Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
XXV. "Following the Gleam"
If the summer months had brought many changes to the dwellers in the Yellow House and the House of Lords, the autumn was responsible for many more. Cousin Ann's improvements were set in motion and were promised to be in full force before cold weather set in, and the fall term at Beulah Academy had opened with six new, unexpected, and interesting students. Happily for the Careys and happily for Beulah, the old principal, a faithful but uninspired teacher, had been called to Massachusetts to fill a higher position; and only a few days before the beginning of the term, a young college man, Ralph Thurston, fresh from Bowdoin and needing experience, applied for and received the appointment. The thrill of rapture that ran like an electric current through the persons of the feminine students when they beheld Ralph Thurston for the first time,--dignified, scholarly, unmistakably the gentleman,--beheld him mount the platform in the assembly room, and knew him for their own, this can better be imagined than described! He was handsome, he was young, he had enough hair (which their principals seldom had possessed), he did not wear spectacles, he had a pleasing voice, and a manner of speaking that sent tremors of delight up and down a thirteen-year-old spine. He had a merry wit and a hearty laugh, but one had only to look at him closely to feel that he had borne burdens and that his attainments had been bought with a price. He was going to be difficult to please, and the girls of all ages drew deep breaths of anticipation and knew that they should study as never before. The vice-principal, a lady of fine attainments, was temporarily in eclipse, and such an astounding love for the classics swept through young Beulah that nobody could understand it. Ralph Thurston taught Latin and Greek himself, but parents did not at first observe the mysterious connection between cause and effect. It was all very young and artless and innocent; helpful and stimulating too, for Thurston was no budding ladies' man, but a thoroughly good fellow, manly enough to attract the boys and hold their interest.
The entrance of the four Careys and two Lords into the list of students had an inspiring effect upon the whole school. So far as scholarship was concerned they were often outstripped by their country neighbors, but the Careys had seen so much of the world that they had a great deal of general culture, and the academy atmosphere was affected by it. Olive, Nancy, and Gilbert went into the highest class; Kathleen, Julia, and Cyril into the one below.
The intimacy of Nancy and Olive was a romantic and ardent one. Olive had never had a real companion in her life; Nancy's friends dotted the universe wherever she had chanced to live. Olive was uncommunicative, shy, and stiff with all but a chosen few; Nancy was at ease in all assemblies. It was Nancy's sympathy and enthusiasm and warmth that attracted Olive Lord, and it was the combination of Olive's genius and her need of love, that held Nancy.
Never were two human creatures more unlike in their ways of thought. Olive had lived in Beulah seven years, and knew scarcely any one because of her father's eccentricities and his indifference to the world; but had you immured Nancy in a convent she would have made a large circle of acquaintances from the window of her cell, before a month passed over her head. She had an ardent interest in her fellow creatures, and whenever they strayed from the strict path of rectitude, she was consumed with a desire to set them straight. If Olive had seen a drunken man lying in a ditch, she would scarcely have looked at him, much less inquired his name. Nancy would have sat by until he recovered himself, if possible, or found somebody to take him to his destination. As for the delightful opportunity of persuading him of his folly, she would have jumped at the chance when she was fifteen or sixteen, but as she grew older she observed a little more reticence in these delicate matters, at least when she was endeavoring to reform her elders. She had succeeded in making young Nat Harmon stop cigarette smoking, but he was privately less convinced of the error of his ways than he was bewitched by Nancy. She promised readily to wear a blue ribbon and sit on the platform in the Baptist Chapel at the Annual Meeting of the Junior Temperance League. On the eve of the affair she even would gladly have made a speech when the president begged her to do so, but the horror-stricken Olive succeeded in stopping her, and her mother firmly stood by Olive.
"Oh! all right; I don't care a bit about it, Muddy," she answered nonchalantly. "Only there is something splendid about rising from a band of blue-ribboned girls and boys and addressing the multitude for a great cause." "What do you know about this great cause, Nancy dear, at your age?"
"Oh, not much! but you don't have to know much if you say it loud and clear to the back settees. I've watched how it goes! It was thrilling when we gave 'Esther the Beautiful Queen' in the Town Hall; when we waved our hands and sang 'Haman! Haman! Long live Haman!' I almost fainted with joy."
"It was very good; I liked it too; but perhaps if you 'faint with joy' whenever your feet touch a platform, it will be more prudent for you to keep away!" and Mother Carey laughed.
"Very well, madam, your will is my law! When you see the youth of Beulah treading the broad road that leadeth to destruction, and looking on the wine when it is red in the cup, remember that you withheld my hand and voice!"
Gilbert and Cyril were much together, particularly after Cyril's standing had been increased in Beulah by the news that Mr. Thurston thought him a remarkable mathematician and perhaps the leading student in his class. Cyril himself, too pale for a country boy of fourteen, narrow-shouldered, silent, and timid, took this unexpected fame with absolute terror, but Olive's pride delighted in it and she positively bloomed, in the knowledge that her brother was appreciated. She herself secretly thought books were rather a mistake when paints and brushes were at hand, and it was no wonder that she did not take high rank, seeing that she painted an hour before school, and all day Saturday, alternating her work on the guest chamber of the Yellow House with her portrait of Nancy for Mother Carey's Christmas present.
Kathleen and Julia had fallen into step and were good companions. Kathleen had never forgotten her own breach of good manners and family loyalty; Julia always remembered the passion of remorse that Kathleen felt, a remorse that had colored her conduct to Julia ever since. Julia was a good plodder, and Mr. Thurston complimented her on the excellence of her Latin recitations, when he had his wits about him and could remember that she existed. He never had any difficulty in remembering Nancy. She was not, it must be confessed, especially admirable as a verbatim et literatim "reciter." Sometimes she forgot entirely what the book had said on a certain topic, but she usually had some original observation of her own to offer by way of compromise. At first Mr. Thurston thought that she was trying to conceal her lack of real knowledge, and dazzle her instructor at the same time, so that he should never discover her ignorance. Later on he found where her weakness and her strength lay. She adapted, invented, modified things naturally,--embroidered all over her task, so to speak, and delivered it in somewhat different shape from the other girls. (When she was twelve she pricked her finger in sewing and made a blood-stain on the little white mull apron that she was making. The stuff was so delicate that she did not dare to attempt any cleansing process, and she was in a great hurry too, so she embroidered a green four leaf clover over the bloodstain, and all the family exclaimed, "How like Nancy!") Grammar teased Nancy, algebra and geometry routed her, horse, foot, and dragoons. No room for embroidery there! Languages delighted her, map-drawing bored her, and composition intoxicated her, although she was better at improvising than at the real task of setting down her thoughts in black and white. The class chronicles and prophecies and songs and poems would flow to her inevitably, but Kathleen would be the one who would give new grace and charm to them if she were to read them to an audience.
How Beulah Academy beamed, and applauded, and wagged its head in pride on a certain day before Thanksgiving, when there were exercises in the assembly room. Olive had drawn The Landing of the Pilgrims on the largest of the blackboards, and Nancy had written a merry little story that caused great laughter and applause in the youthful audience. Gilbert had taken part in a debate and covered himself with glory, and Kathleen closed the impromptu programme by reciting Tennyson's--
O young Mariner, You from the haven Under the sea-cliff, You that are watching The gray Magician With eyes of wonder,... follow the Gleam. Great the Master, And sweet the Magic, When over the valley, In early summers, Over the mountain, On human faces, And all around me, Moving to melody Floated the Gleam. O young Mariner, Down to the haven, Call your companion, Launch your vessel And crowd your canvas, And, ere it vanishes Over the margin, After it, follow it, Follow the Gleam.
Kathleen's last year's brown velveteen disclosed bronze slippers and stockings,--a novelty in Beulah,--her hair fell in such curls as Beulah had rarely beheld, and her voice was as sweet as a thrush's note; so perhaps it is not strange that the poem set a kind of fashion at the academy, and "following the gleam" became a sort of text by which to study and grow and live.
Thanksgiving Day approached, and everybody was praying for a flurry of snow, just enough to give a zest to turkey and cranberry sauce. On the twentieth it suddenly occurred to Mother Carey that this typical New England feast day would be just the proper time for the housewarming, so the Lord children, the Pophams, and the Harmons were all bidden to come at seven o'clock in the evening. Great preparations ensued. Rows of Jack o' Lanterns decorated the piazza, and the Careys had fewer pumpkin pies in November than their neighbors, in consequence of their extravagant inroads upon the golden treasures of the aft garden. Inside were a few late asters and branches of evergreen, and the illumination suggested that somebody had been lending additional lamps and candles for the occasion. The original equipment of clothes possessed by the Careys on their arrival in Beulah still held good, and looked well by lamplight, so that the toilettes were fully worthy of so important a function.
Olive's picture of Nancy was finished, and she announced the absolute impossibility of keeping it until Christmas, so it reached the Yellow House on Thanksgiving morning. When it was unwrapped by Nancy and displayed for the first time to the family, Mother Carey's lips parted, her eyes opened in wonder, but no words came for an instant, in the bewilderment of her mind. Olive had written the title "Young April" under the picture. Nancy stood on a bit of dandelion-dotted turf, a budding tree in the background, her arm flung over the neck of a Jersey calf. The calf had sat for his portrait long before, but Nancy had been added since May. Olive, by a clever inspiration, had turned Nancy's face away and painted her with the April breeze blowing her hair across her cheek. She was not good at painting features, her art was too crude, but somehow the real thing was there; and the likeness to Nancy, in figure, pose, and hair, was so unmistakable that her mother caught her breath. As for the calf, he, at least, was distinctly in Olive's line, and he was painted with a touch of genius.
"It is better of the calf than it is of you, Nancy," said Gilbert critically.
"Isn't Mr. Bossy lovely?" his sister responded amiably. "Wouldn't he put any professional beauty out of countenance? I am proud to be painted beside him! Do you like it, Muddy dear?"
"Like it?" she exclaimed, "it is wonderful! It must be sent to Boston for criticism, and we must invent some way of persuading Mr. Lord to give Olive the best instruction to be had. This picture is even better than anything she has done in the painted chamber. I shouldn't wonder a bit, Nancy, if little Beulah were to be very proud of Olive in the years to come!"
Nancy was transported at her mother's praise. "I felt it, I knew it! I always said Olive was a genius," she cried, clapping her hands. "Olive is 'following the gleam'! Can't you feel the wind blowing my hair and dress? Don't you see that the calf is chewing his cud and is going to move in just a minute? Olive's animals are always just going to move!--Oh, Muddy dear! when you see Olive nowadays, smiling and busy and happy, aren't you glad you stretched your wings and took her under them with the rest of us? And don't you think you could make a 'new beast' out of Mr. Henry Lord, or is he too old a beast even for Mother Carey?"