MoboReader> Literature > The Little Colonel's Chum: Mary Ware

   Chapter 5 A FAD AND A CHRISTMAS FUND

The Little Colonel's Chum: Mary Ware By Annie F. Johnston Characters: 26275

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


For a Freshman to start a fad popular enough to spread through the entire school was an unheard of thing at Warwick Hall, but A.O. Miggs had that distinction early in the term. Her birthday was in October, and when she appeared that morning with a zodiac ring on her little finger, set with a brilliant fire opal, there was a mingled outcry of admiration and horror.

"Oh, I wouldn't wear an opal for worlds!" cried one superstitious girl. "They're dreadfully unlucky."

"Not if it is your birthstone," announced A.O., calmly turning her hand to watch the flashing of red and blue lights in the heart of the gem. "It's bad luck not to wear one if you were born in October. It says on the card that came in the box with this:

"'October's child is born for woe

And life's vicissitudes must know,

Unless she wears the opal's charm

To ward off every care and harm.'

"And they say too that you are beloved of the gods and men as long as you keep your faith in it."

"Then I'll certainly have to get one," laughed Jane Ridgeway, who had joined the group, "for I am October's child. Let me see it, A.O."

She adjusted her glasses and took the plump little hand in hers for inspection. "I always have thought that opals are the prettiest of all the stones. Write the verse out for me, A.O., that's a good child. I'll send it home for the family to see how important it is that I should be protected by such a charm."

This from a senior, the dignified and exclusive Miss Ridgeway, put the seal of approval on the fashion, and when, a week later, she appeared with a beautiful Hungarian opal surrounded by tiny diamonds, with her zodiac signs engraved on the wide circle of gold, every girl in school wanted a birth-month ring.

Elise wrote home asking if agates were expensive, and if she might have one. Not that she thought they were pretty, but it was the stone for June, so of course she ought to wear one. The answer came in the shape of an old heirloom, a Scotch agate that had been handed down in the family, almost since the days of Malcolm the Second. It had been a small brooch, worn on the bosom of many a proud MacIntyre dame, but never had it evoked such interest as when, set in a ring, it was displayed on Elise's little finger.

After that there was a general demand for a jeweller's catalogue which appeared in their midst about that time. One page was devoted to illustrations of such stones with a rhyme for each month. The firm which issued the catalogue would have been surprised at the rush of orders had they not had previous dealings with Girls' Schools. The year before there had been almost as great a demand for tiny gold crosses, and the year before for huge silver horse-shoes. This year the element of superstition helped to swell the orders. When the verse said,

"The August born, without this stone,

'Tis said must live unloved and lone,"

of course no girl born in August would think of living a week longer without a sardonyx, especially when the catalogue offered the genuine article as low as $2.75. The daughters of April and May, July and September had to pay more for their privileges, but they did it gladly. When Cornie Dean read,

"Who wears an emerald all her life

Shall be a loved and honoured wife,"

she sold her pet bangle bracelet that afternoon for ten dollars, and added half her month's allowance to buy an emerald large enough to hold some potency.

Mary pored over the catalogue longingly when it came her turn to have it. She liked her verse:

"Who on this world of ours their eyes

In March first open shall be wise.

In days of peril firm and brave,

And wear a bloodstone to their grave."

When she had considered sizes and prices for awhile she took out her bank book and Christmas list and began comparing them anxiously. Betty, coming into the room presently, found her so absorbed in her task that she did not notice the open letter Betty carried, and the gay samples of chiffon and silk fluttering from the envelope. She looked up with a little puckered smile as Betty drew a chair to the opposite side of the table, asking as she seated herself, "What's the matter? You seem to be it some difficulty."

"It's just the same old wolf at the door," said Mary, soberly. "I have enough for this term's expenses, all the necessary things, but there's nothing for the extras. There isn't a single person I can cut off my Christmas list. I've put down what I've decided to make for each one, and what the bare materials will cost, and although I've added it up and added it down, it always comes out the same; nothing left to get the ring with."

She sat jabbing her pencil into the paper for a moment. "I wish there were ways to earn money here as there are at some schools. There are so many things I need it for. They'll expect me to contribute something to the mock Christmas tree fund, and I want to get Jack something nice. I couldn't take his own money to buy him a present even if there were enough, which there isn't. I've already made him everything I know how to make, that he can use, and men don't care for things they can't use, but that are just pretty, as girls do. Just look what a beauty bright of a watch-fob I've found in this catalogue."

She turned the pages eagerly. "It is a bloodstone. The very thing for Jack, for his birthday is in March, too, and it is such a dark, unpretentious stone that he would like it. But-it costs eight dollars."

She said it in an awed tone as if she were naming a small fortune.

"Maybe we can think of some way for you to earn it," said Betty, encouragingly. "I'll set my wits to work this evening as soon as I've finished looking over the A class themes. Because none of the girls has ever done such a thing before in the school is no reason why you should not. Look! This is what I came in to show you."

It was several pages from Lloyd's last letter, and the samples of some new dresses she was having made. For a little space the wolf at the door drew in its claws, and Mary forgot her financial straits. Early in the term Betty had divined how much the sharing of this correspondence meant to Mary. She could not fail to see how eagerly she followed the winsome princess through her gay social season in town, rejoicing over her popularity, interested in everything she did and wore and treasuring every mention of her in the home papers. The old Colonel sent Betty the Courier-Journal, and the society page was regularly turned over to Mary. There was a corner in her scrap-book marked, "My Chum," rapidly filling with accounts of balls, dinners and house-parties at which she had been a guest. This last letter had several messages in it for Mary, so Betty left the page containing them with her, knowing they would be folded away in the scrap-book with the samples, as soon as her back was turned.

"I was out at Anchorage for this last week-end," ran one of the messages. "And it rained so hard one night that what was to have been an informal dance was turned into an old-fashioned candy-pull. Not more than half a dozen guests managed to get there. Tell Mary that I tried to distinguish myself by making some of that Mexican pecan candy that they used to have such success with at the Wigwam. But it was a flat failure, and I think I must have left out some important ingredient. Ask her to please send me the recipe if she can remember it."

"Probably it failed because she didn't have the real Mexican sugar," said Mary, at the end of the reading. "It comes in a cone, wrapped in a queer kind of leaf, so I'm sure she didn't have it. I'll write out the recipe as soon as I get back from my geometry recitation, and add a foot-note, explaining about the sugar."

Somehow it was hard for Mary to keep her mind on lines and angles that next hour. She kept seeing a merry group in the Wigwam kitchen. Lloyd and Jack and Phil Tremont were all ranged around the white table, cracking pecans, and picking out the firm full kernels, while Joyce presided over the bubbling kettle on the stove. She wondered if Lloyd had enjoyed her grown-up party as much as she had that other one, when Jack said such utterly ridiculous things in pigeon English, like the old Chinese vegetable man, and Phil cake-walked and parodied funny coon-songs till their sides ached with laughing.

At the close of the recitation a hastily scribbled note from Betty was handed to her.

"I have just found out," it ran, "that Mammy Easter will be unable to furnish her usual pralines and Christmas sweets to her Warwick Hall customers this year. Why don't you try your hand at that Mexican candy Lloyd mentioned. If the girls once get a taste it will be 'advertised by its loving friends' and you can sell quantities. I am going to the city this afternoon, and can order the sugar for you. If they wire the order you ought to be able to get it within a week. E.S."

Mary went up stairs two steps at a bound, stepping on the front of her dress at every other jump, and only saving herself from sprawling headlong as she reached the top, by catching at A.O., who ran into her on the way down. She could not get back to her bank book and her Christmas list soon enough, to see how much cash she had on hand, and compute how much she dared squeeze out to invest in material.

A week later the Domestic Science room was turned over to her during recreation hour, and presently a delicious odour began to steal out into the halls, which set every girl within range to sniffing hungrily. Betty explained it to several, and there was no need to do anything more. Every one was on hand for her share when the samples were passed around, and the new business venture was discussed in every room.

"Wouldn't you like to know Jack Ware?" asked Dorene of Cornie, her mouth so full of the delicious sweets that she could only mumble. "Any man who can inspire such adoration in his own sister must be nothing short of a wonder."

"I feel that I do know him," responded Cornie, "That I am quite well acquainted with him, in fact. And I quite approve of 'my brother Jack.' It's queer, too, for usually when you hear a person quoted morning, noon and night you get so that you want to scream when his name is mentioned. Now there's Babe Meadows. Will you ever forget the way she rang the changes on 'my Uncle Willie'? I used to quote that line from Tennyson under my breath-'A quinsy choke thy cursèd note!' It was 'Uncle Willie says this isn't good form' and 'Uncle Willie says they don't do that in England' till you got worn to a frazzle having that old Anglomaniac eternally thrown at your head. But the more Mary quotes Jack the better you like him."

"I wonder how he feels about Mary taking this way to earn his Christmas present."

"Oh, of course he doesn't know she is doing it, and of course he wouldn't like it if he did. But he'd have hard work stopping her. She is as full of energy and determination as a locomotive with a full head of steam on, and I imagine he's exactly like her. She fondly imagines that he will be governor of Arizona some day."

"There!" exclaimed Dorene. "That suggests the dandiest thing for us to put on the mock Christmas tree for her. A Jack-in-the-box! She's always springing him on an unsuspecting public, and just about as unexpectedly as those little mannikins bob up. She has used him so often to 'point her morals and adorn her tales' that every girl in school will see the joke."

"Well, the future governor of Arizona will get his bloodstone fob all right as far as my patronage will help," said Cornie, when she had laughingly applauded Dorene's suggestion. She carefully picked up the last crumb. "I shall speak for three pounds of this right off. Papa has such a sweet tooth that he'd a thousand times rather have a box of this than a dozen silk mufflers and shaving cases and such things that usually fall to a man's lot at Christmas."

If the girls in this exclusive school thought it strange that one of their number should start a money-making enterprise, no whisper of it reached Mary. Her sturdy independence forbade any air of patronage, and she was such a general favourite that whatever she did was passed over with a laugh. The few who might have been inclined to criticize found it an unpopular thing to do. The object for which she was working enlisted every one's interest. Jack would have ground his teeth with mortification had he known that every girl in school was interested in his getting a bloodstone watch-fob in his Christmas stocking, and daily discussed the means by which it was being procured.

Orders came in rapidly, and Mary spent every spare moment in cracking pecans, and picking out the kernels so carefully that they fell from the shells in unbroken halves. It was a tedious undertaking and even her study hours were encroached upon. Not that she ever neglected a lesson for the sake of the pecans, for, as she said to Elise, "I've set my heart on taking the valedictory for Jack's sake, and of course I couldn't sacrifice that ambition for all the watch-fobs in the catalogue. He wouldn't wan

t one at that price. But I've found that I can pick out nuts and learn French verbs at the same time. If you and A.O. will come up to the Dom. Sci. this afternoon at four thirty, and not let any of the other girls know, I'll let you scrape the kettle and eat the scraps that crumble from the corners when I cut the squares. But I can not let any one in while I'm measuring and boiling. I couldn't afford to make a mistake."

Promptly at the time set, the girls tapped for admission, for there was no denying the drawing qualities of Mary's wares. The pun was common property in the school.

"Elise," said A.O., pausing in her critical tasting, when they had been at it some time. "I really believe that this is better than Huyler's hot fudge Sun-balls. And it is lots better than the candy that Lieutenant Logan sent you last week."

Elise made a face expressing both surprise and reproof. "Considering that you ate the lion's share of it, Miss Miggs, that speech is neither pretty nor polite."

"I wonder," continued A.O., paying no attention to her, "if the Lieutenant knows what a public benefactor he is, when he sends you bon-bons and books and things." She had enjoyed his many offerings to Elise as much as the recipient and thought it wise to follow her first speech with a compliment.

"Well, Agnes Olive, if you feel that you have profited so much by his benefactions, then you are not playing fair if you don't invite some of us down to meet your 'special,' when he comes next week. Mary, what do you think? A.O. has a suitor! A boy from home. He is to come next week, armed with a note from her 'fond payrents,' giving him permission to call. After talking about him all term and getting my curiosity up to fever heat about such a paragon as she makes him out to be, she blasts all my hopes by flatly refusing to let me meet him. Pig!" she made a grimace of mock disgust at A.O.

"I wouldn't care, if you weren't such an awful tease," admitted A.O. "But I know how you'll criticize him afterward. You'll make a byword of everything he said and quote it to me till kingdom come. You know how it would be, don't you, Mary?" turning to her. "You wouldn't want her taking notes on everything he said if you had a-a-a friend-"

"'Oh, call it by some better name, for friendship sounds too cold,'" interrupted Elise.

"Well, I haven't any a-a-whatever it is Elise wants to call it," said Mary, laughing. "I only wish I had. I've always thought it would be nice to have one, but I suppose I'll have to go to the end of my days singing: 'Every lassie has her laddie, Nane they say hae I.' That has always seemed such a sad song to me."

"Oh, oh!" cried Elise, perversely, who seemed to be in a mood for teasing everybody. She pointed an accusing spoon at her before putting it back in her mouth.

"What about Phil Tremont, I'd like to know! He saved her from an Indian once, A.O., out on the desert. It was dreadfully romantic. And when he was best man at Eugenia Forbes's wedding, and Mary was flower girl, Mary got the shilling that was in the bride's cake. It was an old English shilling, coined in the reign of Bloody Mary, with Philip's and Mary's heads on it. That is a sure sign they were meant for each other. Phil said right out at the table before everybody that fate had ordered that he should be the lucky man. Mary has that shilling this blessed minute, put away in her purse for a pocket piece, and she carries it everywhere she goes. I saw it yesterday when she was looking in her purse for a key, and she got as red as-as red as she is this minute."

Elise finished gleefully, elated with the success of her teasing. "My! How you are blushing, Mary. Look at her, A.O." Her dark eyes twinkled mischievously as she sang in a meaning tone:

"Amang the train there is a swain

I dearly lo'e mysel'.

But what's his name or where's his hame

I dinna choose to tell."

"I'm not blushing," protested Mary, hotly. "And it is silly to talk that way when everybody knows that Phil Tremont never cared anything for any girl except Lloyd Sherman."

"Maybe not at one time," insisted Elise. "And neither did Lieutenant Logan care about any girl but my beloved sister Allison at one time. I'm not mentioning names, but you know very well that she's not the one he is crazy about now. Just wait till fate brings you and Phil together again. You'll probably meet him during the Christmas vacation if you go to New York."

Mary made no answer, only thrust a knife under the edge of the candy in the largest plate, as if her sole interest in life was testing its hardness. Then she spread out several sheets of paraffine paper with a great show of indifference. It had its effect on Elise, and she promptly changed her target back to A.O. There was no fun in teasing when her arrows made no impression.

Usually A.O. enjoyed it, but she had tangled herself in a web of her own weaving lately, and for the last few days had been in terror lest Elise should find her out. Inspired by the picture of the handsome young lieutenant on Elise's desk, and not wanting to seem behind her room-mate in romantic experiences, silly little A.O. had drawn on her imagination for most of the confidences she gave in exchange. When Elise talked of the lieutenant, A.O. talked of "Jimmy," adding this trait and that grace until she had built up a beautiful ideal, but a being so different from the original on which she based her tales, that Jimmy himself would never have recognized her dashing hero as the bashful fellow he was accustomed to confront in his mirror.

He had carried her lunch basket when they went to school together, he had patiently worked the sums on her slate with his big clumsy fingers when she cried over the mysteries of subtraction. Later, when shy and overgrown, and too bashful to speak his admiration, he had followed her around at picnics and parties with a dog-like devotion that touched her. He had sent her valentines and Christmas cards, and at the last High School commencement when the graduating exercises marked the parting of their ways, he had presented her with a photograph album bound in celluloid, with a bunch of atrociously gaudy pansies and forget-me-nots painted thereon.

In matching stories with Elise, the album and his awkwardness and his plodding embarrassed speech somehow slipped into the background, and it was his devotion and his chivalry she enlarged upon. Elise, impressed by her hints and allusions, believed in the idealized Jimmy as thoroughly as A.O. intended she should.

For several days A.O. had been in a quandary, for her mother's last letter had announced a danger which had never entered her thoughts as being imminent. "Jimmy Woods will be in Washington soon. He is going up with his uncle, who has some business at the patent office. I have given him a note to Madam Chartley, granting him my permission to call on you. He is in an agony of apprehension over the trip to Warwick Hall. He is so afraid of meeting strange girls. But I tell him it will be good for him. It is really amusing to see how interested everybody in town is over Jimmy's going. Do be kind to the poor fellow for the sake of your old childish friendship, no matter if he does seem a bit countrified and odd. He is a dear good boy, and it would never do to let him feel slighted or unwelcome."

When A.O. read that, much as she liked Jimmy Woods, she wished that the ground would open and swallow him before he could get to Washington, or else that it had opened and swallowed her before she drew such a picture of him for Elise to admire. There were only two ways out of the dilemma that she could see: confession or a persistent refusal to let her see him. She must not even be allowed to hang over the banister and watch him pass through the hall, as she had proposed doing.

The more she persisted in her refusal the more determined Elise was to see him. A.O. imagined she could feel herself growing thin and pale from so much lying awake of nights to invent some excuse to circumvent her. If she only knew what day Jimmy was to be in Washington she could arrange to meet him there. So she could plan a trip to the dentist with Miss Gilmer, the trained nurse, as chaperon. She wouldn't have minded introducing him to Elise if she had never painted him to her in such glowing colours as her hero. She wished she hadn't told her it was Jimmy who was coming. She could have called him by his middle name, Gordon-Mr. Gordon, and passed him off as some ordinary acquaintance in whom Elise could have no possible interest.

It was a relief when Elise turned her attention to Mary's affairs, and when she saw that her turn was coming again, she set her teeth together grimly, determined to make no answer.

Presently, to her surprise, Elise relapsed into silence, and stood looking out of the window, tapping on the kettle with her spoon in a preoccupied way. Then she laughed suddenly as if she saw something funny, and being questioned, refused to give the reason.

"I just thought of something," she said, laughing again. "Something too funny for words. I'll have to go now," she added, as if the cause of her mysterious mirth was in some way responsible for her departure.

"Thanks mightily for the candy, Mary. It's the best ever. You're going to be overflowed with orders, I'm sure. Well, farewell friends and fellow citizens, I'll see you later."

"What do you suppose it was that made her laugh so," asked A.O., suspiciously. "There's always some mischief brewing when she acts that way. I don't dare leave her by herself a minute for fear she'll plot something against me. I'll have to be going, too, Mary."

Left to herself, Mary began washing the utensils she had used. By the time she had removed every trace of her candy-making, the confections set out on the window sill in the wintry air were firm and hard, all ready to be wrapped in the squares of paraffine paper and packed in the boxes waiting for them. She whistled softly as she drew in the plates, but stopped with a start when she realized that it was Elise's song she was echoing:

"Amang the train there is a swain

I dearly lo'e mysel'."

"It must be awfully nice," she mused, "to have somebody as devoted to you as the Lieutenant is to Elise and Jimmy is to A.O. If I were A.O. I wouldn't care if the whole school came down to meet him. I'd want them to see him. I made up my mind at Eugenia's wedding that it was safer to be an old maid, but I'd hate to be one without ever having had an 'affair' like other girls. It must be lovely to be called the Queen of Hearts like Lloyd, and to have such a train of admirers as Mister Rob and Mister Malcolm and Phil and all the others."

There was a wistful look in the gray eyes that peered dreamily out of the window into the gathering dusk of the December twilight. But it was not the wintry landscape that she saw. It was a big boyish figure, cake-walking in the little Wigwam kitchen. A handsome young fellow turning in the highroad to wave his hat with a cheery swing to the disconsolate little girl who was flapping a farewell to him with her old white sunbonnet. And then the same face, older grown, smiling at her through the crowds at the Lloydsboro Valley depot, as he came to her with outstretched hands, exclaiming, "Good-bye, little Vicar! Think of the Best Man whenever you look at the Philip on your shilling."

She was thinking of him now so intently that she lost count of the pieces she had packed into the box she was filling with the squares of sweets, and had to empty them all out and begin again. But as she recalled other scenes, especially the time she had overheard a conversation not intended for her about a turquoise he was offering Lloyd, she said to herself, "He is for Lloyd. They are just made for each other, and I am glad that the nicest man I ever knew happens to like the dearest girl in the world. And I hope if there ever should be 'a swain amang the train' for me, he'll be as near like him as possible. I don't know where I'd ever meet him, though. Certainly not here and most positively not in Lone-Rock."

"Not like other girls," she laughed presently, recalling the title of the book Ethelinda was reading. "That fits me exactly. No Lieutenant, no Jimmy, and no birthstone ring, and no prospect of ever having any. But I don't care-much. The candy is a success and Jack is going to have his bloodstone fob."

With her arms piled full of boxes, she started down to her room. As she opened the door a burst of music came floating out from the gymnasium where the carol-singers were practising for the yearly service. This one was a new carol to her. She did not know the words, but to the swinging measures other words fitted themselves; some lines which she had read that morning in a magazine. She sang them softly in time with the carol-singers as she went on down the stairs:

"For should he come not by the road, and come not by the hill

And come not by the far sea way, yet come he surely will.

Close all the roads of all the world, love's road is open still."

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares