Mary Ware In Texas, Chapter 9: At The Barnaby Ranch

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

Published 1910

Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill

Title Page

 

CHAPTER IX.
AT THE BARNABY RANCH

THREE alert and expectant little figures sat in a row on the steps of the gray cottage, and watched for Mary's coming the next afternoon. Brud, sawing his hatchet blade up and down on the edge of the step below him, made deep notches in the paint while he waited. Little Sister, fuming with impatience, sat with one arm around the young hunting dog which squatted beside her, and made dire threats as to her conduct, in case the new teacher should refuse to let him go with them.

He was a brown English pointer, with a white vest, and the silver plate on his collar bore the name by which he was registered among the aristocracy of dogs. The name was "Uncle August." Strangers always laughed when they read that on his collar, but as Brud usually began to explain about that time that he was a "peggydreed" dog, his sister thought that they were laughing at the way he pronounced pedigreed. Therefore, she would gravely correct him and add the information that one of his great gram'pas was the King of Kent and another was Rip-rap; that he was the finest bird-dog in the United States, --- her pappy said so, --- and that he had been to a dog college and learned all that there was for a dog to know.

The moment Mary appeared, the usual formula was gone through with before they gave her a chance for more than a bare word of greeting, and she never knew how much her reception of Uncle August counted in her favor with the two watching children.

Like everybody else, she laughed when she heard his name, and put out her hand to shake the brown paw which he gravely offered. But when he continued to hold it out to her, and plainly showed by every way in a dog's power that he liked her and wanted to emphasize his friendliness, she took his silky ears in her hands, and looking down into his wistful eyes, praised and petted him till he wriggled all over for joy.

Brud immediately gave her his full approval, but Little Sister, while impressed favorably, was not in a mood to approve anything fully. According to Meliss, "she'd done got out of bed crosswise of herself that mawnin"' and had continued so ever since. There was a pout on her lips when her mother called her in to kiss her good-bye, and there was a defiant light in her eyes as she listened to the farewell instructions delivered to Mary through the window. She lagged behind when the others started briskly off, and halfway down the hill began to drag and scrape her feet annoyingly through the gravel. Although she hadn't the faintest intention of turning back, she stood still when they reached the foot-bridge, and announced with a whine:

"I'm going home! I aren't a having a happy time like mommey said I would!"

Mary, who was a few steps ahead, never stopped, even to glance back over her shoulder, and Sister was obliged to follow in order to hear what she was saying.

"You can hardly expect to enjoy a thing before it begins," explained Mary, politely, in that grown-up tone that was such a novelty to Sister when employed towards herself. "You've never seen the place where Mr. Metz has given us permission to build. It's where a branch of the creek curves up through his place. It's dry now, but it is full of big, flat rocks where we can build the fire when we get to that part of the school. Maybe we'll be ready for one as soon as next week."

There was no response save a stifled sniffle and the patter of small feet which had to move briskly in order to keep up with the procession. But Brud's questions opened the way for further information which was not lost on the reluctant follower.

"There's a little spring that comes bubbling out below, so that we won't have to go far to fill our kettle. He said we might trim off some of the smallest shoots of his willows, and he marked the trees we could chop. That's where you will find use for your hatchet. Willow switches woven together make a fine covering for a wigwam or a Robinson Crusoe shack. I learned how to weave them the way the Indians do when I first went to Arizona."

It was the novelty of being talked to in that dignified, grown-up way that drew Sister slowly but surely along after the others. As they followed the creek, Uncle August, dashing on ahead, scared a rabbit out of the underbrush. He was too well trained to give chase to it, so the frightened little cotton-tail loped away unhurt. It served its mission in life, however, as far as Mary was concerned, for it reminded her of a story which she proceeded to tell as they walked along. Sister listened, suspiciously, expecting a personal application at the end, about a sulky little girl who never wanted to do anything that other people did. That was the kind Meliss always told. So did mommey, in vivacious, kindergarten style, when they had been especially naughty. Sister hated stories, since those with a moral attached were the only kind she had ever known.

When this tale turned out to be one of Br'er Rabbit's funny adventures in outwitting Mr. Fox, and ended with a laugh instead of a personal application, she was bewildered for a moment. Then she remembered that this was a surprise school, and determined not to miss anything that seemed to start out with such promise for further entertainment, she stopped dragging her feet and took up a more cheerful pace along the creek bank, in the trail of Brud and Uncle August.

It would have been a determined soul indeed who could have stayed morose very long, out-of-doors in the perfect weather that had followed the Norther. It was like late October in Kentucky --- sunny, yet with a crystal-like coolness that made exercise a delight.

It had been such a short time since Mary had stepped out of her own play days that she found herself stepping into the children's with an abandon which almost equalled theirs. There was no pretense about her enjoyment at first. With a pleasure almost as deep and unalloyed as when she and Hazel Lee built wigwams on the edge of the Arizona desert, she went about the building of a shack on the side of this Texas creek bank.

The energy with which she brought things to pass was contagious. Brud and Little Sister worked like beavers to keep up with this rare, new playfellow, who had something better than a Midas touch, --- something which not only put a golden glamour over everything she said and did, but turned their little world of mimic sports into a real world of tremendous meaning and importance. For the first time in his life Brud found himself where there were things lawful for his hatchet to cut. For the first time Sister was kept so busy doing delightful things that there was no necessity for anyone to say " don't."

Before the week was over Mary had opened so many windows for them into the Land of Make-believe that they began to look upon her resources for entertainment as boundless. The more she gave, the more they demanded. They never wanted to go home and would have hung on to her until dark every evening, had it not been for the alarm-clock which she brought with her each day. She had no watch and was afraid to accept Jack's offer of his, lest she should lose it in the woods. It was a little, round clock, with a bell on top, the dollar and a half kind sold in country groceries and cross-roads stores.

She always wound the alarm just before she hung the clock on a bush, muttering over it a mysterious charm that the children listened to with skeptical grins, yet with furtive side-glances at each other. To her surprise they accepted the whirr and bang of the alarm-bell at five o'clock as the voice of Fate, which must be promptly obeyed. She often wondered why they did. To Mary the muttering of the abracadabra charm was only a part of the game, one of the many little embellishments which made her plays more picturesque than ordinary people's, and she had no thought of the children attaching any superstitious import to it. She did not take into account their long association with Meliss, who was wise on the subject of hoodoos. But the fact remained that her alarm-clock was the only timepiece within their reach which they never tampered with, and the only one whose summons they ever obeyed.

It was probably because she had set such a hard pace for herself that first week that she found it so difficult to go on afterward. A surprise school was a greater tax on her inventive genius than she had anticipated. She had promised them a different plum in their pie each day, and she lay awake at night to plan games that were instructive as well as interesting, for she was conscientiously carrying out her agreement to teach them as well as to amuse them. By the end of the second week the strain was almost unendurable.

One evening she went home to find the Barnaby carriage and the gray mules standing at the gate. Mrs. Barnaby had brought in some venison for them, and waited to see Mary before taking her leave.

"I'm waiting to hear about those little savages of yours," she said, as Mary greeted her and sank limply down into a chair. " Why, you look all tuckered out. They must be even worse than people say."

"No, they're not!" protested Mary, warmly. "I'm really proud of the way I succeeded. The only thing is, I have to keep them busy and interested every moment, and they're so hungry for stories they never get enough. The poor little souls have never heard any before, and it is really pathetic the way they listen. They'll sit as still as graven images, so interested they scarcely breathe, till the last word is out. Then they'll begin, 'Oh, tell us another, Miss Mayry! Just one more! Please, Miss Mayry!' They cling to me like burrs. We nearly always have a small campfire every day now, for either we're Indians or gypsies, cooking our meals, or we're witches brewing spells, or elves gathering magic fires for our midnight revels. They play so hard that the last hour they always want to sit down by the embers and listen to stories. But they've nearly drained me dry now. Sometimes I come home so limp and exhausted I can scarcely move my tongue. I'm glad that to-morrow is Sunday, for I've surely earned one day of rest."

"Come out and spend it at the ranch," urged Mrs. Barnaby, hospitably. "It happens that there is no service tomorrow at St. Boniface, but James will be coming in for the mail, and will be glad to bring you out in time for dinner."

Mary had spent two afternoons at the Barnaby ranch, driving out with Mrs. Rochester, and she enjoyed them so much that she welcomed the thought of a return to the homelike old place, with its air of thrift and comfort. Jack had been better the last few days, so she eagerly accepted the invitation.

Next morning Mr. Barnaby drove in for her himself with the gray mules and the roomy old carriage. Mary, comfortably stowed away on the back seat, because it had the best springs, leaned forward to hold the reins while he went into the post-office. She had risen early and hurried through as much of the work as she could in order that her holiday might not mean extra work for her mother. Now with an easy conscience she settled herself to enjoy a care-free day, and looked forward with keen enjoyment to the seven miles' drive along the smooth country road.

She had been sitting in a pleasant reverie some four or five minutes, when a familiar little voice close by the wheel piped out

"Why, there's Miss Mayry! Where are you going?"

Before she could reply, Brud and Sister and Uncle August came swarming into the carriage, stepping on her toes, climbing up on the seat, and showing such joy over having discovered her that it was impossible not to give them a gracious reception, even though she groaned inwardly at the sight of them. Their prompt demand for a story the moment they were seated was followed by the appearance of Mr. Barnaby.

"I can't tell you any stories to-day," Mary explained, pleasantly," because I am going visiting. But I'll tell you a lovely one to-morrow, about Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. You'll have to hop out now. Mr. Barnaby is ready to start."

"I aren't going to hop out!" declared Sister, winding her arms around Mary's neck in a choking clasp. Brud immediately threw his arms around Uncle August and held him tight, regardless of the fact that Mr. Barnaby was whistling to the dog and motioning him to jump out.

"We are agoing with you," Brud announced.

"But you are not invited," Mary answered, in a provoked tone. "You surely don't care to go where you're neither asked nor wanted!"

"Come on, Bub, I'm in a hurry," said Mr. Barnaby, kindly. He took hold of the child's arms to lift him out, but Brud, seizing the back of the seat with both hands, stiffened himself and began to cry, shrieking out between sobs, "I want to go with Miss Mayry! Please don't put me out! Aw, Miss Mayry! Don't let him put me out!"

Immediately Sister added her tearful wails to his. Meliss, sauntering down the street in search of the children, heard the familiar cries, and quickened her pace to a run. A crowd was gathering around the carriage. She came up in time to hear Mr. Barnaby say, good-naturedly, " Oh, well, if they're going to break their little hearts over it, let 'em come along. I don't mind!"

"But their mother will think that something has happened to them," protested Mary. "She'll be frantic."

Meliss pushed her way through the crowd to the carriage. "No'm, she won't, Miss Ma'y. She won't worry none. Her haid aches fit to bus' this mawnin'. I'll tell her you's takin' keer of 'em, and she'll be only too thankful to you-all for a free day."

"It's Meliss who will be thankful for a free day," thought Mary, still hesitating. She rebelled at the thought of her own day being spoiled, and realized that for discipline's sake the children ought not to be allowed to carry their point. Mr. Barnaby settled the question by stepping into the carriage and gathering up the reins.

"Tell their mother I'll bring them back before night," he said to Meliss.

The sobs and tears stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Presently Mr. Barnaby glanced back over his shoulder, saying

"This load doesn't seem equally divided. Here, one of you kids climb over into the front seat with me." At the invitation both children threw themselves violently on Mary and clung to her, beginning to sniffle again. He looked back at her with the humorous one-sided smile that she always found irresistibly droll.

"First time I ever came across that particular brand of youngsters. Strikes me the old Nick has put his ear marks on 'em pretty plain. You're crowded back there, aren't you, with that dog sitting on your feet? Here, sir! Come over here with me!"

With one bound Uncle August sprang over on the front seat, and sat up beside his host, looking so dignified and so humanely interested in everything they passed that Mr. Barnaby laughed. He laid a caressing hand on him, saying, "So you're the dog that's been to college. Well, it has made a gentleman of you, sir! I admire your manners. It's a pity you can't pass them around the family."

Charmed by the novelty of the drive, the children cuddled up against Mary, and were so quiet all the way to the ranch that she felt remorseful when she remembered how near she had come to depriving them of the pleasure.

Mrs. Barnaby threw up her hands in surprise when she saw the three self-invited guests who calmly followed Mary out of the carriage, but when the situation had been explained in a laughing aside, she said in her whole-souled, motherly way, " Now, my dear, don't you worry one mite! We are used to children, and we'll find some way to keep them from spoiling your day."

Her first step in that direction was to take them out to the kitchen and fill their hands with cookies, and send them outdoors to eat them. She also gave them instructions to stay out and play. A low swing and a seesaw between the kitchen and the garden gate showed where her grand-children amused themselves hours at a time on their annual visits. When she went back into the living-room Mary had seated herself in a rocking-chair with a sigh of content.

"What a dear old room this is," she said, looking up with a smile. "It makes me think of Grandmother Ware's. I love its low ceiling and little, deep-set windows and wide fireplace. I could sit here all day and do nothing but listen to the clock tick and the fire crackle, and rest."

"Well, you do just that," insisted Mrs. Barnaby, hospitably. "I have to be out in the kitchen for a while. I've got pretty fair help, but she needs a good deal of oversight, so you sit here and enjoy the quiet while you can."

The early rising and the drive had made Mary drowsy, and as soon as she was left alone the deep stillness of the country Sabbath that filled the room seemed to fold about her like a mantle of restfulness. She closed her eyes, making believe that she really was back at her Grandmother Ware's; that the sunshine streaming in at the open door was the sunshine of a Northern June instead of a Texas January; and that the odor of lemon verbena which reached her now and then came from an outside garden instead of the potted plant on the deep windowsill at her elbow. The old place was so associated in Mary's memory with a feeling of perpetual, unbroken calm, that she had never lost one of her earliest impressions that it was the place of "green pastures and still waters" mentioned in the Psalms.

"Jack always said that I'll have my innings when I'm a grandmother," she said, drowsily, to herself. "I wonder if I'll ever get to a place where I can always be as serene of spirit as she was, no matter what happens. I wonder if she ever had anything as upsetting as Brud and Sister to try her nerves in her young days."

As if in answer to her mere thought of them, the two children came racing around the house. They fairly fell into the room, and, throwing themselves across her lap, demanded that she come out at once and see the peacocks. Had they said any other kind of fowl she would have resented the intrusion more than she did, but peacocks recalled Warwick Hall so pleasantly that she got up at once and went with them. She had seen none since leaving school. These had not been near the house on her former visits to the ranch. The stately birds strutted up and down in the sunshine, their tails spread in dazzling gorgeousness.

"They're Sammy's," called Mrs. Barnaby from the kitchen door. "He takes the greatest pride in them. That cock took a prize at the last San Antonio fair."

Mary had met "Sammy" the last time she was at the ranch, and had heard of him ever since her first conversation with Mrs. Barnaby. He was an elderly cousin of her husband's who had made his home with them for years. A few minutes later she came upon the old man in the barnyard. The children, having once obtained possession of her, had dragged her down there to see a colt that they had discovered.

Sammy was sitting on the fence in his Sunday clothes, busy with his usual Sunday occupation of whittling. His bushy gray beard made him look older than Mr. Barnaby, and the keen glance he gave the children from under his shaggy eyebrows made them sidle away from him. They, too, had met him before, under circumstances which they did not take pleasure in recalling. Only a few moments before he had caught them chasing the ducks until they were dizzy, and stopped them with a sternness that made them wary of him. They had had an encounter with him one day in town also, soon after their arrival in Bauer. They had climbed into the wagon, which he left hitched in front of the grocery, and had poked holes into every package he had piled on the seat, in order to discover what they held. When he came out little streams of rice and sugar and meal were dribbling out all over the wagon. When he started after them with a threatening crack of his whip they escaped by darting into the front door of the butcher shop and out of the back, but they always felt that it was one of the narrowest escapes they ever made, and that a day of reckoning would come if he ever got close enough to them to reach them with his whip.

It was a trifling disconcerting to come across him suddenly on this peaceful ranch, and they pulled Mary away as soon as they could. She was enjoying the conversation they had drifted into, starting with the colt. He spoke with a strong New England twang, and his quaint sayings and homely comparisons suggested the types and times portrayed in the Bigelow Papers.

Despite her determination not to have her day taken up by the children, Mary found herself devoting the entire morning to their entertainment. Country sights and sounds were so new and strange to them that it seemed selfish not to answer their eager questions, and when their wanderings around the place led them to a deserted cabin where the Indians had once killed two Mexican shepherds, she repeated the thrilling story as she had heard it from Mrs. Barnaby, with all its hair-raising details. When they went in to dinner she had been answering questions and entertaining her pupils for two hours, as diligently as on any week-day.

It was an old-fashioned "turkey dinner" to which they were summoned, and the variety and deliciousness of the dishes may have had much to do with the children's conduct. They were so quiet and well behaved that Mary watched them in surprise. Beyond yes and no and politely expressed thanks, Brud spoke not at all, and Sister only once. That was to say, when Mrs. Barnaby addressed her as Sister, "Call me Nancy. I'm trying that name now."

Seeing the look of surprise that circled around the table, Mary explained, feeling that Sister, as usual, was enjoying the limelight that this peculiar custom of hers called her into.

"Hump!" exclaimed old Sammy. "Something of a chameleon, eh? If she changes her nature to suit her name it must keep her family busy getting acquainted with her."

"I think it does have some slight influence," answered Mary. "Then she'd better drop the name of Nancy," said old Sammy, with a solemn wag of the head. "In an old blue poetry book that I used to read back in Vermont, it said,

"'Little Nancy would never her mother obey,
But always did choose to have her own way.'

"She came to a frightful end, jumping up and down in her chair.

"'In vain did her mother command her to stop.
Nan only laughed louder and higher did hop,'

till she fell over and cracked her head. The only Nancys I have ever known have all been self-willed like that."

Garrulous Cousin Sammy was only indulging in reminiscence. He had not intended to tease the child, but she resented his remarks, and thrusting out her tongue at him, screwed up her face into the ugliest grimace possible for her to make. Fortunately the arrival of a huge pumpkin pie turned his eyes away from her just then, for Sammy Bradford, old bachelor though he was, had strict New England notions about the rearing of children, which he sometimes burned to put into practice for the good of the general public.

After dinner Mr. Barnaby retired to his room for his usual Sunday nap. Cousin Sammy took his pipe to the sunny bench outside the open door, and Mrs. Barnaby provided for the children's entertainment by bringing out a box of toys that had been left behind at different times by various grandchildren. She arranged them on a side table in the dining-room, with some colored pencils, paper and scissors.

Brud and "Nancy," ever ready to investigate anything new, seated themselves at her bidding, and began to paw over the games and pictures with apparent interest. Thereupon Mrs. Barnaby and Mary went into the next room, and drawing two big easy chairs into the chimney corner, they settled themselves for a long, cosy tête-à-tête. It was the first opportunity Mary had had to explain to Mrs. Barnaby that she had undertaken to teach the children in order to prevent her mother from sewing for other people.

They had had about ten minutes of uninterrupted quiet, when the door opened and "Nancy" walked in with her hat and coat on. Her lips were drawn into a dissatisfied pout, and she threw herself across Mary's lap, whining, "I don't like those old things in there! Tell us about the Forty Thieves now!"

"No, Nancy," said Mary, firmly, hoping to appease her by remembering to use the new name. "I told you before you came out here that I'd not tell you a single story to-day."

"But you already have," cried Brud, triumphantly, appearing in the doorway also in coat and hat. "You told ,us about the Indians killing the shepherds."

"Oh, but that was just a true happening that I told to explain about the cabin we were looking at," was the patient answer. "That was different from sitting down on purpose to tell you a story, and I shall not do that to-day."

"Then come and play with us," demanded Sister, seizing her by the hands, after one keen glance at her to see if she really was in earnest. "Come on, Brud, and help me pull. We'll make her come."

"Sh!" warned Mary, attempting to free herself, as they began shouting and tugging at her. "I came out here to visit Mrs. Barnaby, and I'll not play with you till to-morrow. If you don't want to make pictures or cut paper or work the puzzle games you'll have to go outdoors and amuse yourselves. But you must not make such a noise. Mr. Barnaby is asleep."

"Then if you don't want us to wake him up you've got to play with us to keep us still!" cried Brud. "Hasn't she, Sister?"

"Call me Nancy when I tell you!" screamed Sister, in an exasperated tone, stamping her foot. Then, fired by Brud's suggestion, she dropped Mary's hands and darted across the room to the piano, which was standing open in the corner. It was an old-fashioned one, its rosewood case inlaid above the keyboard with mother-of-pearl. The yellow keys were out of tune, but they had never been touched save by careful fingers, for it was one of Mrs. Barnaby's cherished treasures. Now she rose as if she had been struck herself, as both children began pounding upon it ruthlessly with their fists, making a hideous, discordant din.

"Stop, children! Stop, I say!" she demanded. But her commands fell on unheeding ears, and they pounded away until she laid vigorous hands on them and forcibly dragged them away from the piano. Instantly they struggled out of her grasp, and rushing back, pounded the keys harder than before. Mary, who had never seen them act like this, was distressed beyond measure that she had been the cause, even though the unwilling one, of such an invasion. She started to the rescue, thinking savagely that they would have to be gagged and tied, hand and foot, and that she would take pleasure in helping do it.

Old Sammy reached them first, however, his Puritanical soul resenting both the disobedience and the Sabbath-breaking uproar. With one swoop he caught up a child under each arm, and carried them kicking and struggling out-of-doors.

"Here ye'll stay the rest of the afternoon!" he announced, in a gruff voice, as he put them down. "There's all out-of-doors to play in, and if you so much as step over the door-sill into that room until I give ye leave, I'll withe ye!"

It was a mysterious threat, since neither child had ever heard the word withe before, and he said it in a deep, awful voice that made Brud think creepily of the Fee-fi-fo-fum giant in his picture-book at home, who went about smelling blood and saying, "Dead or alive, I will have some!"

For a moment they stood in awed silence, gaping at the only person who had ever intimidated them; then Sister, in a blind rage, seized his clay pipe that he had put down on the bench, and threw it with all her force on the stone floor of the porch.

"You let me alone!" she shrieked, as she darted away from him."You --- you --- you old Billygoat, you!" It was the sight of his gray beard that finally suggested to her choking wrath a name ugly enough to hurl at him. Then she took to her heels down the grassy lane, Brud following as fast as possible.

"There's nothing for me to do but follow them," said Mary, starting into the bedroom for her hat and coat, which had been laid away in there. "I'd feel so responsible if they should get hurt, and there are so many things on a big place like this that they are not used to." 

"Now, don't you worry," interrupted old Sammy. "I'll keep my eye on them."

He was quite red in the face with vexation over the loss of his pipe, which lay in several pieces on the floor, and Mrs. Barnaby, knowing him well, prevailed on Mary to come back to her easy-chair.

"You leave them to him," she insisted, in a laughing aside. "He's so mad that he'll watch them like a hawk, just for the pleasure of pouncing down on them again if they cut up any more didoes; but his bark is worse than his bite, and they'll be perfectly safe with him."

So Mary allowed herself to be drawn back to their interrupted conversation, but she could not rid herself of an uneasy feeling that kept obtruding itself into her thoughts, even when she was most interested.

If Brud and Sister had deliberately planned a revenge on the old man who had forced them into exile and temporary obedience, they could not have chosen anything which would have hurt him worse than their next prank. Their wild chase down the lane had been brought to a sudden stop by the sight of the lordly peacock, strutting back and forth in the barn-yard, his beautiful tail spread wide in the sun. They climbed up on the gate to watch it, and, hanging over the top bar, admired it in almost breathless ecstasy for several minutes. The irridescent shimmer of the gorgeous eyes in its tail started a dispute.

"That's why you can't ever catch a peacock, "Brud asserted, "'cause with all those eyes in its tail it can see you coming up behind it."

"Aw, goosey," contradicted Nancy, "it sees with its two little head eyes. Those feather eyes in its tail can't see."

"They can!"

"They can't!"

The two words were bandied back and forth, the dispute promising to go on indefinitely, till Brud's triumphant, "Ten million times can,"was answered by Nancy's final," Million billion times can't! So there."

"We'll prove it," was Brud's next taunt. "Try and see i f you can catch him."

"All right," was the willing assent. "And if the feathers come out of his tail as easy as they did out of Mis' Williams' red rooster, won't that old man be mad!"

In the meantime Sammy had gone into the house to hunt among his possessions for a certain corn cob pipe, to take the place of the clay one just broken. The mantel-shelf in his room was as crowded as the corner of an old junk shop, so it took some time for him to find what he was searching for. He had taken it down and was slowly filling it, when the sound of a wild commotion in the barn-yard made him hurry to the door. Turkeys, guineas, ducks, hens, --- everything that could gobble or flutter or squawk, were doing their utmost to attract someone's attention. And the cause of it all, or, rather, the two causes, were standing by the watering-trough, comparing the spoils of the chase. They had crept up behind the peacock, despite his thousand eyes, and caught him by the tail. Each proudly clutched a handful of long, trailing feathers, and the bird, miserably conscious that his glory had been torn from him, had taken refuge under the corn-crib.

"You outrageous little Hittites!" roared old Sammy, coming upon them suddenly and seeing the feathers. Then a real chase began.

A little while later, Mary paused in the middle of a sentence to say, "Listen! Didn't that sound like the children crying or calling?"

Mrs. Barnaby, who was slightly deaf, shook her head. " No, I think not. Anyhow, Sammy is looking after them. He won't let them come to any real harm. What was it we were talking about? Oh, yes! Those heirloom candlesticks."

More than an hour afterward a shadow darkened the doorway for an instant as Sammy strode past it on his way across the porch.

"Mr. Bradford," called Mary. "Do you know where the children are?"

At her call he turned back to the door, holding out a great handful of peacock feathers which he was taking sorrowfully to his room.

"Those pesky little varmints!"he exclaimed, still wrathful, "They've teetotally ruined that cock's looks. Yes, I know where they are. I've had them shut up in the corn-crib till a minute ago."

"Shut up in the corn-crib!" echoed Mary and Mrs. Barnaby in the same breath.

"Yes, as I told 'em, they haven't any more idea of other people's rights than weasels, and it's high time they are being taught."

"Well, do you think they've learned their lesson in one dose, Sammy?" asked Mr. Barnaby, dryly, coming out from his room in time to hear his cousin's speech.

"That remains to be seen," spluttered Sammy, as he strode on to his room. "They were sniffling and snubbing considerable when I let them out. I don't think they'll chase my peacock any more."

The "sniffling and snubbing" changed into out-and-out crying as soon as they reached Mary's side, and that was followed by heart-broken wails and demands to be taken home. Nothing comforted them. Nothing could turn them aside from their belief that they had been abused and must be taken back immediately to mommey.

After nearly half an hour spent in vain attempts to silence them, Mrs. Barnaby said in sheer desperation, "Well, James, you'll just have to hitch up and take them back, even if it is so early. I hate to have Mary's visit cut short, but they'd spoil it worse if they stayed. If I only felt free to give them a good sound spanking now---"

She did not finish the sentence, but looked over her spectacles so sternly that the children backed away, lest a feeling of liberty might suddenly descend upon her.

As Mary pinned on her hat before the mirror in the bedroom, she turned to her hostess with a hunted look in her eyes.

"Do you ever get desperate over things?" she asked. "That's the way I am now. I'm so tired of those children that the very sound of their voices sets my teeth on edge. If I only could have had this one whole day away from them I might have been able to go on with them to-morrow, but now it seems as if I can't! I just can't!"

"I don't wonder, you poor child," was the sympathetic answer.

"The worst of it is, I'm utterly discouraged," confessed Mary, almost tearfully. "I've been pluming myself on the fact that my two weeks' work had amounted to something; that I'd really made an impression, and given them all sorts of good ideas. But you see it isn't worth a row of pins. They are good only so long as I'm exercising like an acrobat, mind and body, to keep them entertained. The minute I stop they don't pay the slightest attention to my wishes."

"Maybe you've done too much for them," said Mrs. Barnaby, shrewdly guessing the root of the trouble. "You told them it was a surprise school. Let the next surprise be a different sort. Turn them loose and make them hunt their own entertainment."

"As they did to-day," Mary answered, with a shrug. "They'd run home howling and their mother would think I was incapable and give my place to someone else. No, we must have the money, so I'll have to go on and put in my, best licks, no matter how I detest it."

When she drew on her gloves she was so near to tears that the little bloodstone ring on her hand looked so dim she could scarcely see it. But it made her glance up with a smile into the benevolent old face above her, and she stripped back the glove from her finger with a dramatic gesture.

"See?" she said, brightly, exhibiting the ring. "By the bloodstone on my finger, I'll keep my oath until the going down of one more sun."

"You're a brave little girl. That's what you are!" said Mrs. Barnaby, stooping to kiss her good-bye. Only that week she had read The Jester's Sword, from which Mary was quoting, and she knew what grim determination lay beneath the light tone.

"I guess it will help you the same way it did the poor jester, to remember that it's only one day at a time you're called on to endure. And another thing," she added, trying to put as many consoling thoughts into their parting as possible, "If you do succeed in teaching them anything that'll help to snatch them as brands from the burning, it will count for a star in your crown just as much as if you'd gone out and converted the heathen on 'India's coral strand.'"

"It's not stars in my crown I'm working for," laughed Mary. "It's for pence in my purse. "Nevertheless the suggestion stayed with her all the way home. When conversation flagged, she filled the silences with pleasant snatches of day-dreams, in which she saw herself becoming to these benighted little creatures, asleep on either side of her, the inspiration that Madam Chartley was to everyone who crossed the threshold of Warwick Hall.

"I've just got to do something to make them see themselves as they look to other people," she thought, desperately. "But the question is, what?"

A hard problem indeed for one who, in many ways, was still only a child herself.

Chapter 8     Chapter 10 >