Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
X. 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 difficulties.
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 like mother in such an affair!"
This was said so mysteriously that Kathleen almost suspected that bloodshed was included in Nancy's plan. It must be explained that when young Ensign Carey and Margaret Gilbert had been married, Cousin Ann Chadwick had presented them with four tall black and white marble mantel ornaments shaped like funeral urns; and then, feeling that she had not yet shown her approval of the match sufficiently, she purchased a large group of clay statuary entitled You Dirty Boy.
The Careys had moved often, like all naval families, but even when their other goods and chattels were stored, Cousin Ann generously managed to defray the expense of sending on to them the mantel ornaments and the Dirty Boy. "I know what your home is to you," she used to say to them, "and how you must miss your ornaments. If I have chanced to give you things as unwieldy as they are handsome, I ought to see that you have them around you without trouble or expense, and I will!"
So for sixteen years, save for a brief respite when the family was in the Philippines, their existence was blighted by these hated objects. Once when they had given an especially beautiful party for the Admiral, Captain Carey had carried the whole lot to the attic, but Cousin Ann arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon, and Nancy, with the aid of Gilbert and Joanna, had brought them down the back way and put them in the dining room.
"You've taken the ornaments out of the parlor, I see," Cousin Ann said at the dinner table. "It's rather nice for a change, and after all, perhaps you spend as much time in this room as in any, and entertain as much company here!"
Cousin Ann always had been, always would be, a frequent visitor, for she was devoted to the family in her own peculiar way; what therefore could Nancy be proposing to do with the Carey Curse?
"Listen, my good girl," Nancy now said to Kathleen, after she had closed the door. "Thou dost know that the china-packer comes early to-morrow morn, and that e'en now the barrels and boxes and excelsior are bestrewing the dining room?"
"Then you and I, who have been brought up under the shadow of those funeral urns, and have seen that tidy mother scrubbing the ears of that unwilling boy ever since we were born,--you and I, or thou and I, perhaps I should say, will do a little private packing before the true packer arriveth."
"Still do I not see the point, wench!" said the puzzled Kathleen, trying to model her conversation on Nancy's, though she was never thoroughly successful.
"Don't call me 'wench,' because I am the mistress and you my tiring woman, but when you Watch, and assist me, at the packing, a great light will break upon you," Nancy answered "In the removal of cherished articles from Charlestown to Beulah, certain tragedies will occur, certain accidents will happen, although Cousin Ann knows that the Carey family is a well regulated one. But if there are accidents, and there will be, my good girl, then the authors of them will be forever unknown to all but thou and I. Wouldst prefer to pack this midnight or at cock crow, for packing is our task!"
"I simply hate cock crow, and you know it," said Kathleen testily. "Why not now? Ellen and Gilbert are out and mother is rocking Peter to sleep."
"Very well; come on; and step softly. It won't take long, because I have planned all in secret, well and thoroughly. Don't puff and blow like that! Mother will hear you!"
"I'm excited," whispered Kathleen as they stole down the back stairs and went into the parlor for the funeral urns, which they carried silently to the dining room. These safely deposited, they took You Dirty Boy from its abominable pedestal of Mexican onyx (also Cousin Ann's gift) and staggered under its heavyweight, their natural strength being considerably sapped by suppressed laughter.
Nancy chose an especially large and stout barrel. They put a little (very little) excelsior in the bottom, then a pair of dumb-bells, then a funeral urn, then a little hay, and another funeral urn, crosswise. The spaces between were carelessly filled in with Indian clubs. On these they painfully dropped You Dirty Boy, and on top of him the other pair of funeral urns, more dumbbells, and another Indian club. They had packed the barrel in the corner where it stood, so they simply laid the cover on top and threw a piece of sacking carelessly over it. The whole performance had been punctuated with such hysterical laughter from Kathleen that she was too weak to be of any real use,--she simply aided and abetted the chief conspirator. The night was not as other nights. The girls kept waking up to laugh a little, then they went to sleep, and waked again, and laughed again, and so on. Nancy composed several letters to her Cousin Ann dated from Beulah and explaining the sad accident that had occurred. As she concocted these documents between her naps she could never remember in her whole life any such night of mirth and minstrelsy, and not one pang of conscience interfered, to cloud the present joy nor dim that anticipation which is even greater.
Nancy was downstairs early next morning and managed to be the one to greet the china-packers. "We filled one barrel last evening," she explained to them. "Will you please head that up before you begin work?" which one of the men obligingly did.
"We'll mark all this stuff and take it down to the station this afternoon," said the head packer to Mrs. Carey.
"Be careful with it, won't you?" she begged. "We are very fond of our glass and china, our clocks and all our little treasures."
"You won't have any breakage so long as you deal with James Perkins & Co.!" said the packer.
Nancy went back into the room for a moment to speak with the skilful, virtuous J.P. & Co. "There's no need to use any care with that corner barrel," she said carelessly. "It has nothing of value in it!"
James Perkins went home in the middle of the afternoon and left his son to finish the work, and the son tagged and labelled and painted with all his might. The Dirty Boy barrel in the corner, being separated from the others, looked to him especially important, so he gave particular attention to that; pasted on it one label marked "Fragile," one "This Side Up," two "Glass with Care," and finding several "Perishables" in his pocket tied on a few of those, and removed the entire lot of boxes, crates, and barrels to the freight depot.
The man who put the articles in the car was much interested in the Dirty Boy barrel. "You'd ought to have walked to Greentown and carried that one in your arms," he jeered. "What is the precious thing, anyway?"
"Don't you mind what it is," responded young Perkins. "Jest you keep everybody 'n' everything from teching it! Does this lot o' stuff have to be shifted 'tween here and Greentown?"
"No; not unless we git kind o' dull and turn it upside down jest for fun."
"I guess you're dull consid'able often, by the way things look when you git through carryin' 'em, on this line," said Perkins, who had no opinion of the freight department of the A.&B. The answer, though not proper to record in this place, was worthy of Perkins's opponent, who had a standing grudge against the entire race of expressmen and carters who brought him boxes and barrels to handle. It always seemed to him that if they were all out of the country or dead he would have no work to do.