Part 1 out of 5
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MARY MINDS HER BUSINESS
BY GEORGE WESTON
Author of "Oh, Mary, Be Careful," "The Apple-Tree Girl," and "You Never
Saw Such a Girl."
To Karl Edwin Harriman
One of the Noblest of them All
MARY MINDS HER BUSINESS
So that you may understand my heroine, I am going to write a preface and
tell you about her forebears.
In the latter part of the seventeenth century, there was a young
blacksmith in our part of the country named Josiah Spencer. He had a
quick eye, a quick hand and a quicker temper.
Because of his quick eye he married a girl named Mary McMillan. Because
of his quick hand, he was never in need of employment. And because of his
quick temper, he left the place of his birth one day and travelled west
until he came to a ford which crossed the Quinebaug River.
There, before the week was over, he had bought from Oeneko, the Indian
chief, five hundred acres on each side of the river--land in those days
being the cheapest known commodity. Hewing his own timber and making his
own hardware, he soon built a shop of his own, and the ford being on the
main road between Hartford and the Providence Plantations, it wasn't long
before he had plenty of business.
Above the ford was a waterfall. Josiah put in a wheel, a grist mill and a
By that time Mary, his wife, had presented him with one of the two
greatest gifts that a woman can ever bestow, and presently a sign was
painted over the shop:
JOSIAH SPENCER & SON
In course of time young Josiah made his first horse-shoe and old Josiah
made his last.
On a visit to New Amsterdam, the young man had already fallen in love
with a girl named Matilda Sturtevant. They were married in 1746 and had
one of those round old-fashioned families when twelve children seemed to
be the minimum and anything less created comment.
Two of the boys were later killed in the Revolution, another became
Supreme Court justice, but the likeliest one succeeded to the business of
Josiah Spencer & Son, which was then making a specialty of building
wagons--and building them so well that the shop had to be increased in
size again and again until it began to have the appearance of quite a
respectable looking factory.
The third Spencer to own the business married a Yankee--Patience
Babcock--but Patience's only son married a French-Canadian girl--for even
then the Canadians were drifting down into our part of the country.
So by that time, as you can see--and this is an important part of my
preface--the Spencer stock was a thrifty mixture of Yankee, Irish,
Scotch, Dutch and French blood--although you would never have guessed it
if you had simply seen the name of one Josiah Spencer following another
as the owner of the Quinebaug Wagon Works.
In the same year that the fourth Josiah Spencer succeeded to the
business, a bridge was built to take the place of the ford and the
waterfall was fortified by a dam. By that time a regular little town had
formed around the factory.
The town was called New Bethel.
It was at this stage of their history that the Spencers grew proud,
making a hobby of their family tree and even possibly breathing a sigh
over vanished coats-of-arms.
The fifth of the line, for instance, married a Miss Copleigh of Boston.
He built a big house on Bradford Hill and brought her home in a tally-ho.
The number of her trunks and the size of her crinolines are spoken of to
this day in our part of the country--also her manner of closing her eyes
when she talked, and holding her little finger at an angle when drinking
her tea. She had only one child--fortunately a son.
This son was the grandfather of our heroine. So you see we are getting
warm at last.
The grandfather of our heroine was probably the greatest Spencer of them
Under his ownership the factory was rebuilt of brick and stone. He
developed the town both socially and industrially until New Bethel bade
fair to become one of the leading cities in the state. He developed the
water power by building a great dam above the factory and forming a lake
nearly ten miles long. He also developed an artillery wheel which has
probably rolled along every important road in the civilized world.
Indeed he was so engaged in these enterprises that he didn't marry until
he was well past forty-five. Then one spring, going to Charlestown to buy
his season's supply of pine, he came back with a bride from one of the
oldest, one of the most famous families in all America.
There were three children to this marriage--one son and two daughters.
I will tell you about the daughters in my first chapter--two delightful
old maids who later had a baby between them--but first I must tell you
about the seventh and last Josiah.
In his youth he was wild.
This may have been partly due to that irreducible minimum of Original Sin
which (they say) is in all of us--and partly due to his cousin Stanley.
Now I don't mean to say for a moment that Stanley Woodward was a natural
born villain. I don't think people are born that way at all. At first the
idea probably struck him as a sort of a joke. "If anything happens to
young Josiah," I can imagine him thinking to himself with a grin, "I may
own this place myself some day.... Who knows?"
And from that day forward, he unconsciously borrowed from the spiders--if
you can imagine a smiling spider--and began to spin.
Did young Josiah want to leave the office early? Stanley smilingly did
his work for him.
Was young Josiah late the next morning? Stanley smilingly hid his
Did young Josiah yearn for life and adventure? Stanley spun a few more
webs and they met that night in Brigg's livery stable.
It didn't take much of this--unexpectedly little in fact--the last of the
Spencers resembling one of those giant firecrackers of bygone days--the
bigger the cracker, the shorter the fuse. Some say he married an actress,
which was one of the things which were generally whispered when I was a
boy. A Russian they said she was--which never failed to bring another
gasp. Others say she was a beautiful bare-back rider in a circus and wore
tights--which was another of the things which used to be whispered when I
was a boy, and not even then unless the children had first been sent from
the room and only bosom friends were present.
Whatever she was, young Josiah disappeared with her, and no one saw him
again until his mother died in the mansion on the hill. Some say she died
of a broken heart, but I never believed in that, for if sorrow could
break the human heart I doubt if many of us would be alive to smile at
next year's joys. However that may be, I do believe that young Josiah
thought that he was partly responsible for his mother's death. He turned
up at the funeral with a boy seven years old; and bit by bit we learned
that he was separated from his wife and that the court had given him
custody of their only child.
As you have probably noticed, there are few who can walk so straight as
those who have once been saved from the crooked path. There are few so
intolerant of fire as those poor, charred brands who have once been
snatched from the burning.
After his mother's funeral young Spencer settled down to a life of
atonement and toil, till first his father and then even his cousin
Stanley were convinced of the change which had taken place in the
one-time black sheep of the family.
By that time the patents on the artillery wheel had expired and a
competition had set in which was cutting down the profits to zero. Young
Josiah began experimenting on a new design which finally resulted in a
patent upon a combination ball and roller bearing. This was such an
improvement upon everything which had gone before, that gradually Spencer
& Son withdrew from the manufacture of wagons and wheels and re-designed
their whole factory to make bearings.
This wasn't done in a month or two, nor even in a year or two. Indeed the
returned prodigal grew middle aged in the process. He also saw the
possibilities of harnessing the water power above the factory to make
electric current. This current was sold so cheaply that more and more
factories were drawn to New Bethel until the fame of the city's products
were known wherever the language of commerce was spoken.
At the height of his son's success, old Josiah died, joining those silent
members of the firm who had gone before. I often like to imagine the
whole seven of them, ghostly but inquisitive, following the subsequent
strange proceedings with noiseless steps and eyes that missed nothing;
and in particular keeping watch upon the last living Josiah Spencer--a
heavy, powerfully built man with a look of melancholy in his eyes and a
way of sighing to himself as though asking a question, and then answering
it with a muffled "Yes... Yes..." This may have been partly due to the
past and partly due to the future, for the son whom he had brought home
with him began to worry him--a handsome young rascal who simply didn't
have the truth in him at times, and who was buying presents for girls
almost before he was out of short trousers.
His name was Paul--"Paul Vionel Olgavitch Spencer," he sometimes proudly
recited it, and whenever we heard of that we thought of his mother.
The older Paul grew, the handsomer he grew. And the handsomer he grew,
the wilder he became and the less the truth was in him. At times he would
go all right for a while, although he was always too fond of the river
for his aunts' peace of mind.
At a bend below the dam he had found a sheltered basin, covered with
grass and edged with trees. And there he liked to lie, staring up into
the sky and dreaming those dreams of youth and adventure which are the
heritage of us all.
Or else he would sit and watch the river, although he couldn't do it
long, for its swift movement seemed to fascinate him and excite him, and
to arouse in him the desire to follow it--to follow it wherever it went.
These were his quieter moods.
Ordinarily there was something gipsy-like, something Neck-or-Nothing
about him. A craving for excitement seemed to burn under him like a fire.
The full progression of correction marched upon him and failed to make
impression: arguments, orders, warnings, threats, threshings and the
stoppage of funds: none of these seemed to improve him in the least.
Josiah's two sisters did their best, but they could do nothing, either.
"I wouldn't whip him again, Josiah," said Miss Cordelia one night,
timidly laying her hand upon her brother's arm. "He'll be all right when
he's a little older.... You know, dear ... you were rather wild, yourself
... when you were young.... Patty and I were only saying this morning
that if he takes after you, there's really nothing to worry about--"
"He's God's own punishment," said Josiah, looking up wildly. "I
know--things I can't tell you. You remember what I say: that boy will
disgrace us all...."
One morning he suddenly and simply vanished with the factory pay-roll and
one of the office stenographers.
In the next twelve months Josiah seemed to age at least twelve years--his
cousin Stanley watching him closely the while--and then one day came the
news that Paul Spencer had shot and killed a man, while attempting to
hold him up, somewhere in British Columbia.
If you could have seen Josiah Spencer that day you might have thought
that the bullet had grazed his own poor heart.
"It's God's punishment," he said over and over. "For seven generations
there has been a Spencer & Son--a trust that was left to me by my father
that I should pass it on to my son. And what have I done...!"
Whereupon he made a gesture that wasn't far from despair--and in that
gesture, such as only those can make who know in their hearts that they
have shot the albatross, this preface brings itself to a close and at
last my story begins.
"Patty," said Miss Cordelia one morning, "have you noticed Josiah
"Yes," nodded Miss Patricia, her eyes a little brighter than they should
"Do you know," continued the other, her voice dropping to a whisper, "I'm
afraid--if he keeps on--the way he is--"
"Oh, no, Cordelia! You know as well as I do--there has never been
anything like that in our family."
Nevertheless the two sisters looked at each other with awe-stricken eyes,
and then their arms went around each other and they eased their hearts in
the immemorial manner.
"You know, he worries because we are the last of the Spencers," said
Cordelia, "and the family dies with us. Even if you or I had children, I
don't think he would take it so hard--"
A wistful look passed over their faces, such as you might expect to see
on those who had repented too late and stood looking through St. Peter's
gate at scenes in which they knew they could never take a part.
"But I am forty-eight," sighed Cordelia.
"And I--I am fifty--"
The two sisters had been writing when this conversation started. They
were busy on a new generation of the Spencer-Spicer genealogy, and if you
have ever engaged on a task like that, you will know the correspondence
it requires. But now for a time their pens were forgotten and they sat
looking at each other over the gatelegged table which served as desk.
They were still both remarkably good-looking, though marked with that
delicacy of material and workmanship--reminiscent of old china--which
seems to indicate the perfect type of spinster-hood. Here and there in
their hair gleamed touches of silver, and their cheeks might have
reminded you of tinted apples which had lightly been kissed with the
And so they sat looking at each other, intently, almost breathlessly,
each suddenly moved by the same question and each wishing that the other
For the second time it was Cordelia who broke the silence.
"Yes, dear?" breathed Patty, and left her lips slightly parted.
"I wonder if Josiah--is too old--to marry again! Of course," she
hurriedly added, "he is fifty-two--but it seems to me that one of the
Spicers--I think it was Captain Abner Spicer--had children until he was
sixty--although by a younger wife, of course."
They looked it up and in so doing they came across an Ezra Babcock,
father-in-law of the Third Josiah Spencer, who had had a son proudly born
to him in his sixty-fourth year.
They gazed at each other then, those two maiden sisters, like two
conspirators in their precious innocence.
"If we could find Josiah a young wife--" said the elder at last.
"Oh, Cordelia!" breathed Patty, "if, indeed, we only could!"
Which was really how it started.
As I think you will realize, it would be a story in itself to describe
the progress of that gentle intrigue--the consultations, the gradual
eliminations, the search, the abandonment of the search--(which came
immediately after learning of two elderly gentlemen with young wives--but
no children!)--the almost immediate resumption of the quest because of
Josiah's failing health--and finally then the reward of patience,
the pious nudge one Sunday morning in church, the whispered "Look,
Cordelia, that strange girl with the Pearsons--no, the one with the red
cheeks--yes, that one!"--the exchange of significant glances, the
introduction, the invitation and last, but least, the verification of the
fruitfulness of the vine.
The girl's name was Martha Berger and her home was in California. She had
come east to attend the wedding of her brother and was now staying with
the Pearsons a few weeks before returning west. Her age was twenty-six.
She had no parents, very little money, and taught French, English and
Science in the high school back home.
"Have you any brothers or sisters!" asked Miss Cordelia, with a side
glance toward Miss Patty.
"Only five brothers and five sisters," laughed Martha.
For a moment it might be said that Miss Cordelia purred.
"Any of them married?" she continued.
"All but me."
"My dear! ... You don't mean to say that they have made you an aunt
Martha paused with that inward look which generally accompanies mental
"Only about seventeen times," she finally laughed again.
When their guest had gone, the two sisters fairly danced around each
"Oh, Patty!" exulted Miss Cordelia, "I'm sure she's a fruitful vine!"
There is something inexorable in the purpose of a maiden lady--perhaps
because she has no minor domestic troubles to distract her; and when you
have two maiden ladies working on the same problem, and both of them
possessed of wealth and unusual intelligence--!
They started by taking Martha to North East Harbor for the balance of the
summer, and then to keep her from going west in the fall, they engaged
her to teach them French that winter at quite a fabulous salary. They
also took her to Boston and bought her some of the prettiest dresses
imaginable; and the longer they knew her, the more they liked her; and
the more they liked her, the more they tried to enlist her sympathies in
behalf of poor Josiah--and the more they tried to throw their brother
into Martha's private company.
"Look here," he said one day, when his two sisters were pushing him too
hard. "What's all this excitement about Martha? Who is she, anyway?"
"Why, don't you know!" Cordelia sweetly asked him, and drawing a full
breath she added: "Martha--is--your--future--wife--"
If you had been there, you would have been pardoned for thinking that the
last of the Spencers had suddenly discovered that he was sitting upon a
The two sisters smiled at him--rather nervously, it is true, but still
they kept their hands upon their brother's shoulders, as though they were
two nurses soothing a patient and saying: "There, now ... The-e-e-ere ...
Just be quiet and you'll feel better in a little while."
"Yes, dear," whispered Cordelia, her mouth ever so close to his ear.
"Your future wife--and the mother of your future children--"
"Nonsense, nonsense--" muttered Josiah, breaking away quite flustered.
"I'm--I'm too old--"
Almost speaking in concert they told him about Captain Abner Spencer who
had children until he was sixty, and Ezra Babcock, father-in-law of the
third Josiah Spencer, who had a son proudly born to him in his
"And she's such a lovely girl," said Cordelia earnestly. "Patty and I are
quite in love with her ourselves--"
"And think what it would mean to your peace of mind to have another
"And what it would mean to Spencer & Son--!"
Josiah groaned at that. As a matter of fact he hadn't a chance to escape.
His two sisters had never allowed themselves to be courted, but they must
have had their private ideas of how such affairs should be conducted, for
they took Josiah in hand and put him through his paces with a speed which
can only be described as breathless.
Flowers, candy, books, jewellery, a ring, the ring--the two maiden
sisters lived a winter of such romance that they nearly bloomed into
youth again themselves; and whenever Josiah had the least misgiving about
a man of fifty-two marrying a girl of twenty-six, they whispered to him:
"Think what it will mean to Spencer & Son--" And whenever Martha showed
the least misgivings they whispered to her: "That's only his way, my
dear; you mustn't mind that." And once Cordelia added (while Patty nodded
her head): "Of course, there has to be a man at a wedding, but I want you
to feel that you would be marrying us, as much as you would be marrying
Josiah. You would be his wife, of course, but you would be our little
sister, too; and Patty and I would make you just as happy as we could--"
Later they were glad they had told her this.
It was a quiet wedding and for a time nothing happened; although if you
could have seen the two maiden sisters at church on a Sunday morning, you
would have noticed that after the benediction they seemed to be praying
very earnestly indeed--even as Sarah prayed in the temple so many years
ago. There was this curious difference, however: Sarah had prayed for
herself, but these two innocent spinsters were praying for another.
Then one morning, never to be forgotten, Martha thought to herself at the
breakfast table, "I'll tell them as soon as breakfast is over."
But she didn't.
She thought, "I'll take them into the garden and tell them there--"
But though she took them into the garden, somehow she couldn't tell them
"As soon as we get back into the house," she said, "I'll tell them."
Even then the words didn't come, and Martha sat looking out of the window
so quietly and yet with such a look of mingled fear and pride and
exaltation on her face, that Cordelia suddenly seemed to divine it.
"Oh, Martha," she cried. "Do you--do you--do you really think--"
Miss Patty looked up, too--stricken breathless all in a moment--and
quicker than I can tell it, the three of them had their arms around each
other, and tears and smiles and kisses were blended--quite in the
"We must start sewing," said Miss Cordelia.
So they started sewing, Martha and the two maiden sisters, every stitch a
hope, every seam the dream of a young life's journey.
"We must think beautiful thoughts," spoke up Miss Patty another day.
So while they sewed, sometimes one and sometimes another read poetry, and
sometimes they read the Psalms, especially the Twenty-third, and
sometimes Martha played the Melody in F, or the Shower of Stars or the
"We must think brave thoughts, too," said Miss Cordelia.
So after that, whenever one of them came to a stirring editorial in a
newspaper, or a rousing passage in a book, it was put on one side to be
read at their daily sewing bee; and when these failed they read Barbara
Fritchie, or Patrick Henry, or Horatio at the Bridge.
"Do you notice how much better Josiah is looking!" whispered Miss
Cordelia to her sister one evening.
"A different man entirely," proudly nodded Miss Patty. "I heard him
speaking yesterday about an addition to the factory--"
"I suppose it's because he's living in the future now--"
"Instead of in the past. But I do wish he wouldn't be quite so sure that
it's going to be a boy. I'm afraid sometimes--that perhaps he won't like
it--if it's a girl--"
They had grown beautiful as they spoke, but now they looked at each other
in silence, the same fear in both their glances.
"Oh, Cordelia," suddenly spoke Miss Patty. "Suppose it is a girl--!"
"Hush, dear. Remember, we must have brave thoughts. And even if the first
one is a girl, there'll be plenty of time for a boy--"
"I hadn't thought of that," said Miss Patty.
They smiled at each other in concert, and a faint touch of colour arose
to Miss Cordelia's slightly withered cheeks.
"Do you know," she said, hesitating, smiling--yes, and thrilling a
little, too--"we've had so much to do with bringing it about, that
somehow I feel as though it's going to be _my_ baby--"
"Why, Cordelia!" whispered Miss Patty, who had been nodding throughout
this confession. "That's exactly how I feel about it, too!"
It wasn't long after that before they began to look up names.
"If Josiah wasn't such a family name," said Miss Cordelia, "I'd like to
call him Basil. That means kingly or royal." Then of course they turned
to Cordelia. Cordelia meant warm-hearted. Patricia meant royal. Martha
meant the ruler of the house.
They were pleased at these revelations.
The week before the great event was expected, Martha had a notion one
day. She wished to visit the factory. Josiah interpreted this as the
happiest of auguries.
"After seven generations," was his cryptic remark, "you simply can't keep
them away. It's bred in the bone...."
He drove Martha down to the works himself, and took her through the
various shops, some of which were of such a length that when you stood at
one end, the other seemed to vanish into distance.
Everything went well until they reached the shipping room where a
travelling crane was rolling on its tracks overhead, carrying a load of
boxes. This crane was hurrying back empty for another load, its chain and
tackle swinging low, when Martha started across the room to look at one
of the boys who had caught his thumb between a hammer and a nail and was
trying to bind it with his handkerchief. The next moment the swinging
tackle of the crane struck poor Martha in the back, caught in her dress
and dragged her for a few horrible yards along the floor.
That night the house on the hill had two unexpected visitors, the Angel
of Death following quickly in the footsteps of the Angel of Life.
"You poor motherless little thing," breathed Cordelia, cuddling the baby
in her arms. "Look, Josiah," she said, trying to rouse her brother. "Look
...it's smiling at you--"
But Josiah looked up with haggard eyes that saw nothing, and could only
repeat the sentence which he had been whispering to himself, "It's God's
own punishment--God's own punishment--there are things--I can't tell
The doctor came to him at last and, after he was quieter, the two sisters
went away, carrying their precious burden with them.
"Wasn't there a girl's name which means bitterness?" asked Miss Cordelia,
"Yes," said Miss Patty. "That's what 'Mary' means."
The two sisters looked at each other earnestly--looked at each other and
"We'll call her 'Mary' then," said Miss Cordelia.
And that is how my heroine got her name.
I wish I had time to tell you in the fulness of detail how those two
spinsters brought up Mary, but there is so much else to put before you
that I dare not dally here. Still, I am going to find time to say that
all the love and affection which Miss Cordelia and Miss Patty had ever
woven into their fancies were now showered down upon Mary--falling softly
and sweetly like petals from two full-blown roses when stirred by a
breeze from the south.
When she was a baby, Mary's nose had an upward tilt.
One morning after Miss Cordelia had bathed her (which would have reminded
you of a function at the court of the Grand Monarque, with its Towel
Holder, Soap Holder, Temperature Taker and all and sundry) she suddenly
sent the two maids and the nurse away and, casting dignity to the winds,
she lifted Mary in a transport of love which wouldn't be denied any
longer, and pretended to bite the end of the poor babe's nose off.
"Oh, I know it's candy," she said, mumbling away and hugging the blessed
child. "It's even got powdered sugar on it--"
"That's talcum powder," said Miss Patty, watching with a jealous eye.
"Powdered sugar, yes," persisted Miss Cordelia, mumbling on. "I know. And
I know why her nose turns up at the end, too. That naughty Miss Patty
washed it with yellow soap one night when I wasn't looking--"
"I never, never did!" protested Miss Patty, all indignation in a moment.
"Washed it with yellow soap, yes," still persisted Miss Cordelia, "and
made it shine like a star. And that night, when Mary lay in her bed, the
moon looked through the window and saw that little star twinkling there,
and the moon said 'Little star! Little star! What are you doing there in
Mary's bed? You come up here in the sky and twinkle where you belong!'
And all night long, Mary's little nose tried to get up to the moon, and
that's why it turns up at the end--" And then in one grand finale of
cannibalistic transport, Miss Cordelia concluded, "Oh, I could eat her
But it was Miss Patty's turn then, because although Cordelia bathed the
child, it was the younger sister's part to dress her. So Miss Patty put
her arms out with an authority which wouldn't take "No" for an answer,
and if you had been in the next room, you would then have heard--
"Oh, where have you been
My pretty young thing--?"
Which is a rather active affair, especially where the singer shows how
she danced her a dance for the Dauphin of France. By that time you won't
be surprised when I tell you that Miss Patty's cheeks had a downright
glow on them--and I think her heart had something of the same glow, too,
because, seating herself at last to dress our crowing heroine, she beamed
over to her sister and said (though somewhat out of breath) "Isn't it
This, of course, was all strictly private.
In public, Mary was brought up with maidenly deportment. You would never
dream, for instance, that she was ever tickled with a turkey feather
(which Miss Cordelia kept for the purpose) or that she had ever been
atomized all over with Lily of the Valley (which Miss Patty never did
again because Ma'm Maynard, the old French nurse, smelled it and told the
maids). But always deep down in the child was an indefinable quality
which puzzled her two aunts.
As Mary grew older, this quality became clearer.
"I know what it is," said Miss Cordelia one night. "She has a mind of her
own. Everything she sees or hears: she tries to reason it out."
I can't tell you why, but Miss Patty looked uneasy.
"Only this morning," continued Miss Cordelia, "I heard Ma'm Maynard
telling her that there wasn't a prettier syringa bush anywhere than the
one under her bedroom window. Mary turned to her with those eyes of
hers--you know the way she does--'Ma'm Maynard,' she said, 'have you seen
all the other s'inga bushes in the world?' And only yesterday I said to
her, 'Mary, you shouldn't try to whistle. It isn't nice.' She gave me
that look--you know--and said, 'Then let us learn to whistle, Aunt
T'delia, and help to make it nice.'"
"Imagine you and I saying things like that when we were girls," said Miss
Patty, still looking troubled.
"Yes, yes, I know. And yet... I sometimes think that if you and I had
been brought up a little differently...."
They were both quiet then for a time, each consulting her memories of
hopes long past.
"Just the same," said Miss Patty at last, "there are worse things in the
world than being old-fashioned."
In which I think you would have agreed with her, if you could have seen
Mary that same evening.
At the time of which I am now writing she was six years old--a rather
quiet, solemn child--though she had a smile upon occasions, which was
well worth going to see.
For some time back she had heard her aunts speaking of "Poor Josiah!" She
had always stood in awe of her father who seemed taller and gaunter than
ever. Mary seldom saw him, but she knew that every night after dinner he
went to his den and often stayed there (she had heard her aunts say)
until long after midnight.
"If he only had some cheerful company," she once heard Aunt Cordelia
"But that's the very thing he seems to shun since poor Martha died,"
sighed Miss Patty, and dropping her voice, never dreaming for a moment
that Mary was listening, she added with another sigh, "If there had only
been a boy, too!"
All these things Mary turned over in her mind, as few but children can,
especially when they have dreamy eyes and often go a long time without
saying anything. And on the same night when Aunt Patty had come to
the conclusion that there are worse things in the world than being
old-fashioned, Mary waited until she knew that dinner was over and then,
escaping Ma'm Maynard, she stole downstairs, her heart skipping a beat
now and then at the adventure before her. She passed through the hall and
the library like a determined little ghost and then, gently turning the
knob, she opened the study door.
Her father was sitting at his desk.
At the sound of the opening door he turned and stared at the apparition
which confronted him. Mary had closed the door and stood with her back to
it, screwing up her courage for the last stage of her journey.
And in truth it must have taken courage, for there was something in old
Josiah's forbidding brow and solitary mien which would have chilled the
purpose of any child. It may have been this which suddenly brought the
tears to Mary's eyes, or it may have been that her womanly little breast
guessed the loneliness in her father's heart. Whatever it was, she
unsteadily crossed the room, her sight blurred but her plan as steadfast
as ever, and a moment later she was climbing on Josiah's knee, her arms
tight around his neck, sobbing as though it would shake her little frame
What passed between those two, partly in speech but chiefly in silence
with their wet cheeks pressed together, I need not tell you; but when
Ma'm Maynard came searching for her charge and stood quite open-mouthed
in the doorway, Josiah waved her away, his finger on his lip, and later
he carried Mary upstairs himself--and went back to his study without a
word, though blowing his nose in a key which wasn't without significance.
And nearly every night after that, when dinner was over, Mary made a
visit to old Josiah's study downstairs; and one Saturday morning when he
was leaving for the factory, he heard the front door open and shut behind
him and there stood Mary, her little straw bonnet held under her chin
with an elastic. In the most matter of fact way she slipped her fingers
into his hand. He hesitated, but woman-like she pulled him on. The next
minute they were walking down the drive together.
As they passed the end of the house, he remembered the words which he had
once used to his sisters, "After seven generations you simply can't keep
them away. It's bred in the bone."
A thrill ran over him as he looked at the little figure by his side.
"If she had only been a boy!" he breathed.
At the end of the drive he stopped.
"You must go back now, dear."
"No," said Mary and tried to pull him on.
For as long as it might take you to count five, Josiah stood there
irresolute, Mary's fingers pulling him one way and the memory of poor
Martha's fate pulling him the other.
"And yet," he thought, "she's bound to see it sometime. Perhaps better
now--before she understands--than later--"
He lifted her and sat her on his arm.
"Now, listen, little woman," he said as they gravely regarded each other.
"This is important. If I take you this morning, will you promise to be a
good girl, and sit in the office, and not go wandering off by yourself?
Will you promise me that?"
This, too, may have been heredity, going back as far as Eve: Still
gravely regarding him she nodded her head in silence and promised him
with a kiss. He set her down, her hand automatically slipping into his
palm again, and together they walked to the factory.
The road made a sharp descent to the interval by the side of the river,
almost affording a bird's-eye view of the buildings below--lines of
workshops of an incredible length, their ventilators like the helmets of
an army of giants.
A freight train was disappearing into one of the warehouses. Long lines
of trucks stood on the sidings outside. Wisps of steam arose in every
direction, curious, palpitating.
From up the river the roar of the falls could just be heard while from
the open windows of the factory came that humming note of industry which,
more than anything else, is like the sound which is sometimes made by a
hive of bees, immediately before a swarm.
It was a scene which always gave Josiah a well-nigh oppressive feeling
of pride and punishment--pride that all this was his, that he was
one of those Spencers who had risen so high above the common run of
man--punishment that he had betrayed the trust which had been handed down
to him, that he had broken the long line of fathers and sons which had
sent the Spencer reputation, with steadily increasing fame, to the
corners of the earth. As he walked down the hall that Saturday morning,
his sombre eyes missing no detail, he felt Mary's fingers tighten around
his hand and, glancing down at her, he saw that her attention, too, was
engrossed by the scene below, her eyes large and bright as children's are
when they listen to a fairy tale.
Arrived at the office, he placed her in a chair by the side of his desk,
and you can guess whether she missed anything of what went on. Clerks,
business callers, heads of departments came and went. All had a smile for
Mary who gravely smiled in return and straightway became her dignified
little self again.
"When is Mr. Woodward expected back?" Josiah asked a clerk.
"On the ten-thirty, from Boston."
This was Stanley Woodward, Josiah's cousin--Cousin Stanley of the
spider's web whom you have already met. He was now the general manager of
the factory, and had always thought that fate was on his side since the
night he had heard of Martha's death and that the child she left behind
her was a girl.
Josiah glanced at his watch.
"Time to make the rounds," he said and, lifting Mary on his arm, he left
the office and started through the plant.
And, oh, how Mary loved it--the forests of belts, whirring and twisting
like live things, the orderly lines of machine tools, each doing its work
with more than human ingenuity and precision, the enormous presses
reminding her of elephants stamping out pieces of metal, the grinders
which sang to her, the drilling machines which whirred to her, the
polishing machines which danced for her, the power hammers which bowed to
her. Yes, and better than all was the smile that each man gave her,
smiles that came from the heart, for all the quiet respect that
"It's his daughter," they whispered as soon as Josiah was out of hearing.
Here and there one would stop smiling and say, "I remember the day he
brought her mother through--"
At the end of one of the workshops, Mr. Spencer looked at his watch
"We'd better get back to the office," he said. "Tired, dear?"
In a rapture of denial, she kicked her little toes against his side.
"Bred in the bone..." he mused. "Eh, if she had only been a boy...!" But
that was past all sighing for, and in the distance he saw Cousin Stanley,
just back from Boston, evidently coming to find him.
Mary, too, was watching the approaching figure. She had sometimes seen
him at the house and had formed against him one of those instinctive
dislikes which few but children know. As Stanley drew near she turned her
head and buried her face against her father's shoulder.
"Good news?" asked Josiah.
"Good news, of course," said Stanley, speaking as an irresistible force
might speak, if it were endowed with a tongue. "When Spencer & Son start
out for a thing, they get it." You could tell that what he meant was
"When Stanley Woodward starts out for a thing, he gets it." His elbows
suddenly grew restless. "It will take a lot of money," he added. "Of
course we shall have to increase the factory here--"
Still Mary kept her face hidden against her father's shoulder.
"Got the little lady with you, I see."
"Yes; I'm afraid I've tired her out."
A murmur arose from his shoulder.
"What?" said Josiah. "Not tired? Then turn around and shake hands with
Slowly, reluctantly, Mary lifted her head and began to reach out her
hand. Then just before their fingers would have touched, she quickly
clasped her hands around her father's neck and again she buried her face
upon his shoulder.
"She doesn't seem to take to you," said Josiah.
"So it seems," said the other dryly. Reaching around he touched Mary's
cheek with the back of his finger. "Not mad at your uncle, are you,
little girl?" he asked.
"Don't!" said Josiah, speaking with quick concern. "You're only making
The two stared at each other, slightly frowning. Stanley was the first to
catch himself. "I'll see you at the office later," he said, and with a
bow at the little figure on Josiah's arm he added with a touch of irony,
"Perhaps I had better wait until you're alone!"
He turned and made his way back to the office, his elbows grown restless
"A good thing it isn't a boy," he thought, "or he might not like me when
he grows up, either. But a girl... Oh, well, as it happens, girls don't
count.... And a good thing, too, they don't," he thoughtfully added. "A
good thing, too, they don't...."
Mary grew, and grew, and grew.
She never outgrew her aversion to Uncle Stanley, though.
One day, when she was in Josiah's office, a young man entered and was
warmly greeted by her father. He carried a walking stick, sported a white
edging on his waistcoat and had just the least suspicion of perfumery on
him--a faint scent that reminded Mary of raspberry jam.
"He smells nice," she thought, missing nothing of this.
"You've never seen my daughter, have you?" asked Josiah.
"A little queen," said the young man with a brilliant smile. "I hope I'll
see her often."
"That's Uncle Stanley's son Burdon," said Josiah when he had left. "He's
just through college; he's going to start in the office here."
Mary liked to hear that, and always after that she looked for Burdon and
watched him with an interest that had something of fascination in it.
Before she was ten, she and Josiah had become old chums. She knew the
factory by the river almost as well as she knew the house on the hill.
Not only that but she could have told you most of the processes through
which the bearings passed before they were ready for the shipping room.
To show you how her mind worked, one night she asked her father, "What
makes a machine squeak?"
"Needs oil," said Josiah, "generally speaking."
The next Saturday morning she not only kept her eyes open, but her ears
Presently her patience was rewarded.
"Squee-e-eak! Squee-e-eak!" complained a lathe which they were passing.
Mary stopped her father and looked her very old-fashionedest at the lathe
"Needs oil," said she, "gen'ly speaking."
It was one of the proud moments in Josiah's life, and yet when back of
him he heard a whisper, "Chip of the old block," he couldn't repress the
well nigh passionate yearning, "Oh, Lord, if she had only been a boy!"
That year an addition was being made to the factory and Mary liked to
watch the builders. She often noticed a boy and a dog sitting under the
trees and watching, too.
Once they smiled at each other, the boy blushing like a sunset. After
that they sometimes spoke while Josiah was talking to the foreman. His
name, she learned, was Archey Forbes, his father was the foreman, and
when he grew up he was going to be a builder, too. But no matter how
often they saw each other, Archey always blushed to the eyes whenever
Mary smiled at him.
Occasionally a man would be hurt at the factory. Whenever this happened,
Aunt Patty paid a weekly call to the injured man until he was well--an
old Spencer custom that had never died out.
Mary generally accompanied her aunts on these visits--which was a part of
the family training--and in this way she saw the inside of many a home.
"I wouldn't mind being a poor man," she said one Saturday morning,
breaking a long silence, "but I wouldn't be a poor woman for anything."
"Why not?" asked Miss Cordelia.
She couldn't tell them why but for the last half hour she had been
comparing the lives of the men in the factory with the lives of their
wives at home.
"A man can work in the factory," she tried to tell them, "and everything
is made nice for him. But his wife at home-now--nobody cares--nobody
cares what happens to her--"
"I never saw such a child," said Miss Cordelia, watching her start with
her father down the hill a few minutes later. "And the worst of it is, I
think we are partly to blame for it."
"Cordelia!" said Miss Patty. "How?"
"I mean in keeping her surrounded so completely with old people. When
everything is said and done, dear, it isn't natural."
"But we would miss her so much if we sent her to school--"
"Oh, I wasn't thinking of sending her to school--"
Miss Patty was quiet for a time.
"If we could find some one of her own age," she said at last, "whom she
could play with, and talk with--some one who would lead her thoughts into
more natural channels--"
This question of companionship for Mary puzzled the two Miss Spencers for
nearly a year, and then it was settled, as so many things are, in an
In looking up the genealogy of the Spicer family, Miss Patty discovered
that a distant relative in Charleston had just died, leaving a daughter
behind him--an orphan--who was a year older than Mary. Correspondence
finally led Miss Patty to make the journey, and when she returned she
brought with her a dark-eyed girl who might have been the very spirit of
"My dear," said Miss Patty, "this is your cousin Helen. She is going to
make us a long visit, and I hope you will love each other very much."
The two cousins studied each other. Then in her shy way Mary held out her
"Oh, I love you already!" said Helen impulsively, and hugged her instead.
That evening they exchanged confidences and when Miss Cordelia heard
about this, she questioned Mary and enjoyed herself immensely.
"And then what did she ask you?" finally inquired Miss Cordelia, making
an effort to keep her face straight.
"She asked me if I had a beau, and I told her 'No.'"
"And then what did she say?"
"She asked me if there was anything the matter with the boys around here,
and I told her I didn't know."
"And then she said, 'I'll bet you I'll soon find out.' But just then Aunt
Patty came in and we had to stop."
Later Miss Patty came downstairs looking thoughtful and spoke to her
sister in troubled secret.
"I've just been in Helen's room," she said, "and what do you think she
has on her dresser?"
"I give it up," replied Miss Cordelia in a very rich, voice.
"Three photographs of young men!"
The two sisters gazed at each other, quite overcome, and if you had been
there you would have seen that if they had held fans in their hands, they
would have fanned themselves with vigour.
"Didn't you hear anything of this--in Charleston?" asked Miss Cordelia at
"Not a word, my dear. I heard she was very popular; that was all."
"The one thing, perhaps, that we have never been."
Miss Cordelia shook her head and made a helpless gesture. "Well," she
said at last, "I must confess we were looking for an antidote ... but I
never thought we'd be quite so successful...."
A few weeks after her arrival, Helen and Mary were walking to the
post-office. Helen had a number of letters to mail, her correspondents
being active and her answers prompt.
They hadn't gone far when a young man appeared in the distance,
approaching them. Mary gave him a look to see who it was, and after
saying to Helen, "This is Bob McAllister--one of our neighbours. He's
home from school," she continued the conversation and failed to give Sir
Robert another thought.
Not so Helen, however.
One hand went to the back of her hair with a graceful gesture, and next
she touched her nose with a powdered handkerchief.
A moment before, she had been looking straight ahead with a rather
thoughtful expression, but now she half turned to Mary, smiling and
nodding. In some manner her carriage, even her walk, underwent a change.
But when I try to tell you what I mean I feel as tongue-tied as a boy who
is searching for a word which doesn't exist. As nearly as I can express
it, she seemed to "wiggle" a little, although that isn't the word. She
seemed to hang out a sign "Oh, look--look at me!"--and that doesn't quite
describe it, either.
Just as Master McAllister reached them, raising his hat and bowing to
Mary and her friend--Helen's eyes and Helen's smile unconsciously
lingered on him for a second or two until, apparently recollecting that
she was looking at another, she lowered her glance and peeped at him
through her eyelashes instead.
Mary meanwhile was calmly continuing her conversation, never even
suspecting the comedy which was going on by her side, but when Helen shot
a glance over her shoulder and whispered with satisfaction "He turned to
look!" even Mary began to have some slight idea of what was going on.
"Helen," she demurred, "you should never turn around to look at a young
"Why not?" laughed Helen, her arm going around her cousin's waist. And
speaking in the voice of one who has just achieved a triumph, she added,
"They're all such fo-oo-ools!"
Mary thought that over.
Helen's correspondents continued active, and as each letter arrived she
read parts of it to her cousin. She was a mimic, and two of the letters
she read in character one afternoon when Mary was changing her dress for
"Oh, Helen, you shouldn't," said Mary, laughing in spite of herself and
feeling ashamed of it the same moment. "I think it's awful to make fun of
people who write you like that."
"Pooh!" laughed Helen. "They're all such fo-oo-ools!"
"You don't think that of all men, do you!"
"Why not?" laughed Helen again, and tucking the letters into her waist
she started humming. Unobserved Ma'm Maynard had entered to straighten
the room and, through the mirror, Mary saw her grimly nodding her head.
"Why, Ma'm Maynard," said Mary, "you don't think that all men are fools,
too, do you?"
"Eet is not halways safe to say what one believes," said Ma'm, pursing
her lips with mystery. "Eef mademoiselles, your aunts, should get to
"Oh, I won't tell."
"Then, yes, ma cherie, I think at times all men are fools ... and I think
it is also good at times to make a fool of man. For why? Because it is
"Ah, ma cherie, I who have been three times wed--I tell you I often think
the old-world view is right. Man is the natural enemy of a woman.
"He is not to be trus'.
"I have heard it discuss' by great minds--things I cannot tell you
yet--but you will learn them as you live. And halways the same conclusion
arrives: Man is the natural enemy of a woman, and the one best way to
keep him from making a fool of you, is to turn 'round queeck and make it
a fool of him!"
"Oh, Ma'm Maynard, no!" protested Mary, who had turned from the mirror
and was staring with wide eyes. "I can't believe it--never!"
"What is it, ma cherie, which you cannot believe?"
"That man is woman's natural enemy."
"But I tell you, yes, yes.... It has halways been so and it halways will.
Everything that lives has its own natural enemy--and a woman's natural
enemy--it is man!
"Think just for a moment, ma cherie," she continued. "Why are parents so
careful? Mon Dieu, you would think it at times that a tiger is out in the
streets at night--such precautions are made if the girl she is out after
dark. And yes, but the parents are right. There is truly a tiger who
roams in the black, but his name--eet is Man!
"Think just for a moment, ma cherie. Why are chaperons require'--even in
the highest, most culture' society? Why is marriage require'? Is it not
because all the world knows well that a man cannot be left to his own
promise, but has to be bound by the law as a lion is held in a cage?"
"No," said Mary, shaking her head, "I'm sure it isn't that way. You're
simply turning things around and making everything seem horrid."
"You think so, ma cherie? Eh, bien. Three husbands I've had. I am not
"But you might as well say that woman is man's natural enemy--"
"And some say that," said Ma'm nodding darkly. "Left to himself, they
say, man might aspire to be as the gods; but halways at his helbow is a
woman like a figure of fate--and she--she keeps him down where he
"I hate all that," said Mary quietly. "Every once in a while I read
something like it in a book or a magazine, and whenever I do, I put the
book down and open the window and breathe the fresh air. Of course I know
some married people aren't happy. But it isn't always because they are
married. Single people are unhappy, too. Aunt Patty has indigestion
sometimes, and I suppose a lot of people do. But you wouldn't call food a
natural enemy; would you? And some children are just as bad as they can
be. But you wouldn't call children natural enemies, would you--or try to
get along without them?"
But Ma'm Maynard would only shrug her shoulders.
"Eh, bien," she said. "When you have live' as long as me--"
Through the open window a clock could be heard.
"Six o'clock!" squealed Helen, "and I'm not changed yet." As she hurried
to the door she said, "I heard Aunt Patty say that Uncle Stanley was
coming to dinner again tonight. I hope he brings his handsome son
Uncle Stanley of late had been a frequent visitor on the hill,
occasionally bringing his son Burdon with him, but generally coming
alone. After dinner he and Josiah would sit in the den till well past
midnight, going over papers and figures, and drafting out instructions
for Judge Cutler, the firm's lawyer.
Mary was never able to overcome her aversion to Uncle Stanley.
"I wish he'd stay away," she ruefully remarked to her father one night.
"Three evenings this week I haven't been able to come in the den."
"Never mind, dear," said Josiah, looking at her with love in his sombre
eyes. "What we're doing: it's all for you."
"All for me? How?"
He explained to her that whereas Josiah Spencer & Son had always been a
firm, it was now being changed to a corporation.
"As long as there was a son," he said, "the partnership arrangement was
all right. But the way things are now--Well, when I'm gone, Mary, you'll
own the stock of the company, and draw your dividends, and have no
responsibilities to bother you."
"But who'll run the factory?"
"I suppose Stanley will, as long as he lives. You'll be the owner, of
course, but I don't think you'll ever find anybody to beat Uncle Stanley
as a general manager."
"And when Uncle Stanley dies--what then?"
"I think you'll find his son Burdon the next best man."
Mary felt her heart grow heavy. It may have been presentiment, or it may
have been the thought of her father's possible death.
"Don't let's talk any more about dying," she said. "But tell me: Is that
why you are making so many additions to the factory--because we are
changing to a corporation?"
Josiah hesitated, struggling to speak to his daughter as though she
were a young man instead of a young woman. But heredity, training and
world-old custom restrained him. What would a girl know about mergers,
combinations, fundamental patents, the differences between common and
preferred stock, and all that? "It would only confuse her," he thought,
looking at her with love in his eyes. "She would nod her pretty head to
be polite, but I might as well be talking Greek to her."
"No, dear," he said, at last. "I'll tell you why we are making those
additions. I have bought options on some of the biggest bearing factories
in the country--so you won't have so much competition when I'm gone. And
instead of running those other factories, I'm going to move their
machinery down here. When the changes are once made, it's more economical
to run one big factory than half a dozen little ones. And of course it
will make it better for New Bethel."
"But it must make it bad for the towns where the factories are now," said
Mary after a thoughtful pause. "I know how it would hurt New Bethel if we
Josiah nodded his head. "I didn't like it myself at first."
"It was Uncle Stanley's idea, then?"
"Yes; he's engineering it."
Again Mary felt her heart grow heavy.
"It must be costing an awful lot of money," she said.
"It is," said Josiah, leaning over and making a gesture. "Of course we'll
get it back, and more, too--but for quite a few years now it's been
taking a lot of money--a dreadful lot of money. Still, I think the end's
He was sitting at his desk with a shaded lamp in front of him, and as he
leaned over and gestured with his hands, Mary's eyes caught the shadow on
the wall. She seemed to see a spider--a spider that was spinning and
weaving his web--and for the third time that night her heart grew heavy
The next day was Saturday and Mary drove her father down to the factory.
A small army of men was at work at the new improvements, and when they
reached the brow of the hill which overlooked the scene below, Josiah
felt that thrill of pride which always ran over him when beholding this
monument to his family's genius.
"The greatest of its kind in the world," he said.
With her free hand, Mary patted his arm.
"That's us!" she said, as proud as he. "I'll leave you at the office
door, and then I'm going to drive around and see how the building's going
There was plenty for Mary to see.
A gang of structural workers was putting up the steel frame-work for one
of the new buildings. Nearby the brick-layers were busy with mortar and
trowels. Carpenters were swarming over a roof, their hammers beating
As they worked in the sunshine, they joked and laughed and chatted with
each other, and Mary couldn't help reverting to some of her old thoughts.
"How nice to be a man!" she half sighed to herself. "Back home, their
wives are working in the kitchens--the same thing every day and nothing
to show for it. But the men come out and do all sorts of interesting
things, and when they are through they can say 'I helped build that
factory' or 'I helped build that ship' or whatever it is that they have
been doing. It doesn't seem fair, somehow, but I suppose it's the way it
always has been, and always will be--"
Near her a trench was being dug for water pipes. At one place the men had
uncovered a large rock, and she was still wondering how they were going
to get it out of the way, when a young man came briskly forward and gave
one glance at the problem.
"We'll rig up a derrick for this little beauty," he said. "Come on, boys;
let's get some timbers."
They were back again in no time, and before Mary knew what they were
doing, they had raised a wooden tripod over the rock. The apex of this
was bound together with a chain from which a pulley was hung. Other
chains were slung under the rock. Then from a nearby hoisting engine, a
cable was passed through the pulley and fastened to the chains below.
"All right, boys?"
The young man raised his hand. "Let her go!" he shouted. "Tweet-tweet!"
sounded a whistle. The engine throbbed. The cable tightened. The little
beauty began to stir uneasily in its hammock of chains. Then slowly and
steadily the rock arose, and nearly as quickly as I can write the words,
it was lying on the side of the trench and the derrick was being
As the young man hurried away he passed Mary's car.
"Why, it's Archey!" she thought. Whether or not it was due to telepathy,
the young man looked up and his colour deepened under his tan. "It is
Archey; isn't it?" asked Mary, leaning forward and smiling.
"Yes'm," he said, awkwardly enough, and grammar deserting him in his
confusion he added: "It's me all right, Miss Spencer."
"I've been watching you get that rock out," she began, looking at him
with frank admiration, and then they talked for a few minutes. I need not
tell you what they said--it would only sound trivial--but as they talked
a bond of sympathy, of mutual interest, seemed gradually to wind itself
around them. They smiled, nodded, looking approvingly at each other; and
each felt that feeling of warmth and satisfaction which comes to the
heart when instinct whispers, "Make no mistake. You've found a friend."
"But what are you doing here?" she finally asked.
"Working," he grinned. "I graduated last year--construction engineer--and
this is my second job. This winter I was down in old Mexico on bridge
"You must tell me about it some time," she said, as one of the workmen
came to take him away; and driving off in her car she couldn't help
thinking with a smile of amusement, "'Woman's natural enemy'--how silly
it sounds in the open air ...!"
Meanwhile the matter of Mary's education was receiving the attention of
"Patty," said Miss Cordelia one day, "do you know that child of ours is
The years had dealt kindly with the Misses Spencer and as they looked at
each other, with thoughtful benignity, their faces were like two studies
in silver and pink.
"Although I say it myself," continued Miss Cordelia, "I doubt if we could
have improved her studies. Indeed she is unusually advanced in French,
English and music. But I do think she ought to go to a good finishing
school now for a year or two--Miss Parsons', of course--where she would
not only be welcomed because of her family, but where she would form
suitable friendships and learn those lessons of modern deportment which
we ourselves, I fear, would never be able to teach her."
But if you had been there when the subject of Miss Parsons' School for
Young Ladies was broached to Mary, I think it would have reminded you of
that famous recipe for rabbit pie which so wisely begins "First catch
Mary listened to all that was said and then, quietly but unmistakably,
she put her foot down on Miss Parsons' fashionable institution of
I doubt if she herself could have given you all her reasons.
For one thing, the older she grew, the more democratic, the more American
she was becoming.
Deep in her heart she thought the old original Spencers had done more for
the world than any leaders of fashion who ever lived; and when she read
or thought of those who had made America, her mind never went to smart
society and its doings, but to those great, simple souls who had braved
the wilderness in search of liberty and adventure--who had toiled, and
fought, and given their lives, unknown, unsung, but never in Mary's mind
to be forgotten. And whenever she thought of travel, she found she would
rather see the Rockies than the Alps, rather go to New Orleans than Old
Orleans, rather visit the Grand Canyon than the Nile, and would
infinitely rather cross the American continent and see three thousand
miles of her own country, than cross the Atlantic and see three thousand
miles of water that belonged to every one in general and no one in
"But, my dear," said Miss Cordelia, altogether taken aback, "you ought to
go somewhere, you know. Let me tell you about Miss Parsons' school--"
"It's no use, Aunty. I don't want to go to Miss Parsons' school--"
"Where do you want to go then?"
Like most inspirations, it came like a flash.
"If I'm going anywhere, I want to go to college--"
To college! A Spencer girl--or a Spicer--going to college! Miss Cordelia
gasped. If Mary had been noticing, she might not have pursued her
inspiration further, but her mind was running along a breathless panorama
of Niagara Falls, Great Lakes, Chicago, the farms of the Middle West,
Yellowstone Park, geysers, the Old Man of the Mountain, Aztec ruins,
redwood forests, orange groves and at the end of the vista--like a statue
at the end of a garden walk--she imagined a great democratic institution
of learning where one might conceivably be prepared to solve some of
those problems which life seems to take such deep delight in presenting
to us, with the grim command, "Not one step farther shall you go until
you have answered this!"
"To college?" gasped Miss Cordelia.
"Yes," said Mary, still intent upon her panorama, "there's a good one in
California. I'll look it up."
The more Mary thought of it, the fonder she grew of her idea--which is, I
think, a human trait and true of nearly every one. It was in vain that
her aunts argued with her, pointing out the social advantages which she
would enjoy from attending Miss Parsons' School. Mary's objection was
fundamental. She simply didn't care for those advantages. Indeed, she
didn't regard them as advantages at all.
Helen did, though.
In her heart Helen had always longed to tread the stage of society--to
her mind, a fairyland of wit and gallantry, masquerades and music, to say
nothing of handsome young polo players and titled admirers from foreign
shores--"big fools," all of them, as you can guess, when dazzled by the
smiles of Youth and Beauty.
"Mary can go to California if she likes," said Helen at last, "but give
me Miss Parsons' School."
And Mary did go to California, although I doubt if she would have gained
her point if her father hadn't taken her part. For four years she
attended the university by the Golden Gate, and every time she made the
journey between the two oceans, sometimes accompanied by Miss Cordelia
and sometimes by Miss Patty, she seemed to be a little more serene of
glance, a little more tranquil of brow, as though one by one she were
solving some of those problems which I have mentioned above.
Meanwhile Helen was in her glory at Miss Parsons'; and though the two
aunts didn't confess it, they liked to sit and listen to her chatter of
the girls whose friendship she was making, and to whose houses she was
invited for the holidays.
When she was home, she sang snatches from the operas, danced with
imaginary partners, rehearsed parts of private theatricals and dreamed of
conquests. She had also learned the knack of dressing her hair which,
when done in the grand manner, isn't far from being a talent. Pulled down
on one side, with a pin or two adjusted, she was a dashing young duchess
who rode to hounds and made the old duke's eyes pop out. Or she could dip
it over her ears, change a few pins again and--lo!--she was St. Cecilia
seated at the organ, and butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.
"She is quite pretty and very clever," said Miss Cordelia one day. "I
think she will marry well."
"Do you think she's as pretty as Mary?" asked Miss Patty.
"My dear!" said Miss Cordelia with a look that said 'What a question you
are asking!' "--is pretty in a way, of course," she said, "but there is
something about our Mary--"
"I know," nodded Miss Patty. "Something you can't express--"
"The dear child," mused Miss Cordelia, looking out toward the west. "I
wonder what she is doing this very moment!"
At that very moment, as it happened, Mary was in her room on the other
side of the continent studying the manufacture of raisin fudge.
Theretofore she had made it too soft, or too sugary, but this time she
was determined to have it right. Long ago she had made all the friends
that her room would hold, and most of them were there. Some were
listening to a girl in spectacles who was talking socialism, while a more
frivolous group, perched on the bed, was arguing the question whether the
perfect lover had a moustache or a clean-shaven lip.
"Money is cruel; it ought to be abolished," said the earnest girl in the
spectacles. "Money is a millstone which the rich use to grind the poor.
You girls know it as well as I do."
Mary stirred away at the fudge.
"It's a good thing she doesn't know that I'm rich," she smiled to
herself. "I wonder when I shall start grinding the poor!"
"And yet the world simply couldn't get along without the wage-earners,"
continued the young orator. "So all they have to do is strike--and
strike--and keep on striking--and they can have everything they want--"
"So could the doctors," mused Mary to herself, stirring away at the
fudge. "Imagine the doctors striking.... And so could the farmers.
Imagine the farmers striking for eight hours a day, and no work Sundays
and holidays, and every Saturday afternoon off...."
Dimly, vaguely, a troubled picture took shape in her mind. She stirred
the fudge more reflectively than ever.
"I wonder if civil wars are started that way," she thought, "one class
setting out to show its power over another and gradually coming to blows.
Suppose--yes, suppose the women were to go on strike for eight hours a
day, and as much money as the men, and Saturday afternoons and Sundays
off, and all the rest of it.... The world certainly couldn't get along
without women. As Becky says, they would only have to strike--and
strike--and keep on striking--and they could get everything they
Although she didn't suspect it, she was so close to her destiny at that
moment that she could have reached out her hand and touched it. But all
unconsciously she continued to stir the fudge.
"I've always thought that women have a poor time of it compared with
men," she nodded to herself. "Still, perhaps it's the way of the world,
like ... like children have the measles ... and old folks have to wear
She put the pan on the sill to cool and stood there for a time, looking
out at the campus, dreamy-eyed, half occupied with her own thoughts and
half listening to the conversation behind her.
"There oughtn't to be any such thing as private property--"
"Why, Vera, if he kissed you in the dark, you couldn't tell whether he
was a man or a girl--"
"--Everything should belong to the state--"
"--No, listen. Kiss me both ways, and then tell me which you think is the
A squeal of laughter arose from the bed and, turning, Mary saw that one
of the girls was holding the back of a toothbrush against her upper lip.
"Now," she mumbled, "this is with the moustache ... Kiss me hard ..."
"The greatest book in the world," continued the girl with the spectacles,
"is Marx's book on Capital--"
Mary turned to the window again, more dreamy-eyed than ever.
"The greatest book in the world," she thought, "is the book of life....
Oh, if I could only write a few pages in it ... myself ...!"
Mary "came out" the winter after her graduation.
If she had been left to herself she would have dispensed with the
ceremony quite as cheerfully as she had dispensed with Miss Parsons'
School for Young Ladies. But in the first place her aunts were adamant,
and in the second place they were assisted by Helen. Helen hadn't been
going to finishing school for nothing. She knew the value of a proper
Indeed it was her secret ambition to outshine her cousin--an ambition
which was at once divined by her two aunts. Whereupon they groomed Mary
to such good purpose that I doubt if Society ever looked upon a lovelier
She was dressed in chiffon, wore the Spencer pearls, and carried herself
with such unconscious charm that more than one who danced with her that
night felt a rapping on the door of his heart and heard the voice of love
exclaiming "Let me in!"
There was one young man in particular who showed her such attention that
the matrons either smiled or frowned at each other. Even Miss Cordelia
and Miss Patty were pleased, although of course they didn't show it for a
moment. He was a handsome, lazy-looking young rascal when he first
appeared on the scene, lounging against the doorway, drawling a little as
he talked to his friends--evidently a lion, bored in advance with the
whole proceeding and meaning to slip away as soon as he could. But when
his eye fell on Mary, he stared at her unobserved for nearly a minute and
his ennui disappeared into thin air.
"What's the matter, Wally?" asked one of his friends.
"James," he solemnly replied, "I'm afraid it's something serious. I only
hope it's catching." The next minute he was being introduced to Mary and
was studying her card.
"Some of these I can't dance," she warned him.
"Will you mark them with a tick, please--those you can't dance?"
Unsuspectingly she marked them.
"Good!" said he, writing his name against each tick. "We'll sit those
out. The next waltz, though, we will dance that."
"But that's engaged--'Chester A. Bradford,'" she read.
"Poor Brad--didn't I tell you?" asked Wally. "He fell downstairs a moment
ago and broke his leg."
That was the beginning of it.
The first dance they sat out Wally said to himself, "I shall kiss her, if
it's the last thing I ever do."
But he didn't.
The next dance they sat out he said to himself, "I shall kiss her if I
never do another thing as long as I live--"
But he didn't.
The last dance they sat out he said to himself, "I shall kiss her if I
hang for it."
He didn't kiss her, even then, but felt himself tremble a little as he
looked in her eyes. Then it was that the truth began to dawn upon him.
"I'm a gone coon," he told himself, and dabbed his forehead with his
"You've got him, all right," said Helen later, going to Mary's room
ostensibly to undress, but really to exchange those confidences without
which no party is complete.
"Got who?" asked Mary. And she a Bachelor of Arts!
"Oh, aren't you innocent! Wally Cabot, of course. Did he kiss you?"
"No, he did not!"
"Of course, if you don't want to tell--!"
"There's nothing to tell."
"There isn't? ... Oh, well, don't worry.... There soon will be."
Helen was right.
From that time forward Mary's own shadow was hardly less attentive than
Master Wally Cabot. His high-powered roadster was generally doing one of
three things. It was either going to Mary's, or coming from Mary's, or
taking a needed rest under Mary's porte cochere.
One day Mary suddenly said to her father, "Who was Paul?"
Fortunately for Josiah the light was on his back.
"Last night at the dance," she continued, "I heard a woman saying that I
didn't look the least bit like Paul, and I wondered who he was."
"Perhaps some one in her own family," said Josiah at last.
"Must have been," Mary carelessly nodded. They went on chatting and
presently Josiah was himself again.
"What are you going to do about Walter Cabot?" he asked, looking at her
with love in his sombre eyes.
Mary made a helpless gesture.
"Has he asked you yet?"
"Yes," she said in a muffled voice, "--often."
"Why don't you take him?"
Again Mary made her helpless gesture and, for a long moment she too was
on the point of opening her heart. But again heredity, training and
age-old tradition stood between them, finger on lip.
"I sometimes have such a feeling that I want to do something in the
world," she nearly told him. "And if I married Wally, it would spoil it
all. I sometimes have such dreams--such wonderful dreams of doing
something--of being somebody--and I know that if I married Wally I should
never be able to dream like that again--"
As you can see, that isn't the sort of a thing which a girl can very well
say to her father--or to any one else for that matter, except in fear and
"The way I am now," she nearly told him, "there are ever so many things
in life that I can do--ever so many doors that I can open. But if I marry
Wally, every door is locked but one. I can be his wife; that's all."
Obviously again, you couldn't expect a girl to speak like that,
especially a girl with dreamy eyes and shy. Nevertheless those were the
thoughts which often came to her at night, after she had said her prayers
and popped into bed and lay there in the dark turning things over in her
One night, for instance, after Wally had left earlier than usual, she
lay with her head snuggled on the pillow, full of vague dreams and
visions--vague dreams of greatness born of the sunsets and stars and
flowers--vague visions of proving herself worthy of the heritage of life.
"I don't think it's a bit fair," she thought. "As soon as a woman
marries--well, somehow, she's through. But it doesn't seem to make any
difference to the man. He can go right on doing the big things--the great
She stopped, arrested by the sound of a mandolin under her window. The
next moment the strains of Wally's tenor entered the room, mingled with
the moonlight and the scent of the syringa bush. A murmuring, deep-toned
trio accompanied him.
"Soft o'er the fountain
Ling'ring falls the southern moon--"
The beauty of it brought a thrill to the roots of Mary's hair--brought
quick tears to her eyes--and she was wondering if Wally was right, after
all--if love (as he often told her) was indeed the one great thing of
life and nothing else mattered, when her door opened and Helen came
"A serenade!" she whispered excitedly. "Im-a-gine!"
She tip-toed to the window and, kneeling on the floor, watched the
singers through the curtain--knowing well it wasn't for her, but drinking
deep of the moment.
Slowly, sweetly, the chorus grew fainter--fainter--
Ask thy soul if we should part--"
"What do you think of that!" said Helen, leaning over and giving her
cousin a squeeze and a kiss. "He had the two Garde boys and Will Thompson
with him. I thought he was leaving earlier than usual tonight; didn't
you? But a serenade! I wonder if the others heard it, too!"
Miss Patty and Miss Cordelia had both heard it, and Helen had hardly gone
when they came pattering in--each as proud as Punch of Mary for having
caused such miracles to perform--and gleeful, too, that they had lived in
the land long enough to hear a real, live serenade. And after they had
kissed her and gone, Ma'm Maynard came in with a pretty little speech in
French. So that altogether Mary held quite a reception in bed. As one
result, her feeling toward Wally melted into something like tenderness,
and if it hadn't been for the tragic event next morning, the things which
I have to tell you might never have taken place.
"I wonder if your father heard it," said Miss Patty at the breakfast
table next morning.
"I wonder!" laughed Mary. "I think I'll run in and see."
According to his custom Josiah breakfasted early and had gone to his den
to look over his mail. Mary passed gaily through the library, but it
wasn't long before she was back at the dining room door, looking as
though she had seen a ghost.
"Come--come and look," she choked. "Something--something terrible--"
Josiah sat, half collapsed, in his chair. Before him, on the desk, lay
his mail. Some he had read. Some he would never, never read.
"He must have had a stroke," said Miss Cordelia, her arms around Mary;
and looking at her brother she whispered, "I think something upset him."
When they had sent for the doctor and had taken Mary away, they returned
to look over the letters which Josiah had opened as his last mortal act.
"I don't see anything in these that could have bothered him," said Miss
Cordelia, fearfully looking.
"What's this?" asked Miss Patty, picking up an empty envelope from the
It was post-marked "Rio de Janeiro" and the date showed that it had taken
three weeks to make the journey.
"I have some recollection of that writing," said Miss Cordelia.
"So have I," said Miss Patty in a low voice, "but where's the letter?"
Again it was she who made the discovery.
"That must be it," she said. "His ash tray is cleaned out every morning."
It was a large, brass tray and in it was the char of a paper that had
been burned. This ash still lay in its folds and across its surface,
black on black, could be seen a few lines which resembled the close of a
"Can you read it?" she asked.
Miss Cordelia bent over, and as a new angle of light struck the tray, the
words became as legible as though they had just been written.
"I thought I knew the writing," whispered Miss Cordelia, and lowering her
voice until her sister had to hang breathless upon the movement of her
lips, she added "Oh, Patty ... We all thought he was dead ... No wonder
it killed poor Josiah ..."
Their arms went around each other. Their glances met.
"I know," whispered Miss Patty, her lips suddenly gone dry, "....It was
For the first few months after her father's death, Mary's dreams seemed
to fade into mist.
Between her and Josiah a bond of love had existed, stronger than either
had suspected--and now that he was gone the world seemed unaccountably
empty--and unaccountably cruel. As her father had gone, so must Aunt
Cordelia and Aunt Patty some day surely go ... Yes, and even Mary herself
must just as surely follow.
The immemorial doubt assailed her--that doubt which begins in
helplessness and ends in despair. "What's the use?" she asked herself.
"We plan and work so hard--like children making things in the sand--and
then Death comes along with a big wave and flattens everything out ...
like that ..."
But gradually her sense of balance began to return. One day she stood on
the brink of the hill looking at the great factory below, and a calmer,
surer feeling slowly swept over her.
"That's it," she thought. "The real things of life go on, no matter who
dies, just as though nothing had happened. Take the first Josiah Spencer
and look down there what he left behind him. Why, you might even say that
he was alive today! And see what Washington left behind him--and Fulton,
who invented the steamboat--and Morse who invented the telegraph. So it's
silly to say 'What's the use?' Suppose Columbus had said it--or any of
the others who have done great things in the world--"
It slowly came to her then, her doubts still lingering, how many are
called, how few are chosen.
"That's the trouble," she said. "We can't all be Washingtons. We can't
all do great things. And yet--an awful lot of people had to live so that
Washington could be born when he was....
"His parents: that was two. And his grand-parents: he must have had four.
And his great grand-parents: eight of them....
"Why, it's like the problem of the horse-shoe nails," she continued in
growing excitement. "In twenty-eight generations there must have been
millions and millions of people who lived--just so George Washington
could be born one day at Mt. Vernon--and grow up to make America free!
Yes, and every one of them was just as necessary as Washington himself,
because if it hadn't been for every single one of them--we would never
have had him!"
For a moment she seemed to be in touch with the infinite plan. Down the
hill she saw a woman in a black dress, crossing the street.
"Mrs. Ridge going out for the day," thought Mary, recognizing the figure
below. "Yes, and who knows? She may be a link in a chain which is leading
straight down to some one who will be greater than Washington--greater
than Shakespeare--greater than any man who ever lived...!" And her old
dreams, her old visions beginning to return, she added with a sigh, "Oh,
dear! I wish I could do something big and noble--so if all those millions
who are back of me are watching, they'll feel proud of what I'm doing and
nudge each other as if they were saying, 'You see? She's come at last.
As you will realize, this last thought of Mary's suggested more than it
told--as I believe great thoughts often do--but at least I think you'll
be able to grasp the idea which she herself was groping after. At the
same time you mustn't suppose that she was constantly going around
dreaming, and trying to find expression for those vague strivings and
yearnings which come to us all at different times in our lives,
especially in the golden days of youth when the flood of ambition is
rising high within us--or again in later years when we feel the tide will
soon begin to turn, and we must make haste or it will be too late.
No, Mary had plenty of practical matters, too, to engage her attention
and keep her feet on the earth.
For one thing there was Wally Cabot--he who had so lately serenaded Mary
in the moonlight. But I'll tell you about him later.
Then the settlement of her father's estate kept coming up for action.
Judge Cutler and Mary's two aunts were the trustees--an arrangement which
didn't please Uncle Stanley any too well, although he was careful not to
show it. And the more Mary saw of the silvery haired judge with his
hawk's eyes and gentle smile, the more she liked him.
One of the first things they discovered was that Mary's heritage
consisted of the factory by the river--but little else. Practically all
the bonds and investments that Josiah had ever owned had been sold for
the greater glory of Spencer & Son--to buy in other firms and patents--to
increase the factory by the river. As her father had once confided to
Mary this had taken money--"a dreadful lot of money"--she remembered the
wince with which he had spoken--and a safe deposit box which was nearly
empty bore evidence to the truth of what he had said.
"High and low," mused the judge when the inventory was at last completed,
"it's always the same. The millionaire and the mill-hand--somehow they
always manage to leave less than every one expected--"
"Why is that?" asked Mary. "Is it because the heirs expect too much?"
"No, child. I think it's the result of pride. As a rule, man is a proud
animal and he doesn't like to tell anything which doesn't redound to his
credit. If a man buys bonds, for instance, he is very apt to mention it
to his family. But if for any reason he has to sell those bonds, he will
nearly always do it quietly and say nothing about it, hoping to buy them
back again later, or something better yet--
"I've seen so many estates," he continued, "shrink into next to
nothing--so many widows who thought they were well off, suddenly waking
up and finding themselves at the mercy of the world--the little they have
often being taken away from them by the first glib sharper who comes
long--that I sometimes think every man should give his family a show-down
once a year. It would surely save a lot of worries and heartaches later
"Still," he smiled, looking down at the inventory, with its noble line of
figures at the bottom of the column, "I don't think you'll have much
trouble in keeping the wolf from the door."
Mary turned the pages in a helpless sort of way.
"You'll have to explain some of this," she said at last. But before
giving it back to him she looked out of the window for a time--one of her
slow, thoughtful glances--and added, "I wonder why girls aren't brought
up to know something about business--the way boys are."