Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 10: Her Seventeenth Birthday

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents



"PLEASE, Miss Lewis, please do," came in a chorus of pleading voices, as half a dozen Freshmen surrounded Betty in the lower hall, one snowy morning late in January. "I think you might consent when we all want one so tremendously."

"Come on down, Mary Ware," called A.O., catching sight of a wondering face peering over the bannister, curious to see the cause of the commotion. "Come down here and help us beg Miss Lewis to be photographed. There's a man coming out from town this morning to take some snow scenes of the place, and we want her to pose for him. Sitting at the desk, you know, where she wrote her stories, with the editor's letter of acceptance in her hand. Some day when her fame is world-wide a picture of her wearing her first laurels will be worth a fortune."

"Oh, Betty! Have they really been accepted?" cried Mary, almost tumbling down the stairs in her excitement, and forgetting the respectful "Miss"  with which she always prefaced her name when with the other girls.

Betty waved a letter which she had just received. "Yes, the editor took them both, and wants more --- a series of boarding-school stories. One of these girls heard me telling Miss Chilton about it," she added, laughing, "and to hear them you would think it is an event of national importance."

"It is to us," insisted A.O. "We are so proud to think it is our teacher, our special favourite one, who's turned out to be a sure-enough author, and we aren't going to let you go until you promise to sit for a picture for us."

"Then I suppose I shall be forced to promise," said Betty, smiling down into the eager faces which surrounded her, and breaking away from the encircling arms which held her determinedly. It was good to feel that she had the ardent admiration of her pupils, though it was burdensome sometimes to contemplate that so many of them took her as a model.

"I'm going to write too, some day," she overheard one of them say as she made her laughing escape. "I'd rather be an author than anything else in the world. It's so nice to dash off a new book every year or so and have a fortune come rolling in, and everybody praising you and trying to make your acquaintance and begging for your autograph."

"It is not so easy as it sounds, Judith," Betty paused to say. "There's a long hard road to travel before one reaches such a mountain top as that. I've been at it for years, and I can only count that I've made a very small beginning of the journey."

Still, it seemed quite a good-sized achievement, when later in the morning she beckoned Mary into her room, and watched her eyes grow wide over the check which she showed her.

"One hundred dollars for just two short stories!" Mary exclaimed. "And you wrote most of them during Christmas vacation. Oh, Betty! How splendid! "Then she looked at her curiously. "How does it feel to be so successful at last, after being so bitterly disappointed?"

Betty, leaning forward against the desk, her chin in her hand, looked thoughtfully out of the window. Then after a pause she answered, "Glad and thankful --- a deep quiet sort of gladness like a bottomless well, and a queer, uplifted buoyant feeling as if I had been given wings, and could attempt anything. There's nothing in the world," she added slowly, as if talking to herself, "quite so sweet as the realization of one's ambitions. I was almost envious of Joyce when I saw her established in a studio, at last accomplishing the things she has always hoped to do. And it was the same way when I saw Eugenia so radiantly happy in the realizing of her ambition, to make an ideal home for Stuart and her father and to be an ideal mother to little Patricia. In their eyes she is not only a perfect house-keeper, but an adorable home-maker.

"Lloyd, too, is having what she wanted this winter, the social triumph that godmother and Papa Jack coveted for her. Her ambition is to measure up to all their fond expectations, and to leave a Road of the Loving Heart in every one's memory. And she is certainly doing that. Her popularity is the kind that cannot be bought with lavish dinners and extravagant balls. She's just so winsome and dear and considerate of everybody that she's earned the right to be called the Queen of Hearts."

"And now all four of you are happy," remarked Mary, "for your dreams have come true. And seeing that makes me all the more determined to make mine come true."

"Oh, the valedictory that you are to win for Jack's sake," said Betty, coming out of the revery into which she had fallen for a moment.

"That's only one of the things," began Mary. "The others---" Then she stopped, hesitating to put in words the future she foresaw for herself. Sometimes in the daylight it seemed presumptuous for her to aspire to such heights. It was only when she lay awake at night with the moonlight stealing into the room, that such a future seemed reasonable and sure.

Unknowing that the hesitation held a half-escaped confidence, Betty did not wait for her to go on, but held up the check, saying, "You know this is a partnership story, and you are to get another trip to New York out of it. Putting your shilling in the Christmas offering was a good investment for both of us. If you hadn't I never would have thought of the plot which your adventure suggested."

"But you've made your story so different from what actually happened, that I don't see how I can have any claim on it at all," said Mary. "It's just your sweet way of giving me Easter Vacation with Joyce."

"Indeed it is not," protested Betty. "Some day I'll follow out the whole train of suggestions for you, how your shilling made me think of an old rhyme, and that rhyme of something else, and so on, until the whole plot lay out before me. There isn't time now. It is almost your Latin period."

Mary rose to go. "Once I should have been doubtful about accepting such a big favour from any one," she said slowly. "But I've found out now how delightful it is to do things for people you love with money you've earned yourself. Now Jack's watch-fob, for instance. He was immensely pleased with it. I know, not only from what he wrote himself, but from what mamma said. Yet his pleasure in getting it was not a circumstance to mine in giving it. Not that I mean it will be that way about the New York visit," she added hastily, seeing the amused twinkle in Betty's eyes. "Oh, you know what I mean," she cried in confusion. "That usually it's that way, but in this case it will be a thousand times blesseder to receive, and I never can thank you enough."

Throwing her arms around Betty's neck she planted an impetuous kiss on each cheek and ran out of the room.

Part of that first check went to the photographer, for every one of the fifteen Freshmen claimed a picture, and many of the Seniors who had worshipped her from afar when they were Freshmen, and she the star of the Senior class, begged the same favour.

The one which fell to Mary's share stood on her dressing-table several days and then disappeared. She felt disloyal when some of the other girls who kept theirs prominently displayed, came in and looked around inquiringly. She evaded their questions but was moved to confess to Betty herself one day.

"I --- I --- sent your picture to Jack. Just for him to look at and send right back, you know, but he won't send it. I hope you don't mind. He says he needs it to keep him from forgetting what the ideal American girl is like. They don't have them in Lone-Rock. There isn't any young society there at all. And he was so interested in hearing about your literary successes. You know he has always been interested in you ever since Joyce came back from the first house-party and told us about you."

That Betty blushed when Mary proceeded to further confessions and quoted Jack's remarks about her picture is not to be wondered at, and that Mary should see the blush and promptly report it in her next letter to Jack was quite as inevitable. She had no idea how many times during his busy days his glance rested on the photograph on his desk.

It was not the typical American girl as portrayed by Gibson or Christy, but it pleased him better in every way. He liked the sweet seriousness of the smooth brows, the steady glance of the trustful brown eyes, and the little laughter lines about the mouth. Back in God's country, he sometimes mused, fellows knew girls like that. Played golf and tennis with them, rode with them, picnicked with them, sat out in the moonlight with them, talking and singing in a spirit of gay comradery that they only half-appreciated, because they had never starved for want of it as he was doing.

It hadn't been so bad at the Wigwam, for Joyce was always doing something to keep things stirred up; making the most of the material at hand. It wasn't that he minded the grind and the responsibility of his work. He would gladly have shouldered more in his zeal to push ahead. It was the thought that all work and no play was making him the proverbial dull boy, and that he would be an old man before his time, if he went on without anything to relieve the deadly monotony. The spirit of youth in him was crying out for kindred companionship.

All unconscious of the interest she was arousing, Mary filled her letters with reference to Betty; how they all adored her, and how she was always in demand as a chaperon, because she was just a girl herself and could understand how they felt and was such good fun. Presently when word came that she had scored another triumph, that one of the leading magazines had accepted a short story, Jack was moved to send her a note of congratulation.

Now Jack had been as well known to Betty as she to him since the days of the long-ago house-party. When he made his brief visit to The Locusts just before she left for Warwick Hall, they had met like old friends, each familiar with the other's past. Unquestioningly she had accepted Papa Jack's estimate of him as the squarest young fellow he had ever met --- "true blue in every particular, and a hustler when it comes to bringing things to pass."

Now for five months Mary had talked of him so incessantly, especially while they were visiting Joyce, that Betty had it impressed upon her mind beyond forgetting, that no matter what else he might be he was quite the best brother who had ever lived in the knowledge of man. In answer to her cordial little note of acknowledgment came a letter explaining in a frank straightforward way why he had kept her picture, and how he longed sometimes for the friendships and social life he could not have in a little mining town. And because there was a question in it about Mary, asking the advisability of her taking some extra course she had mentioned, Betty answered it promptly.

Thus it came about without her realizing just how it happened, that she was drawn into a regular correspondence. Regular on Jack's side, at least, for no matter whether she wrote or not, promptly every Thursday morning a familiar looking envelope, addressed in his big businesslike hand, appeared on her desk.

February came, not only with its George Washington tea and Valentine party, but musicales and receptions and many excursions to the city. No day with any claim to celebration was allowed to pass unheeded. March held fewer opportunities, so Saint Patrick was made much of, and Mary's sorority planned a spread up in the gymnasium in his honour. She had never once mentioned that her birthday fell on the seventeenth also, not even when she first proudly displayed her blood-stone ring, which they all knew was the stone for March.

Nobody would have known that she had any especial interest in the date, had not Jack mentioned in one of his letters to Betty that Mary would be seventeen on the seventeenth, and he was afraid that his remembrance would not reach her in time, as he had forgotten the day was so near until that very moment of writing.

The whisper that went around never reached Mary. She helped decorate the table with sprigs of artificial shamrock and Irish flags, hunted up verses from various poets of Erin to write on the little harp-shaped place cards, and suggested a menu which typified the "wearin' o' the green" in every dish, from the olive sandwiches to the creme de menthe. To further carry out the colour scheme, the girls all came in their gymnasium suits of hunter's green, and the unconventional attire tended to make the affair more of a frolic than the elegant function which the sorority yearly aspired to give.

A huge birthday cake had been ordered in the jovial saint's honour, but nobody could tell how many candles it ought to hold since no one knew how many years he numbered. But Dorene solved the difficulty by saying, "Let X equal the unknown quantity, and just make a big X across the cake with the green candles."

Never once did Mary suspect that the spread was in her honour also, till she was led to the seat at the head of the table, where another birthday cake stood like a mound of snow with seventeen green candles all atwinkle. She was overwhelmed with so much distinction at first. The musical little acrostic by the sorority poet gratified her beyond expression. Cornie Dean's toast almost brought the tears it was so sweet and appreciative, and the affectionate birthday wishes that circled around the table at candle-blowing time made her feel with a thankful heart that this early in her college life she had reached the best it has to offer, the inner circle of its friendships.

Each one told the funniest Irish bull she had ever heard, and then all sorts of conundrums and foolish questions were propounded, like, "Which would you prefer, to be as green as you look or to look as green as you are?" When the conversation touched on the birthstone for March, some one suggested that Mary ought to be made to do some stunt to show that she was worthy to wear a bloodstone, since it called for such high courage.

"Make her kiss the Blarney stone! "cried Judith Ettrick.

"At Blarney castle they let you down by the heels. That's the only way you can kiss the real stone. But Mary can hang by her knees from one of the turning-pole bars, and we'll build tip a pyramid under her to put the Blarney stone on, so that she can barely reach it, you know. Make a shaky one that will topple over at a breath. That will make it harder to reach."

The suggestion was enthusiastically received by all but Mary, who felt somewhat dubious about making the attempt, when she saw them begin to catch up glasses and plates from the table with which to build the pyramid. But by the time the structure was completed and topped by a little china match-safe in the shape of a cupid, to represent the Blarney stone, she was ready for her part of the performance.

"That's what you get for being born in Mars' month," said Elise, as Mary balanced herself a moment on the bar, and then made a quick turn around it to limber herself.

"You wouldn't be expected to do such things if the signs of your zodiac were different."

"Look out!" warned Cornie. "You'll see more stars than the ones in your horoscope if you lose your grip."

"Abracadabra! " cried Mary gamely. "May I hold on to the pole, and the pole hold on to me till we've done all that's expected of us."

It was a dizzy moment for Mary, and a breathless one for all of them as she swung head downward over the tottering pile of china and glass ware. The china cupid was almost beyond her reach, but by a desperate effort she managed to swing a fraction of an inch nearer, and seizing its head in her mouth came up gasping and purple.

"Now what about being born in Mars' month!" she demanded triumphantly of Elise as soon as she could get her breath. "A bloodstone will do more for you any day than an agate."

Taking this as a challenge, all sorts of feats were attempted to prove the superior virtues of each girl's birthstone charm, so that the performance ended in a gale of romping and laughter. Then at the last, to the tune of  "They kept the pig in the parlour and that was Irish too," Mary was gravely presented on behalf of the sorority with the gift it had chosen for her.

"For your dowry," it was marked. It was a toy savings-bank in the form of a china pig, with a slit in its back, into which each member dropped seventeen pennies, as they sang in jolly chorus, 

"Because it's your seventeenth birthday, 
March seventeen shall be mirth-day. 
Oh, may you long on the earth stay, 
With pence a-plenty too."

"That's an example in mental arithmetic," cried A.O. "Quick, Mary! Tell us how much your dowry amounts to. Seventeen times sixteen--- "

But Mary was occupied with a discovery she had just made. "There are just seventeen of us counting me!" she cried. "I never knew such a strange coincidence in numbers."

"If you save all your pennies till you have occasion for a dowry you'll have enough to buy a real pig," counselled Cornie wisely.

"More like a whole drove of them," laughed Mary. "That time is so far off."

"Not necessarily so far," was Cornie's answer. "Sometimes it is only a few steps farther when you are seventeen. Come on, before they turn out the lights on us."

Mary stopped in the door to look back at the room in which they had spent such a jolly evening. "I'd like to stop the clock right here," she declared, "and stay just at this age for years and years. It's so nice to be as old as seventeen, and yet at the same time to be as young as that."

Then she went skipping off to her room with the dowry pig in one hand and a green candle from the cake in the other, to report the affair to Ethelinda. They were not members of the same sorority, but they had many interests in common now. They had learned how to adjust themselves to each other. Mary still reserved her deepest confidences for her shadow-chum, but Ethelinda shared the rest.

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