Mary Ware in Texas
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"I – I'm afraid I boasted too soon about the storm being over. You'll have to talk about something else for awhile, or I might tune up again."
"All right," he answered, in a soothing tone, reaching down to help her gather up the letters. "That suits me, anyhow, for I came on purpose to bring you a rare bit of news concerning the Tremont family."
In her present mood the mere sight of Phil's broad shoulders was a comfort. They might not be able to lift her actual burdens, but she felt their willingness, and his unspoken sympathy steadied her like an outstretched hand. Now with the consideration that was one of his most lovable traits, he gave her time to compose herself, by rattling on in a joking way about himself.
"I've come a long distance in the rain and snow to tell my news. I've torn myself away from all the wiles of Stuart and Eugenia to keep their only brother with them. I've braved the dangers of Greater New York and defied the elements in order to be the bearer of such important tidings, and you needn't think I'm going to give it to you as if it were any common bit of information. I tell you what I'll do. You may have three guesses. If you fail you pay a forfeit, say – an invitation to supper, with the privilege of my helping get it ready in that tabloid kitchen of yours."
"That is highly satisfactory," agreed Joyce, whose voice was under control by this time. She drew her chair a trifle closer to the fire, and, leaning her elbows on her knees, looked into the embers for inspiration.
"It concerns the Tremont family," she mused. "That means all of you. Well, it must be that the old tangle about your great-aunt Patricia's holdings in England has been settled and you're coming into some money after all these years."
"No; guess again."
Picking up the long brass tongs, she began to trace pictures on the sooty background of the chimney while she tried to think of a better answer.
"It concerns all of you!"
With his hands in his pockets, Phil walked over to the window and stood looking out over the wide stretch of city roofs below, now almost hidden by the rapidly deepening twilight. He was smiling while he waited, and humming half under his breath a song that his old English nurse used to sing to him and his sister Elsie: "Maid Elsie roams by lane and lea." He had whistled it almost constantly the last few days:
He hummed it again when Joyce's second guess was wrong, while he waited for the third. Then, when it, too, was wide of the mark and she demanded to be told, he began it again; but this time he sang it meaningly, and loud enough to fill the room with the deep, sweet notes:
Joyce's face grew bright with sudden understanding as he finished, and she cried, "Elsie is to be married! Is that what you came to tell me?"
"Yes, my littlest, onliest sister is to be married, immediately after Easter, out in California, in the Gold-of-Ophir rose-garden you have heard so much about.We are all going – Daddy and Stuart and Eugenia and little Patricia and your obedient servant, 'Pat's Pill,' himself."
He left the window, and stretching himself out in the big chair opposite hers, gave her the details that she instantly demanded.
"Elsie's sailor lad is a navy surgeon. The wedding is to be in the rose-garden, because there is where they first met, and there is where Elsie has had all the best times of her life. She has always lived with mother's people, you know, since our home was broken up, and even before mother's death, we used to spend our winters there. Yes, Daddy opposed the marriage at first, but you know Daddy. He'd hardly think an archangel good enough for Elsie."
The news had the effect which Phil had foreseen, and Joyce's own affairs retired into the background, while she discussed the matter which was of such vital importance to the whole Tremont family. Later, he asked her to name all the things she considered the most desirable and unique as wedding gifts, and they were still adding to the list from which he was to make his choice, when they heard Mrs. Boyd come out into the hall to turn on the light. In the bright firelight, they had not noticed how dark it had grown outside. Joyce looked at the clock and sprang up, exclaiming:
"Lucy will be wanting her cream toast, and it's time also for me to pay my forfeit to you. How much of a supper are you going to claim, young man?"
"That depends on how many good left-overs there are in the pantry and ice-box," said Phil, rising also. "I'll come and investigate, myself, thank you."
Pinning up the train of her red gown and tying on a big apron, Joyce made quick work of her supper preparations, and the long, lonely day ended in a jolly little feast, which completely restored her to her usual cheerful outlook on life. Mrs. Boyd joined them, despite the fact that she must leave Lucy to eat alone, in order to do so. It was always a red-letter day in her drab existence when Phil Tremont came into it. She was such a literal little body, that she never joked herself. She was mentally incapable of the repartee that always flew back and forth across the table when Phil was a guest, but she considered his tamest sallies as positively brilliant. When she went back to Lucy she had enough material to furnish conversation all the rest of the evening.
"Now," said Phil, when he and Joyce were back in the studio again, before the fire, "I don't want to upset your equanimity, but if you can talk about it calmly, I'd like to hear exactly how things are going with Jack and Aunt Emily and that little brick of a Mary. I had one letter from Jack the first of the winter, and I've had the casual reports you've given me at long intervals, but I've no adequate idea of their whereabouts or their present sayings and doings."
"Suppose I read you some of Mary's letters," proposed Joyce. "I've been surprised at the gift she's developed lately for describing her surroundings. Really, she's done some first-class word-pictures."
In answer to his pleased assent, Joyce turned over the letters till she came to the first one that Mary had written from Bauer.
"It was written on pieces of a paper sugar-sack while she was getting supper," explained Joyce. "But you can fairly see the little town spread out between the spire of St. Peter's and the tower of the Holy Angels' Academy, with the windmills in between and the new moon low on the horizon."
Phil, lounging back in the big chair, sat with a smile on his face as he listened to Mary's account of the rector's call, while she was perched up on the windmill. But when Joyce reached the closing paragraph about its being a good old world after all, and her belief in Grandmother Ware's verse that the crooked should be made straight and the rough places smooth, a very tender light shone in his keen eyes. He said in a low tone, "The dear little Vicar! She's game to the core!"
Urged to read more, Joyce went on, sometimes choosing only an extract here and there, sometimes reading an entire letter, till he had heard all about her visit to Gay, her first experience at a military hop, their brave attempt to make a merry Christmas among strangers, and finally her experience with the Mallory children, because of their desperate need of money.
"Don't skip!" insisted Phil, still laughing over her account of her "day of rest" at the Barnaby ranch, when the peacock lost its tail.
"The next one isn't funny," replied Joyce, "but it is especially interesting to me because it shows how Mary is growing up."
She hunted through the disordered pile until she found one dated two months ago.
"'The night after I brought Brud and Sister back from the ranch I lay awake for hours, trying to think what to do next to find the vulnerable spot in my kleinen teufel. I couldn't think of a thing, but decided to begin telling them Kipling's jungle stories instead of any more fairy-tales, and to try Mrs. Barnaby's suggestion of making them responsible for their own entertainment part of the time.'
"Oh, this isn't the one I thought," exclaimed Joyce. "It goes on to tell about the last news from Holland, instead of the children. Here is the one I wanted, written two weeks later:
"'Hail, Columbia, happy land! I've found the "open sesame," thanks to Kipling, and in a way I little expected. The children showed a breathless interest in the Jungle stories from the start, and began dramatizing them of their own accord. They have thrown themselves into the play with a zest which nothing of my proposing has ever called out. For two weeks I have been old Baloo, the Brown Bear, and Father Wolf by turns. There are two little hairless man-cubs in our version, however, for a Mowglina divides honors with Mowgli. Sister says she has chosen the name of Mowglina "for keeps," and I sincerely hope she has, if what Mr. Sammy Bradford said about names having a moral effect on her is true.
"'We have our Council Rock up on the high hill back of St. Peter's, where Meliss sometimes plays the part of the Black Panther. We no longer greet each other with "Good morning." It is "Good Hunting" now, and when we part, it is with the benediction, "Jungle favor go with thee!" You remember Baloo taught the wood and water laws to Mowgli, how to tell a rotten branch from a sound one, how to speak politely to the wild bees when he came upon a hive of them, etc. But more than all he taught the Master Words of the Jungle, that turned every bird, beast and snake into a friend. It is simply amazing to me the way they seemed to be charmed by that idea, and it is strange that such utterly lawless children should be not only willing but eager to abide by the rules laid down for animals. It does my soul good to hear Brud, who has never obeyed anyone, gravely declaim:
"'Or to hear saucy little Sister in the r?le of Mowglina, repeating Kaa's words to Uncle August, "A brave heart and a courteous tongue, they will carry thee far through the Jungle, manling."
"'It was Uncle August, bless his old brown body, who helped me to make my first personal application of the play. I had just heard of their latest prank down-town. (Sad to say, the more angelic they are as little wolves, the more annoying they are when they return to the Man-pack.) They had dropped a live garter snake, a good-sized one, through the slit of the package box, and the postmistress had picked it up with a bundle of newspapers. She was so frightened that she yelled like a Comanche, and then had a nervous chill that lasted for a quarter of an hour. That same day they filled all the keyholes of the private letterboxes with chewing-gum, as far up as they could reach, and everybody who had to stop to pry it out was so cross.
"'I didn't say anything to them about it till after they had told me about Uncle August's chasing the calves out of Mrs. Williams' garden, and how she had petted and praised him for it. We talked a few minutes about the way Uncle August is beloved by everybody who knows him, and how even strangers on the street stop to pat his head or say something kind about him.
"'"It's because he keeps every Law of the Jungle, for dogs," I told them, and then I said, quite mercilessly, "but the whole town looks on you two children as Banderlogs! Mere, senseless monkey-folks, outcasts who have no leaders and no laws!" Really, it hurt them dreadfully and I felt almost cruel for saying it. I could see that the shot told when I reminded them how they had been turned out of the hotel and chased out of every store in town. I told them that people said ugly things about them behind their backs, just as Kaa and Baloo did about the silly gray Apes who threw dirt and sticks and made mischief wherever they went.
"'That was the climax. They both threw themselves across my lap and began to cry, protesting that they were not Banderlogs. They didn't want people to call them that. I think my good angel must have inspired me to make the little sermon that I gave them then, for I certainly had never thought of the analogy before – how the same thing that is true in the Jungle holds good in the Man-world; that we must learn the Master Words for each person we meet, so that every heart will understand when we call out, "We be of one blood, ye and I." That just as the elephants and kites and snakes became friendly to Mowgli as soon as he learned the Master Words of their speech, so Miss Edna and the postmistress and old Mr. Sammy would be friendly to them, when they showed that they not only had brave hearts, which scorned to play little, mean, silly tricks, but courteous tongues as well.
"'The amazing part of it is that they understood me perfectly, and right then and there had a sort of spiritual awakening to the fact that they really are "of one blood" with these people they have been tormenting. It is pathetic to watch how hard they have been trying ever since, to convince people that they are not Banderlogs, but are sensible children, willing to be governed by laws that they never understood before. Now, at parting, they insist on my repeating all the verse:
They seem to believe that it verily holds some sort of hoodoo spell which will armor them with magic power to make friends.
"'Already Sister has made peace with the postmistress by the gift of a crude little willow basket of her own weaving, filled with wildflowers. It met with such a gracious reception (due principally to private explanation beforehand) that Sister fairly squirmed with the blessedness of giving, – her first real experience of that sort. Brud used his hatchet to split a pine box into kindling, and presented the same, tied in neat bundles, to Mrs. Williams. Her surprise and voluble thanks (also solicited beforehand) were so gratifying that Brud came home so satisfied with the new application of the game that he burns to play it with everyone in Bauer, proving with actions, if not words, that he has a right to say, "We be of one blood, ye and I," and that he is not a Banderlog.'"
As Joyce slipped the letter back into its envelope, Phil leaned forward to put another log on the fire, saying, as he did so, "Good for Mary! She always manages to find some way out, and it is always a way no one else would think of. But somehow I can't quite place her in these letters. She's the same little bunch of energy that I've always known, and yet there's a difference. I can't quite make out what."
"She's growing up, I tell you," answered Joyce. "That's what makes the difference. Listen to this one:
"'Yesterday being Valentine's day, we had a picnic at the Council Rock. The hill rises straight up from the public road, just back of the Mallory cottage and St. Peter's. There is a roundabout road to the top, leading in from a back lane, which is easy to climb, but, of course, the children chose the steep trail starting near their gate. Nothing but a goat could walk up it with perfect ease and safety.
"'Once at the top, the view is lovely. You can see over half the county, and look right down into the chimneys of the town. The whole hilltop is covered with wildflowers; strange, beautiful things I have never seen before – so many exquisite colors, you'd think a rainbow had been broken to bits and scattered over the ground.
"'At one o'clock we started out of the Mallory gate, the most grotesque procession that ever went down the pike of Bauer. You see, we'd dropped the Jungle game for the day, and they were doing St. Valentine honor. I went first in my oldest dress, on account of the climb, my Mexican hat on my head, my alarm-clock, as usual, in one hand and a thermos bottle in the other. I was taking some boiling water along to make them tea, as a great treat. They don't like it particularly, but they wanted to use a little Japanese tea-set that had just been sent to them.
"'Sister, fired by some of my descriptions of Valentine costumes, had elected to attend the picnic as the Queen of Hearts, and had dressed herself for the part with the assistance of Meliss. She looked perfectly ridiculous, spotted all over with turkey-red calico hearts. They were sewed on her dress, her hat, and even her black stockings. She was as badly broken out with them as a measles patient would have been with a red rash.
"'Brud wouldn't let her dike him out in the same way. She wanted him to go as Cupid. He consented to let her call him Cupid and he carried a bow and arrow, and wore some of the trimmings, but he wore them in his own way. The white turkey-wings, which she tried to attach to his shoulderblades, he wore bound to his brow like an Indian chieftain's war-bonnet. Long-suffering Uncle August frisked about in a most remarkable costume. I think it must have been made of the top section of Brud's pajamas, with the sleeves pulled up over his front paws, and buttoned in the back. It was sprinkled with big hearts, some blue and some yellow.
"'But, funny as they looked, Meliss was the comic Valentine of the occasion. The front of her was covered with an old lace window curtain. Across her bosom, carefully fastened with a gilt paper arrow, was the lithographed picture of a big red heart, as fat and red and shiny as a ripe tomato. She carried the lunch basket.
"'I must confess it staggered me a trifle when the procession came out to meet me, but they were so pleased with themselves I hadn't the heart to suggest a single change. I led on, hoping that we wouldn't meet anyone. Well, we hadn't gone a hundred paces till we heard hoof-beats, and a solitary horseman came riding along behind us. Brud looked back and then piped up in his shrill little voice:
"'"Oh, look, Miss Mayry! Look at the soldier man coming!"
"'Naturally, I glanced back, and my blood fairly ran cold, for there, riding along with a broad grin on his face at sight of our ridiculous turnout, was Lieutenant Boglin! I was so amazed at seeing him that I just stood still in the road and stared, feeling my face get redder and redder. Somehow I had no power to move. He didn't recognize me till he was opposite us, but the instant he did, he was off his horse and coming up to shake hands, and I was trying to account for our appearance. It seems he had been with the troops up at Leon Springs for target practice, and was taking a day off while they were breaking camp. He had been commissioned to look at a polo pony somebody had for sale in Bauer, and thought while he was about it he would call and see the Ware family, after he had had dinner at the hotel. He was on his way there.
"'Well, there I was! I couldn't ask him to go on such a babyfied lark as our Valentine picnic. I couldn't leave the children and take him over home, because my time is Mrs. Mallory's. Even if she had excused me, the children would have raised an unstoppable howl, and probably would have followed us. They are making grand strides in the courtesy business, but they are still far from being models of propriety.
"'When I had explained to the best of my ability, I told him I would be through at five, and asked him to wait and take supper with us. I could see that he was inwardly convulsed, and I do believe it was because we all looked so ridiculous and he wanted to see the show a second time that he accepted my invitation with alacrity. As soon as he started on to the Williams House, I stopped under a tree and wrote a scrawl to mamma on the margin of the newspaper that was spread on top of the lunch-basket. Then I gave Meliss a dime to run over home with it, so that the family needn't be taken by surprise if Bogey happened to get there before I did.
"'But it seems that he forgot the directions I gave him for finding the house, and about ten minutes to five, as the children and Meliss were finishing the lunch which was spread out on the Council Rock, he came climbing up the side of the hill. The children had been angelic before his arrival and they were good after he came, except – I can't explain it – there was something almost impish in the way they sat and watched us, listening to everything we said, as if they were committing it to memory to repeat afterward. Even Uncle August, in his heart-covered pajamas, squatted solemnly on the rock beside them and seemed to be stowing away something to remember.
"'The lieutenant couldn't glance in their direction without laughing out loud; they looked so utterly comical. So he turned his back on them and began to admire the view, which certainly was magnificent. As the sun began to go down the wind came up, and the veil I had tied around my hat got loose, and streamed out like a comet's tail. I couldn't tie it down and I couldn't find a pin to fasten it, and first thing I knew he had taken one of those fancy bronze pins from the collar of his uniform, those crossed guns that officers wear, you know, and he gave me that to fasten my veil with.
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