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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesContrary Mary - Chapter 2
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Contrary Mary - Chapter 2 Post by :Lemko Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :May 2012 Read :1417

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Contrary Mary - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

_In Which Rose-Leaves and Old Slippers Speed a Happy Pair; and in Which Sweet and Twenty Speaks a New and Modern Language, and Gives a Reason for Renting a Gentleman's Library.


In spite of the fact that Mary Ballard had seemed to Roger Poole like a white-winged angel, she was not looked upon by the family as a beauty. It was Constance who was the "pretty one," and tonight as she stood in her bridal robes, gazing up at her sister who was descending the stairs, she was more than pretty. Her tender face was illumined by an inner radiance. She was two years older than Mary, but more slender, and her coloring was more strongly emphasized. Her eyes were blue and her hair was gold, as against the gray-green and dull fairness of Mary's hair. She seemed surrounded, too, by a sort of feminine _aura_, so that one knew at a glance that here was a woman who would love her home, her husband, her children; who would lean upon masculine protection, and suffer from masculine neglect.

Of Mary Ballard these things could not be said at once. In spite of her simplicity and frankness, there was about her a baffling atmosphere. She was like a still pool with the depths as yet unsounded, an uncharted sea--with its mystery of undiscovered countries.

The contrast between the sisters had never been more marked than when Mary, leaning over the stair-rail, answered the breathless, "Dearest, where have you been?" with her calm:

"There's plenty of time, Constance."

And Constance, soothed as always by her sister's tranquillity, repeated Mary's words for the benefit of a ponderously anxious Personage in amber satin.

"There's plenty of time, Aunt Frances."

That Aunt Frances _was a Personage was made apparent by certain exterior evidences. One knew it by the set of her fine shoulders, the carriage of her head, by the diamond-studded lorgnette, by the string of pearls about her neck, by the osprey in her white hair, by the golden buckles on her shoes.

"It is five minutes to eight," said Aunt Frances, "and Gordon is waiting down-stairs with his best man, the chorus is freezing on the side porch, and _everybody has arrived. I don't see _why you are waiting----"

"We are waiting for it to be eight o'clock, Aunt Frances," said Mary. "At just eight, I start down in front of Constance, and if you don't hurry you and Aunt Isabelle won't be there ahead of me."

The amber train slipped and glimmered down the polished steps, and the golden buckles gleamed as Mrs. Clendenning, panting a little and with a sense of outrage that her nervous anxiety of the preceding moment had been for naught, made her way to the drawing-room, where the guests were assembled.

Aunt Isabelle followed, gently smiling. Aunt Isabelle was to Aunt Frances as moonlight unto sunlight. Aunt Frances was married, Aunt Isabelle was single; Aunt Frances wore amber, Aunt Isabelle silver gray; Aunt Frances held up her head like a queen, Aunt Isabelle dropped hers deprecatingly; Aunt Frances' quick ears caught the whispers of admiration that followed her, Aunt Isabelle's ears were closed forever to all the music of the universe.

No sooner had the two aunts taken their places to the left of a floral bower than there was heard without the chanted wedding chorus, from a side door stepped the clergyman and the bridegroom and his best man; then from the hall came the little procession with Mary in the lead and Constance leaning on the arm of her brother Barry.

They were much alike, this brother and sister. More alike than Mary and Constance. Barry had the same gold in his hair, and blue in his eyes, and, while one dared not hint it, in the face of his broad-shouldered strength, there was an almost feminine charm in the grace of his manner and the languor of his movements.

There were no bridesmaids, except Mary, but four pretty girls held the broad white ribbons which marked an aisle down the length of the rooms. These girls wore pink with close caps of old lace. Only one of them had dark hair, and it was the dark-haired one, who, standing very still throughout the ceremony, with the ribbon caught up to her in lustrous festoons, never took her eyes from Barry Ballard's face.

And when, after the ceremony, the bride turned to greet her friends, the dark-haired girl moved forward to where Barry stood, a little apart from the wedding group.

"Doesn't it seem strange?" she said to him with quick-drawn breath.

He smiled down at her. "What?"

"That a few words should make such a difference?"

"Yes. A minute ago she belonged to us. Now she's Gordon's."

"And he's taking her to England?"

"Yes. But not for long. When he gets the branch office started over there, they'll come back, and he'll take his father's place in the business here, and let the old man retire."

She was not listening. "Barry," she interrupted, "what will Mary do? She can't live here alone--and she'll miss Constance."

"Oh, Aunt Frances has fixed that," easily; "she wants Mary to shut up the house and spend the winter in Nice with herself and Grace--it's a great chance for Mary."

"But what about you, Barry?"

"Me?" He shrugged his shoulders and again smiled down at her. "I'll find quarters somewhere, and when I get too lonesome, I'll come over and talk to you, Leila."

The rich color flooded her cheeks. "Do come," she said, again with quick-drawn breath, then like a child who has secured its coveted sugar-plum, she slipped through the crowd, and down into the dining-room, where she found Mary taking a last survey.

"Hasn't Aunt Frances done things beautifully?" Mary asked; "she insisted on it, Leila. We could never have afforded the orchids and the roses; and the ices are charming--pink hearts with cupids shooting at them with silver arrows----"

"Oh, Mary," the dark-haired girl laid her flushed cheek against the arm of her taller friend. "I think weddings are wonderful."

Mary shook her head. "I don't," she said after a moment's silence. "I think they're horrid. I like Gordon Richardson well enough, except when I think that he is stealing Constance, and then I hate him."

But the bride was coming down, with all the murmuring voices behind her, and now the silken ladies were descending the stairs to the dining-room, which took up the whole lower west wing of the house and opened out upon an old-fashioned garden, which to-night, under a chill October moon, showed its rows of box and of formal cedars like sharp shadows against the whiteness.

Into this garden came, later, Mary. And behind her Susan Jenks.

Susan Jenks was a little woman with gray hair and a coffee-colored skin. Being neither black nor white, she partook somewhat of the nature of both races. Back of her African gentleness was an almost Yankee shrewdness, and the firm will which now and then degenerated into obstinacy.

"There ain't no luck in a wedding without rice, Miss Mary. These paper rose-leaf things that you've got in the bags are mighty pretty, but how are you going to know that they bring good luck?"

"Aunt Frances thought they would be charming and foreign, Susan, and they look very real, floating off in the air. You must stand there on the upper porch, and give the little bags to the guests."

Susan ascended the terrace steps complainingly. "You go right in out of the night, Miss Mary," she called back, "an' you with nothin' on your bare neck!"

Mary, turning, came face to face with Gordon's best man, Porter Bigelow.

"Mary," he said, impetuously, "I've been looking for you everywhere. I couldn't keep my eyes off you during the service--you were--heavenly."

"I'm not a bit angelic, Porter," she told him, "and I'm simply freezing out here. I had to show Susan about the confetti."

He drew her in and shut the door. "They sent me to hunt for you," he said. "Constance wants you. She's going up-stairs to change. But I heard just now that you are going to Nice. Leila told me. Mary--you can't go--not so far away--from me."

His hand was on her arm.

She shook it off with a little laugh.

"You haven't a thing to do with it, Porter. And I'm not going--to Nice."

"But Leila said----"

Her head went up. It was a characteristic gesture. "It doesn't make any difference what _any one says. I'm not going to Nice."

Once more in the Tower Rooms, the two sisters were together for the last time. Leila was sent down on a hastily contrived errand. Aunt Frances, arriving, was urged to go back and look after the guests. Only Aunt Isabelle was allowed to remain. She could be of use, and the things which were to be said she could not hear.

"Dearest," Constance's voice had a break in it, "dearest, I feel so selfish--leaving you----"

Mary was kneeling on the floor, unfastening hooks. "Don't worry, Con. I'll get along."

"But you'll have to bear--things--all alone. It isn't as if any one knew, and you could talk it out."

"I'd rather die than speak of it," fiercely, "and I sha'n't write anything to you about it, for Gordon will read your letters."

"Oh, Mary, he won't."

"Oh, yes, he will, and you'll want him to--you'll want to turn your heart inside out for him to read, to say nothing of your letters."

She stood up and put both of her hands on her sister's shoulders. "But you mustn't tell him, Con. No matter how much you want to, it's my secret and Barry's--promise me, Con----"

"But, Mary, a wife can't."

"Yes, she _can have secrets from her husband. And this belongs to us, not to him. You've married him, Con, but we haven't."

Aunt Isabelle, gentle Aunt Isabelle, shut off from the world of sound, could not hear Con's little cry of protest, but she looked up just in time to see the shimmering dress drop to the floor, and to see the bride, sheathed like a lily in whiteness, bury her head on Mary's shoulder.

Aunt Isabelle stumbled forward. "My dear," she asked, in her thin troubled voice, "what makes you cry?"

"It's nothing, Aunt Isabelle." Mary's tone was not loud, but Aunt Isabelle heard and nodded.

"She's dead tired, poor dear, and wrought up. I'll run and get the aromatic spirits."

With Aunt Isabella out of the way, Mary set herself to repair the damage she had done. "I've made you cry on your wedding day, Con, and I wanted you to be so happy. Oh, tell Gordon, if you must. But you'll find that he won't look at it as you and I have looked at it. He won't make the excuses."

"Oh, yes he will." Constance's happiness seemed to come back to her suddenly in a flood of assurance. "He's the best man in the world, Mary, and so kind. It's because you don't know him that you think as you do."

Mary could not quench the trust in the blue eyes. "Of course he's good," she said, "and you are going to be the happiest ever, Constance."

Then Aunt Isabelle came back and found that the need for the aromatic spirits was over, and together the loving hands hurried Constance into her going away gown of dull blue and silver, with its sable trimmed wrap and hat.

"If it hadn't been for Aunt Frances, how could I have faced Gordon's friends in London?" said Constance. "Am I all right now, Mary?"

"Lovely, Con, dear."

But it was Aunt Isabelle's hushed voice which gave the appropriate phrase. "She looks like a bluebird--for happiness."

At the foot of the stairway Gordon was waiting for his bride--handsome and prosperous as a bridegroom should be, with a dark sleek head and eager eyes, and beside him Porter Bigelow, topping him by a head, and a red head at that.

As Mary followed Constance, Porter tucked her hand under his arm.


"Oh, Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
Your eyes they are so bright,
That the stars grow pale, as they tell the tale
To the other stars at night,"


he improvised under his breath. "Oh, Mary Ballard, do you know that I am holding on to myself with all my might to keep from shouting to the crowd, 'Mary isn't going away. Mary isn't going away.'"

"Silly----"

"You say that, but you don't mean it. Mary, you can't be hard-hearted on such a night as this. Say that I may stay for five minutes--ten--after the others have gone----"

They were out on the porch now, and he had folded about her the wrap which she had brought down with her. "Of course you may stay," she said, "but much good may it do you. Aunt Frances is staying and General Dick--there's to be a family conclave in the Sanctum--but if you want to listen you may."

And how the rose-leaves began to flutter! Susan Jenks had handed out the bags, and secretly, and with much elation had leaned over the rail as Constance passed down the steps, and had emptied her own little offering of rice in the middle of the bride's blue hat!

It was Barry, aided and abetted by Leila, who brought out the old slippers. There were Constance's dancing slippers, high-heeled and of delicate hues, Mary's more individual low-heeled ones, Barry's outworn pumps, decorated hurriedly by Leila for the occasion with lovers' knots of tissue paper.

And it was just as the bride waved "Good-bye" from Gordon's limousine that a new slipper followed the old ones, for Leila, carried away by the excitement, and having at the moment no other missile at hand, reached down, and plucking off one of her own pink sandals, hurled it with all her might at the moving car. It landed on top, and Leila, with a gasp, realized that it was gone forever.

"It serves you right." Looking up, she met Barry's laughing eyes.

She sank down on the step. "And they were a new pair!"

"Lucky that it's your birthday next week," he said. "Do you want pink ones?'"

"_Barry!_"

Her delight was overwhelming. "Heavens, child," he condoned her, "don't look as if I were the grand Mogul. Do you know I sometimes think you are eight instead of eighteen? And now, if you'll take my arm, you can hippity-hop into the house. And I hope that you'll remember this, that if I give you pink slippers you are not to throw them away."

In the hall they met Leila's father--General Wilfred Dick. The General had married, in late bachelorhood, a young wife. Leila was like her mother in her dark sparkling beauty and demure sweetness. But she showed at times the spirit of her father--the spirit which had carried the General gallantly through the Civil War, and had led him after the war to make a success of the practice of law. He had been for years the intimate friend and adviser of the Ballards, and it was at Mary's request that he was to stay to share in the coming conclave.

He told Leila this. "You'll have to wait, too," he said. "And now, why are you hopping on one foot in that absurd fashion?"

"Dad, dear, I lost my shoe----"

"Her very best pink one," Barry explained; "she threw it after the bride, and now I've got to give her another pair for her birthday."

The General's old eyes brightened as he surveyed the young pair. This was as it should be, the son of his old friend and the daughter of his heart.

He tried to look stern, however. "Haven't I always kept you supplied with pink shoes and blue shoes and all the colors of the rainbow shoes!" he demanded. "And why should you tax Barry?"

"But, Dad, he wants to." She looked eagerly at Barry for confirmation. "He wants to give them to me--for my birthday----"

"Of course I do," said Barry, lightly. "If I didn't give her slippers, I should have to give her something else--and far be it from me to know what--little--lovely--Leila--wants----"

And to the tune of his chant, they hippity-hopped together up the stairs in a hunt for some stray shoe that should fit little-lovely-Leila's foot!

A little later, the silken ladies having descended the stairway for the last time, Aunt Frances took her amber satin stateliness to the Sanctum.

Behind her, a silver shadow, came Aunt Isabelle, and bringing up the rear, General Dick, and the four young people; Leila in a pair of mismated slippers, hippity-hopping behind with Barry, and Porter assuring Mary that he knew he "hadn't any business to butt in to a family party," but that he was coming anyhow.

The Sanctum was the front room on the second floor. It had been the Little Mother's room in the days when she was still with them, and now it had been turned into a retreat where the young people drifted when they wanted quiet, or where they met for consultation and advice. Except that the walnut bed and bureau had been taken out nothing had been changed, and their mother's books were still in the low bookcases; religious books, many of them, reflecting the gentle faith of the owner. On mantel and table and walls were photographs of her children in long clothes and short, and then once more in long ones; there was Barry in wide collars and knickerbockers, and Constance and Mary in ermine caps and capes; there was Barry again in the military uniform of his preparatory school; Constance in her graduation frock, and Mary with her hair up for the first time. There was a picture of their father on porcelain in a blue velvet case, and another picture of him above the mantel in an oval frame, with one of the Little Mother's, also in an oval frame, to flank it. In the fairness of the Little Mother one traced the fairness of Barry and Constance. But the fairness and features of the father were Mary's.

Mary had never looked more like her father than now when, sitting under his picture, she stated her case. What she had to say she said simply. But when she had finished there was the silence of astonishment.

In a day, almost in an hour, little Mary had grown up! With Constance as the nominal head of the household, none of them had realized that it was Mary's mind which had worked out the problems of making ends meet, and that it was Mary's strength and industry which had supplemented Susan's waning efforts in the care of the big house.

"I want to keep the house," Mary repeated. "I had to talk it over to-night, Aunt Frances, because you go back to New York in the morning, and I couldn't speak of it before to-night because I was afraid that some hint of my plan would get to Constance and she would be troubled. She'll learn it later, but I didn't want her to have it on her mind now. I want to stay here. I've always lived here, and so has Barry--and while I appreciate your plans for me to go to Nice, I don't think it would be fair or right for me to leave Barry."

Barry, a little embarrassed to be brought into it, said, "Oh, you needn't mind about me----"

"But I do mind." Mary had risen and was speaking earnestly. "I am sure you must see it, Aunt Frances. If I went with you, Barry would be left to--drift--and I shouldn't like to think of that. Mother wouldn't have liked it, or father." Her voice touched an almost shrill note of protest.

Porter Bigelow, sitting unobtrusively in the background, was moved by her earnestness. "There's something back of it," his quick mind told him; "she knows about--Barry----"

But Barry, too, was on his feet. "Oh, look here, Mary," he was expostulating, "I'm not going to have you stay at home and miss a winter of good times, just because I'll have to eat a few meals in a boarding-house. And I sha'n't have to eat many. When I get starved for home cooking, I'll hunt up my friends. You'll take me in now and then, for Sunday dinner, won't you, General?--Leila says you will; and it isn't as if you were never coming back--Mary."

"If we close the house now," Mary said, "it will mean that it won't be opened again. You all know that." Her accusing glance rested on Aunt Frances and the General. "You all think it ought to be sold, but if we sell what will become of Susan Jenks, who nursed us and who nursed mother, and what shall we do with all the dear old things that were mother's and father's, and who will live in the dear old rooms?" She was struggling for composure. "Oh, don't you see that I--I can't go?"

It was Aunt Frances' crisp voice which brought her back to calmness. "But, my dear, you can't afford to keep it open. Your income with what Barry earns isn't any more than enough to pay your running expenses; there's nothing left for taxes or improvements. I'm perfectly willing to finance you to the best of my ability, but I think it very foolish to sink any more money--here----"

"I don't want you to sink it, Aunt Frances. Constance begged me to use her little part of our income, but I wouldn't. We sha'n't need it. I've fixed things so that we shall have money for the taxes. I--I have rented the Tower Rooms, Aunt Frances!"

They stared at her stunned. Even Leila tore her adoring eyes from Barry's face, and fixed them on the girl who made this astounding statement.

"Mary," Aunt Frances gasped, "do you meant that you are going to take--lodgers----?"

"Only one, Aunt Frances. And he's perfectly respectable. I advertised and he answered, and he gave me a bank reference."

"_He_. Mary, is it a man?"

Mary nodded. "Of course. I should hate to have a woman fussing around. And I set the rent for the suite at exactly the amount I shall need to take me through this year, and he was satisfied."

She turned and picked up a printed slip from the table.

"This is the way I wrote my ad," she said, "and I had twenty-seven answers. And this seemed the best----"

"Twenty-seven!" Aunt Frances held out her hand. "Will you let me see what you wrote to get such remarkable results?"

Mary handed it to her, and through the diamond-studded lorgnette Aunt Frances read:

"To let: Suite of two rooms and bath; with Gentleman's Library. House on top of a high hill which overlooks the city. Exceptional advantages for a student or scholar."

"I consider," said Mary, as Aunt Frances paused, "that the Gentleman's Library part was an inspiration. It was the bait at which they all nibbled."

The General chuckled, "She'll do. Let her have her own way, Frances. She's got a head on her like a man's."

Aunt Frances turned on him. "Mary speaks what is to me a rather new language of independence. And she can't stay here alone. She _can't_. It isn't proper--without an older woman in the house."

"But I want an older woman. Oh, Aunt Frances, please, may I have Aunt Isabelle?"

She had raised her voice so that Aunt Isabelle caught the name. "What does she want, Frances?" asked the deaf woman; "what does she want?"

"She wants you to live with her--here." Aunt Frances was thinking rapidly; it wasn't such a bad plan. It was always a problem to take Isabelle when she and her daughter traveled. And if they left her in New York there was always the haunting fear that she might be ill, or that they might be criticized for leaving her.

"Mary wants you to live with her," she said, "While we are abroad, would you like it--a winter in Washington?"

Aunt Isabelle's gentle face was illumined. "Do you really _want me, my dear?" she asked in her hushed voice. It had been a long time since Aunt Isabelle had felt that she was wanted anywhere. It seemed to her that since the illness which had sent her into a world of silence, that her presence had been endured, not coveted.

Mary came over and put her arms about her. "Will you, Aunt Isabelle?" she asked. "I shall miss Constance so, and it would almost be like having mother to have--you----"

No one knew how madly the hungry heart was beating under the silver-gray gown. Aunt Isabella was only forty-eight, twelve years younger than her sister Frances, but she had faded and drooped, while Frances had stood up like a strong flower on its stem. And the little faded drooping lady yearned for tenderness, was starved for it, and here was Mary in her youth and beauty, promising it.

"I want you so much, and Barry wants you--and Susan Jenks----"

She was laughing tremulously, and Aunt Isabelle laughed too, holding on to herself, so that she might not show in face or gesture the wildness of her joy.

"You won't mind, will you, Frances?" she asked.

Aunt Frances rose and shook out her amber skirts "I shall of course be much disappointed," she pitched her voice high and spoke with chill stateliness, "I shall be very much disappointed that neither you nor Mary will be with us for the winter. And I shall have to cross alone. But Grace can meet me in London. She's going there to see Constance, and I shall stay for a while and start the young people socially. I should think you'd want to see Constance, Mary."

Mary drew a quick breath. "I do want to see her--but I have to think about Barry--and for this winter, at least, my place--is here."

Then from the back of the room spoke Porter Bigelow.

"What's the name of your lodger?"

"Roger Poole."

"There are Pooles in Gramercy Park," said Aunt Frances. "I wonder if he's one of them."

Mary shook her head. "He's from the South."

"I should think," said Porter, slowly, "that you'd want to know something of him besides his bank reference before you took him into your house."

"Why?" Mary demanded.

"Because he might be--a thief, or a rascal," Porter spoke hotly.

Over the heads of the others their eyes met. "He is neither," said Mary. "I know a gentleman when I see one, Porter."

Then the temper of the redhead flamed. "Oh, do you? Well, for my part I wish that you were going to Nice, Mary."

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