Mary Ware's Promised Land, Chapter 5: P Stands For Pink

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

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

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Part I

CHAPTER V.
P STANDS FOR PINK

WHAT happened in the Christmas holidays which followed is best told in the letter which Mary wrote to Phil Tremont on the last day of the old year.

"DEAR BEST MAN :" it began. "Mamma has asked me to write to you this time in her place, as she has succumbed to an attack of ' reunionitis.' She doesn't call it that, but we know well enough that it is nothing but the excitement and unexpectedness of having a whole family reunion which has frazzled her out so completely. She wrote you that Joyce was coming home, but none of us knew that Holland would be with her. He was the surprise --- Cousin Kate's Christmas gift to the family. His furlough is not due till next summer, but she said by that time Joyce would be in Paris, and the chances are that if we didn't get together now we might never again be able to; at least for years and years.

"Cousin Kate is such a solitary soul herself, no relatives nearer than cousins, that she has an immense amount of sentiment for family gatherings, and that is why she gave us such a happy one. She had to go to Washington to arrange it. She has a friend at court in the shape of a senator who was once an intimate school chum of the President's. (We think he was one of her many bygone suitors. Isn't that romantic?) Among them they managed to untie enough red tape to let Holland out.

"You can imagine our astonishment when he walked in. We almost swooned with joy, and I thought for a moment that mamma really was going to, the surprise was so great. You saw him just before you went to Mexico, so you know how big he has grown, and how impressively dignified he can be on occasion. And polite-- - My! What a polish the Navy can give! He was so polite that I was awestruck at first, and it was two whole days before I felt familiar enough to dare to refer to the time that he dragged me down the hay-mow by my hair because I wouldn't come any other way.

"It has been a wonderful week; yet, isn't it queer, as I look back on it, there is nothing at all in it really worth putting into a letter. It is just that after the first strangeness wore off, we seemed to slip back into the dear old good times of the Wigwam days. You know better than any one else in the world what they were, for you shared them with us so often. You know how we have always enjoyed each other and what entertainment we found in our own conversation and jokes and disputes, so you'll understand exactly what that week was to us, when I say that it was a slice out of the old days.

"It was better in some ways, however. The future is not such a distressingly unknown quantity as it was then. We don't have to say, 'Let X (a very slim X at that) equal Jack's chances, and minus Y equal Joyce's.' If we could only determine the value of the chances of Mary, we'd soon know the 'length of the whole fish.' 'Member how you moiled and toiled over that old fish problem in Ray's Algebra, to help me to understand it?

"Well, I am the puzzling element in the Ware family's equation. It's our problem to find the extent of my resources. I was dreadfully discouraged before Christmas, when every application I sent out was turned down. It seemed to me that if I had one more disappointment I couldn't possibly bear it. But Joyce has almost persuaded me to give up the quest for awhile, at least until spring. I am a year younger than she was when she went away from home, and she thinks that I owe it to mamma to stay with her till I am out of my teens. Mamma hasn't been very well lately. Sometimes I think I could have a very pleasant winter here after all, if I'd just make up my mind to settle down and forget my ambitions. There are mild social possibilities in two of the new families who moved here last fall, and Pink Upham does everything he can think of to make it pleasant. We are going skating to-night, and have a big bonfire on the bank. To-morrow, being New Year's Day, consequently a holiday for him, we are to have a long sleigh-ride over to Hemlock Ridge. The ladies of some lodge in the settlement over there are to serve a turkey dinner in the school-house.

"I have begun this letter backwards. What I set out to do, first and foremost, was to thank you for the lovely book which you sent with your Yuletide greeting. I read over half of it aloud last night after our Christmas guests departed, and was glad that we had such an interesting story. It kept us from getting doleful.

"By the way, the heroine is called Bonnie, after the song, Bonnie Eloise. And Joyce said that Eugenia told her that there is an American girl visiting the doctor's family near your construction camp, whom you refer to in your letters as Bonnie Eloise. Eugenia says that she plays the guitar and sings duets with you, and is altogether charming. Is Eloise her real name, or do you call heir that because she is bonny like the girl in the book? And does she sing as well as Lloyd Sherman? Do tell us about her the next times you write! Your sayings and doings would interest us even if we were looping the loop socially in gay Gotham and dwelt continually 'in the midst of alarms.' But in the Selkirkian stillness of these solitudes our interest in our friends deepens into something amazing.

"Mamma says to tell you that we all spoke of you and quoted you many times this week, and wished daily that you were with us. She sends her love and will write as soon as she is able. With all good wishes for your New Year from each of us, 
Yours, downcast but still inflexible,

"MARY."

Phil answered this letter the day it was received, replying to her question about Eloise in a joking postscript, as if wishing to convey the impression that his interest in her was less than Mary's. 

"I forgot to say that Eloise is a name I have bestowed upon the young lady who is visiting the Whites, in exchange for the compliment of her having given my name to her dog. He is a lank, sneaking greyhound which never leaves her side, and was called merely Señor, when she brought him to Mexico. Now she has added Tremonti to his title. She herself is baptized Eliza. She is a pretty, kittenish little thing, deathly afraid of cockroaches and caterpillars, devoted to frills and fetching furbelows, and fond of taking picturesque poses in the moonlight with the slinky greyhound. No, her voice is not to be compared to the Little Colonel's, but it is sweet and sympathetic, very effective in ballads and simple things. We sing together whenever I happen to drop in at the doctor's, which is several times a week, and I am indebted to her for many pleasant hours, which are doubly appreciated in this desert waste of a place.

"Now will you answer a few questions for me? Who is this Pink Upham who is 'doing everything to make the winter pleasant' for you? What is his age, his business and his ultimate aim in life? Is he the only available escort to all the social functions of Lone-Rock? You never mention any other. Don't forget what I told you when I said good bye in Bauer, and don't forget what you promised me then."

Mary was in the kitchen when that letter was brought in to her. She had just slipped a pan of gingersnaps into the oven, and was rolling out the remainder of the dough to fill another pan. Not even stopping to wipe her floury hands, she walked over to the window, tore open the envelope and began to read. When she came to the end of the postscript she stood gazing out of the window at the back fence, half buried in the drifted snow. What she saw was not the old fence, however. She was gazing back into a sunny April morning in the hills of Texas. She was standing by a kitchen window there, also, but that one was open, and looked out upon a meadow of blue-bonnets, as blue as the sea. And outside, looking in at her, with his arms crossed on the window-sill, was Phil. There was no need for him to write in that post script, "Don't forget what I told you when I said good-bye in Bauer." She had recalled it so many times in the nine months that had passed since then, that she could repeat every word.

It still seemed just as remarkable now as it had then that he should have asked her to promise to let him know if anybody ever came along trying to persuade her "to join him on a new trail," or that he should have said that he wanted "a hand in choosing the right man," and above all that he should have added solemnly, "I have never yet seen anybody whom I considered good enough for little Mary Ware.''

If Mary could have known what picture rose up before Phil's eyes as he wrote that postscript, she would have been unspeakably happy. She had so many mortifying remembrances of times when he had caught her looking her very worst, when he had come upon her just emerging from some accident that had left her drenched or smoked or bedraggled, mud-spattered, ink-stained or dust-covered. Holland's recent reminiscences had deepened her impression that she must have been in a wrecked condition half her time, for he had kept the family laughing all one evening, recalling various plights he had rescued her from.

It would have been most soul-satisfying to her could she have known that Phil thought of her oftenest as he had last seen her, standing at the gate in a white and pink dress, fresh as a spring blossom, her sweet sincere eyes looking gravely into his as he insisted on a promise, but her dear little mouth smiling mischievously as she vowed, "I'll keep my word. Honest, I will!"

As she recalled that promise now, her face dimpled again as it had then over the absurdity of such a thing. "The idea of Phil's thinking that Pink Upham is anybody to be considered seriously!" she exclaimed, as she recalled his uncouth laugh, his barbaric taste in dress, his provincial little habits and mannerisms, which in the parlance of the Warwick Hall girls, would have stamped him "dead common" according to their standards. She was still looking dreamily out into the snowy yard when Mrs. Ware came to the door to inquire with an anxious sniff,

"Mary, isn't something burning?"

Suddenly recalled to herself, Mary sprang to open the oven door, wailing, "My cookies, oh, my cookies! Burnt to a crisp! And the gingerbread man I promised to little Don Moredock, black as a cinder! I'll have to make him another one, but there won't be time to stick in all the beautiful clove buttons that I had this one's suit trimmed with. His coat was like Old Grimes', 'all buttoned down before.' It was Phil's letter that caused the wreck," she explained to her mother, as she emptied the burnt cakes into the fire."There it is on the table."

Phil's letters were family property. Mrs. Ware carried it off to read, and Mary, taking another pan, proceeded to shape another gingerbread man. As she did so, her thoughts went from it to little Don Moredock for whom it was intended, and then to Pink Upham, who had been the devoted slave of the little fellow with the broken leg ever since the accident occurred. As she recalled Pink's patience and gentleness with the child, she wondered just what sort of an impression he would make on Phil. The more she pondered the more certain she was that Phil would see him through Jack's eyes and little Don's, rather than through hers. And somehow, thinking that, she began to get a different view of him herself.

It was nearly sundown before she found time to run over to the Moredocks' with the gingerbread man, and tell Don the story which it was intended to illustrate. He had never heard it before, and insisted upon her repeating it over and over. He kept her much later than she had intended to stay, and a young moon was shining on the snow when she started home again. Pink Upham, stopping on his way home to supper to leave a feather whirligig he had made for Don, met her going out of the gate as he went in.

Two minutes later he had caught up with her, and was walking along beside her. There was to be a Valentine party at Sara Downs on the fourteenth, he told her. A fancy dress affair. He wanted her to go with him, as his valentine. Now if it had not been for Phil's letter, Mary's eyes might not have been opened quite so soon to the fact that Pink regarded her as the right girl, no matter what she thought of him. But all at once she realized that he was looking down at her as no one had ever looked before. There was something in his glance like the dumb wistfulness that makes a hunting dog's eyes so pathetic, and she felt a little shiver run over her. She didn't want him to care like that! It was perfectly thrilling to feel that she had aroused a deep regard in any one's heart, but, oh, why did it have to be some one who fell so short of her standard of what a true prince must measure up to?

Embarrassed and troubled, she hurried away from him as soon as they reached the gate. The lamps were lighted and supper was ready when she went into the house. She began talking the moment she sat down at the table, but somehow she could not put Pink out of her mind. She kept seeing him as he had stood there at the gate in the snow with the young moon lighting it up. She knew that he had stood and watched her pass up the path and into the house, for she had stolen a hasty glance over her shoulder as she opened the door, and the tall, dark figure was still there.

She talked vivaciously of many things: of little Don's pleasure in her gift, of her fall on the ice on the way over, of Sara Downs' Valentine party, of Phil's letter. When the last subject was mentioned Mrs. Ware remarked, "That snap-shot of 'Eloise' shows her to be a very pretty girl, I think."

"Snap-shot of Eloise!" echoed Mary blankly. "I didn't see it. Where is it?"

"In the envelope. I didn't see it either, until I started to shove the folded sheet back into it. Something inside prevented its going more than half way, and I found it was the little unmounted picture curled up inside. It's on the mantel. Norman, get it for your sister, please."

Mary held the picture under the lamp for a careful scrutiny. So that was Eloise. A slim, graceful girl posing in a hammock, with one hand resting on the guitar in her lap, the other on the head of Señor Tremonti. Her face was in shadow, but she looked dangerously attractive to Mary, who spoke her opinion openly.

"She's an appealing little thing, the clinging-vine sort. If Phil saw her only in the daylight and called her plain Eliza, and could remember that she's a little 'fraid cat whose chief interest in life is frills and fetching furbelows, he wouldn't be in any danger. But you see, he hasn't any of his kind of girls down there --- I mean like the Little Colonel and Betty and Gay, --- and the moonlight and musical evenings will give her a sort of glamor that'll make her seem different, just as calling her Eloise makes her seem more romantic than when he says Eliza."

"Don't you worry," laughed Jack. "Phil is old enough to look out for himself, and to know what he wants. You can trust him to pick out the kind of wife that suits him, better than you could do it for him."

"But I don't want him to be satisfied with that kind after all the lovely girls he's known," grumbled Mary, putting the picture aside and going on with her supper. Her motherly concern was even greater over this situation than it had been when she thought of him as "doomed to carry a secret sorrow to his grave." She pinned the picture of Eloise to the frame of her mirror when she went to her room that night, and studied it while she slowly brushed her hair.

Once she paused with brush in air as a comforting thought suddenly occurred to her." Why, I'm in the same position that Phil is. Pink doesn't measure up to my highest ideal of a man any more than Eliza measures up to Lloyd, but he's my chief source of amusement here, just as she is Phil's there. Maybe she lets him see that she's fond of his company and all that, and he hates to hurt her feelings as I hate to hurt Pink's. I'll intimate as much in my letter when I answer his questions, if I can think of the right way to do it."

It was because she could not find the right words to express these sentiments that she delayed answering from day to day, then other things crowded it out of her mind. The Valentine party required that much time and thought be spent on the costumes, and she helped Jack with his. He went as a comic Valentine. Pink begged her to dress as the Queen of Hearts, and she was almost persuaded to do so, thinking that would be the easiest of costumes to prepare, till she guessed from something he let fall that he intended to personate the King himself. Then nothing would have induced her to do it. She knew it would give occasion for the coupling of their names together in the familiar and teasing way they have in little country towns.

So she dressed as an old-fashioned lace-paper valentine. The dress was made of a much-mended lace curtain. The front of the bodice had two square lapels wired at the edges, so that they could be folded together like the front of a real valentine, or opened back like shutters to show on her breast a panel of pale blue satin, on which was outlined two white doves perched above a great red heart. Mrs. Ware painted it, and although it may sound queer in the description, it was in reality a very pretty costume, and the touch of color made it so becoming that Mary's cheeks glowed with pleasure many times during the evening at the comments she overheard on all sides.

Pink's eyes followed her admiringly everywhere she went, but he had little to say to her, excerpt once, as he finished singing a song which Sara Downs had begged for, he leaned over and whispered significantly, "That's your song."

It was Kathleen Mavourneen, and she wondered why he called it hers. On the way home he was so strangely silent that Mary wondered what was the matter. She rattled along, talking with even more vivacity than usual, to cover his silence, and walked fast to keep within speaking distance of several others who were going down their road. They all walked Indian file, the path beaten through the snow was so narrow. Jack had started much earlier, as he was taking old Captain Doane's niece home. The cottage was in sight when the others turned off into another road, and Pink and Mary were left crunching through the snow alone.

Then Pink suddenly found his voice. Clearing his throat he began diffidently, "Mary, I want to ask you something. I want to ask a favor of you."

His tone was so ominous that Mary's heart gave a thump like a startled rabbit's.

"I wish you wouldn't call me 'Pink' like everybody else does. I wish you'd call me a name that no one would use but you. Just when we're by ourselves, you know. I wouldn't want you to any other time. I'd love for you to have your own special name for me just as I have for you."

"What's that?" asked Mary, crunching steadily on ahead, determined to laugh him out of his serious tone if possible. "What name do you have for me? 'Polly-put-the-kettle-on?' That's my usual nickname. It used to be 'Mother-bunch' and 'Gordo' when I was little and fat."

"I didn't mean a nickname," answered Pink a little stiffly. He was in no humor for joking, and he rather resented her light reply. Her rapid pace had quickened almost into a dog-trot. With a few long strides he put himself even with her, walking along in the deep snow beside the narrow path. Evidently he felt the witchery of the still winter night, with the moonlight silvering the snowy world around them, even if Mary did not. For in spite of the brisk, business-like pace she set, he said presently:

"I've been making up my mind all evening to tell you this on my way home. You've never seemed like an ordinary girl to me. You're so much nicer in every way, that long ago I gave you a name that I always call you to myself. And I wanted to ask you if you wouldn't do the same for me. Of course I couldn't expect you to give me the same sort of a name that I have for you, but I'd be content if you'd just call me by my first name, Philip."

"Philip!" repeated Mary blankly, turning short in the narrow path to stare at him. "Why, I didn't know that that was your name. It's a name that has always seemed to belong especially to just one person in the world. I never dreamed that it was your name. Somehow I had they impression that that first P in it stood for Peter."

"I don't know why," answered Pink in a hurt tone. "I was named for my grandfather, Philip Pinckney, so I don't see why I haven't as good a right to it as any one."

"Oh, of course you have," cried Mary." I was just surprised, that's all. It's only that I've always regarded it as the especial property of one of my very best friends, I suppose."

"Well, I rather hoped that you counted me as one of your very best friends, "was the gloomy response. To Mary's unspeakable relief Jack came swinging up behind them just then with some jolly remark that saved her the necessity of an answer, and the good nights were spoken without any further reference to personal matters.

It was so late that she undressed as quickly and quietly as she could, in order not to awaken her mother in the next room. As she did so she kept thinking, "I wonder what it is he always calls me to himself ? I'd give a fortune to know. But I suppose I never will find out, for I'm sure that I hurt his feelings saying what I did about Phil's name. Why, I could no more call him Philip than I could call him mother! Those names belong so entirely to the people I've always given them to.

It was not until she had been tucked warmly in bed for some time, with her eyes closed, that she thought of something which made her sit bolt upright, regardless of the icy wind blowing in through her open windows.

"Philip and Mary on a shilling! Merciful heavens!" she exclaimed in a whisper. "It can't be that that old shilling that I drew out of Eugenia's bride-cake really has any power to influence my destiny!"

There was something vaguely alarming in the knowledge that Pink claimed the name of Philip. Long ago Mary had taken the story of The Three Weavers to heart, and vowed that no one could beg her prince who did not fit her ideals "as the falcon's feathers fit the falcon." Now she exclaimed almost savagely to herself

"Why, Pink Upham no more measures up to my ideals than, than --- anything! It's ridiculous to believe that an old shilling could influence my destiny that way. It can't! It sha'n't! I simply won't let it!"

Then, as she lay back on her pillow again and pulled the blankets over her shivering shoulders, she thought drearily, "But, oh, dear, this is going to interfere with my only good times! Whenever he is nice to me I'll think of that dreadful old shilling in spite of myself. I wish I could go away from Lone-Rock this very week!"

Chapter 4   Part I  Chapter 6 >