Mary Ware in Texas
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"There's a little spring that comes bubbling out below, so that we won't have to go far to fill our kettle. He said we might trim off some of the smallest shoots of his willows, and he marked the trees we could chop. That's where you will find use for your hatchet. Willow switches woven together make a fine covering for a wigwam or a Robinson Crusoe shack. I learned how to weave them the way the Indians do when I first went to Arizona."
It was the novelty of being talked to in that dignified, grown-up way that drew Sister slowly but surely along after the others. As they followed the creek, Uncle August, dashing on ahead, scared a rabbit out of the underbrush. He was too well trained to give chase to it, so the frightened little cotton-tail loped away unhurt. It served its mission in life, however, as far as Mary was concerned, for it reminded her of a story which she proceeded to tell as they walked along. Sister listened, suspiciously, expecting a personal application at the end, about a sulky little girl who never wanted to do anything that other people did. That was the kind Meliss always told. So did mommey, in vivacious, kindergarten style, when they had been especially naughty. Sister hated stories, since those with a moral attached were the only kind she had ever known.
When this tale turned out to be one of Br'er Rabbit's funny adventures in outwitting Mr. Fox, and ended with a laugh instead of a personal application, she was bewildered for a moment. Then she remembered that this was a surprise school, and determined not to miss anything that seemed to start out with such promise for further entertainment, she stopped dragging her feet and took up a more cheerful pace along the creek bank, in the trail of Brud and Uncle August.
It would have been a determined soul indeed who could have stayed morose very long, out-of-doors in the perfect weather that had followed the Norther. It was like late October in Kentucky – sunny, yet with a crystal-like coolness that made exercise a delight.
It had been such a short time since Mary had stepped out of her own play days that she found herself stepping into the children's with an abandon which almost equalled theirs. There was no pretense about her enjoyment at first. With a pleasure almost as deep and unalloyed as when she and Hazel Lee built wigwams on the edge of the Arizona desert, she went about the building of a shack on the side of this Texas creek bank.
The energy with which she brought things to pass was contagious. Brud and Little Sister worked like beavers to keep up with this rare, new playfellow, who had something better than a Midas touch, – something which not only put a golden glamour over everything she said and did, but turned their little world of mimic sports into a real world of tremendous meaning and importance. For the first time in his life Brud found himself where there were things lawful for his hatchet to cut. For the first time Sister was kept so busy doing delightful things that there was no necessity for anyone to say "don't."
Before the week was over Mary had opened so many windows for them into the Land of Make-believe that they began to look upon her resources for entertainment as boundless.The more she gave, the more they demanded. They never wanted to go home and would have hung on to her until dark every evening, had it not been for the alarm-clock which she brought with her each day. She had no watch and was afraid to accept Jack's offer of his, lest she should lose it in the woods. It was a little, round clock, with a bell on top, the dollar and a half kind sold in country groceries and cross-roads stores.
She always wound the alarm just before she hung the clock on a bush, muttering over it a mysterious charm that the children listened to with skeptical grins, yet with furtive side-glances at each other. To her surprise they accepted the whirr and bang of the alarm-bell at five o'clock as the voice of Fate, which must be promptly obeyed. She often wondered why they did. To Mary the muttering of the abracadabra charm was only a part of the game, one of the many little embellishments which made her plays more picturesque than ordinary people's, and she had no thought of the children attaching any superstitious import to it. She did not take into account their long association with Meliss, who was wise on the subject of hoodoos. But the fact remained that her alarm-clock was the only timepiece within their reach which they never tampered with, and the only one whose summons they ever obeyed.
It was probably because she had set such a hard pace for herself that first week that she found it so difficult to go on afterward. A surprise school was a greater tax on her inventive genius than she had anticipated. She had promised them a different plum in their pie each day, and she lay awake at night to plan games that were instructive as well as interesting, for she was conscientiously carrying out her agreement to teach them as well as to amuse them. By the end of the second week the strain was almost unendurable.
One evening she went home to find the Barnaby carriage and the gray mules standing at the gate. Mrs. Barnaby had brought in some venison for them, and waited to see Mary before taking her leave.
"I'm waiting to hear about those little savages of yours," she said, as Mary greeted her and sank limply down into a chair. "Why, you look all tuckered out. They must be even worse than people say."
"No, they're not!" protested Mary, warmly. "I'm really proud of the way I succeeded. The only thing is, I have to keep them busy and interested every moment, and they're so hungry for stories they never get enough. The poor little souls have never heard any before, and it is really pathetic the way they listen. They'll sit as still as graven images, so interested they scarcely breathe, till the last word is out. Then they'll begin, 'Oh, tell us another, Miss Mayry! Just one more! Please, Miss Mayry!' They cling to me like burrs. We nearly always have a small campfire every day now, for either we're Indians or gypsies, cooking our meals, or we're witches brewing spells, or elves gathering magic fires for our midnight revels. They play so hard that the last hour they always want to sit down by the embers and listen to stories. But they've nearly drained me dry now. Sometimes I come home so limp and exhausted I can scarcely move my tongue. I'm glad that to-morrow is Sunday, for I've surely earned one day of rest."
"Come out and spend it at the ranch," urged Mrs. Barnaby, hospitably. "It happens that there is no service to-morrow at St. Boniface, but James will be coming in for the mail, and will be glad to bring you out in time for dinner."
Mary had spent two afternoons at the Barnaby ranch, driving out with Mrs. Rochester, and she enjoyed them so much that she welcomed the thought of a return to the homelike old place, with its air of thrift and comfort. Jack had been better the last few days, so she eagerly accepted the invitation.
Next morning Mr. Barnaby drove in for her himself with the gray mules and the roomy old carriage. Mary, comfortably stowed away on the back seat, because it had the best springs, leaned forward to hold the reins while he went into the post-office. She had risen early and hurried through as much of the work as she could in order that her holiday might not mean extra work for her mother. Now with an easy conscience she settled herself to enjoy a care-free day, and looked forward with keen enjoyment to the seven miles' drive along the smooth country road.
She had been sitting in a pleasant reverie some four or five minutes, when a familiar little voice close by the wheel piped out:
"Why, there's Miss Mayry! Where are you going?"
Before she could reply, Brud and Sister and Uncle August came swarming into the carriage, stepping on her toes, climbing up on the seat, and showing such joy over having discovered her that it was impossible not to give them a gracious reception, even though she groaned inwardly at the sight of them. Their prompt demand for a story the moment they were seated was followed by the appearance of Mr. Barnaby.
"I can't tell you any stories to-day," Mary explained, pleasantly, "because I am going visiting. But I'll tell you a lovely one to-morrow, about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. You'll have to hop out now. Mr. Barnaby is ready to start."
"I aren't going to hop out!" declared Sister, winding her arms around Mary's neck in a choking clasp. Brud immediately threw his arms around Uncle August and held him tight, regardless of the fact that Mr. Barnaby was whistling to the dog and motioning him to jump out.
"We are a-going with you," Brud announced.
"But you are not invited," Mary answered, in a provoked tone. "You surely don't care to go where you're neither asked nor wanted!"
"Come on, Bub. I'm in a hurry," said Mr. Barnaby, kindly. He took hold of the child's arms to lift him out, but Brud, seizing the back of the seat with both hands, stiffened himself and began to cry, shrieking out between sobs, "I want to go with Miss Mayry! Please don't put me out! Aw, Miss Mayry! Don't let him put me out!"
Immediately Sister added her tearful wails to his. Meliss, sauntering down the street in search of the children, heard the familiar cries, and quickened her pace to a run. A crowd was gathering around the carriage. She came up in time to hear Mr. Barnaby say, good-naturedly, "Oh, well, if they're going to break their little hearts over it, let 'em come along. I don't mind!"
"But their mother will think that something has happened to them," protested Mary. "She'll be frantic."
Meliss pushed her way through the crowd to the carriage. "No'm, she won't, Miss Ma'y. She won't worry none. Her haid aches fit to bus' this mawnin'. I'll tell her you's takin' keer of 'em, and she'll be only too thankful to you-all for a free day."
"It's Meliss who will be thankful for a free day," thought Mary, still hesitating. She rebelled at the thought of her own day being spoiled, and realized that for discipline's sake the children ought not to be allowed to carry their point. Mr. Barnaby settled the question by stepping into the carriage and gathering up the reins.
"Tell their mother I'll bring them back before night," he said to Meliss.
The sobs and tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Presently Mr. Barnaby glanced back over his shoulder, saying:
"This load doesn't seem equally divided. Here, one of you kids climb over into the front seat with me." At the invitation both children threw themselves violently on Mary and clung to her, beginning to sniffle again. He looked back at her with the humorous one-sided smile that she always found irresistibly droll.
"First time I ever came across that particular brand of youngsters. Strikes me the old Nick has put his ear marks on 'em pretty plain. You're crowded back there, aren't you, with that dog sitting on your feet? Here, sir! Come over here with me!"
With one bound Uncle August sprang over on the front seat, and sat up beside his host, looking so dignified and so humanly interested in everything they passed that Mr. Barnaby laughed. He laid a caressing hand on him, saying, "So you're the dog that's been to college. Well, it has made a gentleman of you, sir! I admire your manners. It's a pity you can't pass them around the family."
Charmed by the novelty of the drive, the children cuddled up against Mary, and were so quiet all the way to the ranch that she felt remorseful when she remembered how near she had come to depriving them of the pleasure.
Mrs. Barnaby threw up her hands in surprise when she saw the three self-invited guests who calmly followed Mary out of the carriage, but when the situation had been explained in a laughing aside, she said in her whole-souled, motherly way, "Now, my dear, don't you worry one mite! We are used to children, and we'll find some way to keep them from spoiling your day."
Her first step in that direction was to take them out to the kitchen and fill their hands with cookies, and send them outdoors to eat them. She also gave them instructions to stay out and play. A low swing and a seesaw between the kitchen and the garden gate showed where her grand-children amused themselves hours at a time on their annual visits. When she went back into the living-room Mary had seated herself in a rocking-chair with a sigh of content.
"What a dear old room this is," she said, looking up with a smile. "It makes me think of Grandmother Ware's. I love its low ceiling and little, deep-set windows and wide fireplace. I could sit here all day and do nothing but listen to the clock tick and the fire crackle, and rest."
"Well, you do just that," insisted Mrs. Barnaby, hospitably. "I have to be out in the kitchen for a while. I've got pretty fair help, but she needs a good deal of oversight, so you sit here and enjoy the quiet while you can."
The early rising and the drive had made Mary drowsy, and as soon as she was left alone the deep stillness of the country Sabbath that filled the room seemed to fold about her like a mantle of restfulness. She closed her eyes, making believe that she really was back at her Grandmother Ware's; that the sunshine streaming in at the open door was the sunshine of a Northern June instead of a Texas January; and that the odor of lemon verbena which reached her now and then came from an outside garden instead of the potted plant on the deep window-sill at her elbow. The old place was so associated in Mary's memory with a feeling of perpetual, unbroken calm, that she had never lost one of her earliest impressions that it was the place of "green pastures and still waters" mentioned in the Psalms.
"Jack always said that I'll have my innings when I'm a grandmother," she said, drowsily, to herself. "I wonder if I'll ever get to a place where I can always be as serene of spirit as she was, no matter what happens. I wonder if she ever had anything as upsetting as Brud and Sister to try her nerves in her young days."
As if in answer to her mere thought of them, the two children came racing around the house. They fairly fell into the room, and, throwing themselves across her lap, demanded that she come out at once and see the peacocks. Had they said any other kind of fowl she would have resented the intrusion more than she did, but peacocks recalled Warwick Hall so pleasantly that she got up at once and went with them. She had seen none since leaving school. These had not been near the house on her former visits to the ranch. The stately birds strutted up and down in the sunshine, their tails spread in dazzling gorgeousness.
"They're Sammy's," called Mrs. Barnaby from the kitchen door. "He takes the greatest pride in them. That cock took a prize at the last San Antonio fair."
Mary had met "Sammy" the last time she was at the ranch, and had heard of him ever since her first conversation with Mrs. Barnaby. He was an elderly cousin of her husband's who had made his home with them for years. A few minutes later she came upon the old man in the barnyard. The children, having once obtained possession of her, had dragged her down there to see a colt that they had discovered.
Sammy was sitting on the fence in his Sunday clothes, busy with his usual Sunday occupation of whittling. His bushy gray beard made him look older than Mr. Barnaby, and the keen glance he gave the children from under his shaggy eyebrows made them sidle away from him. They, too, had met him before, under circumstances which they did not take pleasure in recalling. Only a few moments before he had caught them chasing the ducks until they were dizzy, and stopped them with a sternness that made them wary of him. They had had an encounter with him one day in town also, soon after their arrival in Bauer. They had climbed into the wagon, which he left hitched in front of the grocery, and had poked holes into every package he had piled on the seat, in order to discover what they held. When he came out little streams of rice and sugar and meal were dribbling out all over the wagon. When he started after them with a threatening crack of his whip they escaped by darting into the front door of the butcher shop and out of the back, but they always felt that it was one of the narrowest escapes they ever made, and that a day of reckoning would come if he ever got close enough to them to reach them with his whip.
It was a trifling disconcerting to come across him suddenly on this peaceful ranch, and they pulled Mary away as soon as they could. She was enjoying the conversation they had drifted into, starting with the colt. He spoke with a strong New England twang, and his quaint sayings and homely comparisons suggested the types and times portrayed in the Bigelow Papers.
Despite her determination not to have her day taken up by the children, Mary found herself devoting the entire morning to their entertainment. Country sights and sounds were so new and strange to them that it seemed selfish not to answer their eager questions, and when their wanderings around the place led them to a deserted cabin where the Indians had once killed two Mexican shepherds, she repeated the thrilling story as she had heard it from Mrs. Barnaby, with all its hair-raising details. When they went in to dinner she had been answering questions and entertaining her pupils for two hours, as diligently as on any week-day.
It was an old-fashioned "turkey dinner" to which they were summoned, and the variety and deliciousness of the dishes may have had much to do with the children's conduct. They were so quiet and well behaved that Mary watched them in surprise. Beyond yes and no and politely expressed thanks, Brud spoke not at all, and Sister only once. That was to say, when Mrs. Barnaby addressed her as Sister, "Call me Nancy. I'm trying that name now."
Seeing the look of surprise that circled around the table, Mary explained, feeling that Sister, as usual, was enjoying the limelight that this peculiar custom of hers called her into.
"Hump!" exclaimed old Sammy. "Something of a chameleon, eh? If she changes her nature to suit her name it must keep her family busy getting acquainted with her."
"I think it does have some slight influence," answered Mary. "Then she'd better drop the name of Nancy," said old Sammy, with a solemn wag of the head. "In an old blue poetry book that I used to read back in Vermont, it said,
"She came to a frightful end, jumping up and down in her chair.
till she fell over and cracked her head. The only Nancys I have ever known have all been self-willed like that."
Garrulous Cousin Sammy was only indulging in reminiscence. He had not intended to tease the child, but she resented his remarks, and thrusting out her tongue at him, screwed up her face into the ugliest grimace possible for her to make. Fortunately the arrival of a huge pumpkin pie turned his eyes away from her just then, for Sammy Bradford, old bachelor though he was, had strict New England notions about the rearing of children, which he sometimes burned to put into practice for the good of the general public.
After dinner Mr. Barnaby retired to his room for his usual Sunday nap. Cousin Sammy took his pipe to the sunny bench outside the open door, and Mrs. Barnaby provided for the children's entertainment by bringing out a box of toys that had been left behind at different times by various grand-children. She arranged them on a side table in the dining-room, with some colored pencils, paper and scissors.
Brud and "Nancy," ever ready to investigate anything new, seated themselves at her bidding, and began to paw over the games and pictures with apparent interest. Thereupon Mrs. Barnaby and Mary went into the next room, and drawing two big easy chairs into the chimney corner, they settled themselves for a long, cosy t?te-?-t?te. It was the first opportunity Mary had had to explain to Mrs. Barnaby that she had undertaken to teach the children in order to prevent her mother from sewing for other people.
They had had about ten minutes of uninterrupted quiet, when the door opened and "Nancy" walked in with her hat and coat on. Her lips were drawn into a dissatisfied pout, and she threw herself across Mary's lap, whining, "I don't like those old things in there! Tell us about the Forty Thieves now!"
"No, Nancy," said Mary, firmly, hoping to appease her by remembering to use the new name. "I told you before you came out here that I'd not tell you a single story to-day."
"But you already have," cried Brud, triumphantly, appearing in the doorway also in coat and hat. "You told us about the Indians killing the shepherds."
"Oh, but that was just a true happening that I told to explain about the cabin we were looking at," was the patient answer. "That was different from sitting down on purpose to tell you a story, and I shall not do that to-day."
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