Annie Johnston.

Mary Ware in Texas



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"They couldn't be more surprised if it had dropped right down out of the sky," whispered Norman. "Now the kids are getting over their daze a bit. They're hopping around just like they saw the Kramer boys do."

"See, they've found Lady Agatha," answered Mary. "Just look at Goldilocks now! Did you ever see such an ecstatic little face. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Now they've got the lamb. I'm so glad I thought of it, for the Kramers had a whole bunch of little white sheep around the base of their tree."

They were both very quiet when they finally turned away from the fence and started home. They did not speak till they reached the white moonlighted road, stretching past the cotton field. Then Mary looked up at the stars saying reverently, "Somehow I feel as if we'd been taking part in the first Christmas. It was a sort of camp-yard that the Star of Bethlehem led to. Don't you remember, 'there was no room in the inn' for the Child and His mother? It was a manger the gold and frankincense and myrrh were carried to. I feel as if we'd been following along – a little way at least – on the trail of the Wise Men."

"Me too," confessed Norman. Then nothing more was said for a long time. Mary could find no words for the next thoughts which puzzled her. She was picturing all the Christmas trees of the world brought together in one place, and trying to imagine the enormous forest they would make. Then she fell to wondering what it was about them that should make "the eye laugh and the heart laugh, and bring a blessing to the silver hair as well as brown" as the old couple had sung in the garden. All over the world it was so.

Since looking into the windows at other peoples' trees, and then causing one to bloom and bear fruit herself for the homeless campers, she felt that she had joined hands with that circle which reaches around the world. She was no longer an alien and stranger among the people of Bauer. The "Weinachtsbaum" had given her a happy bond of understanding and kinship. It had taken the hard, hopeless look out of the older faces around the camp-fire, for awhile at least, and made the little ones radiant. And at home – she remembered gratefully how Jack had burst out whistling several times while he helped to trim it. And the tune that came in such lusty, rollicking outbursts was one which he never whistled except when he was in high good humor with himself and all the universe. She was sure that he wasn't acting then – he couldn't have been just pretending that he was glad, for it sounded as it always used to do back at the Wigwam. She wondered why the tree had had that effect.

And then, like an answer, a verse popped into her thoughts; one that she had spelled out long ago for Grandmother Ware, letter by letter, one little finger pointing to each in turn. It was a verse from Revelation, about the tree that stands on either side of the river, clear as crystal, "which bare twelve manner of fruit, and the leaves were for the healing of the nations."

Then all of a sudden she understood why those shining boughs with their strange fruitage of gifts have power to bring hope and good cheer to lonely hearts the world over.

They are the symbols, which the Spirit of Christmas sets ashine, of that Tree of Life. And the Spirit of Christmas is only another name for Love, and it is Love alone, the human and divine together, which can bring about the healing needed by hearts in every nation.

All this did not come to Mary in words. She could not have expressed it to any one else, but it sent her on her way, deeply, quietly glad.

Next morning while she was stooping before the oven, basting the turkey which the Barnabys had sent with their greetings, Jack called her to the front window where he was sitting.

A covered wagon was creaking slowly by, drawn by a big horse and a little burro. The cover was looped up, and in the back end, carefully tied to the tail-gate, stood the tree which had taken them fifty-eight minutes to prepare, but whose memory would not be effaced in that many years from the minds of the two children, seated on the quilts beside it.

"I'm so glad you got to see them," said Mary. "Aren't they dear? And oh, look! Goldilocks is still holding Lady Agatha, and the other one's hugging the woolly lamb!"

When the wagon was entirely out of sight Mary started back to her turkey basting, but stopped a moment to take another look at the gifts spread out on the side table. Several things had been added to them that morning; a dissected puzzle picture which Norman had made for her, a spool case that Jack had whittled out, and a strip of exquisitely embroidered rosebuds that Mrs. Ware had wrought to be put into a white dress. There was also a pot of white hyacinths from the rectory, and Mary held her face down against the cool snow of their blossoms, taking in their sweetness in long breaths.

"It's been a pretty full Christmas, hasn't it!" exclaimed Jack as he watched her.

"It's really been one of the nicest I ever had," she answered, "for one reason because it's lasted so long. Norman's plan is a success."

That night after supper Norman insisted on taking his mother down into the village to look at the lighted windows. After they had gone Mary took out her Good Times book to record the happenings of the day. She had a few more notes of acknowledgment to write also, and was glad that Jack was busy with his own writing. She noticed that he was using India ink and a crow-quill pen, but thought nothing of that as he was always experimenting with them.

Joyce was not the only one of the children who had inherited artistic ability. Jack never attempted pictures, but he did beautiful lettering; odd initials and old English script, and had copied verses for calendars and fly-leaf inscriptions. Joyce said some of his pen-and-ink work was as beautifully done as the letters she had seen in old missals, made by the monks.

Nearly an hour went by. Mary addressed her last envelope. He laid down his pen and pushed a narrow strip of cardboard towards her.

"I've made you one more present to end the day with, Mary," he said jokingly. "It's a bookmark."

Inside a narrow border of conventional scrollwork was one line, and the line was from the verse which she had quoted so disastrously that day at the creek-bank:

"Close all the roads of all the world, Love's road is open still!"

As she looked up to speak he interrupted her hurriedly:

"Yes, I know how miserable I made you that day with my outburst against fate, and I've felt that you've never believed me since when I laughed and joked and said that I enjoyed things. But that was only one time that I gave way, just once that I got down in the dumps and I don't want you to think that is my usual state of feelings. Really I'm getting more out of life than you imagine. I'm putting up the best fight I can. I just wanted you to know that although every other road in the world is closed against me I can still scrape along pretty comfortably because that last line is true. Love's road is open still. You all have made it a good wide one for me, and made it worth while for me to travel it with you cheerfully to the end. I'm perfectly willing to, now."

"Oh, Jack!" cried Mary in a voice that trembled with both joy and tears. "I've had a happy Christmas, but knowing you feel that way is the very best part of all!"

CHAPTER VIII
"DIE KLEINEN TEUFEL"

Christmas was followed by a week of small calamities. Some of them would have been laughable, counted singly, but taken all together they assumed a seriousness not to be considered lightly.

In the first place, Mary, attempting to tie the boat at the usual landing, slipped on the muddy bank and dropped the chain. In her effort to recover it she stepped into the water. Her shoes were soaking wet when she reached home, and as they were her only good ones she stuffed them carefully with paper and hung them over the little drum stove in the living room to dry. That evening Jack read aloud while they washed the dishes, so they were all in the kitchen when the smouldering log in the drum stove, having reached the blazing point, suddenly burst into flame.

Presently a smell of burning leather made them all begin to sniff inquiringly, and Mary rushed in to find that one of her shoes had dropped from the string to which she had tied it by the laces, and was scorching to a crisp on the red-hot stove. Her old shoes were so shabby that the immediate need of new ones, left her figuring over the family accounts until bed-time. It was hard to cut down a list of expenses already reduced to low water mark.

The next day a wet "Norther" blew up, bringing the first cold weather of the winter. After weeks of almost summer-like heat, the mercury dropped to freezing point in just a few hours, and roaring fires in both the kitchen and drum stoves failed to warm the little cottage. Like most houses in that section it had not been built with a view to excluding the cold. The wind blew in under the north door, lifting the rugs until they shifted with a wave-like motion across the floor. Jack had to have a blanket hung behind his chair, and when Mrs. Ware sat down to write her weekly letter to Joyce the draughts that rattled the windows set her to sneezing as if she never could stop.

Mary, full of resources, brought her pink sunbonnet and perched it on her mother's head, pulling its ruffled cape well down on her shoulders.

"There!" she exclaimed, laughing at the jaunty effect. "That will keep 'the cauld blasts' from giving you a stiff neck. Do look in the mirror and then draw a picture of yourself for Joyce. Tell her that the Sunny South is a delusion. The mercury is only down to freezing, but I am sure that there isn't an Esquimau in all the Arctic Circle as cold as we are this blessed minute. That wind goes through a body like a fine-pointed needle."

"These little stoves fairly eat up the wood," she grumbled a few minutes later, glancing into the empty wood-box which Norman had piled to the top before he left that morning.

"Norman will be back soon," said Mrs. Ware, looking out from her aureole of pink ruffles, which she had found such a comfortable shield from the draughts that she left it as Mary had placed it. "He'll fill the box again as soon as he comes."

But Mary had slipped into a coat and was tying a veil over her ears. "It isn't safe to wait," she answered. "We'd be stiff and stark as icicles in no time if we were to let the fires go out. I don't mind being stoker. It's good exercise."

She skipped out to the wood-pile gaily enough, but the tune she was whistling changed to a long-drawn note of surprise and dismay when she saw what inroads they had made on it since the last time she had noticed it.

"We'll have to have another cord right away," she thought. "I never dreamed that fuel would be such a big item of expense, away down here so far South. But if we have much more weather like this it will be a very serious item."

The discovery sent her back to her account book again, but this time she took it to her own room where Jack could not see her figuring. The butcher raised the price of meat that week. Both butter and eggs went higher, and Jack's rubber air-cushion sprung such a leak that it collapsed hopelessly. A new one was a necessity. Then the cold Norther made Jack's rheumatism so much worse that he had to stay in bed, and several visits from the doctor and a druggist's bill had to be added to the list of the week's calamities.

The last straw was reached when Joyce's letter came, deploring the fact that the check which she was enclosing was only half the size which she usually sent. She had some unexpected expenses at the studio which she was obliged to meet, but she hoped to send the customary amount next month. This information was not in the letter which Mrs. Ware promptly sent in to Jack by Norman, but in a separate postscript, folded inside the check. Mary read it with startled eyes.

"Whatever are we going to do?" she asked in a despairing whisper.

Mrs. Ware shook her head and sat folding and unfolding the check in an absent-minded way for several minutes. Then she went into her room for pen and ink to endorse it, so that Mary, who was going down into the town that afternoon, could cash it. She was gone a long time and when she came back she had two letters ready to post.

As Mary went down the road a while later, she glanced at the first envelope which was addressed to Joyce, admiring as she always did her mother's penmanship.

"It's just like her," she thought, "so fine and even and ladylike." Then she gave an exclamation of surprise as she saw that the second envelope was addressed to Mrs. Barnaby.

"Whatever can she be writing to her about?" she wondered. "It's queer she never said anything about it, when we always talk over everything together, even the tiniest trifles."

She puzzled over it nearly all the way to the post-office till she remembered that she had heard her mother say that she was not altogether satisfied with the new doctor's treatment for Jack, and that she wanted to ask Mrs. Barnaby whom to call in consultation. Satisfied with that solution, Mary thought no more about the matter till the following Friday, when she came back from a short call at the rectory, to find that Mrs. Barnaby had just driven away from the house. She was disappointed, for these visits were always hailed as joyful events by the entire household.

"I wouldn't have missed her for anything!" exclaimed Mary, following her mother into their bedroom. "She's so diverting. What particularly funny things did she say this time? What's that?"

Her glance and question indicated a bundle that her mother had brought in from the back doorstep and laid on the bed. Mrs. Ware shook her head meaningly, and closed the door into Jack's room before she answered. Then she said in a low tone:

"It's some linen and lace that Mrs. Barnaby brought this afternoon. I wrote to her asking her if she had any fine hand-sewing that I could do. Sh!" she whispered, lifting a warning finger, as Mary's cry of "Why, Mamma Ware!" interrupted her.

"Jack will hear you, and he is not to know. That's why I had Pedro take the bundle to the back door. Mrs. Barnaby understands. Something had to be done, and under the circumstances sewing is the only thing I can turn my hand to at home."

"But mamma!" exclaimed Mary, so distressed that she was almost crying. "Your eyes are not strong enough for that any more. You nearly wore yourself out trying to support us when we were little, and I'm very sure we're not going to allow it now. Joyce would be terribly distressed, and as for Jack – I know perfectly well that he'd just rather lie down and die than have you do it. We'll bundle that stuff right back to Mrs. Barnaby, and I'll go down town and see if I can't get a position in one of the stores."

Mrs. Ware's answer was in such a low voice that it went no farther than the closed door, but it silenced Mary's protests. Only a few times in her remembrance had the gentle little woman used that tone of authority with her children, but on those rare occasions they recognized the force of her determination and the uselessness of opposing it. Mary turned away distressed and sore over the situation. She said nothing more, but as she went about her work she kept wiping away the tears, and a fierce rebellion raged inwardly.

There would have been little said at the supper-table that night if Norman had not come home in a talkative mood. He was to start to the public High School the following Monday, at the beginning of the new term, and had recently made the acquaintance of a boy lately come to Bauer, who would enter with him.

"Ed Masters is his name," Norman reported, raising his voice a trifle, so that Jack, who was taking his supper at the same time from a bedside table in the next room, might be included in the conversation.

"I like him first rate, and it will make it lots easier for me at school, not to be the only new boy. The only trouble is, he doesn't know whether his folks are going to stay in Bauer long enough to make it worth while for him to start or not. They came for the whole winter, but they say that they can't stand it at the hotel many more days if something isn't done to those Mallory kids. Ed says they're regular little imps for mischief. They've been here only two weeks, but they're known all over Bauer as 'die kleinen teufel.'"

"Which being interpreted," laughed Jack from the next room, "means the little devils. What have they done to earn such a name?"

"It might be easier to tell what they haven't done," answered Norman. "There's two of them, the boy seven and the girl eight, but they're exactly the same size, and look so much alike everybody takes them for twins. They put a puppy in the ice-cream freezer yesterday morning, Ed says, and Miss Edna, the landlady's daughter, almost had a spasm when she went to make ice-cream for dinner and found it in the can.

"Yesterday afternoon the delivery wagon stopped at the side entrance of the hotel (it's the Williams House where Ed is staying), and those children waited until the boy had gone in with a basket of groceries. Then they climbed up into the delivery wagon and changed the things all around in the other baskets so that the orders were hopelessly mixed up, and nobody got what he had bought. There was a ten gallon can of kerosene in the wagon, the kind that has a pump attachment. The boy stopped to talk a minute to Mrs. Williams, and by the time he got back they had pumped all the kerosene out into the road, and were making regular gatling guns of themselves with a bushel of potatoes. They were firing them out of the basket as fast as they could throw, in a wild race to see which would be first to grab the last potato.

"Ed says they ride up and down the hotel galleries on their tricycles till it sounds like thunder, when the other boarders are trying to take a nap, or they'll chase up and down hooting and slashing the air with switches. If people don't dodge and scrooge back against the wall they'll get slashed too.

"I suppose every merchant on Main Street has some grievance against them, for they haven't the slightest regard for other people's rights or property, and they're not afraid of anything. The little girl went into the livery stable the other day and swung onto the tail of one of those big white 'bus horses, and pulled a handful of hairs out of it. It's a favorite trick of theirs to climb into any automobile left at the curbstone, and honk the horn till the owner comes out. Then they calmly sit still and demand a ride."

"They must be the children that Doctor Mackay was telling me about," spoke up Jack. "He came in here one day, furious with them. He had caught them smearing soap over the glass wind shield of his new machine. They had climbed all over the cushions with their muddy feet, and tinkered with the clock till it couldn't run. He threatened to tell their father, and all they did was to put their thumbs to their noses and say: 'Yah! Tattle-tale! You can't tell! He's a thousand miles away!'"

"Isn't any one responsible for them?" asked Mrs. Ware.

"Yes," said Norman, "there is a colored girl at their heels whenever they don't give her the slip. But their mother is ill – came here for her health, Ed says, and their grandmother who tries to look after them is so deaf that she can't hear their noise and their saucy speeches. They're so quick that she never sees them making faces and sticking their tongues out at people. They do it behind her back. She thinks they are little angels, but she'll find out when they're asked to leave the Hotel. Ed says it's coming to that very soon – either the Mallorys will have to go, or everybody else will. They got into his box of fishing tackle, and you never saw such a mess as they made. He is furious."

With her mind intent on her own troubles, Mary did not listen to the recital of other people's with her usual interest, although what she heard that night was recalled very clearly afterward. All evening she brooded over her grievance, trying to discover some remedy. She could not take the sewing away from her mother and do it herself, for while fairly skilful with her needle, she had not learned to make a fine art of her handiwork. The garments Mrs. Ware made were as beautifully wrought as those fashioned and embroidered by the French nuns.

"I know Mrs. Barnaby never would order anything so fine and expensive," thought Mary bitterly, "if she didn't know that we need the money so badly. She did it because mamma asked her, and felt that she couldn't refuse. That is a sort of charity that kills me to accept, and I sha'n't do it one minute longer than I have to."

It was easier to make such a resolution, however, than to carry it out. A short call on Mrs. Metz next morning, showed her that her first plan was not feasible. The old woman being related to nearly half of Bauer by birth or marriage, and knowing the other half with the intimacy of an "oldest inhabitant," was in a position to know each merchant's needs and requirements, also what wages he paid each employee. Most of them had no occasion to hire outside help. Their own families furnished enough. It was a necessary requirement of course, that any one applying for a position must speak German. That one thing alone barred Mary out, and she went home anxious and disheartened. Still, even if she could have spoken a dozen tongues, the position she had coveted did not seem so desirable, after she learned the small amount the clerks received.



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