XXIV. A Letter From Germany
 

Mother Carey walked down the village street one morning late in August, while Peter, milk pail in hand, was running by her side and making frequent excursions off the main line of travel. Beulah looked enchanting after a night of rain, and the fields were greener than they had been since haying time. Unless Mr. Hamilton were away from his consular post on a vacation somewhere on the Continent, he should have received, and answered, Bill Harmon's letter before this, she was thinking, as she looked at the quiet beauty of the scene that had so endeared itself to her in a few short months.

Mrs. Popham had finished her morning's work and was already sitting at her drawing-in frame in the open doorway, making a very purple rose with a very scarlet centre.

"Will you come inside, Mis' Carey?" she asked hospitably, "or do you want Lallie Joy to set you a chair on the grass, same as you had last time?"

"I always prefer the grass, Mrs. Popham," smiled Mrs. Carey. "As it's the day for the fishman to come I thought we'd like an extra quart of milk for chowder."

"I only hope he'll make out to come," was Mrs. Popham's curt response. "If I set out to be a fishman, I vow I'd be one! Mr. Tubbs stays to home whenever he's hayin', or his wife's sick, or it's stormy, or the children want to go to the circus!"

Mrs. Carey laughed. "That's true; but as your husband reminded me last week, when Mr. Tubbs disappointed us, his fish is always fresh-caught, and good."

"Oh! of course Mr. Popham would speak up for him!" returned his wife. "I don't see myself as it makes much diff'rence whether his fish is good or bad, if he stays to home with it! Mebbe I look on the dark side a little mite; I can't hardly help it, livin' with Mr. Popham, and he so hopeful."

"He keeps us all very merry at the Yellow House," Mrs. Carey ventured.

"Yes, he would," remarked Mrs. Popham drily, "but you don't git it stiddy; hopefulness at meals, hopefulness evenin's, an' hopefulness nights!--one everlastin' stiddy stream of hopefulness! He was jest so as a boy; always lookin' on the bright side whether there was any or not. His mother 'n' father got turrible sick of it; so much sunshine in the house made a continual drouth, so old Mis' Popham used to say. For her part, she said, she liked to think that, once in a while, there was a cloud that was a first-class cloud; a thick, black cloud, clean through to the back! She was tired to death lookin' for Ossian's silver linin's! Lallie Joy's real moody like me; I s'pose it's only natural, livin' with a father who never sees anything but good, no matter which way he looks. There's two things I trust I shan't hear any more when I git to heaven,--that's 'Cheer up Maria!' an' 'It's all for the best!' As for Mr. Popham, he says any place'll be heaven to him so long as I ain't there, callin' 'Hurry up Ossian!' so we have it, back an' forth!"

"It's a wonderful faculty, seeing the good in everything," sighed Mrs. Carey.

"Wonderful tiresome," returned Mrs. Popham, "though I will own up it's Ossian's only fault, and he can't see his own misfortunes any clearer than he can see those of other folks. His new colt run away with him last week and stove the mowin' machine all to pieces. 'Never mind, Maria!' he says, 'it'll make fust-rate gear for a windmill!' He's out in the barn now, fussin' over it; you can hear him singin'. They was all here practicin' for the Methodist concert last, night, an' I didn't sleep a wink, the tunes kep' a-runnin' in my head so! They always git Ossian to sing 'Fly like a youthful hart or roe, over the hills where spices grow,' an' I tell him he's too old; youthful harts an' roes don't fly over the hills wearin' spectacles, I tell him, but he'll go right on singin' it till they have to carry him up on the platform in a wheeled chair!"

"You go to the Congregational church, don't you, Mrs. Popham?" asked Mrs. Carey. "I've seen Lallie and Digby at Sunday-school."

"Yes, Mr. Popham is a Methodist and I'm a Congregationalist, but I say let the children go where they like, so I always take them with me."

Mrs. Carey was just struggling to conceal her amusement at this religious flexibility on Mrs. Popham's part, when she espied Nancy flying down the street, bareheaded, waving a bit of paper in the air.

"Are you 'most ready to come home, Muddy?" she called, without coming any nearer.

"Yes, quite ready, now Lallie has brought the milk. Good morning, Mrs. Popham; the children want me for some new enterprise."

"You give yourself most too much to 'em," expostulated Mrs. Popham; "you don't take no vacations."

"Ah, well, you see 'myself' is all I have to give them," answered Mrs. Carey, taking Peter and going to meet Nancy.

"Mother," said that young person breathlessly, "I must tell you what I didn't tell at the time, for fear of troubling you. I wrote to Mr. Hamilton by the same post that Mr. Harmon did. Bill is so busy and such a poor writer I thought he wouldn't put the matter nicely at all, and I didn't want you, with all your worries, brought into it, so I wrote to the Consul myself, and kept a copy to show you exactly what I said. I have been waiting at the gate for the letters every day for a week, but this morning Gilbert happened to be there and shouted, 'A letter from Germany for you, Nancy!' So all of them are wild with curiosity; Olive and Cyril too, but I wanted you to open and read it first because it may be full of awful blows."

Mrs. Carey sat down on the side of a green bank between the Pophams' corner and the Yellow House and opened the letter,--with some misgivings, it must be confessed. Nancy sat close beside her and held one edge of the wide sheets, closely filled.

"Why, he has written you a volume, Nancy!" exclaimed Mrs. Carey. "It must be the complete story of his life! How long was yours to him?" "I don't remember; pretty long; because there seemed to be so much to tell, to show him how we loved the house, and why we couldn't spend Cousin Ann's money and move out in a year or two, and a lot about ourselves, to let him see we were nice and agreeable and respectable."

"I'm not sure all that was strictly necessary," commented Mrs. Carey with some trepidation.

This was Lemuel Hamilton's letter, dated from the office of the American Consul in Breslau, Germany.

MY DEAR MISS NANCY,--As your letter to me was a purely "business" communication I suppose I ought to begin my reply: "Dear Madam, Your esteemed favor was received on the sixth inst. and contents noted," but I shall do nothing of the sort. I think you must have guessed that I have two girls of my own, for you wrote to me just as if we were sitting together side by side, like two friends, not a bit as landlord and tenant.

Mother Carey's eyes twinkled. She well knew Nancy's informal epistolary style, and her facile, instantaneous friendliness!

Every word in your letter interested me, pleased me, touched me. I feel that I know you all, from the dear mother who sits in the centre--

"What does he mean by that?"

"I sent him a snap shot of the family."

"Nancy! What for?"

"So that he could see what we were like; so that he'd know we were fit to be lifelong tenants!"

Mrs. Carey turned resignedly to the letter again.

From the dear mother who sits in the centre, to the lovable little Peter who looks as if he were all that you describe him! I was about his age when I went to the Yellow House to spend a few years. Old Granny Hamilton had lived there all her life, and when my mother, who was a widow, was seized with a serious illness she took me home with her for a long visit. She was never well enough to go away, so my early childhood was passed in Beulah, and I only left the village when I was ten years old, and an orphan.

"Oh, dear!" interpolated Nancy. "It seems, lately, as if nobody had both father and mother!"

Granny Hamilton died soon after my mother, and I hardly know who lived in the house for the next thirty years. It was my brother's property, and a succession of families occupied it until it fell to me in my turn. I have no happy memories connected with it, so you can go ahead and make them for yourselves. My only remembrance is of the west bedroom, where my mother lived and died.

"The west bedroom; that isn't the painted one; no, of course it is the one where I sleep," said Mrs. Carey. "The painted one must always have been the guest chamber."

She could only move from bed to chair, and her greatest pleasure was to sit by the sunset window and look at the daisies and buttercups waving in that beautiful sloping stretch of field with the pine woods beyond. After the grass was mown, and that field was always left till the last for her sake, she used to sit there and wait for Queen Anne's lace to come up; its tall stems and delicate white wheels nodding among the grasses.

"Oh! I do like him!" exclaimed Nancy impetuously. "Can't you see him, mother? It's so nice of him to remember that they always mowed the hayfield last for his mother's sake, and so nice of him to think of Queen Anne's lace all these years!"

Now as to business, your Cousin Ann is quite right when she tells you that you ought not to put expensive improvements on another person's property lest you be disturbed in your tenancy. That sort of cousin is always right, whatever she says. Mine was not named Ann; she was Emma, but the principle is the same.

"Nancy!" asked Mrs. Carey, looking away from the letter again, "did you say anything about your Cousin Ann?"

"Yes, some little thing or other; for it was her money that we couldn't spend until we knew we could stay in the house. I didn't describe her, of course, to Mr. Hamilton; I just told him she was very businesslike, and yes, I remember now, I told him you said she was a very fine person; that's about all. But you see how clever he is! he just has 'instinks,' as Mr. Popham says, and you don't have to tell him much about anything."

If you are intending to bring the water from the well into the house and put a large stove in the cellar to warm some of the upper rooms; if you are papering and painting inside, and keeping the place in good condition, you are preserving my property and even adding to its value; so under the circumstances I could not think of accepting any rent in money.

"No rent! Not even the sixty dollars!" exclaimed Nancy.

"Look; that is precisely what he says."

"There never was such a dear since the world began!" cried Nancy joyously. "Oh! do read on; there's a lot more, and the last may contradict the first."

Shall I tell you what more the Careys may do for me, they who have done so much already?

"So much!" quoted Nancy with dramatic emphasis. "Oh, he is a dear!"

My son Tom, when he went down to Beulah before starting for China, visited the house and at my request put away my mother's picture safely. He is a clever boy, and instead of placing the thing in an attic where it might be injured, he tucked it away,--where do you think,--in the old brick oven of the room that is now, I suppose, your dining room. It is a capital hiding-place, for there had been no fire there for fifty years, nor ever will be again. I have other portraits of her with me, on this side of the water. Please remove the one I speak of from its wrappings and hang it over the mantel shelf in the west bedroom.

"My bedroom! I shall love to have it there," said Mother Carey.

Then, once a year, on my mother's birthday,--it is the fourth of July and an easy date to remember,--will my little friend Miss Nancy, or any of the other Careys, if she is absent, pick a little nosegay of daisies and buttercups (perhaps there will even be a bit of early Queen Anne's lace) and put it in a vase under my mother's picture? That shall be the annual rent paid for the Yellow House to Lemuel Hamilton by the Careys!

Tears of joy sprang to the eyes of emotional Nancy. She rose to her feet and paced the greensward excitedly.

"Oh, mother, I didn't think there could be another such man after knowing father and the Admiral. Isn't it all as wonderful as a fairy story?"

"There's a little more; listen, dear."

As to the term of your occupancy, the Careys may have the Yellow House until the day of my death, unless by some extraordinary chance my son Tom should ever want it as a summer home.

"Oh, dear! there comes the dreadful 'unless'! 'My son Tom' is our only enemy, then!" said Nancy darkly.

"He is in China, at all events," her mother remarked cheerfully.

Tom is the only one who ever had a bit of sentiment about Beulah, and he was always unwilling that the old place should be occupied by strangers. The curious thing about the matter is that you and yours do not seem to be strangers to me and mine. Do you know, dear little Miss Nancy, what brought the tears to my eyes in your letter? The incident of your father's asking what you could do to thank the Yellow House for the happy hour it had given you on that summer day long ago, and the planting of the crimson rambler by the side of the portico. I have sent your picture tying up the rose,--and it was so charming I was loath to let it go,--with your letter, and the snap shot of the family group, all out to my son Tom in China. He will know then why I have let the house, to whom, and all the attendant circumstances. Trust him never to disturb you when he sees how you love the old place. The planting of that crimson rambler will fix Tom, for he's a romantic boy.

"The planting of the rose was a heavenly inspiration if it does 'fix Tom!' We'll call Tom the Chinese Enemy. No, we'll call him the Yellow Peril," laughed Nancy in triumph.

I am delighted with the sample of paper you have chosen for the front hall.

"I don't see why you didn't go over to Germany yourself, Nancy, and take a trunk of samples!" cried Mrs. Carey, wiping the tears of merriment from her eyes. "I can't think what the postage on your letter must have been."

"Ten cents," Nancy confessed, "but wasn't it worth it, Muddy?--Come, read the last few lines, and then we'll run all the way home to tell the others."

Send me anything more, at any time, to give me an idea of the delightful things you are doing. I shall be proud if you honor me with an occasional letter. Pray give my regards to your mother, whom I envy, and all the "stormy petrels," whom I envy too.

Believe me, dear Miss Nancy,

Yours sincerely,

LEMUEL HAMILTON.

"I can't remember why I told him about Mother Carey's chickens," said Nancy reflectively. "It just seemed to come in naturally. The Yellow Peril must be rather nice, as well as his father, even if he is our enemy. That was clever of him, putting his grandmother in the brick oven!" And here Nancy laughed, and laughed again, thinking how her last remark would sound if overheard by a person unacquainted with the circumstances.

"A delightful, warm, kind, friendly letter," said Mother Carey, folding it with a caressing hand. "I wish your father could have read it."

"He doesn't say a word about his children," and Nancy took the sheets and scanned them again.

"You evidently gave him the history of your whole family, but he confines himself to his own life."

"He mentions 'my son Tom' frequently enough, but there's not a word of Mrs. Hamilton."

"No, but there's no reason there should be, especially!"

"If he loved her he couldn't keep her out," said Nancy shrewdly. "She just isn't in the story at all. Could any of us write a chronicle of any house we ever lived in, and leave you out?"

Mrs. Carey took Nancy's outstretched hands and was pulled up from the greensward. "You have a few 'instinks' yourself, little daughter," she said with a swift pat on the rosy cheek. "Now, Peter, put your marbles in the pocket of your blue jeans, and take the milk pail from under the bushes; we must hurry or there'll be no chowder."

As they neared Garden Fore-and-Aft the group of children rushed out to meet them, Kitty in advance.

"The fish man didn't come," she said, "and it's long past his time, so there's no hope; but Julia and I have the dinner all planned. There wasn't enough of it to go round anyway, so we've asked Olive and Cyril to stay, and we've set the table under the great maple,--do you care?"

"Not a bit; we'll have a real jollification, because Nancy has some good news to tell you!"

"The dinner isn't quite appropriate for a jollification," Kitty observed anxiously. "Is the news good enough to warrant opening a jar or a can of anything?"

"Open all that doth hap to be closed," cried Nancy, embracing Olive excitedly. "Light the bonfires on the encroaching hills. Set casks a-tilt, and so forth."

"It's the German letter!" said Gilbert at a venture.

"What is the dinner, Kitty?" Mother Carey asked.

"New potatoes and string beans from the aft garden. Stale bread made into milk toast to be served as a course. Then, not that it has anything to do with the case, but just to give a style to the meal, Julia has made a salad out of the newspaper."

Nancy created a diversion by swooning on the grass; a feat which had given her great fame in charades.

"It was only the memory of Julia's last newspaper salad!" she murmured when the usual restoratives had been applied. "Prithee, poppet, what hast dropped into the dish to-day?"

Julia was laughing too much to be wholly intelligible, but read from a scrap in her apron pocket: "'Any fruit in season, cold beans or peas, minced cucumber, English walnuts, a few cubes of cold meat left from dinner, hard boiled eggs in slices, flecks of ripe tomatoes and radishes to perfect the color scheme, a dash of onion juice, dash of paprika, dash of rich cream.' I have left out the okra, the shallot, the estragon, the tarragon, the endive, the hearts of artichoke, the Hungarian peppers and the haricot beans because we hadn't any;--do you think it will make any difference, Aunt Margaret?"

"It will," said Nancy oracularly, "but all to the good."

"Rather a dull salad I call it," commented Gilbert. "Lacks the snap of the last one. No mention of boned sprats, or snails in aspic, calves' foot jelly, iced humming birds, pickled edelweiss, or any of those things kept habitually in the cellars of families like ours. No dash of Jamaica ginger or Pain-killer or sloe gin or sarsaparilla to give it piquancy. Unless Julia can find a paper that gives more up-to-date advice to its country subscribers, we'll have to transfer her from the kitchen department to the woodshed."

Julia's whole attitude, during this discussion of her recent culinary experiments, was indicative of the change that was slowly taking place in her point of view. The Careys had a large sense of humor, from mother down as far as Peter, who was still in the tadpole stage of it. They chaffed one another on all occasions, for the most part courteously and with entire good nature. Leigh Hunt speaks of the anxiety of certain persons to keep their minds quiet lest any motion be clumsy, and Julia's concern had been of this variety; but four or five months spent in a household where mental operations, if not deep, were incredibly quick, had made her a little more elastic. Mother Carey had always said that if Julia had any sense of humor she would discover for herself what a solemn prig she was, and mend her ways, and it seemed as if this might be true in course of time.

"What'll we do with all the milk?" now demanded Peter, who had carried it all the way from the Pophams', and to whom it appeared therefore of exaggerated importance.

"Angel boy!" cried Nancy, embracing him. "The only practical member of the family! What wouldst thou suggest?"

"Drink it," was the terse reply.

"And so't shall be, my liege! Fetch the beaker, lackey," identifying Cyril with a royal gesture. "Also crystal water from the well, which by the command of our Cousin Ann will speedily flow in a pipe within the castle walls. There are healths to be drunk this day when we assemble under the Hamilton maple, and first and most loyally the health of our American Consul at Breslau, Germany!"