership in the household management, he added with dignity, “That
is, I’VE seen fit to use it that long.”

The sarcasm was wasted. The girl smiled and nodded.

“That makes it all right,” she declared. “If we put this one on now
it’ll be Sunday long before it’s time to change. And we can wash the
other one today or tomorrow.”

“Oh, WE can, eh?”

“Yes, sir”

Isaiah looked as if he wished to say something but was at a loss for
words. The Sunday cloth was spread upon the table while he was still
hunting for them.

“And now,” said Mary-’Gusta, “if you’re sure you don’t need me any more
just now I guess I’d like to go up and see the store. May I?”

Site found the store of Hamilton and Company an exceedingly interesting
place. Zoeth and his partner greeted her cordially and she sat down upon
a box at the end of the counter and inspected the establishment. It was
not very large, but there was an amazing variety in its stock. Muslin,
tape, calico, tacks, groceries, cases of shoes, a rack with spools of
thread, another containing a few pocket knives, barrels, half a dozen
salt codfish swinging from nails overhead, some suits of oilskins
hanging beside them, a tumbled heap of children’s caps and hats, even a
glass-covered case containing boxes of candy with placards “1 c. each”
 or “3 for 1 c.” displayed above them.

“Like candy, do you?” asked Mr. Hamilton, noticing her scrutiny of the
case and its contents.

“Yes, sir,” said Mary-’Gusta.

“How about sassafras lozengers? Like them?”

“Yes, sir.”

She was supplied with a roll of the lozenges and munched them gravely.
Captain Shad, who had been waiting on a customer, regarded her with an
amused twinkle.

“Sassafras lozengers are good enough for anybody, eh?” he observed.

“Yes, sir,” replied Mary-’Gusta. Then she added, politely: “Only I guess
these are wintergreen.”

She stayed at the store until noon. Then she walked home with the
Captain whose turn it was to dine first that day. The hiring of Annabel
had been an unusual break in the business routine. Ordinarily but one of
the partners left that store at a time.

“Well,” inquired the Captain, as they walked down the lane, “what do
you think of it? Pretty good store for a place like South Harniss, ain’t
it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I bet you! Different from the Ostable stores, eh?”

“Yes, sir; I--I guess it is.”

“Um-hm. Well, how different?”

Mary-’Gusta took her usual interval for consideration.

“I guess there’s more--more things in it with separate smells to ‘em,”
 she said.

Captain Shad had no remark to make for a moment. Mary-’Gusta, however,
was anxious to please.

“They’re nice smells,” she hastened to add. “I like ‘em; only I never
smelled ‘em all at the same time before. And I like the lozengers VERY
much.”

The two or three days which Captain Shad had set as the limit of the
child’s visit passed; as did the next two or three. She was busy and,
apparently, enjoying herself. She helped Isaiah with the housework, and
although he found the help not altogether unwelcome, he was inclined to
grumble a little at what he called her “pesterin’ around.”

“I never see such a young-one,” he told his employers. “I don’t ask her
to do dishes nor fill pitchers nor nothin’; she just does it on her own
hook.”

“Humph!” grunted Captain Shadrach. “So I judged from what I see. Does it
pretty well, too, don’t she?”

“Um-hm. Well enough, I guess. Yes,” with a burst of candor, “for her
age, she does it mighty well.”

“Then what are you kickin’ about?”

“I ain’t kickin’. Who said I was kickin’? Only--well, all I say is let
her do dishes and such, if she wants to, only--only--”

“Only what?”

“Only I ain’t goin’ to have her heavin’ out hints about what I ought
to do. There’s two skippers aboard this craft now and that’s enough.
By time!” with another burst, “that kid’s a reg’lar born mother. She
mothers that cat and them dolls and the hens already, and I swan to
man I believe she’d like to adopt me. I ain’t goin’ to be mothered and
hinted at to do this and that and put to bed and tucked in by no kid.
I’ll heave up my job first.”

He had been on the point of heaving up his job ever since the days when
he sailed as cook aboard Captain Shadrach’s schooner. When the Captain
retired from the sea for the last time, and became partner and fellow
shopkeeper with Zoeth, Isaiah had retired with him and was engaged to
keep house for the two men. The Captain had balked at the idea of a
female housekeeper.

“Women aboard ship are a dum nuisance,” he declared. “I’ve carried ‘em
cabin passage and I know. Isaiah Chase is a good cook, and, besides, if
the biscuits are more fit for cod sinkers than they are for grub, I
can tell him so in the right kind of language. We don’t want no woman
steward, Zoeth; you hear ME!”

Zoeth, although the Captain’s seafaring language was a trial to his
gentle, churchly soul, agreed with his partner on the main point. His
experience with the other sex had not been such as to warrant further
experiment. So Isaiah was hired and had been cook and steward at the
South Harniss home for many years. But he made it a practice to assert
his independence at frequent intervals, although, as a matter of fact,
he would no more have dreamed of really leaving than his friends and
employers would of discharging him. Mr. Chase was as permanent a fixture
in that house as the ship’s chronometer in the dining-room; and that was
screwed to the wall.

And, in spite of his grumbling, he and Mary-’Gusta were rapidly becoming
fast friends. Shadrach and Zoeth also were beginning to enjoy her
company, her unexpected questions, her interest in the house and the
store, and shrewd, old-fashioned comments on persons and things. She was
a “queer young-one”; they, like the people of Ostable, agreed on that
point, but Mr. Hamilton was inclined to think her ways “sort of takin’”
 and the Captain admitted that maybe they were. What he would not admit
was that the girl’s visit, although already prolonged for a fortnight,
was anything but a visit.

“I presume likely,” hinted Zoeth, “you and me’ll have to give the Judge
some sort of an answer pretty soon, won’t we? He’ll be wantin’ to know
afore long.”

“Know? Know what?”

“Why--why whether we’re goin’ to say yes or no to what Marcellus asked
us in that letter.”

“He does know. Fur’s I’m consarned, he knows. I spoke my mind plain
enough to pound through anybody’s skull, I should think.”

“Yes--yes, I know you did. But, Shadrach, if she don’t stay here for
good where will she stay? She ain’t got anybody else to go to.”

“She is stayin’, ain’t she? She--she’s makin’ us a visit, same as I said
she could. What more do you want? Jumpin’ fire! This fix is your doin’
anyway. ‘Tain’t mine. If you had paid attention to what I said, the
child wouldn’t have been here at all.”

“Now, Shadrach! You know you was the one that would fetch her over that
very day.”

“Oh, blame it onto me, of course!”

“I ain’t blamin’ anybody. But she’s here and we’ve got to decide whether
to send her away or not. Shall we?”

They were interrupted by Mary-’Gusta herself, who entered the barn,
where the discussion took place, a doll under one arm and a very serious
expression on her face.

“Hello!” hailed Zoeth. “What’s the matter?”

Mary-’Gusta seated herself upon an empty cranberry crate. The partners
had a joint interest in a small cranberry bog and the crate was one of
several unused the previous fall.

“There’s nothin’ the matter,” she said, solemnly. “I’ve been thinkin’,
that’s all.”

“Want to know!” observed the Captain. “Well, what made you do anything
as risky as that?”

Mary-’Gusta’s forehead puckered.

“I was playin’ with Jimmie Bacheldor yesterday,” she said, “and he made
me think.”

Abner Bacheldor was the nearest neighbor. His ramshackle dwelling was an
eighth of a mile from the Gould-Hamilton place. Abner had the reputation
of being the meanest man in town; also he had a large family, of which
Jimmie, eight years old, was the youngest.

“Humph!” sniffed Captain Shad. “So Jimmie Bacheldor made you think, eh?
I never should have expected it from one of that tribe. How’d he do it?”

“He asked me about my relations,” said Mary-’Gusta, “and when I said I
hadn’t got any he was awful surprised. He has ever so many, sisters and
brothers and aunts and cousins and--Oh, everything. He thought ‘twas
dreadful funny my not havin’ any. I think I’d ought to have some, don’t
you?”

The partners, looking rather foolish, said nothing for a moment. Then
Zoeth muttered that he didn’t know but she had.

“Yes,” said Mary-’Gusta, “I--I think so. You see I’m--I mean I was a
stepchild ‘long as father was here. Now he’s dead and I ain’t even
that. And I ain’t anybody’s cousin nor nephew nor niece. I just
ain’t anything. I’m different from everybody I know. And--and--” very
solemnly--“I don’t like to be so different.”

Her lip quivered as she said it. Sitting there on the cranberry crate,
hugging her dolls, she was a pathetic little figure. Again the partners
found it hard to answer. Mr. Hamilton looked at the Captain and the
latter, his fingers fidgeting with his watchchain, avoided the look. The
girl went on.

“I was thinking,” she said, “how nice ‘twould have been if I’d had a--a
brother or somebody of my very own. I’ve got children, of course, but
they’re only dolls and a cat. They’re nice, but they ain’t real folks.
I wish I had some real folks. Do you suppose if--if I have to go to
the--the orphans’ home, there’d be anybody there that would be my
relation? I didn’t know but there might be another orphan there who
didn’t have anybody, same as me, and then we could make believe we
was--was cousins or somethin’. That would be better than nothin’,
wouldn’t it?”

Zoeth stepped forward and, bending over, kissed her cheek. “Never you
mind, Mary-’Gusta,” he said. “You ain’t gone there yet and afore you do
maybe Cap’n Shad and I can think up some relations for you.”

“Real relations?” asked Mary-’Gusta, eagerly.

“Well, no, not real ones; I’m afraid we couldn’t do that. But when
it comes to make-believe, that might be different.” He hesitated an
instant, glanced at the Captain, and then added: “I tell you what
you do: you just pretend I’m your relation, a--well, an uncle, that’s
better’n nothin’. You just call me ‘Uncle Zoeth.’ That’ll be a start,
anyhow. Think you’d like to call me ‘Uncle Zoeth’?”

Mary-’Gusta’s eyes shone. “Oh, yes!” she cried. “Then I could tell that
Jimmie Bacheldor I had one relation, anyhow. And shall I call Cap’n
Gould ‘Uncle Shadrach’?”

Zoeth turned to his companion. “Shall she, Shadrach?” he asked, with a
mischievous smile.

If it had not been for that smile the Captain’s reply might have been
different. But the smile irritated him. He strode to the door.

“Zoeth Hamilton,” he snapped, “how long are you goin’ to set here? If
you ain’t got anything else to attend to, I have. I’m goin’ up to the
store. It’s pretty nigh eight o’clock in the mornin’ and that store
ain’t open yet.”

“Want to come along, Mary-’Gusta?” asked Zoeth. “She can come, can’t
she, Shad?”

“Yes, yes, course she can,” more genially. “Cal’late there’s some of
those sassafras--checkerberry lozengers left yet. Come on, Mary-’Gusta,
if you want to.”

But the child shook her head. She looked wistful and a trifle
disappointed.

“I--I guess maybe I’d better stay here,” she said. “I ought to see to
Minnehaha’s sore throat. I’m goin’ to put some red flannel ‘round it;
Mr. Chase says he cal’lates he knows where there is some. Good-by, Uncle
Zoeth. Good-by--er--Cap’n Gould.”

The partners did not converse on the way to the store. Zoeth made an
attempt, but Shadrach refused to answer. He was silent and, for him,
grumpy all the forenoon. Another fortnight passed before the subject
of the decision which must, sooner or later, be given Judge Baxter was
mentioned by either of the pair.



CHAPTER VI


Mary-’Gusta was growing accustomed to the life in the South Harniss
home. She found it a great improvement over that which she had known
on Phinney’s Hill at Ostable. There was no Mrs. Hobbs to nag and find
fault, there were no lonely meals, no scoldings when stockings were
torn or face and hands soiled. And as a playground the beach was a
wonderland.

She and Jimmie Bacheldor picked up shells, built sand forts, skipped
flat stones along the surface of the water at high tide, and picked up
scallops and an occasional quahaug at low water. Jimmie was, generally
speaking, a satisfactory playmate, although he usually insisted upon
having his own way and, when they got into trouble because of this
insistence, did not permit adherence to the truth to obstruct the path
to a complete alibi. Mary-’Gusta, who had been taught by the beloved
Mrs. Bailey to consider lying a deadly sin, regarded her companion’s
lapses with alarmed disapproval, but she was too loyal to contradict and
more than once endured reproof when the fault was not hers. She had had
few playmates in her short life and this one, though far from perfect,
was a joy.

They explored the house together and found in the big attic and the
stuffy, shut-up best parlor the most fascinating of treasure hordes. The
former, with its rows of old trunks and sea chests under the low eaves,
the queer garments and discarded hats hanging on the nails, the dusky
corners where the light from the little windows scarcely penetrated even
on a sunny May afternoon, was the girl’s especial Paradise. Here she
came to play by herself on rainy days or when she did not care for
company. Her love of make-believe and romance had free scope here and
with no Jimmie to laugh and make fun of her imaginings she pretended to
her heart’s content. Different parts of that garret gradually, in her
mind, came to have names of their own. In the bright spot, under the
north window, was Home, where she and the dolls and David--when the
cat could be coaxed from prowlings and mouse hunts to quiet and
slumber--lived and dined and entertained and were ill or well or happy
or frightened, according to the day’s imaginative happenings. Sometimes
Home was a castle, sometimes a Swiss Family Robinson cave, sometimes
a store which transacted business after the fashion of Hamilton and
Company. And in other more or less fixed spots and corners were Europe,
to which the family voyaged occasionally; Niagara Falls--Mrs. Bailey’s
honeymoon had been spent at the real Niagara; the King’s palace; the den
of the wicked witch; Sherwood Forest; and Jordan, Marsh and Company’s
store in Boston.

Jimmie Bacheldor liked the garret well enough, but imagination was not
his strongest quality and the best parlor had more charms for him.
In that parlor were the trophies of Captain Shadrach’s seafaring
days--whales’ teeth, polished and with pictures of ships upon them; the
model of a Chinese junk; a sea-turtle shell, flippers, head and all,
exactly like a real turtle except, as Mary-’Gusta said, ‘it didn’t have
any works’; a glass bottle with a model of the bark Treasure Seeker
inside; an Eskimo lance with a bone handle and an ivory point; a
cocoanut carved to look like the head and face of a funny old man; a
Cuban machete; and a set of ivory chessmen with Chinese knights and
kings and queens, all complete and set out under a glass cover.

The junk and the lance and the machete and the rest had a fascination
for Jimmie, as they would have had for most boys, but for him the
parlor’s strongest temptation lay in the fact that the children were
forbidden to play there. Zoeth and the Captain, having been brought up
in New England families of the old-fashioned kind, revered their parlor
as a place too precious for use. They, themselves, entered it not
oftener than three times a year, and Isaiah went there only when he
felt inclined to dust, which was not often. Shadrach had exhibited its
treasures to the children one Sunday morning when Zoeth was at church,
but he cautioned them against going there by themselves. “You’d be
liable to break somethin’,” he told them, “and some of them things in
there you couldn’t buy with money. They’ve been brought from pretty much
everywheres in creation, those things have.”

But, in spite of the warning, or because of it, Jimmie was, as Isaiah
would have said, “possessed” to visit that parlor. He coaxed and teased
and dared Mary-’Gusta to take advantage of the steward’s stepping out of
the house or being busy in the kitchen to open that parlor door and go
in with him and peep at and handle the treasures. Mary-’Gusta protested,
but young Bacheldor called her a coward and declared he wouldn’t play
with cowards and ‘fraid-cats, so rather than be one of those detestable
creatures she usually swallowed her scruples and followed the tempter.
It was a risk, of course, but a real adventure; and, like many
adventurers, the pair came to grief. They took David into the parlor and
the cat wriggled from its owner’s arms, jumped upon the table, knocked
the case containing the chessmen to the floor, and not only broke the
glass but decapitated one of the white knights.

Even the mild Mr. Hamilton was incensed when Isaiah told the news
at supper time. And Captain Shad, who had bought those chessmen at
Singapore from the savings of a second mate’s wages, lost patience
entirely.

“Didn’t I tell you young-ones not to go into that parlor?” he demanded.

“Yes, sir,” admitted Mary-’Gusta, contritely.

“Yes, by fire, I did! And you went just the same.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you fetched that everlastin’--er--Goliath in there, too. Don’t you
know you’ve been a bad girl?”

“Ye--yes, sir.”

Zoeth protested. “She ain’t a bad girl, Shadrach,” he said. “You know
she ain’t.”

“Well--er--maybe she ain’t, generally speakin’. I cal’late ‘twas that
Bacheldor brat that was responsible; but just the same I ain’t goin’
to have it happen any more. Mary-’Gusta, if you and that
consarned--what’s-his-name--Jimmie--go into that parlor again, unless
Isaiah or one of us are with you, I--I--by the jumpin’ Judas, me and
Zoeth won’t let you go to the Sunday school picnic. There! I mean that
and so does Zoeth. Shut up, Zoeth! You do mean it, too. You know mighty
well either your dad or mine would have skinned us alive if we’d done
such a thing when we was young-ones. And,” turning to the culprit, “if
you fetch that cat in there, I’ll--I’ll--I don’t know what I’ll do.”

The Sunday school picnic was to be held on the second Saturday in
June and Mary-’Gusta wished to attend it. She had never been to a real
picnic, though the other children in Ostable had described such outings
in glowing colors. Now, although she, a visitor, was not a regular
member of the South Harniss Methodist Sunday school, the superintendent
personally had invited her to go and Zoeth and the Captain had given
their consent. Not to go would be a heart-breaking calamity. She finally
resolved to be very, very good and obedient from that time on.

But good resolutions are broken occasionally, even by grown-ups, and in
childhood much can be forgotten in nine days. So, on the afternoon of
the tenth day, which was the day before the picnic, Mary-’Gusta walking
alone in the field which separated the Gould-Hamilton property from that
of Abner Bacheldor, Jimmie’s father--Mary-’Gusta, walking in that field,
was depressed and melancholy. Her state of mind was indicated by the
fact that she had left all her dolls, even Rose and Rosette, at home.
She felt guilty and wicked and conscience-stricken. She had been a bad
girl; only one other knew how bad she had been and he, being guilty
likewise, would not betray her. But at home Isaiah Chase was, as he
said, “heatin’ himself to a bile” baking apple turnovers for her to
take to the picnic. And Captain Shadrach had announced his intention
of bringing her, from the store, candy and bananas to go into the lunch
basket with the turnovers and sandwiches and cake. And the Captain had
that very day called her a good girl. If he only knew!

There had been a flurry of excitement in the kitchen just after dinner.
Mr. Bacheldor had appeared at the door with the request that he might
“borrer the loan of Cap’n Gould’s shotgun.” The day before, at a quarter
after four--Mr. Bacheldor was certain as to the time because he had been
“layin’ down two or three minutes on the sofy afore goin’ out to look at
some wood there was to cut in the shed, and I’d just got up and looked
at the clock afore I looked out of the settin’-room winder”--looking out
of that window he had seen a cat running from his henyard with one of
his recently hatched Plymouth Rock chickens in its mouth.

“If I’d had a gun then,” declared Abner, “I could have blowed the
critter to thunder-and-gone. But I’ll get him next time. Let me have the
gun, will you, Isaiah? I know Shad’ll say it’s all right when you tell
him.”

That shotgun was a precious arm. It had been given to the Captain years
before by the officers of a sinking schooner, whom Shadrach’s boat’s
crew, led by Shadrach himself, had rescued at a big risk off the Great
South School. It had the Captain’s name, with an inscription and date,
on a silver plate fastened to the stock. Isaiah was not too willing to
lend it, but chicken stealing is a capital offense in South Harniss,
as it is in most rural communities, and the cat caught in the act is
summarily executed.

So Mr. Chase went to the Captain’s room and returned with the gun.

“There you be, Ab,” he said. “Hope you get the critter.”

“Oh, I’ll get him all right, don’t you fret. Say, Isaiah--er--er--” Mr.
Bacheldor hesitated. “Say,” he went on, “you couldn’t let me have two or
three cartridges, could you? I ain’t got none in the house.”

Isaiah looked more doubtful than ever, but he brought the cartridges.
After making sure, by inquiry and inspection, that they were loaded, the
borrower started to go.

“Oh, I say, Ab,” Mr. Chase called after him; “know whose cat ‘twas?”

Mr. Bacheldor did not appear to hear, so the question was repeated.
Abner answered without turning.

“I know,” he declared. “I know all right,” and hurried on. Isaiah looked
after him and sniffed disdainfully.

“Anybody on earth but that feller,” he said, “would have been ashamed
to beg cartridges after beggin’ the gun, but not Ab Bacheldor, no sir!
Wonder he didn’t want to borrer my Sunday hat to practice shootin’ at.”

Mary-’Gusta considered shooting a cat the height of cruelty and
dreadfulness but she was aware of the universal condemnation of chicken
stealing and kept her thought to herself. Besides, she had her own
wickedness to consider.

She walked slowly on across the field, bound nowhere in particular,
thinking hard and feeling very wretched and miserable. The pleasure of
the next day, the day she had been anticipating, was spoiled already
for her. If she went to that picnic without making a full and free
confession she knew she would feel as mean and miserable as she was
feeling now. And if she did confess, why then--

Her meditations were interrupted in a startling manner. She was midway
of the field, upon the other side of which was a tumbledown stone wall,
and a cluster of wild cherry trees and bayberry bushes marking the
boundary of the Bacheldor land. From behind the wall and bushes sounded
the loud report of a gun; then the tramp of running feet and an excited
shouting:

“You missed him,” screamed a voice. “You never hit him at all. There he
goes! There he goes! Give him t’other barrel quick!”

Mary-’Gusta, who had been startled nearly out of her senses by the shot
and the shouting, stood perfectly still, too surprised and frightened
even to run. And then out of the bushes before her darted a scared
tortoise-shell cat, frantically rushing in her direction. The cat was
David.

“He’s hidin’ in them bushes,” shouted the voice again. “Stay where you
be, Pop. I’ll scare him out and then you give it to him.”

Mary-’Gusta stood still no longer. The sight of her idolized pet running
for his life was enough to make her forget fright and everything else.
She too ran, but not toward home.

“David!” she screamed. “Oh, David! Come here! David!”

David may have recognized the voice, but if so the recognition made no
difference. The cat kept straight on. The girl ran across its path.
It dodged and darted into a beachplum thicket, a cul-de-sac of tangled
branches and thick grass. Before the animal could extricate itself
Mary-’Gusta had seized it in her arms. It struggled and fought for
freedom but the child held it tight.

“David!” she panted. “Oh, don’t, David! Please be still! They shan’t
hurt you; I won’t let ‘em. Please!”

Through the bushes above the wall appeared the freckled face of
Con--christened Cornelius--Bacheldor. Con was Jimmie’s elder brother.

“He must have got through,” he shouted. “He--no, there he is. She’s got
him, Pop. Make her put him down.”

Mr. Abner Bacheldor crashed through to his son’s side. He was carrying a
gun.

“You put that cat down,” screamed Con, threateningly.

Mary-’Gusta said nothing. Her heart was beating wildly but she held the
struggling David fast.

“It’s that kid over to Shad Gould’s,” declared Con. “Make her give you a
shot, Pop.”

Mr. Abner Bacheldor took command of the situation.

“Here, you!” he ordered. “Fetch that critter here. I want him.”

Still Mary-’Gusta did not answer. She was pale and her small knees
shook, but she neither spoke nor moved from where she stood. And her
grip upon the cat tightened.

“Fetch that cat here,” repeated Abner. “We’re goin’ to shoot him; he’s
been stealin’ our chickens.”

At this accusation and the awful threat accompanying it, Mary-’Gusta
forgot her terror of the Bacheldors, of the gun, forgot everything
except her pet and its danger.

“I shan’t!” she cried frantically. “I shan’t! He ain’t! He’s my cat and
he don’t steal chickens.”

“Yes, he does, too,” roared Con. “Pop and I see him doin’ it.”

“You didn’t! I don’t believe it! When did you see him?”

“Yesterday afternoon. We see him, didn’t we, Pop?”

“You bet your life we did,” growled Abner. “And he was on my land again
just now; comin’ to steal more, I cal’late. Fetch him here.”

“I--I shan’t! He shan’t be shot, even if he did steal ‘em. And I know
he didn’t. If you shoot him I’ll--I’ll tell Uncle Zoeth and--and Cap’n
Gould. And I won’t let you have him anyhow. I won’t,” with savage
defiance. “If you shoot him you’ll have to shoot me, too.”

Con climbed over the wall. “You just wait, Pop,” he said. “I’ll take him
away from her.”

But his father hesitated. There were certain reasons why he thought it
best not to be too arbitrary.

“Hold on, Con,” he said. “Look here, sis, I’m sorry to have to kill your
cat, but I’ve got to. He steals chickens and them kind of cats has to be
shot. I see him myself yesterday afternoon. I told Isaiah Chase myself
that . . . why, you was there and heard me! You heard me tell how I was
lookin’ out of the winder at quartet past four and see that cat--”

Mary-’Gusta interrupted. Her expression changed. She was still
dreadfully frightened but in her tone was a note of relief, of confident
triumph.

“You didn’t see him,” she cried. “It wasn’t David; it wasn’t this cat
you saw. I KNOW it wasn’t.”

“Well, I know it was. Now don’t argue no more. You fetch that cat here
or I’ll have Con take him away from you. Hurry up!”

“I know it wasn’t David,” began Mary-’Gusta. Then, as Con started in her
direction, she turned and ran, ran as hard as she could, bearing David
in her arms. Con ran after her.

It was the cat that saved the situation and its life at the same time.
Mary-’Gusta was near the edge of the pine grove and Con was close at her
heels. David gave one more convulsive, desperate wriggle, slid from the
girl’s arms and disappeared through the pines like a gray projectile.

Mary-’Gusta collapsed on the grass and burst into frightened, hysterical
sobs. Con took one or two steps after the flying cat and gave up the
chase. Mr. Bacheldor, from behind the wall, swore emphatically and at
length.

“Come here, Con, you fool,” he yelled, when the expression of his true
feelings had reached a temporary end. “Come here! let the kid alone.
We’ll get into trouble if we don’t. As for that dummed cat, we’ll get
him next time. He’ll see his finish. Come on, I tell you.”

Con reluctantly rejoined his parent and the pair departed, muttering
threats. Mary-’Gusta, the tears running down her cheeks, ran home to
find David and plead with Mr. Chase for her pet’s safety and protection
from its persecutors. But Isaiah had gone up to the store on an errand.
David, however, was crouching, a trembling heap, under the kitchen
stove. The girl pulled him out, fled with him to the garret, and there,
with the door locked, sat shivering and sobbing until Captain Shad came
home for supper that night.

The Captain’s first question when he arrived was concerning
Mary-’Gusta’s whereabouts. Isaiah said he had not seen her for two hours
or more. And just then the child herself appeared, entering the kitchen
from the door leading to the back stairs.

“Hello, Mary-’Gusta!” hailed Shadrach. “Thought you was lost. Supper’s
about ready to put on the table. Why, what’s the matter? Been cryin’,
ain’t you?”

Mary-’Gusta went straight to him and clutched his hand. “Please, Cap’n
Gould,” she begged, “will you come into the sittin’-room a minute? I--I
want to ask you somethin’. I want you to do somethin’ for me, will you?”

“Sartin sure I will. What is it?”

Mary-’Gusta glanced at Isaiah’s face. “I’d--I’d rather tell you, just
you alone,” she said. “Please come into the sittin’-room.”

She tugged at his hand. Much puzzled, he followed her through the
dining-room and into the sitting-room.

“Well, Mary-’Gusta,” he said, kindly, “now what is it? What’s the big
secret?”

Mary-’Gusta closed the door. She was very solemn and her lip quivered
but she did not hesitate.

“It’s about David,” she said. “Somethin’s happened to David. I--I’m
goin’ to tell you about it, Cap’n Gould.”

She told of her adventure and of David’s peril. Shadrach listened. When
he heard of the accusation which was the cause of the affair he shook
his head.

“My, my!” he exclaimed. “That’s pretty bad, that is. I’d hate to have
your cat killed, Mary-’Gusta, land knows I would. But if the critter’s a
chicken thief--”

“But he ain’t! I KNOW he ain’t!”

“Humph! You can’t always tell, you know cats are cats and--”

“But I know David wasn’t the cat that did it. I KNOW he wasn’t”

“Oh, you know, do you. Hm! you do seem pretty sartin, that’s a fact. How
do you know?”

The girl looked at him. “Please, Cap’n Gould,” she said, “I--I’d rather
tell you over to Mr. Bacheldor’s. That’s what I wanted to ask you; won’t
you please go right over to Mr. Bacheldor’s with me? I--I’ll tell you
how I know when we’re there.”

Captain Shadrach was more puzzled than ever. “You want me to go to Ab
Bacheldor’s with you?” he repeated. “You want to tell me somethin’ over
there? Why not tell me here?”

“‘Cause--‘cause Mr. Bacheldor thinks David did it and he’ll kill him.
He said he would. I want HIM to know David wasn’t the one. And if, if
you’re there when he knows, he’ll know YOU know he knows and he won’t
dast shoot at David any more. Please come, Cap’n Gould. Please, right
away.”

Shadrach tugged at his beard. “Humph!” he muttered. “There’s more
‘knows’ in that than there is knots in a snarled fish line. You want me
as a witness, nigh’s I can make out. Is that it?”

“Yes, sir. Will you go with me right off?”

“Right off, eh? Can’t it wait till after supper?”

“I--I don’t want any supper. PLEASE!”

So supper was postponed, in spite of Isaiah’s grumblings, and the
Captain and Mary-’Gusta started forthwith for the home of their nearest
neighbor. Mr. Chase, his curiosity aroused, would have asked a dozen
questions, but Mary-’Gusta would neither answer nor permit Shadrach to
do so.

The Bacheldor family were at supper when the callers arrived. Abner
himself opened the door and he looked rather embarrassed when he saw the
pair on the steps. Captain Shad did not wait for an invitation to enter;
he walked in and Mary-’Gusta followed him.

“Now then, Ab,” said the Captain, briskly, “what’s this about our cat
stealin’ your chickens?”

Mr. Bacheldor and Con, separately and together, burst into a tirade of
invective against the offending David.

“That’s all right, that’s all right,” broke in the Captain, crisply. “If
that cat stole your chicken it ought to be shot. But are you sure of the
cat? Do you know ours did it? This girl here says ‘twasn’t ours at all.”

“I know a dum sight better,” began Abner, savagely. But this time it was
Mary-’Gusta who interrupted.

“Cap’n Gould,” she said, “please ask him what time it was yesterday
afternoon when he saw the cat run off with the chicken.”

Bacheldor did not wait to be asked.

“‘Twas quarter-past four yesterday afternoon,” he declared. “I know the
time.”

“I don’t see what the time’s got to do with it,” put in Shadrach.

“But it’s got everything to do with it,” urged Mary-’Gusta. “Honest
truly it has.”

“Oh, it has, eh? Why?”

“‘Cause--‘cause--Ask him if he’s sure?”

Again Abner did not wait. “Course I’m sure,” he replied. “I told Isaiah
Chase--yes, and I told that young-one, too--that I looked at the clock
just afore I looked out of the window and see the critter in the very
act. Yes, and Con see him too.”

Mary-’Gusta stamped her foot in triumph. “Then it wasn’t David,”
 she said. “It wasn’t David at all. ‘Twas somebody else’s cat, Mr.
Bacheldor.”

“Somebody else’s nothin’! Don’t you suppose I know--”

“Hold on! Heave to, Ab. Mary-’Gusta, how do you know ‘twasn’t our cat?”

“‘Cause--‘cause David was with me from four o’clock till most five;
that’s how. He was in the--in our house with me. So,” triumphantly, “he
couldn’t have been anywhere else, could he?”

Con and his father both began a protest, but Shadrach cut it short.

“Keep still, for mercy sakes,” he ordered. “This ain’t Shoutin’
Methodist camp meetin’. Let’s get soundin’s here. Now, Mary-’Gusta, you
say the cat was with you from four till five; you’re sure of that?”

“Yes, sir. I know because Mr. Chase had gone out and we knew he wouldn’t
be back until five ‘cause he said he wouldn’t. So we looked at the clock
before we went in.”

“Went in? Went in where?”

The girl hung her head. It was evident that the answer to this question
was one she dreaded to make. But she made it, nevertheless.

“Before we went into--into the parlor,” she said, faintly.

Captain Shad was the only one of her hearers who grasped the full
significance of this confession. No, there was one other, and he turned
red and then white.

“The parlor?” repeated the Captain, slowly. “The best parlor?”

“Ye-yes, sir.”

“Do you mean you went into the best parlor over to our house and--AND
TOOK THAT CAT IN WITH YOU?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I swan to man! Did you forget what I told you would happen if you
went into that parlor again? And especially if you lugged that cat in?
Did you forget that?”

“N-no, sir. I didn’t forget it. You--you said I couldn’t go to the
picnic.”

Shadrach shook his head. “Well,” he groaned, “if this don’t beat the
nation! What under the sun did you do it for?”

“‘Cause--‘cause we wanted to play pirates with--with the swords and
things,” faltered Mary-’Gusta. “And we took David ‘cause he was goin’ to
be one of the passengers on the ship we took. But,” with a sudden return
to the main point at issue, “that proves David wasn’t the cat he saw,
the one that stole his chicken.”

The Captain looked at her. “By fire, it does, that’s right,” he
muttered. Abner Bacheldor roared in indignation.

“It don’t prove nothin’,” he cried. “All it proves is that the kid’s a
liar. She’s lyin’ so’s to save that dummed thief of a cat. All kids’ll
lie when they think they can make somethin’ out of it.”

Shadrach grunted. “Maybe so,” he said, “but I ain’t caught this one in
a lie so far. And I doubt if she’s lyin’ now. Now, Mary-’Gusta, is
there any way you can prove you was in that parlor, and--what’s his
name--David was there at the time you say? Is there?”

Again Mary-’Gusta hesitated. Her eyes wandered about the faces in the
room, until their gaze rested upon the face of Jimmie Bacheldor. And
Jimmie looked white and scared.

“N-no, sir, I--I guess not,” she faltered.

“I guess not, too,” declared Con, with a sarcastic laugh.

But the Captain was suspicious. He had seen the child’s look.

“Hold on,” he commanded. “There’s more to this than a blind man could
see through a board fence. Mary-’Gusta, was there anybody else except
David in that parlor along with you? Was there?”

Mary-’Gusta looked at the floor.

“Yes, sir,” she faltered.

“So? I kind of had an idea there might be. Who was it?”

Again the look and then: “I--I ain’t goin’ to tell.”

Con laughed once more. “You bet she ain’t,” he exclaimed. “She can’t.
The whole yarn’s a lie. Don’t pay no attention to it, Pop.”

Shadrach turned sharply in his direction. “I’M payin’ attention to it,”
 he snapped, “and that’s enough. So you ain’t goin’ to tell, Mary-’Gusta,
eh? Remember now, if you do tell it’ll prove your story’s true and
David’ll come out on top. Think it over.”

Evidently Mary-’Gusta was thinking it over. Her eyes filled with tears,
but she shook her head.

The Captain looked down at her. “Keepin’ mum, eh?” he said. “Well,
that’s all right. I cal’late we’re pretty good guessers, some of us,
anyway. Jim,” with a sudden look straight at the youngest member of
his neighbor’s family, who was fidgeting with his spoon and acting
remarkably nervous, “what have you got to say? Have a good time in that
parlor playin’ pirates, did you?”

Jimmie gasped. The suddenness of the attack knocked his defenses flat.
He gurgled, stammered, and then broke into a wail of distress.

“I--I didn’t mean to,” he sobbed, wildly. “‘Twas her. She said do it; I
never. I--I--”

“Why, Jimmie Bacheldor!” exclaimed Mary-’Gusta, shocked into protest by
her fellow culprit’s distortion of the truth. “How can you say so! What
a story! You know--”

“I guess he knows,” broke in Shadrach. “And I cal’late I know, too.
Now then, Jim, what time was it when you looked at the clock? Shut up,
Abner, let the boy answer. Tell us, Jim; nobody’ll hurt you.”

“It--it was four o’clock,” hollered Jimmie, in agony. “I--I never done
it a purpose. I won’t do so no more.”

“No, I don’t cal’late you will. Cal’late you won’t have a chance. Well,
Ab, I guess we’ve proved our client’s case. Next time you go out cat
shootin’ you better be sure you’re gunnin’ for the right one. Come on,
Mary-’Gusta.”

Con Bacheldor sprang to his feet.

“Pop,” he shouted, “be you goin’ to let ‘em go this way? And that cat
stealin’ our chickens right along. Ain’t you goin’ to tell ‘em you’ll
kill the critter next time he comes on our land?”

Abner was silent. He seemed oddly anxious to see the last of his
visitors. It was the Captain who spoke.

“No, Con,” he said, crisply, “he ain’t goin’ to tell me that. And you
listen while I tell YOU somethin’. If that cat of ours gets hurt or
don’t show up some time I’ll know who’s responsible. And then--well,
then maybe I’LL go gunnin’. Good night, all hands.”

All the way back across the fields and through the grove the Captain was
silent. Mary-’Gusta clinging to his hand was silent too, dreading what
she knew was sure to follow. When they entered the kitchen Shadrach
turned to her:

“Well, Mary-’Gusta,” he said, “I’m glad your cat’s turned out to be no
chicken thief, but--but that don’t alter what you did, does it?”

“No, sir,” stammered the girl.

“No, I’m afraid it don’t. I told you what would happen if you went into
that parlor, and you went just the same. I cal’late you know what to
expect, don’t you?”

“Ye-yes, sir,” in a low tone. “You mean I can’t go to the Sunday school
picnic.”

Shadrach cleared his throat. He was not enjoying this episode, as a
matter of fact his unhappiness was almost as keen as the child’s. But as
a boy he had been reared in the old-fashioned way, and he felt that he
had a duty to perform.

“I’m afraid that’s what I mean,” he said, gravely. “Now set down and
have your supper.”

Mary-’Gusta tried hard to be brave, but the disappointment was too
great. The tears streamed down her cheeks and she ran from the room.
Shadrach strode after her.

“Here!” he called. “Mary-’Gusta, where are you goin’? Come back and have
your supper.”

But Mary-’Gusta did not come back. She was already on the stairs.

“I--I don’t want any supper,” she sobbed. “Please, oh, PLEASE don’t make
me eat it.”

The Captain hesitated, turned back, and jerked his own chair to the
table.

“Well,” he demanded brusquely, “the supper’s here and somebody’s got to
eat it, I cal’late. Fetch it on, Isaiah! What are you starin’ at me like
that for, you dumbhead?”

Isaiah brought in the supper. Then he demanded to know what the fuss was
all about. Shadrach told him. Isaiah’s chief interest seemed to center
on the attempted shooting.

“Why the son of a swab!” he cried, excitedly. “Of all the cheek I ever
heard of in my life that Abner Bacheldor’s got the heft! To borrer a
man’s own gun--yes, and cartridges, too--to kill that man’s own cat
with! Of all the solid brass! He never told me ‘twas our cat. All he
wanted to know was could he borrer your gun and somethin’ to load it
with. If I’d known--”

His employer interrupted him. “WHAT?” he roared. “Do you mean to say
that Ab Bacheldor came here and borrowed MY gun to--to do what he done
with?”

“Sartin sure he did. And only this very afternoon, too.”

“And did he know whose cat ‘twas?”

“He said he did. Mary-’Gusta was here ‘long with me when he come. I
says: ‘Know whose cat ‘tis?’ and says he, ‘I know all right!’ I thought
he acted kind of sheepish and funny. I--Here! where you goin’?”

The Captain was on his feet and his cap was in his hand.

“Goin’!” he snarled. “I’m going to make another call on Abner. And,”
 with his hand on the latch, “if you hear somebody bein’ murdered over in
that direction you needn’t call the constable, neither.”

“But--but, hold on, Cap’n Shad! You ain’t finished your own supper yet
and Zoeth’s waiting up to the store for you to come back so’s he can
come down and get his.”

The reply was emphatic and, in its way, conclusive.

“To the blue brimstone with the supper!” roared Shadrach. “It can wait
and so can Zoeth. If he can’t he can do the next best.”

He was absent for half an hour. When he returned Mr. Hamilton was in the
dining-room. Shadrach entered, bearing the precious shotgun. He stood it
carefully in the corner. There was a satisfied look in his eye.

“For goodness’ sake, Shadrach!” exclaimed Zoeth, “what have you been
thinkin’ of? There I was waitin’ and waitin’ and hankerin’ and hankerin’
and no you nor no supper. I had to lock up the store finally. ‘Twas
either that or starve. I ain’t a fault-finder, generally speakin’, but I
have to eat, same as other folks.”

His partner paid not the least attention. His first remark was in the
form of a question addressed to Mr. Chase.

“Look here, Isaiah,” he demanded, “did I understand you to say that
Mary-’Gusta was with you when that sculpin come to borrow my gun?”

“Yup. She was here.”

“And she knew that he was goin’ to shoot a cat with it?”

“Sartin, she heard him say so.”

Shadrach strode to the mantel, took from it a hand-lamp, lighted the
lamp and with it in his hand walked from the room and ascended the
stairs. Zoeth called after him, but he did not answer.

He entered Mary-’Gusta’s room. The child was in bed, the dolls beside
her. She was not asleep, however. The tear stains on her cheeks and the
dampness of the pillow showed how she had spent the time since leaving
the dining-room.

Shadrach put the lamp upon the washstand, pulled a chair beside the bed
and sat down. He took her hand in his.

“Mary-’Gusta,” he said, gently, “you knew ‘twas my gun that Ab Bacheldor
was tryin’ to shoot David with?”

Mary-’Gusta moved her head up and down on the pillow.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“You was here when he borrowed it?”

“Yes, sir. And then I knew it was yours when he had it there in the
field. I saw the silver name thing on the handle. It kind of shined in
the sun.”

“Um-hm. Yes, yes. I see. You knew it, of course. But you didn’t tell me.
Why on earth didn’t you? Didn’t you know that if I’d realized that swab
had borrered my gun to kill my cat that would have been enough? If the
critter had stole a million chickens ‘twouldn’t have made any difference
if I’d known THAT. The cheeky lubber! Well, he won’t shoot at anything
of ours for one spell, I’ll bet. But why didn’t you tell me?”

Mary-’Gusta’s answer was promptly given.

“Why, ‘cause,” she said, “that was just it. I knew if you knew that you
wouldn’t care whether David stole the chicken or not. And I wanted you
to know he didn’t.”

“Um, I see. But if you had told me you wouldn’t have had to tell about
the parlor. I’D never asked a single question.”

“Ye-yes, sir; but I wanted you to know David doesn’t steal chickens.”

Shadrach swallowed hard. “I see,” he said. “Yes, yes, I see. So just to
clear that cat you was willin’ to give up the picnic and everything.”

Mary-’Gusta sobbed: “I--I did want to go so,” she moaned.

The Captain lifted her from the pillow and put his arm about her.

“You ARE goin’,” he declared, emphatically, “you just bet you’re goin’.”

“Oh! Oh, am I? Am I really? I--I know I hadn’t ought to. I was a bad
girl.”

“You! You’re a dummed good girl! The best and squarest--yes, and the
spunkiest little girl I ever saw. You’re a brick.”

“I’m awful sorry I went into the parlor, Cap’n Gould.”

“Blast the parlor! I don’t care if you stay in there a week and smash
everything in it. And--and, see here, Mary-’Gusta, don’t you call me
‘Cap’n Gould’ any more. Call me ‘Uncle Shad,’ will you?”


Just before bedtime that night Mr. Hamilton broached a subject which had
troubled him all day.

“Shadrach,” he said, timidly. “I--I guess I ought to tell you somethin’.
I know you won’t want to talk about it, but seems ‘s if I must tell you.
I had a letter this morning from Judge Baxter. He says he can’t wait
much longer for an answer from us about Marcellus’s girl. He’s got to
know what we’ve decided to do with her.”

Shadrach, who was smoking, took his pipe from his mouth.

“Well, give him the answer then,” he said, shortly. “You know what ‘tis,
well as I do.”

Zoeth looked troubled.

“I know you don’t want to keep her,” he said, “but--”

“Who said I didn’t?”

“Who? Why, Shadrach Gould! You said--”

“I said a good many things maybe; but that’s nothin’. You knew what I
meant as well as I did.”

“Why, Shadrach! You--you don’t mean you ARE willin’ to keep her--here,
with us, for good? You don’t mean THAT?”

The Captain snorted impatiently. “Don’t be so foolish, Zoeth,” he
protested. “You knew plaguey well I never meant anything else.”



CHAPTER VII


The next day Captain Shadrach drove to Ostable and spent several hours
in consultation with Judge Baxter. Adjusting matters by correspondence
is a slow process at best, and the Captain, having surrendered
unconditionally, was not the man to delay.

“I can settle more in ten minutes’ talk,” he told his partner, “than the
three of us could in a month’s letter-writin’, especially if I had to
write any of the letters. I never was any hand to write letters; you
know that, Zoeth. And when I do write one the feller I send it to is
liable to come around and ask me to read it ‘cause he can’t. Like as not
I can’t either, if it’s had time to get cold, and there we are, right
where we started. No, I’ll go and see the Judge and when I fetch port
tonight there’ll have been somethin’ done.”

This prophecy was fulfilled. Before the Captain left Ostable for the
homeward drive a good deal had been done. Judge Baxter, in his capacity
as administrator, had already been looking into the affairs of his late
client and, as he had expected, those affairs were badly tangled. When
the outstanding debts were paid there would be little left, a thousand
or two, perhaps, but certainly no more.

“So there you are, Shadrach,” he said. “I’m mighty glad you and Zoeth
have decided to keep the girl, but I’m afraid she’ll come to you with
very little property of her own. If she is to have the good education
and all the rest that Marcellus wanted her to have I guess it’ll be your
money that pays for it. That’s the honest truth, and I think you ought
to know it.”

The Captain nodded. “That’s all right,” he said. “I expected just about
that, account of what you said the day of the funeral. Me and Zoeth are
about, as fur from bein’ rich as the ship’s cat is from bein’ skipper,
but we’ve put by a little and the store fetches us in a decent livin’.
We’ll take the young-one and do our best by her. Land knows what that
best’ll be,” he added, with a dubious shake of the head. “Speakin’ for
myself, I feel that I’m about as competent to bring up a child as a clam
is to fly.”

Baxter laughed. “Marcellus seemed confident that you and Hamilton were
perfectly suited to the job,” he said.

“Um; yes, I know; Marcellus had confidence in a good many things, the
stock market included. However, what is to be will be and we all have to
take chances, as the feller that was just married said when he tackled
his wife’s first mince pie. You get those guardian papers, whatever
they are, made out, and Zoeth and me’ll sign ‘em. As for the competent
part--well,” with a chuckle, “that child’s pretty competent herself.
I have a notion that, take it five or six years from now, it’ll be her
that’ll be bringin’ us up in the way we should go. I feel a good deal as
if I was signin’ on for a long voyage with the chances that I’d finish
mate instead of skipper.”

“Say, Judge,” he added, just before leaving for home, “there’s one
thing more I’d like to say. ‘Most everybody thinks Marcellus left his
stepdaughter a consider’ble sight of money, don’t they?”

“Why, yes; I suppose they do.”

“All right, let ‘em think so. ‘Twill give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.
They’ll be guessin’ how rich the child is instead of markin’ off in the
almanac the days afore Zoeth and me head for the poorhouse.”

“Humph! I see. You don’t care to have it known that you and your partner
are adopting and supporting her purely from motives of kindness and
generosity.”

“Pooh! pooh! No generosity about it. Besides, Marcellus was kind and
generous enough to us in the old days. Pity if we couldn’t take our
trick at the wheel now.”

The Judge smiled. “You’re a good deal more willing to take that trick
than you were when I saw you last, Captain Shad,” he observed. “You seem
to have changed your mind completely.”

The Captain grinned. “Well, yes, I have,” he admitted. “Maybe ‘tain’t
so big a change as you think; I have a habit of blowin’ up a squall when
I’m gettin’ ready to calm down. But, anyway, that young-one would change
anybody’s mind. She’s different from any girl of her age ever I saw.
She’s pretty as a little picture and sweet and wholesome as a--as a
summer sweet apple. She don’t pester, and she don’t tease, and she don’t
lie--no, sir, not even when I’d consider layin’ the course a p’int or
two from the truth a justifiable proceedin’. She’s got inside my vest,
somehow or ‘nother, and I did think I was consider’ble of a hard-shell.
She’s all right, Mary-’Gusta is. I’m about ready to say ‘Thank you’ to
Marcellus.”

And so it was settled, and Mary-’Gusta Lathrop was no longer a visitor,
but a permanent member of the odd household at South Harniss. She was
delighted when she heard the news, although, characteristically, she
said very little beyond confiding to her two “uncles” that she was
going to be a good girl and not take David into the parlor again. The
remainder of her “things” and belongings were sent over by the Judge
and, in due time, the guardianship papers were signed.

“There!” exclaimed Zoeth, laying down the pen. “That settles it, I
cal’late. Now, Mary-’Gusta, you’re our little girl, mine and your Uncle
Shad’s, for good and all.”

“Not quite so long as that, Zoeth,” put in the smiling Shadrach. “We’ll
hang on to her for a spell, I shouldn’t wonder; but one of these days,
a hundred years from now or such matter, there’s liable to be a
good-lookin’ young feller sparkin’ ‘round here and he’ll want to marry
her and take her somewheres else. What’ll you say when it comes to that,
Mary-’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta thought it over. “If ‘twas a hundred years from now,” she
said, “I guess he wouldn’t want me.”

The Captain laughed uproariously. “Well, maybe we can discount that
hundred some for cash,” he admitted. “Make it twelve or fifteen years.
Then suppose somebody--er--er--” with a wink at Zoeth--“suppose Jimmie
Bacheldor, we’ll say, comes and wants us to put you in his hands,
what’ll you say then?”

The answer was prompt enough this time.

“I’ll say no,” asserted Mary-’Gusta, with decision. “Jimmie Bacheldor
hates to wash his hands; he told me so.”

All that summer she played about the house or at the store or on the
beach and, when the fall term began, the partners sent her to school.
They were happy and proud men when Miss Dobson, the primary teacher,
said the girl was too far advanced for the first class and entered her
in the second. “Just natural smartness,” Captain Shadrach declared.
“Natural smartness and nothin’ else. She ain’t had a mite of advantages,
but up she goes just the same. Why, Teacher told me she considered her a
reg’lar parachute.”

“A parachute’s somethin’ that comes down, ain’t it,” suggested Zoeth,
remembering the balloon ascension he had seen at the county fair.

“Humph! So ‘tis. Seems as if ‘twasn’t parachute she said.
‘Twas--‘twas--”

“Parasol?” suggested Isaiah, who was an interested listener.

“No, no; nor paralysis neither. Paragon, that’s what ‘twas. Teacher said
that child was a paragon.”

“What’s a paragon?” asked Mr. Chase.

“I don’t know. But it’s what she is, anyway.”

The paragon continued to progress in her studies. Also she continued,
more and more, to take an interest in the housework and the affairs of
her adopted uncles and Isaiah Chase. Little by little changes came
in the life of the family. On one memorable Sunday Captain Shadrach
attended church. It was the first time in a good many years and whether
the congregation or Zoeth or the Captain himself was the more astonished
at the latter’s being there is a question. Mary-’Gusta was not greatly
astonished. It was the result of careful planning on her part, planning
which had as its object the relieving of Mr. Hamilton’s mind. Zoeth
never missed a Sunday service or a Friday night prayer meeting. And,
being sincerely religious, he was greatly troubled because his friend
and partner took little interest in such things.

Shadrach’s aversion to churches dated back to a sermon preached by a
former minister. The subject of that sermon was Jonah and the whale. The
Captain, having been on several whaling voyages in his younger days, had
his own opinion concerning the prophet’s famous adventure.

If the minister had been a younger and more tactful man the argument
which followed might have ended pleasantly and the break have been
avoided. But the clergyman was elderly, as set in his ways as the
Captain was in his, and the disagreement was absolute and final.

“The feller is a regular wooden-head,” declared Shadrach, hotly. “I was
willin’ to be reasonable; I was willin’ to give in that this Jonah man
might have been out of his head and, after he was hove overboard and
cast ashore, thought he’d been swallowed by a whale or somethin’ or
‘nother. I picked up a sailor once who’d drifted around in a boat for a
week and he couldn’t remember nothin’ of what happened after the first
day or so. If you’d told him he’d been swallowed by a mackerel he
wouldn’t have said no. But I’ve helped kill a good many whales--yes, and
I’ve helped cut ‘em up, too--and I know what they look like inside. No
man, whether his name was Jonah or Jehoshaphat, could have lived three
days in a whale’s stomach. How’d he breathe in there, eh? Cal’late the
whale had ventilators and a skylight in his main deck? How’d the whale
live all that time with a man hoppin’ ‘round inside him? Think I’d live
if I--if I swallowed a live mouse or somethin’? No, sir-ee! Either
that mouse would die or I would, I bet you! I’ve seen a whole parcel
of things took out of a whale’s insides and some of the things had been
alive once, too; but they wasn’t alive then; they was in chunks and part
digested. Jonah wasn’t digested, was he? And the whale wasn’t dead
of dyspepsy neither. That’s what I told that minister. ‘You try it
yourself,’ I says to him. ‘There’s whales enough back of the Crab Ledge,
twenty mile off Orham,’ said I. ‘You’re liable to run in sight of ‘em
most any fair day in summer. You go off there and jump overboard some
time and see what happens. First place, no whale would swallow you; next
place, if it did ‘twould chew you or sift you fine first; and, third
place, if you was whole and alive that whale would be dead inside of
ten minutes. You try it and see.’ Good fair offer, wasn’t it? But did
he take it up? Not much. Said I was a scoffer and an infidel and didn’t
know anything about Scripture! ‘I know about whales, anyhow,’ I told
him. And he slammed off and wouldn’t speak to me again. Don’t talk to
ME! I’ll never go inside that meetin’-house again.”

And he never had until Mary-’Gusta coaxed him into it. She was a regular
attendant at Sunday school, but on Sunday mornings in pleasant weather
she had been accustomed to take a walk with Shadrach. These walks they
both enjoyed hugely, but one bright morning she announced that she was
not going for a walk, but was going to church with Uncle Zoeth. Shadrach
was disappointed and astonished.

“Land sakes! What’s this mean?” he demanded. “Thought you liked to walk
with me.”

“I do. I like it very much. But I don’t think it’s fair for me to do it
every Sunday. Uncle Zoeth ALWAYS goes to church and he feels real bad
‘cause you don’t go. He told me so. He says the church folks think you
won’t go to Heaven when you die and that makes him feel dreadful. He’s
goin’ to Heaven, you know.”

“Oh, he is, eh?”

“Of course. He couldn’t help it, he’s so good. Don’t you think he’ll go
to Heaven, Uncle Shad?”

“Who? Zoeth? Sartin I do. If he don’t, nobody will.”

“Wouldn’t it make you feel bad if you was afraid he wouldn’t go there?”

“Humph! Maybe so, but I ain’t afraid.”

“I know, but he is afraid YOU won’t. He thinks an awful lot of you; as
much as you do of him, you know. Uncle Shad, I’m goin’ to meetin’ with
Uncle Zoeth this mornin’, and I want you to go with us; will you?”

The Captain pulled his beard.

“Look here, Mary-’Gusta,” he said. “What’s all this about, anyway? You
don’t cal’late I’d take you walkin’ Sundays if I thought ‘twas wicked,
do you?”

“No, sir; but Uncle Zoeth thinks not goin’ to church is wicked. If you
and I went to church with him ‘twould please him ever so much.”

“Maybe so, but ‘twould please you and me if he went walkin’ with us.
I’ve asked him times enough. Why can’t he do what I want as well as my
doin’ what he wants?”

“‘Cause he thinks it’s wrong. You don’t think goin’ to church is wrong,
do you, Uncle Shad?”

Shadrach shook his head. “By fire!” he exclaimed. “You’re a regular
young lawyer, you are, Mary-’Gusta. Judge Baxter hasn’t got you beat
when it comes to makin’ out a case. Look here, now; be honest; hadn’t
you rather go to walk with me than go to that meetin’-house?”

“Yes, sir,” frankly; “I’d rather.”

“Oh, you had, eh? But all the same you want us to give up our walk and
go to church every Sunday just to please Zoeth. Is that it?”

Mary-’Gusta took his hand. “No, sir,” she said shyly, “but I thought
perhaps we could divide up. You and I could go with him one Sunday and
to walk the next Sunday. That would be fair. I’m his little girl same as
I am yours, Uncle Shad, ain’t I?”

Shadrach was stumped, and he went to church that Sunday morning. The
sermon had nothing to do with Jonah or the whale, so his feelings
were not ruffled. Zoeth was mightily pleased and Mary-’Gusta was happy
because he was. The plan of alternate Sundays was adopted. It was but
one instance of the “managing” quality which the girl possessed. Isaiah
declared that she wound all hands around her little finger, but even he
seemed to enjoy the winding.

As she grew older Mary-’Gusta learned more and more concerning her
uncles, their habits, their contrasting temperaments and their past
history. She learned a little of Hall and Company, the prosperous firm
of which they had been partners, with Marcellus Hall, her stepfather,
as the head. Isaiah told her a little concerning the firm: “No bigger on
Cape Cod,” he declared. She asked why it had not continued in business.
Mr. Chase brusquely answered that it hadn’t, that’s all, and would not
give any particulars. She questioned the steward concerning Shadrach
and Zoeth. The former had never married; that was funny; why hadn’t he?
Isaiah said he did not know. Hadn’t Uncle Zoeth ever married, either?
Yes, Zoeth had married.

“Who did--” began Mary-’Gusta, but Isaiah cut short the catechizing.

“You mustn’t ask such questions,” he declared.

“Why mustn’t I?”

“‘Cause you mustn’t. Your uncles wouldn’t like it a mite if they knew
you was pryin’ into their affairs. You mustn’t ever say a word about
your Uncle Zoeth’s gettin’ married.”

“Wouldn’t he like me any more if I did?”

“No, you bet he wouldn’t; he’d--I don’t know’s he wouldn’t come to hate
you. And you mustn’t say it to Cap’n Shad neither.”

The idea of being hated by Uncle Zoeth was a dreadful one and
Mary-’Gusta avoided the tabooed subject. But she thought about it a good
deal. She noticed that in neither of the two lots in the cemetery, one
where the Goulds were buried and the other the Hamiltons, was a stone
erected to the memory of the “beloved wife of Zoeth Hamilton,” although
other beloved wives of the former generations were commemorated. This
seemed odd. As her education progressed she read more and more and from
her reading she built up several imaginative romances with Zoeth as the
hero, and as the heroines beautiful creatures who had died young, in
shipwreck, probably, and whose names were not to be mentioned because.
. . . She could not find a satisfactory solution of the because.
Shipwreck or burial at sea she deduced from the fact of there being no
grave in the cemetery. Mothers and fathers of several of her schoolmates
had been buried at sea. Perhaps the late Mrs. Hamilton had been so
buried. But Zoeth had never been a seafaring man.

One Saturday afternoon--she was about ten years old at the time--she
was in the garret. The garret had taken the place of the old surrey at
Ostable, and thither she retired when she wished to be alone to read, or
play, or study. This afternoon she was rummaging through the old trunks
and sea chests in search of a costume for Rose. It was to be a masculine
costume, of course, for there was no feminine apparel in that garret,
but in the games which the girl played when alone with her dolls, Rose,
the largest of the family, was frequently obliged to change her sex with
her raiment.

Mary-’Gusta had ransacked these trunks and chests pretty thoroughly on
previous occasions, but this time she made a discovery. In an old trunk
which had obviously belonged to Captain Shadrach she found a sort of
pocket on the under side of the lid, a pocket closing with a flap and a
catch. In this pocket were some papers, old receipts and the like, and a
photograph. The photograph interested her exceedingly. It was yellow and
faded but still perfectly distinct.

There was a large building standing on posts fixed in the sand, and
beyond it were wharves and a glimpse of schooners and the sea. Barrels,
a good many barrels, were piled upon the wharves and at the end of the
building. Over the door was the sign, “Hall and Company, Wholesale Fish
Dealers.”

This sign of itself was interesting enough. Evidently here was the
place where her stepfather and Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton had done
business years before. But more interesting still was the group of men
standing on the platform under the sign. There were four of these men,
dressed in clothes and hats which--especially the hats--looked queer and
old-fashioned now. Two of the men Mary-’Gusta recognized, or thought
she did. They were Captain Shadrach and Mr. Hamilton. Much younger they
looked, of course; their hair was not gray and Zoeth wore a beard, while
Shadrach had only a mustache. But, in spite of these things and the
odd clothes they wore, she was sure she recognized them. And, having
recognized them, she also recognized the man in the center of the group
as her stepfather, Captain Marcellus Hall. The fourth man, evidently
younger than the others, a handsome, square-shouldered chap in his
shirtsleeves, she did not know.

She turned the photograph over. On its back was written:

     Firm of Hall and Company.  Taken August 19th, 1877.
             Marcellus Hall
             Zoeth J. Hamilton
             Edgar S. Farmer
             Shadrach B. Gould.

The names were in differing handwritings. Evidently each man had signed
the photograph.

Mary-’Gusta scrutinized the photograph again. Then, with it in her hand,
she descended to the kitchen. Isaiah was sitting in a chair by the stove
reading a newspaper.

“Mr. Chase,” said Mary-’Gusta, “who was Edgar S. Farmer?”

If that kitchen chair had been the never-to-be-forgotten piece of
furniture with the music box beneath it and that box had started to
play, Isaiah could not have risen more promptly. He literally jumped
to his feet and the paper flew from his hands. He whirled upon the
questioner.

“What?” he demanded. “What’s that you said?”

He was pale, actually pale. Mary-’Gusta was frightened.

“Why--why, I just asked--” she faltered, “I just asked who--who--What
CAN be the matter, Mr. Chase?”

Isaiah waved his hand. “WHAT did you ask?” he demanded.

“I asked--I asked who Edgar S. Farmer was, that’s all. I didn’t mean--I
didn’t know--”

“Be still! Be still, for mercy sakes! What do you know about Ed Farmer?
Who told you about him?”

The girl was more frightened than ever. Isaiah’s next move did not tend
to reassure her. He strode to the door, looked up the lane, and closed
and locked the door before she could find words to answer.

“Now, then,” he said, coming close to her and looking her straight in
the face, “who told you about Ed Farmer?”

“Nobody told me. Honest, they didn’t.”

“Somebody must have told you; else how did you know?”

Mary-’Gusta hesitatingly held up the photograph. “It’s written on this,”
 she said.

Mr. Chase snatched it from her hand. He looked at the picture and then
at her.

“It’s written on the back,” went on the girl.

Isaiah turned the photograph over.

“Humph!” he said suspiciously. “I see. Who gave this to you?”

“Nobody gave it to me. I found it in an old trunk up in the attic.”

“Humph! You did, eh? Well, I swan to man! Have you showed it to anybody
else but me?”

“No, sir. Honest, I haven’t. I just found it this minute.”

“Well, I swan, that’s lucky. ‘Twas in a trunk, eh? Whose trunk?”

“One of Uncle Shad’s, I guess.”

“Humph! I presume likely. Well, what made you ask about--about the one
you did ask about?”

“I knew who the others were. I knew my father and Uncle Zoeth and Uncle
Shad. But I didn’t know who the Farmer one was. It says ‘Firm of Hall
and Company,’ and all those names are signed. So I thought maybe Mr.
Farmer was--”

“Never you mind who he was. He was a darned blackguard and his name ain’t
mentioned in this house. That’s all I can tell you and you mustn’t ask
any more questions. Why, if your Uncle Zoeth--yes, or your Uncle Shad
either--was to hear you askin’ about him--they’d--I don’t know what
they’d do. I’m goin’ to tear this thing up.”

He would have torn the photograph across, but the girl seized his hands.

“Oh, no, you mustn’t,” she cried. “Please don’t. It isn’t mine. It
belongs to Uncle Shad. You mustn’t tear it--give it to me.”

Isaiah hesitated. “Give it to you?” he repeated. “What’ll you do with
it?”

“I’ll put it right back where I found it. Truly, I will. I will, honest,
Mr. Chase.”

Isaiah reflected. Then, and with considerable reluctance, he handed her
the photograph.

“All right,” he said, “only be sure you do it. And look here,
Mary-’Gusta, don’t you ever touch it again and don’t you ever tell
either of your uncles or anybody else that you found it. You hear?”

Mary-’Gusta said that she heard. She ran to the garret and replaced the
photograph in the pocket of the trunk. She did not mention it again nor
did Isaiah, but thereafter when her active imagination constructed a
life romance with Mr. Zoeth Hamilton as its hero, that romance contained
a villain also, and the villain’s name was Edgar S. Farmer. And the firm
of Hall and Company, her father’s firm, had a fourth and most mysterious
partner who was a blackguard.



CHAPTER VIII


The summers and winters came and went and Mary-’Gusta’s birthdays
came and went with them. She grew taller and more mature. Her place as
assistant housekeeper was recognized now and even Isaiah consulted her
on matters of household management. As for her uncles, she managed them
whether consulted or not. They took the place of the discarded dolls;
she was too old for dolls now, although David was still mothered and
petted as much as ever. But when Uncle Zoeth had a cold it was she who
insisted upon his wrapping up and saw that the wraps were ready, and if
Uncle Shad was caught wearing socks with holes in them he was scolded
and supplied with fresh ones. She selected the clothes they should wear
and insisted that they black their boots on Sunday. She helped them in
the store and it became occasionally possible for them to leave that
place of business at the same time without engaging the services of
Annabel. At first the partners, Captain Shadrach especially, protested
against the supervision and the innovations, but Mary-’Gusta tactfully
and diplomatically carried each point, and, after a time, the Captain
ceased to protest and accepted the inevitable almost with meekness.

“No use, Zoeth,” he said on one occasion; “I’ve talked and talked but
I’m wearin’ the necktie just the same. I told her ‘twas too good to wear
weekdays and it ought to be saved for Sunday, but it ain’t Sunday and
I’ve got it on. She said ‘twas becomin’ and the one I’ve been wearin’
wasn’t and that she crocheted it for me and I don’t know what all. So
here I am. Got so I ain’t even boss of my own neck.”

“Well, ‘tis becomin’,” observed Zoeth. “And she did crochet it for you.
I noticed you didn’t stop her tyin’ it on you even while you was vowin’
you wouldn’t wear it.”

Shadrach sighed. “To think,” he groaned, “that I, Cap’n Shad Gould, a
man that’s handled as many fo’mast hands as I have, should come to be
led around by the nose by a slip of a girl! By fire, I--I can’t hardly
believe it. It’s disgraceful.”

Zoeth smiled. “Oh, be still, Shadrach,” he said. “You bear up under the
disgrace as well as anybody ever I saw. You know perfectly well you was
tickled to death to have her tie that necktie on you. You was grinnin’
like a Chessy cat all the time.”

“I wasn’t, neither. I was chokin’, not grinnin’. You don’t know a grin
from a choke.”

Zoeth changed the subject. “It’s a mighty pretty necktie,” he declared.
“There ain’t anybody in this town, unless it’s Philander Bearse’s wife,
that can crochet any better’n that girl of ours.”

Shadrach snorted. “What are you talkin’ about?” he demanded. “Etta
Bearse never saw the day she could crochet like that. No, nor do
anything else so well, either. Look at the way our candy trade has
picked up since Mary-’Gusta fixed up the showcase. You cal’lated ‘twas
all right the way ‘twas afore and thought ‘twas foolish to change, but
she changed it and--well, we’ve sold a third again as much candy.”

Zoeth’s smile broadened. “Seems as if I remember your sayin’ a few
things about that showcase,” he remarked. “You gave me fits for lettin’
her fuss with it. Annabel was in t’other day and she said folks thought
‘twas queer enough our lettin’ a thirteen-year-old child run our store
for us.”

“She did, eh? She’s jealous, that’s what ails her. And to think of HER
sayin’ it. That Annabel’s all brass, like a ship’s spyglass. By the
jumpin’ Judas! I’m proud of that showcase and I’m proud of Mary-’Gusta.
She don’t make many mistakes: I can’t remember of her makin’ any.”

“Neither can I, not even in neckties. There, there, Shadrach! I know
you. You talk about disgrace and such, but you’re as crazy about
Mary-’Gusta as--as--”

“As you are, eh? Well, maybe I am, Zoeth. When she was first willed to
us, as you might say, I used to wonder how we’d ever get along with her;
now I wonder how we got along without her. If she should be--er--took
away from us, I don’t know--”

“Sshh, shh, Shadrach! Don’t talk about anything like that.”

Mary-’Gusta was making good progress at school. At fourteen she
graduated from the grammar school and in the fall was to enter the
high school. She was popular among her mates, although she never sought
popularity.

At picnics and church sociables she had always a small circle about
her and the South Harniss boys were prominent in that circle. But
Mary-’Gusta, although she liked boys and girls well enough, never showed
a liking for one more than the other and she was too busy at the house
and in the store to have her young friends hanging about. They bothered
her, she said. As for having a particular friend of the other sex,
which some of the girls in her class no older than she seemed to think
a necessary proof of being in their teens, she laughed at the idea. She
had her adopted uncles and Isaiah to take care of and boy beaux were
silly. Talking about them as these girls did was sillier still.

That summer--the summer preceding Mary-’Gusta’s fifteenth birthday--was
the liveliest South Harniss had known. The village was beginning to feel
the first symptoms of its later boom as a summer resort. A number of
cottages had been built for people from Boston and New York and Chicago,
and there was talk of a new hotel. Also there was talk of several new
stores, but Hamilton and Company were inclined to believe this merely
talk and did not worry about it. Their trade was unusually brisk and the
demand for Mary-’Gusta’s services as salesgirl interfered considerably
with her duties as assistant housekeeper.

One fine, clear July morning she came up to the store early in order
that the partners might go down to the house for breakfast. They had
gone and she had just finished placing on the counters and in other
likely spots about the store sheets of sticky fly paper. Flies are a
nuisance in South Harniss in midsummer and Captain Shad detested them.
Just as the last sheet was laid in place, a young fellow and a girl
came in. Mary-’Gusta recognized them both. The girl was the
seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy summer resident, a Mr. Keith
from Chicago. The Keiths had a fine cottage on the bluff at the other
end of the village. The young chap with her was, so gossip reported,
a college friend of her brother. His surname was prosaic enough, being
Smith, but his first name was Crawford and his home was somewhere in the
Far West. He was big and good-looking, and the Boston papers mentioned
him as one of the most promising backs on the Harvard Freshman eleven.
Next year, so the sporting writers opined, he would almost certainly
make the Varsity team. Most of Mary-’Gusta’s feminine friends and
acquaintances rated him “perfectly splendid” and regarded Edna Keith
with envious eyes.

This morning both he and the Keith girl were arrayed in the gayest of
summer regalia. Young Smith’s white flannel trousers were carefully
creased, his blue serge coat was without a wrinkle, his tie and socks
were a perfect match, and his cap was of a style which the youth of
South Harniss might be wearing the following summer, but not this one.
Take him “by and large,” as Captain Shadrach would have said, Crawford
Smith was an immaculate and beautiful exhibit; of which fact he, being
eighteen years of age, was doubtless quite aware.

He and the Keith girl were, so Mary-’Gusta learned, a committee of two
selected to purchase certain supplies for a beach picnic, a combination
clambake and marshmallow toast, which was to take place over at Setuckit
Point that day. Sam Keith, Edna’s brother, and the other members of the
party had gone on to Jabez Hedges’ residence, where Jabez had promised
to meet them with the clams and other things for the bake. Edna and her
escort, having made their purchases at Hamilton and Company’s, were to
join them at the “clam-man’s.” Then the whole party was to go down to
the wharf and the sailboat.

Miss Edna, who was a talkative damsel, informed Mary-’Gusta of these
facts at once. Also she announced that they must hurry like everything.

“You see,” she said, “we told Sam and the rest we’d be at the clam-man’s
in ten minutes, and, if we’re not there, Sam will be awfully cross. He
hates to wait for people. And we’ve been too long already. It’s all your
fault, Crawford; you would stop to hear that fruit man talk. I told you
you mustn’t.”

The “fruit man” was Mr. Gaius Small, and, although he stammered,
he loved the sound of his own voice. The demand for a dozen oranges
furnished Gaius with subject sufficient for a lengthy monologue--“forty
drawls and ten stutters to every orange,” quoting Captain Shad again.

“I told you you mustn’t get him started,” went on Miss Keith, gushingly.
“He’ll talk forever if he has a chance. But you would do it. Asking him
if he kept pomegranates and bread-fruit! The idea! I’m sure he doesn’t
know what a pomegranate is. You were SO solemn and he was SO ridiculous!
I thought I should DIE. You really are the drollest person, Crawford
Smith! I don’t know what I shall do with you.”

It was evident that her opinion of young Smith was not different from
that of other young ladies of her age. Also that Crawford himself was
not entirely unconscious of that opinion. At eighteen, to be set upon
a pedestal and worshiped, to have one’s feeblest joke hailed as a
masterpiece of wit, is dangerous for the idol; the effort of sustaining
the elevated position entails the risk of a fall. Crawford was but
eighteen and a good fellow, but he had been worshiped a good deal. He
was quite as sensible as other young chaps of his age, which statement
means exactly that and no more.

“Well,” he said, with a complacent grin, “we learned how to pronounce
‘pomegranate’ at any rate. You begin with a pup-pup-pup, as if you were
calling a dog, and you finish with a grunt like a pig. I wish I had
asked him for a persimmon; then he’d have made a noise like a cat.”

Miss Keith, when she recovered from her spasm of merriment, declared her
companion “perfectly killing.”

“But we must hurry,” she said. “We really must Crawford, you buy the
things. I should think of that fruit man and laugh all the time, I know
I should.”

She remained by the door and the young gentleman strolled to the
counter. He cast an amused glance about the store; its display of stock
was, thanks to Mary-’Gusta’s recent efforts at tidiness, not quite the
conglomerate mass it had been when the partners were solely responsible,
but the variety was still strikingly obvious.

“Humph!” observed Crawford; “I’ve forgotten what we came to buy, but I’m
sure it is here, whatever it is. Some emporium, this! Introduce me to
the proprietor, will you, Edna?”

Edna giggled.

“She isn’t the proprietor,” she said. “She is just the clerk, that’s
all. Her name is--I’ve forgotten your name, dear. What is it?”

“Mary Lathrop,” replied Mary-’Gusta, shortly. She objected to being
addressed as “dear” and she strongly objected to the patronizing tone in
which it was uttered. Edna Keith was older than she, but not old enough
to patronize.

“Oh, yes, so it is,” said the young lady. “But that isn’t what everyone
calls you. They call you something else--something funny--Oh, I know!
Mary-’Gusta, that’s it. I knew it was funny. Mary-’Gusta, this is Mr.
Smith. He wants to buy some things. And he’s in a GREAT hurry.”

“Charmed, Mary-’Gusta,” said Mr. Smith. Mary-’Gusta did not appear
charmed. She asked him what he wanted.

“Search ME,” said the young gentleman, cheerfully. “There was a list,
wasn’t there, Edna? You have it, I think.”

Edna produced the list, scrawled in pencil on the back of an envelope.
Crawford looked it over.

“Sam’s writing isn’t exactly print,” he observed, “but I can guess at
it. Let’s see--a pound of butter. Where’s the butter department of this
Bon Marche, Edna?”

Edna, after another convulsion, declared she didn’t know.

“No doubt Miss--er--Mary Jane knows,” went on her companion. “Why,
yes, of course she does. Right there, behind the oilskin jacket. Remove
jacket, open door--behold, the icebox and the butter. Neat, compact, and
convenient. One pound only, Elizabeth Eliza. Thank you.”

“Her name isn’t Elizabeth Eliza,” giggled Miss Keith. “Isn’t he awful,
Mary-’Gusta! You mustn’t mind him.”

“I don’t,” said Mary-’Gusta, promptly. “What else do you want?”

Crawford consulted the list. “The next item,” he said, “appears to be
a--er--certain kind of ham. I blush to mention it, but I must. It is
deviled ham. Have you that kind of ham, Mary-’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta took the can of deviled ham from the shelf. Crawford shook
his head.

“To think that one so young should be so familiar with ham of that
kind!” he said. “She didn’t speak its name, though. Suppose I had asked
you what kind of ham you had, Miss--er--‘Gusta how would you have got
around it?”

Mary-’Gusta did not answer. She was very angry, but she was determined
that her tormentor should not know it.

“A young lady of few words,” commented Mr. Smith. “Next item appears to
be six boxes of marshmallows. Where is the marshmallow department, Mary
Jane?”

Mary-’Gusta hesitated. The tin boxes of marshmallows were on the
shelf behind the counter under the candy case. But there was a fresh
assortment in an unopened packing box in the back room, a box which had
just come from the wholesale confectioner’s in Boston. Her Uncle Zoeth
had expressed a fear that those beneath the counter were rather stale.

Miss Keith fidgeted. “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed. “This is SO slow. I know
Sam and the rest won’t wait for us at the clam-man’s much longer.”

Her companion whistled. “Is the word ‘hurry’ in the South Harniss
dictionary, Edna?” he inquired. “How about it, Mary Jane?”

Mary-’Gusta was determined not to hurry. This superior young man wished
her to do so and that was reason sufficient for delay.

Young Smith sighed resignedly. “Edna,” he said, “suppose we sit down.
The word is NOT in the dictionary.”

There was but one chair, except those behind the counters, in the store.
Miss Keith took that with an exclamation of impatience. Crawford Smith,
whistling a mournful dirge, sauntered to the end of the counter and sat
down upon a nail keg.

Mary-’Gusta also uttered an exclamation. It is well to look before one
leaps, also, occasionally, before one sits. That keg had, spread across
its top, a sheet of the fresh and very sticky fly paper. Before she
could have protested, even if she had wished to do so, the young
gentleman’s spotless white flannels and the fly paper came in contact,
close and clinging contact.

Mary-’Gusta put a hand to her mouth. Crawford looked at her, caught the
direction of her look, and looked in that direction himself. His whistle
stopped in the middle of a note and his face immediately became a match
for his socks and tie, a beautiful rich crimson, the chosen color of his
University.

Miss Keith, from her seat by the door, could not see beyond the end of
the counter. Consequently she was unaware of the mishap to the white
flannels. But Mary-’Gusta saw and knew; also she could see that Mr.
Smith knew.

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed Edna, impatiently. “We are dreadfully late now.
We’ll never get there on time. Sam won’t wait for us; I know he won’t.
Where are those marshmallows? Can’t you please hurry, Mary-’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta’s eyes were sparkling. Her manner was provokingly
deliberate. She took a box of marshmallows from beneath the counter.

“There are some here,” she said, “but I’m afraid they aren’t very fresh.
The fresh ones, those that have just come, are in a box in the back
room. That box hasn’t been opened yet. If you can wait I’ll open it for
you.”

Young Smith said nothing. Miss Keith, however, spoke her mind.

“Of course we can’t wait,” she declared. “I’m sure these will do. They
will do, won’t they, Crawford?”

And still Crawford remained silent. Mary-’Gusta, who was enjoying this
portion of the interview as much as she had disliked its beginning,
offered a suggestion.

“If you will just come here and look at these,” she said, with
mischievous gravity, addressing the young gentleman on the nail keg,
“perhaps you can tell whether they’re fresh enough.”

The young gentleman did not rise. His face retained its brilliant color
and his lips moved, but his answer was not audible. At his age the dread
of appearing ridiculous, especially in the presence of a youthful and
charming female, is above all others hateful. And Edna Keith was not the
only girl in the picnic party; there were others. She would be certain
to tell them. Crawford Smith foresaw a horrible day, a day of disgrace
and humiliation, one in which he was destined to furnish amusement
without sharing the fun. And Sam Keith, who had remarked upon the
splendor of his friend’s attire, would gloat--not only here in South
Harniss, but elsewhere--in Cambridge, for instance. An older man would
have risen, laughed whether he felt like laughing or not--and have
expressed his opinion of fly paper. Crawford was not yet a man; he was
in the transition stage, a boy fondly hoping that other people might
think him a man. So he sat still until it was too late to rise, and then
wished he had risen in the first place.

“My goodness!” exclaimed the fidgety Miss Keith, “why don’t you look at
them, Crawford? What are you waiting for?”

Mary-’Gusta, the box of marshmallows in her hand, regarded the boy on
the nail keg. His eyes met hers and in them was a look of such utter
misery that the girl relented. Her feeling of satisfied resentment
changed to one almost of pity. She had been made to feel ridiculous
herself at various times in her short life and she remembered the
sensation. Mary-’Gusta, as has been mentioned before in this history,
was old for her years.

She considered a moment. Then she thrust the box beneath the counter.

“I guess I’d better not sell you those, anyway,” she said with decision.
“Uncle Zoeth said they weren’t fresh. I’ll open the case in the back
room.”

Edna stamped her foot.

“We can’t wait for that,” she declared. “We must go without them,
I suppose. Oh, dear! And they depended on us to get them. It’s so
provoking. Now we can’t have any toast at all and it would have been
such fun.”

Mary-’Gusta glanced once more at the occupant of the keg.

“I was thinking,” she said, slowly, “that you needn’t both wait unless
you wanted to. Perhaps Miss Keith might go on and tell the others
and--er--Mr. Smith could stay here until I opened the box. Then he could
meet you at the boat.”

Edna hesitated. “Shall I, Crawford?” she asked.

Her companion did not hesitate. “I think perhaps you’d better, Edna,” he
said. “I--I guess I won’t be long.”

Miss Keith hurried out. Mary-’Gusta turned her attention to the
remaining visitor.

“You can get up now,” she said. “Some of it will tear off, anyway,
and if you hurry you will have time to run home and change your--your
clothes.”

Crawford was evidently much surprised, also his embarrassment was not
lessened; but he rose.

“Then--then you knew?” he stammered.

“Of course I knew. I saw you sit down on it, didn’t I? If I’d known what
you were going to do I’d have told you to look out. But you did it so
quick I couldn’t. Now tear off as much as you can.”

The young gentleman obeyed orders. “Does it show much?” he queried. “I
can’t see. Is there much left?”

Mary-’Gusta smiled. His contortions were as violent as they were vain.
“There’s enough,” she said simply. “Here are the things you bought. Now
go out of the back door and cut across the fields. It’s the shortest way
home.”

Mr. Smith took his various parcels, including the six boxes of
marshmallows which Mary-’Gusta produced from beneath the counter. “I
thought you said these were stale,” he observed, wonderingly.

“I said they weren’t real fresh, but they’re fresh enough for a toast.
I said that so that the Keith girl wouldn’t wait. I didn’t think you
wanted her to.”

“You bet your life I didn’t! So that’s why you said you would have to
open the other box? Just--just to help me out?”

“Yes. Now don’t stop any longer. You’ll have to run, you know. Go out
the back way.”

Crawford started for the door of the back room, but at that door he
paused.

“Say,” he said, feelingly, “this is mighty white of you, do you know it?
And after the way I guyed you when I first came in! I guess I was rather
fresh, wasn’t I?”

“Yes, you were.”

“Yes, yes, I guess I was. I thought you were just a country kid, you
know, and I--say, by George, you WERE white. If I’d been you I’d have
got square. You had the chance; ‘twould have served me right for playing
the smart Aleck. I beg your pardon. You’re all RIGHT! And I’m awfully
sorry I was such a chump.”

It was a straightforward, honest apology and confession of fault.
Mary-’Gusta was pleased, but she did not show it. He had referred to her
as a kid and she did not like that.

“If you don’t hurry--yes, and run like everything,” she said, “you won’t
have time to get home and change and meet the others at the boat. And
somebody else will see you, too. You’d better go.”

The young man went without further delay. Mary-’Gusta watching from the
back door saw him racing across the fields in the direction of the Keith
cottage. When her uncles returned she said nothing of the occurrence.
She considered it funny, but she knew Crawford Smith did not, and she
was sure he would prefer to have the secret kept.

The following afternoon the partners of Hamilton and Company entertained
a caller at the store. That evening Shadrach spoke of the call to
Mary-’Gusta.

“That young Smith feller that’s been visitin’ the Keiths was in today,”
 said the Captain. “Didn’t want to buy nothin’; said he just happened
in, that’s all. Asked where you was, he did. I didn’t know he knew you,
Mary-’Gusta.”

Mary-’Gusta, who was busy clearing the supper table, answered without
looking round. “He and Edna Keith bought some things at the store
yesterday,” she said.

“Yes, so he said. He said tell you everything was all right and he had
a fine time at the picnic. Seemed to cal’late you was a pretty bright
girl. We knew that afore, of course, but it was nice of him to say so.
He’s leavin’ on tomorrow mornin’s train. Goin’ way out West, he is, to
Nevada; that’s where he and his dad live. His ma’s dead, so he told us.
Must be tough to live so fur off from salt water: I couldn’t stand it,
I know that. Funny thing about that young feller, too; his face looked
sort of familiar to me and Zoeth. Seemed as if he looked like somebody
we knew, but of course we didn’t know any of his folks; we don’t know
any Smiths from way off there.”

The subject was dropped for the time, but two days later the expressman
brought a package to the house. The package was addressed to Miss
Mary Augusta Lathrop and contained a five-pound basket of expensive
chocolates and bonbons. There was a note with it which read as follows:


Hope you’ll like these. They are fresh, at least Huyler’s people swear
they are, but I don’t believe they are as good as those marshmallows.
And I KNOW they are not as fresh as a certain person was at a certain
time. Please eat them and forget the other freshness.

C. S.

You were a perfect little brick not to tell.


Mary-’Gusta was obliged to tell then, but she made her uncles and Isaiah
promise not to do so. She, with the able assistance of the other members
of the household, ate the contents of the basket in due time. The basket
itself was taken to the parlor, where it was given a place beside the
other curiosities. As for the note, that disappeared. And yet, if one
had investigated the contents of the small drawer of Mary-’Gusta’s
bureau, where she kept her most intimate treasures, the mystery of its
disappearance might have been solved.

It was the only epistle of its kind the girl had yet received; and,
after all, good-looking young college men are what they are. And
Mary-’Gusta, in spite of her queerness, was feminine--and human.



CHAPTER IX


When Mary-’Gusta was seventeen a great event took place. The happening
which led to it was trivial enough, but the results were important and
far-reaching. They led to the second great change in her life, a change
as important as that brought about by her memorable “visit” to South
Harniss.

She was a girl in years still, but tall for her age, and in thought and
manner almost a young woman. Her management of her uncles and Isaiah was
now complete. They no longer protested, even to each other, against the
management and, in fact, gloried in it. The cook and steward accepted
her orders concerning the daily marketing and he and she audited the
monthly bills. The white house by the shore was a different place
altogether now and “chicken-pox tablecloths” and tarnished silver were
things of the forgotten past. At the store she had become almost a
silent partner, and Hamilton and Company’s “emporium” was, thanks to her
judgment and tact, if not yet an up-to-date establishment, at least a
shop where commodities to be sold were in places where they might be
seen by prospective purchasers and readily located by the proprietors.

She spent a good deal of her time, except in school hours, at the store
and much of the buying as well as the selling was done by her. The
drummers representing New York and Boston wholesale houses knew her and
cherished keen respect for her abilities as a selector and purchaser of
goods.

“Say,” said one of these gentlemen, after a lengthy session during
which his attempts to work off several “stickers” had been frustrated by
Mary-’Gusta’s common sense and discernment--“Say, that girl of yours is
a wonder, do you know it? She’s the sharpest buyer I ever run across on
my trips down here. I don’t take a back seat for anybody when it comes
to selling goods, and there’s mighty little I can’t sell; but I can’t
bluff her. She knows what’s what, you hear me!”

Shadrach, to whom this remark was made, chuckled. “You bet you!” he
declared, with enthusiasm. “Anybody that gets ahead of our Mary-’Gusta
has got to turn out afore the mornin’ watch. She’s smart. Zoeth and me
ain’t aboard the same craft with her.”

“I should say not. And you can’t get gay with her, either. Most girls of
her age and as good a looker as she is don’t object to a little ragging:
they’re used to it and they like it--but not her. She isn’t fishing for
boxes of candy or invitations to dances. That line of talk means good-by
and no sale where she is. Business and just business, that’s all there
is to her. How long are you goin’ to keep her here?”

“How long? Why, forever, I hope. What are you talkin’ about?”

The drummer winked. “That’s all right,” he observed. “You want to keep
her, I don’t doubt: but one of these days somebody else’ll be wanting
her more than you do. Mr. Right’ll be coming along here some time and
then--good night! She’s young yet, but in a couple of years she’ll be a
queen and then--well, then maybe I’ll stand a better chance of unloading
those last summer caps the house has got in stock. Girls like her don’t
stay single and keep store; there’s too much demand and not enough
competition. Gad! If I wasn’t an antique and married already I don’t
know but I’d be getting into line. That’s what!”

Captain Shadrach was inclined to be angry, but, although he would
not have admitted it, he realized the truth of this frank statement.
Mary-’Gusta was pretty, she was more than that, and the line was already
forming. Jimmie Bacheldor had long ago ceased to be a competitor; that
friendship had ended abruptly at the time of David’s narrow escape; but
there were others, plenty of them. Daniel Higgins, son of Mr. Solomon
Higgins, the local lumber dealer and undertaker, was severely smitten.
Dan was at work in Boston, where he was engaged in the cheerful and
remunerative business of selling coffins for the American Casket
Company. He was diligent and active and his future promised to be
bright, at least so his proud father boasted. He came home for holidays
and vacations and his raiment was anything but funereal, but Mary-’Gusta
was not impressed either by the raiment or the personality beneath it.
She treated the persistent Daniel as a boy and a former schoolmate.
When he assumed manly airs she laughed at him and when he invited her to
accompany him to the Cattle Show at Ostable she refused and said she was
going with Uncle Zoeth.

Dan Higgins was not the only young fellow who found the store of
Hamilton and Company an attractive lounging place. Some of the young
gentlemen not permanent residents of South Harniss also appeared to
consider it a pleasant place to visit on Summer afternoons. They came to
buy, of course, but they remained to chat. Mary-’Gusta might have sailed
or picknicked a good deal and in the best of company, socially speaking,
if she had cared to do so. She did not so care.

“They don’t want me, Uncle Shad,” she said. “And I don’t want to go.”

“Course they want you,” declared Shadrach, stoutly. “If they didn’t want
you they wouldn’t ask you, ‘tain’t likely. And I heard that young Keith
feller askin’ you to go out sailin’ with him this very afternoon.”

“You didn’t hear his sister ask me, did you? There, there, Uncle Shad,
don’t worry about me. I’m having a good time; a very much better time
than if I went sailing with the Keiths.”

“What’s the matter with the Keiths? They’re as nice folks as come to
South Harniss.”

“Of course they are.”

“Well, then! And you’re as good as they are, ain’t you?”

“I hope so. Uncle Shad, why don’t you wear a white flannel suit in hot
weather? Mr. Keith, Sam’s father, wore one at the church garden party
the other day.”

The Captain stared at her. “Why don’t I wear--what?” he stammered.

“A white flannel suit. You’re as good as Mr. Keith, aren’t you?”

“I guess I am. I don’t know why I ain’t. But what kind of a question’s
that? I’d look like a plain fool tagged out in one of them things:
anyway, I’d feel like one. I don’t belong in a white flannel suit. I
ain’t no imitation dude.”

“And I don’t belong in Sam Keith’s yacht. At least Mr. Keith and Edna
would feel that I didn’t. I don’t want to be considered an imitation,
either.”

Shadrach shook his head. “You ain’t like anybody else,” he said. “You’re
a funny girl, Mary-’Gusta.”

“I suppose I am; but I’m not as funny as I should be if I tried to BE
somebody else. No, Uncle Shad, you’ll just have to bear with me as I am,
funniness and all.”

A few days after this Keith, senior, came into the store. He was not
arrayed in the white flannels but was wearing a rather shabby but very
comfortable tweed jacket and trousers and a white canvas hat of the kind
which Hamilton and Company sold for fifty cents. His shirt was of the
soft-collared variety and his shoes were what South Harniss called
“sneakers.”

John Keith’s visits to Cape Cod were neither very frequent nor lengthy.
His wife and family came in June and remained until late September, but
his sojourns were seldom longer than a week at a time and there were
intervals of a month or more between them. In Chicago he was the head
of a large business and that business demanded close attention. When he
left it he left his cares with it and enjoyed himself in his own way.
That way included old clothes, golf, a boat, and just as few tea and
garden parties as his wife would permit.

He was planning a fishing trip and had stopped at the store to buy
some tobacco. The partners had gone home for dinner and Mary-’Gusta
was tending shop. At that moment she was busy with the traveling
representative of Messrs. Bernstein, Goldberg and Baun, of Providence,
wholesale dealers in stationery, cards and novelties. The time was
August, but Mr. Kron, the drummer, was already booking orders for the
Christmas season. His samples were displayed upon the counter and he and
Mary-’Gusta were deep in conversation.

“That’s what you ought to have,” declared Mr. Kron, with enthusiasm.
“Believe me, there’s goin’ to be some call for that line of stuff this
year. The house can’t turn ‘em out fast enough.”

“But what is it?” asked Mary-’Gusta. “What’s it for?”

“It’s a combination calendar and beauty-box,” explained Mr. Kron. “Hang
it on the wall by your bureau--see? In the mornin’ you can’t remember
what day it is. All right, there’s the calendar. Then you want to doll
yourself up for--well, for the party you’re goin’ to--”

“The same morning?” interrupted Mary-’Gusta.

Mr. Kron grinned. He was a young man and this was his first trip in that
section. His clothes were neither modest nor retiring and he, himself,
did not suffer from these failings. Also he prided himself on having a
way with the ladies, especially the younger ladies. And Mary-’Gusta was
distinctly the most attractive young person he had met on this trip.

He laughed in appreciation of the joke.

“Say,” he observed, admiringly, “you’re up to the minute, ain’t you!
You’re some kidder, all right. Are there many more in this burg like
you? If there are I’m goin’ to move in and settle down. What?”

Mary-’Gusta did not laugh, nor did she answer. Instead, she turned to
the gentleman who had entered the store.

“Good morning, Mr. Keith,” she said. “Was there anything you wanted?”

Keith smiled. “No hurry,” he said. “I’ve got a little time to kill and
if you don’t mind I’ll kill it here. I’ll sit down and wait, if I may.
That boatman of mine will be along pretty soon.”

He took the chair by the door. Mr. Kron continued his exploitation of
the combination calendar and beauty-box.

“You are goin’ to a party,” he went on, “either that night or that
afternoon or sometime. Sure you are! Girls like you ain’t handed the
go-by on many parties in this neck of the woods--am I right? Well, then,
when the time comes, you pull down the flap. There’s your beauty-box,
lookin’-glass, powder puff and powder, all complete. Now a novelty like
that will sell--”

“We couldn’t use it,” interrupted Mary-’Gusta. “Show me something else.”

Mr. Kron, disappointed but far from discouraged, showed her something
else--many somethings. Concerning each he was enthusiastic, slangy, and
familiar. Mary-’Gusta paid little attention to slang or enthusiasm; the
familiarity she ignored utterly. She selected several of the novelties,
a rather extensive line of Christmas cards, and in the matters of
price and cash discounts was keen and businesslike. Keith watched and
listened, at first with amusement, then with growing admiration for the
girl’s simplicity and good sense.

Mr. Kron’s admiration was outspoken.

“Say,” he said, as he repacked his samples, “you’re a mighty clever
buyer, do you know it? That line of stuff you’ve ordered is the cream,
that’s what it is. You made a mistake in not layin’ in a dozen or two of
those combination beauty-boxes, but that’s all right. Here, have one for
yourself. Take it with my compliments.”

Mary-’Gusta declined. “No, thank you,” she said.

“Why not? It don’t come out of my pocket. The firm expects me to hand
out little keepsakes like that. I’ve been plantin’ ‘em with the girls
all the way down.”

“No, thank you,” she replied.

Mr. Kron, having finished his business as representative of Messrs.
Bernstein, Goldberg and Baun, attempted a stroke of his own.

“Say,” he said, “I’ve got a little spare time on my hands this evenin’;
I shan’t make the next town until tomorrow. There’s a new movie theater
just opened over to Orham. They tell me it’s all to the mustard. I can
hire a rig here and you and me might drive over tonight and take it in.
What do you say, Kid?”

“No, thank you,” said Mary-’Gusta again.

“But--”

“No, thank you. Good day.”

She turned away to enter the order she had just given in a book on
the desk. Mr. Kron tried again, but she did not appear to hear him. He
grinned, observed “Oh, very well!” and, with a wink at Mr. Keith, went
out, a suitcase in each hand.

Keith rose from the chair and, walking over to the counter, requested to
be supplied with the tobacco he had come to buy. Mary-’Gusta gave it
to him. Her cheeks were red and Keith was surprised to notice that she
looked almost as if she would like to cry. He guessed the reason.

“That young man will get himself thoroughly kicked some day,” he
observed; “I’m not sure that I oughtn’t to have done it myself just now.
He annoyed you, I’m afraid.”

Mary-’Gusta answered without looking at him.

“That’s all right,” she said. “I’m foolish, I guess. He meant to be
nice, perhaps. Some girls may like that sort of niceness; I don’t.”

“Why didn’t you tell him to get out?”

“I wanted to see his samples. It is time for us to buy our Christmas
things and I had rather choose them myself, that’s all.”

“Oh! But Mr. Hamilton or the Captain--I should think--”

“Oh, they might have bought some that we couldn’t sell.”

“The beauty-boxes, for instance?”

Mary-’Gusta smiled. “Why, yes,” she admitted; “perhaps.”

“I see. But it was rather an ordeal for you. Do you have to endure much
of that sort of thing?”

“No more than any girl who keeps store, I guess.”

At the dinner table that evening Keith referred to his experience as
listener in Hamilton and Company’s shop.

“That girl with the queer name,” he said, “a niece of those two old
chaps who run the place, I believe she is. Do you know anything about
her, Gertrude?”

Before Mrs. Keith could reply, Edna spoke:

“Ask Sam, Dad,” she said, mischievously. “Sam knows about her. He just
adores that store; he spends half his time there.”

“Nonsense, Edna!” protested Sam, turning red. “I don’t do any such
thing.”

“Oh, yes, you do. And you know about Mary-’Gusta too. He says she’s a
peach, Daddy.”

“Humph!” grunted her brother, indignantly. “Well, she is one. She’s
got every girl in your set skinned a mile for looks. But I don’t know
anything about her, of course.”

Mrs. Keith broke in. “Skinned a mile!” she repeated, with a shudder.
“Sam, what language you do use! Yes, John,” she added, addressing her
husband. “I know the girl well. She’s pretty and she is sensible. For
a girl who has had no opportunities and has lived all her life here in
South Harniss she is really quite remarkable. Why do you speak of her,
John?”

Mr. Keith related a part of the conversation between Mary-’Gusta and Mr.
Kron.

“She handled the fellow splendidly,” he said. “She talked business with
him and she wouldn’t let him talk anything else. But it was plain enough
to see that she felt insulted and angry. It seems a pity that a girl
like that should have to put up with that sort of thing. I wonder if her
uncles, old Mr. Hamilton and Captain Shadrach, realize what happens when
they’re not about? How would they take it, do you think, if I dropped a
hint?”

Edna laughed. “You would have to be very careful, Daddy,” she said. “Mr.
Hamilton and the Captain idolize Mary-’Gusta and she just worships them.
Besides, she isn’t really their niece, you know. She is a young lady of
independent means--at least, so everybody says.”

Her father was surprised. He asked what she meant by “independent
means.” Mrs. Keith answered.

“The means are not very extensive, I imagine,” she said. “The story is
that this Mary-’Gusta--why they persist in calling her by that dreadful
name I can’t understand--is the daughter of a former friend and partner.
Mr. Hamilton and Captain Gould adopted her and she has lived with them
ever since. She has money of her own, though no two of the townspeople
agree as to how much. I’ve heard it estimated all the way from five to
fifty thousand. She never speaks of it and those queer old uncles of
hers keep their affairs very much to themselves. But I agree with you,
John; it is a shame that she should have to spend her life here in South
Harniss. I think we ought to do something for her, if we can. I shall
think it over.”

Mrs. Keith was always doing something for somebody. At home in Chicago
she was president of her women’s club and identified with goodness knows
how many charitable societies. In South Harniss she was active in church
and sewing circles. Her enthusiasm was always great, but her tact was
sometimes lacking. South Harniss people, some of them, were inclined
to consider her as a self-appointed boss interfering where she had no
business.

Her husband looked a trifle dubious.

“Be careful, Gertrude,” he cautioned. “Look out you don’t offend.
These Cape Codders are self-respecting and touchy, you know. Anyone
interfering with their private affairs is likely to get into trouble.”

His wife resented the warning. “Don’t throw cold water on everything,
John,” she said. “I know more about Cape Codders than you do. You only
meet them for a few weeks each summer. I flatter myself that I know them
and that they know and trust me. Of COURSE I shall be careful. And I
shall think the Mary-’Gusta matter over.”

She did think it over and a week later she came to her husband
overflowing with the excitement of a brilliant idea. A cousin of hers,
a maiden lady of sixty or thereabouts, wealthy and a semi-invalid who
cherished her ill-health, was in need of a female companion. Mrs. Keith
was certain that Mary-’Gusta would be just the person to fill that need.

Mr. Keith was by no means so certain. He raised some objections.

“Humph,” he said. “Well, Gertrude, to be frank, I don’t think much
of the scheme. Cousin Clara has had one companion after the other for
thirty years. None of them has stayed with her very long. She requires
a sort of combination friend and lady’s maid and secretary and waitress,
and I don’t think our Mary-’Gusta would enjoy that sort of job. I
certainly shouldn’t--with Clara.”

His wife was indignant. “I might have known you would be ready with the
cold water,” she declared. “Clara is--well, cranky, and particular and
all that, but the opportunity is wonderful. The girl would travel and
meet the best people--”

“She might remove their wraps, I admit.”

“Nonsense! And if Clara took a fancy to her she might leave her a good
sum of money when she died.”

“Perhaps, providing the girl didn’t die first. No, Gertrude, I’m
sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t think much of your idea. Anyway,
according to my belief, you’re approaching this thing from the wrong
end. It isn’t the girl herself you should try to influence, but her
uncles, or guardians, or whatever they are. If I know her, and I’ve been
making some inquiries, she won’t leave them. She will consider that they
need her at the house and store and she’ll stay. They are the ones to
influence. If the matter of her welfare and future was put to them in
the right light they might--well, they might sacrifice themselves to
benefit her.”

“Rubbish! I know I’m right. She’ll jump at the opportunity. I shall tell
her about it this very afternoon.”

“She won’t accept; I’ll bet on it.”

His principal reason for non-belief in Mary-’Gusta’s acceptance was his
knowledge of his wife’s lack of tact. The girl did not consider herself,
nor was she, a subject of charity. And the position of combination
friend and servant would not appeal to her. John Keith had an idea of
his own concerning Mary-’Gusta, but it could wait until his wife’s had
failed.


It failed, of course, and Mrs. Keith, that evening, was indignant and
angry.

“I never was so treated in my life,” she declared. “That girl didn’t
know her place at all. I’m through. I wash my hands of the whole
matter.”

“Wasn’t she polite?” inquired Keith.

“Oh, she was polite enough, as far as that goes, but she wouldn’t even
consider my proposal. Wouldn’t even hear me through. She said she had no
thought of leaving South Harniss. She was quite satisfied and contented
where she was. One would think I had come to ask a favor instead of
conferring one. Why, she seemed to think my plan almost ridiculous.”

“Did she say so?”

“No, of course she didn’t. She thanked me and all that; but she snubbed
me just the same. I’m disgusted. I’m through--absolutely and completely
through trying to help that girl!”

Keith did not say, “I told you so”; in fact, he said little or nothing
more at the time. But a day or two afterwards he called at the store.
Zoeth and Captain Shadrach were alone there, their niece having gone
down to the house, a fact of which the caller was aware.

The partners liked John Keith. They considered him, as Captain Shad
said, “a first-rate, everyday sort of feller,” who did not patronize nor
put on airs, even though he was a “summer man” and rich. When he talked
with them it was of things they understood, local affairs, the cranberry
crop, fishing, and the doings of the Board of Selectmen. He was willing
to listen as well as talk and he did not refer to permanent residents as
“natives,” a habit of his wife’s which irritated the Captain extremely.

“Jumpin’ fire!” said the latter on one occasion, “every time that woman
calls us town folks ‘natives’ I feel as if she cal’lated I lived up a
tree and chucked coconuts at folks. I don’t wonder some of the South Sea
Islands heathen eat missionaries. If I ATE that woman she might agree
with me; she don’t as ‘tis. Every time I say yes she says no, and that
makes me think yes harder’n ever.”

So Mrs. Keith was not popular with the South Harniss natives, perhaps
because she tried so hard to be; her husband, who apparently did not try
to be, was. He and his opinions were liked and respected. When he came
into the store, therefore, on this occasion, Zoeth and Shad welcomed
him, asked him to sit down, and the conversation began with the
astonishing rise in the price of sea-front property and drifted from
that to other timely and general topics.

Just how it drifted to Mary-’Gusta and her future neither of the
partners could have told--however, drift there it did, and they found
themselves chanting her praises to their caller, who seemed much
interested.

“She is a remarkably capable girl,” observed Mr. Keith. “And before we
realize it she will be a young woman. Are you planning that she shall
keep store and keep house for you the rest of her life, or the rest of
yours?”

Zoeth shook his head. “Why,” he said, mildly, “I don’t know’s we’ve
planned much about it so fur. Those things sort of take care of
themselves, always seemed to me. Or the Almighty takes care of ‘em for
us.”

Their visitor smiled. “Someone else will be willing and anxious to take
care of her before many years, or I miss my guess,” he said. “She is
likely to marry, you know. There must be some promising young fellows
down here.”

Shadrach sniffed. It was a subject he never discussed with his partner
and did not like even to think about. The remark of the hat and cap
drummer concerning the coming of a “Mr. Right” had troubled him not a
little.

“Ugh!” he grunted; “there’s promisin’ ones enough. Most of those that
are contented to stay here in South Harniss are nothin’ BUT promise;
they ain’t so strong on makin’ good. ‘Tain’t like ‘twas when Zoeth and
me were young ourselves. Now all the smart, ambitious boys go up to the
city to work.”

“Some of the girls go up there, too, don’t they? To school, or college?
Didn’t I hear that Christopher Mullet’s daughter was at school in
Bridgewater?”

“Ugh!” grunted Shadrach again. “I cal’late you did hear. If you didn’t
you’re the only one in town that ain’t. Becky Mullet--yes, and Chris,
too--ain’t done anything but brag about their Irene’s goin’ off to what
they call ‘finishin’ school.’ Judas! I see HER finish. She ain’t got--I
swan that girl ain’t got anything in her head but gas, and every time
she opens her mouth she loses enough of that to keep a lighthouse lit up
all night.”

“Shadrach,” murmured Zoeth, “don’t say such unlikely things about folks.
Be charitable as you can.”

“Judas! I am--as much as I can. If I wasn’t charitable to that Mullet
girl I’d be talkin’ yet. I hove to afore I’d got scarcely under way.”

Keith put in a word. “Finishing schools are not all bad, by any means,”
 he said. “There are various kinds and grades, of course, but a good
private school for girls is a fine thing. It teaches them to meet and
judge people of all kinds, and that fine feathers don’t always make fine
birds. Then, too, a girl at a good school of that sort is under strict
discipline and her acquaintances, male acquaintances especially, are
chosen with care. Sixteen to eighteen is a dangerous age for the average
girl.

“By the way,” he added, “did your niece tell you of her experience with
that traveling salesman the other day, the fellow selling Christmas
novelties? No? Well, I happened to be here at the time. It was rather
interesting.”

He told of Mary-’Gusta’s session with Mr. Kron. The partners listened
with growing indignation.

“Well, by the jumpin’!” exclaimed Captain Shad. “Did you ever hear such
brassy talk in your life! I wish to thunder I’d been here. There’d have
been one mighty sick patient ready for the doctor and he wouldn’t have
been a South Harniss native either. But Mary-’Gusta didn’t take none of
his sauce, I tell you; that girl of ours is all right!”

“Yes, she is all right. But she didn’t enjoy the experience, that was
plain enough, and, so far as I can see, she is likely to have a good
many others of the same kind. Now it isn’t my business, I know that; you
can tell me to shut up and clear out any time you like, of course; but
do you think it is just fair to a girl like your niece to condemn her
to a life of storekeeping or the alternative of marrying one of the
promising young men you’ve been talking about? Don’t you think such a
girl as she is deserves a chance; every chance you can give her?”

The two partners stared at him open-mouthed. Shadrach, as usual, spoke
first.

“Condemn her?” he repeated. “Condemn Mary-’Gusta? A chance? Why--”

“Hush, Shadrach,” interrupted Zoeth. “Mr. Keith ain’t done yet. He’s
goin’ to tell us what he means. Go on, Mr. Keith, what do you mean?”

Keith, having broken the ice, and found the water not so chilly as he
had feared it might be, plunged in.

“Well, I mean this,” he said. “I confess frankly that I have been very
favorably impressed by your niece. She is an unusual girl--unusually
pretty, of course, but much more than that. She is simple and brave and
sensible and frank. If she were my daughter I should be very proud of
her. I know you are. She should have, it seems to me, the opportunity to
make the most of her qualities and personality. I’ve been thinking about
her a great deal ever since my call at the store here the other day. Now
I’ve got a suggestion to make. You can take it or leave it, but I assure
you it is made with the best of intentions and solely in her interest as
I see it; and I hope you’ll take it after you’ve thought it over. Here
it is.”

He went on to impart the suggestion. His hearers listened, Zoeth
silently and Shadrach with occasional mutterings and exclamations.

“So there you are,” said Keith in conclusion. “The school is a good
one, one of the best in Boston. Two years there will do worlds for your
niece. It has done worlds for other girls I have known. It is rather
expensive, of course, but, as I understand it, Mary has money of her
own of which you, as her guardians, have charge. She couldn’t spend a
portion of that money to better advantage.”

Zoeth said nothing, but he looked at the Captain and the Captain looked
at him.

“She HAS money of her own, hasn’t she?” inquired Mr. Keith. “I have been
told she was left an independent fortune by her father.”

There was another interval of silence. The partners were quite aware of
the general belief in Mary-’Gusta’s independent fortune. They had not
discouraged that belief. It was no one’s business but theirs and their
respect and affection for Marcellus Hall had prevented the disclosure of
the latter’s poverty. That secret not even Mary-’Gusta knew; she, too,
believed that the money which paid for her clothes and board and all the
rest was her own. Her uncles had helped her to think so.

So when their visitor asked the pointed question Zoeth looked at
Shadrach and the latter shook his head.

“Yup,” he answered, brusquely, “it’s true enough, I cal’late. Marcellus
left her all he had. But--but look here, Mr. Keith. Do I understand you
to advise us to send Mary-’Gusta away--to school--for two years? Jumpin’
fire! How--how could we? She--why, what would we do without her?”

“It would be harder for you here in the store, of course.”

“The store! ‘Tain’t the store I’m thinkin’ about; it’s me and Zoeth.
What’ll WE do without her? Why, she--why, no daughter could mean more to
us than that girl does, and if Zoeth and me was her own--er--mother and
father we couldn’t think more of her. We’d be adrift and out of sight
of land if Mary-’Gusta went away. No, no, we couldn’t think of such a
thing.”

“Not even for her sake? She’s worth a pretty big sacrifice, a girl like
that.”

A long discussion followed, a discussion interrupted by the arrival of
occasional customers but resumed as soon as each of these individuals
departed. Zoeth asked a question.

“This--this Miss--er--What’s-her-name’s school you’re talkin’ about,” he
asked, “a reg’lar boardin’ school, is it?”

“Yes, but there are day pupils. It was my idea, provided you two were
willing to listen to my suggestion at all, to suggest that Mary attend
as a day pupil. She might live near the school instead of at it. That
would be much less expensive.”

“Um-hm,” mused Shadrach, “but--but she’d have to live somewheres, and
I for one would want to be mighty particular what sort of a place she
lived at.”

“Naturally. Well, I have thought of that, too, and here is suggestion
number three: I have a cousin--a cousin of my first wife’s--who lives on
Pinckney Street, which is not far from the Misses Cabot’s school. This
cousin--Mrs. Wyeth is her name--is a widow and she hasn’t too much
money. She doesn’t keep a boarding house exactly, but she has been known
to take a few of what she calls ‘paying guests.’ She’s very Bostonian
and very particular concerning the references and family connections of
those guests, but I think I could manage that. If your niece were placed
in her care she would have a real home and meet only the sort of people
you would wish her to meet.”

He might have added that Mrs. Wyeth, being under many obligations,
pecuniary and otherwise, to her wealthy Chicago relative, would need
only a hint from him to give Mary-’Gusta the care and attention of a
parent, a very particular, Boston first-family parent. But, unlike his
present wife, he was not in the habit of referring to his charities, so
he kept this information to himself.

Zoeth sighed. “I declare,” he said, “you’re mighty kind in all this,
Mr. Keith. I know that you’re sartin this goin’ away to school would do
Mary-’Gusta a sight of good. But--but I swan I--I can’t hardly bear to
think of our lettin’ her go away from us.”

“I don’t wonder at that. Just think it over and we’ll have another talk
later.”



CHAPTER X


Mr. Keith and the Captain had that later talk--several talks, in
fact--and a week after their first one Captain Shadrach suddenly
announced that he was cal’latin’ to run up to Boston just for a day on
business and that Mary-’Gusta had better go along with him for company.
Zoeth could tend store and get along all right until they returned. The
girl was not so certain of the getting along all right, but Mr. Hamilton
as well as the Captain insisted, so she consented at last. The Boston
trip was not exactly a novelty to her--she had visited the city a number
of times during the past few years--but a holiday with Uncle Shad was
always good fun.

They took the early morning train and reached Boston about ten o’clock.
Shadrach’s business in the city seemed to be of a rather vague nature
this time. They called at the offices of two or three of his old
friends--ship-chandlers and marine outfitters on Commercial Street and
Atlantic Avenue--and then the Captain, looking at his watch, announced
that it was pretty nigh noontime and he cal’lated they had better
be cruisin’ up towards Pinckney Street. “Got an errand up in that
latitude,” he added.

Pinckney Street was on the hill in the rear of the Common and the State
House and was narrow and crooked and old-fashioned.

“What in the world are we doing up here?” queried Mary-’Gusta. “There
aren’t any wholesale houses here, I’m sure. Haven’t you made a mistake,
Uncle Shad?” Shadrach, who had been consulting a page of his pocket
memorandum book, replied that he cal’lated he’d got his bearin’s, and,
to the girl’s astonishment, stopped before a brick dwelling with a
colonial doorway and a white stone step which actually shone from
scrubbing, and rang the bell.

The maid who answered the bell wore a white apron which crackled with
starch. She looked as if she too had, like the step, been scrubbed a few
minutes before.

“This is No.--, ain’t it?” inquired the Captain. “Humph! I thought so.
I ain’t so much of a wreck yet but that I can navigate Boston without a
pilot. Is Mr. Keith in?”

The maid, who had received the pilot statement with uncomprehending
astonishment, looked relieved.

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Mr. Keith’s here. Are you the ones he’s
expectin’? Walk in, please.”

They entered the house. It was as spotlessly tidy within as without.
The maid ushered them into a parlor where old mahogany and old family
portraits in oil were very much in evidence.

“Sit down, please,” she said. “I’ll tell Mr. Keith you’re here.”

She left the room. Mary-’Gusta turned to the Captain in amazed
agitation.

“Uncle Shad,” she demanded, “why on earth did you come HERE to see Mr.
Keith? Couldn’t you have seen him at South Harniss?”

Shadrach shook his head. “Not today I couldn’t,” he said. “He’s up here
today.”

“But what do you want to see him for?”

“Business, business, Mary-’Gusta. Mr. Keith and me are tryin’ to do a
little stroke of business together. We’ve got a hen on, as the feller
said. Say, this is kind of a swell house, ain’t it? And clean--my soul!
Judas! did I move this chair out of place? I didn’t mean to. Looks as if
it had set right in that one spot for a hundred years.”

Keith entered at that moment, followed by an elderly lady whose gown was
almost as old-fashioned as the furniture. She was a rather thin person
but her face, although sharp, was not unkind in expression and her
plainly arranged hair was white. Mary-’Gusta liked her looks; she
guessed that she might be very nice indeed to people she knew and
fancied; also that she would make certain of knowing them first.

“Hello, Captain Gould,” hailed Keith. “Glad to see you. Found the place
all right, I see.”

“Yes--yes, I found it, Mr. Keith.”

“I thought you wouldn’t have any difficulty. Mary, how do you do?”

Mary-’Gusta and Mr. Keith shook hands.

“Captain,” said Keith, “I want to introduce you to my cousin, Mrs.
Wyeth.”

Mrs. Wyeth bowed with dignity.

“How do you do, Captain Gould,” she said.

“Why--why, I’m pretty smart, thank you, ma’am,” stammered Shadrach,
rather embarrassed at all this ceremony. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

“And this young lady,” went on Keith, “is Miss Mary Lathrop. Miss
Lathrop, this lady is Mrs. Wyeth, my cousin.”

Mary-’Gusta, with the uneasy feeling that Mrs. Wyeth’s gaze had been
fixed upon her since she entered the room, bowed but said nothing.

“And now,” said Mr. Keith, heartily, “we’ll have luncheon. You’re just
in time and Mrs. Wyeth has been expecting you.”

The Captain’s embarrassment reached its height at this invitation.

“No, no,” he stammered, “we--we can’t do that. Couldn’t think of it,
you know. We--we ain’t a mite hungry. Had breakfast afore we left home,
didn’t we, Mary-’Gusta?”

Keith laughed. “Yes, I know,” he said; “and you left home about
half-past five. I’ve taken that early train myself. If you’re not hungry
you ought to be and luncheon is ready. Emily--Mrs. Wyeth--has been
expecting you. She will be disappointed if you refuse.”

Mrs. Wyeth herself put in a word here. “Of course they won’t refuse,
John,” she said with decision. “They must be famished. Refuse! The idea!
Captain Gould, Mr. Keith will look out for you; your niece will come
with me. Luncheon will be ready in five minutes. Come, Mary. That’s your
name--Mary--isn’t it? I’m glad to hear it. It’s plain and it’s sensible
and I like it. The employment bureau sent me a maid a week ago and when
she told me her name I sent her back again. It was Florina. That was
enough. Mercy! All I could think of was a breakfast food. Come, Mary.
Now, John, do be prompt.”

That luncheon took its place in Mary-’Gusta’s memory beside that of her
first supper in the house at South Harniss. They were both memorable
meals, although alike in no other respects. Mrs. Wyeth presided, of
course, and she asked the blessing and poured the tea with dignity and
businesslike dispatch. The cups and saucers were of thin, transparent
China, with pictures of mandarins and pagodas upon them. They looked
old-fashioned and they were; Mrs. Wyeth’s grandfather had bought them
himself in Hongkong in the days when he commanded a clipper ship
and made voyages to the Far East. The teaspoons were queer little
fiddle-patterned affairs; they were made by an ancestor who was a
silversmith with a shop on Cornhill before General Gage’s army was
quartered in Boston. And cups and spoons and napkins were so clean that
it seemed almost sacrilegious to soil them by use.

Captain Shadrach did not soil his to any great extent at first. The
Captain was plainly overawed by the genteel elegance of his surrounding
and the manner of his hostess. But Mr. Keith was very much at ease and
full of fun and, after a time, a little of Shadrach’s self-consciousness
disappeared. When he learned that grandfather Wyeth had been a seafaring
man he came out of his shell sufficiently to narrate, at Keith’s
request, one of his own experiences in Hongkong, but even in the midst
of his yarn he never forgot to address his hostess as “ma’am” and he did
not say “Jumpin Judas” once.

After luncheon Mr. Keith and the Captain left the house together.
“Goin’ to attend to that little mite of business I spoke to you about,
Mary-’Gusta,” explained Shadrach, confidentially. “We’ll be back pretty
soon. I cal’late maybe you’d better wait here, that is,” with a glance
at Mrs. Wyeth, “if it’ll be all right for you to.”

“Of course it will be all right,” declared Mrs. Wyeth promptly. “I shall
be glad to have her.”

“Thank you, ma’am. If she won’t be in the way I--”

“If she were likely to be in the way I should say so. She won’t be.”

“Yes--er--yes, ma’am,” stammered Shadrach. “Thank you, ma’am.”

When he and Mr. Keith were out of the house he drew a long breath.

“Judas!” he observed, feelingly. “Say, that cousin of yours don’t waste
any words, does she? When it comes to speakin’ what’s in her mind she
don’t fool around none. She’s as right up and down as a schooner’s
fo’mast.”

Keith laughed heartily. “Emily is blunt and outspoken,” he said. “She
prides herself on that. But she is as square as a brick. She never says
one thing to your face and another behind your back.”

“No, I--I judge that’s so. Well, that’s all right; I ain’t got any
objections to that way of talkin’ myself. But say, if every woman was
like her there wouldn’t be many sewin’ circles, would there? The average
sewin’ circle meetin’ is one part sew and three parts what So-and-so
said.”

When the little mite of business had been transacted and the pair
returned to the Wyeth house they found Mrs. Wyeth and Mary-’Gusta
awaiting them in the parlor. The girl had the feeling that she had
been undergoing a rather vigorous cross-examination. Mrs. Wyeth had not
talked a great deal herself and her manner, though brusque and matter
of fact, was kind; but she had asked questions about Mary-’Gusta’s home
life, about Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton, about school and friends and
acquaintances. And her comments, when she made any, were direct and to
the point.

She and Mr. Keith exchanged looks when the latter entered the room.
Keith raised his eyebrows inquiringly. She nodded as if giving emphatic
assent to his unspoken question.

Shadrach and Mary-’Gusta left the house soon afterward. While the
Captain and Mr. Keith were whispering together in the hall, Mrs. Wyeth
bade the girl good-by.

“I like you, my dear,” said the lady. “You seem to be a sweet, sensible
girl, and I don’t meet as many of that kind nowadays as I could wish. I
am sure we shall be good friends.”

“And WHAT did she mean by that?” demanded Mary-’Gusta, as she and the
Captain walked along Pinckney Street together. “Why should we be good
friends? Probably I’ll never meet her again.”

Shadrach smiled. “Oh, you can’t always tell,” he said. “Sometimes you
meet folks oftener’n you think in this world.”

Mary-’Gusta looked at him. “Uncle Shad,” she said, “what does all this
mean, anyway? Why did you go to her house? And what was the mysterious
business of yours with Mr. Keith?”

The Captain shook his head. “We’ve got a hen on, same as I told you,”
 he declared. “When it’s time for the critter to come off the nest you’ll
see what’s been hatched same as the rest of us. How’d you like that Mrs.
Wyeth? Had a pretty sharp edge on her tongue, didn’t she?”

Mary-’Gusta considered. “Yes,” she answered; “she was outspoken and
blunt, of course. But she is a lady--a real lady, I think--and I’m sure
I should like her very much when I knew her better. I think, though,
that she would expect a person to behave--behave in her way, I mean.”

“Judas! I should say so. Don’t talk! I ain’t felt so much as if I was
keepin’ my toes on a chalk mark since I went to school. I don’t know
what her husband died of, but I’ll bet ‘twasn’t curvature of the spine.
If he didn’t stand up straight ‘twasn’t his wife’s fault.”

Mary-’Gusta’s curiosity concerning the mysterious business which had
brought them to the city became greater than ever before it was time to
take the train for home. Apparently all of that business, whatever it
might be, had been transacted when her uncle and Mr. Keith took their
short walk together after luncheon. Captain Shadrach seemed to consider
his Boston errand done and the pair spent half of the hour before train
time wandering along Tremont and Washington Streets looking into shop
windows, and the other half in the waiting room of the South Station.

Great and growing as was her curiosity, the girl asked no more
questions. She was determined not to ask them. And the Captain, neither
while in the city nor during the homeward journey, referred to the “hen”
 in which he and his friend from Chicago were mutually interested. It
was not until nine o’clock that evening, when supper was over and Zoeth,
having locked up the store, was with them in the sitting-room, that the
hitherto secretive fowl came off the nest.

Then Shadrach, having given his partner a look and received one in
return, cleared his throat and spoke.

“Mary-’Gusta,” he said, “me and your Uncle Zoeth have got some news for
you. I cal’late you’ve been wonderin’ a little mite what that business
of Mr. Keith’s and mine was, ain’t you?”

Mary-’Gusta smiled. “I have wondered--just a little,” she observed, with
mild sarcasm.

“Yes--yes, I ain’t surprised. Well, the business is done and it’s
settled, and it’s about you.”

“About me? Why, Uncle Shad! How can it be about me?”

“‘Cause it can and it is, that’s why. Mary-’Gusta, me and Zoeth have
been thinkin’ about you a good deal lately and we’ve come to the
conclusion that we ain’t treated you just right.”

“Haven’t treated me right? YOU?”

“Yes, us. You’re a good girl and a smart girl--the smartest and best
girl there is in this town. A girl like that ought to do somethin’
better’n than stay here in South Harniss and keep store. Keepin’ store’s
all right for old hulks like Zoeth Hamilton and Shad Gould, but you
ain’t an old hulk; you’re a young craft right off the ways and you ought
to have a chance to cruise in the best water there is.”

“Uncle Shad, what are you talking about? Cruise in the best water?”

“That’s what I said. You ought to mix with the best folks and get a fine
education and meet somebody besides drummers and--and Sol Higgins’s son.
Selling coffins may be a good job, I don’t say ‘tain’t; somebody’s got
to do it and we’ll all have to invest in that kind of--er--furniture
sometime or ‘nother. And Dan Higgins is a good enough boy, too. But he
ain’t your kind.”

“My kind! Uncle Shad, what in the world have I got to do with Dan
Higgins and coffins--and all the rest of it?”

“Nothin’, nothin’ at all. That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell you if you’ll
give me a chance. Mary-’Gusta, your Uncle Zoeth and I have decided that
you must go to school up to Boston, at the Misses Cabot’s school there.
You’ll board along with that Mrs. Wyeth, the one we met today. She’s
a good woman, I cal’late, though she is so everlastin’ straight up and
down. You’ll board there and you’ll go to school to those Cabot women.
And--”

But Mary-’Gusta interrupted. The hen was off the nest now, there was no
doubt of that, and of all unexpected and impossible hatchings hers
was the most complete. The absurdity of the idea, to the girl’s mind,
overshadowed even the surprise of it.

“What?” she said. “Uncle Shad, what--? Do you mean that you and Uncle
Zoeth have been in conspiracy to send me away to school? To send me away
to Boston?”

Shadrach nodded.

“No conspiracy about it,” he declared. “Me and Zoeth and Mr. Keith,
we--”

“Mr. Keith? Yes, yes, I see. It was Mr. Keith who put the idea in your
head. How perfectly silly!”

“Silly? Why is it silly?”

“Because it is. It’s ridiculous.”

“No, it ain’t, it’s common sense. Other girls go to city finishin’
schools, don’t they? That Irene Mullet’s just gone, for one. Don’t you
think we figger to do as much for our girl as Becky Mullet can do for
hers? Jumpin’ fire! If you ain’t worth a hogshead of girls like Irene
Mullet then I miss my guess.”

“Hush, Uncle Shad; what difference does that make?”

And now Zoeth put in a word. “Mary-’Gusta,” he said, “you know what a
good school like the one Shad’s been speakin’ of can do for a girl. I
know you know it. Now, be right down honest; wouldn’t you like to have a
couple of years, say, at a school like that, if you could have ‘em just
as well as not? Didn’t you say not more’n a fortni’t ago that you was
glad Irene Mullet was goin’ to have such a chance to improve herself?”

Mary-’Gusta had said that very thing; she could not truthfully deny it.

“Of course I did,” she answered. “And I am glad. But Irene’s case and
mine are different. Irene isn’t needed at home. I am, and--”

Shadrach broke in. “Ah, ha! Ah, ha! Zoeth,” he crowed, triumphantly.
“Didn’t I tell you she’d say that? I knew she’d say she wouldn’t go
‘cause she’d think she’d ought to stay here and look out for us. Well,
Mary-’Gusta, you listen to me. Zoeth and I are your guardians, lawfully
appointed. We’re your bosses, young lady, for a spell yet. And you’re
goin’ to do as we say.”

“But--”

“There ain’t any ‘buts.’ The ‘buts’ are all past and gone. Mr. Keith
has arranged for you to board and room along with Mrs. Wyeth and I’ve
arranged for your schoolin’ at the Cabot place. Yes, and I’ve done
more’n that: I paid for your first year’s schoolin’ this very afternoon.
So there! THAT’S ended.”

It was not ended, of course. Mary-’Gusta went to her room that night
declaring she would not leave her uncles to attend any finishing school.
They went to theirs vowing that she should. The real end came the next
day when Zoeth put the subject before her in a new light by saying:

“Look here, Mary-’Gusta; just listen to me a minute and think. Suppose
the boot was on t’other foot: suppose you wanted us to do somethin’ to
please you, you’d expect us to do it, wouldn’t you? Anyhow, you know
mighty well we WOULD do it. Now we want you to do this to please us.
We’ve set our hearts on it.”

Mary-’Gusta was silent for a minute or more. The partners watched her
anxiously. Then she asked an unusual question, one concerning her own
financial status.

“Can I afford it?” she asked. “Have I money enough of my own?”

Zoeth looked troubled. Shadrach, however, answered promptly and
diplomatically.

“Haven’t I told you,” he said, “that Zoeth and me are your guardians?
And didn’t I say we’d gone into the thing careful and deliberate? And
didn’t I pay your first year’s schoolin’ yesterday? Don’t that alone
show what we think about the money. Be still, Zoeth; that’s enough.
Well, Mary-’Gusta?”

Mary-’Gusta considered a moment longer. Then she rose and, crossing the
room, gave them each a kiss.

“I’ll go,” she said, simply. “I’ll go because I think you mean it and
that it will please you. For that reason and no other I’ll go.”



CHAPTER XI


The Misses Cabot’s school was to open on the fifteenth of September and,
on the morning of the fourteenth, Mary-’Gusta bade her guardians good-by
on the platform of the South Harniss railway station. Shadrach had
intended going to Boston with her, but she had firmly insisted on going
alone.

“I must get used to being away from you both,” she said, “and you must
get used to having me go. It will be best for all of us to say good-by
here. It won’t be for VERY long; I’ll be home at Christmas, you know.”

The three weeks prior to the fateful fourteenth had been crowded with
activities. Twice the girl and Captain Shadrach had journeyed to Boston,
where in company with Mrs. Wyeth, whose services had been volunteered
in a crisp but kindly note, they visited shops and selected and
purchased--that is, the feminine members of the party selected and the
Captain paid for--a suit and waists and hats and other things which it
appeared were necessary for the wardrobe of a young lady at finishing
school. Shadrach would have bought lavishly, but Mrs. Wyeth’s common
sense guided the selections and Mary-’Gusta was very particular as to
price. Shadrach, at the beginning, made a few suggestions concerning
colors and styles, but the suggestions were disregarded. The Captain’s
taste in colors was not limited; he fancied almost any hue, provided
it was bright enough. His ward would have looked like an animated crazy
quilt if he had had his way.

He grumbled a little as they journeyed back to South Harniss.

“She may be all right, that Wyeth woman,” he said, “but she’s too
everlastin’ sober-sided to suit me. Take that hat you and she bought;
why, ‘twas as plain, and hadn’t no more fuss and feathers than a
minister’s wife’s bonnet. You ain’t an old maid; no, nor a Boston
first-family widow, neither. Now, the hat I liked--the yellow and blue
one--had some get-up-and-git. If you wore that out on Tremont Street
folks would turn around and look at you.”

Mary-’Gusta laughed and squeezed his hand. “You silly Uncle Shad,” she
said, “don’t you know that is exactly what I don’t want them to do?”

Shadrach turned his gaze in her direction. She was at the end of the
car seat next to the window and against the light of the setting sun her
face and head were silhouetted in dainty profile. The Captain sighed.

“Well,” he said, philosophically, “I don’t know’s we need to argue. I
cal’late they’ll look some as ‘tis.”

Her parting instructions to her uncles were many and diversified. Zoeth
must be sure and change to his heavy flannels on the first of October.
He must not forget rubbers when the ground was damp, and an umbrella
when it rained. If he caught cold there was the medicine Doctor Harley
had prescribed. He must not sit up after ten o’clock; he must not try
to read the paper without first hunting for his spectacles. These were a
few of his orders. Shadrach’s list was even longer. It included going
to church every other Sunday: keeping his Sunday shoes blacked: not
forgetting to change his collar every morning: to get his hair cut
at least once in six weeks: not to eat pie just before going to bed,
“because you know if you do, you always have the nightmare and groan
and moan and wake up everyone but yourself”: not to say “Jumpin’” or
“Creepin’ Judas” any oftener than he could help: to be sure and not
cut prices in the store just because a customer asked him to do so--and
goodness knows how much more.

As for Isaiah Chase, his list was so lengthy and varied that the
responsibility quite overwhelmed him.

“Gosh t’mighty!” exclaimed Isaiah, desperately. “I’ll never be able to
live up to all them sailin’ orders and I know it. I’ve put some of ‘em
down on a piece of paper, but I ain’t even got them straight, and as for
the million or two others--whew! I’m to dust every day, and sweep every
other day, and change the tablecloth, and see that the washin’ goes when
it ought to, and feed the horse the cat--no, no, feed the cat oats--Oh,
consarn it! Feed the cat and the horse and the hens their reg’lar
vittles at reg’lar times and--and--Oh, my soul! Yes, and let alone my
own self and all that’s laid onto me, I must keep an eye on Captain Shad
and Zoeth and see that they do what’s been laid onto THEM. I swan to
man! I’m a hard-workin’, painstakin’ feller of my age, but I ain’t as
young as I used to be, and I’m human and not a walkin’ steam-engyne.
I’ll do the best I can, but--but first thing you know I’ll be drove into
heavin’ up my job. THEN this craft’ll be on its beam ends, I bet you!
They’ll appreciate me then, when it’s too late.”

The farewells at the railway station were brief. They were very hard to
say and neither the partners nor Mary-’Gusta could trust themselves to
talk more than was necessary. The train drew up beside the platform;
then it moved on. A hand waved from the car window; Shadrach and Zoeth
waved in return. The rear car disappeared around the curve by Solomon
Higgins’ cranberry shanty.

Mr. Hamilton sighed heavily.

“She’s gone, Shadrach,” he said. “Mary-’Gusta’s gone.”

Shadrach echoed the sigh.

“Yes, she’s gone,” he agreed. “I feel as if the best part of you and me
had gone along with her. Well, t’other parts have got to go back to the
store and wait on customers, I presume likely. Heave ahead and let’s do
it. Ah, hum! I cal’late we’d ought to be thankful we’ve got work to do,
Zoeth. It’ll help take up our minds. There are goin’ to be lonesome days
for you and me, shipmate.”

There were lonely days for Mary-’Gusta also, those of that first month
at Mrs. Wyeth’s and at the Misses Cabot’s school. For the first time in
her life she realized what it meant to be homesick. But in the letters
which she wrote to her uncles not a trace of the homesickness was
permitted to show and little by little its keenest pangs wore away. She,
too, was thankful for work, for the study which kept her from thinking
of other things.

The Misses Cabot--their Christian names were Priscilla and Hortense--she
found to be middle-aged maiden ladies, eminently prim and proper,
and the educational establishment over which they presided a sort of
Protestant nunnery ruled according to the precepts of the Congregational
Church and the New England aristocracy. Miss Priscilla was tall and thin
and her favorite author was Emerson; she quoted Emerson extensively and
was certain that real literature died when he did. Miss Hortense
was younger, plumper, and more romantic. She quoted Longfellow and
occasionally Oliver Wendell Holmes, although she admitted she considered
the latter rather too frivolous at times. Both sisters were learned,
dignified, and strict disciplinarians. Also, in the eyes of both a male
person younger than forty-five was labeled “Danger--Keep Away.” But
one creature of the masculine gender taught in their school; he was
white-haired Doctor Barnes, professor of the dead languages. It was the
prevailing opinion among the scholars that Doctor Barnes, when at home,
occupied an apartment in the Greek Antiquity section of the Art Museum,
where he slept and ate surrounded by the statues and busts of his
contemporaries.

As for the scholars themselves, there were about forty of them,
girls--or young ladies: the Misses Cabot invariably referred to
and addressed them as “young ladies”--from Boston and New York and
Philadelphia, even from Chicago and as far south as Baltimore. Almost
all were the daughters of well-to-do parents, almost all had their homes
in cities. There were very few who, like Mary-’Gusta, had lived all
their lives in the country. Some were pretty, some were not; some were
giddy and giggly, some solemn and studious, some either according to
mood; some were inclined to be snobbish, others simple and “everyday.”
 In short, the school was like almost any school of its kind.

Mary-’Gusta entered this school and, doing so, ceased to be Mary-’Gusta,
becoming Miss Lathrop to her instructors and Mary to her intimates among
the scholars. And at Mrs. Wyeth’s she was Mary or Miss Lathrop or Miss
Mary, according to the age, length of acquaintance, or station of the
person addressing her. But she always thought of herself as Mary-’Gusta
and her letters written to Uncle Shad or Uncle Zoeth were so signed.

She found, after the hard work of beginning, that she could keep abreast
of her class in studies without undue exertion. Also she found that, the
snobs excepted, the girls at the Misses Cabot’s school were inclined to
be sociable and friendly. She made no bid for their friendship, being a
self-respecting young person whose dislike of imitation was as strong as
ever, but, perhaps because she did not bid or imitate but continued
to be simply and sincerely herself, friends came to her. Most of these
friends received monthly allowances far greater than hers, and most of
them wore more expensive gowns and in greater variety, but she showed
no envy nor offered apologies, and if she sometimes wished, being human,
that her wardrobe was a trifle more extensive she kept that wish to
herself.

Her liking for Mrs. Wyeth grew into a real affection. And the prim and
practical matron grew more and more fond of her. The girl came to be
considered, and almost to consider herself, one of the family. The
“family” consisted of Mrs. Wyeth, Mary, Miss Pease, the other “paying
guest,” and Maggie, the maid, and Nora, the cook. Miss Pease was an
elderly spinster without near relatives, possessed of an income and a
love of travel which she gratified by occasional European trips. She
and her closest friend, Mrs. Wyeth, disagreed on many subjects, but
they united in the belief that Boston was a suburb of Paradise and that
William Ellery Channing was the greatest of religious leaders. They
at-tended the Arlington Street Unitarian Church, and Mary often
accompanied them there for Sunday morning or afternoon service.

The conviction of the Misses Cabot that youthful manhood was dangerous
and to be shunned like the plague Mary soon discovered was not shared
by the majority of the young ladies. If Miss Priscilla and Miss Hortense
had had their way Harvard University and the Institute of Technology
would have been moved forthwith to some remote spot like the North Pole
or San Francisco. There were altogether too many “cousins” or “sons
of old family friends” calling at the school to deliver messages from
parents or guardians or the said friends. These messengers, young
gentlemen with budding mustaches and full-blown raiment, were rigidly
inspected and their visits carefully chaperoned: but letters came and
were treasured and the cheerful inanity of their contents imparted, in
strict secrecy, to bosom friends of the recipients.

Mary received no such letters. No cousins or family friends called to
deliver messages to her. No photographs of young fellows in lettered
sweaters were hidden among her belongings. Her friends in the school
thought this state of affairs very odd and they sometimes asked pointed
questions.

Miss Barbara Howe, whose home was in Brookline and whose father was the
senior partner of an old and well-known firm of downtown merchants, was
the leading questioner. She liked Mary and the latter liked her. Barbara
was pretty and full of spirits and, although she was the only child, and
a rather spoiled one, in a wealthy family, there was no snobbishness in
her make-up.

“But I can’t see,” she declared, “what you have been doing all the time.
Where have you been keeping yourself? Don’t you know ANYBODY?”

Mary smiled. “Oh, yes,” she replied, “I know a good many people.”

“You know what I mean. Don’t you know any of the fellows at Harvard, or
Tech, or Yale, or anywhere? I know dozens. And you must know some. You
know Sam Keith; you said you did.”

Mary admitted that she knew Sam slightly.

“Isn’t he fun! Sam and I are great chums. Doesn’t he dance divinely!”

“I don’t know. I never saw him dance.”

“Then you’ve missed something. Do you know his friend, the one on the
football team--Crawford Smith, his name is--do you know him?”

Mary nodded. “I--I’ve met him,” she said.

“You HAVE? Don’t you think he is perfectly splendid?”

“I don’t know. Is he?”

“Of course he is. Haven’t you read about him in the papers? He made that
long run for a touchdown in the Yale game. Oh, you should have seen it!
I couldn’t speak for two days after that game. He was just as cool and
calm. All the Yale men were trying to get him and he dodged--I never saw
anyone so cool and who kept his head so well.”

“I thought the papers spoke most of the way he kept his feet.”

“Then you did read about it! Of course you did! I’m just dying to know
him. All the girls are crazy about him. Where did you meet him? Tell
me!”

Mary smiled. On the occasion of her only meeting with Crawford Smith
that young fellow had been anything but cool.

“I met him in my uncle’s store at South Harniss,” she said. “It was
three years ago.”

“And you haven’t seen him since? He is a great friend of Sam’s. And
Sam’s people have a summer home at the Cape. Perhaps you’ll meet him
there again.”

“Perhaps.”

“Goodness! One would think you didn’t want to.”

“Why, I don’t know that I do, particularly. Why should I?”

“Why should you! Mary Lathrop, I do think you are the queerest girl. You
don’t talk like a girl at all. Sometimes I think you are as old as--as
Prissy.” “Prissy” was the disrespectful nickname by which the young
ladies referred, behind her back, to Miss Priscilla Cabot.

Mary laughed. “Not quite, I hope,” she said. “But I don’t see why I
should be so very anxious to meet Crawford Smith. And I’m sure he isn’t
anxious to meet me. If all the other girls are crazy about him, that
ought to be enough, I should think.”

This astonishing profession of indifference to the fascination of the
football hero, indifference which Miss Barbara declared to be only
make-believe, was made on a Saturday. The next day, as Mrs. Wyeth
and Mary were on their way home from church, the former made an
announcement.

“We are to have a guest, perhaps guests, at dinner this noon,” she
said. Sunday dinner at Mrs. Wyeth’s was served, according to New England
custom, at one o’clock.

“Samuel, Mr. John Keith’s son, is to dine with us,” continued Mrs.
Wyeth. “He may bring a college friend with him. You have met Samuel,
haven’t you, Mary?”

Mary said that she had. She was a trifle embarrassed at the prospect of
meeting Sam Keith in her new surroundings. At home, in South Harniss,
they had met many times, but always at the store. He was pleasant
and jolly and she liked him well enough, although she had refused his
invitations to go on sailing parties and the like. She knew perfectly
well that his mother and sister would not have approved of these
invitations, for in the feminine Keith mind there was a great gulf fixed
between the summer resident and the native. The latter was to be helped
and improved but not encouraged socially beyond a certain point. Mary
sought neither help nor improvement of that kind. Sam, it is true, had
never condescended or patronized, but he had never called at her home
nor had she been asked to visit his.

And now she was to meet him in a house where she was considered one of
the family. His father had been influential in bringing her there. Did
Sam know this and, if he did, what influence would the knowledge have
upon his manner toward her? Would he be lofty and condescending or, on
the other hand, would he pretend a familiar acquaintanceship which did
not exist? Alone in her room she considered these questions and then put
them from her mind. Whatever his manner might be, hers, she determined,
should be what it had always been. And if any embarrassment was evident
to others at this meeting it should not be on her part.

When she came downstairs, Mrs. Wyeth called to her to come into the
parlor. As she entered the room two young men rose from the chairs
beside the mahogany center table. One of these young men was Sam Keith;
she had expected to see Sam, of course. But the other--the other was the
very individual in whose daring deeds and glorified personality she had
expressed a complete lack of interest only the day before, the young
fellow whom she had last seen racing madly across the fields in the rear
of Hamilton and Company’s store with the larger portion of a sheet of
sticky fly paper attached to his white flannels. Mr. Crawford Smith was
taller and broader than on that memorable occasion but she recognized
him instantly.

It was evident that he did not recognize her. Mrs. Wyeth came to meet
her.

“Mary,” she said, “you know Samuel, I think. You and he have met before.
Samuel, will you introduce your friend?”

Sam was staring at Mary with eyes which expressed a variety of emotions,
intense surprise the most prominent. He was in a state which Barbara
Howe would have described as “fussed,” one most unusual for him. He had
known of Mary’s presence in the house; after the affair was settled John
Keith told his family what he had done, facing with serene philosophy
his wife’s displeasure and prophecies of certain regrets. Sam had vivid
and pleasing recollections of the pretty country girl in the South
Harniss store. He had not told his college friend that they were to meet
her that day, one reason being that he was not certain they would meet,
and the other a secret misgiving that it might be well to wait and
inspect and listen before boasting of previous acquaintanceship. Sam’s
mother had lectured him on the subject before he left home. “Don’t be
too familiar, Sam,” was her warning. “You may be sorry if you do. The
girl is well enough here in South Harniss, where she is accustomed
to her surroundings, but in Boston she may be quite out of place and
impossible. I have told your father so, but he won’t listen, of course.
Don’t YOU be foolish, for my sake.”

But here was no green country girl. The self-possessed young woman who
stood before him looked no more out of place and impossible in Mrs.
Wyeth’s dignified and aristocratic parlor than she had in the store
where he had last seen her. Her gown was simple and inexpensive but
it was stylish and becoming. And her manner--well, her manner was
distinctly more at ease than his at that moment. Mary had been but eight
weeks among the Misses Cabot’s young ladies, but she had used her eyes
and her brain during that time; she was adaptable and had learned other
things than those in the curriculum. Also, she was prepared for this
meeting and had made up her mind to show no embarrassment.

So the usually blase Samuel was the embarrassed party. He looked and
stammered. Mrs. Wyeth was surprised and shocked.

“Samuel,” she said sharply, “what is the matter with you? Why don’t you
speak and not stand there staring?”

Sam, with an effort, recovered some of his self-possession.

“Was I staring?” he said. “I beg your pardon, Cousin Emily. Er--How do
you do, Miss Lathrop?”

Mrs. Wyeth sniffed.

“Mercy!” she exclaimed. “Is your acquaintance as formal as that? I
thought you knew each other. The boys and girls of this generation are
beyond me. ‘Miss Lathrop,’ indeed!”

Mary smiled. “Perhaps he didn’t expect to see me here, Mrs. Wyeth,” she
said. “How do you do, Sam?”

She and Sam shook hands. Mrs. Wyeth asked another question.

“Didn’t you know Mary was with me, Samuel?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, Cousin Emily, I knew. I knew she was here, of course. But--but
I didn’t--by George!” with a sudden outburst of his real feelings, “I
hardly knew her, though. Really, I didn’t.”

Mary laughed. “Have I grown so much older in two months?” she asked.

“Oh, you haven’t changed that way. I--I--” The young man, realizing that
he was getting into deep water, seized an opportunity to scramble out.
“Oh, I forgot!” he exclaimed. “Sorry, Crawford. Mary--Miss Lathrop, I
want to present my friend, Crawford Smith. He’s my roommate at college.”

Mary and Crawford shook hands.

“I have met Mr. Smith, too, before,” she said.

The young gentlemen, both of them, looked astonished.

“Have you?” cried Sam. “Oh, I say! I didn’t know that. When was it?”

His friend, too, was plainly puzzled. “I hardly think so,” he said. “I
don’t believe I should have forgotten it. I don’t remember--”

“Don’t you remember coming into my uncles’ store at South Harniss
with Miss Keith, Sam’s sister? You bought some”--with a mischievous
twinkle--“some marshmallows, among other things. I sold them to you.”

“You? Great Scott! Are you--why that girl’s name was--what was it?”

“It was the same as mine, Mary Augusta Lathrop. But in South Harniss
they call me Mary-’Gusta.”

“That was it! And you are Mary-’Gusta? Yes, of course you are! Well,
I ought to be ashamed, I suppose, but I didn’t recognize you. I AM
ashamed. I was awfully obliged to you that day. You helped me out of a
scrape.”

Sam, who had been listening with increasing curiosity, broke in.

“Say, what’s all this?” he demanded. “When was this, Crawford? What
scrape? You never told me.”

“And you didn’t tell me that Miss Lathrop was here. You didn’t say a
word about her.”

“Eh? Didn’t I? I must have forgotten to mention it. She--she IS here,
you know.” Mrs. Wyeth shook her head.

“Samuel, you’re perfectly idiotic today,” she declared. “Of course she
is here; anyone with eyes can see she is. She is--ahem--visiting me
and she is attending the Misses Cabot’s school. There! Now, Mr. Smith
understands, I hope. And dinner is ready. Don’t any of you say another
word until we are at the table. My father used to say that lukewarm soup
was the worst sort of cold reception and I agree with him.”

During dinner Sam was tremendously curious to discover how and where his
friend and Mary had met and what the scrape might be to which Crawford
had referred. But his curiosity was unsatisfied. Mr. Smith refused to
tell and Mary only smiled and shook her head when questioned.

The young people furnished most of the conversation during the meal.
The recent football season and its triumphant ending were discussed, of
course, and the prospects of the hockey team came in for its share. Sam,
it appeared, was out for a place on the hockey squad.

“You must see some of the games, Mary,” he said. “I’ll get tickets for
you and Cousin Emily. You’re crazy about sports, aren’t you, Cousin
Emily.”

Mrs. Wyeth regarded him through her eyeglasses.

“I imagine,” she observed, “that that remark is intended as a joke. I
saw one football game and the spectacle of those boys trampling each
other to death before my eyes, and of you, Samuel Keith, hopping up and
down shrieking, ‘Tear ‘em up’ and ‘Smash ‘em’ was the nearest approach
to insanity I ever experienced. Since that time I have regarded Doctor
Eliot as President Emeritus of an asylum and NOT a university.”

Sam was hugely delighted. “That’s football,” he declared. “I will admit
that no one but lunatics like Crawford here play football. Hockey, now,
is different. I play hockey.”

Crawford seemed surprised.

“Do you?” he asked, with eager interest. “No one has ever guessed it,
not even the coach. You shouldn’t keep it a secret from HIM, Sam.”

Miss Pease, having been invited out that day, was not present at dinner.
After the coffee was served the irrepressible Sam proposed a walk.

“You won’t care to go, Cousin Emily,” he said, “but I’m sure Mary will.
It is a fine afternoon and she needs the air. Crawford isn’t much of a
walker; he can stay and keep Cousin Emily company. We won’t be long.”

Before Mary could decline this disinterested invitation Mrs. Wyeth saved
her the trouble.

“Thank you, Samuel,” she said, crisply. “Your kindness is appreciated,
particularly by Mr. Smith and myself. I can see that he is delighted
with the idea. But Mary and I are going to the afternoon service at the
Arlington Street church. So you will have to excuse us.”

This should have been a squelcher, but it was not. Sam announced that he
and Crawford would go with them. “We were thinking of going to church,
weren’t we, Crawford? It is just what I suggested, you remember.”

Mrs. Wyeth said “Humph,” and that was all. She and Mary went to their
rooms to get ready. Sam, surprised at the unexpected success of his
sudden inspiration and immensely tickled, chuckled in triumph. But his
joy was materially lessened when the quartette left the house.

“These sidewalks are too narrow for four,” declared Mrs. Wyeth. “Samuel,
you may walk with me. Mary, you and Mr. Smith must keep close at our
heels and walk fast. I never permit myself or my guests to be late at
church.”

During the walk Crawford asked a number of questions. How long had his
companion been in the city? How long did she intend staying? Did she
plan returning to the school for another year? Where would she spend the
Christmas vacation? Mary said she was going home, to South Harniss, for
the holidays.

“It’s a bully old place, Cape Cod,” declared Crawford. “I never had a
better time than I did on that visit at Sam’s. Wish I were going there
again some day.”

“Why don’t you?” asked Mary.

The young man shook his head. “Orders from home,” he said. “Father
insists on my coming home to him the moment the term closes. I made that
visit to Sam’s on my own responsibility and I got fits for doing it. Dad
seems to have a prejudice against the East. He won’t come here himself
and he doesn’t like to have me stay any longer than is absolutely
necessary. When I wrote him I was at South Harniss he telegraphed me to
come home in a hurry. He is Eastern born himself, lived somewhere
this way when he was young, but he doesn’t talk about it and has more
prejudices against Eastern ways and Eastern people than if he’d lived
all his life in Carson City. Won’t even come on to see me play football.
I doubt if he comes to Commencement next spring; and I graduate, too.”

“I wonder he permitted you to go to Harvard,” said Mary.

“He had to permit it. I’ve always been for Harvard ever since I thought
about college. Dad was all for a Western university, but I sat back in
the stirrups and pulled for Harvard and finally he gave in. He generally
gives in if I buck hard enough. He’s a bully old Dad and we’re great
pals, more like brothers than father and son. The only point where we
disagree is his confounded sectional prejudice. He thinks the sun not
only sets in the West but rises there.”

The girl learned that he intended entering the Harvard Medical School in
the fall.

“I had to fight for that, too,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ve always
wanted to be a doctor but Dad wouldn’t give in for ever so long. He is
interested in mining properties there at home and it was his idea that I
should come in with him when I finished school. But I couldn’t see it.
I wanted to study medicine. Dad says there are almost as many starving
doctors as there are down-at-the-heel lawyers; if I go in with him, he
says, I shall have what is practically a sure thing and a soft snap for
the rest of my days. That doesn’t suit me. I want to work; I expect to.
I want to paddle my own canoe. I may be the poorest M.D. that ever put
up a sign, but I’m going to put that sign up just the same. And if I
starve I shan’t ask him or anyone else to feed me.”

He laughed again as he said it, but there was a determined ring in his
voice and a square set to his chin which Mary noticed and liked. He
meant what he said, that was evident.

“I think a doctor’s profession is one of the noblest and finest in the
world,” she said.

“Do you? Good for you! So do I. It doesn’t bring in the dollars as fast
as some others, but it does seem a man’s job to me. The big specialists
make a lot of money too, but that isn’t exactly what I mean. Some of the
best men I’ve met were just country doctors, working night and day in
all sorts of weather and getting paid or not, just as it happened. That
old Doctor Harley down in your town is one of that kind, I think. I saw
something of his work while I was there.”

“Did you? I shouldn’t have thought you had time for that, with all the
picnics and sailing parties.”

“I did, though. I met him at Sam’s. Mrs. Keith had a cold or a cough or
something. He and I got to talking and he asked me to come and see him.
I went, you bet! Went out with him on some of his drives while he made
his calls, you know. He told me a lot of things. He’s a brick.”

“It’s queer,” he went on, after a moment, “but I felt really at home
down there in that little place. Seemed as if I had been there before
and--and--by George, almost as if I belonged there. It was my first
experience on and around salt water, but that seemed natural, too. And
the people--I mean the people that belong there, not the summer crowd--I
liked them immensely. Those two fine old cards that kept the store--Eh,
I beg pardon; they are relatives of yours, aren’t they? I forgot.”

“They are my uncles,” said Mary, simply. “I have lived with them almost
all my life. They are the best men in the world.”

“They seemed like it. I’d like to know them better. Hello! here’s that
confounded church. I’ve enjoyed this walk ever so much. Guess I’ve done
all the talking, though. Hope I haven’t bored you to death gassing about
my affairs.”

“No, you haven’t. I enjoyed it.”

“Did you really? Yes, I guess you did or you wouldn’t say so. You don’t
act like a girl that pretends. By George! It’s a relief to have someone
to talk to, someone that understands and appreciates what a fellow is
thinking about. Most girls want to talk football and dancing and all
that. I like football immensely and dancing too, but there is something
else in life. Even Sam--he’s as good as they make but he doesn’t care to
listen to anything serious--that is, not long.”

Mary considered. “I enjoyed listening,” she said, “and I was glad to
hear you liked South Harniss and my uncles.”

On the way home, after the service, it was Sam Keith who escorted Mary,
while Mrs. Wyeth walked with Mr. Smith. Sam’s conversation was not
burdened with seriousness. Hockey, dances, and good times were the
subjects he dealt with. Was his companion fond of dancing? Would she
accompany him to one of the club dances some time? They were great fun.
Mrs. Wyeth could chaperon them, of course.

Mary said she was afraid she would be too busy to accept. As a matter
of fact, knowing what she did of his mother’s feelings, she would have
accepted no invitations from Sam Keith even if nothing else prevented
her doing so.

“My studies take a good deal of my time,” she said.

Sam laughed. “You’ll get over that,” he declared. “I studied like blue
blazes my freshman year, but after that--I should worry. Say, I’m
mighty glad I came over here today. I’m coming again. I’ll be a regular
boarder.”

The young men said good-by at the Wyeth door. Mrs. Wyeth did not ask
them in, although the persistent Samuel threw out some pointed hints.

Crawford Smith and Mary shook hands.

“I’ve had an awfully good time,” declared the former. Then, turning to
Mrs. Wyeth, he asked: “May I call occasionally?”

Mrs. Wyeth’s answer was, as usual, frank and unmistakable.

“Yes,” she said. “I shall be very glad to see you--occasionally.”

Crawford turned to Mary.

“May I?” he asked.

Mary scarcely knew how to reply. There was no real reason why he should
not call; she liked him so far. His frankness and earnestness of purpose
appealed to her. And yet she was not at all sure that it was wise to
continue the acquaintance. In her mind this coming to Boston to school
was a very serious matter. Her uncles had sent her there to study; they
needed her at home, but that need they had sacrificed in order that
she might study and improve. Nothing else, friendships or good times or
anything, must interfere with the purpose with which she had accepted
the sacrifice.

So she hesitated.

“May I?” repeated Crawford.

“Why, I don’t know. I imagine I shall be very busy most of the time.”

“That’s all right. If you’re busy you can send word for me to vamoose.
That will be part of the bargain. Good-by.”

Mrs. Wyeth’s first remark, after entering, was concerning Sam’s friend.

“I rather like that young person,” she said. “Samuel idolizes him, of
course, but Samuel would worship a hyena if it played football. But this
Smith boy”--in Mrs. Wyeth’s mind any male under thirty was a boy--“seems
to have some common sense and a mind of his own. I don’t approve of his
name nor the howling wilderness he comes from, but he can’t help those
drawbacks, I suppose. However, if he is to call here we must know
something about him. I shall make inquiries.”



CHAPTER XII


The school term ended on a Saturday morning in mid-December. Mary’s
trunk was packed and ready, and she and it reached the South Station
long before train time. She was going home, home for the holidays, and
if she had been going on a trip around the world she could not have been
more delighted at the prospect. And her delight and anticipations were
shared in South Harniss. Her uncles’ letters for the past fortnight had
contained little except joyful announcements of preparations for her
coming.


We are counting the minutes [wrote Zoeth]. The first thing Shadrach does
every morning is to scratch another day off the calendar. I never saw
him so worked up and excited and I calculate I ain’t much different
myself. I try not to set my heart on things of this world more than I
ought to, but it does seem as if I couldn’t think of much else but our
girl’s coming back to us. I am not going to worry the way Shadrach does
about your getting here safe and sound. The Lord’s been mighty good to
us and I am sure He will fetch you to our door all right. I am contented
to trust you in His hands.

P.S. One or both of us will meet you at the depot.


Captain Shad’s epistle was more worldly but not more coherent.


Be sure and take the train that comes right on through [he wrote]. Don’t
take the one that goes to Woods Hole. Zoeth is so fidgety and nervous
for fear you will make a mistake that he keeps me on pins and needles.
Isaiah ain’t much better. He swept out the setting-room twice last week
and if he don’t roast the cat instead of the chicken he is calculating
to kill, it will be a mercy. I am the only one aboard the ship that
keeps his head and I tell them not to worry. Be sure you take that
through train. And look out for them electric cars, if you come to the
depot in one. Better settle on the one you are going to take and then
take the one ahead of it so as to be sure and not be late. Your train
leaves the dock at quarter-past four. The Woods Hole one is two minutes
earlier. Look out and not take that. Zoeth is afraid you will make a
mistake, but I laugh at him. Don’t take the wrong train.


Mary laughed when she read these letters, but there was a choke in the
laugh. In spite of the perils of travel by the electrics and the New
Haven railroad, she reached South Harniss safe, sound, and reasonably
on time. The first person she saw on the platform of the station was
Captain Shadrach. He had been pacing that platform for at least forty
minutes.

He spied her at the same time and came rushing to greet her, both hands
outstretched.

“And here you be!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm.

Mary laughed happily.

“Yes, Uncle Shad, here I am,” she said. “Are you glad to see me?”

Shadrach looked at her.

“JUMPIN’!” was the only answer he made, but it was fervent and
sufficient.

They rode home together in the old buggy. As they reached the corner by
the store Mary expected the vehicle to be brought to a halt at the curb,
but it was not. The Captain chirruped to the horse and drove straight
on.

“Why, Uncle Shad!” exclaimed the girl. “Aren’t you going to stop?”

“Eh? Stop? What for?”

“Why, to see Uncle Zoeth, of course. He’s at the store, isn’t he?”

Shadrach shook his head.

“No, he ain’t,” he said. “He’s to home.”

Mary was amazed and a trifle alarmed. One partner of Hamilton and
Company was there in the buggy with her. By all the rules of precedent
and South Harniss business the other should have been at the store. She
knew that her uncles had employed no clerk or assistant since she left.

“But--but is Uncle Zoeth sick?” she asked.

“Sick? No, no, course he ain’t sick. If he didn’t have no better sense
than to get sick the day you come home I’d--I’d--I don’t know’s
I wouldn’t drown him. HE ain’t sick--unless,” he added, as an
afterthought, “he’s got Saint Vitus dance from hoppin’ up and down to
look out of the window, watchin’ for us.”

“But if he isn’t sick, why isn’t he at the store? Who is there?”

The Captain chuckled.

“Not a solitary soul,” he declared. “That store’s shut up tight and
it’s goin’ to stay that way this whole blessed evenin’. Zoeth and me
we talked it over. I didn’t know but we’d better get Abel Snow’s boy or
that pesky Annabel or somebody to stay while we was havin’ supper. You
see, we was both sot on eatin’ supper with you tonight, no matter store
or not, and Isaiah, he was just as sot as we was. But all to once Zoeth
had an idea. ‘Shadrach,’ he says, ‘in Scriptur’ times when people was
real happy, same as we are now, they used to make a sacrifice to the
Almighty to show how glad and grateful they was. Let’s you and me make a
sacrifice; let’s sacrifice this evenin’s trade--let’s shut up the store
on account of our girl’s comin’ home.’ ‘Good idea!’ says I, so we did
it.”

Mary looked at him reproachfully.

“Oh, Uncle Shad,” she said, “you shouldn’t have done that. It was dear
and sweet of you to think of it, but you shouldn’t have done it. It
didn’t need any sacrifice to prove that you were glad to see me.”

Shadrach winked over his shoulder.

“Don’t let that sacrifice worry you any,” he observed. “The sacrifice is
mainly in Zoeth’s eye. Fur’s I’m concerned--well, Jabez Hedges told
me yesterday that Rastus Young told him he cal’lated he’d have to be
droppin’ in at the store some of these nights to buy some rubber boots
and new ileskins. We sold him the ones he’s got four years ago and he
ain’t paid for ‘em yet. No, no, Mary-’Gusta, don’t you worry about that
sacrifice. I can sacrifice Rastus Young’s trade eight days in the week
and make money by it. Course I didn’t tell Zoeth that; have to humor
these pious folks much as we can, you know.”

Mary smiled, but she shook her head. “It’s no use your talking to me in
that way, Uncle Shad,” she said. “I know you too well. And right in the
Christmas season, too!”

Zoeth’s welcome was as hearty, if not as exuberant, as Captain Shad’s.
He met her at the door and after the first hug and kiss held her off at
arm’s length and looked her over.

“My! my! my!” he exclaimed. “And this is our little Mary-’Gusta come
back again! It don’t seem as if it could be, somehow.”

“But it is, Uncle Zoeth,” declared Mary, laughing. “And ISN’T it good
to be here! Well, Isaiah,” turning to Mr. Chase, who, aproned and
shirtsleeved as usual, had been standing grinning in the background,
“haven’t you anything to say to me?”

Isaiah had something to say and he said it.

“Glad to see you,” he announced. “Feelin’ pretty smart? Got a new hat,
ain’t you? Supper’s ready.”

During the meal Mary was kept busy answering questions concerning school
and her life at Mrs. Wyeth’s. In her letters she had endeavored to tell
every possible item of news which might be interesting to her uncles,
but now these items were one by one recalled, reviewed, and discussed.

“‘Twas kind of funny, that young Smith feller’s turnin’ up for dinner
that time,” observed Mr. Hamilton. “Cal’late you was some surprised to
see him, wan’t you?”

Mary smiled. “Why, yes,” she said, “but I think he was more surprised to
see me, Uncle Zoeth.”

Captain Shad laughed heartily. “Shouldn’t wonder,” he admitted. “Didn’t
bring any fly paper along with him, did he? No? Well, that was an
oversight. Maybe he thought fly time was past and gone. He seemed to be
a real nice kind of young feller when he was down here that summer. He’s
older now; does he seem that way yet?”

“Why, yes, I think so. I only saw him for a little while.”

Isaiah seemed to think it time for him to put in a question.

“Good lookin’ as ever, I cal’late, ain’t he?” he observed.

Mary was much amused. “Why, I suppose he is,” she answered. “But why in
the world are you interested in his good looks, Isaiah?”

Mr. Chase did his best to assume an expression of deep cunning. He
winked at his employers.

“Oh, I ain’t interested--not ‘special,” he declared, “but I didn’t know
but SOME folks might be. Ho, ho!”

He roared at his own pleasantry. Captain Shadrach, however, did not
laugh.

“Some folks?” he repeated, tartly. “What are you talkin’ about? What
folks?”

“Oh, I ain’t sayin’ what folks. I’m just sayin’ SOME folks. Ho, ho! You
know what I mean, don’t you, Mary-’Gusta?”

Before Mary could reply the Captain cut in again.

“No, she don’t know what you mean, neither,” he declared, with emphasis.
“That’s enough of that now, Isaiah. Don’t be any bigger fool than you
can help.”

The self-satisfied grin faded from Isaiah’s face and was succeeded by a
look of surprised and righteous indignation.

“Wha--what’s that?” he stammered. “What’s that you’re callin’ me?”

“I ain’t callin’ you nothin’. I’m givin’ you some free advice, that’s
all. Well, Mary-’Gusta, I cal’late, if you’ve had supper enough, you and
me and Zoeth will go into the settin’-room, where we can all talk and I
can smoke. I can always talk better under a full head of steam. Come on,
Zoeth, Isaiah wants to be clearin’ the table.”

But Mr. Chase’s thoughts were not concerned with table clearing just
then. He stepped between Captain Shadrach and the door leading to the
sitting-room.

“Cap’n Shad Gould,” he sputtered, “you--you said somethin’ about a fool.
Who’s a fool? That’s what I want to know--who’s a fool?”

The Captain grunted.

“Give it up,” he observed. “I never was any hand at riddles. Come, come,
Isaiah! Get out of the channel and let us through.”

“You hold on, Cap’n Shad! You answer me afore you leave this room. Who’s
a fool? I want to know who’s a fool.”

Captain Shad grinned.

“Well, go up to the post-office and ask some of the gang there,” he
suggested. “Tell ‘em you’ll give ‘em three guesses. There, there!” he
added, good-naturedly, pushing the irate Mr. Chase out of the “channel.”
 “Don’t block the fairway any longer. It’s all right, Isaiah. You and
me have been shipmates too long to fight now. You riled me up a little,
that’s all. Come on, folks.”

Two hours later, after Mary had answered the last questions even Captain
Shad could think of, had received answers to all her own, and had
gone to her room for the night, Mr. Hamilton turned to his partner and
observed mildly:

“Shadrach, what made you so dreadful peppery to Isaiah this evenin’? I
declare, I thought you was goin’ to take his head off.”

The Captain grunted. “I will take it off some time,” he declared, “if he
don’t keep the lower end of it shut when he’d ought to. You heard what
he said, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I heard. That about the Smith boy’s good looks, you mean?”

“Sartin. And about Mary-’Gusta’s noticin’ how good-lookin’ he was.
Rubbish!”

“Yes--yes, I know, but Isaiah was only jokin’.”

“Jokin’! Well, he may LOOK like a comic almanac, but he needn’t try to
joke like one while that girl of ours is around. Puttin’ notions about
fellers and good looks and keepin’ company into her head! You might
expect such stuff from them fool drummers that come to the store, but an
old leather-skinned image like Isaiah Chase ought to have more sense. We
don’t want such notions put in her head, do we?”

Zoeth rubbed his chin. He did not speak and his silence seemed to
irritate his partner.

“Well, do we?” repeated the latter, sharply.

Zoeth sighed. “No, Shadrach,” he admitted. “I guess likely we don’t,
but--”

“But what?”

“Well, we’ve got to realize that those kind of notions come--come sort
of natural to young folks Mary-’Gusta’s age.”

“Rubbish! I don’t believe that girl’s got a single one of ‘em in her
mind.”

“Maybe not, but they’ll be there some day. Ah, well,” he added, “we
mustn’t be selfish, you and me, Shadrach. It’ll be dreadful hard to give
her up to somebody else, but if that somebody is a good man, kind and
straight and honest, why, I for one will try not to complain. But, Oh,
Shadrach! Suppose he should turn out to be the other thing. Suppose SHE
makes the mistake that I--”

His friend interrupted.

“Shh! shh!” he broke in, quickly. “Don’t talk so, Zoeth. Come on to
bed,” he added, rising from his chair. “This very evenin’ I was callin’
Isaiah names for talkin’ about ‘fellers’ and such, and here you and I
have been sittin’ talkin’ nothin’ else. If you hear me say ‘fool’ in my
sleep tonight just understand I’m talkin’ to myself, that’s all. Come on
aloft, Zoeth, and turn in.”

The following morning Mary astonished her uncles by announcing that
as soon as she had helped Isaiah with the breakfast dishes and the bed
making she was going up to the store.

“What for?” demanded Captain Shad. “Course we’ll be mighty glad to have
your company, but Zoeth and me presumed likely you’d be for goin’ round
callin’ on some of the other girls today.”

“Well, I’m not. If they want to see me they can call on me here. I’m
going up to the store with you and Uncle Zoeth. I want to help sell
those Christmas goods of ours.”

The partners looked at each other. Even Zoeth was moved to protest.

“Now, Mary-’Gusta,” he said, “it ain’t likely that your Uncle Shadrach
and I are goin’ to let you sell goods in that store. We won’t hear of
it, will we, Shadrach?”

“Not by a thunderin’ sight!” declared Shadrach, vehemently. “The idea!”

“Why not? I’ve sold a good many there.”

“I don’t care if you have. You shan’t sell any more. ‘Twas all right
when you was just a--a girl, a South Harnisser like the rest of us, but
now that you’re a Boston young lady, up to a fin--er--what-d’ye-call-it
--er--endin’ school--”

“Finishin’ school, Shadrach,” corrected Mr. Hamilton.

“Well, whatever ‘tis; I know ‘twould be the end of ME if I had to live
up to the style of it. ‘Anyhow, now that you’re there, Mary-’Gusta, a
young lady, same as I said, we ain’t--”

But Mary interrupted. “Hush, Uncle Shad,” she commanded. “Hush, this
minute! You’re talking nonsense, I AM a South Harniss girl and I’m NOT
a Boston young lady. My chief reasons for being so very happy at the
thought of coming home here for my Christmas vacation were, first, that
I should see you and Uncle Zoeth and Isaiah and the house and the horse
and the cat and the hens, and, next, that I could help you with the
Christmas trade at the store. I know perfectly well you need me. I’m
certain you have been absolutely lost without me. Now, really and truly,
haven’t you?”

“Not a mite,” declared the Captain, stoutly, spoiling the effect of the
denial, however, by adding, although his partner had not spoken: “Shut
up, Zoeth! We ain’t, neither.”

Mary laughed. “Uncle Shad,” she said, “I don’t believe you. At any rate,
I’m going up there this minute to see for myself. Come along!”

She made no comment on what she saw at the store, but for the remainder
of the forenoon she was very busy. In spite of the partners’ protests,
in fact paying no more attention to those perturbed men of business than
if they were flies to be brushed aside when bothersome, she went ahead,
arranging, rearranging, dusting, writing price tickets, lettering
placards, doing all sorts of things, and waiting on customers in the
intervals. At noon, when she and her Uncle Zoeth left for home and
dinner, she announced herself in a measure satisfied. “Of course there
is a great deal to do yet,” she said, “but the stock looks a little more
as if it were meant to sell and less as if it were heaped up ready to be
carted off and buried.”

That afternoon the store of Hamilton and Company was visited by a goodly
number of South Harniss residents. That evening there were more. The
news that Mary-’Gusta Lathrop was at home and was “tendin’ store” for
her uncles spread and was much discussed. The majority of those who came
did so not because they contemplated purchasing extensively, but because
they wished to see what effect the fashionable finishing school had had
upon the girl. The general opinion seemed to be that it “hadn’t changed
her a mite.” This result, however, was considered a desirable one by the
majority, but was by some criticized. Among the critics was Mrs. Rebecca
Mullet, whose daughter Irene also was away at school undergoing the
finishing process.

“Well!” declared Mrs. Mullet, with decision, as she and her husband
emerged from the store together. “Well! If THAT’S a sample of what
the school she goes to does for them that spend their money on it, I’m
mighty glad we didn’t send our Rena there, ain’t you, Christopher?”

Mr. Chris Mullet, who had received that very week a bill for his
daughter’s “extras,” uttered a fervent assent.

“You bet you!” he said. “It costs enough where Rena is, without sendin’
her to no more expensive place.”

This was not exactly the reply his wife had expected.

“Umph!” she grunted, impatiently. “I do wish you could get along for
two minutes without puttin’ on poor mouth. I suppose likely you tell
everybody that you can’t afford a new overcoat account of Rena’s goin’
away to school. You’d ought to be prouder of your daughter than you are
of an overcoat, I should think.”

Mr. Mullet muttered something to the effect that he was dum sure he was
not proud of his present overcoat. His wife ignored the complaint.

“And you’ll be proud of Irene when she comes home,” she declared. “She
won’t be like that Mary-’Gusta, standin’ up behind the counter and
sellin’ goods.”

“Why, now, Becky, what’s the matter with her doin’ that? She always used
to sell goods, and behind that very counter, too. And she certainly can
SELL ‘em!” with a reminiscent chuckle.

Mrs. Mullet glared at him. “Yes,” she drawled, with sarcasm, “so she
can--to some folks. Look at you, with all that Christmas junk under your
arm! You didn’t need to buy that stuff any more’n you needed to fly.
What did you buy it for? Tell me that.”

Chris shook his head. “Blessed if I know,” he admitted. “I hadn’t any
idea of buyin’ it, but she and me got to talkin’, and she kept showin’
the things to me, and I kept lookin’ at ‘em and--”

“Yes, and kept lookin’ at her, too! Don’t talk to ME! There’s no fool
like an old fool--and an old man fool is the worst of all.”

Her husband, usually meek and long-suffering under wifely discipline,
evinced unwonted spirit.

“Well, I tell you this, Becky,” he said. “Fur’s I can see, Mary-’Gusta’s
all right. She’s as pretty as a picture, to begin with; she’s got money
of her own to spend; and she’s been away among folks that have got a lot
more. All them things together are enough to spoil ‘most any girl, but
they haven’t spoiled her. She’s come home here not a mite stuck-up, not
flirty nor silly nor top-lofty, but just as sensible and capable and
common-folksy as ever she was, and that’s sayin’ somethin’. If our Rena
turns out to be the girl Mary-’Gusta Lathrop is I WILL be proud of her,
and don’t you forget it!”

Which terminated conversation in the Mullet family for that evening.

But if the few, like Mrs. Mullet, were inclined to criticize, the many,
like her husband, united in declaring Mary to be “all right.” And her
rearranging and displaying of the Christmas goods helped her and her
uncles to dispose of them. In fact, for the three days before Christmas
it became necessary to call in the services of Annabel as assistant
saleslady. The store was crowded, particularly in the evenings, and
Zoeth and Captain Shad experienced for the first time in months the
sensation of being the heads of a prosperous business.

“Looks good to see so many young folks in here, don’t it, Zoeth?”
 observed the Captain. “And not only girls, but fellers, too. Don’t know
when I’ve seen so many young fellers in here. Who’s that young squirt
Mary-’Gusta’s waitin’ on now? The one with the whittled-in back to his
overcoat. Say, Solomon in all his glory wasn’t arrayed like one of him!
Must be some city feller, eh? Nobody I know.”

Zoeth looked at his niece and her customer.

“Humph!” he said. “Guess you ain’t rubbed your glasses lately, Shadrach.
That’s Dan Higgins.”

Mr. Higgins it was, home for a few days’ relaxation from the fatigues
of coffin selling, and garbed as usual in city clothes the splendor of
which, as Captain Shad said afterwards, “would have given a blind man
eyestrain.” Daniel’s arms were filled with purchases and he and Mary
were standing beside the table where the toys and games were displayed.
Mary was gazing at the toys; Mr. Higgins was--not.

The partners regarded the pair for a moment. Shadrach frowned.

“Humph!” he grunted.

“Daniel’s tryin’ to find somethin’ his little brother’ll like,”
 explained Zoeth.

“Yes,” observed the Captain, dryly. “Well, he looks as if he’d found
somethin’ HE liked pretty well. Here, Mary-’Gusta, I’ll finish waitin’
on Dan. You just see what Mrs. Nickerson wants, will you, please?”

Christmas Eve ended the rush of business for Hamilton and Company. The
following week, the last of Mary’s vacation, was certain to be dull
enough. “Nothin’ to do but change presents for folks,” prophesied
Captain Shad. “Give them somethin’ they want and take back somethin’
we don’t want. That kind of trade is like shovelin’ fog up hill, more
exercise than profit.”

Christmas was a happy day at the white house by the shore, a day of
surprises. To begin with, there were the presents which were beside the
plates at breakfast. Mary had brought gifts for all, Captain Shadrach,
Zoeth, and Isaiah. There was nothing expensive, of course, but each had
been chosen to fit the taste and liking of the recipient and there was
no doubt that each choice was a success. Isaiah proudly displayed a
jacknife which was a small toolchest, having four blades, a corkscrew,
a screwdriver, a chisel, a button-hook and goodness knows what else
besides.

“Look at that!” crowed Isaiah, exhibiting the knife, bristling like a
porcupine, on his open palm. “Look at it! By time, there ain’t nothin’ I
can’t do with that knife! Every time I look at it I find somethin’
new. Now, I wonder what that is,” pointing to a particularly large and
ferocious-looking implement which projected from the steel tangle. “I
cal’late I’ve sized up about everything else, but I can’t seem to make
out what that’s for. What do you cal’late ‘tis, Cap’n Shad?”

Shadrach looked.

“Why, that’s simple,” he said, gravely. “That’s a crust crowbar.”

“A what?”

“A crust crowbar. For openin’ one of them cast-iron pies same as you
made for us last week. You drill a hole in the crust nigh the edge of
the plate and then put that thing in and pry the upper deck loose. Good
idea, Isaiah! I--”

“Aw, go to grass!” interrupted the indignant Mr. Chase. “I notice you
always eat enough of my pies, decks--yes, and hull and riggin’, too.”

Then there was THE great surprise, that which the partners had prepared
for their idolized niece. Mary found beside her plate a small, oblong
package, wrapped in tissue paper and labeled, “To Mary-’Gusta, from
Uncle Shadrach and Uncle Zoeth, with a Merry Christmas.” Inside the
paper was a pasteboard box, inside that a leather case, and inside THAT
a handsome gold watch and chain. Then there was much excited exclaiming
and delighted thanks on Mary’s part, and explanations and broad grins on
that of the givers.

“But you shouldn’t have done it! Of course you shouldn’t!” protested
Mary. “It’s perfectly lovely and I wanted a watch more than anything;
but I KNOW this must have cost a great deal.”

“Never, neither,” protested the Captain. “We got it wholesale. Edgar
Emery’s nephew is in the business up to Providence and he picked it out
for us. Didn’t begin to cost what we cal’lated ‘twould, did it, Zoeth?
When you buy things wholesale that way you can ‘most always cal’late to
get ‘em lower than you cal’late to.”

Mary smiled at this somewhat involved statement, but she shook her head.

“I’m sure it cost a great deal more than you should have spent,” she
said.

“But you like it, don’t you?” queried Zoeth, hopefully.

“Like it! Oh, Uncle Zoeth, don’t you KNOW I like it! Who could help
liking such a beautiful thing?”

“How’s it show up alongside the watches the other girls have up to that
Boston school?” asked Shadrach, with ill-concealed anxiety. “We wouldn’t
want our girl’s watch to be any cheaper’n theirs, you know.”

The answer was enthusiastic enough to satisfy even the Captain and Mr.
Hamilton.

“I’m sure there isn’t another girl in the school whose watch means to
her what this will mean to me,” declared Mary. “I shall keep it and love
it all my life.”

The partners heaved a sigh of relief. Whether or not the watch was fine
enough for their Mary-’Gusta had been a source of worriment and much
discussion. And then Isaiah, with his customary knack of saying the
wrong thing, tossed a brickbat into the puddle of general satisfaction.

“That’s so,” he said; “that’s so, Mary-’Gusta. You can keep it all
your life, and when you get to be an old woman and married and have
grandchildren then you can give it to them.”

Captain Shadrach, who had taken up his napkin preparatory to tucking
it under his chin, turned in his chair and glared at the unconscious
steward.

“Well, by the jumpin’ fire!” he exclaimed, with conviction. “The feller
is sartinly possessed. He’s lovesick, that’s what’s the matter with him.
All he can talk about is somebody’s gettin’ married. Are YOU cal’latin’
to get married, Isaiah?”

“Me? What kind of fool talk is that?”

“Who’s the lucky woman?”

“There ain’t no lucky woman. Don’t talk so ridic’lous! All I said was
that when Mary-’Gusta was old and married and had--”

“There you go again! Married and children! Say, did it ever run acrost
your mind that you was a little mite previous?”

“I never said children. What I said was when she was old and had
grandchildren.”

“Grandchildren! Well, that’s a dum sight MORE previous. Let’s have
breakfast, all hands, for the land sakes! Isaiah’ll have us cruisin’
along with the third and fourth generation in a few minutes. I’M
satisfied with this one!”

That evening, at bedtime, as the partners separated in the upper hall to
go to their respective rooms, Zoeth said:

“Shadrach, this has been a mighty nice Christmas for us all, ain’t it?”

Captain Shad nodded emphatically. “You bet!” he declared. “Don’t seem to
me I ever remember a nicer one.”

“Nor I, neither. I--I wonder--”

“Well, heave ahead. What are you waitin’ for? What do you wonder?”

“I was just wonderin’ if ‘twas right for us to be so happy.”

“Right?”

“Yes. Have we been--well, good enough this past year to deserve
happiness like this?”

Shadrach grinned.

“I ain’t puttin’ in any testimony on my own hook,” he said, dryly, “but
I don’t seem to remember your bein’ desperately wicked, Zoeth. Course
you MAY have got drunk and disorderly that time when Mary-’Gusta and I
left you and went to Boston, but I kind of doubt it.”

“Hush, hush, Shadrach! Don’t joke about serious things. What I mean is
have you and I walked the Lord’s way as straight as we’d ought to? We’ve
tried--that is, seems ‘s if we had--but I don’t know. Anyhow, all this
afternoon I’ve had a funny feelin’ that you and me and Mary-’Gusta
was--well was as if the tide had been comin’ in for us all these years
since she’s been livin’ with us, and as if now ‘twould begin to go out
again.”

The Captain laughed. “And that’s what you call a FUNNY feelin’!” he
exclaimed. “Zoeth, I’ve got a funny feelin’, too, but I know what’s the
reason for it--the reason is turkey and plum puddin’ and mince pie and
the land knows what. When a couple of old hulks like you and me h’ist
in a cargo of that kind it’s no wonder we have feelin’s. Good night,
shipmate.”



CHAPTER XIII


The day after New Year’s Mary went back to Boston and to school. The
long winter term--the term which Madeline Talbott, whose father was a
judge, called “the extreme penalty”--began. Boston’s famous east winds,
so welcome in summer and so raw and penetrating in winter, brought their
usual allowance of snow and sleet, and the walks from Pinckney Street
to the school and back were not always pleasant. Mrs. Wyeth had a slight
attack of tonsillitis and Miss Pease a bronchial cold, but they united
in declaring these afflictions due entirely to their own imprudence
and not in the least to the climate, which, being like themselves,
thoroughly Bostonian, was expected to maintain a proper degree of chill.

Mary, fortunately, escaped colds and illness. The walks in all sorts of
weather did her good and her rosy cheeks and clear eyes were competent
witnesses to her state of health. She was getting on well with her
studies, and the Misses Cabot, not too easy to please, were apparently
pleased with her. At home--for she had come to consider Mrs. Wyeth’s
comfortable house a home, although not of course to be compared with the
real home at South Harniss--at Mrs. Wyeth’s she was more of a favorite
than ever, not only with the mistress of the house, but with Miss Pease,
who was considered eccentric and whose liking was reported hard to win.
The two ladies had many talks concerning the girl.

“She is remarkable,” declared Miss Pease on one occasion. “Considering
her lack of early advantages, I consider her ease of manner and
self-possession remarkable. She is a prodigy.”

Mrs. Wyeth sniffed. She enjoyed hearing Mary praised, but she objected
to her friend’s choice of words.

“For mercy sake, Letitia,” she said, “don’t call her that. The word
‘prodigy’ always reminds me of the Crummles infant, the one with the
green parasol and the white--er--lingerie, in ‘Nicholas Nickleby.’”

Miss Pease smiled with the superiority of the corrected who is about to
correct.

“I don’t see why that should bring the individual you mention to mind,”
 she said. “If I remember correctly--and I was brought up on Dickens--she
was a ‘phenomenon,’ not a prodigy. However, it makes no material
difference what you and I call Mary Lathrop, the fact remains that she
is an exceptionally well-behaved, good-mannered, polite--”

“Sweet, healthy girl,” interrupted Mrs. Wyeth, finishing the sentence.
“I know that as well as you do, Letitia Pease. And you know I know
it. Now, what have you in your mind concerning Mary? I know there is
something, because you have been hinting at it for more than a week.
What is it?”

Miss Pease looked wise.

“Oh, I have a plan,” she said. “I can’t tell even you, Emily, just what
it is as yet. You see, it isn’t really a plan, but only an idea so far.
She doesn’t know it herself, of course.”

“Hum! Is it a pleasant plan--or idea, whichever you call it? That is,
will she think it pleasant when she learns what it is?”

“I certainly hope so.”

“Look here, Letitia,” with sudden suspicion, “you aren’t planning some
ridiculous sentimental nonsense for that child, are you? You’re not
trying to make a match for her, I hope?”

“Match? What are you talking about? If you mean am I trying to get her
married to some MAN,” with a scornful emphasis on the word, “I most
certainly am not.

“Humph! Well, if she ever is married, I presume it will be to a man, or
an imitation of one. All right, Letitia. I am glad your great idea isn’t
that, whatever it is.”

“It is not. You know my opinion of marriage, Emily Wyeth. And, so far
as matchmaking is concerned, I should say you were a more likely subject
for suspicion. That young relative of yours, Sam Keith, appears to be
coming here a great deal of late. He MAY come solely to see you, but I
doubt it.”

Mrs. Wyeth smiled grimly.

“Samuel has been rather prevalent recently,” she admitted, “but don’t
let that trouble you, Letitia. I have had my eye on the young man.
Samuel is as susceptible to pretty girls as children are to the measles.
And his attacks remind me of the measles as much as anything, sudden
outbreak, high fever and delirium, then a general cooling off and a
rapid recovery. This seizure isn’t alarming and there is absolutely no
danger of contagion. Mary doesn’t take him seriously at all.”

“And how about that other young man?--Smith, I think his name is. He has
called here twice since Christmas.”

Mrs. Wyeth seemed to be losing patience.

“Well, what of it?” she demanded.

“Why, nothing that I know of, except, perhaps--”

“There is no perhaps at all. The Smith boy appears to be a very nice
young fellow, and remarkably sensible for a young person in this
hoity-toity age. From what I can learn, his people, although they
do live out West--down in a mine or up on a branch or a ranch
or something--are respectable. Why shouldn’t he call to see Mary
occasionally, and why shouldn’t she see him? Goodness gracious! What
sort of a world would this be if young people didn’t see each other?
Don’t tell me that you never had any young male acquaintances when you
were a girl, Letitia, because I shan’t believe you.”

Miss Pease straightened in her chair.

“It is not likely that I shall make any such preposterous statement,”
 she snapped.

So the “young male acquaintance” called occasionally--not too
often--Mrs. Wyeth saw to that; probably not so often as he would
have liked; but he did call and the acquaintanceship developed into
friendship. That it might develop into something more than friendship
no one, except possibly the sentimental Miss Pease, seemed to suspect.
Certainly Mary did not, and at this time it is doubtful if Crawford did,
either. He liked Mary Lathrop. She was a remarkably pretty girl but,
unlike other pretty girls he had known--and as good-looking college
football stars are privileged beyond the common herd, he had known at
least several--she did not flirt with him, nor look admiringly up into
his eyes, nor pronounce his jokes “killingly funny,” nor flatter him in
any way. If the jokes WERE funny she laughed a healthy, genuine laugh,
but if, as sometimes happened, they were rather feeble, she was quite
likely to tell him so. She did not always agree with his views, having
views of her own on most subjects, and if he asked her opinion the
answer he received was always honest, if not precisely what he expected
or hoped.

“By George! You’re frank, at any rate,” he observed, rather ruefully,
after asking her opinion as to a point of conduct and receiving it
forthwith.

“Didn’t you want me to be?” asked Mary. “You asked me what I thought you
should have done and I told you.”

“Yes, you did. You certainly told me.”

“Well, didn’t you want me to tell you?”

“I don’t know that I wanted you to tell me just that.”

“But you asked me what I thought, and that is exactly what I think.
Don’t YOU think it is what you should have done?”

Crawford hesitated; then he laughed. “Why yes, confound it, I do,” he
admitted. “But I hoped you would tell me that what I did do was right.”

“Whether I thought so or not?”

“Why--well--er--yes. Honestly now, didn’t you know I wanted you to say
the other thing?”

It was Mary’s turn to hesitate; then she, too, laughed.

“Why, yes, I suppose--” she began; and finished with, “Yes, I did.”

“Then why didn’t you say it? Most girls would.”

“Perhaps that is why. I judge that most girls of your acquaintance say
just about what you want them to. Don’t you think it is good for you to
be told the truth occasionally?”

It was good for him, of course, and, incidentally, it had the
fascination of novelty. Here was a girl full of fun, ready to take a
joke as well as give one, neither flattering nor expecting flattery, a
country girl who had kept store, yet speaking of that phase of her life
quite as freely as she did of the fashionable Misses Cabot’s school,
not at all ashamed to say she could not afford this or that, simple and
unaffected but self-respecting and proud; a girl who was at all times
herself and retained her poise and common sense even in the presence of
handsome young demigod who had made two touchdowns against Yale.

It was extremely good for Crawford Smith to know such a girl. She helped
him to keep his feet on the ground and his head from swelling. Not that
there was much danger of the latter happening, for the head was a
pretty good one, but Mary Lathrop’s common sense was a stimulating--and
fascinating--reenforcement to his own. As he had said on the Sunday
afternoon of their first meeting in Boston, it was a relief to have
someone to talk to who understood and appreciated a fellow’s serious
thoughts as well as the frivolous ones. His approaching graduation from
Harvard and the work which he would begin at the Medical School in the
fall were very much in his mind just now. He told Mary his plans and she
and he discussed them. She had plans of her own, principally concerning
what she meant to do to make life easier for her uncles when her school
days were over, and these also were discussed.

“But,” he said, “that’s really nonsense, after all, isn’t it?”

“What?”

“Why, the idea of your keeping store again. You’ll never do that.”

“Indeed I shall! Why not?”

“Why, because--”

“Because what?”

“Because--well, because I don’t think you will, that’s all. Girls like
you don’t have to keep a country store, you know--at least, not for
long.”

The remark was intended to please; it might have pleased some girls,
but it did not please this one. Mary’s dignity was offended. Anything
approaching a slur upon her beloved uncles, or their place of business,
or South Harniss, or the Cape Cod people, she resented with all her
might. Her eyes snapped.

“I do not HAVE to keep store at any time,” she said crisply, “in the
country or elsewhere. I do it because I wish to and I shall continue to
do it as long as I choose. If my friends do not understand that fact and
appreciate my reasons, they are not my friends, that is all.”

Crawford threw up both hands. “Whew!” he exclaimed. “Don’t shoot; I’ll
come down! Great Scott! If you take a fellow’s head off like that when
he pays you a compliment what would you do if he dared to criticize?”

“Was that remark of yours intended as a compliment?”

“Not exactly; more as a statement of fact. I meant--I meant--Oh, come
now, Mary! You know perfectly well what I meant. Own up.”

Mary tried hard to be solemn and severe, but the twinkle in his eye was
infectious and in spite of her effort her lips twitched.

“Own up, now,” persisted Crawford. “You know what I meant. Now, don’t
you?”

“Well--well, I suppose I do. But I think the remark was a very silly
one. That is the way Sam Keith talks.”

“Eh? Oh, does he!”

“Yes. Or he would if I would let him. And he does it much better than
you do.”

“Well, I like that!”

“I don’t. That is why I don’t want you to do it. I expect you to be
more sensible. And, besides, I won’t have you or anyone making fun of my
uncles’ store.”

“Making fun of it! I should say not! I have a vivid and most respectful
memory of it, as you ought to know. By the way, you told me your uncles
had sent you their photographs. May I see them?”

Mary brought the photographs from her room. They had been taken by the
photographer at Ostable in compliance with what amounted to an order
on her part, and the results showed two elderly martyrs dressed in
respectable but uncomfortable Sunday clothes and apparently awaiting
execution. On the back of one mournful exhibit was written, “Mary
Augusta from Uncle Shadrach,” and on the other, “Uncle Zoeth to Mary
Augusta, with much love.”

“Now, don’t laugh,” commanded Mary, as she handed the photographs to
Crawford. “I know they are funny, but if you laugh I’ll never forgive
you. The poor dears had them taken expressly to please me, and I am
perfectly sure either would have preferred having a tooth out. They ARE
the best men in the world and I am more certain of it every day.”

Crawford did not laugh at the photographs. He was a young gentleman of
considerable discretion and he did not smile, not even at Captain Shad’s
hands, the left with fingers separated and clutching a knee as if to
keep it from shaking, the right laid woodenly upon a gorgeously bound
parlor-table copy of “Lucille.” Instead of laughing he praised the
originals of the pictures, talked reminiscently of his own visit
in South Harniss, and finally produced from his pocketbook a small
photographic print, which he laid upon the table beside the others.

“I brought that to show you,” he said. “You were asking about my father,
you know, and I told you I hadn’t a respectable photograph of him. That
was true; I haven’t. Dad has another eccentricity besides his dislike of
the East and Eastern ways of living; he has a perfect horror of having
his photograph taken. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t tell you. It
isn’t because he is ugly; he’s a mighty good-looking man for his age, if
I do say it. But he has a prejudice against photographs of himself
and won’t even permit me to take a snapshot if he can prevent it. Says
people who are always having their pictures taken are vain, conceited
idiots, and so on. However, I catch him unawares occasionally, and this
is a snap I took last summer. He and I were on a fishing trip up in the
mountains. We’re great pals, Dad and I--more than most fathers and sons,
I imagine.”

Mary took the photograph and studied it with interest. Mr. Smith,
senior, was a big man, broad-shouldered and heavy, with a full gray
beard and mustache. He wore a broad-brimmed hat, which shaded his
forehead somewhat, but his eyes and the shape of his nose were like his
son’s.

Mary looked at the photograph and Crawford looked at her.

“Well, what do you think of him?” asked the young man after an interval.

“Think?” repeated Mary absently, still staring at the photograph. “Why,
I--I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean what is your opinion of my respected dad? You must have one
by this time. You generally have one on most subjects and you’ve been
looking at that picture for at least five minutes.”

“Have I? I beg your pardon; I didn’t realize. The picture interested me.
I have never seen your father, have I? No, of course I haven’t. But it
almost seems as if I had. Perhaps I have seen someone who looks like
him.”

“Shouldn’t wonder. Myself, for instance.”

“Of course. That was stupid of me, wasn’t it? He looks like an
interesting man, one who has had experiences.”

“He has. Dad doesn’t talk about himself much, even to me, but he had
some hard rubs before he reached the smooth places. Had to fight his
way, I guess.”

“He looks as if he had. But he got his way in the end, I should imagine.
He doesn’t look like one who gives up easily.”

“He isn’t. Pretty stubborn sometimes, Dad is, but a brick to me, just
the same.”

“Was your mother an Eastern woman?”

“No. She was a Westerner, from California. Dad was married twice. His
first wife came from New England somewhere, I believe. I didn’t know
there had been another wife until I was nearly fifteen years old, and
then I found it out entirely by accident. She was buried in another
town, you see. I saw her name first on the gravestone and it made an
impression on me because it was so odd and old-fashioned--‘Patience,
wife of Edwin Smith.’ I only mention this to show you how little Dad
talks about himself, but it was odd I should find it out that way,
wasn’t it? But there! I don’t suppose you’re interested in the Smith
genealogy. I apologize. I never think of discussing my family affairs
with anyone but you, not even Sam. But you--well, somehow I seem to tell
you everything. I wonder why?”

“Perhaps because I ask too many questions.”

“No, it isn’t that. It is because you act as if you really cared to have
me talk about my own affairs. I never met a girl before that did. Now, I
want to ask you about that club business. There’s going to be the deuce
and all to pay in that if I’m not careful. Have you thought it over?
What would you do if you were I?”

The matter in question was a somewhat delicate and complicated one,
dealing with the admission or rejection of a certain fellow to one of
the Harvard societies. There was a strong influence working to get him
in and, on the other hand, there were some very good objections to
his admission. Crawford, president of the club and one of its most
influential members, was undecided what to do. He had explained the
case to Mary upon the occasion of his most recent visit to the
Pinckney Street house, and had asked her advice. She had taken time
for consideration, of course--she was the old Mary-’Gusta still in
that--and now the advice was ready.

“It seems to me,” she said, “that I should try to settle it like this.”

She explained her plan. Crawford listened, at first dubiously and then
with steadily growing enthusiasm.

“By George!” he exclaimed, when she had finished. “That would do it, I
honestly believe. How in the world did you ever think of that scheme?
Say, you really are a wonder at managing. You could manage a big
business and make it go, I’m sure. How do you do it? Where do you get
your ideas?”

Mary laughed. His praise pleased her.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just think them out, I guess. I do
like to manage things for people. Sometimes I do it more than I should,
perhaps. Poor Isaiah Chase, at home in South Harniss, says I boss him to
death. And my uncles say I manage them, too--but they seem to like it,”
 she added.

“I don’t wonder they do. I like it, myself. Will you help manage my
affairs between now and Commencement? There’ll be a whole lot to manage,
between the club and the dance and all the rest of it. And then when you
go to Commencement you can see for yourself how they work out.”

“Go to Commencement? Am I going to Commencement?”

“Of course you are! You’re going with me, I hope. I thought that was
understood. It’s a long way off yet, but for goodness’ sake don’t say
you won’t come. I’ve been counting on it.”

Mary’s pleasure showed in her face. All she said, however, was:

“Thank you very much. I shall be very glad to come.”

But Commencement was, as Crawford said, still a good way off and in the
meantime there were weeks of study. The weeks passed, some of them, and
then came the Easter vacation. Mary spent the vacation in South Harniss,
of course, and as there was no Christmas rush to make her feel that
she was needed at the store, she rested and drove and visited and had a
thoroughly happy and profitable holiday. The happiness and profit were
shared by her uncles, it is unnecessary to state. When she questioned
them concerning business and the outlook for the coming summer, they
seemed optimistic and cheerful.

“But Isaiah says there are two new stores to be opened in the village
this spring,” said Mary. “Don’t you think they may hurt your trade a
little?”

Captain Shadrach dismissed the idea and his prospective competitors with
a condescending wave of the hand. “Not a mite,” he declared scornfully.
“Not a mite, Mary-’Gusta. Hamilton and Company’s a pretty able old
craft. She may not show so much gilt paint and brass work as some of the
new ones just off the ways, but her passengers know she’s staunch and
they’ll stick by her. Why, Isaiah was sayin’ that a feller was tellin’
him only yesterday that it didn’t make any difference how many new
stores was started in this town, he’d never trade anywheres but with
Hamilton and Company. That shows you, don’t it?”

“Who was it said that, Uncle Shad?” asked Mary.

“Eh? Why, I don’t know. Isaiah was tellin’ me about it and we was
interrupted. Who was it, Isaiah?”

“‘Twas Rastus Young,” replied Mr. Chase promptly.

Even the Captain was obliged to laugh, although he declared that Mr.
Young’s constancy was a proof that the firm’s prospects were good.

“Rats’ll always leave a sinkin’ ship,” he said, “and if Zoeth and me was
goin’ under Rat Young would be the first to quit.”

Zoeth, when his niece questioned him, expressed confidence that the new
competitors would not prove dangerous. “The Almighty has looked after
us so far,” he added, “unworthy as we be, and I guess he’ll carry us the
rest of the way. Put your trust in Him, Mary-’Gusta; I hope they teach
you that up to school.”

So Mary, who had been rather troubled at the news of Hamilton and
Company’s rivals in the field, dismissed her fears as groundless. Her
uncles were old-fashioned and a little behind the times in business
methods, but no doubt those methods were suited to South Harniss and
there was no cause for worry concerning the firm’s future. She made
Isaiah promise to keep her posted as to developments and went back to
Boston and her schoolwork.



CHAPTER XIV


The spring term was an interesting one and there were other interests
as well. Crawford called more frequently, the plans for Commencement
requiring a great deal of discussion. Mary’s fondness for managing was,
or should have been, gratified, for the talent was in constant demand.
Sam Keith, who, after meeting Mary at his cousin’s house, had at first
developed an amazing fondness for that relative’s society, now came less
often. He was in the second stage of the pretty-girl disease mentioned
by his aunt; the fever and delirium had passed, and he was now cooling
off. It cannot be said that the fever had been in the least encouraged.
Mary was pleasant and agreeable when he called, but she would not
treat him as a confidant or an intimate; she did not accept any of his
invitations to dances or the theater, and she would not flirt even the
least little bit. The last was the most unsatisfactory drawback, because
the susceptible Samuel was fond of flirtations and usually managed to
keep at least three going at the same time. Therefore, the cooling-off
process was, in this case, a bit more rapid than usual. Sam’s calls and
dinners at his cousin Emily’s residence had decreased from two or three
times a week to an uncertain once a fortnight. Mary, of course, noticed
this, but she felt no regret. Crawford, Sam’s roommate, must have
noticed it also, but if he felt regret he managed to conceal the feeling
remarkably well.

Early in May Captain Shadrach came up to the city to buy summer goods
for the store. He positively refused to make his headquarters at Mrs.
Wyeth’s, although that lady sent an urgent invitation to him to do so.
And, even when Mary added her own plea to that of her landlady, the
Captain still refused.


Don’t ask me, Mary-’Gusta [he wrote]. For the dear land sakes don’t ask
me to come to that place and stay. I’d do ‘most anything for you, and I
will do that if you are dead sot on it, but I do hope you ain’t. I will
come up there and see you of course and I’ll even stay to supper if I
get asked, but DON’T ask me to drop anchor and stay there night and day.
I couldn’t stand it. My backbone’s sprung backwards now from settin’ up
so straight last time I was there.


So Mary had pity upon him and he took a room at the Quincy House where,
as he said, he didn’t have to keep his nose dead on the course every
minute, but could “lay to and be comf’table” if he wanted to. He was
invited to supper at the Wyeth house, however, and while there Mrs.
Wyeth found an opportunity to take him aside and talk with him on a
subject which he found interesting and a trifle disquieting.

“Now mind,” said the lady, “I am by no means convinced that the affair
is anything but a mere boy and girl friendship, or that it is ever
likely to be more than that. But I did think I ought to tell you about
it and that you should meet the young man. You have met him, you say?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Shadrach, “I’ve met him. ‘Twan’t much more’n that--he
just came into our store down home, that’s all. But I did meet him and I
must say I thought he was a real likely young feller.”

“I am glad you thought so. So do I. Has Mary written you of his calls
here?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am, she’s written. She ain’t the kind of girl to keep
anything back from us; at least, if she is, she’s changed a heap since
she came away to school. She’s told us about his comin’ here and about
you and him and her goin’ to that--what-d’ye-call-it--hookey game. She
wrote all about that ‘way last February.”

“Yes, we did go to the hockey game. Samuel, my cousin John Keith’s boy,
played in it. Now, Captain Gould, I have a suggestion to make. It has
been some years since you met Crawford Smith and I think, everything
considered, you should meet him again and decide for yourself whether
or not you still consider him a proper young person to call upon your
niece. Suppose you dine with us again tomorrow evening and I invite
young Smith also. Then--”

But the Captain interrupted. He had a plan of his own for the following
evening and another meal at Mrs. Wyeth’s was not a part of it.

“Er--er--excuse me, ma’am,” he cut in hastily, “but I had a--a kind of
notion that Mary-’Gusta and me might get our supper at a--a eatin’-house
or somewhere tomorrow night and then maybe we’d take in--I mean go to
a show--a theater, I should say. I didn’t know but I’d ask this young
Smith feller to go along. And--and--” remembering his politeness, “of
course we’d be real glad if you’d come, too,” he added.

But Mrs. Wyeth, although she thanked him and expressed herself as
heartily in favor of the supper and theater party, refused to become a
member of it. The Captain bore the shock of the refusal with, to say the
least, manful resignation. He had a huge respect for Mrs. Wyeth, and
he liked her because his beloved Mary-’Gusta liked her so well, but his
liking was seasoned with awe and her no in this case was a great relief.

So the following evening at six Mary and her uncle met Crawford at the
Quincy House and the three dined together, after which they saw the
performance of “The Music Master” at the Tremont Theater. Crawford found
the dinner quite as entertaining as the play. Captain Shadrach was in
high good humor and his remarks during the meal were characteristic.
He persisted in addressing the dignified waiter as “Steward” and in
referring to the hotel kitchen as the “galley.” He consulted his young
guests before ordering and accepted their selections gracefully if not
always silently.

“All right, Mary-’Gusta,” he observed. “All right, just as you say.
You’re the skipper of this craft tonight, and me and Crawford here are
just passengers. If you say we’ve got to eat--what is it?--consummer
soup--why, I suppose likely we have. I’ll take my chances if Crawford
will. Course, if I was alone here, I’d probably stick to oyster stew and
roast beef. I know what they are. And it’s some comfort to be sure of
what you’re gettin’, as the sick feller said when the doctor told him he
had the smallpox instead of the measles. You don’t mind my callin’ you
‘Crawford,’ do you?” he added, turning to that young gentleman. “I’m old
enough to be your father, for one thing, and for another a handle’s all
right on a jug or a sasspan, but don’t seem as if ‘twas necessary to
take hold of a friend’s name by. And I hope we’re goin’ to be friends,
we three.”

Crawford said he hoped so, too, and he said it with emphasis.

“Good!” exclaimed the Captain with enthusiasm. “And we’ll cement
the friendship--the book fellers are always tellin’ about cementin’
friendships--with this supper of ours, eh? If we only had some of
Isaiah’s last batch of mincemeat we could sartinly do it with that; it
was the nighest thing to cement ever I saw put on a table. I asked him
if he filled his pies with a trowel and you ought to have heard him
sputter. You remember Isaiah, don’t you, Crawford? Tall, spindlin’
critter, sails cook for Zoeth and me at the house down home. He ain’t
pretty, but his heart’s in the right place. That’s kind of strange,
too,” he added with a chuckle, “when you consider how nigh his
shoulder-blades are to the top of his legs.”

Between his stories and jokes he found time to ask his male guest a
few questions and these questions, although by no means offensively
personal, were to the point. He inquired concerning the young man’s home
life, about his ambitions and plans for the future, about his friends
and intimates at college. Crawford, without being in the least aware
that he was being catechized, told a good deal, and Captain Shadrach’s
appraising regard, which had learned to judge men afloat and ashore,
read more than was told. The appraisal was apparently satisfactory for,
after the young man had gone and the Captain and Mary were saying good
night in the Wyeth parlor, Shadrach said:

“A nice boy, I should say. Yes, sir, a real nice young feller, as young
fellers go. I like him fust-rate.”

“I’m glad, Uncle Shad,” said Mary. “I like him, too.”

Shadrach regarded her with a little of the questioning scrutiny he had
devoted to Crawford during dinner.

“You do, eh?” he mused. “How much?”

“How much?” repeated Mary, puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I mean how much do you like him? More’n you do your Uncle Zoeth and me,
for instance?”

She looked up into his face. What she saw there brought the color to her
own. He might have said more, but she put her finger-tips upon his lips.

“Nonsense!” she said hotly. “What wicked, silly nonsense, Uncle Shad!
Don’t you ever, ever say such a thing to me again. You KNOW better.”

Shadrach smiled and shook his head.

“All right, Mary-’Gusta,” he said; “I won’t say it again--not till you
say it to me fust, at any rate. There, there, dearie! Don’t blow me
clean out of the water. I was only jokin’, the same as Isaiah was tryin’
to that night when you came home for your Christmas vacation.”

“I don’t like that kind of joking. I think it’s silly.”

“I guess maybe ‘tis--for a spell, anyhow. We’ll heave the jokes
overboard. Yes, I like that Crawford Smith fust-rate. But the funniest
thing about him is the way he reminds me of somebody else. Who that
somebody is I can’t make out nor remember. Maybe I’ll think sometime or
other, but anyhow I like him now for his own sake. I asked him to come
down and see us sometime this summer. Wonder if he will.”

Mary-’Gusta wondered, too, but she would have wondered more had she
known what that coming summer was to mean to her. The morning after the
theater party Captain Shadrach called to say good-by to Mrs. Wyeth. That
lady asked some questions and listened with interest and approval to his
report concerning Crawford Smith.

“I’m glad you were so favorably impressed with the boy,” she said. “As I
told you, I like him myself. And you approve of his friendship with your
niece?”

The Captain rubbed his chin. “Why, yes, ma’am,” he said. “I approve
of that, all right, and I cal’late Zoeth would, too. Fact is, where
Mary-’Gusta’s concerned ‘tain’t nothin’ BUT friendship, so fur, and I
guess likely ‘tain’t on his part, either. If it ever should be more,
then--well, then, if he turned out to be all that he’d ought to be I
can’t see where we old folks have much right to put our oar in, do you,
ma’am?”

Perhaps Mrs. Wyeth was tired of the subject; perhaps she objected
to being addressed as one of the old folks; at any rate, she made no
answer, but asked a question instead.

“Captain Gould,” she said, “what plans have you and Mr. Hamilton made
for Mary this summer?”

“Plans, ma’am? Why, I don’t know’s we’ve made any. Of course, we’re
countin’ on her comin’ down to South Harniss when she gets through her
school, and--”

“Just a moment, Captain. I have a friend who is very anxious to have you
change that plan for one of hers. Come in, Letitia. Captain Gould, this
is my friend, Miss Pease. Now, Letitia, tell the Captain your plan--the
one you told me last night.”

Miss Pease told of her plan and Captain Shad listened, at first with
astonishment, then with a troubled expression and at last with a
combination of both.

“There,” said Miss Pease, in conclusion, “that is my plan. It means a
great deal to me and I hope it may mean something to Mary.”

“It will be a wonderful opportunity for her,” declared Mrs. Wyeth
emphatically.

“What do you think of it, Captain Gould?” asked Miss Pease.

Shadrach drew a long breath. “I--I don’t know hardly what to say,
ma’am,” he answered. “I can’t hardly realize it yet, seems so. It
sartinly would be a wonderful chance for her and it’s somethin’ me and
Zoeth could never give her or think of givin’. But--but--”

“Of course,” said Miss Pease, as he hesitated, “if she is needed very
much at home--if you feel you cannot spare her--”

“‘Tain’t that, ma’am,” interrupted the Captain quickly. “Land knows
Zoeth and me would miss her awful, but we wouldn’t let that stand in the
way--not of anything like this. But--but--well, to be right down honest,
ma’am, I don’t know’s we’d feel like havin’ somebody else do so much
for her. Course we ain’t well off, Zoeth and I ain’t, but we ain’t right
down poor, either. We’ve been used to doin’ for ourselves and--”

And then Miss Pease had an inspiration.

“Oh, dear me!” she broke in hastily. “I do hope you haven’t made a
mistake, Captain Gould. I hope you don’t think I am offering this as a
charity or purely as a favor to Mary. No, indeed! I am asking it as a
favor to myself. I must have a companion, otherwise I cannot go. And
Mary is just the companion I need. I am very fond of her and I think she
likes me. I am not going to urge too much, Captain Gould, but I do hope
you will consider the matter with Mr. Hamilton and let me hear from you
soon. And I am hoping you will consent. I promise to take good care of
your girl and bring her back safe and sound in September. And I shall
not say one word of my great plan to her until you write me that I may.”

So Captain Shadrach, the troubled expression still on his face, returned
on the afternoon train to South Harniss to tell his friend and partner
of Miss Pease’s plan. Mary, who accompanied him to the Boston station,
wondered why he seemed so preoccupied and quiet. If she had known what
his thoughts were she would have wondered no longer.

Miss Pease planned to travel through Europe during the summer months,
and she had asked the Captain’s permission to take Mary with her as her
guest and friend and companion.



CHAPTER XV


If time and space did not matter, and if even more important happenings
in Mary-’Gusta’s life were not as close at hand to claim attention, it
would be interesting to describe at length those of that spring and the
summer which followed it. Summarized in chronological order, they were
these: First, the lengthy discussions between the partners concerning
Miss Pease’s plan, discussions which ended by Zoeth, as senior partner,
writing Miss Pease:


Shadrach and I say yes. We ought to have said it afore but flesh is weak
and we found it kind of hard to make up our minds to spare our girl all
summer. But we know we ought to spare her and that it will be a splendid
chance for her. So we say she shall go and we thank you more than we can
say. She will need clothes and fixings to take with her and Shadrach and
I wish to ask if you will be kind enough to help her pick out what she
needs. Maybe Mrs. Wyeth will help too. It will be a great favor if you
two will do this, Shadrach and I not being much good at such things. We
will send the money and will pay for all.


Then came the breaking of the news to Mary herself. At first, after
she could be made to believe the whole idea a perfectly serious one
and realized that a trip to Europe--her dearest day-dream, even when a
little girl, and the favorite play with the dolls in the attic at South
Harniss--when she at last realized the opportunity that was hers, even
then she hesitated to accept it. There were her uncles--they needed her
so much in the store--they would miss her so dreadfully. She could not
go and leave them. The united efforts of Miss Pease and Mrs. Wyeth could
not alter her determination to remain at home; only a joint declaration,
amounting to a command and signed by both partners of Hamilton and
Company, had that effect. She consented then, but with reluctance.

The steamer sailed from Boston--Miss Pease’s civic loyalty forbade her
traveling on a New York boat--on the thirtieth of June, the week after
Commencement. Mary and Mrs. Wyeth attended the Commencement exercises
and festivities as Crawford’s guest. Edwin Smith, Crawford’s father, did
not come on from Carson City to see his son receive his parchment from
his Alma Mater. He had planned to come--Crawford had begun to believe he
might come--but at the last moment illness had prevented. It was nothing
serious, he wrote; he would be well and hearty when the boy came West
after graduating.


God bless you, son [the letter ended]. If you knew what it means for
your old dad to stay away you’d forgive him for being in the doctor’s
care. Come home quick when it’s over. There’s a four-pound trout waiting
for one of us up in the lake country somewhere. It’s up to you or me to
get him.


Crawford showed the letter to Mary. He was disappointed, but not so much
so as the girl expected.

“I never really dared to count on his coming,” he explained. “It has
been this way so many times. Whenever Dad has planned to come East
something happens to prevent. Now it has happened again; I was almost
sure it would. It’s a shame! I wanted you to meet him. And I wanted him
to meet you, too,” he added.

Mary also was a little disappointed. She had rather looked forward to
meeting Mr. Smith. He was her friend’s father, of course, and that of
itself made him an interesting personality, but there was something
more--a sort of mystery about him, inspired in her mind by the
photograph which Crawford had shown her, which made her curious. The man
in the photograph resembled Crawford, of course, but she had the feeling
that he resembled someone else even more--someone she had known or whose
picture she had seen. She was sorry she was not to meet him.

Commencement was a wonderful time. Mary was introduced to dozens of
young fellows, attended spreads and sings and proms, danced a great
deal, was asked to dance ever so much more, chatted and laughed and
enjoyed herself as a healthy, happy, and pretty girl should enjoy a
college commencement. And on the following Tuesday she and Miss Pease,
looking down from the steamer’s deck, waved their handkerchiefs to Mrs.
Wyeth and Zoeth and Captain Shadrach and Crawford who, standing on the
wharf, waved theirs in return as the big ship moved slowly out of the
dock and turned her nose toward Minot’s Light and the open sea. For the
first time since Hamilton and Company put up a sign both partners had
come to Boston together.

“Annabel’s keepin’ store,” explained Shadrach, “and Isaiah’s helpin’.
It’ll be the blind leadin’ the blind, I cal’late, but we don’t care, do
we, Zoeth? We made up our mind we’d see you off, Mary-’Gusta, if we had
to swim to Provincetown and send up sky-rockets from Race P’int to let
you know we was there. Don’t forget what I told you: If you should get
as fur as Leghorn be sure and hunt up that ship-chandler name of Peroti.
Ask him if he remembers Shad Gould that he knew in ‘65. If he ain’t dead
I bet you he’ll remember.”

So Mary-’Gusta sailed away and for ten marvelous weeks daydreams came
true and attic make-believes turned to realities. War had not yet come
to sow its seed of steel and fire and reap its harvest of blood and
death upon the fair valleys and hills of France, and the travelers
journeyed leisurely from village to cathedral town and from the Seine
to the Loire. They spent three weeks in Switzerland and two in Italy,
returning for the final week to London where, under Miss Pease’s expert
guidance, Mary visited the shops, the big ones on Regent and Oxford
Streets and the smaller, equally fascinating--and more expensive--ones
on Bond Street and Piccadilly, buying presents and remembrances for the
folks at home. And, at last, came the day when, leaning upon the rail,
she saw the misty headlands of Ireland sink beneath the horizon and
realized that her wonderful holiday was over and that she was homeward
bound.

The voyage was rather rough and stormy, as westerly voyages are likely
to be, but the ship was comfortable and speedy and they made good
time. Mary spent but one day in Boston and, on the morning of the next,
started for South Harniss. She had one week before school opened and
that week was to be spent with her uncles; no one else, she vowed,
should have a minute of it.

Great were the rejoicings in the white house by the shore that day, and
marvelous was the dinner Isaiah served in honor of the occasion. Mary
was obliged to relate the story of her trip from start to finish, while
three rapt listeners nodded and exclaimed in sympathy or broke in to
ask questions. She had written faithfully, but, as Isaiah said, “writin’
ain’t tellin’.” So Mary told and her uncles and Mr. Chase listened and
questioned. It was twelve o’clock that night before anyone thought of
going to bed, and next morning at the breakfast table the questioning
began all over again.

“Mrs. Wyeth was down at the dock, I presume likely, to meet you when
your ship made port?” queried Zoeth.

“Yes, she was there,” replied Mary.

“Anybody else? How about that young Smith feller? Wa’n’t he there, too?”
 asked Captain Shadrach with elaborate innocence.

Mary colored just a little. She knew it was foolish; there was no reason
in the world why she should be embarrassed, but she could not help it.

“No, Uncle Shad,” she answered. “He wasn’t there. He has not returned
from the West yet, but he will be in Boston next week when the Medical
College opens.”

“Been havin’ a good time out West there, has he?” inquired the Captain,
still with studied unconcern.

“Yes. At least he writes me that he has.” She looked from one to the
other of her trio of listeners and then added: “I have some of his
letters here with me. If you’d like to hear them I’ll read them aloud.”

“No, no, you needn’t do that,” protested Shadrach hastily. But after
another look at him Mary said, “I think I will,” and departed in search
of the letters.

Captain Shad, looking a trifle guilty, glanced at his partner.

“She needn’t read ‘em unless she wants to, need she, Zoeth?” he said.
“I--I didn’t mean for her to do that.”

Mr. Hamilton’s face expressed doubt and disapproval.

“Humph!” he said and that was all.

Mary returned bearing the packet of letters, some of which she proceeded
to read. Crawford had spent the summer either at his home in Carson
City or in camping with his father in the Sierras, where he had shot and
fished and apparently enjoyed himself hugely. The letters were frank
and straightforward, full of fun and exuberance, the sort of letters
a robust, clean-minded young fellow ought to write and sometimes does.
They were not sentimental; even Isaiah, with what Captain Shadrach
termed his “lovesick imagination,” would not have called them so.

The partners and Mr. Chase listened with interest to the reading of the
letters and expressed their approval. Shadrach’s applause was loudest of
all, but he seemed to find difficulty in meeting his niece’s eye. Just
before bedtime, after Zoeth and Isaiah had gone upstairs and he
was locking up for the night, Mary, whom he supposed had gone also,
reentered the dining-room and stood before him.

“Uncle Shad,” she said severely, “come here a minute and sit down. I
want to talk with you.”

She led him to the big rocker. Then she took the little one beside it.

“Now, look me in the face,” she commanded. “No,” not out of the
window--here. Um . . . yes. I don’t wonder you turn red. I should think
you might be ashamed.”

“I--I--what’s that?” stammered Shadrach, turning redder than ever. “What
do you mean? Turnin’ red! Who’s turnin’ red?”

“You are,” said the young lady, firmly, “and you know it. Now, look me
straight in the eye. Uncle Shad Gould, don’t you think it would have
been more honorable, if you wished to know whether Crawford Smith and
I corresponded, to have asked me instead of hinting? Don’t you think it
would?”

“Hintin’? Why--why, Mary-’Gusta, what-what--?”

His face was a study in expression. Mary bit her lip, but she managed to
appear solemn.

“Yes, hinting,” she said. “Instead of asking if Crawford and I had
written each other you hinted. Well, now you know that we did write, and
have heard his letters to me, have you any objection?”

“Objection? No, no, course not. Why--I--I think ‘twas a fine thing. I--I
like to get letters; a heap better than I do to write ‘em,” he added
truthfully.

“Then why?”

“Well--well--I--I--”

“And aren’t you ashamed?” repeated Mary.

“Why--why, yes, by the jumpin’ fire, I am! There! I was ashamed when I
done it.”

“Then why did you do it?”

“Well--well, you see, Mary-’Gusta, I just wanted to know. Your Uncle
Zoeth and me have been actin’ as your pilots for a consider’ble spell.
Course you’re gettin’ big enough now to cruise on your own hook--that
is, in reason, you understand--but--but--well, we’ve got so used to
takin’ an observation every noontime, seein’ how you’re layin’ your
course, you know, that it’s hard to lose the habit. Not that Zoeth was
in on this,” he added honestly. “He didn’t do any of the hintin’, as you
call it. I imagine he’ll preach my head off for doin’ it, when he gets
me alone.”

“You deserve to have it preached off--or partly off, at any rate. Do you
beg my pardon?”

“Sartin sure. I’d beg it on my bended knees if ‘twa’n’t for the
rheumatiz.”

“And you won’t hint any more?”

“Nary a hint.”

“That’s right. If you want me to tell you anything, please ask. You must
trust me, Uncle Shad. I shall always tell--when there is anything to
tell.”

“I know you will, Mary-’Gusta. I’m ashamed of my hintin’. God bless you,
dearie. Now kiss me good night.”

He kissed her and, holding her in his arms, looked fondly down into her
eyes. And, as she returned his look, suddenly she blushed crimson and
hid her face in his jacket. Then she broke away and with a good night
ran from the room and up the stairs.

Shadrach looked after her, sighed, and, after finishing his locking up,
went upstairs himself. There was a light in his partner’s room and he
entered to find Mr. Hamilton sitting at the little table with several
sheets of paper covered with figures spread out before him. The Captain
was so busy with his own thoughts that, for the moment, he did not
notice the papers.

“Zoeth,” he said, “our Mary-’Gusta’s changed into a grown-up woman. Even
this last summer has changed her. She don’t look any older, and she’s
prettier than ever, but she thinks different, and I have a notion that,
no matter how much we may want to, you and me ain’t goin’ to be able
to keep her to ourselves as we--Eh?” suddenly becoming aware of his
friend’s occupation. “Are you still fussin’ over those things? Didn’t I
tell you not to worry any more, but to turn in and sleep?”

Zoeth shook his head. His usually placid, gentle face had lost some of
its placidity. He looked worn and worried and the shadows thrown by
the lamp deepened the lines in his forehead. He looked up over his
spectacles.

“Shadrach,” he said, “I can’t help it. I try not to worry and I try to
heave my burdens onto the Almighty, same as we’re commanded, but I can’t
seem to heave the whole of ‘em there. If things don’t pick up pretty
soon, I don’t know--I don’t know--and I don’t dare think,” he added
despairingly.

The sheet of paper he was holding rattled as his hand shook. Captain
Shad scowled.

“If we didn’t have our winter goods to buy,” he muttered. “Our credit’s
good, that’s one comfort.”

“It is up to now, because the Boston folks don’t know. But WE know, or
we’re afraid we know, and that makes it worse. How can we go on buyin’
from folks that has stood our friends ever since we went into business,
knowin’ as we do that--”

His partner interrupted.

“We don’t know anything yet,” he declared. “Keep a stiff upper lip,
Zoeth. Nine chances to one we’ll weather it all right. WHAT a summer
this has been! And when I think,” he added savagely, “of how well we got
along afore those new stores came it makes me nigh crazy. I’ll go out
with a card of matches some night and burn ‘em down. Damn pirates!
Callin’ themselves good Cape Cod names--names that don’t belong to ‘em!
Baker’s Bazaar! Ugh! Rheinstein’s Robbers’ Roost would be nigher the
truth. . . . Say, Zoeth, we mustn’t hint a word to Mary-’Gusta about
this. We’ve got cash enough on hand to pay her clearance charges up
there at school, ain’t we?”

“Yes, Shadrach, I’ve looked out for that. I don’t know’s I’d ought to.
The money maybe had ought to go somewheres else, but--but right or wrong
it’s goin’ for her and I hope the Lord’ll forgive me. And what you say’s
true, she mustn’t know we’re worried. She’s so conscientious she might
be for givin’ up her schoolin’ and comin’ down here to help us. She’d be
just as liable to do it as not.”

“You’re right, she would. Good thing she thinks she’s got money of her
own and that that money is payin’ her schoolin’ bills. She’d be frettin’
all the time about the expense if ‘twa’n’t for that. You and I must
pretend everything’s lovely and the goose hangin’ high when she’s
around. And we mustn’t let Isaiah drop any hints.”

“No. Isaiah has asked me two or three times lately if the new stores
was hurtin’ our trade. I shouldn’t wonder if he had some suspicions down
inside him.”

“Umph! Well, that’s all right, so long as they stay inside. If I see
signs of one of those suspicions risin’ above his Adam’s apple I’ll
choke ‘em down again. I’ll put a flea in Isaiah’s ear, and I’ll put
mucilage on its feet so’s ‘twill stick there.”

So although Mary did notice that the two new shops in the village seemed
to be prospering and that business at Hamilton and Company’s was
not rushing even for September, the answers to her questions were so
reassuring that her uneasiness was driven away. Her Uncle Zoeth evaded
direct reply and Captain Shadrach prevaricated whole-heartedly and
cheerfully. Even Isaiah declared that “everything and all hands was
doin’ fine.” But Mary made him promise that should it ever be otherwise
than fine he would write her immediately. He gave the promise with some
reluctance.

“I cal’late if Cap’n Shad caught me tellin’ tales out of school he’d go
to work and turn to and bust me over the head with a marlinespike,” said
Mr. Chase, with the air of one stating a fact.

Mary laughed. “Oh, no, he wouldn’t,” she declared. “I’ll stand back of
you, Isaiah. Now mind, you are to keep me posted on JUST how things are
here.”



CHAPTER XVI


Mary went back to Boston and to school, where old acquaintances were
renewed and new ones made. The Misses Cabot welcomed her with fussy and
dignified condescension. Barbara Howe hugged and kissed her and vowed
she had not seen a girl all summer who was half so sweet.

“Why in the world someone doesn’t run off with you and marry you this
very minute I cannot see,” declared the vivacious young lady. “If I were
a man I should.”

Mary, who was used to Miss Howe’s outbursts, merely smiled.

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t,” she replied. “I should hope you would be more
sensible. No one will run off with me; at least I wouldn’t run off with
them.”

“Why not? Don’t you think an elopement is perfectly splendid--so
romantic and all that? Suppose you were head over heels in love with
someone and his people were dead set against his marrying you, wouldn’t
you elope then?”

“I think I shouldn’t. I think I should try to find out why they were so
opposed to me. Perhaps there might be some good reason. If there were no
good reason, then--why, then--well, I don’t know. But I should hesitate
a long while before I came between a person and his family. It must be
dreadful to do that.”

Barbara laughed. “Nonsense!” she cried. “It’s done every day in the best
families, my dear. And then the reconciliation is all the sweeter. You
just wait! Some of these days I expect to read: ‘Elopement in South
Harniss High Life. Beautiful Society Maiden Weds Famous Former
Football--er--er--I want another F--Oh, yes, Famous Former Football
Favorite.’ Isn’t that beautiful? Dear me, how you blush! Or is it
sunburn? At any rate, it’s very becoming.”

The Famous Former Football Favorite called at Mrs. Wyeth’s on the
evening following that of Mary’s return to Boston. He was as big and
brown as ever and declared that he had had a wonderful vacation.

“And you’re looking awfully well, too,” he exclaimed, inspecting her
from head to foot. “She is, isn’t she, Mrs. Wyeth?”

Mrs. Wyeth admitted that she thought so. Crawford nodded emphatically.

“By George, you are!” he repeated.

There was no doubt of his sincerity. In fact, the admiration in his
voice and look was so obvious and unconcealed that Mary, although
she could not help being pleased, was a little embarrassed. The
embarrassment wore away, however, when he began to tell of his summer
in the Sierras and to ask for additional particulars concerning her
European trip. He stayed longer than usual that evening and came again
a few evenings later--to show them some photographs he had taken in
the mountains, so he said. And the following Sunday he dropped in to
accompany them to church. And--but why particularize? Perhaps it will
be sufficient to say that during that fall and winter the boy and girl
friendship progressed as such friendships are likely to do. Miss Pease,
the romantic, nodded and looked wise and even Mrs. Wyeth no longer
resented her friend’s looks and insinuations with the same indignant
certainty of denial.

“I don’t know, Letitia,” she admitted. “I don’t know. I’m beginning to
think he cares for her and may be really serious about it. Whether or
not she cares for him is quite another thing and I am sure I shan’t
presume to guess. If she does she keeps it to herself, as she does so
many other things. She knows how to mind her own business and that is a
gift possessed by few, Letitia Pease.”

Mary went home for the Christmas vacation and spent the holidays, as
she had spent those of the previous year, in helping her uncles at the
store. The Christmas trade, although not so brisk as she had seen it,
was not so bad as to alarm her, and the partners were optimistic as
ever. Isaiah, who had been talked to like a Dutch uncle by Captain Shad
and was consequently in deadly fear of the latter’s wrath, declared
that as far as he could see everything was all right. So Mary left South
Harniss and returned to school and the duties of the winter term with
few misgivings concerning matters at home. Crawford met her at the train
and came to the Pinckney Street house that evening to hear the news from
the Cape. It was surprising, the interest in Cape Cod matters manifested
of late by that young man.

On a day in early April, Mary, hurrying to Mrs. Wyeth’s after school,
found a letter awaiting her. She glanced at the postmark, which was
South Harniss, and the handwriting, which was Isaiah’s, and then laid it
aside to be read later on at her leisure. After many postponements and
with considerable reluctance she had accepted an invitation to dine with
Barbara Howe at the latter’s home in Brookline and this evening was the
time appointed. It would be her first plunge into society--the home
life of society, that is. The Howes were an old family, wealthy and
well-connected, and Mary could not help feeling somewhat nervous at
the ordeal before her. She knew something of the number and variety
of expensive gowns possessed by her young hostess and her own limited
wardrobe seemed doubly limited and plain by comparison. But she summoned
her unfailing common sense to her rescue and found consolation in the
fact that Barbara and her people knew she was, comparatively speaking,
a poor girl, and therefore could hardly have invited her with the
expectation of seeing her arrayed in fine clothes. And if they had done
so--here was a bit of the old Mary-’Gusta philosophy--their opinion
was not worth consideration anyhow, and the sooner they and she reached
mutual disgust and parting the better.

But although her best gown was not new nor expensive, and her jewels
were conspicuous by their absence, the picture she made as she stood
before the mirror giving the last touches to her hair was distinctly not
an unpleasing one. Maggie, the maid, who entered the room to announce a
caller, was extravagant in her praises.

“Ah, sure, Miss, you look fine,” she declared. “You’re that sweet one
look at you would sugar a cup of tea. Ah, he’ll be that proud of you and
he ought to be, too. But he’s a fine young man, and--”

“Who? What are you talking about, Maggie?” interrupted Mary. “Who will
be proud of me and who is a fine young fellow?”

“Who? Why, Mr. Smith, of course; who else? He’s down in the parlor
waitin’ for you now. I’ll tell him you’ll be down.”

Before Mary could stop her she had left the room and was on her way
downstairs. Mary followed a moment later. She had not expected a visit
from Crawford, who had called already that week. She wondered why he had
come.

She found him in the parlor. Mrs. Wyeth was out shopping with Miss
Pease, and he and she were alone. He rose to meet her as she entered.

“Why, Crawford,” she said, “what is the matter? Has anything happened?
Why do you look so serious?”

He smiled ruefully. “I guess because I am rather serious,” he answered.
“I’ve had some news and I came to tell you about it.” Then, noticing her
gown, he added: “But you’re going out, aren’t you?”

“I am going out by and by. I am going to dine and spend the evening with
Barbara Howe. But I am not going yet. Won’t you sit down?”

“I will if you’re sure you can spare the time. I hope you can,
because--well, because I do want to talk to you. I’ve had bad news from
home. My father is ill--and in the doctor’s care.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I hope it isn’t serious.”

“I don’t know whether it is or not. It can’t be desperately serious,
because he wrote the letter himself. But at any rate it’s serious enough
for me. He wants me to give up my work here at the Harvard Medical and
come West.”

Mary gasped. “Give it up!” she repeated. “Give up your studies? Give up
medicine? Surely he doesn’t want you to do that!”

Crawford shook his head. “No, not quite that,” he replied. “I wouldn’t
do that, even for him. But he writes that he is not well and is not
likely to be better for a good while, if ever, and he would be very much
happier if I were nearer at hand. He wants me to give up here at the
Harvard Med. and take up my work again at Denver or Salt Lake City or
somewhere out there. Even Chicago would seem much nearer, he says. It’s
a pitiful sort of letter. The old chap seems dreadfully down in the
dumps. He wants me, that’s plain enough, and he seems to think he needs
me. Says if I were at Denver I could come home every little while,
whereas here I can’t. What ought I to do? I hate to say no, and I hate
just as much to say yes.”

Mary considered.

“I think you must decide for yourself,” she said after a moment. “You
have your career to consider, of course.”

“Yes, I have. But, to be perfectly honest, I suppose my career would
not be influenced greatly if I went. There are plenty of good medical
colleges in the West. It is only that I am a Harvard man and I hoped to
finish at the Harvard school, that is all. But I COULD go. What do you
advise?”

Again Mary took time for consideration. Her face now was as grave as
his. At last she said, without raising her eyes: “I think you ought to
go.”

He groaned. “I was afraid you would say that,” he admitted. “And I
suppose you are right.”

“Yes, I think I am. If your father needs you and wants you, and if your
career will not be influenced for harm, I--well, I think you should do
as he wishes.”

“And my own wishes shouldn’t count, I suppose?”

“Why, no, not in this case; not much, at any rate. Do you think they
should?”

“Perhaps not. But--but yours?”

“Mine?”

“Yes. Do YOU want me to go away?” He leaned forward in his chair and
repeated earnestly: “Do you, Mary?”

She looked at him and her eyes fell before the look in his. Her heart
began to beat quickly and she glanced apprehensively toward the partly
opened door. He rose and closed it. Then he came close to her.

“Mary,” he said, earnestly, “do you know why this appeal of Dad’s has
hit me so very hard? Why it is going to be so mighty difficult to say
yes and leave here? It isn’t because I hate to give up Harvard. I do
hate that, of course, but I’d do it in a minute for Dad. It isn’t that.
It’s because I can’t--I just can’t think of leaving you. You have come
to be--”

She interrupted. “Please don’t,” she begged. “Please!”

He went on, unheeding:

“You have come to mean about all there is in life for me,” he declared.
“It isn’t money or success or reputation I’ve been working and plugging
for these last few months; it’s just you. I didn’t think so once--I used
to think such things were just in books--but now I know. I love you,
Mary.”

Again she protested. “Oh, Crawford,” she begged, “please!”

“No; you’ve got to hear me. It’s true; I love you, and if you can care
for me, I am going to marry you. Not now, of course; I’ve got my way to
make first; but some day, if I live.”

His teeth set in the determined fashion she had learned to know meant
unswerving purpose. She looked up, saw the expression of his face, and
for the instant forgot everything except her pride in him and her joy
that she should have awakened such feelings. Then she remembered other
things, things which she had spent many hours of many nights in debating
and considering. As he bent toward her she evaded him and rose.

“Don’t, Crawford! Please!” she said again. “You mustn’t say such things
to me. It isn’t right that you should.”

He looked puzzled. “Why not?” he asked. “At any rate, right or wrong, I
must say them, Mary. I’ve been holding them in for months and now I’ve
just got to say them. I love you and I want to marry you. May I?”

“Oh, no, Crawford! No! It is impossible.”

“Impossible! Why? Is it--is it because you don’t care for me? Don’t you,
Mary?”

She did not answer.

“Don’t you?” he repeated. “Look at me! Can’t you care, Mary?”

She was silent. But when he took a step toward her she raised her hands
in protest.

“Please don’t!” she pleaded. “No, you mustn’t--we mustn’t think--Oh, no,
it is impossible!”

“It isn’t impossible. If you love me as I do you it is the only possible
thing in the world. Listen, dear--”

“Hush! I mustn’t listen. Be sensible, Crawford! think! We are both so
young. You are only beginning your studies. It will be years before you
can--before you should consider marrying.”

“But we can wait. I am willing to wait if you will only promise to wait
for me. I’ll work--HOW I’ll work!--and--”

“I know, but we both have others besides ourselves to consider. I have
my uncles. They have done everything for me. And you have your father.
Does he know--about me--about what you have just said to me?”

And now Crawford hesitated. Not long, but long enough for Mary to know
what the answer would be before it was spoken.

“He doesn’t know,” she said. “I thought not. Do you think he will
approve?”

“I hope he will. There is every reason why he should and absolutely none
why he shouldn’t. Of course he’ll approve; he’s sensible.”

“Yes, but he may have plans of his own for you, and your marrying
an Eastern girl may not be one of them. You have often told me how
prejudiced he is against the East and Eastern people. He may disapprove
strongly.”

Crawford squared his shoulders. There was no hesitation or doubt in his
next speech.

“If he does it will make no difference,” he declared. “I care a whole
lot for Dad and I’d do anything on earth for him--anything but the one
thing, that is: I won’t give you up--provided you care for me--for him
or for anyone else. That’s final.”

He certainly looked as if it were. But Mary only shook her head. In the
new thoughts and new imaginings which had come to her during the past
winter there had been a vague foreshadowing of a possible situation
somewhat like this. She had her answer ready.

“Oh, no, it isn’t,” she said. “You are his son, his only child,
Crawford. He cares so much for you. You have often told me that,
and--and I know he must. And you and he have been so happy together. Do
you think I would be the cause of breaking that relationship?”

He waved the question aside and asked one of his own.

“Do you love me, Mary?” he asked.

“You mustn’t ask me, Crawford. Write your father. Tell him everything.
Will you?”

“Yes, I will. I should have done it, anyway. If I go home, and I suppose
I must, I shall tell him; it will be better than writing. But I want
your answer before I go. Won’t you give it to me?”

He looked very handsome and very manly, as he stood there pleading. But
Mary had made up her mind.

“I can’t, Crawford,” she said. “Perhaps I don’t know. I do know that it
would not be right for me to say what you want me to say--now. Go home
to your father; he needs you. Tell him everything and then--write me.”

He looked at her, a long, long look. Then he nodded slowly.

“All right,” he said; “I will. I will tell him that I mean to marry you.
If he says yes--as he will, I’m sure--then I’ll write you that. If he
says no, I’ll write you that. But in either case, Mary Lathrop, I shall
marry you just the same. Your own no will be the only thing that can
prevent it. And now may I come and see you tomorrow evening?”

“Not tomorrow, Crawford. When will you start for home?”

“Saturday, I think. May I come the day after tomorrow? Just to say
good-by, you know.”

Mary was troubled. She could not deny him and yet she was certain it
would be better for them both if he did not come.

“Perhaps,” she said doubtfully. “But only to say good-by. You must
promise that.”

There was a ring at the bell. Then Maggie, the maid, appeared to
announce that the Howe motor car was waiting at the curb. A few moments
later Mary was in her room adjusting her new hat before the mirror.
Ordinarily, adjusting that hat would have been an absorbing and
painstaking performance; just now it was done with scarcely a thought.
How devoutly she wished that the Howe car and the Howe dinner were
waiting for anyone in the wide world but her! She did not wish to meet
strangers; she did not wish to go anywhere, above all she did not wish
to eat. That evening, of all evenings in her life, she wished to be
alone. However, accepted invitations are implied obligations and Mary,
having adjusted the hat, gave her eyes a final dab with a handkerchief
and cold water and hastened down to answer the call to social martyrdom.

It was not excruciating torture, that dinner in the Howe dining-room,
even to a young lady who had just listened to a proposal of marriage and
desired to think of nothing less important. Mr. Howe was big and jolly.
Mrs. Howe was gray-haired and gracious and Barbara was--Barbara. Also,
there was a friend of Mr. Howe’s, an elderly gentleman named Green, who
it seemed was one of a firm of wholesale grocers downtown, and who
told funny stories and, by way of proving that they were funny, laughed
heartiest of all at the ending of each. He sat next Mrs. Howe during
dinner, but later, when they were all in the handsome drawing-room, he
came over and seated himself upon the sofa next Mary and entered into
conversation with her.

“You are not a born Bostonian, I understand, Miss Lathrop,” he observed.
“An importation, eh? Ho, ho! Yes. Well, how do you like us?”

Mary smiled. “Oh, I like Boston very much, Mr. Green,” she answered. “I
know it better than any other American city, perhaps that is why. It was
the only city I had ever seen until quite recently. I am imported--as
you call it--from not so far away. My home is on Cape Cod.”

Mr. Green regarded her with interest.

“So?” he said. “From Cape Cod, eh? That’s rather peculiar. I have been
very much interested in the Cape for the past day or so. Something has
occurred in connection with my business which brought the Cape to mind.
My attention has been--er--as you may say, gripped by the strong right
arm of Massachusetts. Eh? Ho, ho!”

He chuckled at his own joke. Mary was rather bored, but she tried not to
show it.

“What part of the Cape has interested you, Mr. Green?” she inquired for
the sake of saying something.

“Eh? Oh--er--South Harniss. Little town down near the elbow. Do you know
it?”

Mary was surprised, of course. The answer which was on the tip of her
tongue was naturally, “Why, yes, I live there.” But she did not make
that answer, although she has often wondered, since, why. What she said
was: “Yes, I know South Harniss.”

“Do you, indeed?” went on Green. “Well, I don’t, but I have known some
people who live there for ever so long. My father knew them before me.
They were customers of his and they have been buying of our firm for
years. Two old chaps who keep what I believe they would call a ‘general
store.’ Fine old fellows, both of them! Different as can be, and
characters, but pure gold inside. I have had some bad news concerning
them. They’re in trouble and I’m mighty sorry.”

Mary was bored no longer. She leaned forward and asked breathlessly:

“What are their names, Mr. Green?”

“Eh? Oh, the firm name is Hamilton and Company. That is simple and sane
enough, but the names of the partners were cribbed from the book of
Leviticus, I should imagine--Zoeth and Shadrach! Ho, ho! Think of it!
Think of wishing a name like Shadrach upon a helpless infant. The S. P.
C. A. or C. C. or something ought to be told of it. Ho, ho!”

He laughed aloud. Mary did not laugh.

“They--you said they were in trouble,” she said slowly. “What sort of
trouble?”

“Eh? Oh, the usual kind. The kind of goblin, young lady, which is likely
to get us business men if we don’t watch out--financial trouble. The
firm of Hamilton and Company has not kept abreast of the times, that’s
all. For years they did a good business and then some new competitors
with up-to-date ideas came to town and--puff!--good-by to the old
fogies. They are in a bad way, I’m afraid, and will have to go under,
unless--eh? But there! you aren’t particularly interested, I dare say.
It was your mention of Cape Cod which set me going.”

“Oh, but I am interested; I am, really. They must go under, you say?
Fail, do you mean?”

“Yes, that is what I mean. I am very sorry. Our firm would go on
selling them goods almost indefinitely for, as I have said, they are old
customers and in a way old friends. But they are absolutely honest and
they will not buy what they cannot pay for. We have some pitiful letters
from them--not whining, you know, but straightforward and frank. They
don’t ask favors, but tell us just where they stand and leave it to us
to refuse credit if we see fit. It is just one of the little tragedies
of life, Miss Lathrop, but I’m mighty sorry for those two old friends of
my father’s and mine. And the worst of it is that, from inquiries I
have made, it would seem that they have been sacrificing themselves by
spending their money lavishly and uselessly on someone else. They have a
girl in the family, a sort of adopted niece, whatever that is, and, not
content with bringing her up like a sensible, respectable country girl,
they must dress her like a millionaire’s daughter and send her off to
some extravagantly expensive seminary where--Why, what is the matter?
Eh? Good heavens! What have I been saying? You don’t know these people,
do you?”

Mary turned a very white face toward his.

“They are my uncles,” she said. “My home is at South Harniss. Please
excuse me, Mr. Green.”

She rose and walked away. A few minutes later, when Mr. Howe approached
the sofa, he found his friend sitting thereon, staring at nothing in
particular and fervently repeating under his breath, “The devil! The
devil! The devil!”

Mary got away as soon as she could. Her looks attracted Barbara’s
attention and the young lady asked if she were not feeling well. Mary
replied that she was not, and although it was not serious please might
she be permitted to go home at once? She was sent home in the automobile
and when she reached her own room her first act was to find and open
Isaiah’s letter which had arrived that afternoon. With trembling fingers
she held it beneath the gas jet and this is what she read:


DEAR MARY AUGUSTA:

I had not ought to write you this and your Uncles would pretty nigh kill
me if they knew I done so but I am going to just the same. Busines has
gone to rack and ruin. Hamilton & Co. thanks to those and other darned
stores, ain’t making enough to keep boddy and soul together and they are
making themselves sick over it. I don’t know what will become of them to
if something or someboddy does not think up some way to help them over
the shoals. They do not tell anyone and least of all they wouldent want
you to be told, but I think you ought to be. They have done a whole lot
for you. Can’t you think up some way to do something for them. For god
Sakes write right off.

Yours truly,

ISAIAH CHASE.



CHAPTER XVII


People grow older, even on the Cape, where hurry--except by the
automobiles of summer residents--is not considered good form and where
Father Time is supposed to sit down to rest. Judge Baxter, Ostable’s
leading attorney-at-law, had lived quietly and comfortably during the
years which had passed since, as Marcellus Hall’s lawyer, he read the
astonishing letter to the partners of Hamilton and Company. He was over
seventy now, and behind his back Ostable folks referred to him as “old
Judge Baxter”; but although his spectacles were stronger than at that
time, his mental faculties were not perceptibly weaker, and he walked
with as firm, if not so rapid, a stride. So when, at eleven in the
forenoon of the day following Mary’s dinner at the Howes’ home, the
Judge heard someone enter the outer room of his offices near the Ostable
courthouse, he rose from his chair in the inner room and, without
waiting for his clerk to announce the visitor, opened the door himself.

The caller whose question the clerk was about to answer, or would
probably have answered as soon as he finished staring in awestruck
admiration, was a young lady. The Judge looked at her over his
spectacles and then through them and decided that she was a stranger. He
stepped forward.

“I am Judge Baxter,” he said. “Did you wish to see me?”

She turned toward him. “Yes,” she said simply. “I should like to talk
with you for a few moments if you are not too busy.”

The Judge hesitated momentarily. Only the week before a persistent and
fluent young female had talked him into the purchase of a set of
“Lives of the Great Jurists,” the same to be paid for in thirty-five
installments of two dollars each. Mrs. Baxter had pronounced the “Great
Jurists” great humbugs, and her husband, although he pretended to find
the “Lives” very interesting, was secretly inclined to agree with her.
So he hesitated. The young woman, evidently noticing his hesitation,
added:

“If you are engaged just now I shall wait. I came to see you on a matter
of business, legal business.”

Judge Baxter tried to look as if no thought of his visitor’s having
another purpose had entered his mind.

“Oh, yes, certainly! Of course!” he said hastily, and added: “Will you
walk in?”

She walked in--to the private office, that is--and the Judge, following
her, closed the door. His clerk stared wistfully at his own side of that
door for a full minute, then sighed heavily and resumed his work, which
was copying a list of household effects belonging to a late lamented who
had willed them, separately and individually, to goodness knew how many
cousins, first, second, and third.

In the private office the Judge asked his visitor to be seated. She took
the chair he brought forward. Then she said:

“You don’t remember me, I think, Judge Baxter. I am Mary Lathrop.”

The Judge looked puzzled. The name sounded familiar, but he could not
seem to identify its owner.

“Perhaps you would remember me if I told you my whole name,” suggested
the latter. “I am Mary Augusta Lathrop. I think perhaps you used to call
me Mary-’Gusta; most people did.”

Then the Judge remembered. His astonishment was great.

“Mary-’Gusta Lathrop!” he repeated. “Mary-’Gusta! Are you--? Why, it
scarcely seems possible! And yet, now that I look, I can see that it is.
Bless my soul and body! How do you do? It must be almost--er--seven or
eight years since I have seen you. South Harniss is only a few miles
off, but I am getting--er--older and I don’t drive as much as I used to.
But there! I am very glad to see you now. And how are Captain Gould and
Mr. Hamilton? There is no need to ask how you are. Your looks are the
best answer to that.”

Mary thanked him and said she was very well. Her uncles, too, were well,
she added, or they were when she last heard.

“I am on my way home to them now,” she added. “For the past two years I
have been at school in Boston. I left there this morning and got off
the train here because I wished very much to see you, Judge Baxter.
Yesterday--last evening--I heard something--I was told something which,
if it is true, is--is--”

She bit her lip. She was evidently fighting desperately not to lose
self-control. The Judge was surprised and disturbed.

“Why, Mary!” he exclaimed. “I suppose I may call you Mary still; as an
old friend I hope I may. What is the matter? What did you hear? What do
you wish to see me about?”

She was calm enough now, but her earnestness was unmistakable.

“I heard something concerning myself and my uncles which surprised and
shocked me dreadfully,” she said. “I can hardly believe it, but I must
know whether it is true or not. I must know at once! You can tell me
the truth, Judge Baxter, if you only will. That is why I came here this
morning. Will you tell it to me? Will you promise that you will answer
my questions, every one, with the exact truth and nothing else? And
answer them all? Will you promise that?”

The Judge looked even more surprised and puzzled. He rubbed his chin and
smiled doubtfully.

“Well, Mary,” he said, “I think I can promise that if I answer your
questions at all I shall answer them truthfully. But I scarcely like
to promise to answer them without knowing what they are. A lawyer has a
good many secrets intrusted to him and he is obliged to be careful.”

“I know. But this is a secret in which I am interested. I am interested
in it more than anyone else. I must know the truth about it! I MUST! If
you won’t tell me I shall find out somehow. WILL you tell?”

Judge Baxter rubbed his chin again.

“Don’t you think you had better ask your questions?” he suggested.

“Yes; yes, I do. I will. How much money did my stepfather, Captain
Marcellus Hall, have when he died?”

The Judge’s chin-rubbing ceased. His eyebrows drew together.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked, after a moment.

“Because I do. Because it is very important that I should. It is my
right to know. Was he a rich man?”

“Um--er--no. I should not call him that. Hardly a rich man.”

“Was he very poor?”

“Mary, I don’t exactly see why--”

“I do. Oh, Judge Baxter, please don’t think I am asking this for any
selfish reasons. I am not, indeed I’m not! All my life, ever since I was
old enough to think of such things at all, I have supposed--I have been
led to believe that my stepfather left me plenty of money--money enough
to pay my uncles for taking care of me, for my clothes and board, and
now, during these last two years, for my studies in Boston. I never,
never should have consented to go to that school if I hadn’t supposed I
was paying the expenses myself. I knew my uncles were not well-to-do; I
knew they could not afford to--to do what they had already done for me,
even before that. And now--last night--I was told that--that they were
in great financial trouble, that they would probably be obliged to fail
in business, and all because they had been spending their money on me,
sacrificing themselves and their comfort and happiness in order that
‘an adopted niece with extravagant ideas’ might be educated above her
station; that is the way the gentleman who told me the story put it. Of
course he didn’t know he was talking to the niece,” she added, with a
pathetic little smile; “but, oh, Judge, can’t you see now why I must
know the truth--all of the truth?”

Her fingers clasped and unclasped in her lap. The Judge laid his own
hand upon them.

“There, there, my dear,” he said soothingly. “Tut, tut, tut! What’s all
this about your uncles failing in business? That isn’t possible, is it?
Tell me the whole thing, just as it was told to you.”

So Mary told it, concluding by exhibiting Isaiah Chase’s letter.

“It must be very bad, you see,” she said. “Isaiah never would have
written if it had not been. It is hard enough to think that while I was
enjoying myself in Europe and at school they were in such trouble and
keeping it all to themselves. That is hard enough, when I know how
they must have needed me. But if it should be true that it is
their money--money they could not possibly spare--that I have been
spending--wasting there in Boston, I--I--Please tell me, Judge Baxter!
Have I any money of my own? Please tell me.”

The Judge rose and walked up and down the floor, his brows drawn
together and his right hand slapping his leg at each turn. After seven
or eight of these turns he sat down again and faced his caller.

“Mary,” he said, “suppose this story about your uncles’ financial and
business troubles should be true, what will you do?”

Mary met his look bravely. Her eyes were moist, but there was no
hesitation in her reply.

“I shall stay at home and help them in any way I can,” she said. “There
will be no more Boston and no more school for me. They need me there at
home and I am going home--to stay.”

“Whether it is your money or theirs which has paid for your education?”

“Certainly. Of course I never should have gone away at all if I had
not supposed my own money were paying the expenses. Judge, you haven’t
answered my question--and yet I think--I am afraid that you have
answered it. It was their money that paid, wasn’t it?”

Judge Baxter was silent for a moment, as if in final deliberation. Then
he nodded, solemnly.

“Yes, Mary,” he said, “it was their money. In fact, it has been their
money which has paid for most things in your life. Shadrach Gould and
Zoeth Hamilton aren’t, maybe, the best business men in the world, but
they come pretty near to being the best MEN, in business or out of
it, that I have met during seventy odd years on this planet. I think,
perhaps, it will be well for you to know just how good they have been to
you. Now, listen!”

He began at the beginning, at the day of Marcellus Hall’s funeral,
when he read the letter to Shadrach and Zoeth, the letter intrusting
Mary-’Gusta to their care. He told of Marcellus’s unfortunate
investments, of the loss of the latter’s fortune, and how, when the
estate was settled, there were but a few hundreds where it was expected
there might be a good many thousands.

“Don’t make any mistake, Mary,” he said earnestly. “Your uncles knew
there was little or no money when they decided to take you. They took
you simply for yourself, because they cared so much for you, not because
they were to make a cent from the guardianship. Everything you have
had for the past two years their money has paid for and you may be
absolutely certain they never have grudged a penny of it. The last time
I saw Captain Gould he was glorying in having the smartest and best girl
in Ostable County. And Mr. Hamilton--”

She interrupted him. “Don’t, please!” she said chokingly. “Please don’t
tell me any more just now. I--I want to think.”

“There isn’t any more to tell,” he said gently. “I am going into the
next room. I shall be back in a few minutes. Then, if you care to, we
can talk a little more.”

When he returned she had risen and was standing by the window looking
out into the back yard. She was calm and even smiled a little as he
entered, although the smile was a rather pitiful one. Of the two the
Judge looked the more perturbed.

“Whew!” he exclaimed, after carefully closing the door behind him. “I’ve
been doing a little thinking my self, young lady, since I left you here.
I’ve been thinking that I had better take a trip to Canada or China or
somewhere and start in a hurry, too. When your uncles find out that I
told you this thing they have succeeded in keeping from you all this
time--well, it will be high time for me to be somewhere else.” He
laughed and then added gravely: “But I still think I was right in
telling you. Under the circumstances it seems to me that you should
know.”

“Of course I should. If you had not told me I should have found it out,
now that my suspicions were aroused. Thank you, Judge Baxter. Now I must
go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“Home--to South Harniss.”

“Nonsense! You’re not going to South Harniss yet awhile. You’re going to
have dinner with my wife and me.”

“Thank you. I can’t. I must go at once. By the next train.”

“There isn’t any train until nearly four o’clock.” Then, noticing her
look of disappointment, he went on to say: “But that shan’t make any
difference. I’ll send you over in my nephew’s automobile. I’m not
sufficiently up-to-date to own one of the cussed--excuse me things, but
he does and I borrow it occasionally. I don’t drive it; good heavens,
no! But his man shall drive you over and I’ll guarantee you beat the
train. If you don’t, it won’t be because you go too slow. Now, of
course, you’ll stay to dinner.”

But Mary shook her head. “You’re very kind, Judge,” she said, “and I
thank you very much, but--”

“Well, but what?”

“But I--I can’t. I--I--Oh, don’t you see? I couldn’t eat, or even try
to--now. I want to get home--to them.”

“And so you shall, my dear. And in double-quick time, too. Here, Jesse,”
 opening the door to the outer office and addressing the clerk, “you
step over and tell Samuel that I want to borrow his car and Jim for two
hours. Tell him I want them now. And if his car is busy go to Cahoon’s
garage and hire one with a driver. Hurry!”

“And now, Mary,” turning to her, “can you tell me any more about your
plans, provided you have had time to make any? If this story about your
uncles’ business troubles is true, what do you intend doing? Or don’t
you know?”

Mary replied that her plans were very indefinite, as yet.

“I have some ideas,” she said; “some that I had thought I might use
after I had finished school and come back to the store. They may not
be worth much; they were schemes for building up the business there and
adding some other sorts of business to it. The first thing I shall do is
to see how bad the situation really is.”

“I hope it isn’t bad. Poor Zoeth certainly has had trouble enough in his
life.”

There was a significance in his tone which Mary plainly did not
understand.

“What trouble do you mean?” she asked.

The Judge looked at her, coughed, and then said hastily: “Oh, nothing in
particular; every one of us has troubles, I suppose. But, Mary, if--if
you find that the story is true and--ahem--a little money might help
to--er--tide the firm over--why, I--I think perhaps that it might
be--ahem--arranged so that--”

He seemed to be having difficulty in finishing the sentence. Mary did
not wait to hear the end.

“Thank you, Judge,” she said quickly. “Thank you, but I am hoping it may
not be so bad as that. I am going back there, you know, and--well, as
Uncle Shadrach would say, we may save the ship yet. At any rate, we
won’t call for help until the last minute.”

Judge Baxter regarded her with admiration.

“Shadrach and Zoeth are rich in one respect,” he declared; “they’ve got
you. But it is a wicked shame that you must give up your school and your
opportunities to--”

She held up her hand.

“Please don’t!” she begged. “If you knew how glad I am to be able to do
something, if it is only to give up!”

The car and Jim were at the door a few minutes later and Mary, having
said good-by to the Judge and promised faithfully to keep him posted as
to events at home, climbed into the tonneau and was whizzed away. Jim,
the driver, after a few attempts at conversation, mainly concerning the
“unseasonableness” of the weather, finding responses few and absently
given, relapsed into silence. Silence was what Mary desired, silence and
speed, and Jim obliged with the latter.

Over the road by which, a dozen years before, she had driven in the old
buggy she now rode again. Then, as now, she wondered what she should
find at her journey’s end. Here, however, the resemblance ceased,
for whereas then she looked forward, with a child’s anticipations, to
nothing more definite than new sights and new and excitingly delightful
adventures, now she saw ahead--what? Great care and anxiety and
trouble certainly, these at the best; and at the worst, failure
and disappointment and heartbreak. And behind her she was leaving
opportunity and the pleasant school life and friends, leaving them
forever.

She was leaving Crawford, too, leaving him without a word of
explanation. She had had no time to write even a note. Mrs. Wyeth, after
protesting vainly against her guest’s decision to leave for the Cape by
the earliest train in the morning, had helped to pack a few essential
belongings; the others she was to pack and send later on, when she
received word to do so. The three, Mrs. Wyeth, Miss Pease, and Mary, had
talked and argued and planned until almost daylight. Then followed an
hour or two of uneasy sleep, a hurried breakfast, and the rush to the
train. Mary had not written Crawford; the shock of what she had been
told at the Howes’ and her great anxiety to see Judge Baxter and learn
if what she had heard was true had driven even her own love story from
her mind. Now she remembered that she had given him permission to call,
not this evening but the next, to say good-by before leaving for the
West. He would be disappointed, poor fellow. Well, she must not think of
that. She must not permit herself to think of anyone but her uncles or
of anything except the great debt of love and gratitude she owed them
and of the sacrifice they had made for her. She could repay a little of
that sacrifice now; at least she could try. She would think of that and
of nothing else.

And then she wondered what Crawford would think or say when he found she
had gone.



CHAPTER XVIII


The main street of South Harniss looked natural enough as the motor car
buzzed along it. It was but a few months since Mary had been there,
yet it seemed ever so much more. She felt so much older than on those
Christmas holidays. When the store of Hamilton and Company came in sight
she sank down on the back seat in order not to be seen. She knew her
uncles were, in all probability, there at the store, and she wished to
see Isaiah and talk with him before meeting them.

Isaiah was in the kitchen by the cookstove when she opened the door. He
turned, saw her, and stood petrified. Mary entered and closed the door
behind her. By that time Mr. Chase had recovered sufficiently from his
ossification to speak.

“Eh--eh--by time!” he gasped. “I snum if it ain’t you!”

Mary nodded. “Isaiah,” she asked quickly, “are you alone? Are my uncles,
both of them, at the store?”

But the cook and steward had not yet completely got over the effect of
the surprise. He still stared at her.

“It IS you, ain’t it!” he stammered. “I--I--by time, I do believe you’ve
come home, same as I asked you to.”

“Of course I’ve come home. How in the world could I be here if I
hadn’t? DON’T stare at me like that, with your mouth open like a--like a
codfish. Tell me, are Uncle Shad and Uncle Zoeth at the store?”

“Eh--Yes, I cal’late they be. Ain’t neither of ‘em come home to dinner
yet. I’m expectin’ one of ‘em ‘most any minute. I’ll run up and fetch
‘em. Say! How in the nation did you get here this time of day?”

“I shall tell you by and by. No, I don’t want you to get my uncles. I
want to talk with you alone first. Now, Isaiah, sit down! Sit down
in that chair. I want you to tell me just how bad things are. Tell me
everything, all you know about it, and don’t try to make the situation
better than it is. And please HURRY!”

Isaiah, bewildered but obedient, sat down. The command to hurry had the
effect of making him so nervous that, although he talked enough to have
described the most complicated situation, his ideas were badly snarled
and Mary had to keep interrupting in order to untangle them. And, after
all, what he had to tell was not very definite. Business was bad at the
store; that was plain to everyone in town. “All hands” were trading
at the new stores where prices were lower, stocks bigger and more
up-to-date, and selling methods far, far in advance of those of Hamilton
and Company.

“About the only customers that stick by us,” declared Isaiah, “are folks
like ‘Rastus Young and the rest of the deadbeats. THEY wouldn’t leave us
for nothin’--and nothin’s what they pay, too, drat ‘em!”

The partners had not told him of their troubles, but telling was not
necessary. He had seen and heard enough.

“They are right on the ragged edge of goin’ on the rocks,” vowed Isaiah.
“Zoeth, he’s that thin and peaked ‘twould make a sick pullet look fleshy
alongside of him. And Cap’n Shad goes around with his hands rammed down
in his beckets--”

“In his what?”

“In his britches pockets, and he don’t scurcely speak a word for hours
at a stretch. And they’re up all times of the night, fussin’ over
account books and writin’ letters and I don’t know what all. It’s plain
enough what’s comin’. Everybody in town is on to it. Why, I was up to
the store t’other day settin’ outside on the steps and Ab Bacheldor came
along. He hates Cap’n Shad worse’n pizen, you know. ‘Hello, Isaiah!’ he
says to me, he says. ‘Is that you?’ he says. ‘Course it’s me,’ says I.
Who’d you think ‘twas?’ ‘I didn’t know but it might be the sheriff,’
he says. ‘I understand he’s settin’ round nowadays just a-waitin’.’ And
Zoeth was right within hearin’, too!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Mary indignantly.

“Yup, that’s what he said,” went on Isaiah. “But I got in one dig on my
own hook. ‘The sheriff don’t wait much down to your house, Abner, does
he?’ says I. ‘You bet he don’t,’ says he; ‘he don’t have to.’ ‘Well,
he’d starve to death if he waited there long,’ says I. Ho, ho! His
wife’s the stingiest woman about her cookin’ that there is on the Cape.
Why, one time she took a notion she’d keep boarders and Henry Ryder,
that drives the fruit cart, he started to board there. But he only
stayed two days. The fust day they had biled eggs and the next day
they had soup made out of the shells. Course that probably ain’t
true--Henry’s an awful liar--but all the same--”

“Never mind Henry Ryder, or Abner Bacheldor, either,” interrupted Mary.
“How did you happen to send for me, Isaiah?”

“Eh? Oh, that just came of itself, as you might say. I kept gettin’ more
and more tittered up and worried as I see how things was goin’ and I
kept wishin’ you was here, if ‘twas only to have somebody to talk it
over with. But I didn’t dast to write and when you was home Christmas I
never dast to say nothin’ because Cap’n Shad had vowed he’d butcher me
if I told tales to you about any home troubles. That’s it, you see! All
through this their main idea has been not to trouble you. ‘She mustn’t
know anything or she’ll worry,’ says Zoeth, and Cap’n Shad he says,
‘That’s so.’ They think an awful sight of you, Mary-’Gusta.”

Mary did not trust herself to look up.

“I know,” she said. “Go on, Isaiah.”

“Well, I kept thinkin’ and thinkin’ and one day last week Ezra Hopkins,
that’s the butcher cart feller, he and me was talkin’ and he says:
‘Trade ain’t very brisk up to the store, is it?’ he says. ‘Everybody
says ‘tain’t.’ ‘Then if everybody knows so much what d’ye ask me for?’
says I. ‘Oh, don’t get mad,’ says he. ‘But I tell you this, Isaiah,’
he says, ‘if Mary-’Gusta Lathrop hadn’t gone away to that fool Boston
school things would have been different with Hamilton and Company. She’s
a smart girl and a smart business woman. I believe she’d have saved the
old fellers,’ he says. ‘She was up-to-date and she had the know-how,’
says he. Well, I kept thinkin’ what he said and--and--well, I wrote. For
the land sakes don’t tell Shad nor Zoeth that I wrote, but I’m glad I
done it. I don’t know’s you can do anything, I don’t know’s anybody can,
but I’m mighty glad you’re here, Mary-’Gusta.”

Mary sighed. “I’m glad I am here, too, Isaiah,” she agreed, “although I,
too, don’t know that I can do anything. But,” she added solemnly, “I
am going to try very hard. Now we mustn’t let Uncle Shad or Uncle Zoeth
know that I have heard about their trouble. We must let them think I am
at home for an extra holiday. Then I shall be able to look things over
and perhaps plan a little. When I am ready to tell what I mean to do I
can tell the rest. . . . Sshh! Here comes one of them now. It’s Uncle
Zoeth. Look happy, Isaiah! HAPPY--not as if you were choking to death!
Well, Uncle Zoeth, aren’t you surprised to see me?”

Surprised he certainly was; at first, like Isaiah, he could scarcely
believe she was really there. Then, naturally, he wished to know WHY
she was there. She dodged the questions as best she could and Zoeth,
innocent and truthful as always, accepted without a suspicion her vague
explanation concerning an opportunity to run down and see them for a
little while. Dinner was put on the table and then Isaiah hastened up to
relieve Shadrach at the store in order that the partners and Mary might
eat together.

The Captain arrived a few minutes later, red-faced, vociferous, and
joyful.

“Well,” he shouted, throwing his arms about her and kissing her with a
smack which might have been heard in Abner Bacheldor’s yard, “if THIS
ain’t a surprise! Zoeth said this mornin’ he felt as if somethin’ was
goin’ to happen, and then Isaiah upset the tea kittle all over both my
feet and I said I felt as if it HAD happened. But it hadn’t, had it!
Well, if it ain’t good to look at you, Mary-’Gusta! How’d you happen to
come this time of year? Has the schoolhouse foundered?”

Mary repeated the excuse she had given Mr. Hamilton. It was sufficient.
The partners were too happy at having her with them to be overcurious
concerning her reasons for coming. Captain Shad talked and joked and
laughed and Zoeth nodded and smiled in his quiet way. If Mary had not
known their secret she would not have guessed it but, as it was, she
noticed how pale and worn Mr. Hamilton looked and how the Captain had
become prone to fits of unwonted silence from which he seemed to arouse
himself with an effort and, after a glance at her, to talk and laugh
louder than ever, Once she ventured to ask how business was and it would
have been almost funny if it had not been so pathetic, the haste with
which they both assured her that it was about the same.

After dinner she announced her intention of going up to the store. Her
uncles exchanged looks and then Zoeth said:

“What makes you do that, Mary-’Gusta? Nice day like this I’d be out of
door if I was you. We don’t need you at the store, do we, Shadrach?”

“Not more’n a fish needs a bathin’ suit,” declared the Captain,
with conviction. “You go see some of the girls and have a good time,
Mary-’Gusta.”

But Mary declined to go and see any of the girls. She could have a
better time at the store than anywhere else, she said. She went to the
store and spent the afternoon and evening there, watching and listening.
There was not much to watch, not more than a dozen customers during
the entire time, and those bought but little. The hardest part of the
experience for her was to see how eager her uncles were to please
each caller and how anxiously each watched the other’s efforts and the
result. To see Zoeth at the desk poring over the ledger, his lips moving
and the pencil trembling in his fingers, was as bad as, but no worse
than, to see Captain Shadrach, a frown on his face and his hands in his
pockets, pace the floor from the back door to the front window, stop,
look up the road, draw a long breath that was almost a groan, then turn
and stride back again.

At six o’clock Mary, who had reasons of her own for wishing to be left
alone in the store, suggested that she remain there while her uncles
went home for supper. Neither Mr. Hamilton nor the Captain would
consent, so she was obliged to go to the house herself and send Isaiah
up once more to act as shopkeeper. But at eleven that night, after
unmistakable sounds from their rooms were furnishing proofs that both
partners of Hamilton and Company were asleep, she tiptoed downstairs,
put on her coat and hat, took the store keys from the nail where Zoeth
always hung them, and went out. She did not return until almost three.

The next day she spent, for the most part, at the store. She wrote
several letters and, in spite of her uncles’ protests, waited upon
several customers. That evening, as she sat behind the counter thinking,
a boy whom Captain Shadrach identified as Zenas Atkins’ young-one rushed
breathlessly into the store to announce between gasps that “Mary-’Gusta
Lathrop’s wanted on the phone. It’s long distance, too, and--and--you’ve
got to scrabble ‘cause they’re holdin’ the wire.” Mary hurried out and
to the telephone office. She had not answered Shadrach’s question as
to who she thought was calling. She did not know, of course, but she
suspected, and for a cool-headed young business woman, a girl who had
ruthlessly driven all thoughts except those of business from her mind,
her heart beat surprisingly fast as she entered the closet which acted
as a substitute for a telephone booth, and took down the receiver. Yet
her tone was calm enough as she uttered the stereotyped “Hello.”

The wire hummed and sang, fragments of distant conversation became
audible and were lost, and then a voice, the voice which she was
expecting but, in a way, dreading to hear, asked: “Hello! Is this Miss
Lathrop?”

“Yes, Crawford.”

“Mary, is that you?”

“Yes.”

“I have just called at Mrs. Wyeth’s and learned that you had gone. I
am awfully disappointed. I leave for home tomorrow and I had counted on
seeing you before I went. Why did you go without a word to me?”

“Didn’t Mrs. Wyeth tell you?”

“She told me a good deal, but I want to know more. Is it true--that
about your uncles?”

“I am afraid it is.”

“Great Scott, that’s too bad! I am mighty sorry to hear it. Look here,
isn’t there something I can do? Do they need--”

“Sshh! we mustn’t talk about it over the phone. No, there is nothing you
can do. I have some plans partially worked out; something may come of
them. Please don’t ask more particulars now.”

“All right, I understand; I won’t. But mayn’t I come down and see you?
I can start West the day after tomorrow just as well and that would give
me time--”

“No, Crawford, no. You mustn’t come.”

“I’ve a good mind to, whether or no.”

“If you do I shall not see you--then or at any other time. But you
won’t, will you?”

“No, Mary, I won’t. It’s mighty hard, though.”

Perhaps it was quite as hard for her, but she did not reply.

“Will you write me--every day?” he went on. . . . “Why don’t you
answer?”

“I was thinking what would be best for me to do,” she said; “best for us
both, I mean. I shall write you one letter surely.”

“ONE!”

“One surely. I want you to understand just what my coming here means and
what effect it may have upon my future. You should know that. Afterward,
whether I write you or not will depend.”

“Depend! Of course you’ll write me! Depend on what?”

“On what seems right to me after I have had time to think, and after you
have seen your father. I must go, Crawford. Thank you for calling me. I
am glad you did. Good-by.”

“Wait! Mary, don’t go! Let me say this--”

“Please, Crawford! I’d rather you wouldn’t say any more. You understand
why, I’m sure. I hope you will have a pleasant trip home and find your
father’s health much improved. Good-by.”

She hung up the receiver and hastened back to the store. Shadrach and
Zoeth looked at her questioningly. Finally the former said:

“Anything important, was it?”

“No, Uncle Shad, not very important.”

“Oh!”

A short interval of silence, then--

“Mrs. Wyeth callin’, I presume likely, eh?”

“No, Uncle Shad.”

Shadrach asked no more questions, and Zoeth asked none. Neither of
them again mentioned Mary’s call to the phone, either to her or to each
other. And she did not refer to it. She had promised her Uncle Shadrach,
when he questioned her the year before concerning Crawford, to tell him
“when there was anything to tell.” But was there anything to tell now?
With the task which she had set herself and the uncertainty before her
she felt that there was not. Yet to keep silence troubled her. Until
recently there had never been a secret between her uncles and herself;
now there were secrets on both sides.



CHAPTER XIX


At twelve o’clock on a night late in the following week Captain
Shadrach, snoring gloriously in his bed, was awakened by his partner’s
entering the room bearing a lighted lamp. The Captain blinked, raised
himself on his elbow, looked at his watch which was on the chair by the
bed’s head, and then demanded in an outraged whisper:

“What in the nation are you prowlin’ around this hour of the night
for? You don’t want to talk about those divilish bills and credits and
things, I hope. What’s the use? Talkin’ don’t help none! Jumpin’ fire!
I went to bed so’s to forget ‘em and I was just beginnin’ to do it. Now
you--”

Zoeth held up his hand. “Sshh! sshh!” he whispered. “Hush, Shadrach!
I didn’t come to talk about those things. Shadrach, there’s--there’s
somethin’ queer goin’ on. Get up!”

The Captain was out of bed in a moment.

“What’s the matter?” he demanded, in a whisper. “What’s queer?”

“I--I don’t exactly know. I heard somebody movin’ downstairs and--”

Shadrach grunted. “Isaiah!” he exclaimed. “Walkin’ in his sleep again,
I’ll bet a dollar!”

“No, no! It ain’t Isaiah. Isaiah ain’t walked in his sleep since he was
a child.”

“Well, he’s pretty nigh his second childhood now, judgin’ by the way
he acts sometimes. It was Isaiah of course! Who else would be walkin’
around downstairs this time of night?”

“That’s what I thought, so I went and looked. Shadrach, it was
Mary-’Gusta. Hush! Let me tell you! She had her things on, hat and all,
and she took the lantern and lit it and went out.”

“Went OUT!”

“Yes, and--and up the road. Now, where--?”

Shadrach’s answer was to stride to the window, pull aside the shade and
look out. Along the lane in the direction of the village a fiery spark
was bobbing.

“There she goes now,” he muttered. “She’s pretty nigh to the corner
already. What in the world can she be up to? Where is she bound--at
twelve o’clock?”

Zoeth did not answer. His partner turned and looked at him.

“Humph!” he exclaimed. “Why don’t you tell me the whole of it while
you’re about it? You’re keepin’ somethin’ back. Out with it! Do YOU know
where she’s bound?”

Zoeth looked troubled--and guilty. “Why, no, Shadrach,” he faltered, “I
don’t know, but--but I kind of suspect. You see, she--she did the same
thing last night.”

“She DID! And you never said a word?”

“I didn’t know what to say. I heard her go and I looked out of the
window and saw her. She come back about three. I thought sure she’d
speak of it this mornin’, but she didn’t and--and--But tonight I watched
again and--Shadrach, she’s taken the store keys. Anyhow, they’re gone
from the nail.”

The Captain wiped his forehead. “She’s gone to the store, then,” he
muttered. “Jumpin’! That’s a relief, anyhow. I was afraid--I didn’t
know--Whew! I don’t know WHAT I didn’t know! But what on earth has she
gone to the store for? And last night too, you say?”

“Yes. Shadrach, I’ve been thinkin’ and all I can think of is
that--that--”

“Well--what?”

“That--that she suspicions how things are with us--somebody that does
suspicion has dropped a hint and she has--has gone up to--”

“To do what? Chuck it overboard! Speak it out! To do what?”

“To look at the books or somethin’. She knows the combination of the
safe, you recollect.”

Captain Shadrach’s eyes and mouth opened simultaneously. He made a dive
for the hooks on the bedroom wall.

“Jumpin’ fire of brimstone!” he roared. “Give me my clothes!”

A half-hour later an interested person--and, so far as that goes, at
least every second person in South Harniss would have been interested
had he or she been aware of what was going on--an interested and, of
course, unscrupulous person peeping in under the shades of Hamilton and
Company’s window would have seen a curious sight. This person would have
seen two elderly men sitting one upon a wooden chair and the other
upon a wooden packing case and wearing guilty, not to say hang-dog,
expressions, while a young woman standing in front of them delivered
pointed and personal remarks.

Captain Shadrach and Zoeth, following their niece to the store, had
peeped in and seen her sitting at the desk, the safe open, and account
books and papers spread out before her. A board in the platform creaked
beneath the Captain’s weighty tread and Mary looked up and saw them.
Before they could retreat or make up their minds what to do, she had
run to the door, thrown it open, and ordered them to come in. Neither
answered--they could not at the moment. The certainty that she knew what
they had tried so hard to conceal kept them tongue-tied.

“Come in!” repeated Mary. “Come in! And shut the door!”

They came in. Also Captain Shadrach shut the door. Just why he obeyed
orders so meekly he could not have told. His niece gave him little time
to think.

“I did not exactly expect you,” she said, “but, on the whole, I am glad
you came. Now sit down, both of you, and listen to me. What do you mean
by it?”

Zoeth sat, without a word. Shadrach, however, made a feeble attempt to
bluster.

“What do WE mean by it?” he repeated. “What do YOU mean, you mean!
Perusin’ up here in the middle of the night without a word to your Uncle
Zoeth and me, and--and haulin’ open that safe--and--”

Again Mary interrupted.

“Be still, Uncle Shad!” she commanded. “Sit down! Sit down on that box
and listen to me! That’s right. Now tell me! Why have you been telling
me fibs for almost a year? Answer me! Why have you?”

Zoeth looked at Shadrach and the latter looked at him.

“Fibs?” stammered Mr. Hamilton. “Fibs? Why--why, Mary-’Gusta!”

“Yes, fibs. I might use a stronger word and not exaggerate very much.
You have led me to think that business was good, that you were doing as
well or better than when I was here with you. I asked you over and over
again and you invariably gave me that answer. And now I know that during
all that time you have scarcely been able to make ends meet, that you
have been worrying yourselves sick, that you--”

Captain Shad could stand it no longer.

“We ain’t, neither!” he declared. “I never was better in my life. I
ain’t had a doctor for more’n a year. And then I only had him for the
heaves--for the horse--a horse doctor, I mean. What are you talkin’
about! Sick nothin’! If that swab of an Isaiah has--”

“Stop, Uncle Shad! I told you to listen. And you needn’t try to change
the subject or to pretend I don’t know what I am talking about. I do
know. And as for pretending--well, there has been pretending enough.
What do you mean--you and Uncle Zoeth--by sending me off to school and
to Europe and declaring up and down that you didn’t need me here at
home?”

“We didn’t need you, Mary-’Gusta,” vowed Zoeth eagerly. “We got along
fust-rate without you. And we wanted you to go to school and to Europe.
You see, it makes us feel proud to know our girl is gettin’ a fine
education and seein’ the world. It ain’t any more than she deserves, but
it makes us feel awful pleased to know she’s gettin’ it.”

“And as for the store,” broke in the Captain, “I cal’late you’ve been
pawin’ over them books and they’ve kind of--kind of gone to your head.
I don’t wonder at it, this time of night! Hamilton and Company’s
all right. We may be a little mite behind in some of our bills,
but--er--but. . . . DON’T look at me like that, Mary-’Gusta! What do you
do it for? Stop it, won’t you?”

Mary shook her head.

“No, Uncle Shad,” she said, “I shan’t stop it. I know all about Hamilton
and Company’s condition; perhaps I know it better than you do. This is
the fifth night that I have been working over those books and I should
know, at least.”

“The FIFTH night! Do you mean to say--”

“I mean that I knew you wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know; I had to
see these books for myself and at night was the only time I could do it.
But never mind that now,” she added. “We’ll talk of that later. Other
things come first. Uncle Shad and Uncle Zoeth, I know not only about the
affairs of Hamilton and Company, but about my own as well.”

Zoeth leaned forward and stared at her. He seemed to catch the
significance of the remark, for he looked frightened, whereas Shadrach
was only puzzled.

“You--you know what, Mary-’Gusta?” faltered Zoeth. “You mean--”

“I mean,” went on Mary, “that I know where the money came from which has
paid my school bills and for my clothes and my traveling things and
all the rest. I know whose money has paid all my bills ever since I was
seven years old.”

Shadrach rose from his chair. He was as frightened as his partner now.

“What are you talkin’ about, Mary-’Gusta Lathrop?” he shouted. “You
know! You don’t know nothin’! You stop sayin’ such things! Why don’t you
stop her, Zoeth Hamilton?”

Zoeth was speechless. Mary went on as if there had been no interruption.

“I know,” she said, “that I haven’t a penny of my own and never did have
and that you two have done it all. I know all about it--at last.”

If these two men had been caught stealing they could not have looked
more guilty. If, instead of being reminded that their niece had spent
their money, they had been accused of misappropriating hers they could
not have been more shaken or dumbfounded. Captain Shadrach stood before
her, his face a fiery red and his mouth opening and shutting in vain
attempts at articulation. Zoeth, his thin fingers extended in appeal,
was the first to speak.

“Mary-’Gusta,” he stammered, “don’t talk so! PLEASE don’t!”

Mary smiled. “Oh, yes, I shall, Uncle Zoeth,” she said. “I mean to do
more than talk from now on, but I must talk a little first. I’m not
going to try to tell you what it means to me to learn after all these
years that I have been dependent on you for everything I have had,
home and luxuries and education and opportunities. I realize now what
sacrifices you must have made--”

“We ain’t, neither!” roared the Captain, in frantic protest. “We ain’t,
I tell you. Somebody’s been tellin’ lies, ain’t they, Zoeth? Why--”

“Hush, Uncle Shad! Someone HAS been telling me--er--fibs--I said that
at the beginning; but they’re not going to tell me any more. I know
the truth, every bit of it, about Father’s losing his money in stocks
and--Uncle Shad, where are you going?”

Captain Shad was halfway to the door. He answered over his shoulder.

“I’m goin’ home,” he vowed, “and when I get there I’m goin’ to choke
that dummed tattle-tale of an Isaiah Chase! I’ll talk to YOU after I’ve
done it.”

Mary ran after him and caught his arm.

“Come back, Uncle Shad!” she ordered. “Come back, sit down, and don’t be
foolish. I don’t want you to talk to me! I am going to talk to you, and
I’m not half through yet. Besides, it wasn’t Isaiah who told me, it was
Judge Baxter.”

“Judge Baxter! Why, the everlastin’ old--”

“Hush! He couldn’t help telling me, I made him do it. Be still, both of
you, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

She did tell them, beginning with her meeting with Mr. Green at the Howe
dinner, then of her stop at Ostable and the interview with Baxter.

“So I have found it all out, you see,” she said. “I’m not going to try
to thank you--I couldn’t, if I did try. But I am going to take my turn
at the work and the worry. To begin with, of course, you understand that
I am through with Boston and school, through forever.”

There was an excited and voluble protest, of course, but she paid no
heed whatever to commands or entreaties.

“I am through,” she declared. “I shall stay here and help you. I am
only a girl and I can’t do much, perhaps, but I truly believe I can do
something. I am a sort of silent partner now; you understand that, don’t
you?”

Shadrach looked doubtful and anxious.

“If I had my way,” he declared, “you’d go straight back to that school
and stay there long’s we could rake or scrape enough together to keep
you there. And I know Zoeth feels the same.”

“I sartin do,” agreed Zoeth.

Mary laughed softly. “But you haven’t your way, you see,” she said. “You
have had it for ever so long and now I am going to have mine. Your new
silent partner is going to begin to boss you.”

For the first time since he entered the door of his store that night--or
morning--Shadrach smiled. It wasn’t a broad smile nor a very gay one,
but it was a smile.

“Um--ya-as,” he drawled. “I want to know, Mary-’Gusta! I am gettin’ some
along in years, but my memory ain’t failed much. If I could remember any
day or hour or minute since Zoeth and me h’isted you into the old buggy
to drive you from Ostable here--if I could remember a minute of that
time when you HADN’T bossed us, I--well, I’d put it down in the log with
a red ink circle around it. No, sir-ee! You’ve been OUR skipper from the
start.”

Even Zoeth smiled now and Mary laughed aloud.

“But you haven’t objected; you haven’t minded being--what shall I call
it?--skipped--by me, have you?” she asked.

The Captain grinned. “Mind it!” he exclaimed. “Umph! The only time when
we really minded it was these last two years when we ain’t had it. We
minded missin’ it, that’s what we minded.”

“Well, you won’t miss it any more. Now help me put these things back in
the safe and we’ll go home. Yes, home! Tomorrow morning--this morning,
I mean--we’ll talk and I’ll tell you some of my plans. Oh, yes! I
have plans and I am in hopes they may do great things for Hamilton and
Company. But no more talk tonight. Remember, the skipper is back on
board!”

So to the house they went and to bed, the Captain and Mr. Hamilton under
protest.



CHAPTER XX


Neither Mary nor the Captain nor Mr. Hamilton slept much of the few
hours until daylight, and Captain Shadrach, who was devoured with
curiosity concerning the plans, would have asked particulars before
breakfast, but Mary would not listen to questions. It was not until
breakfast was over and they were back in the store that she consented to
discuss the subject.

The safe was reopened and the books and papers spread out upon the desk.
Mary took up one of the sheets of paper; it was covered with rows of
figures in her handwriting.

“Now,” she said, “it seems to me that the first thing is to find out
exactly where we stand. When I say ‘we,’” she added, with a nod of great
importance, “I mean ‘we,’ because, as I told you last night, I am a
silent partner in the business now.”

“Don’t seem to be so terrible much silence,” observed Shadrach dryly.

“Hush! Another remark of that kind and I shall set you to sweeping out,
Uncle Shad. Now, Uncle Zoeth, according to the books this is what we
owe.”

She read from the paper in her hand.

“That is the total, Uncle Zoeth, isn’t it?” she asked. Zoeth groaned and
admitted that he cal’lated it was nigh enough.

“Yes. But this,” holding up another sheet of paper, “is what is owed us,
and it is almost as much as the other.”

It was Shadrach’s turn to groan. “‘Tis if we could get a-hold of it,”
 he muttered. “The heft of the gang on that list ain’t got a cent and the
bulk of the rest of ‘em wouldn’t have if they paid what they owed.”

Mary nodded determinedly.

“There are some that can pay,” she said. “Jeremiah Clifford, for
instance. According to the books he owes us over a hundred and ten
dollars and part of the account is three years old. Mr. Clifford owns
property. He can’t be a poor man.”

The Captain sniffed. “His wife owns the property,” he said. “Every
stick’s in her name. Jerry Clifford’s got enough, but he loves it too
well to let go of it. Mean! Why, say! In the old days, when fishin’
schooners used to run from South Harniss here, Jerry he was owner and
skipper of a little hooker and Solon Black went one v’yage with him.
There was another fo’mast hand besides Jerry and Solon aboard and Solon
swears that all the hearty provision Jerry put on board for a four-day
trip was two sticks of smoked herrin’. For two days, so Solon vows, they
ate the herrin’ and the other two they chewed the sticks. That may be
stretchin’ it a mite, but anyhow it goes to show that Jerry Clifford
don’t shed money same as a cat does its hair.”

Zoeth put in a word.

“He says he’ll pay pretty soon,” he observed plaintively. “He’s been
sayin’ it for over a year, though.”

“Humph!” grunted Shadrach. “There’s only a difference of one letter
between ‘sayin’’ and ‘payin’,’ but there ain’t but two between ‘trust’
and ‘bust.’”

Mary spoke. “Never mind,” she said. “I shall see Mr. Clifford
myself. And I shall see some of these others, too. Now about our own
bills--those we owe. I have a list of the principal creditors. Mr.
Green’s firm is one of them; we owe them most of all, it seems. I think
I shall go and see Mr. Green myself.”

“For the land sakes, what for?” demanded Shadrach. “He knows how we’re
fixed, Zoeth wrote him.”

“Yes, but I want to talk with him, nevertheless.”

“But what for? You ain’t goin’ beggin’ him to--”

“I’m not going begging at all. When I talked with him at the Howes’ he,
not knowing in the least who I was or that I was your niece, expressed
sympathy for Hamilton and Company and wished there were some way of
helping us out of our trouble--something he could do, you know. I’m not
sure there isn’t something he can do. At any rate, I am going to see
him. I shall start for Boston Monday morning.”

Zoeth ventured an observation.

“He’ll be considerable surprised to see you, won’t he?” he said.

Mary laughed. “I think he will,” she replied. “Surprised and a little
embarrassed. But I imagine his embarrassment will make him all the
more anxious to be of service to me, and that’s what I want from
him--service.”

Of course the partners asked hundreds more questions concerning the
plans. Mary’s answers were still disappointingly vague. Before she could
tell just what she meant to do, she said she must be sure, and she was
not sure yet. A great deal would depend upon her Boston trip. They must
be patient until she returned from that.

So they were patient--that is to say, Zoeth was really so and Captain
Shadrach was as patient as it was his nature to be. Mary was absent
nearly a week. When she returned she had much to tell. She had
visited Mr. Green at his office on Commercial Street. His surprise
and embarrassment were all that she had prophesied. He offered profuse
apologies for his blunder at the Howes’.

“Of course, if I had known of your relationship to Captain Gould and
Mr. Hamilton,” he began, “I should never--Really, I am--I assure you I
hadn’t the slightest idea--”

He was floundering like a stranded fish. Mary helped him off the shoals
by taking the remainder of his apologies for granted.

“Of course you hadn’t,” she said. “But I am very glad you told me, Mr.
Green. It was high time I knew. Don’t say another word about it, please.
I have come to you to ask advice and, perhaps, help of a sort. May I
have a little of your time?”

Mr. Green seized the opportunity thus offered. Indeed, she might have
time, all the time she wanted. Anything in his power to do--and so on.
Being a bachelor and something of an elderly beau who prided himself
upon making a good impression with the sex, it had annoyed him greatly,
the memory of his mistake. Also he had been distinctly taken with Mary
and was anxious to reinstate himself in her opinion. So his willingness
to atone was even eager.

“As it happens,” he said, “I am not at all busy this afternoon. I can
give you the rest of the day, if you wish. Now what can I do for you?”

Mary explained that she had come to speak with him concerning her
uncles’ business affairs, his house being Hamilton and Company’s largest
creditor. She told of her investigations, of the condition in which
she had found the accounts, and of her determination to remain at South
Harniss and work for the upbuilding of the concern.

“Of course I am not a business person like yourself, Mr. Green,” she
said. “I am only a girl. But I worked in my uncles’ store and, in a
way, managed it for two years or more before I came to Boston to school.
Beside that I have talked during these last few days with some of South
Harniss’s most prominent people--permanent residents, not summer people.
From what they and others tell me I am convinced that the sole reason
why my uncles’ business has fallen behind is because of a lack of
keeping up to the times in the face of competition. Everyone likes Uncle
Zoeth and Uncle Shadrach and wishes them well--they couldn’t help that,
you know.”

She made this assertion with such evident pride and with such absolute
confidence that Mr. Green, although inclined to smile, felt it might
be poor judgment to do so. So he agreed that there was no doubt of
Shadrach’s and Zoeth’s universal popularity.

“Yes,” went on Mary, “they are dears, both of them, and they think
everyone else is as honest as they are, which is a mistake, of course.
So some people impose on them and don’t pay their bills. I intend to
stop that.”

She evidently expected her listener to make some comment, so he said,
“Oh, indeed!”

“Yes,” continued Mary. “I intend to stop their trusting everyone under
the sun and I shall try my hardest to collect from those they have
already trusted. There is almost enough due to pay every bill we owe,
and I believe two-thirds of that is collectible if one really goes after
it.”

“And you will go after it, I presume?”

“I most certainly shall. You are smiling, Mr. Green. I suppose it sounds
like a joke, a girl like myself making such statements about things men
are supposed to understand and women not to understand at all. It isn’t
a joke in this case, because I think I understand my uncles business
better than they do. I think I can collect what is owed us, pay what we
owe, and make money there in South Harniss. But to do that I must have
time and, by and by, credit, for we need goods. And that is what I came
to talk to you about.”

She had brought with her copies of the Hamilton and Company trial
balance, also a list of the firm’s debtors and creditors. These she
put upon the desk before Mr. Green and ran a finger down the pages
with explanatory remarks such as, “This is good, I know,” “This can be
collected but it may take a lawyer to get it,” or, as in the case of
‘Rastus Young’s long-standing indebtedness, “This isn’t worth anything
and shouldn’t be counted.”

“You see,” she said, in conclusion, “we aren’t in such a VERY bad state;
it isn’t hopeless, anyway. Now here are the accounts we owe. Yours is
the largest. Here are the others. All these bills are going to be paid,
just as I said, but they can’t be paid at all unless I have time. I have
been thinking, thinking very hard, Mr. Green--”

Green nodded. “I can see that,” he put in, good-naturedly.

“Yes. Well, this is what I want to ask you: Will you give us six months
more to pay the whole of this bill in? I don’t think we shall need so
much time, but I want to be sure. And if at the end of two months we
have paid half of it, will you give us credit for another small bill of
goods for the summer season, so that we may be stocked and ready? The
summer is our best season, you see,” she added.

Mr. Green nodded. Her businesslike manner he found amusing, although he
by no means shared her confidence in the future.

“We shall be very glad to extend the time,” he said. “You may remember
I told you the other evening that so far as our house was concerned,
we should probably be willing to sell your uncles indefinitely, for old
times’ sake.”

His visitor frowned.

“We are not asking it for old times’ sake,” she said. “It is the new
times I am interested in. And please understand this isn’t sentiment but
business. If you do not believe what I ask to be a safe business risk,
that one your firm would be justified in accepting from anybody, then
you mustn’t do it.”

Mr. Green hesitated. “Suppose I do not accept that risk,” he said; “what
then?”

“Then I shall go and see some other creditors, the principal ones, and
make them similar propositions.”

“And suppose they don’t accept?”

“I think they will, most of them. If they don’t--well, then there
is another way. My uncles own their house and store. They have been
thinking of selling their property to pay their debts. I should hate to
have them sell, and I don’t believe it is necessary. I have been
talking with Judge Baxter over at Ostable--I stopped there on my way to
Boston--and he suggested that they might mortgage and raise money that
way. It could be done, couldn’t it? Mortgages are a kind of business I
don’t know anything about. They sound horrid.”

“Sometimes they are. Miss Lathrop, if I were you I shouldn’t sell or
mortgage yet. I am inclined to believe, judging by this balance sheet
and what you say, that you have a chance to pull Hamilton and Company
out of the fire, and I’m very sure you can do it if anyone can. Are you
going to be in the city for a day or two? Good! Then will you let me
consider this whole matter until--say--Thursday? By that time I shall
have made up my mind and may have something to say which will be worth
while. Can you come in Thursday afternoon at two? And will you? Very
well. Oh, don’t thank me! I haven’t done anything yet. Perhaps I shall
not be able to, but we shall hope for the best.”

Mary went straight to Mrs. Wyeth’s home on Pinckney Street and once
more occupied her pleasant room on the third floor. In spite of her
determination not to care she could not help feeling a little pang as
she walked by the Misses Cabot’s school and remembered that she would
never again enjoy the privileges and advantages of that exclusive
institution. She wondered how the girls, her classmates, had felt and
spoken when they heard the news that she had left them and returned
to Cape Cod and storekeeping. Some would sneer and laugh--she knew
that--and some might be a little sorry. But they would all forget her,
of course. Doubtless, most of them had forgotten her already.

But the fact that all had not forgotten was proved that very evening
when, as she and Mrs. Wyeth and Miss Pease were sitting talking together
in the parlor, Maggie, the maid, answering the ring of the doorbell,
ushered in Miss Barbara Howe. Barbara was, as usual, arrayed like the
lilies of the field, but her fine petals were decidedly crumpled by the
hug which she gave Mary as soon as she laid eyes upon her.

“You bad girl!” she cried. “Why didn’t you tell me you were in town? And
why didn’t you answer my letter--the one I wrote you at South Harniss? I
didn’t hear a word and only tonight, after dinner, I had the inspiration
of phoning Mrs. Wyeth and trying to learn from her where you were and
what you meant by dropping all your friends. Maggie answered the phone
and said you were here and I threw on my things--yes, ‘threw’ is the
word; nothing else describes the process--and came straight over. How DO
you do? And WHAT are you doing?”

Mary said she was well and that she had been too busy to reply to Miss
Howe’s letter. But this did not satisfy. Barbara wanted to know why she
had been busy and how, so Mary told of her determination to remain in
South Harniss and become a business woman, Barbara was greatly excited
and enthusiastic.

“Won’t it be perfectly splendid!” she exclaimed. “I only wish I were
going to do it instead of having to stay at that straight-up-and-down
school and listen to Prissy’s dissertations on Emerson. She told the
Freshman class the other day that she had had the honor of meeting Mr.
Emerson when very young--when SHE was young, she meant; she always tells
every Freshman class that, you know--and one of the Freshies spoke up
and asked if she ever met him afterwards when he was older. They said
her face was a picture; I wish I might have seen it. But do tell me more
about that wonderful store of yours. I am sure it will be a darling,
because anything you have anything to do with is sure to be. Are you
going to have a tea-room?”

Mary shook her head. “No,” she said, laughing. “I think not. There’s too
much competition.”

“Oh, but you ought to have one. Not of the ordinary kind, you know,
but the--the other kind, the unusual kind. Why, I have a cousin--a
second--no, third cousin, a relative of Daddy’s, she is--who hadn’t much
money and whose health wasn’t good and the doctor sent her to live in
the country. Live there all the time! Only fancy! Oh, I forgot you were
going to do the same thing. Do forgive me! I’m so sorry! WHAT a perfect
gump I am! Oh, dear me! There I go again! And I know you abhor slang,
Mrs. Wyeth.”

“Tell me more about your cousin, Barbara,” put in Mary, before the
shocked Mrs. Wyeth could reply.

“Oh, she went to the country and took an old house, the funniest old
thing you ever saw. And she put up the quaintest little sign! And opened
a tea-room and gift shop. I don’t know why they call them ‘gift shops.’
They certainly don’t give away anything. Far, far from that, my dear!
Daddy calls this one of Esther’s ‘The Robbers’ Roost’ because he says
she charges forty cents for a gill of tea and two slices of toast cut
in eight pieces. But I tell him he doesn’t pay for the tea and toast
alone--it is the atmosphere of the place. He says if he had to pay for
all his atmosphere at that rate he would be asphyxiated in a few months.
But he admires Esther very much. She makes heaps and heaps of money.”

“Then her tea-room and gift shop is a success?”

“A success! Oh, my dear! It’s a scream of a success! Almost any day in
summer there are at least a dozen motor cars outside the door. Everybody
goes there; it’s the proper thing to do. I know all this because it
isn’t very far from our summer home in Clayton--in the mountains, you
know.”

“So she made a success,” mused Mary. “Were there other tea-rooms about?”

“Oh, dozens! But they’re not original; hers is. They haven’t the--the
something--you know what I mean, Esther has the style, the knack, the--I
can’t say it, but you know. And you would have it, too; I’m perfectly
sure you would.”

Mary was evidently much interested.

“I wish I might meet your cousin,” she said.

“Why, you can. She is here in Boston now, buying for the summer. I’ll
phone her and we three will lunch together tomorrow. Don’t say you
won’t; you’ve just got to.”

So Mary, rather reluctantly, consented to make one of the luncheon
party. Afterward she was glad that she did, for Miss Esther
Hemingway--this was the cousin’s name--was an interesting person. She
told Mary all about her tea-room and gift shop, how she started in
business, the mistakes she made at first, and the lessons she had
learned from experience. Because Barbara had asked her to do so she
brought with her photographs of the establishment, its attractive and
quaint exterior and its equally delightful interior.

“The whole secret,” she said, “is in keeping everything in good taste
and simple. Choose the right location, fit up your rooms in taste and
cheerfully, serve the best you can find, and sell the unusual and the
attractive things that other people do not have, or at least are not
likely to have. Then charge adequate prices.”

“Adequate being spelled A double D,” observed Barbara significantly.

Mary parted from Miss Hemingway with a new idea in her head, an idea
that sometime or other she meant to put into practice.

On Thursday afternoon she called upon Mr. Green. That gentleman, having
had his opportunity to think, was ready with a proposition. Briefly it
was this: He had personally seen the principal creditors of Hamilton
and Company--they were all Boston business houses--and he and they had
agreed to make the following offer: Hamilton and Company’s credit upon
debts already owed was to be extended six months. Mary was to go home,
endeavor to collect what money she could, and with it buy for cash
whatever goods were needed for the summer season. If that season was a
success and the business promised well for the future, then arrangements
could be made for future buying and for paying the old debt a little at
a time.

“At any rate,” concluded Mr. Green, “this postpones the mortgaging or
selling for a time at least, and you always have it to fall back on if
you can’t make your new undertaking pay. I believe you can. I advise you
to accept. Your other creditors feel the same way.”

He did not add, as he might have done, that the opinion of those other
creditors had been influenced almost entirely by his own and that in
one or two instances he had been obliged practically to underwrite the
payment of Hamilton and Company’s indebtedness before gaining consent.
He had talked with Mr. Howe, who in turn had called his daughter into
consultation, and Barbara’s enthusiastic praise of her friend had
strengthened the favorable impression which the girl had already made
upon both gentlemen. “Do you know, I believe she may win out,” observed
Mr. Howe.

“I am inclined to think she will,” concurred Green.

“Of course she will!” declared Barbara hotly. “No one who ever knew her
would be silly enough to think she wouldn’t.”

Hence Mr. Green’s underwriting expedition and the proposition to Mary as
the representative of Hamilton and Company.

Mary accepted, of course. She was very grateful and said so.

“I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Green. I can’t promise anything, but
if trying hard will win, I can promise that,” she said.

“That’s all right, that’s all right. I know you’ll try, and I think
you’ll succeed. Now, why don’t you go up and pick out some of those
summer goods? You don’t need them yet, and you needn’t pay for them yet,
but now is the time to select. Give my regards to your uncles when you
see them and tell them I wish them luck. I may be motoring down the Cape
this summer and if I do I shall drop in on you and them.”

Mary had news to tell when she reached South Harniss. It was listened
to with attention, if not entirely in silence. Captain Shadrach’s
ejaculations of “You don’t say!” “I want to know!” and “Jumpin’ fire,
how you talk!” served as punctuation marks during the narration. When
she had finished her story, she said:

“And now, Uncle Zoeth and Uncle Shad--now that you’ve heard the whole of
it, and know what my plan is, what do you think of it?”

Both answers were characteristic. Zoeth drew a long breath.

“The Almighty sent you to us, Mary-’Gusta,” he vowed. “There was a time
a little spell ago when I begun to think He’d pretty nigh deserted us. I
was almost discouraged and it shook my trust--it shook my trust. But now
I can see He was just tryin’ us out and in His good time He sent you to
haul us off the shoals. He’ll do it, too; I know it and I’ll thank Him
tonight on my knees.”

Shadrach shook his head. “By fire!” he cried. “Mary-’Gusta, I always
said you was a wonder. You’ve given us a chance to get clear of the
breakers, anyhow, and that’s somethin’ we’d never have done ourselves.
Now, if you can collect that money from Jeremiah Clifford I’ll--I’ll--I
swan to man I’ll believe anything’s possible, even Jonah’s swallowin’
the whale.”

“Oh, Shadrach!” protested his partner. “If you wouldn’t be so
irreverent!”

“All right, I’ll behave. But it’s just as I say: if Mary-’Gusta can get
Jerry Clifford to pay up I’ll swallow Jonah and the whale, too. ‘Twas
Moses that hit the rock and the water gushed out, wa’n’t it? Um--hm!
Well, that was somethin’ of a miracle, but strikin’ Jerry Clifford for
ten cents and gettin’ it would be a bigger one. Why, that feller’s got
fists like--like one of those sensitive plants my mother used to have
in the settin’-room window when I was a boy. You touch a leaf of one
of those plants and ‘twould shrivel up tight. Jerry’s fists are that
way--touch one of ‘em with a nickel and ‘twill shut up, but not until
the nickel’s inside. No, sir! Ho, ho!”

“If you knew all this, Uncle Shad,” suggested Mary, “why in the world
did you sell Mr. Clifford at all? If he wouldn’t pay, why sell him?”

Mr. Hamilton answered.

“He always did pay,” he said. “You see, he had to have groceries and
clothes and such and whenever he needed more and thought he owed us so
much we wouldn’t put more on the bill he’d pay a little on account. That
way we managed to keep up with him.”

“Not exactly up with him,” commented the Captain. “We was always a
couple of laps astern, but we could keep him in sight. Now the new
stores have come and he can get trusted there he don’t buy from us--or
pay, either. What’s the use? That’s what he thinks, I cal’late.”

Mary considered. “The mean old sinner!” she said. “I should judge, Uncle
Shad, that what you told me once, when I was a little girl, about the
Free Masons might apply to Mr. Clifford’s pocketbook. You said that once
in Masonry a man never got out. A dollar in Mr. Clifford’s pocketbook
never gets out, either, does it?”

Shadrach chuckled. “You bet it don’t!” he agreed. “It’s got a life
sentence. And, so fur as that goes, they generally open a Mason lodge
meetin’ with prayer, but ‘twould take more’n that to open Jerry’s
pocketbook, I’LL bet you!”

“And, nevertheless,” declared Mary, laughing, “I mean to make him pay
our bill.”

She did make the tight-fisted one pay up eventually, but months were to
elapse before that desirable consummation was reached. In the meantime
she set herself to collecting other amounts owed Hamilton and Company
and to building up the trade at the store. The collecting was not so
difficult as she had expected. The Captain and Mr. Hamilton had been
reluctant to ask their friends and neighbors to be prompt in their
payments, and largely through carelessness accounts had been permitted
to drop behind. Mary personally saw the debtors and in most cases, by
offering slight discounts or by accepting installments, she was able
to obtain at least the greater part of the money due. In some cases she
could obtain nothing and expected nothing, but these cases, among them
that of ‘Rastus Young, were rather to be considered in the light of good
riddance even at the price. As Shadrach said, it was worth a few dollars
not to have to listen to ‘Rastus or Mrs. ‘Rastus cry over their troubles
whenever they wanted to hold up the firm for more plunder.

“Last time ‘Rastus was in to buy anything,” declared the Captain, “he
shed so blamed many tears into my rubber boots that I got wet feet and
sent the boots to the cobbler’s to have ‘em plugged. I cal’lated they
leaked; I didn’t realize ‘twas Rat workin’ me out of four dollars worth
of groceries by water power.”

The collections, then, those from Mr. Young and his ilk excepted, were
satisfactory. Mary was enabled to buy and pay for a modest assortment of
summer supplies, those she had selected while in Boston. The store she
had thoroughly cleaned and renovated. The windows were kept filled with
attractive displays of goods, and the prices of these goods, as set
forth upon tickets, were attractive also. Business began to pick up, not
a great deal at first, but a little, and as May brought the first of
the early-bird summer cottagers to South Harniss, the silent partner
of Hamilton and Company awaited the coming of what should be the firm’s
busiest season with hope and some confidence.



CHAPTER XXI


During all this time she had heard from Crawford at least once a week.
He would have written oftener than that, had she permitted it. And in
spite of her determination so bravely expressed in their interview over
the telephone, she had written him more than the one letter she had
promised. In that letter--her first--she told him the exact situation
there at home; of her discovery that her uncles were in trouble, that
the small, but to them precious, business they had conducted so long
was in danger, and of her determination to give up school and remain at
South Harniss where, she knew, she was needed. Then she went on to tell
of her still greater discovery, that instead of being a young woman of
independent means, she was and always had been dependent upon the bounty
of her uncles.


You can imagine how I felt when I learned this [she wrote], when I
thought of all the kindness I had accepted at their hands, accepted it
almost as if it was my right, thinking as I did that my own money paid.
And now to learn that all the time I had nothing and they had given
of their own when they had so little, and given it so cheerfully, so
gladly. And, Crawford, when I told them what I had done, they would not
accept thanks, they would not let me even speak of the great debt I owed
them. So far from that they acted as if they were the ones who owed and
as if I had caught them in some disgraceful act. Why, if they could,
they would have sent me back to Boston and to school, while they
remained here to work and worry until the bankruptcy they expected came.

Do you wonder that I feel my first and whole duty is to them and that
nothing, NOTHING must be permitted to interfere with it? I am going to
stay here and try to help. Perhaps I shall succeed, and perhaps, which
is just as probable, I may fail; but at any rate while my uncles live
and need me I shall not leave them. They gave all they had to me when
there was no real reason why they should give anything. The very least
I can do is to be with them and work for them now when they are growing
old.

I am sure you must understand this and that, therefore, you will
forget--


She paused. “Forget” was a hard word to write. Fortunately she had
written it at the top of a page, so she tore up that sheet and began the
line again.


I am sure you will understand and that you will see my duty as I see it
myself. It seems to me clear. Everyone has duties, I suppose, but you
and I have ours very plainly shown us, I think. Yours is to your father
and mine to my uncles.


Bringing that letter to an end was a difficult task. There were things
which must be said and they were so very hard to say. At last, after
many attempts:


I have not referred [she wrote] to what you said to me when we last met.
It seems almost useless to refer to it, doesn’t it? You see how I
am placed here, and I have written you what I mean to do. And please
understand I am doing it gladly, I am happy in having the opportunity to
do it; but it does mean that for years my life and interest must be here
with them. Even if I were sure of my own feelings--and perhaps I am not
really sure--I certainly should not think of asking one I cared for to
wait so long. You have your future to think of, Crawford, and you must
think of it. And there is your father. Of course, I don’t know, but I
somehow feel certain that he will not wish you to marry me. Don’t you
think it better for us both to end it now? It seems so hopeless.


Which, she flattered herself, was brave and sensible and right. And,
having reached this commendable conclusion and sealed and posted the
letter, she came back to the house, went upstairs to her room, and,
throwing herself upon the bed, cried bitterly for many minutes.

Yet, in a way, her tears were wasted. It takes two to make a bargain and
although she might notify Crawford Smith that his case was hopeless,
it by no means followed that that young gentleman would accept
the notification as final. His reply to her letter was prompt and
convincing. All the references to ending it were calmly brushed aside.
There could be but two endings, one being their marriage--this, of
course, the logical and proper ending--and the other Mary’s notifying
him that she did not love him. Anything else was nonsense and not worth
consideration. Wait! He would wait fifty years if necessary, provided
she would wait for him. He was about to take up his studies again, but
now he would feel that he was working for her. His father, he was sorry
to say, was not at all well. He was very nervous, weak and irritable.


I came home [he wrote] fully determined to tell him of you and my
determination to marry you--always provided you will have me, you
know--on the very night of my arrival. But when I saw how poor old Dad
was feeling and after the doctor told me how very necessary it was that
his nervous system be allowed a complete rest, I decided I must wait. So
I shall wait; perhaps I shall not tell him for months; but just as soon
as he is able to hear, I shall speak, and I am sure he will say,
“Good luck and God bless you.” But if he doesn’t, it will make not the
slightest difference. If you will have me, Mary dear, nothing on this
earth is going to stop my having you. That’s as settled and solid a fact
as the Rocky Mountains.


He pleaded for a letter at least once a week.


You needn’t put a word of love in it [he wrote]. I know how
conscientious you are, and I know perfectly well that until your mind
is made up you won’t feel it right to encourage me in the least. But do
please write, if only to tell me how you are getting on with Hamilton
and Company. I only wish I were there to help you pull those fine old
uncles of yours out of the hot water. I know you’ll do it, though. And
meanwhile I shall be digging away out here and thinking of you. Please
write OFTEN.


So Mary, after considerable thought and indecision, did write, although
Crawford’s suggestion that her letters have no word of love in them
was scrupulously followed. And so, while the summer came and went, the
letters crossed and the news of the slow but certain building up of the
business of Hamilton and Company was exchanged for that of Edwin Smith’s
steady regaining of health and strength.

And Hamilton and Company’s business was reviving. Even the skeptics
could see the signs. The revival began before the summer residents
arrived in South Harniss, but after the latter began to come and the
cottages to open, it was on in earnest. John Keith helped to give it its
first big start. Mrs. Wyeth wrote him of Mary’s leaving her school work
to go to the rescue of Shadrach and Zoeth, and the girl’s pluck and
uncomplaining acceptance of the task she considered set for her made
Keith’s eyes twinkle with admiration as he read the letter. The family
came early to South Harniss and this year he came with them. One of his
first acts after arrival was to stroll down to the village and enter
Hamilton and Company’s store. Mary and the partners were there, of
course. He shook hands with them cordially.

“Well, Captain,” he said, addressing Shadrach, “how is the new hand
taking hold?”

Shadrach grinned. “Hand?” he repeated. “I don’t know’s we’ve got any new
hand, Mr. Keith. Ain’t, have we, Zoeth?”

Zoeth did not recognize the joke. “He means Mary-’Gusta, I cal’late,
Shadrach,” he said. “She’s doin’ splendid, Mr. Keith. I don’t know how
we ever got along without her.”

“I do,” put in his partner promptly; “we didn’t, that’s how. But, Mr.
Keith, you hadn’t ought to call Mary-’Gusta a ‘hand.’ Zoeth and me are
the hands aboard this craft. She’s skipper, and engineer, and purser,
and--yes, and pilot, too. And don’t she make us tumble up lively when
she whistles! Whew! Don’t talk!”

“She is the boss, then, is she?” observed Keith.

“Boss! I guess SO! She’s got US trained! Why, I’ve got so that I jump
out of bed nights and run round the room in my sleep thinkin’ she’s
just hollered to me there’s a customer waitin’. Oh, she’s a hard driver,
Mary-’Gusta is. Never had a fust mate aboard drove harder’n she does.
And it’s havin’ its effect on us, too. Look at Zoeth! He’s agin’ fast;
he’s a year older’n he was twelve months ago.”

Keith laughed, Mary smiled, and Mr. Hamilton, judging by the behavior of
the company that there was a joke somewhere on the premises, smiled too.

“You mustn’t mind Uncle Shad, Mr. Keith,” said Mary. “He talks a great
deal.”

“Talkin’s all the exercise my face gets nowadays,” declared the Captain
instantly. “She keeps me so busy I don’t get time to eat. What do you
think of the store, Mr. Keith? Some improvement, ain’t it?”

Keith, who had already noticed the trim appearance of the store and the
neat and attractive way in which the goods were displayed, expressed his
hearty approval.

“And how is business?” he asked.

“Tiptop!” declared Shadrach.

“It’s improvin’ consider’ble,” said Zoeth.

“It is a little better, but it must be far better before I am
satisfied,” said Mary.

“How is the cottage trade?” asked Keith.

“Why, not so very good. There aren’t many cottagers here yet.”

When Keith reached home he called his wife into consultation.

“Gertrude,” he asked, “where do we buy our household supplies, groceries
and the like?”

“In Boston, most of them. The others--those I am obliged to buy here in
South Harniss--at that new store, Baker’s.”

“I want you to buy them all of Hamilton and Company hereafter.”

“THAT old-fogy place! Why?”

“Because the partners, Captain Gould and the other old chap, are having
a hard struggle to keep going and I want to help them.”

Mrs. Keith tossed her head. “Humph!” she sniffed. “I know why you are
so interested. It is because of that upstart girl you think is so
wonderful, the one who has been boarding with Clara Wyeth.”

“You’re right, that’s just it. She has given up her studies and her
opportunities there in Boston and has come down here to help her uncles.
Clara writes me that she was popular there in the school, that the
best people were her friends, and you know of her summer in Europe with
Letitia Pease. Letitia isn’t easy to please and she is enthusiastic
about Mary Lathrop. No ordinary girl could give up all that sort of
thing and come back to the village where everyone knows her and go to
keeping store again, and do it so cheerfully and sensibly and without
a word of complaint. She deserves all the help and support we and our
friends can give her. I mean to see that she has it.”

Mrs. Keith looked disgusted. “You’re perfectly infatuated with that
girl, John Keith,” she said. “It is ridiculous. If I were like some
women I should be jealous.”

“If I were like some men you might be. Now, Gertrude, you’ll buy in
future from Hamilton and Company, won’t you?”

“I suppose so. When your chin sets that way I know you’re going to be
stubborn and I may as well give in first as last. I’ll patronize your
precious Mary-’Gusta, but I WON’T associate with her. You needn’t ask
that.”

“Don’t you think we might wait until she asks it first?”

“Tut! tut! Really, John, you disgust me. I wonder you don’t order Sam to
marry her.”

“From what Clara writes he might not have needed any orders if he had
received the least encouragement from her. Sam might do worse; I imagine
he probably will.”

So, because John Keith’s chin was set, the Keith custom shifted
to Hamilton and Company. And because the Keiths were wealthy and
influential, and because the head of the family saw that that influence
was brought to bear upon his neighbors and acquaintances, their custom
followed. Hamilton and Company put a delivery wagon--a secondhand
one--out on the road, and hired a distinctly secondhand boy to drive it.
And Mary and Shadrach and Zoeth and, in the evenings, the boy as well,
were kept busy waiting on customers. The books showed, since the silent
partner took hold, a real and tangible profit, and the collection and
payment of old debts went steadily on.

The partners, Shadrach and Zoeth, were no longer silent and glum. The
Captain whistled and sang and was in high spirits most of the time. At
home he was his old self, chaffing Isaiah about the housekeeping, taking
a mischievous delight in shocking his friend and partner by irreverent
remarks concerning Jonah or some other Old Testament personage, and
occasionally, although not often, throwing out a sly hint to Mary about
the frequency of letters from the West. Mary had told her uncles
of Crawford’s leaving Boston and returning to Nevada because of his
father’s ill health. The only item of importance she had omitted to tell
was that of the proposal of marriage. She could not speak of that even
to them. They would ask what her answer was to be, and if she loved
Crawford. How could she answer that--truthfully--without causing them to
feel that they were blocking her way to happiness? They felt that quite
keenly enough, as it was.

So when Captain Shad declared the illness of the South Harniss
postmaster--confined to his bed with sciatica--to be due to his having
“stooped to pick up one of them eighty-two page Wild West letters of
yours, Mary-’Gusta, and ‘twas so heavy he sprained his back liftin’
it,” Mary only laughed and ventured the opinion that the postmaster’s
sprained back, if he had one, was more likely due to a twist received
in trying to read both sides of a postcard at once. Which explanation,
being of the Captain’s own brand of humor, pleased the latter immensely.

“Maybe you’re right, Mary-’Gusta,” he chuckled. “Maybe that’s what
‘twas. Seth [the postmaster] is pure rubber so far as other folks’ mail
is concerned; maybe he stretched the rubber too far this time and it
snapped.”

Zoeth did not joke much--joking was not in his line--but he showed
his relief at the improvement in the firm’s affairs in quieter but as
unmistakable ways. When Mary was at the desk in the evenings after the
store had closed, busy with the books, he would come and sit beside her,
saying little but occasionally laying his hand gently on her shoulder
or patting her arm and regarding her with a look so brimful of love and
gratitude that it made her feel almost guilty and entirely unworthy.

“Don’t, Uncle Zoeth,” she protested, on one such occasion. “Don’t look
at me like that. I--I--Really, you make me feel ashamed. I haven’t done
anything. I am not doing half enough.”

He shook his head.

“You’re doin’ too much, I’m afraid, Mary-’Gusta,” he said. “You’re
givin’ up everything a girl like you had ought to have and that your
Uncle Shadrach and I had meant you should have. You’re givin’ it up just
for us and it ain’t right. We ain’t worthy of it.”

“Hush, hush, Uncle Zoeth! Please! When I think what you have given up
for me--”

“‘Twa’n’t nothin’, Mary-’Gusta. You came to your Uncle Shadrach and to
me just when we needed somethin’ to keep our lives sweet. Mine especial
was bitter and there was danger ‘twould always be so. And then we
brought you over from Ostable in the old buggy and--and the Almighty’s
sunshine came with you. You was His angel. Yes, sir! His angel, that’s
what you was, only we didn’t know it then. I was pretty sore and bitter
in those days, thought I never could forget. And yet--and yet, now I
really am forgettin’--or, if I don’t forget, I’m more reconciled. And
you’ve done it for me, Mary-’Gusta.”

Mary was puzzled. “Forget what?” she asked. “Do you mean the business
troubles, Uncle Zoeth?”

Zoeth seemed to waken from a sort of dream. “Business troubles?”
 he repeated. “No, no; long, long afore that these troubles were,
Mary-’Gusta. Don’t let’s talk about ‘em. I can’t talk about ‘em even
now--and I mustn’t think. There are some troubles that--that--” He
caught his breath and his tone changed. “I called you an angel just now,
dearie,” he went on. “Well, you was and you are. There are angels in
this world--but there’s devils, too--there’s devils, too. There; the
Lord forgive me! What am I talkin’ about? We’ll forget what’s gone and
be thankful for what’s here. Give your old uncle a kiss, Mary-’Gusta.”

He was happy in Mary’s society and happy in the steady improvement of
the business, but the girl and Captain Shadrach were a little worried
concerning his general health. For years he had not been a very strong
or active man, but now he looked paler and more frail than ever. He
walked to and from the store and house several times a day, but he
retired almost as soon as he entered the house at night and his appetite
was not good.

“His nerves ain’t back where they’d ought to be,” declared Shadrach. “He
was awful shook up when it looked as if Hamilton and Company was goin’
to founder. He didn’t keep blowin’ off steam about it the way I did--my
safety-valve’s always open--but he kept it all inside his biler and it’s
put his engine out of gear. He’ll get along all right so long’s it’s
smooth sailin’, but what I’m afraid of is a rock showin’ up in the
channel unexpected. The doctor told me that Zoeth mustn’t worry any more
and he mustn’t work too hard. More’n all, he mustn’t have any scares or
shocks or anything like that.”

“We must try to see that he doesn’t have any,” said Mary.

“Sartin sure we must, but you can’t always see those things in time to
head ‘em off. Now take my own case. I had a shock this mornin’. ‘Rastus
Young paid me a dollar on account.”

“WHAT? ‘Rastus Young PAID you?”

“Well, I don’t know’s he paid it, exactly. He borrowed the dollar of
one of those summer fellers over at Cahoon’s boardin’ house and he was
tellin’ Ab Bacheldor about it at the corner by the post-office. Ab,
naturally, didn’t believe any sane man would lend Rastus anything, so he
wanted proof. ‘Rastus hauled the dollar out of his pocket to show, and I
who happened to be standin’ behind ‘em without their knowin’ it reached
out and grabbed it.”

“You did? Why, Uncle Shad!”

“Yes. I told ‘Rastus I’d credit his account with it, but I don’t know’s
I hadn’t ought to give it back to the summer feller. Anyhow, gettin’ it
was a shock, same as I said at the beginnin’. ‘Rastus says he’s goin’ to
sue me. I told him I’d have sued HIM long ago if I’d supposed he could
STEAL a dollar, let alone borrow one.”



CHAPTER XXII


It was late in August when Mary received the letter from Crawford in
which he told of his determination to wait no longer but to tell his
father of his love for her. Edwin Smith was much better. By way of
proof, his son inclosed a photograph which he had taken of his father
sitting beneath a tree on the lawn of their home. The picture showed Mr.
Smith without his beard, which had been shaved off during his illness.
Either this or the illness itself had changed him a great deal. He
looked thinner and, which was odd under the circumstances, younger.
Mary, looking at this photograph, felt more than ever the impossible
conviction that somewhere or other at some time in her life she must
have met Mr. Edwin Smith.


So, in my next letter [wrote Crawford], I shall have news to tell. And
I am sure it will be good news. “Ask your father first,” you said. Of
course you remember that, and I have remembered it every moment since.
Now I am going to ask him. After that you will give me your answer,
won’t you? And it can’t be anything but yes, because I won’t let it be.


What Mary’s feelings were when she received this letter, whether or not
she slept as soundly that night and other nights immediately following,
whether or not the sight of Isaiah returning from the post-office at
mail times caused her breath to come a little quicker and her nerves
to thrill--these are questions the answers to which must be guessed.
Suffice it to say that she manifested no marked symptoms of impatience
and anxiety during that week and when at last Isaiah handed her another
letter postmarked Carson City the trembling of the hand which received
it was so slight as to be unnoticed by Mr. Chase.

She put aside the letter until that night when she was alone in her
room. Then she opened it and read what Crawford had written. His father
had not only refused consent to his son’s contemplated marriage but had
manifested such extraordinary agitation and such savage and unreasonable
obstinacy that Crawford was almost inclined to believe his parent’s
recent illness had affected his mind.


That is the only explanation I can think of [he wrote]. It seems as if
he must be insane. And yet he seemed rational enough at the beginning
of our first interview and during most of the second. Even when I
had broken the news that there was a girl in whom I felt an especial
interest he did not show any sign of the outbreak that came afterward.
It wasn’t until I began to tell how I first met you there at South
Harniss, who you were, and about Captain Gould and Mr. Hamilton, that I
noticed he was acting queerly. I was head over heels in my story, trying
to make plain how desperate my case was and doing my best to make him
appreciate how tremendously lucky his son was to have even a glimmer of
a chance to get a girl like you for a wife, when I heard him make an odd
noise in his throat. I looked up--I don’t know where I had been looking
before--certainly not at him--and there he was, leaning back in his
chair, his face as white as his collar, and waving a hand at me. I
thought he was choking, or was desperately ill or something, and I
sprang toward him, but he waved me back. “Stop! Wait!” he said, or
stammered, or choked; it was more like a croak than a human voice.
“Don’t come here! Let me be! What are you trying to tell me? Who--who
is this girl?” I asked him what was the matter--his manner and his look
frightened me--but he wouldn’t answer, kept ordering me to tell him
again who you were. So I did tell him that you were the daughter of
the Reverend Charles Lathrop and Augusta Lathrop, and of your mother’s
second marriage to Captain Marcellus Hall. “But he died when she was
seven years old,” I went on, “and since that time she has been living
with her guardians, the two fine old fellows who adopted her, Captain
Shadrach Gould and Zoeth Hamilton. They live at South Harniss on
Cape Cod.” I had gotten no further than this when he interrupted me.
“She--she has been living with Zoeth Hamilton?” he cried. “With Zoeth
Hamilton! Oh, my God! Did--did Zoeth Hamilton send you to me?” Yes, that
is exactly what he said: “Did Zoeth Hamilton send you to me?” I stared
at him. “Why, no, Dad,” I said, as soon as I could say anything. “Of
course he didn’t. I have met Mr. Hamilton but once in my life. What
IS the matter? Sit down again. Don’t you think I had better call the
doctor?” I thought surely his brain was going. But no, he wouldn’t
answer or listen. Instead he looked at me with the wildest, craziest
expression and said: “Did Zoeth Hamilton tell you?” “He told me nothing,
Dad,” I said, as gently as I could. “Of course he didn’t. I am almost a
stranger to him. Besides, what in the world was there to tell? I came
to you because I had something to tell. I mean to marry Mary Lathrop,
if she will have me--” I got no further than that. “No!” he fairly
screamed. “No! No! No! Oh, my God, no!” And then the doctor came running
in, we got Dad to bed, and it was all over for that day, except that I
naturally was tremendously upset and conscience-stricken. I could see
that the doctor thought I was to blame, that I had confessed something
or other--something criminal, I imagine he surmised--to Dad and that it
had knocked the poor old chap over. And I couldn’t explain, because what
I had told him was not for outsiders to hear.

Well, after a terribly anxious night and a worrisome forenoon the doctor
told me that father was himself again and wanted to see me at once.
“I’ve said all I can against it,” said the doctor. “I don’t know what
sort of rumpus you two had yesterday, but it came dangerously near being
the finish for him. And it must not be repeated; I’m making that as
emphatic as I can.” I assured him that so far as I was concerned there
would not be a scene, and then went in to Dad’s room. He looked white
enough and sick enough but he was rational and his mind was keen and
clear. He got me to tell the whole story about you all over again and
he asked a lot of questions; in fact, he cross-examined me pretty
thoroughly. When I had finished his tone was calm, but I noticed that
his hand was shaking and he seemed to be holding himself in. “And so you
think you want to marry this down-east country girl, do you?” he said.
“I certainly do,” said I. He laughed, a forced laugh--didn’t sound like
his at all--and he said: “Well, my boy, you’ll get over it. It’s a whole
lot better to get over it now than to do so by and by when it’s too
late. It’s a good thing I called you home when I did. You stay here and
keep on with your studies and I’ll keep on getting into shape again. By
next summer, when we go on our fishing trip, you’ll have forgotten all
about your Down-Easter.” Well, THAT was a staggerer, coming from him. It
didn’t sound like him at all, and again I had that feeling that his
mind was going. You see, Mary, I never asked Dad for anything I didn’t
get--never. Now, I wasn’t asking, I was just telling him what I had made
up my mind to have, and he treated me this way. I answered him calmly
and quietly, telling him I was serious and what you meant to me. He
wouldn’t listen at first; then when he did, he wouldn’t agree. Pleaded
with me--he was lonesome, I was his only son, he needed me, he couldn’t
share me with anyone else, and so on. There is no use going into all the
details. We didn’t get any nearer an agreement, we did get nearer and
nearer to bad temper on my part and shouts and hysterics on his. So
I left him, Mary. That was last night. I knew Dad was inclined to be
stubborn, and I knew he had strong prejudices, but I never imagined
he could behave like this to me. And I am sure he would not if he were
himself. So I shall say no more to him on the subject for a day or two.
Then, when he is better, as I am hoping he may be soon, he and I will
have another talk. But understand, Mary dear, my mind was made up
before I spoke to him at all. What he says or what he does will make no
difference, so far as you and I are concerned. I know you are a believer
in duty; well, so am I. I would stick by Dad through thick and thin. If
I knew he was right in asking me to do or not to do a thing, even if I
knew he had been wrong in asking other things, I would stick by him and
try to do as he asked. But not this. I love Dad, God knows I do, but I
love you, Mary, and as I have vowed to myself every day since I last saw
you, I am going to marry you if you will only have me. As for Dad--well,
we’ll hope within a day or two I may have better news to write.


Mary read and reread the long letter. Then she leaned back in her chair
and with the letter in her lap sat there--thinking. She had been right
in her forebodings; it was as she had expected, had foreseen: Edwin
Smith, man of affairs, wealthy, arbitrary, eccentric, accustomed to
having his own way and his prejudices, however absurd, respected--a man
with an only son for whom, doubtless, plans definite and ambitious had
been made, could not be expected calmly to permit the upsetting of those
plans by his boy’s marriage to a poor “Down-Easter.” So much she had
foreseen from the first, and she had never shared Crawford’s absolute
confidence in his parent’s acquiescence. She had been prepared,
therefore, to read that Mr. Smith had refused his consent.

But to be prepared for a probability and to face a certainty are quite
different. It was the certainty she was facing now. Unless Mr. Smith
changed his mind, and the chances were ten to one against that, he and
his son would quarrel. Crawford had inherited a portion of his father’s
stubbornness; he was determined, she knew. He loved her and he meant
what he said--if she would have him he would marry her in spite of his
father. It made her proud and happy to know that. But she, too, was
resolute and had meant what she said. She would not be the cause of a
separation between father and son. And, besides, marriage had become
for her a matter of the distant future; for the present her task was set
there at South Harniss.

What should she do? It was hard for Crawford, poor fellow. Yes, but it
was hard for her, too. No one but she knew how hard. He would write her
again telling her that his decision was unchanged, begging her to
say she loved him, pleading with her to wait for him. And she would
wait--Oh, how gladly, how joyfully she could wait--for him!--if she knew
she was doing right in permitting him to wait for her. If she was sure
that in permitting him to give up his father’s love and his home and
money and all that money could buy she was justified. There is a love
which asks and a love which gives without asking return; the latter is
the greater love and it was hers. She had written Crawford that perhaps
she was not sure of her feeling toward him. That was not true. She was
sure; but because she was fearful that his knowledge might be the means
of entailing a great sacrifice on his part, she would not tell him.

What should she do? She considered, as the little Mary-’Gusta used to
consider her small problems in that very room. And the result of her
considerations was rather unsatisfactory. There was nothing she could
do now, nothing but wait until she heard again from Crawford. Then she
would write.

She brushed her eyes with her handkerchief and read the letter again.
There were parts of it which she could not understand. She was almost
inclined to adopt Crawford’s suggestion that his father’s mind might
have been affected by his illness. Why had he received so passively the
news that his son had fallen in love and yet become so violent when told
the object of that love? He did not know her, Mary Lathrop; there could
be no personal quality in his objection. And what could he have meant by
asking if Zoeth Hamilton had sent Crawford to him? That was absolutely
absurd. Zoeth, and Shadrach, too, had talked with Mary of Crawford’s
people in the West, but merely casually, as of complete strangers,
which, of course, they were. It was all strange, but explainable if one
considered that Mr. Smith was weak and ill and, perhaps, flighty. She
must not think any more about it now--that is, she must try not to
think. She must not give way, and above all she must not permit her
uncles to suspect that she was troubled. She must try hard to put it
from her mind until Crawford’s next letter came.

But that letter did not come. The week passed, then another, but there
was no word from Crawford. Mary’s anxiety grew. Each day as Isaiah
brought the mail she expected him to give her an envelope addressed
in the familiar handwriting, but he did not. She was growing
nervous--almost fearful. And then came a happening the shock of which
drove everything else from her mind for the time and substituted for
that fear another.

It was a Tuesday and one o’clock. Mary and Captain Shadrach, having had
an early dinner, had returned to the store. Zoeth, upon their arrival,
went down to the house for his own meal. Business, which had been very
good indeed, was rather slack just then and Shadrach and Mary were
talking together. Suddenly they heard the sound of rapid footsteps in
the lane outside.

“Who’s hoofin’ it up to the main road at that rate?” demanded the
Captain, lounging lazily toward the window. “Has the town pump got on
fire or is somebody goin’ for the doctor?”

He leaned forward to look. His laziness vanished.

“Eh! Jumpin’ Judas!” he cried, springing to the door. “It’s Isaiah, and
runnin’ as if the Old Boy was after him! Here! You! Isaiah! What’s the
matter?”

Isaiah pounded up the platform steps and staggered against the doorpost.
His face flamed so red that, as Shadrach said afterward, it was “a
wonder the perspiration didn’t bile.”

“I--I--I--” he stammered. “I--Oh, dear me! What shall I do? He--he--he’s
there on the floor and--and--Oh, my godfreys! I’m all out of wind! What
SHALL I do?”

“Talk!” roared the Captain. “Talk! Use what wind you’ve got for that!
What’s happened? Sing out!”

“He’s--he’s all alone there!” panted Mr. Chase. “He won’t speak,
scurcely--only moans. I don’t know’s he ain’t dead!”

“Who’s dead? Who? Who? Who?” The irate Shadrach seized his steward by
the collar and shook him, not too gently. “Who’s dead?” he bellowed.
“Somebody will be next door to dead right here in a minute if you don’t
speak up instead of snortin’ like a puffin’ pig. What’s happened?”

Isaiah swallowed, gasped and waved a desperate hand. “Let go of me!” he
protested. “Zoeth--he--he’s down in a heap on the kitchen floor. He’s
had a--a stroke or somethin’.”

“God A’mighty!” cried Shadrach, and bolted out of the door. Mary
followed him and a moment later, Mr. Chase followed her. The store was
left to take care of itself.

They found poor Zoeth not exactly in a heap on the floor of the kitchen,
but partially propped against one of the kitchen chairs. He was not
unconscious but could speak only with difficulty. They carried him to
the bedroom and Isaiah was sent on another gallop after the doctor. When
the latter came he gave his patient a thorough examination and emerged
from the sickroom looking grave.

“You must get a nurse,” he said. “This is likely to last a long while.
It is a slight paralytic stroke, I should say, though what brought it
on I haven’t the least idea. Has Mr. Hamilton had any sudden shock or
fright or anything of that sort?”

He had not, so far as anyone knew. Isaiah, being questioned, told of
Zoeth’s coming in for dinner and of his--Isaiah’s--handing him the
morning’s mail.

“I fetched it myself down from the post-office,” said Isaiah. “There was
a couple of Hamilton and Company letters and the Wellmouth Register and
one of them circulum advertisements about So-and-So’s horse liniment,
and, and--yes, seems to me there was a letter for Zoeth himself. He took
‘em all and sot down in the kitchen to look ‘em over. I went into the
dinin’-room. Next thing I knew I heard him say, ‘O God!’ just like
that.”

“Avast heavin’, Isaiah!” put in Captain Shadrach. “You’re way off your
course. Zoeth never said that. That’s the way I talk, but he don’t.”

“He done it this time,” persisted Isaiah. “I turned and looked through
the doorway at him and he was standin’ in the middle of the kitchen
floor. Seems to me he had a piece of white paper in his hand--seem’s if
he did. And then, afore I could say a word, he kind of groaned and sunk
down in--in a pile, as you might say, right on the floor. And I couldn’t
get him up, nor get him to speak to me, nor nothin’. Yet he must have
come to enough to move after I left and to crawl acrost and lean against
that chair.”

The horse liniment circular and the Wellmouth Register were there on the
kitchen table just where Mr. Hamilton had laid them. There, also, were
the two letters addressed to Hamilton and Company. Of the letter which
Isaiah seemed to remember as addressed to Zoeth personally, there was no
sign.

“Are you sure there was such a letter, Isaiah?” asked Mary.

Mr. Chase was not sure; that is to say, he was not sure more than a
minute at a time. The minute following he was inclined to think he might
have been mistaken, perhaps it was yesterday or the day before or even
last week that his employer received such a letter.

Captain Shadrach lost patience.

“Sure ‘twan’t last Thanksgivin’?” he demanded. “Are you sure about
anything? Are you sure how old you are?”

“No, by godfreys, I ain’t!” roared Isaiah in desperation. “I’m so upsot
ever since I looked into that kitchen and see the poor soul down on the
floor there that--that all I’m sure of is that I ain’t sure of nothin.’”

“Well, I don’t know’s I blame you much, Isaiah,” grunted the Captain.
“Anyway, it doesn’t make much difference about that letter, so fur as I
see, whether there was one or not. What did you want to know for, Mary?”

Mary hesitated. “Why,” she answered, “I--perhaps it is foolish, but the
doctor said something about a shock being responsible for this dreadful
thing and I didn’t know--I thought perhaps there might have been
something in that letter which shocked or alarmed Uncle Zoeth. Of course
it isn’t probable that there was.”

Shadrach shook his head.

“I guess not,” he said. “I can’t think of any letter he’d get of that
kind. There’s nobody to write it. He ain’t got any relations nigher than
third cousin, Zoeth ain’t. Anyhow, we mustn’t stop to guess riddles
now. I’ll hunt up the letter by and by, if there was one and I happen to
think of it. Now I’ve got to hunt up a nurse.”

The nurse was found, a Mrs. Deborah Atkins, of Ostable, and she arrived
that night, bag and baggage, and took charge of the patient. Deborah was
not ornamental, being elderly and, as Captain Shadrach said, built for
tonnage more than speed; but she was sensible and capable. Also, her fee
was not excessive, although that was by no means the principal reason
for her selection.

“Never mind what it costs,” said Mary. “Get the best you can. It’s for
Uncle Zoeth, remember.”

Shadrach’s voice shook a little as he answered.

“I ain’t likely to forget,” he said. “Zoeth and I’ve cruised together
for a good many years and if one of us has to go under I’d rather ‘twas
me. I haven’t got much money but what I’ve got is his, and after that
so long as I can get trusted. But there,” with an attempt at optimism,
“don’t you fret, Mary-’Gusta. Nobody’s goin’ under yet. We’ll have Zoeth
up on deck doin’ the fishers’ hornpipe in a couple of weeks.”

But it was soon plain to everyone, the Captain included, that many times
two weeks must elapse before Mr. Hamilton would be able to appear on
deck again, to say nothing of dancing hornpipes. For days he lay in
partial coma, rallying occasionally and speaking at rare intervals but
evidently never fully aware of where he was and what had happened.

“He will recover, I think,” said the doctor, “but it will be a slow
job.”

Mary did not again refer to the letter regarding which Isaiah’s memory
was so befogged. In fact, she forgot it entirely. So also did Captain
Shad. For both the worry of Zoeth’s illness and the care of the store
were sufficient to drive trifles from their minds.

And for Mary there was another trouble, one which she must keep to
herself. Three weeks had elapsed since Crawford’s letter, that telling
of his two fateful interviews with his father, and still no word had
come from him. Mary could not understand his silence. In vain she called
her philosophy to her rescue, striving to think that after all it was
best if she never heard from him again, best that a love affair which
could never end happily were ended at once, best that he should come to
see the question as his father saw it--best for him, that is, for
his future would then be one of ease and happiness. All this she
thought--and then found herself wondering why he had not written,
imagining all sorts of direful happenings and feeling herself
responsible.



CHAPTER XXIII


One evening, about a week after Mr. Hamilton’s sudden seizure, Mary was
in her room alone. She had again reread Crawford’s latest letter and was
sitting there trying to imagine the scene as he had described it. She
was trying to picture Edwin Smith, the man who--as his son had so often
told her--indulged that son’s every whim, was kindness and parental love
personified, and yet had raved and stormed like a madman because the boy
wished to marry her, Mary Lathrop.

She rose, opened the drawer of her bureau, and took out the photograph
of Mr. Smith, the one which showed him without his beard, the one taken
since his illness. Crawford had written that this photograph, too, had
been taken on the sly.

“Dad’s prejudice against photos is as keen as ever,” he wrote. “He would
slaughter me on the spot if he knew I had snapped him.”

The face in the picture was not that of the savage, unrelenting
parent of the old plays, who used to disinherit his sons and drive his
daughters out into blinding snowstorms because they dared thwart his
imperial will. Edwin Smith was distinctly a handsome man, gray-haired,
of course, and strong-featured, but with a kind rather than a stern
expression. As Mary had said when she first saw his likeness, he looked
as if he might have had experiences. In this photograph he looked very
grave, almost sad, but possibly that was because of his recent sickness.

She was looking at the picture when Isaiah’s voice was heard outside the
door.

“Hi, Mary-’Gusta,” whispered Mr. Chase. “Ain’t turned in yet, have you?
Can I speak with you a minute?”

“Certainly, Isaiah,” said Mary. “Come in!”

Isaiah entered. “‘Twan’t nothin’ special,” he said. “I was just goin’ to
tell you that Debby T. cal’lates Zoeth is a little mite easier tonight.
She just said so and I thought you’d like to know.”

By “Debby T.” Isaiah meant Mrs. Atkins. Mary understood.

“Thank you, Isaiah,” she said. “I am ever so glad to hear it. Thank you
for telling me.”

“That’s all right, Mary-’Gusta. Hello! who’s tintype’s that?”

He had caught sight of the photograph upon the arm of Mary’s chair. He
picked it up and looked at it. She heard him gasp. Turning, she saw
him staring at the photograph with an expression of absolute
amazement--amazement and alarm.

“Why, Isaiah!” she cried. “What is the matter?”

Isaiah, not taking his eyes from the picture, extended it in one hand
and pointed to it excitedly with the other.

“For godfreys mighty sakes!” he demanded. “Where did you get that?”

“Get what? The photograph?”

“Yes! Yes, yes! Where’d you get it? Where’d it come from?”

“It was sent to me. What of it? What is the matter?”

Isaiah answered neither question. He seemed to have heard only the first
sentence.

“SENT to you!” he repeated. “Mary-’Gusta Lathrop, have you been tryin’
to find out--Look here! who sent you Ed Farmer’s picture?”

Mary stared at him. “WHOSE picture?” she said. “What are you talking
about, Isaiah?”

Isaiah thrust the photograph still closer to the end of her nose. Also
he continued to point at it.

“Who sent you Ed Farmer’s picture?” he repeated. “Where--where’d you get
it? You tell me, now.”

Mary looked him over from head to foot.

“I don’t know whether to send for Uncle Shad or the doctor,” she said,
slowly. “If you don’t stop hopping up and down and waving your arms as
if they worked by strings I shall probably send for both. Isaiah Chase,
behave yourself! What is the matter with you?”

Isaiah, during his years as sea cook, had learned to obey orders. Mary’s
tone had its effect upon him. He dropped one hand, but he still held
the photograph in the other. And he stared at it as if it possessed some
sort of horrible charm which frightened and fascinated at the same time.
Mary had never seen him so excited.

“Ed Farmer!” he exclaimed. “Oh, I swan to man! I don’t see how--Say, it
IS him, ain’t it, Mary-’Gusta? But of course ‘tis! I can see ‘tis with
my own eyes. My godfreys mighty!”

Mary shook her head. “If I didn’t know you were a blue ribboner,
Isaiah,” she said, “I should be suspicious. That photograph was sent me
from the West. It is a picture of a gentleman named Edwin Smith, someone
I have never seen and I’m perfectly sure you never have. Why in the
world it should make you behave as if you needed a strait-jacket I can’t
see. Does Mr. Smith resemble someone you know?”

Isaiah’s mouth fell open and remained so as he gazed first at the
photograph and then at her.

“Ed--Edwin Smith,” he repeated. “Edwin Smith! I--I don’t know no Edwin
Smith. Look here, now; honest, Mary-’Gusta, AIN’T that a picture of Ed
Farmer?”

Mary laughed. “Of course it isn’t,” she said. “Who is Ed Farmer, pray?”

Isaiah did not answer. He was holding the photograph near the end of his
own nose now and examining it with eager scrutiny, muttering comments as
he did so.

“If it ain’t him it’s a better picture than if ‘twas,” was one of his
amazing observations. “Don’t seem as if two folks could look so much
alike and not be. And yet--and yet I can see--I can see now--this
feller’s hair’s pretty nigh white and Ed’s was dark brown. But then
if this feller was Ed he’d be--he’d be--let’s see--he’d be all of
thirty-five years older than he was thirty-five years ago and that would
account--”

Mary burst out laughing.

“Do be still, Isaiah!” she broke in. “You are perfectly idiotic. That
man’s name is Smith, I tell you.”

Mr. Chase heaved a sigh. “You’re sartin ‘tis?” he asked.

“Of course I am.”

“Well, then I cal’late it must be. But if Ed Farmer had lived all these
years and had had his tintype took he wouldn’t get one to favor him more
than that does, I bet you. My, it give me a start, comin’ onto me so
unexpected!”

“But who is Ed Farmer?” asked Mary. The name had meant nothing to her so
far. And yet, even as she spoke she remembered. Her expression changed.

“Do you mean--” she cried, eagerly. “Why, Isaiah, do you mean the man in
that old photograph I found in the garret ever and ever so long ago? The
one you told me was a--a blackguard?”

Isaiah, still staring at Mr. Smith’s likeness, answered emphatically.

“That’s the one,” he said. “That’s the one I meant. My, this feller does
look like him, or the way I cal’late he would look if he lived as long
as this!”

“Is he dead, then?”

“I don’t know. We don’t any of us know around here. I ain’t laid eyes on
him since the day afore it happened. I remember just as well as if ‘twas
yesterday. He come out of the office onto the wharf where I was workin’
and he says to me, ‘Isaiah,’ he says, knockin’ on the head of a barrel
with his hand--the right hand ‘twas, the one that had the bent finger;
he got it smashed under a hogshead of salt one time and it never came
straight again--‘Isaiah,’ says he, ‘it’s a nice day, ain’t it.’ And
I answered up prompt--I liked him fust-rate; everybody liked him them
days--‘Yes, sir,’ I says, ‘this is a good enough day to go see your best
girl in.’ I never meant nothin’ by it, you understand, just a sayin’
‘twas, but it seemed to give him a kind of start. He looked at me hard.
‘Did anyone tell you where I was goin’?’ says he, sharp. ‘Why, no,’ says
I. ‘Why should they?’ He didn’t answer, just kept on starin’ at me. Then
he laughed and walked away. I didn’t know where he was goin’ then, but I
know now, darn him! And the next day he went--for good.”

He stopped speaking. Mary waited a moment and then asked, quietly: “Went
where, Isaiah? Where did he go?”

Isaiah, who was standing, the photograph still in his hand, started,
turned and looked at her.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I say, where did this Mr. Farmer go?”

“Eh? Oh, I don’t know. He went away, that’s all. Don’t ask me any more
questions. I’ve been talkin’ too much, anyhow, I cal’late. Cap’n
Shad would skin me alive if he knew I’d said as much as I have. Say,
Mary-’Gusta, don’t you say nothin’ to either him or Zoeth, will you?
You see--it’s--it’s a kind of little secret we have amongst us and--and
nobody else is in on it. ‘Twas this plaguey tintype got me to talkin’.
No wonder neither! I never see such a look on two folks. I--there,
there! Good night, Mary-’Gusta, good night.”

He tossed the photograph on the bureau and hurried out of the room. Mary
called after him, but he would neither stop nor answer.

After he had gone Mary took up the photograph, seated herself once more
in the chair, and studied the picture for a long time. Then she rose
and, lamp in hand, left the room, tiptoed along the hall past the door
of Captain Shadrach’s room, and up the narrow stairs to the attic, her
old playground.

Her playthings were there still, arranged in her customary orderly
fashion along the walls. Rose and Rosette and Minnehaha and the other
dolls were seated in their chairs or the doll carriage or with their
backs against Shadrach’s old sea chest. She had never put them away out
of sight. Somehow it seemed more like home to her, the knowledge that
though she would never play with them again, they were there waiting
for her in their old places. While she was away at school they had been
covered from the dust by a cloth, but now the cloth had been taken away
and she herself dusted them every other morning before going up to the
store. As Shadrach said, no one but Mary-’Gusta would ever have thought
of doing such a thing. She did, because she WAS Mary-’Gusta.

However, the dolls did not interest her now. She tiptoed across the
garret floor, taking great care to avoid the boards which creaked most,
and lifted the lid of the old trunk which she had first opened on that
Saturday afternoon nearly ten years before. She found the pocket on
the under side of the lid, opened it and inserted her hand. Yes, the
photograph of Hall and Company was still there, she could feel the edge
of it with her fingers.

She took it out, and closed the pocket and then the trunk, and tiptoed
down the stairs and to her room again. She closed the door, locked
it--something she had never done in her life before--and placing
the photograph she had taken from the trunk beside that sent her by
Crawford, sat down to compare them.

And as she looked at the two photographs her wonder at Isaiah’s odd
behavior ceased. It was not strange that when he saw Mr. Edwin Smith’s
likeness he was astonished; it was not remarkable that he could scarcely
be convinced the photograph was not that of the mysterious Ed Farmer.
For here in the old, yellow photograph of the firm of “Hall and Company,
Wholesale Fish Dealers,” was Edgar S. Farmer, and here in the photograph
sent her by Crawford was Edwin Smith. And save that Edgar S. Farmer
was a young man and Edwin Smith a man in the middle sixties, they were
almost identical in appearance. Each time she had seen Mr. Smith’s
photograph she had felt certain she must have met the original. Here was
the reason--this man in the other photograph. The only difference was
the difference of age. Edwin Smith had a nose like Edgar Farmer’s, and
a chin like his and eyes like his. And Isaiah had just said that Edgar
Farmer had a crooked finger on his right hand caused by an accident with
a hogshead of salt. Mary remembered well something Crawford had told
her, that his father had a finger on the right hand which had been hurt
in a mine years before he, Crawford, was born.

It could not be, of course--it could not be--and yet--Oh, WHAT did it
mean?



CHAPTER XXIV


In his own room at the end of the second-story hall, over the kitchen,
Mr. Chase was sitting reading the local paper before retiring. It was a
habit he had, one of which Captain Shadrach pretended to approve highly.
“Best thing in the world, Isaiah,” declared the Captain. “Sleep’s what
everybody needs and I can’t think of any surer way of gettin’ to sleep
than readin’ the South Harniss news in that paper.”

Whether or not this unkind joke was deserved is not material; at all
events Isaiah was reading the paper when he was very much startled by a
knock at the door.

“Who--who is it?” he stammered.

“It is Mary,” whispered a voice outside the door. “I want to speak with
you, Isaiah. You’re not in bed, are you?”

Isaiah reluctantly relinquished the paper. “No, no,” he replied, “I
ain’t in bed. What’s the matter? Zoeth ain’t no worse, is he?”

“Let me in and I’ll tell you.”

“Come on in. You don’t need no lettin’.”

Mary entered. She was very grave and very earnest.

“What in the nation,” began Isaiah, “are you prowlin’ around this hour
of the night for?”

“Hush! Isaiah, you must tell me everything now. There’s no use to say
you won’t--you MUST. Who was Edgar Farmer and what wrong did he do my
uncles?”

Isaiah said nothing; he did not attempt to answer. Instead he gaped at
her with such an expression of guilty surprise, fright, and apprehension
that at any other time she would have laughed. Just now, however, she
was far from laughing.

“Come! come!” she said, impatiently. “I mean it. I want you to tell me
all about this Edgar Farmer.”

“Now--now, Mary-’Gusta, I told you--”

“You told me a very little. Now I want to know the rest. Everyone else
in this family knows it and it is time I did. I’m not a child any more.
Tell me the whole story, Isaiah.”

“I shan’t neither. Oh, by godfreys, this is what I get by sayin’ more’n
I ought to! And yet how could I help it when I see that tintype? It’s
just my luck! Nobody else but me would have had the dratted luck to have
that picture stuck into their face and eyes unexpected. And ‘twas just
so when you found that other one years ago up attic. I had to be the one
you sprung it on! I had to be! But I shan’t tell you nothin’!”

“Yes, you will. You must tell me everything.”

“Well, I shan’t.”

“Very well. Then I shall go straight to Uncle Shad.”

“To who? To CAP’N SHAD! Oh, my godfreys mighty! You go to him and see
what he’ll say! Just go! Why, he’d shut up tighter’n a clam at low
water and he’d give you fits besides. Go to Cap’n Shad and ask about Ed
Farmer! My soul! You try it! Aw, don’t be foolish, Mary-’Gusta.”

“I’m not going to be foolish, Isaiah. If I go to Uncle Shad I shall tell
him that it was through you I learned there was such a person as the
Farmer man and that there was a secret connected with him, that it was a
disagreeable secret, that--”

“Hush! Land sakes alive! Mary-’Gusta, DON’T talk so! Why, if you told
Cap’n Shad he’d--I don’t know what he wouldn’t do to me. If he knew I
told you about Ed Farmer he’d--I swan to man I believe he’d pretty nigh
kill me!”

“Well, you’ll soon know what he will do, for unless you tell me the
whole story, I shall certainly go to him.”

“Aw, Mary-’Gusta--”

“I surely shall. And if he won’t tell me I shall go to someone outside
the family--to Judge Baxter, perhaps. He would tell me, I’m sure, if
I asked. No, Isaiah, you tell me. And if you do tell me all freely and
frankly, keeping nothing back, I’ll say nothing to Uncle Shad or Uncle
Zoeth. They shall never know who told.”

Mr. Chase wrung his hands. Ever since he had been cook at the white
house by the shore he had had this duty laid upon him, the duty of
keeping his lips closed upon the name of Edgar Farmer and the story
connected with that name. When Captain Shadrach first engaged him for
his present situation the Captain had ordered him never to speak the
name or mention the happenings of that time. And after little Mary
Lathrop became a regular and most important member of the family, the
command was repeated. “She mustn’t ever know if we can help it, Isaiah,”
 said Shadrach, solemnly. “You know Zoeth and how he feels. For his sake,
if nothin’ else, we mustn’t any of us drop a hint so that she will know.
She’ll find out, I presume likely, when she gets older; there’ll be some
kind soul around town that’ll tell her, consarn ‘em; but WE shan’t tell
her; and if YOU tell her, Isaiah Chase, I’ll--I declare to man I’ll
heave you overboard!”

And now after all these years of ignorance during which the expected had
not happened and no one of the village gossips had revealed the secret
to her--now, here she was, demanding that he, Isaiah Chase, reveal it,
and threatening to go straight to Captain Gould and tell who had put
her upon the scent. No wonder the cook and steward wrung his hands in
despair; the heaving overboard was imminent.

Mary, earnest and determined as she was to learn the truth, the
truth which she was beginning to believe might mean so much to her,
nevertheless could not help pitying him.

“Come, come, Isaiah,” she said, “don’t look so tragic. There isn’t
anything so dreadful about it. Have you promised--have you given your
word not to tell? Because if you have I shan’t ask you to break it.
I shall go to Judge Baxter instead--or to Uncle Shad. But of course I
shall be obliged to tell how I came to know--the little I do know.”

Mr. Chase did not like the prospect of her going to the Captain, that
was plain. For the first time his obstinacy seemed to waver.

“I--I don’t know’s I ever give my word,” he admitted. “I never promised
nothin’, as I recollect. Cap’n Shad he give me orders--”

“Yes, yes, of course he did. Well, now I’M giving you orders. And I
promise you, Isaiah, if it ever becomes necessary I’ll stand between you
and Uncle Shad. Now tell me.”

Isaiah sat down upon the bed and wiped his forehead.

“Oh, Lordy!” he moaned. “I wisht my mouth had been sewed up afore ever
I said a word about any of it. . . . But--but . . . Well,” desperately,
“what is it you want to know?”

“I want to know everything. Begin at the beginning and tell me who Mr.
Farmer was.”

Mr. Chase marked a pattern on the floor with his slippered foot. Then he
began:

“He come from up Cape Ann way in the beginnin’,” he said. “The rest of
the firm was Cape Codders, but he wan’t. However, he’d been a-fishin’
and he knew fish and after the firm was fust started and needed an extry
bookkeeper he applied and got the job. There was three of ‘em in Hall
and Company at fust, all young men they was, too; your stepfather, Cap’n
Marcellus Hall, he was the head one; and Mr. Zoeth, he was next and
Cap’n Shad next. ‘Twan’t until three or four year afterwards that Ed
Farmer was took in partner. He was so smart and done so well they give
him a share and took him in.

“Everybody liked him, too. He was younger even than the rest, and fine
lookin’ and he had a--a kind of way with him that just made you like
him. The way the business was handled was somethin’ like this: Cap’n
Marcellus, your stepfather, Mary-’Gusta, he and Cap’n Shad done the
outside managin’, bossin’ the men--we had a lot of ‘em on the wharf them
days, too, and there was always schooners unloadin’ and carts loadin’ up
and fellers headin’ up barrels--Oh, Hall and Company’s store and docks
was the busiest place on the South Shore. You ask anybody that remembers
and they’ll tell you so.

“Well, Cap’n Marcellus and Cap’n Shad was sort of outside bosses, same
as I said, and Zoeth he was sort of general business boss, ‘tendin’ to
the buyin’ supplies and payin’ for ‘em and gettin’ money and the like of
that, and Ed--Edgar Farmer, I mean--he was inside office boss, lookin’
out for the books and the collections and the bank account and so on.
Marcellus and Zoeth and Cap’n Shad was old chums and had been for years;
they was as much to each other as brothers and always had been; but it
wan’t so very long afore they thought as much of Farmer as they did of
themselves. He was that kind--you couldn’t help takin’ a notion to him.

“When I get to talkin’ about Hall and Company I could talk for a month
of Sundays. Them was great days--yes, sir, great days for South Harniss
and the fish business. Why I’ve seen, of a Saturday mornin’ in the
mackerel season, as many as forty men ashore right here in town with
money in their pockets and their hats on onesided, lookin’ for fun or
trouble just as happened along. And Cap’n Marcellus and his partners was
looked up to and respected; not much more’n boys they wan’t, but they
was big-bugs, I tell you, and they wore beaver hats to church on Sunday,
every man jack of ‘em. Fur’s that goes, I wore one, too, and you might
not think it, but ‘twas becomin’ to me if I do say it. Yes, sir-ee!
‘Twas a kind of curl-up brim one, that hat was, and--”

“Never mind the hat now, Isaiah,” interrupted Mary. “Tell me about Mr.
Farmer.”

Isaiah looked offended. “I am tellin’ you, ain’t I?” he demanded. “Ain’t
I tellin’ you fast as I can?”

“Perhaps you are. We won’t argue about it. Go on.”

“Well--well, where was I? You’ve put me clear off my course.”

“You were just going to tell me what Mr. Farmer did.”

“What he did! What didn’t he do, you’d better say! The blackguard!
He smashed the firm flat, that’s what he done! And he run off with
Marcellus’s sister.”

“Marcellus’s sister! My stepfather’s sister! I didn’t know he ever had a
sister. Are you sure he had?”

“Am I sure! What kind of talk’s that? Course I’m sure! She was younger
than Marcellus and pretty--say, she WAS pretty! Yes, the outside of her
figurehead was mighty hard to beat, everybody said so; but the inside
was kind of--well, kind of rattly, as you might say. She’d laugh and
talk and go on and Ed Farmer he’d hang over the desk there in the office
and look at her. Just look--and look--and look. How many times I’ve
seen ‘em that way! It got so that folks begun to talk a little mite.
Marcellus didn’t, of course; he idolized that girl, worshiped her like
a vain thing, so’s to speak. And Cap’n Shad, course he wouldn’t talk
because he’s always down on tattle-tales and liars, but I’ve always
thought he was a little mite suspicious and troubled. As for poor
Zoeth--well, it’s always his kind that are the last to suspect. And
Zoeth was as innocent then as he is now. And as good, too.

“And then one day it come out, come down on us like the mainmast goin’
by the board. No, come to think of it, it didn’t come all to once that
way. Part of it did, but the rest didn’t. The rest kind of leaked out
along slow, gettin’ a little mite worse every day. I can see it just as
plain as if ‘twas yesterday--Marcellus and Shadrach in the office goin’
over the books and addin’ up on pieces of paper, and it gettin’ worse
and worse all the time. And the whole town a-talkin’! And poor
Zoeth lyin’ in his bedroom there to home, out of his mind and ravin’
distracted and beggin’ and pleadin’ with his partners not to chase ‘em,
to let ‘em go free for her sake. And the doctor a-comin’! And--”

Mary began to feel that she, too, was in danger of raving distraction.
Between her anxiety to hear the story and her forebodings and growing
suspicions she was becoming more and more nervous as Isaiah rambled on.

“Wait! Wait, please, Isaiah!” she begged. “I don’t understand. What had
happened?”

Isaiah regarded her with surprise and impatience.

“Ain’t I been tellin’ you?” he snapped, testily. “Ain’t I this minute
told you? This Ed Farmer had cleared out and run off and he’d took
with him every cent of Hall and Company’s money that he could rake and
scrape. He’d been stealin’ and speculatin’ for years, it turned out.
‘Twas him, the dum thief, him and his stealin’s that made the firm fail.
Wan’t that enough to happen, I’d like to know? But that wan’t all; no,
sir, that wan’t the worst of it.”

He paused, evidently expecting his hearer to make some comment. She was
leaning forward, her eyes fixed upon his face, but she did not speak.
Mr. Chase, judging by her expression that he had created the sensation
which, as story-teller, he considered his due, went on.

“No, sir-ee! that wan’t the worst of it. You and me might have thought
losin’ all our money was the worst that could be, but Marcellus
and Shadrach didn’t think so. Marcellus was pretty nigh stove in
himself--there was nothin’ on earth he loved the way he loved that
sister of his--but when he and Cap’n Shad thought of poor Zoeth they
couldn’t think of much else. Shadrach had liked her and Marcellus had
loved her, but Zoeth had fairly bowed down and worshiped the ground she
trod on. Anything she wanted, no matter what, she could have if ‘twas in
Zoeth’s power to get it for her. He’d humored her and spiled her as if
she was a child and all he asked for doin’ it was that she’d pat him
on the head once in a while, same as you would a dog. And now she’d
gone--run off with that thief! Why--”

Mary interrupted again. “Wait! Wait, Isaiah,” she cried. “I tell you I
don’t understand. You say--you say Captain Hall’s sister had gone with
Mr. Farmer?”

“Sartin! she run off with him and nobody’s laid eyes on either of ‘em
since. That was why--”

“Stop! stop! What I don’t understand is why Uncle Zoeth was so stricken
by the news. Why had HE humored and spoiled her? Was he in love with
her?”

Isaiah stared at her in blank astonishment.

“In love with her!” he repeated. “Course he was! Why wouldn’t he be?
Wan’t she his wife?”

There was no doubt about the sensation now. The color slowly faded from
Mary’s cheeks.

“His WIFE?” she repeated slowly.

“Sartin! They’d been married ‘most five year. Didn’t I tell you? She was
a good deal younger’n he was, but--”

“Wait! What--what was her name?”

“Eh? Didn’t I tell you that neither? That’s funny. Her name was
Patience--Patience Hall.”

The last doubt was gone. Clear and distinct to Mary’s mind came a
sentence of Crawford’s: “I saw her name first on the gravestone and it
made an impression on me because it was so quaint and old-fashioned.
‘Patience, wife of Edwin Smith.’”

She heard very little of Isaiah’s story thereafter. Scattered sentences
reached her ears. Isaiah was telling how, because of Zoeth’s pleading
and the latter’s desire to avoid all the public scandal possible, no
attempt was made to trace the fugitives.

“They went West somewheres,” said Isaiah. “Anyhow ‘twas supposed they
did ‘cause they was seen together on the Chicago train by an Orham man
that knew Farmer. Anybody but Marcellus and your uncles, Mary-’Gusta,
would have sot the sheriff on their track and hauled ‘em back here and
made that Farmer swab give up what he stole. I don’t imagine he had such
a terrible lot with him, I cal’late the heft of it had gone in stock
speculatin’, but he must have had somethin’ and they could have got
a-holt of that. But no, Zoeth he says, ‘Don’t follow ‘em! For her sake
and mine--don’t make the shame more public than ‘tis.’ You see, Zoeth
was the same then as he is now; you’d have thought HE was to blame to
hear him talk. He never said a word against her then nor since. A mighty
good man, your Uncle Zoeth Hamilton is, Mary-’Gusta. Saint on earth, I
call him.”

He went on to tell how Marcellus and Shadrach had fought to keep the
firm on its feet, how for a time it struggled on against the load of
debt left it by their former partner, only to go down at last.

“Marcellus went down with it, as you might say,” continued Isaiah.
“Between losin’ his sister and losin’ his business he never was the same
man afterwards, though he did make consider’ble money in other ways. Him
and Cap’n Shadrach both went back to seafarin’ again and after a spell
I went with ‘em. Poor Zoeth, when he got on his feet, which took a long
spell, he started a little store that by and by, when Cap’n Shad joined
in with him, was Hamilton and Company, same as now. And when Shadrach
come I come too, as cook and steward, you understand. But from that
day to this there’s been two names never mentioned in this house, one’s
Patience Hall’s and t’other’s Ed Farmer’s. You can see now why, when I
thought that tintype was his, I was so took aback. You see, don’t you,
Mary-’Gusta? Why! Where you goin’?”

Mary had risen from her chair, taken up the lamp, and was on her way to
the door.

“I’m going to my room,” she said. “Good night, Isaiah.”

“What are you goin’ now for? I could tell you a lot more partic’lars if
you wanted to hear ‘em. Now I’ve told so much I might as well tell the
rest. If I’m goin’ to be hove overboard for tellin’ I might as well make
a big splash as a little one. If you got any questions to ask, heave
ahead and ask ‘em. Fire away, I don’t care,” he added, recklessly.

But Mary shook her head. She did not even turn to look at him.

“Perhaps I may ask them some other time,” she said. “Not now. Thank you
for telling me so much. Good night.”

Alone in her own room once more she sat down to think. It was plain
enough now. All the parts of the puzzle fitted together. Edwin Smith
having been proved to be Edgar Farmer, everything was explainable. It
had seemed queer to her, Mr. Smith’s aversion to the East, his refusal
to come East even to his son’s graduation; but it was not at all queer
that Edgar Farmer, the embezzler, should feel such an aversion, or
refuse to visit a locality where, even after all these years, he might
be recognized. It was not odd that he disliked to be photographed. And
it certainly was not strange that he should have behaved as he did
when his son announced the intention of marrying her, Mary Lathrop,
stepdaughter of one of his former partners and victims’ and adopted
niece and ward of the other two.

What a terrible surprise and shock Crawford’s communication must have
been to him! The dead past, the past he no doubt had believed buried
forever, had risen from the tomb to confront him. His only son, the
boy he idolized, who believed him to be a man of honor, whose love and
respect meant more than the world to him--his only son asking to marry
the ward of the man whom he had wronged beyond mortal forgiveness,
asking to marry her and intimating that he would marry her whether or
no. And the secret which he had guarded so jealously, had hidden from
his son and the world with such infinite pains, suddenly threatening to
be cried aloud in the streets for all, his boy included, to hear. Mary
shuddered as she realized what the man must have felt. It must have
seemed to him like the direct hand of avenging Providence. No wonder
he at first could not believe it to be merely accident, coincidence; no
wonder that he asked if Zoeth Hamilton had sent Crawford to him, and had
demanded to know what Zoeth Hamilton had told.

It was dreadful, it was pitiful. She found herself pitying Edwin
Smith--or Edgar Farmer--even though she knew the retribution which had
come upon him was deserved.

She pitied him--yes; but now she could spare little pity for others, she
needed as much herself. For minute by minute, as she sat there thinking
out this great problem just as the little Mary-’Gusta used to think out
her small ones, her duty became clear and more clear to her mind. Edgar
Farmer’s secret must be kept. For Crawford’s sake it must be. He need
not--he must not--learn that the father he had honored and respected all
his life was unworthy of that honor and respect. And her uncles--they
must not know. The old skeleton must not be dug from its grave. Her
Uncle Zoeth had told her only a little while before that he was learning
to forget, or if not to forget at least to be more reconciled. She
did not understand him then; now she did. To have him learn that Edgar
Farmer was alive, that his son--Oh, no, he must not learn it! Ill as he
was, and weak as he was likely to be always, the shock might kill him.
And yet sooner or later he would learn unless the secret remained, as it
had been for years, undisclosed.

And to keep it still a secret was, she saw clearly, her duty. She might
rebel against it, she might feel that it was wicked and cruel,
the spoiling of her life to save these others, but it was her duty
nevertheless. Because she loved Crawford--and she was realizing now that
she did love him dearly, that there could never be another love in the
world for her---she must send him away, she must end the affair at
once. If she did that she could save him from learning of his father’s
disgrace, could avert the otherwise inevitable quarrel between them,
could make his career and his future secure. And her uncles would be
happy, the skeleton would remain undisturbed.

Yes, she must do it. But it was so hard to do. Philosophy did not help
in the least. She had tried to convince herself when she gave up her
school work that it meant the end of her romance also. She had tried to
tell Crawford so. But she had been weak, she had permitted herself to
hope. She had realized that for the present, perhaps for years, she must
work for and with the old men who had been father and mother both
to her, but--he had said so--Crawford would wait for her, and some
day--perhaps--

But now there was no perhaps--now she knew. She must receive no more
letters from him. She must never see him again. The break must be
absolute and final. And there was but one way to bring that about. He
had said repeatedly that only her declaration that she did not love him
would ever prevent his marrying her. Very well, then for his sake she
must lie to him; she must tell him that very thing. She must write him
that she had been considering the matter and had decided she could never
love him enough to become his wife.

It was almost two o’clock when she reached this decision but she sat
down at her desk to write then and there the letter containing it, the
last letter she would ever write him. And when the morning light came
streaming in at the windows she still sat there, the letter unwritten.
She had made many beginnings, but not an end. She must try again; she
was too tired, too nervous, too hopeless and heartbroken to make another
attempt that morning, but before the day was over it should be done.
She threw herself down upon the bed but she could not sleep. Why had
she been selected to bear this burden? What had she done that God should
delight to torture her in this way?



CHAPTER XXV


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 must 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.”



CHAPTER XXVI


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.”



CHAPTER XXVII


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 all 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?



CHAPTER XXVIII


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 closely 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.”



CHAPTER XXIX


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
her 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?”



CHAPTER XXX


The story of Mary-’Gusta Lathrop is almost told. Before Crawford left
South Harniss, which was not until the end of another week, it had been
decided that on a day in June of the following year she should cease to
be Mary-’Gusta Lathrop. There was a great deal of discussion before this
decision was reached, for many perplexing questions had to be answered.

First, there was the question of Crawford’s future. His father had left
a comfortable fortune and an interest in mining properties which would
have rendered it quite unnecessary for the young man to keep on with his
professional studies had he wished to discontinue them. But he did not
so wish.

“As I think I told you that Sunday afternoon when we first met at Mrs.
Wyeth’s, Mary,” he said, “I have always intended to be a doctor. Dad did
not want me to be; he wanted me to come in with him, but I wouldn’t do
it. I love my work and I mean to stick to it and go on with it. If I
were as rich as a dozen Rockefellers it wouldn’t make any difference.
But, as I see it, I am not rich. It is a grave question in my mind how
much of that money out there belongs to me.”

Mary nodded. “I think I understand what you mean,” she said.

“Yes, I think there is no doubt that almost all of my father’s money
was made there in the West after”--he hesitated and then went on--“after
the--the other died and after he married my mother. But nevertheless I
shall always feel as if whatever there was belonged to your uncles,
the surviving members of the old firm. If I could, I should give it to
them.”

Mary smiled. “Thank you for saying it, dear,” she said, “and I know you
mean it; but it would be no use to offer; they wouldn’t take it.”

“I know they wouldn’t. So we must try and make it up to them in some
other way. But suppose we leave that for a time and get back to my work.
I’m going to keep on with it; I want to and you say that you want me
to.”

“I do, very much. I am sure you will be happier in that work than in any
other, and besides--I suppose I am ever so unpractical, but I do
feel it--I had rather you made your own way. Somehow the idea of our
depending upon that money out there doesn’t--doesn’t--Oh, I can’t
explain exactly, but I don’t like the idea a bit.”

“I know. I prefer to paddle my own canoe, if I can. But a young doctor’s
canoe is likely to move pretty slowly at first. And I intend taking a
passenger, you know, and I want her to be comfortable.”

Mary laughed, a contented little laugh. “She will be,” she declared.
“Did I tell you of the talk Uncle Shad and I had the other day? He
saw me sitting by the dining-room window looking out at nothing in
particular--and looking silly enough, too, I dare say--and he asked me
what I was thinking. I said, ‘Nothing much,’ which wasn’t true, and he
said nothing must be good to think of, I looked so cheerful. I told
him I was. Then I asked him--my conscience troubled me a little, you
know--if he was sure that he and Uncle Zoeth were happy, because I
shouldn’t be unless they were.”

“Well, that was characteristic. What did he say to that?”

“Oh, he laughed that big laugh of his and told me not to worry. ‘I’M
feelin’ pretty average satisfied with life just now, Mary-’Gusta,’ he
said, ‘and as for Zoeth--well, he asked me this mornin’ if I didn’t
cal’late ‘twas wicked for him and me to be so contented with the things
of this world, so I know HE’S all right. When Zoeth gets real happy he
always begins to feel sinful.’ I hope that a consciousness of sin isn’t
the only test of happiness,” she added, “because I don’t believe you
feel wicked the least bit. At least you have never said you did.”

Crawford laughed, and there followed one of those interruptions to
conversation with which, although undoubtedly interesting to the
participants, outsiders are not supposed to be concerned. When it was
over Mary said:

“Of course I am not so foolish as to mean that you must not touch the
money your father left. That would be ridiculous. But I mean I think we
should not depend upon it; it should not change our plans or spoil your
life work, or anything like that. It will make life easier for us, of
course, and with its help we can make it easier for other people. I
think that is what we should do with it.”

“So do I, my dear. And our first duty, it seems to me, is toward your
uncles. If they would consent, and I suppose there isn’t the least
chance that they would, I should like to sell out the store and the
Lookout and the rest of it and take them with us, wherever we decide to
go, and give them an easy, carefree time of it the rest of their lives.”

Mary shook her head. “They wouldn’t like it a bit,” she said. “That
precious old store is the joy of their lives. Without it they wouldn’t
know what to do; they would be as lost and lonesome and miserable as a
pair of stray kittens. No, if we take care of them we must take care of
Hamilton and Company, too. And we mustn’t let them know we’re doing it,
either,” she added with decision.

Crawford looked troubled. “I suppose you’re right,” he said; “but it
is likely to be something of a puzzle, their problem. It will mean, of
course, that you and I must go and leave them.”

“Oh, no, we can’t do that--not for some time, at any rate.”

“It seems to me we must. We have decided, you and I, that I shall go
back West, finish my preparatory work, then come here and marry you.
After that--well, after that we have decided that I am to locate
somewhere or other and begin to practice my profession. You’ll go with
me then, I presume?”

“Silly! Of course I will.”

“I hoped so. But if we can’t leave your uncles and they won’t leave the
store, what are we going to do? Put the store on a truck and take it
with us?”

She looked up at him and smiled. “I have a plan,” she said. “I haven’t
quite worked it out yet, but if it does work I think it’s going to be a
very nice plan indeed. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, so
you mustn’t tease. You don’t mind my planning for you and bossing you
and all that sort of thing, do you? I hope you don’t, because I can’t
help it. It’s the way I’m made, I think.”

“I don’t mind. Boss away.”

“Oh, I shall. I’m like that Scotch girl in the play Mrs. Wyeth took me
to see in Boston--Bunty, her name was. She made me think of myself more
than once, although she was ever so much more clever. At the end of the
play she said to her sweetheart, ‘William, I must tell ye this: if
I marry ye I’ll aye be managin’ ye.’ She meant she couldn’t help it.
Neither can I. I’m afraid I’m a born manager.”

Crawford stooped and kissed her.

“Do you remember William’s answer?” he asked. “I do. It was: ‘Bunty,
I’ll glory in my shame.’ Manage all you like, my lady, I’ll glory in
it.”

The plan did work out and it was this: Doctor Harley, who had practiced
medicine for forty-one years in South Harniss, was thinking of retiring
after two more years of active work. He was willing to sell out his
practice at the end of that time. He liked Crawford, had taken a fancy
to him on the occasion of his first visit to the town when he was a
guest of the Keiths. Crawford, after Mary had suggested the idea to him,
called upon the old doctor. Before the end of the week it was arranged
that after Crawford’s final season of college and hospital work he
was to come to South Harniss, work with Doctor Harley as assistant for
another year, and then buy out the practice and, as Captain Shad said,
“put up his own shingle.”

“I don’t mean to stay here always,” Crawford said, “but it will do me
good to be here for a time. Harley’s a tiptop old chap and a thoroughly
competent general practitioner. He’ll give me points that may be
invaluable by and by. And a country practice is the best of training.”

Mary nodded. “Yes,” she said. “And at the end of this winter I shall
have Simeon Crocker well broken in as manager of the store. And I can
sell the tea-room, I think. My uncles don’t care much for that, anyway.
They will be perfectly happy with the store to putter about in and
with Simeon to take the hard work and care off their shoulders they can
putter to their hearts’ content.”

“But suppose Simeon doesn’t make it pay!” suggested Crawford. “That’s
at least a possibility. Everyone isn’t a Napoleon--I should say a Queen
Elizabeth--of finance and business like yourself, young lady.”

Mary’s confidence was not in the least shaken.

“It will pay,” she said. “If the townspeople and the summer cottagers
don’t buy enough--well, you and I can help out. There is that money in
the West, you know.”

He nodded emphatically.

“Good!” he cried. “You’re right. It will be a chance for us--just a
little chance. And they will never know.”


He went away at the end of the week, but he came back for Christmas
and again at Easter and again in the latter part of May. And soon after
that, on a day in early June, he stood, with Sam Keith at his elbow,
in the parlor of the white house by the shore, while Edna Keith played
“Here Comes the Bride” on the piano which had been hired for the
occasion; and, with her hand in Zoeth’s arm, and with Captain Shadrach
and Barbara Howe just behind, Mary walked between the two lines of
smiling, teary friends to meet him.

It was a lovely wedding; everyone said so, and as there probably never
was a wedding which was not pronounced lovely by friends and relatives,
we may be doubly certain of the loveliness of this. And there never was
a more beautiful bride. All brides are beautiful, more or less, but this
one was more. Isaiah, who had been favored with a peep at the rehearsal
on the previous evening, was found later on by Shadrach in the kitchen
in a state of ecstatic incoherence.

“I swan to godfreys!” cried Isaiah. “Ain’t--ain’t she an angel, though!
Did you ever see anything prettier’n she is in them clothes and with
that--that moskeeter net on her head? An angel--yes, sir-ee! one of them
cherrybins out of the Bible, that’s what she is. And to think it’s our
Mary-’Gusta! Say, Cap’n Shad, will checkered pants be all right to wear
with my blue coat tomorrow? I burnt a hole in my lavender ones tryin’ to
press the wrinkles out of ‘em. And I went down to the wharf in ‘em last
Sunday and they smell consider’ble of fish, besides.”

The wedding company was small, but select. Judge Baxter and his wife
were there and the Keiths--Mrs. Keith condescended to ornament the
occasion; some of the “best people” had seen fit to make much of Mary
Lathrop and Mrs. Keith never permitted herself to be very far behind the
best people in anything--and Mrs. Wyeth was there, and Miss Pease, and
Mr. Green who had received an invitation and had come from Boston, and
Doctor Harley, and Simeon Crocker and his “steady company,” one of the
tea-room young ladies, and Annabel and--and--well, a dozen or fifteen
more.

When the minister asked, “Who giveth this woman to this man?” Zoeth
answered, bravely, “I do--that is, me and Shadrach.” But no one laughed,
because Zoeth himself was trying to smile and making rather wet weather
of it. As for the Captain, his expression during the ceremony was a
sort of fixed grin which he had assumed before entering the room and had
evidently determined to wear to the finish, no matter what his emotions
might be. But Miss Pease, always susceptible, had a delightful cry all
to herself, and Isaiah, retiring to the hall, blew his nose with a vigor
which, as Captain Shad said afterwards, “had the Pollack Rip foghorn
soundin’ like a deef and dumb sign.”

Mary had managed everything, of course. Her uncles had tried to
remonstrate with her, telling her there were plenty of others to arrange
the flowers and attend to what the local newspaper would, in its account
of the affair, be sure to call the “collation,” and to make the hundred
and one preparations necessary for even so small and simple a wedding as
this. But she only laughed at their remonstrances.

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she said. “I have always wanted to
manage someone’s wedding and I am certainly not going to let anyone else
manage mine. I don’t care a bit whether it is the proper thing or not.
This isn’t going to be a formal affair; I won’t have it so. Uncle Shad,
if you want to say ‘Jumpin’ fire’ when Crawford drops the ring, as he is
almost sure to do, you have my permission.”

But Crawford did not drop the ring, and so the Captain’s favorite
exclamation was not uttered, being unnecessary. In fact there were no
mishaps, everything went exactly as it should, reception and “collation”
 included, and, to quote from the South Harniss local once more, “A good
time was had by all.”

And when the bride and groom, dressed in their traveling costumes, came
down the stairs to the carriage which was to take them to the station,
Mary ran back, amid the shower of rice and confetti, to kiss Uncle Zoeth
and Uncle Shad once more and whisper in their ears not to feel that she
had really gone, because she hadn’t but would be back in just a little
while.

“And I have told Isaiah about your rubbers and oilskins when it rains,”
 she added, in Shadrach’s ear, “and he is not to forget Uncle Zoeth’s
medicine. Good-by. Good-by. Don’t be lonesome. Promise that you won’t.”

But to promise is easy and to keep that promise is often hard, as
Shadrach observed when he and Zoeth were alone in the sitting-room that
evening. “I feel as if the whole vitals of this place had gone away on
that afternoon train,” the Captain admitted. “And yet I know it’s awful
foolish, ‘cause she’ll only be gone a couple of weeks.”

“I’m glad that question about the name is settled,” mused Zoeth. “That
kind of troubled me, that did.”

The partners had worried not a little over the question of whether
Crawford’s name was legally Smith or Farmer. If it were Farmer and he
must be so called in South Harniss, they feared the revival of the old
scandal and all its miserable gossip. But when they asked Crawford he
reassured them.

“I consulted my lawyer about that,” he said. “My father’s middle name
was Smith; that is why he took it, I suppose. Edwin Smith is not so very
different from Edgar Smith Farmer, shorter, that’s all. He and my mother
were married under the name of Smith. Mother never knew he had had
another name. I was born Smith and christened Smith and my lawyer
tells me that Smith I am. If there had been any question I should have
petitioned to have the name changed.”

So that question was settled and Shadrach and Zoeth felt easier because
of it.

“Zoeth,” observed Shadrach, after replying to his friend’s remark
concerning the name, “do you know what I kind of felt as if we’d ought
to have had here this afternoon?”

“No, Shadrach,” replied Zoeth, “I don’t. What was it?”

“Seemed to me we’d ought to had one of them music box chairs. I’d
like to have put it under that Keith woman and seen her face when the
Campbells started to come. Ho, ho!”

“What in the world made you think of that?” demanded his partner.

“Oh, I don’t know. Thinkin’ about Mary-’Gusta, I cal’late, set me to
rememberin’ how we fust met her and about Marcellus’s funeral and all.
That made me think of the chair, you see. I ain’t thought of it afore
for years.”

Zoeth nodded. “Shadrach,” he said, “that was a blessed day for you and
me, the day when we brought that child home in our old buggy. The Lord
put her there, Shadrach.”

“Well, I guess likely He did, maybe, in a way of speakin’. Does seem so,
that’s a fact.”

“Our lives was pretty sot and narrow afore she came. She’s changed
everything.”

“That’s so. Hello! What’s that noise? I declare if it ain’t Isaiah
liftin’ up his voice in song! In a hymn tune! What do you think of
that?”

From the kitchen, above the rattle of dishes, Mr. Chase’s nasal falsetto
quavered shrilly:

     “There shall be showers of blessin’s--”

The Captain interrupted.

“Hi, you--what’s your name--Jennie Lind--come in here,” he hailed.

Mr. Chase appeared, his arms dripping soapsuds. “What do you want,
callin’ me out of my name?” he demanded.

“Want to know what started you singin’ about blessin’s? Fust I thought
‘twas the weathervane squeakin’. What tuned you up, eh?”

Isaiah looked rather foolish, but he grinned.

“I was thinkin’ about Mary-’Gusta,” he said.

“You was, eh? Well, she’s been a blessin’ to us, there’s no doubt about
that.”

“Indeed she has,” concurred Zoeth.

But Isaiah had the final word.

“Huh!” he declared, “she’s more’n one blessin’, she’s a whole shower.
That’s what set me to singin’ about ‘em.”

He departed for the kitchen once more, the falsetto rising triumphant:

     “There shall be showers of blessin’s,
     Send ‘em upon us, oh Lord!”

Captain Shad looked after him. Then he turned to his friend and partner
and said earnestly:

“Do you know, Isaiah’s gettin’ real kind of sensible in his old age.”





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