Mother Carey's Chickens
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 1 out of 5
Online Distributed Proofreading Team
MOTHER CAREY'S CHICKENS
By KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
I. MOTHER CAREY HERSELF
II. THE CHICKENS
III. THE COMMON DENOMINATOR
IV. THE BROKEN CIRCLE
V. HOW ABOUT JULIA?
VI. NANCY'S IDEA
VII. "OLD BEASTS INTO NEW"
VIII. THE KNIGHT OF BEULAH CASTLE
IX. GILBERT'S EMBASSY
X. THE CAREYS' FLITTING
XI. THE SERVICE ON THE THRESHOLD
XII. COUSIN ANN
XIII. THE PINK OF PERFECTION
XIV. WAYS AND MEANS
XV. BELONGING TO BEULAH
XVI. THE POST-BAG
XVII. JACK OF ALL TRADES
XVIII. THE HOUSE OF LORDS
XIX. OLD AND NEW
XX. THE PAINTED CHAMBER
XXI. A FAMILY RHOMBOID
XXII. CRADLE GIFTS
XXIII. NEARING SHINY WALL
XXIV. A LETTER FROM GERMANY
XXV. "FOLLOWING THE GLEAM"
XXVI. A ZOOLOGICAL FATHER
XXVII. THE CAREY HOUSEWARMING
XXVIII. "TIBI SPLENDET FOCUS"
XXIX. "TH' ACTION FINE"
XXX. THE INGLENOOK
XXXI. GROOVES OF CHANGE
XXXII. DOORS OF DARING
XXXIII. MOTHER HAMILTON'S BIRTHDAY.
XXXIV. NANCY COMES OUT
XXXV. THE CRIMSON RAMBLER
MOTHER CAREY HERSELF
"By and by there came along a flock of petrels, who are Mother Carey's
own chickens.... They flitted along like a flock of swallows, hopping
and skipping from wave to wave, lifting their little feet behind them so
daintily that Tom fell in love with them at once."
Nancy stopped reading and laid down the copy of "Water Babies" on the
sitting-room table. "No more just now, Peter-bird," she said; "I hear
It was a cold, dreary day in late October, with an east wind and a chill
of early winter in the air. The cab stood in front of Captain Carey's
house, with a trunk beside the driver and a general air of expectancy on
the part of neighbors at the opposite windows.
Mrs. Carey came down the front stairway followed by Gilbert and
Kathleen; Gilbert with his mother's small bag and travelling cloak,
Kathleen with her umbrella; while little Peter flew to the foot of the
stairs with a small box of sandwiches pressed to his bosom.
Mrs. Carey did not wear her usual look of sweet serenity, but nothing
could wholly mar the gracious dignity of her face and presence. As she
came down the stairs with her quick, firm tread, her flock following
her, she looked the ideal mother. Her fine height, her splendid
carriage, her deep chest, her bright eye and fresh color all bespoke the
happy, contented, active woman, though something in the way of transient
anxiety lurked in the eyes and lips.
"The carriage is too early," she said; "let us come into the sitting
room for five minutes. I have said my good-byes and kissed you all a
dozen times, but I shall never be done until I am out of your sight."
"O mother, mother, how can we let you go!" wailed Kathleen.
"Kitty! how can you!" exclaimed Nancy. "What does it matter about us
when mother has the long journey and father is so ill?"
"It will not be for very long,--it can't be," said Mrs. Carey wistfully.
"The telegram only said 'symptoms of typhoid'; but these low fevers
sometimes last a good while and are very weakening, so I may not be able
to bring father back for two or three weeks; I ought to be in Fortress
Monroe day after to-morrow; you must take turns in writing to me,
"Every single day, mother!"
"Every single thing that happens."
"A fat letter every morning," they promised in chorus.
"If there is any real trouble remember to telegraph your Uncle
Allan--did you write down his address, 11 Broad Street, New York? Don't
bother him about little things, for he is not well, you know."
Gilbert displayed a note-book filled with memoranda and addresses.
"And in any small difficulty send for Cousin Ann," Mrs. Carey went on.
"The mere thought of her coming will make me toe the mark, I can tell
you that!" was Gilbert's rejoinder.
"Better than any ogre or bug-a-boo, Cousin Ann is, even for Peter!" said
"And will my Peter-bird be good and make Nancy no trouble?" said his
mother, lifting him to her lap for one last hug.
"I'll be an angel boy pretty near all the time," he asserted between
mouthfuls of apple, "or most pretty near," he added prudently, as if
unwilling to promise anything superhuman in the way of behavior. As a
matter of fact it required only a tolerable show of virtue for Peter to
win encomiums at any time. He would brush his curly mop of hair away
from his forehead, lift his eyes, part his lips, showing a row of tiny
white teeth; then a dimple would appear in each cheek and a seraphic
expression (wholly at variance with the facts) would overspread the baby
face, whereupon the beholder--Mother Carey, his sisters, the cook or the
chambermaid, everybody indeed but Cousin Ann, who could never be
wheedled--would cry "Angel boy!" and kiss him. He was even kissed now,
though he had done nothing at all but exist and be an enchanting
personage, which is one of the injustices of a world where a large
number of virtuous and well-behaved people go unkissed to their graves!
"I know Joanna and Ellen will take good care of the housekeeping,"
continued Mrs. Carey, "and you will be in school from nine to two, so
that the time won't go heavily. For the rest I make Nancy responsible.
If she is young, you must remember that you are all younger still, and I
trust you to her."
"The last time you did it, it didn't work very well!" And Gilbert gave
Nancy a sly wink to recall a little matter of family history when there
had been a delinquency on somebody's part.
Nancy's face crimsoned and her lips parted for a quick retort, and none
too pleasant a one, apparently.
Her mother intervened quietly. "We'll never speak of 'last times,'
Gilly, or where would any of us be? We'll always think of 'next' times.
I shall trust Nancy next time, and next time and next time, and keep on
trusting till I can trust her forever!"
Nancy's face lighted up with a passion of love and loyalty. She
responded to the touch of her mother's faith as a harp to the favoring
wind, but she said nothing; she only glowed and breathed hard and put
her trembling hand about her mother's neck and under her chin.
"Now it's time! One more kiss all around. Remember you are Mother
Carey's own chickens! There may be gales while I am away, but you must
ride over the crests of the billows as merry as so many flying fish!
Good-by! Good-by! Oh, my littlest Peter-bird, how can mother leave you?"
"I opened the lunch box to see what Ellen gave you, but I only broke off
two teenty, weenty corners of sandwiches and one little new-moon bite
out of a cookie," said Peter, creating a diversion according to
Ellen and Joanna came to the front door and the children flocked down
the frozen pathway to the gate after their mother, getting a touch of
her wherever and whenever they could and jumping up and down between
whiles to keep warm. Gilbert closed the door of the carriage, and it
turned to go down the street. One window was open, and there was a last
glimpse of the beloved face framed in the dark blue velvet bonnet, one
last wave of a hand in a brown muff.
"Oh! she is so beautiful!" sobbed Kathleen, "her bonnet is just the
color of her eyes; and she was crying!"
"There never was anybody like mother!" said Nancy, leaning on the gate,
shivering with cold and emotion. "There never was, and there never will
be! We can try and try, Kathleen, and we _must_ try, all of us; but
mother wouldn't have to try; mother must have been partly born so!"
It was Captain Carey's favorite Admiral who was responsible for the
phrase by which mother and children had been known for some years. The
Captain (then a Lieutenant) had brought his friend home one Saturday
afternoon a little earlier than had been expected, and they went to find
the family in the garden.
Laughter and the sound of voices led them to the summer-house, and as
they parted the syringa bushes they looked through them and surprised
the charming group.
A throng of children like to flowers were sown
About the grass beside, or climbed her knee.
I looked who were that favored company.
That is the way a poet would have described what the Admiral saw, and if
you want to see anything truly and beautifully you must generally go
to a poet.
Mrs. Carey held Peter, then a crowing baby, in her lap. Gilbert was
tickling Peter's chin with a buttercup, Nancy was putting a wreath of
leaves on her mother's hair, and Kathleen was swinging from an
apple-tree bough, her yellow curls flying.
"Might I inquire what you think of that?" asked the father.
"Well," the Admiral said, "mothers and children make a pretty good
picture at any time, but I should say this one couldn't be 'beat.' Two
for the Navy, eh?"
"All four for the Navy, perhaps," laughed the young man. "Nancy has
already chosen a Rear-Admiral and Kathleen a Commodore; they are modest
"They do you credit, Peter!"
"I hope I've given them something,--I've tried hard enough, but they are
mostly the work of the lady in the chair. Come on and say how d'ye do."
Before many Saturdays the Admiral's lap had superseded all other places
as a gathering ground for the little Careys, whom he called the
"Mother Carey," he explained to them, came from the Latin _mater cara_,
this being not only his personal conviction, but one that had the
backing of Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable."
"The French call them _Les Oiseaux de Notre Dame_. That means 'The Birds
of our Lady,' Kitty, and they are the sailors' friends. Mother Carey
sends them to warn seafarers of approaching storms and bids them go out
all over the seas to show the good birds the way home. You'll have your
hands full if you're going to be Mother Carey's chickens."
"I'd love to show good birds the way home!" said Gilbert.
"Can a naughty bird show a good bird the way home, Addy?" This bland
question came from Nancy, who had a decided talent for sarcasm,
considering her years. (Of course the Admiral might have stopped the
children from calling him Addy, but they seemed to do it because
"Admiral" was difficult, and anyway they loved him so much they simply
had to take some liberties with him. Besides, although he was the
greatest disciplinarian that ever walked a deck, he was so soft and
flexible on land that he was perfectly ridiculous and delightful.)
The day when the children were christened Mother Carey's chickens was
Nancy's tenth birthday, a time when the family was striving to give her
her proper name, having begun wrong with her at the outset. She was the
first, you see, and the first is something of an event, take it how
It is obvious that at the beginning they could not address a tiny thing
on a pillow as Nancy, because she was too young. She was not even
alluded to at that early date as "she," but always as "it," so they
called her "baby" and let it go at that. Then there was a long period
when she was still too young to be called Nancy, and though, so far as
age was concerned, she might properly have held on to her name of baby,
she couldn't with propriety, because there was Gilbert then, and he was
baby. Moreover, she gradually became so indescribably quaint and
bewitching and comical and saucy that every one sought diminutives for
her; nicknames, fond names, little names, and all sorts of words that
tried to describe her charm (and couldn't), so there was Poppet and
Smiles and Minx and Rogue and Midget and Ladybird and finally Nan and
Nannie by degrees, to soberer Nancy.
"Nancy is ten to-day," mused the Admiral. "Bless my soul, how time
flies! You were a young Ensign, Carey, and I well remember the letter
you wrote me when this little lass came into harbor! Just wait a minute;
I believe the scrap of newspaper verse you enclosed has been in my
wallet ever since. I always liked it."
"I recall writing to you," said Mr. Carey. "As you had lent me five
hundred dollars to be married on, I thought I ought to keep you posted!"
"Oh, father! did you have to borrow money?" cried Kathleen.
"I did, my dear. There's no disgrace in borrowing, if you pay back, and
I did. Your Uncle Allan was starting in business, and I had just put my
little capital in with his when I met your mother. If you had met your
mother wouldn't you have wanted to marry her?"
"Yes!" cried Nancy eagerly. "Fifty of her!" At which everybody laughed.
"And what became of the money you put in Uncle Allan's business?" asked
Gilbert with unexpected intelligence.
There was a moment's embarrassment and an exchange of glances between
mother and father before he replied, "Oh! that's coming back multiplied
six times over, one of these days,--Allan has a very promising project
on hand just now, Admiral."
"Glad to hear it! A delightful fellow, and straight as a die. I only
wish he could perform once in a while, instead of promising."
"He will if only he keeps his health, but he's heavily handicapped
there, poor chap. Well, what's the verse?"
The Admiral put on his glasses, prettily assisted by Kathleen, who was
on his knee and seized the opportunity to give him a French kiss when
the spectacles were safely on the bridge of his nose. Whereupon
"There came to port last Sunday night
The queerest little craft,
Without an inch of rigging on;
I looked, and looked, and laughed.
"It seemed so curious that she
Should cross the unknown water,
And moor herself within my room--
My daughter, O my daughter!
"Yet, by these presents, witness all,
She's welcome fifty times,
And comes consigned to Hope and Love
And common metre rhymes.
"She has no manifest but this;
No flag floats o'er the water;
She's rather new for British Lloyd's--
My daughter, O my daughter!
"Ring out, wild bells--and tame ones, too;
Ring out the lover's moon,
Ring in the little worsted socks,
Ring in the bib and spoon."
[Footnote 1: George W. Cable.]
"Oh, Peter, how pretty!" said Mother Carey all in a glow. "You never
showed it to me!"
"You were too much occupied with the aforesaid 'queer little craft,'
wasn't she, Nan--I mean Nancy!" and her father pinched her ear and
pulled a curly lock.
Nancy was a lovely creature to the eye, and she came by her good looks
naturally enough. For three generations her father's family had been
known as the handsome Careys, and when Lieutenant Carey chose Margaret
Gilbert for his wife, he was lucky enough to win the loveliest girl in
Thus it was still the handsome Careys in the time of our story, for all
the children were well-favored and the general public could never decide
whether Nancy or Kathleen was the belle of the family. Kathleen had fair
curls, skin like a rose, and delicate features; not a blemish to mar her
exquisite prettiness! All colors became her; all hats suited her hair.
She was the Carey beauty so long as Nancy remained out of sight, but the
moment that young person appeared Kathleen left something to be desired.
Nancy piqued; Nancy sparkled; Nancy glowed; Nancy occasionally pouted
and not infrequently blazed. Nancy's eyes had to be continually searched
for news, both of herself and of the immediate world about her. If you
did not keep looking at her every "once in so often" you couldn't keep
up with the progress of events; she might flash a dozen telegrams to
somebody, about something, while your head was turned away. Kathleen
could be safely left unwatched for an hour or so without fear of change;
her moods were less variable, her temper evener; her interest in the
passing moment less keen, her absorption in the particular subject less
intense. Walt Whitman might have been thinking of Nancy when he wrote:--
There was a child went forth every day
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the
Or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.
Kathleen's nature needed to be stirred, Nancy's to be controlled, the
impulse coming from within, the only way that counts in the end, though
the guiding force may be applied from without.
Nancy was more impulsive than industrious, more generous than wise, more
plucky than prudent; she had none too much perseverance and no
patience at all.
Gilbert was a fiery youth of twelve, all for adventure. He kindled
quickly, but did not burn long, so deeds of daring would be in his line;
instantaneous ones, quickly settled, leaving the victor with a swelling
chest and a feather in cap; rather an obvious feather suited
Peter? Oh! Peter, aged four, can be dismissed in very few words as a
consummate charmer and heart-breaker. The usual elements that go to the
making of a small boy were all there, but mixed with white magic. It is
painful to think of the dozens of girl babies in long clothes who must
have been feeling premonitory pangs when Peter was four, to think they
couldn't all marry him when they grew up!
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR
Three weeks had gone by since Mother Carey's departure for Fortress
Monroe, and the children had mounted from one moral triumph to another.
John Bunyan, looking in at the windows, might have exclaimed:--
Who would true valor see
Let him come hither.
It is easy to go wrong in a wicked world, but there are certain
circumstances under which one is pledged to virtue; when, like a knight
of the olden time, you wear your motto next your heart and fight for
it,--"Death rather than defeat!" "We are able because we think we are
able!" "Follow honor!" and the like. These sentiments look beautifully
as class mottoes on summer graduation programmes, but some of them,
apparently, disappear from circulation before cold weather sets in.
It is difficult to do right, we repeat, but not when mother is away from
us for the first time since we were born; not when she who is the very
sun of home is shining elsewhere, and we are groping in the dim light
without her, only remembering her last words and our last promises. Not
difficult when we think of the eyes the color of the blue velvet bonnet,
and the tears falling from them. They are hundreds of miles away, but we
see them looking at us a dozen times a day and the last thing at night.
Not difficult when we think of father; gay, gallant father, desperately
ill and mother nursing him; father, with the kind smile and the jolly
little sparkles of fun in his eyes; father, tall and broad-shouldered,
splendid as the gods, in full uniform; father, so brave that if a naval
battle ever did come his way, he would demolish the foe in an instant;
father, with a warm strong hand clasping ours on high days and holidays,
taking us on great expeditions where we see life at its best and taste
The most quarrelsome family, if the house burns down over their heads,
will stop disputing until the emergency is over and they get under a new
roof. Somehow, in times of great trial, calamity, sorrow, the
differences that separate people are forgotten. Isn't it rather like the
process in mathematics where we reduce fractions to a common
It was no time for anything but superior behavior in the Carey
household; that was distinctly felt from kitchen to nursery. Ellen the
cook was tidier, Joanna the second maid more amiable. Nancy, who was
"responsible," rose earlier than the rest and went to bed later, after
locking doors and windows that had been left unlocked since the flood.
"I am responsible," she said three or four times each day, to herself,
and, it is to be feared, to others! Her heavenly patience in dressing
Peter every few hours without comment struck the most callous observer
as admirable. Peter never remembered that he had any clothes on. He
might have been a real stormy petrel, breasting the billows in his
birthday suit and expecting his feathers to be dried when and how the
Lord pleased. He comported himself in the presence of dust, mud, water,
liquid refreshment, and sticky substances, exactly as if clean white
sailor suits grew on every bush and could be renewed at pleasure.
Even Gilbert was moved to spontaneous admiration and respect at the
sight of Nancy's zeal. "Nobody would know you, Nancy; it is simply
wonderful, and I only wish it could last," he said. Even this style of
encomium was received sweetly, though there had been moments in her
previous history when Nancy would have retorted in a very pointed
manner. When she was "responsible," not even had he gone the length of
calling Nancy an unspeakable pig, would she have said anything. She had
a blissful consciousness that, had she been examined, indications of
angelic wings, and not bristles, would have been discovered under
Gilbert, by the way, never suspected that the masters in his own school
wondered whether he had experienced religion or was working on some sort
of boyish wager. He took his two weekly reports home cautiously for fear
that they might break on the way, pasted them on large pieces of paper,
and framed them in elaborate red, white, and blue stars united by strips
of gold paper. How Captain and Mrs. Carey laughed and cried over this
characteristic message when it reached them! "Oh! they _are_ darlings,"
Mother Carey cried. "Of course they are," the Captain murmured feebly.
"Why shouldn't they be, considering you?"
"It is really just as easy to do right as wrong, Kathleen," said Nancy
when the girls were going to bed one night.
"Ye-es!" assented Kathleen with some reservations in her tone, for she
was more judicial and logical than her sister. "But you have to keep
your mind on it so, and never relax a single bit! Then it's lots easier
for a few weeks than it is for long stretches!"
"That's true," agreed Nancy; "it would be hard to keep it up forever.
And you have to love somebody or something like fury every minute or you
can't do it at all. How do the people manage that can't love like that,
or haven't anybody to love?"
"I don't know." said Kathleen sleepily. "I'm so worn out with being
good, that every night I just say my prayers and tumble into bed
exhausted. Last night I fell asleep praying, I honestly did!"
"Tell that to the marines!" remarked Nancy incredulously.
THE BROKEN CIRCLE
The three weeks were running into a month now, and virtue still reigned
in the Carey household. But things were different. Everybody but Peter
saw the difference. Peter dwelt from morn till eve in that Land of Pure
Delight which is ignorance of death. The children no longer bounded to
meet the postman, but waited till Joanna brought in the mail. Steadily,
daily, the letters changed in tone. First they tried to be cheerful;
later on they spoke of trusting that the worst was past; then of hoping
that father was holding his own. "Oh! if he was holding _all_ his own,"
sobbed Nancy. "If we were only there with him, helping mother!"
Ellen said to Joanna one morning in the kitchen: "It's my belief the
Captain's not going to get well, and I'd like to go to Newburyport to
see my cousin and not be in the house when the children's told!" And
Joanna said, "Shame on you not to stand by 'em in their hour of
trouble!" At which Ellen quailed and confessed herself a coward.
Finally came a day never to be forgotten; a day that swept all the
former days clean out of memory, as a great wave engulfs all the little
ones in its path; a day when, Uncle Allan being too ill to travel,
Cousin Ann, of all people in the universe,--Cousin Ann came to bring the
terrible news that Captain Carey was dead.
Never think that Cousin Ann did not suffer and sympathize and do her
rocky best to comfort; she did indeed, but she was thankful that her
task was of brief duration. Mrs. Carey knew how it would be, and had
planned all so that she herself could arrive not long after the blow had
fallen. Peter, by his mother's orders (she had thought of everything)
was at a neighbor's house, the centre of all interest, the focus of all
gayety. He was too young to see the tears of his elders with any profit;
baby plants grow best in sunshine. The others were huddled together in a
sad group at the front window, eyes swollen, handkerchiefs rolled into
drenched, pathetic little wads.
Cousin Ann came in from the dining room with a tumbler and spoon in her
hand. "See here, children!" she said bracingly, "you've been crying for
the last twelve hours without stopping, and I don't blame you a mite. If
I was the crying kind I'd do the same thing. Now do you think you've got
grit enough--all three of you--to bear up for your mother's sake, when
she first comes in? I've mixed you each a good dose of aromatic spirits
of ammonia, and it's splendid for the nerves. Your mother must get a
night's sleep somehow, and when she gets back a little of her strength
you'll be the greatest comfort she has in the world. The way you're
carrying on now you'll be the death of her!"
It was a good idea, and the dose had courage in it. Gilbert took the
first sip, Kathleen the second, and Nancy the third, and hardly had the
last swallow disappeared down the poor aching throats before a carriage
drove up to the gate. Some one got out and handed out Mrs. Carey whose
step used to be lighter than Nancy's. A strange gentleman, oh! not a
stranger, it was the dear Admiral helping mother up the path. They had
been unconsciously expecting the brown muff and blue velvet bonnet, but
these had vanished, like father, and all the beautiful things of the
past years, and in their place was black raiment that chilled their
hearts. But the black figure had flung back the veil that hid her from
the longing eyes of the children, and when she raised her face it was
full of the old love. She was grief-stricken and she was pale, but she
was mother, and the three young things tore open the door and clasped
her in their arms, sobbing, choking, whispering all sorts of tender
comfort, their childish tears falling like healing dew on her poor
heart. The Admiral soothed and quieted them each in turn, all but Nancy.
Cousin Ann's medicine was of no avail, and strangling with sobs Nancy
fled to the attic until she was strong enough to say "for mother's sake"
without a quiver in her voice. Then she crept down, and as she passed
her mother's room on tiptoe she looked in and saw that the chair by the
window, the chair that had been vacant for a month, was filled, and that
the black-clad figure was what was left to them; a strange, sad, quiet
mother, who had lost part of herself somewhere,--the gay part, the
cheerful part, the part that made her so piquantly and entrancingly
different from other women. Nancy stole in softly and put her young
smooth cheek against her mother's, quietly stroking her hair. "There are
four of us to love you and take care of you," she said. "It isn't quite
so bad as if there was nobody!"
Mrs. Carey clasped her close. "Oh! my Nancy! my first, my oldest, God
will help me, I know that, but just now I need somebody close and warm
and soft; somebody with arms to hold and breath to speak and lips to
kiss! I ought not to sadden you, nor lean on you, you are too young,
--but I must a little, just at the first. You see, dear, you come next
"Next to father!" Nancy's life was set to a new tune from that moment.
Here was her spur, her creed; the incentive, the inspiration she had
lacked. She did not suddenly grow older than her years, but simply, in
the twinkling of an eye, came to a realization of herself, her
opportunity, her privilege, her duty; the face of life had changed, and
Nancy changed with it.
"Do you love me next to mother?" the Admiral had asked coaxingly once
when Nancy was eight and on his lap as usual.
"Oh dear no!" said Nancy thoughtfully, shaking her head.
"Why, that's rather a blow to me," the Admiral exclaimed, pinching an
ear and pulling a curl. "I flattered myself that when I was on my best
behavior I came next to mother."
"It's this way, Addy dear," said Nancy, cuddling up to his waistcoat and
giving a sigh of delight that there were so many nice people in the
world. "It's just this way. First there's mother, and then all round
mother there's a wide, wide space; and then father and you come next
The Admiral smiled; a grave, lovely smile that often crept into his eyes
when he held Mother Carey's chickens on his knee. He kissed Nancy on the
little white spot behind the ear where the brown hair curled in tiny
rings like grape tendrils, soft as silk and delicate as pencil strokes.
He said nothing, but his boyish dreams were in the kiss, and certain
hopes of manhood that had never been realized. He was thinking that
Margaret Gilbert was a fortunate and happy woman to have become Mother
Carey; such a mother, too, that all about her was a wide, wide space,
and next the space, the rest of the world, nearer or farther according
to their merits. He wondered if motherhood ought not to be like that,
and he thought if it were it would be a great help to God.
HOW ABOUT JULIA?
We often speak of a family circle, but there are none too many of them.
Parallel lines never meeting, squares, triangles, oblongs, and
particularly those oblongs pulled askew, known as rhomboids, these and
other geometrical figures abound, but circles are comparatively few. In
a true family circle a father and a mother first clasp each other's
hands, liking well to be thus clasped; then they stretch out a hand on
either side, and these are speedily grasped by children, who hold one
another firmly, and complete the ring. One child is better than nothing,
a great deal better than nothing; it is at least an effort in the right
direction, but the circle that ensues is not, even then, a truly nice
shape. You can stand as handsomely as ever you like, but it simply won't
"come round." The minute that two, three, four, five, join in, the
"roundness" grows, and the merriment too, and the laughter, and the
power to do things. (Responsibility and care also, but what is the use
of discouraging circles when there are not enough of them anyway?)
The Carey family circle had been round and complete, with love and
harmony between all its component parts. In family rhomboids, for
instance, mother loves the children and father does not, or father does,
but does not love mother, or father and mother love each other and the
children do not get their share; it is impossible to enumerate all the
little geometrical peculiarities which keep a rhomboid from being a
circle, but one person can just "stand out" enough to spoil the shape,
or put hands behind back and refuse to join at all. About the ugliest
thing in the universe is that non-joining habit! You would think that
anybody, however dull, might consider his hands, and guess by the look
of them that they must be made to work, and help, and take hold of
somebody else's hands! Miserable, useless, flabby paws, those of the
non-joiner; that he feeds and dresses himself with, and then hangs to
his selfish sides, or puts behind his beastly back!
When Captain Carey went on his long journey into the unknown and
uncharted land, the rest of the Careys tried in vain for a few months to
be still a family, and did not succeed at all. They clung as closely to
one another as ever they could, but there was always a gap in the circle
where father had been. Some men, silent, unresponsive, absent-minded and
especially absorbed in business, might drop out and not be missed, but
Captain Carey was full of vitality, warmth, and high spirits. It is
strange so many men think that the possession of a child makes them a
father; it does not; but it is a curious and very general
misapprehension. Captain Carey was a boy with his boys, and a gallant
lover with his girls; to his wife--oh! we will not even touch upon that
ground; she never did, to any one or anything but her own heart! Such an
one could never disappear from memory, such a loss could never be made
wholly good. The only thing to do was to remember father's pride and
justify it, to recall his care for mother and take his place so far as
might be; the only thing for all, as the months went on, was to be what
mother called the three b's,--brave, bright, and busy.
To be the last was by far the easiest, for the earliest effort at
economy had been the reluctant dismissal of Joanna, the chambermaid. In
old-fashioned novels the devoted servant always insisted on remaining
without wages, but this story concerns itself with life at a later date.
Joanna wept at the thought of leaving, but she never thought of the
romantic and illogical expedient of staying on without compensation.
Captain Carey's salary had been five thousand dollars, or rather was to
have been, for he had only attained his promotion three months before
his death. There would have been an extra five hundred dollars a year
when he was at sea, and on the strength of this addition to their former
income he intended to increase the amount of his life insurance, but it
had not yet been done when the sudden illness seized him, an illness
that began so gently and innocently and terminated with such sudden and
The life insurance, such as it was, must be put into the bank for
emergencies. Mrs. Carey realized that that was the only proper thing to
do when there were four children under fifteen to be considered. The
pressing question, however, was how to keep it in the bank, and subsist
on a captain's pension of thirty dollars a month. There was the ten
thousand, hers and the Captain's, in Allan Carey's business, but Allan
was seriously ill with nervous prostration, and no money put into his
business ever had come out, even in a modified form. The Admiral was at
the other end of the world, and even had he been near at hand Mrs. Carey
would never have confided the family difficulties to him. She could
hardly have allowed him even to tide her over her immediate pressing
anxieties, remembering his invalid sister and his many responsibilities.
No, the years until Gilbert was able to help, or Nancy old enough to use
her talents, or the years before the money invested with Allan would
bring dividends, those must be years of self-sacrifice on everybody's
part; and more even than that, they must be fruitful years, in which not
mere saving and economizing, but earning, would be necessary.
It was only lately that Mrs. Carey had talked over matters with the
three eldest children, but the present house was too expensive to be
longer possible as a home, and the question of moving was a matter of
general concern. Joanna had been, up to the present moment, the only
economy, but alas! Joanna was but a drop in the necessary bucket.
On a certain morning in March Mrs. Carey sat in her room with a letter
in her lap, the children surrounding her. It was from Mr. Manson, Allan
Carey's younger partner; the sort of letter that dazed her, opening up
as it did so many questions of expediency, duty, and responsibility. The
gist of it was this: that Allan Carey was a broken man in mind and body;
that both for the climate and for treatment he was to be sent to a rest
cure in the Adirondacks; that sometime or other, in Mr. Manson's
opinion, the firm's investments might be profitable if kept long enough,
and there was no difficulty in keeping them, for nobody in the universe
wanted them at the present moment; that Allan's little daughter Julia
had no source of income whatever after her father's monthly bills were
paid, and that her only relative outside of the Careys, a certain Miss
Ann Chadwick, had refused to admit her into her house. "Mr. Carey only
asked Miss Chadwick as a last resort," wrote Mr. Manson, "for his very
soul quailed at the thought of letting you, his brother's widow, suffer
any more by his losses than was necessary, and he studiously refused to
let you know the nature and extent of his need. Miss Chadwick's only
response to his request was, that she believed in every tub standing on
its own bottom, and if he had harbored the same convictions he would not
have been in his present extremity. I am telling you this, my dear Mrs.
Carey," the writer went on, "just to get your advice about the child. I
well know that your income will not support your own children; what
therefore shall we do with Julia? I am a poor young bachelor, with two
sisters to support. I shall find a position, of course, and I shall
never cease nursing Carey's various affairs and projects during the time
of his exile, but I cannot assume an ounce more of financial
There had been quite a council over the letter, and parts of it had been
read more than once by Mrs. Carey, but the children, though very
sympathetic with Uncle Allan and loud in their exclamations of "Poor
Julia!" had not suggested any remedy for the situation.
"Well," said Mrs. Carey, folding the letter, "there seems to be but one
thing for us to do."
"Do you mean that you are going to have Julia come and live with us,--be
one of the family?" exclaimed Gilbert.
"That is what I want to discuss," she replied. "You three are the family
as well as I.--Come in!" she called, for she heard the swift feet of the
youngest petrel ascending the stairs. "Come in! Where is there a sweeter
Peter, a fleeter Peter, a neater Peter, than ours, I should like to
know, and where a better adviser for the council?"
"_Neater_, mother! How _can_ you?" inquired Kathleen.
"I meant neater when he is just washed and dressed," retorted Peter's
mother. "Are you coming to the family council, sweet Pete?"
Peter climbed on his mother's knee and answered by a vague affirmative
nod, his whole mind being on the extraction of a slippery marble from a
"Then be quiet, and speak only when we ask your advice," continued Mrs.
Carey. "Unless I were obliged to, children, I should be sorry to go
against all your wishes. I might be willing to bear my share of a
burden, but more is needed than that."
"I think," said Nancy suddenly, aware now of the trend of her mother's
secret convictions, "I think Julia is a smug, conceited, vain, affected
little pea--" Here she caught her mother's eye and suddenly she heard
inside of her head or heart or conscience a chime of words. "_Next to
father_!" Making a magnificent oratorical leap she finished her sentence
with only a second's break,--"peacock, but if mother thinks Julia is a
duty, a duty she is, and we must brace up and do her. Must we love her,
mother, or can we just be good and polite to her, giving her the breast
and taking the drumstick? _She_ won't ever say, '_Don't let me rob
you_!' like Cousin Ann, when _she_ takes the breast!"
Kathleen looked distinctly unresigned. She hated drumsticks and all that
they stood for in life. She disliked the wall side of the bed, the
middle seat in the carriage, the heel of the loaf, the underdone
biscuit, the tail part of the fish, the scorched end of the omelet. "It
will make more difference to me than anybody," she said gloomily.
"Everything makes more difference to you, Kitty," remarked Gilbert.
"I mean I'm always fourth when the cake plate's passed,--in everything!
Now Julia'll be fourth, and I shall be fifth; it's lucky people can't
tumble off the floor!"
"Poor abused Kathleen!" cried Gilbert. "Well, mother, you're always
right, but I can't see why you take another one into the family, when
we've been saying for a week there isn't even enough for us five to live
on. It looks mighty queer to put me in the public school and spend the
money you save that way, on Julia!"
Way down deep in her heart Mother Carey felt a pang. There was a little
seed of hard self-love in Gilbert that she wanted him to dig up from the
soil and get rid of before it sprouted and waxed too strong.
"Julia is a Carey chicken after all, Gilbert," she said.
"But she's Uncle Allan's chicken, and I'm Captain Carey's eldest son."
"That's the very note I should strike if I were you," his mother
responded, "only with a little different accent. What would Captain
Carey's eldest son like to do for his only cousin, a little girl younger
than himself,--a girl who had a very silly, unwise, unhappy mother for
the first five years of her life, and who is now practically fatherless,
for a time at least?"
Gilbert wriggled as if in great moral discomfort, as indeed he was.
"Well," he said, "I don't want to be selfish, and if the girls say yes,
I'll have to fall in; but it isn't logic, all the same, to ask a sixth
to share what isn't enough for five."
"I agree with you there, Gilly!" smiled his mother. "The only question
before the council is, does logic belong at the top, in the scale of
reasons why we do certain things? If we ask Julia to come, she will have
to 'fall into line,' as you say, and share the family misfortunes as
best she can."
"She's a regular shirk, and always was." This from Kathleen.
"She would never come at all if she guessed her cousins' opinion of her,
that is very certain!" remarked Mrs. Carey pointedly.
"Now, mother, look me in the eye and speak the whole truth," asked
Nancy. "_Do you like Julia Carey_?"
Mrs. Carey laughed as she answered, "Frankly then, I do not! But," she
continued, "I do not like several of the remarks that have been made at
this council, yet I manage to bear them."
"Of course I shan't call Julia smug and conceited to her face," asserted
Nancy encouragingly. "I hope that her bosom friend Gladys Ferguson has
disappeared from view. The last time Julia visited us, Kitty and I got
so tired of Gladys Ferguson's dresses, her French maid, her bedroom
furniture, and her travels abroad, that we wrote her name on a piece of
paper, put it in a box, and buried it in the back yard the minute Julia
left the house. When you write, mother, tell Julia there's a piece of
breast for her, but not a mouthful of my drumstick goes to Gladys
"The more the hungrier; better invite Gladys too," suggested Gilbert,
"then we can say like that simple little kid in Wordsworth:--
"'Sisters and brother, little maid,
How many may you be?'
'How many? Seven in all,' she said,
And wondering looked at me!"
"Then it goes on thus," laughed Nancy:--
"'And who are they? I pray you tell.'
She answered, 'Seven are we;
Mother with us makes five, and then
There's Gladys and Julee!'"
Everybody joined in the laugh then, including Peter, who was especially
uproarious, and who had an idea he had made the joke himself, else why
did they all kiss him?
"How about Julia? What do you say, Peter?" asked his mother.
"I want her. She played horse once," said Peter. The opinion that the
earth revolved around his one small person was natural at the age of
four, but the same idea of the universe still existed in Gilbert's mind.
A boy of thirteen ought perhaps to have a clearer idea of the relative
sizes of world and individual; at least that was the conviction in
Mother Carey's mind.
Nancy had a great many ideas, first and last. They were generally unique
and interesting at least, though it is to be feared that few of them
were practical. However, it was Nancy's idea to build Peter a playhouse
in the plot of ground at the back of the Charlestown house, and it was
she who was the architect and head carpenter. That plan had brought much
happiness to Peter and much comfort to the family. It was Nancy's idea
that she, Gilbert, and Kathleen should all be so equally polite to
Cousin Ann Chadwick that there should be no favorite to receive an undue
share of invitations to the Chadwick house. Nancy had made two visits in
succession, both offered in the nature of tributes to her charms and
virtues, and she did not wish a third.
"If you two can't be _more_ attractive, then I'll be _less_, that's
all," was her edict. "'Turn and turn about' has got to be the rule in
this matter. I'm not going to wear the martyr's crown alone; it will
adorn your young brows every now and then or I'll know the reason why!"
It was Nancy's idea to let Joanna go, and divide her work among the
various members of the family. It was also Nancy's idea that, there
being no strictly masculine bit of martyrdom to give to Gilbert, he
should polish the silver for his share. This was an idea that proved so
unpopular with Gilbert that it was speedily relinquished. Gilbert was
wonderful with tools, so wonderful that Mother Carey feared he would be
a carpenter instead of the commander of a great war ship; but there
seemed to be no odd jobs to offer him. There came a day when even Peter
realized that life was real and life was earnest. When the floor was
strewn with playthings his habit had been to stand amid the wreckage and
smile, whereupon Joanna would fly and restore everything to its
accustomed place. After the passing of Joanna, Mother Carey sat placidly
in her chair in the nursery and Peter stood ankle deep among his
"Now put everything where it belongs, sweet Pete," said mother.
"You do it," smiled Peter.
"I am very busy darning your stockings, Peter."
"I don't like to pick up, Muddy."
"No, it isn't much fun, but it has to be done."
Peter went over to the window and gazed at the landscape. "I dess I'll
go play with Ellen," he remarked in honeyed tones.
"That would be nice, after you clear away your toys and blocks."
"I dess I'll play with Ellen first," suggested Peter, starting slowly
towards the door.
"No, we always work first and play afterwards!" said mother, going on
Peter felt caught in a net of irresistible and pitiless logic.
"Come and help me, Muddy?" he coaxed, and as she looked up he suddenly
let fly all his armory of weapons at once,--two dimples, tossing back of
curls, parted lips, tiny white teeth, sweet voice.
Mother Carey's impulse was to cast herself on the floor and request him
simply to smile on her and she would do his lightest bidding, but
controlling her secret desires she answered: "I would help if you needed
me, but you don't. You're a great big boy now!"
"I'm not a great big boy!" cried Peter, "I'm only a great big little
"Don't waste time, sweet Pete; go to work!"
"_I want Joanna_!" roared Peter with the voice of an infant bull.
"So we all do. It's because she had to go that I'm darning stockings."
The net tightened round Peter's defenceless body and he hurled himself
against his rocking, horse and dragged it brutally to a corner. Having
disposed of most of his strength and temper in this operation, he put
away the rest of his goods and chattels more quietly, but with streaming
eyes and heaving bosom.
"Splendid!" commented Mother Carey. "Joanna couldn't have done it
better, and it won't be half so much work next time." Peter heard the
words "next time" distinctly, and knew the grim face of Duty at last,
though he was less than five.
The second and far more tragic time was when he was requested to make
himself ready for luncheon,--Kathleen to stand near and help "a little"
if really necessary. Now Peter _au fond_ was absolutely clean. French
phrases are detestable where there is any English equivalent, but in
this case there is none, so I will explain to the youngest reader--who
may speak only one language--that the base of Peter was always clean. He
received one full bath and several partial ones in every twenty-four
hours, but su-per-im-posed on this base were evidences of his eternal
activities, and indeed of other people's! They were divided into three
classes,--those contracted in the society of Joanna when she took him
out-of-doors: such as sand, water, mud, grass stains, paint, lime,
putty, or varnish; those derived from visits to his sisters at their
occupations: such as ink, paints, lead pencils, paste, glue, and
mucilage; those amassed in his stays with Ellen in the kitchen: sugar,
molasses, spice, pudding sauce, black currants, raisins, dough, berry
stains (assorted, according to season), chocolate, jelly, jam, and
preserves; these deposits were not deep, but were simply dabs on the
facade of Peter, and through them the eyes and soul of him shone,
delicious and radiant. They could be rubbed off with a moist
handkerchief if water were handy, and otherwise if it were not, and the
person who rubbed always wanted for some mysterious reason to kiss him
immediately afterwards, for Peter had the largest kissing acquaintance
When Peter had scrubbed the parts of him that showed most, and had
performed what he considered his whole duty to his hair, he appeared for
the first time at the family table in such a guise that if the children
had not been warned they would have gone into hysterics, but he
gradually grew to be proud of his toilets and careful that they should
not occur too often in the same day, since it appeared to be the family
opinion that he should make them himself.
There was a tacit feeling, not always expressed, that Nancy, after
mother, held the reins of authority, and also that she was a person of
infinite resource. The Gloom-Dispeller had been her father's name for
her, but he had never thought of her as a Path-Finder, a gallant
adventurer into unknown and untried regions, because there had been
small opportunity to test her courage or her ingenuity.
Mrs. Carey often found herself leaning on Nancy nowadays; not as a dead
weight, but with just the hint of need, just the suggestion of
confidence, that youth and strength and buoyancy respond to so gladly.
It had been decided that the house should be vacated as soon as a tenant
could be found, but the "what next" had not been settled. Julia had
confirmed Nancy's worst fears by accepting her aunt's offer of a home,
but had requested time to make Gladys Ferguson a short visit at Palm
Beach, all expenses being borne by the Parents of Gladys. This estimable
lady and gentleman had no other names or titles and were never spoken of
as if they had any separate existence. They had lived and loved and
married and accumulated vast wealth, and borne Gladys. After that they
had sunk into the background and Gladys had taken the stage.
"I'm sure I'm glad she is going to the Fergusons," exclaimed Kathleen.
"One month less of her!"
"Yes," Nancy replied, "but she'll be much worse, more spoiled, more
vain, more luxurious than before. She'll want a gold chicken breast now.
We've just packed away the finger bowls; but out they'll have to
"Let her wash her own finger bowl a few days and she'll clamor for the
simple life," said Kathleen shrewdly. "Oh, what a relief if the
Fergusons would adopt Julia, just to keep Gladys company!"
"Nobody would ever adopt Julia," returned Nancy. "If she was yours you
couldn't help it; you'd just take her 'to the Lord in prayer,' as the
Sunday-school hymn says, but you'd never go out and adopt her."
Matters were in this uncertain and unsettled state when Nancy came into
her mother's room one evening when the rest of the house was asleep.
"I saw your light, so I knew you were reading, Muddy. I've had such a
bright idea I couldn't rest."
"Muddy" is not an attractive name unless you happen to know its true
derivation and significance. First there was "mother dear," and as
persons under fifteen are always pressed for time and uniformly
breathless, this appellation was shortened to "Motherdy," and Peter
being unable to struggle with that term, had abbreviated it into
"Muddy." "Muddy" in itself is undistinguished and even unpleasant, but
when accompanied by a close strangling hug, pats on the cheek, and
ardent if somewhat sticky kisses, grows by degrees to possess delightful
associations. Mother Carey enjoyed it so much from Peter that she even
permitted it to be taken up by the elder children.
"You mustn't have ideas after nine P.M., Nancy!" chided her mother.
"Wrap the blue blanket around you and sit down with me near the fire."
"You're not to say I'm romantic or unpractical," insisted Nancy, leaning
against her mother's knees and looking up into her face,--"indeed,
you're not to say anything of any importance till I'm all finished. I'm
going to tell it in a long story, too, so as to work on your feelings
and make you say yes."
"Very well, I'm all ears!"
"Now put on your thinking cap! Do you remember once, years and years
ago, before Peter it was, that father took us on a driving trip through
some dear little villages in Maine?"
(The Careys never dated their happenings eighteen hundred and anything.
It was always: Just before Peter, Immediately after Peter, or A Long
Time after Peter, which answered all purposes.)
"It was one of Gilbert's thirsty days, and we stopped at nearly every
convenient pump to give him drinks of water, and at noon we came to the
loveliest wayside well with a real moss-covered bucket; do you
"And we all clambered out, and father said it was time for luncheon, and
we unpacked the baskets on the greensward near a beautiful tree, and
father said, 'Don't spread the table too near the house, dears, or
they'll cry when they see our doughnuts!' and Kitty, who had been
running about, came up and cried, 'It's an empty house; come and look!'"
"And we all went in the gate and loved every bit of it: the stone steps,
the hollyhocks growing under the windows, the yellow paint and the green
blinds; and father looked in the windows, and the rooms were large and
sunny, and we wanted to drive the horse into the barn and stay
"And Gilbert tore his trousers climbing on the gate, and father laid him
upside down on your lap and I ran and got your work-bag and you mended
the seat of his little trousers. And father looked and looked at the
house and said, 'Bless its heart!' and said if he were rich he would buy
the dear thing that afternoon and sleep in it that night; and asked you
if you didn't wish you'd married the other man, and you said there never
was another man, and you asked father if he thought on the whole that he
was the poorest man in the world, and father said no, the very richest,
and he kissed us all round, do you remember?"
"Do I remember? O Nancy, Nancy! What do you think I am made of that I
could ever forget?"
"Don't cry, Muddy darling, don't! It was so beautiful, and we have so
many things like that to remember."
"Yes," said Mrs. Carey, "I know it. Part of my tears are grateful ones
that none of you can ever recall an unloving word between your father
"The idea," said Nancy suddenly and briefly, "is to go and live in that
"Nancy! What for?"
"We've got to leave this place, and where could we live on less than in
that tiny village? It had a beautiful white-painted academy, don't you
remember, so we could go to school there,--Kathleen and I anyway, if
you could get enough money to keep Gilly at Eastover."
"Of course I've thought of the country, but that far-away spot never
occurred to me. What was its quaint little name,--Mizpah or Shiloh or
Deborah or something like that?"
"It was Beulah," said Nancy; "and father thought it exactly matched the
"We even named the house," recalled Mother Carey with a tearful smile.
"There were vegetables growing behind it, and flowers in front, and your
father suggested Garden Fore-and-Aft and I chose Happy Half-Acre, but
father thought the fields that stretched back of the vegetable garden
might belong to the place, and if so there would be far more than a
half-acre of land."
"And do you remember father said he wished we could do something to
thank the house for our happy hour, and I thought of the little box of
plants we had bought at a wayside nursery?"
"Oh! I do indeed! I hadn't thought of it for years! Father and you
planted a tiny crimson rambler at the corner of the piazza at the side."
"Do you suppose it ever 'rambled,' Muddy? Because it would be ever so
high now, and full of roses in summer."
"I wonder!" mused Mother Carey. "Oh! it was a sweet, tranquil, restful
place! I wonder how we could find out about it? It seems impossible that
it should not have been rented or sold before this. Let me see, that was
five years ago."
"There was a nice old gentleman farther down the street, quite in the
village, somebody who had known father when he was a boy."
"So there was; he had a quaint little law office not much larger than
Peter's playhouse. Perhaps we could find him. He was very, very old. He
may not be alive, and I cannot remember his name."
"Father called him 'Colonel,' I know that. Oh, how I wish dear Addy was
here to help us!"
"If he were he would want to help us too much! We must learn to bear our
own burdens. They won't seem so strange and heavy when we are more used
to them. Now go to bed, dear. We'll think of Beulah, you and I; and
perhaps, as we have been all adrift, waiting for a wind to stir our
sails, 'Nancy's idea' will be the thing to start us on our new voyage.
Beulah means land of promise;--that's a good omen!"
"And father found Beulah; and father found the house, and father blessed
it and loved it and named it; that makes ever so many more good omens,
more than enough to start housekeeping on," Nancy answered, kissing her
"OLD BEASTS INTO NEW"
Mother Carey went to sleep that night in greater peace than she had felt
for months. It had seemed to her, all these last sad weeks, as though
she and her brood had been breasting stormy waters with no harbor in
sight. There were friends in plenty here and there, but no kith and kin,
and the problems to be settled were graver and more complex than
ordinary friendship could untangle, vexed as it always was by its own
problems. She had but one keen desire: to go to some quiet place where
temptations for spending money would be as few as possible, and there
live for three or four years, putting her heart and mind and soul on
fitting the children for life. If she could keep strength enough to
guide and guard, train and develop them into happy, useful, agreeable
human beings,--masters of their own powers; wise and discreet enough,
when years of discretion were reached, to choose right paths,--that, she
conceived, was her chief task in life, and no easy one. "Happy I must
contrive that they shall be," she thought, "for unhappiness and
discontent are among the foxes that spoil the vines. Stupid they shall
not be, while I can think of any force to stir their brains; they have
ordinary intelligence, all of them, and they shall learn to use it; dull
and sleepy children I can't abide. Fairly good they will be, if they are
busy and happy, and clever enough to see the folly of being anything
_but_ good! And so, month after month, for many years to come, I must be
helping Nancy and Kathleen to be the right sort of women, and wives, and
mothers, and Gilbert and Peter the proper kind of men, and husbands, and
fathers. Mother Carey's chickens must be able to show the good birds the
way home, as the Admiral said, and I should think they ought to be able
to set a few bad birds on the right track now and then!"
Well, all this would be a task to frighten and stagger many a person,
but it only kindled Mrs. Carey's love and courage to a white heat.
Do you remember where Kingsley's redoubtable Tom the Water Baby swims
past Shiny Wall, and reaches at last Peacepool? Peacepool, where the
good whales lie, waiting till Mother Carey shall send for them "to make
them out of old beasts into new"?
Tom swims up to the nearest whale and asks the way to Mother Carey.
"There she is in the middle," says the whale, though Tom sees nothing
but a glittering white peak like an iceberg. "That's Mother Carey,"
spouts the whale, "as you will find if you get to her. There she sits
making old beasts into new all the year round."
"How does she do that?" asks Tom.
"That's her concern, not mine!" the whale remarks discreetly.
And when Tom came nearer to the white glittering peak it took the form
of something like a lovely woman sitting on a white marble throne. And
from the foot of the throne, you remember, there swam away, out and out
into the sea, millions of new-born creatures of more shapes and colors
than man ever dreamed. And they were Mother Carey's children whom she
makes all day long.
Tom expected,--I am still telling you what happened to the famous water
baby,--Tom expected (like some grown people who ought to know better)
that he would find Mother Carey snipping, piecing, fitting, stitching,
cobbling, basting, filing, planing, hammering, turning, polishing,
moulding, measuring, chiselling, clipping, and so forth, as men do when
they go to work to make anything. But instead of that she sat quite
still with her chin upon her hand, looking down into the sea with two
great blue eyes as blue as the sea itself. (As blue as our own mother's
blue velvet bonnet, Kitty would have said.)
Was Beulah the right place, wondered Mrs. Carey as she dropped asleep.
And all night long she heard in dreams the voice of that shining little
river that ran under the bridge near Beulah village; and all night long
she walked in fields of buttercups and daisies, and saw the June breeze
blow the tall grasses. She entered the yellow painted house and put the
children to bed in the different rooms, and the instant she saw them
sleeping there it became home, and her heart put out little roots that
were like tendrils; but they grew so fast that by morning they held the
yellow house fast and refused to let it go.
She looked from its windows onto the gardens "fore and aft," and they
seemed, like the rest of little Beulah village, full of sweet promise.
In the back were all sorts of good things to eat growing in profusion,
but modestly out of sight; and in front, where passers-by could see
their beauty and sniff their fragrance, old-fashioned posies bloomed and
rioted and tossed gay, perfumed heads in the sunshine.
She awoke refreshed and strong and brave, not the same woman who took
Nancy's idea to bed with her; for this woman's heart and hope had
somehow flown from the brick house in Charlestown and had built itself a
new nest in Beulah's green trees, the elms and willows that overhung the
An idea of her own ran out and met Nancy's half way. Instead of going
herself to spy out the land of Beulah, why not send Gilbert? It was a
short, inexpensive railway journey, with no change of cars. Gilbert was
nearly fourteen, and thus far seemed to have no notion of life as a
difficult enterprise. No mother who respects her boy, or respects
herself, can ask him flatly, "Do you intend to grow up with the idea of
taking care of me; of having an eye to your sisters; or do you consider
that, since I brought you into the world, I must provide both for myself
and you until you are a man,--or forever and a day after, if you feel
inclined to shirk your part in the affair?"
Gilbert talked of his college course as confidently as he had before his
father's death. It was Nancy who as the eldest seemed the head of the
family, but Gilbert, only a year or so her junior, ought to grow into
the head, somehow or other. The way to begin would be to give him a few
delightful responsibilities, such as would appeal to his pride and sense
of importance, and gradually to mingle with them certain duties of
headship neither so simple nor so agreeable. Beulah would be a
delightful beginning. Nancy the Pathfinder would have packed a bag and
gone to Beulah on an hour's notice; found the real-estate dealer, in
case there was such a metropolitan article in the village; looked up her
father's old friend the Colonel with the forgotten surname; discovered
the owner of the charming house, rented it, and brought back the key in
triumph! But Nancy was a girl rich in courage and enterprise, while
Gilbert's manliness and leadership and discretion and consideration for
others needed a vigorous, decisive, continued push.
If Nancy's idea was good, Mother Carey's idea matched it! To see
Gilbert, valise in hand, eight dollars in pocket, leaving Charlestown on
a Friday noon after school, was equal to watching Columbus depart for an
unknown land. Thrilling is the only word that will properly describe it,
and the group that followed his departure from the upper windows used it
freely and generously. He had gone gayly downstairs and Nancy flung
after him a small packet in an envelope, just as he reached the door.
"There's a photograph of your mother and sisters!" she called. "In case
the owner refuses to rent the house to _you_, just show him the rest of
the family! And don't forget to say that the rent is exorbitant,
whatever it is!"
They watched him go jauntily down the street, Mother Carey with special
pride in her eyes. He had on his second best suit, and it looked well on
his straight slim figure. He had a gallant air, had Gilbert, and one
could not truly say it was surface gallantry either; it simply did not,
at present, go very deep. "No one could call him anything but a fine
boy," thought the mother, "and surely the outside is a key to what is
within!--His firm chin, his erect head, his bright eye, his quick tread,
his air of alert self-reliance,--surely here is enough, for any mother
to build on!"
THE KNIGHT OF BEULAH CASTLE
Nancy's flushed face was glued to the window-pane until Gilbert turned
the corner. He looked back, took off his cap, threw a kiss to them, and
was out of sight!
"Oh! how I wish _I_ could have gone!" cried Nancy. "I hope he won't
forget what he went for! I hope he won't take 'No' for an answer. Oh!
why wasn't I a boy!"
Mrs. Carey laughed as she turned from the window.
"It will be a great adventure for the man of the house, Nancy, so never
mind. What would the Pathfinder have done if she had gone, instead of
"I? Oh! Millions of things!" said Nancy, pacing the sitting-room floor,
her head bent a little, her hands behind her back. "I should be going to
the new railway station in Boston now, and presently I should be at the
little grated window asking for a return ticket to Greentown station.
'Four ten,' the man would say, and I would fling my whole eight dollars
in front of the wicket to show him what manner of person I was.
"Then I would pick up the naught-from-naught-is-naught,
one-from-ten-is-nine, five-from-eight-is-three,--three dollars and
ninety cents or thereabouts and turn away.
"'Parlor car seat, Miss?' the young man would say,--a warm, worried
young man in a seersucker coat, and I would answer, 'No thank you; I
always go in the common car to study human nature.' That's what the
Admiral says, but of course the ticket man couldn't know that the
Admiral is an intimate friend of mine, and would think I said it myself.
"Then I would go down the platform and take the common car for
Greentown. Soon we would be off and I would ask the conductor if
Greentown was the station where one could change and drive to Beulah,
darling little Beulah, shiny-rivered Beulah; not breathing a word about
the yellow house for fear he would jump off the train and rent it first.
Then he would say he never heard of Beulah. I would look pityingly at
him, but make no reply because it would be no use, and anyway I know
Greentown _is_ the changing place, because I've asked three men before;
but Cousin Ann always likes to make conductors acknowledge they don't
know as much as she does.
"Then I present a few peanuts or peppermints to a small boy, and hold an
infant for a tired mother, because this is what good children do in the
Sunday-school books, but I do not mingle much with the passengers
because my brow is furrowed with thought and I am travelling on
You can well imagine that by this time Mother Carey has taken out her
darning, and Kathleen her oversewing, to which she pays little attention
because she so adores Nancy's tales. Peter has sat like a small statue
ever since his quick ear caught the sound of a story. His eyes follow
Nancy as she walks up and down improvising, and the only interruption
she ever receives from her audience is Kathleen's or Mother Carey's
occasional laugh at some especially ridiculous sentence.
"The hours fly by like minutes," continues Nancy, stopping by the side
window and twirling the curtain tassel absently. "I scan the surrounding
country to see if anything compares with Beulah, and nothing does. No
such river, no such trees, no such well, no such old oaken bucket, and
above all no such Yellow House. All the other houses I see are but as
huts compared with the Yellow House of Beulah. Soon the car door opens;
a brakeman looks in and calls in a rich baritone voice, 'Greentown!
Greentown! Do-not-leave-any-passles in the car!' And if you know
beforehand what he is going to say you can understand him quite nicely,
so I take up my bag and go down the aisle with dignity. 'Step lively,
Miss!' cries the brakeman, but I do not heed him; it is not likely that
a person renting country houses will move save with majesty. Alighting,
I inquire if there is any conveyance for Beulah, and there is, a wagon
and a white horse. I ask the driver boldly to drive me to the Colonel's
office. He does not ask which Colonel, or what Colonel, he simply says,
'Colonel Foster, I s'pose,' and I say, 'Certainly.' We arrive at the
office and when I introduce myself as Captain Carey's daughter I receive
a glad welcome. The Colonel rings a bell and an aged beldame approaches,
making a deep curtsy and offering me a beaker of milk, a crusty loaf, a
few venison pasties, and a cold goose stuffed with humming birds. When I
have reduced these to nothingness I ask if the yellow house on the
outskirts of the village is still vacant, and the Colonel replies that
it is, at which unexpected but hoped-for answer I fall into a deep
swoon. When I awake the aged Colonel is bending over me, his long white
goat's beard tickling my chin."
(Mother Carey stops her darning now and Kathleen makes no pretence of
sewing; the story is fast approaching its climax,--everybody feels that,
including Peter, who hopes that he will be in it, in some guise or
other, before it ends.)
"'Art thou married, lady?' the aged one asks courteously, 'and if not,
wilt thou be mine?'"
"I tremble, because he does not seem to notice that he is eighty or
ninety and I but fifteen, yet I fear if I reject him too scornfully and
speedily the Yellow House will never be mine. 'Grant me a little time in
which to fit myself for this great honor,' I say modestly, and a mighty
good idea, too, that I got out of a book the other day; when suddenly,
as I gaze upward, my suitor's white hair turns to brown, his beard drops
off, his wrinkles disappear, and he stands before me a young Knight, in
full armor. 'Wilt go to the yellow castle with me, sweet lady?' he asks.
'_Wilt I_!' I cry in ecstasy, and we leap on the back of a charger
hitched to the Colonel's horseblock. We dash down the avenue of elms and
maples that line the village street, and we are at our journey's end
before the Knight has had time to explain to me that he was changed into
the guise of an old man by an evil sorcerer some years before, and could
never return to his own person until some one appeared who wished to
live in the yellow house, which is Beulah Castle.
"We approach the well-known spot and the little picket gate, and the
Knight lifts me from the charger's back. 'Here are house and lands, and
all are yours, sweet lady, if you have a younger brother. There is
treasure hidden in the ground behind the castle, and no one ever finds
such things save younger brothers.'
"'I have a younger brother,' I cry, '_and his name is Peter_!'"
At this point in Nancy's chronicle Peter is nearly beside himself with
excitement. He has been sitting on his hassock, his hands outspread upon
his fat knees, his lips parted, his eyes shining. Somewhere, sometime,
in Nancy's stories there is always a Peter. He lives for that moment!
Nancy, stifling her laughter, goes on rapidly:
"And so the Knight summons Younger Brother Peter to come, and he flies
in a great air ship from Charlestown to Beulah. And when he arrives the
Knight asks him to dig for the buried treasure."
(Peter here turns up his sleeves to his dimpled elbows and seizes an
"Peter goes to the back of the castle, and there is a beautiful garden
filled with corn and beans and peas and lettuce and potatoes and beets
and onions and turnips and carrots and parsnips and tomatoes and
cabbages. He takes his magic spade and it leads him to the cabbages. He
digs and digs, and in a moment the spade strikes metal!
"'He has found the gold!' cries the Knight, and Peter speedily lifts
from the ground pots and pots of ducats and florins, and gulden and
(Peter nods his head at the mention of each precious coin and then claps
his hands, and hugs himself with joy, and rocks himself to and fro on
the hassock, in his ecstasy at being the little god in the machine.)
"Then down the village street there is the sound of hurrying horses'
feet, and in a twinkling a gayly painted chariot comes into view, and in
it are sitting the Queen Mother and the Crown Prince and Princess of the
House of Carey. They alight; Peter meets them at the gate, a pot of gold
in each hand. They enter the castle and put their umbrellas in one
corner of the front hall and their rubbers in the other one, behind the
door. Lady Nancibel trips up the steps after them and, turning, says
graciously to her Knight, 'Would you just as soon marry somebody else? I
am very much attached to my family, and they will need me dreadfully
while they are getting settled.'
"'I did not recall the fact that I had asked you to be mine,'
courteously answers the youth.
"'You did,' she responds, very much embarrassed, as she supposed of
course he would remember his offer made when he was an old man with a
goat's beard; 'but gladly will I forget all, if you will relinquish
"'As you please!' answers the Knight generously. 'I can deny you nothing
when I remember you have brought me back my youth. Prithee, is the other
lady bespoke, she of the golden hair?'
"'Many have asked, but I have chosen none,' answers the Crown Princess
Kitty modestly, as is her wont.
"'Then you will do nicely,' says the Knight, 'since all I wish is to be
son-in-law to the Queen Mother!'
"'Right you are, my hearty!' cries Prince Gilbert de Carey, 'and as we
much do need a hand at the silver-polishing I will gladly give my sister
"So they all went into Beulah Castle and locked the door behind them,
and there they lived in great happiness and comfort all the days of
their lives, and there they died when it came their time, and they were
all buried by the shores of the shining river of Beulah!"
"Oh! it is perfectly splendid!" cried Kathleen. "About the best one you
ever told! But do change the end a bit, Nancy dear! It's dreadful for
him to marry Kitty when he chose Nancibel first. I'd like him awfully,
but I don't want to take him that way!"
"Well, how would this do?" and Nancy pondered a moment before going on:
"'Right you are, my hearty!' cries Prince Gilbert de Carey, 'and as we
do need a hand at the silver-polishing I will gladly give my sister in
"'Hold!' cries the Queen Mother. 'All is not as it should be in this
coil! How can you tell,' she says, turning to the knightly stranger,
'that memory will not awake one day, and you recall the adoration you
felt when you first beheld the Lady Nancibel in a deep swoon?'
"The Young Knight's eyes took on a far-away look and he put his hand to
"'It comes back to me now!' he sighed. 'I did love the Lady Nancibel
passionately, and I cannot think how it slipped my mind!'
"'I release you willingly!' exclaimed the Crown Princess Kitty
haughtily, 'for a million suitors await my nod, and thou wert never
"'But the other lady rejects me also!' responds the luckless youth, the
tears flowing from his eagle eyes onto his crimson mantle.
"'Wilt delay the nuptials until I am eighteen and the castle is set in
order?' asks the Lady Nancibel relentingly.
"'Since it must be, I do pledge thee my vow to wait,' says the Knight.
'And I do beg the fair one with the golden locks to consider the claims
of my brother, not my equal perhaps, but still a gallant youth.'
"'I will enter him on my waiting list as number Three Hundred and
Seventeen,' responds the Crown Princess Kitty, than whom no violet could
be more shy. ''Tis all he can expect and more than I should promise.'
"So they all lived in the yellow castle in great happiness forever
after, and were buried by the shores of the shining river of
Beulah!--Does that suit you better?"
"Simply lovely!" cried Kitty, "and the bit about my modesty is too funny
for words!--Oh, if some of it would only happen! But I am afraid Gilbert
will not stir up any fairy stories and set them going."
"Some of it will happen!" exclaimed Peter. "I shall dig every single day
till I find the gold-pots."
"You are a pot of gold yourself, filled full and running over!"
"Now, Nancy, run and write down your fairy tale while you remember it!"
said Mother Carey.
"It is as good an exercise as any other, and you still tell a story far
better than you write it!"
Nancy did this sort of improvising every now and then, and had done it
from earliest childhood; and sometimes, of late, Mother Carey looked at
her eldest chicken and wondered if after all she had hatched in her a
bird of brighter plumage or rarer song than the rest, or a young eagle
whose strong wings would bear her to a higher flight!
The new station had just been built in Boston, and it seemed a great
enterprise to Gilbert to be threading his way through the enormous
spaces, getting his information by his own wits and not asking questions
like a stupid schoolboy. Like all children of naval officers, the Careys
had travelled ever since their birth; still, this was Gilbert's first
journey alone, and nobody was ever more conscious of the situation, nor
more anxious to carry it off effectively.
He entered the car, opened his bag, took out his travelling cap and his
copy of "Ben Hur," then threw the bag in a lordly way into the brass
rack above the seat. He opened his book, but immediately became
interested in a young couple just in front of him. They were carefully
dressed, even to details of hats and gloves, and they had an
unmistakable air of wedding journey about them that interested the
Presently the conductor came in. Pausing in front of the groom he said,
"Tickets, please"; then: "You're on the wrong train!" "Wrong train? Of
course I'm not on the wrong train! You must be mistaken! The ticket
agent told me to take this train."
"Can't help that, sir, this train don't go to Lawrence."
"It's very curious. I asked the brakeman, and two porters. Ain't this
"This is the 3.05."
"Where does it go, then?"
"Goes to Lowell. Lowell the first stop."
"But I don't want to go to Lowell!"
"What's the matter with Lowell? It's a good place all right!"
"But I have an appointment in Lawrence at four o'clock."
"I'm dretful sorry, but you'll have to keep it in Lowell, I
guess!--Tickets, please!" this to a pretty girl on the opposite side
from Gilbert, a pink and white, unsophisticated maiden, very much
interested in the woes of the bride and groom and entirely sympathetic
with the groom's helpless wrath.
"On the wrong train, Miss!" said the conductor.
"On the wrong train?" She spoke in a tone of anguish, getting up and
catching her valise frantically. "It _can't_ be the wrong train! Isn't
it the White Mountain train?"
"Yes, Miss, but it don't go to North Conway; it goes to Fabyan's."
"But my father _put_ me on this train and everybody _said_ it was the
White Mountain train!"
"So it is, Miss, but if you wanted to stop at North Conway you'd ought
to have taken the 3.55, platform 8."
"Put me off, then, please, and let me wait for the 3.55."
"Can't do it, Miss; this is an express train; only stops at Lowell,
where this gentleman is going!"
(Here the conductor gave a sportive wink at the bridegroom who had an
appointment in Lawrence.)
The pretty girl burst into a flood of tears and turned her face
despairingly to the window, while the bride talked to the groom
excitedly about what they ought to have done and what they would have
done had she been consulted.
Gilbert could hardly conceal his enjoyment of the situation, and indeed
everybody within hearing--that is, anybody who chanced to be on the
right train--looked at the bride and groom and the pretty girl, and
"Why don't people make inquiries?" thought Gilbert superciliously.
"Perhaps they have never been anywhere before, but even that's
He handed his ticket to the conductor with a broad smile, saying in an
undertone, "What kind of passengers are we carrying this afternoon?"
"The usual kind, I guess!--You're on the wrong train, sonny!"
Gilbert almost leaped into the air, and committed himself by making a
motion to reach down his valise.
"I, on the wrong train?" he asked haughtily. "That _can't_ be so; the
ticket agent told me the 3.05 was the only fast train to Greentown!"
"Mebbe he thought you said Greenville; this train goes to Greenville, if
that'll do you! Folks ain't used to the new station yet, and the ticket
agents are all bran' new too,--guess you got hold of a tenderfoot!"
"But Greenville will _not_ 'do' for me," exclaimed Gilbert. "I want to
go to _Greentown_."
"Well, get off at Lowell, the first stop,--you'll know when you come to
it because this gentleman that wanted to go to Lawrence will get off
there, and this young lady that was intendin' to go to North Conway.
There'll be four of you; jest a nice party."
Gilbert choked with wrath as he saw the mirth of the other passengers.
"What train shall I be able to take to Greentown," he managed to call
after the conductor.
"Don't know, sonny! Ask the ticket agent in the Lowell deepot; he's an
old hand and he'll know!"
Gilbert's pride was terribly wounded, but his spirits rose a little
later when he found that he would only have to wait twenty minutes in
the Lowell station before a slow train for Greentown would pick him up,
and that he should still reach his destination before bedtime, and need
never disclose his stupidity.
After all, this proved to be his only error, for everything moved
smoothly from that moment, and he was as prudent and successful an
ambassador as Mother Carey could have chosen. He found the Colonel,
whose name was not Foster, by the way, but Wheeler; and the Colonel
would not allow him to go to the Mansion House, Beulah's one small
hotel, but insisted that he should be his guest. That evening he heard
from the Colonel the history of the yellow house, and the next morning
the Colonel drove him to the store of the man who had charge of it
during the owner's absence in Europe, after which Gilbert was conducted
in due form to the premises for a critical examination.
The Yellow House, as Garden Fore-and-Aft seemed destined to be chiefly
called, was indeed the only house of that color for ten miles square. It
had belonged to the various branches of a certain family of Hamiltons
for fifty years or more, but in course of time, when it fell into the
hands of the Lemuel Hamiltons, it had no sort of relation to their mode
of existence. One summer, a year or two before the Careys had seen it,
the sons and daughters had come on from Boston and begged their father
to let them put it in such order that they could take house parties of
young people there for the week end. Mr. Hamilton indulgently allowed
them a certain amount to be expended as they wished, and with the help
of a local carpenter, they succeeded in doing several things to their
own complete satisfaction, though it could not be said that they added
to the value of the property. The house they regarded merely as a
camping-out place, and after they had painted some bedroom floors, set
up some cots, bought a kitchen stove and some pine tables and chairs,
they regarded that part of the difficulty as solved; expending the rest
of the money in turning the dilapidated barn into a place where they
could hold high revels of various innocent sorts. The two freshman sons,
two boarding-school daughters, and a married sister barely old enough to
chaperon her own baby, brought parties of gay young friends with them
several weeks in succession. These excursions were a great delight to
the villagers, who thus enjoyed all the pleasures and excitements of a
circus with none of its attendant expenses. They were of short duration,
however, for Lemuel Hamilton was appointed consul to a foreign port and
took his wife and daughters with him. The married sister died, and in
course of time one of the sons went to China to learn tea-planting and
the other established himself on a ranch in Texas. Thus the Lemuel
Hamiltons were scattered far and wide, and as the Yellow House in Beulah
had small value as real estate and had never played any part in their
lives, it was almost forgotten as the busy years went by.
"Mr. Hamilton told me four years ago, when I went up to Boston to meet
him, that if I could get any rent from respectable parties I might let
the house, though he wouldn't lay out a cent on repairs in order to get
a tenant. But, land! there ain't no call for houses in Beulah, nor
hain't been for twenty years," so Bill Harmon, the storekeeper, told
Gilbert. "The house has got a tight roof and good underpinnin', and if
your folks feel like payin' out a little money for paint 'n' paper you
can fix it up neat's a pin. The Hamilton boys jest raised Cain out in the
barn, so 't you can't keep no critters there."
"We couldn't have a horse or a cow anyway," said Gilbert.
"Well, it's lucky you can't. I could 'a' rented the house twice over if
there'd been any barn room; but them confounded young scalawags ripped
out the horse and cow stalls, cleared away the pig pen, and laid a floor
they could dance on. The barn chamber 's full o' their stuff, so 't no
hay can go in; altogether there ain't any nameable kind of a fool-trick
them young varmints didn't play on these premises. When a farmer's
lookin' for a home for his family and stock 't ain't no use to show him
a dance hall. The only dancin' a Maine farmer ever does is dancin' round
to git his livin' out o' the earth;--that keeps his feet flyin',
"Well," said Gilbert, "I think if you can put the rent cheap enough so
that we could make the necessary repairs, I _think_ my mother would
"Would you want it for more 'n this summer?" asked Mr. Harmon.
"Oh! yes, we want to live here!"
"_Want to live here_!" exclaimed the astonished Harmon. "Well, it's been
a long time sence we heard anybody say that, eh, Colonel?
"Well now, sonny" (Gilbert did wish that respect for budding manhood
could be stretched a little further in this locality), "I tell you what,
I ain't goin' to stick no fancy price on these premises--"
"It wouldn't be any use," said Gilbert boldly. "My father has died
within a year; there are four of us beside my mother, and there's a
cousin, too, who is dependent on us. We have nothing but a small pension
and the interest on five thousand dollars life insurance. Mother says we
must go away from all our friends, live cheaply, and do our own work
until Nancy, Kitty, and I grow old enough to earn something."
Colonel Wheeler and Mr. Harmon both liked Gilbert Carey at sight, and as
he stood there uttering his boyish confidences with great friendliness
and complete candor, both men would have been glad to meet him halfway.
"Well, Harmon, it seems to me we shall get some good neighbors if we can
make terms with Mrs. Carey," said the Colonel. "If you'll fix a
reasonable figure I'll undertake to write to Hamilton and interest him
in the affair."
"All right. Now, Colonel, I'd like to make a proposition right on the
spot, before you, and you can advise sonny, here. You see Lem has got
his taxes to pay,--they're small, of course, but they're an
expense,--and he'd ought to carry a little insurance on his buildings,
tho' he ain't had any up to now. On the other hand, if he can get a
tenant that'll put on a few shingles and clapboards now and then, or a
coat o' paint 'n' a roll o' wall paper, his premises won't go to rack
'n' ruin same's they're in danger o' doin' at the present time. Now,
sonny, would your mother feel like keepin' up things a little mite if we
should say sixty dollars a year rent, payable monthly or quarterly as is
Gilbert's head swam and his eyes beheld such myriads of stars that he
felt it must be night instead of day. The rent of the Charlestown house
was seven hundred dollars a year, and the last words of his mother had
been to the effect that two hundred was the limit he must offer for the
yellow house, as she did not see clearly at the moment how they could
afford even that sum.
"What would be your advice, Colonel?" stammered the boy.
"I think sixty dollars is not exorbitant," the Colonel answered calmly
(he had seen Beulah real estate fall a peg a year for twenty successive
years), "though naturally you cannot pay that sum and make any
"Then I will take the house," Gilbert remarked largely. "My mother left
the matter of rent to my judgment, and we will pay promptly in advance.
Shall I sign any papers?"
"Land o' Goshen! the marks your little fist would make on a paper
wouldn't cut much of a figure in a court o' law!" chuckled old Harmon.
"You jest let the Colonel fix up matters with your ma."
"Can I walk back, Colonel?" asked Gilbert, trying to preserve some
dignity under the storekeeper's attacks. "I'd like to take some
measurements and make some sketches of the rooms for my mother."
"All right," the Colonel responded. "Your train doesn't go till two
o'clock. I'll give you a bite of lunch and take you to the station."
If Mother Carey had watched Gilbert during the next half-hour she would
have been gratified, for every moment of the time he grew more and more
into the likeness of the head of a family. He looked at the cellar, at
the shed, at the closets and cupboards all over the house, and at the
fireplaces. He "paced off" all the rooms and set down their proportions
in his note-book; he even decided as to who should occupy each room, and
for what purposes they should be used, his judgment in every case being
thought ridiculous by the feminine portion of his family when they
looked at his plans. Then he locked the doors carefully with a fine
sense of ownership and strolled away with many a backward look and
thought at the yellow house.
At the station he sent a telegram to his mother. Nancy had secretly
given him thirty-five cents when he left home. "I am hoarding for the
Admiral's Christmas present," she whispered, "but it's no use, I cannot
endure the suspense about the house a moment longer than is necessary.
Just telegraph us yes or no, and we shall get the news four hours before
your train arrives. One can die several times in four hours, and I'm
going to commit one last extravagance,--at the Admiral's expense!"
At three o'clock on Saturday afternoon a telegraph boy came through the
gate and rang the front door bell.
"You go, Kitty, I haven't the courage!" said Nancy, sitting down on the
sofa heavily. A moment later the two girls and Peter (who for once
didn't count) gazed at their mother breathlessly as she opened the
envelope. Her face lighted as she read aloud:--
"_Victory perches on my banners. Have accomplished all I went for_.
"Hurrah!" cried both girls. "The yellow house is the House of Carey
"Will Peter go too?" asked the youngest Carey eagerly, his nose
quivering as it always did in excitement, when it became an animated
"I should think he would," exclaimed Kitty, clasping him in her arms.
"What would the yellow house be without Peter?"
"I wish Gilbert wouldn't talk about _his_ banners," said Nancy
critically, as she looked at the telegram over her mother's shoulder.
"They're not his banners at all, they're ours,--Carey banners; that's
what they are!"
Mother Carey had wished the same thing, but hoped that Nancy had not
noticed the Gilbertian flaw in the telegram.
THE CAREYS' FLITTING
The Charlestown house was now put immediately into the hands of several
agents, for Mrs. Carey's lease had still four years to run and she was
naturally anxious to escape from this financial responsibility as soon
as possible. As a matter of fact only three days elapsed before she
obtained a tenant, and the agent had easily secured an advance of a
hundred dollars a year to the good, as Captain Carey had obtained a very
favorable figure when he took the house.
It was the beginning of April, and letters from Colonel Wheeler had
already asked instructions about having the vegetable garden ploughed.
It was finally decided that the girls should leave their spring term of
school unfinished, and that the family should move to Beulah during
Gilbert's Easter vacation.
Mother Carey gave due reflection to the interrupted studies, but
concluded that for two girls like Nancy and Kathleen the making of a new
home would be more instructive and inspiring, and more fruitful in its
results, than weeks of book learning.
Youth delights in change, in the prospect of new scenes and fresh
adventures, and as it is never troubled by any doubts as to the wisdom
of its plans, the Carey children were full of vigor and energy just now.
Charlestown, the old house, the daily life, all had grown sad and dreary
to them since father had gone. Everything spoke of him. Even mother
longed for something to lift her thought out of the past and give it
wings, so that it might fly into the future and find some hope and
comfort there. There was a continual bustle from morning till night, and
a spirit of merriment that had long been absent.
The Scotch have a much prettier word than we for all this, and what we
term moving they call "flitting." The word is not only prettier, but in
this instance more appropriate. It was such a buoyant, youthful affair,
this Carey flitting. Light forms darted up and down the stairs and past
the windows, appearing now at the back, now at the front of the house,
with a picture, or a postage stamp, or a dish, or a penwiper, or a
pillow, or a basket, or a spool. The chorus of "Where shall we put this,
Muddy?" "Where will this go?" "May we throw this away?" would have
distracted a less patient parent. When Gilbert returned from school at
four, the air was filled with sounds of hammering and sawing and filing,
screwing and unscrewing, and it was joy unspeakable to be obliged (or at
least almost obliged) to call in clarion tones to one another, across
the din and fanfare, and to compel answers in a high key. Peter took a
constant succession of articles to the shed, where packing was going on,
but his chief treasures were deposited in a basket at the front gate,
with the idea that they would be transported as his personal baggage.
The pile grew and grew: a woolly lamb, two Noah's arks, bottles and
marbles innumerable, a bag of pebbles, a broken steam engine, two china
nest-eggs, an orange, a banana and some walnuts, a fishing line, a
trowel, a ball of string. These give an idea of the quality of Peter's
effects, but not of the quantity.
Ellen the cook labored loyally, for it was her last week's work with the
family. She would be left behind, like Charlestown and all the old life,
when Mother Carey and the stormy petrels flitted across unknown waters
from one haven to another. Joanna having earlier proved utterly
unromantic in her attitude, Nancy went further with Ellen and gave her
an English novel called, "The Merriweathers," in which an old family
servant had not only followed her employers from castle to hovel,
remaining there without Wages for years, but had insisted on lending all
her savings to the Mistress of the Manor. Ellen the cook had loved "The
Merriweathers," saying it was about the best book that ever she had
read, and Miss Nancy would like to know, always being so interested,
that she (Ellen) had found a place near Joanna in Salem, where she was
offered five dollars a month more than she had received with the Careys.
Nancy congratulated her warmly and then, tearing "The Merriweathers" to
shreds, she put them in the kitchen stove in Ellen's temporary absence.
"If ever I write a book," she ejaculated, as she "stoked" the fire with
Gwendolen and Reginald Merriweather, with the Mistress of the Manor, and
especially with the romantic family servitor, "if ever I write a book,"
she repeated, with emphatic gestures, "it won't have any fibs in
it;--and I suppose it will be dull," she reflected, as she remembered
how she had wept when the Merriweathers' Bridget brought her savings of
a hundred pounds to her mistress in a handkerchief.
During these preparations for the flitting Nancy had a fresh idea every
minute or two, and gained immense prestige in the family.
Inspired by her eldest daughter Mrs. Carey sold her grand piano, getting
an old-fashioned square one and a hundred and fifty dollars in exchange.
It had been a wedding present from a good old uncle, who, if he had been
still alive, would have been glad to serve his niece now that she was in
Nancy, her sleeves rolled up, her curly hair flecked with dust and
cobwebs, flew down from the attic into Kathleen's room just after
supper. "I have an idea!" she said in a loud whisper.
"You mustn't have too many or we shan't take any interest in them,"
Kitty answered provokingly.
"This is for your ears alone, Kitty!"
"Oh! that's different. Tell me quickly."
"It's an idea to get rid of the Curse of the House of Carey!"
"It can't be done, Nancy; you know it can't! Even if you could think out
a way, mother couldn't be made to agree."
"She must never know. I would not think of mixing up a good lovely woman
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