Mary Ware's Promised Land, Chapter 1: A Seeker Of New Trails

by Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

Published 1912
Illustrated by John Goss




WHEN the Ware family boarded the train in San Antonio that September morning for their long journey back to Lone-Rock, every passenger on the Pullman straightened up with an appearance of interest. Somehow their arrival had the effect of a breath of fresh air blowing through the stuffy car. Even before their entrance some curiosity had been awakened by remarks which floated in from the rear platform, where they were bidding farewell to some friends who had come to see them off.

"Do write and tell us what your next adventures are, Mary," exclaimed one clear voice. "Your family ought to be named Gulliver instead of Ware, for you are always travelling around to such queer, out-of-the-way places. I suppose you haven't the faintest idea where you'll be six months from now."

"No, nor where I'll be in even six weeks," came the answer, in a laughing girlish treble ."As I told the Mallory twins when we left Bauer, I'm like 'Gray Brother' now, snuffing at the dawn wind and asking where shall we lair to-day. From now I follow new trails. And, girls, I wish you could have heard Brud's mournful little voice piping after me down the track, as the train pulled out, 'Good hunting, Miss Mayry! Good hunting!'"

"Oh, you'll have that, no matter where you go," was the confident answer. "And don't forget to write and tell us about it."

A chorus of good-byes and farewell injunctions followed this seeker of new trails into the car, and the passengers glanced up to find that she was a bright, happy-looking girl in her teens. She carried a sheaf of roses on one arm, and some new magazines under the other. One noticed first the alertness of the face under the stylish hat with its bronze quills, and then the girlish simplicity of dress and manner which showed at a glance that she was a thorough little gentlewoman. Her mother, who followed, gave the same impression; gray-gowned, gray-gloved, bearing a parting gift of sweet violets, all that she could carry, in both hands.

One literal minded woman who had overheard Mary's remarks about lairs and new trails, and who had been on the watch for something wild all across the state of Texas, looked up in disappointment. There was nothing whatever in their appearance to suggest that they had lived in queer places or that they were on their way to one now. The fifteen year old boy who followed them was like any other big boy in short trousers, and the young man who brought up the rear and was undeniably good to look at, gave not the slightest evidence of being on a quest for adventure. The only reason the woman could see for the name of Gulliver being applied to the family, was that they settled themselves with the ease and dispatch of old travellers.

While Jack was hanging up his mother's coat, and Norman storing their suit-cases away in one section, Mary, in the seat across the aisle, was pressing her face against the window-pane, watching for a parting glimpse of the friends, when they should pass through the station gate. A sudden tapping on the glass outside startled her, and the next instant she was exclaiming excitedly to her elder brother, "Oh, quick, Jack! Put up the window, please. It's Gay and Roberta! They're still waiting out there!"

As the window flew up, and Mary's head was thrust out, passengers on that side of the car saw two young girls standing on tiptoe to speak to her. The one with beautiful auburn hair called out breathlessly, "Oh, Mary! Bogey's coming! Pray that the train will stand one more minute!" And the other, the one with curly lashes and mischievous mouth, chimed in, "He's bringing an enormous box of candy! Mean thing, to come so late that we can't have even a nibble!"

Then those looking out saw a young fellow in lieutenant's uniform sprint through the gate, down the long station and across half a dozen tracks to reach the place where Roberta and Gay stood like excited guide-posts, wildly pointing out the window, and beckoning him to hurry. Red-faced and panting, he brought up beside them with a hasty salute, just as the wheels began turning and the long train started to puff slowly out of the station. There was only time to thrust the box through the window ,and hastily clasp the little gloved hand held out to him.

"Say good-bye to the others for me," he called, trotting along beside the moving train. "Sorry I was late. I had a lot of things to tell you. I'll have to write them."

"Do," called Mary, "and let me know---" But he was no longer in hearing distance and the sentence was left unfinished.

When she drew in her head there was a deeper color in her face and such shining pleasure in her eyes, that every fellow traveller who had seen the little byplay, knew just what delight the lieutenant's parting attention had given her. More than one watched furtively with a sort of inward smiling as she opened the box and passed it around for the family to share and admire.

One person, especially, found entertainment in watching her. He was the elderly, spectacled gentleman in the section behind her. He was an illustrator for a well-known publishing house, and Mary would have counted her adventures well begun, could she :have known who was sitting behind her, and that one of his famous cover designs was on the very magazine which lay open on her lap. Well for her peace of mind that she did not know what he proceeded to do soon after her arrival. Producing a pencil and drawing pad from his satchel, he made a quick sketch of her, as she sat sideways in her seat, carrying on an animated conversation with Jack.

The artist smiled as he sketched in the jaunty quills of the hat, perked at just the right angle to make an effective picture. He was sure that they gave the key-note to her character.

"They have such an effect of alertness and 'go,'" was his inward comment. "It's sensible of her to know that this style gives her distinction, while those big floppy affairs everybody wears nowadays would have made just an ordinary looking girl of hear."

He would have been still more positive that the hat gave the key-note of her character, if he had seen the perseverance and ingenuity that had gone towards its making. For she had been her own milliner. Two other hats had been ripped to pieces to give her material for this, and the stylish brown quills which had first attracted his attention, had been saved from the big bronze turkey which had been sent to them from the Barnaby ranch for their Christmas dinner.

Before he had made more than an outline, the porter came by with a paper bag, and Mary whisked her hat off her head and into the bag, serenely unconscious that thereby she was arresting the development of a good picture.

Later, when Jack changed to the seat facing Mary, and with his elbow on the window ledge and chin propped on his fist sat watching the flying landscape, the illustrator made a sketch of him also. This time he did not stop with a bare outline. What had seemed just a boyish face at first glance, invited his careful study. Those mature lines about the mouth, the firm set of the lips, the serious depths of the grave gray eyes, certainly belonged to one who had known responsibilities and struggles, and, in some way, he felt, conquest. He wondered what there had been in the young fellow's life to leave such a record. The longer he studied the face the better he liked it.

The whole family seemed unusually well worth knowing, he concluded after a critical survey of Norman and his mother, who sat in the opposite section, entertaining each other with such evident interest that it made him long for some one to talk to himself. Tired by his two days' journey and bored by the monotony of his surroundings, he Yawned, stretched himself, and rising, sauntered out to the rear platform of the observation car. Here, some time later, Norman found him smoking and was drawn into conversation with the stranger, who seemed to have a gift for asking questions.

The conversation was confined principally to the different kinds of wild animals and snakes to be found in the state of Texas, and to an amateur "zoo" which Norman had once owned in Lone-Rock, the mining camp in Arizona that they were now going back to. But incidentally the interested artist learned that Jack had been assistant manager of the mines. That accounted for the mature lines of his face. They stood for responsibilities bravely shouldered. Ha had been almost killed by an accident which would have crushed several Mexican workmen had he not risked his own life for theirs. He had been ordered to a milder climate, hence their recent sojourn in Texas. They had supposed he would always be a helpless cripple, but, by an almost miraculous operation, he had been restored, and was now going back to take his old position.

Norman himself intended to be a mining engineer, he told the stranger when questioned. He had already begun to take a practical course under the chief at the office. Mathematics came easy to him. The other studies, which he thought unnecessary, but which his family insisted upon, he recited to the minister. He, and another boy, Billy Downs. There were only a few white boys of his age in Lone-Rock.

"What does your sister do for entertainment?" asked his questioner, recalling the vivacious little face under the hat with the saucy bronze quills. "Doesn't she find it rather lonely there?"

"Why, no!" answered Norman in a surprised tone. "A place just naturally quits being lonesome when Mary gets into it, and she does so many things that nobody can ever guess what she's going to think of doing next."

Probably it was because he had a daughter of his own, who, not possessing Mary's rare gift, demanded constant amusement from her family, that he turned his spectacled gaze on her with deepened interest when he went back into the car, and many times during the rest of the time that they journeyed together. She crossed the aisle to sit with her mother the greater part of the afternoon, so he heard nothing of the conversation which appeared to be of absorbing interest to them both.

But the woman who had been on the watch for something wild all the way across the state, deliberately arranged to hear as much of it as she could.  A scrap or two that reached her above the noise of the train made her prick up her ears. She changed her seat so that she sat back to back with Mrs. Ware and Mary. Eavesdropping on the train was perfectly justifiable, she told her uneasy conscience, because there was no personal element in it. Of course she couldn't do it at home, but it was different among strangers. All the world was a stage when one travelled, and the people one met on a journey were the actors one naturally looked to to help pass the time. So she sat with her eyes closed, because riding backward always made her dizzy, and her head so close to the back of Mary's that the bronze quills would have touched her ear had Mary turned an inch or two farther around in her seat.

Presently she gathered that this interesting young girl was about to go out into the wide, wide world to make her fortune, and that she had a list of teachers' agencies and employment bureaus to which she intended applying as soon as she reached home. From various magazines given her to read on the way, she had cut a number of advertisements which she wanted to answer, but her mother objected to most of them. She did not want her to take a place among strangers as governess, companion, social secretary, mother's helper, reader for a clipping bureau or shopping agent.

You are too young, Mary," she insisted. "One never knows what one is getting into in strange families. Now, that position in a Girls' Winter Camp in Florida does not seem so objectionable, because they give teachers at Warwick Hall as reference. You can easily find out all about it. But there is no real reason why you should go away this winter. Now that Jack has his position again and we are all well and strong we can live like lords at Lone-Rock on his salary. At least, "she added, smiling, "it must seem like lords to some of the families in the camp. And he can save a little each month besides."

"But, mother dear, "answered Mary, a distressed frown puckering her smooth forehead. "I don't want to settle down for Jack to take care of me. I want to live my own life --- to see something of the world. You let Joyce go without objecting."

"Yes, to make an artist of herself. But somehow that was different. She had a definite career mapped out. Her work is the very breath of life to her, and it would have been wrong to hold her when she has such undoubted talent. But you see, Mary, your goal is so vague. You haven't any great object in view. You're willing to do almost anything for the sake of change. I verily believe you'd like to try each one of those positions in turn, just for the novelty of the experiences, and the opportunity of meeting all those different kinds of people."

Mary nodded emphatically. "Oh, I would! I'd love it!" Then she laughed at her mother's puzzled expression.

"You can't understand it, can you? Your whole brood is turning out to be the kind that pines to be 'in the swim' for itself. Still, you didn't cluck distractedly when Joyce went to New York and Holland into the Navy, and you followed Jack up here when he struck out for himself, and you know Norman's chosen work is liable to take him anywhere on the face of the globe. So I don't see why you should cluck at me when I edge off after the others."

Mrs. Ware smiled into the merry eyes waiting for their answer. "I'm not trying to stop you entirely," she replied.  "I'm only warning you to go slowly and to be very careful. As long as there is nothing especial you have set your heart on accomplishing, it seems unwise to snatch at the first chance that offers. You're very young yet, remember, only eighteen."

Mary made no answer for several minutes. Down in her heart was the feeling that some day her life would mean far more to the world than Joyce's career as an artist or Holland's as a naval officer. She had felt so ever since that first day at Warwick Hall, when she gazed up at they great window of Edryn's tryst, where his coat of arms gleamed like jewels in its amber setting. As she had listened to the flood of wonderful music rolling up from below, something out of it had begun calling her. And it had gone on calling and calling with the compelling note of a far-off yet insistent trumpet, into a world of nameless longings and exalted ambitions, of burning desire to do great deeds. And finally she had begun to understand that somewhere, some day, some great achievement awaited her. Like Edryn she had heard the King's call, and like him she had whispered his answer softly and reverently as before an altar:

                                  "Oh list!
Oh heart and hand of mine, keep tryst 
        Keep tryst or die!"

It was still all vague and shadowy. With what great duty to the universe she was to keep tryst she did not yet know, and it was now two years since she had heard that call. But the vision still stayed. Inwardly she knew she was some sort of a Joan of Arc, consecrated to some high destiny. Yet when she thought of explaining anything so intangible, she began to smile at the thought of how ridiculous such an explanation would sound, shouted out in broad daylight, above the roar of the train. Such confidences can be given only in twilight and cloisters, just as the call itself can come only to those who "wake at dawn to listen in high places."

But feeling presently that she must give some definite reason to her mother for wanting to start out to seek heir fortunes, she leaned across the aisle and slipped a railroad folder from Jack's coat pocket. It had a map on one side of it, and spreading it across both her lap and her mother's, she laid her finger on a spot within the boundary lines of Kentucky.

"Don't you remember my little primary geography?" she asked. "The one I began to study at Lee's ranch? I had a gilt paper star pasted right there over Lloydsboro Valley, and a red ink line running to it from Arizona. I remember the day I put them there, I told Hazel Lee that there was my 'Promised Land,' and that I'd vowed a vow to go there some day if the heavens fell. I'll never forget the horror on her little freckled face as she answered, 'Aw, ain't you wicked! I bet you never get there now, just for saying that!'

"But I did get there!" she continued with deep satisfaction. "And now I've made up my mind to go back there to live some of these days. You see, mamma, my visit there was like the trial trip that Caleb and Joshua made to 'spy out the land.' Don't you remember the picture in Grandmother Ware's Bible of the two men coming back with such an enormous bunch of grapes on a pole between them that they could hardly carry it? It proved that the fruits of Canaan were better and bigger than the fruits of any other country. That was what my visit did; proved that I could be better and happier in Lloydsboro Valley than anywhere else in the world."

There was a moment's silence, then she added wistfully, "Somehow, when you're there, it seems easier to keep 'the compass needle of your soul true to the North-star of a great ambition.' There's so much to inspire one there. I have a feeling that if I could only go back to live, I'd --- Oh, I hardly know how to express it! But it would prove to be my 'high place,' the place where I'll hear my call. So the great reason why I want to start right away to earn money is that I may have enough as soon as possible to buy a home back there. That's my dearest day-dream, and I'm bound to make it come true if I have to wander around in the wilderness of hard work as long as the old Israelites did in theirs. You're to come with me. That's one of the best parts of my dream, for I know how you've always loved the place and longed to go back. Now, don't you think that's an object good enough and big enough to let me go for?"

Mrs. Ware seized the little hand spread out over the map of Kentucky and gave it an impulsive squeeze.

"Yes," she answered. "If you're ever as homesick for the dear old place as I used to be sometimes, I can understand your longing to go back there to live."

"Used to be!" echoed Mary blankly, staring at her in astonishment. "Aren't you now? Wouldn't you be glad to go back there to spend the rest of your days? I don't mean right now, of course, while Jack and Norman need you so much here, but" --- lowering her voice --- "I'm just as sure as I can be without having been told officially that Jack is going to marry Betty Lewis as soon as his finances are in better shape. She's such a perfect darling that they'd be happy ever after, and then I wouldn't have any compunctions about taking you away from him. Now that's another reason I don't want to stay on here, just to be an added expense to him."

The words poured out so impetuously, the face turned toward her was so eager, that Mrs. Ware could not dim its light by answering the first two questions as she felt impelled. She answered the last instead, saying that she felt as Mary did about Jack's marriage, and that it made her inexpressibly happy to think that the girl he might some day bring home as his bride was the daughter of her dear old friend and schoolmate, Joyce Allen.

They lowered their voices over this confidence, so that the woman who was sitting back to back with them shifted her position and leaned a little nearer. Even then she could not hear what they were saying till Mary returned to her first question.

"But, mamma, you said  'used to be.' Do you really mean that you don't care for your Happy Valley as much as you used to? The place you've talked about to us since we were babies, till we've come to think of it as enchanted ground?" 

Feeling as if she were pleading guilty to a charge of high treason, Mrs. Ware answered slowly, "No, I can't truthfully say that I do long for it as I used to. It's this way, little daughter," she added hastily, seeing the disappointment that shadowed Mary's face. "I've been away such a very, very long time, that there are only a few of my girlhood friends left. Betty's mother has been dead many years. The Little Colonel's mother is really the only one I could expect to find unchanged. The old seminary is burned down, strangers are in the homes I used to visit, and I'm afraid I'd find so many changes that it would be as sad as visiting a cemetery. And I've lived so long in the West, that I've taken root here now. I think of it as home. I'm just as interested as Jack is in building up the fortunes of our new state. I think he is going to be a power in it some day. If I should live long enough, it would not surprise me in the least to see him Governor of it some time."

She folded one little gray-gloved hand over the other so complacently as she calmly made this announcement, that Mary laughed and shook her head despairingly.

"Oh, mamma! mamma! You vain woman! What fine swans all your ducklings are going to turn out to be! Jack a Governor, Holland an Admiral, Norman a mighty man of valor (variety still undetermined), and Joyce a celebrity in the world of art! Must I be the only Simple Simon in the bunch? What would you really like to have me do? Now, own up, if you could have your choice, what is your ambition for me?"

"Well," confessed Mrs. Ware, "you're such a born home-maker, that I'd like to see you that before all else. I believe you could make a home so much better than your neighbors, that like the creator of the proverbial mousetrap, you would have the world making a beaten track to your door, even though you lived in the woods. As the old Colonel once said, you can be an honor to your sex and one of the most interesting women of your generation."

Although she spoke jokingly there was such a note of belief in her voice that Mary caught her by the arm and shook it, saying playfully, "Peacock! If that's what you hope for me, then you must certainly speed my parting. It's only in the goodly land of Lloydsboro that I can measure up to all you expect of me. I'll try and fill the bill, but promise me this much. When I've finally pitched my tent in Canaan and achieved that happy home, then you'll come and share it with me. At least," she added as Mrs. Ware nodded assent, "what time you are not strutting through foreign salons or the Governor's mansion, or sailing the high seas with the Admiral."

The woman behind them heard no more, for Jack called them across the aisle to look at something from his window, and when they returned to their seats Mrs. Ware picked up a magazine and Mary began an absorbing study of the map. She retraced the line of her first railroad journey, the pilgrimage from the little village of Plainsville, Kansas, to Phoenix, Arizona. As she thought of it, she could almost feel the lump in her throat that had risen when she looked back for the last time on the little brown house they were leaving forever, and waved good-byes to the lonesome little Christmas tree they had put out on the porch for the birds.

It was on that trip that her tireless tongue had made life-long friends of two strangers whom she talked to:  Phil Tremont, and his sister Elsie. Her brothers had always teased her about her chatterbox ways, but suppose she hadn't talked to them that day. The endless chain of happenings that that friendship started never would have begun, and life would have been far different for all of them.

 Then her finger traced the way to where Ware's Wigwam would have been on the map if it had been a spot large enough to mark. There Phil had come into their life again, almost like one of the family. Her real acquaintance with the Princess Winsome of her dreams began there too, when Lloyd Sherman made her memorable visit, and Mary, with the adoring admiration of a little girl for the older one whom she takes as her ideal in all things, began to copy her in every way possible.

The next line followed the course of the red ink trail in her old primary geography, for that was the trail she had followed back to the gilt paper star which stood for Lloydsboro Valley. The land which she had learned to love through song and story had been the dearest of all to her ever since, through the associations of that happy summer. There were several other trips to retrace as she sat with the map spread out before her. The long one she took to Warwick Hall, where surely no one ever had fuller, happier school-days. She did not stop to recall them now, thinking with satisfaction that they were all recorded in her "Good Times Book," and that if ever "days of dole, those hoarfrost seasons of the soul," came into her life, every cell of that memory hive would be stored with the honey of their good cheer. So also were her Christmas and Easter vacations recorded, when she and Betty visited Joyce in her studio apartment in New York.

The next line which she traced was a hasty dash back across the map to Lone-Rock. She always tried to dash the thought of it out of mind just as quickly. The heart-breaking agony of it, when she was flying home to find her brother a hopeless cripple, was too terrible to recall even now, after long time, when he was sitting beside her, strong and well.

Then her finger trailed down across the map, retracing their last journey the year before to San Antonio and the hill country above it. In many ways it had been a hard year, but, remembering its happy outcome, she said to herself that it should be marked by triple lines of red. They had gone down to the place, strangers in a strange land, they were coming away with some of the warmest friendships of their lives binding them fast to it. Down there Jack had had his wonderful recovery, which was above and beyond all that their wildest hopes had pictured. And, too, it was the last place where she would have expected to meet Phil Tremont again. Yet he had appeared suddenly one day as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be standing there by the huisache tree to help her over the fence of the blue-bonnet pasture.

"By what has been, learn what will be," she repeated, and then idly pricked that motto into the edge of the folder with a pin, as she went on recalling various incidents. Judging by heir past she had every reason to believe that the future might be full of happy surprises; so, as she studied the map now, it was to wonder which way the new trails would lead her.

"Any way at all!" she thought fervently. "I don't care which direction they take, if they'll only come around to the Happy Valley. I'm bound to get there at any cost."

Presently she folded up the map and sat gazing dreamily out of the window. An old song that was often on her lips came to her mind, but, this time, she parodied it to suit her hopes

"For if I go not by the road, and go not by the hill,
And go not by the far sea way, yet go I surely will!
Close all the roads of all the world --- Love's road is open still."

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