Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
XXVII. The Carey Housewarming
The housewarming was at its height, and everybody agreed once in every ten minutes that it was probably the most beautiful party that had ever happened in the history of the world.
Water flowed freely through Cousin Ann's expensive pipes, that had been buried so deep in their trenches that the winter frosts could not affect them. Natty Harmon tried the kitchen pump secretly several times during the evening, for the water had to run up hill all the way from the well to the kitchen sink, and he believed this to be a continual miracle that might "give out" at any moment. The stove in the cellar, always alluded to by Gilbert as the "young furnace," had not yet been used, save by way of experiment, but it was believed to be a perfect success. To-night there was no need of extra heat, and there were great ceremonies to be observed in lighting the fires on the hearthstones. They began with the one in the family sitting room; Colonel Wheeler, Ralph Thurston, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Harmon with Natty and Rufus, Mr. and Mrs. Popham with Digby and Lallie Joy, all standing in admiring groups and thrilling with delight at the order of events. Mother Carey sat by the fireplace; little Peter, fairly radiant with excitement, leaning against her knee and waiting for his own great moment, now close at hand.
"When ye come into a house, salute it; and if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it.
"To all those who may dwell therein from generation to generation may it be a house of God, a gate of heaven.
"For every house is builded by some man, but he that built all things is God, seeing that he giveth to every one of us life and breath and all good things."
Mother Carey spoke these words so simply and naturally, as she looked towards her neighbors one after another, with her hand resting on Peter's curly head, that they hardly knew whether to keep quiet or say Amen.
"Was that the Bible, Osh?" whispered Bill Harmon.
"Don't know; 'most everything she says sounds like the Bible or Shakespeare to me."
In the hush that followed Mother Carey's salutation Gilbert approached with a basket over his arm, and quickly and neatly laid a little fire behind the brass andirons on the hearth. Then Nancy handed Peter a loosely bound sheaf, saying: "To light this fire I give you a torch. In it are herbs of the field for health of the body, a fern leaf for grace, a sprig of elm for peace, one of oak for strength, with evergreen to show that we live forever in the deeds we have done. To these we have added rosemary for remembrance and pansies for thoughts."
Peter crouched on the hearth and lighted the fire in three places, then handed the torch to Kathleen as he crept again into his mother's lap, awed into complete silence by the influence of his own mystic rite. Kathleen waved the torch to and fro as she recited some beautiful lines written for some such purpose as that which called them together to-night.
"Burn, fire, burn! Flicker, flicker, flame! Whose hand above this blaze is lifted Shall be with touch of magic gifted, To warm the hearts of chilly mortals Who stand without these open portals. The touch shall draw them to this fire, Nigher, nigher, By desire. Whoso shall stand on this hearth-stone, Flame-fanned, Shall never, never stand alone. Whose home is dark and drear and old, Whose hearth is cold, This is his own. Flicker, flicker, flicker, flame! Burn, fire, burn!" [Footnote 1: Florence Converse.]
Next came Olive's turn to help in the ceremonies. Ralph Thurston had found a line of Latin for them in his beloved Horace: Tibi splendet focus (For you the hearth-fire shines). Olive had painted the motto on a long narrow panel of canvas, and, giving it to Mr. Popham, stood by the fireside while he deftly fitted it into the place prepared for it. The family had feared that he would tell a good story when he found himself the centre of attraction, but he was as dumb as Peter, and for the same reason.
"Olive has another lovely gift for the Yellow House," said Mother Carey, rising, "and to carry out the next part of the programme we shall have to go in procession upstairs to my bedroom."
"Guess there wan't many idees to give round to other folks after the Lord made her!" exclaimed Bill Harmon to his wife as they went through the lighted hall.
Gilbert, at the head of the procession, held Mother Hamilton's picture, which had been taken from the old brick oven where "my son Tom" had hidden it. Mother Carey's bedroom, with its bouquets of field flowers on the wall paper, was gaily lighted and ready to receive the gift. Nancy stood on a chair and hung the portrait over the fireplace, saying, "We place this picture here in memory of Agatha, mother of Lemuel Hamilton, owner of the Yellow House. Underneath it we lay a posy of pressed daisies, buttercups, and Queen Anne's lace, the wild flowers she loved best."
Now Olive took away a green garland covering the words "Mater Cara," that she had painted in brown letters just over the bricks of the fireplace. The letters were in old English text, and a riot of buttercups and grasses twined their way amongst them.
"Mater Cara stands for 'mother dear,'" said Nancy, "and thus this room will be full of memories of two dear mothers, an absent and a present one."
Then Kathleen and Gilbert and Julia, Mother Carey and Peter bowed their heads and said in chorus: "O Thou who dwellest in so many homes, possess thyself of this. Thou who settest the solitary in families, bless the life that is sheltered here. Grant that trust and peace and comfort may abide within, and that love and light and usefulness may go out from this house forever. Amen."
There was a moment's silence and then all the party descended the stairs to the dining room.
"Ain't they the greatest?" murmured Lallie Joy, turning to her father, but he had disappeared from the group.
The dining room was a blaze of glory, and great merriment ensued as they took their places at the table. Mother Carey poured coffee, Nancy chocolate, and the others helped serve the sandwiches and cake, doughnuts and tarts.
"Where is Mr. Popham?" asked Nancy at the foot of the table. "We cannot be happy without Mr. Popham."
At that moment the gentleman entered, bearing a huge object concealed by a piece of green felt. Approaching the dining table, he carefully placed the article in the centre and removed the cloth.
It was the Dirty Boy, carefully mended!
The guests naturally had no associations with the Carey Curse, and the Careys themselves were dumb with amazement and despair.
"I've seen this thing layin' in the barn chamber in a thousand pieces all summer!" explained Mr. Popham radiantly. "It wan't none o' my business if the family throwed it away thinkin' it wan't no more good. Thinks I to myself, I never seen anything Osh Popham couldn't mend if he took time enough and glue enough; so I carried this little feller home in a bushel basket one night last month, an' I've spent eleven evenin's puttin' him together! I don't claim he's good 's new, 'cause he ain't; but he's consid'able better'n he was when I found him layin' in the barn chamber!"
"Thank you, Mr. Popham!" said Mrs. Carey, her eyes twinkling as she looked at the laughing children. "It was kind of you to spend so much time in our behalf."
"Well, I says to myself there's nothin' too good for 'em, an' when it comes Thanksgivin' I'll give 'em one thing more to be thankful for!"
"Quit talkin', Pop, will yer?" whispered Digby, nudging his father. "You've kep' us from startin' to eat 'bout five minutes a'ready, an' I'm as holler as a horn!"
It was as cheery, gay, festive, neighborly, and friendly a supper as ever took place in the dining room of the Yellow House, although Governor Weatherby may have had some handsomer banquets in his time. When it was over all made their way into the rosy, bowery, summer parlor. Soon another fire sparkled and snapped on the hearth, and there were songs and poems and choruses and Osh Popham's fiddle, to say nothing of the supreme event of the evening, his rendition of "Fly like a youthful hart or roe, over the hills where spices grow," to Mother Carey's accompaniment. He always slipped up his glasses during this performance and closed his eyes, but neither grey hairs nor "specs" could dim the radiant smile that made him seem about fifteen years old and the junior of both his children.
Mrs. Harmon thought he sang too much, and told her husband privately that if he was a canary bird she should want to keep a table cover over his head most of the time, but he was immensely popular with the rest of his audience.
Last of all the entire company gathered round the old-fashioned piano for a parting hymn. The face of the mahogany shone with delight, and why not, when it was doing everything (almost everything!) within the scope of a piano, and yet the family had enjoyed weeks of good nourishing meals on what had been saved by its exertions. Also, what rational family could mourn the loss of an irregularly shaped instrument standing on three legs and played on one corner? The tall silver candle sticks gleamed in the firelight, the silver dish of polished Baldwins blushed rosier in the glow. Mother Carey played the dear old common metre tune, and the voices rang out in Whittier's hymn. The Careys all sang like thrushes, and even Peter, holding his hymn book upside down, put in little bird notes, always on the key, whenever he caught a familiar strain.
"Once more the liberal year laughs out O'er richer stores than gems or gold; Once more, with harvest-song and shout Is Nature's bloodless triumph told." "We shut our eyes, the flowers bloom on; We murmur, but the corn-ears fill; We choose the shadow, but the sun That casts it shines behind us still." "O favors every year made new! O gifts with rain and sunshine sent! The bounty overruns our due, The fulness shames our discontent."