Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (18 page)

Tom blushed and shuffled his feet uncomfortably under the table, but nevertheless he couldn’t resist crooking his finger like the finger which had lain in the palm of General Washington.

Tom found her on top of a stump

Cousin Lucy also made changes in their sleeping arrangements. She made a sort of dormitory for the girls out of the large room which Mother and Father and the baby usually occupied. She had Robert Ireton and Tom Hill up from the barn to move around the beds, so that Clara and Minnie, Caddie and Hetty, should all sleep in the same room with her.

“To see that they keep out of mischief,” said Cousin Lucy. “As to the boys, I shall leave it to Eustis, I mean Tom, to keep his little brother Warren in good order.”

Tom coughed apologetically, but he couldn’t help feeling important. Usually Clara’s judgment was considered before Tom’s in family council; but Cousin Lucy looked over Clara’s head as if she scarcely existed, and hit upon Tom as the wisest and most reliable of the children. It was difficult not to be flattered.

Of all the girls, only Caddie was pleased about the new sleeping arrangements.

“Cousin Lucy, may I sleep in the very next bed to yours,
s’il vous plaît?”
she asked.

Cousin Lucy looked at Caddie thoughtfully. Was it possible that she had been mistaken in thinking Caddie a tomboy, a forward minx, and not at all a lady? No, she decided, she could not have been mistaken, for at the back of Caddie’s eyes there was still that little gleam of mischief which frightened her.

“Yes, of course, my dear child,” said Cousin Lucy. “I can look after you so much better if I have you beside me.”

“Oh, thank you! I mean,
Oh, mercy!”
said Caddie very politely.

“I don’t know why you want to sleep next to her,” complained Hetty later. “Goodness knows we have enough of her all day without at night, too. I wish Mother was home.”

“Listen, Hetty,” said Caddie, “if you were real, real curious about something, wouldn’t you try to find out? You know, like Columbus being curious about if the world was round and discovering America—like that, you know.”

“Well,” admitted Hetty, who did not quite follow this train of thought, “I guess it was a good job to discover America.”

“Of course it was,” said Caddie, “and you’ll let me keep the candle and the sulphur matches on my side of the bed, too, won’t you?”

“Well—” said Hetty.

Cousin Lucy insisted that everyone should go to bed early, and she herself came upstairs about an hour after they had retired, undressed herself in the dark so that she would not disturb them, slept very briefly, and was the first one up in the morning.

When she was dressed, in the early hours, she would make the rounds of the girls’ beds, tapping their fingers with her comb and exclaiming in a vigorous, morning voice,
“Wherefore now rise up early in the morning,
says the Bible. First Samuel, twenty-nine, ten.”

If this did not immediately produce the desired effect, Cousin Lucy was not above sprinkling them with drops of cold water from the wash pitcher to bring them out of bed in a hurry.

Caddie was a sound and peaceful sleeper, and for several days she tried in vain to stay awake until after Cousin Lucy had come upstairs and gone to bed and to sleep. Somewhere along the way Caddie’s eyes were sure to close and her mind drift off to dreams. At last she was forced to take Hetty into her confidence to the extent of allowing her to tie their big toes together with a short piece of stout string. Hetty was puzzled, but ready to cooperate.

“You see, Hetty dear, I want something to wake me up in the middle of the night. And, if you turn over and pull my toe, it will do that.”

“But why do you want to wake up in the night, Caddie?”

“I’ll tell you honestly,” said Caddie. “I want to see what Cousin Lucy looks like after she has taken off her w______, I mean her clothes.”

“Well, I want to see, too, then.”

“The string on your toe will probably wake you as soon as it does me. But, whatever you see, you mustn’t say anything, Hetty. Remember.”

“Why, I
never
say anything, Caddie,” protested Hetty. “You’d ought to know that!”

It is very uncomfortable to sleep with your big toe tied to another person’s big toe. Caddie and Hetty must have been jerked awake half a dozen times before they knew by the gentle and refined snoring in the next bed that Cousin Lucy was in for the night and sound asleep.

Cautiously Caddie sat up in bed, with a warning hand on Hetty’s arm to remind her to keep still. Through the window drifted a faint gleam of moonlight, together with a smell of clover. Caddie felt along the bedside table for
the candle and the matches, and there they were where she had put them. The scratch of the match sounded loud in the quiet room. There was a spurt of blue light, followed by a smell of sulphur, and then the yellow gleam of the candle threw a little circle of light in the darkness. Caddie and Hetty sat up side by side in bed, Caddie holding the candle aloft and both of them gazing earnestly at Cousin Lucy’s bed.

The ladylike snoring had ceased with the scratching of the match. In her bed Cousin Lucy sat up also, dazed and wild-eyed—and, yes, it was true! She was quite, quite bald on top of her head—as bald as Mr. Adams, the grocer!

Poor Cousin Lucy gave a little scream, but not before Hetty had cried out in astonishment at the top of her voice, “Oh, Cousin Lucy, you’ve lost—you’ve lost—you’ve
lost
your
hair!”

Clara and little Minnie sat up, too, gazing in sleepyeyed wonder at the spectacle of Cousin Lucy hastily trying to put on her wig and crying in a terrible voice, “Put out the candle! Put out the candle! For mercy’s sake, put out the candle!”

Caddie blew out the light, and sank back on the pillow. There was a long and ominous silence in the dark room which none of the girls dared break before they finally drifted off again to sleep.

The next morning Cousin Lucy did not tap their fingers nor sprinkle water on them to wake them up. They awoke in their own good time and went rather sheepishly down to breakfast. Cousin Lucy sat at table, her back very erect and not a black hair out of place.

She said in a crisp voice, “I allowed you young ladies to sleep this morning because you were very restless during the night. I am convinced that it was something you ate which caused your disorder. You were troubled with the most fantastic nightmares, and at one time I was obliged to cause the candle to be lit to quiet your fears. I trust that by this morning you will have entirely forgotten the subject of your nightmares, and realize that they could only have been caused by a disordered digestion and a too active imagination.”

“Yes, Cousin Lucy,” they said as meekly and hastily as possible.

“Still and all—” began Hetty, but Caddie nudged her so violently that she broke off and said nothing further.

It began to seem as if they were going to get off without a bit of punishment. Perhaps the girls did actually begin to wonder if it could have been a dream that Cousin Lucy, as bald as the grocer, had sat up in bed crying, “Put out the candle!”

But in the afternoon Tom, who had been to Dunnville on errands for Cousin Lucy and who was entirely ignorant of the girls’ adventure of the previous night, came bursting into the house waving his cap and shouting, “Oh, golly! What do you think? There’s a real entertainment coming to Dunnville. They’ve got out hand dodgers, and bills are stuck on all the fences. A magician! Think of that!”

“Dr. Hearty?” cried the children.

“No, not a medicine show—a real one where you have to buy tickets and all. He’s a hypnotist, too! It’s to be in the
schoolhouse tomorrow night. Oh, say, Cousin Lucy, can we all go?”

Cousin Lucy looked at the four girls, and her face went slightly puckered and sour.

“Oh, please, Cousin Lucy!” cried Caddie. “I mean,
s’il vous plaît”

Cousin Lucy pursed her lips.

“It does not appear to be the sort of entertainment for refined young ladies,” said Cousin Lucy. “Not at all. Eustis, I mean Tom, may go, of course. He’s quite fifteen now, and a very reliable boy; but the rest of you shall certainly stay at home and retire at the usual hour.”

“Oh, Cousin Lucy!”

“You have heard my final word,” said Cousin Lucy.

“But Warren,” begged Caddie, who understood perhaps better than any of them that there might be justice in keeping herself at home, “surely Warren can go with Tom.”

“Warren’s just a little boy,” said Cousin Lucy, “and I’m responsible for all of you. Tom is the only one I can trust to go out to an entertainment of this kind at night.”

“But, if
you
came with us, Cousin Lucy, couldn’t every one of us go?” begged Tom. “Father and Mother would let us if they were here, I know.”

“I do my duty as I see it,” said Cousin Lucy firmly.

2

Tom was sorry for the others at first and very regretful; but as the time approached when he was to be the only one reliable enough to go, it is no wonder if his head began to
swell. He had never before escorted a girl to a party or entertainment in his life—except, of course, his sisters. But no boy ever counts his sisters. Cousin Lucy gave Tom some money for his ticket, and Tom had a little money of his own.

The next day, blushing furiously and trying to appear very offhand, Tom went into Dunnville and invited Katie Hyman to go to the performance with him. She shook her curls over her face, and couldn’t speak at all for several moments; then she ran to ask her mother, who said that she could go. Tom bought two tickets for the evening, and he had never felt so completely grown-up and a man-of-the-world as he felt that afternoon.

As he went home along the dusty road he suddenly wondered what he was going to wear for such a grand occasion. He would wear his best suit, of course; but it was getting a trifle small for him—or, rather, he was getting large for it—and it would shed no particular glory upon his manly figure. He pondered what he could possibly do to improve it. A flower from the garden in his buttonhole would help, a nice bit of heliotrope or a red geranium. But
what
to wear upon his head? The thought of his old cap which he had used for carrying nuts and marbles and birds’ eggs, and even a frog upon one occasion, and which he had so often carelessly tossed about and ill used—the thought of his cap did not please him. There was nothing of Warren’s which he could possibly borrow either. That was the only disadvantage of being an elder brother—you could not rely upon hand-me-downs in case of an emergency. As Tom thought his situation over, an incident connected with
Mother’s and Father’s departure presented itself to his mind.

He could remember hearing Mother say to Father, “Johnnie, you must take your high silk hat along. You’ll certainly need that in St. Louis.”

And Father had replied, “Oh, for pity’s sake, Harriet! Don’t make me wear that stovepipe hat. ‘Twill spoil all the pleasure I’m going to have out of this trip, if you do.”

“You never wear it!” Mother had cried. “I don’t know why you ever bought it.”

Father had laughed his good-natured laugh and said, “I guess I bought it to hand down to Tom. Wait a few years until he begins to escort the young ladies. I expect he’ll make good use of it then.”

Tom went up into the attic and opened the bandbox and took out Father’s hat to look at it. It was very beautiful and tall and black and shiny. He was glad that Mother had not insisted on Father’s taking it. After all, Father himself had said that someday it would belong to Tom. “Wait a few years,” Father had said; but Cousin Lucy considered Tom grown-up already, and he was certainly beginning that very night to escort young ladies. Father could hardly have made the slightest objection, Tom thought.

But somehow Tom did not have the heart to put the hat on before he left home; even Cousin Lucy might have objected, and he could not have endured the wistful, even reproachful, glances of the girls and Warren.

He smuggled it out of the house in its bandbox and hid it in the corner of the rail fence nearest to town. Fortunately it was a bright clear evening and the dew had not yet
started to rise. As he hurried to retrieve the hat on his way to town, Tom had a horrid premonition that a gopher or a woodchuck might have started dining on it. But it had not been harmed in any way. Tom, with all his new-found feeling of importance, was very anxious that no harm should come to the high silk hat. One didn’t trifle with Father’s possessions even if they might someday be one’s own. No, the hat must be returned in perfect condition.

Katie was dressed in one of the pretty dresses which her mother knew so well how to make, and she had a very pretty little homemade bonnet over her curls. At first she would not look at Tom at all, and they walked along on opposite sides of the road as if they had just chanced to be going in the same direction at the same time without having a speaking acquaintance.

Finally Tom mustered up his resolution and said, “It’s a pleasant evening, Katie.”

Tom had had Father’s hat in his hand when he went up to the door for Katie and, since she had not looked at him again, she was unaware of its splendor. Now, as Tom ventured this bold remark, she raised her eyes to say a faint “Think likely,” and saw for the first time how magnificent he was. All power of speech and motion left her for a moment, and she could only stand in the road and stare.

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