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all you know about it, and don't try to make the situa-
tion better than it is. And please hurry!"

Isaiah, bewildered but obedient, sat down. The com-
mand 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 the're UD all times



MARY-'GUSTA

of the night, fussin' over account books and writin' let-
ters 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-waitinY 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' tha*
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 wor-
ried 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

Cap'n Shad had vowed he'd butcher me if I told tales to
you about any home troubles. That's it, you see ! AH
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 any-
thing. 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.

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MARY-'GUSTA

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, natu-
rally, 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 Shad-
rach 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. Hamil-
ton. 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 any-
where 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, liis lips moving and the pencil trembling in his
fingers, was as bad as, but no worse than, to see Cap-
tain 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.

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 youVe got
to scrabble 'cause they're holdin' the wire." Mary hur-
ried out and to the telephone office. She had not an-
swered 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 busi-
ness 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 con-
versation became audible and were lost, and then a voice,
the voice which she was expecting but, in a way, dread-
ing to hear, asked : "Hello ! Is this Miss Lathrop ?"

"Yes, Crawford."

"Mary, is that you?"

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MARY-'GUSTA

"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 par-
tially 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 to-
morrow 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 Craw-
ford, 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 be-
tween her uncles and herself; now there were secrets
on both sides.

269



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,

27O



MARY-'GUSTA

of course! Who else would be walkin' around down-
stairs this time of night?"

'That's what I thought, so I went and looked. Shad-
rach, 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' some-
thin' back. Out with it! Do you know where she's
bound ?"

Zoeth looked troubled and guilty. ''Why, no, Shad-
rach," 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. Any-
how, 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 simultane-
ously. 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, un-
scrupulous person peeping in under the shades of Hamil-
ton 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 re-
marks.

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

272



MARY-'GUSTA

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 ex-
aggerate 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.

273



MARY-'GUSTA

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
eagerlv. "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 pawiii' 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 Com-
pany, 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 re-
minded that their niece had spent their money, they had

275



MARY-'GUSTA

been accused of misappropriating hers they could not
have been more shaken or dumbfounded. Captain Shad-
rach 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."



MARY-'GUSTA

'Judge Baxter ! Why, the everlastin' old-






! 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


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