Annie Johnston.

Mary Ware in Texas



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Doctor Tremont had some business to attend to which would keep him busy during the few hours they were obliged to stop over in Washington, and, after a few moments' deliberation, Phil decided to go out to Warwick Hall while he waited, instead of spending his time looking up an old acquaintance, as he had intended doing.

There was another reason for calling on Betty, which he did not acknowledge to himself as a reason, but it carried weight in helping him to make a decision. That was the knowledge that she would have the latest news of Lloyd Sherman. He had had six months in which to grow accustomed to the idea that the little unset turquoise he had once given her could never stand for anything more between them than the "true-blue friendship stone." He had been so determined to make it more, that his whole world seemed jolted out of its orbit when he heard of her engagement to Rob Moore. He could not talk of it at first. Lately, however, he had come to take a more philosophical view of the situation.

Several hours later, when Phil found himself in front of Warwick Hall, the great castle-like building and beautifully kept grounds seemed as familiar as if he had visited it before. The Lloydsboro valley girls had sung its praises ever since he had known them. Lloyd herself had talked much of it in the days when every subject she mentioned was interesting, simply because she chose to talk about it. Mary Ware had pictured it to him as a veritable paradise, and he had been pressed to admire so many photographs of it on so many occasions that it was no wonder it had a familiar look, every way he turned.

He would have been highly amused could he have known what a sensation he was creating in the school, as he stood on the highest terrace, looking down the flight of stately marble steps that led to the river. In the first place, the sight of such an unusually attractive man, young, handsome, and with an air of distinction, was a rarity in those parts. That he should loiter down the walk instead of striding straight up to the massive portal, aroused the curiosity of every girl who happened to be near a window, and why he should pluck a leaf from the Abbotsford ivy, overhanging the pergola, and then walk along the hedge of the wonderful old garden until he could lean over and read the motto on the ancient sun-dial, was more than any of them could fathom. There was a flutter among those who had seen him, when presently the great knocker, echoing through the hall, announced that he was ready to enter.

The pompous butler opened the door, and for the second time in his history nearly fell backward, for the dignified young stranger who stood there with the easy grace of at least a viscount, called out as if he had known him always, "Oh, it's Hawkins."

When Phil raised his hand to the knocker he was smiling over Mary's account of her first entrance through that door. He had teased her unmercifully when he heard of her rehearsals for the purpose of impressing the butler, and when the man instantly appeared just as Mary had pictured him, he was so much like a stiff old portrait bowing from the frame of the doorway, that the exclamation slipped from Phil in surprise.

Then he smiled again, thinking how inadvertently he had copied Mary.

At first glance Hawkins thought he must be one of Madam Chartley's relatives from England, and bowed again, obsequiously this time. But the card laid on his silver tray was not for Madam. It was for Miss Elizabeth Lewis, the youngest and most popular teacher in the Hall.

It was after recitation hours and Betty was not in her room, but she came in presently from a walk, looking as girlish and rosy as the little freshman who had been her companion. The March winds had given her color, and blown her brown hair about her face in soft little curls. Phil could see her through the curtained arch as she came into the hall and took the card Hawkins presented on his tray. Her face lighted up with pleasure, and she gave an exclamation of surprise, both of which items Hawkins noticed. When she hurried into the reception-room he cast a look of discreet curiosity after her. Then he turned away with a wise wag of the head. Of course, one knew what to expect when the young stranger called her by her first name in such a joyful tone as that, and she responded cordially that it was such a lovely surprise to see "the Best Man!"

All the wedding party had called Phil the Best Man, ever since Mary had emphasized the name by her comically reverent use of it, and it seemed quite natural that the next remark should be about her. Phil thought to surprise Betty by saying, casually, "I've just stopped by to ask if you want to send any message to Mary Ware. I'm on my own way to Bauer now."

But he was the one to be surprised, for her face paled and she exclaimed, in a voice tense with suppressed excitement, "Oh, is your father going, too? Has he really consented to attempt the operation?"

Then, in answer to his exclamation of astonishment that she should know anything about it, she explained, while the color returned in a rush. She had had a note from Jack that morning, just a scribbled line, telling what Alex Shelby had written to Doctor Tremont, and what they hoped would be the answer.

"He hasn't told the family yet," she explained, seeing from Phil's face that he thought it queer she should know of it. "He didn't want them to suffer the cruel disappointment it would be should they discover they had been cherishing a false hope. But he just had to tell somebody, and he knew I'd understand how much recovery would mean to him, for he used to write me so fully of his plans and ambitions before he was hurt."

She closed her hands so tightly that the pink nails pressed into the tender palms. "Oh, I hope Alex hasn't been mistaken," she exclaimed. "I can't think of anything so cruel as to hold out the heaven of such a hope to him, only to have it dashed away."

"Daddy says there is one chance," answered Phil, "and he is going to take it." Then, with a sudden understanding of the situation as he watched her face, he began to comfort her with the same words he had spoken to Joyce. "Daddy can come as near to working miracles as any man living, and you just remember this, little girl. He's going to work one this time if mortal man can do it!"

The ring of certainty in his voice made her look up at him with a smile that was like an April day, such joy shone through the brown eyes, which a moment before had been misty with tears. She did not know how much she had revealed, but as she turned away Phil said to himself, "So that's the way the land lies! I must give Daddy a hint of how much is at stake. If he saves Jack it won't be for the Ware family alone."

Betty had been called aside a moment to speak to a visiting parent, and when she came back to Phil, had fully recovered her composure.

"Come on," she said, gaily. "There are a few things I must show you. It will never do for anybody to confess to Mary Ware that he has been to Warwick Hall and missed seeing the things that she particularly adores."

It was a short pilgrimage she led him on; to meet Madam Chartley first, then to see the great stained-glass window where the motto of Edryn, "I keep tryste," flaunted itself in letters of light above the ruby heart and the mailed hand, clasping the spear. Then outdoors they went, past the peacocks on the terraces, down the marble steps to the river, where pretty girls were walking arm in arm, and Phil was conscious of many curious glances cast in his direction. Then they strolled through the garden, where the crocuses and early March flowers were making a brave showing, and out towards the golf links a little way. Betty's cheeks were almost as red as the bright Tam O'Shanter cap she wore, and her eyes shone with a happy, tender light as she talked of Mary and what the school had meant to her. The pilgrimage, like the bundle of letters which Joyce had read, was eloquent with suggestions of Mary at every turn. He understood now as he had not before how much she had renounced when she left without finishing the year. He began to appreciate the greatness of her sacrifice, and, guided by Betty at his elbow, he began to perceive what an influence such a place, with its ideals and its refined, old-world fashion of living might exert on a girl like Mary Ware.

There was not much opportunity to lead the conversation towards Lloyd, with Betty constantly breaking off to say, "Oh, don't forget to mention this to Mary," or, "Tell her you saw this and that." He learned very little about her, save that she was well and happy. Betty had always known, she said, that Rob was the one written in the stars for the Princess Winsome. They knew each other so thoroughly and had such a happy childhood in common, and in her opinion they had always been meant for each other from the beginning.

It was growing late when they came back to the front door, but Betty insisted on his coming in for a moment for a cup of tea, "Served from an ancestral teacup," she insisted, "so that you can brag to Mary of it." While they waited for it to be brought, Betty hastily summoned several of the girls whom she wanted him to meet.

"You'll never remember their names," she said, laughingly, "and Mary will make your life a burden with questions if you can't answer. Give me a pencil and I'll scribble them down for you. Elise Walton, you'll remember, of course, for she was the pretty child with the long, dark curls, whom you used to meet so many times at The Beeches, the summer Eugenia was married. You'll quite fall in love with her, I am sure, for she is getting prettier every day, and you'll not need any memorandum to keep her in mind when you've once heard her talk. A. O. Miggs will be the little roly-poly dumpling of a girl, and Dorene Derwent, the one who giggles so gurglingly. Cornie Dean you'll remember for the elaborate way she does her hair, and the coy way she has of casting melting side-glances. That's a habit she has acquired just in this last year, so you might mention it to Mary. She'll be immensely interested in hearing it. See, I have made marginal notes for each one, if you can understand my abbreviations."

As she handed him the slip of paper the girls came in, all pleased to meet "such a fascinating, Lord-Lochinvar looking man," as A. O. described him afterward, and all overjoyed to find that he would be the bearer of messages to Mary Ware. They sent so many that he laughingly disclaimed all responsibility in case he should get them mixed in transit. He had an odd feeling that he was on exhibition to these girls as Mary's friend, and that he must do her credit. The few moments he stayed with them he used to such advantage that he was straightway written down in their opinion as the most fascinating man they had ever met. When he took his leave it was with a flattering regret that made each girl feel that she was the one who inspired it, and they went back to their rooms to compare notes and to "rave over him," as Dorene expressed it, for days.

The twilight was falling when he started back to the station. Betty walked part of the way with him. Only once they referred to Jack again, and that was not till they reached the bend in the driveway, where Betty turned back. She put out her hand with wishes for a safe journey, and he held it an instant to say, "I'm sure it's all going to end happily, and you shall have the first telegram."

CHAPTER XII
IN "BLUE-BONNET" TIME

The time of "blue-bonnets" had come. No matter where else in Texas the lupin may grow, one thing is certain; there is enough of it in the meadows around Bauer nearly every spring to justify its choice as the State flower. This particular March, acres and acres of it, blue as the Mediterranean, stretched away on either side of the high-roads. Viewed from a distance when the wind, blowing across it, made waves of bloom, it almost seemed as if a wide blue sea were rolling in across the land.

From his bed near the window Jack Ware could catch a glimpse of one of these meadows, where the cattle stood buried up to their bodies in the fragrant blossoms. Now and then the breeze, fluttering his curtains, brought the odor to him almost as heavy and sweet as the smell of locusts. He watched the picture with languid eyes which closed weakly at intervals. They were shut when Mary tiptoed into the room, to see if there was anything she could do for his comfort before starting out on her usual afternoon excursion with her pupils, but they opened with an expression of greater interest than they had held for some days as he saw her standing there in a freshly laundered gingham. It was so blue and white that she suggested a blooming blue-bonnet herself.

"Hullo, Finnigan," he said, with an attempt at his old-time pleasantry. "'Off agin, gone agin,' are you? Which way this time?"

Touched almost to tears by this evidence of returning interest, Mary explained eagerly that they were still studying about bees. She had found a bee-tree in the Herdt pasture, and the lupin was all a-buzz with specimens to illustrate the lesson. That was for the Wisdom part of it. For the Strength there were some new exercises in climbing and hanging from a low limb. The practical application of their Courtesy lesson would be the gathering of a great basketful of blue-bonnets for the ladies of the Guild, who wanted to decorate the parish house with them for an entertainment to be given there.

"Oh, they're making long strides," she assured him. "Mrs. Mallory told me that the time it rained so hard last week, and I couldn't get across the foot-bridge at the ford to give them their usual lesson, Brud sat down at bedtime and howled, because he said he'd have to 'count that day lost.' The sun was down and he hadn't 'any worvey action done.' It took the combined wits of the family to think of some worthy action he could do at that late hour, and he finally went to bed happy. So you see my labor hasn't been all in vain."

There was a faint gleam of amusement in Jack's eyes, but seeing that she was about to leave him, he turned the subject by motioning toward the table beside his bed, where Elsie Tremont's wedding invitations lay.

"Mary," he said, slowly, "would you be surprised if Phil were to come by Bauer on his way to California?"

To her vehement avowal that such a happening would certainly surprise her out of a year's growth, at least, he answered:

"Well, I am a good deal more than half-way looking for him. 'I feel it in my bones' that he is coming, and coming very soon."

"Oh, Jack!" she cried in distress. "Don't look for him. Don't set your heart on seeing him! I couldn't bear for you to be disappointed."

"Don't you worry about that," he answered, soothingly. "You run along and pick your blue-bonnets, and if Phil should happen to come walking down the road towards you one of these days, remember the feeling in my bones warned you. The poor old things have been so full of aches and pains that you might allow them one pleasant sensation at least."

"But, Jack," she began again, a wrinkle of distress deepening between her eyes. "If he shouldn't come you'd be so awfully disappointed!"

Jack's thin hand waved both her and her objections aside.

"Hike along," he insisted, cheerfully, "I merely said if!"

Considerably worried by what she thought was a groundless hope of Jack's, Mary started out of the gate. His suggestion seemed to change the entire landscape, and instead of seeing it as it had grown to look to her accustomed eyes, she saw it as she imagined it would appear to Phil; the cottage she was leaving behind her, the wide blue lupin meadows ahead, the white of the wild plum blossoms mingled with the glowing branches of the red-bud trees, in every lane and stretch of woodland.

With her old childish propensity for day-dreaming unabated, she made pictures for herself as she walked along towards the foot-bridge. Suppose he really would come, and she, by some intuition of his approach, could divine the day and hour. She would like to be all in white when he met her, emerging from the edge of the woods with her arms heaped up with snowy masses of wild plum blossoms, and a spray of red-bud in her hair. Or, maybe, it would be more picturesque for her to be standing in the boat, poling slowly towards the landing, a cargo of wild flowers at her feet like a picture of the Spirit of Spring.

Here she broke off from her musings, saying, half aloud, "But as sure as I posed to look like a Spring goddess I'd be looking like a young goose. It doesn't pay for me to plan impressive entrances and meetings; they always turn out with my looking perfectly ridiculous."

She had reached the first turn in the road by this time, and, stooping to tie her shoe, suddenly became aware of the fact that her hands were empty. She had started off without the alarm-clock and the magnifying glass which she always carried on these trips. In addition she had intended to bring a large market-basket to-day, in which to put the flowers. The basket, with the clock and glass inside, was in her hand before she started. She remembered she had set it down for a moment on the front step while she went back into Jack's room, and it was what he said about Phil's coming that made her go off without it. There was no time to lose, so she started back, running all the way.

Snatching up the basket from the step where she found it still undisturbed, she was starting off again, when a little bird-like cry stopped her. It was like the softest notes of a mocking-bird.

"That provoking little wildcat is out of her cage again!" she exclaimed, stopping to look all around. "Here, Matilda, kitty, kitty, where are you?"

In response to her call, what seemed to be the gentlest of house-kittens came bounding through the grass. Thinking it would be less trouble to take it along than to carry it back to its cage in the woodshed when she was in such a great hurry, Mary caught it up in her arms, and once more started down the road, one hand slipped through the handle of the basket. It snuggled down against her shoulder, purring loudly.

"You ridiculous little atom!" laughed Mary. "I wonder what the girls at Warwick Hall would say if they could see me going along carrying a live wildcat. That will be something wild and Texasy for me to put in my next letters. I needn't say that it weighs only twenty ounces, and that if it wasn't for its bow legs and funny little bobbed tail and spotted stomach one would think it was just a tame, ordinary, domestic pussy. But you'll be savage enough by and bye, won't you? When the tassels grow on your ear-tips and your whiskers spread out wide and your spots get big and tigery!"

Two soft paws reached up to tap her face, and she gave the furry ball in her arms an affectionate squeeze. She had never cared especially for kittens, but this little wild one with its coquettish ways had wonderfully ingratiated itself into her affections in the week she had owned it. Mrs. Barnaby had brought it in from the ranch. Cousin Sammy had found eight of them in the woods after Pedro had killed the old mother cat, caught in the act of carrying off one of the turkeys. This was the only one that lived. Mrs. Barnaby could not keep it, because, tiny as it was, it toddled around after the chickens and put even the big Plymouth Rock hens to flight. So she brought it in to Mary, and Mary, feeling particularly forlorn that day, welcomed the little orphan, because its lonely state gave them a bond in common.

The day it came happened to be her eighteenth birthday, with nothing to mark it as a gala occasion except a handkerchief from her mother and a string of trout from Norman. He had gone out before daylight to catch them for her breakfast. Joyce's present did not arrive until the next day, and the round-robin letter from Warwick Hall was nearly a week late. Not until after the sorority was seated at its annual St. Patrick's Day dinner, did they recall the double celebration they had had the year before. The letter was written then and there, passing around the table with the bonbons, that each one present might add a birthday greeting. Then Dorene, to whom it was entrusted, forgot to post it for several days. It was a joy when it did come, but the anniversary itself, before the letter reached her, was a disappointing day.

She had always looked forward to her eighteenth birthday as being one of the most important milestones of her life; not so important, of course, as one's graduation or d?but or wedding, but still a day that should be made memorable by something unusually nice. Years ago Jack had promised her a watch on her eighteenth birthday, a little chatelaine watch with a mother-of-pearl case, like the one the old Colonel had given to Lloyd. But when the time came Jack did not even know that it was her birthday. He never looked at the calendar since their weary, monotonous days had grown to be all alike. She did not show him the handkerchief or tell him that the delicious fish which they had for breakfast was in honor of any especial occasion. In no way did she refer to its being the seventeenth of March.



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