Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (3 page)

“Red sky at night,

Sailor’s delight,”

Tom said, wagging his head like a weather prophet.

“Yah,” said Warren, “fair, but a lot colder tonight. I’d hate to have to spend the night out on the road.”

“Listen!” said Caddie, holding up a finger. “There’s a funny noise off over the hill. Do you hear something?”

“It sounds like bells,” said Warren. “We didn’t miss any of the cows tonight, did we?”

“No,” said Tom. “Our bells don’t sound like that. Besides, Nero wouldn’t let a cow of ours get lost—even if
we
did.”

Nero usually wagged his tail appreciatively when his name was mentioned, but now his ears were cocked forward as if he, too, were listening to something far away.

“It’s sheep!” said Caddie after a moment’s pause. “Listen! They’re all saying ‘Baa—baa—baa!’ If it isn’t sheep, I’ll eat my best hat.”

“The one with the feather?” asked Warren incredulously.

“It
must
be sheep!” said Tom.

Pouring down the road like a slow gray flood came the thousand sheep of Alex McCormick. A couple of shaggy Scotch sheep dogs ran about them, barking and keeping them on the road. They were a sorry-looking lot, tired and thin and crying from the long days of walking, and their master, who rode behind on a lame horse, was not much better. He was a tall Scotsman, his lean face browned like an Indian’s and in startling contrast to his faded blond hair and beard. His eyes were as blue as the shadows on the snow, and they burned strangely in the dark hollows of his hungry-looking face.

“Will ye tell your Daddy I’d like to speak wi’ him?” he called as he came abreast of the three children.

Tom dashed away with a whoop, for Father, and soon
the whole Woodlawn household had turned out to witness the curious sight of nearly a thousand weary sheep milling about in the open space before the farm. They had cows and horses and oxen, but none of the pioneer farmers in the valley had yet brought in sheep.

Caddie and Warren stood upon the top rail, balancing themselves precariously and trying to count the sheep. Nero circled about, uncertain whether or not to be friendly with the strange dogs and deeply suspicious of the plaintive bleatings and baaings of the sheep.

Suddenly Caddie hopped off the fence in the midst of the sheep.

“Look, mister! There’s something wrong with this one.”

One of the ewes had dropped down in her tracks and looked as if she might be dying. But Mr. McCormick and Father were deep in conversation and paid no attention to her.

“Here, Caddie! Tom! Warren!” called Father. “We’ve got to help Mr. McCormick find shelter for his sheep tonight. Run to the neighbors and ask them if they can spare some barn or pasture room and come and help us.”

The three children started off across the fields in different directions. As she raced across the light snow toward the Silbernagle farm, Caddie saw tracks ahead of her and, topping the first rise, she saw her little sister Hetty already on her way to tell Lida Silbernagle. Hetty’s bonnet and her red knitted mittens flew behind her by their strings, for Hetty never bothered with her bonnet or mittens when there was news to be spread. So Caddie veered north toward the Bunns’.

In a pioneer community everyone must work together for the common good and, although Alex McCormick was a stranger to them all, the men from the neighboring farms had soon gathered to help him save his weary sheep from the cold. With a great deal of shouting, barking, and bleating the flock was divided into small sections and driven off to different farms, where the sheep could shelter under haystacks or sheds through the cold night.

When the last sheep were being driven off, Caddie remembered the sick ewe and ran to see what had become of her. She still lay where she had fallen, her eyes half closed with weariness, her breath coming so feebly that it seemed as if she scarcely lived at all.

“Oh, look, Mr. McCormick!” called Caddie. “You ought to tend to this one or she’ll be a goner.”

“Hoots!” said the Scotsman. “I’ve no time to waste on a dead one with hundreds of live ones still on their legs and like to freeze to death the night.”

“I’ve got lots of time, if you haven’t, Mr. McCormick,” volunteered Caddie.

“Verra good,” said the Scotsman. “I’ll give her to ye, lassie, if ye can save her life.”

“Really?” cried Caddie, and then, “It’s a bargain!”

In a moment she had enlisted the services of Tom and Warren, and they were staggering along under the dead weight of the helpless sheep. Their father watched them with a twinkle of amusement in his eye.

“And what are you going to do with that?” he asked.

“It’s nothing but a sick sheep,” said Tom, “but Caddie thinks she can save it.”

“Oh, Father,” cried Caddie, “may I put her in the box stall and give her something to eat? She’s just worn out and starved—that’s all.”

Father nodded and smiled.

“I’ll look around at her later,” he said.

But when Father had time later to visit the box stall, he found Caddie sitting with a lantern beside her ewe and looking very disconsolate.

“Father, I know she’s hungry; but I can’t make her eat. I don’t know what to do.”

Mr. Woodlawn knelt beside the animal and felt her all over for possible injuries. Then he opened her mouth and ran his finger gently over her gums.

“Well, Caddie,” he said, “I guess you’ll have to make her a set of false teeth.”

“False teeth!” echoed Caddie. Then she stuck her own fingers in the ewe’s mouth. “She hasn’t any teeth!” she cried. “No wonder she couldn’t chew hay! Whatever shall we do?”

Mr. Woodlawn looked thoughtfully into his small daughter’s worried face.

“Well,” he said, “it would be quite a task, and I don’t know whether you want to undertake it.”

“Yes, I do,” said Caddie. “Tell me what.”

“Mother has more of those small potatoes than she can use this winter. Get her to cook some of them for you until they are quite soft, and mix them with bran and milk into a mash. I think you can pull your old sheep through on that. But it will be an everyday job, like taking care of a baby. You’ll find it pretty tiresome.”

“Oh! But, Father, it’s better than having her die!”

That evening Mr. McCormick stayed for supper with them. It was not often that they had a stranger from outside as their guest, and their eager faces turned toward him around the lamplit table. Father and Mother at each end of the table, with the six children ranged around; and Robert Ireton, the hired man, and Katie Conroy, the hired girl, there, too—they made an appreciative audience. Mr. McCormick’s tongue, with its rich Scotch burr, was loosened to relate for them the story of his long journey from the East with his sheep. He told how Indians had stolen some and wolves others; how the herdsman he had brought with him had caught a fever and died on the way, and was buried at the edge of an Indian village; how they had forded streams and weathered a tornado.

While the dishes were being cleared away, the Scotsman took Hetty and little Minnie on his knees and told them about the little thatched home in Scotland where he had been born. Then he opened a wallet, which he had inside his buckskin shirt, to show them some treasure which he kept there. They all crowded around to see, and it was only a bit of dried heather which had come from Scotland.

As the stranger talked, Caddie’s mind kept going to the box stall in the barn; and something warm and pleasant sang inside her.

“She ate the potato mash,” she thought. “If I take good care of her she’ll live, and it will be all because of me! I love her more than any pet I’ve got—except, of course, Nero.”

The next day the muddy, trampled place where the sheep had been was white with fresh snow, and Mr. McCormick set out for Dunnville to try to sell as many of his sheep as he could. Winter had overtaken him too soon, and after all his long journey he found himself still far from open grazing land and without sheds or shelter to keep the sheep over the winter. But Dunnville was a small place, and he could sell only a very small part of his huge flock. When he had disposed of all he could, he made an agreement with Mr. Woodlawn and the other farmers that they might keep as many of his sheep as they could feed and shelter over the winter, if they would give him half of the wool and half of the lambs in the spring.

Caddie … looking very disconsolate

“How about mine?” asked Caddie.

Mr. McCormick laughed.

“Nay, lassie,” he said. “You’ve earned the old ewe fair an’ square, and everything that belongs to her.”

The old ewe was on her feet now, and baaing and nuzzling Caddie’s hand whenever Caddie came near her. That was a busy winter for Caddie. Before school in the morning and after school in the evening, there were always mashes of vegetables and bran to be cooked up for Nanny.

“You’ll get tired doing that,” said Tom.

“Nanny!” scoffed Warren. “That’s a name for a goat.”

“No,” said Caddie firmly. “That’s a name for Caddie Woodlawn’s sheep, and you see if I get tired of feeding her!”

When the days began to lengthen and grow warmer toward the end of February, Caddie turned Nanny out during the day with the other sheep. At first she tied a red
woolen string about Nanny’s neck; for, even if one loves them, sheep are very much alike, and Caddie did not want to lose her own. But really that was quite unnecessary, for as soon as Nanny saw her coming with a pan of mash and an iron spoon she broke away from the others and made a beeline for Caddie. At night she came to the barn and waited for Caddie to let her in.

One morning in March, when Caddie had risen early to serve Nanny’s breakfast before she went to school, Robert came out of the barn to meet her. She had flung Mother’s shawl on over her pinafore, and the pan of warm mash which she carried steamed cozily in the chill spring air.

For once Robert was neither singing nor whistling at his work, and he looked at Caddie with such a mixture of sorrow and glad tidings on his honest Irish face that Caddie stopped short.

“Something’s happened!” she cried.

“Aye. Faith, an’ you may well say so, Miss Caddie,” said Robert seriously.

Caddie’s heart almost stopped beating for a moment. Something had happened to Nanny! In a daze of apprehension she ran into the barn.

“You’re not to feel too grieved now, mavourneen,” said Robert, coming after her. “You did more for the poor beast than any other body would have done.”

But words meant nothing to Caddie now, for in solemn truth the thin thread of life which she had coaxed along in the sick sheep all winter had finally ebbed away and Nanny was dead. Caddie flung away the pan of mash and knelt down beside the old sheep. She could not speak or make a
sound, but the hot tears ran down her cheeks and tasted salty on her lips. Her heart felt ready to burst with sorrow.

“Wurra! Wurra! Wurra!” said Robert sympathetically, leaning over the side of the stall and looking down on them. “But ’tis an ill wind blows nobody good. Why don’t ye look around an’ see the good the ill wind has been a-blowing of you?”

Caddie shook her head, squeezing her eyes tight shut to keep the tears from flowing so fast.

“Look!” he urged again.

Robert had come into the stall and thrust something soft and warm under her hand. The something soft and warm stirred, and a faint small voice said,
“Ma-a-a-a!”

“Look!” said Robert. “Its Ma is dead and, faith, if ’tis not a-callin’
you
Ma! It knows which side its bread is buttered on.”

Caddie opened her eyes in astonishment. Her tears had suddenly ceased to flow, for Robert had put into her arms something so young and helpless and so lovable that half of her sorrow was already swept away.

“It’s a lamb!” said Caddie, half to herself, and then to Robert, “Is it—Nanny’s?”

“Aye,” said Robert, “it is that. But Nanny was too tired to mother it. ‘Sure an’ ’tis all right for me to go to sleep an’ leave it,’ says Nanny to herself, ‘for Caddie Woodlawn is a rare provider.’”

Caddie wrapped the shawl around her baby and cradled the small shivering creature in her arms.

“Potato mash won’t do,” she was saying to herself.

“Warm milk is what it needs, and maybe Mother will give me one of Baby Joe’s bottles to make the feeding easier.”

The lamb cuddled warmly and closely against her. “Ma-a-a-a!” it said.

“Oh, yes, I will be!” Caddie whispered back.

THREE

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