Mary Ware's Promised Land, Part 2, Chapter 6: Phil Walks In

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1912
Illustrated by John Goss

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Part II


MEANWHILE, Phil Tremont, on the outer edge of the big audience, looked in vain for Mary or for some one answering to the description she had given of Mrs. Blythe. Several times he shifted his seat, slipping farther around towards the stage. In one of the brief intervals between speeches, while the orchestra played, he questioned an usher, and found that Mrs. Blythe had not yet arrived, and that when she came she would probably wait in one of the wings until time to be introduced to the audience.

With an impatient glance at his watch he changed his seat once more, this time to one in the section nearest the stage, but still in a back row. He wanted to make sure of seeing Mary before she could see him. He decided that if she did not make her appearance by the time Mrs. Blythe arrived he would go back behind the scenes and look for her. Maybe Mrs. Blythe would station her there somewhere as prompter, for fear that she might forget her speech. If that were the case it would be a pity to distract the prompter's attention, but it was a greater pity that the few hours he had to spend with her should be wasted in idle waiting.

Several people who had glanced up admiringly at the handsome stranger when he took his seat, watched with interest his growing impatience. It was evident that he was anxiously waiting for some one, from the way he alternately scanned the entrance, looked at his watch and referred to the programme. When Mrs. Blythe's name on it was reached he leaned forward, clutching the back of the chair in front of him impatiently till the chairman came to the front of the stage.

The next instant such an audible exclamation of surprise broke from him that several rows of heads were turned inquiringly in his direction. He felt his face burn, partly from having attracted so much attention to himself, partly from the surprise of the moment. For following the chairman came not the dainty little Mrs. Blythe in her love of a new gown and the big plumed hat, but Mary herself. There was such a pounding in Phil's ears that he scarcely heard the chairman's explanation of Mrs. Blythe's absence, and his announcement that Miss Ware had brought a message from her to which they would now listen.

Several curious emotions possessed him in turn, after his first overwhelming surprise. One was a little twinge of resentment at her speaking in public. Not that he was opposed to other women doing it, but somehow he wished that she hadn't attempted it. Then he felt the anxiety and sense of personal responsibility one always has when a member of one's own family is in they limelight. No matter how competent he may be to rise to the occasion, there is always the lurking dread that he may fail to acquit himself creditably.

Phil had been thinking of Mary as he saw her that last morning in Bauer, all a-giggle and a-dimple and aglow, romping around the kitchen with Norman, till the tinware clattered on the walls. But it was a very different Mary who faced him now, with the old newspaper in her hand and the story of Dena's wrongs burning to be told on her lips. It is proof of how well she told it that her opening sentence brought a hush over the great audience and held it in absolute silence to the end. And yet she told it so simply, so personally, that it was as if she had merely opened a door into Diamond Row and bidden them see for themselves the windowless rooms, the mouldy walls, the slimy yards, Elsie Whayne and Dena, and the old grandmother fondling the sunny curls of little Terence.

When she finished, old judge Brown was wiping his eyes, and portly Doctor Haverhill was adding to the general din of applause by pounding on the floor with his gold-headed cane. The chairman rose to announce the last speaker on the programme, but Phil did not wait for anything more. He had seen Mary pick up the coat which she had left hanging on the chair behind the palms, and leave the platform. At the same time Sandford Berry started up from his place at the reporters' table and hurried after her.

Immediately Phil slipped from his seat and dashed down the aisle along the side wall, to the door leading into one of the wings. Not familiar with the back exits, he stumbled into several wrong passages before he found some one to start him in the right direction. Despite his haste, when he reached the street, Mrs. Blythe's automobile was just whirling away from the curbstone, and Sandford Berry was coming hack from putting Mary into it. He had the newspaper in his hand which she had brought from Diamond Row. It was for that he had hurried after her, promising to use it to good advantage and return it to her in the morning. She had refused at first, remembering old Mrs. Donegan's caution not to let it out of her hands, and it was that brief parley which held her long enough for Phil to reach the street and catch a fleeting glimpse of her.

He looked around for a taxicab or a carriage, but there was none in sight. A policeman on the next corner directed him to a trolley car, and told him where to transfer in order to reach Dudley Blythe's residence. As he swung up on to the platform of the car he looked at his watch again. It was half-past four o'clock. It was past five when he reached the house. A tie-up of cars on the track ahead was accountable for the delay.

Mary, in the machine and by a more direct route, had reached home nearly half an hour before. She found a trained nurse in attendance on Mr. Blythe. He had regained consciousness and, though still unable to speak, was so much better that they were sure of his ultimate recovery. Mrs. Blythe came out into the hall to tell her the good news.

"There's no need to ask you how you got through," she exclaimed, slipping an arm around her in an impulsive embrace.

"I know you did splendidly, and I'll be in your room in a few minutes to hear all about it. Now, run along and lie down awhile. You look so white and tired --- no wonder, after all you've been through to-day."

If Mary had been at the boarding-house she would have thrown herself down on the bed and gone without her supper. She felt so exhausted and collapsed. But under the circumstances she felt that the obligations of a guest required her to keep going. The evening meal was always somewhat of a formal affair here, but she decided not to dress for it as usual. Mr. Blythe's illness would change everything in that regard. She was so tired she would just bathe her face and brush her hair while she still had energy enough to move, and then would stretch out in the big lounging chair in the firelight, and be ready for Mrs. Blythe any time she might happen to come in. It took only a few moments to do all this, and just as she finished, Mrs. Blythe came in with a cup of hot tea.

"Drink it and don't say a word until you have finished," she ordered.

Mary obeyed the first part, sipping the tea slowly as she lay back luxuriously in the big chair, but she couldn't help commenting on the strange, strange day that had brought so many unexpected things to pass.

"Isn't it a blessed good thing," she exclaimed, "that we can't know when we get up in the morning all that the day has in store for us? You'd have been nearly crazy if you'd known all day that Mr. Blythe was going to have that stroke of paralysis, and I'd simply have gone up in the air if I had dreamed that I had to take your place on the programme. Nothing could have happened that would have surprised me more."

But even while she spoke a still greater surprise was in store for her. Both had heard the doorbell ring a moment before, but neither had paid any attention to it. Now the maid came in with a message for Mary.

"A gentleman in the library to see you, Miss Ware. He wouldn't give his name. He just said to tell you that he was an old friend passing through town, and that he couldn't go till he had seen you."

"Who can it be?" exclaimed Mary, pulling herself slowly up from the sleepy hollow chair, much puzzled.  "If it's an old friend, it must be some one from Lloydsboro Valley. Everybody else is too far away to drop in like that. But why didn't he send up his card, I wonder?"

"Probably because he wants to surprise you," answered Mrs. Blythe. "If it's any one you'd care to invite to dinner, feel perfectly free to do so."

With a word of thanks and a hasty peep into the mirror, Mary started down stairs, wondering at every step whom she would find. Time had been when she would have pictured an imaginary suitor waiting for her below, for it had been one of her pastimes when she was a child to manufacture such mythical personages by the score. What they were like depended on what she had just been reading. If fairy-tales, then it was a blond-haired prince who came to her on bended knee to kiss her hand and beg her to fly with him upon his coal-black steed to his castle. If she had been dipping into some forbidden novel like Lady Agatha's Career, then the fond suppliant was a haughty duke whom she spurned at first, but graciously accepted afterward. Through many a day-dream, slender lads and swarthy knights in armor, dauntless Sir Galahads and wicked St. Elmos had sued for her favor in turn, with long and fervent speeches. She did not know that there was any other way. And it had always been in moon-lighted gardens that these imaginary scenes took place, with nightingales singing in rose vines and jessamine arbors.

She had quit dreaming of such things since she came to Riverville. Romance had little place in the hard, sad world with which her work brought her in contact. So no such fancies passed through her mind now as she went down the stairs; nothing but a keen curiosity to know which of her old friends it was who waited below.

Dusk had fallen early that gray November evening, but the library was aglow with the cheerful light of an open fire. Some one stood before it, gazing down into the dancing flames, a tall, familiar figure, broad-shouldered and erect. There was no mistaking who it was waiting there in the gloaming. Only one person in .all the world had that lordly turn of the head, that alert, masterful air, and Mary acknowledged to herself with a disquieting throb of the pulses that he was the one person in the world whom of all others she wished most to see.

"Oh, Phil!" she cried happily from the doorway.

He had not heard her coming down the stairs and along the hall, so softly was it carpeted, but at the call he turned and came to meet her, both hands out, his handsome face suddenly radiant, as if the sight of her brought unspeakable pleasure. Not a word did he say as he reached out and took her hands in his and looked down into her upturned face. But his eyes spoke. Their very smile was a caress, and the strong, warm hands clasping hers closed over them as if they had just found something that belonged to them and were taking undisputed possession.

There was no need for him to tell her all that he had come to say. She felt it throbbing through the silence that was as solemn as a sacrament. Their eyes looked into each other's searchingly. Then, as if from the beginning of time they had been moving towards this meeting, he announced simply, "I've come for you, dear. I'm starting on a new trail now, and I can't go without you."

If that first hour of their betrothal had little need of words, there was call for much speech and many explanations before he bade her good night. Mary learned first, to her unbounded amazement, how near he had come to asking her to marry him more than two years before, when he parted from her in Bauer.

"But you were not mores than half-way grown up then," he said. "I realized it when I saw you romping around with Norman. I couldn't say anything then because it didn't seem fair to you. But I had to bind you in some way. That's why I made you promise what you did about letting men know if any other man ever crossed your trail. I wanted to claim you then and there and make sure of you, for I've always felt in some way or another we belonged to each other. I've felt that ever since I first knew you, Little Vicar."

There flashed across Mary's mind the remembrance of a conversation she had overheard on the porch at The Locusts one night, and of Phil's voice singing to Lloyd, to the accompaniment of a guitar

"Till the stars are old, 
And the sun grows cold,
And the leaves of the judgment 
         Book unfold."

But if the faintest spark of jealousy glowed in Mary's heart, it was extinguished at once and forever by another recollection --- a remark of Phil's as they once waited on the side-track together, going up to Bauer after the San Jacinto festival. It was just after she had confessed to the unconscious eavesdropping that made her a hearer of that song.

"Yes," he said, "that time will always be one of the sweetest and most sacred of my memories. One's earliest love always is, they say, like the first white violet in the spring. But --- there is always a summer after every spring, you know."

Who cares for one little violet of a bygone spring when the prodigal wealth of a whole wonderful summertime is being poured out for one? So when Phil said ,again musingly, "It does seem strange, 'how we've always belonged to each other, doesn't it?" Mary looked up with a twinkling smile to say:

"How could it be otherwise with Philip and Mary on a shilling?"And then she showed him the old English shilling which she wore on her watch-fob, the charm which she had drawn from Eugenia's wedding cake. To Phil's unbounded amusement she told the story of dropping it into the contribution plate that Christmas service, and getting lost in the streets of New York in trying to rescue it from the bank where it had been taken for deposit.

Chapter 5  Part II   Chapter 7 >