Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (20 page)

Father had brought them all over early in the big hay wagon, together with Robert Ireton and Mrs. Conroy, Katie and her mother, and the McCantry family. It had been great fun—all riding together and talking and laughing, and practicing the songs which they were to sing later.

O hark! O hear! how soft and clear

The echo’s mellow strain!

O echo, hear! O echo, hear!

Reply again, again, again—again!

The music floats in softest notes

Upon the zephyr’s wing;

O hear the song! O hear the song!

Again we sing, we sing, we sing—we sing!

The sunshine seemed more golden on a day like this, and the smell of new-cut hay and clover bloom far sweeter than it was on ordinary days. Their own singing and the singing
of the meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds along the wayside seemed to mingle in a perfect harmony.

To celebrate the Fourth of July meant something definite in those days. Beyond the picnic lunches, the spread-eagle speeches, the greased pole, the water sports, and the fireworks in the evening, there was the consciousness of happiness and good fortune. It was a day in praise of freedom. The Civil War was still close enough, and even the War of the Revolution, to make them thankful for peace and liberty. It was a kind of summer Thanksgiving Day when they could raise their voices in gratitude for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and dedicate themselves anew to the self-evident truth that all men are created equal.

Father’s voice, full of the fervor of the day, started them all to singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Caddie’s heart swelled as she sang. Best of all she loved the fourth stanza.

He has sounded forth the trumpet

That shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men

Before His judgment seat;

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!

Be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

She kept humming it to herself as she and Emma and Katie wandered about the picnic grounds at Eau Galle.

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him!

Be jubilant, my feet!

Today her feet, in neat white slippers with satin rosettes, were jubilant indeed. The sky was very blue, and the hot sweet smell of new-cut lumber filled the air with a perfume as pleasant as the smell of clover.

The three were early enough to greet the other girls as they arrived in their white dresses with red, white, and blue bunting looped over the shoulder and knotted at the waist. Maggie, Jane, Lida—all of them arrived in due time, with their hair unnaturally frizzed out, from an uncomfortable night in curl papers, and their eyes sparkling with anticipation. All the girls of Dunnville and Eau Galle were to sit on the loading platform behind the speakers, and sing before and after the speeches were delivered. But until the speaking began they were free to roam about as they wished.

Tom and Warren with a crowd of boys went past them toward the millpond, and Tom called back over his shoulder, “They’re starting to roll logs. You better come watch.”

“Let’s do,” said Caddie to Katie, and Katie said, “All right.”

“Just look out for your dress, that’s all,” warned Clara. “Mother will be wild if she sees you standing up to sing and the front of your dress all torn.”

“Oh, bother!” Caddie said. “They’re always plaguing me about my clothes. But nothing—
nothing’s
going to happen to this one!”

A good many children were crowded along the banks of the quiet millpond watching the preliminary log-rolling contests. Caddie saw Hetty and Minnie and Pearly and Ezra McCantry playing “I Spy” with some of the other little children higher up the bank.

Today her feet were jubilant indeed

In the millpond floated several large peeled logs, and men from the various logging camps up the river were trying their skill upon them. From a boat each man would carefully mount his log, and balance himself on it while he rolled it under his feet. He appeared to be running on top of the water, and it was exciting to see how long he could keep it up. Much skill was required to stay on the slippery logs at all, and sooner or later one of the men would lose his balance, slip off, and go down with a great splash—to emerge again almost immediately, grinning and ready to try once more. Walking logs in the river was part of the lumberjacks’ job, and they were surprisingly expert at the difficult feat of staying on top while the log rolled under them.

The children soon had their favorites among the contestants, and cheered or shouted praise or disapproval. When Robert Ireton came out in old blue jeans with his strong brown arms folded across his bare chest, waiting for someone to row him to a log, the Woodlawn children and all the children of their neighborhood went mad with glee.

“Robert! Robert!” they shouted. “We’re on your side, Robert! Beat the lumber camps, Robert! Show ‘em Dunnville’s got the champion log roller of the world!”

None of them had known that Robert was going to enter the contest; and Caddie went as wild as the boys, shouting, “Robert! Robert! Lick the old tar out of ‘em, Robert!”

The little children left their game of “I Spy” and came crowding down to the water’s edge between the legs of
taller people, echoing, “Robert! Robert! Beat ‘em, Robert!”

Near the shore floated a number of smaller, unpeeled logs, left no doubt from one of the large log rafts which were floated down the river to the mill for sawing. Hetty and Minnie and the two little McCantrys came to stand in front of Caddie and Katie, and Caddie saw Ezra’s toe go out experimentally to one of the floating logs.

“I c’n walk ‘em, too,” he said, “as good as Robert Ireton.”

“Well, don’t you try it, mister,” Caddie advised.

Now Robert had reached his log and mounted it. His feet were light and quick on the rolling log. He might have been dancing one of his Irish jigs on the threshing floor of the barn at home, to see him lift his feet. The water flashed and sparkled over the rolling log. Everybody was looking at him. He was better, more light and graceful, than the lumbermen from up the river.

But suddenly, in the midst of her pleasure and excitement at Robert’s success, Caddie saw out of the tail of her eye that another log walker was performing near at hand. Ezra McCantry was stepping gingerly from log to log, and running the length of them and back with arms outstretched to keep his balance.

“Come back here, Ezra!” Caddie cried.

But Ezra only ran a little farther out and called back mockingly, “Look at me! Look at me! I c’n walk ‘em, too I”

“Oh, dear!” Caddie said to Katie. “I just wish Emma had come down with us. She’d make him come back in pretty smart, I guess!”

Katie raised her gentle voice and called him, too; but
Ezra was puffed up by the importance of the moment to even greater feats of daring. It seemed to him that everybody was looking at
him
now instead of Robert Ireton.

“Look-it me now! Look-it—”

Even as he uttered his howl of triumph, the log he was on began to roll. Slowly and gently it rolled, but it took Ezra by surprise and he rolled with it. He made a wonderful, big splash for such a very small boy.

“Oh, dear!”
cried Caddie.
“Oh, dear!”
—and all sorts of disconnected things went like a panic through her mind.
“Be swift, my soul. Be jubilant, my feet.
… But, oh, my dress! Whatever happens, it must not get wet.”

And then she saw Ezra coming up to the surface and clawing the air an instant, trying to catch the log—and going down again without having succeeded. She knew that the millpond was deep, and that Ezra couldn’t swim—and neither could she. She heard people behind her beginning to shout, and Katie bursting into tears. Then, before she knew it, her clean white slippers were stepping out on the first logs and then the next ones, and she was frantically untying the long piece of bunting which had been over her shoulder.

She heard her own voice calling,
“Ezra! Ezra!”

When he came up again she was still calling, and somehow she got his attention and flung one end of the bunting near enough to his clutching hands so that he could grasp it.

As he went down again, clutching the bunting, it snapped out tight, like a kite string in the wind, and Caddie, holding the other end, felt the log she was on beginning to roll.
She tried to make her feet go fast, like Robert’s feet, in order to keep her balance; but still her log kept rolling, rolling—and the clean white slippers with the satin rosettes could not go fast enough. There was a second wonderful splash—and it was Caddie Woodlawn!

But she never let go of the bunting; and Ezra was holding on to his end, too. There was a log between them, and with the bunting over it neither one of them could go down too far. Caddie struggled desperately up until she could cling to the log with one hand and pull in the bunting with the other; and presently Ezra was clinging to the other side of the log, coughing and blowing water. With one on each side of it the log had stopped rolling, and they could hold to it and catch their breath for a moment until help came.

Robert was the first to reach them, swimming from his log in mid-pond with long, sure strokes.

“Oh, Robert I” Caddie cried, between gulps and coughs. “You had to get off your log! We made you lose the contest, Robert.”

“Eh, divil take the contest,” Robert roared, “and my Caddie drowning! What do you think, lass? What do you think!”

When they were safe on shore again, with the water running from them in streams and an anxious crowd surging around them, Caddie looked down and saw that she was still clutching the Fourth of July bunting against her breast. The red and blue dye was running in gaudy little streams all down the front of her lovely new white dress. As she stood there speechless with this new calamity which
topped all the others, she heard the first notes of the fife and drum calling the people to the speaking and the singing.

The crowd began to drift away, now that they saw Caddie and Ezra safe.

“Oh, come along now, Caddie,” Katie said. “You’ll dry out on the speakers’ stand, with all the hot sun blazing in there. It’s time we went to sing.”

“But I can’t! I can’t—
like this”
wailed Caddie.

Tom and Katie, Warren and Hetty and little Minnie, were all around her, helping her wring out the yards of white—and
blue
and
red
—muslin.

“Sure you can, Caddie,” they were saying. “They need your high voice on the choruses.”

“You can sit in the back,” said Katie, “and I’ll spread my skirts out over yours.”

“But Mother!” gasped Caddie. “She’ll take one look at me and have a heart attack.”

“You come along,” they said.

Caddie and Katie had just time to squeeze in among the other girls at the back of the platform before the program began. Caddie was sure that Mother could not have seen the dreadful mess she was wearing.

When the fifes and drums were silent, the girls’ chorus stood up and began to sing. Caddie remained seated so that she would not spoil the beautiful appearance of the other girls, but her voice soared clear and happy.

It seemed as if half of the men of Dunnville and Eau Galle made speeches that day; but Dr. Nightingale made the last one. and it was the best one too. He spoke very
simply, as if he were talking to friends—as, indeed, he was. He said that the truest way citizens could serve their country was by obeying its laws and by meeting daily life with courage and honesty. Good citizens, he said, were worth more to a nation than good soldiers or good policemen.

Caddie forgot her troubles in listening to his earnest voice. Finally he said something which surprised her.

He said, “There are many good citizens among us, but it has just been called to my attention that one of us today has proven particularly worthy of citizenship. This person, although one of the youngest members of our society, has proven equal to an emergency which called for quick thinking, courage, and a willingness to risk personal safety. You all know this young person; you have just heard her voice in the singing. When you know that Caddie Woodlawn saved a little boy’s life this morning, I think you will want her to step forward and receive your cheers.”

Until her name was mentioned, Caddie had been looking around trying to imagine whom Dr. Nightingale was speaking of. Now when she heard him saying “Will Caddie Woodlawn please come forward?” Caddie was so filled with astonishment and alarm that she could do nothing but sit there and whisper, “Oh, I can’t 1”

There was a great wave of cheering and applause, which frightened her even more. But the girls were pulling her to her feet.

“Don’t be silly,” they cried, pushing her forward.

To her surprise Caddie found herself going up to the front of the platform where Dr. Nightingale stood with outstretched hand and welcoming smile. Caddie had tried
to hold the worst parts of her bedraggled skirt together so that it would not show, but when she held out her hand it all fell open so that everyone in Dunnville and Eau Galle could see that Caddie Woodlawn had spoiled another white dress.

Dr. Nightingale seemed to understand her distress just as he understood measles or mumps.

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