XV. Belonging to Beulah
 

The Person without a Fault had been quietly working at her embroidery, raising her head now and then to look at some extraordinary Carey, when he or she made some unusually silly or fantastic remark.

"I'm not so old as Gilbert and Nancy, and I'm only a niece," she said modestly, "so I ought not to have an opinion. But I should get a maid-of-all-work at once, so that we shouldn't all be drudges as we are now; then I should not spend a single cent on the house, but just live here in hiding, as it were, till better times come and till we are old enough to go into society. You could scrimp and save for Nancy's coming out, and then for Kathleen's. Father would certainly be well long before then, and Kathleen and I could debut together!"

"Who wants to 'debut' together or any other way," sniffed Nancy scornfully. "I'm coming out right here in Beulah; indeed I'm not sure but I'm out already! Mr. Bill Harmon has asked me to come to the church sociable and Mr. Popham has invited me to the Red Men's picnic at Greentown. Beulah's good for something better than a place to hide in! We'll have to save every penny at first, of course, but in three or four years Gilly and I ought to be earning something."

"The trouble is, I can't earn anything in college," objected Gilbert, "though I'd like to."

"That will be the only way a college course can come to you now, Gilbert," his mother said quietly. "You know nothing of the expenses involved. They would have taxed our resources to the utmost if father had lived, and we had had our more than five thousand a year! You and I together must think out your problem this summer."

Gilbert looked blank and walked to the window with his hands in his pockets.

"I should lose all my friends, and it's hard for a fellow to make his way in the world if he has nothing to recommend him but his graduation from some God-forsaken little hole like Beulah Academy."

Nancy looked as if she could scalp her brother when he alluded to her beloved village in these terms, but her mother's warning look stopped any comment.

Julia took up arms for her cousin. "We ought to go without everything for the sake of sending Gilbert to college," she said. "Gladys Ferguson doesn't know a single boy who isn't going to Harvard or Yale."

"If a boy of good family and good breeding cannot make friends by his own personality and his own qualities of mind and character, I should think he would better go without them," said Gilbert's mother casually.

"Don't you believe in a college education, mother?" inquired Gilbert in an astonished tone.

"Certainly! Why else should we have made sacrifices to send you? To begin with, it is much simpler and easier to be educated in college. You have a thousand helps and encouragements that other fellows have to get as they may. The paths are all made straight for the students. A stupid boy, or one with small industry or little originality, must have something drummed into him in four years, with all the splendid teaching energy that the colleges employ. It requires a very high grade of mental and moral power to do without such helps, and it may be that you are not strong enough to succeed without them;--I do not know your possibilities yet, Gilbert, and neither do you know them yourself!"

Gilbert looked rather nonplussed. "Pretty stiff, I call it!" he grumbled, "to say that if you've got brains enough you can do without college."

"It is true, nevertheless. If you have brains enough, and will enough, and heart enough, you can stay here in Beulah and make the universe search you out, and drag you into the open, where men have need of you!" (Mrs. Carey's eyes shone and her cheeks glowed.) "What we all want as a family is to keep well and strong and good, in body and mind and soul; to conquer our weaknesses, to train our gifts, to harness our powers to some wished-for end, and then pull, with all our might. Can't my girls be fine women, fit for New York or Washington, London or Paris, because their young days were passed in Beulah? Can't my boys be anything that their brains and courage fit them for, whether they make their own associations or have them made for them? Father would never have flung the burden on your shoulders, Gilbert, but he is no longer here. You can't have the help of Yale or Harvard or Bowdoin to make a man of you, my son,--you will have to fight your own battles and win your own spurs."

"Oh! mother, but you're splendid!" cried Nancy, the quick tears in her eyes. "Brace up, old Gilly, and show what the Careys can do without 'advantages.' Brace up, Kitty and Julia! We three will make Beulah Academy ring next year!"

"And I don't want you to look upon Beulah as a place of hiding while adversity lasts," said Mother Carey. "We must make it home; as beautiful and complete as we can afford. One real home always makes others, I am sure of that! We will ask Mr. Harmon to write Mr. Hamilton and see if he will promise to leave us undisturbed. We cannot be happy, or prosperous, or useful, or successful, unless we can contrive to make the Yellow House a home. The river is our river; the village is our village; the people are our neighbors; Beulah belongs to us and we belong to Beulah, don't we, Peter?"

Mother Carey always turned to Peter with some nonsensical appeal when her heart was full and her voice a trifle unsteady. You could bury your head in Peter's little white sailor jacket just under his chin, at which he would dimple and gurgle and chuckle and wriggle, and when you withdrew your flushed face and presented it to the public gaze all the tears would have been wiped off on Peter.

So on this occasion did Mrs. Carey repeat, as she set Peter down, "Don't we belong to Beulah, dear?"

"Yes, we does," he lisped, "and I'm going to work myself, pretty soon bimebye just after a while, when I'm a little more grown up, and then I'll buy the Yellow House quick."

"So you shall, precious!" cried Kathleen.

"I was measured on Muddy this morning, wasn't I, Muddy, and I was half way to her belt; and in Charlestown I was only a little farder up than her knees. All the time I'm growing up she's ungrowing down! She's smallering and I'm biggering."

"Are you afraid your mother'll be too small, sweet Pete?" asked Mrs. Carey.

"No!" this very stoutly. "Danny Harmon's mother's more'n up to the mantelpiece and I'd hate to have my mother so far away!" said Peter as he embraced Mrs. Carey's knees.

Julia had said little during this long conversation, though her mind was fairly bristling with objections and negatives and different points of view, but she was always more or less awed by her Aunt Margaret, and never dared defy her opinion. She had a real admiration for her aunt's beauty and dignity and radiant presence, though it is to be feared she cared less for the qualities of character that made her personality so luminous with charm for everybody. She saw people look at her, listen to her, follow her with their eyes, comment on her appearance, her elegance, and her distinction, and all this impressed her deeply. As to Cousin Ann's present her most prominent feeling was that it would have been much better if that lady had followed her original plan of sending individual thirty-five-dollar checks. In that event she, Julia, was quite certain that hers never would have gone into a water-pipe or a door-sill.

"Oh, Kathleen!" sighed Nancy as the two went into the kitchen together. "Isn't mother the most interesting 'scolder' you ever listened to? I love to hear her do it, especially when somebody else is getting it. When it's I, I grow smaller and smaller, curling myself up like a little worm. Then when she has finished I squirm to the door and wriggle out. Other mothers say: 'If you don't, I shall tell your father!' 'Do as I tell you, and ask no questions.' 'I never heard of such behavior in my life!' 'Haven't you any sense of propriety?' 'If this happens again I shall have to do something desperate.' 'Leave the room at once,' and so on; but mother sets you to thinking."

"Mother doesn't really scold," Kathleen objected.

"No, but she shows you how wrong you are, just the same. Did you notice how Julia withered when mother said we were not to look upon Beulah as a place of hiding?"

"She didn't stay withered long," Kathleen remarked.

"And she said just the right thing to dear old Gilly, for Fred Bascom is filling his head with foolish notions. He needs father to set him right."

"We all need father," sighed Kitty tearfully, "but somehow mother grows a little more splendid every day. I believe she's trying to fill father's place and be herself too!"