Annie Johnston.

Mary Ware in Texas



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Now the one thing that Mary enjoyed above all others was hearing Phil sing, and quite the pleasantest part of her whole visit was that last evening spent in listening to him, with Roberta at the piano, and Gay improvising wonderfully soft and lovely accompaniments on her violin. Mary had heard two celebrated opera singers while in Washington, but in her opinion neither one equalled Phil.

Phil's surprise would have been unbounded could he have known that she was comparing his singing to the angel Israfel's, "whose heartstrings were a lute, and who had the sweetest voice of all God's creatures." It would have been a matter of still greater surprise if he could have known the exalted opinion that Mary had of him. Not that any sentimental interest entered into her regard for him. Despite her eighteen years and her womanly attitude towards the world in general, she was still a little girl, and a very humble little girl in her own estimation, as far as he was concerned. He was her ideal; the man whose good opinion she valued above all things, whose approval made her inexpressibly happy, and whose advice she eagerly followed.

She had adored him for years as little girls do sometimes look up to and adore grown men, and had stored away in her memory many a remark that he forgot as soon as it was uttered. There was the time she confided to him her grief at being so fat and her ambition to be an "airy, fairy Lillian," like Lloyd. He did not even smile, and he answered so gravely and kindly that she remembered even yet the consolation that his words gave her. Another time she overheard him referring to her as an "angel unawares," because she had unknowingly done him a service by repeating something Lloyd had said about him.

From that time on, that was the part she longed to play in his life. She burned to be the "angel unawares" who could help him to the attainment of everything he wanted. That was why she had been so bitterly disappointed when Lloyd's engagement to Rob Moore had been announced. She wanted Lloyd to marry Phil because she knew that was what Phil wanted. Now that that was not possible she was just as ready to help him if he should ever love again. She hardly thought that he could do that, though. It seemed so incredible that he should ever find another as fine and high and sweet as the Princess Winsome; it was still more incredible that once having set his mark that high he could ever look at anything less.

His powerful, well-trained voice filled the room with a sweetness that brought an ache to her throat and sometimes tears to her eyes. Presently Roberta rummaged out some old, old melodies – "Drink to me only with thine eyes," and the "Bedouin Love-song."

When she asked for that last one, Mary cringed inwardly, as if she had been hurt herself, so sure was she that it must bring up painful memories to Phil. She fully expected to see him lay it aside with some excuse for not singing it. She remembered as vividly as if it were only last night how she had sat on the floor of the library at The Locusts, listening to the notes of his guitar as he sang to Lloyd outside on the porch:

 
"Till the stars are old
And the sun grows cold
And the leaves of the Judgment
Book unfold."
 

For the life of her, she couldn't see how Lloyd ever listened to any other wooing after that.

Had any one sung that to her in that voice it would have won her so completely that she would have risen like the Sleeping Beauty at the call of the prince.

 
"Beyond the night – across the day —
Through all the world she followed him."
 

To her surprise, Phil took up the sheet of music as nonchalantly as if he had never seen it before. But when he began to sing it seemed to her anxious ear that he sang it more feelingly than anything she had ever heard. It was plain enough to her now that he had not ceased to care. It wrung her heart to hear him sing it so, pouring out his soul in a flood of noble devotion which he knew could never be requited, but which would live on till the sun lost its heat and the stars their light.

"I love that song," said Roberta, laying it aside to pick up another. "But I'd like to meet that fiery old duck of a Bedouin when the leaves of the Judgment Book do unfold, and find out how long his devotion kept up to high-water mark." Then she trilled airily, "Men are gay deceivers ever."

Under the circumstances the remark seemed flippant, almost sacrilegious, to Mary. She gave Roberta a disapproving glance behind her back, thinking, "Little you know about it. If you could see as I do now, how Phil is hiding his real feelings, you'd realize that there's one man, at least, capable of the deathless devotion you scoff at."

The evening was over all too soon. Phil was to take Roberta home on his way back to the hotel, and when he rose to go said, "I'll not make my farewells now. My train doesn't leave till nearly noon to-morrow, so I'll call some time during the morning to pay my respects to the Major and see you all again."

"You'll have to say good-by to Mary now," said Gay. "She insists on taking that horrid freight car back to Bauer, at seven in the morning."

"I must," said Mary. "You know they need me, now that the nurse is gone, and I've already been away two days."

Roberta went out into the hall for her hat, and Gay followed as far as the door, talking as she went.

"And I haven't had any visit with you at all," said Phil, who was standing, hat in hand, looking down at Mary. "I haven't had a word with you by yourself, and you haven't confided once in me or asked me a single scrap of advice. It doesn't seem natural. But I'm not going to let you escape me this way; I'm going down to the train in the morning to see you off."

Gay turned in time to hear the last part of his sentence. "That is," she corrected, "if you are called in time. They don't always do it at hotels when they say they will. I've had some bad experiences that way. So if he doesn't appear, Mary, you can console yourself with the thought that he's like Kathleen Mavourneen – 'slumbering still.'"

"I'll be there," was the confident reply, as he smiled down into Mary's wistful eyes and held out his hand to say good-night. "Electric bells are not as romantic as the 'horn of the hunter heard on the hill,' but they're more effective when it comes to getting a fellow up in the morning; you'll see me sure."

CHAPTER XV
NEW TRAILS

The train to Bauer left so early that Mary had to take the first street-car passing the Post, in order to reach the station in time. Gay had announced her intention of going down with her, but did not awaken until Mary, who occupied an adjoining room, was nearly dressed and the maid was bringing up a hastily-prepared breakfast, on a tray. But Mary could not honestly share Gay's regrets at being late. She had dressed noiselessly on purpose not to waken her. She wanted to go alone in order to have those last moments with Phil all to herself, and she was so elated when she finally got away from the house unaccompanied that she could have sung aloud.

Her route took her through Alamo plaza again, and the streets which still bore witness to the presence of the Carnival. All the buildings were still gay with bunting, and flags flapped merrily in the morning sunshine. She wondered which would be first to reach the station, and all the way down, Phil's face was before her. She could see just the way he would look, coming towards her through the crowd, tall and distinguished and with such a jolly twinkle in his handsome eyes. And he would call out, "Hullo, little Vicar; I beat you to it!" or some such friendly greeting as that.

She did not know that she was smiling to herself, but it made no difference. There was no one to see, for the men on the car were all hidden behind their morning papers. When she reached the station only a few people were in sight, and when she climbed into the coach at the end of the long line of freight-cars, there were not more than half a dozen passengers aboard. All of them looked sleepy, and a series of gentle snores attracted her attention to an old countryman, curled up on a back seat with his valise for a pillow.

On her way in she had passed through the waiting-room and given a hasty look around to see if Phil were ahead of her. Glancing up at the clock she found that she had ten minutes to spare. Three of these passed in getting settled and in taking an inventory of her fellow-passengers. Then she began to hang out of the window and anxiously watch the waiting-room door. She was growing uneasy. Maybe the clerk had forgotten to call him. Maybe he was "slumbering still," as Gay had prophesied. He might have missed the car he should have taken, or there might be a tie-up somewhere along the line.

A colored man hurried into the coach with a chunk of ice for the water cooler. The conductor came down the platform looking at his watch, and signalled something to a brakeman. Mary put her head out of the window again and looked anxiously up and down, whispering in a flutter of nervousness, "Oh, why doesn't he come? Why doesn't he come? There's only a minute or two left and there won't be time for a word."

She would not admit the possibility of his not coming at all, until she heard the warning, "All aboard!" the ringing of the engine bell, and felt the jerk and jar which proclaimed all too plainly that the car was in motion. She was so disappointed that she could hardly keep the tears back. Her last thought before falling asleep the night before and the first one on awakening had been that she was going to see the "Best Man" by himself a few moments, without any talkative Roberta to absorb his attention, or any other people to run away with the conversation.

It was a very disconsolate little face that turned towards the open window to hide its disappointment from possibly curious neighbors. She found it hard to wink the tears back when she was so deeply, grievously disappointed. Her back was turned resolutely towards the aisle and her arms were crossed on the window-sill. In that position she could not see the rear door of the car open and some one come in from the back platform. He stood a moment, his hat in one hand and a suit-case in the other, breathing fast as if he had been running. Then after a searching glance through the car, he went directly down the aisle and stopped beside Mary's seat. Her attitude, even to the droop of her hat-brim, proclaimed her dejection so clearly that a smile twitched the corners of his mouth. Then he said in a deep voice, so deep that it was fairly sepulchral, "I beg pardon, Miss. May I occupy this end of the seat?"

Startled by the strange voice so near, she turned a very sober and unsmiling face to see what manner of person had accosted her. Then she exclaimed, in astonishment, "Why, Phil Tremont! How ever did you get on without my seeing you? I looked and looked and thought you must have gotten left!"

Then realizing that the train was well under way and they had been carried some distance past the station, she cried in alarm, "But you can't get off! They're carrying you away!" She was almost wringing her hands in her excitement.

"Well, I don't mind it if you don't," said Phil, sitting down beside her and laughing at her concern. "I'm going along with you. Something Miss Roberta said last night on her way home started me to thinking, and – the result was, I decided to spend another day and night in Bauer. It's positively my last appearance, however. I'll leave for good in the morning."

What Roberta could have said to make such a change in his plans was more than Mary could imagine. She almost had to bite her tongue to keep from asking, and Phil, knowing that he had aroused her wildest curiosity, laughed again. But he wasted no more time in teasing her.

"No, really," he said, "I was joking. A telegram from my firm routed me out about six o'clock this morning. They want me to go to St. Louis to see some parties before returning to New York. I figured it out that I could double things up there so as to give me one more day here. But it took me so long to figure it, that, by the time I had made up my mind, there was only a moment to stuff my things into my suit-case and call a taxicab. When I got down to the station I saw I had about three minutes in which to snatch a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the lunch counter; but the coffee was so hot I came near missing my train. Had to run a block and swing up on the rear platform. If it had been the regular express I couldn't have caught it. Luckily it was a freight, so here I am."

He did not add that an unaccountable impulse to go back to Bauer had seized him the night before when he bade her good-night, or that the impulse had been strengthened afterward by a casual remark of Roberta's about Lieutenant Boglin. Roberta thought she saw the first symptoms of a budding romance on Bogey's part.

Not being given to the practice of analyzing his feelings, Phil did not stop to ask himself why it should make any difference to him what the lieutenant thought of little Mary Ware, nor did he realize at the time how much that remark influenced his decision to spend one more day with her. Afterwards he used to say that it was Fate and not himself that was responsible for that journey; that it was destined from the beginning he should chase madly after that freight-train, catch it, and thereby give himself four long uninterrupted hours in which to grow better acquainted with her than he had ever been before.

At the end of that time he knew why he had been drawn back. It was that her real self, the depth of whose charm he had not even half suspected, should be revealed to him in the intimacy of this conversation. It changed his whole attitude toward her to find how much she had changed herself; how she had grown and developed. In some ways she was still the amusing child whose unexpected sayings had first attracted him. She would always be that, but she was so much more now; and, again, as on the day he met her in the field of blue-bonnets, he found himself watching her, trying to decide just wherein her charm lay, and how it made her different from any other girl he had ever known. Sometimes he would almost lose what she was saying, puzzling over the problem.

At the stone quarry, while they waited a long time for the engine to switch off some empty cars, and pick up some loaded ones, they left the coach and walked up and down beside the track. They were talking about Gay and Alex, and he laughed at her outspoken honesty in expressing her opinion about their delayed wedding.

"I think it's so sensible for them to wait till he's got something saved up for a rainy day, when he's nothing now but his practice. It's like providing a sort of financial umbrella. Really, it is just like starting out without a sign of an umbrella when you know it's going to rain, and trusting to luck to keep you dry, for people to marry with nothing to depend on but an uncertain salary."

Phil laughed, as he answered, "What a little pessimist you are, Mary. It doesn't always rain, and people have married without such a provision who lived happily ever after."

"But it does oftener than it doesn't," she insisted. "Papa and mamma lived happily, and he had only his practice as a young lawyer. But look what we've been through since he died. Things wouldn't have come to such a pass when his health broke down if there had been something laid away for such emergencies. Joyce and I have often talked about it when we've had to pinch and work and economize down to the last cent."

"So you'll never marry a man who has only the shelter of a salary to offer you?" said Phil, teasingly.

"I didn't say that," answered Mary, her face puckered up into a puzzled expression. "I don't want to, and I don't think I would, but, honestly, I don't know what I would do. I'm afraid that if I loved a man as much as you ought to to be his wife that I'd be every bit as foolish as anybody else, and that I'd marry him even if I had to take in back stairs to scrub for a living. But I do hope I'll have more sense, or else he won't be that kind of a man. It isn't that I mind work," she added, "but I'm so tired of doing without and making over, and tugging and pulling to make both ends meet. Do you know what they call me at home? The Watch-dog of the Treasury, and you can guess what I've had to be like to earn such a name. I earned it, too, all right. I fought over every penny, and I'd hate to keep on in the same old rut all the rest of my days. It would be so nice to look forward to a luxurious old age."

She laughed when she had said it, but such a tired little sigh came first, and that wistful look again in her honest, straightforward eyes as she glanced up at him, that he was seized with a sudden desire such as no one else had ever inspired before, to pick her up and carry her away from all her troubles; to surround her with all the girlish pleasures and pretty things she loved, and to humor every whim all the rest of her life. But all he said was:

"And if you were a man I suppose you would feel the same way about it."

"Oh, more so!" she cried. "The more I thought of a girl the surer I'd want to be that she need never face that rainy day unprotected."

She stooped to pick a tiny yellow star from a clump of broom growing alongside the track, and they walked on in silence a moment. Then he said, with an amused side-glance at her:

"You can't imagine how funny it seems to hear such common-sense, practical 'side talks on matrimony' from an eighteen-year-old girl like you. I feel as if I'd had a scolding from my grandmother, and that I'll have to own up that I did it, but I'm sorry and I'll never do it again."

"Did what?" queried Mary in surprise.

"Spent everything as fast as I made it. Had money to burn and burnt it. I don't ask any better salary than I've been receiving for several years. Of course, when I go in by myself, that'll be another matter. But I'll have to own up; out of it all, I've saved practically nothing. I haven't spent it in riotous living, and it doesn't seem that I've been particularly extravagant, but it's gone. It just slipped through my fingers."

"Oh, well, you," began Mary. "That's different."

"In what way is it different?" he persisted, when she did not go on.

"Well, if a man doesn't mind getting wet himself it's nobody's business if he takes chances. It's the man who expects to – to have some one else to protect – who ought to be ready for the possible storms."

"But what makes you think that I'll always go it alone?" insisted Phil. "That I'll never have any one to – protect? That's what you seem to insinuate."

He was looking directly into her eyes, laughingly, teasingly, and a wave of color swept over her face. Roberta would have evaded the question, and turned it off with a laugh. Mary was too simple and direct. It was the moment she had long felt must confront her some time. Her day of reckoning had come for playing eavesdropper. No matter how hard she fought against doing so, she knew she was going to confess that she had been one, albeit unintentionally.

As he repeated his question with smiling insistence, the words stuck in her throat, but the thought uppermost in her mind called out to him by some strange, telepathic power, and he understood as if she had spoken.

"You think," he said slowly, looking into her eyes as if the written words were actually before him there and he was reading them aloud, "you think that it is on Lloyd's account. How did you know about —that?"

It startled her so that he should read her thought in such a way that she could only stammer in reply:

"I – I – heard you singing to her once at The Locusts, that song you sang last night, 'Till the stars are old,' and I thought if you cared for her as it sounded both times, that there couldn't be anybody else, ever!"

Phil turned partly away from her, and stared off towards the hills a moment, his eyes narrowed into a thoughtful, musing expression. Finally he said, "I thought so, too, Mary, once. I thought it for a number of years. That time will always be one of the sweetest and most sacred of my memories. One's earliest love always is, they say, like the first white violet in the spring."

There was a long pause, then he finished the sentence by turning around to her to say, significantly, "But there's always a summer after every spring, you know. Come on, we'd better be getting aboard again. It looks as if they're about ready to start."

He helped her up the steps and followed her down the aisle. While adjusting the window-shade before she took her seat, he began to talk of other things, and the subject was dropped between them. But it was not dropped in Mary's mind. She had been called on to adjust herself to a new viewpoint of him so quickly that it left her mentally gasping. With his own hand he had ruthlessly swept away one of her dearest illusions. She had always believed that no matter who else might forget, he would always stand as a model of manly constancy. What surprised her now was not his change of view. It was her own. By that one sentence he had made it perfectly clear to her that it was not reasonable to expect him to go on mourning always for the "first white violet." It was only natural that summer should follow the spring.



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