Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (2 page)

“Here I come!” he warned.

Still silence—not a straw moved. Warren began to go cautiously around the loft, trying not to get too far from the goal for fear that either of the others would steal back to it before he saw them. There was a suspicious-looking hummock of hay, and suddenly he saw a tiny edge of denim skirt sticking out of it.

“I spy!” shouted Warren. “Come out, Caddie Woodlawn! I spy!”

“How did you know I was in there?” cried Caddie, bursting out of the hay like an erupting volcano.

“One, two, three for me!” called Tom, patting the side of the barn. He had slipped into goal while Warren’s back was turned. “Caddie’s it!”

Still protesting that she couldn’t imagine how Warren had found her, Caddie hid her eyes.

“Five,
ten;
fifteen,
twenty
—” she counted.

Warren and Tom dashed away to hide themselves. Warren ran for the back of the loft. It was harder to get in free from there, but it was also harder for the one who was “It” to find you.

“Eighty-five,
ninety;
ninety-five—”

Warren dived into the hay and, pulling it hastily over him, lay still. He tried to stop his quick, excited breathing. To himself it sounded as loud as the railroad engine he had seen once in St. Louis. Slipping his hand down under him to make his position more secure, he suddenly encountered something smooth and rounded and very cold. Before he could stop himself he had let out a bloodcurdling yell and popped up through the straw like a jack-in-the-box.

Tom burst out of another hidey-hole, and Caddie—crying “I spy! I spy!”—came galloping over the hay after them.

“What’s the matter, Warren?” asked Tom.

“There’s something in here,” babbled Warren. “I felt it. It’s cold and slick.”

“Aw, foolishness,” said Tom. “How could there be anything cold and slick in the hay?”

“Maybe it’s a snake,” said Caddie hopefully, “or that buried treasure Warren was wanting.”

Warren was digging feverishly in the hay.

“It was over here. I felt it all right, but it didn’t wiggle. It must have been the treasure.”

They all began to dig now, tossing the hay in a loose mound behind them. Suddenly they reached the “treasure” and sat back on their heels, marveling.

“Melons!” cried Caddie. “Watermelons! However did they get here?”

“But Father sold the last of the melons in town a month ago!” objected Tom reasonably.

Yet there they were, more than a dozen beautiful green-and yellow-striped watermelons, carefully hidden under the hay. Tom tapped them with his thumb and forefinger, and they seemed to be sound and in excellent condition.

“But listen!” marveled Warren. “The few melons that were left in the field frosted and turned rotten several weeks ago.”

“I know,” said Caddie. “How do you suppose they came here?”

Tom’s eyes grew dreamy as they did when he was telling stories or reading his Hans Andersen.

“You remember about the girl in the fairy tale whose cruel stepmother sent her out in a paper dress in the snow to gather strawberries?”

“Yes,” said Caddie in an awed voice. “And she brushed back the snow, and there were strawberries!”

“Maybe it’s like that,” said Tom. “We brush back the hay, and there are watermelons!”

“Can we eat them?” shouted Warren.

“Why not?” said Tom.

“Maybe we’d ought to ask someone first,” said Caddie doubtfully.

“I think we’d better keep it a secret,” said Tom. “You go and tell about magic things like that and—
whoosh!—
they vanish.”

It was easy to believe in magic in the dark loft with shadows in all the corners and rain drumming on the roof. Besides, it would have been very inconvenient going to the house in the rain and hunting up someone to ask about the melons.

“And they wouldn’t believe us anyway,” said Warren sensibly. “They’d say ‘Melons in the haymow? How silly!’ We might as well enjoy ourselves.”

Tom took out his pocket knife and selected a melon.

“Can you eat a third of one?” he asked. It was only a rhetorical question.

“Of course!” said Warren, and Caddie said, “What do you think?”

The magical melon was the best one they had ever tasted, although it had been an unusually good melon year. Mr. Woodlawn had planted the seeds in new ground, which was plowed that spring for the first time, and the season had been just right to bring the melons to successful fruition. They would not have seemed magical if it had not been long past the season for them.

When they had finished eating, Warren asked an embarrassing question.

“What are we going to do with the rinds?”

“There was another story about a little girl with a wicked stepmother,” said Caddie. “She had to go out hungry to herd her goats, but, when she got there, a little table would spread itself full of wonderful food for her. When she had eaten all she wanted, she would say, ‘Little table, vanish!’ and it would disappear.”

Tom closed his eyes and spread his hands over the melon rinds.

“Little melon rinds, vanish!” he said.

But, when he opened his eyes, there were the melon rinds as big as life.

“The trouble is we don’t have a wicked stepmother,” said Warren.

“I know!” said Caddie. “The pigs!”

When the rain began to slacken, they made a dash for the pigpen and, standing under a dripping pine tree, carefully fed the melon rinds to the pigs. The pigs grunted their approval. They liked magical melons, too.

The children re-covered the treasure with a thick layer of hay, and it was over a week before they thought of the melons again. Then, cautiously looking about to see that they were not observed, they climbed once more to the loft.

“Do you suppose they’ll still be there?” asked Tom, whose firm belief in magic was founded upon its vanishing qualities.

“I dunno,” said Warren and Caddie solemnly.

But, when they dug, the melons were still there and, of course, it would have been a pity not to have another feast. It was a clear, frosty day outside, and it seemed likely that their little sisters might be out.

“Be careful Hetty doesn’t see us going to the pigpen,” said Tom. “She tells everything she sees.”

“Why don’t you want people to know, Tom?” asked Caddie.

“It would spoil all the fun to have the whole lot of them trailing up to the haymow after us. The melons would be sure to vanish then.”

“Or if they didn’t,” said Warren sagely, “we’d have to cut each melon into more pieces.”

So the two boys posted themselves as lookouts on either
side of the pigpen, to give warning of anybody’s approach, while Caddie hastily thrust the rinds through the slats of the pen and made sure that the pigs finished them.

Almost every week now another melon followed its predecessors down the “little red lanes” of Warren, Caddie, and Tom, and almost every week the treasure under the hay grew smaller. For, strange as it may seem, the good fairy who made watermelons grow in haylofts did
not
continually replenish the supply as one might expect a fairy to do.

One Sunday afternoon in late November, Robert Ireton came to the living-room door with his hat in his hand and a broad smile on his pleasant Irish face.

“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” he said to Mrs. Woodlawn, “but me an’ Tom Hill has a little treat we’ve been savin’ up for you and the children. May we bring it in to you now? And I’ll be askin’ ye just to have some plates and forks ready for it when we come in, ma’am.”

The children were all atwitter in a moment.

“A treat, Robert? What kind of treat? Tell us, please!”

But Robert and Tom Hill went out, smiling, without a word, leaving the children to scurry about after the blue willowware plates and the thin silver forks. For a mysterious Sunday-afternoon treat on a dull November day certainly deserved the best there was in the way of china and silverware.

“Father, do you know what it is?”

Mr. Woodlawn only shook his head.

Robert and Tom Hill were gone a long time, but finally they returned, looking much more sober than when they left, and each was carrying a beautiful big green-and-yellow-striped melon in his arms.

The pigs liked magical melons too

“Oh!” cried Caddie, a tragic note of disappointment in her voice. “They’ve found
our
melons!”

Robert put his melon on the table with a bang and looked at Caddie out of narrowed eyes.

“What do ye mean
we’ve
found
your
melons?” he demanded.

“Why, sure,” said Warren, “those are our melons. We found them in the hay.”

Tom said nothing at all.

“Well, how in the name of all the saints do ye think that they came in the hay then?” asked Robert, with flashing eyes. “Do ye think the fairies put them there, maybe, now?”

Here in the living room, with all the family looking on and the familiar blue and white plates on the familiar table, magic seemed to have deserted the three children completely, and Robert’s sarcastic reference to the fairies suddenly put an end to the whole beautiful dream.

“So they was the culprits that meddled with our treat!” drawled Tom Hill. “Robert an’ me was fair vexed that somebody had made off with more than half of the melons we had hid so careful.”

Mr. and Mrs. Woodlawn, Clara, Hetty, and little Minnie had witnessed this scene with looks of the greatest puzzlement on their faces.

“Let’s get this straight,” said Mr. Woodlawn. “Melons in the hay? Fairies? Culprits? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Well, sir,” said Robert, “I don’t know as you know it,
but melons will keep a long time if they’re packed in hay in a cool place. So, as there were more melons than could be used or sold, Hill here an’ myself decided we’d bury a goodly number of them and bring them out as a surprise when the melon season was past.”

“I begin to see light,” said Mr. Woodlawn gravely. “And the treasure was discovered by pirates?”

“That’s about the size of it, Mister Woodlawn,” said Robert.

“How many of you children were in on this—this depredation?”

They knew what he meant, even if they had never heard such a big word for it. Solemnly Caddie, Tom, and Warren stepped out and hung their heads.

“We—we thought they were magical melons,” blurted out Tom.

“Magical melons, indade!” said Robert.

“Well, I see only one just solution of this problem,” said Mr. Woodlawn. “Whenever Robert and Tom are kind enough to bring us one of these melon treats, Tom, Caddie, and Warren will have to sit by and watch us enjoying ourselves without participating. Perhaps we can spare them any graver punishment. Does that seem proper, Robert?”

“Yes, sir,” said Robert.

His kind face was already softening for the three culprits of whom he was so fond.

Sorrowfully Caddie set away three clean plates and three clean forks.

“I’m sorry, Robert,” she said, “because I wouldn’t like to rob a friend.”

“There’s just one thing,” said Warren. “You’d ought to give the rinds to the chickens or the cows, because the pigs got all the good of the first ones.”

“Pigs?” said Hetty, with a sniff. “Huh! I guess it was pigs all right!”

“And after this,” said Tom piously as he watched the others sinking their forks into the beautiful red meat of the melons, “after this, I guess, we’d better ask before we eat.”

TWO

A Rare Provider

I
T WAS EARLY
in the winter of 1863 that Alex McCormick got as far as Dunnville in western Wisconsin with his flock of about a thousand sheep. He had intended going farther west to the open grazing land; but the roads of that time were poor, and suddenly winter had overtaken him before he reached his goal. Snow had fallen in the morning, and now, as evening drew near, a low shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and made broad golden bands across the snow. Where the shadows fell, the snow looked as blue and tranquil as a summer lake; but it was very cold.

Caddie Woodlawn and her younger brother, Warren, were perched on the rail fence in front of their father’s farm, watching the sunset over the new snow while they waited for supper. Tom, who was two years older than Caddie, stood beside them with his elbows on the top rail, and beside him sat Nero, their dog.

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