Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
XXIII. Nearing Shiny Wall
Another person presumably on the way to Shiny Wall and Peacepool, but putting small energy into the journey, was that mass of positively glaring virtues, Julia Carey. More than one fairy must have been forgotten when Julia's christening party came off. No heart-to-heart talk in the twilight had thus far produced any obvious effect. She had never, even when very young, experienced a desire to sit at the feet of superior wisdom, always greatly preferring a chair of her own. She seldom did wrong, in her own opinion, because the moment she entertained an idea it at once became right, her vanity serving as a pair of blinders to keep her from seeing the truth. The doctors did not permit any one to write to poor Allan Carey, so that Julia's heart could not be softened by continual communication with her invalid father, who, with Gladys Ferguson, constituted the only tribunal she was willing to recognize. Her consciousness of superiority to the conditions that surrounded her, her love of luxury, the silken selfishness with which she squirmed out of unpleasant duties, these made her an unlikable and undesirable housemate, and that these faults could exist with what Nancy called her "everlasting stained-glass attitude" made it difficult for Mother Carey to maintain a harmonious family circle. It was an outburst of Nancy's impetuous temper that Mrs. Carey had always secretly dreaded, but after all it was poor Kathleen who precipitated an unforgettable scene which left an influence behind it for many months.
The morning after Mother Carey's interview with Gilbert she looked up as her door was pushed open, and beheld Julia, white and rigid with temper, standing on the threshold.
"What is the matter, child?" exclaimed her aunt, laying down her work in alarm.
Close behind Julia came Kathleen, her face swollen with tears, her expression full of unutterable woe.
Julia's lips opened almost automatically as she said slowly and with bitter emphasis, "Aunt Margaret, is it true, as Kathleen says, that my father has all your money and some of Uncle Peter's?"
Something snapped in Mother Carey! One glance at Kathleen showed only too well that she had committed the almost unpardonable sin of telling Julia what had been carefully and tenderly kept from her. Before she could answer Kathleen had swept past Julia and flung herself on the floor near her mother.
"Oh, mother, I can't say anything that will ever make you understand. Julia knows, she knows in her heart, what she said that provoked me! She does nothing but grumble about the work, and how few dresses we have, and what a drudge she is, and what common neighbors we have, and how Miss Tewksbury would pity her if she knew all, and how Uncle Allan would suffer if he could see his daughter living such a life! And this morning my head ached and my tooth ached and I was cross, and all at once something leaped out of my mouth!"
"Tell her what you said," urged Julia inexorably.
Sobs choked Kathleen's voice. "I said--I said--oh! how can I tell it! I said, if her father hadn't lost so much of my father's and my mother's money we shouldn't have been so poor, any of us."
"Kathleen, how could you!" cried her mother.
If Julia wished to precipitate a tempest she had succeeded, and her face showed a certain sedate triumph.
"Oh! mother! don't give me up; don't give me up!" wailed Kathleen. "It wasn't me that said it, it was somebody else that I didn't know lived inside of me. I don't expect you to forgive it or forget it, Julia, but if you'll only try, just a little bit, I'll show you how sorry I feel. I'd cut myself and make it bleed, I'd go to prison, if I could get back to where I was before I said it! Oh! what shall I do, mother, if you look at me like that again or say 'How could you!'"
There was no doubting Kathleen's remorse; even Julia saw that.
"Did she tell the truth, Aunt Margaret?" she repeated.
"Come here, Julia, and sit by me. It is true that your Uncle Peter and I have both put money into your father's business, and it is true that he has not been able to give it back to us, and perhaps may never do so. There is just enough left to pay your poor father's living expenses, but we trust his honor; we are as sorry for him as we can be, and we love him dearly. Kathleen meant nothing but that your father has been unfortunate and we all have to abide by the consequences; but I am amazed that my daughter should have so forgotten herself as to speak of it to you!" (Renewed sobs from the prostrate Kathleen).
"Especially," said Julia, "when, as Gladys Ferguson says, I haven't anybody in the world but you, to turn to in my trouble. I am a fatherless girl" (her voice quivered here), "and I am a guest in your house."
Mrs. Carey's blood rose a little as she looked at poor Kitty's shaken body and streaming eyes, and Julia's unforgiving face. "You are wrong there, Julia. I fail to see why you should not take your full share of our misfortunes, and suffer as much as we, from our too small income. It is not our fault, it is not yours. You are not a privileged guest, you are one of the family. If you are fatherless just now, my children are fatherless forever; yet you have not made one single burden lighter by joining our forces. You have been an outsider, instead of putting yourself loyally into the breach, and working with us heart to heart. I welcomed you with open arms and you have made my life harder, much harder, than it was before your coming. To protect you I have had to discipline my own children continually, and all the time you were putting their tempers to quite unnecessary tests! I am not extenuating Kathleen, but I merely say you have no right to behave as you do. You are thirteen years old, quite old enough to make up your mind whether you wish to be loved by anybody or not; at present you are not!"
Never had the ears of the Paragon heard such disagreeably plain speech. She was not inclined to tears, but moisture began to appear in her eyes and she looked as though a shower were imminent. Aunt Margaret was magnificent in her wrath, and though Julia feared, she admired her. Not to be loved, if that really were to be her lot, rather terrified Julia. She secretly envied Nancy's unconscious gift of drawing people to her instantly; men, women, children,--dogs and horses, for that matter. She never noticed that Nancy's heart ran out to meet everybody, and that she was overflowing with vitality and joy and sympathy; on the contrary, she considered the tribute of affection paid to Nancy as a part of Nancy's luck. Virtuous, conscientious, intelligent, and well-dressed as she felt herself to be, she emphatically did not wish to be disliked, and it was a complete surprise to her that she had not been a successful Carey chicken.
"Gladys Ferguson always loved me," she expostulated after a brief silence, and there was a quiver in her voice.
"Then either Gladys has a remarkable gift of loving, or else you are a different Julia in her company," remarked Mother Carey, quietly, raising Julia's astonishment and perturbation to an immeasurable height.
"Now, Kathleen," continued Mother Carey, "Mrs. Godfrey has often asked you to spend a week with Elsie, and you can go to Charlestown on the afternoon train. Go away from Julia and forget everything but that you have done wrong and you must find a way to repair it. I hope Julia will learn while you are away to make it easier for you to be courteous and amiable. There is a good deal in the Bible, Julia, about the sin of causing your brother to offend. Between that sin and Kathleen's offence, there is little, in my mind, to choose!"
"Yes, there is!" cried Kathleen. "I am much, much worse than Julia. Father couldn't bear to know that I had hurt Julia's feelings and hurt yours too. I was false to father, and you, and Uncle Allan, and Julia. Nothing can be said for me, nothing! I am so ashamed of myself that I shall never get over it in the world. Oh, Julia, could you shake hands with me, just to show me you know how I despise myself?"
Julia shook hands considerably less like a slug or a limpet than usual, and something very queer and unexpected happened when her hand met poor Kitty's wet, feverish little paw and she heard the quiver in her voice. She suddenly stooped and kissed her cousin, quite without intention. Kathleen returned the salute with grateful, pathetic warmth, and then the two fell on Mother Carey's neck to be kissed and cried over for a full minute.
"I'll go to the doctor and have my ugly tooth pulled out," exclaimed Kathleen, wiping her eyes. "If it hadn't been for that I never could have been so horrible!"
"That would be all very well for once," answered her mother with a tired smile, "but if you pluck out a supposed offending member every time you do something wrong, I fear you will not have many left when you are an old lady!"
"Mother!" said Kathleen, almost under her breath and not daring to look up, "couldn't I stay at home from Charlestown and show you and Julia, here, how sorry I am?"
"Yes, let her, Aunt Margaret, and then I can have a chance to try too," pleaded Julia.
Had the heavens fallen? Had the Paragon, the Pink of Propriety and Perfection, confessed a fault? Had the heart of the smug one, the prig, melted, and did she feel at last her kinship to the Carey chickens? Had she suffered a real grievance, the first amongst numberless deeds of tenderness, and having resented it like an "old beast," forgiven it like a "new" one? It certainly seemed as if Mother Carey that week were at her old trade of making things make themselves. Gilbert, Kathleen, and Julia had all fought their way under the ice-pack and were getting a glimpse of Shiny Wall.