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Authors: Edward Eager

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BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
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"That charm'll find a way," said Barnaby. "It'll foil her somehow, if I know it. But I think," he added, "she'll be all right in the end."

"We never got to explore the past," complained Fredericka. "We never found out that little girl's first name or about her home life or anything."

"It doesn't tell her name in the
Half Magic
book," said Susan, remembering. "So I guess it all works out. I guess we're never meant to know."

There was a silence, as everyone thought about the mysteriousness of things in general and of magic in particular.

"Children," called Grannie from inside the parlor window, "I seem to have tatted myself fast to this rocking chair. Come and unstitch me!"

And the five children ran inside.

4. Losing It

Susan put the book down on the porch before running in after the others. And then, while the five children were untatting Grannie, the front doorbell rang, and it was Eunice Geers, come to show off her new party dress.

Eunice, while not an exciting or a magical girl, was perfectly all right in some ways, and her ways included those of fashion and charm; so after lunch (for which Eunice was pressed to stay), she and Susan spent an enjoyable afternoon in Susan's room, trying on each other's clothes and experimenting with two run-down lipsticks Eunice had rescued from her mother's wastebasket.

Big Pete Schroeder had shown up, meanwhile, with his catcher's mitt and ball, and he and John were tossing a few in the backyard. Barnaby, who was not at his best with a ball, base or any other, sat in the cherry tree and made sarcastic remarks, knowing all the time he should let them alone and go home but somehow not doing it.

Abbie and Fredericka stayed with Grannie and wound yarn while she knitted, meanwhile charming them with tales of life on the old Dakota plains, and how when she was a young girl teaching school, she lived all alone in a sod house, and when she married Grandad, the neighbors moved
his
sod house two miles and joined it on to
her
sod house. Abbie was fond of this story and could never hear it too often.

Later, while Grannie took her nap, Abbie and Fredericka went outside and perched on the front steps, and Hector Hullhorst and Luemma Babcock and little Stevie Wynkoop happened by, and they all played an old-fashioned game called Steps, also known as Red Light (but not to be confused with the other game of that name sometimes referred to in less refined circles as Cheezit).

And unbelievable as it may seem, no one remembered the magic book or thought about it, and many an outsider passed and repassed the fated porch before night fell.

Long before it did, the father of Barnaby and Abbie and Fredericka appeared, home from New York unexpectedly early and with tickets, for both families, to a concert in the neighboring settlement of Silvermine. Barnaby and Abbie and Fredericka were all musical, like their parents, and Susan and John tried to be musical, too, because anything Barnaby liked must be all right. And sometimes when the music wasn't too loud and modern, they found they could follow right along.

Tonight Barnaby's father, who was earning extra money singing in a special television show that week, offered to take everyone to dinner before the concert, at the seafood pier the children all liked, where the big oceangoing yachts and launches docked right alongside. Grannie wore her good black lace with her white hair piled high, and Susan and John were proud of her.

And for the rest of the evening all was lobster and Brahms, and it wasn't till the loud modern second half of the concert that Susan's mind wandered, and she found herself wondering what had become of the magic book and exactly where it was at that moment. She had left it on the front porch when they all ran inside, and she couldn't remember seeing it since. Probably Barnaby had rescued it. After all, it was his turn to wish tomorrow, or Abbie's. But she thought she had better make sure.

What happened next is still a matter of mystery. Susan claims to this day that she whispered to John to whisper to Barnaby, "You have the book, don't you?" and that Barnaby nodded yes.

John doesn't remember exactly what he whispered. But according to Barnaby the words he heard from John were "You don't have the book, do you?" and he whispered back, "No." If he nodded his head after that, it must have been in time to the music.

What
is
definitely agreed to by everyone is that the fat woman in the row ahead turned around in her seat and said, "Shush!"

And the concert crashed to an end, and everyone went home with Susan sure Barnaby had the book safe, and Barnaby certain it was in Susan's keeping, and both of them wrong.

The next morning Susan woke early with a feeling of joyful expectation. Today would be Barnaby's adventure, or Abbie's. Either way, Barnaby would have an idea. But as the morning wore on, she waited in vain for Barnaby and the others to show up with the book. When ten o'clock came and they still hadn't appeared, she permitted herself the mean thought that it was exactly like Barnaby to hog the whole thing (though this wasn't true, really; Barnaby might boss, but he almost always shared).

"What's the matter?" John finally asked her frowning countenance as she stalked from room to room. When Susan explained, he shrugged his shoulders.

"What of it? Maybe he's got his reasons. Maybe he can't come over. Maybe he's got chores."

And then big Pete Schroeder stopped by and wanted to go fishing. But first he and John went to dig for worms in the side yard, by the compost heap.

But Susan moped all morning.

Across the street in the little white house, Barnaby was wondering why Susan and John didn't appear with the book. When they didn't, he was about to set out for
their
house, but a shaming thought occurred.

Maybe they were annoyed with him for being surly and making sarcastic remarks yesterday when big Pete Schroeder came by. The fact that he had been in the wrong and knew it made him all the surer that this was probably the trouble. So after battling with his better nature a while, he decided to go and apologize. But when he started down his front steps, he saw John and big Pete come from the other house and wander toward the side yard. So he went indoors again.

"Where
is
everybody? What about the magic?" said Fredericka, happening through the hall.

"There isn't going to be any. Some people would rather go fishing instead," said Barnaby bitterly. And he went upstairs and into his room and slammed the door.

"The master is cross," Fredericka informed Abbie, which so touched that tender heart that she rapped on Barnaby's door and offered him the rest of her grape No-Cal, which he refused with bare civility.

It wasn't till afternoon that Susan, driven from the house more by sorrow than by anger, was pacing morosely along the road to town when she ran straight into Barnaby, wandering in the opposite direction and kicking a stone ahead of him moodily with the toe of his tennis shoe.

The two eyed each other, at first warily and then with surprise.

"Where's the book?" were the words that sprang to the lips of both.

And it all came out.

Now it was Susan's turn to feel guilty. How could she, always the calm, sensible one, have left their most precious possession on the porch all this time, a prey to the whim of every passing stranger? Needless to say, it was not there now when they ran to look.

Who could have taken it, and what might he have wished?

A conference was called, and both houses were ransacked in vain. John and big Pete Schroeder appeared, without any fish and without the book, either, but this was a surprise to no one. Big Pete Schroeder would be the last to look at a book in any way, shape, or form.

"The thing is," said Barnaby, when big Pete had ambled away homeward, "to make a list of every single person who was on that porch yesterday."

"And then interview them all, like detectives in movies!" cried Fredericka, who could enjoy almost anything so long as it wasn't tame or dull.

Pencils flew, telephone wires hummed, delegations visited this house and that, but the book, as Barnaby put it, remained a thing of the past.

Little Stevie Wynkoop, who was five years old and a very secretive child, caused a false alarm by admitting to having found an old, ancient book and taken it home without permission, but when asked what the book
was,
he declined to say. But Fredericka tracked him to his lair and hounded and harassed him and told him he was adopted (which was untrue) till at last he dug the book out from under a pile of toys and showed it to her. It was a battered copy of
Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue on an Auto Tour
that had come down to Susan from a defunct aunt.

So it seemed the only clue was a fizzle.

"Do you suppose that's all the magic we're going to get?" wondered Abbie. "Did it come into our lives to gladden an hour and then fade like a dream?" (For she had been reading the romantic poets lately, to see how they did it.)

"It can't be," said Fredericka. "It wouldn't be fair. We've hardly had our first magic taste, even."

"Who said magic was fair?" said Barnaby. "It almost never is. But I think it's prob'ly biding its time, just to show us. It'll prob'ly turn up in plain sight some moment when we least expect it."

Susan said nothing. She was too busy feeling remorseful. But Barnaby patted her on the back, which at any other time might have seemed rather insulting but right now was a comfort. And Abbie said, "There, there," and even that helped.

By common consent the five children parted early after dinner and spent a quiet evening. Or at least it started out that way. Susan and John sat in their living room, and Susan hemmed a skirt while John fiddled with a crossword puzzle, which shows how low their spirits had sunk. Grannie sat across from them reading.

Grannie often read in the evenings, tutting to herself when she came to the dangerous parts. Mostly she read anything she could find about the West, not the wild and woolly West of television shows, but the real West she had known as a little girl, seventy or so years before.

Susan had some books by a wonderful woman called Mrs. Wilder, who had lived in a little house in a big woods and later in a little house on the prairie, in the olden times, and when Grannie couldn't find new books about the old West, she frequently read these. They reminded her of herself when she was in her prime, she said.

Perhaps here is as good a place as any to explain about Grannie's character a little more.

It wasn't that she was childish or weak-minded. On the contrary. Her will was almost too strong. It was just that she had been a tomboy for twenty years (even when she was teaching school, which she started at fifteen!) and an active woman for fifty years after that, and now that she was old, she sometimes forgot that she was a tomboy and active no longer.

"I'm still the same, inside," she would explain, when Susan or John begged her to be careful and not climb trees or run or jump.

Susan often thought Grannie must have been a wonderful little girl, and later on an exciting teacher to have, and wished that she could have known her then.

And poetic Abbie once came on a poem that reminded her of Grannie. It was about a pioneer woman called Lucinda Matlock, who worked hard and played hard and had twelve children and lived to be ninety-six and enjoyed every bit of it. Abbie read it to the others, and they all agreed that it expressed Grannie to a T.

All this made the five children patient when Grannie needed curbing and toning down now.

Tonight as Grannie read, her eyes sparkled and her tutting was louder than usual, causing John to stir restlessly over his puzzle and Susan to look up from her work more than once.

The second time Susan looked up, her glance stayed fixed and her sewing fell from her lap and she must have made a sound, for John looked up, too, and saw what she was seeing.

The book Grannie was reading wasn't one of Mrs. Wilder's stories about Plum Creek or Silver Lake, and it wasn't the new book of Western reminiscences Susan had brought her from the library, either.

It was a red book, smallish but plump, comfortable and shabby and familiar!

So
that
was where the magic book had been all along, thought Susan. Grannie must have found it on the porch and opened it and started to read, and got interested.

But if Barnaby's idea was right and the magic book was different for each person, what was Grannie reading now that made her eyes shine so and brought bright color to her cheeks? A girlhood adventure of her own or of some other pioneer heroine?

Then, just as Susan was trying to stammer out, "What are you reading?" Grannie's gaze left the page, and she stared speculatively before her with the unmistakable expression of an enthralled reader who is about to wish that her book were true and she were part of the thick of it.

John's and Susan's thoughts were as one and their speed was even quicker. Together they sprang across the room just in time to touch the book and add the words "and take us along, too" as the unspoken wish formed itself in Grannie's mind.

And the book did.

There was a whoosh, and the colors of the room ran together and shot up like fireworks. In a second of dazzlement Susan found time to wonder where they'd suddenly find themselves next, in a log cabin in a wolf-haunted woods or on the lone prairie where the coyote howls so mournfully.

The next second she knew the answer.

Where they found themselves was on an open and windy and wintry plain, before a little raw new one-room building that looked exactly like every picture anyone has ever seen of an old-fashioned schoolhouse. John was standing at her side, looking just as startled as she felt.

But where was Grannie?

Apparently nowhere.

In front of the schoolhouse some children were playing Fox and Geese in the hard, crusty snow that carpeted the ground. Leading the game was a tall girl with sparkling black eyes. Next minute the game developed into a snowball fight, and the tall girl pitched snowballs right and left, throwing hard and straight as any boy. Then at the height of the game, when she was victor over everyone else, boys and girls alike, the tall girl stopped throwing, went to the schoolhouse door, and swung a big hand bell. And Susan understood.

BOOK: Seven-Day Magic
13.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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