By Joseph C. Lincoln
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?"
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."
"—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."
"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.
"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.
"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—"
"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?"
"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."
"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.
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?"
"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."
"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."
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?"
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."
"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.
"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.
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."
"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."