Mary Ware In Texas, Chapter 1: In San Antonio

MARY WARE IN TEXAS
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1910

Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill

Title Page

 

CHAPTER I.
IN SAN ANTONIO

THE musicians were tuning their instruments somewhere behind the palms in the hotel courtyard. It was one of the older hotels of San Antonio, much sought by Northern tourists on account of that same inner garden, around which the big building stretched itself. The rooms opening on to it had vine-covered balconies, and, looking down from them into the tropical growth of palms and banana trees and roses, one felt that it was summer time, no matter what the calendar said.

It was on one of the second floor balconies at the close of a November day that Mary Ware stood looking around her with eager eyes. Queen's wreath and moon-vines made such a thick screen that no one could see her, so she might lean over the railing as far as she pleased to watch the brilliantly lighted scene below. Electric bulbs were strung through the cacti and devil's ivy like elfin lamps. There was a shine of brass buttons as colored bell boys scudded across the open space with clinking ice-pitchers or jingling keys, and through the glass doors beyond came the gleam of silver and flowers where the waiters were arranging the tables for dinner.

There was to be a military banquet in one of the private dining-rooms, and already the guests were beginning to arrive for the reception which was to precede it. So much bunting was draped over the arch between the office corridors and this inner court, that the view was somewhat obscured, but, by leaning dangerously far over the railing, Mary could catch a glimpse of the legs of a uniform now and then, strolling along beside the trailing skirt of a dainty evening gown.

All this warmth and life and color was in sharp contrast to the dreary solitudes of the snow covered mining camp which she had just left. It had been winter for nearly a month up in the hills of Arizona, and Lone Rock in the winter was such a barren waste socially that her present surroundings seemed wildly exciting. In Lone Rock it was a matter of comment whenever a human being passed the house, and even a stray mule, stumbling along with a. bell on its neck, was enough to call one to the windows.

The orchestra behind the palms having finished its tuning, swung into a gay two-step. At the sudden burst of music Mary drew a long breath and stood up straight, her pulses atingle. Something delightful was beginning to happen. Two girls, one in white and one in pale lemon-yellow, attended by a young lieutenant and a still younger man in civilian's evening dress, came out under the bunting-draped arch and strolled along past the banana trees to the garden seat just below her.

From her hiding place behind the moon-vines, Mary watched them as only a sociable little soul could watch, who for months had been hungering for such companionship. She clutched the railing with both hands, hoping fervently that they would stop.

They did pause for a few moments, just under the balcony, so near that for the little while they stood there she could almost feel herself to be one of the party. She could even smell the white violets that the girl in white wore on her corsage, and was close enough to see that an amber comb was slipping out of the soft auburn-bronze hair arranged so becomingly on the graceful little head. Each laugh and gesture sent it slipping lower and lower till involuntarily Mary's hand went out to stop it. Then she drew back in confusion. She had almost called attention to herself by speaking aloud.

"Let's go into the other court," insisted the girl in yellow. "I want to show you the alligators in the fountain, Mr. Wade, to convince you that you're really in the sunny South. Some people can't appreciate alligators --- Bogey there, for instance."

Her disdainful glance indicated the lieutenant. "He jeers at me for liking them, but I think they are more interesting than half the people one meets."

"Bogey! What a nickname for such a dignified officer," thought Mary, peeping over the railing to see how such banter was received. Evidently the lieutenant was accustomed to it, for he smiled indulgently as one would at a spoiled child.

"'Birds of a feather,' you know," was his answer. "Go on, Roberta. I don't care to flock with alligators myself, but if you do we'll follow and see it done."

Roberta deigned no reply but a glance intended to be withering, which failed in its purpose because it was only counterfeit. Her eyes were as dark as a gypsy's and she had the curliest lashes Mary had ever seen. A boyish straightforwardness of manner contradicted their coquettish curliness, however. She had an air that comes only from being brought up in a houseful of teasing brothers. The man in civilian dress, whom she called Mr. Wade, watched her as if he had found a new species of girl, uncertain what she might say or do next. He was familiar with the coquettish kind and with the tom-boy kind, but this combination puzzled him.

Mary longed to follow as the four went slowly away together into the adjoining court, wholly unconscious that they had left an indelible memory behind them, or that they had revealed anything of themselves and their affairs to an unseen listener. But to Mary it was as if a new book had been opened before her and she had been allowed a glimpse of one page and the attractive picture that illustrated it. It was never necessary for her to begin at the first chapter of a book. Often, attracted by some paragraph in the middle, she would plunge into a story, only turning back for the beginning after she had pursued it eagerly through to the last word and found "how it all ended."

Now as the interesting group walked away she fervently hoped that fate would send them across her path sometime again during her sojourn in San Antonio, that she might piece together the rest of the story. All that she knew now was that the girl in white was a daughter of one of the majors at Fort Sam Houston, that the lieutenant had known Roberta ever since he was a cadet at the West Texas Military School, and that it was her brothers who had dubbed him Bogey. She had learned also that this was Mr. Wade's first visit to Texas, and that Roberta was trying to impress him with it by marvelous tales, so that he would decide to spend the winter in San Antonio instead of going on to Mexico.

But if the conversation revealed little, the picture they made as they stood against the tropical background of palms and banana trees held many suggestions. Mary felt that she knew all about lieutenants, having met two at a Kentucky house-party where she had gone to be flower-girl at a wedding when she was only fourteen. Fashions evidently had not changed in lieutenants, since these looked as if they might have been taken out of the same box that furnished the first soldiers of her acquaintance; but the girls --- there had been many changes in girls since she last saw any of this kind. It was eight months since she had left school at the end of the Easter vacation, and none of the girls at Warwick Hall were doing their hair then as Roberta and the Major's daughter were doing theirs. Each had a very elaborate coiffure with a cluster of little short curls escaping to nestle against their white necks.

Her attention was especially called to this new style by Roberta's escort, whom Mary had classified in her mind as a "callow youth with a habit of making gallant little personal speeches."

When they first stepped into the court Roberta had thrown a white scarf about her, almost as light as thistledown, and glistening with crystal beads which spangled its soft meshes like dewdrops. As they turned to go it slipped from her shoulders, and Mr. Wade sprang forward to replace it. Drawing it around her shoulders he said with a melting glance at her dark hair, "What an adorable little curl!

"'Ringlet, O Ringlet, she blushed a rosy red,
When Ringlet, O Ringlet, she clipped you from her head!"'

Mary, who knew her Tennyson like her multiplication table, recalled the next lines,

"Ringlet, O Ringlet, she gave you me and said, 'Come kiss it, love, and put it by,
If this can change, why, so can I."'

Roberta only laughed, not in the least impressed by his manner nor embarrassed by the inference of his quotation. Mary knew that she could not copy the curls, but she decided to try the rest of the coiffure in the morning. Not a single twist or wave had escaped her sharp eyes. In the darkness of her retreat, after they had gone, she put her hands to her head, rehearsing in pantomime each move she would have to make to produce the result she admired.

Suddenly her hands dropped and one clutched the railing, as the window shutters of the next room were thrown open with a bang and some one stepped out on to the balcony adjoining hers. The intruder was a large and elderly woman in a rustling black dress. The light from the room streaming out behind her showed that she was portly and gray-haired, and the way she peered through the vines, changing quickly from one view-point to another, showed that she was impatient.

When she turned, Mary saw that her dress, which was made to fasten in the back, was open from collar to belt, and she readily guessed the trouble. Forgetting that her presence was unknown to the anxious watcher, she leaned forward through the dark, saying politely, "Can I help you, Madam?"

If a hand had reached out and grabbed her, the old lady could not have been more startled. With a stifled shriek she backed up against the wall to hide her open bodice, and stood there limp and panting.

"Merciful fathers! how you scared me!" she breathed as Mary's face appeared in the full light. When she saw only a little school-girl of seventeen or thereabouts her relief found vent in a hysterical giggle. It shook her plump shoulders until they both started to laughing so hard that she could barely find voice to explain, or Mary to apologize.

"I just couldn't get my dress hooked up the back," she finally managed to say. "I rang half a dozen times for a chambermaid, but the ones on this floor all seem to be off duty this time of evening, and I won't ask a bell-boy as some of the ladies do. I don't think it's decent. So I just thought I'd look down into the court and see if I couldn't catch sight of James. He did it yesterday and I vowed I'd never ask him again. He's willing enough, but he kept me standing a solid half hour by the clock. and we were both tuckered out when he got through."

"Let me come and do it for you," said Mary with her usual alacrity for following up promising beginnings.

"Oh, if you only would!" was the grateful answer. "I'll go in and unlock the door---"

Before she could finish her sentence Mary had climbed lightly over the railing which divided their balconies, and was following her into her room through the long windows that opened to the floor.

"Do you know," confided the old lady while Mary deftly fastened the hooks, "I think a hotel is the lonesomest place on the face of the globe for a woman. I come down here once a year or so with my husband, and he has a good time sitting around in the lobby smoking and making friends with stockmen like himself, but by the end of the second day I'm homesick for the ranch. Of course I enjoy the stores and the crowds on the street, and seeing all the finely dressed tourists at meal-times, but we've been down here three days now, and you're the first person I've spoken to besides the chambermaid and James. It's all right for strangers to keep themselves to themselves I suppose, but I must say it's a sort of strain when it comes to being the stranger yourself. I want somebody to neighbor with."

"So do I," responded Mary with such heartiness that the old lady instantly expanded into warm friendliness. Before she was fairly fastened into her rustling black and purple gown she had confided to Mary that it was her very best one, and that it just wouldn't wear out, because it was too fine for church and she had no occasion to put it on save when she made her rare visits to San Antonio. The sleeves had been changed so many times to keep it in fashion, that her dressmaker had refused to alter it another time, even if the lace on it did cost five dollars a yard. James said why didn't she wear it at home and get done with it. But she told him much comfort a body would take around home in the tight gear a dressmaker boned you up in. But she'd have to do something, for full skirts were clear out now, and she felt like a balloon when other people were going around as slim and lank as starved snakes.

"It doesn't take long to get out of date," she added, "when you're living up in the hills in the back-woods."

"Oh, I know that," agreed Mary. "I've been living in a lonesome little spot out in Arizona for so long that I've nearly forgotten what civilization is like."

"You don't look like it," was the frank comment as the still franker gaze of her listener travelled over her dress from top to bottom, noting every detail.

"Oh, this," answered Mary, as if the eyes had spoken. "This is a dress that I got in New York last Easter vacation. I was in school at Washington, but as I had to leave at the end of the term and go back home I've had no occasion to wear it since. That's why it looks so new."

"Now do sit down and tell me about it," urged her hostess hospitably. "I've always wanted to go to Washington."

She pushed forward a low rocker, and took the arm chair opposite with such a look of pleasurable anticipation on her kindly old face, that Mary obeyed. She knew how it felt to be fairly bursting with a sociability for which there was no outlet. She had experienced that same sensation a few minutes before when she watched Roberta and the Major's daughter go by with their friends. Besides, she felt a real liking for this companionable old lady who introduced herself as Mrs. Barnaby of Bauer, Texas. Mrs. James Barnaby.

"She's the real, comfortable, homey sort," thought Mary, who had been much given of late to classifying people." She's like mission furniture --- plain and simple and genuine. She'd be her simple unpretentious self no matter what gilt and veneer she found herself among."

Mary was proud of her insight afterward when she learned more about Mrs. Barnaby's family. They had come out from Ohio over fifty years before when she was so young that she could barely remember the great prairie schooner that brought them. They had suffered all the hardships of the early Texas settlers, gone through the horrors of the Indian uprisings, and fought their way through with sturdy pioneer fortitude to the place where they could fold their hands and enjoy the comforts of the civilization they had helped to establish.

She told Mary little of this now, however, but led her on with many questions to talk of herself. Mrs. Barnaby had a lively curiosity and always took the most straightforward means to gratify it.

"She's interested in people, no matter who they are, just as I am," thought Mary, instantly recognizing the spirit which prompted the questions, and for that reason was led on to tell more than she would have told to most strangers. She did not take the world at large into her confidence now as she had done in her chatterbox days. In just a few moments Mrs. Barnaby had a very fair snapshot picture of the Ware family in her mind. Mary had given it very simply.

"I had gone from school at Warwick Hall to New York, to spend the Easter vacation with my sister Joyce. She's an artist and has her studio there. And we got word that my oldest brother, Jack, had been dreadfully hurt in an accident at the mines where he was manager --- that it had made him a cripple for life. We all just adore Jack, so of course I packed up and went straight back to Arizona. It wasn't possible for Joyce to leave just then, and my brother Holland is in the navy, and of course he couldn't get away. Except the trained nurse there was nobody with mamma at the time but my youngest brother Norman, and as he is only fourteen I felt that I had to go,"

"I hope he got better right away," interrupted Mrs. Barnaby eagerly.

"Yes, he did for awhile. He even got so that he could wheel himself around in his chair and go down to the office awhile every morning. But as soon as the cold weather set in he began to have such dreadful rheumatism that the doctor said the only thing to do was to take him to a milder climate. So we got ready right away and brought him down here."

"It must have been a hard trip for him," commented Mrs. Barnaby with a sympathetic shake of the head. "Arizona always did seem to me like the jumping-off place. I don't see how you managed it, him in a wheeled chair and so helpless."

"Oh, we came in a private car," Mary made haste to explain, "and Jack really enjoyed the trip. Waffles, the old colored cook on the car, you know, just laid himself out to please him, and the porter was so strong and helpful."

"H'm !" exclaimed her interested listener. "I've always thought I'd like to travel in a private car. It must be such a nice way to get over the country. But it isn't everybody that can afford it."

It was on the tip of Mary's honest little tongue to explain that it was not their car. They had come as guests of Mr. Robeson, one of the mine owners. But Mrs. Barnaby interrupted her with a question. "Didn't you all go out in a big red automobile this afternoon? I've been trying to think ever since you came in here where it was I'd seen you before, and I believe it was with that party. There was a little lady in black and a boy and a rather heavy-set man with iron gray whiskers. I heard him giving orders to the chauffeur to go out to the missions."

"Yes," agreed Mary, "that was Mr. Robeson, one of the owners of the mine. He's so fond of Jack and has been so lovely to all of us on his account. His valet stayed with Jack while we went out to see the town. He's going on to Mexico this afternoon."

Again she was on the point of saying that it was as Mr. Robeson's guests they had enjoyed the outing in the expensive car, but another question switched her off to another subject and left Mrs. Barnaby with the impression that the Wares were wealthy beyond computation. Mary had the manner of one always accustomed to luxury, and her easy way of referring to the studio in New York and the private car and the valet made one think she was born to purple and fine linen.

The impression was deepened later, when the Barnabys found themselves at the same table with Mary and Norman in the dining-room. "Mrs. Ware was having dinner in her rooms with Jack," Mary explained. He was sensitive about being wheeled into a public dining-room, so she and her mother would take turns staying with him.

With a brief glance at the menu card Mary ordered dinner for herself and brother before Mr. Barnaby had adjusted his glasses on his long nose and stumbled half-way through the menu. He always read the bill of fare aloud to his wife, pronouncing the French words exactly as they were spelled, and they paused to discuss the nature of each unfamiliar dish with the amused waiter before ordering.

The ease with which Mary ordered gave further evidence to Mrs. Barnaby that the Wares had always been accustomed to sumptuous living, and to being "waited on, hand and foot." And it was proof to Mary that "James" was as genuine and primitive as his wife when he made no attempt to cover his ignorance of French menus. Looking up with a twinkle in his eyes he said to the waiter, "Just bring me the same as my wife ordered." Then he added with an odd one-sided smile that gave an irresistible expression of humor to his face, "I always take the blazed trail when there is one. It's a heap sight safer than striking out for yourself when you're in tall timber."

Evidently Mrs. Barnaby had told him all that she had learned of the Ware family, for he at once began making minute inquiries about Arizona and the mines, with the interest of a shrewd, genial old man who kept pace with the times and liked the companionship of young people. They were warm friends before the meal was over, and Mary hurried upstairs afterward, to report all she could remember to Jack. She had fallen into the habit of making the most of everything she saw and heard, for his entertainment.

She found him in his chair, out on the balcony with her mother, looking down on the same scene she had watched earlier in the evening. Mrs. Ware had just tucked a lap-robe around him and drawn a wrap over her own shoulders when Mary opened the door of the room behind them, and started across the floor to join them.

Some letters had been sent up while she was at dinner and seeing one on the table addressed to herself, she paused to read it before joining them. It was just a note from one of the girls at Warwick Hall, who, knowing Mary's fondness for the beautiful old garden there, always enclosed some leaf or flower from it every time she wrote. This time several violets fell out, withered but still sweet. As Mary stooped to pick them up she heard Jack say in a voice so full of hearty enjoyment that she scarcely recognized it for his: "This certainly is great! What a world of things we've been missing all these years, little mother! I never realized just how much we have missed till I went East last year. Then afterwards the days were so full of work and the new responsibilities that I didn't have time to think about it much. But I can see now what a dull gray existence you've had, for as far back as I can remember there's only been three backgrounds for you: a little Kansas village, a tent on the edge of the Arizona desert, and a lonely mining camp. How long has it been since you've seen a sight like this?"

The scattered violets were all picked up now, but Mary still stood by the table, waiting for her mother's reply.

"It's so long ago I'll have to stop and count up. Let me see. You're twenty-two and Joyce twenty-three --- really it's almost a quarter of a century since I've been in a large city, and seen anything like this in the way of illuminations, with music and crowds. Your father took me to New York the winter after we were married. Before that I'd always had my full share. I'd visited a great deal and travelled with Cousin Kate and her father. And I'm sure that no one could want anything brighter and sweeter and more complete than life as I found it as a girl, in 'my old Kentucky home.' As I had so much more than most people the first part of my life I couldn't complain when I had less afterwards. But I certainly do enjoy this," she added earnestly, as the orchestra began the haunting air of the Mexican "Swallow Song," La Golondrina, and the odor of roses stole up from below. The court was filled now with gay little groups of people who had the air of finding life one continual holiday.

The cheeriness of the reply almost brought tears to Mary's eyes, as she realized for the first time how much more than any of them her mother must have suffered from the hardships of their early poverty, because it was in such sharp contrast to what she had known before. To hide the little quiver that wanted to creep into her voice Mary laughed as she joined them, dragging a chair through the French window after her.

"Here you sit like two comfortable cats in the lap of luxury," she said. "You'll begin to purr soon."

"That's exactly what we're doing now," answered Jack. "We're congratulating ourselves on being in this land of summer with every comfort at hand and a free show to entertain us. This is as good as being in a box-party at the opera."

Mary settled herself with her chair tipped back on its rockers, and looked down on the court below. "I wish we could stay at this hotel all winter," she exclaimed. "I wish we could be as rich all the time as I feel to-night. Ever since we started South in Mr. Robeson's car I've felt as opulent and as elegant as if we owned the earth, and I've noticed that you and mamma take to luxury quite as readily as I do --- like ducks to water. Norman is learning fast, too, for one of his opportunities. He's having the time of his life now, down in the lobby, just 'seein' things at night.' He asked me for a quarter when I left him, to get some postcards of the Alamo and the plaza to send home."

"Well?" queried Jask as she paused. Mary had had the family finances in hand since his illness, and her economical clutch had earned her the title of "Watch-dog of the Treasury."

"Oh, I gave it to him," she answered ."Gave it with a lordly sweep of the hand, as if bestowing millions were a daily habit of mine. But to-morrow it will be a different story. To-morrow a copper cent may be too great a boon for my family to ask me to part with. To-morrow we go house-hunting, with the sad realization that we're all as poor as job's old blue turkey hen."

"What's the odds so long as you're happy," quoted Jack. There was a long pause in which they listened to the music, each enjoying to the fullest the novelty of being in such a place. Then Jack asked, "Didn't you have any adventures down in the dining-room? We rather expected that you'd have a series of them to report."

"Mercy, yes! I've had half a dozen since I saw you last, very mild ones though. I've seen some most interesting people, a major's daughter and a lieutenant from the Post, called Bogey, and I overheard the beginning of a romance, a most sentimental request for an 'adorable little curl,' and I've hooked Mrs. James Barnaby of Bauer, Texas, up in her best black and purple gown, and James himself has invited me to take 'pot luck' with them up at the Barnaby ranch any time I choose to go. He's a dear and so is she, and if you'd only---"

Her chatter was stopped by a sudden exclamation from Jack, and following his gaze into the court below she saw two of the group in which she had been so interested earlier in the evening.

"That's the lieutenant I told you about!" she exclaimed excitedly. "That's Bogey, and the other is the major's daughter. I don't wonder that you're stunned at the sight of a pretty girl like that when it's been such ages since you have seen one."

"I'm stunned because it happens to be a girl I know," exclaimed Jack in a tone almost as excited as her own."That's Gay Melville, and I met her at The Locusts the night I stopped in Lloydsboro Valley with the Shermans."

"Are you sure?" gasped Mary.

"Dead sure! She played the violin that evening, and you can't take your eyes off her face when she plays, it's so sweet, and you could never forget it after you'd watched her through one performance. Then her hair --- there's no mistaking that, and that little trick of lifting her chin. Besides, it's no surprising matter to see her. She lives here and she's a popular girl."

"Oh, I know it!" exclaimed Mary," and I've known all the time that her home is in San Antonio. Haven't I heard the Warwick Hall seniors talk of her by the hour? But somehow I never put two and two together and got it through my head that we're in the same town. Really I'd forgotten her in the excitement of our sudden coming. But now it just takes me off my feet to know that we're under the same roof, and to remember that she lived a whole summer in Lloydsboro Valley and is such a dear friend of the Little Colonel and Betty. Why, we're bound to meet her some time this winter. Oh, I know we're going to have a good time here, and I think that San Antonio is just the dearest, most charming old place in the world."

"It is certainly a good place to be to-night," answered Jack, following with intent gaze the vanishing figure of the major's pretty daughter. "And to-morrow---"

He did not finish the sentence, for the violins were throbbing through that last refrain of La Golondrina so softly and sweetly that he did not want to lose a note. When it was done Mary took up his last word, quoting with a dramatic sweep of the hand, "To-morrow do thy worst, for I have lived to-day!"

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