MARY MINDS HER BUSINESS
BY GEORGE WESTON
Author of "Oh, Mary, Be Careful," "The Apple-Tree Girl," and "You Never Saw Such a Girl."
To Karl Edwin Harriman One of the Noblest of them All G.W.
MARY MINDS HER BUSINESS
So that you may understand my heroine, I am going to write a preface and tell you about her forebears.
In the latter part of the seventeenth century, there was a young blacksmith in our part of the country named Josiah Spencer. He had a quick eye, a quick hand and a quicker temper.
Because of his quick eye he married a girl named Mary McMillan. Because of his quick hand, he was never in need of employment. And because of his quick temper, he left the place of his birth one day and travelled west until he came to a ford which crossed the Quinebaug River.
There, before the week was over, he had bought from Oeneko, the Indian chief, five hundred acres on each side of the river—land in those days being the cheapest known commodity. Hewing his own timber and making his own hardware, he soon built a shop of his own, and the ford being on the main road between Hartford and the Providence Plantations, it wasn't long before he had plenty of business.
Above the ford was a waterfall. Josiah put in a wheel, a grist mill and a saw mill.
By that time Mary, his wife, had presented him with one of the two greatest gifts that a woman can ever bestow, and presently a sign was painted over the shop:
JOSIAH SPENCER & SON
In course of time young Josiah made his first horse-shoe and old Josiah made his last.
On a visit to New Amsterdam, the young man had already fallen in love with a girl named Matilda Sturtevant. They were married in 1746 and had one of those round old-fashioned families when twelve children seemed to be the minimum and anything less created comment.
Two of the boys were later killed in the Revolution, another became Supreme Court justice, but the likeliest one succeeded to the business of Josiah Spencer & Son, which was then making a specialty of building wagons—and building them so well that the shop had to be increased in size again and again until it began to have the appearance of quite a respectable looking factory.
The third Spencer to own the business married a Yankee—Patience Babcock—but Patience's only son married a French-Canadian girl—for even then the Canadians were drifting down into our part of the country.
So by that time, as you can see—and this is an important part of my preface—the Spencer stock was a thrifty mixture of Yankee, Irish, Scotch, Dutch and French blood—although you would never have guessed it if you had simply seen the name of one Josiah Spencer following another as the owner of the Quinebaug Wagon Works.
In the same year that the fourth Josiah Spencer succeeded to the business, a bridge was built to take the place of the ford and the waterfall was fortified by a dam. By that time a regular little town had formed around the factory.
The town was called New Bethel.
It was at this stage of their history that the Spencers grew proud, making a hobby of their family tree and even possibly breathing a sigh over vanished coats-of-arms.
The fifth of the line, for instance, married a Miss Copleigh of Boston. He built a big house on Bradford Hill and brought her home in a tally-ho. The number of her trunks and the size of her crinolines are spoken of to this day in our part of the country—also her manner of closing her eyes when she talked, and holding her little finger at an angle when drinking her tea. She had only one child—fortunately a son.
This son was the grandfather of our heroine. So you see we are getting warm at last.
The grandfather of our heroine was probably the greatest Spencer of them all.
Under his ownership the factory was rebuilt of brick and stone. He developed the town both socially and industrially until New Bethel bade fair to become one of the leading cities in the state. He developed the water power by building a great dam above the factory and forming a lake nearly ten miles long. He also developed an artillery wheel which has probably rolled along every important road in the civilized world.
Indeed he was so engaged in these enterprises that he didn't marry until he was well past forty-five. Then one spring, going to Charlestown to buy his season's supply of pine, he came back with a bride from one of the oldest, one of the most famous families in all America.
There were three children to this marriage—one son and two daughters.
I will tell you about the daughters in my first chapter—two delightful old maids who later had a baby between them—but first I must tell you about the seventh and last Josiah.
In his youth he was wild.
This may have been partly due to that irreducible minimum of Original Sin which (they say) is in all of us—and partly due to his cousin Stanley.
Now I don't mean to say for a moment that Stanley Woodward was a natural born villain. I don't think people are born that way at all. At first the idea probably struck him as a sort of a joke. "If anything happens to young Josiah," I can imagine him thinking to himself with a grin, "I may own this place myself some day.... Who knows?"
And from that day forward, he unconsciously borrowed from the spiders—if you can imagine a smiling spider—and began to spin.
Did young Josiah want to leave the office early? Stanley smilingly did his work for him.
Was young Josiah late the next morning? Stanley smilingly hid his absence.
Did young Josiah yearn for life and adventure? Stanley spun a few more webs and they met that night in Brigg's livery stable.
It didn't take much of this—unexpectedly little in fact—the last of the Spencers resembling one of those giant firecrackers of bygone days—the bigger the cracker, the shorter the fuse. Some say he married an actress, which was one of the things which were generally whispered when I was a boy. A Russian they said she was—which never failed to bring another gasp. Others say she was a beautiful bare-back rider in a circus and wore tights—which was another of the things which used to be whispered when I was a boy, and not even then unless the children had first been sent from the room and only bosom friends were present.
Whatever she was, young Josiah disappeared with her, and no one saw him again until his mother died in the mansion on the hill. Some say she died of a broken heart, but I never believed in that, for if sorrow could break the human heart I doubt if many of us would be alive to smile at next year's joys. However that may be, I do believe that young Josiah thought that he was partly responsible for his mother's death. He turned up at the funeral with a boy seven years old; and bit by bit we learned that he was separated from his wife and that the court had given him custody of their only child.
As you have probably noticed, there are few who can walk so straight as those who have once been saved from the crooked path. There are few so intolerant of fire as those poor, charred brands who have once been snatched from the burning.
After his mother's funeral young Spencer settled down to a life of atonement and toil, till first his father and then even his cousin Stanley were convinced of the change which had taken place in the one-time black sheep of the family.
By that time the patents on the artillery wheel had expired and a competition had set in which was cutting down the profits to zero. Young Josiah began experimenting on a new design which finally resulted in a patent upon a combination ball and roller bearing. This was such an improvement upon everything which had gone before, that gradually Spencer & Son withdrew from the manufacture of wagons and wheels and re-designed their whole factory to make bearings.
This wasn't done in a month or two, nor even in a year or two. Indeed the returned prodigal grew middle aged in the process. He also saw the possibilities of harnessing the water power above the factory to make electric current. This current was sold so cheaply that more and more factories were drawn to New Bethel until the fame of the city's products were known wherever the language of commerce was spoken.
At the height of his son's success, old Josiah died, joining those silent members of the firm who had gone before. I often like to imagine the whole seven of them, ghostly but inquisitive, following the subsequent strange proceedings with noiseless steps and eyes that missed nothing; and in particular keeping watch upon the last living Josiah Spencer—a heavy, powerfully built man with a look of melancholy in his eyes and a way of sighing to himself as though asking a question, and then answering it with a muffled "Yes... Yes..." This may have been partly due to the past and partly due to the future, for the son whom he had brought home with him began to worry him—a handsome young rascal who simply didn't have the truth in him at times, and who was buying presents for girls almost before he was out of short trousers.
His name was Paul—"Paul Vionel Olgavitch Spencer," he sometimes proudly recited it, and whenever we heard of that we thought of his mother.
The older Paul grew, the handsomer he grew. And the handsomer he grew, the wilder he became and the less the truth was in him. At times he would go all right for a while, although he was always too fond of the river for his aunts' peace of mind.
At a bend below the dam he had found a sheltered basin, covered with grass and edged with trees. And there he liked to lie, staring up into the sky and dreaming those dreams of youth and adventure which are the heritage of us all.
Or else he would sit and watch the river, although he couldn't do it long, for its swift movement seemed to fascinate him and excite him, and to arouse in him the desire to follow it—to follow it wherever it went. These were his quieter moods.
Ordinarily there was something gipsy-like, something Neck-or-Nothing about him. A craving for excitement seemed to burn under him like a fire. The full progression of correction marched upon him and failed to make impression: arguments, orders, warnings, threats, threshings and the stoppage of funds: none of these seemed to improve him in the least.
Josiah's two sisters did their best, but they could do nothing, either.
"I wouldn't whip him again, Josiah," said Miss Cordelia one night, timidly laying her hand upon her brother's arm. "He'll be all right when he's a little older.... You know, dear ... you were rather wild, yourself ... when you were young.... Patty and I were only saying this morning that if he takes after you, there's really nothing to worry about—"
"He's God's own punishment," said Josiah, looking up wildly. "I know—things I can't tell you. You remember what I say: that boy will disgrace us all...."
One morning he suddenly and simply vanished with the factory pay-roll and one of the office stenographers.
In the next twelve months Josiah seemed to age at least twelve years—his cousin Stanley watching him closely the while—and then one day came the news that Paul Spencer had shot and killed a man, while attempting to hold him up, somewhere in British Columbia.
If you could have seen Josiah Spencer that day you might have thought that the bullet had grazed his own poor heart.
"It's God's punishment," he said over and over. "For seven generations there has been a Spencer & Son—a trust that was left to me by my father that I should pass it on to my son. And what have I done...!"
Whereupon he made a gesture that wasn't far from despair—and in that gesture, such as only those can make who know in their hearts that they have shot the albatross, this preface brings itself to a close and at last my story begins.
"Patty," said Miss Cordelia one morning, "have you noticed Josiah lately?"
"Yes," nodded Miss Patricia, her eyes a little brighter than they should have been.
"Do you know," continued the other, her voice dropping to a whisper, "I'm afraid—if he keeps on—the way he is—"
"Oh, no, Cordelia! You know as well as I do—there has never been anything like that in our family."
Nevertheless the two sisters looked at each other with awe-stricken eyes, and then their arms went around each other and they eased their hearts in the immemorial manner.
"You know, he worries because we are the last of the Spencers," said Cordelia, "and the family dies with us. Even if you or I had children, I don't think he would take it so hard—"
A wistful look passed over their faces, such as you might expect to see on those who had repented too late and stood looking through St. Peter's gate at scenes in which they knew they could never take a part.
"But I am forty-eight," sighed Cordelia.
"And I—I am fifty—"
The two sisters had been writing when this conversation started. They were busy on a new generation of the Spencer-Spicer genealogy, and if you have ever engaged on a task like that, you will know the correspondence it requires. But now for a time their pens were forgotten and they sat looking at each other over the gatelegged table which served as desk. They were still both remarkably good-looking, though marked with that delicacy of material and workmanship—reminiscent of old china—which seems to indicate the perfect type of spinster-hood. Here and there in their hair gleamed touches of silver, and their cheeks might have reminded you of tinted apples which had lightly been kissed with the frost.
And so they sat looking at each other, intently, almost breathlessly, each suddenly moved by the same question and each wishing that the other would speak.
For the second time it was Cordelia who broke the silence.
"Yes, dear?" breathed Patty, and left her lips slightly parted.
"I wonder if Josiah—is too old—to marry again! Of course," she hurriedly added, "he is fifty-two—but it seems to me that one of the Spicers—I think it was Captain Abner Spicer—had children until he was sixty—although by a younger wife, of course."
They looked it up and in so doing they came across an Ezra Babcock, father-in-law of the Third Josiah Spencer, who had had a son proudly born to him in his sixty-fourth year.
They gazed at each other then, those two maiden sisters, like two conspirators in their precious innocence.
"If we could find Josiah a young wife—" said the elder at last.
"Oh, Cordelia!" breathed Patty, "if, indeed, we only could!"
Which was really how it started.
As I think you will realize, it would be a story in itself to describe the progress of that gentle intrigue—the consultations, the gradual eliminations, the search, the abandonment of the search—(which came immediately after learning of two elderly gentlemen with young wives—but no children!)—the almost immediate resumption of the quest because of Josiah's failing health—and finally then the reward of patience, the pious nudge one Sunday morning in church, the whispered "Look, Cordelia, that strange girl with the Pearsons—no, the one with the red cheeks—yes, that one!"—the exchange of significant glances, the introduction, the invitation and last, but least, the verification of the fruitfulness of the vine.
The girl's name was Martha Berger and her home was in California. She had come east to attend the wedding of her brother and was now staying with the Pearsons a few weeks before returning west. Her age was twenty-six. She had no parents, very little money, and taught French, English and Science in the high school back home.
"Have you any brothers or sisters!" asked Miss Cordelia, with a side glance toward Miss Patty.
"Only five brothers and five sisters," laughed Martha.
For a moment it might be said that Miss Cordelia purred.
"Any of them married?" she continued.
"All but me."
"My dear! ... You don't mean to say that they have made you an aunt already?"
Martha paused with that inward look which generally accompanies mental arithmetic.
"Only about seventeen times," she finally laughed again.
When their guest had gone, the two sisters fairly danced around each other.
"Oh, Patty!" exulted Miss Cordelia, "I'm sure she's a fruitful vine!"
There is something inexorable in the purpose of a maiden lady—perhaps because she has no minor domestic troubles to distract her; and when you have two maiden ladies working on the same problem, and both of them possessed of wealth and unusual intelligence—!
They started by taking Martha to North East Harbor for the balance of the summer, and then to keep her from going west in the fall, they engaged her to teach them French that winter at quite a fabulous salary. They also took her to Boston and bought her some of the prettiest dresses imaginable; and the longer they knew her, the more they liked her; and the more they liked her, the more they tried to enlist her sympathies in behalf of poor Josiah—and the more they tried to throw their brother into Martha's private company.
"Look here," he said one day, when his two sisters were pushing him too hard. "What's all this excitement about Martha? Who is she, anyway?"
"Why, don't you know!" Cordelia sweetly asked him, and drawing a full breath she added: "Martha—is—your—future—wife—"
If you had been there, you would have been pardoned for thinking that the last of the Spencers had suddenly discovered that he was sitting upon a remonstrative bee.
The two sisters smiled at him—rather nervously, it is true, but still they kept their hands upon their brother's shoulders, as though they were two nurses soothing a patient and saying: "There, now ... The-e-e-ere ... Just be quiet and you'll feel better in a little while."
"Yes, dear," whispered Cordelia, her mouth ever so close to his ear. "Your future wife—and the mother of your future children—"
"Nonsense, nonsense—" muttered Josiah, breaking away quite flustered. "I'm—I'm too old—"
Almost speaking in concert they told him about Captain Abner Spencer who had children until he was sixty, and Ezra Babcock, father-in-law of the third Josiah Spencer, who had a son proudly born to him in his sixty-fourth year.
"And she's such a lovely girl," said Cordelia earnestly. "Patty and I are quite in love with her ourselves—"
"And think what it would mean to your peace of mind to have another son—"
"And what it would mean to Spencer & Son—!"
Josiah groaned at that. As a matter of fact he hadn't a chance to escape. His two sisters had never allowed themselves to be courted, but they must have had their private ideas of how such affairs should be conducted, for they took Josiah in hand and put him through his paces with a speed which can only be described as breathless.
Flowers, candy, books, jewellery, a ring, the ring—the two maiden sisters lived a winter of such romance that they nearly bloomed into youth again themselves; and whenever Josiah had the least misgiving about a man of fifty-two marrying a girl of twenty-six, they whispered to him: "Think what it will mean to Spencer & Son—" And whenever Martha showed the least misgivings they whispered to her: "That's only his way, my dear; you mustn't mind that." And once Cordelia added (while Patty nodded her head): "Of course, there has to be a man at a wedding, but I want you to feel that you would be marrying us, as much as you would be marrying Josiah. You would be his wife, of course, but you would be our little sister, too; and Patty and I would make you just as happy as we could—"
Later they were glad they had told her this.
It was a quiet wedding and for a time nothing happened; although if you could have seen the two maiden sisters at church on a Sunday morning, you would have noticed that after the benediction they seemed to be praying very earnestly indeed—even as Sarah prayed in the temple so many years ago. There was this curious difference, however: Sarah had prayed for herself, but these two innocent spinsters were praying for another.
Then one morning, never to be forgotten, Martha thought to herself at the breakfast table, "I'll tell them as soon as breakfast is over."
But she didn't.
She thought, "I'll take them into the garden and tell them there—"
But though she took them into the garden, somehow she couldn't tell them there.
"As soon as we get back into the house," she said, "I'll tell them."
Even then the words didn't come, and Martha sat looking out of the window so quietly and yet with such a look of mingled fear and pride and exaltation on her face, that Cordelia suddenly seemed to divine it.
"Oh, Martha," she cried. "Do you—do you—do you really think—"
Miss Patty looked up, too—stricken breathless all in a moment—and quicker than I can tell it, the three of them had their arms around each other, and tears and smiles and kisses were blended—quite in the immemorial manner.
"We must start sewing," said Miss Cordelia.
So they started sewing, Martha and the two maiden sisters, every stitch a hope, every seam the dream of a young life's journey.
"We must think beautiful thoughts," spoke up Miss Patty another day.
So while they sewed, sometimes one and sometimes another read poetry, and sometimes they read the Psalms, especially the Twenty-third, and sometimes Martha played the Melody in F, or the Shower of Stars or the Cinquieme Nocturne.
"We must think brave thoughts, too," said Miss Cordelia.
So after that, whenever one of them came to a stirring editorial in a newspaper, or a rousing passage in a book, it was put on one side to be read at their daily sewing bee; and when these failed they read Barbara Fritchie, or Patrick Henry, or Horatio at the Bridge.
"Do you notice how much better Josiah is looking!" whispered Miss Cordelia to her sister one evening.
"A different man entirely," proudly nodded Miss Patty. "I heard him speaking yesterday about an addition to the factory—"
"I suppose it's because he's living in the future now—"
"Instead of in the past. But I do wish he wouldn't be quite so sure that it's going to be a boy. I'm afraid sometimes—that perhaps he won't like it—if it's a girl—"
They had grown beautiful as they spoke, but now they looked at each other in silence, the same fear in both their glances.
"Oh, Cordelia," suddenly spoke Miss Patty. "Suppose it is a girl—!"
"Hush, dear. Remember, we must have brave thoughts. And even if the first one is a girl, there'll be plenty of time for a boy—"
"I hadn't thought of that," said Miss Patty.
They smiled at each other in concert, and a faint touch of colour arose to Miss Cordelia's slightly withered cheeks.
"Do you know," she said, hesitating, smiling—yes, and thrilling a little, too—"we've had so much to do with bringing it about, that somehow I feel as though it's going to be my baby—"
"Why, Cordelia!" whispered Miss Patty, who had been nodding throughout this confession. "That's exactly how I feel about it, too!"
It wasn't long after that before they began to look up names.
"If Josiah wasn't such a family name," said Miss Cordelia, "I'd like to call him Basil. That means kingly or royal." Then of course they turned to Cordelia. Cordelia meant warm-hearted. Patricia meant royal. Martha meant the ruler of the house.
They were pleased at these revelations.
The week before the great event was expected, Martha had a notion one day. She wished to visit the factory. Josiah interpreted this as the happiest of auguries.
"After seven generations," was his cryptic remark, "you simply can't keep them away. It's bred in the bone...."
He drove Martha down to the works himself, and took her through the various shops, some of which were of such a length that when you stood at one end, the other seemed to vanish into distance.
Everything went well until they reached the shipping room where a travelling crane was rolling on its tracks overhead, carrying a load of boxes. This crane was hurrying back empty for another load, its chain and tackle swinging low, when Martha started across the room to look at one of the boys who had caught his thumb between a hammer and a nail and was trying to bind it with his handkerchief. The next moment the swinging tackle of the crane struck poor Martha in the back, caught in her dress and dragged her for a few horrible yards along the floor.
That night the house on the hill had two unexpected visitors, the Angel of Death following quickly in the footsteps of the Angel of Life.
"You poor motherless little thing," breathed Cordelia, cuddling the baby in her arms. "Look, Josiah," she said, trying to rouse her brother. "Look ...it's smiling at you—"
But Josiah looked up with haggard eyes that saw nothing, and could only repeat the sentence which he had been whispering to himself, "It's God's own punishment—God's own punishment—there are things—I can't tell you—"
The doctor came to him at last and, after he was quieter, the two sisters went away, carrying their precious burden with them.
"Wasn't there a girl's name which means bitterness?" asked Miss Cordelia, suddenly stopping.
"Yes," said Miss Patty. "That's what 'Mary' means."
The two sisters looked at each other earnestly—looked at each other and nodded.
"We'll call her 'Mary' then," said Miss Cordelia.
And that is how my heroine got her name.
I wish I had time to tell you in the fulness of detail how those two spinsters brought up Mary, but there is so much else to put before you that I dare not dally here. Still, I am going to find time to say that all the love and affection which Miss Cordelia and Miss Patty had ever woven into their fancies were now showered down upon Mary—falling softly and sweetly like petals from two full-blown roses when stirred by a breeze from the south.
When she was a baby, Mary's nose had an upward tilt.
One morning after Miss Cordelia had bathed her (which would have reminded you of a function at the court of the Grand Monarque, with its Towel Holder, Soap Holder, Temperature Taker and all and sundry) she suddenly sent the two maids and the nurse away and, casting dignity to the winds, she lifted Mary in a transport of love which wouldn't be denied any longer, and pretended to bite the end of the poor babe's nose off.
"Oh, I know it's candy," she said, mumbling away and hugging the blessed child. "It's even got powdered sugar on it—"
"That's talcum powder," said Miss Patty, watching with a jealous eye.
"Powdered sugar, yes," persisted Miss Cordelia, mumbling on. "I know. And I know why her nose turns up at the end, too. That naughty Miss Patty washed it with yellow soap one night when I wasn't looking—"
"I never, never did!" protested Miss Patty, all indignation in a moment.
"Washed it with yellow soap, yes," still persisted Miss Cordelia, "and made it shine like a star. And that night, when Mary lay in her bed, the moon looked through the window and saw that little star twinkling there, and the moon said 'Little star! Little star! What are you doing there in Mary's bed? You come up here in the sky and twinkle where you belong!' And all night long, Mary's little nose tried to get up to the moon, and that's why it turns up at the end—" And then in one grand finale of cannibalistic transport, Miss Cordelia concluded, "Oh, I could eat her up!"
But it was Miss Patty's turn then, because although Cordelia bathed the child, it was the younger sister's part to dress her. So Miss Patty put her arms out with an authority which wouldn't take "No" for an answer, and if you had been in the next room, you would then have heard—
"Oh, where have you been My pretty young thing—?"
Which is a rather active affair, especially where the singer shows how she danced her a dance for the Dauphin of France. By that time you won't be surprised when I tell you that Miss Patty's cheeks had a downright glow on them—and I think her heart had something of the same glow, too, because, seating herself at last to dress our crowing heroine, she beamed over to her sister and said (though somewhat out of breath) "Isn't it nice!"
This, of course, was all strictly private.
In public, Mary was brought up with maidenly deportment. You would never dream, for instance, that she was ever tickled with a turkey feather (which Miss Cordelia kept for the purpose) or that she had ever been atomized all over with Lily of the Valley (which Miss Patty never did again because Ma'm Maynard, the old French nurse, smelled it and told the maids). But always deep down in the child was an indefinable quality which puzzled her two aunts.
As Mary grew older, this quality became clearer.
"I know what it is," said Miss Cordelia one night. "She has a mind of her own. Everything she sees or hears: she tries to reason it out."
I can't tell you why, but Miss Patty looked uneasy.
"Only this morning," continued Miss Cordelia, "I heard Ma'm Maynard telling her that there wasn't a prettier syringa bush anywhere than the one under her bedroom window. Mary turned to her with those eyes of hers—you know the way she does—'Ma'm Maynard,' she said, 'have you seen all the other s'inga bushes in the world?' And only yesterday I said to her, 'Mary, you shouldn't try to whistle. It isn't nice.' She gave me that look—you know—and said, 'Then let us learn to whistle, Aunt T'delia, and help to make it nice.'"
"Imagine you and I saying things like that when we were girls," said Miss Patty, still looking troubled.
"Yes, yes, I know. And yet... I sometimes think that if you and I had been brought up a little differently...."
They were both quiet then for a time, each consulting her memories of hopes long past.
"Just the same," said Miss Patty at last, "there are worse things in the world than being old-fashioned."
In which I think you would have agreed with her, if you could have seen Mary that same evening.
At the time of which I am now writing she was six years old—a rather quiet, solemn child—though she had a smile upon occasions, which was well worth going to see.
For some time back she had heard her aunts speaking of "Poor Josiah!" She had always stood in awe of her father who seemed taller and gaunter than ever. Mary seldom saw him, but she knew that every night after dinner he went to his den and often stayed there (she had heard her aunts say) until long after midnight.
"If he only had some cheerful company," she once heard Aunt Cordelia remark.
"But that's the very thing he seems to shun since poor Martha died," sighed Miss Patty, and dropping her voice, never dreaming for a moment that Mary was listening, she added with another sigh, "If there had only been a boy, too!"
All these things Mary turned over in her mind, as few but children can, especially when they have dreamy eyes and often go a long time without saying anything. And on the same night when Aunt Patty had come to the conclusion that there are worse things in the world than being old-fashioned, Mary waited until she knew that dinner was over and then, escaping Ma'm Maynard, she stole downstairs, her heart skipping a beat now and then at the adventure before her. She passed through the hall and the library like a determined little ghost and then, gently turning the knob, she opened the study door.
Her father was sitting at his desk.
At the sound of the opening door he turned and stared at the apparition which confronted him. Mary had closed the door and stood with her back to it, screwing up her courage for the last stage of her journey.
And in truth it must have taken courage, for there was something in old Josiah's forbidding brow and solitary mien which would have chilled the purpose of any child. It may have been this which suddenly brought the tears to Mary's eyes, or it may have been that her womanly little breast guessed the loneliness in her father's heart. Whatever it was, she unsteadily crossed the room, her sight blurred but her plan as steadfast as ever, and a moment later she was climbing on Josiah's knee, her arms tight around his neck, sobbing as though it would shake her little frame to pieces.
What passed between those two, partly in speech but chiefly in silence with their wet cheeks pressed together, I need not tell you; but when Ma'm Maynard came searching for her charge and stood quite open-mouthed in the doorway, Josiah waved her away, his finger on his lip, and later he carried Mary upstairs himself—and went back to his study without a word, though blowing his nose in a key which wasn't without significance.
And nearly every night after that, when dinner was over, Mary made a visit to old Josiah's study downstairs; and one Saturday morning when he was leaving for the factory, he heard the front door open and shut behind him and there stood Mary, her little straw bonnet held under her chin with an elastic. In the most matter of fact way she slipped her fingers into his hand. He hesitated, but woman-like she pulled him on. The next minute they were walking down the drive together.
As they passed the end of the house, he remembered the words which he had once used to his sisters, "After seven generations you simply can't keep them away. It's bred in the bone."
A thrill ran over him as he looked at the little figure by his side.
"If she had only been a boy!" he breathed.
At the end of the drive he stopped.
"You must go back now, dear."
"No," said Mary and tried to pull him on.
For as long as it might take you to count five, Josiah stood there irresolute, Mary's fingers pulling him one way and the memory of poor Martha's fate pulling him the other.
"And yet," he thought, "she's bound to see it sometime. Perhaps better now—before she understands—than later—"
He lifted her and sat her on his arm.
"Now, listen, little woman," he said as they gravely regarded each other. "This is important. If I take you this morning, will you promise to be a good girl, and sit in the office, and not go wandering off by yourself? Will you promise me that?"
This, too, may have been heredity, going back as far as Eve: Still gravely regarding him she nodded her head in silence and promised him with a kiss. He set her down, her hand automatically slipping into his palm again, and together they walked to the factory.
The road made a sharp descent to the interval by the side of the river, almost affording a bird's-eye view of the buildings below—lines of workshops of an incredible length, their ventilators like the helmets of an army of giants.
A freight train was disappearing into one of the warehouses. Long lines of trucks stood on the sidings outside. Wisps of steam arose in every direction, curious, palpitating.
From up the river the roar of the falls could just be heard while from the open windows of the factory came that humming note of industry which, more than anything else, is like the sound which is sometimes made by a hive of bees, immediately before a swarm.
It was a scene which always gave Josiah a well-nigh oppressive feeling of pride and punishment—pride that all this was his, that he was one of those Spencers who had risen so high above the common run of man—punishment that he had betrayed the trust which had been handed down to him, that he had broken the long line of fathers and sons which had sent the Spencer reputation, with steadily increasing fame, to the corners of the earth. As he walked down the hall that Saturday morning, his sombre eyes missing no detail, he felt Mary's fingers tighten around his hand and, glancing down at her, he saw that her attention, too, was engrossed by the scene below, her eyes large and bright as children's are when they listen to a fairy tale.
Arrived at the office, he placed her in a chair by the side of his desk, and you can guess whether she missed anything of what went on. Clerks, business callers, heads of departments came and went. All had a smile for Mary who gravely smiled in return and straightway became her dignified little self again.
"When is Mr. Woodward expected back?" Josiah asked a clerk.
"On the ten-thirty, from Boston."
This was Stanley Woodward, Josiah's cousin—Cousin Stanley of the spider's web whom you have already met. He was now the general manager of the factory, and had always thought that fate was on his side since the night he had heard of Martha's death and that the child she left behind her was a girl.
Josiah glanced at his watch.
"Time to make the rounds," he said and, lifting Mary on his arm, he left the office and started through the plant.
And, oh, how Mary loved it—the forests of belts, whirring and twisting like live things, the orderly lines of machine tools, each doing its work with more than human ingenuity and precision, the enormous presses reminding her of elephants stamping out pieces of metal, the grinders which sang to her, the drilling machines which whirred to her, the polishing machines which danced for her, the power hammers which bowed to her. Yes, and better than all was the smile that each man gave her, smiles that came from the heart, for all the quiet respect that accompanied them.
"It's his daughter," they whispered as soon as Josiah was out of hearing. Here and there one would stop smiling and say, "I remember the day he brought her mother through—"
At the end of one of the workshops, Mr. Spencer looked at his watch again.
"We'd better get back to the office," he said. "Tired, dear?"
In a rapture of denial, she kicked her little toes against his side.
"Bred in the bone..." he mused. "Eh, if she had only been a boy...!" But that was past all sighing for, and in the distance he saw Cousin Stanley, just back from Boston, evidently coming to find him.
Mary, too, was watching the approaching figure. She had sometimes seen him at the house and had formed against him one of those instinctive dislikes which few but children know. As Stanley drew near she turned her head and buried her face against her father's shoulder.
"Good news?" asked Josiah.
"Good news, of course," said Stanley, speaking as an irresistible force might speak, if it were endowed with a tongue. "When Spencer & Son start out for a thing, they get it." You could tell that what he meant was "When Stanley Woodward starts out for a thing, he gets it." His elbows suddenly grew restless. "It will take a lot of money," he added. "Of course we shall have to increase the factory here—"
Still Mary kept her face hidden against her father's shoulder.
"Got the little lady with you, I see."
"Yes; I'm afraid I've tired her out."
A murmur arose from his shoulder.
"What?" said Josiah. "Not tired? Then turn around and shake hands with Uncle Stanley."
Slowly, reluctantly, Mary lifted her head and began to reach out her hand. Then just before their fingers would have touched, she quickly clasped her hands around her father's neck and again she buried her face upon his shoulder.
"She doesn't seem to take to you," said Josiah.
"So it seems," said the other dryly. Reaching around he touched Mary's cheek with the back of his finger. "Not mad at your uncle, are you, little girl?" he asked.
"Don't!" said Josiah, speaking with quick concern. "You're only making her tremble...."
The two stared at each other, slightly frowning. Stanley was the first to catch himself. "I'll see you at the office later," he said, and with a bow at the little figure on Josiah's arm he added with a touch of irony, "Perhaps I had better wait until you're alone!"
He turned and made his way back to the office, his elbows grown restless again.
"A good thing it isn't a boy," he thought, "or he might not like me when he grows up, either. But a girl... Oh, well, as it happens, girls don't count.... And a good thing, too, they don't," he thoughtfully added. "A good thing, too, they don't...."
Mary grew, and grew, and grew.
She never outgrew her aversion to Uncle Stanley, though.
One day, when she was in Josiah's office, a young man entered and was warmly greeted by her father. He carried a walking stick, sported a white edging on his waistcoat and had just the least suspicion of perfumery on him—a faint scent that reminded Mary of raspberry jam.
"He smells nice," she thought, missing nothing of this.
"You've never seen my daughter, have you?" asked Josiah.
"A little queen," said the young man with a brilliant smile. "I hope I'll see her often."
"That's Uncle Stanley's son Burdon," said Josiah when he had left. "He's just through college; he's going to start in the office here."
Mary liked to hear that, and always after that she looked for Burdon and watched him with an interest that had something of fascination in it.
Before she was ten, she and Josiah had become old chums. She knew the factory by the river almost as well as she knew the house on the hill. Not only that but she could have told you most of the processes through which the bearings passed before they were ready for the shipping room.
To show you how her mind worked, one night she asked her father, "What makes a machine squeak?"
"Needs oil," said Josiah, "generally speaking."
The next Saturday morning she not only kept her eyes open, but her ears as well.
Presently her patience was rewarded.
"Squee-e-eak! Squee-e-eak!" complained a lathe which they were passing. Mary stopped her father and looked her very old-fashionedest at the lathe hand.
"Needs oil," said she, "gen'ly speaking."
It was one of the proud moments in Josiah's life, and yet when back of him he heard a whisper, "Chip of the old block," he couldn't repress the well nigh passionate yearning, "Oh, Lord, if she had only been a boy!"
That year an addition was being made to the factory and Mary liked to watch the builders. She often noticed a boy and a dog sitting under the trees and watching, too.
Once they smiled at each other, the boy blushing like a sunset. After that they sometimes spoke while Josiah was talking to the foreman. His name, she learned, was Archey Forbes, his father was the foreman, and when he grew up he was going to be a builder, too. But no matter how often they saw each other, Archey always blushed to the eyes whenever Mary smiled at him.
Occasionally a man would be hurt at the factory. Whenever this happened, Aunt Patty paid a weekly call to the injured man until he was well—an old Spencer custom that had never died out.
Mary generally accompanied her aunts on these visits—which was a part of the family training—and in this way she saw the inside of many a home.
"I wouldn't mind being a poor man," she said one Saturday morning, breaking a long silence, "but I wouldn't be a poor woman for anything."
"Why not?" asked Miss Cordelia.
She couldn't tell them why but for the last half hour she had been comparing the lives of the men in the factory with the lives of their wives at home.
"A man can work in the factory," she tried to tell them, "and everything is made nice for him. But his wife at home-now—nobody cares—nobody cares what happens to her—"
"I never saw such a child," said Miss Cordelia, watching her start with her father down the hill a few minutes later. "And the worst of it is, I think we are partly to blame for it."
"Cordelia!" said Miss Patty. "How?"
"I mean in keeping her surrounded so completely with old people. When everything is said and done, dear, it isn't natural."
"But we would miss her so much if we sent her to school—"
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of sending her to school—"
Miss Patty was quiet for a time.
"If we could find some one of her own age," she said at last, "whom she could play with, and talk with—some one who would lead her thoughts into more natural channels—"
This question of companionship for Mary puzzled the two Miss Spencers for nearly a year, and then it was settled, as so many things are, in an unexpected manner.
In looking up the genealogy of the Spicer family, Miss Patty discovered that a distant relative in Charleston had just died, leaving a daughter behind him—an orphan—who was a year older than Mary. Correspondence finally led Miss Patty to make the journey, and when she returned she brought with her a dark-eyed girl who might have been the very spirit of youthful romance.
"My dear," said Miss Patty, "this is your cousin Helen. She is going to make us a long visit, and I hope you will love each other very much."
The two cousins studied each other. Then in her shy way Mary held out her hand.
"Oh, I love you already!" said Helen impulsively, and hugged her instead. That evening they exchanged confidences and when Miss Cordelia heard about this, she questioned Mary and enjoyed herself immensely.
"And then what did she ask you?" finally inquired Miss Cordelia, making an effort to keep her face straight.
"She asked me if I had a beau, and I told her 'No.'"
"And then what did she say?"
"She asked me if there was anything the matter with the boys around here, and I told her I didn't know."
"And then she said, 'I'll bet you I'll soon find out.' But just then Aunt Patty came in and we had to stop."
Later Miss Patty came downstairs looking thoughtful and spoke to her sister in troubled secret.
"I've just been in Helen's room," she said, "and what do you think she has on her dresser?"
"I give it up," replied Miss Cordelia in a very rich, voice.
"Three photographs of young men!"
The two sisters gazed at each other, quite overcome, and if you had been there you would have seen that if they had held fans in their hands, they would have fanned themselves with vigour.
"Didn't you hear anything of this—in Charleston?" asked Miss Cordelia at last.
"Not a word, my dear. I heard she was very popular; that was all."
"The one thing, perhaps, that we have never been."
Miss Cordelia shook her head and made a helpless gesture. "Well," she said at last, "I must confess we were looking for an antidote ... but I never thought we'd be quite so successful...."
A few weeks after her arrival, Helen and Mary were walking to the post-office. Helen had a number of letters to mail, her correspondents being active and her answers prompt.
They hadn't gone far when a young man appeared in the distance, approaching them. Mary gave him a look to see who it was, and after saying to Helen, "This is Bob McAllister—one of our neighbours. He's home from school," she continued the conversation and failed to give Sir Robert another thought.
Not so Helen, however.
One hand went to the back of her hair with a graceful gesture, and next she touched her nose with a powdered handkerchief.
A moment before, she had been looking straight ahead with a rather thoughtful expression, but now she half turned to Mary, smiling and nodding. In some manner her carriage, even her walk, underwent a change. But when I try to tell you what I mean I feel as tongue-tied as a boy who is searching for a word which doesn't exist. As nearly as I can express it, she seemed to "wiggle" a little, although that isn't the word. She seemed to hang out a sign "Oh, look—look at me!"—and that doesn't quite describe it, either.
Just as Master McAllister reached them, raising his hat and bowing to Mary and her friend—Helen's eyes and Helen's smile unconsciously lingered on him for a second or two until, apparently recollecting that she was looking at another, she lowered her glance and peeped at him through her eyelashes instead.
Mary meanwhile was calmly continuing her conversation, never even suspecting the comedy which was going on by her side, but when Helen shot a glance over her shoulder and whispered with satisfaction "He turned to look!" even Mary began to have some slight idea of what was going on.
"Helen," she demurred, "you should never turn around to look at a young man."
"Why not?" laughed Helen, her arm going around her cousin's waist. And speaking in the voice of one who has just achieved a triumph, she added, "They're all such fo-oo-ools!"
Mary thought that over.
Helen's correspondents continued active, and as each letter arrived she read parts of it to her cousin. She was a mimic, and two of the letters she read in character one afternoon when Mary was changing her dress for dinner.
"Oh, Helen, you shouldn't," said Mary, laughing in spite of herself and feeling ashamed of it the same moment. "I think it's awful to make fun of people who write you like that."
"Pooh!" laughed Helen. "They're all such fo-oo-ools!"
"You don't think that of all men, do you!"
"Why not?" laughed Helen again, and tucking the letters into her waist she started humming. Unobserved Ma'm Maynard had entered to straighten the room and, through the mirror, Mary saw her grimly nodding her head.
"Why, Ma'm Maynard," said Mary, "you don't think that all men are fools, too, do you?"
"Eet is not halways safe to say what one believes," said Ma'm, pursing her lips with mystery. "Eef mademoiselles, your aunts, should get to hear—"
"Oh, I won't tell."
"Then, yes, ma cherie, I think at times all men are fools ... and I think it is also good at times to make a fool of man. For why? Because it is revenge.
"Ah, ma cherie, I who have been three times wed—I tell you I often think the old-world view is right. Man is the natural enemy of a woman.
"He is not to be trus'.
"I have heard it discuss' by great minds—things I cannot tell you yet—but you will learn them as you live. And halways the same conclusion arrives: Man is the natural enemy of a woman, and the one best way to keep him from making a fool of you, is to turn 'round queeck and make it a fool of him!"
"Oh, Ma'm Maynard, no!" protested Mary, who had turned from the mirror and was staring with wide eyes. "I can't believe it—never!"
"What is it, ma cherie, which you cannot believe?"
"That man is woman's natural enemy."
"But I tell you, yes, yes.... It has halways been so and it halways will. Everything that lives has its own natural enemy—and a woman's natural enemy—it is man!
"Think just for a moment, ma cherie," she continued. "Why are parents so careful? Mon Dieu, you would think it at times that a tiger is out in the streets at night—such precautions are made if the girl she is out after dark. And yes, but the parents are right. There is truly a tiger who roams in the black, but his name—eet is Man!
"Think just for a moment, ma cherie. Why are chaperons require'—even in the highest, most culture' society? Why is marriage require'? Is it not because all the world knows well that a man cannot be left to his own promise, but has to be bound by the law as a lion is held in a cage?"
"No," said Mary, shaking her head, "I'm sure it isn't that way. You're simply turning things around and making everything seem horrid."
"You think so, ma cherie? Eh, bien. Three husbands I've had. I am not without experience."
"But you might as well say that woman is man's natural enemy—"
"And some say that," said Ma'm nodding darkly. "Left to himself, they say, man might aspire to be as the gods; but halways at his helbow is a woman like a figure of fate—and she—she keeps him down where he belongs—"
"I hate all that," said Mary quietly. "Every once in a while I read something like it in a book or a magazine, and whenever I do, I put the book down and open the window and breathe the fresh air. Of course I know some married people aren't happy. But it isn't always because they are married. Single people are unhappy, too. Aunt Patty has indigestion sometimes, and I suppose a lot of people do. But you wouldn't call food a natural enemy; would you? And some children are just as bad as they can be. But you wouldn't call children natural enemies, would you—or try to get along without them?"
But Ma'm Maynard would only shrug her shoulders.
"Eh, bien," she said. "When you have live' as long as me—"
Through the open window a clock could be heard.
"Six o'clock!" squealed Helen, "and I'm not changed yet." As she hurried to the door she said, "I heard Aunt Patty say that Uncle Stanley was coming to dinner again tonight. I hope he brings his handsome son again—don't you?"
Uncle Stanley of late had been a frequent visitor on the hill, occasionally bringing his son Burdon with him, but generally coming alone. After dinner he and Josiah would sit in the den till well past midnight, going over papers and figures, and drafting out instructions for Judge Cutler, the firm's lawyer.
Mary was never able to overcome her aversion to Uncle Stanley.
"I wish he'd stay away," she ruefully remarked to her father one night. "Three evenings this week I haven't been able to come in the den."
"Never mind, dear," said Josiah, looking at her with love in his sombre eyes. "What we're doing: it's all for you."
"All for me? How?"
He explained to her that whereas Josiah Spencer & Son had always been a firm, it was now being changed to a corporation.
"As long as there was a son," he said, "the partnership arrangement was all right. But the way things are now—Well, when I'm gone, Mary, you'll own the stock of the company, and draw your dividends, and have no responsibilities to bother you."
"But who'll run the factory?"
"I suppose Stanley will, as long as he lives. You'll be the owner, of course, but I don't think you'll ever find anybody to beat Uncle Stanley as a general manager."
"And when Uncle Stanley dies—what then?"
"I think you'll find his son Burdon the next best man."
Mary felt her heart grow heavy. It may have been presentiment, or it may have been the thought of her father's possible death.
"Don't let's talk any more about dying," she said. "But tell me: Is that why you are making so many additions to the factory—because we are changing to a corporation?"
Josiah hesitated, struggling to speak to his daughter as though she were a young man instead of a young woman. But heredity, training and world-old custom restrained him. What would a girl know about mergers, combinations, fundamental patents, the differences between common and preferred stock, and all that? "It would only confuse her," he thought, looking at her with love in his eyes. "She would nod her pretty head to be polite, but I might as well be talking Greek to her."
"No, dear," he said, at last. "I'll tell you why we are making those additions. I have bought options on some of the biggest bearing factories in the country—so you won't have so much competition when I'm gone. And instead of running those other factories, I'm going to move their machinery down here. When the changes are once made, it's more economical to run one big factory than half a dozen little ones. And of course it will make it better for New Bethel."
"But it must make it bad for the towns where the factories are now," said Mary after a thoughtful pause. "I know how it would hurt New Bethel if we closed up."
Josiah nodded his head. "I didn't like it myself at first."
"It was Uncle Stanley's idea, then?"
"Yes; he's engineering it."
Again Mary felt her heart grow heavy.
"It must be costing an awful lot of money," she said.
"It is," said Josiah, leaning over and making a gesture. "Of course we'll get it back, and more, too—but for quite a few years now it's been taking a lot of money—a dreadful lot of money. Still, I think the end's in sight—"
He was sitting at his desk with a shaded lamp in front of him, and as he leaned over and gestured with his hands, Mary's eyes caught the shadow on the wall. She seemed to see a spider—a spider that was spinning and weaving his web—and for the third time that night her heart grew heavy within her.
The next day was Saturday and Mary drove her father down to the factory. A small army of men was at work at the new improvements, and when they reached the brow of the hill which overlooked the scene below, Josiah felt that thrill of pride which always ran over him when beholding this monument to his family's genius.
"The greatest of its kind in the world," he said.
With her free hand, Mary patted his arm.
"That's us!" she said, as proud as he. "I'll leave you at the office door, and then I'm going to drive around and see how the building's going on—"
There was plenty for Mary to see.
A gang of structural workers was putting up the steel frame-work for one of the new buildings. Nearby the brick-layers were busy with mortar and trowels. Carpenters were swarming over a roof, their hammers beating staccato.
As they worked in the sunshine, they joked and laughed and chatted with each other, and Mary couldn't help reverting to some of her old thoughts.
"How nice to be a man!" she half sighed to herself. "Back home, their wives are working in the kitchens—the same thing every day and nothing to show for it. But the men come out and do all sorts of interesting things, and when they are through they can say 'I helped build that factory' or 'I helped build that ship' or whatever it is that they have been doing. It doesn't seem fair, somehow, but I suppose it's the way it always has been, and always will be—"
Near her a trench was being dug for water pipes. At one place the men had uncovered a large rock, and she was still wondering how they were going to get it out of the way, when a young man came briskly forward and gave one glance at the problem.
"We'll rig up a derrick for this little beauty," he said. "Come on, boys; let's get some timbers."
They were back again in no time, and before Mary knew what they were doing, they had raised a wooden tripod over the rock. The apex of this was bound together with a chain from which a pulley was hung. Other chains were slung under the rock. Then from a nearby hoisting engine, a cable was passed through the pulley and fastened to the chains below.
"All right, boys?"
The young man raised his hand. "Let her go!" he shouted. "Tweet-tweet!" sounded a whistle. The engine throbbed. The cable tightened. The little beauty began to stir uneasily in its hammock of chains. Then slowly and steadily the rock arose, and nearly as quickly as I can write the words, it was lying on the side of the trench and the derrick was being dismantled.
As the young man hurried away he passed Mary's car.
"Why, it's Archey!" she thought. Whether or not it was due to telepathy, the young man looked up and his colour deepened under his tan. "It is Archey; isn't it?" asked Mary, leaning forward and smiling.
"Yes'm," he said, awkwardly enough, and grammar deserting him in his confusion he added: "It's me all right, Miss Spencer."
"I've been watching you get that rock out," she began, looking at him with frank admiration, and then they talked for a few minutes. I need not tell you what they said—it would only sound trivial—but as they talked a bond of sympathy, of mutual interest, seemed gradually to wind itself around them. They smiled, nodded, looking approvingly at each other; and each felt that feeling of warmth and satisfaction which comes to the heart when instinct whispers, "Make no mistake. You've found a friend."
"But what are you doing here?" she finally asked.
"Working," he grinned. "I graduated last year—construction engineer—and this is my second job. This winter I was down in old Mexico on bridge work—"
"You must tell me about it some time," she said, as one of the workmen came to take him away; and driving off in her car she couldn't help thinking with a smile of amusement, "'Woman's natural enemy'—how silly it sounds in the open air ...!"
Meanwhile the matter of Mary's education was receiving the attention of her aunts.
"Patty," said Miss Cordelia one day, "do you know that child of ours is seventeen?"
The years had dealt kindly with the Misses Spencer and as they looked at each other, with thoughtful benignity, their faces were like two studies in silver and pink.
"Although I say it myself," continued Miss Cordelia, "I doubt if we could have improved her studies. Indeed she is unusually advanced in French, English and music. But I do think she ought to go to a good finishing school now for a year or two—Miss Parsons', of course—where she would not only be welcomed because of her family, but where she would form suitable friendships and learn those lessons of modern deportment which we ourselves, I fear, would never be able to teach her."
But if you had been there when the subject of Miss Parsons' School for Young Ladies was broached to Mary, I think it would have reminded you of that famous recipe for rabbit pie which so wisely begins "First catch your rabbit."
Mary listened to all that was said and then, quietly but unmistakably, she put her foot down on Miss Parsons' fashionable institution of learning.
I doubt if she herself could have given you all her reasons.
For one thing, the older she grew, the more democratic, the more American she was becoming.
Deep in her heart she thought the old original Spencers had done more for the world than any leaders of fashion who ever lived; and when she read or thought of those who had made America, her mind never went to smart society and its doings, but to those great, simple souls who had braved the wilderness in search of liberty and adventure—who had toiled, and fought, and given their lives, unknown, unsung, but never in Mary's mind to be forgotten. And whenever she thought of travel, she found she would rather see the Rockies than the Alps, rather go to New Orleans than Old Orleans, rather visit the Grand Canyon than the Nile, and would infinitely rather cross the American continent and see three thousand miles of her own country, than cross the Atlantic and see three thousand miles of water that belonged to every one in general and no one in particular.
"But, my dear," said Miss Cordelia, altogether taken aback, "you ought to go somewhere, you know. Let me tell you about Miss Parsons' school—"
"It's no use, Aunty. I don't want to go to Miss Parsons' school—"
"Where do you want to go then?"
Like most inspirations, it came like a flash.
"If I'm going anywhere, I want to go to college—"
To college! A Spencer girl—or a Spicer—going to college! Miss Cordelia gasped. If Mary had been noticing, she might not have pursued her inspiration further, but her mind was running along a breathless panorama of Niagara Falls, Great Lakes, Chicago, the farms of the Middle West, Yellowstone Park, geysers, the Old Man of the Mountain, Aztec ruins, redwood forests, orange groves and at the end of the vista—like a statue at the end of a garden walk—she imagined a great democratic institution of learning where one might conceivably be prepared to solve some of those problems which life seems to take such deep delight in presenting to us, with the grim command, "Not one step farther shall you go until you have answered this!"
"To college?" gasped Miss Cordelia.
"Yes," said Mary, still intent upon her panorama, "there's a good one in California. I'll look it up."
The more Mary thought of it, the fonder she grew of her idea—which is, I think, a human trait and true of nearly every one. It was in vain that her aunts argued with her, pointing out the social advantages which she would enjoy from attending Miss Parsons' School. Mary's objection was fundamental. She simply didn't care for those advantages. Indeed, she didn't regard them as advantages at all.
Helen did, though.
In her heart Helen had always longed to tread the stage of society—to her mind, a fairyland of wit and gallantry, masquerades and music, to say nothing of handsome young polo players and titled admirers from foreign shores—"big fools," all of them, as you can guess, when dazzled by the smiles of Youth and Beauty.
"Mary can go to California if she likes," said Helen at last, "but give me Miss Parsons' School."
And Mary did go to California, although I doubt if she would have gained her point if her father hadn't taken her part. For four years she attended the university by the Golden Gate, and every time she made the journey between the two oceans, sometimes accompanied by Miss Cordelia and sometimes by Miss Patty, she seemed to be a little more serene of glance, a little more tranquil of brow, as though one by one she were solving some of those problems which I have mentioned above.
Meanwhile Helen was in her glory at Miss Parsons'; and though the two aunts didn't confess it, they liked to sit and listen to her chatter of the girls whose friendship she was making, and to whose houses she was invited for the holidays.
When she was home, she sang snatches from the operas, danced with imaginary partners, rehearsed parts of private theatricals and dreamed of conquests. She had also learned the knack of dressing her hair which, when done in the grand manner, isn't far from being a talent. Pulled down on one side, with a pin or two adjusted, she was a dashing young duchess who rode to hounds and made the old duke's eyes pop out. Or she could dip it over her ears, change a few pins again and—lo!—she was St. Cecilia seated at the organ, and butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
"She is quite pretty and very clever," said Miss Cordelia one day. "I think she will marry well."
"Do you think she's as pretty as Mary?" asked Miss Patty.
"My dear!" said Miss Cordelia with a look that said 'What a question you are asking!' "—is pretty in a way, of course," she said, "but there is something about our Mary—"
"I know," nodded Miss Patty. "Something you can't express—"
"The dear child," mused Miss Cordelia, looking out toward the west. "I wonder what she is doing this very moment!"
At that very moment, as it happened, Mary was in her room on the other side of the continent studying the manufacture of raisin fudge. Theretofore she had made it too soft, or too sugary, but this time she was determined to have it right. Long ago she had made all the friends that her room would hold, and most of them were there. Some were listening to a girl in spectacles who was talking socialism, while a more frivolous group, perched on the bed, was arguing the question whether the perfect lover had a moustache or a clean-shaven lip.
"Money is cruel; it ought to be abolished," said the earnest girl in the spectacles. "Money is a millstone which the rich use to grind the poor. You girls know it as well as I do."
Mary stirred away at the fudge.
"It's a good thing she doesn't know that I'm rich," she smiled to herself. "I wonder when I shall start grinding the poor!"
"And yet the world simply couldn't get along without the wage-earners," continued the young orator. "So all they have to do is strike—and strike—and keep on striking—and they can have everything they want—"
"So could the doctors," mused Mary to herself, stirring away at the fudge. "Imagine the doctors striking.... And so could the farmers. Imagine the farmers striking for eight hours a day, and no work Sundays and holidays, and every Saturday afternoon off...."
Dimly, vaguely, a troubled picture took shape in her mind. She stirred the fudge more reflectively than ever.
"I wonder if civil wars are started that way," she thought, "one class setting out to show its power over another and gradually coming to blows. Suppose—yes, suppose the women were to go on strike for eight hours a day, and as much money as the men, and Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, and all the rest of it.... The world certainly couldn't get along without women. As Becky says, they would only have to strike—and strike—and keep on striking—and they could get everything they wanted—"
Although she didn't suspect it, she was so close to her destiny at that moment that she could have reached out her hand and touched it. But all unconsciously she continued to stir the fudge.
"I've always thought that women have a poor time of it compared with men," she nodded to herself. "Still, perhaps it's the way of the world, like ... like children have the measles ... and old folks have to wear glasses."
She put the pan on the sill to cool and stood there for a time, looking out at the campus, dreamy-eyed, half occupied with her own thoughts and half listening to the conversation behind her.
"There oughtn't to be any such thing as private property—"
"Why, Vera, if he kissed you in the dark, you couldn't tell whether he was a man or a girl—"
"—Everything should belong to the state—"
"—No, listen. Kiss me both ways, and then tell me which you think is the nicest—"
A squeal of laughter arose from the bed and, turning, Mary saw that one of the girls was holding the back of a toothbrush against her upper lip.
"Now," she mumbled, "this is with the moustache ... Kiss me hard ..."
"The greatest book in the world," continued the girl with the spectacles, "is Marx's book on Capital—"
Mary turned to the window again, more dreamy-eyed than ever.
"The greatest book in the world," she thought, "is the book of life.... Oh, if I could only write a few pages in it ... myself ...!"
Mary "came out" the winter after her graduation.
If she had been left to herself she would have dispensed with the ceremony quite as cheerfully as she had dispensed with Miss Parsons' School for Young Ladies. But in the first place her aunts were adamant, and in the second place they were assisted by Helen. Helen hadn't been going to finishing school for nothing. She knew the value of a proper social introduction.
Indeed it was her secret ambition to outshine her cousin—an ambition which was at once divined by her two aunts. Whereupon they groomed Mary to such good purpose that I doubt if Society ever looked upon a lovelier debutante.
She was dressed in chiffon, wore the Spencer pearls, and carried herself with such unconscious charm that more than one who danced with her that night felt a rapping on the door of his heart and heard the voice of love exclaiming "Let me in!"
There was one young man in particular who showed her such attention that the matrons either smiled or frowned at each other. Even Miss Cordelia and Miss Patty were pleased, although of course they didn't show it for a moment. He was a handsome, lazy-looking young rascal when he first appeared on the scene, lounging against the doorway, drawling a little as he talked to his friends—evidently a lion, bored in advance with the whole proceeding and meaning to slip away as soon as he could. But when his eye fell on Mary, he stared at her unobserved for nearly a minute and his ennui disappeared into thin air.
"What's the matter, Wally?" asked one of his friends.
"James," he solemnly replied, "I'm afraid it's something serious. I only hope it's catching." The next minute he was being introduced to Mary and was studying her card.
"Some of these I can't dance," she warned him.
"Will you mark them with a tick, please—those you can't dance?"
Unsuspectingly she marked them.
"Good!" said he, writing his name against each tick. "We'll sit those out. The next waltz, though, we will dance that."
"But that's engaged—'Chester A. Bradford,'" she read.
"Poor Brad—didn't I tell you?" asked Wally. "He fell downstairs a moment ago and broke his leg."
That was the beginning of it.
The first dance they sat out Wally said to himself, "I shall kiss her, if it's the last thing I ever do."
But he didn't.
The next dance they sat out he said to himself, "I shall kiss her if I never do another thing as long as I live—"
But he didn't.
The last dance they sat out he said to himself, "I shall kiss her if I hang for it."
He didn't kiss her, even then, but felt himself tremble a little as he looked in her eyes. Then it was that the truth began to dawn upon him. "I'm a gone coon," he told himself, and dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief ...
"You've got him, all right," said Helen later, going to Mary's room ostensibly to undress, but really to exchange those confidences without which no party is complete.
"Got who?" asked Mary. And she a Bachelor of Arts!
"Oh, aren't you innocent! Wally Cabot, of course. Did he kiss you?"
"No, he did not!"
"Of course, if you don't want to tell—!"
"There's nothing to tell."
"There isn't? ... Oh, well, don't worry.... There soon will be."
Helen was right.
From that time forward Mary's own shadow was hardly less attentive than Master Wally Cabot. His high-powered roadster was generally doing one of three things. It was either going to Mary's, or coming from Mary's, or taking a needed rest under Mary's porte cochere.
One day Mary suddenly said to her father, "Who was Paul?"
Fortunately for Josiah the light was on his back.
"Last night at the dance," she continued, "I heard a woman saying that I didn't look the least bit like Paul, and I wondered who he was."
"Perhaps some one in her own family," said Josiah at last.
"Must have been," Mary carelessly nodded. They went on chatting and presently Josiah was himself again.
"What are you going to do about Walter Cabot?" he asked, looking at her with love in his sombre eyes.
Mary made a helpless gesture.
"Has he asked you yet?"
"Yes," she said in a muffled voice, "—often."
"Why don't you take him?"
Again Mary made her helpless gesture and, for a long moment she too was on the point of opening her heart. But again heredity, training and age-old tradition stood between them, finger on lip.
"I sometimes have such a feeling that I want to do something in the world," she nearly told him. "And if I married Wally, it would spoil it all. I sometimes have such dreams—such wonderful dreams of doing something—of being somebody—and I know that if I married Wally I should never be able to dream like that again—"
As you can see, that isn't the sort of a thing which a girl can very well say to her father—or to any one else for that matter, except in fear and hesitation.
"The way I am now," she nearly told him, "there are ever so many things in life that I can do—ever so many doors that I can open. But if I marry Wally, every door is locked but one. I can be his wife; that's all."
Obviously again, you couldn't expect a girl to speak like that, especially a girl with dreamy eyes and shy. Nevertheless those were the thoughts which often came to her at night, after she had said her prayers and popped into bed and lay there in the dark turning things over in her mind.
One night, for instance, after Wally had left earlier than usual, she lay with her head snuggled on the pillow, full of vague dreams and visions—vague dreams of greatness born of the sunsets and stars and flowers—vague visions of proving herself worthy of the heritage of life.
"I don't think it's a bit fair," she thought. "As soon as a woman marries—well, somehow, she's through. But it doesn't seem to make any difference to the man. He can go right on doing the big things—the great things—"
She stopped, arrested by the sound of a mandolin under her window. The next moment the strains of Wally's tenor entered the room, mingled with the moonlight and the scent of the syringa bush. A murmuring, deep-toned trio accompanied him.
"Soft o'er the fountain Ling'ring falls the southern moon—"
The beauty of it brought a thrill to the roots of Mary's hair—brought quick tears to her eyes—and she was wondering if Wally was right, after all—if love (as he often told her) was indeed the one great thing of life and nothing else mattered, when her door opened and Helen came twittering in.
"A serenade!" she whispered excitedly. "Im-a-gine!"
She tip-toed to the window and, kneeling on the floor, watched the singers through the curtain—knowing well it wasn't for her, but drinking deep of the moment.
Slowly, sweetly, the chorus grew fainter—fainter—
"Nita—Juanita Ask thy soul if we should part—"
"What do you think of that!" said Helen, leaning over and giving her cousin a squeeze and a kiss. "He had the two Garde boys and Will Thompson with him. I thought he was leaving earlier than usual tonight; didn't you? But a serenade! I wonder if the others heard it, too!"
Miss Patty and Miss Cordelia had both heard it, and Helen had hardly gone when they came pattering in—each as proud as Punch of Mary for having caused such miracles to perform—and gleeful, too, that they had lived in the land long enough to hear a real, live serenade. And after they had kissed her and gone, Ma'm Maynard came in with a pretty little speech in French. So that altogether Mary held quite a reception in bed. As one result, her feeling toward Wally melted into something like tenderness, and if it hadn't been for the tragic event next morning, the things which I have to tell you might never have taken place.
"I wonder if your father heard it," said Miss Patty at the breakfast table next morning.
"I wonder!" laughed Mary. "I think I'll run in and see."
According to his custom Josiah breakfasted early and had gone to his den to look over his mail. Mary passed gaily through the library, but it wasn't long before she was back at the dining room door, looking as though she had seen a ghost.
"Come—come and look," she choked. "Something—something terrible—"
Josiah sat, half collapsed, in his chair. Before him, on the desk, lay his mail. Some he had read. Some he would never, never read.
"He must have had a stroke," said Miss Cordelia, her arms around Mary; and looking at her brother she whispered, "I think something upset him."
When they had sent for the doctor and had taken Mary away, they returned to look over the letters which Josiah had opened as his last mortal act.
"I don't see anything in these that could have bothered him," said Miss Cordelia, fearfully looking.
"What's this?" asked Miss Patty, picking up an empty envelope from the floor.
It was post-marked "Rio de Janeiro" and the date showed that it had taken three weeks to make the journey.
"I have some recollection of that writing," said Miss Cordelia.
"So have I," said Miss Patty in a low voice, "but where's the letter?"
Again it was she who made the discovery.
"That must be it," she said. "His ash tray is cleaned out every morning."
It was a large, brass tray and in it was the char of a paper that had been burned. This ash still lay in its folds and across its surface, black on black, could be seen a few lines which resembled the close of a letter.
"Can you read it?" she asked.
Miss Cordelia bent over, and as a new angle of light struck the tray, the words became as legible as though they had just been written.
"I thought I knew the writing," whispered Miss Cordelia, and lowering her voice until her sister had to hang breathless upon the movement of her lips, she added "Oh, Patty ... We all thought he was dead ... No wonder it killed poor Josiah ..."
Their arms went around each other. Their glances met.
"I know," whispered Miss Patty, her lips suddenly gone dry, "....It was from Paul...!"
For the first few months after her father's death, Mary's dreams seemed to fade into mist.
Between her and Josiah a bond of love had existed, stronger than either had suspected—and now that he was gone the world seemed unaccountably empty—and unaccountably cruel. As her father had gone, so must Aunt Cordelia and Aunt Patty some day surely go ... Yes, and even Mary herself must just as surely follow.
The immemorial doubt assailed her—that doubt which begins in helplessness and ends in despair. "What's the use?" she asked herself. "We plan and work so hard—like children making things in the sand—and then Death comes along with a big wave and flattens everything out ... like that ..."
But gradually her sense of balance began to return. One day she stood on the brink of the hill looking at the great factory below, and a calmer, surer feeling slowly swept over her.
"That's it," she thought. "The real things of life go on, no matter who dies, just as though nothing had happened. Take the first Josiah Spencer and look down there what he left behind him. Why, you might even say that he was alive today! And see what Washington left behind him—and Fulton, who invented the steamboat—and Morse who invented the telegraph. So it's silly to say 'What's the use?' Suppose Columbus had said it—or any of the others who have done great things in the world—"
It slowly came to her then, her doubts still lingering, how many are called, how few are chosen.
"That's the trouble," she said. "We can't all be Washingtons. We can't all do great things. And yet—an awful lot of people had to live so that Washington could be born when he was....
"His parents: that was two. And his grand-parents: he must have had four. And his great grand-parents: eight of them....
"Why, it's like the problem of the horse-shoe nails," she continued in growing excitement. "In twenty-eight generations there must have been millions and millions of people who lived—just so George Washington could be born one day at Mt. Vernon—and grow up to make America free! Yes, and every one of them was just as necessary as Washington himself, because if it hadn't been for every single one of them—we would never have had him!"
For a moment she seemed to be in touch with the infinite plan. Down the hill she saw a woman in a black dress, crossing the street.
"Mrs. Ridge going out for the day," thought Mary, recognizing the figure below. "Yes, and who knows? She may be a link in a chain which is leading straight down to some one who will be greater than Washington—greater than Shakespeare—greater than any man who ever lived...!" And her old dreams, her old visions beginning to return, she added with a sigh, "Oh, dear! I wish I could do something big and noble—so if all those millions who are back of me are watching, they'll feel proud of what I'm doing and nudge each other as if they were saying, 'You see? She's come at last. That's us!'"
As you will realize, this last thought of Mary's suggested more than it told—as I believe great thoughts often do—but at least I think you'll be able to grasp the idea which she herself was groping after. At the same time you mustn't suppose that she was constantly going around dreaming, and trying to find expression for those vague strivings and yearnings which come to us all at different times in our lives, especially in the golden days of youth when the flood of ambition is rising high within us—or again in later years when we feel the tide will soon begin to turn, and we must make haste or it will be too late.
No, Mary had plenty of practical matters, too, to engage her attention and keep her feet on the earth.
For one thing there was Wally Cabot—he who had so lately serenaded Mary in the moonlight. But I'll tell you about him later.
Then the settlement of her father's estate kept coming up for action. Judge Cutler and Mary's two aunts were the trustees—an arrangement which didn't please Uncle Stanley any too well, although he was careful not to show it. And the more Mary saw of the silvery haired judge with his hawk's eyes and gentle smile, the more she liked him.
One of the first things they discovered was that Mary's heritage consisted of the factory by the river—but little else. Practically all the bonds and investments that Josiah had ever owned had been sold for the greater glory of Spencer & Son—to buy in other firms and patents—to increase the factory by the river. As her father had once confided to Mary this had taken money—"a dreadful lot of money"—she remembered the wince with which he had spoken—and a safe deposit box which was nearly empty bore evidence to the truth of what he had said.
"High and low," mused the judge when the inventory was at last completed, "it's always the same. The millionaire and the mill-hand—somehow they always manage to leave less than every one expected—"
"Why is that?" asked Mary. "Is it because the heirs expect too much?"
"No, child. I think it's the result of pride. As a rule, man is a proud animal and he doesn't like to tell anything which doesn't redound to his credit. If a man buys bonds, for instance, he is very apt to mention it to his family. But if for any reason he has to sell those bonds, he will nearly always do it quietly and say nothing about it, hoping to buy them back again later, or something better yet—
"I've seen so many estates," he continued, "shrink into next to nothing—so many widows who thought they were well off, suddenly waking up and finding themselves at the mercy of the world—the little they have often being taken away from them by the first glib sharper who comes long—that I sometimes think every man should give his family a show-down once a year. It would surely save a lot of worries and heartaches later on—
"Still," he smiled, looking down at the inventory, with its noble line of figures at the bottom of the column, "I don't think you'll have much trouble in keeping the wolf from the door."
Mary turned the pages in a helpless sort of way.
"You'll have to explain some of this," she said at last. But before giving it back to him she looked out of the window for a time—one of her slow, thoughtful glances—and added, "I wonder why girls aren't brought up to know something about business—the way boys are."
"Perhaps it's because they have no head for business."
She thought that over.
"Can you speak French?" she suddenly asked.
"...I can. I can speak it, and read it, and write it, and think it.... Now don't you think that if a girl can do that—if she can learn thousands and thousands of new words, how to pronounce them, and spell them, and parse them, and inflect them—how to supply hundreds of rules of grammar—and if she can learn to do this so well that she can chat away in French without giving it a thought—don't you think she might be able to learn something about the language and rules of business, too, if they were only taught to her? Then perhaps there wouldn't be so many helpless widows in the world, as you said just now, at the mercy of the first glib sharper who comes along."
This time it was the judge's turn to think it over.
"You're an exceptional girl, Mary," he said at last.
"No, really I'm not," she earnestly told him. "Any girl can learn anything that a boy can learn—if she is only given a chance. Where boys and girls go to school together—at the grammar schools and high schools—the girls are just as quick as the boys, and their average marks are quite as high. It was true at college, too. The girls could learn anything that the men could learn—and do it just as well."
As one result of this, Judge Cutler began giving Mary lessons in business, using the inventory as a text and explaining each item in the settlement of the estate. He also taught her some of the simpler maxims, beginning with that grand old caution, "Never sign a paper for a stranger—"
It wasn't long after this that Uncle Stanley called at the house on the hill. He talked for a time about some of the improvements which were being made at the factory and then arose as if to go.
"Oh, I nearly forgot," he said, turning back and smiling at his oversight. "We need a new director to take your father's place. When I'm away Burdon looks after things, so I suppose he may as well take the responsibility. It's a thankless position, but some one has to fill it."
"Yes," murmured Mary, "I suppose they do."
"They do," said Uncle Stanley. "So I'll call a stockholders' meeting right away. Meanwhile if you will sign this proxy—"
But just as quietly Mary murmured, "I'd like to think it over."
They looked at each other then—those two—with that careful, yet careless-appearing glance which two duellists might employ when some common instinct warns them that sooner or later they will cross their swords.
Uncle Stanley was the first to lower his eye.
"The law requires three directors," he said in his more usual grumpy voice, "or I wouldn't have bothered you. I'll leave it and you can sign it and send it down this afternoon."
But Mary did neither. Instead she went to see Judge Cutler and when the stockholders' meeting was finally called, she attended it in person—holding practically all the stock—and Judge Cutler was elected to fill the vacancy.
Uncle Stanley just managed to control himself. It took an effort, but he did it.
"We've got to elect a president next," he said, trying to make a joke of it, but unable to keep the tremor of testiness out of his voice. "Of course I've been here all my life—if that counts for anything—and I am now serving in the more or less humble capacity of vice-president—but if the judge would like to throw up his law business and try the manufacturing end instead—"
"No," smiled the judge, lighting a bombshell—though Uncle Stanley little guessed it—"I think the position calls for some one younger than I am. Besides, my name is Cutler, whereas for eight generations this concern has been headed by a Spencer.
"You know, Mr. Woodward, lawyers are sticklers for precedent, and it seems to me that as long as there is a Spencer left in the family, that good old name should stand at the head.
"For the office of president I therefore cast my vote in favour of the last of the Spencers—Miss Mary—"
That was the bombshell, and oh, but didn't it rock Uncle Stanley back on his heels!
"Of course, if you want to make a joke of the company," he said at last, sticking out his lower lip till it made a little shelf, although it wasn't a very steady little shelf because it trembled as though from emotion. "'President, Mary Spencer'—you know as well as I do what people will think when they see that on the letterhead—"
"Unfortunately, yes," said the judge, flashing him one of his hawk's glances but still speaking in his gentle voice. "Still, we can easily get around that difficulty. We can have the letter-heads lithographed 'President, M. Spencer.' Then if our correspondents have imaginations, they will think that the M stands for Matthew or Mark or Michael or Malachi. One thing sure," he smiled at the new president, "they'll never think of Mary."
As in the case of the factory, Uncle Stanley had also been vice-president of the First National Bank. A few days after the proceedings above recorded, the stockholders of the bank met to choose a new president. There was only one vote and when it was counted, Stanley Woodward was found to be elected.
"I wonder what he'll be doing next," said Mary uneasily when she heard the news.
"My dear girl," gently protested the judge, "you mustn't be so suspicious. It will poison your whole life and lead you nowhere."
Mary thought that over.
"You know the old saying, don't you?" he continued. "'Suspicion is the seed of discord.'"
"Yes," nodded Mary, trying to smile, though she still looked troubled. "I know the old saying—but—the trouble is—I know Uncle Stanley, too, and that's what bothers me..."
At this point I had meant to tell you more of Wally Cabot—most perfect, most charming of lovers—but first I find that I must describe a passage which took place one morning between Mary and Uncle Stanley's son Burdon.
Perhaps you remember Burdon, the tall, dark young man who "smelled nice" and wore a white edging on the V of his waistcoat.