|Product dimensions:||5.24(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.73(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 11 Years|
About the Author
EDWARD EAGER (1911–1964) worked primarily as a playwright and lyricist. It wasn't until 1951, while searching for books to read to his young son, Fritz, that he began writing children's stories. His classic Tales of Magic series started with the best-selling Half Magic, published in 1954. In each of his books he carefully acknowledges his indebtedness to E. Nesbit, whom he considered the best children's writer of all time—"so that any child who likes my books and doesn't know hers may be led back to the master of us all."
Read an Excerpt
1The Wishing Well
Laura sat looking out of the window, watching houses and barns and woods wheel slowly by, as the tiny train chugged uphill. If you had seen her sitting there, with her square frame and her square forehead and her square-cut thick dark hair, you would have thought she looked like a solid, dependable girl, and you would have been right, but there was more to Laura than that. Behind the square forehead her thoughts were adventurous. Now she bounced on the seat impatiently. When would they get there? Her brother James came down the aisle and squeezed in next to her. “Seventeen minutes exactly,” he said, looking at his watch and answering her unspoken question. James always knew things exactly. If he didn’t know, he found out. Right now he had been in conference with the conductor. “Seventeen minutes more, and a whole new life will unfold!” gloated Laura. “Oh, James, isn’t it going to be wonderful?” “Wait and see,” said James. He was never one to commit himself. “Oh, James,” said Laura again, in tones of disgust. Neither she nor anyone else had ever called James “Jimmy,” or even “Jim,” but it wasn’t for the reasons you might think. He wasn’t stodgy or prissy or no fun; James was a leader. With his broad shoulders and his steady blue eyes and his firm jaw he looked serious and practical and he was, but that wasn’t all there was to it. Behind the blue eyes his thoughts were deep. “I found out all about it,” he went on. “There’re five stops before we get there. The trains aren’t always dinky little one-car ones like this; in rush hours there’re two cars and sometimes three. They leave every hour on the hour. Here. Have a timetable.” Laura put the timetable in her pocket and stored the information away in her mind. She and James both liked useful facts; you could never tell when they might come in handy, though why, once they were really settled in the country, they would ever want to take a train away from it, Laura couldn’t imagine. To live in the country had been her heart’s desire ever since she could remember, and now they were actually moving there. Today was moving day. In seventeen, no, fifteen, minutes now, they would be there. Laura bounced in her seat again. “Cemetery!” cried the conductor, and the one car that called itself a train ground to a halt. Laura wondered if a town could really be called Cemetery and what it felt like to live there. She caught James’s eye and giggled. “Think how the people’s friends must feel, addressing Christmas cards to them there!” said James, just as if she had spoken aloud. He and Laura could often read each other’s minds. Maybe it was because they were twins, though not identical. “It’s even better than looking alike,” Laura often said. “We’ve got identical minds.” “Not exactly,” James would remind her. “Who didn’t get A in Arithmetic?” “Oh, that!” Laura would toss her head. “Who would want to?” But today her mind and James’s were like two hearts that beat as one, and she knew he was every bit as excited as she was, though he didn’t let on. It was exciting to be on the train by themselves, and it was exciting to be moving (though they had done that every October first, anyway, back in the city), but to be moving to the country was the excitement beside which all others paled. The way they were moving was interesting in itself. First the big van had left early that morning with all the furniture, then the brand-new secondhand car with Mother and Father and Deborah who was the baby in the front seat, and all the suitcases piled in back. There were lots of suitcases, and that was why James and Laura had to come on the train. “And which of us will get there first,” Father had said, “is in the lap of providence. You’ve got your key.” Standing on the sidewalk in front of the apartment house and waving after the disappearing car, Laura had felt suddenly very empty and deserted, but only for a moment. “Don’t look back,” James had counseled wisely, hailing a taxi in an offhand and independent manner. And then came Grand Central Station and crowds, and the fast express train, and changing at Stamford, which was in Connecticut but didn’t look like country at all, and now here they were on the last lap of the journey that was to bring them to their first sight of the red house. They knew it was red and they knew it was old, but that was all they knew. All Laura’s friends thought she was perfectly foolhardy to be moving off to the country without looking at the house first, but Laura had wanted it that way. After their first weekend of scouring the countryside with their parents, she and James had decided that house-hunting was not for them. “The trouble is,” said Laura, “we fall in love with each new place, and then there’s always something wrong with it, and we don’t take it, and we’re left wondering what would have happened if we had! We can’t go round all our lives being homesick for a lot of houses we’ve never lived in! It’s too much to expect.” And James had agreed. “Remember the wonderful big yellow house with the lake?” said Laura to James now, as they rode along. “It had termites,” said James. “And the one that used to be a barn, with the three-story living room?” “The porch sagged,” said James, “and there was a dead fox in the auxiliary well.” “Do you suppose this one’ll be even half as good?” “It’s older. It was built way back before the Revolution. George Washington had his Connecticut headquarters there,” James reminded her. “It must be full of history,” Laura agreed. “Maybe it’s haunted,” said James hopefully. “Or magic. Like Seekings House, where Kay Harker lived,” said Laura, looking down at her train book, which was The Midnight Folk, that wonderful story by Mr. John Masefield. She was rereading it for the third time. “No.” James shook his head regretfully. “I guess that would be too much to expect. You never hear about magic happening to anybody anymore. I guess it’s had its day.” “Are you sure?” said a voice. James and Laura looked up, startled. A face was regarding them over the back of the seat just ahead. It was a girl’s face, thin and sunburned, with high cheekbones and wide-set gray eyes. Long, straight fair hair hung down on each side of the face, giving it an old-fashioned appearance. “What did you say?” stammered Laura. “I said what makes you so sure?” said the girl the face belonged to. “Just ’cause magic never happened to you, it doesn’t mean it isn’t lurking around still, waiting to turn up when you least expect it!” “What do you know about it?” said James, with surprising rudeness, Laura thought. “A lot,” said the girl. “I ought to. My grandmother’s a witch.” “Humph!” said James, who seemed to have taken a dislike to the strange girl. “Wait and see, that’s all!” said the girl. “Drop a wish in the wishing well, and wait and see!” And she clambered down from the seat she’d been kneeling on and went loping long-leggedly past them toward the end of the car. Before they could make up their minds to follow, the conductor was calling, “Last stop! All out!” and the aisle was clogged with homing travellers. By the time James and Laura could catch up their goods and chattels and the game of Scrabble they’d bought to while away the flagging hours, the strange girl had vanished. But from the platform Laura caught sight of her again, all the way across the station yard. She was jumping into a big high-shouldered car that looked ancient enough to be obsolete at least. Laura couldn’t see the person driving the car very well, but she got an impression of a gaunt, weather-beaten face and flyaway gray hair. “Look!” she cried, squeezing James’s arm and pointing. “That must be her grandmother. She does look like a witch!” James paid her no heed. He was striding along with the stubborn look of practical common sense on his face that he always wore when he didn’t want to be bothered with some girlish foolishness; so Laura held her peace. But in the taxicab she brought up the subject again. “She seemed to know all about what house we’re going to,” she said. “How do you suppose she knew there’s a wishing well?” “Maybe there isn’t,” said James. “She was prob’ly just making the whole thing up. Or if she wasn’t, well, she heard us say that about George Washington, didn’t she? The house must be pretty famous if he had his headquarters there.” “I don’t know,” said Laura. “From what I’ve heard, he seems to have slept in a lot of houses. I guess he was pretty sociable.” They had left the little town behind now, and there were woods and fields, with a house or two every so often. The taxicab turned a corner and James read the sign at one side. “Silvermine Road!” he said. “That’s where we’re going.” All thought of the strange girl was forgotten as he and Laura peered ahead, looking for red houses. And at last they saw one, and it turned out to be the right one, and the taxicab stopped at the gate. The house was long and low and there was a white picket fence with hollyhocks. “And look!” cried Laura excitedly. “See the wishing well!” “I see a well,” said James cautiously, paying the cabdriver. There was no sign of the moving van or the family car; so James got out his key and marched purposefully up the flagged path, while Laura lingered, looking at the flowers that grew all around the house and wondering what the uncommon ones were. She had never had a garden. But she caught up with James by the time he got the key to turn in the stiff lock, and they pushed forward together over the threshold into cool darkness. To pull up the blinds was the work of but a moment, and then all was discovery and conquest. “Dibs on this room!” said James, running up the steep stairway and finding a long, low, sloping-roofed, dormered bedroom that had been made by throwing two smaller rooms together. Luckily there was another room just like it right next door that could be Laura’s; so that was all right. And downstairs the living room had an immense fireplace that was big enough to stand up in (because James tried), with an old-fashioned crane and a Dutch oven. “And probably a secret room somewhere to hide from the Tories in!” said Laura. But though they pushed and pulled at the woodwork, no panel slid aside and no door popped open; so they went outdoors again. James gave the well (wishing or otherwise) a wide berth and a contemptuous look and strode on to the back of the house, and Laura followed. The backyard stretched itself grassily out, with plenty of room for croquet and badminton both, besides a long flower border at each side and a rock garden at the far end that merged into a stony wood that seemed to go on forever. “‘This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks,’” said Laura. “Only it’s birch and maple mostly,” said James, who, though a city boy, had been a Boy Scout and was knowledgeable about such things. “There’re three acres of land altogether. I remember, from when Father signed the deed for the house.” “Who,” said Laura, “could ask for anything more?” Part of James and Laura wanted to stay and explore the wood right now and see what wildflowers grew there (Laura) and what was the best place for camping out (James). But there was another part of them that couldn’t settle down to doing any one thing for very long today, which is a feeling you may have noticed yourself on your first day in a new place. Now James said he thought he’d walk up the road and meet Father and Mother and Deborah, and Laura said it was too hot for walking and she’d rather go back inside and explore some more and make plans and reconnoiter, so they separated. Inside the house Laura felt wonderfully in charge and monarch of all she surveyed. It was like playing house when she was little, only real. First she went upstairs to her bedroom and arranged all the furniture in her mind’s eye. Then she went down to the living room and pretended it was a winter evening and they were all sitting round the fire with a north wind howling outside. Then she went into the dining room to see what the view would be every morning from the breakfast table. After that she felt like sitting down, only there weren’t any chairs; so she went and perched on the front-hall staircase. But the stairs weren’t very comfortable, and after a bit she began to realize that waiting alone in an unfurnished house can have its spooky side, with nothing happening but empty listening silence and motes of dust filtering through the sunlight and collecting on the floor. She went outside again and looked up and down the road. There was no sign of James. Still, it was a winding road; probably he’d just turned round a corner. Laura decided to stroll as far as the nearest bend and look for him. But first she crossed the road to the woodsy, brambly, thorny thicket just opposite to take another look at the house and get used to the fact that it was home now. And it was then that her glance fell on the well, and she remembered the strange girl on the train again. She went back across the road and into her own yard. The well looked the way a wishing well ought to look, with its small, gabled, vine-clad roof built over the wellhead and a rope hanging down inside. Laura peered over the edge and thought she saw the bucket, halfway down. “Why not?” she said aloud, to air and grass and roses and a catbird in an elderbush. She was the kind of girl who always had a pencil in her pocket, and to find a scrap of old shelf paper in the kitchen was the work of a moment. But deciding what to wish wasn’t so easy. Being a well-brought-up girl, Laura had read plenty of fairy tales, and had always been loud in her scorn of the people in them who wasted their wishes on black puddings and wanting to be beautiful as the day or have pockets lined with gold. She had always been sure she could manage better than that, when her time came. Yet now that it had come, her mind was a blank. After all, she reasoned with herself, it didn’t have to be something big and important to start out with. Any common everyday wish would do for a sample, to test the well and see if it had the right stuff in it. Then if it did, she could tell James and they’d plan everything out, and the really important magic of the summer could begin. Laura had got this far in her thoughts when she heard a shout and a rattle. She looked up. A car was just coming round the bend. Laura could tell it was their car by the bicycles strapped to the roof. And besides, James was riding on the running board (it was an old enough car to have running boards, not one of your modern streamlined finny monsters where all attempts to find toehold are a vain mockery). And Deborah was hanging out a window and calling something unintelligible in her hoarse bass voice that was always such a shock to strangers, coming from her pretty baby face. Laura thought quickly. Only a second more and they would be there. And if James arrived on the scene and saw how childish she was being, she would never live it down. And Deborah would want to know all about it and butt in. Without more ado, she scribbled the first six words that came into her head. The words were, “I wish I had a kitten.” It was a dull wish, but her own. And if there were magic, and it chose to be difficult and turn against her, the way magic so often did in books, Laura didn’t see how a wish like that could do any harm. A kitten would always come in handy. She crumpled the paper into a ball, tossed it down the well, and ran to open the gate. And then Moving Day began in earnest. First there were all the heavy suitcases to lug into the house and put in the right rooms. And before James and Laura were half finished with that, the moving van arrived, and all was loud tramping and heavy breathing and dull thuds and keeping Deborah out from under the moving men’s feet. And when the men finally left, there were the suitcases to unpack and clothes to be put away in bureau drawers, and the china barrels to unload and all the dishes to be washed and stacked on shelves, and after that most of the furniture had to be moved from the places where they’d told the moving men to put it to the other places where on second thought they all agreed it looked lots better. It was late in the afternoon when the family assembled dustily in the living room. “The things from the apartment look kind of skimpy in all this space, don’t they?” said James. “Never mind. We’ll find wonderful things here. There’ll be auctions,” said their mother, the gleam of the antique-hunter in her eye. “Auctions!” James and Laura savored the word, remembering sundry movies in which people went to auctions and bought old chests that contained maps of buried treasure in secret drawers. “What’s an auction?” said Deborah. “Generally,” said their father, collapsing on the sofa and flicking a curlicue of china-packing newspaper from his right eyebrow, “it is a snare and a delusion. Never have I been so weary. I thought tonight we’d all go out to dinner. Now I doubt if I can face it.” Their mother looked round at their tired faces. “Baths for everybody,” she announced, “and pajamas and early bed. There’s canned soup in the carton with the pots and pans.” “You think of everything,” said their father admiringly. The canned soup was tomato and pea mixed, which is delicious. It was consumed in silence, save for the crunching of saltines. And then everyone staggered upstairs. Laura was brushing her hair dreamily before her dressing-table mirror when she heard the hoofbeats. She ran to the window. It was night, but the moon had risen. In the moonlight a black horse galloped along the edge of the road past the house (keeping off the pavement, which is bad for horses’ hoofs). And riding the horse, her fair hair streaming on the wind, was a girl. It was the girl from the train. “She is magic!” gasped Laura. “Something’s going to happen!” She would have run for the wishing well, but the horse and the girl were gone now. The hoofbeats died away in the distance. Laura decided she’d sit down on the bed for a minute first. Then she decided she’d lie back on the pillow, just for a second. How long after that it was that she heard the sound, Laura never knew. It was a creaking sound, just the kind of noise that magic might make if it were winding the bucket up from its watery depths to get at the wish. But would magic do that? Wouldn’t it sooner dive down the well and grant the wish from there? Or even more likely, wouldn’t it live at the bottom and catch the wishes as they came down? She must run to the window again and see what was happening. Any second now she would. But sleep was all around her, like a downy, feathery, pillowy cloud. She sank into it. The next thing she knew, it was morning.
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