Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
XIX. Old and New
The Yellow House had not always belonged to the Hamiltons, but had been built by a governor of the state when he retired from public office. He lived only a few years, and it then passed into the hands of Lemuel Hamilton's grandfather, who had done little or nothing in the way of remodelling the buildings.
Governor Weatherby had harbored no extraordinary ambition regarding architectural excellence, for he was not a rich man; he had simply built a large, comfortable Colonial house. He desired no gardens, no luxurious stables, no fountains nor grottoes, no bathroom (for it was only the year 1810), while the old oaken bucket left nothing to be desired as a means of dispensing water to the household. He had one weakness, however, and that was a wish to make the front of the house as impressive as possible. The window over the front door was as beautiful a window as any in the county, and the doorway itself was celebrated throughout the state. It had a wonderful fan light and side lights, green blind doors outside of the white painted one with its massive brass knocker, and still more unique and impressive, it had for its approach, semi-circular stone steps instead of the usual oblong ones. The large blocks of granite had been cut so that each of the four steps should be smaller than the one below it; and when, after months of gossip and suspense, they were finally laid in place, their straight edges towards the house and their expensive curved sides to the road, a procession of curious persons in wagons, carryalls, buggies, and gigs wound their way past the premises. The governor's "circ'lar steps" brought many pilgrims down the main street of Beulah first and last, and the original Hamiltons had been very proud of them. Pride (of such simple things as stone steps) had died out of the Hamilton stock in the course of years, and the house had been so long vacant that no one but Lemuel, the Consul, remembered any of its charming features; but Ossian Popham, when he pried up and straightened the ancient landmarks, had much to say of the wonderful steps.
"There's so much goin' on now-a-days," he complained, as he puffed and pried and strained, and rested in between, "that young ones won't amount to nothin', fust thing you know. My boy Digby says to me this mornin', when I asked him if he was goin' to the County Fair 'No, Pop, I ain't goin',' he says, 'it's the same old fair every year.' Land sakes! when I was a boy, 'bout once a month, in warm weather, I used to ask father if I could walk to the other end o' the village and look at the governor's circ'lar steps; that used to be the liveliest entertainment parents could think up for their young ones, an' it was a heap livelier than two sermons of a Sunday, each of 'em an hour and fifteen minutes long."
Digby, a lad of eighteen and master of only one trade instead of a dozen, like his father, had been deputed to paper Mother Carey's bedroom while she moved for a few days into the newly fitted guest room, which was almost too beautiful to sleep in, with its white satiny walls, its yellow and green garlands hanging from the ceiling, its yellow floor, and its old white chamber set repainted by the faithful and clever Popham.
The chintz parlor, once Governor Weatherby's study, was finished too, and the whole family looked in at the doors a dozen times a day with admiring exclamations. It had six doors, opening into two entries, one small bedroom, one sitting room, one cellar, and one china closet; a passion for entrances and exits having been the whim of that generation. If the truth were known, Nancy had once lighted her candle and slipped downstairs at midnight to sit on the parlor sofa and feast her eyes on the room's loveliness. Gilbert had painted the white matting the color of a ripe cherry. Mrs. Popham had washed and ironed and fluted the old white ruffled muslin curtains from the Charlestown home, and they adorned the four windows. It was the north room, on the left as you entered the house, and would be closed during the cold winter months, so it was fitted entirely for summer use and comfort. The old-fashioned square piano looked in its element placed across one corner, with the four tall silver candlesticks and snuffer tray on the shining mahogany. All the shabbiest furniture, and the Carey furniture was mostly shabby, was covered with a cheap, gay chintz, and crimson Jacqueminot roses clambered all over the wall paper, so that the room was a cool bower of beauty.
On the other side of the hall were the double parlors of the governor's time, made into a great living room. Here was Gilbert's green painted floor, smooth and glossy, with braided rugs bought from neighbors in East Beulah; here all the old-fashioned Gilbert furniture that the Careys had kept during their many wanderings; here all the quaint chairs that Mr. Bill Harmon could pick up at a small price; here were two noble fireplaces, one with a crane and iron pot filled with flowers, the other filled sometimes with sprays of green asparagus and sometimes with fragrant hemlock boughs. The paper was one in which green rushes and cat-o'-nine-tails grew on a fawn-colored ground, and anything that the Careys did not possess for the family sitting room Ossian Popham went straight home and made in his barn. He could make a barrel-chair or an hour-glass table, a box lounge and the mattress to put on top of it, or a low table for games and puzzles, or a window seat. He could polish the piano and then sit down to it and play "Those Tassels on Her Boots" or "Marching through Georgia" with great skill. He could paint bunches of gold grapes and leaves on the old-fashioned high-backed rocker, and, as soon as it was dry, could sit down in it and entertain the whole family without charging them a penny.
The housewarming could not be until the later autumn, Mrs. Carey had decided, for although most of the living rooms could be finished, Cousin Ann's expensive improvements were not to be set in motion until Bill Harmon heard from Mr. Hamilton that his tenants were not to be disturbed for at least three years.
The house, which was daily growing into a home, was full of the busy hum of labor from top to bottom and from morning till night, and there was hardly a moment when Mother Carey and the girls were not transporting articles of furniture through the rooms, and up and down the staircases, to see how they would look somewhere else. This, indeed, had been the diversion of their simple life for many years, and was just as delightful, in their opinion, as buying new things. Any Carey, from mother down to Peter, would spring from his chair at any moment and assist any other Carey to move a sofa, a bureau, a piano, a kitchen stove, if necessary, with the view of determining if it would add a new zest to life in a different position.
Not a word has been said thus far about the Yellow House barn, the barn that the "fool Hamilton boys" (according to Bill Harmon's theories) had converted from a place of practical usefulness and possible gain, into something that would "make a cat laugh"; but it really needs a chapter to itself. You remember that Dr. Holmes says of certain majestic and dignified trees that they ought to have a Christian name, like other folks? The barn, in the same way, deserves more distinction than a paragraph, but at this moment it was being used as a storeroom and was merely awaiting its splendid destiny, quite unconscious of the future. The Hamilton boys were no doubt as extravagant and thriftless as they were insane, but the Careys sympathized with their extravagance and thriftlessness and insanity so heartily, in this particular, that they could hardly conceal their real feelings from Bill Harmon. Nothing could so have accorded with their secret desires as the "fool changes" made by the "crazy Hamilton boys"; light-hearted, irresponsible, and frivolous changes that could never have been compassed by the Careys' slender income. They had no money to purchase horse or cow or pig, and no man in the family to take care of them if purchased; so the removal of stalls and all the necessary appurtenances for the care of cattle was no source of grief or loss to them. A good floor had been laid over the old one and stained to a dark color; the ceiling, with its heavy hand-hewn beams, was almost as fine as some old oak counterpart in an English hall. Not a new board met the eye;--old weathered lumber everywhere, even to the quaint settle-shaped benches that lined the room. There was a place like an old-fashioned "tie-up" for musicians to play for a country dance, or for tableaux and charades; in fine, there would be, with the addition of Carey ideas here and there, provision for frolics and diversions of any sort. You no sooner opened the door and peeped in, though few of the Beulah villagers had ever been invited to do so by the gay young Hamiltons, than your tongue spontaneously exclaimed: "What a place for good times!"
"I shall 'come out' here," Nancy announced, as the three girls stood in the centre of the floor, surrounded by bedsteads, tables, bureaus, and stoves. "Julia, you can 'debut' where you like, but I shall 'come out' here next summer!"
"You'll be only seventeen; you can't come out!" objected Julia conventionally.
"Not in a drawing room, perhaps, but perfectly well in a barn. Even you and Kitty, youthful as you will still be, can attend my coming out party, in a barn!"
"It doesn't seem proper to think of giving entertainments when everybody knows our circumstances,--how poor we are!" Julia said rebukingly.
"We are talking of next summer, my child! Who can say how rich we shall be next summer? A party could be given in this barn with mother to play the piano and Mr. Popham the fiddle. The refreshments would be incredibly weak lemonade, and I think we might 'solicit' the cake, as they do for church sociables!"
Julia's pride was wounded beyond concealment at this humorously intended suggestion of Nancy's.
"Of course if Aunt Margaret approves, I have nothing to say," she remarked, "but I myself would never come to any private party where refreshments were 'solicited.' The very idea is horrible."
"I'm 'coming out' in the barn next summer, Muddy!" Nancy called to her mother, who just then entered the door. "If we are poorer than ever, we can take up a collection to defray the expenses; Julia and Kitty would look so attractive going about with tambourines! I want to do what I can quickly, because I see plainly I shall have to marry young in order to help the family. The heroine always does that in books; she makes a worldly marriage with a rich nobleman, in order that her sister Kitty and her cousin Julia may have a good education."
"I don't know where you get your ideas, Nancy," said her mother, smiling at her nonsense. "You certainly never read half a dozen novels in your life!"
"No, but Joanna used to read them by the hundred and tell me the stories; and I've heard father read aloud to you; and the older girls and the younger teachers used to discuss them at school;--oh! I know a lot about life,--as it is in books,--and I'm just waiting to see if any of it really happens!"
"Digby Popham is the only rich nobleman in sight for you, Nancy!" Kitty said teasingly.
"Or freckled Cyril Lord," interpolated Julia.
"He looks like an unbaked pie!" This from Kitty.
Nancy flushed. "He's shy and unhappy and pale, and no wonder; but he's as nice and interesting as he can be."
"I can't see it," Julia said, "but he never looks at anybody, or talks to anybody but you, so it's well you like him; though you like all boys, for that matter!"
"The boys return the compliment!" asserted Kitty mischievously, "while poor you and I sit in corners!"
"Come, come, dears," and Mrs. Carey joined in the conversation as she picked up a pillow before returning to the house. "It's a little early for you to be talking about rich noblemen, isn't it?"
Nancy followed her out of the door, saying as she thoughtfully chewed a straw, "Muddy, I do believe that when you're getting on to sixteen the rich nobleman or the fairy prince or the wonderful youngest son does cross your mind now and then!"