Annie Johnston.

Mary Ware in Texas



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Mary felt as if she had been thrust into a corner and deprived of power to come out. At first she was so absorbed in her enjoyment of the music that she was not conscious of that sensation, but it oppressed her when Lieutenant Boglin and the Captain of the polo team, a Mr. Mills, came in. They were strangers to her but old friends of all the others, and she suddenly felt herself as self-conscious and shy as the bashful little country mouse of the fable. She began to contrast herself with the other girls, and try to find a reason for the difference which she felt existed.

"It's partly because they've always lived in the heart of things," she thought, a trifle enviously. "They're used to meeting strangers, and they're pretty and gifted and accomplished; a very different thing from being just 'plain little Mary Ware,' with no talents or anything. I can't even play Yankee Doodle with one finger, as Norman does."

When they went out to dinner the uneven number and the small size of the company made the conversation general around the table. If it had been a larger party with only her immediate neighbors to give ear, Mary was sure that she could have found plenty to say to the Major on one side, or to Lieutenant Boglin on the other. But Roberta kept the conversational ball rolling, and always in directions that Mary could not follow. She knew nothing of polo or golf or the people of the Post, and the funny stories and quick-witted replies which circled around the table gave her no opportunity to rise to the occasion as the others did.

They were all so vastly entertained and entertaining themselves that no one seemed to notice Mary's silence. She was angry with herself because she could not chime in with the others, and thought with flaming cheeks that they must think her dreadfully stupid and unresponsive; just a bread-and-butter miss, not yet out of the nursery. Once there came a place where an anecdote about Hawkins and a new school-girl would have fitted in beautifully if she could only have mustered up courage to tell it. She had a conundrum too, when the others were propounding them, and had opened her mouth to tell it – in fact had said "Did you ever hear – " when somebody else who had not heard her tremulous beginning captured the attention of the table with one of his own. The sound of her voice thus suddenly stopped made her blush, choke, take a drink of water and subside into silence again.

It was not until coffee was being served afterward in the living-room, that Mary found her tongue. Roberta did not take coffee, and at the Major's request had gone to the piano to play a dashing fantasie that he always called for on such occasions. The lieutenant, who, as Mary had feared, had classed her as a callow little school-girl who couldn't talk except in embarrassed monosyllables, had been wondering why Gay had made such a point of his meeting her. Now as he looked across the room at her animated face, responsive to every chord of the brilliantly executed music, he decided that there might be some reason for Gay's interest in her which he had not yet fathomed, and he at once proceeded to find out.

He started towards her, stopping to say in an aside to Gay, "What's the little girl's name? I've forgotten.

Oh, thank you." Then he deliberately pulled up a chair, t?te-?-t?te wise, and seated himself beside her, coffee-cup in hand.

"Miss Ware," he began in a flatteringly confidential tone, "it is an old saying that the 'shallows murmur, but the deeps are dumb.' Is that why you are so silent this evening?"

It was easy now, under cover of the music, and in response to such deferential attention to make a reply, and Mary began at a rate that made Bogey "sit up and take notice," as he expressed it afterward.

"No, I was only like the fox in ?sop's fables, the one that went to dine with the stork, you know.

Don't you remember, the stork put the soup into such a slender-necked deep vase that only a long-beaked bird like himself could reach it. You see the people you talked about to-night were utter strangers to me, and I never saw a polo game, so I couldn't very well dip into the conversation."

"By George!" exclaimed Bogey. "That wasn't very considerate of us, was it?"

"Oh, I enjoyed it!" Mary hastened to add. "Only I was afraid you'd think I was dreadfully stupid. It made me think of the time I used that same fable to get rid of an unwelcome caller when I was at a house-party in Kentucky. I wanted to be with the older girls who were to be bridesmaids, and watch their preparations for the wedding, and this child tagged after me so persistently that I lay awake nights trying to plan some way to get rid of her. It was the fable that finally suggested it. I had lots of fun playing the stork, but I never realized before just how she must have felt, till I took the part of fox to-night."

"Tell me how you did it," insisted the lieutenant. He liked the way Mary's face lighted up when she talked, and the way her dimples flashed in and out as she chattered on. Gay looked over approvingly a little later when his hearty laugh showed that he was thoroughly amused by something that she had said.

The t?te-?-t?te was ended by the stopping of the music and the arrival of the man who was to be Gay's escort, and almost immediately after it seemed, although in fact it was half an hour, the 'bus whistle sounded outside, and Mary was being hurried into her borrowed party cloak and helped into the waiting 'bus.

"It always goes around the Post collecting passengers on such occasions as this," Bogey told her. "You can imagine we sometimes have a jolly crowd."

It was an old story to the other passengers, but as they passed the sally port where the sentinel stood attention, Mary nearly fell out in her eagerness to see all the novel sights. The lieutenant smiled at her enthusiasm. Visiting girls always exhibited it in some degree, but never in quite such a precipitate manner as Mary.

"She's a funny little piece," he thought as the whole 'bus load laughed at her na?ve comment on the sentinel, "but there is something genuine and likeable about her. She shall have the time of her life to-night if I can give it to her."

CHAPTER VI
ON THE CREEK-BANK

There is only a partial account of that evening in Mary's Good Times book. She recorded the fact that the General himself came and talked to her a few minutes, and laughed several times at her replies till people turned to see who it was that he found so amusing. The handsome officer of the day in sword and spurs was brought up to be introduced, and there was a most gratifying list of names on her well-filled program. Lieutenant Boglin had dutifully seen to that.

Had it not been for one circumstance the evening would have been a succession of thrills, and she could have filled several pages with enthusiastic recollections of it. That one little happening, however, marred the whole occasion. She made no record of it in her Good Times book, and she made up her mind never to speak of it, but to seal it up in its particular memory cell as the bees do any intruding object which threatens to poison their honey.

There was so much else to tell about her visit, that for several days after her return she kept the family amused by her lively descriptions. She and Gay had had a whole string of adventures the morning after the hop, when they went down town together to finish her shopping. There had been some interesting guests from New Zealand at luncheon, who had vied with each other in telling marvelous yarns, and Mary had stored them all away to repeat at home.

With so much else to talk about she might have succeeded in keeping her resolution, had not she and Jack gone off to the creek one afternoon, instead of taking their usual excursion towards the village. The spot where they paused was a place which seemed to invite confidences. She wheeled his chair along the bank, close to the water's edge, until they came to a secluded circle of shade under an ancient cypress tree. There she sat down opposite him on a big boulder.

They were some distance from the main road. Except when a wagon rattled down the hill and across the ford it was so very still that the rush of water over the pebbles sounded almost brawling. The constant gurgle and swish seemed to have a sort of hypnotic effect on them both, for neither of them spoke for a long time. Then Jack broke the silence.

"This monotony is getting on my nerves," he said in a low tense voice. "You're a wonder to me, Mary. I don't see how you can come back to such a deadly stupid place as this is, after the taste of gay times you've had, and settle down again as cheerfully as you do. It makes me desperate whenever I think that if it wasn't for my being in such a fix you needn't be tied here. You could be where you'd have the social opportunities you ought to have."

Mary looked up quickly. This tone of bitterness was a new note in Jack's speech. He had drawn his hat down over his eyes, and was gripping the arms of his chair with both hands, as if trying to keep his resentment against fate in check.

"Just let me tell you something," cried Mary, so anxious to smooth the grim lines of suffering out of the beloved face that she recklessly broke her resolution. "I didn't have as good a time at that hop as I made out! The last part of it was perfectly ghastly, and I never want to go to another as long as I live!"

Then, seeing the look of blank amazement that spread over Jack's face, she hastened to explain.

"Oh, it started out beautifully. I was simply ecstatic when we climbed out of the 'bus and were ushered into that long room with the flags and the evergreens, and the military music. And you already know how much it meant to me to have the General so nice to me and the officer of the day so attentive and complimentary; and how happy I was to have my programme filled up so that there was no danger of my being a wall-flower. I was having the loveliest time imaginable, when I went up to Gay to ask if any of the safety-pins showed below my girdle. The polo man I had met at dinner, that Mr. Mills, had been dancing with me, and, when he left me with Gay, went over to speak to a pretty butterfly sort of girl, a little brunette all in frilly pink and white; I'd been admiring her at a distance. Of course he didn't know his voice carried so far. He was protesting because she had left no place for him on her programme, and I heard him say:

"'It wasn't my fault that I didn't get to you in time. Bogey roped me in first thing for a turn with that kindergarten kid he's got in tow. She's Miss Melville's guest and I couldn't get out of it, but really, Juliet —that was punishment enough without your – '"

"I didn't hear the rest of it. Some people beside me laughed just then and drowned his voice, but the girl looked over at me, and gave me a long, searching glance, sort of out of the corner of her eye, and then turned away with a little shrug of her shoulders and smiled up at him quite as if she agreed with him and had forgiven him because he had such a good excuse.

"I never had anything make me so uncomfortable in all my life as his speech and then her sidelong look and nasty little shrug. It was the way he said it, and the way she answered, that hurt. After that I never forgot for a moment that my dress was a borrowed one and that it didn't fit, and that I was the plain little country mouse that they were polite to, merely because I was Gay's guest and Lieutenant Boglin asked them to be. And I couldn't help feeling that every man who danced with me was as bored as Mr. Mills had been; even more so, for I had been perfectly natural and at ease when I was talking to him, and after I overheard his remark I was so stiff and self-conscious that such a state of mind was bound to have its effect all the rest of the evening. I was perfectly aware that I was boring my partners."

"But that was such a little thing to let spoil your whole evening," interrupted Jack. "It was awfully rude of the fellow to make such a speech, but he probably said it just to square himself with the other girl. 'All's fair in love and war,' they say, and you don't know how much it might have meant to him to keep in her good graces. I don't believe he really meant it."

"Oh, I know better!" insisted Mary dismally. "He did mean it! I felt it!"

She slowly gathered up a handful of pebbles and sent them skipping across the water at intervals as she continued:

"It gave me the same sensation that I had years ago, when I had my first toy balloon. That is one of my earliest and most vivid recollections. One moment I was hugging it to me because it was such a dear, gay, red bubble, fairly entranced with the beauty of it. The next I was looking down in a scared, puzzled way at what was left – just a dull scrap of wrinkled rubber. That one remark and glance and shrug made all the pleasure ooze out of the evening as quickly as my hugging squeezed the air out of that collapsed balloon."

Jack smiled at her comparison. He remembered that time, and how they had all laughed at her bewildered expression when the balloon burst in her hands. She could not be convinced at first that her beautiful, red bubble had ceased to be, and hopefully peered under tables and chairs, even while she held the wreck of it in her hands.

Jack had always been her comforter. He had dried her tears then with the promise of another balloon as soon as he could find the man who sold them, and now he hurried to lift the gloom that had settled down on her usually cheerful features. Having thrown away all her pebbles, she bunched herself up into a disconsolate little heap, on the boulder, her elbows on her knees, and her chin in her hand.

"No, it's no use your trying to comfort me," she said presently in response to his repeated attempts. "Every time I think about that evening I'm so mortified that I could cry. My mind's made up. I am a dead failure socially, and I never want to go to another function as long as I live!"

"You're a little goose! That's what you are," said Jack. "And I know what's at the root of the whole trouble. You've done a lot of imagining about your social career at one time and another. You've looked forward to it and seen yourself in the r?le of an irresistible charmer. You've felt like a dowager duchess inwardly, and forgotten that you've no marks outwardly to show that you've grown up to take such a part. You have your own individual charm, but so far it is only the charm of an unsophisticated little school-girl, and naturally grown men find older girls more interesting, just as you would prefer Phil Tremont's company for instance, to that of little Billy Downs. But that's not saying that you dislike Billy Downs, or that he won't grow up to be a social lion some day. So may you. Now own up. You always have pictured yourself as cutting quite a wide swath on your first appearance in society, haven't you? That's one reason you were so disappointed at the hop."

"Well," admitted Mary, smiling in spite of herself, "I own I did expect to once, a long time ago, and maybe that had a sort of sub-conscious influence on me. It was when we first moved to Arizona. Hazel Lee and I found a book that a boarder had left behind in his tent. It was called 'The Lady Agatha's Career; A Novel.' We took it out on the desert, a little way, and spelled it out between us, sitting on the sand behind a clump of grease-wood bushes, that hid us from view of the ranch house. Hazel was allowed only juvenile books, and she knew her mother would take this away from us on account of the word novel.

"It was such a horribly sentimental story that we found it embarrassing to read the tenderest parts of it aloud, and I suppose because it was the first one of the kind we had ever come across, it made a deeper impression on us than it would have done otherwise. We fairly devoured it. For days we thought and talked of nothing else, and we used to take turns playing we were the Lady Agatha, about to burst on society like a dazzling star, and win the heart of the proud scion of the House of de Hoverly."

Jack threw back his head and laughed so heartily that Mary was forced to smile again herself, as she went on with her confession.

"That all came back to me the other night when we climbed out of the 'bus, and I almost giggled when I remembered that this was what Hazel and I had looked forward to as such a grand event – being escorted for the first time by a grown man. It was on a similar occasion that the Lady Agatha made such a hit in society. Our ideas of society were so crude and funny then," Mary went on, beginning to relish her own reminiscences. "All we knew about it we gathered from that book. It seemed to be made up principally of haughty earls and dowager duchesses who lived in castles and wore coronets. I didn't know what a dowager was then, but I privately resolved to be one when I was grown. The name seemed so grand and high-sounding, and in the story they always had everything their own way. I couldn't help laughing a bit ago when you used the word, for you had hit the nail on the head."

"Then you won't mind when I say 'I told you so'" laughed Jack. "If you hadn't gone that night expecting to create a sensation, you'd have been satisfied to have people nice to you simply because you were their friend's friend, and wouldn't have been so cut up over that remark you overheard."

"I'm not so sure about the last part," Mary insisted, her face clouding again. "It was nasty of him to say it, and the mere thought of that man will always be an abomination to me."

There was silence for a little while. Everything was so still that a bird hopped fearlessly out on a limb above them, and began to call to its mate. When Mary spoke again there was a whimsical expression on her face that soon reflected itself in Jack's.

"I can't help picturing things out beforehand, the way I'd like to have them be. I've done it all my life. The rehearsing is always more fun, though, than the actual happening. Now when I went away to school last year, every time I'd wake up that last night in the sleeping-car, I'd plan just what I'd say and how I'd act to make my entrance to Warwick Hall imposing. I could actually see myself sweeping in to make a good impression on Madam Chartley, and you know what happened! My hat was cocked over one ear, the wire sticking out through the loops of ribbon, and Madam caught me jumping up and down to try every seat in the reception-room, one after the other."

Jack chuckled, glad to see some of Mary's cheerfulness returning.

"And then," she continued, "you remember when we met Phil and Elsie Tremont on the train, as we were going out to Arizona to live?"

Jack nodded.

"I was only nine years old then, but for weeks I thought of Phil as a sort of young god – a regular Apollo, and I pictured all sorts of scenes in which I should be a prominent personage at our next meeting. And when he did come I was sprinting down the road in a cloud of dust, hatless and breathless and purple in the face, crying, and crazy with fright, because I thought that a harmless old Indian who chanced to be riding down the same road, was chasing me. How Phil does laugh every time that is mentioned!"

Mary was sitting up straight on the boulder now, her face dimpling as she recalled these various predicaments.

"Then there's the time the Little Colonel visited us at the Wigwam. Hadn't I dreamed of that first meeting for weeks – what we'd say and what she'd say? Me in my rosebud sash and best embroidered white gown. But she caught you and Joyce at the wash-tub, and I had to take my first peep at her, crouched down in an irrigating ditch on my way home from school, all inky and dirty and torn.

"But I don't think I've done quite so much romancing since Betty gave me my Good Times book and preached me that little sermon on being self-conscious," Mary chattered on. "She said that my always thinking of the impression I was making on people, and being so eager to please was what made me miserable when I fell short of my expectations. She said that I ought to copy Lloyd. That her greatest charm was her utter unconsciousness of self. I think that is Betty's too. She's such a darling."

There was no response to this. The mention of Betty's name brought up so many pleasing scenes to Mary, that she sat living them over, unmindful of the long silence that fell between her and Jack. He sat with his hat pulled still farther over his eyes, in a revery as deep as hers. Betty's name recalled the picture that was often before him in these long, idle days. He was seeing her as he had seen her the first time, now over a year ago, when he made his memorable visit to Kentucky. She was standing at the end of the long locust avenue, all in white, between the stately white pillars, with her godmother's arm about her, as they awaited his approach.

Slim and girlish and winsomely sweet she was, and when he looked into her wistful brown eyes, he felt in some strange way that he had come to the end of all pilgrimage. The world held nothing beyond worth seeking for.



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