The Well-Wishers

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9780152020729: The Well-Wishers

The wishing well is all used up, its magic drained, its enchantment gone dry.
     Or has it?
     In a reckless moment, Gordy threatens the old well, telling it to get going with its magic or else! and that seems to do the trick. Suddenly Laura, Lydia, James, and Kip—who feared their autumn would unfold without magic—are plunged into just the sort of outlandish adventures they'd longed for.
     But is it really the well's magic that transforms troublemaker Dicky LeBaron from ne'er-do-well to hero? Or keeps Appledore's orchard—and love life—in bloom? Or sends James on a doubly daring rescue of a damsel in distress?
     What does it matter? Sometimes the best kind of magic is the kind that isn't so magical at all. . . .

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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."
 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
James Begins

I know people who say they can read any kind of book except an “I” book, and sometimes I think I agree with them. When I say “I” books, I mean the kind where somebody tells the story, and it starts out, “Little did I think when I first saw the red house how large it would loom in my life.” And later on, the person sees a sinister stranger digging a grave in the garden and he says, “If I had only remembered to telephone the police next morning, seven murders might have been averted.”
     Laura and I often run into books like that, and Laura always says she holds the people who tell those stories in utter contempt, which is her way of saying they give her a pain. If we saw a sinister stranger digging a grave in our garden, we would remember to telephone the police, all right. And when we first saw our red house, we knew how large it would loom.
     Laura is my sister, and not bad as sisters go. Sometimes she has quite sound ideas.
     One of her ideas was that we should tell the story this way, “I” book or not. Because the things that happened that winter happened to six of us (not counting parents), and the way they happened was different for each person. The way we felt about it was different for each person, too. So it is only right that each one should tell his part.
     Laura says I should begin the whole thing because I have a well-organized mind. I am not boasting. That about my mind is what Mrs. Van Nest said one day. Mrs. Van Nest is our teacher, and sometimes her ideas are quite sound, too. She lets us do book reports on any book we like, and it doesn’t have to be on the list.
     So I am beginning this story, and after that each one will tell what happened to him or her, as the case may be, and each one will tell it in his own way. Only we have made one rule, which is not to tell about the days when nothing happened, because who would want to read about them? And another rule is not to put in things that don’t mean anything and are just there to try to make it more exciting. Like saying, “There I stood, my heart beating.” Naturally your heart would be beating. Otherwise you wouldn’t be standing there; you’d be lying down dead.
     But we are going to stick to the facts.
     The first important fact about me is that my name is James Alexander Martin and I am in grade six-one-A, Mrs. Van Nest’s homeroom. Kip and Laura and Lydia are all in my class, too, but Gordy is in six-one-B and has to have Miss Wilson. Wow, do I pity him!
     We try to be specially kind to Gordy, for that and other reasons, but sometimes we forget. Gordy is not a person who makes it easy for other people always to remember. Sometimes we have to be firm with him for his own good, but we try never to stoop to physical violence. Physical violence never solved anything in the world, we all realize. But sometimes with Gordy we forget that, too, or at least Kip and I do. Girls are soft.
     If you wonder why Laura and I are in the same class in school, it is because we are the same age, being twins. But we do not look alike, or think alike, either, particularly about the magic, only that comes later.
     As for my other sister Deborah, she is a mere babe, just starting the first grade, and by rights she shouldn’t come into this story at all. But rights have never meant a great deal to Deborah.
     The story I’m talking about began one day in fall.
     Of course it really began long before that, way back at the beginning of the summer, when Laura and I and our family first moved into the red house on Silvermine Road. Before that we lived in New York City.
     The red house has a well in the garden, and the day we moved in a girl called Lydia Green, who lives in a funny big old place up the road, told us that it was a wishing well. Of course I knew better than to believe that. But Laura would believe anything, or try to.
     Still, some very strange things did happen that summer. A lot of quite good wishes came true and some pretty keen good turns got done. That was the way the well was supposed to work. Selfish wishes didn’t mean a thing to it.
     We got our heart’s desire in the end, too, just like in that book The Wonderful Garden by E. Nesbit that Laura is so crazy about. It is not a bad book, by the way. A boy runs away and so does a tiger, and a portrait comes to life. The ending is nifty, if you’re young enough to believe in magic.
     I’m not sure whether I am young enough or not. Mostly I think not. Magic doesn’t seem at all like the kind of thing that would be true, when you come to think of it. Still, neither do airplanes and electric lights and outer space, when you come to think of them. And it’s hard to explain the things that happened that summer any other way. Or the things that have been happening since, either. Of course it may all be a coincidence, the way Kip keeps saying.
     Kip is a boy called Christopher, only he never is. Never is called that, I mean. He lives on our road, too, across from Lydia. He is a good kid, and just about my best friend, I guess.
     He and Lydia and Laura and I were in on the magic (if that’s what it was) from the beginning. Gordy didn’t come into it till later in the summer. We didn’t ask him in exactly, but once he was there, we didn’t mind. Sometimes his ideas are every bit as sound as ours. All he needs is to be curbed once in a while, and shoved back on the right road. He is the victim of an unfortunate environment. His mother is rich. His full name is Gordon T. Witherspoon III.
     When we first made the wish about our heart’s desire, we weren’t quite sure what our heart’s desire was, but when we got it, we knew. What it turned out to be was a little old house in the woods, all our own, to have for our secret clubhouse. How we found the house in the first place, and what we found in it, and exactly how it got to be ours is another story, and if you want to read that story, you will have to get a book called Magic or Not? that tells all about it. But we did not write that book ourselves; so it does not have all our thoughts in it, the way this book will.
     The part about the heart’s desire came right at the end of the summer, and after that the magic (if it was magic) seemed to be played out. At least we made quite a few perfectly good wishes on the well and they never came true, no matter how noble. That was all right with me, if that was how the well wanted things to end. But the girls said it was probably just resting and would start up again one day when we least expected it. You never can tell with magic. Or not, as the case may be.
     And then suddenly it was fall, and for Laura and me there was a new school to get used to, and learning a new teacher’s ways and how to circumscribe them, if that is the word I mean, and that took up all our thoughts, for a while.
     Football season began, too; so Kip and I were mainly too busy to bother with girls. I play end, but not very often, being light though rangy. Baseball is my game.
     Laura and Lydia do not understand the true importance of football, or baseball either, but that is their female folly. As you grow older, the sexes grow farther and farther apart, I find. It is all part of maturing.
     Still, the old group did find time to meet now and then in the house in the woods and have secret conclaves, though there wasn’t very much to conclave for, now that the magic was a thing of the past.
     Maybe that’s how we got into the habit of leaving Gordy out; so we’d have something to be secret about. We even had a mysterious secret sign. When it seemed like a good day for a meeting, one of us would hold up one finger, or two, along toward the end of last period. One if all five, two if without Gordy. Lately it was getting to be two most of the time.
     Sometimes Gordy would come into the woods looking for us, but when he found us in the secret clubhouse without him, he never seemed to bear any grudge. That is one of the good things about Gordy.
     We were always sorry afterward when this happened, and the fact that Gordy didn’t seem to get hurt or mad at us made us feel sorrier. You would think that would make us be nicer to him from then on, but it didn’t. The sorrier we felt each time, the more we went on leaving him out the next. That is the way people are. I do not think this is right, but it is true all the same. Though unfortunate.
     This particular day Kip had held up two fingers just as the last bell rang, and we had all nodded, and when we marched out, everybody but Lydia got away quick without being spotted by the enemy. And Lydia crossed her fingers and told Gordy she had to go to the dentist. Which was not a lie really, because she did have to go. Only not that day.
     So now there we all were (except you know whom) sitting on the front stoop of the secret house, because it was getting to be late September and the rooms inside were cold. But in front, the woods have been cut away to let the sun through.
     Lydia had a pencil in her hand and a sketchbook in her lap, the way she does all the time now that she knows she has talent. It is wonderful how learning that she has talent has changed that girl. Maybe learning to make friends has had something to do with it, too. When we first met her, she was plain ornery, always doing crazy things just to be different, and quarreling with everybody. She is still ornery once in a while, and she and I still argue some. But she is a good kid, for a girl.
     Today she was amusing us by doing caricatures of each one. The ones she did of Laura and Kip were awfully funny, but she didn’t get me right at all. My chin doesn’t stick out like that, at least not that far.
     When we’d finished arguing about my chin, she started a portrait of herself, all long tangled blond hair with a scowl peeking through. Then she made a face at it and tore it up. “If you ask me,” she said, “it’s time something started happening around here. I’m used to school again. The sameness has set in.”
     “Halloween next month,” Kip reminded her. “There’s the party in the gym.”
     “Bobbing for apples!” Lydia was scornful. “And that old decoration committee. Black crepe paper cats on the walls; you’d think they could at least think up something original. Why didn’t they put me on it; I’d freeze their marrow for them!” And she drew a truly horrendous witch on the next page of her sketch pad.
     “If you ask me,” said Laura, “I think the trouble with us is we miss the magic.”
     Everybody groaned, because we were all secretly trying not to think about that. But Laura is a great one for bringing hidden thoughts out into the open.
     “We said this was going to be our secret witches’ den where we’d have midnight meetings and plan our secret spells,” she went on now. “We were going to do good turns to the whole town. But not a single magic thing’s happened, and pretty soon it’ll be too cold to come here anymore.”
     “It’ll be warm again in the spring,” I said. “Maybe the magic goes to sleep in the winter, like woodchucks.”
     “In books it’s almost always summer when the magic starts working,” put in Kip. “It’s almost always summer vacation.”
     “So we won’t be distracted from our lessons, I suppose,” said Lydia bitterly. “As if being distracted weren’t just what we need!”
     “Has anybody said anything to the well lately?” I wondered. “Maybe it’s just sitting there waiting for a friendly word.” After all, if we were going to believe in the magic (and everyone was talking suddenly as if we were), we might as well be efficient about it.
     “No, and I don’t think we ought to,” said Laura. “I think we’re supposed to wait, no matter how long it takes.”
     “Then let’s not talk about it,” I said. Because there is nothing so maddening as talking about something when you can’t do a single thing about it.
     “I think we ought to talk,” said Laura. “I think we’ve been silent about it, and each going his own way, long enough.” She turned to Lydia. “You didn’t say a thing when James asked if anybody’d been talking to the well lately, and neither did Kip. Have you been wishing on the sly?”
     “I did think of giving it a look and a few words the other day,” Lydia admitted. “Just sort of generally about getting a move on. But I thought better of it.”
     “I almost asked it to help with my history test,” said Kip. “And that would have been unselfish, because think how my parents would feel if I flunked. I didn’t do it, though. Maybe I should have. I only got a seventy-one.”
     “No,” said Laura. “I think it’s a good thing you didn’t. I think if we start pestering it, it might get cross and take longer waking up than it would have, even. Or go all wrong when it does. I think we ought to swear a secret oath in blood not to go near the well until we’re absolutely sure it’s time.”
     Everybody was willing, probably because even merely swearing a secret oath is sort of a secret adventure. Kip had his scout knife handy, pricks were made, and the fatal oath duly sworn.
     “There,” said Laura, sucking a finger. “That’s settled. Now when the well’s ready, it’ll tell us so. There’ll be a sign.”
     “What kind of a sign?” Kip wondered. “Will it go guggle guggle guggle? Or shoot up like a geyser?”
     “Something’ll happen,” said Laura. “We’ll know.”
     There was a sound in the woods.
     Everybody jumped. But it wasn’t the kind of sound magic would make starting up at all. It was a crackling and a swishing and a thudding that could add up to only one thing: Gordy.
     When Gordy runs through the woods, branches don’t mean a thing to him, or noise either. As a Commando, his name would...

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