Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink
Then she thought, “Caddie would take the ostrich egg, Tom would want the boat in the bottle, Warren would want the petrified wood.”
Doubtfully she looked at Minnie.
“What do you want, Minnie?”
“I don’t know.”
“Go on. Decide.”
“I don’t know,” said Minnie again. She looked as if she were going to cry. She never liked to have to make up her mind by herself. “You choose for me, Hetty.”
Suddenly Hetty turned around to Aunt Molly, who was watching them from the parlor doorway.
“Aunt Molly—” she said.
“Take your time,” said Aunt Molly. “It’s Papa’s cabinet. He said you could have anything.”
“But I like it better here,” blurted Hetty, not exactly understanding what she meant herself. “I don’t want to take anything away. Oh, Aunt Molly, what I want is for Tom and Caddie and Clara and Warren to see it—just like it is.”
“Why, that’s easy,” said Aunt Molly. “Bring them over tomorrow.”
“Aunt Molly, they’re outside now. If they were very quiet—”
“Dear me!” said Aunt Molly. “They’re outside? Of course they may come in.”
Little Minnie was smiling now, too.
“And they never saw Adelaide, either, did they, Hetty?”
“No,” said Hetty.
“Well, Henrietta, go and call them in, child.”
Once the others were all in the house, grown-up Henrietta Woodlawn would be gone again and only Hetty would be left. And yet tonight, on Christmas eve, it was worth losing that other self to see the older brothers and sisters drinking in the wonders of the cabinet.
Hetty ran to the kitchen door to call them, and her heart was thumping hard with happiness.
Caddie Gets a Bargain
on the high seat of the wagon beside Father and looked down at the other children grouped around the wagon wheel.
“Be sure and get something nice, Caddie,” said Clara. “Something he can use.”
“Something he can wear,” said Hetty.
“Something he can eat,” said Warren, but a chorus of no’s drowned this suggestion.
“Something he will like,” everybody agreed.
“And be sure to get a bargain, Caddie,” called Tom as the wagon started. “Remember, we all chipped in on the dollar.”
As they drove out of the farmyard Father looked at Caddie and smiled.
“Quite a responsibility you have, eh, daughter?” Caddie sighed.
“If it was just my own money to buy a present for baby Joe’s second birthday, that would be easy—but when you have to suit everybody! I’m pretty near sorry it was my turn to go.”
“No,” said Father. “Just do the best you can and don’t let it worry you. In that way you’ll have a clear conscience and a tranquil heart.”
Father’s words were reassuring and Caddie settled herself to enjoy the drive into Durand, and the prospect of a half day to herself in a town which was larger than Dunnville or Eau Galle.
A trip to Durand was always a coveted adventure which the children took by turns. Father would be occupied with the business of the mill and, except for the noon meal with him at the hotel, Caddie would have to amuse herself. She felt confident that she could do that.
The big steamer from St. Louis came up the Mississippi and Chippewa rivers as far as Durand, and then one had to take the “little steamer” or lumber keelboat from there up the Red Cedar River to Dunnville unless he wished to drive as she and Father were doing today. The big steamer brought all sorts of things to Durand which never went on as far as Dunnville. There were little high-heeled boots and feather-trimmed bonnets, gold watches with chains and hair bracelets with gold clasps and wax flowers under glass globes; you could even have your tintype taken if you did not mind having to sit still with your head in a vise for so Jong.
The Woodlawn children had formed the opinion that whatever was worn in Durand must be the height of fashion, and Clara had particularly begged Caddie to keep her eyes open for any changes of fashion which she should see there on the streets or in the hotel. Caddie was never as acutely aware of fashion as Clara or their cousin Anna-belle from Boston. The fine leather bridles in the harness shop, trimmed with little bright-colored pictures under rounded glass, were more to her taste than the latest thing
in bonnets. But she knew that, being so fortunate as to make this trip with Father, she must not forget the requests of the brothers and sisters who were left behind. So she remembered to look for changes of fashion as well as a birthday gift for baby Joe.
It seemed to Caddie that the ladies of Durand looked very much like those of Dunnville. There was only one who impressed her as looking different and more fashionable than the others. This was a lady who sat at dinner in the dining room of the hotel at a table near the one where Caddie and Father settled themselves for refreshment after they had left the horses at the livery stable.
The lady was all in black, a novelty in itself, for most well-dressed ladies seemed to prefer color, and she wore a very smart little black bonnet with fully a yard of black crepe hanging behind it. It was a fashion with which Caddie was quite unfamiliar, and she was sure that Clara would be interested. The lady was accompanied at dinner by a fashionable-looking gentleman in a frock coat and sideburns, and other impressive gentlemen came up to her during the meal and bent over the hand which she extended in greeting in a most romantic manner. Caddie was so impressed with this glimpse of high society and fashion that she could already see in her mind’s eye Mother, Clara, Hetty, and herself all dressed in similar costumes with yards of black crepe floating out behind and gentlemen with sideburns crowding about to kiss their hands.
Father was seated with his back to the delightful lady, and the meal was nearly over before he began to wonder why Caddie was staring.
“You’d better eat your dinner,” Father said. “It’ll be a long time till supper. If eyes could eat, you’d be well filled. Better set your mouth to work now. What do you find so interesting?”
“It’s a lady,” Caddie said. “Father, do you know her?”
Mr. Woodlawn half turned and glanced over his shoulder.
“Well, not to speak to,” he said, “but it’s Mrs. Langdon. She’s a rich widow.”
“Rich!” Caddie thought as she hastily finished her meal. “Then what she wears is sure to be the height of fashion.”
When they had dined, Father went about his business with a parting warning, “Have a good time, and meet me at the livery stable at half past three. Don’t keep me waiting.”
Clutching her small, homemade purse with its burden of pennies and nickels contributed by the brothers and sisters for baby Joe’s present, Caddie began to walk up and down the main street of Durand to feast her eyes on the windows.
There was a rattle with little silver bells on it in the jeweler’s window, but Joe was really too big for a rattle now and this one would be sure to cost much more than a dollar. In the window of the dry-goods store there were some little boots; but Caddie did not know the size and they would be expensive, too.
She had thought of a spotted wooden horse with a hemp tail, such as she had seen once in St. Louis; but, when she went into the dry-goods store to inquire, the lady behind
the counter said, “Land, no! We only have our toys out at Christmastime.”
“What else would you have for a baby, ma’am?”
“I could sell you socks or mittens.”
“No, Mother knits him those. We wanted something special—something for a dollar.”
“Vests?” suggested the lady. “Safety pins? Two yards of embroidery to trim his petticoats?”
Caddie shook her head.
“Maybe I’ll be back later,” she said.
Up the street she saw several people going into the millinery store. She was beginning to feel discouraged about the birthday present, but at least she could see what was going on in town.
There seemed to be a great many people crowded into the small millinery shop among the caps and bonnets, and a man’s voice could be heard crying “What am I bid, ladies and gentlemen? What am I bid on this beautiful leghorn bonnet with the artificial cherries?”
Several ladies’ voices cried out, “Fifty cents!” “Six bits!” “A dollar!” “Two and a half!”
It was all very mystifying until Caddie saw the placard in the window which read:
OUR ENTIRE STOCK MUST GO AT BARGAIN PRICES
Thursday at 2 o’clock
“At bargain prices,” Caddie thought. “That was the last thing Tom said. ‘Be sure to get a bargain, Caddie.’”
Of course it was a little difficult to imagine baby Joe with a leghorn bonnet trimmed with artificial cherries, even at a great bargain; for he would probably eat the cherries and have a stomach-ache afterward.
Caddie stood irresolutely outside the shop looking in the window, and then suddenly she saw what she wanted. It was a small child’s hat made of straw with a turned-up brim and red ribbon streamers. It would look beautiful on baby Joe. It would be the perfect birthday present—something he could wear, something gay and pretty, something they could not make at home—and Caddie hoped that it would be a bargain.
She stepped timidly into the store, pushing her way through the crowd. She had never been at an auction before in her life, and her heart was beating fast. Everything happened so quickly and noisily at an auction that it was rather terrifying. The auctioneer lifted up a bonnet, crying out its merits at the top of his voice, and ladies bid for it from all sides. There were even some gentlemen bidding on bonnets for their wives or sweethearts. When the hat with the red streamers should be put up for sale, Caddie wondered if she would ever dare lift her voice. She stood wedged in between people with sharp elbows which dug into her ribs, and held fast to her purse and her courage.
There were some hats, of course, which nobody wanted, and the auctioneer would put two together as an extra inducement and almost give them away.
“Do I hear fifteen cents bid? Twenty cents? Half a dollar? Ladies! Ladies! You are letting the bargain of a lifetime slip away!”
Time was slipping away, too. Caddie could see the hands of the eight-day clock on the opposite wall creeping steadily along. It was nearly three o’clock, and Father had warned her to be at the livery stable promptly at three-thirty. Caddie began to fidget and fume. She had spent so much time here now that, if she did not get the hat with the red streamers, she would have to go home empty-handed. What would the other children say to that? Tomorrow was Joe’s birthday, and they would never forgive her if they did not have a gift for him. Yet, if she went up to the auctioneer and asked him for a particular hat, he would be sure to see how much she wanted it and put a high price upon it. Oh, dear! And if the hat came up at all, would she ever dare shout for it?
Caddie was suffering a good deal of mental anguish when suddenly she saw the auctioneer reach into the window for the child’s hat and hold it up.
“Here you are, ladies and gentlemen, a child’s hat with red streamers, something a bit unusual for the tots at home. What am I bid now? What am I bid?”
There was dead silence, followed by a choking sound which was Caddie trying to find her voice. Something terrible had suddenly happened to it. As in a nightmare, it seemed that she could not make a sound.
“What!” cried the auctioneer. “Does nobody want this jaunty little hat, this pearl of infant adornment? Are the little children of Durand to run around getting sunstroke for the want of proper head clothing? Think? Ladies and gentlemen, think! What am I bid?”
“Twenty cents,” someone said.
“Thirty,” added someone else in a halfhearted voice.
Caddie pressed her hands together desperately and made several timid sounds like a rabbit in distress.
“Twenty cents! Thirty cents!” shouted the auctioneer in disgust. “Do you think I would let this little jewel go for that? Look here! I’m going to put another hat with it. An extra bargain, ladies and gentlemen! An extra bargain!
what am I offered!
Reaching into a box beside him, the auctioneer drew out another hat and held it aloft. It was a small black bonnet with a yard of black crepe hanging behind it.
Caddie was shocked out of her timidity. Here was a bonnet like Mrs. Langdon’s to be knocked down at a bargain with the hat for baby Joe. What luck! What incredible luck!
She flung up both hands and cried out in a strong voice, “I bid a dollar. Oh, I bid a dollar! Please let me have them for a dollar.”
Everybody looked around at the young girl who had stood there so long without bidding. The auctioneer seemed pleased at her offer. He began to laugh.
“Sold!” he cried. “Sold to the young lady in the brown cloak. It’s a smart young lady who knows how to buy for the future. Ladies and gentlemen, this smart young lady is looking forward to the days when she will be a mother and a widow.”
People were still laughing as Caddie counted out her dollar’s worth of nickels and pennies and walked out of the store with her two hats in a bandbox on her arm. But she didn’t care at all if they laughed, because she had got a perfectly smashing bargain. And wouldn’t the children be pleased to know that their dollar had bought not only a present for baby Joe but a present for Mother as well!