Read Caddie Woodlawn's Family Online

Authors: Carol Ryrie Brink

Caddie Woodlawn's Family (8 page)

“Trouble, trouble all day long!” said the man. “I never
see the like. First the mare throws a shoe and I have to wait to get her reshod. Then the sheriff wants to see my license and I’ve got to go five miles out of my way—and now this! I’ll never get to Eau Galle in time for the show.”

“Why, that’s just the way it’s been with me!” said Emma in surprise. “I started out real early this afternoon; but somebody stopped me every way I turned, and I’ll never get to Eau Galle in time for the show.”

“Then we’re in the same boat, sister,” said the big man, smiling. His troubles really seemed to sit upon him very lightly. “Do you know where there’s a blacksmith?”

“Yes, I just come from his house. His shop’s down to the crossroads—not far.”

He opened the back of the red van, and Emma saw that it was lined with racks full of bottles. Suddenly her heart stood still, and then it began to pound at double its usual rate. She went around to the side of the wagon to make sure. Yes, it was there in red and gold letters.


“But … but …” said Emma breathlessly. “You
the show.”

“At your service, ma’am,” said Dr. Hearty cheerfully. He had taken a long pole out of the wagon and now he began to rig up a crude sort of lever for hoisting the wheel out of the rut. “You take the horse’s bridle—will you, sister?—and get him to move along right smart when I give you the word.”

“Yes, sir,” said Emma, trotting to the horse’s head.

Her thoughts were in a turmoil. Why, there wouldn’t be
any show in Eau Galle tonight! Dr. Hearty was here—in the road—no farther along than Emma McCantry.

Emma and Dr. Hearty coaxed and lifted and prodded and groaned for nearly half an hour before they got the horse and the disabled caravan as far as the crossroads and the blacksmith’s shop. But they were both cheerful about it.

Dr. Hearty seemed to accept everything that came along as pleasantness, and to Emma this was real adventure. A barn swallow flew over and Emma couldn’t help imitating its eerie cry.

“Can you do more of those?” asked Dr. Hearty curiously.

“About ten, I guess,” said Emma carelessly.

There were usually quite a few people around the crossroads on a fine evening, but most of them had gone into Eau Galle tonight to see the Medicine Show. Those who remained were people who wished they might go but were prevented from doing so, such as the little Hooper boys and old man Toomey, with the wooden leg, and the men who had to tend shop or forge. These remaining few came out and stood about the caravan in openmouthed amazement.

The sight of even so small a crowd made Dr. Hearty’s eyes sparkle. While the blacksmith went to work on the broken axle, Dr. Hearty began to make a speech.

and Gentlemen,” he said, “if you cannot go to Dr. Hearty’s highly educating and entertaining display of music, art, and magic, Dr. Hearty will come to you.”

He took out a worn old banjo and began such a lively tune that the little Hooper boys could not resist jigging
and doing handsprings all over the grass. When the jig was finished, Dr. Hearty struck more plaintive chords and raised his rich bass voice in a sad ballad, “Dying at the Door.”

“Through the dark streets I am wand’ring alone,

Bowed down and weary with hope overthrown;

Seeking from torturing memory rest,

Trying to stifle the pain at my breast.

Stained tho’ I am, yet on this cruel night

I’m seeking again my old home’s firelight.

Oh, you who once loved me, forgive, I implore;

Oh, pity me tonight, for I’m dying at your door.

Have pity tonight for I’m dying, at your door.

“Weary, sighing, hopeless, dying,

What a change from days of yore.

Father, mother, husband, children,

I am dying at your door.”

Emma couldn’t help wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron. The mouths of the little Hooper boys had gone down at the corners. In fact, Dr. Hearty’s audience was almost in tears over the sad fate of the heroine of the ballad, when he stopped singing as suddenly as he had begun.

“Pardon me, miss, but you’ve a half dollar sticking out of your ear.”

Emma was perfectly amazed to have Dr. Hearty reach out and pluck a half dollar quite painlessly out of her ear. It was a very nimble half dollar indeed; for after it had disappeared under a silk handkerchief, it suddenly popped up again in old man Toomey’s beard, was once more lost in Dr. Hearty’s stovepipe hat, and finally came to light in the youngest Hooper boy’s pocket.

“And now,” said Dr. Hearty, “a little local talent, my friends. My able assistant, Miss Emma, will now favor us with her bird-call imitations.”

Emma was as much astonished as when Dr. Hearty found a half dollar in her ear, but she wasn’t frightened.

“This is the robin’s early-morning song,” she said, pursing up her lips. “This is the bobolink…. This is the redwing….”

When she had finished they all applauded. Even the blacksmith stopped working on the axle to clap his hands, and Emma found herself making a curtsy just like a regular actor.

“And now, again, my friends,” said Dr. Hearty, “to demonstrate to you the salubrious properties of my Marvelous Cure-All, I should like you to witness its remarkable effect on a poor old man.”

In a moment the spotted dog, dressed in a small pair of trousers, with spectacles on his nose, came walking around the caravan on his hind legs. He appeared to be in great distress and presently lay down as if at death’s door. Dr. Hearty felt his pulse and asked him various questions concerning his health, to which the little dog replied with barks and dismal whines. When all seemed lost, a sip of Dr. Hearty’s Cure-All miraculously restored him to health and vivacity—to the extreme delight of Emma and the little boys.

“I’d like a bottle of that myself,” said Mr. Hooper. “Have you et, Dr. Hearty?”

“No,” said Dr. Hearty, “but I’d admire to do so. Will you trade me some supper for a bottle of Cure-All?”

He began a lively tune

“Step right over to the store, doctor, an’ we’ll do business.”

“My able assistant is also unfed,” said the doctor.

“That’s all right,” said Mr. Hooper. “Come right in, Emma. I’ll feed ye both.”

The store was mellow with lamplight. Emma sat on a cracker barrel and Dr. Hearty leaned on a counter beside her. Crackers and cheese had never tasted finer. It was a rare meal and spiced with magic, for Dr. Hearty seemed as clever at extracting crackers from people’s ears as he had been with half dollars. Crackers came out of the lamp chimney and disappeared mysteriously into flour sacks, and gingersnaps materialized out of thin air.

It was a lovely evening, full of adventure. But at last the axle was mended and Emma knew that she must be on her way home.

“Come in to Eau Galle tomorrow, Emma,” said Dr. Hearty, “and I’ll let you do your bird imitations for all the people.”

Emma smiled and shook her head.

“My mother couldn’t spare me off another day, I guess.”

“Well, anyway, here’s a parting gift,” said the doctor, “and thank you kindly for helping me get out of the mudhole.”

He held out a shiny new bottle of Dr. Hearty’s Marvelous Cure-All.

Emma took it with reverence and awe.

“I don’t seem to need much medicine,” she said, “but I’ll always keep it just like this to remember you by.”

It was cool and fresh walking home in the starlight with
so many things to think about and the wonderful bottle clutched under her arm.

When she was almost at the little lane that turned down between the Woodlawns’ and the Nightingales’ places, she heard Mr. Woodlawn’s wagon come rattling along behind her.

“Oh, Emma, whatever happened to you?” cried the girls. “But it’s just as well you didn’t come. What do you think? There wasn’t any show at all!”

“Do tell!” said Emma, turning in at the lane. “I’m real sorry that you didn’t get to see the show!”

Behind the barn a whippoorwill gave out its wistful cry, and Emma answered it.


The Circuit Rider’s Story

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days,”
said Mr. Tanner. “Put your faith in prayer. The Lord will provide.”

Mr. Tanner was not in church; he was not preaching a sermon. But, having delivered himself of three good texts, he stretched his long legs toward the Woodlawns’ fire and prepared to tell a story.

“I was brought up on those three texts,” Mr. Tanner continued. “You see, my father was a circuit rider before me. There were a passel of us young ones, and we grew up in the worst kind of poverty; but, when we thought that we should have to go to bed hungry for lack of food to put in our mouths, the Lord was always sure to provide.”

Warren looked at Mr. Tanner’s brown, rugged face and asked timidly, “Could you see Him? Did He come Himself?”

It was not a strange question, for Mr. Tanner made heaven seem close and eternal punishment yawn as near by as the root cellar. He made the Lord seem a friendly person who might walk in at any moment with loaves and fishes in His hands.

“How would you answer that one, Mr. Ward?” inquired the circuit rider.

Mr. Ward was a pale, slender young man with a diffident smile. The Woodlawns all looked at him now to see what he would say. For Mr. Ward was to be the new preacher, the one who would live in Dunnville in a house of his own all the year round instead of riding the circuit. Tomorrow he would preach his first sermon in the schoolhouse, and after that the people of the town were planning to build him a church with lumber from the mill at Eau Galle. It was a sign that the town was growing. When they had a church of their own and a regular preacher instead of a circuit rider, it meant that pioneer days were almost over.

Mr. Ward had said very little that evening, but now he answered Warren’s question about the Lord.

“I don’t guess Mr. Tanner saw the Lord Himself. God has mysterious ways of making provision for those who love Him. He has all kinds of messengers.”

“I will tell you a story,” said Mr. Tanner.

Tom and Caddie and Warren moved closer to the fire and to Mr. Tanner’s long legs. It was not so much to be near the warmth of the fire on the first chilly evening of autumn as it was to be near the source of the story. They did not want to miss a word. Stories were as rare and delightful as apples or peppermint candy.

“As I was saying just now, my father was a circuit rider like myself. His circuit was back East in a section that’s pretty well civilized now. But in those days it was as much a frontier as Wisconsin has been since I came here.”

“Were there Indians there?” Caddie asked.

“Yes. there were, Caroline Augusta,” said Mr. Tanner.
“If you’ll just be patient, I’ll come to the Indians as soon as possible.”

The children breathed a sigh of contentment, and Warren hitched his stool a trifle closer until his chin almost rested on Mr. Tanner’s knee.

“My father had a little homestead in the woods with a Jog cabin on it where we children lived with our mother the year round while Father was away riding his circuit and bringing the word of God to distant settlements. I could tell you more than one story about our struggles there: how we boys did man’s work before we were in our ‘teens; how hostile Indians came, threatening to burn us out; and how my mother kept them at bay with Father’s old blunderbuss, although she hadn’t an ounce of ammunition for it. She deceived those savages, but it was a deception which I have always felt the Lord forgave her. Yes, I could tell you of a dozen instances when we were on the point of starvation; but I’ll tell you just one, to answer Warren’s question about how the Lord provides.”

Mr. Tanner paused and cleared his throat, and Father took that opportunity to put another chunk of wood upon the fire; for it looked as if the story might outlast the sticks which were already blazing.

“But why should you be near starvation, Mr. Tanner?” Tom asked. “Didn’t you have good crops? Didn’t they pay your father anything?”

“Maybe you don’t know what a circuit rider’s life is like, Tom. He has no fixed salary. People give him what they think he’s worth, and if the folks in one settlement feel poor, that year, they say, ‘Oh, well, the folks at the next settlement
up the river will pay him. It’s no concern of ours.’ And maybe the folks up the river say, ‘He probably got paid at the last place down-river. It’s not
responsibility.’ No, a circuit rider’s life is not all as pleasant as a Saturday evening at the Woodlawns’. As to our crops, it was my mother and us six little children who had to hew a farm out of the wilderness while my father was away preaching God’s word. Maybe you see now why the Lord himself sometimes had to look after us.”

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