Mary Ware, The Little Colonel's Chum, Chapter 12: The Good-Bye Gate

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1908
Illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry

Table Of Contents



FORTUNATELY they were so late in getting to the station that there was no time for a prolonged leave-taking. Phil hurried away to the baggage-room to check their trunks. Henrietta made a move as if to follow. Her overwrought sympathies kept her nervously opening and shutting her hands, for she dreaded scenes, and would not have put herself in the way of witnessing a painful parting, had she not thought she owed it to Joyce to stand by her to the last.

Joyce noticed the movement, and divining the cause, said with a little smile, as she laid a detaining hand on her arm, "Don't be scared, Henry. We are not going to have any high jinks, are we, Mary. We made the old Vicar's acquaintance too early in the game and have been practising his motto too many years to go back on him now. We're going to keep inflexible, no matter what happens. Aren't we, Mary?"

For several minutes Mary had been seeing things through a blur of tears, which came at the thought of what a long parting this might be. There was no telling when she would see Joyce again. It might be years. But she answered a resolute yes, and Joyce went on.

"Why, we taught it even to Norman when he wasn't more than a baby. 'Swallow your sobs, and stiffen,' we'd say, and he'd gulp them down every time, and brace up like a little soldier. Oh, if I'd just flop and let myself go I could cry myself into a shoestring in five minutes. But thanks to early discipline we're not going to do it. Are we, Mary?"

By this time Mary could only shake her head in reply, but she did it resolutely, and the determination carried her safely through the parting with Joyce. But Phil almost broke down the self-control she was struggling to maintain, when he came back with the checks and hurried aboard the train with her and Betty. Taking both her hands in his he looked down with both voice and face so full of tender sympathy, that her lips quivered and her eyes filled with tears.

"You brave little thing!" he exclaimed in a low tone. "If there is ever anything that I can do to make it easier, let me know, and I'll come. Promise me now. You'll let me know."

"I --- I promise," she answered, faltering over the sob that rose in her throat as she tried to speak, but smiling bravely up at him.

With one more hand-clasp that spoke sympathy and understanding even more than his words had done, and somehow left her with a sense of being comforted and protected, he went away. But half way down the aisle he turned and dashed back, drawing a little package from his pocket as he came.

"Something to read on the way," he explained. "Wait till you get to that lonesome stretch of desert." Then with a smile that she carried in her memory for years, he said once more, "Good-bye, little Vicar! Remember, I'll come!"

He swung down the steps at the front end of the car just as the train started, and through the open window she had one more glimpse of him, as he stood there lifting his hat. Farther back, at the station gate Joyce waited with her arm linked in Henrietta's, for the moment when Mary's last glance should be turned to seek her. She met it with a blithe wave of her handkerchief, and Mary waved vigorously in response. It was a long time before she turned away from the window. When she did she had nearly recovered her self-control, and grateful for Betty's considerate silence, she busied herself with her suit-case a few minutes, fumbling with the lock, and making a pretence of repacking, in order to find room for the book that Phil had brought.

The night before, in the first numb apathy of the shock, it had seemed to her that nothing mattered any more. Nothing could make the dreadful state of affairs more bearable; but now she acknowledged to herself that some things did help. How wonderfully comforting Phil's assurance of sympathy had been; the silent assurance of that firm, tender hand-clasp. It was easier to be brave since he had called her so and expected it of her.

Betty, in a seat across the aisle, opened a magazine, but Mary could not settle down to read. A nervous unrest kept her going over and over in her mind, as she had done through the previous night, the scenes that lay ahead of her. There was the packing, and she checked off on her fingers the many details that she must be sure to remember. There were those borrowed books she mustn't forget to return. Her scissors were in Cornie's room. Miss Gilmer had her best basketry patterns. There were so many things that finally she made a memorandum of them, dully wondering as she did so how she could think of them at all. One would have supposed that the awful disaster that was continually in her thoughts would have blotted out these little commonplace trivial concerns. But they didn't. She couldn't understand it.

Presently the sound of a low crooning in the seat behind her made her glance over her shoulder. An old coloured mammy, in the whitest of freshly starched aprons and turbans, was rocking a child to sleep in her arms. He was a dear little fellow, pink and white as an apple-blossom, with a Teddy bear hugged close in his arms. One furry paw rested on his dimpled neck. The bit of Uncle Remus song the nurse was singing had a soothing effect on him, but it fell dismally on Mary's ears:

"Oh, don't stay long! Oh, don't stay late! 
                 My honey, my love.
                   Hit ain't so mighty fur ter de Good-bye Gate, 
                 My honey, my love!"

"The Good-bye Gate!" she repeated to herself. That was what they had come to now, she and Jack. Not a little wicket through which one might push his way back some day, but a great barred thing that was clanging behind them irrevocably, shutting them away for ever from the fair road along which they had travelled so happily. Shutting out even the slightest view of those far-off "Delectable Mountains," towards which they had been journeying. In the face of Jack's misfortune and all that he was giving up, her part of the sacrifice sank into comparative insignificance. Her suffering for him was so great that it dulled the sharpness of her own renunciations, and even dulled her disappointment for Joyce. The year in Paris had meant as much to her as the course at Warwick Hall had meant to Mary.

All through the trip she sat going round and round the same circle of thoughts, ending always with the hopeless cry, "Oh, why did it have to be? It isn't right that he should have to suffer so!" Once when the train stopped for some time to take water and wait on a switch for the passing of a fast express, she opened her suit-case and took out her journal and fountain-pen. Going on with the record from the place where she had dropped it the day before when Jack's letter interrupted it, she chronicled the receipt of the check, the shopping expedition that followed, and the gay outing afterward in the touring-car. Then down below she wrote:

"But now I have come to the Good-bye Gate.  Good-bye to all my good times. So good-bye, even to you, little book, since you were to mark only the hours that shine. Here at the bottom of the page I must write the words, 'The End.'

When they reached Warwick Hall she was too tired to begin any preparations that night for the longer journey, and still so dazed with the thought of Jack's calamity to be keenly alive to the fact that this was the last night she would ever spend in the beloved room. She was thankful to have it to herself for these last few hours, and thankful when Betty and Madam Chartley finally went out and left her alone. She was worn out trying to keep up before people and to be brave as they bade her. It was a relief to put out the light and, lying there alone in the dark, cry and cry till at last she sobbed herself to sleep.

Not till the next morning did she begin to feel the wrench of leaving, when the fresh fragrance of wet lilacs awakened her, blowing up from the old garden where all the sweetness of early April was astir. Then she remembered that she would be far, far away when the June roses bloomed at Commencement, and that this was the last time she would ever be wakened by the blossoms and birdcalls of the dear old garden.

She sat up and looked around the room from one familiar object to another, oppressed and miserable at the thought that she would never see them again. Then her glance rested on Lloyd's picture, and for once the make-believe companionship of Lloyd's shadow-self brought a comfort as deep as if her real self had spoken. She held out her arms to it, whispering brokenly:

"Oh, you understand how hard it is, don't you, dear? You're the only one in the world who does, because you had to give up all this, too."

Gazing at the pictured face through her tears, she recalled how Lloyd had met her disappointment, trying to live each day so unselfishly that she could go on, stringing the little pearls on her rosary.

"If you could do it, I can too," she said presently. "And the best of having such a chum is I needn't leave you behind when I leave school. You are one thing that I don't have to give up."

That picture was the last thing she put into her trunk. She left it hanging on the wall while she did all the rest of her packing, that she might glance at it now and then. It helped wonderfully to remember that Lloyd had had the same experience. Madam Chartley came in while she was in the midst of her preparations for leaving, glad to find her making them with her usual energy and interest. When in answer to her offers of assistance Mary assured her there was nothing any one could do, she said, "I'll not stay then, except to say one thing that I may not have opportunity for later." She paused and laid her hands on Mary's shoulders, looking down at her searchingly and kindly.

"I want you to know this --- that I have never had a pupil whom I parted from as reluctantly as I shall part from you. Your enthusiasm and love of school have been a joy to your teachers and an inspiration to every girl in Warwick Hall. If it were merely a matter of expense I would not let you go, but under the circumstances I have no right to interfere. You ought to go. And my dear little girl, remember this, whenever regrets come up for the school days brought so suddenly to a close, that school is only to prepare us to meet the tests of life, and already you have met one of its greatest 'To renounce when that shall be necessary, and not be embittered!' And you are doing that so bravely that I want you to know how much I admire and love you for it."

To Madam's surprise the words of praise did not carry the comfort she intended. Mary's arms were thrown around her neck and a tearful face hidden on her shoulder, as leaning against her she sobbed, "Oh, Madam Chartley! I wish you could feel that way about me, but honestly I haven't stood the test. I can renounce for myself, and not feel bitter, but I can't renounce for Jack! It makes me wild whenever I think of all he has to give up. It isn't right! How could God let such an awful thing happen to him, when he has always lived such a beautiful unselfish life?"

Drawing her to a seat beside the window, Madam sat with an arm around her, until the sobs grew quiet, and then began to answer her question --- the same old cry that has gone up from stricken souls ever since the world began. And Mary, listening, felt the comfort and the uplift of a strong faith that had learned to go unfaltering through the sorest trials, knowing that out of the worst of them some compensating good should be wrested in the end. For months afterwards, whenever that bitter cry rose to her lips again, she stilled it with the remembrance of those words. Sometime, somehow, even this terrible calamity should be made the steppingstone to better things. How such a thing could come to pass Mary could not understand, but Madam's faith that such would be so, comforted her. It was as if one little glimmering star struggled out through the blackness of the night, and in the light of that she plucked up courage to push on hopefully through the dark.

That afternoon just as her trunk was being carried out, the 'bus drove up, bringing back its first instalment of returning pupils. Cornie Dean was among them, and Elise and A.O. Mary, looking out of the window, heard the familiar voices, and feeling that their questions and sympathy would be more than she could bear, caught up her hat and hand-baggage, and ran over to Betty's room to wait there until time to go.

"No, I can't see any of them, please," she begged, when Betty came in to say how distressed and shocked they all were to hear about Jack, and to know that she was leaving school. They were all crying over it, and wanted to see her, if only for a moment.

"No," persisted Mary. "It would just start me all off again to hear one sympathetic word, and my eyes are like red flannel now. I've already said good-bye to Madam, and I'm going to slip out without speaking to another soul."

"You'll have to speak to Hawkins," said Betty. "For he is lying in wait for you with such a box of lunch as never went out of this establishment before. He asked Madam's permission to put it up for you himself. He told her about your binding up his hands the day the chafing-dish turned over and burned him so badly, and about the letter you wrote for one of the maids that got her sister into a school for the blind, and several other things, winding up with 'There's a young lady with a 'eart in 'er, Ma'am!'"

Betty mimicked his accent so well that Mary laughed for the first time since her return. "Well, he's got a 'eart in 'im!" she answered, "though I never would have imagined it the day I made my entrance here. He was like a grand, graven image. Oh, Betty, it is nice to know that people like you and are sorry that you are going. Even if it does make you feel sort of weepy it takes a big part of the sting out of leaving."

Betty went with her in to Washington, and stayed with her until the train left. Hawkins was the only one they encountered on their way out, and Mary took the proffered lunch-box with a smile that was very close to tears. Her voice faltered over her words of thanks, and when she had been handed into the 'bus she dared not trust herself to look back at the faithful old servitor in the doorway. Once, just as they swung around the curve that hid the beautiful grounds from sight, she leaned out for one more look, then hastily pulled down her veil.

At the station, as they sat waiting for her train, Betty said, "I'll write every week and tell you all the news, but don't feel that you must answer regularly. I know how your time will be occupied. But I should like a postal now and then, telling me how Jack is. You know," she went on, stooping to retie her shoe, "he and I have been corresponding for some time, and I think of him as one of my oldest and best friends. I shall always be anxious for news of him."

Betty could fairly feel the surprise in Mary's face, even though she was stooping forward too far to see it, and she heard with inward amusement her astonished exclamations. "Well, of all things! I didn't know you were writing to each other! Jack never said a word about it, and yet he sent you a message nearly every time he wrote to me!"

She was still puzzling about it when her train was called, and she had to take leave of Betty. All too soon the last familiar face was out of sight, and the long, lonely journey home was begun.

It was near the close of the third day's journey when she remembered Phil's book and took it out of its wrappings. She was not in a reading humour, but time hung heavy, and he had said to open it when she reached the desert. Besides, she was a trifle curious to see what kind of a book he had chosen for her. It was a very small one. She could soon skim through it.

"The Jester's Sword" was the title. Not a very attractive subject for any one in her mood, she thought. It would be a sorry smile at best that the gayest of jesters could bring to her. She turned the leaves listlessly, then sat up with an air of attention. There on the title-page was a line from Stevenson, the very thing Madam Chartley had said to her the day she left Warwick Hall. "To renounce when that shall be necessary, and not be embittered."

Phil had chosen wisely after all if his little tale were to tell her how to do it. Then a paragraph on the first page claimed her attention. "Because he was born in Mars' month, the bloodstone became his signet, sure token that undaunted courage would be the jewel o f his soul."

Why, she and Jack were both born in Mars' month, and each had a bloodstone, and each had to answer to an awful call for courage. It was dear of Phil to choose such an appropriate story. Settling herself comfortably back in the seat, she began to read, never dreaming what a difference in all her after life the little tale was to make.

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