Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (11 page)

First of all, of course, everybody wanted to know where he had been, and why he was cleaning Father’s gun. He was reproved for being late for breakfast and for having muddy boots.

“Why? Why? Why?” asked everybody, and it was very difficult to put them off and still be strictly honest. He hid the rabbit in the barn, and that, at least, made one less “Why?” For if they had seen it the Woodlawns would have been sure to ask, “Why can’t we have it for dinner?” and “Who are you going to give it to?”

Hetty might even have said, “Warren has a gir-rul!”

No, it seemed impossible to Warren to confess that he had shot it for the preacher. The preacher! Here was Warren’s next difficulty. How was he going to give the rabbit to the preacher without suffering great embarrassment? Should he knock on Mr. Ward’s door and say, “Mr. Ward, I have brought you a present?” Should he open the door and fling it down on the table and stalk silently out again? To do either one seemed to Warren worse than having to
read aloud in school—worse even than having to speak a piece. If only he could put it on the collection plate tomorrow in church! But the idea of a dead rabbit on the collection plate was somehow quite impossible.

Finally a solution occurred to him. Perhaps it was like going out to shoot a roebuck and returning with a rabbit, but at any rate it would save a shy boy some embarrassment.

At dusk that evening Warren went to the barn and tied the front and hind legs of the rabbit securely together with a bit of twine. Then he set out across the fields to Dunnville. It was almost dark when he arrived, and not a living soul saw him when he hung the rabbit by its feet over Mr. Ward’s doorknob.

Warren seemed to be at peace with the world on the bright Sabbath morning which followed. But he still kept somewhat to himself—walking piously ahead of the others to the church service, which was being held in the schoolhouse until the new church should be finished.

“Funny about Warren,” Tom said to Caddie. “Where’d you s’pose he went yesterday morning?”

“I don’t know, and he was late to supper.”

“I know. He’d had out Father’s gun, too, and he’d shot it, because I saw him cleaning it up good before he put it back on the pegs.”

“Did you bring your horseshoe money for the collection plate, Tom?”

“Ya. Did you bring yours?”

“Yes. Say, I wonder about Warren. Could it be he went hunting to get some money for the collection plate?”

But, watching him later in church, they saw that he let
the collection plate pass without putting anything in. He did not look the least bit troubled.

After the preaching, Mr. Ward stood at the schoolhouse door to shake everyone’s hand as they passed out.

Mrs. Woodlawn smiled at him approvingly. Somehow Mr. Ward already seemed less pale and hungry-looking than when he had first arrived in Dunnville.

“Mr. Ward,” Mother said, “will you come home and take Sunday dinner with us today?”

Young Mr. Ward hesitated just an instant as between two very delightful prospects.

Then he said, “I thank you, Mrs. Woodlawn, but may I take dinner with you some other Sunday? It just so happens that this week the Lord has provided me with a very fine rabbit, which is simmering in the pot at home.”

Caddie darted a look at Warren. His ears were red with embarrassment, but his face wore an expression of pride and contentment. All the way home he walked a couple of yards ahead of Caddie and Tom with his chest thrust out like a person of importance.

Tom was a little bit annoyed.

“Should we dip him in the lake, just to cool him off some?” he asked.

Caddie shook her head.

“No, Tom, I don’t think we’d ought to,” Caddie said seriously. “It isn’t everyone who’s smart enough to do the Lord’s work for Him.”

NINE

Nero Plays Cupid

T
HE
W
OODLAWNS
had been having one of their jolliest evenings all by themselves, and then, for no good reason that Caddie could see at all, the sleighing party from town had come by and spoiled everything. The sleighing party hadn’t even come to the door—that was the worst of it perhaps. It had simply taken the short-cut road which Father left open for the use of the neighbors through the southwest corner of the farm. The short cut saved about a mile for anyone
who
wished to go from Dunnville to the main highway leading to Durand, and Father was glad to have the settlers use it when they were hauling logs or grain. At night the bars were always put up on the gate, and the short-cut road was never used except in case of an emergency. But tonight the sleighing party used it.

It was a Saturday night, with no school the next day, and the Woodlawn children were allowed the Saturday-night privilege of staying up an hour or two later than usual. As soon as the supper things were cleared away, Mother had sat down at the melodeon; and Father and the children had all stood or sat around her to sing.

Sometimes Caddie thought that the Saturday-night “sings” were the finest moments in the week. Mother sang alto, and Father and Warren tenor. Tom was working
hard on an uncertain bass which sometimes failed him unexpectedly, Clara and Caddie sang soprano, and Hetty and Minnie sang whatever came into their heads up or down the scale; but somehow it all came out in a sweet melodious harmony of voices.

“Really, Mother,” Caddie said, when they had just triumphantly finished “Annie Laurie,” “we ought to travel around and give concerts like the Rainer or the Hutchinson families. I’m sure we’re just as good as they are. The celebrated Woodlawns, the Singing Woodlawns…. Wouldn’t it be fun to see our names on a concert bill?”

“I’d collect the money at the door,” shouted Warren.

“And Clara should be a second Jenny Lind,” said Caddie. “Maybe Mr. Barnum would put us to sing in his museum.”

“Along with the tattooed man and the
What Is It?”
said Tom disgustedly.

“No,” Mother said, her hands straying softly over the tiny keyboard of the melodeon. “No, it’s nicer to have something which belongs to ourselves, I think. It’s much nicer to sing for ourselves, and think how very beautifully we do it, than to go out and sing for other people’s money and perhaps have them look at us coldly and yawn in the midst of our most elegant harmonies.”

“Well, now,” Father said, “since we’ve stopped singing to consider our future on the concert stage, perhaps we had better take time for our apples.”

“Yes! Yes!” shouted Hetty and Minnie. “It’s time for apples. How many tonight, Father?”

“You must find that out for yourselves,” said Father.

In spite of the fact that the orchard Father had planted was doing well for a young orchard in a new country, there were never enough apples to suit the hungry Woodlawn children. During the late summer when Mother dried apples for her winter cooking the children were always on hand to help with the paring and to speak for the long curls of peeling and the cores. Each child received his or her core, carefully gnawed off all of the good part, and then counted up the seeds. The lucky one who had the most seeds at the end of the day was entitled to a whole apple of his own. There were other things to do with the apple seeds and peelings, too. The girls used them to tell their fortunes.

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,

Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief.

You said the rhyme over and over until you reached the last seed; and if it came out
beggar man,
then a beggar man would be your husband. If it came out
chief,
as Caddie was always hoping it would, then you would marry an Indian and go away with the tribe to the distant lakes and forests. When you had divined what sort of husband you would get, you could count apple seeds to see what you would ride in, whether it would be

Coach, carriage, wheelbarrow, cart,

and where you would live, whether in

Big house, little house, pigpen, barn,

and whether you would wear

Silks, satins, calico, rags.

Then, to climax all, you could take the long curving strip of apple peeling, swing it very carefully three times around your head, and drop it over your left shoulder to see what initial it would form as it fell on the floor, for that initial would be the first letter of your future husband’s name.

Tom and Warren scoffed loudly at all of this, but sometimes the girls half believed it. Anyway it was fun to try. Caddie and Hetty and Minnie had had all sorts of initials in the apple peelings, but Clara always had the same one—a plain, clear C. Tom said that was because a C was the easiest letter an apple peeling could fall into. Clara blushed and said it stood for her own name and meant that she would be an old maid, but Caddie and Hetty said it was because Charles Carey liked Clara and would like to take her sleigh riding if Clara would ever look at him or smile at him a little bit. Whenever they said that, Clara blushed even more pinkly and stamped her foot and told them to stop talking nonsense. It was great fun to tease Clara and see her blush and stamp her foot.

This winter the Woodlawns had had a gift of a barrel of apples, brought up from St. Louis on the little steamer with the compliments of Uncle Edmund. If the children had been allowed to have their way the barrel of apples would have been gone in less than a week, but Father believed in making a good thing last. So the barrel of apples was kept in the cellar and on Saturday nights Father would go down with a peck measure, which he would fill full of apples. A peck measure held an apple apiece for each member of the family, and two or three left over.

When Father came to the door with his peck of apples
everybody would be ready to scramble. He would roll them across the floor, and the nimblest scramblers got the extra apples. Everybody was sure of one apple, and the fun came in seeing who could pick up an extra one and what he would do with it if he got it. If Clara got one of the extra apples she was likely to cut it up and divide it among the others; if Caddie got it she liked to carry it around with her most of the week, polishing it until it shone and encouraging everybody to run errands for her in the hopes of sharing it. Tom’s extra apple was likely to disappear into his pocket and come out unexpectedly on Katie Hyman’s desk someday at school. Warren’s and Hetty’s and little Minnie’s prize apples usually went directly down their own “red lanes” with no thought for the future.

Tonight Father had just rolled the peck of apples, and ‘the erstwhile singers had just come up, red and disheveled, with their prizes, when Nero began to bark and everybody heard the sound of sleigh bells in the southwest cutoff.

The younger children ran to the window, gazing through the frosty windowpane across the moonlit fields of snow.

“Why, look! It’s a sleighing party!” Caddie cried. “They’re taking the cutoff road. They aren’t coming by the house at all!”

“It’s Charley Carey,” Tom cried. “I’d know those fast black mares of his anywhere. It looks as if he’s got half the young folks from Dunnville with him.”

Clara began to turn the pages of the songbook on the melodeon.

“Let’s sing again,” she said.

But Mother did not begin to play.

Father had just rolled the peck of apples

“A sleigh-ride party!” she said. “And Charles Carey’s blacks! Clara, you ought to be out there with those young folks. You really ought. Why didn’t they come and ask you? It’s just the night for a sleighing party.”

Clara kept turning the leaves of the songbook as if she had not heard a word. Her apple lay forgotten on top of the melodeon. The sound of the sleigh bells still shivered and sang in the frosty air outside the window, and Nero still barked and ran from door to window begging to be let out.

“Let’s let him go,” said Tom. “They’ve no business coming across our place at night. Let Nero run them off.”

“Steady, Tom,” Father said. “They’re friends and neighbors. Let them use the road.”

“If they are friends and neighbors,” said Mother tartly, “why don’t they ask
my
daughter on their parties, too? Clara’s old enough to go. They’ll use our road, but they won’t invite our daughter.”

“Oh, Mother,” cried Clara, “I wouldn’t go—I wouldn’t go if it was the last sleigh left on earth!”

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