Mary Ware In Texas, Chapter 2: In Search Of A Home

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

Published 1910

Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill

Title Page

 

CHAPTER II.
IN SEARCH OF A HOME

IT was with the vision of a charming little bungalow in her mind that Mary started on her search for a house next morning; a little white bungalow half hidden in vines, and set among heuisach and mesquite trees, or maybe in the shelter of one giant pecan. As they had whirled around the city in the touring car the day before, she had seen several of that kind which she thought would suit both their taste and their purse.

She had not yet reached the point of picturing to herself the inside furnishings. They would have to be of the simplest sort, of course. But one picture seemed to rise up of its own accord whenever she thought of the new home. She saw a big living-room, the centre of a cheery hospitality, where girls fluttered in and out at all hours of the day. Bright, fun-loving, interesting girls like Gay Melville and Roberta. Her wistful little face grew very sweet and eager at the mere thought of such companionship, and there was such a dancing light in her gray eyes and such a happy glow of expectancy on her cheeks that more than one passer-by took a second glance and felt the morning brighter because of it.

Mrs. Ware had expected to accompany her, leaving Jack to Norman's care for the morning, but a neuralgic headache, an old enemy of hers, seized her on awakening, and she was obliged to shift the responsibility to Mary's willing shoulders. Although it doubled the car-fare, Mary took Norman with her for company. Armed with a map of the city and a list of houses, clipped from the morning paper, they started gaily out on their quest. It was good just to be alive on such a morning, and out in the brilliant sunshine, with the air so fresh and sweet, and the plaza as green and flowery as if it were mid-summer instead of the week before Thanksgiving.

They walked at first, wanting a closer view than the cars afforded of the fascinating old curio shops. Mexicans were no novelty to them as they were to Northern tourists. They had seen too many in Phoenix and at the mining camp to care for a second look at the tall, peaked hats of the men or the rebosa-draped heads of the women. But the narrow streets of the Mexican quarter with their chili and tamale stands interested them. It was some kind of a fête day, and flags were flying and a festive spirit was in the air; a spirit that seems to belong peculiarly to this alluring old Spanish city, where fête days come often and one soon learns to say "mañana" with the rest.

Norman, who picked up bits of information here and there as a magnet draws needles and nails, imparted some of it to Mary as he trudged along beside her. Everything, was making a deep impression on his mind because this was his first journey of any consequence.

"This is the third oldest city in the United States, the guide book says," he began, then paused before a shop window, attracted by the sign, "Dressed Fleas, 35 cents," to exclaim, scornfully, "Who'd be fool enough to want one of those things, dead or alive!" With a skip or two to catch up with Mary, he continued, "And there's thirteen miles of river twisting in and out among the streets, with seventeen bridges over it."

"It surely is the twistiest, crookedest river that I ever saw on a map," answered Mary,"but that's what makes the town so lovely --- all those graceful bends with the green banks and tropical foliage and the little boats tied up here and there to the landings. I wish we could find the kind of a place we want somewhere along the river. Maybe we could manage to get a boat. Anyhow, if we couldn't do any better we could make a raft. I'd love to pole one, and it would be just like doing it in our own back yard if the river ran right behind our place."

"Say! Let's!" exclaimed Norman, explosively. "Mary Ware, you've got a head on you that's worth something! And I'll tell you something else I wish we could manage to do, --- that's to get a house out near Brackenridge park. They've got antelope and buffalo and elk, and all sorts of wild animals out there. I'd like to see them often."

"We'd better get down to business, then," said Mary, "instead of loitering along this way. We can look at the shops after we've found a house."

"Stop just a minute at the Alamo," begged Norman." I want to see the place where Travis and Davy Crockett and Bowie put up such a desperate fight against Santa Anna. This is just as interesting a place to me as Bunker Hill or Plymouth Rock would be, and I want to write home to Billy Downs about it."

"But it isn't the exact spot," objected Mary, who wanted to lose no more time and was sometimes provokingly literal. "This is only the little chapel, and the real fight took place in a court that was away over yonder, and the walls were pulled down long ago."

Norman planted himself at the entrance and proceeded to argue the matter. "But the chapel was part of it, and it stands for the whole thing now a sort of monument, you know, and there's relics inside and---"

"Oh, well, come on, then," said Mary,"if you're that anxious, but just for a minute. You can come here some other time by yourself and prowl around all day."

She followed him into the dim interior, still insisting at every step that they must hurry. It was so early no one but the care-taker was in sight. She knew how Norman liked history, and what enthusiastic admiration he had for the heroes of frontier times, but she was surprised to see how deeply he was impressed by the venerable building. He took off his hat as they entered and walked around as reverently as if they were in a church. As they gazed up at the narrow, iron-barred windows which had witnessed such a desperate struggle for liberty, he said, in an awed tone, which made even Mary feel solemn:

"'Here, for ten days, took place the most memorable, thrilling, tragic, and bloody siege in American history. One hundred and seventy-nine indomitable American frontier riflemen against an army of six thousand brave and disciplined troops led by veteran officers!'"

"Where did you get all that?" demanded Mary, in surprise.

"I saw it in a little pamphlet, in the reading-room last night, and it told about the Comanche Indians that came here about seventy years ago. The fiercest fighting you ever heard of --- thirty-two Indian warriors killed right out there in the street that we came across just now, and seven Texans."

"Goodness, Norman!" she answered, with a shrug. "What do you want to resurrect all those old horrors for? It doesn't make the place any more attractive to me to know that its streets once ran red with blood. I'd rather think of them as they will be in the Spring on San Jacinto Day, red with roses after the Battle of Flowers. Think of our being here to see that!" she added, exultingly.

As they emerged from the dimly-lighted chapel into the blinding sunshine of the street, Norman remarked thoughtfully, "Of course I'm sorry that Jack had the rheumatism so badly that he had to get out of Lone Rock, but as long as we did have to leave home, I'm jolly glad it brought us to San Antonio. Think of the times we'll have going out to Fort Sam Houston to guard-mounts and parade. It's something just to be within walking distance of the largest army post of the United States."

"I'm thinking of the public library," was her rejoinder. "Jack can have all the books he wants to read this winter; and I'm thinking of the friends we'll have; the real, satisfying kind, that do things, and go places, and think, and keep you from sinking to the level of a cabbage. I've always wanted to live in the thick of things, and here we are at last!"

They paused on the curb to wait for a long string of vehicles to pass. An army ambulance came first, drawn by sleek mules, driven by a soldier in khaki and carrying several ladies and children from the Post. Close behind it came a riding party, clattering in on horseback from a breakfast at the Country Club. Then followed close on each other's heels, a dilapidated prairie schooner, three boys on a burro, a huckster's wagon, and a carriage with liveried coachman and prancing, thoroughbred horses. The clang of a long line of electric cars whizzing past, the honk of many automobiles, and the warning sound of bicycle bells, as their owners wheeled in and out through the bewildering maze of vehicles and pedestrians, made Norman exclaim, joyfully, " Gee! I'm glad we're out of Lone Rock! There's something to see here every single minute."

Mary signalled a passing car, and as soon as they were seated, drew out her newspaper clippings. " Mrs. Barnaby said for us to go to Laurel Heights first," she remarked," so I believe we'll find it best to try this one. It sounds all right."

She read the advertisement aloud: "A five-room bungalow, never been occupied, all modern conveniences, one block from car-line, rent reasonable, inquire next door."

Then she unfolded the map and studied it as they whirled along, now and then repeating the name of a street as she came across one which sounded particularly pleasing and story-bookish, as she called it, to Norman: "King William Street, Mistletoe Avenue, Dolorosa and San Pedro."

When a little later they alighted from the car and found the place described in the advertisement, it was almost the bungalow of Mary's dreams. The vines were lacking and the lawn was still strewn with the debris of building, but that could soon be remedied.

"What good, wide porches to hang a hammock on!"exclaimed Norman, as they mounted the steps and walked around, peering through the windows. 

"You'll have to say gallery," corrected Mary. "Everybody down here calls a porch a gallery. They won't know what you mean."

They walked all around the house, exclaiming over each attractive feature, as each window revealed a new one. The electric lights, the convenient little bathroom, the open fire-place in the living-room, the built-in china closet. Norman's only complaint was that the house was nowhere near the river.  That was a drawback in Mary's eyes also, for ever since they thought of a boat it had begun to take its place in that mental picture in which those alluring girls were always fluttering in and out.

"Of course we'll look farther," she said.  "It wouldn't do to take the first one we came to when there are so many to choose from.  I'll just run in next door and inqire the price, and tell them we'll make up our minds later.

But when she had made her inquiries her decision followed immediately. What might seem reasonable rent to the owner and to the people of that neighborhood was entirely out of the reach of the Ware pocket-book. "You won't find anything cheaper in this part of town," the woman assured her, and after several more experiences of the same kind, Mary believed her.

They passed all sorts of beautiful homes in their wanderings; stately Colonial mansions, comfortable wide-spreading houses with broad galleries and hospitable doors, picturesque bungalows in the mission style, little white-winged cottages over-run with tangles of Maréchal Niel roses, their fragrant buds swinging from the very eaves. The farther they searched the more Mary longed to find a home among them, and it was with a feeling of deep disappointment that she turned back to the hotel for lunch.

Mrs. Ware had spent part of the morning telephoning to different real estate offices recommended by Mr. Barnaby, and had a small list of houses sifted down from those offered her.

"They tell me we are too late to get much of a choice," she reported. "People have been pouring into the city for a month, and the freight stations and ware-houses are piled up with household goods. It is this way every fall, they say. No matter how many homes they build there are always more families clamoring to occupy them than can be accommodated. It would be easier for us to find one if we could afford to pay more, but I had to cut out all the high-priced ones from the lists that they gave me."

Mary took the slip of paper from her mother, saying, "So far the ones we have seen have been too big or too expensive, or else far too small. I wonder what will be the matter with these?"

She began to find out almost as soon as she and Norman resumed their search again after lunch. The lists they had led them into older parts of the town, where the rented houses had seen several generations of transitory occupants. Some of the places they visited made her shrink back in dismay. A long procession of careless tenants had passed through, each leaving some contribution to the evidences of their slack housekeeping. Nearly every family had had its share of disease and death, and Mary hurried away with a wry face and the single exclamation, "germs!" Mrs. Barnaby had spoken of that class of houses. "You want to be careful," she told her. "Even the nicest looking may have had dreadfully sick tenants in them, and although there is a law requiring landlords to fumigate, and all that sort of thing, you can't be sure that it has been done as thoroughly as it should."

"This is getting monotonous," Mary exclaimed, wearily, when they had walked block after block to no purpose, and the end of the day found them with nothing accomplished. The morning freshness of the atmosphere had given place to such enervating heat that she had been carrying her coat on her arm for several hours. The sky was overcast with clouds, when fagged and inwardly cross she climbed on the car that was to take them back to the hotel, vowing that she couldn't drag herself another step.

At the next corner half a dozen people hurried down the street, waving frantically for the car to wait. As they crowded into the aisle, laughing and out of breath, Mary heard a lady exclaim, "We certainly were lucky to catch this car. If we'd had to wait for the next one the 'Norther' surely would have caught us, and this is going to be a nasty, wet one, too."

Even as she spoke there was a sense of sudden chill in the air. A cold gale swept down the street, setting flags and awnings to flapping, and blinding pedestrians with whirling clouds of dust. The conductor hurried to close the car windows, and the passengers began struggling into their wraps.

The sudden freshening of the air had such a bracing effect that Mary straightened up, feeling that after all she might be able to walk the half block from the car to the hotel. When the time came, she found that she could even run the distance, for the few big drops of rain that splashed in her face were the fore-runner of a downpour, and they had no umbrella. Just as they reached the entrance such a mighty deluge began that Mary's disappointment in house-hunting was somewhat softened by the fact that her beloved hat had escaped a wetting which must have ruined it.

"Never mind, little Vicar," said Jack, consolingly, when she had made her report to the assembled family. "The proverbial turn in our fortune is bound to come. It's never failed us yet, you know."

"But we've simply got to get out of this expensive hotel," she answered, desperately. "Do you realize that we could keep house for a week on what it costs the four of us to stay here just one day?"

Mrs. Ware broke the long silence that followed, by suggesting, "Maybe for the present we'd better try to get a few rooms somewhere, just for light housekeeping. It's a last resort, I know, but Mary is right. Every day we spend here is taking a big mouthful out of our little capital."

Nobody liked the suggestion, for whatever else they had lacked in their Arizona homes there had been no lack of space, but they all saw the wisdom of Mrs. Ware's suggestion, and agreed to try it until they could look around and do better.

"How lovely it must be to have an ancestral roof-tree, "thought Mary that night, as she tossed, restlessly, kept awake by the noises of the big hotel. "I can't think of anything more heavenly than to always live in the house where you were born, and your fathers and grandfathers before you, as the Lloyds do at The Locusts. It must be so delightful to feel that you've got an attic full of heirlooms and that everything about the place is connected with some old family tradition, and to know that you can take root there, and not have to go wandering around from pillar to post as we Wares have always had to do. I wonder if Lloyd Sherman knows how much she has to be thankful for!"

Next day in her shortest skirt and rain-coat, and under a dripping umbrella, Mary started to look for rooms. She was alone this time. Company was too expensive a luxury to afford more than one day, since it meant extra car-fare. She paddled blithely off, however, never minding the weather. This rain made the little home she was seeking seem all the more desirable. Whenever a window showed her a cozy interior with the light of an open fire shining cheerily over it, she thought it would not be long till she would be making afternoon tea over just such a fire, or popping corn or toasting marsh-mallows. She could think of a dozen ways to make it attractive for the girls when they dropped in of rainy afternoons.

Occupied with such plans she tramped along through the mud and slush as happily as she had gone through the sunshine the day before. But by the end of the morning repeated failures began to bring a worried line between her eyes and a sharp note of anxiety into her voice when she made her inquiries. Once, finding herself in the neighborhood of a house which she had refused the day before because it did not quite measure up to the standards she had set, she went to look at it again, thinking, after all, they might manage to be more comfortable in it than in a few rooms. To her disappointment she found a family already movingin. It had been rented almost immediately after her refusal to take it.

In her search for rooms a new difficulty faced her. Invariably one of the first questions asked her was, "Anyone sick in your family?"

"Yes, my brother," she would say. "He has rheumatism. That is why we are particular about getting a sunny south room for him."

"Well, we can't take sick people," would be the positive answer, and she would turn away with an ache in her throat and a dull wonder why Jack's rheumatism could make him objectionable in the slightest degree as a tenant. The morning was nearly gone before she found the reason. She was shown into a dingy parlor by a child of the family, and asked to wait a few moments. Its mother had gone around the corner to the bakery, but would be right back.

There were two others already waiting when Mary entered the room, a stout, middle-aged woman and a delicate-looking girl. The woman looked up with a nod as Mary took a chair near the stove and spread out her damp skirts to dry.

"I reckon you're on the same errand as us," said the woman, "but it's first come, first served, and we're ahead of you."

"Yes,"answered Mary, distantly polite, and wondering at the aggressive tone. When the child left the room the woman rose and shut the door behind it, and then came back to Mary, lowering her voice confidentially.

"It's just this way. We're getting desperate. We came down here for my daughter's health --- the doctor sent us, and we've gone all over town trying to get some kind of roof over our heads. We can't get in anywhere because Maudie has lung trouble. People have been coming down here for forty years to get cured of it, and folks were glad enough to rent 'em rooms and take their money, till all this talk was stirred up in the papers about lung trouble being a great white plague, and catching, and all that. Now you can't get in anywhere at a price that poor folks can pay. I've come to the end of my rope. The landlady at the boardinghouse where we've been stopping, told me this morning that she couldn't keep us another day, because the boarders complained when they found what ailed Maudie. I was a fool to tell 'em, for she doesn't cough much. It's only in the first stages. After this I'm just going to say that I came down here to look for work, and goodness knows, that's the truth! What I want to ask of you is that youwon't stand in the way of our getting in here by offering more rent or anything like that."

"Certainly not," Mary answered, drawing back a little, almost intimidated by the fierceness which desperation gave to the other's manner.

The landlady bustled in at that moment, and as she threw the rooms open for inspection, she asked the question that Mary had heard so often that morning, ---"Any sick in your family?"

"No," answered the woman, glibly. I'm down in the city looking for work. I do plain sewing, and if you know of any likely customers I'd be glad if you'd mention me."

The landlady glanced shrewdly at Maudie, who kept in the background.

"She does embroidery," explained her mother. " Needle-work makes her a little pale and peaked, sitting over it so long. I ain't going to let her do so much after I once get a good start."

"Well, a person in my place can't be too careful," complained the landlady. "We get taken in so often letting our rooms to strangers. They have all sorts of names for lung trouble nowadays, malaria and a weak heart and such things. The couple I had in here last said it was just indigestion and shortness of breath, but she died all the same six weeks later, in this very room, and he had to acknowledge it was her lungs all the time, and he knew it."

Mary looked around the room with a shiver. Its old wallpaper, dingy paint and worn carpet proclaimed too plainly that its renovation since the last lodgers' departure had been only a superficial one, barely what the law demanded.

"No, thank you," she replied to the landlady, who had turned to her with the hope of finding a more desirable tenant. "I couldn't consider these rooms at all. There are only two, and we need three at least."

Out on the street again a tear or two splashed down and mingled with the rain on her face as she walked away. She was growing desperate herself. If two rooms had been all they needed, she could have found them a number of times over. Or, if they could have afforded some of the flats or the sunny suites she discovered on pleasant streets, her search would have been soon over. But it was the same old circle she kept coming back to. When the rooms were large enough and within their means, either they were unsanitary or the owners objected to invalids. In vain she explained that Jack's helplessness was due to an accident, and thatrheumatism is not contagious. Too many people like Maudie's mother had been ahead of her and bred suspicion of all strangers in quest of rooms for light housekeeping.

Mary had told her mother not to expect her back for lunch. She would go into some tea-room or restaurant wherever she happened to be. But one o'clock found her in a part of the town where nothing of the kind was in sight. She bought an apple and some crackers at a grocery, and ate them under cover of her umbrella while she stood on a corner, waiting for a car to take her to another part of the city.

What a different place it seemed to be from the one they had seen the day of their arrival! Then it was a world of hospitable homes and sunshine and kindly faces. The very shop windows looked friendly and inviting. Now, plodding along in the wet, to the tired, homesick girl it seemed only a great, desolate place full of lonely, discouraged strangers and sick people and dingy boarding-houses, whose doors shut coldly in anxious faces.

All afternoon she kept up the search. The electric lights were beginning to gleam through the rain, throwing long, quivering reflections in the puddles when she finally turned back to the hotel, bedraggled and utterly discouraged.

"I won't cry!" she said, fiercely, to herself. "I can't ! For Jack would see that I had been at it, and he is getting so sensitive lately. It would hurt him dreadfully to know that we are barred out of all the desirable places because he is an invalid."

The habit of years is strong. Mary had persisted so long in applying the good Vicar of Wakefield's motto to her childish difficulties and disappointments, that it had taught her remarkable self-control. Instead of bursting impulsively into the room as so many girls of her age would have done, and giving vent to her over-taxed nerves and discouragement in a tearful report of the day's adventures, she walked slowly from the elevator to her room, trying to think of some careless way in which to announce her failure. She paused with her hand on the knob, thinking, "I'll just tell them that I've come back like Noah's dove did the first time it was sent out from the ark, because I could find no rest for the sole of my foot; at least a rest which fitted both our ideas and our income."

To her relief, the room was empty when she entered. The only light streamed through the transom and keyhole from Jack's room, where a low murmur told that her mother was reading aloud. Opening the door just a crack so that her face was not visible, she called, gaily, "I'm back, mamma, but you can just go on with your reading; I'll not tell a single thing till I'm all dried and dressed. I'm as wet as a frog."

"Oh, I was afraid you'd be," came the anxious answer. "I'll come and get---"

"No," interrupted Mary, decidedly. "I don't want anything but time. Closing the door between the rooms, she switched on the light and began slipping out of her wet clothes into dry ones. In a moment or two she was in her soft, warm kimona and Turkish slippers, standing on the threshold of the bathroom, intending to plunge her face into a basin of hot water. It was the best thing she could think of to remove the traces of tears, and she was so tired that now she was safe in the harbor of her own room the tears would come, no matter how hard she tried to keep them back.

But before she could turn the faucet, a tap at the hall door made her dab her handkerchief hastily across her eyes, for Mrs. Barnaby's voice followed the tap.

"I surely hate to trouble you," she began, apologetically, as soon as Mary had admitted her, "but if you could only hook me up this one more time I've been waiting for James with this shawl over my shoulders for nearly half an hour. Then I heard you come in and I thought maybe you wouldn't mind doing it once more. We're going home in the morning."

Then with a keen look into Mary's face, she added, kindly," Why, you poor child, what's the matter? Your brother isn't worse, I hope!"

There was such a note of real concern in the sympathetic voice that Mary's lip trembled and her eyes brimmed over again. When the next moment she found herself drawn into Mrs. Barnaby's capacious embrace with a plump hand patting her soothingly on the back, the story of her discouragement seemed to sob itself out of its own accord. The performance left Mary's eyes very red and tear-swollen, but the outburst brought such relief that she could laugh the moment it was over. It was Mrs. Barnaby's surprise which brought the laugh.

"I can't get over it!" she kept exclaiming. "To think that all this time I supposed that you were enormously wealthy--- actually rolling in riches! Well, well!"

"I didn't know that my 'short and simple annals of the poor' would be so upsetting," giggled Mary, hysterically. "You were so sweet and sympathetic I couldn't help telling you. But don't take it to heart, please: We Wares never stay discouraged long. I'll be all right now after I get my face washed. As soon as I fasten your dress I'll run in and turn on the hot water."

The hooking proceeded in silence, Mrs. Barnaby so absorbed in thought that she forgot her usual sigh of relief and expression of thanks at the end. Instead she said, abruptly, "You come and go up on the train with us in the morning to Bauer. It's only thirty miles from here and it's up in the hills, high and dry, and there's the Metz cottage I'm sure you can get, all freshly scrubbed and ready to move into. Mrs. Metz is the cleanest little German woman you ever saw, --- scrubs even the under sides of her tables as white as the tops. It wasn't rented when we came down here last Saturday. Let me talk to your mother about it. I'm sure it is just the place for you."

"Oh, no," began Mary. "We couldn't possibly go there! We've counted so much on living here in San Antonio this winter and meeting some of our friends' friends---"

Then she stopped with a little gasp, and after an instant's pause said, apologetically, "I didn't mean to refuse so abruptly, and now I take it all back. Changing plans so suddenly is somewhat of a shock to one's system, isn't it! After all, I'm like a drowning man catching at straws, and I'd be very glad, indeed, if you would talk to mamma about it. You can go right in now while I finish dressing, if you like."

It was not the first time Mrs. Barnaby had been ushered into Jack's room. Their acquaintance had begun over the railing of their adjoining balconies the first day of Mary's house-hunting, and had rapidly deepened into a mutual liking. So strongly had Mrs. Barnaby been attracted to the young fellow who bore his crippled condition so lightly that he made others forget it, that she induced James to go in and make his acquaintance also. The two men had spent several hours of the long, rainy morning together, each greatly interested in the other's conversation.

Mary, who had been gone all day, did not know of this, but she knew that her mother had met and liked Mrs. Barnaby, and that the story of the day's unsuccessful search would not sound half so serious if that cheerful old lady told it, especially if it were followed immediately by her offer to find them a home in Bauer.

Bauer was an uncharted country on Mary's map, but if Mrs. Barnaby thought of it as their desired haven, she could trust her capable hands to take them safely into it. So it was with a sigh of relief that she opened the door between the rooms, saying, "Here's Mrs. Barnaby, mamma," and left her to make explanations while she finished dressing.

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