Annie Johnston.

Mary Ware in Texas



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"'Now, there was nothing remarkable in that. Gay and Roberta have whole rows of such pins that different officers have given them. But Sister pointed her finger at me and shrilled out like a katydid, as if they had been discussing the subject before, "No, sir, Brud! You can't fool me! He is Miss Mayry's valentine. He's her beau!"

"'Unless you could have heard the elfish way she said it, you couldn't understand why it should have embarrassed me so dreadfully. My face felt as hot as a fiery furnace. He sort of smiled and pretended not to hear, and I couldn't think of a word to break the awful pause. But just then the alarm-clock, hanging on a bush behind us, went off with a whang and clatter that sent us both springing to our feet.

"'They had finished their lunch by that time, so I helped Meliss hustle the dishes into the basket and headed the party for home as soon as possible. You can imagine the deep breath of thankfulness I drew when I finally left them at their own gate. But I drew it too soon. I should have waited until we were out of earshot. For as they went racing up the path to meet their mother, we could hear them shrieking to her about Miss Mayry's valentine beau who gave her two teeny, weeny guns to pin her veil with.

"'The wind wasn't blowing so hard down where we were then, so as we went along I said in a careless sort of way, "Oh, – 'lest we forget' – I'll return this now," and started to take it out of my veil. But he only laughed and said, with such a mischievous glance, "No, keep it, 'Miss Mayry,' lest you forget – your valentine."

"'Fortunately, it was one of Jack's good days, and he was able to be out in the sitting-room, and the two took to each other at once. You know nobody can give people quite such a gentle, gracious reception as mamma can, and much as I had dreaded taking him into such a barely furnished little house, and serving him from our motley collection of dishes, I didn't mind it at all after she had made him welcome. Such things don't matter so much when you've a family you can be proud of.

"'We had a delicious supper, and he ate and ate, and said nothing had tasted so good since he left home years ago to enlist. He stayed till ten o'clock, and then went down to the livery stable to get his horse and ride back to camp by moonlight. We sat up for nearly an hour after he left, comparing notes on how we had enjoyed the evening, and talking over all he had said. Jack said it was like coming across a well in a thirsty desert to meet a fellow like that, and mamma said she was sure he had enjoyed his little taste of simple home life quite as much as we had enjoyed having him. He quite captivated her, especially when he asked permission to come again. Norman was so impressed that he has been talking ever since about the advantages of being an army man. As for me, I found him lots more interesting than he was the night of the hop, although I must say I'll always remember him as a sort of guardian angel that night, for being so kind and saving me from being a wall-flower.'"

There was a peculiar expression on Phil's face as Joyce laid down that letter.

"Do you know," he said, gravely, "I feel as if I'd been seeing the little Vicar grow up right under my very eyes.

I'd never before thought of her as being old enough to have 'affairs,' but this seems to give promise of blossoming into one. Of course, it's what one might naturally expect, but somehow I can't quite get used to the idea, and – "

He did not finish the sentence aloud, but as he scowled into the fire, he added to himself, "I don't like it!"

CHAPTER XI
PHIL GOES TO WARWICK HALL

Had it not been for that package of letters read aloud before the fire on that stormy March night, this story might have had a very different ending. But for them Phil never would have known what a winsome, unselfish character the little Vicar had grown up to be. The casual meetings of years could not have revealed her to him as did these intimate glimpses of her daily life and thought, through her letters to Joyce.

They showed her childishly jubilant in her delight when the first month's salary was paid into her hands, and yet practical and womanly in her plans for spending it. Like a child she was, too, in her laments over some of the mistakes which her inexperience led her into with Brud and Sister, yet he could see plainly underneath her whimsical words her deep earnestness of purpose. At last she had recognized that this opportunity to impress them with her high ideals was one of the King's calls, and she was bending every energy to the keeping of that tryst. It was this development of character which interested Phil, even more than the news of the letters. Still there were a number of items which gave him something to think about. Lieutenant Boglin had made a second visit. Once she mentioned a book he had sent her, and another time a rare butterfly to add to the new collection she was starting. Evidently they had found several interests in common.

On his last visit she had taken him to Fernbank in the boat, and he had captured a fine big hairy tarantula for her from among the roots of a clump of maidenhair ferns. She had been able to enjoy the boat a great deal more since the children had learned the meaning of the word obey. She could take them with her now without fear of their rocking the boat, and in consequence they had had many a delightful hour on the water that had not been possible before.

"Do you know," said Phil, slowly, when he had listened awhile longer, "it doesn't strike me that those are particularly doleful letters; at any rate, anything to send you into an 'orgy of weeps.' I believe it is nothing but the weather which gave you the spell of doldrums that you were in when I came."

"Oh, but you haven't heard the latest ones," Joyce exclaimed. "Mamma's reports of Jack's condition and Jack's own little pencilled scrawls. I can read between the lines just what a desperate fight he is making, and this last one from Mary simply knocked all the props out from under the hope I had been clinging to."

She picked up the last envelope on the pile, postmarked March first, and turned to the closing pages:

"'Jack is so much worse that I can scarcely think of anything else. We are so worried about him. He is in bed all the time now, and is growing so thin and weak. He is very despondent, – something new for him. It keeps us busy trying to think of things to tempt his appetite or to arouse him out of his listlessness. He has always been so cheerful before – so full of jokes and so responsive to any attempt to amuse him. But now he doesn't seem to want to talk or to be read to or anything. Once in a while he'll smile a wan little sort of smile when I repeat some of the children's doings, but he isn't like himself any more. Sometimes I believe he's just worn out with the long effort he's made to be brave and keep up for our sake.

"'It is hard for me to keep my interest in the children keyed up to the proper pitch any more, when all the time I am thinking how pitiful and white he looks, lying back on his pillows. I am telling you exactly how things are because I would want you to tell me if I were in your place and you in mine. I can understand how hard it is for you to be so far away where you can't see for yourself how he is, every hour. I'll try to send a note or postal each day.

"'He's talked about you a lot, lately. Says you have the pioneer spirit of all our old Colonial grandmothers, to stick to your post the way you are doing for our sakes. He's constantly referring to things that happened at the Wigwam, and to the people who used to come there, – Mr. Ellested and the Lees and Phil, – especially Phil. I wish he could drop in here to see us daily as he used to do in Arizona. Maybe Jack would rouse up and take some interest in him. He doesn't take any now in the people we have met here, although no one could be kinder than the Rochesters and the Barnabys have been to us.'"

Joyce finished reading, and Phil rose to his feet and began pacing up and down the long room, his hands in his pockets and his eyes fixed on the floor as if he were considering some weighty problem. Finally he stopped, and leaning against the mantel, looked down at her, thoughtfully, saying, "Joyce, I've about thought out a way to manage it – to take in Bauer on my way to California, I mean. You told me once that Aunt Emily calls me her 'other boy.' Well, you all are my other family, and these glimpses you've given me of it make me homesick to see them. I might be able to help matters some way. I'm almost sure I can arrange to start several days before the rest of the party and go around that way, so if you have any messages or things to send, get them ready."

"Oh, Phil!" she cried, thankfully. "They'll be so glad – I know it will do them a world of good to see you. Maybe you can cheer Jack up a bit. So much depends on keeping him hopeful." Then she added, wistfully, "I only wish you could put me in your pocket and take me along."

"I wish I could," he answered, cordially. Then more cordially still after a moment's thought, "Why, that's the very thing! Come and go along! Just cut loose for a short visit and let things here go hang! It would mean more to them at home to see you again than the few dollars you could pile up if you stayed on here."

"No," she contradicted, sadly, the light dying

out of her eyes, which had brightened at the mere thought of such a visit. "It's too long a trip and too expensive, and – "

"But we can easily arrange all that," he interrupted, eagerly. "Under the circumstances you ought to let me do for Jack's sister what Jack would gladly do for mine were the circumstances reversed. Please, Joyce."

She shook her head as he urged his plan, but her eyes filled with tears and she said, brokenly, "You are a dear, generous boy to offer it, and I'll remember it always, but Phil – don't you see – there's too much at stake. I can't leave now. Not only my work in hand would stop, but I'd lose the orders that are constantly coming in, and I can't afford to miss a penny that would add to Jack's comfort in any way. He may be helpless for years and years, and Mary's salary will stop as soon as the Mallorys leave Bauer this summer."

"Well, think about it, anyway," urged Phil, hopefully. "Maybe you'll see things differently by daylight, and change your mind. I'll ring you up in the morning."

"By the way," he said, a few minutes later, when he was slipping into his overcoat, "don't write to Mary that there is a possibility of my going to Bauer. If I should go I want to surprise her."

"Very well," agreed Joyce. "But I may write about Elsie's wedding and say that you'll all be going West?"

"Oh, yes, she'll probably have cards herself soon, for Elsie has never forgotten her one encounter with the little Vicar, and she wrote for her address some time ago."

It was several days before Joyce saw Phil again. When he did come he was in such a hurry that he did not wait for the elevator, which seemed to be stuck somewhere in the basement. After several impatient rings he started up the stairs, two steps at a time, and had reached the fifth floor before the elevator overtook him. He was slightly out of breath, but so intent on his errand that he never would have thought to step in and ride the rest of the way, had it not stopped on the landing for another passenger, as he was about to pass the cage.

The janitor was cleaning the halls of the top floor apartments, and the door into Joyce's studio being open, Phil walked in without waiting to ring. Joyce was at her easel hard at work. Her face lighted up when she saw his, for it showed so plainly he was the bearer of good news.

"Daddy's going with me," were his first breathless words of greeting. "We – " Then he paused as if some sudden recollection warned him to ask, "What have you heard from home lately?"

She thought the question was prompted by his fear that it might not be convenient for them to have guests in the house if Jack were so ill, so she hastened to reassure him.

"Oh, I had the cheerfulest sort of letter from Mamma this morning, written last Sunday, the very day I was crying my eyes out over them. Isn't that always the way? Here it was so bleak and blustery that I couldn't help imagining that they were as dismal as I. And all the time it was as warm as summer in Bauer, the country a mass of wildflowers, and they were having a perfectly delightful time with Gay Melville. And guess who had gone up with her to spend the day there! Alex Shelby of Kentucky!" she added, without an instant's pause for him to answer.

"Mamma wrote that she didn't know when she had had such an enjoyable day. Dr. Shelby insisted on her going for a little outing with the girls while he and Norman took care of Jack. Mary poled them up to Fernbank in the boat, and when they got back they found that, in some unaccountable way, Jack had been wonderfully cheered up. He seemed more like himself than he had been for weeks. Mamma was so happy over that, for even if he can never be any better physically it is a lot to be thankful for to have his spirits kept up."

"Is that all?" asked Phil, when she paused at last.

"Yes. Why? Isn't that enough?"

"I only wanted to find out how much you knew before I broke my news. Now, listen to this! Alex Shelby wrote to Daddy that same night. You know they met at Eugenia's wedding, and Shelby who was just beginning to practise medicine then seemed to develop a case of hero-worship for father. Shelby has taken a great interest in Jack's case ever since he heard of the accident, and the reason he sent Aunt Emily out that afternoon was that he might have a chance to examine Jack without her knowing it. He didn't want to raise anybody's hopes if nothing can be done. He thinks that the first operation did not go quite far enough. There is still a pressure on the spinal cord which may be removed by a very delicate bit of surgery. I don't understand his technical terms, but it's one of the most difficult things known to the medical profession.

"Daddy says there are very few cases on record of its having been done successfully, although it has been attempted several times. Personally he knows of two cases. One was a football player in this country who had his back broken, and one was a man in Germany who was injured in exactly the same vertebr? where Jack's trouble lies. And – mark this now —Daddy helped with that operation. The surgeon who performed it was a friend of his, and called him in because it was such a rare and peculiar case."

Joyce was scarcely breathing now, as she listened. She was white to the lips in her intense excitement.

"Oh, go on!" she exclaimed, unable to endure the suspense when he paused. "Doctor Tremont thinks he can cure him?"

"No – " was the guarded response. "He is not sure. He doesn't say that. But there is a chance, just one chance, and he is going to take it. We're leaving in a few hours, so I haven't another moment to stay!"

Joyce, who had risen in her first excitement, dropped back on her stool again, limp and trembling. She had thought so long of Jack's illness as being hopeless that the possibility of a cure almost unnerved her with the great joy of it. Phil went on, rapidly:

"Shelby told Jack of his hope, but evidently he said nothing to the rest of the family, or they would have known the reason for Jack's return to cheerfulness. Now, don't go to getting upset like that," he added, holding out his hands for a cordial leave-taking. "I don't want to get your hopes up too high, but I've always felt that Daddy could come as near to working miracles as anyone living, and you just remember this – he's going to work one this time, if mortal man can do it! You see, he knows what the Wares were to me that year on the desert. He hasn't forgotten how you all saved his motherless boy for him. That's the way he puts it. Saved me from my besetting temptation and sent me away to make a man of myself. If he can put Jack on his feet again he will feel that he is only paying back a small part of his obligation to you all – to say nothing of my debt. Lord! I can't even talk about that now! It's too big for me ever to tackle myself. But I just wanted you to know how we both feel about it – "

He did not attempt to finish, but with a final strong handclasp he was gone before Joyce could find her voice for more than a faltering good-by.

For a little while after he left she sat before her easel, gazing vacantly at the canvas with eyes which saw nothing. She could not settle down to work again with so many exciting mental pictures rising up before her: Jack, undergoing the operation at home. The awful suspense and tension of that time of waiting until they could know the result, and then – Jack, strong and well and swinging along with the vigorous stride she remembered so well. Or would it be – She shut her eyes and shuddered, putting away from her with an exclamation of horror the other scene that persisted in presenting itself. She had never forgotten the tramp of feet across the threshold of the little brown house in Plainsville the day they carried her father away.

Presently she could bear it no longer, and pushing back her easel she slipped off her apron and called to Mrs. Boyd that she was going out for awhile. In her present tremor of nervousness she could not trust herself to stop and explain. She felt that she could not bear to listen to the little woman's platitudes, no matter how sympathetic they might be.

It was not till she was on the car, half-way out to Central Park, that she remembered she had not told Phil of one other item of news in her mother's letter. She wondered if he knew that Gay and Alex Shelby were engaged. The reason that they had gone to Bauer was to announce it themselves to the only people in that part of the world who knew and loved Lloydsboro Valley. It was in that happy valley that their romance had begun, and they both knew that Mrs. Ware had spent her girlhood there, that Mary regarded it as her "Promised Land," and that Jack, although his visit there had been limited to one day, had seen the rose-covered cabin where Gay and her Knight of the Looking-glass had first caught sight of each other, and where their married life was to begin.

It was several hours before Joyce got back to the studio. The long car-ride and the brisk walk in the park had helped her to regain her usual outward composure, but she was far from being as calm as she seemed. Alternate moods of hopefulness and foreboding kept her swinging like a pendulum from exhilaration to a sickening sense of fear. She could hardly fix her mind on her work, although her hands moved feverishly.

Before starting back to work she hunted up one of Henrietta's railroad time-tables, and fastened it to a corner of her canvas, so that she could follow the course of the Texas-bound travellers. At intervals she glanced from the clock to the card, thinking, "Now they are just leaving the New York station," or, "Now they are pulling into Washington." Later she found the time when they would be going aboard the New Orleans sleeper, and from then on a thousand times her thoughts ran on ahead to picture their reception in Bauer, and the events that would follow there in quick succession. Her waking hours were filled with only one thought till Phil's first telegram announced their arrival. Then she scarcely ate or slept, so great was her anxiety as she waited his second message.

As Doctor Tremont and Phil pushed through the crowds at the New York station, hurrying to reach the Washington-bound train, steaming on the track, Phil recalled the last time he had passed through. It was in March of the previous year, but later in the month, that he had come down with Joyce to put Mary and Betty aboard the train, the morning after they had heard about Jack's accident. It was at that stand that he bought the fruit for them, here he had snatched up the magazines, and there was where he had stood while the train pulled out, waiting for the last glimpse of the little Vicar's face at the window, bravely smiling in her efforts to "keep inflexible" for Joyce's sake.

The scene had been impressed vividly upon his memory, because of the way the whole affair had touched his sympathies, and now he found himself, after a year, recalling things that at the time he had barely noticed. It was like taking a second look at a snapshot picture, and finding details in the background to which he had paid no attention when first focussing the camera. There was that wistful look in Betty's brown eyes, for instance. They had been almost as full of trouble as Mary's. Their appealing sadness came back to him now quite as forcibly as Mary's tearful good-by smile.

He remembered the protecting way she had put her arm around her little pupil. They had been such good comrades all through the vacation pleasures which they had shared, that Christmas and Easter. He remembered now how far back Betty's friendship with Joyce dated. Suddenly it occurred to him that Betty, of all people, would be most interested in what was about to occur in the Ware family. Whatever followed the operation, whether it were grief or joy, she would share with them.



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