Mary Ware's Promised Land, Chapter 3: A New Friend

MARY WARE's PROMISED LAND
by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1912
L. C. PAGE & CO
Illustrated by John Goss

 

Part I

CHAPTER III.
A NEW FRIEND

ALTHOUGH some of the applications which Mary sent out did not have as far to travel as the first one, she did not count on hearing from any of them within two weeks. However, it was to no fortnight of patient waiting that she settled down. She threw herself into such an orgy of preparations for leaving home, that the days flow around like the wheels of a squirrel cage.

She could not afford any new clothes, but everything in her wardrobe was rejuvenated as far as possible, and a number of things entirely remodelled. One by one they were folded away in her trunk until everything was so shipshape that she could have finished packing at an hour's notice. Then she insisted on giving some freshening touches to her mother's winter outfit, and on beginning a set of shirts for Norman, saying that she wanted to finish all the work she possibly could before leaving home.

Mrs. Ware used to wonder sometimes at her boundless energy. She would whirl through the housework, help prepare the meals, do a morning's ironing, run the sewing machine all afternoon, and then often, after supper, challenge Norman to some such thing as a bonfire race, to see which could rake up the greatest pile of autumn leaves in the yard, by moonlight.

These days of waiting were filled with a queer sense of expectancy, as the air is sometimes charged with electric currents before a storm. No matter what she did or what she thought about, it was always with the sense of something exciting about to happen. The feeling exhilarated her, deepened the glow in her face, the happy eagerness in her eyes, until every one around her felt the contagion of her high hopefulness.

"I don't know what it is you're always looking so pleased over, "the old postmaster said to her one day," but every time after you've been in here, I catch myself smiling away as broadly as if I'd heard some good news myself."

"Maybe," answered Mary, "it's because I feel all the time as if I'm just going to hear some. It's so interesting wondering what turn things will take. It's like waiting for the curtain to go up on a new play that you've never heard of before. My curtain may go up in any part of the United States. It all depends on which letter it is that brings me a position.

"I should think you'd be a leetle mite anxious," said the Captain, who was in somewhat of a pessimistic mood that day. "They can't all be equally good. You remember what the old hymn says:

"'Should I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease
Whilst others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody
         seas."'

"Oh, I'm not expecting any flowery beds of ease," retorted Mary. "I don't mind hard work and all sorts of disagreeable things if they'll only prove to be stepping-stones to carry me through my Red Sea. I don't even ask to go over dry-shod as the Children of the Exodus did. All I want is a chance to wade."

"That's right! That's right!" exclaimed the Captain admiringly. "That's the proper spirit to show. It's a pity, though, that you can't do your wading somewhere around Lone-Rock. We'll miss you dreadfully. And I'm not the only one who thinks so, either. From all I hear there's somebody up the street who would almost rob the mails if doing so would keep you from getting a letter calling you away."

From the twinkle of the eyes which peered at her through the steel-bowed glasses, Mary knew that he was referring to Pink Upham, but before she could reply the mail carrier dashed up on horseback from the railroad station, with the big leather pouch swung across the horse in front of him. It was the signal for every one along the street, who had seen him, to come sauntering into the office to wait for the distribution of the mail. Mary climbed up on the high stool again. She had started out from home, intending to take a tramp far up the mountain road, but stopping in the office to post a letter had stayed on talking longer than she intended.

Pink Upham was one of the first to come in. He had been at the house several times since his first call, and while some of his mannerisms annoyed Mary even more than they had at first, she liked him better as their acquaintance progressed. She could not help being pleased at the attention he gave her slightest remarks. No girl can be wholly oblivious to the compliment of having every word remembered, every preference noted. Once, when they were looking at some soap advertisements, in a most careless off-hand way she had expressed her dislike for strong perfumes. Since then the odor of rose geranium was no longer noticeable in his wake. Once she announced her admiration of a certain kind of scarlet berry which grew a long distance up the mountain. The next day there was a bunch of them left at her door. Pink had taken a tramp before breakfast to get them for her.

There was a family discussion one night about celluloid. Nobody could answer one of Mary's questions in connection with it about camphor gum, and she forgot it almost as soon as it was asked, although she had assumed an air of intense curiosity at the time. But Pink remembered. He thought about it, in fact, as one of his chief duties in life to find its answer, until he had time to consult Mr. Moredock's encyclopaedia.

At his last visit to the Wares he had seen a kodak picture of Mary, taken at the Wigwam years before.

She was mounted on the Indian pony Washington. She wore short dresses then. Her wide-brimmed Mexican sombrero was on the back of her head, and she was laughing so heartily that one could not look at the picture without feeling the contagion of her enjoyment. There was nothing she liked better than horseback riding, she remarked as she laid the picture aside, but she had not tried it since she was a child. That was one thing she was looking forward to in her promised land, she told him, to owning a beautiful thoroughbred saddle-horse, like Lloyd Sherman's.

Then Pink was shown "The Little Colonel's Corner," for the collection of Lloydsboro Valley pictures were grouped in panels on one wall of the Lone-Rock home as they had been at the Wigwam. First there was Lloyd in her little Napoleon hat, riding on Tarbaby down the long locust avenue, and then Lloyd on the horse that later took the place of the black pony. Then Lloyd in her Princess Winsome costume, with the dove .and the spinning-wheel, and again in white, beside the gilded harp, and again as the Queen of Hearts and as the Maid of Honor at Eugenia's wedding.

In showing these pictures to Pink and telling him how well Lloyd rode and how graceful she was in the saddle, Mary forgot her casual remark about her own enjoyment of riding, but Pink remembered. He had thought about it at intervals ever since. Now catching sight of her on the high stool, he hurried into the post-office to tell her that he could secure two horses any morning that she would go out with him before breakfast. His uncle owned the team of buckskins which drew the delivery wagon, and was willing for him to use them any morning before eight o'clock. They were not stylish-looking beasts, he admitted, like Kentucky thoroughbreds, but they were sure-footed and used to mountain trails.

As Mary thanked him with characteristic enthusiasm, she was conscious of a double thrill of pleasure. One came from the fact that he had planned such enjoyment for her, the other that he had remembered her casual remark and attached so much importance to it. She'd let him know later just when she could go, she told him. She'd have to see her mother first, and she'd have to get up some kind of a riding skirt.

Then the Captain threw up the delivery window, and half a dozen people who had been waiting crowded forward to get their mail. Mary waited on the stool while Pink took his turn at the window and came back with her mail. His own, and that for the store, he drew out from one of the large locked boxes below the pigeon-holes. While he was unlocking it Mary looked over the letters he had laid in her lap. There was one from Joyce, one to her mother from Phil Tremont, and one bearing the address in an upper corner of one of the agencies to which she had written. She opened it eagerly, and Pink, watching her from the corner of his eye as he sorted a handful of circulars, saw a shade of disappointment cross her face. Every one else had left the office. She looked up to see the old Captain smiling at her.

"First ship in from sea," he remarked knowingly." Well, what's the cargo?"

"No treasure aboard this one. It's just a printed form to say that they have no vacancies at present, but have put me on the waiting list, and will inform me if anything comes up later."

"Well, there're others to hear from," the Captain answered. "That's the good of putting your hopes on more than one thing. In the meantime, though, don't get discouraged."

"Oh, I'll not," was the cheerful answer. "You see, I have two mottoes to live up to. One was on the crest that used to be sported in the ancestral coat of arms once upon a time, away back in mamma's family. It was a winged spur with the words 'Ready, aye ready.'

"The other is the one we adopted ourselves from the Vicar of Wakefield: 'Let us be inflexible, and fortune will at last change in our favor.' So there I am, ready to go at a moment's notice, but also bound to keep inflexible and wait for a turn if fortune wills it so. I don't know what the Ware family would do sometimes without that saying of the old Vicar's. His philosophy has helped us out of more than one hole."

The Captain, rather vague in his knowledge as to the old Vicar, nodded sagely. "Pretty good philosophy to tie to," he remarked. Pink, to whom the Vicar was merely a name, one of many in a long list of English novels he had once memorized for a literature recitation, made no response. He felt profoundly ignorant. But remembering Mr. Moredock's hospitable remark that the latchstring of his library was always out for his friends, he resolved to borrow the book that very night after closing hours, and discover what there was in it that had "helped the Ware family out of more than one hole."

As he and Mary left the office together the Captain called after her, "By the way, I noticed a foreign stamp on one of your letters. Mexican, wasn't it? If you're not making a collection yourself, I'd like to speak for it. My little grandson's just started one, and I've promised him all I can get." Mary paused on the doorstep. "The letter is mamma's, but I'm sure she would not mind if I were to cut the stamp out of the envelope."

In an instant Pink's knife was out of his pocket, and he was cutting deftly around the stamp, while Mary held the envelope flat against the door. He did it slowly, in order not to cut through into the letter, and he could not fail to notice the big dashing hand in which it was addressed to Mrs. Emily Ware. It looked so familiar that it puzzled him to recall where he had seen it before.

"I can bring you a lot more like this, if you want them," said Mary, as she gave the stamp to the postmaster. "Jack and I each get letters from this friend down in Mexico, and he writes to mamma nearly every week."

The Captain thanked her emphatically, and she and Pink started off again, she towards home and he towards the store. A dozen times before closing hours Pink recalled the scene at the post-office, Mary holding the letter up against the door for him to cut out the stamp. What firm, capable-looking little hands she had, with their daintily kept nails, and how pink her cheeks were, and how fluffy and brown the hair blowing out from under the stylish little hat with the bronze quills.

Each time he recalled the letter he puzzled over the familiar appearance of the address, until suddenly, as he was filling a jug at the spigot of a molasses barrel, he remembered. He had seen the same handwriting under a photograph on the mantel at Mrs. Ware's: "Philip Tremont, Necaxa, Mexico." And on the back was pencilled, "For Aunt Emily, from her 'other boy.'" Mary had called upon Pink to admire the picture which had arrived that same day, and had referred to Phil several times since as "The Best Man."

Pink almost let they molasses jug overflow, while thinking about it and wondering why she had given him such a nickname. He resolved to ask her why if he could ever screw his courage up to such a point. Mary, hurrying home with the letters from Joyce and Phil, eager to hear what was in them, never gave Pink another thought till after supper, when she remembered his invitation and began a search for Joyce's old riding-skirt. It was not in any of the trunks or closets in the house, but remembering several boxes which had been stored in the loft above the woodshed, she made Jack climb up the ladder with her to open them, while she held the lantern. At the bottom of the last box they found what she was searching for, not only the khaki skirt, but the little Norfolk jacket which completed the outfit. Thanks to Joyce's orderly habits they had been packed away clean and whole, andneeded only the magic touch of a hot iron to make them presentable.

There was something else in the box which Mary pounced upon and carried down the ladder. It was a bag containing odds and ends of zephyrs and yarns, left from various afghans and pieces of fancy work. Opened under the sitting-room lamp it disclosed, among other things, several skeins of wool as red as the flash of a cardinal's wing. "Enough to make a whole Tam-O'-Shanter !" exclaimed Mary jubilantly, "and a fluffy pompon on top! I can have it ready by day after tomorrow. I've been wondering what I could wear on my head. I simply can't keep a hat on when I ride fast! Here, Norman, be a dear duck of a brother and hold this skein while I wind, won't you?"

Norman made a wry face and held out his arms with pretended unwillingness, but she slipped the skein over his hands, saying, "Item for Uncle Jerry's Column. 'A young gentleman should always spring nimbly to the service of a lady, and offer his assistance with alacrity.'"

"Say," he interrupted in the tone of one having a real grievance. "You've got to quit making a catspaw of me when you want to teach Pink Upham manners. You know well enough that I always pick up your handkerchief and stand until mamma is seated, and things like that, so you needn't hint about 'em to me when he's here. You're just trying to slap at Pink over my shoulders."

"Oh, you don't mind a little thing like that," laughed Mary. "It's for the good of your country, my boy. I'm just trying to polish up one of the pillars of the new state that you and mamma and Jack are so interested in. Besides, Pink is so quick to take a hint that it's really interesting to see how much a few suggestions can accomplish."

"Humph! You're singing a different tune from what you did at first. You thought he was so tiresome and his laugh so awful and that he had such dreadful taste---"

"I still think so," answered Mary, "but I don't notice his wild laugh so much now that I am used to it, and he has many traits which make him very companionable. Besides, I am sorry for him. He'd have been very different if he'd had your opportunities, for instance."

"Mary is right," agreed Mrs. Ware, smiling at Norman's grimace. "I think it would be a good thing to ask him to stop when you come back from your ride and have breakfast with us."

Norman groaned, then said with a vigorous nod of the head, since his hands were too busy with the skein for gestures, "Well, have him if you want to, but I'll give you fair warning, Mary Ware, if you go to getting off any of your Uncle Jerry remarks on me for his benefit, I'll let the cat right out of the bag."

Mary replied with a grimace so much like his own, that it brought on a contest in which the yarn winding was laid aside for a time, while they stood before a mirror, each trying to outdo the other in making grotesque faces.

Two mornings after that, in Joyce's khaki riding-suit and the new red Tam-O'-Shanter, Mary swung into the saddle while Pink held both horses, and they were off for an early gallop in the frosty October dawn. The crisp, tingling air of the mountains brought such color into Mary's face, and such buoyancy into her spirits that Pink watched her as he would have watched some rare kind of a bird, skimming along beside him. He had never known such a girl. There was not a particle of coquetry in her attitude towards him. She didn't glance up with pretty appealing side-glances as Sara Downs did, or say little personal things which naturally called for compliments in reply. She was like a boy in her straightforward plain dealing with him, her joking banter, her keen interest in the mountain life and her knowledge of wood lore. One never knew which way her quick-winged thoughts might dart. As they rode on he began to feel as if he was thoroughly awake for the first time in his life.

Up to this time he had been fairly well satisfied with himself. A small inheritance safely invested and his one year at college had given him the prestige of a person of both wealth and education in the little town where he had lived until recently. Yet there was Jack, who had not even finished a High School course, and Mary, who had had less than a year at Warwick Hall, on such amazing terms of intimacy with a world outside of his ken, that he felt illiterate and untutored beside them.  Even Norman seemed to have a wider horizon than himself, and he wondered what made the difference. 

He divined the reason afterward when they came back from their ride and sat at breakfast in the sunny dining-room. It was Mrs. Ware who had lifted their life out of the ordinary by the force of her rare personality. Through all their poverty and trouble and hard times she had kept fast hold on her early standards of refinement and culture, and made them a part of her family's daily living.

Pink felt the difference, even in the breakfast.  It was no better than the one he would have had at home, but at home there would have been no interesting conversation, no glowing bit of color in the centre of the table like this bowl of autumn leaves and berries. At home there would have been no attempt at any pleasing effect in the dainty serving of courses. There ham was ham and eggs were eggs, and it made no difference how they were slapped on to the table, so long as they were well cooked. There, meal-time was merely a time to satisfy one's appetite as quickly as possible and hurry away from the table as soon as the food was devoured. Here, the day seemed to take its keynote from the illuminated text of a calendar hanging beside the fireplace. It was a part of  The Salutation o f the Dawn from the Sanskrit:

"For yesterday is but a dream, 
And to-morrow is only a vision; 
But to-day well-lived, makes 
Every yesterday a dream of happiness 
And every to-morrow a vision of hope. 
Look well, therefore, to this day!
            Such is the Salutation of the Dawn.'"

The Ware breakfast-table seemed to be the place where they all gathered to get a good start for the day. It was Mrs. Ware who gave it, and gave it unconsciously, not so much by what she said as what she was. One felt her hopefulness, her serenity of soul, as one feels the cheer of a warm hearthstone.

Pink could not recall one word she had said to stimulate his ambition, but when he rode away on one horse, leading the other, he was trying to adjust himself to a new set of standards. He felt that there was something to live for besides taking in dimes over the counter of a country store. One thing happened at breakfast which made him glow with pleasure whenever he thought of it. It was the quick look of approval which Mary flashed him when he answered one of her sallies by a quotation about green spectacles.

"Oh, you know the old Vicar too!" she exclaimed, as if claiming mutual acquaintance with a real friend. "Don't you love him?"

Pink was glad that some interruption spared him the necessity of an enthusiastic assent. He had not bean specially thrilled by the book, so far as he had read, but he attacked it manfully again that night, feeling that there must be more in it than he had wit to discover, else the Wares would not have adopted it as "guide, philosopher and friend."

Chapter 2  Part I   Chapter 4 >