Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (12 page)

“I know why they don’t ask her,” said Caddie. “Charles Carey is always mooning around waiting to talk to Clara, and she won’t look at him at all. She’ll hardly speak to him. I don’t blame him for getting up a party and leaving her out.”

“I think she really likes Charles too,” piped Hetty. “I don’t know why she acts so ornery to him.”

“If I liked a boy,” said Caddie, “the way Clara does Charles, and he had a nice bobsleigh and a couple of spanking
blacks, I wouldn’t act the way Clara does. I’d say, ‘Hello, Charles. When are you going to take me riding in your sleigh?’ I’d say.”

“Oh, you would, would you?” said Tom between large bites of apple. “And what if he’d say he didn’t want you, Miss Forward Face?”

“Well, then,” said Caddie, “I’d know how he felt about me anyway, and I could go ahead and put tacks in his chair or sand in his hair or whatever I wanted to do to get even with him. The trouble with Clara is she’s too shy.”

Suddenly and most unaccountably Clara burst into tears.

“Oh, oh, oh!” she sobbed. “What have I ever done to deserve such a family? Why can’t you leave me alone?”

And she ran out of the room and slammed the door behind her so hard that her apple was jarred off the melodeon and rolled unheeded across the floor.

“My goodness! Whatever is the matter with Clara?” said Caddie in surprise. “We were just talking things over in the simplest kind of way. Now the whole evening’s spoiled.”

It was, indeed. The sound of sleigh bells had suddenly spoiled everything.

Mother started to go up to Clara, but Father laid his hand gently on her arm.

“Leave the girl alone a little while, Harriet,” he said. “We’ve been too much for her this evening. We’ve all been too free with our tongues.”

“We didn’t say anything but what was true,” said Tom. “She behaves the queerest way to Charley Carey. It’s her own fault if she doesn’t get asked. I expect he drove across
our place on purpose to let her hear he could have some fun without her—that’s what I think.”

“We should have set Nero on them,” said Caddie.

“It’s too bad,” piped Hetty, “if Clara and Charles have got to quarrel, because the apple peelings say that Clara’s going to marry Charles. If they’re going to fight like cats and dogs it’s just too bad.”

“What do you mean about the apple peelings?” asked Father gravely.

“It’s that silly nonsense the girls play, about throwing apple peelings over the shoulder and seeing what initials drop,” said Warren. “It’s more fun to tease Clara because it makes her blush. You couldn’t make Caddie blush if you soaked her head in red paint, so it’s no fun teasing her.”

Father looked at them seriously, his brow puckered.

“You mean to say that you’ve been plaguing Clara about Charley Carey just to see her blush?”

“Well, it was only for fun,” Caddie said.

“I’m surprised at you,” said Father. “Clara’s hide is not as thick as the rest of yours. Can’t you see what you’ve been doing to her?”

“But if she really likes him,” Caddie said, “why should she pretend not to? I wouldn’t be so silly as that.”

“Let’s see,” said Mother, “how old are you, Miss Caddie? Thirteen, is it? And Clara is seventeen. She’s almost a young lady. Perhaps you’ll understand a little better when
you’re
seventeen, Caddie.”

Caddie still couldn’t understand why. It seemed to her at advancing age should bring wisdom with it, and not
reduce a sensible girl to such an extremity of tears and blushes as Clara had reached. But nevertheless she saw that somehow they had wronged poor Clara by teasing her about Charles; and she climbed the stairs to bed, feeling not only that a pleasant evening had been spoiled but that somehow she and the younger children were responsible for it.

“They’ll be back before long,” she heard Father say as he fastened the door for the night. “We’d better leave Nero indoors tonight. He might do them harm if he were out of doors when they came through the cutoff.”

Tom and Caddie rubbed shoulders in the narrow stairway as they went up to their rooms.

“We better make it up to Clara some way maybe,” said Tom sheepishly.

“Ya,” Caddie agreed, but she could not for the moment think how.

Caddie had been asleep for some time when the sound of sleigh bells aroused her. The sleighing party had been out a long time, but now they were returning by way of the short cut. Caddie put her feet over the side of the bed onto the cold floor. The little window of the room which she shared with Hetty and Minnie overlooked the southwest pasture. Hetty and Minnie were sleeping peacefully, but Caddie could hear Nero beginning to growl in the kitchen below. She went to the window and rubbed a clear place on the frosty pane so that she could look out.

The sound of the sleigh bells, so gay and carefree in the middle of the night, made her angry. The sound of young
people singing and shouting made her angry. If Clara heard it in her room at the other side of the hall, she was probably sobbing helplessly into her pillow.

“Oh,
seventeen!
Pooh! Pooh!” said Caddie angrily. She pulled on her moccasins and snatched a blanket from her bed to wrap around her shoulders. “I’ll fix them,” Caddie said.

On the way down the narrow stairway Caddie’s shoulder rubbed against something warm and moving.

“Tom!” she gasped.

“Well, what are you doing here yourself?” demanded Tom.

“The same thing you are.”

“All right then. Keep still, and do it.”

They went on down to the kitchen, where Nero was leaping and barking and scratching at the door. Caddie drew back the bolt, and Tom lifted the latch. With a yelp of delight Nero was off across the snow in pursuit of the trespassers.

“I hope Father isn’t mad,” said Caddie doubtfully.

“I don’t care. I hope Nero bites them,” Tom said. “Showing off like that to make Clara cry!”

Caddie crept back upstairs and looked out of the small clear patch on her window. The moon was still bright, and she could see that the sleighing party had stopped to take down the bars of the gate. The sound of the bells had ceased, and the sound of the singing and shouting had ceased also. Nero was still barking, but Caddie could not quite make out what was happening. It looked as if Nero were sitting in the middle of something large and dark,
and all the merrymakers were standing about him at a safe distance wheedling and coaxing him.

“Good Nero! Please, Nero. Go away now, and let us have it,” Caddie could almost hear them saying. She rubbed the frost and strained her eyes, but she couldn’t for the life of her tell what had happened…. Only it looked—it really looked—as if Nero had the situation well in hand.

At last the young people climbed back onto the sleigh, but they did not sing nor shout. Only the sleigh bells rang a trifle mournfully as they drove away—
without
the large dark object upon which Nero was sitting. Nero was still barking but quite sociably now, with his muzzle turned up pleasantly toward the moon.

“Good old Nero,” Caddie said as she climbed back, shivering, into bed. “I guess Tom and I did well to leave it to him.”

First thing in the morning she scratched another clear place on the windowpane and looked out. Nero was still there, curled up comfortably on the something large and dark. Tom and Caddie raced out before breakfast, across the snowy pasture to look at Nero’s prize. Nero greeted them with wagging tail and a general air of pride.

“By golly!” cried Tom. “It’s Charley’s buffalo robe! They must have thrown it out at him, and Nero wouldn’t let them have it back.”

Chuckling with delight, Tom and Caddie pointed out the tracks in the snow where the unfortunate party had stood, just out of Nero’s reach, imploring him to give them
back the buffalo rug. Finally they had had to abandon it, and drive away without it.

Nero was delighted to surrender his prize to Caddie and Tom. He pranced along beside them, wagging his tail, as they carried the buffalo robe up to the house.

“Say, Tom,” Caddie said just before they reached the house, “I’ll bet Charley Carey will come back to get this thing today.”

“I figured on that, too,” said Tom. “Let’s make sure that the coast is clear, and that Clara goes to the door.”

It took some careful managing to get Hetty and Minnie out of the back door on their way to the barn just as Charles Carey came up the front driveway and stopped at the front door. They had taken Warren into their confidence, and posted him as lookout on the rail fence at the corner of the road. When he saw the high-stepping blacks drawing Charley’s small sleigh, he had signaled to Tom, who was mending harness on the back step, and he in turn had given the signal to Caddie, who got the little sisters out the back door.

At the first sound of the knocker on the front door Mother had begun taking off her apron; but somehow Caddie and baby Joe had managed to upset his milk at that very moment, and Caddie had cried, “Mother, look at the baby! Come here quick!” At the same time, she shoved Clara into the front hall and shut the door after her.

It was nice that today Clara happened to have on her light blue linsey-woolsey dress that went so well with her pink cheeks when she blushed.

Caddie, helping Mother to wipe up baby Joe’s milk,
could hear that Clara had taken Charley into the parlor. He was staying ever so much longer than it would have taken to get the buffalo robe and go right away again.

“Oh, dear!” thought Caddie to herself. “I hope she’s being civil to him.”

“How tiresome!” Mrs. Woodlawn was saying aloud. “Someone at the door, and the baby
would
choose that moment to spill his milk! Whoever can it be?”

She repeated her question to Clara after the front door had opened and closed again, and Clara had come back into the kitchen. Clara just stood there a moment, her eyes very bright and shining and her mouth smiling a little shyly.

“Who was it, Clara?” Mother repeated.

“Why, it was Charles Carey,” said Clara in a small, clear voice. “He came to get his buffalo robe.”

“I hope you apologized for Nero,” said Mother. “I hope to goodness you made yourself agreeable.”

“I tried to,” Clara said.

“He didn’t find the robe damaged in any way, did he?” asked Mother.

“I don’t—think—so,” said Clara.

At that moment Hetty came bursting into the kitchen.

“Mama! I just saw that Carey boy driving his black horses through our place again. Father’s going to have to put a
No Traipsing
sign to keep him out.”

“He came,” explained Clara, smiling to herself again, “to get his buffalo robe.”

“He did?” cried Hetty incredulously. “But look! There it is, right in the hall, and Nero’s lying on it!”

The boys and Minnie had come in by now, too, and they all looked where Hetty’s finger pointed. She was perfectly right, as always. Charles Carey had come for his buffalo robe, and then he had forgotten to take it with him.

Everybody looked at Clara, and she was blushing quite red all up and down her cheeks; but she said in a clear, steady voice, “It’s quite all right if he forgot it, because he’s coming back this evening—to take me sleigh riding while the moon’s still full.”

Nobody said a word. They were all thinking to themselves, “Well, whatever happens, we mustn’t tease poor Clara any more.”

“Come, Nero,” Clara said, “I’ve got a bone I’ve saved for you.”

She fetched Nero’s bone and gave it to him on the back porch. When she came back again, they were all still standing there wondering what to say next. It was the first time the Woodlawns had ever found themselves embarrassed to speak freely.

Clara looked around at all of them and drew a long breath.

“Go on and tease me,” she said. “I don’t care a bit.”

They all began to laugh, and everything was happy again and as it should be. Only Caddie was thoughtful.

“Seventeen!”
she said to herself. “My goodness!”

TEN

Mrs. Nightingale’s House

“D
R
. N
IGHTINGALE
stopped by,” Mrs. Woodlawn said, “and asked if one of the girls could stay with Mrs. Nightingale tonight. He’s been called ‘way over to Eau Galle, and he doesn’t think he can be back till morning.”

Clara and Caddie looked at Mother in dismay. They both began to speak at once.

“It’s the night of the literary society at the schoolhouse,” cried Clara.

“I promised Father I’d help him with the clocks tonight,” said Caddie.

Then Clara added very quickly, “Of course, you could help Father any other night, Caddie,” and Caddie cried, “Literary society! My goodness, that’s just school dressed up in party clothes! Who wants to go to school?”

Hetty stood looking at them without saying anything.

“Of course,” said Mother coolly, “the hub of the matter is that neither of you wants to go to the Nightingales’.”

“I don’t blame them,” Tom said. “Mrs. Nightingale’s proud, and she doesn’t like children.”

“How do you know she doesn’t like children, Tom? Did any of you ever ask her?”

“No, but the Nightingales haven’t got any. It’s as quiet as a graveyard around there—not a bit like our house. Any-way,”
he added, “Mrs. Nightingale’s got her father to stay with her.”

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