“Can a naughty bird show a good bird the way home, Addy?” This bland question came from Nancy, who had a decided talent for sarcasm, considering her years. (Of course the Admiral might have stopped the children from calling him Addy, but they seemed to do it because “Admiral” was difficult, and anyway they loved him so much they simply had to take some liberties with him. Besides, although he was the greatest disciplinarian that ever walked a deck, he was so soft and flexible on land that he was perfectly ridiculous and delightful.)
The day when the children were christened Mother Carey’s chickens was Nancy’s tenth birthday, a time when the family was striving to give her her proper name, having begun wrong with her at the outset. She was the first, you see, and the first is something of an event, take it how you will.
It is obvious that at the beginning they could not address a tiny thing on a pillow as Nancy, because she was too young. She was not even alluded to at that early date as “she,” but always as “it,” so they called her “baby” and let it go at that. Then there was a long period when she was still too young to be called Nancy, and though, so far as age was concerned, she might properly have held on to her name of baby, she couldn’t with propriety, because there was Gilbert then, and he was baby. Moreover, she gradually became so indescribably quaint and bewitching and comical and saucy that every one sought diminutives for her; nicknames, fond names, little names, and all sorts of words that tried to describe her charm (and couldn’t), so there was Poppet and Smiles and Minx and Rogue and Midget and Ladybird and finally Nan and Nannie by degrees, to soberer Nancy.
“Nancy is ten to-day,” mused the Admiral. “Bless my soul, how time flies! You were a young Ensign, Carey, and I well remember the letter you wrote me when this little lass came into harbor! Just wait a minute; I believe the scrap of newspaper verse you enclosed has been in my wallet ever since. I always liked it.”
“I recall writing to you,” said Mr. Carey. “As you had lent me five hundred dollars to be married on, I thought I ought to keep you posted!”
“Oh, father! did you have to borrow money?” cried Kathleen.
“I did, my dear. There’s no disgrace in borrowing, if you pay back, and I did. Your Uncle Allan was starting in business, and I had just put my little capital in with his when I met your mother. If you had met your mother wouldn’t you have wanted to marry her?”
“Yes!” cried Nancy eagerly. “Fifty of her!” At which everybody laughed.
“And what became of the money you put in Uncle Allan’s business?” asked Gilbert with unexpected intelligence.
There was a moment’s embarrassment and an exchange of glances between mother and father before he replied, “Oh! that’s coming back multiplied six times over, one of these days,—Allan has a very promising project on hand just now, Admiral.”