Mary Ware's Promised Land, Chapter 6: Told In Letters

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1912
Illustrated by John Goss

Return to Table of Contents

Part I


ON the way to the post-office next morning, Mary determined that if she should meet Pink there, as she sometimes did, not even the flicker of an eyelash should show that she remembered last night's conversation. But when she saw the back of a familiar fur overcoat through they post-office window, she felt the color rush into her face.

When she went in, not only was she conscious from his greeting that he remembered, but the look in his eyes said as plainly as words that the name which he kept for her alone had risen almost to his lips. It made her uncomfortable, but she was burning with curiosity to know what that name could be.

There were several people in the line ahead of her, and Pink emptied his locked box before her turn came at the window. She knew that he was waiting outside the door for her, so, when she passed him, she was purposely absorbed in opening the only letter which had fallen to her share. It was a tough-fibred envelope, hard to tear, and her heavily gloved hands made clumsy work of it.

Finally she thrust a forefinger under the flap and wrenched it apart. A ragged scrap of yellowed paper fluttered out on to the step. Pink stooped and handed it to her.

"Why, how queer! That's all there is in the envelope," she exclaimed, shaking it, then holding out the jagged bit of paper so that Pink could examine it with her. It was only a scrap torn from a sheet of music, or some old song-book. They read the bars together:

Oh! why art thou si-lent thou voice of my heart?

If Mary had not been so busy puzzling over why it had been sent, she would have seen a dull red creep into Pink's face, as he recognized it as a line from Kathleen Mavourneen, the song which he told Mary the night before he always regarded as hers.

Suddenly she laughed. "Of course! I see it now! It's just Phil's cute way of reminding me that I owe him a letter. Once, when Jack had not written for months, Phil called his attention to the silence by sending a postal with just a big question mark on it. But this is a much brighter way."

"Yeas, I see a few things too," said Pink stiffly. "I'd forgotten that that fellow down in Mexico is named Philip. So he's the only person in the world you consider the name belongs to -- and he calls you --- that!"

His finger pointed to the last five words under the bar of music.

"He's the only one I've ever known by that name," began Mary, surprised by the unaccountable change in his manner, and unaware that it was a swift flash of jealousy which caused it. To her amazement he turned abruptly and walked away without even a curt "good morning."

She glanced after him in surprise, wondering at his abrupt leave-taking. He was unmistakably offended about something. Sara Downs had told her more than once that he was the most foolishly sensitive person she had ever known, continually getting his feelings hurt over nothing, but this was the first time Mary had ever had an exhibition of his sensitiveness. Conscious that she had done nothing at which a reasonable person could take offence, she looked after him with a desire to shake him for such childishness. Then with a shrug of her shoulders she turned and started homeward.

"That was such a bright, original way for Phil to remind me," she thought, glancing again at the scrap of music. "And it is so absolutely silly of Pink to say in such a tragic tone, 'And he called you that!' There is nothing more personal in Phil's saying 'thou voice of my heart' than there would .be in his calling me 'Old Dog Tray' or a scrap of any other song. He's always roaring questions at people in the shape of bits of music. But, of course, Pink doesn't know that," she added a moment afterward, wanting to be perfectly honest in her judgment of him. "But even if he doesn't, it's none of his business what anybody calls me."

The episode, trifling as it was, made a difference in the answer that she sent to Phil. Instead of trying to reply to his questions seriously, as she had intended to do, she was so disdainful of Pink's behavior that she concluded to ignore all mention of him. As she passed the Moredock house, a phonograph, playing away inside for the amusement of little Don, brayed out a rag-time refrain: "I want what I want, when I want it!"

Suddenly they inspiration seized her to answer Phil's reminder of her silence in his own way. She would make a medley of fragments of songs. How to begin it puzzled her, for the only song she could think of, containing his name, was " Philip, my King," and she dismissed that immediately, as impossible. All the way home she whistled under her breath bits of old melodies, one suggesting another, until she had a long list, and she made haste to write them down, for fear she might forget. From the back of an old dog-eared guitar instructor, which she found in the book-case, she copied many titles of ballads, and among them came across the line, "Friend of my soul, the goblet sip." It was one which she know Phil was familiar with, for she remembered having heard him sing it at the Wigwam. So she promptly chose the first four words as the ones with which to commence. The first part of the letter ran somewhat after this fashion

                 "LONE - ROCK (NOT) BY THE SEA.

"FRIEND OF MY SOUL': - 'The day is cold and dark and dreary.!' 'In the gloaming,' 'The swallows homeward fly.' 'The daily question is,' 'What's this dull town to me?' 'Tell me not in mournful numbers' that 'I'd better bide a wee.'

'Oh,'tis not true!' 'I hear the angel voices calling' 'Where the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home,' and  'I want what I want when I want it.'"

It took an entire evening to evolve a letter which suited her, and although it was utter foolishness, she managed to give the news and to convey through the cleverly combined titles the fact that she was still struggling to get away from Lone-Rock, that there was no "swain amang the train" to keep her from "going back to Dixie" "in the sweet bye and bye." She also found a way to make complimentary mention of Bonnie Eloise.

That was the last evening, however, which she devoted to trivial things for many weeks. For Jack came home next noon greatly troubled over conditions at the office. The bookkeeper was down with pneumonia. There was no one who could step into his place but Jack, and he already had his hands full with his own responsibilities and duties.

"It is the correspondence which worries me most," he said. "We haven't had enough of that kind of work, so far, to justify us hiring a stenographer, but some days the mail is so heavy that it keeps me pounding on the typewriter an hour or more. Now, Mary, if you had only added shorthand to your many accomplishments, there'd be a fine chance for you to help hold the fort till Bailey gets well."

"I can help do it, anyhow," she declared promptly. "I know how business letters ought to sound--- 'Yours of recent date' and 'enclosed herewith please find' and all that sort of thing. I can scratch off in pencil a sort of outline of what you want said, and then take my time copying it on the machine."

Past experience had taught the family that whenever Mary attempted anything with the eagerness with which she proposed this plan, she always carried it through triumphantly, and Jack's face showed his relief as he promptly accepted her offer.

"No use for you to come down this afternoon," he said. "I'll be too busy looking after other things to give any time to letters."

"But I can be making the acquaintance of the machine," answered Mary. "Madam Chartley's stenographer learned to run hers simply by studying the book of instructions. And if it won't bother you to hear me clicking away I'll put in the whole afternoon practising."

So when Jack went back to the office, Mary went with him, happy and excited over this unexpected entrance into the world of Business.

"Who knows but what this may be a stepping-stone into a successful career?" she exclaimed. "Why didn't I think of applying to you for a position in the very beginning? It would have saved a world of worry and disappointment, and a small fortune in postage stamps."

He had time for only a short explanation of the machine before he was called away, but the book of instructions was clear and concise. She studied the illustrations and diagrams for awhile with her whole attention concentrated on them. Accustomed to picking up new crochet stitches and following intricate patterns from printed directions, it was an easy matter for her to master the intricacies of the new machine. Several times she stopped Jack in passing to ask him a question about some movement or adjustment, but in the main she experimented until she could answer her own questions.

In a little while she could shift the ribbon or flip a sheet of paper in and out with the ease of an expert. Then she began studying the keyboard, to learn the position of the letters, and after that it was only a question of practice to gain speed. Fingers that had learned nimbleness and accuracy of touch in other fields, did not lag long here. Hour after hour she sat at the machine, practising finger exercises as patiently as if the keys were the ivories of a grand piano.

The next letter which she sent to Phil, some days later, was such a contrast to the musical medley that it did not seem possible that they had been written by the same person.

             "LONE - ROCK, ARIZONA, April 2d."
     "Necaxa, Mexico.

"DEAR SIR: Your favor of the 24th ult. duly received and contents noted. I am much gratified with your reference to my last epistle, and your hearty encore, but I can give no more muscial monologues at present. I am engaged as Corresponding Secretary in the office of the Lone-Rock Mining Company. Corresponding Secretary may be too grand a name to give my humble position, but it comes nearer to describing it than any that I can think of.

"First I came in just to help Jack out, while his chief was away and the bookkeeper ill. I helped him with the correspondence and all sorts of odds and ends, and between times practised typewriting, till now I can take dictation on the machine when he speaks at a moderately slow pace.

"Yesterday he received a telegram calling him East to a special directors' meeting, to report on something unexpected that has recently developed out here. So I'm to stay on at the office while he is gone, on a salary! A very modest one it is to be sure, but it is bliss to feel that at last I have found a paying position, no matter how small it is. Isn't it queer? Lone-Rock is the last place on the planet where a girl like me would expect to find anything of the sort to do. Mr. Headley, the chief, is back, of course, or Jack couldn't leave, and I'm watching my opportunity to make myself so useful around the office that they'll all wonder how they ever 'kept house' so long without me.

"Mr. Bailey's pneumonia has been blessed to me if not to him, for it has broken the spell, or hoodoo, or whatever it was that thwarted all my efforts. Fortune's 'turn' is slowly approaching. Let it come when it will I can now meet it like the winged spur of me ancestors, with the cry 'Ready! Aye, ready!'

"Trusting that this explanation is satisfactory, and that we may be favored by a reply at your earliest convenience, I have the honor to remain,

"Yours very truly,


"(P. S. I must ask you to observe the very tasty manner in which this is typed.)"

The next letter from Mary to Phil was hastily scribbled in pencil.

"DEAR PHIL: --- Jack came home yesterday with a bit of news for the Ware family, which set it into a wild commotion, to say the least. Nobody but the, family is to know it for awhile, but I am going to tell you because you're sort of  'next of kin.' Jack said I might, but you mustn't send your congratulations until you are officially notified.

"When Jack went East to that directors' meeting he stopped over Sunday in Lloydboro Valley, and Betty was home from Warwick Hall on her Easter vacation, and he saw her again, and well they're engaged! Isn't it perfectly lovely? I've known for a long time that they have been corresponding. They began it over me while I was at Warwick Hall. It will probably be a long time before they are married. Betty will finish teaching this term at Warwick Hall and then go back to Locust for awhile. Jack is to be promoted to Mr. Headley's place next fall, and I think the grand event will take place the following spring, a year from now.

"You know Betty, and what a perfectly darling saint she is, so I needn't tell you how the entire family rejoices over Jack's good fortune, although we do think too, that she is equally fortunate to have Jack and --- us. Don't you?"

It was May before another letter found its way from Lone-Rock to the little station up in the mountains of Mexico, to which Phil sent a daily messenger on mule-back for his mail. Mary wrote it in the office while waiting for Jack to come in again and go on with his dictation. It had been interrupted in the middle by some outside matter which called him away from his desk for nearly an hour.

"No," she began, "I must confess that it isn't lack of time which has kept me so long from answering your last letter, but merely lack of news. Mr. Bailey is back at his post now as good as new after his spell of pneumonia. I had a busy month while he was out, but now there isn't enough for me to do to justify their keeping me more than an hour or so each morning.

"I am glad to have that much of a position however, for it adds a trifle every week to my bank account, and breaks into the monotony of the days more than you can imagine. I come down just after the morning train gets in and stay long enough to attend to the day's correspondence. Usually it takes about an hour.

"I haven't written for some time because there was nothing to tell. Of course the mountains are beautiful in this perfect May weather, but you wouldn't want to read pages of description. There has been nothing going on socially since the Valentine party. Pink Upham used to stir up things quite often, but he seems to be very much absorbed in his business lately, and I rarely see him. Occasionally I go for a tramp up the mountains with Norman and Billy, and we went fishing twice last week, and cooked our lunch on the creek bank.

"But if we are not doing things ourselves we are enjoying the activities of our friends. Have I ever told you that Lieutenant Boglin is now in the Philippines? He sent me a bunch of photographs from there last week that make me wild to see the place. And Roberta is abroad with her family and is having adventures galore in London.

"Gay is having all sorts of good times at the post, and even old Mr. and Mrs. Barnaby up in Bauer are planning for a trip to the Pacific coast.

"Joyce and Miss Henrietta have shut up the studio for a few weeks, and have gone to Tours to join Cousin Kate and sketch awhile in that lovely chateau region. And that reminds me of the question you asked in your last letter about Jules Ciseaux. I wonder how you happened to think of him. He came to America last year just as he had expected to do, but he got no farther than New York. Joyce told us all about him when she was home last Christmas. She says he has grown up to be a wonderfully interesting young fellow, slim and dark, with a most distinguished air and courtly manner. Something called him back to France before he made his Western trip, and he lamented to her that he could not meet her 'young sister Marie,' whom he 'pictured to be most charming and accomplished.' But I suppose it's destined that we shall never see each other, for he's married now to a little artist whom he met in Paris when he was studying there. He came across her again in New York, and Joyce says she knows now that that is  what took him back again so suddenly to Paris. The girl was just starting, and he took passage on the same steamer. They are living now in the home of his ancestors behind the great Gate of the Giant Scissors, and Joyce was entertained there at dinner one night, and was charmed with young Mrs. Jules. She says they are as happy as two Babes in Candyland.

"Oh, I've just thought --- I am doing something, although it may not appeal to your masculine mind as anything worth mentioning. Mamma and I are both at work on some beautiful embroidery for Betty. It is so fine and intricate that we can only do a little at a time, but it is a labor of love, like the touches the old monks used to put on their illuminated missals. Nothing can be too fine and dainty for our dear Betty, and we are counting the months until we can really claim her. Do you suppose you will be back in the States by that time? I truly hope so. In the meantime don't forget your old friends of the Wigwam days, and especially, this member of the House of Ware."

Chapter 5   Part I   Chapter 7 >