Mary Ware's Promised Land, Part 2, Chapter 1: Betty's Wedding

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 II

THE TORCH

Make me to be a torch for feet that grope
Down Truth's dim trail; to bear for wistful eyes 
Comfort of light; to bid great beacons blaze, 
And kindle altar fires of sacrifice. 
Let me set souls aflame with quenchless zeal 
For high endeavors, causes true and high. 
So would I live to quicken and inspire, 
So would I, thus consumed, burn out and die.

--Albion Fellows Bacon.

 

CHAPTER I.
BETTY'S WEDDING

SPRING had come to Lloydsboro Valley earlier than usual. Red-bud trees glowed everywhere, and wild plum and dogwood and white lilac were all in bridal array. At The Locusts the giant trees which arched over the long avenue had not yet hung out their fragrant pennons of bloom, but old Colonel Lloyd, sauntering down towards the gate, was clad in a suit of fresh white duck. Usually he waited until the blossoming of the locusts gave the signal for donning such attire.

As he neared the gate he quickened his pace, for he had caught sight of a slim girlish figure hurrying along the path from Oaklea, and a graceful little hand waved him a greeting. It was Lloyd, coming home for the daily visit which she had never failed to make since her wedding day, six months before.

"Good mawning, grandfathah deah," she called gaily from a distance. Then added as she joined him and lifted her face for the customary kiss, "How comes it that you are all diked up in yoah white clothes so early in the season? Don't you know that we haven't had blackberry wintah yet, and it's bound to turn cold again when they bloom? Or have you heard so much about the wedding that you just naturally put on white?"

The old Colonel playfully pinched her cheek, and linking his arm in hers, turned to go back toward the house with her.

"Well, Mrs. Rob Moore, if you must know, my actions are guided by the thermometer and not by the almanac, and I haven't heard much about this wedding, except that a young Lochinvar has come out of the West to carry away our little Betty before we are ready to give her up. It's too much to lose you both within half a year of each other."

"How utterly you have lost me!" teased Lloyd. "You see me mawning, noon and night. When I'm not at The Locusts you're at Oaklea, or at the othah end of the telephone wiah. Heah I am, come to spend the whole live-long day with you, and you say you have lost me. Own up, now. Honest! I'm yoah same little girl that I've always been. I haven't changed one bit."

 "I know," he admitted, smiling down affectionately into the glowing face lifted to his. "It might have been worse. But it will be losing Betty in reality when she goes. Arizona is a far country. I wish that young jackanapes had never seen her. There are plenty of fine fellows back here in Kentucky she might have had, and then we'd have had her where we could see her once in a while. How long has it been since she came to The Locusts to live?"

"Twelve yeahs, grandfathah," said Lloyd, after a pause, in which she counted backward. "She's been just like a real sistah to me, and I feel worse than you do about giving her up. Lone-Rock does have a dreadfully dismal fo'saken sawt of sound. But I can ovahlook that for Jack Ware's sake. He's such a splendid fellow."

The Colonel made no answer to that, for he fully agreed with her, but changing the subject said in an aggrieved tone, "I suppose that even the few days that are left to us will be so taken up with folderols and preparations that we'll scarcely see her. It was that way when Eugenia had her wedding here; caterers and florists turning the house upside down. And it was the same way with yours. So many people in the house always going and coming, so many things to be planned and discussed and decided, that I scarcely got a word in edgeways with you for a whole week before."

"It will not be that way this time," Lloyd answered. "It has been less than a yeah since Jack's mothah died, so Betty wouldn't have anything but a very quiet affair on that account. It is to be so simple and so different from any wedding that you've evah seen that you'll nevah know it's going to take place till it is all ovah. There's to be no flurry or worry about anything. Mothah wanted to make a grand occasion of it, but Betty wouldn't let her. There'll not be moah than half a dozen guests."

They had reached the house by this time, and on again being assured that Lloyd intended to remain all day, the Colonel left her and turned back to take his usual morning walk, which her coming had interrupted. The telephone bell rang just as she entered the door, so Lloyd ran up-stairs to her own room, knowing that her mother would be busy for a few minutes with giving the daily household orders. Lloyd's own ordering had been done nearly an hour, for Rob's business necessitated an early breakfast to enable him to catch the eight o'clock car into the city. He did not return until six, so she could stay away from home any day she chose, with a clear conscience. She took her housekeeping seriously, however, and had turned out to be a most capable and thorough-going little housekeeper, but with experienced servants who had taken charge of Oaklea for years her cares were not heavy.

Her room had been kept for her, just as she had used it, all through her girlhood, and Mom Beck put fresh flowers in it every day. Lloyd always darted in for a quick look around, even when she came for only a short while. There was a glass bowl of pink hyacinths on her desk this morning, and she sat down to make a list of several things which she wanted to suggest for the coming event. Presently there was :a rustle of stiffly starched skirts in the hall, and she looked up to see Mom Beck in the doorway. The old black face was beaming as she called: "How's my honey chile this mawnin'?" Then without waiting for an answer, she added, "Miss Betty said to tell you she's up in the attic rummagin', and wants you to come up right away."

Passing on down the hall, Lloyd paused beside her mother, who sat with telephone receiver to her ear, long enough to seize her in an overwhelming embrace that muffled the conversation for an instant, then hurried up the attic stairs to find hear old playmate. The little dormer windows were all thrown open, and the morning sun streamed in across the motley collection of chests, old furniture and the attic treasures of several generations.

On a camp-stool in front of a little old leather trunk, sat Betty. It was the same shabby trunk that had held all her earthly possessions when she left the Cuckoo's Nest years before, and she was packing it with some of those same keepsakes to take with her on her wadding journey to her new home in the far West. A bright bandanna was knotted into a cap to cover her curly brown hair, and a long gingham apron protected her morning dress from the attic dust.

Somehow, as she sat over the old trunk, carefully folding away the relics of her childhood, she looked so like the little Betty who had fared forth alone from the Cuckoo's Nest to the long ago house-party at The Locusts, that Lloyd exclaimed aloud over the resemblance. The three years of teaching at Warwick Hall had given her a certain grown-up sort of dignity, added a sweet seriousness to the always sweet face; but the wistful brown eyes and sensitive little mouth wore the same trustfulness ofexpression that they .had worn for the mirror in the little room up under the eaves at her Cousin Hetty's.

As Lloyd's bright head appeared at the top of the stairs, Betty glanced up, calling gaily, "You are just in time, Lloyd, to see the last of these things. Don't they take you back? Do you remember the first time you ever saw this?"

She dangled a little white sunbonnet by the string, and Lloyd, picking her way between boxes and barrels, reached out her hand for it, then dropped to a seat on the rug which had been spread out to receive the contents of the trunk.

"Indeed I do remembah it," she exclaimed. "You had it on the first time I evah saw you --- travelled in it all the way to Louisville. I was so scandalized to see you arrive in a sunbonnet, that I could scarcely keep from letting you know it."

"And this," continued Betty, holding up an old-fashioned basket of brown willow with two handles and a lid with double flaps, "this was my travelling bag. My lunch was in this, and my pass, and five nickels, and the handkerchief that Davy gave me, with Red Ridinghood and the wolf printed in each corner. Here's that self-same handkerchief!" she cried, lifting the lid to peep in.

Scattered all around on the rug at her feet were many articles to be packed in the trunk, but for the next half-hour the work went slowly. Each thing that Lloyd picked up to hand to her suggested so many reminiscences to them both that they made little progress. One was a newspaper, bearing the date of Lloyd's first house-party. It was beginning to turn yellow, and Lloyd scanned the columns, wondering why Betty had saved it. Then she came to a poem marked with a blue pencil, and cried:

"Oh, Betty! Heah's yoah first published poem! The one called `Night.' How wondahful we all thought it was that you should have something printed in a real papah, when you were only twelve. Don't you remembah, you had the measles when we carried it in to show it to you? But yoah eyes were so bad you couldn't see, and it was so pitiful. You asked to feel it. I had to guide yoah poah little groping fingah down the page and put it on the spot. It almost broke my heart!"

"I know," answered Betty. "I thought that I was going to be blind always, and that my long, long night had begun. And it seemed queer that the only thing I had ever published should be called Night. That was a terrible experience."

She laid the paper carefully back into the portfolio from which it had slipped, and picked up the next thing, a box of typewritten manuscript.

"My ill-starred novel-my story of Aberdeen Hall," she laughed. "Don't you remember the night at the Lindsey cabin when I read it aloud, and each one of you girls made such a solemn ceremony of wrapping it up? Gay furnished the box, Lucy the paper, and Kitty tied it with a fresh pink ribbon slipped out of her nightgown. And you put on the big red sealing wax seals."

"With the handle of the old silvah ladle that had the Harcourt family crest on it," interrupted Lloyd eagerly. "I can see it now, a daggah thrust through a crown, and the motto, 'I strive till I ovahcome!'"

"That was an appropriate motto," laughed Betty. "It nearly killed me when the novel came back from the publisher. I'd have burned it on the spot if it hadn't been for your grandfather. But what he said encouraged me to put that motto into practice. I'm glad now that I didn't burn the manuscript, for I've lived to see its many faults, and to be thankful that the publishers didn't accept it. I'd be heartily ashamed now to claim it as mine before a critical public. But it has much that is good in it, and I'll do it over some day and send it out as it ought to be. In the meantime---"

She interrupted herself with a glad little cry. "Oh, I didn't tell you. I've been so joyful thinking that Jack is coming to-night, that I forgot I hadn't told you my good news. You know I've been working all winter on a book of schoolgirl experiences. Well, I sent it to the publishers several weeks ago, and I've just had their answer. They are so pleased with it that they want me to go on and make a series of them. The letter was lovely. I'll show it to you when we go down-stairs. It makes me feel as if fame and fortune might be just around the corner."

"Oh, Betty!" was the breathlessly joyful answer. "I'm so glad! I'm so glad! I've always told you you'd do it some day. It's a pity---" She stopped herself, then began again. "I was about to say that it's a pity you're going to be married, because you may be so taken up with yoah housekeeping and home-making that you'll nevah have time for yoah writing. But, on second thought, I can't say it. I know from experience that having Rob and a home like mine are bettah than all the books that anybody could write."

"Jack will never be a hindrance to authorship," asserted Betty positively. "He's already been the greatest help. He's so proud of everything I write, and really so helpful in his criticisms that he is a constant inspiration."

At this mention of him she reached forward and began to scrabble things hastily into the trunk.

"Here I sit, dawdling along with this packing as if the morning were not fairly flying by, and he'll be here on the five o'clock train. There's so much to do I don't know what to touch first."

Thus inspired to swift action, Lloyd began to help vigorously, and the pile of relics were soon out of sight under the travel-worn old lid. Souvenirs of their boarding-school days at Lloydsboro Seminary, of Christmas vacations, of happy friendships at Warwick Hall, went in in a hurry. Her old tennis racquet, a pennant that Rob had sent her from college, a kodak album of Keith's that they had filled together one happy summer, Malcolm's riding whip, all in at last, locked in and strapped down, ready for their journey to their new home.

Down-stairs there was other packing to do, but Mrs. Sherman was attending to that with the assistance of Mom Beck and Alec. All the stores of household linen, which was her gift to her beloved god-daughter, from whom she was parting so reluctantly,were carefully folded away. The chest of silver from Papa Jack, all the collection of bric-a-brac and fancy work sent in by many friends in the Valley, Lloyd's gift, a Persian rug, and the old Colonel's, a large box of carefully selected books, had already been shipped to Lone-Rock, to transform the plain old living-room into a thing of beauty. The etching which the Walton girls sent would help largely in that transforming process, also the beautiful painting of beech trees which Mrs. Walton gave, knowing that Betty loved the stately old trees as dearly as did she herself.

It was Betty's great regret that The Beeches was closed at the time and the family all away, for she longed to have these especial friends with her on her happy day. Elise was still in school at Warwick Hall, Mrs. Walton visiting Allison in her beautiful Washington home, and Kitty had gone to San Antonio for another visit with Gay Melville at the post. The wedding was to be so very quiet and simple that she could not ask any of them to come so far to be present, but she wished for them all over and over.

Eugenia would have come had it not been that it was too far to bring little Patricia for such a short visit, and she was not willing to leave her behind. She wrote a long letter, recalling her own beautiful wedding, at which Betty had been a bridesmaid, and added, "If you're only half as happy as I am, Betty, dear, you'll never regret for an instant giving up the grand career we all prophesied for you. But in order to remind you that it is still possible for you 'to be famous though married,' Stuart and I are sending you the most efficient typewriter we can find in the shops. It has already gone on to await you in Lone-Rock."

Ever since the arrival of the first gift, a little silver vase from Miss Allison McIntyre, which would always suggest the donor's love of flowers and her garden which she shared lavishly with the whole Valley, Betty had been in a beatific state of mind over the loving favor showed her by her friends. Her pleasure reached high tide, however, when the last one arrived, a box marked from Warwick Hall. It was from Madam Chartley. The box was so big that they made all sorts of wild guesses as to its contents. Layer after layer of paper and excelsior were lifted out, and all they could find was more wrappings. At last, from the very centre, Alec lifted out a fragile cup and saucer, which Betty recognized with a cry of astonishment and delight.

"One of the ancestral teacups! I didn't suppose Madam would part with one of them for anybody!"

She turned the bit of delicate china so that Mrs. Sherman could see the crest, and the motto, "I keep tryste." The note folded inside brought happy tars to her eyes, for it said that she was the only one to whom one of these treasured heirlooms had been given. Madam felt deeply that a spiritual kinship existed between her old ancestor Edryn and the little friend who had kept tryst so faithfully in all things.

Jack came at five o'clock. He was to be the guest of Oaklea, but most of his time was spent at The Locusts. That night, when moonlight and springtime filled the valley with ethereal whiteness and sweetness, he and Betty sat out on the porch. Three generations of Romance made enchanted ground of the whole place. In the library an older Jack and Elizabeth sat recalling they night like this when they had entered their Arcady. Outside, under the arching locusts, up and down, up and down, paced the old Colonel in the moonlight. But not alone; for every lilac-laden breeze that stirred the branches whispered softly," Amanthis! Amanthis!"

Once Jack looked at Betty, sitting beside him in the broad shaft of moonlight, its glory streaming across her white dress and fair face and said, "It's like that song, 'Oh, fair and sweet and holy,' out here. Why couldn't we have the wedding on the .porch, where I first saw you, instead of in the house? Right. here in this moonlight that makes you look like a snowdrop."

"Would you really like to have it out here?" asked Betty, pleased by the idea herself and pleased because he suggested it. "It would be a very simple matter to have it so, and there'll be nobody critical enough among our few guests to call us sentimental if we do."

So it came about that the wedding next night was the simplest and most beautiful that any one there had ever witnessed. Besides the two families, Miss Allison and Alex Shelby were the only guests; Alex, because of the part he had played in restoring Jack to health, and Miss Allison, because no occasion in the Valley seemed quite complete without her. She had been too closely bound up with all the good times of Betty's little girl days and her happy maidenhood, not to be present at this time.

Betty had said, "I want my last evening at The Locusts to be just like the first one that I ever spent here, in one way. Then Lloyd sang and played on her harp. I've missed it so much since she took it over to Oaklea. I'd love to have the memory of her music one of the last that I carry away with me."

So that night, when she stepped out on the porch all dressed for her bridal, she found the harp standing in one corner, gleaming in the moonlight like burnished gold. Fair and tall, it impressed her as it had done when it first struck her childish fancy, that its strings had just been swept by some one of the Shining Ones beyond, who were a part of the Pilgrim's dream. She was standing beside it when Lloyd and Rob and Jack walked over from Oaklea. Her filmy white dress, exquisitely cloudlike and dainty, was as simple and girlish as the one she had worn the night before; but this time Jack did not compare her to a snowdrop. The moonlight gave such an unearthly whiteness to her gown, such a radiance to her upturned face, that he, too, thought of the Pilgrim's dream, and likened her to one of the Shining Ones herself.

With that thought came the memory of a beloved voice as he had heard it for the last time at the end of a perfect Sabbath, singing of those "Angels of Light," that had been so very real to him since they first trailed comfort through his earliest lullabies. Man as he was, something like a poignant ache seemed to grip his throat till he could not speak for a moment, because "the little mother" was having no part in this, the crowning happiness of his life.

Later, Miss Allison and Alex dropped in as informally as if they had come to make an ordinary evening call, and they all sat talking awhile. Then Lloyd took her place at the harp and sang the songs that Betty loved best, till the moon rose high enough to send a flood of silvery light between the tall white pillars. There was a little stir around the hall door, and Lloyd, seeing the colored servants, who had gathered there to listen, step back respectfully, gave a signalling nod. The old minister, who had just arrived by the side door, came out past them.

Lloyd's fingers went on touching the harp-strings, so softly that it seemed as if a wandering breeze had tangled in them. Every one rose as the minister came out, and Jack, taking Betty by the hand, led her directly to him. There was no need of book to prompt the silver-haired old pastor. He had joined too many lives in the course of his long ministry, not to know every word of the solemn ritual.

There in the fragrant stillness of the moon-flooded place, with the odor of the lilacs and the snowy wild-plum blossoms entrancingly sweet, and the melody dropping softly from the harp-strings like a fall of far-off crystal bells, they gave themselves to each other

"I, John Alwyn, take thee, Elizabeth Lloyd."

"I, Elizabeth Lloyd, take thee, John Alwyn."

"Until death us do part."

It was all so sacred and beautiful and still, that even Rob felt the tears start to his eyes, and no one moved for a full moment after the benediction. Even then there was not the usual buzz of congratulations that always follows such a ceremony; but the tender embraces and heartfelt hand-clasps showed that the spell of the solemn scene was still upon them.

Suddenly lights streamed out through all the windows, the dining-room doors were thrown wide open, and Alec bowed the party in to the bridal repast. It, too, was as simple as all that had gone before, save for the towering cake in the centre.

"We just had to have that a mammoth and a gorgeous affair," explained Lloyd, "to send around to all Betty's admiring friends and old pupils who could not be asked to the ceremony. We'll be busy for a week sending off the little boxes."

"No," she replied later, to Alex Shelby, "Betty wouldn't have any of the usual charms and frills, like 'something borrowed, something blue.' She says she's lost faith in them since so many of them that she's known of at different weddings have failed to come true. Besides, everybody heah has their fate already settled. We all know about yoah engagement to Gay, even if it hasn't been announced. You'll be the next to go. You don't need a ring in a cake, or the bride's bouquet thrown over they bannistah to tell you that."

Later, when it was time to start to the station, and Betty had joined them again in her travelling dress, the old Colonel looked out to see what was delaying the carriage.

"It's not coming at all, grandfathah deah," explained Lloyd. "The baggage has gone on ahead and Betty wants to walk. She said she'd rathah go that way, just as if she were only saying good night to you and mothah and Papa Jack, and would be back in a little while. She doesn't want it to seem like a long good-bye. She wants her last look at you all to be heah at home."

But, in spite of everybody's efforts to make it appear that this was just a casual going away, only a temporary separation, Betty found the parting almost more than she could bear. She clung to her god-another a moment at the last, wanting to sob out all her love and gratitude for the beautiful years she was leaving behind her, but there were no words deep enough. Her last kiss was given in silence more eloquent than speech. At the bottom of the steps she whisked away the tears which would gather despite her brave resolve to fight them back, and turned for one more look at the House Beautiful before she left it to go farther on her pilgrim way.

There they stood, the three who had filled her life so full, who had taken the place of father and mother and indulgent grandfather in her life. She smiled bravely as she gave them a parting wave of her hand. She could not let tears dim her last sight of those dear faces. Another wave for Mom Beck and Alec, Walker and old Aunt Cindy, who stood behind them calling their blessings and good wishes after her. Then she went on with the others.

The moonlight filtered down through the trees, casting swaying shadows on the long white avenue. Rob, walking ahead with Lloyd, looked back when they came to the "measuring tree," to say to Miss Allison and Alex, who were just behind:

"It doesn't seem natural for a crowd of this size to start out on a night like this in such a quiet way. We always used to sing. Strike up, Alex!"

Instantly there was wafted back to the watchers on the porch the words of a familiar old song

"It was from Aunt Dinah's quilting party
I was seeing Nellie home."

How many scores of times had that song echoed through the valley! They had sung it crunching through the snow with their skates on their shoulders; they had hummed it strolling through starry August nights when the still air was heavy with the smell of dew-laden lilies. Now, once more they sang it, like boys and girls together again, and Betty wiped her eyes with a little thrill of pleasure when Jack's voice joined in the chorus. She had never heard him sing before and she did not know that he had such a deep, sweet voice. It pleased her, too. to know that her was familiar with the song and could join in with the others as readily as if he had always had a part in her happy past.

At the gate she turned for one more look at the house, with its lights streaming from every window, and wondered when she would ever see it again.

"But no matter how long it may be," she thought, "I can carry the cheer of those lights with me always, wherever I go. It's been such a happy, happy home."

When they reached the station there were only a few moments to wait for the train. She stood holding Lloyd's hand in silence while the others talked, until they heard it rumbling down the track. It was a fast express that stopped only by special order, and then only long enough to throw the trunks on, so the leave-taking was over in a rush. In another instant she was sitting with her face pressed against the window pane, peering out for a last glimpse of the place. She saw just one quickly vanishing light as they sped by, and whispered, "Good-bye, dear Valley."

A sudden feeling of homesickness took possession of her for one long moment. Then Jack's hand closed over hers, holding it in a warm, strong clasp, and she knew that he understood just what that parting meant to her. Instantly there sprang up in her heart the knowledge that all she had left behind was as nothing to the love and sympathy that was to enfold her henceforth.

Chapter 8  Part I  Part II   Chapter 2 >