“We will serve afternoon tea here from now on,” she said, “and it’s going to be twenty cents instead of fifteen. I know what we’ll call this place, Sally. There are willow trees all around here, and along the river. This is the ‘Sign of the Willow Tree.’ We’ll make it a stopping-off place for all good pilgrims.”
The tenth of July was always a momentous date in Gilead local history. Every year on that day, down in the little church on the Plains, the grand old guard of ’83 held their Carberry Reunion.
The girls had heard of it first through Cousin Roxy, who had been one of the pupils of Professor Carberry in the old days at the Gayhead schoolhouse.
“Land, girls, if we didn’t have our reunion every year, we’d begin to feel some of us were growing old,” she had said laughingly. “The Professor’s class has held that reunion every year since he had to give up the school in ’89. There are a few empty places with the coming around of each July, but I guess we’ll keep on holding them as long as the Professor holds out.”
It was quite an exclusive affair in its way, so that this year, when they were both invited to attend with their mother, Jean and Kit felt the honor. Long afterwards, when she had attained her assured place in the world of art, Jean exhibited a painting which won her her first medal. It was only a shadowy interior of an old meetinghouse. The sunshine filtered through half-closed green blinds at the long windows. Up on the platform there sat Professor Carberry, a little, shrunken figure in black broadcloth, the lean, scholarly old face, blanched with the snows of eighty-odd years, filled with eagerness as he looked down on the little assembled remnant of the old guard.
Cousin Bethiah Newell always said that this picture was Jean’s masterpiece, and she got the inspiration for it on this day. Kit sat very erect at her end of the pew, but even she, who prided herself on being unemotional, had tears on her lashes listening to these dear old-time scholars reciting the poetry out of their old fourth and fifth readers.
Judge Ellis rose with a radiant light in his eyes and spouted, “At midnight in his guarded tent, the Turk lay dreaming of the hour,” and for an encore he rolled out “Old Ironsides.”
“Ay, tear her tattered
Long has it waved on high.”
Cousin Roxy obliged with “Woodman, spare that tree,” but for an encore she gave a tender poem of old-time days, called “Twenty Years Ago.” Its verses rang in Kit’s head all the way home, and when she learned that Miss Daphne, too, had been one of the old Professor’s scholars, she wrote them down and sent them west to her.