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   Chapter 6 JACK'S WATCH-FOB

The Little Colonel's Chum: Mary Ware By Annie F. Johnston Characters: 26092

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Elise spent Saturday and Sunday in Washington with the Claiborne family, and A.O. almost prayed that Jimmy would make his visit in her absence. On her return she had so much to tell that she did not mention his name, and A.O. hoped that he was forgotten. All Monday afternoon she went around in a flutter of nervousness, "feeling in her bones" that Jimmy would be there that night, and afraid that Elise would find some way in which to carry out her threat of seeing him at all hazards. One of the ways she had suggested trying, was to sound a burglar or a fire alarm, so that every one would rush out into the hall. But when the dreaded moment actually arrived and A.O. stood in the middle of the floor with his card in her hand, Elise merely looked up from her book with a provoking grin.

"Oh, haven't I had you going for the last week!" she exclaimed. "Really made you believe that I wanted to see your dear Jimmy-boy! A.O., you are dead easy! I haven't had so much fun out of anything for ages."

Almost giddy with the sense of relief, A.O. hurried away, leaving Elise poring over her French lesson. At the lower landing she paused to tear Jimmy's card to atoms and drop them in a waste basket which was standing there. Even his card might betray him, for it was not an elegant correct bit of engraved board like the Lieutenant's. It was a large square card inscribed by a professional penman; the kind who sets up stands on street corners or in convenient doorways, and executes showy scrolls and tendrils in the way of initial letters "while you wait."

As the door closed behind A.O., Elise sent her book flying across the room, and the next moment was groping under the bed for a dress-box which she had hidden there. A blond wig that she had bought while in Washington for next week's tableaux tumbled out first, with a motley collection of borrowed articles, which she had been at great pains to procure.

Laughing so that she could hardly dress, Elise began to make a hurried change. Five minutes later she stood before the glass completely disguised. Cornie Dean's long black skirt trailed around her. A.O.'s own jacket fitted her snugly, with Margaret Elwood's new black feather boa, which had just been sent her from home, hiding the cut of its familiar collar. Jane Ridgeway's second best spectacles covered her mischievous eyes, and a black veil was draped over the small toque and blond hair in such a way that its broad band of crape hid the lower part of her face. As a finishing touch a piece of gold-leaf, pressed over part of an upper front tooth, gave the effect of a large gold filling, whenever she smiled.

She had provided herself with a pair of black gloves, but at the last moment the left-hand glove could not be found. When all her frantic overturnings failed to bring it to light, she gave up the search, not wanting to lose any more valuable time. The little flat feather muff which went with the boa would hide the fact that she had only one glove. Thrusting her bare hand into it, she stopped for only one thing more, a black bordered card, which bore the name in old English type, Mrs. Robertson Redmond. It was one which had been sent up to her by one of her mother's friends, who called at the Claiborne's, and was partly responsible for this disguise. It had suggested the black veil with the crape border.

Dodging past several open doors she reached the south corridor in safety and raising the window that opened on a back court, she stepped out on the fire escape. Cornie's long skirt nearly tripped her, and it was no easy matter to cling to the rounds of the iron ladder, with a muff in one hand and her skirts constantly wrapping around her. Luckily she had only one flight to descend. Stopping a moment to smooth her ruffled plumage and get her breath, she walked around to the front of the house, climbed the steps, and boldly lifted the great knocker.

It was a dark, cold night, and the sudden appearance of a lady on the doorstep, so far from the station, astonished the footman who opened the door. He had heard no sound of wheels, and he peered out past her, expecting to see some manly escort emerge from the night. None came. But she was unmistakably a lady, and her mourning costume seemed to furnish the necessary credentials. When she handed him a black-bordered card and asked for Miss Mary Ware of Arizona, with an air of calm assurance and with the broadest of English accents, he bowed obsequiously and ushered her into the drawing room.

In the far end of it Herr Vogelbaum was talking lustily in German to two young men, evidently fellow musicians. Otherwise it was deserted, except for A.O., and a bashful, overgrown boy of seventeen, who sat opposite her on a chair far too low for him. It gave him the effect of sprawling, and he was constantly drawing in his long legs and thrusting them out again. The teacher who was to be drawing room chaperon for the evening had not yet come down.

The lady in black glided into the room with the air of being so absorbed in her own affairs that she looked upon the other occupants as she did the furniture. Without even a direct glance at the young people in the corner she swept up to a chair within a few feet of them and sat down to wait. Jimmy, in the midst of some tale about a prank that the High School Invincibles had played on a rival base-ball team, faltered, grew confused and finished haltingly. For all her spectacles and crape the golden haired stranger was fascinatingly young and pretty.

A.O. was provoked that her visitor should show to such disadvantage even before this unknown lady who apparently was taking no notice of them. But when he paused she could think of nothing to say herself for a moment or two. Then, to break the silence which was growing painful, she plunged into an account of one of the last escapades of her wicked room-mate, whom she pictured as a most fascinating, but a desperately reckless creature. It was funny, the way she told it, and it sent Jimmy off into a spasm of mirth. But she would almost rather have bitten her tongue out than to have caused Jimmy to explode in that wild bray of a laugh. He slapped his knee repeatedly, and doubled up as if he could laugh no longer, only to break out in a second bray, louder than the first. It made the gentlemen in the other end of the room look around inquiringly.

A.O. was so mortified she could have cried. Jimmy, feeling the instant change in her manner, and not able to account for it, grew self conscious and ill at ease. The conversation flagged, and presently stopped for such a long time that the lady in black turned a slow glance in their direction.

Meanwhile, Mary Ware, up in the Domestic Science room, was anxiously watching a kettle which refused to come to the proper boiling point, where it could be safely left. What was to be the last batch of her Christmas candy was in that kettle, for she had emptied the last pound of Mexican sugar into it. If it wasn't cooked exactly right it would turn to sugar again when it was cold, and not be of the proper consistency to hold the nuts together. She did not know what effect it might have on the mixture to set it off the fire while she went down to receive her unknown visitor, and then bring it to the boiling point again after it had once grown cold. She was afraid to run any risks. If the watch-fob was to reach Jack on time, it would have to be started on its way in a few days, and on the success of this last lot of candy depended the getting of the last few dollars necessary to its purchase. She wished that she had ordered more of the sugar in the first place. There wouldn't be time now. She had twice as many orders as she had been able to fill. It would have been so delightful to have gone shopping with a whole pocket full of money which she had earned herself.

She looked at the clock and then back again at the black-bordered card on the table. "Mrs. Robertson Redmond." She had never heard of her. Burning with curiosity, she tried to imagine what possible motive the stranger had for calling. It was unpardonable that a mere school-girl should keep a lady waiting so long; a lady in mourning, too, who since she could not be making social calls, must have a very important reason for coming. Fidgeting with impatience she bent over the kettle, testing the hot liquid once more by dropping a spoonful into a cup of cold water. Still it refused to harden. Finally with a despairing sigh she slipped off her apron and turned down the gas so low that only a thin blue circle of flame flickered under the kettle. "In that way it can't boil over and it can't get cold," she thought. Then she washed her hands and hurried down to the drawing room.

Until that moment she had forgotten that A.O. was there with her "suitor," but one hasty glance was all she had time to give him. The tall lady in black was rising from her chair, was trailing forward to meet her, was exclaiming in that low full voice which had so impressed the footman. "Ah! Joyce Ware's own little sister! You've probably never heard of me, dear, but I've heard of you, often. And I knew that Joyce would want me to take back some message direct from you, so I just came out to-night for a glimpse."

Not giving the bewildered Mary opportunity to speak a word, she drew her to a seat beside her and went on rapidly, talking about Joyce and the success she was making in New York, and the many friends she had among famous people. Mary grew more and more bewildered. She had not heard that at the studio receptions which Joyce and her associates in the flat gave fortnightly, that all these world-known artists and singers and writers were guests. It was strange Joyce had never mentioned them. But Mrs. Redmond named them all so glibly and familiarly, that she could not doubt her.

Almost petrified at seeing Mary walk into the room, A.O. had relapsed into a silence which she could not break. Jimmy, too, sat tongue-tied, staring in fascination at the strange blonde lady whose fluent, softly modulated speech seemed to exert some kind of hypnotic influence over him. Even through Mary's absorbing interest in Mrs. Robertson Redmond's tales, came the consciousness that A.O. and her friend were sitting there, perfectly dumb, and she stole a curious glance in their direction, wondering why.

"And I have just learned," said Mrs. Redmond, her gold tooth gleaming through her smile, "overheard it, in fact, quite by accident, that a dear little friend of mine is in the school-General Walton's youngest daughter, Elise. I should be so glad to see her also this evening. I should have sent up a card for her, too, had I known. Would it be too much trouble for you to send word to her now?"

A.O. blushed furiously, knowing full well how and where the stranger had overheard that Elise was in the school. She tried frantically to recall just what it was she had said about her, in her endeavour to amuse Jimmy. Something extravagant, she knew, or he would not have laughed so horribly loud.

As Mary rose to send the message to Elise the lady dropped her muff. They both stooped to pick it up. Mary was first to reach it, and as she gave it back two things met her astonished gaze. On the little finger of the bare hand held out for the muff shone the agate that none but MacIntyres had owned since the days of Malcolm the Second. And through the parted lips, where an instant before a gold-crowned tooth had gleamed, shone only perfect little white teeth, with not a glint of dentist's handiwork about them. The gold-leaf had slipped off.

Mary gasped, but before the others had a chance to see her amazed face, the lady had risen and linked her arm through hers, and was drawing her towards the door, saying. "Let me go with you. I am sure that Elise will not mind receiving such a very old friend as I am up in her room."

Although the lady in black clung to her, shaking hysterically with repressed laughter, behind her crape-bordered veil, it was not till they had passed the footman, climbed the stairs and paused at Elise's door that Mary was sure of the identity of her guest. The disguise had been so complete that she could not believe the evidence of her own eyes, until the blond wig was torn off and the spectacles laid aside. Then Elise threw herself across her bed, laughing until she gasped for breath. Her mirth was so contagious that Mary joined in, laughing also until she was weak and breathless, and could only cling to the bedpost, wiping her eyes.

"And wasn't Jimmy a whole menagerie!" Elise exclaimed as soon as she could speak. "You should have been there to have heard him howl and tear his hair at something A.O. told him about me. And I sat there with a perfectly straight face through the whole of it, while she made up dreadful things about me. I'm going away off in the pasture to-morrow and practise that bray all by myself till I can do it to perfection. Then when A.O. begins to sing his praises again, I won't say a wo

rd. I'll just give her Jimmy's laugh. Won't she be astonished? She's bound to recognize it, for it's the only one of its kind in the world. I shall keep her guessing until after Christmas, where I heard it."

"Don't you tell her till then!" she exclaimed, sitting up on the side of the bed. "She would be so furious she wouldn't speak to me. But after the holidays, it won't be so fresh in her mind. Promise you won't tell her."

Still laughing, Mary promised, and Elise began to gather up the various articles of her disguise, saying, "It was worth a five-pound box of chocolates to hear her describe me as a reckless scape-grace in that sorority racket we had."

The mention of candy had the effect of an electric shock on Mary. "Mercy!" she cried. "I forgot all about that stuff I left upstairs."

Instantly sobered, she hurried away to its rescue. She had intended to go down only long enough to discover the caller's errand, and then excuse herself until the candy could be safely left. But more than a quarter of an hour had gone by. Somewhere about the premises, and for some reason unknown to her, a greater pressure of gas had been turned on, and the thin blue flame under the kettle had shot up to a full blazing ring. A smell of burnt sugar greeted her as she opened the door. There was no need to look into the kettle. She knew before she did so that the candy was burnt black, and Jack's fob no longer attainable.

Her first impulse was to run to Betty for comfort. It would be easy enough to borrow the money she needed from her, and pay her back after the holidays, but-a sober second thought stopped her. Probably the girls wouldn't want her candy then. Each of the boxes had been ordered as a special Christmas offering for some relative with a well-known sweet tooth. And Mary had a horror of debt, that was part of her heritage from her grandfather Ware. It was his frequent remark that "who goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing," and it lay heavy on the conscience of every descendant of his who stepped aside even for a moment from the path of his teachings. She felt that it would be dishonest to send Jack a present that wasn't fully paid for, and yet the disappointment of not being able to send it was so deep, that she could not keep the tears back. They splashed down like rain into the kettle as she scraped away at the scorched places on the bottom.

It was a long time before she went back to her room. Ethelinda looked up curiously.

"Where's your candy?" she asked.

"Spoiled. It scorched and I had to throw it out." Her face was turned away, under pretence of searching for a book, but her voice was subdued and not altogether steady.

"Too bad," was the indifferent answer, and Ethelinda went on with her lesson, but presently a faint sniff made her glance up to see that Mary was not studying, only staring at her book with big tears dropping quietly on the page. In all the weeks they had been together she had never seen Mary in this mood before, and it seemed as strange that she should be crying as that rain should drop from a cloudless sky.

The sight of Mary in trouble awakened a feeling that seldom came to the surface in Ethelinda. She felt moved to pick her up and comfort her and put her out of harm's way as she would have done to a helpless little kitten. But she did not know how to begin. Naturally undemonstrative, any expression of sympathy was hard for her to make. They had grown into very friendly relations this last month. Warwick Hall had widened Ethelinda's horizon, until she was able to take an interest in many things now outside of her own narrow self-centred circle.

As they started to undress she managed to ask, "Well, have you sent for that watch-fob yet?"

Mary shook her head, trying hard to swallow a sob, as she bent over an open bureau drawer. "I've decided not to order it."

Then Ethelinda, putting two and two together, guessed the reason. If Mary could have known how long she lay awake that night, devising some scheme to help her out of her difficulty, she would not have been so surprised next morning when a hesitating voice spoke up from the opposite bed, just after the rising bell.

"Mary, will you promise not to get mad and throw things at me if I ask you something?" She went on hurriedly, for they both recalled a scene when such a thing had happened. She felt she had blundered by alluding to it.

"I wouldn't dare ask it at all if I didn't know that you had failed with your candy, and might want to raise your Christmas funds some other way. No, I guess I'd better not ask you, after all. It might make you furious."

Mary sat up in bed, not only curious to know what it is Ethelinda was afraid to ask, but wondering at her hesitancy. Heretofore she had stopped at nothing; the most cutting allusions to Mary's appearance, behaviour and friends. They had both been appallingly frank at times. Their growing friendship seemed to thrive on this outspokenness.

"Oh, go on!" begged Mary. "I'd rather you'd make me furious than to keep me so curious, and I'll give you my word of honour I won't get mad."

"Well, then," began Ethelinda, slowly, "you know I had such a cold last week when the hair-dresser came, that I couldn't have my usual shampoo, and she always charges a dollar when she makes an extra trip just for one head. She wouldn't come this week anyhow, no matter how much I paid her, because she is so busy, and I simply must have my hair washed before the night of the tableaux. So I thought-if you didn't mind doing a thing like that-for me-you might as well have the dollar."

There was a pause. A long one. Ethelinda knew that Mary was recalling her speech about a lady's maid, and felt that the silence, so long and oppressive, was ominous. If she had asked it as a favour, Mary would not have hesitated an instant. The other girls often played barber for each other, making a frolic out of the affair. But for Ethelinda, and for money! That made a menial task of it, and her pride rose up in arms at the thought.

"Now you are mad! I knew you'd be!" came in anxious tones from the other bed. "I wish I had kept my mouth shut."

"No, I'm not," asserted Mary, stoutly. "I'm making up my mind. I was just thinking that you wouldn't do it if you were in my place, and I wouldn't do it to keep myself from starving, if it were just for myself, but it's for Jack. I'd get down and black the shoes of my worst enemy for Jack, and under the circumstances, I'm very glad to accept your offer, and I think it is very sweet of you to give me such a chance. You shall have the best shampoo in my power to give as soon as you are ready for it."

Later, she paused in her dressing, thinking maybe she had not been gracious enough in expressing her appreciation, and said emphatically, "Ethelinda, that was awfully good of you to think of a way to help me out of my difficulty. Last night I was so down in the dumps, and so disappointed over Jack's Christmas present, that I thought I never could smile again. But now I'm so sure it is coming out all right that I am as light-hearted as a bit of thistledown."

Ethelinda made some trivial reply, but immediately began to hum in a happy undertone. She was feeling surprisingly light-hearted herself. The r?le of benefactor was an unusual one, and she enjoyed the sensation.

For all her appreciative speeches, Mary approached her task that afternoon with inward reluctance. Only a grim determination to do her best to earn that dollar was her motive at first, and she helped herself by imagining it was the Princess Winsome's sunny hair which she was lathering and rubbing so vigorously. Ethelinda closed her eyes, enjoying the touch of the light fingers, and wishing the operation could be prolonged indefinitely. Somehow this intimate, personal contact seemed to create a friendliness for each other they had never known before. Presently Mary was chatting away almost as cordially as if it were Elise's dusky curls she had in her fingers, or A.O.'s brown braids.

Under promise of secrecy she told of Elise's masquerade the night before, and of A.O.'s wild curiosity about the lady in black. She had persecuted them all morning with questions, and they were almost worn out trying to evade them and to baffle her. Ethelinda appreciated being taken into her confidence, for she had been more lonely than her pride would allow her to admit. Her patronizing airs and ill-guarded speech about being exclusive in the choice of friends had offended most of the lower-class girls. Slowly she was learning that her old standards would not bear comparison with Madam Chartley's and the Lady Evelyn's and that she must accept theirs if she would have any friends at Warwick Hall. Her friendship with Mary took a long stride forward that afternoon.

The rest of the money came in various ways. Mary found appropriate quotations for a set of unique dinner cards, to fit the pen and ink illustrations which one of the Seniors bought to give her sister, a prominent club-woman, whose turn it was to give the yearly club dinner. She did some indexing for the librarian and some copying for Miss Chilton, and by the end of the week not only was Jack's fob on its way to Arizona, with presents for the rest of the family, but there was enough left in her purse to pay her share towards the mock Christmas tree.

It gave her a thrill to think that out of the entire school she had been chosen as one of the committee of nine for the delightful task of tying up the parcels for that tree. It was such bliss to share all the secrets and anticipate the surprise and laughter each ridiculous gift would call forth. And when all the joking and rollicking was over there was the carol service on the last night of the term, so sweet and solemn and full of the real Christmas gladness, that it was something to remember always as the crowning beauty of that beautiful time.

Old Bishop Chartley came down as usual for the service, and the chapel, fragrant with pine and spicy cedar boughs and lighted only by tall white candles, was just as Lloyd had described it, when she told of the Bishop's talk about keeping the White Feast on the birthday of the King. When the great doors swung wide for the white-robed choir to enter, Mary knew that it was only the Dardell twins leading in the processional with flute and cornet. But as they came slowly up the dim aisle under the arches of Christmas greens, their wide, flowing sleeves falling back from their arms, they made her think of two of Fra Angelico's trumpet-blowing angels, and she clasped her hands with a quick indrawing of breath. The high silvery flute notes and the mellow alto of the deep horn were like the voices of the Seraphim, leading all the others in their pean of "Glad tidings of great joy." Oh, it was good to be at a school like this she thought with a throb of deep thankfulness. And it was so good to know that all her plans had worked out happily, and her Christmas gifts for the girls were just what she wanted them to be. Her thoughts strayed away from the service a moment to recall the little bundles she had hidden in Elise's and A.O.'s suit-cases, and the package she had ready for Ethelinda, a prettily scalloped linen cover for her dressing-table with her initials, worked in handsome block letters in the centre.

No regrets clouded her face next morning, when she stood at the door, watching the last 'bus load of merry girls start home for the holidays. She was not going home herself. Arizona was too far away. But she had something more thrilling than that in prospect-a visit to Joyce in New York, she and Betty, and Christmas day with Eugenia, at the beautiful Tremont home out on the Hudson. She had been hearing about it for the last two years. And there was Eugenia's baby she was eager to see, the mischievous little year-old Patricia, "as beautiful as her father and as bad as her naughty Uncle Phil," Eugenia had written, in her letter of invitation.

And Phil himself would be there,-maybe. He was trying to get his work in shape so that he could be home at Christmas time. Mary did not realize how much her anticipations of this visit were tinged by the glow of that maybe. Her thoughts ran ahead to that day at Eugenia's oftener than to any other part of the grand outing. There was to be a whole week of sight-seeing in New York sandwiched in between the cozy hours at home with Joyce in her studio, and then on the roundabout way back to school a stop-over at Annapolis, for a few hours with Holland.

Filled with such an ineffable spirit of content that she would not have exchanged places with any one in the whole world, she watched the last 'bus load drive away, waving their handkerchiefs all down the avenue, and singing:

"O Warwick Hall, dear Warwick Hall,

The joys of Yule now homeward call.

Yet still we'll keep the tryst with you,

Though for a time we say adieu.

Adieu! Adieu!"

"THE GIRLISH FIGURE ENVELOPED IN A LONG LOOSE WORKING APRON."

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