Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin.

Mother Carey's Chickens online

. (page 14 of 17)
Online LibraryKate Douglas Smith WigginMother Carey's Chickens → online text (page 14 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


would flow into her from some divine, benignant source and transmute her
into father as well as mother!

Was the hearth fire kindled in the Yellow House sending its glow through
the village as well as warming those who sat beside it? There were
Christmas and New Year's and St. Valentine parties, and by that time
Bill Harmon saw the woodpile in the Carey shed grow beautifully less. He
knew the price per cord, - no man better; but he and Osh Popham winked at
each other one windy February day and delivered three cords for two,
knowing that measurement of wood had not been included in Mother Carey's
education. Natty Harmon and Digby Popham, following examples a million
per cent better than parental lectures, asked one afternoon if they
shouldn't saw and chop some big logs for the fireplaces.

Mrs. Carey looked at them searchingly, wondering if they could possibly
guess the state of her finances, concluded they couldn't and said
smilingly: "Indeed I will gladly let you saw for an hour or two if
you'll come and sit by the fire on Saturday night, when we are going to
play spelling games and have doughnuts and root beer."

The Widow Berry, who kept academy boarders, sent in a luscious mince pie
now and then, and Mrs. Popham and Mrs. Harmon brought dried apples or
pumpkins, winter beets and Baldwin apples. It was little enough, they
thought, when the Yellow House, so long vacant, was like a beacon light
to the dull village; sending out its beams on every side.

"She ain't no kind of a manager, I'm 'fraid!" said Bill Harmon. "I give
her 'bout four quarts and a half of kerosene for a gallon every time she
sends her can to be filled, but bless you, she ain't any the wiser! I
try to give her as good measure in everything as she gives my children,
but you can't keep up with her! She's like the sun, that shines on the
just 'n' on the unjust. Hen Lord's young ones eat their lunch or their
supper there once or twice a week, though the old skinflint's got fifty
thousand dollars in the bank."

"Never mind, Bill." said Osh Popham; "there's goin' to be an everlastin'
evenupness somewheres! Probably God A'mighty hez his eye on that woman,
and He'll see her through. The young ones are growin' up, and the
teacher at the academy says they beat the devil on book learnin'! The
boy'll make a smart man, pretty soon, and bring good wages home to his
mother. The girls are handsome enough to pick up husbands as soon as
they've fully feathered out, so it won't be long afore they're all on
the up grade. I've set great store by that family from the outset, and
I'm turrible glad they're goin' to fix up the house some more when it
comes spring. I'm willin' to work cheap for such folks as them."

"You owe 'em somethin' for listenin' to you, Osh! Seems if they moved
here jest in time to hear your stories when you'd 'bout tuckered out the
rest o' the village!"

"It's a pity you didn't know a few more stories yourself, Bill,"
retorted Mr. Popham; "then you'd be asked up oftener to put on the
back-log for 'em, and pop corn and roast apples and pass the evenin'. I
ain't hed sech a gay winter sence I begun settin' up with Maria, twenty
years ago."

"She's kept you settin' up ever since, Osh!" chuckled Bill Harmon.

"She has so!" agreed Osh cheerfully, "but you ain't hardly the one to
twit me of it; bein' as how you've never took a long breath yourself
sence you was married! But you don't ketch me complainin'! It's a poor
rule that won't work both ways! Maria hurried me into poppin' the
question, and hurried me into marryin' her, an' she ain't let up on me a
minute sence then; but she'll railroad me into heaven the same way, you
see if she don't. She'll arrive 'head o' time as usual and stan' right
there at the bars till she gits Dig 'n' Lallie Joy 'n' me under cover!"

"She's a good woman, an' so's my wife," remarked Bill sententiously;
"an' Colonel Wheeler says good women are so rigged inside that they
can't be agreeable all the time. The couple of 'em are workin' their
fingers to the bone for the school teacher to-day; fixin' him up for all
the world as if he was a bride. He's got the women folks o' this village
kind o' mesmerized, Thurston has."

"He's a first-rate teacher; nobody that ain't hed experience in the
school room is fitted to jedge jest how good a teacher Ralph Thurston
is, but I have, an' I know what I 'm talkin' about."

"I never heard nothin' about your teachin' school, Osh."

"There's a good deal about me you never heard; specially about the time
afore I come to Beulah, 'cause you ain't a good hearer, Bill! I taught
the most notorious school in Digby once, and taught it to a finish; I
named my boy Digby after that school! You see my father an' mother was
determined to give me an education, an' I wa'n't intended for it. I was
a great big, strong, clumsy lunkhead, an' the only thing I could do,
even in a one-horse college, was to play base ball, so they kep' me
along jest for that. I never got further than the second class, an' I
wouldn't 'a' got there if the Faculty hadn't 'a' promoted me jest for
the looks o' the thing. Well Prof. Millard was off in the country
lecturin' somewheres near Bangor an' he met a school superintendent who
told him they was awful hard up for a teacher in Digby. He said they'd
hed three in three weeks an' had lost two stoves besides; for the boys
had fired out the teachers and broke up the stoves an' pitched 'em out
the door after 'em. When Prof. Millard heard the story he says, 'I've
got a young man that could teach that school; a feller named Ossian
Popham.' The superintendent hed an interview with me, an' I says: 'I'll
agree to teach out your nine weeks o' school for a hundred dollars, an'
if I leave afore the last day I won't claim a cent!' 'That's the right
sperit,' says the Supe, an' we struck a bargain then an' there. I was
glad it was Saturday, so 't I could start right off while my blood was
up. I got to Digby on Sunday an' found a good boardin' place. The
trustees didn't examine me, an' 't was lucky for me they didn't. The
last three teachers hed been splendid scholars, but that didn't save the
stoves any, so they just looked at my six feet o' height, an' the muscle
in my arms, an' said they'd drop in sometime durin' the month. 'Look in
any time you like after the first day,' I says. 'I shall be turrible
busy the first day!'

"I went into the school house early Monday mornin' an' built a good fire
in the new stove. When it was safe to leave it I went into the next
house an' watched the scholars arrive. The lady was a widder with one
great unruly boy in the school, an' she was glad to give me a winder to
look out of. It was a turrible cold day, an' when 't was ten minutes to
nine an' the school room was full I walked in as big as Cuffy. There was
five rows of big boys an' girls in the back, all lookin' as if they was
loaded for bear, an' they graded down to little ones down in front, all
of 'em hitchin' to an' fro in their seats an' snickerin'. I give 'em a
surprise to begin with, for I locked the door when I come in, an' put
the key in my pocket, cool as a cucumber.

"I never said a word, an' they never moved their eyes away from me. I
took off my fur cap, then my mittens, then my overcoat, an' laid 'em in
the chair behind my desk. Then my undercoat come off, then my necktie
an' collar, an' by that time the big girls begun to look nervous; they
'd been used to addressin', but not undressin', in the school room. Then
I wound my galluses round my waist an' tied 'em; then I says, clear an'
loud:' I'm your new teacher! I'm goin' to have a hundred dollars for
teachin' out this school, an' I intend to teach it out an' git my money.
It's five minutes to nine. I give you just that long to tell me what
you're goin' to do about it. Come on now!' I says, 'all o' you big boys,
if you're comin', an' we'll settle this thing here an' now. We can't hev
fights an' lessons mixed up together every day, more 'n 's necessary;
better decide right now who's boss o' this school. The stove's new an'
I'm new, an' we call'ate to stay here till the end o' the term!'

"Well, sir, not one o' that gang stirred in their seats, an' not one of
'em yipped! I taught school in my shirt sleeves consid'able the first
week, but I never hed to afterwards. I was a little mite weak on
mathematics, an' the older boys an' girls hed to depend on their study
books for their information, - they never got any from me, - but every
scholar in that Digby school got a hundred per cent in deportment the
nine weeks I taught there!"



XXX

THE INGLENOOK


It was a wild Friday night in March, after days of blustering storms and
drifting snow. Beulah was clad in royal ermine; not only clad, indeed,
but nearly buried in it. The timbers of the Yellow House creaked, and
the wreaths of snow blew against the windows and lodged there. King
Frost was abroad, nipping toes and ears, hanging icicles on the eaves of
houses, and decorating the forest trees with glittering pendants. The
wind howled in the sitting room chimney, but in front of the great
back-log the bed of live coals glowed red and the flames danced high,
casting flickering shadows on the children's faces. It is possible to
bring up a family by steam heat, and it is often necessary, but nobody
can claim that it is either so simple or so delightful as by an
open fire!

The three cats were all nestled cosily in Nancy's lap or snuggled by her
side. Mother Carey had demurred at two, and when Nancy appeared one day
after school with a third, she spoke, with some firmness, of refusing it
a home. "If we must economize on cats," cried Nancy passionately, "don't
let's begin on this one! She doesn't look it, but she is a heroine. When
the Rideout's house burned down, her kittens were in a basket by the
kitchen stove. Three times she ran in through the flames and brought out
a kitten in her mouth. The tip of her tail is gone, and part of an ear,
and she's blind in one eye. Mr. Harmon says she's too homely to live;
now what do you think?"

"I think nobody pretending to be a mother could turn her back on another
mother like that," said Mrs. Carey promptly. "We'll take a pint more
milk, and I think you children will have to leave something in your
plates now and then, you polish them until it really is indecent."

To-night an impromptu meeting of the Ways and Means Committee was taking
place by the sitting room fire, perhaps because the family plates had
been polished to a terrifying degree that week.

"Children," said Mother Carey, "we have been as economical as we knew
how to be; we have worked to the limit of our strength; we have spent
almost nothing on clothing, but the fact remains that we have scarcely
money enough in our reserve fund to last another six months. What
shall we do?"

Nancy leaped to her feet, scattering cats in every direction.

"Mother Carey!" she exclaimed remorsefully. "You haven't mentioned money
since New Year's, and I thought we were rubbing along as usual. The
bills are all paid; what's the matter?"

"That is the matter!" answered Mrs. Carey with the suspicion of a tear
in her laughing voice, "The bills _are_ paid, and there's too little
left! We eat so much, and we burn so much wood, and so many gallons
of oil'"

"The back of the winter's broken, mother dear!" said Gilbert, as a
terrific blast shook the blinds as a terrier would a rat. "Don't listen
to that wind; it 's only a March bluff! Osh Popham says snow is the poor
man's manure; he says it's going to be an early season and a grand hay
crop. We'll get fifty dollars for our field."

"That will be in July, and this is March," said his mother. "Still, the
small reversible Van Twiller will carry us through May, with our other
income. But the saving days are over, and the earning days have come,
dears! I am the oldest and the biggest, I must begin."

"Never!" cried Nancy. "You slave enough for us, as it is, but you shall
never slave for anybody else; shall she, Gilly?"

"Not if I know it!" answered Gilbert with good ringing emphasis.

"Another winter I fear we must close the Yellow House and - "

The rest of Mother Carey's remark was never heard, for at Nancy's given
signal the four younger Careys all swooned on the floor. Nancy had
secretly trained Peter so that he was the best swooner of the family,
and his comical imitation of Nancy was so mirth-compelling that Mother
Carey laughed and declared there was no such thing as talking seriously
to children like hers.

"But, Muddy dear, you weren't in earnest?" coaxed Nancy, bending her
bright head over her mother's shoulder and cuddling up to her side;
whereupon Gilbert gave his imitation of a jealous puppy; barking,
snarling, and pushing his frowzly pate under his mother's arm to crowd
Nancy from her point of vantage, to which she clung valiantly. Of course
Kitty found a small vacant space on which she could festoon herself, and
Peter promptly climbed on his mother's lap, so that she was covered
with - fairly submerged in - children! A year ago Julia used to creep away
and look at such exhibitions of family affection, with a curling lip,
but to-night, at Mother Carey's outstretched hand and smothered cry of
"Help, Judy!" she felt herself gathered into the heart of the laughing,
boisterous group. That hand, had she but known it, was stretched out to
her because only that day a letter had come, saying that Allan Carey was
much worse and that his mental condition admitted of no cure. He was
bright and hopeful and happy, so said Mr. Manson; - forever sounding the
praises of the labor-saving device in which he had sunk his last
thousands. "We can manufacture it at ten cents and sell it for ten
dollars," he would say, rubbing his hands excitedly. "We can pay fifty
dollars a month office rent and do a business of fifty thousand dollars
a year!" "And I almost believe we could!" added Mr. Manson, "if we had
faith enough and capital enough!"

"Of course you know, darlings, I would never leave Beulah save for the
coldest months; or only to earn a little money," said Mrs. Carey,
smoothing her dress, flattening her collar, and pinning up the braids
that Nancy's hugs had loosened.

"I must put my mind on the problem at once," said Nancy, pacing the
floor. "I've been so interested in my Virgil, so wrapped up in my
rhetoric and composition, that I haven't thought of ways and means for a
month, but of course we will never leave the Yellow House, and of course
we must contrive to earn money enough to live in it. We must think about
it every spare minute till vacation comes; then we'll have nearly four
months to amass a fortune big enough to carry us through the next year.
I have an idea for myself already. I was going to wait till my
seventeenth birthday, but that's four months away and it's too long. I'm
old enough to begin any time. I feel old enough to write my
Reminiscences this minute."

"You might publish your letters to the American Consul in Breslau;
they'd make a book!" teased Gilbert.

"Very likely I shall, silly Gilly," retorted Nancy, swinging her mane
haughtily. "It isn't every girl who has a monthly letter from an Admiral
in China and a Consul in Germany."

"You wouldn't catch me answering the Queen of Sheba's letters or the
Empress of India's," exclaimed Gilbert, whose pen was emphatically less
mighty than his sword. "Hullo, you two! what are you whispering about?"
he called to Kathleen and Julia, who were huddled together in a far
corner of the long room, gesticulating eloquently.

"We've an idea! We've an idea! We've found a way to help!" sang the two
girls, pirouetting back into the circle of firelight. "We won't tell
till it's all started, but it's perfectly splendid, and practical too."

"And so ladylike!" added Julia triumphantly.

"How much?" asked Gilbert succinctly.

The girls whispered a minute or two, and appeared to be multiplying
twenty-five first by fifteen, and then again by twenty.

"From three dollars and seventy-five cents to four dollars and a half a
week according to circumstances!" answered Kathleen proudly.

"Will it take both of you?"

"Yes."

"All your time?"

More nods and whispers and calculation.

"No, indeed; only three hours a day."

"Any of my time?"

"Just a little."

"I thought so!" said Gilbert loftily. "You always want me and my hammer
or my saw; but I'll be busy on my own account; you'll have to paddle
your own canoe!"

"You'll be paid for what you do for us," said Julia slyly, giving
Kathleen a poke, at which they both fell into laughter only possible to
the very young.

Then suddenly there came a knock at the front door; a stamping of feet
on the circular steps, and a noise of shaking off snow.

"Go to the door, Gilbert; who can that be on a night like
this, - although it is only eight o'clock after all! Why, it's Mr.
Thurston!"

Ralph Thurston came in blushing and smiling, glad to be welcomed,
fearful of intruding, afraid of showing how much he liked to be there.

"Good-evening, all!" he said. "You see I couldn't wait to thank you,
Mrs. Carey! No storm could keep me away to-night."

"What has mother been doing, now?" asked Nancy. "Her right hand is
forever busy, and she never tells her left hand a thing, so we children
are always in the dark."

"It was nothing much," said Mrs. Carey, pushing the young man gently
into the high-backed rocker. "Mrs. Harmon, Mrs. Popham, and I simply
tried to show our gratitude to Mr. Thurston for teaching our troublesome
children."

"How did you know it was my birthday?" asked Thurston.

"Didn't you write the date in Lallie Joy's book?"

"True, I did; and forgot it long ago; but I have never had my birthday
noticed before, and I am twenty-four!"

"It was high time, then!" said Mother Carey with her bright smile.

"But what did mother do?" clamored Nancy, Kathleen and Gilbert in
chorus.

"She took my forlorn, cheerless room and made it into a home for me,"
said Thurston. "Perhaps she wanted me to stay in it a little more, and
bother her less! At any rate she has created an almost possible rival to
the Yellow House!"

Ralph Thurston had a large, rather dreary room over Bill Harmon's store,
and took his meals at the Widow Berry's, near by. He was an orphan and
had no money to spend on luxuries, because all his earnings went to pay
the inevitable debts incurred when a fellow is working his way
through college.

Mrs. Carey, with the help of the other two women, had seized upon this
stormy Friday, when the teacher always took his luncheon with him to the
academy, to convert Ralph's room into something comfortable and
cheerful. The old, cracked, air-tight stove had been removed, and Bill
Harmon had contributed a second-hand Franklin, left with him for a bad
debt. It was of soapstone and had sliding doors in front, so that the
blaze could be disclosed when life was very dull or discouraging. The
straw matting on the floor had done very well in the autumn, but Mrs.
Carey now covered the centre of the room with a bright red drugget left
from the Charlestown house-furnishings, and hung the two windows with
curtains of printed muslin. Ossian Popham had taken a clotheshorse and
covered it with red felting, so that the screen, so evolved could be
made to hide the bed and washstand. Ralph's small, rickety table had
been changed for a big, roomy one of pine, hidden by the half of an old
crimson piano cloth. When Osh had seen the effect of this he hurried
back to his barn chamber and returned with some book shelves that he had
hastily glued and riveted into shape. These he nailed to the wall and
filled with books that he found in the closet, on the floor, on the foot
of the bed, and standing on the long, old-fashioned mantel shelf.

"Do you care partic'larly where you set, nights, Ossian?" inquired Mrs.
Popham, who was now in a state of uncontrolled energy bordering on
delirium. "Because your rockin' chair has a Turkey red cushion and it
would look splendid in Mr. Thurston's room. You know you fiddle 'bout
half the time evenin's, and you always go to bed early."

"Don't mind me!" exclaimed Ossian facetiously, starting immediately for
the required chair and bringing back with it two huge yellow sea shells,
which he deposited on the floor at each end of the hearth rug.

"How do you like 'em?" he inquired of Mrs. Carey.

"Not at all," she replied promptly.

"You don't?" he asked incredulously. "Well, it takes all kinds o' folks
to make a world! I've been keepin' 'em fifteen years, hopin' I'd get
enough more to make a border for our parlor fireplace, and now you don't
take to 'em! Back they go to the barn chamber, Maria; Mis' Carey's
bossin' this job, and she ain't got no taste for sea shells. Would you
like an old student lamp? I found one that I can bronze up in about two
minutes if Mis' Harmon can hook a shade and chimbly out of Bill's stock."

They all stayed in the room until this last feat was accomplished;
stayed indeed until the fire in the open stove had died down to ruddy
coals. Then they pulled down the shades, lighted the lamp, gave one last
admiring look, and went home.

It had meant only a few hours' thought and labor, with scarcely a penny
of expense, but you can judge what Ralph Thurston felt when he entered
the door out of the storm outside. To him it looked like a room conjured
up by some magician in a fairy tale. He fell into the rocking-chair and
looked at his own fire; gazed about at the cheerful crimson glow that
radiated from the dazzling drugget, in a state of puzzled ecstasy, till
he caught sight of a card lying near the lamp, - "A birthday present
from three mothers who value your work for their boys and girls."

He knew Mrs. Carey's handwriting, so he sped to the Yellow House as soon
as his supper was over, and now, in the presence of the whole family, he
felt tongue-tied and wholly unable to express his gratitude.

It was bed time, and the young people melted away from the fireside.

"Kiss your mother good-night, sweet Pete," said Nancy, taking the
reluctant cherub by the hand. "'_Hoc opus, hic labor est_,' Mr.
Thurston, to get the Peter-bird upstairs when once he is down. Shake
hands with your future teacher, Peter; no, you mustn't kiss him; little
boys don't kiss great Latin scholars unless they are asked."

Thurston laughed and lifted the gurgling Peter high in the air. "Good
night, old chap!" he said "Hurry up and come to school!"

"I'm 'bout ready now!" piped Peter. "I can read
'Up-up-my-boy-day-is-not-the-time-for-sleep-the-dew-will-soon-be-gone'
with the book upside down, - can't I, Muddy?"

"You can, my son; trot along with sister."

Thurston opened the door for Nancy, and his eye followed her for a
second as she mounted the stairs. She glowed like a ruby to-night in her
old red cashmere. The sparkle of her eye, the gloss of her hair, the
soft red of her lips, the curve and bend of her graceful young body
struck even her mother anew, though she was used to her daughter's
beauty. "She is growing!" thought Mrs. Carey wistfully. "I see it all at
once, and soon others will be seeing it!"

Alas! young Ralph Thurston had seen it for weeks past! He was not
perhaps so much in love with Nancy the girl, as he was with Nancy the
potential woman. Some of the glamour that surrounded the mother had
fallen upon the daughter. One felt the influences that had rained upon
Nancy ever since she had come into the world, One could not look at her,
nor talk with her, without feeling that her mother - like a vine in the
blood, as the old proverb says - was breathing, growing, budding,
blossoming in her day by day.

The young teacher came back to the fireplace, where Mother Carey was
standing in a momentary brown study.

"I've never had you alone before," he stammered, "and now is my chance
to tell you what you've been to me ever since I came to Beulah."

"You have helped me in my problems more than I can possibly have aided
you," Mrs. Carey replied quietly. "Gilbert was so rebellious about
country schools, so patronizing, so scornful of their merits, that I
fully expected he would never stay at the academy of his own free will.
You have converted him, and I am very grateful."

"Meantime I am making a record there," said Ralph, "and I have this
family to thank for it! Your children, with Olive and Cyril Lord, have
set the pace for the school, and the rest are following to the best of
their ability. There is not a shirk nor a dunce in the whole roll of
sixty pupils! Beulah has not been so proud of its academy for thirty
years, and I shall come in for the chief share in the praise. I am
trying to do for Gilbert and Cyril what an elder brother would do, but I


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17

Online LibraryKate Douglas Smith WigginMother Carey's Chickens → online text (page 14 of 17)