Mary Ware In Texas, Chapter 5: At Fort Sam Houston

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

Published 1910

Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill

Title Page

 

CHAPTER V.
AT FORT SAM HOUSTON

PROMPTLY at the time agreed upon, Mary took her station by the glove counter, almost sure that Gay would be late. It was one of the Warwick Hall traditions that something tragic always happened to Gay's clothes at the last moment, to delay her departure. But she had scarcely seated herself and deposited her suit-case on the floor beside her when the door opened and Gay came breezily into the store. Her hat was awry and her hair disheveled.

"On time for once," she exclaimed triumphantly with a glance at the clock. "But I couldn't have been if Roberta hadn't come to the rescue. She brought me down in their carriage. It's Roberta Mayrell," she explained, as they made their way as rapidly as possible down the crowded aisle.

"She isn't really one of the Army girls, but she lives just outside the Post and has always been counted in everything there, since she was old enough to talk. I've been telling her all about you on the way down."

"Well, I hope she'll find me as interesting as the alligators," began Mary, remembering the speech she had overheard from the hotel balcony. But Gay was stopping to apologize to an old lady whom she had bumped into, and did not hear the remark. The next moment they were outside and at the curbstone, where a carriage drawn by two Kentucky horses was in waiting, and Roberta was stepping down with outstretched hands to welcome her.

Roberta at close range was even more fascinating than when seen from a hotel balcony, and Mary, sitting between the two girls as they drove along towards Government Hill, had much the same feeling that a thirsty Bedouin has when after miles of desert journeying he finds himself beside the well of a green oasis.

They were fairly bubbling over with high spirits, and it was impossible to be with them and not share their exhilaration. Before they had gone two blocks the weight of care and anxiety that had been resting on Mary's shoulders ever since Jack's accident, began to slip off. It almost gave her a sense of having wings, to be so light and care free.

The last eight months with their constant association with suffering and anxiety about finances had been like a hard march through the sands. Now the sudden substitution of something frivolous and young was so refreshing that she giggled almost hysterically in her enjoyment of it.

"Oh, we forgot to tell you," exclaimed Gay as they came in sight of the parade grounds. "There's to be a hop at the gymnasium to-night for the visiting polo team. They got it up on short notice. Lieutenant Boglin told me about it when I invited him to come to dinner. He asked if he might take you, and I said he might, for of course you won't want to miss it, and old Bogey is quite the nicest officer in the bunch when it comes to giving a girl a good time."

Mary's face wore such a comical expression of blended delight and dismay that Roberta laughed, and Gay stopped the refusal that Mary was beginning to stammer out by putting both hands over her ears.

"No, I won't listen," she declared. "Of course you didn't expect to do anything like this, and didn't bring the proper clothes, but it is such an informal affair that it doesn't make any difference. Roberta and I can rig you out in something of mine. It will be all the more fun."

"Oh, it's just the larkiest lark that ever was!" exclaimed Mary so excited over the prospect that her cheeks were growing redder and redder, and her eyes shining with happy anticipation.

"This day has been full of thrills, and --- oo, oo!  There goes another!" she added with a little shiver of delight as the band began to play. The carriage had stopped at the end of the parade ground, where the usual crowd of spectators was gathered.

"Martial music always sends cold shivers up and down my back," she said gravely. "It makes me want to cheer and march right off to do something big and brave --- 'storm the heights,'  or bleed and die for my country, or something of that sort. I've always thought that I'd have been a soldier if I hadn't been born a girl."

She laughed as she said it, but there was a quiver of earnestness in her voice. Parade was a matter-of-course affair to Gay and Roberta, a part of the weekly routine of Post life, which familiarity made ordinary. They exchanged amused glances which Mary did not see, and made remarks and criticisms on the manoeuvres which she did not hear. Wholly absorbed, she leaned forward in the carriage, watching every movement of the drill.

It is always an inspiring sight, even to one who looks no farther than the outward show, admiring the clock-like precision which makes a battalion move as one man; but to Mary every khaki coat in the regiment clothed a hero. Lexington and Valley Forge, Gettysburg and Chickamauga called to her through every drum-beat and bugle note.

She had loved her old dog-eared copy of the History of the United States, and many a time had spread it out on her desk to re-read, when she should have been studying other things. She had pored over its stories of war till the black and white of its printed pages had transformed her into a little fire-ball of a patriot. Now as she saw for the first time these men who stood as the guardians of "Old Glory," everything she had ever read of heroism and blood-stained battle-fields and glorious dying, came back to her in a flood of enthusiasm which nearly lifted her to her feet. When at last the band struck into "The Star-spangled Banner" and the guns fired the signal which heralded the lowering of the colors, her plain little face was almost transfigured with the exalted emotions of the moment.

"Aye, call it holy ground,
The soil that they have trod," 

she was repeating to herself, when she became aware that Roberta was trying to attract her attention, and was holding out a box of candy.

"Come down to earth!" she exclaimed laughingly. "I tried to get you to take some earlier in the action, but you hadn't eyes for anything but the brass buttons. I don't believe you would have heard thunder!"

"It wasn't brass buttons I was seeing, "began Mary."It was  ---" Then realizing the utter hopelessness of trying to explain what soul-stirring visions had been hers for that little space of time that the band played and the heroes of the past as well as the present passed before her, she did as Roberta advised, came down to earth and took a caramel.

When they reached Major Melville's house in the officers' quarters, Roberta dismissed the carriage and went in with Gay and Mary. She had decided not to change her dress for the hop, she said as she threw off her long cloak in the hall, revealing the pretty frock of pink and gray foulard which she had worn at the luncheon.

Mrs. Melville came out to meet them, a large sandy-haired woman with a certain faded fairness and enough of a resemblance to Gay to suggest what she might have looked like in her teens. Her cordial welcome put Mary at ease at once, and she followed the girls up the broad staircase, feeling that this visit was quite the most delightful thing which had happened to her since she left Warwick Hall.

While Gay rummaged through trunks and wardrobes to find party raiment for her guest, Mary walked about the room, experiencing more thrills at every turn; for on each wall and book-shelf and bracket was some picture or souvenir of Warwick Hall or Lloydsboro Valley.

"Oh, there's Lloyd and Betty and the Walton girls!" she cried. "I have this same picture at home, and one like this of Madam Chartley too, in her high-back chair with the carved griffins on it.

"What a splendid picture this is of Dr. Alex Shelby," she called a moment later. Then catching sight of a larger one on the mantel in a silver frame, she exclaimed in surprise, " Why, you have two of Doctor Alex."

Gay was deep in a closet, her head between rows of dress-skirts, and she made no answer; but Roberta, perching in the window-seat, cleared her throat to attract Mary's attention, and then with an impish smile held up seven fingers and pointed in different directions to five other photographs that Mary had not yet discovered.

"One for each day in the week," she said in a low tone. "I'd give a good deal to see that man. He was here last spring, but I was down on the coast and missed him. I intend to make a point of staying at home next time he comes. I want to see for myself what's up. Gay pretends there isn't anything, but I have my own ideas."

"Oh, is he coming again?" cried Mary.

Roberta's only answer was a significant nod, for Gay emerged from the closet just then.

"There's nothing in there," she announced, "but I've just thought of one that Lucy left here this spring. I'll ask mother where it is."

"You see," said Roberta as the door closed behind Gay, "I wouldn't tease her if she'd confess anything, but she won't. Kitty Walton thinks I've guessed right too. She said that from the moment she heard about their romantic meeting she was sure something would come of it."

"Oh, tell me about it, "urged Mary." I know Doctor Alex so well that I can't help being interested."

"And do you know a place in Lloydsboro Valley called the Log Cabin?" asked Roberta. "A fine country home built of logs and furnished with beautiful old heirlooms? Gay's sister, Mrs. Harcourt, rented it one summer."

"Indeed I do know it," assented Mary. "It is a fascinating place, with a big outside fire-place on the porch, and the front is covered with a climbing rose. We used to pass it often."

"Well, Kitty says that the day after the Harcourts took possession, Gay put a ladder against the front of the house and climbed up on it to hang a mirror on the outside of her window-sill, the way they do in Holland. It was one she had brought all the way from Amsterdam. And while she was up on the ladder, looking like a picture, of course, with the roses all about her and the sunshine turning her hair to gold, Dr. Shelby came by on horseback. She saw him in the mirror and the girls teased her about it --- called it her Lady of Shalott mirror and him her Knight of the Looking-glass. Kitty says he was devotion itself to her all summer."

What more she might have revealed was interrupted by Gay's return. She tossed an armful of dainty muslin and lace on the bed, and for a few moments all three gave their undivided attention to the trying-on process.

"I must confess it doesn't look as if it were fitted to you in perfect health," confessed Roberta, "but it's one of those soft clinging things that doesn't have to fit like a glove. I can pin it up on you to make it look all right, and it's so pretty with all that fine lace and embroidery that it'll pass muster anywhere."

Gay sat down to make some slight alteration in the girdle, while Roberta invited Mary to a seat in front of the dressing-table, proposing to try her skill on her as a hair-dresser. It was all so delightfully intimate and friendly, just such a situation as Mary had longed for in her dream-castle building, that she even felt at liberty to grow a little personal with Roberta. She peeped out through the hair which now hung over her face, to watch Roberta's face reflected in the mirror opposite.

"Do you know," she remarked with a mischievous glance, like a Skye terrier peeping through its bangs," that I've actually lain awake nights, wondering if you'd been persuaded yet to give up that 'adorable little curl.'"

Roberta's mouth opened wide in astonishment, and she dropped the comb with which she was parting Mary's hair.

"How spooky!" she cried. "I was just thinking about that myself. Who in the world told you anything about that?"

"Oh, I overheard the remark," confessed Mary. "I was on one of those hotel balconies all hidden by moon-vines when you and Gay and Mr. Wade and the officer you call Bogey came out into the court. I was so lonesome for some young person to talk to, and so close to you all that I could see the comb slipping out of Gay's hair. I didn't know who she was then. If I had I should have leaned over the railing and called to her. Wouldn't it have made a sensation?

"I'll never forget how either of you looked. She was in white with white violets, and you were in pale lemon yellow with a scarf over your shoulders that looked like a white moonbeam spangled with dewdrops. It slipped down as you started to go and see the alligators, and that Mr. Wade drew it up for you and said what he did about the curl."

"That was the first time he ever mentioned it," explained Roberta. "I thought when you spoke that you meant last night. I vas going to tell Gay about it, and as long as you're so interested I don't mind telling you, too. You know Mr. Wade has been very nice to me, and I thought he was great fun until he began to get sentimental. My brother William knew him at college, and he told me what I might expect. He said 'that chap always gets sentimental with every girl he goes with.'  It's a great thing to have plenty of brothers to put you wise.

"When Mr. Wade began that nonsense about wanting one of those little curls and its being the most fetching thing he had ever seen I laughed at him. But it only made him the more determined. He wrote some poetry about wearing it over his heart forever and all that sort of thing. If he only could have known how Billy and I shrieked over it! Of course I hadn't given him the slightest encouragement, or it would have been different---"

"Roberta," interrupted Gay sternly, "how can you say that? You know you looked at him. I saw you do it. And when you look out at anybody from under those lashes, whether you mean it or not you do look flirtatious, and you know it.

"I don't!" contradicted Roberta hotly, with boyish directness. "I can't help the way my lashes are kinked, and I'm very sure I'm not going to pull them out to keep people from getting a wrong impression. Anyhow there's no kink in my tongue!  I told him straight enough what I thought of his silly speeches. I put a stop to them last night, all right."

"How?" demanded Gay.

"Well," began Roberta, plaiting Mary's hair so energetically that it pulled dreadfully. "He went over the same performance again, begging me for that little curl in token that I'd be his'n forevermore, etc. And after he'd spun it out into a most romantic proposal I said very sweetly, 'Really, Mr. Wade, to be honest with you, I can't afford to give away a seventy-five cent curl to every man who asks for one. You see I'm always financially embarrassed, for papa won't let me borrow after I've spent my monthly allowance, and I never by any chance have a cent left over after the second of the month. But if you must have a curl I'll give you Madame Main's address on Houston Street, where you can get an exact duplicate. I'm sure it will be just as good to wear over your heart as mine would.'"

"Roberta, you little beast!" laughed Gay. "How could you give him the impression they were false, when you know very well they grow tight on your own scalp?"

"I wanted to see if he would say 'with all thy faults I love thee still.' But he didn't. He got very stiff and red and walked away, and spent the rest of the evening flirting with Louie Rowan to show that he didn't care."

Gay continuing to shake her head in a shocked and disapproving way, Roberta cried out, "I don't care! It's no worse than what you said to a certain freshman who proposed to you."

"I don't call that a proposal," calmly disagreed Gay. "He didn't ask anything. He simply took it for granted that I'd fall all over myself to accept him. Mary, what would you say to a boy, one whom you'd always known but who'd never been particularly nice to you, who would march up to you some day and say: 'You suit me better than any girl I know, and I'd like to talk over arrangements with you now. Of course we couldn't marry till a year after my graduation, but I want to have it settled before I go away, so that I'll know what to depend on. My family all tell me that it's risky business, choosing a wife with red hair, but I'm willing to take the chances.'"

"Now, Gay, you know it wasn't as bald as that," protested Roberta. "He put in all sorts of  'long and short sweetenin'.'"

"It amounted to the same thing," persisted Gay, and in answer to Mary's gasping question, "What did you say?" she replied

"I couldn't speak at first, I was so furious at his speech about red hair. But I managed to tell him several things before I finished, and nothing can be frostier and snippier than a sixteen year old girl when she tries to appear very dignified. That was my age then. The thing that made him maddest however, was that I told him that even the 'frog who would a-wooing go'  knew how to go about such a matter in a much better way than he did. That he'd better wait till he was older, and amounted to something more than a mere silly boy. My snubbing almost gave him apoplexy, but it did him good in the long run."

"A proposal, and she was a year younger than I am now, "thought Mary, wishing with a queer little throb of envy that she had some such experience to confess. Roberta was only nineteen now, and to judge by Gay's teasing remarks had had any number of romantic affairs. Lloyd was only fourteen when Phil first began to care so much for her.

Roberta was putting the finishing touches to her hair now, and as Mary's eyes met their wistful reflection in the mirror, she wondered if there would ever be a time when any one would care enough for her to come to her with the momentous question. She wouldn't mind so much being an old maid if she could only have some such experience to lay away in her memory, as people lay away treasures in roseleaves and lavender. But so far she couldn't count even a susceptible youth like young Mr. Wade, or a conceited freshman like Gay's early admirer. She wanted to ask how it felt to be proposed to, and thus keep the conversation rolling along in the same interesting groove. But Roberta suddenly switched off to saddles. She was about to buy a new one, and saddles, as Roberta presented the topic, became so vastly important that Mary did not have the courage to attempt to turn the talk back to the subject of mere men.

It was one of Roberta's chief characteristics that she swept everything before her by the sheer force of her personality. She dominated whatever company she was in, and the most frivolous things she said carried weight and made people listen because of the way she said them. She made statements in the same manner . she was now thrusting the safety-pins into Mary's skirt-bands, in a direct, forcible way that made people feel that they might be depended upon.

"Roberta's pins always stay where they are put," Gay remarked admiringly, as she watched the capable way in which Mary was being fastened into her borrowed gown." There's no danger of your coming to pieces, when she fixes you. Sometimes I think that she must hypnotize things. It's a gift with her. There! You look perfectly fine. Came on down stairs and let's try that piece of new music before dinner."

Mary had her doubts about looking perfectly fine. She was uncomfortably conscious that the dress was not a good fit. It was too tight in the arm-holes and too short in the waist. But the girls seemed proud of the costume they had evolved for her, the parting glance in the mirror showed that the general effect was becoming, and their compliments were most reassuring. So she followed them down stairs in a very elated and "partified" state of mind.

The old Major's affable greeting as she entered the living-room was as cordial as his wife's had been, and seemed to place her at once on the footing of an old friend. She sank into the comfortable chair he pushed forward for her with the sensation that she was coming back to a familiar hearthstone, where she had been a guest many times. It was very queer, but it was decidedlypleasant to have it all seem so homelike and familiar.

With such surroundings Mary ought to have appeared at her best, but Roberta's dominating presence made her silent and shy. It had not had that effect when they were up-stairs together, but now in the presence of older people Roberta gave the effect of a lamp that has suddenly been turned up to a brighter flame. She was positively brilliant, Mary thought, and made everybody else in the room seem of secondary interest. Roberta, who ran in and out every day, felt the same freedom that a daughter of the house would have. She laughingly pushed Mrs. Melville into a chair and ordered her to sit still while she ran up-stairs for the forgotten spectacles. She joked with the Major about numberless things which were meaningless to Mary because she had not shared their beginnings, and when she sat down at the piano and played with strong masterful touches, it really seemed that what Gay had jokingly said about her having hypnotic powers was true.

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 eras 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, tête-à-tête wise, and seated him, self 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 Æsop'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 hewas thoroughly amused by something that she had said.

The tête-à-tête 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 naive 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 4     Chapter 6 >