We’ll start a new 12-part serial on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, today and Friday afternoon, we have two stories complete in single episodes.
From the Children’s Friend, April 1941 –
When Wishes Were Bicycles
By Nan Pierson Hitt
“Oh, Ted, our potatoes are up!” Tess was so out of breath from running that the words came out in little gasps as she leaned against the shed wall.
Ted looked up from the cow he was milking. A light had leaped into his eyes which matched the brightness of hers.
“How do you know, Tess? Have you been out to the field? he asked.
Tess nodded, too breathless to answer.
The milking finished, Ted started to the house, Tess skipping at his heels. At the breakfast table she hastened to repeat her news to the grandparents with whom she and Ted made their home.
“It begins to look like bicycles for us, doesn’t it, Grandpa?” Tess laughed lightly as though it were a joke, but Ted knew that a bicycle was the dearest wish of her heart and, for that matter, it was of his, also. A bicycle would be almost like wings to take them to school. The miles would seem like nothing at all, skimming over them on a bicycle.
Ted remembered when he and Tess first came to the ranch to live. Grandpa had met them at the railroad station in Ferndale and had driven them the three miles out to the ranch in his car, which was old even then. On the way they had passed a small rural schoolhouse. “That is where you will go,” he had said, pointing to it. “And, see, there’s our place over there to the right, where that clump of poplars is.”
The children had strained their eyes to see the clump of poplars that was to mean “home” to them, found it, and felt somehow a little less strange in this new land.
“It’s nice that we are going to live close to the school,” Tess had said bravely.
That had been two years ago. Now they had finished grade school and were ready for high school, and high school was three miles from the ranch. Unlike some of the adjoining school districts, Ferndale did not run school buses.
“I am so glad we are going to have bicycles to ride to school that I could shout,” Tess remarked one day soon after the potatoes were up. “I could walk to school if I had to, I suppose, but riding will be such fun!”
“The potatoes aren’t harvested yet,” Ted reminded her.
“With a stand like we’ve got we needn’t worry,” Tess answered.
“Wish this wind would quit blowing,” Ted spoke irritably. “I don’t like this weather.”
“I don’t either. It’s too hot for this early in the summer.”
“Grandpa says he remembers only one other year just like this one,” Ted mused.
“That was the year when they were so short of water Grandma even had to let her garden go.” There was a note of fear in Tess’s voice. “Oh, Ted, you don’t think –”
Ted spoke reassuringly. “You know when we planted the potatoes Grandpa said that the water prospects weren’t very good, but he thought, by careful management, we could make a crop.” Then seeing her gaze turn doubtfully up toward the mountains whose fast melting snows furnished their water for irrigation, he added with unaccustomed gentleness, “Come, Sis. Quit worrying. let’s get out our stamps. We haven’t looked at them for a long time.”
Ted opened his album to the page at which he always turned first. “I wouldn’t give up these seals for all the stamps in the book,” he said. He gazed proudly at his very incomplete collection of the Christmas seals which are put out every year by the American Red Cross Association, to secure funds with which to carry on their work against tuberculosis.
Tess also turned to the page in her album that sparkled with the color and cheer of the Christmas season. “I might trade some of the recent ones,” she replied judiciously, “but I’d hate to have to part with this one.” She pointed fondly to a gay red and green seal on which brilliant poinsettias and red crosses were enclosed in a green circle.
“Pretty lucky for us, finding that old letter of Grandma’s,” Ted commented.
“When I spied those two seals and saw December 13, 1913, stamped on the envelope, I was most too happy for words,” Tess mused.
“That’s saying a lot for you,” Ted replied dryly, but Tess only laughed. She was used to being teased.
The glint of the collector was in Ted’s eyes. “I believe I’d rather have a complete set of these Red Cross seals than anything I know of,” he burst out impetuously.
“More than a bicycle?” Tess probed.
Ted hesitated. “That’s too much like playing London Bridge,” he countered. “Anyway, I see Grandpa coming. He’s been to town and will have things to carry to the house from the car. Let’s give him a lift.”
Grandpa wasn’t as cheery as usual. He didn’t joke the way he usually did, or tease Tess about talking so much. He just went into the house and sat down by the window, as though he were very tired.
At last he said slowly, “I heard in town this afternoon that we will get only one ‘run’ more of water, and that a short one – possibly for two or three days only.”
“That means we won’t be able to make a potato crop, doesn’t it?” Ted asked quickly.
His grandfather nodded. “One watering wouldn’t be enough for potatoes even if we had a big enough head of water to go over them, which we haven’t. It looks like all we’ll be able to do will be to irrigate part of the hay. Then we will have some winter feed for the stock, at least.”
“I don’t understand it,” Tess stormed to her brother when she went with him to fetch the cows to be milked. “There’s been lots of snow on the mountains all winter.”
“The trouble isn’t that there hasn’t been enough snowfall,” Ted explained. “It is the hot weather coming so early in the summer. Ordinarily the snow up there would melt slowly and run off gradually into the mountain creeks, but this year so much of it has evaporated that only a small part has come down here.”
“All of which means that we will not ride to school this fall on bicycles.” Tess reduced the situation to the terms she best understood.
The days that followed were busy ones at the ranch. The short run of water was due, and every farmer, with all the help he could muster, was busy getting his ditches ready for it. Weeds had to be cleaned away, and everything possible done to get the precious water through without waste.
“Too bad we can’t have all the water we need to irrigate with,” Ted sighed. His grandfather sighed, too, as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead, then fanned himself briefly with his hat. For the first time it occurred to Ted that not once had he thought of what the water shortage was going to mean to anyone but himself and Tess.
“Isn’t there anything – not one single thing that we could do to get enough water, grandpa?” Ted burst out.
His grandfather looked at him for a moment as though he weren’t a boy at all, but a man with the same problems as his own. Then he said simply, “There’s extra water can be bought, Ted, off of land that isn’t being farmed, but I can’t see my way to buy any. We’ll just have to make the best of what we’ve got, I guess.”
Ted shoveled ditch the remainder of the afternoon, but he could not get his grandfather’s words out of his mind, nor the picture of the tired old man going slowly toward the house, his shovel over his shoulder.
Tess was stirring something at the stove, when Ted came in, but with his first glimpse of her, he knew something had happened. “We’ve had company,” she greeted him excitedly. “It was the boy whose father owns the land across the road that the Olsons are farming. this boy – Bob, his name is – came in to talk to us, while Mr. Thomas – that’s his father – was talking to Grandpa. Bob is interested in stamps, too, and so is his father. and what do you think? Mr. Thomas has nearly a complete set of the Christmas seals, even has the first one ever put out, in 1907.”
“Has he a 1913?” Ted hardly knew whether he hoped the answer would be “yes” or “no.”
“Bob isn’t sure. He said there are a few his father doesn’t have. He has paid a lot of money to get some of them. Oh, Ted, you don’t think – ”
Ted didn’t wait for her to finish. “Whether he has a 1913 or not, mine isn’t for sale,” he said flatly.
“But, Ted, maybe it might buy bicycles,” Tess faltered.
“Sell yours if you want to,” Ted replied. “I’d rather walk to school than part with mine.” He tried to dismiss the subject with that, and did manage to put away from him the thought of both bicycles and stamps, but, try as he would, Ted couldn’t forget the hopeless resignation in his grandfather’s voice when he spoke of the extra water.
Watching him pick up his shovel after supper and go out to work again, it came to Ted quite suddenly what he wanted to do. After that, he could hardly finish his chores quickly enough. He was in such a hurry that he dashed into the house, combed his hair, grabbed up something out of his bureau drawer, and was out again, before Tess hardly knew what was going on.
She had not long to wonder, for Ted was back in an incredibly short time. There was a curious air of elation, of subdued excitement about him as he beckoned his sister to follow him.
Out on the porch his caution left him. “Mr. Thomas will buy the 1913 seals,” he explained. “He hasn’t any of that issue, and there is considerable value to them, he says. He will take both of them – that is, if you want to sell yours – ”
“Will they bring enough to buy bicycles?”
“Bicycles!” Ted repeated blankly. Then, almost incredulously, “Why, I’d almost forgotten about them. Yes, they’d bring enough to buy bicycles, but I wanted to help Grandpa buy more water, so he can irrigate all of his hay. I never realized until this afternoon all he is up against, getting only part of a crop, and there was so much expense last winter with grandma’s sickness, you know.”
Tess nodded, her eyes bright with sympathy. ‘he can have my stamp if it will do any good,” she said impulsively. ‘Look! Here he comes now. Let’s tell him.”
The old man leaned on his shovel, attempting to comprehend what Tess and Ted were trying at the time to say. Gradually, as it became clear, some of the worry and anxiety that had been stamped on his face, seemed to leave it.
“I shall never forget,” he said, shaking his head slowly, “what you have offered to do for me. I know how much you want those bicycles – need them, too,” he added briskly. “Three miles is a long walk to school. Of course I could probably take you part of the time in the car, but there would be a great many times you would have to walk.” Again he shook his head, but neither Tess nor Ted would let him dismiss their offer in that fashion. Two against one, they drowned his protests with their own. “We want you to have it,” they pleaded. “Please take it, Grandpa.”
There was a twinkle in their grandfather’s eyes when he reached out both his hands, taking one of Tess’s in his right, and one of Ted’s in his left. “all right, then – partners,” he surrendered.
It was almost unbelievable how fast the summer sped by after that, with work and good times all mixed up together as though they had been stirred in a huge mixing bowl. Bob Thomas and his parents moved out on their land across from that on which Tess and Ted lived, and a warm friendship, fostered perhaps by their mutual interest in stamps, grew up between the young people.
When only a week of vacation remained, Bob came over jubilantly one morning with the announcement that he and his father were going to town to purchase a new bicycle.
“It is for me to ride to school,” he explained. “Wish you both had one so we could all ride together.”
“Wish so, too,” was all Ted could find to say.
That evening Bob rode over on the shiny new bicycle to show Tess and Ted, and when they had duly admired it, Bob said sympathetically. “It’s a shame you haven’t bicycles.”
“Oh, we’ll have them next year,” Tess tried to say brightly.
Bob rode away just as their grandfather came into the yard. There was a spring in his step that had not been there earlier in the summer. “I’ve just sold the hay – our hay,” he repeated with emphasis. “At a good price, too. Hay is scarce all over the tract on account of the water shortage, and consequently higher tan it has been for years. Bob’s father is going to need a lot of it for his sheep this winter, so he’s made me a good offer for ours. I’ve sold him all I can spare.”
Tess and Ted were listening breathlessly, but their grandfather did not give them a chance to say a word. With unusual loquacity, he continued, “Now what do you say about going into town and picking out two bicycles?”
For once Tess had nothing to say. Words, in this great moment, simply failed her. Ted answered for them both. “I’d say we’ll go!” he said joyfully.