Mary Ware in Texas
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Jack went on with his story, and Mary, perched on her watch-tower, clung to the bar above and looked down over the town. The currents of air were stronger up at the height to which she had climbed. Down below scarcely a breath was stirring, but here a fresh breeze blew the hair into her eyes and began to blow the discontent out of her mind. Her wish that Jack could see the view was followed instantly by the thought that he could never, never have any other outlook than the one the wheeled chair afforded.
"It's wicked of me to be discontented one single minute," she thought remorsefully. "There I was fussing right before him about having nothing to do, when he'd give worlds just to be foot loose – to climb up here and walk about the place. And he was so dear and considerate, never once reminded me how much harder it is for him than me, and that he has nothing else to look forward to as long as he lives."
The yellow walls of the rectory gleamed through the trees at the north end of the little hamlet, reminding her of Jack's laughing wish to know what Mrs. Rochester was like.
"It's as little as I can do to go and find out for him," she thought, "even if he did ask it in a joke. I ought to be willing to do anything in the world he expresses a wish for, poor boy. There's little enough here to amuse him."
A few minutes later, in her travelling suit and hat, with Mrs. Rochester's basket on her arm, she interrupted the reading on the gallery.
"I'm going to see your motherly friend," she announced – "to find out if she is gray-haired and double-chinned. Maybe I'll tell her how you described her."
"Don't you dare," warned Jack, laughingly. "I'll get even with you if you do."
"You've already done that on a dozen old scores," answered Mary gaily. "Good-bye, my friends and kinsmen dear! As the story books say, 'we shall see what we shall see.'"
What she saw when she rang the bell at the rectory was the exact opposite of the motherly creature whom Jack had pictured; for Mrs. Rochester, who came to the door herself, was tall and slim and very young, with the delicate, spirituelle kind of beauty that had always been plump little Mary's greatest admiration and desire. One part of Jack's guess was correct, however. She wore a big checked apron, for she was making cake, and she invited Mary into the dining-room where the materials were all spread out on the table.
With the girlish cordiality that had won her so many friends even in unsociable Bauer, she made Mary feel so much at home, that in a few moments she was insisting on helping with the cake. It seemed a matter of course that Mrs. Rochester should hand her the egg-beater, and before the eggs were whipped into a stiff white mountain of snow, they were exchanging experiences like old friends. Mrs. Rochester had found Bauer a lonely place too, at first.
"Jack says there was some great mix-up made when I alighted on this planet," said Mary."I should have dropped down some place where 'the breaking waves dashed high on a stern and rock-bound coast.' He says I wasn't meant for a quiet fish-pond existence."
"I know," laughed her hostess. "You feel as if you were bound into the wrong book. You'd be perfectly satisfied to find yourself in one of Scott's novels, in a jumble of knights and tourneys and border wars, but you would be bored beyond endurance to have to be one of the characters in Jane Austen's stories."
"Oh, you do know," cried Mary eagerly, emphasizing her pleasure with a harder bang of the egg-beater. "You understand exactly. There's nothing tamer than Miss Austen's stories. Why, there's pages and pages taken up with just discussing the weather and each other's health; and they do such trivial, inane things and go around and around in such a deadly monotonous circle that sometimes I've been so out of patience with them that I wanted to throw the book into a corner."
"But you never did throw it down," answered Mrs. Rochester, "you read on to the end and in spite of yourself you were interested in those same commonplace happenings and conversations, just as readers before you have been interested in them and always will be as long as those books live. And I'll tell you why. You read them to the end because they are true pictures of the lives of average people. The majority of us have to put up with the humdrum, no matter how much we long for the heroic, and it's a good thing to read such books as 'Emma' and 'Pride and Prejudice' every now and then, as a sort of spirit-level. We're more satisfied to amble along the road if everybody else drives a slow nag too."
"I'm not," declared Mary. "I want to whizz past everything in sight that is poky and slow. I know it would be lots easier for me if I could only make up my mind to the fact that nothing exciting and important is ever going to happen to me, but I can't break myself of the habit of expecting it. I've felt that way as far back as I can remember. I'm always looking for something grand and unexpected, and every morning when I wake up it gives me a sort of thrill to think, maybe it will come to-day."
"Well, if you're going to stay in Bauer for awhile you certainly do need another dose of 'Emma,'" answered Mrs. Rochester, nodding to the shelves in the adjoining library, where stood a well thumbed edition of Miss Austen's works. "Take her home with you, and any of the books you think your brother would like. We are glad to make our library a circulating one."
Mary's face showed her pleasure quite as much as her words, as she left her seat by the table to slip into the great book-lined room and glance around it.
"You've made up for one of my disappointments," she called back. "I had counted so much on having the library in San Antonio to draw on this winter, and this is even better, for I'm sure that they haven't all these rare old prints and first editions that I see here."
Her five minutes' call stretched into an hour, when she found that Mrs. Rochester had been brought up in Washington and had spent her school days there. Then it stretched into two, for some one drove in from the country with a carriage load of autumn leaves, and Mary stayed to help arrange them in the little church for the Thanksgiving service next day. It was nearly noon when she finally started home with several books under her arm, her usual hopefulness and buoyancy of spirits quite restored.
"Mamma and I can't both be away from Jack at the same time," she said in response to Mrs. Rochester's invitation to attend the service next day. "I want her to come. I've already had my share of Thanksgiving. I've been thankful every minute while I've been here that I discovered you. It's been a beautiful morning."
"Come over often," urged Mrs. Rochester cordially. "I can always find something for you to do, and I'd love to have you come."
Mary's wave of the hand as she turned to latch the gate at the end of the walk was answered by a flutter of Mrs. Rochester's apron in the doorway, and each went her way smiling over the recollection of the other.
"She's a diverting little piece," Mrs. Rochester reported to her husband at noon. "I laughed all the time she was here."
"She's a darling," Mary reported at home, and quoted her at intervals for several days.
"She's promised to take me with her sometime when she drives out to call at the ranches. Nearly all the members of St. Boniface are out-of-town people, so they'll probably not call on us she says. But she's coming as soon as she can get around to it. I saw our name on a list she has hanging beside her calendar. But there's nearly a week full of things for her to do before she gets to us. I wish that I had a list of duties and engagements that would keep me going every minute, the way she has to go."
"You can easily fill out a list that will keep you busy for awhile," answered her mother. "While you were gone Jack and I got to discussing dates, and it was somewhat of a shock to find that Christmas will be here so soon. One forgets the calendar in this summer-like climate. Whatever we send to Holland and Joyce must be started from here in less than three weeks, and as our gifts must be all home-made we cannot afford to lose any time in beginning."
The problem of Christmas giving had always been a knotty one in the Ware household, but it was especially hard this year. Mary spent nearly all afternoon making her list of names with the accompanying list of gifts that seemed suitable for each one. There were so many to whom she longed to send little remembrances that the length of it was appalling. Then she revised it, putting in one column such people as Madam Chartley and Mrs. Lee, to whom she decided to write letters – the gayest, brightest greetings she could think of. Still there were a goodly number left to provide with gifts, no matter how simple, and she was busy till bed-time measuring and figuring over the amount of material she would need for each, and how much it would cost. It had been decided that she should go to San Antonio for a day to attend to the family shopping.
"The trouble is," she sighed next morning, "it's the simplest things that are always the hardest to get. Don't you remember, in the story of Beauty and the Beast, the father had no difficulty in buying ropes of jewels and costly things for his oldest daughters, but it almost cost him his life to get the one common little white rose that his youngest daughter so modestly asked for. I could do this shopping in a few hours if I did not have to stop to consider pennies, but there are several little things that may take me all day to find. I'm sure that that particular kind of narrow beading that I need for Lloyd's present will prove to be the fatal white rose. I can't make it without and there isn't time to send back East for it."
"Maybe you'd better arrange to stay over night," suggested her mother, "and take two days to look around for what you want. Of course you couldn't go to a hotel alone, and it would be too expensive even if you had company, but Mrs. Rochester might be able to recommend some private family who has rooms for transients."
Mary caught at the idea so eagerly that had it not been Thanksgiving Day and she feared to intrude, she would have gone that very hour to ask if the Rochesters knew of such a place. She remembered that they were to have guests to dinner. Fortunately for her peace of mind the rector and his wife called for a few moments just before dusk. Mrs. Rochester did know of a quiet inexpensive place where she could spend the night, and then and there slipped off her gloves to write a cordial note of introduction.
It rained the Friday after Thanksgiving, but the next day was fair, and Mary insisted on doing the week's washing Saturday morning, and as much of the ironing as she could accomplish in the afternoon, in order to be able to start early Monday morning. Several times she left her tubs to run into the house and jot down some small items on her memorandum, which she remembered would be indispensable in making up their Christmas packages. Once she thought of something in the night, when the barking of a neighbor's dog awakened her.
If she had been alone in the room she would have lighted a candle and made a note of it. As it was she was afraid to do so lest she waken her mother, and afraid not to lest it should slip her mind before morning. Finally she settled the difficulty by putting her hand to her head and pulling out several hairs which she twisted together and tied around her finger.
"There!" she said to herself. "Hair will make me think of herring, and then ring will make me think of the little white celluloid rings that I must get for those safety-pin holders."
Armed with Mrs. Rochester's letter she started off gaily on the Monday morning train. It was not due in the city till nearly ten, so she decided that it would save time to go at once to the largest department store, check her suit-case and wait until shopping hours were over before going out to the boarding-house which Mrs. Rochester had recommended.
She had thought San Antonio charming the first time she saw it, but it seemed doubly so now that she came back to it, as one familiar with its principal streets and landmarks. The life, the color, the holiday air of the crowds, the f?te day atmosphere of the old town itself, exhilarated her till her cheeks glowed like roses, and several times, both on the street and in the stores, she caught herself whistling half under her breath.
Although the usual Monday morning bargain hunters were out in throngs, she found no trouble in making her purchases. Everything seemed to be in her favor this morning. The shop girls were unusually responsive and helpful, showed her just what she wanted or suggested something better than she had thought of. Only once or twice did the prices go above the limit she had set for them, and several times they were lower. By quarter to twelve she had checked off two thirds of the articles on her list.
Elated by this success, she stood waiting at the transfer desk for her change, looking around with unabated interest. Suddenly her attention was attracted to a girl in a brown tailor suit, standing in the next aisle. Her back was turned towards Mary, but there was something familiar looking in the poise of the graceful head; something very familiar looking in the puffs of soft auburn-bronze hair held by amber combs, and arranged so becomingly under the big brown hat.
Mary had been on the look-out all morning for the girl whom Jack had recognized at the hotel as Gay Melville. She might have missed her had Gay been an ordinary blonde or brunette, but as Jack said, there was no mistaking that glorious hair. Snatching up the proffered change, which the cashier put through the cage window, she pushed her way into the next aisle. The girl turned. The big plumed hat drooped over her face, still Mary recognized the delicate profile, the slight tilt of the slender chin. It was an opportunity which she could not afford to lose, and as the girl turned her back again to receive a package held out to her by a clerk, and started slowly to the door, Mary hurried after her.
Almost breathless in her eagerness she exclaimed impulsively, "I beg your pardon – but aren't you Gay?"
There was an instant of freezing silence as the eyes of the girl in brown swept Mary from head to foot.
"Well, not particularly," was the indignant reply.
The roll of her r's emphasized Mary's mistake. It was evidently some stranger from the North whom she had accosted. One glance into her full face made Mary see how dire her mistake had been. There was no resemblance whatever in that to Gay. Wishing that she could drop out of sight through the floor, she hastily apologized and hurried out into the street, her cheeks burning, as she smarted under the recollection of the stranger's supercilious glance.
"She needn't have been so snippy," Mary thought. "Anybody is liable to make such mistakes."
Not until she had crossed the street and was stopped short by her own reflection in a mirror in the show window opposite, did she realize how her question might have sounded.
"Oh, she must have thought that I was asking her if she wasn't gay! Gay with a little g!" she gasped. "No wonder she looked at me so freezingly."
She was so perturbed by this discovery, that she walked on, unmindful of the direction. When a group of children crowded past her on the narrow pavement, she turned into a side street to avoid being jostled, and walked aimlessly for some distance. It was the sight of a green kettle swinging above a door which she was approaching that brought her to herself with a start. Mrs. Rochester had told her to stop at the Sign of the Green Kettle for lunch, and had given her directions for finding it. Here she had stumbled upon it unaware, just as the city bells were beginning to clang for noon.
At the next glance her heart went to thumping so hard that she could plainly hear it. There on the step leading up to the door of the Green Kettle, stood Gay Melville; the real Gay this time. There was no shadow of doubt about it. As she looked, Mary wondered how she ever could have mistaken the other girl for her, although each had hair wonderfully like the other.
This one carried a violin case. She had paused on her way in to call back something to the girl in the carriage, who had brought her down town. And the girl in the carriage was Roberta – Roberta of the boyish speech and coquettish eyelashes, whose laughing question held the girl on the step long enough for Mary to reach it too, and stand there beside her while she gathered courage to speak.
It was the little pin thrust through Gay's tie which finally brought the words trembling to Mary's lips, for it was the Warwick Hall pin which only its alumni might wear; those who had kept the four years' tryst with all its requirements. It was a mailed hand rising from a heart to grasp a spear, the motto and the crest of Edryn.
All diffidence fled at that familiar sight, but this time Mary did not ask if the girl were gay. With a gesture toward the pin she cried breathlessly, "Oh, I know by that that you are Miss Melville. Aren't you!" Gay after one look into the eager gray eyes said quite as cordially, "And you're Mary Ware! I had a letter from Betty Lewis this very morning telling me to be sure to find you."
She gave a quick glance at the chatelaine watch she wore. "I haven't a minute to stop – I'm to play an obligato for the great prima donna, Madame de Martel, and she has a beast of a temper which she lets loose if a person is one second late at rehearsal. But I must take time to say one thing if she wipes me off the face of the earth for it. The girls' letters have made me wild to know you. At what hotel can I find you? I'll call this very day."
"We've taken a cottage in Bauer," Mary answered hastily. "I came down on a little shopping expedition, and am on my way in here for luncheon."
The heavy chords of a piano accompaniment rolled threateningly through the music rooms up-stairs, and Gay shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "Do be a long time over it," she begged as she turned towards the stairs. "I'll get through as quickly as possible and hurry back for another word with you."
Mary watched her out of sight before starting into the dining-room of the Green Kettle, and then deliberately pinched herself to make sure that she was awake. It was a good hard nip, which hurt, and smiling to herself because it proved that she was not dreaming, she sat down at a table near the window to gloat over the fact that one of her best dreams had come true at last. She had met Gay Melville.
The lunch was a good one, but it would have made no difference to Mary what was put before her that day. Anything would have been nectar and ambrosia served to the accompaniment of the music overhead. A chorus of cherubim and seraphim could not have left her more uplifted. Madame de Martel might have the temper of a beast at times, but she had a voice of rare sweetness and power, and the knowledge that it was Gay's violin pouring out that tremulous, tender, heartbreaking obligato, enhanced Mary's enjoyment of every note.
The rehearsal was a short one. All that the famous visiting singer wanted was to make sure, since her own accompanists had failed her, that the local ones were satisfactory. It came to an end just as Mary began her dessert, and almost instantly it seemed Gay was at her elbow, and seating herself in the chair beside her.
"Isn't it a shame I haven't more than two minutes to stay," she began. "This is like having Warwick Hall and Lloydsboro Valley rolled into one, to find somebody who loves them both as much as I do. I could talk a week without stopping about each place, and ask a thousand questions, but I'm due at a luncheon out on Government Hill by the time the next car can put me there. Immediately after that is over we're all going to the polo tournament. All during rehearsal I kept trying to think of some way I could arrange to see you, and there's only one. You've simply got to come home with me to stay all night. Go on and finish your shopping, and I'll come down for you after the tournament and meet you anywhere you say."
The invitation, as cordial as it was sudden, was gladly accepted and Gay exclaimed, "Oh, I'm so delighted to think I've found you at last! You've no idea how often you were quoted the summer I was in the Valley. Lloyd and Betty and the old Colonel and Dr. Alex Shelby were always saying 'as little Mary Ware says.' I feel as if I'd known you from babyhood up."
"And I know all about your past," laughed Mary. She was about to mention several incidents to prove her claim, when Gay stopped her by a glance at the clock and the question: "Wouldn't you like to see the dress parade at the Post this evening? Most people do, and it's well worth seeing."
Would she like it! Mary's beaming face answered the question before her usually ready tongue found a word, and Gay smiled as she hastily drew on her gloves and picked up her violin case.
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