Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
XIII. The Pink of Perfection
That was the only trouble with Allan Carey's little daughter Julia, aged thirteen; she was, and always had been, the pink of perfection. As a baby she had always been exemplary, eating heartily and sleeping soundly. When she felt a pin in her flannel petticoat she deemed it discourteous to cry, because she knew that her nurse had at least tried to dress her properly. When awake, her mental machinery moved slowly and without any jerks. As to her moral machinery, the angels must have set it going at birth and planned it in such a way that it could neither stop nor go wrong. It was well meant, of course, but probably the angels who had the matter in charge were new, young, inexperienced angels, with vague ideas of human nature and inexact knowledge of God's intentions; because a child that has no capability of doing the wrong thing will hardly be able to manage a right one; not one of the big sort, anyway.
At four or five years old Julia was always spoken of as "such a good little girl." Many a time had Nancy in early youth stamped her foot and cried: "Don't talk about Julia! I will not hear about Julia!" for she was always held up as a pattern of excellence. Truth to tell she bored her own mother terribly; but that is not strange, for by a curious freak of nature, Mrs. Allan Carey was as flighty and capricious and irresponsible and gay and naughty as Julia was steady, limited, narrow, conventional, and dull; but the flighty mother passed out of the Carey family life, and Julia, from the age of five onward, fell into the charge of a pious, unimaginative governess, instead of being turned out to pasture with a lot of frolicsome young human creatures; so at thirteen she had apparently settled--hard, solid, and firm--into a mould. She had smooth fair hair, pale blue eyes, thin lips, and a somewhat too plump shape for her years. She was always tidy and wore her clothes well, laying enormous stress upon their material and style, this trait in her character having been added under the fostering influence of the wealthy and fashionable Gladys Ferguson. At thirteen, when Julia joined the flock of Carey chickens, she had the air of belonging to quite another order of beings. They had been through a discipline seldom suffered by "only children." They had had to divide apples and toys, take turns at reading books, and learn generally to trot in double harness. If Nancy had a new dress at Christmas, Kathleen had a new hat in the spring. Gilbert heard the cry of "Low bridge!" very often after Kathleen appeared on the scene, and Kathleen's ears, too, grew well accustomed to the same phrase after Peter was born.
"Julia never did a naughty thing in her life, nor spoke a wrong word," said her father once, proudly.
"Never mind, she's only ten, and there's hope for her yet," Captain Carey had replied cheerfully; though if he had known her a little later, in her first Beulah days, he might not have been so sanguine. She seemed to have no instinct of adapting herself to the family life, standing just a little aloof and in an attitude of silent criticism. She was a trig, smug prig, Nancy said, delighting in her accidental muster of three short, hard, descriptive words. She hadn't a bit of humor, no fun, no gayety, no generous enthusiasms that carried her too far for safety or propriety. She brought with her to Beulah sheaves of school certificates, and when she showed them to Gilbert with their hundred per cent deportment and ninety-eight and seven-eighths per cent scholarship every month for years, he went out behind the barn and kicked its foundations savagely for several minutes. She was a sort of continual Sunday child, with an air of church and cold dinner and sermon-reading and hymn-singing and early bed. Nobody could fear, as for some impulsive, reckless little creature, that she would come to a bad end. Nancy said no one could imagine her as coming to anything, not even an end!
"You never let mother hear you say these things, Nancy," Kathleen remarked once, "but really and truly it's just as bad to say them at all, when you know she wouldn't approve."
"My present object is to be as good as gold in mother's eyes, but there I stop!" retorted Nancy cheerfully. "Pretty soon I shall get virtuous enough to go a step further and endeavor to please the angels,--not Julia's cast-iron angels, but the other angels, who understand and are patient, because they remember our frames and know that being dust we are likely to be dusty once in a while. Julia wasn't made of dust. She was made of--let me see--of skim milk and baked custard (the watery kind) and rice flour and gelatine, with a very little piece of overripe banana,--not enough to flavor, just enough to sicken. Stir this up with weak barley water without putting In a trace of salt, sugar, spice, or pepper, set it in a cool oven, take it out before it is done, and you will get Julia."
Nancy was triumphant over this recipe for making Julias, only regretting that she could never show it to her mother, who, if critical, was always most appreciative. She did send it in a letter to the Admiral, off in China, and he, being "none too good for human nature's daily food," enjoyed it hugely and never scolded her at all.
Julia's only conversation at this time was on matters concerning Gladys Ferguson and the Ferguson family. When you are washing dishes in the sink of the Yellow House in Beulah it is very irritating to hear of Gladys Ferguson's mother-of-pearl opera glasses, her French maid, her breakfast on a tray in bed, her diamond ring, her photograph in the Sunday "Times," her travels abroad, her proficiency in French and German.
"Don't trot Gladys into the kitchen, for goodness' sake, Julia!" grumbled Nancy on a warm day. "I don't want her diamond ring in my dishwater. Wait till Sunday, when we go to the hotel for dinner in our best clothes, if you must talk about her. You don't wipe the tumblers dry, nor put them in the proper place, when your mind is full of Gladys!"
"All right!" said Julia gently. "Only I hope I shall always be able to wipe dishes and keep my mind on better things at the same time. That's what Miss Tewksbury told me when she knew I had got to give up my home luxuries for a long time. 'Don't let poverty drag you down, Julia,' she said: 'keep your high thoughts and don't let them get soiled with the grime of daily living.'"
It is only just to say that Nancy was not absolutely destitute of self-control and politeness, because at this moment she had a really vicious desire to wash Julia's supercilious face and neat nose with the dishcloth, fresh from the frying pan. She knew that she could not grasp those irritating "high thoughts" and apply the grime of daily living to them concretely and actually, but Julia's face was within her reach, and Nancy's fingers tingled with desire. No trace of this savage impulse appeared in her behavior, however; she rinsed the dishpan, turned it upside down in the sink, and gave the wiping towels to Julia, asking her to wring them out in hot water and hang them on the barberry bushes, according to Mrs. Carey's instructions.
"It doesn't seem as if I could!" whimpered Julia. "I have always been so sensitive, and dish towels are so disgusting! They do smell, Nancy!"
"They do," said Nancy sternly, "but they will smell worse if they are not washed! I give you the dish-wiping and take the washing, just to save your hands, but you must turn and turn about with Kathleen and me with some of the ugly, hateful things. If you were company of course we couldn't let you, but you are a member of the family. Our principal concern must be to keep mother's 'high thoughts' from grime; ours must just take their chance!"
Oh! how Julia disliked Nancy at this epoch in their common history; and how cordially and vigorously the dislike was returned! Many an unhappy moment did Mother Carey have over the feud, mostly deep and silent, that went on between these two; and Gilbert's attitude was not much more hopeful. He had found a timetable or syllabus for the day's doings, over Julia's washstand. It had been framed under Miss Tewksbury's guidance, who knew Julia's unpunctuality and lack of system, and read as follows:--
Syllabus Rise at 6.45. Bathe and dress. Devotional Exercises 7.15. Breakfast 7.45. Household tasks till 9. Exercise out of doors 9 to 10. Study 10 to 12. Preparations for dinner 12 to 1. Recreation 2 to 4. Study 4 to 5. Preparation for supper 5 to 6. Wholesome reading, walking, or conversation 7 to 8. Devotional exercises 9. Bed 9.30.
There was nothing wrong about this; indeed, it was excellently conceived; still it appeared to Gilbert as excessively funny, and with Nancy's help he wrote another syllabus and tacked it over Julia's bureau.
Time Card On waking I can Pray for Gilly and Nan; Eat breakfast at seven. Or ten or eleven, Nor think when it's noon That luncheon's too soon. From twelve until one I can munch on a bun. At one or at two My dinner'll be due. At three, say, or four, I'll eat a bit more. When the clock's striking five Some mild exercise, Very brief, would be wise, Lest I lack appetite For my supper at night. Don't go to bed late, Eat a light lunch at eight, Nor forget to say prayers For my cousins downstairs. Then with conscience like mine I'll be sleeping at nine.
Mrs. Carey had a sense of humor, and when the weeping Julia brought the two documents to her for consideration she had great difficulty in adjusting the matter gravely and with due sympathy for her niece.
"The F-f-f-fergusons never mentioned my appetite," Julia wailed. "They were always trying to g-g-get me to eat!"
"Gilbert and Nancy are a little too fond of fun, and a little too prone to chaffing," said Mrs. Carey. "They forget that you are not used to it, but I will try to make them more considerate. And don't forget, my dear, that in a large family like ours we must learn to 'live and let live.'"