Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink
Tom and Caddie and Warren raced away to invite the McCantrys in to supper and comfortable beds. They were a dispirited-looking lot as they sat along the roadside, waiting for the hospitality of a former neighbor. The bottom of Mrs. McCantry’s dress was draggled with mud and dust, and the two boys were barefoot; but Mrs. McCantry had a bonnet of the latest fashion trimmed with purple velvet pansies, and Pearly, the little girl who was next to the youngest, had a new gold ring.
Emma, the eldest of the four and Caddie’s own age, slipped a warm brown arm through Caddie’s and gave her a squeeze. Emma didn’t have gold rings or bonnets with pansies; but she was brown and solid and comfortable, and Caddie liked her best of them all. When a bird called out in the meadow, Emma could pucker up her lips and imitate it. It was Emma who looked after the little ones as much as her mother did.
Casting wistful glances at the Woodlawns’ house
Now Mr. McCantry picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow, and Caddie thought that his shoulders looked rounder and more bent than they had when he went away. The wheelbarrow creaked as he trundled it up the path to the front door. Caddie could see that it contained some patchwork quilts and cooking utensils, a set of Mrs. McCantry’s hoops, and a clock which was not running.
“Why don’t you wind your clock?” asked Caddie. “I hate to see a clock that doesn’t go.”
“It’s broke,” said Emma. “We still carry it around, but it’s like most of the rest of our things. It won’t work any more.”
“That’s too bad,” said Caddie, but it gave her an idea.
Mr. and Mrs. Woodlawn met the McCantrys at the front door.
“Well, well,” said Mr. Woodlawn heartily, shaking his former neighbor’s hand, “so you have come back to us again, McCantry? Dunnville is a pretty good place after all.”
“It is that!” said Mr. McCantry. “I’m glad to be back. We’ve been a weary way.”
“Now, Josiah, why do you say that?” cried Mrs. McCantry sharply.
Caddie looked at her in surprise and saw that she had lost her discouraged look of a few moments ago and was quite the fine lady once again.
“We have had a most edifying journey really,” she said, “and spent some months with my brother, who has a most
elegant house which puts anything you have here in Dunnville quite to shame. Of course we were most elaborately entertained, and it is only by the merest chance that you see us in these circumstances. An unforeseen accident happened to our horse and carriage, and we just thought how healthful it would be to come along on foot.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Mrs. Woodlawn hastily. “Now do come in and wash yourselves for supper.”
The two little boys went along with Tom and Warren—while Pearly was taken in charge by Caddie’s little sisters, Hetty and Minnie.
Caddie squeezed Emma’s arm.
“Come up to my room,” she said.
“Wait,” said Emma, smiling mysteriously. “I’ve got a present for you, Caddie.”
“A present for me?” Caddie was incredulous.
“It’s not very good,” said Emma shyly, “but I made it myself. An old lady who took us in one night, when we hadn’t any money, showed me how.”
She fumbled through the untidy bundle of quilts and skillets in the wheelbarrow and brought out a little willow basket.
“Why, it’s ever so pretty!” cried Caddie, sincerely pleased. “But you’d ought to keep it for yourself.”
“Oh, I can make lots more of them,” said Emma. “Big ones, too; but we don’t have room to carry them, and I thought you’d like this little one.”
“I’d love it,” said Caddie. “Thank you, Emma.”
Meals were always good at the Woodlawns’, but any sort of company rallied Mrs. Woodlawn to extra effort. To
night, besides the supper which she had already planned, she went to the smokehouse and took down one of the hams which had come from their own well-fed pigs and had been salted and smoked under her own direction. With a sharp knife she cut the tender pink slices and fried them delicately brown before heaping them on the big blue china platter. Each slice was half ringed around with a delicate layer of fat—just enough to give variety to the lean. Mr. Woodlawn filled the plates of the hungry-looking McCantrys with the generosity of a good host, and Emma and the littler boy fell to with a will. But Pearly set up a thin wail of protest.
“I can’t eat this,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at the fat.
“Me neither,” said Ezra, the littlest brother.
“You can’t eat that tender bit of fat?” cried Mrs. Woodlawn in surprise.
“They’ve got aristocratic stomachs,” Mrs. McCantry said proudly.
For a moment Mrs. Woodlawn was speechless.
“Maybe Mama could cut the fat part off for you, Pearly,” began Mrs. McCantry doubtfully.
Mrs. Woodlawn’s earrings began to tremble as they always did when she was excited.
“No,” she said, with that gleam in her eye which her own children had learned to obey. “If you can’t eat that good ham just as it is, fat and lean, you’re not very hungry. My children eat what is set before them with a relish. They know if they don’t they can go to bed empty. Anyone who eats at my table can do the same.”
Over her tumbler of milk Caddie saw with twinkling eyes that Pearly and Ezra were eating their fat with their lean. Personally she thought the fat was the best part when it was all crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, as Mother fried it.
The McCantrys were not there for one night only; they stayed on for many days, but there were no more complaints about their meals.
Caddie and Emma enjoyed the time very much. Together they went down to the swamp where the young willows grew thickly, and the boys helped them cut slender, pliant shoots to weave more baskets. The Woodlawn land and Dr. Nightingale’s land came together here at the edge of the swamp, and beyond their fences the swamp stretched away in a fairyland of tiny hummocks and islands on which grew miniature firs and tamaracks. There were wild rice in the swamp in the autumn and quantities of wild cranberries.
“What a pretty place this is!” said Emma. “If I were you, Caddie, I would build a little house on this hill overlooking the swamp. I like the nice spicy swamp smell, don’t you?”
A red-winged blackbird, swaying on a reed, uttered a throaty call, and Emma answered it.
Caddie remembered this later, when she heard her father and mother talking about a home for the McCantrys.
“Really, Harriet,” said Mr. Woodlawn, “I’ve talked alone with McCantry, and they have reached rock bottom. He hasn’t any money left.”
talk, you would think they were millionaires.”
“I know, my dear, but she’s a foolish woman. It’s her foolishness that’s “brought them where they are, I think. But we can’t let them starve for all that, and we can’t have them living with us always either. Somehow we’ve got to set them on their feet once more.”
“Well, Johnny, grumble as I may, I suppose that you are always right about such things. What had we better do?” sighed Mrs. Woodlawn.
“I thought we might give them a little land at the edge of our place somewhere. Perhaps one of our neighbors on the other side would contribute a little, too, and then all of the neighbors could get together and help build them a house. We could make a sort of raising bee out of it.”
“A raising bee!” repeated Mrs. Woodlawn, her eyes beginning to shine. “Yes, we could do that.”
“Oh, Father,” cried Caddie, forgetting that she had not been included in the conversation so far, “that would be lots of fun! And I’ll tell you the very place for the house.”
“You will?” laughed her father. “So you’ve already picked the site?”
“Yes, I have! It’s that corner down by the swamp.
loves the smell and the redwing blackbirds, and they could get all the cranberries and wild rice they needed and maybe they could sell what they didn’t need, and they could make willow baskets out of the willow shoots and sell those too.”
“Willow baskets?” asked her father. “Sell willow baskets? You’re going a little too fast for me, daughter. I’m lost in the swamp.”
“Oh, wait!” cried Caddie. She was in one of her eager moods when ideas came too fast to be expressed. She flew out of the room and returned in a moment with Emma’s basket in her hands. “Look! Wouldn’t you pay money for a big basket, if it were as nicely made as that?”
Her mother took the basket in her own slender hands and looked it over carefully.”
“Yes, I would,” she said. “I believe a lot of people would. We’ve never had anyone around here who could make baskets.”
“Well, we have now,” said Caddie. “Can’t we set the McCantrys up in business?”
“Where’s my bonnet?” cried Mrs. Woodlawn. “I’m going to call on the neighbors!”
Dancing with excitement, Caddie ran for her mother’s tasteful gray bonnet.
“Thank Kind Providence, it doesn’t have purple pansies on it,” said Mrs. Woodlawn as she went to the barn for a horse.
There was nothing like another’s need to rally the pioneers of that day. Dr. Nightingale joined Mr. Woodlawn in donating a good-sized strip of land at the edge of the swamp. Another man, who had plenty of timber on his farm, offered enough logs to build a cabin if others would cut and haul them. Men and boys who had nothing to give but their time gladly did the cutting and hauling. One neighbor offered a pig, another a cow, and a third the use of his horse and plow to break a garden spot.
On the day of the “raising,” men and boys on horseback
arrived early from all the country around and went to work on the cabin. The women and girls came along later in the morning with covered dishes and jars of pickles and preserves.
Mrs. Woodlawn and Mrs. McCantry, with the help of the children, had made tables by putting long planks on sawhorses near the site of the new house. Over an open fire were great pots of coffee and stone jars full of Mrs. Woodlawn’s choice baked beans.
It was not often that the neighbors came together for a common purpose. They were a settled community now, and it had been a long time since one of them had had a raising for himself. There had been the time of the Indian “Massacree Scare,” when they had all come together under the Woodlawns’ roof for several days; but then they had been filled with fear and distrust. Now they came together in a spirit of friendship and helpfulness.
The children raced about playing tag and “Blindman’s Buff” and “I Spy,” while the men laid up stones for a fireplace and hewed and raised the logs one upon another to make the McCantrys’ walls. The women unpacked baskets and laughed and chattered as they spread the feast. They were seeing friends and neighbors they had not seen for weeks, perhaps for months or years.
There was one thing which Mrs. Woodlawn and Mrs. McCantry had in common: they both loved a party. With happy, flushed faces they moved about among the neighbors, shaking hands, filling coffee cups, and urging more beans or gingerbread on people who had already eaten their fill.
The swamp echoed with the ringing of axes and mallets and the cries of men as they heaved the upper logs into place. By sundown the McCantrys had a house of their own. All the hard work was done and only the finishing was left for Mr. McCantry. As the neighbors prepared to depart, other gifts came out of their wagons: a sack of potatoes, a rocking chair, a bushel of turnips, a goosefeather pillow, strings of dried apples, a couple of live chickens.
At the last moment Mr. Woodlawn nailed up a shelf by the new fireplace. No one knew why until Caddie and Emma came breathlessly over the fields from the Woodlawns’ house carrying the McCantrys’ clock. Caddie and her father had sat up late in the attic shop the night before to take it all apart, clean it, and coax it to run. Now it ticked away on the shelf as gay as a cricket.
“There!” said Caddie triumphantly. “A house is ready to live in when a clock is ticking in it!”
“My land!” said Mrs. McCantry. “That clock hasn’t ticked for years—just like us, I guess.” Her bonnet was all crooked with excitement and the purple pansies bobbed and trembled over one ear, but for once her eyes were perfectly frank and honest. “I know what you’ve been thinking of us, Mrs. Woodlawn,” she said slowly. “Shiftless, you thought, and I guess you were right. But we’ve seen what neighbors can be like today. We’re going to set right out to be good neighbors ourselves. You won’t ever regret all that you have done for us!”
The two women looked at each other and for the first time they smiled in sudden understanding. Caddie and Emma smiled at each other, too, and hugged each other.
Caddie knew that Mrs. McCantry might often forget her good resolutions, for she was that kind of person; but she knew also that Emma would always make up for Mrs. McCantry’s shortcomings, for Emma was a person to trust.
The McCantrys would be good neighbors.