Mary Ware in Texas
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"Matilda, you little mischief!" scolded Mary affectionately, "How am I ever going to get over this stone wall with you acting so?"
"Come on! I'll help you!" spoke up Phil from the other side.
The expression of utter amazement which spread over her face when she looked up and saw him standing in front of her was even more amusing than he had anticipated it would be. Despite Jack's hints and the fact that they had set her to picturing Phil's possible coming, the surprise of his actual presence was so overwhelming that she could scarcely speak.
She let him take the clock and the wildcat from her, and put them down on his side of the wall with the flowers, but not until she had climbed to the top of the wall and felt the firm clasp of his hands, outstretched to help her down, did she persuade herself that she was not dreaming. Then the face that she turned towards him fairly beamed, and he thought as he looked down at her that it was well worth the long journey, to find some one so genuinely glad to see him.
"When did you come? Have you been to the house? Was Jack very much surprised?"
The questions poured out in a steady stream as soon as she found her voice, and if he had not been looking at her, he could have well believed that she was the same amusing child she was when he found her running away from the Indian on the desert road to Lee's ranch. But he could not look away long enough to keep up the illusion. There was a charm about her face which drew his eyes irresistibly back to it. He tried to determine just what that charm was. It was not of feature, for much as she had improved, she did not at all measure up to his standard of beauty.
Presently he decided that it was just Mary's own self, her interesting, original personality shining out through her eyes and speaking through every movement of her mobile lips, which made her so attractive. Her years of effort to grow up to her ideal of all that was sweet and maidenly had left their imprint on her face. Naturally unselfish, trouble and hard times had broadened her sympathies and taught her a still deeper consideration for others. Loneliness and a dearth of amusement had developed her own resources for entertainment, and taught her to find something of interest in every object and person about her. As he looked at her he thought it a pity that more of the girls of his acquaintance couldn't have a course in the same hard school of experience which had developed Mary into such a lovable and interesting character. He felt that in the one year since he had seen her last, she had grown so far past his knowledge of her, that it would be well worth while to cultivate her acquaintance further.
It was some distance from the pasture to the cottage, and as they walked, Phil had time to tell her of his trip to Warwick Hall, and to deliver the mixture of messages from the girls, which by this time had resolved into a ridiculous hotch-potch, despite his effort to keep them separate, and his reference to the memorandum that Betty had given him.Then he presented the ivy leaf which he had plucked for her, as proof that he had actually walked in her beloved garden.
Up to that time there had been so much to say that Mary had not discovered that Doctor Tremont was in Bauer also. The explanation came about when they reached the gate, and Phil, after opening it for her to pass through, stayed on the outside himself. Her surprise at his not coming in was fully as great as it had been when she first saw him.
"The idea of your going to a hotel when you've come all the way from New York to Texas to see us!" she exclaimed. "And then not even staying to supper! Jack will be so disappointed."
"No," answered Phil. "He knows the reason why Daddy and I are putting up at the hotel. So does your mother, and they both think it is a good one. You run along in and ask them, and they'll convince you that I am right. I'll come over for a few minutes after supper though, just to show you that there's no hard feeling between us."
He laughed as he said it, lifting his hat and turning away. Thoroughly mystified by his manner, Mary stood a moment looking after him. It was all so strange and unreal, his sudden appearance, and then his walking off in such a mysterious way. She could hardly believe the evidence of her own eyes. Yet the tall, handsome figure striding down the road was not "of such stuff as dreams are made on." Her fingers still tingled with the warm clasp of the strong hands that had helped her over the wall.
When she went into the house it was Jack who told her of his coming ordeal, and he told her in a way to make it seem of little consequence. He said that Doctor Tremont wanted to experiment on him. He had known of a man injured in the same way, whose suffering had been entirely relieved by the removal of a fragment of bone which pressed on the spinal cord. It would be worth while to go through almost anything to be rid of the excruciating pain he had suffered at times, and Doctor Tremont assured him that it would pass away entirely if the operation proved successful.
Not a word did he say about the greater hope that had been held out to him. As the time drew near he was beginning to lose faith in its being possible. It seemed too great a miracle for him to expect it to be wrought for him.
Mary went out to find her mother in a daze of mingled emotions. The prospect of Jack's being freed from the pain that had racked him for months made her inexpressibly happy, but she had a horror of operations. The nurse they had in Lone Rock after Jack's first one, had spent hours telling grewsome details of those she had known which were not successful. Or if they were successful from the surgeon's viewpoint, the patients usually died from shock, later.
She wanted to stay in Jack's room every minute of the time after she heard what was to be done, for she had a sickening foreboding that it might be the last evening he would be able to talk to them. Still she was so nervous that she was afraid her frame of mind might be contagious. She wondered how her mother could sit there so calmly, talking of the trivial things that filled the round of their days, just as if to-morrow were going to be like all the commonplace yesterdays.
It was a relief to her when Phil came back, according to promise, and turned their thoughts into other channels for awhile. As he rose to go, Jack motioned to a letter lying on the table beside him, and asked Phil to post it on his way back to the hotel. Phil slipped it into his pocket, barely glancing at the envelope as he did so. It was addressed in such a big plain hand that the "Miss Elizabeth Lewis" on it, caught his attention as if the words had called out to him. Several other letters lying on the edge of the table fell to the floor as Phil's coat brushed them in passing. He stooped mechanically to pick them up, for he was busy talking, and without being conscious of having noted the address, laid them back on the table. But afterwards it occurred to him that they were all addressed to Jack, and by the same hand that had made the memorandum for him, about the girls whom he met at Warwick Hall.
Mary wondered afterwards how she ever could have lived through the next morning had it not been for Phil. She was all right as long as there was anything to do, or while she sat listening to Doctor Tremont talk to her mother and the local physician, Doctor Mackay. But as soon as Alex Shelby arrived with the nurse she fell into such a tremor of nervousness that she could scarcely keep from shaking as if she had a chill.
There was a cluster of umbrella trees in the farthest corner of the yard, and carrying some chairs out to their dense shade Phil called her to come and sit with him there. He had a glove that was ripped and he hoped she would take pity on him and sew it up. She understood perfectly well his object in putting her to work, and although her hands trembled at first so that she could barely thread a needle, she had to acknowledge inwardly that it was easier to compose herself when her hands were busy. One finger was ripped the entire length, so it took a long time to mend it neatly; to buttonhole the edges on each side, and then draw the stitches together in a seam that was stronger than the original one.
Gradually she became so interested in her task and what Phil was telling her of his adventures in the past year, that she stopped glancing every moment towards the house, and no longer jumped nervously at every sound. Once or twice she smiled at something he told her; something that would have been uproariously funny if she had heard it at any other time. Just now she could not forget the fact that Jack was lying unconscious under the surgeon's knife, and the stories the Lone Rock nurse had told her came back to haunt her with terrifying suggestions.
"I am to meet your friend, Miss Gay Melville," Phil said, when they had been sitting there a long time. "Shelby is to take Daddy and me up to the Post to-night, to dine at her house. The Major came down to the train with him when he met us yesterday morning, and delivered the invitation in person. He's a hospitable old duck, the Major. He's kin to some people that are intimate friends of Daddy's and he's almost ready to adopt us both into his family on the strength of it. Alex told me on the side that I am invited specially to meet a very particular chum of his fianc?e's, Miss Roberta somebody, I can't remember the name. Miss Melville thinks I will find her my affinity, judging by what she knows of her and has heard of me."
"Roberta Mayrell," prompted Mary. "Oh, I don't think you'll find her that! She's a fascinating sort of girl, but she's such a different type from – I mean – I think. Well – " She was floundering desperately to turn her sentence. "I can't imagine you'd care for her to the affinity point."
What she had almost said was, "She's such a different type from the Little Colonel." She had remembered just in time that she was not supposed to know about that affair. Had she not been an unintentional eaves-dropper she could not have heard his offer to Lloyd of the unset turquoise, and all that followed.
Phil noticed her embarrassment and wondered what caused it, but the subject was immediately forgotten. The door they had been watching so long opened at last, and Doctor Tremont came out and stood on the step. Phil beckoned, and he came across to the clump of umbrella trees where they were sitting. One glance at his face showed Mary that she had nothing to fear. He stood with his hand on Phil's shoulder as he said kindly,
"It's all good news, Mary. We found exactly the state of affairs that I expected. If he follows the other case on record, it will not be long till he is as strong and husky and active as this young rascal here."
He gave Phil's shoulder an affectionate grip. Mary looked up at him trying to comprehend all she had heard.
"Strong – and husky and active – as Phil?" she repeated in dull wonder. "You can't mean that he – will ever be able – to walk?"
The question came in dry, sobbing gasps.
"Yes, just that."
She stood up. The news was so stupendous, the reaction so great that everything turned black. She sat down again giddily. The sympathetic faces, the trees, everything seemed to be whirling around and around. She heard Phil's voice, but it sounded as if it were miles away.
"Brace up, little Vicar! You're surely not going limp now, just when fortune is making such a tremendous turn in your favor."
"No," she said, shaking herself and fighting off the faintness. Such a feeling had never assailed her before, and she did not know what to make of it. "You see, nobody ever told me – I didn't know such a heavenly thing was possible! I can't believe it yet. Oh, are you sure?"
She looked up into the strong, calm face of the gray-haired old surgeon, as if his answer meant life or death.
"As sure as any one can be about any operation," he answered. "He has everything in his favor; there is the clean life he has always led, back of him; his splendid constitution, the fine aseptic air of these hills. Everything is favorable. The paralysis and all the other trouble was caused by one thing. We have removed the cause, and I see no reason why he should not recover completely in time. He has rallied from the anesthetic, and is so happy over the result, so buoyantly hopeful, that that of itself, with his dogged determination to get well, will go a long distance toward pulling him through."
The tears were rolling down Mary's cheeks, but she did not know it, nor did she know that her face was ashine at the same time with the inward light of a joy too great for telling.
"To think that he'll be able to walk again!" she exclaimed over and over, as if trying to grasp the greatness of such a fact. "And you did it! Oh, Doctor Tremont! There isn't anything good enough in heaven or earth, for the hand that could bring a happiness like that to my brother Jack!"
As she tried brokenly to express her gratitude, and the good old doctor tried as hard to deny any obligation on her part, saying he had only partly squared himself with the Wares, Phil slipped away. The scene was coming near to upsetting his own equanimity. Besides he had some telegrams to send. There were three and save for the address they were identically the same:
"Operation successful. Every reason to expect complete and rapid recovery."
Stuart Tremont received his just as he was driving in at the gate of his country place. A messenger boy on a wheel handed him the yellow envelope. He hurried into the house, catching up little Patricia, and swinging her to his shoulder as she ran to meet him. Eugenia was coming down the stairs.
"Good news!" he cried boyishly. "Hurrah for Daddy! He's brought the year of jubilee to the Ware family, root and branch."
"To say nothing of the professional laurels he has added to the house of Tremont," Eugenia answered. "Sometimes I'm tempted to wish you hadn't followed in his footsteps, Stuart, and chosen such a hard life. But when I think what just one cure like that means, I wouldn't have you anything else in the world than what you are, for all the kingdoms of the earth. Oh, I'm so glad for all of them! Joyce will be nearly wild with joy. She has been so broken up over Jack's condition ever since the accident, that now her happiness will be something good to see. I must try to go in to the city for a short call before we start West."
Joyce's happiness was good to see. When her telegram came she was starting out of the studio on her way to an interview with the art editor of a magazine that had published one of her sketches. She could not turn back because the appointed hour was too near at hand and the interview too important. So she stood in the corridor after she left the elevator, wiping away her happy tears until she was composed enough to go out on the street. And because she had to share her good news with some one, she told the janitor's wife. The hearty sympathy of that motherly Irish woman sent her away as if she were treading on air.
The art editor, who dimly remembered her as a very quiet, reserved young girl, wondered at the transformation when she came into his office, looking like the very incarnation of Joy. She had been afraid of the stern, forbidding man before, saying to Henrietta that she always expected him to bark at her. But to-day, to her own surprise as well as his, she found herself telling him her good news, just as she had poured it out to the janitor's wife, because she couldn't help it. That his congratulations should be quite as hearty as Mrs. Phelan's caused her no surprise then, for at the moment Jack's recovery seemed such a miracle that she felt the whole world must be interested in hearing of it. But she wondered afterwards what he must have thought of her for pouring out her confidences to him about Jack as impulsively as if he had been an old friend instead of a stranger.
Had she only known it, that impulsive outburst aroused a friendly interest in her that the reserved man rarely felt in struggling young artists, and he bought all the sketches she had with her. An hour before, that of itself would have been enough to send her back to the studio rejoicing; but now it seemed such a drop in the bucket compared to the news she had for Mrs. Boyd and Lucy and Henrietta, that she forgot to mention the little matter of the sale for several days.
There was some delay in the transmission of Betty's message. It did not reach her until nearly sundown. She was passing through the lower hall on the way to the drawing-room, when the envelope was put into her hands. The house suddenly seemed to grow stifling. She needed all out of doors to breathe in. So running down the marble steps to the river, she walked along to the circular seat surrounding the old willow. With the tree between herself and the Hall, she looked out across the Potomac, that a gorgeous sunset was turning into a river of gold.
The slip of paper fluttered in her fingers but she feared to read it. Such life-long tragedies can be told sometimes in the short space of ten words. But at last she summoned courage to glance at the message, after which she read it through slowly, several times.
Then looking up above the shining of the river to the glory of the sunset sky beyond, she whispered softly, as she had always done since she was a little child, in the great moments of her life, "Thank you, dear God!"
The same afternoon Doctor Tremont and Phil and Alex went to San Antonio, leaving the nurse and Doctor Mackay in charge of Jack. The Tremonts, after dining at Major Melville's, were to take the night train for California. They had promised Elsie to be with her as long as possible before her wedding. She had seen little of Phil for several years. He was taking a month's vacation; the first long one since he started to work, in order to spend the most of it with her in the old Gold-of-Ophir rose-garden, that had been their earliest playground. Doctor Tremont did not expect to come back to Bauer, but Phil promised to stop off for a few days on his return trip, which would be in a little less than three weeks.
After the departure of their guests the family settled down to wait patiently and happily for time to finish the process of healing. Since such great cause for thanksgiving had come to them, the small ills that every one is heir to, almost lost the power to annoy. When Mary burned herself badly with a hot iron, when she ruined her best dress by spilling a bottle of ink, when the little wildcat, which grew dearer every day, was crippled so badly by a falling wood-pile that it had to be put out of its misery, there were some tears and regrets; but the unfailing balm for everything was the thought: "But Jack's getting well! Nothing else matters much."
As Spring deepened, the wild flowers grew still more abundant. Acres of wild verbenas spread their royal purple underfoot, and the china-berry trees hung answering pennons overhead of the same kingly color. Spider-wort starred the grass. Wine-cups held up their crimson chalices along every lane. Mexican blankets sported their gaudy stripes of red and yellow, and even the cacti, thorny and forbidding, burst into gorgeous bloom.
And then, just at Easter, a waxen blossom, snow-white, and sweet-breathed as the narcissus, sprang up all over the hills. Rain lilies, Miss Edna called them. Norman and Mary gathered great armfuls of them and carried them to Mrs. Rochester to put around the chancel. They seemed to suit the little country church far better than the florists' lilies would have done. The casement windows stood open, and Mary sat looking out through one of them, listening to the reading of the account of the first Easter:
"And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun."
But it was not the green Spring-time world outside she saw. It was Jack's face as she had caught a glimpse of it, earlier in the morning, when he lay listening to his mother read those same words. She had heard him say in one of the pauses:
"Mother, sometimes I am so happy I don't see how I can endure such blessedness! I've dreamed so many times that I was well, only to waken and find it all a cruel mistake, that now when I realize it's really going to be true – that life still holds everything for me – oh, I can't tell you!" He broke off, a smile of ineffable happiness spreading over his face. "Now I know how Lazarus felt when the stone was rolled away and he heard the call 'Come forth!'"
That smile was still before Mary's eyes when the white-robed choir rose to sing, and she joined with all her heart in the chant, which swelled forth at the end of every line into a glad "Alleluia!"
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