Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 11: Trouble For Everybody

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents



Up in Joyce's studio, Easter lilies had marked the time of year for nearly a week. They had been ordered the day that Betty and Mary arrived to spend the spring vacation, and still stood fresh and white at all the windows, in the glory of their newly opened buds. They were Henrietta's contribution. Mrs. Boyd and Lucy were away.

On the wall over the desk the calendar showed a fanciful figure of Spring, dancing down a flower-strewn path, and Mary, opening her journal for the first time since her arrival, paused to read the couplet at the bottom of the calendar. Then she copied it at the top of the page which she was about to fill with the doings of the last five days.

"How noiseless falls the foot of time
That only treads on flowers."

"That must be the reason that I can hardly believe that three whole months have gone by since the Christmas holidays. I've trodden on nothing but flowers. Even though the school work was a hard dig sometimes, I enjoyed it, and there was always so much fun mixed up with it, that it made the time fairly fly by. As for the five days we have been here in New York, they have simply whizzed past. Miss 'Henry' has done so much to make it pleasant for us. She is great. She calls herself a bachelor-maid, and if she is a fair sample of what they are, I'd like to be one. The day after we came she gave a studio reception, so that we could meet some of her famous friends. She wrote on a slip of paper, beforehand, just what each one was famous for, and the particular statue or book or painting that was his best known work, and instead of copying it, I'll paste the page in here to save time.

"It was a great event for Betty. Mrs. LaMotte, who does such beautiful illustrating for the magazines had seen Betty's last story, and asked her for her next manuscript. If size illustrates it, the pictures will be an open sesame to any editor's attention. She gave her so much encouragement too, and made some suggestions that Betty said would help her tremendously.

"One of the best parts of the whole affair to me was to see Joyce playing hostess in such a distinguished company. They all seem so fond of her, and so interested in her work, that Miss Henrietta calls her 'Little Sister to the Great.'

"I thought that I'd be so much in awe of them that I couldn't say a word. But I wasn't. They were all so friendly and ordinary in their manners and so extraordinary in the interesting things they talked about that I had a beautiful time. I helped serve refreshments and poured tea. After they had all gone Joyce came over and took me by the shoulders, and said 'Little Mary, is it Time or Warwick Hall that has made such a change in you? You are growing up. You've lost your self-conscious little airs with strangers and you are no longer a chatter-box. I was proud of you!'

"Maybe I wasn't happy! Joyce never paid me very many compliments. None of my family ever have, so I think that ought to have a place in my good times book.

"I've had a perfect orgy of sight-seeing --- gone to all the places strangers usually visit, and lots besides. We've been twice to the matinee. Phil has been here once to lunch, and is coming this afternoon to take us away out of town in a big touring-car. We're to stop at some wayside inn for dinner. Then we'll see him again when we go out to Eugenia's for a day and night. We've saved the best till the last."

"Letters," called Joyce, coming into the room with a handful. "The postman was good to every one of us." She tossed two across the room to Betty, who sat reading on the divan, and one to Henrietta, who had just finished cleaning some brushes.

"Oh, mine is from Jack!" cried Mary joyfully. "But how queer," she added in a disappointed tone, when she had torn open the envelope. "There are only six lines." Then exclaiming, "I wish you'd listen to this! "She read aloud

"Mamma thinks that your clothes may be somewhat shabby by this time, so here's a little something to get some fine feathers with which to make yourself a fine bird. You will find check to cover remainder of year's expenses waiting for you on your return to school. Glad you are having such a grand time. Keep it up, little pard. --- Jack."

If Mary had not been so carried away with her good fortune, and so immediately engrossed in discussing the best way to spend the check she would have noticed that the envelope in Betty's lap was exactly like the one in her own, and that the same hand had addressed them both. Betty's first impulse was to read her letter aloud. It was so unusually breezy and amusing. But rememberingthat she had never happened to mention her correspondence with Jack to Mary, and that her surprise over it might lead her to say something before Henrietta that would be embarrassing, she dropped it into her shopping bag as soon as she had read it, and said nothing about it.

That is how it happened to be with her when she accompanied Mary that afternoon on her joyful quest of  "fine feathers." They went to many places, and at last found a dress which suited her and Joyce exactly. Some slight alteration was needed, and while the two were in the fitting room., Betty passed the time by taking out the letter for a second reading. A glance at the post-mark showed that it had been delayed somewhere on the road. It should have reached her the day that she left Warwick Hall. It had been forwarded from there. She had grown so accustomed to his weekly letter that she missed it when it did not come, and had wondered for several days why he had failed to write. Now she confessed to herself that she was glad the fault was with some postal clerk, and that Jack had not forgotten. She turned to the last page.

"I don't know why I should be telling you all this. I hope it does not bore you. I usually wait till my hopes and plans work out into something practical before I mention them; but lately everything has gone so well that I can't help being sanguine over these new plans, and it makes their achievement seem nearer to talk them over with you. It certainly is good to be young and strong and feel your muscle is equal to the strain put upon it. This old world looks just about all right to me this morning."

When Mary came dancing out of the fitting room a few minutes later her first remark was so nearly an echo of Jack's that Betty smiled at the concidence.

"Oh, isn't this a good old world? Everybody is so obliging. They are going to make a special rush order of altering my dress, and send it out by special messenger early in the morning, so that I can have it to take out to Engenia's. I'm holding fast to my new spring hat, though. I can't risk that to any messenger boy. Phil will just have to let me take it in the automobile with us."

Promptly at the hour agreed upon, Phil met them at the milliner's. As Betty predicted he did laugh at the huge square bandbox which Mary clung to, and inquired for the bird-cage which was supposed to be its companion piece. But Mary paid little heed to his teasing, upheld by the thought of that perfect dream of a white hat which the derided box contained. Her only regret was that she could not wear it for him to see. Joyce and the mirror both assured her that it was the most becoming one she ever owned, and it seemed a pity that it was not suitable for motoring. The wearing of it would have added so much to her pleasure. However, the thought of it, and of the new dress that was to be sent up in the morning, ran through her mind all that afternoon, like a happy undercurrent. She said so once, when Phil asked her what she was smiling about all to herself.

"It's just as if they were singing a sort of alto to what we are doing now, and making a duet of my pleasure; a double good time. Oh, I wish Jack could be here to see how happy he has made me!"

The grateful thought of him found expression a dozen times during the course of the drive. When they stopped for dinner at the quaint wayside inn she wished audibly that he were there. Somehow, into the keen enjoyment of the day crept a wistful longing to see him again, and the ache that caught her throat now and then was almost a homesick pang. Going back, as they sped along in the darkness towards the twinkling lights of the vast city, she decided that she would write to him that very night, before she went to sleep, and make it clear to him how much she appreciated all he had done for her. He was the best brother in the world, and the very dearest.

Phil went up with them when they reached the entrance to the flats. He could not stay long, he said, but he must see the contents of that bandbox. The air of the studio was heavy with the fragrance of the Easter lilies, and he went about opening windows at Joyce's direction, while she and the other girls unwound themselves from the veils in which they had been wrapped, and put a few smoothing touches to their wind-blown hair. Joyce was the first to come back to the studio. She carried a letter which she had picked up in the hall.

"This seems to be a day for letters," she remarked. "This is a good thick one from home." She made no movement to open it then, thinking to read it aloud after Phil had taken his leave. But when Mary joined them, and he seemed absorbed in the highly diverting process they made of trying on the new hat, she opened the envelope to glance over the first few pages. She read the first paragraph with one ear directed to the amusing repartee. Then the smile suddenly left her face, and with a startled exclamation she turned back to re-read it, hurrying on to the bottom of the page.

"Oh, what is it?" cried Mary in alarm. Joyce had looked up with a groan, her face white and shocked. She was trembling so that the letter shook perceptibly in her hand.

"There has been an accident out at the mines," she answered, trying to steady her voice, "and Jack was badly hurt. So very badly that mamma didn't telegraph us, but waited to see how it would terminate. Oh, he's better," she hurried to add, seeing Mary grow faint and white, and sit down weakly on the floor beside the bandbox. "He is going to live, the doctors say, but they're afraid---" Her voice faltered and she began to sob. "They're afraid he'll be a cripple for life! Never walk again!"

Throwing herself across the couch, she buried her face in the cushions, crying chokingly, "Oh, I can't bear to think of it! Oh, Jack! how could such an awful thing happen to you!"

Sick and trembling, Mary sat as if dazed by a blow on the head, her stunned senses trying to grasp the fact that some awful calamity had befallen them; that out of a clear sky had dropped a deadly bolt to shatter all the happiness of their little world. For an instant the thought came to her that maybe she was only having a dreadful dream, and in a few moments would come the blessed relief of awakening. But instead came only the sickening realization of the truth, for Joyce, with an imploring gesture, held the letter out to Phil for him to read aloud.

Mrs. Ware had written as bravely as she could, trying not to alarm or distress them unduly, but there could be no disguising or softening one terrible fact. Jack, strong, sinewy, broad-shouldered Jack, whose strength had been his pride, lay as helpless as a baby, and all the hope the physicians could give was that in a few months he might be able to go about in a wheeled chair. They had had three surgeons up from Phoenix for a consultation. A trained nurse was with him at present and they must not worry. Of course they mustn't think of coming home. Joyce could do most good where she was, if later on they should have to depend on her partly, as one of the bread-winners. And Mary must make the most of the rest of the year at school. Jack had sent the check for the balance of her expenses only the morning before the accident occurred.

Mary waited to hear no more. With the tears streaming down her face, and her lips working pitifully, she scrambled up from the floor, and ran into the next room, shutting the door behind her. The hurt was too deep for her to bear another moment, in any one's presence. She must go off with it into the dark alone.

There was a page or two more, giving some details of the accident. Some heavy timbers had fallen while they were making some extensions, and Jack had been crushed under them. The blow on the spine had caused paralysis of both limbs. When Phil finished the last sentence, he sat staring helplessly at the floor, wishing he could think of something to say; something comforting and hopeful, for Joyce's shoulders still heaved convulsively, and Betty was crying quietly over by the window. But he could find no grain of comfort in the whole situation. Mrs.Ware had rejoiced in the fact that his life had been spared, but to Phil, death seemed infinitely preferable to the crippled helpless half-existence which the future held out for poor Jack.

Of all the young fellows of his acquaintance, he could think of none on whom such a blow would fall more crushingly. He had counted so much on his future. Phil got up and began to pace back and forth at the end of the long studio, his hands in his pockets, recalling the days of their old intimacy on the desert. Scene after scene came up before him, till he felt a tightening of the throat that made him set his teeth together grimly. Then Joyce sat up and began to talk about him brokenly, with gushes of tears now and then, as one recalls the good traits of those who have passed out of life.

"He was so little when papa died, but he's tried to take his place in every way possible, ever since. So unselfish and uncomplaining --- always taking the brunt of everything! You know how it was, Phil. You saw him a thousand times giving up his own pleasure to make life easier for us. And it doesn't seem right that just when things were getting where he could reach out for what he wanted most, it should be snatched away from him!"

"I wish Daddy were home," sighed Phil. "I'd take him out for a look at him. I can't believe that it is so hopeless as all that. And anyhow, I've always felt that Daddy could put me together again if I were all broken to bits. He has almost performed miracles several times when everybody else gave the case up. But he won't be back for months and maybe a whole year."

"Oh, it's no use hoping, when the three best surgeons in Phoenix give such a report," said Joyce gloomily. "If it was anything but his spine, it wouldn't be so bad. We've just got to face the situation and acknowledge that it means he'll be a life-long invalid. And I know he'd rather have been killed outright."

"And it was just before his accident," said Betty, wiping her eyes, "that he wrote to me so jubilantly about his plans. He said he couldn't help being sanguine over them. It was so good to be young and strong and feel that your muscle was equal to the strain put upon it, and that the old world looked about all right to him that morning. It is going to be such a disappointment to him not to be able to send Mary back to school."

"Poor little Mary!" said Phil. "All this is nearly going to kill her. She is so completely wrapped up in Jack, I am afraid that it will make her bitter."

"Isn't it strange?" asked Betty. "I was wondering about that while we were out at the Inn this evening. She was in such high spirits, that I thought of that line from Moore:

"'The heart that is soonest awake to the flowers,
Is always the first to be touched by the thorns,'

and thought if she should take sorrow as intensely as she does her pleasures, any great grief would overwhelm her."

They had been discussing the situation for more than an hour, when the door from the bedroom opened, and Mary came out. Her eyes were red and swollen as if she had been crying a week, but she was strangely calm and self-possessed. She had rushed away from them an impetuous child in an uncontrollable storm of grief. Now as she came in they all felt that some great change had taken place in her, even before she spoke. She seemed to have grown years older in that short time.

"I am going home to-morrow," she announced simply. "I would start to-night if it wasn't too late to get the Washington train. I shall have to go back there to pack up all my things."

"But, Mary," remonstrated Joyce, "mamma said not to. She said positively we were to stay here and you were to make the most of what is left to you of this year at school."

"I know," was the quiet answer. "I've thought it all over, and I've made up my mind. Of course you mustn't go back. For no matter if the company does pay the expenses of Jack's illness and allows him a pension or whatever it was mamma called it, for awhile, you couldn't make fifty cents there where you could make fifty dollars here. So for all our sakes you ought to stay. But as long as I can't finish my course, a few weeks more or less can't make any difference to me. And I know very well I am needed at home."

"But Jack --- he'll be so disappointed if you don't get even one full year," argued Joyce, who had never been accustomed to Mary's deciding anything for herself. Even in the matter of hair-ribbons she had always asked advice as to which to wear.

"Oh, I can make it all right with Jack," said Mary confidently. "I wouldn't have one happy moment staying on at school knowing I was needed at home. And I am needed every hour, if for nothing more than to keep them all cheered up. When I think of how busy Jack has always been, and then those awful days and weeks and years ahead of him when he can't do anything but lie and think and worry, I'm afraid he'll almost lose his mind."

"If mamma only hadn't been so decided," was Joyce's dubious answer. "It does seem that you are right, and yet --- we've never gone ahead and done things before without her consent. I wish we could talk it over with her."

"Well, I don't," persisted Mary. "I'm going home and I'm perfectly sure that down in her heart she'll be glad that I took matters in my own hands and decided to come for Jack's sake if nothing else."

"Then we'd better telegraph her to-night---"

"No," interrupted Mary, "not until I'm leaving Washington. Then it will be too late for her to stop me."

"Oh, dear, I don't know what to do about it," sighed Joyce wearily, passing her hand over her eyes.

"Just help me gather up my things," was the firm reply. The big bandbox still stood open in the middle of the floor and the hat with its wreath of white lilacs lay atop just as Mary had dropped it. She stooped to pick it up with a pathetic little smile that hurt Phil worse than tears, and stood looking down on it as if it were something infinitely dear.

"The last thing Jack ever gave me," she said as if speaking to herself. "It doesn't seem possible that it was only this afternoon we bought it. It seems months since then --- my last happy day!"

Henrietta's latch-key sounded in the lock of the front door, and Phil rose to go, knowing the situation would all have to be explained to her. No, there was nothing he could do, they assured him. Nothing anybody could do. And promising to comearound before train-time next morning he took his leave, heart-sick over the tragedy that had ruined Jack's life, and would always shadow the little family that had grown as dear to him as his own.

Chapter 10   Chapter 12 >