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It happened just the other day, to a boy named Roger. Most of it happened to his sister Ann, too, but she was a girl and didn’t count, or at least that’s what Roger thought, or at least he thought that in the beginning. Part of it happened to his cousins Jack and Eliza, too, but they didn’t come in to it till later. Roger and Ann lived with their mother and father in a pleasant small house in a pleasant small city, and until the blow fell life was very pleasant. Their father was an understanding parent, often quite helpful and willing about such important things as building a rabbit hutch in the backyard or hanging the swing from the biggest oak tree. And even though he said he wasn’t good with his hands (which was true), still part of the rabbit hutch stayed together quite nicely (though all the rabbits got away through the part that didn’t), and one year the swing didn’t fall down till nearly the end of summer. And best of all, their father always read to them for an hour after dinner, even though they’d been able to read perfectly well to themselves for years now. This practice sometimes led to hot argument, because Roger was getting to be rather a yeomanly type and wanted to hear books like The White Company and The Scottish Chiefs, while Ann was becoming all too womanly, and leaned toward Little Women and the Betsy-Tacy books. And their father would complicate matters by always wanting to read books like Five Children and It, which he said was great literature. And Ann agreed that, next to the Betsy-Tacy books, it was. Roger enjoyed science fiction books, too, but there their father drew the line. He said they were like having bad dreams on purpose, and if the Flying Saucers really have landed, he didn’t want to know about it. Roger called this Not Taking a Realistic Attitude. All the same, he really liked the magic books his father and Ann loved so, and back in the days when he was a child, before he got to be eleven, he had even hoped that some day something magic would happen to him. But nothing ever had, and that seemed to Roger to prove that there was no such thing. Or if there ever had been, probably modern science had done away with it long ago. Their father always said how could he be sure, and besides, even if there weren’t any such thing as magic, wasn’t it pleasant to think that there might be? And in the discussion that would follow, their mother would sometimes pass through the room and cry out, and say honestly, their father was as much of a child as they were, which Ann thought quite a compliment, though she was not sure their mother meant it as one. Ann was eight, and believed nearly everything. When their mother wasn’t passing through the room and crying out, she was quite an understanding parent, too, except about the way Roger kept wanting more model soldiers when he had two hundred and fifty-six already, and the way all two hundred and fifty-six were always to be found all over the floor of his room, which she said passed all understanding. And sometimes when Roger would start picking on Ann because she was a girl, and younger, their mother would get really cross, and say there would be none of that in this house! Their mother said she knew just how Ann felt because she had been a girl once, too, and the youngest of four children, and what she had endured worms wouldn’t believe! But at other times she talked about what fun she and her sisters and brother had had; so Roger decided she couldn’t have suffered so very much. And when he asked his Uncle Mark about it, his Uncle Mark said their mother had been a terror to cats and ruled the household with a rod of iron. And when he asked his Aunt Katharine, his Aunt Katharine said their mother had been a dear little baby, but went through a difficult phase as she grew older. He couldn’t ask his Aunt Jane, because she was hardly ever there, being usually occupied hunting big game in darkest Africa or touring the English countryside on a bicycle. But he decided their mother’s childhood had probably been very much like their own, partly good and partly bad, but mostly very good indeed. And so time went on, with few clouds to stir life’s untroubled sea, until the day the blow fell. The blow fell on a day in June. School had been over for only a few days, and the whole bright vacation lay ahead, waiting for them to make up their minds where to spend it. Their mother wanted to tour New England and stop at all the antique shops looking for old spice boxes, which she liked for some reason, and their father wanted to revisit an island in Canada, where he’d spent a wonderful summer once, back when the world was young. Roger wanted to go somewhere yeomanly, like Sherwood Forest, but since everybody else seemed to think that was a bit far, he decided the Rocky Mountains were the next best thing. Ann didn’t know where she wanted to go yet, but she thought probably Wampler’s Lake, to be near her best friend Edith Timson. They were to have a big family conference about it that evening and decide. But that afternoon their father came home from the office at half past three instead of half past five, and he didn’t explain why, but said hello to Roger and Ann, just as though everything were perfectly usual, only somehow he didn’t sound as though everything were. And a few minutes later he and their mother went into the living room and shut the door, and their voices went on and on, for what seemed like practically forever. Roger and Ann didn’t know what to think of this odd behavior, but then they got interested in seeing who could draw the most horrible Frankenstein monster, and forgot about it. And after they’d drawn, and compared, and argued about which was most truly horrifying, Roger tried to persuade Ann to join him in a war of model soldiers. Only Ann was never terribly interested in model soldiers; so they played Monopoly instead. But after a few minutes of this, Ann got to thinking about that door being closed, though she didn’t say anything about it to Roger. And after a few minutes more, Roger found himself wondering about those voices going on and on, though he didn’t say anything about it to Ann. And five minutes later all subterfuge failed, and they looked at each other and nodded with one accord, and put their Monopoly game away (which was unusual of them) and went and stood on the stairway. The living room door was still closed, and from where they stood they could hear only an occasional unrevealing word, but the voices sounded serious. “I sense divorce in the air,” said Roger, who had been seeing too many old movies on television lately. Ann shook her head. “They don’t sound angry, just kind of worried. Do you suppose Father’s done something criminal?” (Ann had been seeing old movies on television, too.) “Not Father,” said Roger. “He’s too nice and not half crafty enough. The police would catch him right away.” “Maybe they have,” said Ann. But it turned out neither guess was right. For the voices stopped and the door opened at last, as voices and doors will, and their mother and father came out, and looked at them with false bright smiles, and said it was time for dinner. And dinner was their mother’s specially good meat loaf and popovers, but somehow the two children couldn’t enjoy any of it, and every popover was as lead. Finally Roger put his fourth popover down on his plate half-eaten, and burst into speech. “It’s not fair,” he said. “It’s not fair, not telling us what’s the matter, when anybody could see something is!” “We’re not babies,” Ann chimed in. “We can stand it, no matter how terrible.” “It’s not terrible,” their father said. “Only I’m afraid we won’t get to the Rocky Mountains this summer, or Wampler’s Lake, either.” And then he said he guessed he’d go and serve the dessert, and while he was out of the room their mother told them. She told them their father had something wrong inside, and he was going to have to go to a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to have it made well. And because she didn’t want to be separated from their father at a time like this, their mother was going to Baltimore, Maryland, too. And because it was all going to cost a lot of money, they wouldn’t be able to send the children somewhere else for their vacation, and so she and Roger and Ann were going to have to spend the next few weeks in Baltimore, Maryland, and no one could tell how many weeks it would be, but maybe it would be the whole summer. “Your father hopes you won’t be too disappointed about the mountains and the lake,” she finished. Roger didn’t say anything for a minute. Then he got red. Then he said, “It isn’t that. It’s Father.” “I know,” said their mother. “Is it serious?” said Roger. “Doctor Reese is almost certain he’ll be all right,” said their mother. “Almost,” said Roger. “I know,” said their mother. Ann didn’t say anything. But when their father came in a second later with the dessert, which happened to be Royal Anne cherries and sponge cake, she ran to take the tray from him, as though its weight might be too much for his feeble strength. And Roger jumped up and pulled their father’s chair out for him, as though he might not be able to manage it alone. And when they took their places at the table again, Ann didn’t eat, but sat looking at their father with an expression on her face that Roger would have called icky if he hadn’t had a sneaking suspicion that he was looking the same way himself. Their father ate two Royal Anne cherries. Then he looked up and saw Roger and Ann. He swallowed hard, as if he were swallowing a pit in one of the cherries. Then he grinned. “Look, kids,” he said. “We may as well get this straight. I don’t have a pain, and I’m not weak and pining away and having to be waited on. I’ve just got something mixed up inside that has to be straightened out, and we’re going where the doctors are who can do that best. And we won’t any of us have time to worry, because we’ve got to leave in three days and it’ll take all that time to get ready.” After that, Roger and Ann found that their dessert went down more easily, though neither of them was ever able to feel quite the same about sponge cake or Royal Ann cherries again. Still, if their father could be brave, who were they to be behindhand? Their mother was making plans. “Maybe we can stay with your Aunt Katharine while your father’s in the hospital,” she was saying. “No, Martha,” said their father. “We can’t go wishing ourselves on people, like that.” “I don’t know why not,” said their mother. “My own sister. That beautiful big house.” “Even so,” said their father, two words which were law in that house. “I’ll call her, anyway,” said their mother. “Maybe she can find us an inexpensive hotel.” Ann and Roger looked at each other. The words didn’t sound very promising, suggesting mean chandeliers with light bulbs that were too small, and long dark corridors and a draught coming in under the door. Still, this was no time for selfishness; so they volunteered to do the dinner dishes, and tried to cheer each other with bright conversation. Once Ann said, “Poor Father,” and Roger said, “Yes,” and once Roger said, “You forgot to scour the sink,” and Ann said she was just going to. When they came out of the kitchen their mother was just hanging up the telephone. “She insisted, Fred. I just knew she would,” she was saying. “Children, we are staying with Aunt Katharine after all. Now you’ll have Jack and Eliza to play with.” “Oh,” said Roger. Ann threw him an understanding look. “Oh what?” said their mother. “Nothing,” said Roger. And then it was time for Ann to go to bed, and Roger to go upstairs for a half hour of tapering off before his own bedtime. “Jack and Eliza!” muttered Ann to Roger, on the stairs. “Help!” Up till two years ago their cousins Jack and Eliza had lived in the same town they did. The last they’d seen of Eliza she’d been just about the bossiest nine-year-old girl on her, or any other, block. As for Jack, all he cared about was his Leica camera, and spent all his time in his darkroom, only coming out for meals, or, as Ann once said wittily, to cast his shadow, like Groundhog Day. “He’s pretty good at baseball, though,” said Roger. “That,” said Ann, “is small comfort.” “Ann, go to bed,” said her mother, from below; so she did. But once there, she lay awake wondering about Baltimore, Maryland. All the words made her think of was a Baltimore oriole. She tried to picture a city all orange and black, like an oriole’s feathers. After a bit she tiptoed over to the bookcase and found The American Family Encyclopedia, Volume One, A—Boon. Baltimore, Maryland, she read, was the eighth largest city in the United States, population 859,100. Chief industries, iron and steel, straw hats, et cetera. She got back into bed and shut her eyes, seeing a sky flaming with the orange of many steel forges, while in the black iron foundries below 859,100 dark figures labored, all wearing straw hats. “Only I should think the straw hats’d catch fire,” she murmured to herself. A second later she was asleep. In his room, Roger sat on the floor among the two hundred and fifty-six model soldiers, and absently started a small war. He wouldn’t have done it if anyone had been looking, of course. Now that he was eleven, he kept the soldiers just as a collection. But when he felt lonely or unhappy, or when things went wrong, he sometimes still secretly played with them, for all the world as though he were still only ten-and-a-half. Two hundred and seven of Roger’s soldiers were modern ones, British grenadiers and such, that he had bought himself, or been given. Thirty-one were World War One veterans that had belonged to his father, and seventeen were survivors of the Spanish American War, and of many a nursery battle since the days of Roger’s grandfather. The two hundred and fifty-sixth soldier was much older, even, than any of these. No one knew exactly where it had come from in the first place, but Roger’s father said it had been in his family for generations. No one could tell what kind of soldier it was, or even if it was a soldier at all, because all its paint was worn off, and its weapon, if any, had disappeared in the sands of time. But it was the size of a model soldier, and Roger and his father before him, and his father before him, had played with it along with their own soldiers, though each one’s father had said it was an antique and shouldn’t be handled. Roger called it the old one, and usually gave it special duties like being a sentinel or scout, so that it wouldn’t be damaged in the heat of battle. Roger’s battles (particularly when he felt lonely or unhappy) were usually very heated indeed. But tonight even the familiar call to arms wasn’t much comfort. There was a small skirmish, and several gallant privates bit the dust, but Roger’s heart wasn’t really in it, and after a minute or two he got into bed and put out the light. And if he took one of the soldiers to bed with him I hope you will not scorn him too much. A model soldier is not the same thing as a teddy bear at all. Taking a model soldier to bed with you is much more mature, and more manly, too. It was the old one Roger held in his hand, and as he lay thinking about the weeks ahead in Baltimore, Maryland, he clutched it hard. Of course if their father were going to be all right, that was the main thing. But he wished something fun and exciting could happen to him in Baltimore, Maryland, too. Just as he was thinking this thought, a voice spoke. It wasn’t the voice of conscience, either. It seemed to come from somewhere very near Roger, and it seemed both cross and sleepy. “A murrain!” it seemed to say. “Just as I was beginning to feel rested! Ah well, back into the fray, a soldier’s lot is not a happy one, a plague on it! Still, needs must when duty calls! I could not love sleep half so much loved I not honor more!” Roger sat up in bed. His hand tickled. For a second he could have sworn the old one was stirring in his grasp, stretching and yawning. Roger opened his hand quickly, and the old one fell to the floor by the side of the bed, landing in a standing position. “Rough play, by the rood!” he seemed to say. A moonbeam shining through the window struck a silver glint from his battered countenance, and for a moment he seemed to be turning to the other soldiers lined up on the floor, as though giving them a word of command. And then for another moment it seemed as though all the soldiers were moving in the soft light, marching toward Roger: Roger rubbed his eyes and opened them again. The soldiers were still now. Nothing had happened. Naturally. “I must be sleepier than I thought,” Roger said to himself. “I’m seeing things that aren’t there.” And he plumped up his pillow and put his head down on it and went to sleep.