Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink
At last she found her voice and said, “Oh, Tom!”
Tom understood this as a compliment, and so it was intended.
By the time they reached the schoolhouse they were walking on the same side of the road; and Tom was too much filled with his own importance to mind the jeers of
the other boys, who were undoubtedly jealous because they did not have high hats on their heads and the prettiest girl in town on their arms.
Tom had started in plenty of time and now they had their pick of the seats.
“Let’s sit up front, shall we, Katie?” said Tom. “Because I’d like to see just how the magician does his tricks.”
“All right, Tom,” said Katie.
They sat on the front bench; and Tom carefully balanced Father’s hat on his knees, smoothing it from time to time and flicking imaginary specks of dust off the crown.
The schoolhouse seemed quite strange tonight, and a very magical place, indeed, even before Signor Mephistino began to do his tricks.
The performance started with a demonstration of hypnotism. Signor Mephistino called for volunteers from among the young men in the audience, and Tom was dying to go; but Katie held on to the sleeve of his jacket and looked so frightened that finally he sat still. He was glad afterward because the boys who volunteered only made sport and laughter for the audience. Obediah and Ashur Jones had been among the first to go up, looking tough and resolute, and in a few moments, with some mysterious passes of his hands, Signor Mephistino had reduced Obediah to picking imaginary violets off the schoolroom floor and Ashur to throwing kisses to the ladies. Sam Flusher was made to believe that the teacher’s chair was a bucking horse and he rode it all about the platform, “Gee-up!”-ing and “Whoa!”-ing as big as life. The audience nearly went wild with pleasure at these demonstrations.
The second part of the program was devoted to illusions and tricks of magic. There were card tricks which mystified everyone, and out of a simple handkerchief the Signor produced a dozen brightly colored flags. He borrowed a half dollar from one of the deacons and made it appear in George Custis’ pocket. Katie screamed when he shot a pistol, and a pigeon materialized from thin air and went fluttering up to sit in the schoolhouse rafters. What an amazing evening!
And then Signor Mephistino looked all over the audience and asked, “Is there a gentleman in the house who will lend me a high hat?”
High hats were not common in Dunnville, and nobody seemed to have worn one except Tom.
“What? Does nobody have a high hat? I
have a high hat!”
Tom felt his heart begin to pound. If something should happen to Father’s hat—But Katie had no such qualms. She only knew that Tom had a wonderful new hat which she admired very much, and which was just exactly what the gifted Signor was asking for.
“Tom,” she whispered, “look! He wants to borrow your hat. Go on and let him, Tom!”
Before Tom knew what she was doing, Katie was proudly holding it out, for everyone to see that Tom Woodlawn was the only boy in town stylish enough to have a high hat, and Signor Mephistino was accepting it from her with a gracious bow.
“Thank you! Thank you!” the Signor said. “We’ll endeavor
not to do it any harm. Accidents might happen, of course, but we’ll hope for the best.”
Tom’s heart sank to the soles of his boots. He tried to make a protest, but his voice stuck in his throat; and Katie was smiling at him so kindly and proudly, as if she had done him the greatest service! With a horrible uncertainty Tom saw the magician’s hands making mysterious passes over Father’s high silk hat; he saw it being swished through the air, now top side up, now bottom side up. He saw it being exhibited to the audience to show that it was empty. Then it disappeared for an instant under a red silk handkerchief and, when the handkerchief was removed, Signor Mephistino lifted a live and kicking rabbit out of Father’s hat by its ears.
“Oh, Lord,” prayed Tom very earnestly within himself, “make the rabbit have nice clean feet.”
“And now,” cried Signor Mephistino happily, as he put the rabbit into a small wire cage, “now the greatest triumph of all. Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to fry an egg in the young gentleman’s silk hat.”
Tom half rose in his seat, his mouth making futile noises, but it was too late. With the greatest charm and grace the Signor was already breaking an egg into the crown of Father’s hat!
“A real egg, ladies and gentlemen. You are able to observe that, are you not?” and he tossed the two halves of the broken shell into the audience so that everybody, including Tom, could see that it was a real egg.
Next the Signor lighted a match and passed it back and forth under the crown of Father’s hat, which he held aloft
with the other hand. It hardly seemed that the one match could have fried the egg; but when the magician held up the hat for everyone to see, there it was in the bottom of the crown—a fried egg!
The rest of the performance passed in a haze before Tom’s blurred vision. He was trying to calculate how long it would take him to earn enough money working for Mr. Adams at the store to buy Father a new silk hat. And could he possibly replace it before Father returned? And, if not, would Father or Mother be likely to look into the bandbox before the hat was finally replaced?
Then the performance was over, and the magician was passing the hat back to Katie, and Katie was saying in her soft little voice, “Well, Tom, I guess we’d ought to go now.” When they were out of the schoolhouse door into the cool blue night, Katie passed him Father’s hat and said, “Put it on now, Tom. It looks so nice!”
Tom stopped and took the hat and turned it over slowly for a dreadful moment before he looked inside the crown, and then—oh, wonderful to relate—he saw that it was empty, and clean, and as if nothing had ever happened to it!
“Tom,” said Katie when they were almost to her door. “Do you believe in magic—really, I mean?”
Tom didn’t know what to say at first. Ever since the time when he had found that the hired men, instead of the dark powers, had hidden the magical melons under the straw in the hayloft, Tom had resolutely put the possibility of magic out of his life. But the wonder of the fried egg in the silk hat was still strong upon him.
“Well, Katie,” he said, drawing a deep breath, “sometimes,
I guess, I do. Some of those tricks are mighty hard to explain.”
“I’m glad you do, Tom,” Katie said. “It’s more fun that way than trying to explain everything.”
Tom did not wait until morning to put Father’s hat carefully away in the corner of the attic where it belonged. He thought now that even if Father gave it to him someday he might decide he didn’t care to wear it. Still it had been a lovely evening, and first thing in the morning he meant to set about doing something nice for Warren and each of the girls to make up for Cousin Lucy’s keeping them at home.
When Mother was at home again, she said to Clara and Caddie, “You know there was one thing I meant to tell you before I went away. I hope you didn’t discover it and plague her about it.”
“Well, you know, your Cousin Lucy wears a wig. Poor dear, when she was a girl some plaster fell on her head—and all the hair came out, never to return, But, I know, if you discovered it you were too well bred to let her see you knew.”
Caddie and Clara looked at each other and sighed.
“Mother, I don’t know why you think so well of us,” said Caddie.
They were a little more patient with Cousin Lucy after that, but never what you might call fond.
When she was leaving to return to Boston, Mother said, “Now, children, Cousin Lucy has been very good to stay
here with you. I want you to show proper grief at her departure.”
They were so happy to have Father and Mother at home again that they wanted to please Mother in everything—even in the matter of showing grief for Cousin Lucy. So they took the matter into council, and when Cousin Lucy departed she was touched and possibly surprised by the red eyes of the six children and the genuine tears which coursed down their cheeks.
“Maybe I sometimes misjudged them,” she thought charitably as she kissed each one good-by.
There was the strangest smell of raw onions about them that day when she kissed them! It almost made Cousin Lucy’s eyes water. But she forgave them even the smell of onions because of their tears of grief.
Be Jubilant, My Feet!
were all getting new white dresses for the Independence Day celebration at Eau Galle.
“It really seems a waste of good material to make one for Caddie,” said Mother, with a sigh. “She’s ruined every white dress we ever made for her.”
“But she’s doing so much better now, Mother,” said Clara gently. “Ever since that time when Annabelle was here and she and Tom played all the tricks, Caddie’s been trying very hard to be a lady.”
“I know,” Mother said. “I’m proud of her, too. She’s come a long way. It’s only that there’s something fatal about the combination of Caddie and a white dress. Either she tears it, or she cuts her finger and stains it with blood, or she sits on the grass and gets grass stains, or she accidentally spills a bottle of ink. There’s no telling what will happen to this one.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Hyman, who, with Katie, had come to spend the week at the Woodlawns’ while the dresses were being made, “well, you’ve got plenty of extra material. I’d keep it if I was you; and later on I can always put in a new skirt breadth or a front to the bodice, if she spills or tears.”
“That’s true,” said Mother, “and we’ll just have to hope
for the best, although all of my past experience tells me that the worst will happen.”
Caddie and Katie came in just too late to hear these dire predictions. They had been to the far field to take a bucket of spring water to the men and boys who were haying. Their cheeks were red and their eyes bright. Shy Katie, so timid and fearful at school and at home alone with her mother, blossomed like a rose in the midst of the hearty, happy-go-lucky Woodlawns.
“Come, now, Caddie,” said Mother. “You’re just in time to have a fit.”
The phrase delighted Caddie.
“Run away, now, children,” she called to Hetty and Minnie, who were trailing along behind her. “I’m going to have a fit.”
She slipped out of her old blue denim and into the yards and yards of white muslin, which Mrs. Hyman slid over her head.
“Mind the pins now, and the basting threads. Don’t pull and squirm too much.”
Caddie regarded herself in the mirror.
“Is that me?” she said. “My goodness! I won’t know how to act out of blue denim.”
“You act like a lady, that’s what you do,” advised Mother. “You take small steps and turn out your toes when you walk, and keep away from horses and the snags on rail fences, and don’t sit on the grass or climb the haymow or eat strawberries or write with ink.”
“I might as well be dead,” said Caddie, screwing up her nose. “Is a white dress worth it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Katie. “You look lovely, Caddie. Honest, you do.”
“Mother,” said Caddie, her eyes twinkling, “they’re going to have a log-rolling contest in the millpond at Eau Galle. I can walk logs just as well as the lumberjacks. Will you let me enter?”
“Now, Caddie,” cried Mother, vexed beyond measure, “don’t let me hear of such a thing! Don’t even let a thought like that enter your head. The idea!”
“We’ll keep her busy enough singing,” said Clara. “The girls are all to sing, in their white dresses with loops of red, white, and blue bunting over one shoulder and knotted at the waist. There won’t be time for walking logs.”
“Well, see that there isn’t!” said Mother tartly.
There never was such a celebration as they had at Eau Galle that year. The lumbering out had begun in the forests along the rivers and, from far-distant camps, men came down on log rafts to spend the holiday. The celebration centered about the mill. The loading platform at the back was turned for the day into a speaker’s rostrum and hung with flags and bunting, while the open ground beyond was reserved for people to sit with their campstools and their picnic baskets. The picnic itself was to take place a little farther up the river in the shady place overlooking the millpond, which was to be the scene of various water sports. There was a place for land sports, too, and a poplar tree, stripped of its bark and branches and greased to make climbing difficult, had already been set up with a ham tied
to the top as a prize for the first man or boy who should successfully climb it.
Caddie cast a regretful glance at the pole.
Well, that was no place for a white dress, at any rate,
Catching the greased pig would not be proper sport for her either, she decided regretfully. Mother never contrived fine clothes for the boys on the Fourth of July, because they were expected to get into everything; but the girls were dressed up like china dolls and expected to stay sweet and spotless.
“Oh, well,” Caddie told herself, “I
be clean and ladylike this year, no matter what. I’ll just surprise them all for once.”