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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMary-'gusta - Chapter 10
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Mary-'gusta - Chapter 10 Post by :camera Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1814

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Mary-'gusta - Chapter 10

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."

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