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"Then what are you kickin' about?"

"I ain't kickin'. Who said I was kickin' r 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 / ought to do. There's two skippers aboard this
craft now and that's enough. By time!" with another



MARY-'GUSTA

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 evei
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 Cap*
tain 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 womas
steward, Zoeth; you hear me!"

Zoeth, although the Captain's seafaring language wa3
a trial to his gentle, churchly soul, agreed with his part-
ner 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 inter-
vals, 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 unex-
pected questions, her interest in the house and the store,

77



MARY-'GUSTA

and shrewd, old-fashioned comments on persons and
things. She was a "queer young-one" ; they, like the peo-
ple 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 a? I said she could. What more do you want?
Jumpin* fire I 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

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MARY-'GUSTA

crate. The partners had a joint interest in a small cran-
berry bog and the crate was one of several unused the
previous fall.

"There's nothin' the matter," she said, solemnly. "I've
been thinking 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 ram-
shackle 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 Bach-
eldor 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"



MARY-'GUSTA

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 an-
swer. 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'*
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 Cap-
tain, and then added : "I tell you what you do : you just
pretend I'm your relation, a well, an uncle, that's bet-
ter'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 rela-
tion, anyhow. And shall I call Cap'n Gould 'Uncle
Shadrach' ?"



MARY-'GUSTA

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 at-
tend 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 de-
cision which must, sooner or later, be given Judge Bax-
ter was mentioned by either of the pair.



M



CHAPTER VI

ARY-'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 qua-
haug at low water. Jimmie was, generally speaking, a satis-
factory 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 con-
sider lying a deadly sin, regarded her companion's lapses
with alarmed disapproval, but she was too loyal to con-
tradict 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, wa^
a joy.

They explored the house together and found in the big
attic and the stuffy, shut-up best parlor the most fascinat-
ing 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 tne little windows

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MARY-'GUSTA

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 com-
pany. 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. Dif-
ferent 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 fright-
ened, according to the day's imaginative happenings.
Sometimes Home was a castle, sometimes a Swiss Family
Robinson cave, sometimes a store which transacted busi-
ness after the fashion of Hamilton and Company. And
in other more or less fixed spots and corners were Eu-
rope, 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 Com-
pany'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 bot-
tle 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; ? Cuban machete; and a set of ivory

8?



MARY-'GUSTA

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 tempta-
tion 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 treas-
ures to the children one Sunday morning when Zoetlv
was at church, but he cautioned them against going thers
by themselves. "You'd be liable to break something"
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



MARY-'GUSTA

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 par-
lor?" he demanded.

"Yes, sir," admitted Mary-'Gusta, contritely.

"Yes, by fire, I did! And you went just the same/ 5

"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 glow-
ing colors. Now, although she, a visitor, was not a regu-

85



MARY-'GUSTA

lar 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 melan-
choly. 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 quar-
ter 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 win*

86



MARY-'GUSTA

der" looking out of that window he had seen a cat run-
ning 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 crit-
ter."

"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 in-
spection, 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 hur-

87



MARY-'GUSTA

tied 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 uni-
versal 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 mis-
erable as she was feeling now. And if she did confess,
why then

Her meditations were interrupted in a startling man-
ner. 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 stili,
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.

88



MARY-'GUSTA

"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."



MARY-'GUSTA

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 tight-
ened.

"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?' r

"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
J 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 chick-
ens 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

90



MARY-'GUSTA

me tell how I was lookin' out of the winder at quarter
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



Online LibraryJoseph Crosby LincolnMary-'Gusta → online text (page 6 of 27)