MARY WARE'S PROMISED LAND
Works of ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON
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The Little Colonel Series
(Trade Mark, Reg. U. S. Pat. Of.)
Each one vol., large 12mo, cloth, illustrated
The Little Colonel Stories $1.50 (Containing in one volume the three stories, "The Little Colonel," "The Giant Scissors," and "Two Little Knights of Kentucky.") The Little Colonel's House Party 1.50 The Little Colonel's Holidays 1.50 The Little Colonel's Hero 1.50 The Little Colonel at Boarding-School 1.50 The Little Colonel in Arizona 1.50 The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation 1.50 The Little Colonel: Maid of Honor 1.50 The Little Colonel's Knight Comes Riding 1.50 Mary Ware: The Little Colonel's Chum 1.50 Mary Ware in Texas 1.50 Mary Ware's Promised Land 1.50 The above 12 vols., boxed, as a set 18.00
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The Little Colonel Good Times Book 1.50 The Little Colonel Doll Book 1.50
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The Little Colonel $.50 The Giant Scissors .50 Two Little Knights of Kentucky .50 Big Brother .50 Ole Mammy's Torment .50 The Story of Dago .50 Cicely .50 Aunt 'Liza's Hero .50 The Quilt that Jack Built .50 Flip's "Islands of Providence" .50 Mildred's Inheritance .50
Joel: A Boy of Galilee $1.50 In the Desert of Waiting .50 The Three Weavers .50 Keeping Tryst .50 The Legend of the Bleeding Heart .50 The Rescue of the Princess Winsome .50 The Jester's Sword .50 Asa Holmes 1.00 Travelers Five Along Life's Highway 1.25
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L. C. PAGE & COMPANY 53 Beacon Street Boston, Mass.
Mary Ware's Promised Land
By ANNIE FELLOWS JOHNSTON
Author of "The Little Colonel Series," "Big Brother," "Ole Mammy's Torment," "Joel: A Boy of Galilee," "Asa Holmes," "Travelers Five on Life's Highway," etc.
Illustrated by JOHN GOSS
BOSTON L. C. PAGE & COMPANY MDCCCCXII
Copyright, 1912, BY L. C. PAGE & COMPANY. (INCORPORATED)
Entered at Stationers' Hall, London
All rights reserved
First Impression, October, 1912
THE COLONIAL PRESS C. H. SIMONDS & CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.
MISS FANNY CRAIG
THE "MISS ALLISON" OF THESE STORIES, WHOSE "ROAD OF THE LOVING HEART" RUNS WIDE AND FAR THROUGH ALL THIS HAPPY VALLEY
I. A SEEKER OF NEW TRAILS 1 II. BACK AT LONE-ROCK 24 III. A NEW FRIEND 51 IV. THE WITCH WITH A WAND 68 V. P STANDS FOR PINK 91 VI. TOLD IN LETTERS 111 VII. A DESERT OF WAITING 126 VIII. A GREAT SORROW 144
I. BETTY'S WEDDING 161 II. TOWARDS THE CANAAN OF HER DESIRE 183 III. THE SUPREME CALL 204 IV. "PINK" OR DIAMOND ROW 227 V. MARY AND THE "BIG OPPORTUNITY" 244 VI. PHIL WALKS IN 266 VII. HER GREAT RENUNCIATION 278 VIII. HOW IT ALL ENDED 300
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'I DON'T WANT TO BE JUST AN OLD MAID SISTER IN SOMEBODY ELSE'S HOME'" (see page 34) Frontispiece
"THERE WAS ONLY TIME TO . . . HASTILY CLASP THE LITTLE GLOVED HAND HELD OUT TO HIM" 4
"'I'LL SLEEP BETTER IF THEY ARE ON THEIR POLES INSTEAD OF ON MY MIND'" 26
"'I WISH WE COULD SETTLE THINGS BY A FEATHER, AS THEY USED TO IN THE OLD FAIRY TALES'" 77
"SEVERAL TIMES SHE STOPPED JACK IN PASSING TO ASK HIM A QUESTION" 118
"'DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER SAW THIS?'" 167
"GAZING INTO THE SWEET FACE THAT SEEMED TO SMILE HELPFULLY BACK AT HER" 240
"'IT WAS AS IF WE HAD REACHED THAT LAND THAT WE USED TO SING ABOUT'" 310
MARY WARE'S PROMISED LAND
A SEEKER OF NEW TRAILS
When the Ware family boarded the train in San Antonio that September morning for their long journey back to Lone-Rock, every passenger on the Pullman straightened up with an appearance of interest. Somehow their arrival had the effect of a breath of fresh air blowing through the stuffy car. Even before their entrance some curiosity had been awakened by remarks which floated in from the rear platform, where they were bidding farewell to some friends who had come to see them off.
"Do write and tell us what your next adventures are, Mary," exclaimed one clear voice. "Your family ought to be named Gulliver instead of Ware, for you are always travelling around to such queer, out-of-the-way places. I suppose you haven't the faintest idea where you'll be six months from now."
"No, nor where I'll be in even six weeks," came the answer, in a laughing girlish treble. "As I told the Mallory twins when we left Bauer, I'm like 'Gray Brother' now, snuffing at the dawn wind and asking where shall we lair to-day. From now I follow new trails. And, girls, I wish you could have heard Brud's mournful little voice piping after me down the track, as the train pulled out, 'Good hunting, Miss Mayry! Good hunting!'"
"Oh, you'll have that, no matter where you go," was the confident answer. "And don't forget to write and tell us about it."
A chorus of good-byes and farewell injunctions followed this seeker of new trails into the car, and the passengers glanced up to find that she was a bright, happy-looking girl in her teens. She carried a sheaf of roses on one arm, and some new magazines under the other. One noticed first the alertness of the face under the stylish hat with its bronze quills, and then the girlish simplicity of dress and manner which showed at a glance that she was a thorough little gentlewoman. Her mother, who followed, gave the same impression; gray-gowned, gray-gloved, bearing a parting gift of sweet violets, all that she could carry, in both hands.
One literal minded woman who had overheard Mary's remarks about lairs and new trails, and who had been on the watch for something wild all across the state of Texas, looked up in disappointment. There was nothing whatever in their appearance to suggest that they had lived in queer places or that they were on their way to one now. The fifteen year old boy who followed them was like any other big boy in short trousers, and the young man who brought up the rear and was undeniably good to look at, gave not the slightest evidence of being on a quest for adventure. The only reason the woman could see for the name of Gulliver being applied to the family, was that they settled themselves with the ease and dispatch of old travellers.
While Jack was hanging up his mother's coat, and Norman storing their suit-cases away in one section, Mary, in the seat across the aisle, was pressing her face against the window-pane, watching for a parting glimpse of the friends, when they should pass through the station gate. A sudden tapping on the glass outside startled her, and the next instant she was exclaiming excitedly to her elder brother, "Oh, quick, Jack! Put up the window, please. It's Gay and Roberta! They're still waiting out there!"
As the window flew up, and Mary's head was thrust out, passengers on that side of the car saw two young girls standing on tiptoe to speak to her. The one with beautiful auburn hair called out breathlessly, "Oh, Mary! Bogey's coming! Pray that the train will stand one more minute!" And the other, the one with curly lashes and mischievous mouth, chimed in, "He's bringing an enormous box of candy! Mean thing, to come so late that we can't have even a nibble!"
Then those looking out saw a young fellow in lieutenant's uniform sprint through the gate, down the long station and across half a dozen tracks to reach the place where Roberta and Gay stood like excited guide-posts, wildly pointing out the window, and beckoning him to hurry. Red-faced and panting, he brought up beside them with a hasty salute, just as the wheels began turning and the long train started to puff slowly out of the station. There was only time to thrust the box through the window and hastily clasp the little gloved hand held out to him.
"Say good-bye to the others for me," he called, trotting along beside the moving train. "Sorry I was late. I had a lot of things to tell you. I'll have to write them."
"Do," called Mary, "and let me know—" But he was no longer in hearing distance and the sentence was left unfinished.
When she drew in her head there was a deeper color in her face and such shining pleasure in her eyes, that every fellow traveller who had seen the little byplay, knew just what delight the lieutenant's parting attention had given her. More than one watched furtively with a sort of inward smiling as she opened the box and passed it around for the family to share and admire.
One person, especially, found entertainment in watching her. He was the elderly, spectacled gentleman in the section behind her. He was an illustrator for a well-known publishing house, and Mary would have counted her adventures well begun, could she have known who was sitting behind her, and that one of his famous cover designs was on the very magazine which lay open on her lap. Well for her peace of mind that she did not know what he proceeded to do soon after her arrival. Producing a pencil and drawing pad from his satchel, he made a quick sketch of her, as she sat sideways in her seat, carrying on an animated conversation with Jack.
The artist smiled as he sketched in the jaunty quills of the hat, perked at just the right angle to make an effective picture. He was sure that they gave the key-note to her character.
"They have such an effect of alertness and 'go,'" was his inward comment. "It's sensible of her to know that this style gives her distinction, while those big floppy affairs everybody wears nowadays would have made just an ordinary looking girl of her."
He would have been still more positive that the hat gave the key-note of her character, if he had seen the perseverance and ingenuity that had gone towards its making. For she had been her own milliner. Two other hats had been ripped to pieces to give her material for this, and the stylish brown quills which had first attracted his attention, had been saved from the big bronze turkey which had been sent to them from the Barnaby ranch for their Christmas dinner.
Before he had made more than an outline, the porter came by with a paper bag, and Mary whisked her hat off her head and into the bag, serenely unconscious that thereby she was arresting the development of a good picture.
Later, when Jack changed to the seat facing Mary, and with his elbow on the window ledge and chin propped on his fist sat watching the flying landscape, the illustrator made a sketch of him also. This time he did not stop with a bare outline. What had seemed just a boyish face at first glance, invited his careful study. Those mature lines about the mouth, the firm set of the lips, the serious depths of the grave gray eyes, certainly belonged to one who had known responsibilities and struggles, and, in some way, he felt, conquest. He wondered what there had been in the young fellow's life to leave such a record. The longer he studied the face the better he liked it.
The whole family seemed unusually well worth knowing, he concluded after a critical survey of Norman and his mother, who sat in the opposite section, entertaining each other with such evident interest that it made him long for some one to talk to himself. Tired by his two days' journey and bored by the monotony of his surroundings, he yawned, stretched himself, and rising, sauntered out to the rear platform of the observation car. Here, some time later, Norman found him smoking and was drawn into conversation with the stranger, who seemed to have a gift for asking questions.
The conversation was confined principally to the different kinds of wild animals and snakes to be found in the state of Texas, and to an amateur "zoo" which Norman had once owned in Lone-Rock, the mining camp in Arizona that they were now going back to. But incidentally the interested artist learned that Jack had been assistant manager of the mines. That accounted for the mature lines of his face. They stood for responsibilities bravely shouldered. He had been almost killed by an accident which would have crushed several Mexican workmen had he not risked his own life for theirs. He had been ordered to a milder climate, hence their recent sojourn in Texas. They had supposed he would always be a helpless cripple, but, by an almost miraculous operation, he had been restored, and was now going back to take his old position.
Norman himself intended to be a mining engineer, he told the stranger when questioned. He had already begun to take a practical course under the chief at the office. Mathematics came easy to him. The other studies, which he thought unnecessary, but which his family insisted upon, he recited to the minister. He, and another boy, Billy Downs. There were only a few white boys of his age in Lone-Rock.
"What does your sister do for entertainment?" asked his questioner, recalling the vivacious little face under the hat with the saucy bronze quills. "Doesn't she find it rather lonely there?"
"Why, no!" answered Norman in a surprised tone. "A place just naturally quits being lonesome when Mary gets into it, and she does so many things that nobody can ever guess what she's going to think of doing next."
Probably it was because he had a daughter of his own, who, not possessing Mary's rare gift, demanded constant amusement from her family, that he turned his spectacled gaze on her with deepened interest when he went back into the car, and many times during the rest of the time that they journeyed together. She crossed the aisle to sit with her mother the greater part of the afternoon, so he heard nothing of the conversation which appeared to be of absorbing interest to them both.
But the woman who had been on the watch for something wild all the way across the state, deliberately arranged to hear as much of it as she could. A scrap or two that reached her above the noise of the train made her prick up her ears. She changed her seat so that she sat back to back with Mrs. Ware and Mary. Eavesdropping on the train was perfectly justifiable, she told her uneasy conscience, because there was no personal element in it. Of course she couldn't do it at home, but it was different among strangers. All the world was a stage when one travelled, and the people one met on a journey were the actors one naturally looked to to help pass the time. So she sat with her eyes closed, because riding backward always made her dizzy, and her head so close to the back of Mary's that the bronze quills would have touched her ear had Mary turned an inch or two farther around in her seat.
Presently she gathered that this interesting young girl was about to go out into the wide, wide world to make her fortune, and that she had a list of teachers' agencies and employment bureaus to which she intended applying as soon as she reached home. From various magazines given her to read on the way, she had cut a number of advertisements which she wanted to answer, but her mother objected to most of them. She did not want her to take a place among strangers as governess, companion, social secretary, mother's helper, reader for a clipping bureau or shopping agent.
"You are too young, Mary," she insisted. "One never knows what one is getting into in strange families. Now, that position in a Girls' Winter Camp in Florida does not seem so objectionable, because they give teachers at Warwick Hall as reference. You can easily find out all about it. But there is no real reason why you should go away this winter. Now that Jack has his position again and we are all well and strong we can live like lords at Lone-Rock on his salary. At least," she added, smiling, "it must seem like lords to some of the families in the camp. And he can save a little each month besides."
"But, mother dear," answered Mary, a distressed frown puckering her smooth forehead. "I don't want to settle down for Jack to take care of me. I want to live my own life—to see something of the world. You let Joyce go without objecting."
"Yes, to make an artist of herself. But somehow that was different. She had a definite career mapped out. Her work is the very breath of life to her, and it would have been wrong to hold her when she has such undoubted talent. But you see, Mary, your goal is so vague. You haven't any great object in view. You're willing to do almost anything for the sake of change. I verily believe you'd like to try each one of those positions in turn, just for the novelty of the experiences, and the opportunity of meeting all those different kinds of people."
Mary nodded emphatically. "Oh, I would! I'd love it!" Then she laughed at her mother's puzzled expression.
"You can't understand it, can you? Your whole brood is turning out to be the kind that pines to be 'in the swim' for itself. Still, you didn't cluck distractedly when Joyce went to New York and Holland into the Navy, and you followed Jack up here when he struck out for himself, and you know Norman's chosen work is liable to take him anywhere on the face of the globe. So I don't see why you should cluck at me when I edge off after the others."
Mrs. Ware smiled into the merry eyes waiting for their answer. "I'm not trying to stop you entirely," she replied. "I'm only warning you to go slowly and to be very careful. As long as there is nothing especial you have set your heart on accomplishing, it seems unwise to snatch at the first chance that offers. You're very young yet, remember, only eighteen."
Mary made no answer for several minutes. Down in her heart was the feeling that some day her life would mean far more to the world than Joyce's career as an artist or Holland's as a naval officer. She had felt so ever since that first day at Warwick Hall, when she gazed up at the great window of Edryn's tryst, where his coat of arms gleamed like jewels in its amber setting. As she had listened to the flood of wonderful music rolling up from below, something out of it had begun calling her. And it had gone on calling and calling with the compelling note of a far-off yet insistent trumpet, into a world of nameless longings and exalted ambitions, of burning desire to do great deeds. And finally she had begun to understand that somewhere, some day, some great achievement awaited her. Like Edryn she had heard the King's call, and like him she had whispered his answer softly and reverently as before an altar:
"Oh list! Oh heart and hand of mine, keep tryst— Keep tryst or die!"
It was still all vague and shadowy. With what great duty to the universe she was to keep tryst she did not yet know, and it was now two years since she had heard that call. But the vision still stayed. Inwardly she knew she was some sort of a Joan of Arc, consecrated to some high destiny. Yet when she thought of explaining anything so intangible, she began to smile at the thought of how ridiculous such an explanation would sound, shouted out in broad daylight, above the roar of the train. Such confidences can be given only in twilight and cloisters, just as the call itself can come only to those who "wake at dawn to listen in high places."
But feeling presently that she must give some definite reason to her mother for wanting to start out to seek her fortunes, she leaned across the aisle and slipped a railroad folder from Jack's coat pocket. It had a map on one side of it, and spreading it across both her lap and her mother's, she laid her finger on a spot within the boundary lines of Kentucky.
"Don't you remember my little primary geography?" she asked. "The one I began to study at Lee's ranch? I had a gilt paper star pasted right there over Lloydsboro Valley, and a red ink line running to it from Arizona. I remember the day I put them there, I told Hazel Lee that there was my 'Promised Land,' and that I'd vowed a vow to go there some day if the heavens fell. I'll never forget the horror on her little freckled face as she answered, 'Aw, ain't you wicked! I bet you never get there now, just for saying that!'
"But I did get there!" she continued with deep satisfaction. "And now I've made up my mind to go back there to live some of these days. You see, mamma, my visit there was like the trial trip that Caleb and Joshua made to 'spy out the land.' Don't you remember the picture in Grandmother Ware's Bible of the two men coming back with such an enormous bunch of grapes on a pole between them that they could hardly carry it? It proved that the fruits of Canaan were better and bigger than the fruits of any other country. That was what my visit did; proved that I could be better and happier in Lloydsboro Valley than anywhere else in the world."
There was a moment's silence, then she added wistfully, "Somehow, when you're there, it seems easier to keep 'the compass needle of your soul true to the North-star of a great ambition.' There's so much to inspire one there. I have a feeling that if I could only go back to live, I'd— Oh, I hardly know how to express it! But it would prove to be my 'high place,' the place where I'll hear my call. So the great reason why I want to start right away to earn money is that I may have enough as soon as possible to buy a home back there. That's my dearest day-dream, and I'm bound to make it come true if I have to wander around in the wilderness of hard work as long as the old Israelites did in theirs. You're to come with me. That's one of the best parts of my dream, for I know how you've always loved the place and longed to go back. Now, don't you think that's an object good enough and big enough to let me go for?"
Mrs. Ware seized the little hand spread out over the map of Kentucky and gave it an impulsive squeeze.
"Yes," she answered. "If you're ever as homesick for the dear old place as I used to be sometimes, I can understand your longing to go back there to live."
"Used to be!" echoed Mary blankly, staring at her in astonishment. "Aren't you now? Wouldn't you be glad to go back there to spend the rest of your days? I don't mean right now, of course, while Jack and Norman need you so much here, but"—lowering her voice—"I'm just as sure as I can be without having been told officially that Jack is going to marry Betty Lewis as soon as his finances are in better shape. She's such a perfect darling that they'd be happy ever after, and then I wouldn't have any compunctions about taking you away from him. Now that's another reason I don't want to stay on here, just to be an added expense to him."
The words poured out so impetuously, the face turned toward her was so eager, that Mrs. Ware could not dim its light by answering the first two questions as she felt impelled. She answered the last instead, saying that she felt as Mary did about Jack's marriage, and that it made her inexpressibly happy to think that the girl he might some day bring home as his bride was the daughter of her dear old friend and schoolmate, Joyce Allen.
They lowered their voices over this confidence, so that the woman who was sitting back to back with them shifted her position and leaned a little nearer. Even then she could not hear what they were saying till Mary returned to her first question.
"But, mamma, you said 'used to be.' Do you really mean that you don't care for your Happy Valley as much as you used to? The place you've talked about to us since we were babies, till we've come to think of it as enchanted ground?"
Feeling as if she were pleading guilty to a charge of high treason, Mrs. Ware answered slowly, "No, I can't truthfully say that I do long for it as I used to. It's this way, little daughter," she added hastily, seeing the disappointment that shadowed Mary's face. "I've been away such a very, very long time, that there are only a few of my girlhood friends left. Betty's mother has been dead many years. The Little Colonel's mother is really the only one I could expect to find unchanged. The old seminary is burned down, strangers are in the homes I used to visit, and I'm afraid I'd find so many changes that it would be as sad as visiting a cemetery. And I've lived so long in the West, that I've taken root here now. I think of it as home. I'm just as interested as Jack is in building up the fortunes of our new state. I think he is going to be a power in it some day. If I should live long enough, it would not surprise me in the least to see him Governor of it some time."
She folded one little gray-gloved hand over the other so complacently as she calmly made this announcement, that Mary laughed and shook her head despairingly.
"Oh, mamma! mamma! You vain woman! What fine swans all your ducklings are going to turn out to be! Jack a Governor, Holland an Admiral, Norman a mighty man of valor (variety still undetermined), and Joyce a celebrity in the world of art! Must I be the only Simple Simon in the bunch? What would you really like to have me do? Now, own up, if you could have your choice, what is your ambition for me?"
"Well," confessed Mrs. Ware, "you're such a born home-maker, that I'd like to see you that before all else. I believe you could make a home so much better than your neighbors, that like the creator of the proverbial mouse-trap, you would have the world making a beaten track to your door, even though you lived in the woods. As the old Colonel once said, you can be an honor to your sex and one of the most interesting women of your generation."
Although she spoke jokingly there was such a note of belief in her voice that Mary caught her by the arm and shook it, saying playfully, "Peacock! If that's what you hope for me, then you must certainly speed my parting. It's only in the goodly land of Lloydsboro that I can measure up to all you expect of me. I'll try and fill the bill, but promise me this much. When I've finally pitched my tent in Canaan and achieved that happy home, then you'll come and share it with me. At least," she added as Mrs. Ware nodded assent, "what time you are not strutting through foreign salons or the Governor's mansion, or sailing the high seas with the Admiral."
The woman behind them heard no more, for Jack called them across the aisle to look at something from his window, and when they returned to their seats Mrs. Ware picked up a magazine and Mary began an absorbing study of the map. She retraced the line of her first railroad journey, the pilgrimage from the little village of Plainsville, Kansas, to Phoenix, Arizona. As she thought of it, she could almost feel the lump in her throat that had risen when she looked back for the last time on the little brown house they were leaving forever, and waved good-bye to the lonesome little Christmas tree they had put out on the porch for the birds.
It was on that trip that her tireless tongue had made life-long friends of two strangers whom she talked to: Phil Tremont, and his sister Elsie. Her brothers had always teased her about her chatterbox ways, but suppose she hadn't talked to them that day. The endless chain of happenings that that friendship started never would have begun, and life would have been far different for all of them.
Then her finger traced the way to where Ware's Wigwam would have been on the map if it had been a spot large enough to mark. There Phil had come into their life again, almost like one of the family. Her real acquaintance with the Princess Winsome of her dreams began there too, when Lloyd Sherman made her memorable visit, and Mary, with the adoring admiration of a little girl for the older one whom she takes as her ideal in all things, began to copy her in every way possible.
The next line followed the course of the red ink trail in her old primary geography, for that was the trail she had followed back to the gilt paper star which stood for Lloydsboro Valley. The land which she had learned to love through song and story had been the dearest of all to her ever since, through the associations of that happy summer. There were several other trips to retrace as she sat with the map spread out before her. The long one she took to Warwick Hall, where surely no one ever had fuller, happier school-days. She did not stop to recall them now, thinking with satisfaction that they were all recorded in her "Good Times Book," and that if ever "days of dole, those hoarfrost seasons of the soul," came into her life, every cell of that memory hive would be stored with the honey of their good cheer. So also were her Christmas and Easter vacations recorded, when she and Betty visited Joyce in her studio apartment in New York.
The next line which she traced was a hasty dash back across the map to Lone-Rock. She always tried to dash the thought of it out of mind just as quickly. The heart-breaking agony of it, when she was flying home to find her brother a hopeless cripple, was too terrible to recall even now, after a long time, when he was sitting beside her, strong and well.
Then her finger trailed down across the map, retracing their last journey the year before to San Antonio and the hill country above it. In many ways it had been a hard year, but, remembering its happy outcome, she said to herself that it should be marked by triple lines of red. They had gone down to the place, strangers in a strange land, they were coming away with some of the warmest friendships of their lives binding them fast to it. Down there Jack had had his wonderful recovery, which was above and beyond all that their wildest hopes had pictured. And, too, it was the last place where she would have expected to meet Phil Tremont again. Yet he had appeared suddenly one day as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be standing there by the huisache tree to help her over the fence of the blue-bonnet pasture.
"By what has been, learn what will be," she repeated, and then idly pricked that motto into the edge of the folder with a pin, as she went on recalling various incidents. Judging by her past she had every reason to believe that the future might be full of happy surprises; so, as she studied the map now, it was to wonder which way the new trails would lead her.
"Any way at all!" she thought fervently. "I don't care which direction they take, if they'll only come around to the Happy Valley. I'm bound to get there at any cost."
Presently she folded up the map and sat gazing dreamily out of the window. An old song that was often on her lips came to her mind, but, this time, she parodied it to suit her hopes:
"For if I go not by the road, and go not by the hill, And go not by the far sea way, yet go I surely will! Close all the roads of all the world—Love's road is open still."
BACK AT LONE-ROCK
The home-coming was keenly pleasant. Mary, who had been going over the house helping to throw open all the doors and windows, paused in the cheerful living-room. The September sun shone across the worn carpet and the familiar furniture which had served them even in the days of the little brown house.
"I didn't know that I could be so glad to get back to these old tables and chairs," she exclaimed. "It actually gives you a real thrill to be welcomed by something that's known you since babyhood, doesn't it?"
"Yes," answered Jack. "They've been considerably mixed up with our family history, and bear more of the scars of our battles than we do. That little chair of Joyce's for instance. Back in the days of my kilts and curls I used to kick dents in it every time we had a scrap, because I couldn't fight a girl, and I had to let off steam some way."
"This is my especial friend," said Mary. She dropped into a wide rocker that held out welcoming arms. "Holland and I used to play in this by the hour. It's a wonder there's anything left of it. We had it for a stage-coach so many times, and turned over in it whenever it was attacked by the Indians. I used to curl up in it before the fire, to read or dream or cry in it, till it knows me in all my moods and tenses. Some of these days, when I go to live in my old Kentucky home, I shall ask mamma to let me take it with me just for old times' sake."
Jack opened the door of the clock and began winding the weights that had hung idle for nearly a year. When the swinging pendulum once more began its deep-toned tick-tock, he looked back over his shoulder with a smile.
"Now I feel that I'm really at home when I hear that voice. As far back as I can remember it's always been saying, 'All right! All right!' I made the nurse carry it back into the kitchen where I couldn't hear it the day the doctor told me I could never walk again. Its cheerfulness nearly drove me wild when I knew that everything was so hopelessly all wrong. But now listen!" he insisted exultantly. "Everything is all right now, and every day is Thanksgiving Day to me the year around."
There was a huskiness in his voice as he added, "Nobody can know what it means to me—the blessedness of being able to go to work."
He dashed away to the office soon after to discover what had been done in his long absence. Norman hurried through the tasks assigned to him as soon as possible, impatient to be off to explore old haunts with Billy Downs. Two pairs of quick, capable hands made light work of the cleaning and unpacking that had to be done that day, and accomplished much more that might have been left till another time had not Mary's usual zeal for getting everything in proper place in the least possible time taken possession of her.
"Oh, yes, I know, mamma," she called back in answer to a protest from the next room. "These curtains could wait till to-morrow, but they are all fresh and ready to hang, and I'll sleep better if they are on their poles instead of on my mind."
As she climbed up and down the step-ladder her thoughts were not on the curtains which she adjusted mechanically, nor on the song which she was humming in the same way. She was composing the letter which she intended sending to the Girls' Winter Camp in Florida, applying for the vacant position, and she wanted to make it perfect of its kind. Mrs. Ware, watching the zest with which she fell upon her work of beautifying the little cottage, thought it must be because she felt the truth of the refrain which she sang softly over and over:
"'Mid pleasures and palaces, tho' we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."
She was so glad to be back herself, that presently, when she had occasion to go through the room again, she joined in for a few notes in passing.
The sweet alto voice made Mary suddenly aware of what she was singing, and she gave a guilty little start, glad that her mother could not know that her thoughts had all been absorbed in planning to get away from the home she was singing about so fondly.
"It does seem nicer to be back than I thought it would," she admitted to herself. "But maybe that's because I know I don't have to stay. Even the finest cage in the world is more attractive with its door open than shut."
Although she did not realize the fact, much of her hurry to get the house in order was due to a feeling that the summons to take advantage of that open door might come very soon, and she wanted to be ready when it came.
Late that afternoon she started to the post-office with two letters, one to the principal of the Girls' Camp, the other to the teacher in Warwick Hall who had been given as reference.
"Oh, I hope my application will get there in time, and I hope my references will be satisfactory," she thought earnestly. "They ought to be impressed, with a list which begins with Bishop Chartley and Madam, and General Walton's wife, and includes twenty people from New York to Fort Sam Houston in Texas."
Just then a wagon, bearing a huge load of hay, creaked slowly along the road past her, and a half forgotten superstition of her childhood flashed into her mind. Hazel Lee had told her once that if you make a wish on a hay-wagon it will come true if "yes" is the first word you say after doing so. But should you be asked a question requiring any other answer, or should it be necessary to make a remark not beginning with the magic yes, you'll "lose your wish."
So it was with a smile at the old foolishness that Mary watched the loaded wagon go lumbering by. She had wished for a speedy and favorable reply to the letter she was about to post. It had been a point of honor with Hazel and herself whenever the other came running up, significantly tapping mute lips with an impatient forefinger, to ask, "Do you love candy?" or "Do you like peaches?" recognizing the necessity of some question to which the liberated little tongue could respond with a fervent yes. Boys were always so mean about it, asking, "Do you want me to pull your hair?" or "Do you love Peter Finn?" a half-witted boy in the neighborhood.
The childish rite brought up a little of the old thrill of apprehension, that no one might ask her the proper question to make her wish come true, and Mary smiled broadly over her own foolishness as she went on up the street. It was the only street which Lone-Rock boasted; just a straggling road, beginning down by the railroad station and the mine offices, and ending farther up the mountain in a narrow wagon track. The houses of the white families were scattered along it at uneven intervals for the space of half a mile. Then one came to a little wooden school-house on one side, and on the other the tiny box of a room which served as a post-office. The school-house was used as a chapel one day out of the week. The mining company's store was beyond that, and a little farther along, the colony of shanties where the Mexican workmen and their families lived.
The fact that Mary had met no one since leaving home and that only the hay-wagon had passed her, emphasized the loneliness of the little hamlet and made her glad that she need not look forward to spending a winter there. Her quick eyes noted a few changes, however, which promised interesting things. Five new houses had gone up in their absence. There was a piano in one of them, Billy Downs had told Norman, and Mr. Moredock, the man in the new yellow house, who had come for his health, was writing a history of some kind, and had brought a whole wagon-load of books.
The postmaster would know all about the newcomers, Mary reflected with satisfaction. One of her pleasures of coming back was meeting her old friend, the postmaster, and at the thought of him she walked a little faster. Captain Doane had held the office ever since Lone-Rock had been a mail station, and in a way was a sort of father confessor to everybody in the place. A clean-shaven jolly old face with deep laughter wrinkles about the blue eyes, which twinkled through steel-bowed spectacles, bushy iron-gray hair and bristling eyebrows—that was about all one saw through the bars of the narrow delivery window. But so much kindly sympathy and neighborly interest and good advice and real concern were handed out with the daily mail, that every man in the community regarded him as his personal friend.
There were only two mail trains a day in Lone-Rock, and at this hour Mary was sure of finding him at leisure. Seeing him through the open window, sound asleep in his arm-chair over an open newspaper, with his spectacles slipping down his nose, Mary was about to spring in the door with a playful "boo." But she remembered her wish on the hay-wagon and the necessity of waiting for him to speak first. So she only rattled the latch. He started up, a little bewildered from his sudden awakening, but seeing who had come, dashed off the old slouch hat, perched on the back of his head.
"Well, bless my soul!" he cried heartily, coming forward with an outstretched hand. "If it isn't our little Mary Ware! I heard you were back and I've been looking all afternoon for you to drop in. Have you come back to stay, this time?"
There was an instant of hesitation, as she considered how she could reply to such a question honestly with a yes. Then she stammered, "Y-yes, for a little while. That is, just for a few weeks." Then she drew a long breath. "My! That was a narrow escape. I've been wondering all the way up the street what would be the first thing you'd say to me, and for a second I was afraid you'd ruined my chances."
Her laugh rang out merrily at his bewildered exclamation. "The chances for my wish coming true," she explained. "I made one on a hay-wagon, coming along, about this letter."
"Sit down and give an account of yourself," he insisted, and as she had come for a visit she willingly obeyed. But she would not take his chair at the desk as he urged, climbing instead to the only other seat which the office afforded. It was a high stool beside the shelf where pens, ink and money-order blanks awaited the needs of the public. Mary had often occupied it, and from this perch had given the Captain some of the most amusing hours of his life.
He had missed her when she went away to school, and he never handed out the letters to her family post-marked "Warwick Hall" without a vision of the friendly little girl swinging her feet from her seat on this high stool, as she told him amazing tales of Ware's Wigwam and a place somewhere off in Kentucky that she seemed to regard as a cross between the Land of Beulah and the Garden of Eden. When she came back from Warwick Hall she no longer dangled her feet, but sat in more grown-up fashion, her toes propped on the round below. And she seldom stayed long. There was too much to be done at home, with Jack needing such constant attention. But her short accounts of boarding-school life were like glimpses into a strange world, and he carried home all she told to repeat to his wife; for in an out-of-the-way corner of the universe, where little happens, the most trivial things are accounted of vital interest.
Now he had many questions to ask about Jack's recovery. It was a matter of household rejoicing in Lone-Rock that he had come back able to take his old place among them. Mary satisfied his curiosity and gave a brief outline of their doings while away, but she had questions of her own to ask. How was Aunt Sally Doane? The Captain's wife was "Aunt Sally" by courtesy to the entire settlement. Was her rheumatism better, and was the old red rooster still alive? Was it true that Mr. Moredock was an author, and how many young people had the new families brought with them?
But all roads led to the Rome of her heart's desire, and between her questions and the Captain's she kept jumping back, grasshopper-like, to the subject uppermost in her mind. His cordial interest, unlike her family's half-hearted consenting, led her into further confidences.
"Jack wants me to wait awhile and study at home until he can afford to send me back to Warwick Hall, but I might be in my twenties before that time, and the girls in my classes would be so much younger that they'd look upon me as a hoary old patriarch. Of course I'd be better equipped for what I hope to do eventually, but it would give me such a late start, and there are a number of things that I am fitted to do right now. Besides, it would handicap Jack to spend so much on me. It's only natural to expect that he'll want to marry and settle down some of these days, and he might not be able to do it as soon as he otherwise would if he had me to support and keep at college. And, Captain Doane, I don't want to be just an old maid sister in somebody else's home, even if it is the home of the dearest brother in the world."
The Captain threw back his head and laughed until the steel-bowed spectacles slid down his nose again.
"Much danger of your being an old maid sister in anybody's home, in a place like this where pretty girls are scarcer than hens' teeth," he declared, teasingly. "I know a likely young lad this minute who'd gladly save you from that fate. He's been around several times lately, inquiring when you might be expected back."
Mary was nearly consumed with curiosity to ask who the likely lad was, but only shrugged her shoulders incredulously, knowing that that would be the surest way of provoking him to a disclosure.
"Well, he has!" insisted the Captain. "It's young Upham, if you must know."
Mary's brows drew together in a vain effort to recall him, and she shook her head. "Upham? Upham? I never heard of him."
"Yes, yes, you have," insisted the Captain. "He drove a lumber wagon for the company summer before last. But he's been to school in Tucson all the time you've been away, and has just come back."
"Oh, you mean Pink Upham!" exclaimed Mary, suddenly enlightened, with an emphasis which seemed to say, "Oh, that boy! He doesn't count."
The Captain interpreted the emphasis and resented it.
"Just let me tell you, little Miss Disdain, he's a lad not to be sneezed at. He's come back the likeliest young man in all these parts."
Again Mary shrugged her shoulders and smiled unbelievingly. Her recollection of Pink Upham was of a big red-faced fellow overgrown and awkward, with a disgusting habit of twisting every one's remarks into puns, and of uttering trite truths with the air of just having discovered them. The warning whirr of a clock about to strike made her spring down from the stool with an exclamation of surprise.
"I had no idea I was staying so long. I've an errand at the store too, so I'll have to hurry."
"Well, I'll see that your letter gets started all right," he assured her. "You can't expect an answer before ten days at the earliest, can you?"
She turned back from the door and stood, considering. "I had counted it at about that, but I didn't think—if they wait to hear from the people I've referred them to, especially those farthest away, it might be double that time. That would keep me waiting clear into October. And then suppose somebody were ahead of me, and I shouldn't get the place, there'd be all that time lost. It would be tragic to have the little ship I'd waited for so long, drift in a wreck."
"That's why I always hold that it's best to send out more than one," said the Captain. "Launch a whole fleet of 'em, is my advice. What makes life a tragedy for most people is that they put all their hopes on just one thing. They load all they've got on one vessel and then strain their eyes for a lifetime waiting for it to come back with all their hopes realized. But if they'd divide their interests and affections around a bit, and start them off in different directions, there'd never be a danger of total wreck. If one went down, there'd be some other cargo to look forward to."
It was a pet subject of the old man's, and Mary made haste to ward off his usual monologue by saying, "I'll certainly take your advice, Captain Doane. You'll see me down here to-morrow with a whole harbor full of little ships. I'll launch all the applications that my family will allow."
The figure of speech pleased her, and as she walked on to the store a vision of blue sea rose before her. On it she seemed to see a fleet of little boats with white sails swelling in the wind. On each sail was a letter and all together they spelled "Great Expectations."
"It's funny," thought Mary, "how such a picture popped right up in front of me. Now, if Joyce had such a fancy she'd do something with it. It would suggest a title design or a tail piece of some kind. Oh, why wasn't I born with a talent for writing! My head is just full of things sometimes that would make the loveliest stories, but when I try to put them on paper it's like trying to touch the rainbows on a bubble. The touch makes them vanish instantly."
It was some crash towelling that she was to call for at the store.
When she opened the door, the place seemed deserted, but she picked her way, among barrels and boxes, saddles and hams, to the dry-goods department in the rear. Through the open back door she could see two men in the yard, one repairing a chicken-coop, and the other standing with his hands in his pockets, watching the job. The man with the hammer and saw, she knew. He was the manager of the store. The other was a new clerk, who had been installed in her absence. She glanced at him curiously, for one reason because every newcomer counted for so much in the social life of the place, for another because he was so imposingly large. "Even taller than Phil Tremont," she thought, and Phil was her standard of all that a man should measure up to in every way.
Presently, seeing that the chicken-coop would occupy their attention indefinitely unless she made some sign, she tapped on the floor with her heel. It was the new clerk who turned, and taking his hands out of his pockets, strode in to wait on her. She noticed that he had to stoop as he came through the doorway. Then she almost forgot what it was she had come to buy, in her surprise. For it was Pink Upham who rushed up to greet her, still red-faced and awkward and facetious, but such a different Pink that she could understand why the Captain had spoken of him as Pinckney, instead of by his undignified nickname. The year at college had done him good.
While he measured off the crash she was taking his measure with quick, critical glances. It was not his pale, straw-colored hair she objected to, made to look even paler by the contrast of his florid complexion and red four-in-hand with its turquoise scarf-pin. It was the way he combed his hair that she criticized, and the gaudy tie and the combination of colors. But his cordial greeting softened her critical glances somewhat. He was genuinely glad to see her, and it was flattering to be welcomed so heartily.
That night at the supper table she recounted her adventures. "I met Pink Upham at the store to-day, Jack. How old do you suppose he is?"
"Oh, about twenty-one. Why?"
"Well, I scarcely knew him before we went away, and he called me by my first name as pat as you may please, and I didn't like it. And when he rolled up the towelling he crooked his little finger in such an affected, genteel, Miss Prim sort of way that it made his big fat hands look ridiculous. I don't know exactly what it was about him that irritated me so, but I couldn't bear him. And yet it seemed that he was so near being nice, that he could be awfully likable if he wasn't so self-conscious and queer."
"He's all right," answered Jack. "Pink is a good-hearted fellow, with the best intentions in the world, but he's green. You see, he hasn't any sisters to call him down and make fun of his mannerisms and set him straight on his color schemes and such things. Now, a girl in his position could get her bearings by going the rounds of the Home Magazines and Ladies' Companions, reading all the Aunt Jenny Corners and columns of advice to anxious correspondents. But there are not so many fountains of information and inspiration for a young man."
"Now, there's your mission in life, Mary," spoke up Norman. "You are strong on giving advice and setting people straight. If you could only get some magazine to take you on for a column of that kind, you might accomplish a world of good. You could send marked copies to Pink, and it might be the making of him."
Norman expected his teasing remarks to meet with an amusing outburst, and was surprised when she pretended to take his suggestion seriously. Her eyes shone with the interest it awakened.
"Say! I'd like that," she answered emphatically. "I really would. I'd call it Uncle Jerry's Corner, and I'd certainly enjoy making up the letters myself so that I could have good spicy replies for my correspondents."
Norman, just in the act of drinking, almost choked on the laugh which seized him. "Excuse me," he spluttered, putting the glass down hastily, "but Mary in the role of Uncle Jerry is too funny. Why, Sis, you couldn't be a proper Uncle Jerry without chin whiskers. The editors wouldn't give such a column to anybody without them. A girl could never fill a position like that."
"Indeed she could," Mary protested. "I knew a girl at school who earned her entire spending money for a year, one vacation, by writing an Aunt Ruth's Column for the weekly paper in her home town. She was only eighteen, and the most harum-scarum creature you ever saw. She had been engaged four times, and once to two boys at the same time. And she used to lay down the law in her advice column like a Puritan forefather. Just scored the girls who flirted and accepted valuable presents from men, and who met clandestinely at friends' houses.
"Her letters were so good that several parents wrote to the paper congratulating them on that department. And all the time she was doing the very things which she preached against. She and Charlotte Tatwell were chums, and in all sorts of scrapes together. Charlotte's father used to mourn over her wild ways and try to keep her from running so much with Milly. He thought that Milly had such a bad influence over her. He hadn't the faintest idea that she wrote the Aunt Ruth advice, and twice, when it seemed particularly well aimed at Charlotte's faults, he made her sit down and listen while he read it aloud to the family. Charlotte thought it was such a good joke on her father that she never enlightened him till he'd repeated the performance several times. He wouldn't believe it at first, didn't think it possible that Milly could have written it, till Charlotte proved that she really had.
"If she could do that, I don't see why I couldn't write better advice to boys than a doddering old man who has only his recollections to draw on. I could criticize the faults that I see before me. Boys need to be shown themselves as they appear to the girls, and I'm not sure but I'll act on Norman's suggestion, and take it up as a side-line."
When supper was cleared away Mary brought out her writing material and wrote several applications for the positions which she knew she was qualified to fill. She could teach in the primary or grammar grades, or take beginner's classes in Domestic Science. She knew that she could adapt herself to almost any kind of person as companion, and her experience with the Mallory twins made her confident that she could do wonders with small children, no matter how refractory. She soon had a whole fleet of applications ready to launch in the morning. Then, inspired by the conversation at the supper-table, she tried her hand at a few answers to imaginary correspondents, in which were set forth certain criticisms and suggestions which she burned to make to Pink in person, and several others which were peculiarly well fitted to Norman.
Next morning, when Norman came back from the store with the basket of groceries which it was his daily task to bring, he began calling for Mary at the front gate, and kept it up all the way to the kitchen door. When she appeared, towel in hand, asking what was the matter, he set the basket on the step.
Then with mock solemnity he reached into his pocket and pulled out a lavender envelope; lavender crossed faintly with gray lines to give a checked effect. It was addressed in purple ink to Miss Mary Ware, and in the lower left-hand corner was written, with many ornate flourishes, "K. O. B." It smelled so strongly of rose geranium perfume that Mary sniffed disapprovingly as she took it.
"Pink asked me to bring it," said Norman with a grin. "He's to send a boy up for an answer at three o'clock. What do you suppose 'K. O. B.' stands for?"
Mary puzzled over it, shaking her head, then broke the large purple seal.
"Oh, it must mean 'kindness of bearer,' for he begins the note that way. 'By kindness of bearer I am venturing to send this little missive to know if it will be convenient for you to give me the pleasure of your company this evening. A messenger will call for your answer at three P. M. Trusting that it will accord with my desires, I am yours in friendship's bonds, P. Pinckney Upham.'"
Norman exploded with a loud "whoopee!" of laughter and Mary sniffed again at the strong odor of rose geranium and handed the note to her mother, who had come to the door to see the cause of Norman's mirth.
"The silly boy," exclaimed Mary. "I told him yesterday, when he said that he hoped to call, that we'd all be glad to see him any evening he wanted to drop in. The idea of such formality in a mining camp. And such paper! And such flourishes of purple ink, to say nothing of the strong perfume! Mamma, I don't want him coming to see me."
Mrs. Ware handed the note back with a smile at Mary's disgusted expression. "Don't judge the poor boy too severely. He evidently tried his best to do the proper thing, and probably thinks he has achieved it."
"Yes, Uncle Jerry," added Norman. "Here's your chance. Here's your tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune! Just cultivate Pink's acquaintance and you'll get enough out of him every week to fill your columns."
Mary ignored his teasing, turning again to her mother to say: "I don't want to answer his note. What did he write for, anyway? Why didn't he just come, as I told him he could?"
"That's the way Sara Downs' beau does," explained Norman. "He always makes an engagement so that she'll be sure to have the best room lighted up and Billy out of the way. He's too bashful to talk to the whole family. They usually go out to the kitchen when he comes, because their house is so small."
"Well, this family won't," declared Mary. "He's no 'beau,' anyway. You'll all have to help entertain him."
She had not answered the note when Jack came home at noon, and she passed it to him without comment. He smiled a little over her evident disgust, and repeated in substance what Mrs. Ware had said, that she must not judge him too severely for his lack of social polish.
"He's a diamond in the rough, Mary," he assured her gravely, but with a twinkle in his eyes. "He may be one of the leading citizens of the state twenty years from now, and even if he isn't, he's one of the few young fellows of the settlement, and a decent one at that, and you can't afford to snub him because he is green."
"Green Pink is a new kind of color," teased Norman. "Say, Mary, are you going to put a 'K. O. B.' on your answer?"
Mary ignored his question. It irritated her to be teased about Pink as much as it used to annoy her to be teased about the half-witted Peter Finn.
When, in answer to her note, P. Pinckney Upham called that evening, he did not find her sitting up alone in state to receive him. He was ushered in to the cheerful living-room, where the entire family was gathered around the lamp, putting a new dissected puzzle together. Before he knew how it came about his bashfulness had vanished and he was a part of that circle. When the puzzle was completed Mary brought out a chafing-dish and a bowl of nuts, which she commanded him to "pick out" while Jack cracked them. She was going to try a new kind of candy. Later, when he disclosed the fact that he could play a little on the guitar, Norman brought out his mother's, bidding him "tune up and plunk away."
Now if there was one thing Pink was fond of it was sweets, and if there was one thing he was proud of it was his tenor voice, and presently he began to feel that he was having the time of his life. They were all singing with him, and stopping at intervals to pass the candy and tell funny stories. He was a good mimic and had a keen sense of humor, and he was elated with the consciousness that he had an appreciative audience. In spite of her certainty that the evening would be a bore, Mary found herself really enjoying it, until she realized that Pink was having such a good time that he didn't want to leave. Later she concluded that he wanted to go but didn't know how to tear himself away gracefully.
"Well, I guess I'd better be going," he said when the clock struck ten. It struck eleven when he said it the second time, and it was quarter past when he finally pulled himself out of his chair and looked around for his hat. They all rose, and Jack brought it. With that in hand, he still lingered, talking at random in a way that showed his evident inability to take his leave.
Finally Mrs. Ware put out her hand, saying, "We've enjoyed having you with us so much, this evening, Pinckney. You must come often."
Jack echoed the invitation with a handshake, and Mary added gaily, "And after this, whatever you do, don't write first to announce your coming. We're used to the boys just dropping in informally. We like it so much better that way."
Pink stopped to reply to that, hesitated with his hand on the knob, and leaning against the door, made some remark about the weather. It was evident that he was fixed to stay until the clock struck again.
Mary reached up to the match-safe hanging near the door and handed him a match. "I wish you'd scratch this as you go out, and see how the thermometer stands. It's hanging on the post just at the right hand of the porch steps. Call back what it registers, please. Thirty-six? Oh, thank you! I'm sure there'll be frost before morning. Good night."
She closed the door and came back into the room, pretending to swoon against Jack, who shook her, exclaiming laughingly, "I think that was a frost, right now."
Just then, Norman, who had disappeared an hour earlier, cautiously opened the door of his bedroom a crack. He was clad in his pajamas. Seeing that the coast was clear he thrust out a dishevelled head and recited dramatically:
"'Parting is such sweet sorrow I fain would say goodnight until it be to-morrow.'"
Mary blinked at him sleepily, saying with a yawn, "Let this be a lesson to you, son. You can take this from your Uncle Jerry, that there is no social grace more to be desired than the ability to make a nimble and graceful exit when the proper time comes."
As she turned out her light, later, she said to herself, "I'm glad I don't have to look forward to a whole lifetime in Lone-Rock. One such evening is pleasant enough, but a whole winter of them would be dreadful." Then she went to sleep and dreamed that her little fleet of boats had all come home from sea, each one so heavily laden with treasure that she did not know which cargo to draw in first.
A NEW FRIEND
Although some of the applications which Mary sent out did not have as far to travel as the first one, she did not count on hearing from any of them within two weeks. However, it was to no fortnight of patient waiting that she settled down. She threw herself into such an orgy of preparations for leaving home, that the days flew around like the wheels of a squirrel cage.
She could not afford any new clothes, but everything in her wardrobe was rejuvenated as far as possible, and a number of things entirely remodelled. One by one they were folded away in her trunk until everything was so shipshape that she could have finished packing at an hour's notice. Then she insisted on giving some freshening touches to her mother's winter outfit, and on beginning a set of shirts for Norman, saying that she wanted to finish all the work she possibly could before leaving home.
Mrs. Ware used to wonder sometimes at her boundless energy. She would whirl through the housework, help prepare the meals, do a morning's ironing, run the sewing machine all afternoon, and then often, after supper, challenge Norman to some such thing as a bonfire race, to see which could rake up the greatest pile of autumn leaves in the yard, by moonlight.
These days of waiting were filled with a queer sense of expectancy, as the air is sometimes charged with electric currents before a storm. No matter what she did or what she thought about, it was always with the sense of something exciting about to happen. The feeling exhilarated her, deepened the glow in her face, the happy eagerness in her eyes, until every one around her felt the contagion of her high hopefulness.
"I don't know what it is you're always looking so pleased over," the old postmaster said to her one day, "but every time after you've been in here, I catch myself smiling away as broadly as if I'd heard some good news myself."
"Maybe," answered Mary, "it's because I feel all the time as if I'm just going to hear some. It's so interesting wondering what turn things will take. It's like waiting for the curtain to go up on a new play that you've never heard of before. My curtain may go up in any part of the United States. It all depends on which letter it is that brings me a position."
"I should think you'd be a leetle mite anxious," said the Captain, who was in somewhat of a pessimistic mood that day. "They can't all be equally good. You remember what the old hymn says:
"'Should I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease Whilst others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas.'"
"Oh, I'm not expecting any flowery beds of ease," retorted Mary. "I don't mind hard work and all sorts of disagreeable things if they'll only prove to be stepping-stones to carry me through my Red Sea. I don't even ask to go over dry-shod as the Children of the Exodus did. All I want is a chance to wade."
"That's right! That's right!" exclaimed the Captain admiringly. "That's the proper spirit to show. It's a pity, though, that you can't do your wading somewhere around Lone-Rock. We'll miss you dreadfully. And I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. From all I hear there's somebody up the street who would almost rob the mails if doing so would keep you from getting a letter calling you away."
From the twinkle of the eyes which peered at her through the steel-bowed glasses, Mary knew that he was referring to Pink Upham, but before she could reply the mail carrier dashed up on horseback from the railroad station, with the big leather pouch swung across the horse in front of him. It was the signal for every one along the street, who had seen him, to come sauntering into the office to wait for the distribution of the mail. Mary climbed up on the high stool again. She had started out from home, intending to take a tramp far up the mountain road, but stopping in the office to post a letter had stayed on talking longer than she intended.
Pink Upham was one of the first to come in. He had been at the house several times since his first call, and while some of his mannerisms annoyed Mary even more than they had at first, she liked him better as their acquaintance progressed. She could not help being pleased at the attention he gave her slightest remarks. No girl can be wholly oblivious to the compliment of having every word remembered, every preference noted. Once, when they were looking at some soap advertisements, in a most careless off-hand way she had expressed her dislike for strong perfumes. Since then the odor of rose geranium was no longer noticeable in his wake. Once she announced her admiration of a certain kind of scarlet berry which grew a long distance up the mountain. The next day there was a bunch of them left at her door. Pink had taken a tramp before breakfast to get them for her.
There was a family discussion one night about celluloid. Nobody could answer one of Mary's questions in connection with it about camphor gum, and she forgot it almost as soon as it was asked, although she had assumed an air of intense curiosity at the time. But Pink remembered. He thought about it, in fact, as one of his chief duties in life to find its answer, until he had time to consult Mr. Moredock's encyclopaedia.
At his last visit to the Wares he had seen a kodak picture of Mary, taken at the Wigwam years before. She was mounted on the Indian pony Washington. She wore short dresses then. Her wide-brimmed Mexican sombrero was on the back of her head, and she was laughing so heartily that one could not look at the picture without feeling the contagion of her enjoyment. There was nothing she liked better than horseback riding, she remarked as she laid the picture aside, but she had not tried it since she was a child. That was one thing she was looking forward to in her promised land, she told him, to owning a beautiful thoroughbred saddle-horse, like Lloyd Sherman's.
Then Pink was shown "The Little Colonel's Corner," for the collection of Lloydsboro Valley pictures were grouped in panels on one wall of the Lone-Rock home as they had been at the Wigwam. First there was Lloyd in her little Napoleon hat, riding on Tarbaby down the long locust avenue, and then Lloyd on the horse that later took the place of the black pony. Then Lloyd in her Princess Winsome costume, with the dove and the spinning-wheel, and again in white, beside the gilded harp, and again as the Queen of Hearts and as the Maid of Honor at Eugenia's wedding.
In showing these pictures to Pink and telling him how well Lloyd rode and how graceful she was in the saddle, Mary forgot her casual remark about her own enjoyment of riding, but Pink remembered. He had thought about it at intervals ever since. Now catching sight of her on the high stool, he hurried into the post-office to tell her that he could secure two horses any morning that she would go out with him before breakfast. His uncle owned the team of buckskins which drew the delivery wagon, and was willing for him to use them any morning before eight o'clock. They were not stylish-looking beasts, he admitted, like Kentucky thoroughbreds, but they were sure-footed and used to mountain trails.
As Mary thanked him with characteristic enthusiasm, she was conscious of a double thrill of pleasure. One came from the fact that he had planned such enjoyment for her, the other that he had remembered her casual remark and attached so much importance to it. She'd let him know later just when she could go, she told him. She'd have to see her mother first, and she'd have to get up some kind of a riding skirt.
Then the Captain threw up the delivery window, and half a dozen people who had been waiting crowded forward to get their mail. Mary waited on the stool while Pink took his turn at the window and came back with her mail. His own, and that for the store, he drew out from one of the large locked boxes below the pigeon-holes. While he was unlocking it Mary looked over the letters he had laid in her lap. There was one from Joyce, one to her mother from Phil Tremont, and one bearing the address in an upper corner of one of the agencies to which she had written. She opened it eagerly, and Pink, watching her from the corner of his eye as he sorted a handful of circulars, saw a shade of disappointment cross her face. Every one else had left the office. She looked up to see the old Captain smiling at her.
"First ship in from sea," he remarked knowingly. "Well, what's the cargo?"
"No treasure aboard this one. It's just a printed form to say that they have no vacancies at present, but have put me on the waiting list, and will inform me if anything comes up later."
"Well, there're others to hear from," the Captain answered. "That's the good of putting your hopes on more than one thing. In the meantime, though, don't get discouraged."
"Oh, I'll not," was the cheerful answer. "You see, I have two mottoes to live up to. One was on the crest that used to be sported in the ancestral coat of arms once upon a time, away back in mamma's family. It was a winged spur with the words 'Ready, aye ready.'
"The other is the one we adopted ourselves from the Vicar of Wakefield: 'Let us be inflexible, and fortune will at last change in our favor.' So there I am, ready to go at a moment's notice, but also bound to keep inflexible and wait for a turn if fortune wills it so. I don't know what the Ware family would do sometimes without that saying of the old Vicar's. His philosophy has helped us out of more than one hole."
The Captain, rather vague in his knowledge as to the old Vicar, nodded sagely. "Pretty good philosophy to tie to," he remarked. Pink, to whom the Vicar was merely a name, one of many in a long list of English novels he had once memorized for a literature recitation, made no response. He felt profoundly ignorant. But remembering Mr. Moredock's hospitable remark that the latchstring of his library was always out for his friends, he resolved to borrow the book that very night after closing hours, and discover what there was in it that had "helped the Ware family out of more than one hole."
As he and Mary left the office together the Captain called after her, "By the way, I noticed a foreign stamp on one of your letters. Mexican, wasn't it? If you're not making a collection yourself, I'd like to speak for it. My little grandson's just started one, and I've promised him all I can get."
Mary paused on the doorstep. "The letter is mamma's, but I'm sure she would not mind if I were to cut the stamp out of the envelope."
In an instant Pink's knife was out of his pocket, and he was cutting deftly around the stamp, while Mary held the envelope flat against the door. He did it slowly, in order not to cut through into the letter, and he could not fail to notice the big dashing hand in which it was addressed to Mrs. Emily Ware. It looked so familiar that it puzzled him to recall where he had seen it before.
"I can bring you a lot more like this, if you want them," said Mary, as she gave the stamp to the postmaster. "Jack and I each get letters from this friend down in Mexico, and he writes to mamma nearly every week."
The Captain thanked her emphatically, and she and Pink started off again, she towards home and he towards the store. A dozen times before closing hours Pink recalled the scene at the post-office, Mary holding the letter up against the door for him to cut out the stamp. What firm, capable-looking little hands she had, with their daintily kept nails, and how pink her cheeks were, and how fluffy and brown the hair blowing out from under the stylish little hat with the bronze quills.
Each time he recalled the letter he puzzled over the familiar appearance of the address, until suddenly, as he was filling a jug at the spigot of a molasses barrel, he remembered. He had seen the same handwriting under a photograph on the mantel at Mrs. Ware's: "Philip Tremont, Necaxa, Mexico." And on the back was pencilled, "For Aunt Emily, from her 'other boy.'" Mary had called upon Pink to admire the picture which had arrived that same day, and had referred to Phil several times since as "The Best Man."
Pink almost let the molasses jug overflow, while thinking about it and wondering why she had given him such a nickname. He resolved to ask her why if he could ever screw his courage up to such a point.
Mary, hurrying home with the letters from Joyce and Phil, eager to hear what was in them, never gave Pink another thought till after supper, when she remembered his invitation and began a search for Joyce's old riding-skirt. It was not in any of the trunks or closets in the house, but remembering several boxes which had been stored in the loft above the woodshed, she made Jack climb up the ladder with her to open them, while she held the lantern. At the bottom of the last box they found what she was searching for, not only the khaki skirt, but the little Norfolk jacket which completed the outfit. Thanks to Joyce's orderly habits they had been packed away clean and whole, and needed only the magic touch of a hot iron to make them presentable.
There was something else in the box which Mary pounced upon and carried down the ladder. It was a bag containing odds and ends of zephyrs and yarns, left from various afghans and pieces of fancy work. Opened under the sitting-room lamp it disclosed, among other things, several skeins of wool as red as the flash of a cardinal's wing. "Enough to make a whole Tam-O'-Shanter!" exclaimed Mary jubilantly, "and a fluffy pompon on top! I can have it ready by day after to-morrow. I've been wondering what I could wear on my head. I simply can't keep a hat on when I ride fast! Here, Norman, be a dear duck of a brother and hold this skein while I wind, won't you?"
Norman made a wry face and held out his arms with pretended unwillingness, but she slipped the skein over his hands, saying, "Item for Uncle Jerry's Column. 'A young gentleman should always spring nimbly to the service of a lady, and offer his assistance with alacrity.'"
"Say," he interrupted in the tone of one having a real grievance. "You've got to quit making a catspaw of me when you want to teach Pink Upham manners. You know well enough that I always pick up your handkerchief and stand until mamma is seated, and things like that, so you needn't hint about 'em to me when he's here. You're just trying to slap at Pink over my shoulders."
"Oh, you don't mind a little thing like that," laughed Mary. "It's for the good of your country, my boy. I'm just trying to polish up one of the pillars of the new state that you and mamma and Jack are so interested in. Besides, Pink is so quick to take a hint that it's really interesting to see how much a few suggestions can accomplish."
"Humph! You're singing a different tune from what you did at first. You thought he was so tiresome and his laugh so awful and that he had such dreadful taste—"
"I still think so," answered Mary, "but I don't notice his wild laugh so much now that I am used to it, and he has many traits which make him very companionable. Besides, I am sorry for him. He'd have been very different if he'd had your opportunities, for instance."
"Mary is right," agreed Mrs. Ware, smiling at Norman's grimace. "I think it would be a good thing to ask him to stop when you come back from your ride and have breakfast with us."
Norman groaned, then said with a vigorous nod of the head, since his hands were too busy with the skein for gestures, "Well, have him if you want to, but I'll give you fair warning, Mary Ware, if you go to getting off any of your Uncle Jerry remarks on me for his benefit, I'll let the cat right out of the bag."
Mary replied with a grimace so much like his own, that it brought on a contest in which the yarn winding was laid aside for a time, while they stood before a mirror, each trying to outdo the other in making grotesque faces.
Two mornings after that, in Joyce's khaki riding-suit and the new red Tam-O'-Shanter, Mary swung into the saddle while Pink held both horses, and they were off for an early gallop in the frosty October dawn. The crisp, tingling air of the mountains brought such color into Mary's face, and such buoyancy into her spirits that Pink watched her as he would have watched some rare kind of a bird, skimming along beside him. He had never known such a girl. There was not a particle of coquetry in her attitude towards him. She didn't glance up with pretty appealing side-glances as Sara Downs did, or say little personal things which naturally called for compliments in reply. She was like a boy in her straightforward plain dealing with him, her joking banter, her keen interest in the mountain life and her knowledge of wood lore. One never knew which way her quick-winged thoughts might dart. As they rode on he began to feel as if he was thoroughly awake for the first time in his life.
Up to this time he had been fairly well satisfied with himself. A small inheritance safely invested and his one year at college had given him the prestige of a person of both wealth and education in the little town where he had lived until recently. Yet there was Jack, who had not even finished a High School course, and Mary, who had had less than a year at Warwick Hall, on such amazing terms of intimacy with a world outside of his ken, that he felt illiterate and untutored beside them. Even Norman seemed to have a wider horizon than himself, and he wondered what made the difference.
He divined the reason afterward when they came back from their ride and sat at breakfast in the sunny dining-room. It was Mrs. Ware who had lifted their life out of the ordinary by the force of her rare personality. Through all their poverty and trouble and hard times she had kept fast hold on her early standards of refinement and culture, and made them a part of her family's daily living.
Pink felt the difference, even in the breakfast. It was no better than the one he would have had at home, but at home there would have been no interesting conversation, no glowing bit of color in the centre of the table like this bowl of autumn leaves and berries. At home there would have been no attempt at any pleasing effect in the dainty serving of courses. There ham was ham and eggs were eggs, and it made no difference how they were slapped on to the table, so long as they were well cooked. There, meal-time was merely a time to satisfy one's appetite as quickly as possible and hurry away from the table as soon as the food was devoured. Here, the day seemed to take its key-note from the illuminated text of a calendar hanging beside the fireplace. It was a part of The Salutation of the Dawn from the Sanskrit:
"For yesterday is but a dream, And to-morrow is only a vision; But to-day well-lived, makes Every yesterday a dream of happiness And every to-morrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day! Such is the Salutation of the Dawn."
The Ware breakfast-table seemed to be the place where they all gathered to get a good start for the day. It was Mrs. Ware who gave it, and gave it unconsciously, not so much by what she said, as what she was. One felt her hopefulness, her serenity of soul, as one feels the cheer of a warm hearthstone.
Pink could not recall one word she had said to stimulate his ambition, but when he rode away on one horse, leading the other, he was trying to adjust himself to a new set of standards. He felt that there was something to live for besides taking in dimes over the counter of a country store. One thing happened at breakfast which made him glow with pleasure whenever he thought of it. It was the quick look of approval which Mary flashed him when he answered one of her sallies by a quotation about green spectacles.
"Oh, you know the old Vicar too!" she exclaimed, as if claiming mutual acquaintance with a real friend. "Don't you love him?"
Pink was glad that some interruption spared him the necessity of an enthusiastic assent. He had not been specially thrilled by the book, so far as he had read, but he attacked it manfully again that night, feeling that there must be more in it than he had wit to discover, else the Wares would not have adopted it as "guide, philosopher and friend."
THE WITCH WITH A WAND
Snow lay deep over Lone-Rock, muffling every sound. It was so still in the cozy room where Jack sat reading by the lamp, that several times he found himself listening to the intense silence, as if it had been a noise. No one moved in the house. He and Mary were alone together, and she on the other side of the table was apparently as interested in a pile of letters which she was re-reading as he was in his story. But presently, when he finished it and tossed the magazine aside, he saw that his usually jolly little sister was sitting in a disconsolate bunch by the fire, her face buried in her hands.
She had pushed the letters from her lap, and the open pages lay scattered around her on the floor. There were five of them, from different employment agencies. Jack had read them all before supper, just as he had been reading similar ones at intervals for the last two months and a half. The answers had always been disappointing, but until to-day they had come singly and far apart. Undismayed, she had met them all in the spirit of their family motto, insisting that fortune would be compelled to change in her favor soon. She'd be so persistent it couldn't help itself.
Five disappointments, however, all coming by the same post, were more than she could meet calmly. Besides, these were the five positions which seemed the most promising. The thought that they were the last on her list, and that there was no clue now left for her to follow, was the thought that weighed her down with the heaviest discouragement she had ever felt in all her life. She had made a brave effort not to show it when Jack came home to supper earlier in the evening. The two ate alone for the first time that she could remember, Mrs. Ware and Norman having been invited to take supper with the Downs family. It was a joint birthday anniversary, Billy Downs and his mother happening to claim the same day of the month, though many years apart.
Mary talked cheerfully of the reports Billy had brought of the two cakes that were to adorn the table, one with fifteen candles for him and the boys, and one with forty-eight icing roses for his mother and her friends. She had put on a brave, even a jolly front, until this last re-reading of her letters. Now she had given away to such a sense of helplessness and defeat that it showed in every line of the little figure huddled up in front of the fire.
Jack noticed it as he tossed aside his magazine and sat watching her a moment. Then he exclaimed sympathetically, "Cheer up, Mary. Never mind the old letters. You'll have better luck next time."
There was no answer. A profound silence followed, so deep that he could hear the ticking of a clock across the hall, coming faintly through closed doors.
"Cheer up, Sis!" he exclaimed again, knowing that if he could only start her to talking she would soon drag herself out of her slough of despond.
"Don't all the calendars and cards nowadays tell you to smile, no matter what happens? Don't you know that