Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (17 page)

Caddie cried. “I bid a dollar!”

It was only on the long drive home that something the auctioneer had said began to trouble her. What had he meant about “a mother and a widow?” She had been too pleased with her bargain to take his words very seriously.

“Father,” she said, “do you know what? I got a present for Mother as well as Joe out of the dollar. Wasn’t that pretty good?”

“Fine,” said Father, whose mind was still on the business which
he
had just been transacting.

“Father—”

“Yes?”

“Mother usually wears colored bonnets, doesn’t she? But wouldn’t a black, a very fashionable one, look nice with her black silk dress?”

“Why not?” said Father. “I should think it would.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” said Caddie, glad to be reassured.

They all stood around Caddie in the dining room as she opened the hatbox. Her face was shining with pleasure and excitement. Father and Mother and Katie Conroy were there, too, to see what Caddie had bought for baby Joe. The baby himself was the only one not there. He had been left in the kitchen with Nero, so that he would not see his present until tomorrow.

“I got a great bargain,” Caddie said, “just like you told me to, Tom.”

She took off the lid of the box and held up the little straw
hat with the red streamers. It really looked very nice. Everybody exclaimed with pleasure.

“How pretty!”

“The very thing!”

“It ought to fit him, too.”

“Don’t let him see it. We must keep it for tomorrow.”

“But that’s not all,” said Caddie, laying the small straw hat on the chair beside her. “I told you I got a bargain. I got a hat for Mother, too—the very latest fashion.”

“Really?” cried Mother, as pleased as one of the girls. “You got a hat for
me
?”

They all crowded closer, and with a triumphant flourish Caddie drew out the little black bonnet with the yard of black crepe behind it and held it out to Mother.

There was a strange silence for an instant and Mother’s expressive face went pale.

“A widow’s bonnet!” she cried then, with a kind of shriek. “Oh, no, no! Oh, bad luck! Bad luck! I wouldn’t touch it for the world.”

“Why, Caddie, that’s a widow’s weeds!” cried Clara.

Mother threw herself into Father’s arms.

“Oh, Johnnie, my dear, you’re safe and sound, aren’t you? You’re feeling well, my darling, aren’t you?”

“I never felt better,” said Father, smiling and patting Mother’s shoulder.

“Oh, take it away!” cried Mother. “The horrid, ugly thing! Don’t ever let me look at it again.”

Caddie stood still in the middle of the room with the bonnet dangling from her fingers. She was filled with bewilderment and distress.

“There was a very stylish lady wearing one,” she said, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.

“But it’s only ladies who have lost their husbands who wear them, Caddie,” explained Clara seriously.

All the pleasure and triumph of Caddie’s day in Durand were draining away. What a dreadful mistake she had made after all!

Suddenly Katie Conroy’s pleasant Irish voice cut through the general gloom.

“Sure an’ I’d admire very greatly to wear it to me cousin Patrick O’Connor’s wake the morn’s night, so I would.”

“There!” cried Father, putting one arm around his wife and drawing Caddie into the circle of the other one. “We’ve been needing a mourning bonnet in this household for a long time. We lend our scythes and our whetstones to the neighbors; we carry soup to the sick, and lend them our sheets and our bedpans. But what can we do for the dead of the community, or for those they leave behind them? A few flowers from our garden in season, perhaps. But that’s little enough to do for our friends. Now a mourning bonnet with a yard of good crepe to float on the breezes—suppose the neighbors knew we had a thing like that to lend out when the need arose, eh, Harriet?”

Mother began to dry her eyes. She was already seeing the pleasant possibilities of this. There was no one in the neighborhood who took such delight in giving aid to the troubled and the needy as Mrs. Woodlawn.

“You think we could lend it out?” she quavered.

“Why not?” demanded Father.

“Of course!” Mother said, brightening still more. “What
a wonderful idea! We could lend it out for funerals. Why, yes, indeed! Of course!”

Katie Conroy was already trying the bonnet on and turning this way and that before the mirror to see the crepe swish around behind her, and endeavoring to compose her genial features into an expression of grief and suffering.

Caddie was a little bewildered by all of this, but gradually her spirits, which had been so dashed by Mother’s superstitious horror of a widow’s bonnet, began to rise again.

“And you know, Harriet,” said Father, “I think Caddie should have charge of it, to lend out, I mean, when the occasion arises.”

“Well—” said Caddie. “All of the children helped to pay for it.”

“We’ll all be a committee to lend it out,” said Tom enthusiastically. “May we, Mother?”

“We’ll go out hunting for funerals, shall we, Mother?” shouted Warren.

“Of course, of course,” said Mother, smiling again. “Why, really, it’s just the thing this family’s been needing, I believe—just so long as
I
don’t have to wear it.”

“Oh, Mother,” Caddie said, “all I thought was how stylish it looked.”

“And how about my Cousin Patrick’s wake then? I’d be that stylish, sure I’d do the poor spirit extra honor, I would,” cried Mrs. Conroy.

“Let Caddie be the one to say first,” said Mother.

Caddie drew a long breath.

“I’d be proud if you’d wear it, Katie. Indeed I would,” she said.

“But where’s baby Joe’s hat?” Clara asked.

They had forgotten the baby’s hat entirely, but now they all turned around to look for it. It had certainly vanished from the chair where Caddie had put it.

“Oh, look, will you? Just look!” cried Hetty.

There in the kitchen doorway stood the baby, balancing on his uncertain legs and grinning gleefully. On his head was the beautiful new hat, with the red streamers falling down over his nose. In the excitement over the mourning bonnet he had come in and helped himself to the thing which pleased him most.

“See? Baby—hat,” he remarked, and no one had the heart to tell him that his birthday wouldn’t come until tomorrow.

Yet Caddie could not help thinking that everything had worked out for the best. For baby Joe was happy a day sooner, and the funeral bonnet had begun its many years of valiant service to the neighborhood.

THIRTEEN

Concerning Cousin Lucy, A Candle at Night, and a High Silk Hat

I

T
HE TROUBLE
all started, of course, when the second-cousin-twice-removed came from Boston to visit the Woodlawns and to take charge of the household while Father and Mother made a short trip to St. Louis. When Annabelle came from Boston it was all right because, although the children could and did play all sorts of tricks on her, after all she was their own age and a good sport into the bargain. But Cousin Lucy was a very old maiden lady with strict ideas about raising children. Since she had never had any children of her own to test her theories on, the best she could do was to visit her relatives and try her hand at improving their children. It seemed in the Woodlawn family that there was always room for improvement.

Cousin Lucy thought, with some justice no doubt, that Caddie was too wild and harum-scarum, that Hetty talked too much, that Warren was too noisy and untidy, that Clara might have been a greater help to her mother, that little Minnie was lazy, and that baby Joe was spoiled.

Somehow or other Cousin Lucy never had a thing against Tom. She said that he reminded her of her great-uncle Eustis who had fought in the Revolutionary War and had shaken the hand of General Washington. While Cousin Lucy was among them, the other children could not help looking upon Tom with a certain amount of disfavor.

“Tom, dear,” Cousin Lucy would say, “fetch my workbox for me, do. If I asked one of the others, it would be sure to be spilled and the colored spools mixed.”

And Tom, with a hang-dog look which was a mixture of pleasure at being praised and shame at being considered different from the others, would go and fetch it for her.

While he was gone, Cousin Lucy was likely to air her mind to Mother about the girls.

“They are altogether too restless, Harriet, and forward—dear me! Their backs might be straighter, too. When I was a girl I was required to sit for two hours each day perfectly still with a board strapped to my back to keep me quite erect. You should require the same thing of your girls, I believe, Harriet. See how straight my back is now. I shall never be one of these leaning and bending old women, mark my words! I’m seventy-three, and my back is as straight as a ramrod. There’s not a thread of gray in my hair, either.”

This was quite true. The children looked with a kind of horrified awe at Cousin Lucy’s poker-straight back and the untroubled waves of coal-black hair which framed her sallow face. There was something ageless about this strangely black hair which never varied from day to day.
Sometimes Mother’s smooth dark hair became disarranged or was dressed in another style. But Cousin Lucy’s hair never changed in the slightest degree. Each individual hair lay in its appointed place like something carved on a monument and intended for posterity.

It was Tom who first started the rumor that Cousin Lucy wore a wig. Cousin Lucy had gone for a little walk down toward the lake and she had met a garter snake.

“Tom! Tom! Oh, Tom!” she had cried; and, when Tom had come running, he had found her standing on top of a stump with her skirts held up about her, while the small green serpent went gliding away through the long grass.

Tom told Caddie later that the strangest thing of all was Cousin Lucy’s hair.

“It was on crooked,” Tom said.

“How could it be?” scoffed Caddie.

“Honest, I swear on a stack of Bibles, it was. Not a hair was out of place, but the whole lot was turned a little sideways.”

Caddie thought this over a good deal, and her curiosity grew by leaps and bounds. If Cousin Lucy wore a wig, did she sleep in it at night or did she take it off? And if she took it off how did she look? Was she bald or gray or redheaded underneath, or what? There must surely be a way to find out. But, on the whole, Caddie thought it would be better to wait until Father and Mother were safely on their way to St. Louis before attempting it.

Meanwhile Mother made all the last arrangements for her unaccustomed absence from the farm. Katie Conroy was to have full charge of the housekeeping, and Robert
Ireton to have charge of the outdoor work, so that Cousin Lucy would have nothing to do but look after the children.

“And don’t take them too seriously, Cousin Lucy,” Mother warned. “On the whole they are very good children, and I am afraid that you will just worry yourself if you try to keep too high standards of behavior.”

Cousin Lucy only tossed her head, because it was really useless for an inexperienced young woman like Mother to try to tell Cousin Lucy anything about children.

After Mother and Father with baby Joe had gone away, Cousin Lucy began to insist upon a whole new set of table manners. The children were required to sit very still with their hands folded in front of them on the tablecloth until food was placed before them. They were not to speak until spoken to. They must say
“S’il vous plaît”
—which was some sort of barbarous foreign language—instead of “Please,” and
“Merci”
instead of “Thank you.”

“What do we say in that language for ‘You’re welcome’?” Warren wanted to know.

But Cousin Lucy just tapped her spoon against her glass and said very haughtily, “How many times have I told you not to speak until you are spoken to, Warren?”

If their milk or tea were hot, Cousin Lucy allowed them to pour it into their saucers; but she insisted that, when lifting the saucer to the lips, the little finger should be raised in the air to show good breeding and delicacy.

“See how Tom does it, children!” cried Cousin Lucy. “So like my uncle Eustis—so very, very like!”

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