Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 15: Keeping Tryst

MARY WARE, THE LITTLE COLONEL'S CHUM
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents

 

CHAPTER XV.
KEEPING TRYST

AN hundred times that summer, Jack made the story of Aldebaran his own. He had his rare, exalted moments, when all things seemed possible; when despite his helpless body his spirit walked erect, and faced his future for the time undaunted. He had his daily struggle with the host of hurts which cut him to the quick, the reminders of his thwarted hopes and foiled ambitions. Then, too, there were times when the only way he could keep up his courage was to repeat grimly through set teeth, "'Tis only one hour at a time that I am called on to endure. By the bloodstone that is my birthright, I'll keep my oath until the going down of one more sun." Before the summer was over it came to pass that more than one soul, given fresh courage by his brave example, looked upon him as the villagers had upon Aldebaran: "A poor, maimed creature in his outward seeming, and yet so blithely does he bear his lot it seems a kingly spirit dwells among us."

Mary's letters to Joyce began to take on a cheerful tone that was vastly encouraging to the toiler in the studio.

"We have revised Emerson," she wrote one July morning. "It is fully as true to say, 'If one can make a better garden, show a bigger circus or put up a more cheerful front to Fate than his neighbours, though he build his house in Lone-Rock, the world will make a beaten track to his door.' The path it has made to ours is a wide one. The boys swarm here all hours of the day, to Norman's delight, the summer campers make our garden the Mecca of their morning pilgrimages, and the cheerful front we put up to Fate seems to be the magnet that draws them back again in the afternoons.

"Really, our shady front porch reminds me sometimes of a popular Summer Resort piazza, it is so gay and chatty. The ladies of the camp come over nearly every day and bring their sewing and fancy work, and Huldah and I serve tea. It would do you good to see how mamma enjoys Mrs. Levering and Mrs. Seldon. They're like the friends she used to have back in Plainsville, and this is the first really good social time she has had since we left there.

"Professor Levering and Professor Seldon seem to find Jack so congenial. They talk to him by the hour on the scientific subjects he loves. It is a Godsend to him to have such a diversion. Mrs. Levering said to me this morning that he is a daily wonder to them all, and a rebuke as well. 'We think we have troubles,' she said, 'until we come over here. Then you make them seem so insignificant that we are ashamed to label them troubles. Oh, you Wares; I never saw such a family! You fairly radiate cheerfulness. I wish you'd tell me how you do it.'

"I told her I supposed it was because we were all such copy-cats. First we imitated the old Vicar of Wakefield so many years that it gave us a cheerful bent of mind, and lately we'd taken the story of Aldebaran to heart and were imitating him and the other jester. She said, ` Commend me to copycats. I'm glad I discovered the species.'

"I am telling you all this in order that you may see that we have managed to keep inflexible to the extent of impressing our neighbours, at least, and there is no need for you to worry about us any more. I hope you will accept Eugenia's invitation and spend that two weeks at the sea-shore in the idlest, most care-free way you can think of, and not give one anxious thought to us. True, our day of great things is over. We no longer lay large plans, and sweep the heavens with a telescope, looking for pleasure on a large scale, among the stars. But it is wonderful how many little things we find now that we used to let slip unheeded, since we've gone to looking for them with a microscope."

Two days later another letter was sent post-haste to Joyce, written in a hurried scrawl with a pencil, clearly showing Mary's agitation.

"Something exciting has happened at last! The Leverings brought a friend to call this afternoon, who has just arrived in Lone-Rock to spend the rest of vacation with them; a grumpy, middle-aged, absent-minded, old professor from the East, who seerned rather bored with us at first. But when he was taken out to the side-show in the 'Zoo,' he waked up in a hurry. His very spectacles gleamed and his gray whiskers bristled with interest when he saw my assortment of pressed wild-flowers from the desert, and the collection of butterflies and trapdoor spiders and other insects in my 'Buggery,' as Norman calls it. When I showed him all the data I had collected from text-books and encyclopaedias about the insect and plant life of the desert, and all the notes I had made myself from my own observations, he actually whistled with surprise. He sat and fired questions at me like a Gatling gun for nearly an hour, winding up by asking me if I had any idea what a valuable collection I had made, and if I would be willing to part with it.

"Then it came out that he is a noted naturalist who is preparing a set of books on insects and their relation to plant life, and is spending a year in the West on purpose to study the varieties here. Some of my specimens are so rare he has not come across them before, and he said my notes would save him weeks of time --- in fact, would be like a blazed trail through a wilderness, showing him where to go to verify my observations without loss of time.

"Of course, when it comes to the pinch, I don't want to part with my beautiful collection of specimens. It means a great deal to me; I was over four years making it. But it is too great an opportunity to let pass. He is to name the price to-morrow after he has made a careful estimate, so I don't know how much he will offer, but Mrs. Levering says it is sure to be far more than an inexperienced teacher or stenographer could earn in a whole summer.

"How I have worried and fretted and fumed because I had no way to make money here! Now besides what I get for my specimens I am to have a chance to earn a little more. Professor Carnes will be here till cold weather, and since I can give him 'intelligent assistance,' as he calls it, he will have work for me in connection with his notes, copying and indexing them, and gathering new material.

"Now you can go back to saving up for your year abroad, and give the family the honour of claiming one member with a career. Jack is really going back to the office the first of September for a part of every day, at quite a respectable salary considering the length of time he will work. He's too valuable a man to the company for them to part with. As for me, I'm sure something else will turn up as soon as my work for Professor Carnes comes to an end. We Wares can look back over so many Eben-Ezers raised to mark some special time when Providence came to our rescue, that we have no right ever to be discouraged again. Professor Carnes is my last one, though nobody would be more astonished than he to know that he is regarded in the light of an old Israelitish Memorial stone. You will not have such frequent letters from me after this, as I shall be so busy. But Jack says he will attend to my correspondence. He is beginning to write a little every day. Yesterday he wrote to Betty. He has enjoyed her letters so much, telling about her lovely time up in the Maine woods. I am so glad you are to have a vacation, too. So no more at present from your happy little sister."

Like all people who are limited to one hobby, and who pursue one line of study for years regardless of other interests, Professor Carnes took little notice of anything outside of his especial work. If Mary had been a new kind of bug he would have studied her with profound interest, spending days in learning her peculiarities, and sparing no pains in classifying her and assigning her to the place she occupied in the great plan of creation. But being only a human being she attracted his attention only so far as she contributed to the success of his work.

He would go tramping through the woods wherever she led, only vaguely aware of the fact that she had enlisted half a dozen small boys in her service, and that she was turning them into enthusiastic young naturalists before his very eyes. She was not doing this consciously, however. Her motive for inviting them on these expeditions, was simply to include Norman and his friends in her own enjoyment of the summer woods. It was so easy to turn each excursion into a picnic, to build a fire near some spring and set out a simple lunch that seemed a feast of the gods to voracious boyish appetites.

The goodly smell of corn, roasting in the ashes, or fresh fish sizzling on hot stones gave a charm to the learning of wood-lore that it never could have possessed otherwise. At first with the heedlessness of city-bred boys, they crashed through the underbrush with unseeing eyes, and unhearing ears, but it was not long until they had learned the alertness of young Indians, following by signs of bark and leaf and fallen feather, trails more interesting than any detective story.

Gradually the old professor, aroused to the fact that they were valuable assistants, began to take some notice of them. They awakened memories of his own barefooted boyhood, and sometimes when he had had a particularly successful morning, he threw off his habitual abstraction, and as Mary reported to Jack, was "as human as anybody."

It seemed, too, that at these times he saw Mary in a new light; saw her as the boys did, fearless as one of themselves, tireless as a squaw, and a happy-go-lucky comrade who could turn the most ordinary occasion into a jolly outing. Her knack of inventing substitutes when he had left some necessary article at home filled him with mild wonder. He came to believe that her resources were unlimited.

One morning, early in September, he forgot his memorandum book and pencil, and did not discover the fact until he was ready to note some measurements which he could not trust to memory. It was no matter, she assured him cheerfully, as he stood peering helplessly around over his spectacles and slapping his pockets in vain.

"You know Lysander says, 'Where the lion's skin will not reach it must be pieced with the fox's.' I'll find some kind of a substitute for your pencil, somewhere."

After a few moments' absence she came up the hill again with some broad sycamore leaves which she laid on a flat rock. "There! "she exclaimed. "You dictate, and I'll write on these leaves with a hair-pin. Hazel Lee and I used to write notes on them by the hour, playing post-office, back at the Wigwam."

Several times during the dictation he looked at her as if about to make some personal remark, then changed his mind. What he had to say needed more explanation than he felt equal to making, and he decided to send Mrs. Levering as his spokesman. Being a relative, she understood the situation he wanted to make plain, and he felt she could deal with the subject better than he. So that afternoon, Mrs. Levering came over on his errand. Mrs. Ware and Mary were sewing, and she plunged at once into her story.

Professor Carnes had been left the guardian of a fifteen-year-old niece, who was born into the world with a delicate constitution, an unhappy disposition and the proverbial gold spoon in her mouth as far as finances were concerned. The poor professor felt that he had been left with something worse than a white elephant on his hands, for he knew absolutely nothing about girls, and Marion, with her morbid, super-sensitive temperament, was a constant puzzle to him. She had been in a convent school until recently. But now her physicians advised that she be taken out and sent to some place in the country where she could lead an active outdoor life for an entire year. They recommended a climate similar to the one at Lone-Rock.

The Professor could make arrangements for her to board in Doctor Gray's family, quite near the Wares, and felt that she would be well taken care of there, physically, but he recognized the necessity of providing for her in other ways. She had no resources of her own for entertainment, and he knew she would fret herself into a decline unless some means were provided to interest and amuse her. He had been wonderfully impressed with Mary's ability to make the best of every situation, and after he had once been awakened to the fact that she was an unusual specimen of humanity, had studied her carefully. Now he confided to Mrs. Levering his greatest desire for Marion was that she might grow up to be as self reliant and happy-hearted a young girl as Mary.

Seeing how she had aroused such a love for nature study in the boys, he felt that she might do the same for Marion. It was really a marvel, Mrs. Levering insisted, how she had bewitched both her Carl and Tommy Seldon. They were in a fair way to become as great cranks as the old professor himself. Now this was the proposition he wanted to make. That Mary should take the place of teachers and text-books, for awhile, and devote herself to the task of making Marion forget herself and her imaginary grievances; to interest her in wood-lore to the extent of making her willing to spend much time out of doors, and to imbue her if possible with some of the cheerful philosophy that made the entire Ware family such delightful companions.

"Of course," explained Mrs. Levering, "he understands that one could never be adequately repaid for such a service. It would be worth more than any course at college or any fortune, to Marion, if she could be changed from a listless, unhappy girl to one like yourself. She will tax your ingenuity and require infinite tact and patience, but he feels that you can do more for her than any older person, because she needs healthy, young companionship more than anything else in the world. If you will devote your mornings to her, trying to attain the result he wants in any way you see fit, he will gladly pay you anything in reason. Just let me take back word that you will consider his offer and he will be over here post-haste to make terms with you."

Mary looked inquiringly across at her mother, too bewildered by this sudden prospect of such good fortune, to answer for herself, but Mrs. Ware consented immediately. "I think it a very fortunate arrangement for both girls. There is no one near Mary's age in Lone-Rock, and I have been dreading the winter for her on that account. I am sure she can make a real friend and companion out of Marion, and I can say this for my little girl, it will never be dull for anybody who follows her trail through life."

Mrs. Levering rose to go. "Then it's as good as settled. I'm sure the poor old professor will feel that you've taken a great burden off his shoulders, and that this will be the most profitable year's education that Marion will ever have."

Hardly had their visitor departed, when Mrs. Ware was seized around the waist by a young cyclone that waltzed her through the kitchen, down the garden walk and out to the shade of the tree where Jack sat reading in his wheeled chair. "Tell him, mamma," Mary demanded, breathless and panting. "I'm too happy for words. Then call in the neighbours, and sing the Doxology!"

Later, as she and Jack sat discussing the situation with a zest which left no phase of it untouched, he said teasingly,  "You needn't be pluming yourself complacently over all those compliments. Do you realize when all's said and done, they've asked nothing more of you than simply to put on cap and bells and play the jester awhile for that girl's benefit?"

"I don't care," retorted Mary. "I'm not proud, and I can stand the motley as long as it brings in the ducats. It isn't the career I had planned, but---"

She broke off abruptly, and began hunting for her spool of thread which had rolled off into the grass. When she found it she stitched away in silence as if she had forgotten her unfinished sentence.

"What career did you have planned, little sister?" asked Jack, gently, when the silence had lasted a long time. She looked up with a start as if her thoughts had been far away, then said with a deprecatory smile, "I hardly know myself, Jack. I don't mind confessing to you, though I couldn't to any one else, it was so big I couldn't see the top of it."

With her eyes bent on her sewing she told him about the Voice and the Vision that had come to her when she looked up at Edryn's Window for the first time, and how she had been wondering ever since what great duty it was with which she was to keep tryst some day.

"I can always tell you things without fear of being laughed at," she ended, "so I don't mind saying that I believed at the time, it really was the King's Call, and that some great destiny, oh far greater than Joyce's or Betty's awaited me. It seemed so real I don't see how I could have been mistaken, and yet --- now --- it does seem foolish for me to aspire so high. Doesn't it?"

There was a little break in her voice although she ended with a laugh. Jack watched the brown head bent over her sewing for several minutes before he replied. Then he said in a grave kind tone that Mary always liked, because it seemed so intimate and as if he regarded her as his own age, "Since I've been hurt, I've done a lot of thinking, and I've come to the conclusion that the highest thing a man can aspire to, and the blessedest, is 'to ease the burden of the world.' Either consciously or unconsciously that is what every artist does who paints a master-piece. He helps us bear our troubles by making us forget them --- at least, as long as the uplift and the inspiration stay with us. Every author and musician whose work lives, does the same. Every inventor who creates something to make toil easier, and life happier, eases that burden to a degree.

"So I don't think you were mistaken about that call. Your achievement may be greater than the other girls, even herein Lone-Rock, as much bigger and better, as a whole life is bigger and better than a few books and pictures. You've begun on me, and you'll have Marion to try your hand on next. No telling where you will stop. You may be the Apostle of Cheerfulness to the entire far West before you are done. Who knows?"

Although the last words were spoken lightly, Mary felt the seriousness underlying them, and looked up, her face shining, as if some mystery had suddenly been made clear to her.

"Oh, Jack! "she cried. "You don't know how easy that makes every thing. I've looked at life at Lone-Rock as something to be endured merely as a stepping stone to better things. But if you think that this is the beginning of my real tryst, I can answer the call in such a different spirit. "By the winged spur of our ancestors," she cried, gaily waving the ruffle she was hemming, "I'll be 'Ready, aye ready' for whatever comes."

Jack did not go back to the office the first of September. It was the middle of the month before he made the attempt. Norman wheeled him over on his way to school, and Mary, standing in the door to watch them start, felt the tears spring to her eyes as she compared this pitiful going to the buoyant stride with which he used to start to work. Still, he was so much better than they had dared to hope he would be, that when she went back to her room she picked up a red pencil and marked the date on her calendar with a star.

Then she remembered that this was the day the girls would be trooping back to Warwick Hall, and she recalled the opening day the year before, when she had been among them. She wondered who was taking possession of her room, and if the new girls would be as devoted to Betty as the old ones were. She could picture them all, driving up the avenue, singing as they came; then Hawkins's imposing reception and Madam Chartley's greeting. How she longed to be in the bustle of unpacking, and to make the rounds of all her favourite haunts by the river and in the beautiful old garden! Dorene and Cornie wouldn't be there. They were graduated and gone. But Elsie and A.O. and Margaret Elwood and Betty --- as she named them over such a homesick pang seized her, that it seemed as if she could not bear the thought of never going back.

The thought of all she was missing, drove her as it used to do, to her shadow-chum for sympathy, and Lloyd was in her thoughts all day. Somehow, when Huldah came back from the grocery, bringing her a letter from Lloyd, she was not at all surprised, although it was the first one she had received from her since she left school, except a little note of sympathy right after Jack's accident.

The surprise came when she opened the letter. She read it over and over, and then, because Jack was at the office and her mother at a neighbour's, she turned to her long-neglected journal for a confidante. She had to hunt through all the drawers of her desk for it, it had been hidden away so long. She felt that the news in the letter was worthy a place in her good times book, for it recorded Lloyd's happiness, which was as dear to her as her own.

"Oh, little Red Book," she wrote, "what an amazing secret I am going to give you to hold! Lloyd is engaged, and not to Phil! She has been engaged since last June to Rob Moore. It is not to be announced formally until Christmas, and they are not to be married for a long time, but Eugenia knows, and Joyce, and her very most intimate friends. She wanted me to know, and to hear it from herself, because she felt that no one could wish her joy more sincerely than her 'little chum.' I am so glad she really called me that, after all my months of make believe.

"But it was the surprise of my life to find that Rob is The Prince and not Phil. Poor Phil! I am sure he was disappointed, and somehow I keep thinking of that more than of Lloyd's happiness. I don't see how she could prefer anybody else to the Best Man."

Here she paused, and began fingering the unwritten leaves of the diary, wondering if the time would ever come when they would hold the record of other engagements. Nearly a third of the pages were still blank. How many nice things she could think of that she would like to be able to write thereon. Maybe they would hold the date of a visit to Oaklea some day, to Mrs. Rob Moore. How odd that sounded. Or what was more probable, since he had already mentioned it in his letters to Jack, a visit from Phil, if he went back to California with his father and Elsie on their return.

And maybe, it might hold the news of Joyce's engagement, some day, or Betty's, and maybe --- some far, far-off day, it might hold her own! That seemed a very unlikely thing just now. Princes were an unknown quantity in Lone-Rock. And yet --- -she looked dreamily away across the hills --- there were the words of that song:

"And if he come not by the road, and come not by the hill,
And come not by the far seaway, yet come he surely will.
Close all the roads of all the world, love's road is open still"

Seizing her pen, she wrote just below her last entry, "It is five months since that dismal day on the train, when I closed the record in this book, as I thought, forever, and wrote after the last of my good times, The End. But it wasn't that at all, and now, no matter how dark the outlook may be after this, I shall never believe that I have reached the end to happiness."

THE END.

Chapter 14