Mary Louise eBook: Page2

L. Frank Baum (2004)



  Beverly is an old town and not especially progressive. It lies nearlytwo miles from a railway station and has little attractiveness forstrangers. Beverly contains several beautiful old residences, however,built generations ago and still surrounded by extensive grounds wherethe trees and shrubbery are now generally overgrown and neglected.

  One of these fine old places Miss Stearne rented for her boardingschool; another, quite the most imposing residence in the town, hadbeen leased some two years previous to the time of this story byColonel James Weatherby, whose family consisted of his widoweddaughter, Mrs. Burrows, and his grandchild, Mary Louise Burrows. Theironly servants were an old negro, Uncle Eben, and his wife, Aunt Polly,who were Beverly bred and had been hired when the Colonel first came totown and took possession of the stately Vandeventer mansion.

  Colonel Weatherby was a man of exceptionally distinguished appearance,tall and dignified, with courtly manners and an air of prosperity thatimpressed the simple villagers with awe. His snow-white hair andpiercing dark eyes, his immaculate dress upon all occasions, thewhispered comments on his ample deposits in the local bank, allcontributed to render him remarkable among the three or four hundredordinary inhabitants of Beverly, who, after his two years' residenceamong them, scarcely knew more of him than is above related. ForColonel Weatherby was an extremely reserved man and seldom deigned toexchange conversation with his neighbors. In truth, he had nothing incommon with them and even when he walked out with Mary Louise he merelyacknowledged the greeting of those he met by a dignified nod of hisstately head.

  With Mary Louise, however, he would converse fluently and withearnestness, whether at home during the long evenings or on theirfrequent walks through the country, which were indulged in on Saturdaysand holidays during the months that school was in session and much moreoften during vacations. The Colonel owned a modest automobile which hekept in the stable and only drove on rare occasions, although one ofUncle Eben's duties was to keep the car in apple-pie order. ColonelWeatherby loved best to walk and Mary Louise enjoyed their trampstogether because Gran'pa Jim always told her so many interesting thingsand was such a charming companion. He often developed a strain of humorin the girl's society and would relate anecdotes that aroused in herspontaneous laughter, for she possessed a keen sense of the ludicrous.Yes, Gran'pa Jim was really funny, when in the mood, and as jolly acomrade as one would wish.

  He was fond of poetry, too, and the most severe trial Mary Louise wasforced to endure was when he carried a book of poems in his pocket andinsisted on reading from it while they rested in a shady nook by theroadside or on the bank of the little river that flowed near by thetown. Mary Louise had no soul for poetry, but she would have enduredfar greater hardships rather than forfeit the genial companionship ofGran'pa Jim.

  It was only during these past two years that she had come to know hergrandfather so intimately and to become as fond of him as she wasproud. Her earlier life had been one of so many changes that theconstant shifting had rather bewildered her. First she rememberedliving in a big city house where she was cared for by a nurse who wasnever out of sight or hearing. There it was that "Mamma Bee"--Mrs.Beatrice Burrows--appeared to the child at times as a beautiful visionand often as she bent over her little daughter for a good-night kissthe popular society woman, arrayed in evening or ball costume, wouldseem to Mary Louise like a radiant angel descended straight from heaven.

  She knew little of her mother in those days, which were quite hazy inmemory because she was so young. The first change she remembered was anabrupt flitting from the splendid city house to a humble cottage in aretired village. There was no maid now, nor other servant whatever.Mamma Bee did the cooking and sweeping, her face worn and anxious,while Gran'pa Jim walked the floor of the little sitting room day byday, only pausing at times to read to Mary Louise stories from hernursery books.

  This life did not last very long--perhaps a year or so--and then theywere in a big hotel in another city, reached after a long and tiresomerailway journey. Here the girl saw little of her grandfather, for agoverness came daily to teach Mary Louise to read and write and to dosums on a pretty slate framed in silver. Then, suddenly, in dead ofnight, away they whisked again, traveling by train until long after thesun was up, when they came to a pretty town where they kept house again.

  There were servants, this time, and horses and carriages and prettyclothes for Mary Louise and Mamma Bee. The little girl was sent to aschool just a block away from her home. She remembered Miss Jenkinswell, for this teacher made much of her and was so kind and gentle thatMary Louise progressed rapidly in her studies.

  But the abrupt changes did not end here. Mary Louise came home fromschool one afternoon and found her dear mother sobbing bitterly as sheclung around the neck of Gran'pa Jim, who stood in the middle of theroom as still as if he had been a marble statue. Mary Louise promptlymingled her tears with those of her mother, without knowing why, andthen there was a quick "packing-up" and a rush to the railway again.

  Next they were in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Conant, very pleasantpeople who seemed to be old friends of Mamma Bee and Gran'pa Jim. Itwas a cosy house, not big and pretentious, and Mary Louise liked it.Peter Conant and Gran'pa Jim had many long talks together, and it washere that the child first heard her grandfather called "Colonel."Others might have called him that before, but she had not heard them.Mrs. Conant was very deaf and wore big spectacles, but she always had asmile on her face and her voice was soft and pleasing.

  After a few days Mamma Bee told her daughter she was going to leave herin the care of the Conants for a time, while she traveled to a foreigncountry with Gran'pa Jim. The girl was surprised at being abandoned butaccepted her fate quietly when it was explained that she was to go toschool while living with the Conants, which she could not do if she wastraveling with her mother and grandfather, who were making thisarrangement for the girl's best good.

  Three years Mary Louise lived with the Conants and had little tocomplain of. Mr. Conant was a lawyer and was at his office all day,while Mrs. Conant was very kind to the girl and looked after herwelfare with motherly care.

  At last, quite unexpectedly, Mary Louise's trunk was packed and she wastaken to the station to meet a train on which were her mother andgrandfather. They did not leave the cars except to shake hands with theConants and thank them for their care of Mary Louise. A moment laterthe train bore away the reunited family to their new home in Beverly.

  Mary Louise now found she must "get acquainted" with Mamma Bee andGran'pa Jim all over again, for during these last three years she haddeveloped so fast in mind and body that her previous knowledge of herrelatives seemed like a hazy dream. The Colonel also discovered a newgranddaughter, to whom he became passionately attached. For two yearsnow they had grown together until they were great friends and cronies.

  As for Mrs. Burrows, she seemed to have devoted her whole life to herfather, the Colonel. She had lost much of her former beauty and hadbecome a thin, pale woman with anxious eyes and an expectant anddeprecating air, as if always prepared to ward off a sudden blow. Hersolicitude for the old Colonel was almost pathetic and while he was inher presence she constantly hovered around him, doing little things forhis comfort which he invariably acknowledged with his courtly bow and agracious word of thanks.

  It was through her association with this cultured old gentleman thatMary Louise had imbibed a certain degree of logic and philosophyunknown to many girls of fifteen. He taught her consideration forothers as the keynote of happiness, yet he himself declined to minglewith his fellow men. He abhorred sulking and was always cheerful andpleasant in his home circle, yet when others approached him familiarlyhe resented it with a frown. He taught his granddaughter to be generousto the poor and supplied her freely with money for charity, yet hepersonally refused all demands upon him by churches or charitablesocieties.

  In their long talks together he displayed an intimate acquaintance withmen and affairs, b
ut never referred in any way to his former life.

  "Are you really a colonel?" Mary Louise once asked him.

  "Men call me so," he replied, but there was a tone in his voice thatwarned the girl not to pursue the subject further. She knew his moodsalmost as well as her mother did.

  The Colonel was very particular as to dress. He obtained his ownclothing from a New York tailor and took a keen interest in the gownsof his daughter and of Mary Louise, his taste in female apparel beingso remarkable that they were justly considered the best dressed womenin Beverly. The house they were living in contained an excellentlibrary and was furnished in a quaint, old-fashioned manner that wasvery appealing to them all. Mary Louise sincerely hoped there would beno more changes in their lives and that they might continue to live inBeverly for many years to come.