Mary Ware's Promised Land, Part 2, Chapter 8: How It All Ended

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1912
Illustrated by John Goss

Return to Table of Contents

Part II


WHEN Mary's letter with the ring reached Phil, he was making preparations to leave New York that very day. Mr. Sherman had offered him a partnership in one of his enterprises, with headquarters in Louisville. It was a very flattering offer, still Phil hesitated. Personally, he preferred the position in the far West, which his former chief had been urging him all winter to accept. His previous training fitted him for one as well as the other, but he had always loved the West, always felt its lure.

It was when he considered Mary, that Mr. Shearman's offer appealed to him most. When he thought of the radiant delight with which she would receive the news that they could cross over and take possession of her long-desired land, he was almost persuaded to choose Kentucky, for that one reason alone. He was fully persuaded the morning her letter arrived, and had just telegraphed Mr. Sherman that he was starting for Louisville to arrange matters at once.

It was well for both Phil and Mary that he had known her so long and understood so thoroughly the ins and outs of her honest little heart. This was not the first time that he had known her to make some renunciation for conscience' sake, and although the letter, in his own forcible parlance, "gave him a jolt" for an hour or so, after several readings he folded it up with a smile and slipped it into the package with the others marked "From the Little Vicar."

He hadn't the faintest intention of being "renounced." Moreover, he was positive that he had only to see her and urge a few good arguments in his favor, which would convince her that he would never be in the way of what she considered her duty.

But a very tender regard lay under his smile of amusement, for the attitude she had taken, and a feeling of reverence possessed him as he saw her in the new light which this revelation of her spiritual life gave him." Nobody is good enough for little Mary Ware," he had said once, when she was a romping child. Ha was thinking of her unselfishness, her sturdy sincerity, her undaunted courage. Now he repeated it, thinking of her as this letter revealed her, a white-souled vestal maiden who took the stars as a symbol of her duty, and who would not swerve a hair's-breadth from the orbit which she thought was heaven appointed.

Knowing that he could reach her almost as quickly as a letter, and confident that a personal interview would be a thousand-fold more effective, Phil did not write. But he took the first train to Louisville, and after a few days with Mr. Sherman left for Riverville, armed with an argument and a promise which he was sure would carry weight in his behalf. The argument was that he needed her. He was about to take charge of an important business entrusted to him, and he could not do it half so well without the inspiration of the little home she had agreed to help him make. The promise was that marrying him should not interfere with what she considered her tryst. She should have his hearty help and cooperation in trying to, do for any state which they might move to, what Mrs. Blythe was doing for hers.

All this and much more he said in the first impetuous words of meeting, and almost before Mary had recovered from the overwhelming surprise of seeing him, the ring was back on her finger and she was listening to the plans which he rapidly outlined to her. He wasn't going to give her a chance to change her mind again, he insisted. There was no reason why they should not be married right there in the library the following day, as soon as he could make the necessary arrangements.

"Oh, but there is a reason," gasped Mary, aghast at the sudden demand. Then she hesitated, loath to tell what it was. For though it was a weighty one with her, she knew that he would smile at it as childish. But, after all, it was easier to confess to Phil than any one else. He seemed to understand perfectly what she meant, even when the words halted and failed to express her innermost feelings.

So, presently, she found herself explaining to him that it had always been one of her beliefs from the time of hear earliest knowledge of such things, that one couldn't properly be a bride without a certain ceremony of preparation. The filling of a dower chest was one part of it, and the setting of infinite stitches, each as perfect as a tiny pearl, in much "fair and broidered raiment" was another. The princesses in the fairy tales did their fine needlework to the accompaniment of songs upon a lute; so one set stitches in one's wedding garments, to the romance of fancies --- and so---

She did not finish coherently, but Phil laughed and said teasingly that he ought to have known that any one, who, as a child, wept to wear her rosebud sash out walking on the desert, where there were only owls and jack-rabbits to see it, would insist on veils and trails and things at a time like this. He wouldn't wait for the filling of a dower chest. She could do that afterward; but he was finally induced to wait for the other things, when Mrs. Blythe was brought into the discussion and pronounced them actually necessary.

He went back to Louisville without telling Mary of his arrangement with Mr. Sherman which had changed all his plans. The home he had written so much about would be ready for her, but it would not be in the far West, as she expected. He could hardly wait for the day to come when he could witness her delight over the tremendous surprise which he had in store for her.

It was not many weeks before he had the pleasure of telling her, but it was over two months before she made a record of it in her diary. Then she wrote:

"There is room for just one more chapter in my Good Times book, and when that is finished it is to be laid away in the chest with my wedding gown and bridal roses. Maybe, a hundred years from now, some young girl rummaging through the attic may find my beautiful dress all yellowed with time, and the rose, leaves dried and scentless. But I am sure my happiness will call to her from these pages like a living voice as young as hers.

"And when she sees how this record is blistered with tears in places, and reads how Disappointment and Duty and even Death rose up to 'close all the roads of all the world' to me, then she'll take 'heart of grace' if she is in any desert of waiting herself. For she'll see how true it is that Love's road is always open, and that if we only keep inflexible it will finally lead to the land of our desire. For here I am at last in Lloydsboro Valley.

"It has been more than two months since Phil and I were married at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Riverville, but I have been too busy to write the chronicles of that important affair. No one was there but Mr. and Mrs. Dudley Blythe. Dear old Bishop Chartley came down for the ceremony. His warm friendship with Mrs. Blythe made that arrangement possible. It was late in the afternoon, and the great stained-glass windows made it seem like twilight, and down the long dim aisles the altar candles gleamed like stars.

"I had thought at first that the vast place would seem empty and lonesome, and that it would be queer not to have the pews filled with friendly faces at a time like that. But when I went down the aisle I wasn't conscious of empty pews. The glorious organ music filled it, clear to the vaulted ceiling. And although Phil had teased me about not wanting to wear an ordinary travelling dress and hat, he had to acknowledge afterward that he was glad I chose to come to him all in white and in a filmy tulle veil. And he said some dear things about the way I looked, that were as sweet to me as the rose leaves I have scattered among the folds of my wedding gown's white loveliness. I have not put what he said into these pages for the girl to find a century from now. For fashions change so curiously that maybe she would smile and say how very queer my old-time garments are, and wonder how any man could have made a pretty speech about them.

"Phil proved he had some sentiment about such things himself, for soon after he bought me a real 'Ginevra' chest, all beautifully carved, with my name engraved on the brass plate on the lid: 'Mary Ware Tremont.'

"Not until we were aboard the train, and he showed me our tickets marked Loydsboro Valley, did I know that we were bound for Kentucky, instead of the far West, and not until we were almost there did he spring his grand surprise, although he was nearly choking with impatience to tell. Of course I hadn't expected that we would set up much of an establishment. I supposed that wherever we went we would rent a modest little cottage, probably in the suburbs. I knew that Phil couldn't afford much. He never began to save anything at all until two years ago. He confessed when he first came back from Mexico that it was a lecture of mine about providing a financial umbrella for a possible rainy day which started him to doing it, and that as expenses were light in the construction camp, and his pay very large, he had put by enough to take us through almost anything, short of a cloudburst. But that was an emergency fund, of course, and not to be invested in houses and lands.

"He never told me that the tangle about his Great-aunt Patricia's holdings in England, whatever that may be, had been straightened out at last, and that his share, paid to him recently, was over five thousand pounds.

"That was the first part of the surprise. The second was that he had bought (mark that word, whoever you are, oh, little maiden of the far-off future, if you ever come across this record of happiness) --- he had bought a home in Lloydsboro Valley. He had the deed in his pocket, and he showed how it was made out to me!

"Well, when the time comes for me 'to read my title clear to mansions in the skies,' I may be happier than I was that moment, but I doubt it. I don't see how it could be possible. And when I got it through my bewildered brain that it was Green Acres that was meant by all the queer measurements and descriptions in the deed, I lost my head altogether, and Phil had the satisfaction of seeing that his surprise was absolute, supreme and overpowering. It secured too good to be true.

"Green Acres is just across the road from Oaklea. The grounds don't make you think of a big, stately park as Oaklea does. It is more countrified. But it is the dearest, most homelike, inviting old place that one can imagine. I had been there several times with Lloyd and Mrs. Sherman, and remembered it as a real picture-book sort of house, with its low gables and quaint casement windows. I remembered that it had a garden gay as Grandmother Ware's, with its holly-hocks and prince's feathers, its marigolds and yellow roses; and that it had mint and sage and all sorts of spicy, savory things in some of its borders. But I didn't know half of its charms. Now, after two months, I am just beginning to discover the extent of them.

"When a family has owned a place for three generations, as the Wyckliffes did Green Acres, and have spent their time making it livable and lovable, the result leaves little more to be wished for. The hillside that slopes down from the back of the house has a small orchard on part of it and a smaller vineyard on the other, but both quite ample for our needs. Down at the bottom a little brook trickles along from a cold spring, and watercress and forget-me-nots grow along its edges. The apple trees are in bloom now. This morning I spent a whole hour up in the gnarly crotch of one of them doing nothing but enjoying to the fullest the sweetness of their white and pink glory.

"When we came only the early wildflowers were out, but all the knoll between the gate and the house looked as if there had been a snowfall of anemones and spring beauties. It isn't possible to put into black and white the joy of that first home-coming. We walked up from the station, and when we went through the great gate and heard it click behind us, shutting us in on our own grounds, we turned and  looked at each other and laughed like delighted children. It was as if we had reached that land that we used to sing about, where

     "'Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood 
       Stand dressed in living green.'

No wonder they named the place Green Acres!

"We left the wide driveway that winds around the hill to the house, and took the little path that leads straight up to it under the trees. The footpath to peace, Phil calls it.

"There was smoke coming out of the kitchen chimney, for Lloyd and Mrs. Sherman had been in the secret and had helped Phil as industriously as the two genii of the Bottle to get everything ready. He had bought some of the furniture with the house, some they had helped him choose and some they waited for me to select myself. But there was enough to make the place livable right away, and there wasn't a room in the house that didn't look comfortable and inviting.

"And there was May Lily installed in they kitchen as temporary cook, and perfectly willing to stay if I wanted her. As if there could beg any question as to that! If there was anything needed to make it seem more homelike than it already was, I found it when we started out to explore the back premises. A fussy old hen, with her feathers all fluffed out importantly, was clucking and scratching for a brood of downy yellow chickens, just out of the shell. Old Mom Beck had sent them over as a wedding present, May Lily said.

"When we had been all through the orchard and down to the spring, and had discovered the rows of currant ,and gooseberry bushes at the end of the garden, Phil said in a careless off-hand way that we might as well take a look through the barn. By this time I had exhausted my whole stock of exclamations, so I hadn't another word left when he led me up to a stall, where stood one of the prettiest bay saddle horses I ever saw in my whole life. That was Father Tremont's present to me.

"'Daddy didn't know what would please you most,' Phil said, 'but I remembered the pleasure you used to take in old Washington out at the Wigwam, and Lloyd insisted that you would like a riding horse better than anything else. She rides every day herself, and was sure you would enjoy joining her on her gallops across country.'

"Well, by that time, being speechless, all I could do was to put my arms around the beautiful creature's satiny neck and cry a bit into her glossy mane. The sheer happiness of having so many of my cherished dreams come true all at once was too much for me. Her name was Silver-wings, but from that moment I called her Joy.

"All afternoon I kept discovering things. When. we sat down to dinner that night, our first meal together (Lloyd had told May Lily exactly what to do), a lot of the silver was marked Tremont, for the doctor had divided all of Aunt Patricia's silver that came down from her grandfather's family equally among Elsie and Stuart and Phil. But there were some beautiful pieces from Lloyd and the old Colonel, and Mr. and Mrs. Sherman. Stuart and Eugenia had sent quantities of fine table linen.

"The last surprise of the day was the housewarming. Everybody had stayed away till then, to let us have time to 'spy out the land and possess it.'  Lloyd and Rob were the first to come over, then Gay and Alex Shelby. They have just gone to housekeeping in the Lindsey cabin. Every old friend in the Valley came before the evening was over, and gave us a royal welcome, as warm and heartening as the blaze which we started in the big fireplace. When the Colonel went away he quoted from the Hanging of the Crane,

"Oh, fortunate, oh, happy day 
When a new household has its birth 
Amid the myriad homes of earth.'

"He said that Green Acres had always been the synonym for whole-souled hospitality, but that we had even surpassed its best traditions.

"There isn't room for much more in this little book; only a few pages are left, so I can't crowd into it all the good times of the last two months, but I must make mention of the delightful rides I have had with Lloyd, and the times when she and Gay and I have spent the day together in good old Valley fashion. Just to be this near my Princess Winsome and to see her daily is a constant joy. She is lovelier and more winsome than she ever was before.

"I must put on record that I have proved what Mrs. Blythe said to be true about the light from happy home windows being the best guide for benighted travellers, and that social influence counts so greatly in the work we are trying to do. Already I am beginning to see that as Mistress of Green Acres I shall be able to accomplish far more than little Mary Ware ever did. Of course, that might not be possible if Phil were not in hearty sympathy with what I want to do. But he is thoroughly interested himself.

"The other night at the Moores I overheard him discussing Housing Reform with judge Abbott of Lexington, as warmly as Mrs. Blythe could have done. Finally the whole dinner party took it up, and Mrs. Abbott said that her club had been interested in the subject for some time, and all they need is for some one to take the initiative. The Abbotts were staying several days with Lloyd and Rob, so next night I had them over here. After dinner I took them up into my 'Place of the Tryst.' Of course, I don't call it that to anybody but Phil, and he has dubbed it the Chamber of Horrors.

"It's just a big empty room up in one of the gables. There is nothing in it but a desk and a table and some chairs and the typewriter that I bought with the check which Jack sent me. But around the walls are copies of the photographs we used as posters in Riverville to arouse the public, and had hanging in the corridors of the State House all during the session of the Legislature. They are the very worst tenement views we could get, like that basement in Diamond Row, and some of the windowless rooms taken by flashlight.

"Judge Abbott said he knew that there are places every bit as bad in Lexington and Frankfort and Covington, and Mr. Sherman and Alex Shelby said there were scores even worse in Louisville. Miss Allison told some experiences a friend of hers had in exploring alleys in some of the smaller towns, and presently the whole little company, representing several different parts of the state, were all ablaze from that one touch of Mrs. Blythe's torch.

"When I first fitted up the room, Phil said that it didn't seem right that a Chamber of Horrors should have a place in such a perfect home. But I told him that we needed it to keep us from 'joining ourselves to idols,' as Ephraim did. That is the danger that always menaces people when they get over into their Promised Land. We might be tempted to think so much of our dear possessions that we'd make idols of them sure enough, and forget all about the work we had pledged ourselves to do. No one has a right to settle down to the full possession and full enjoyment of any Canaan, until he has put to flight every Hittite and Gittite that preys upon its internal peace.

"They all seemed surprised to see my typewriter, but I told them how I had used Mrs. Blythe's, and that this one is dedicated to the same cause. That I expected to write hundreds of letters just as soon as I found out who were the most influential people to address. Right then and there the movement started. Every man there promised me a list of his personal acquaintances who had big influence, and said he'd gladly put his signature to any letter or petition that would help get what we wanted. Lloyd and Miss Allison are both members of the Women's Club in Louisville, and they asked me to join, and are as enthusiastic as heart could wish.  Judge Abbott took a copy of Mrs. Blythe's bill to look it over and see how it could be amended to put before the Kentucky Legislature, so already I feel that something has been accomplished. It is something just to get a start.

"Once, long ago, the old Colonel remarked that I had it in my power to become an honor to my sex and one of the most interesting women of my generation. My family used to quote it to me to tease me, on all occasions, but for years it was one of my highest ambitions to become what he had prophesied. It is something else that I crave now.

"I write it here on the last page and lay it away under the white tulle and the rose leaves, for someone to bring to light long years from now. It will be the crowning happiness of my happy life, if she who reads may chance to have heard that my wish found fulfilment. For then she can add 'She was a blessing to her generation and a torch that helped to light the way for all who came after her."'


Chapter 7   Part II