It was the most exciting thing to happen that fall or any fall. “I just have to go, Mama,” Kate insisted. But Mama said no.
“Please, Mama. I’ve wanted to be a magician all my life, well, anyway, ever since I read that magic book Papa brought me.”
“I know, Kate,” Mama said. “I’m truly sorry and I wish it were possible, but Papa has to go into town to see the lawyer about the pastureland, and I have an appointment with the doctor. That leaves only you to stay with Sarah.”
Mama put her hand gently on her daughter’s head. “You know she can’t go outside until she’s better. You heard what the doctor said about keeping her from chilling.”
I heard him all right, Kate thought. It’s just that I hoped I could find a way to see the magic show.
Sarah coughed upstairs in the loft where she lay on a straw bed covered with warm quilts and a comforter. “Mama,” she called.
Mama said, “You go, will you please, Kate, and see what she wants? Papa’s waiting for me in the wagon.”
Kate went slowly up the ladder to the loft. She looked out the window and saw the wagon pulling away, raising a cloud of dust behind it. She felt her eyes sting when she thought of the magic show and all the excitement in town.
She could just see the bright red wagon with its bells and silver trim pulled by prancing white horses. There would probably be a silver awning over the driver, who would be the magician himself. He would be wearing a tall hat with gold tassels, very tight pants, and black shiny boots. And his long, expressive hands would be able to fool everyone who came to watch. Everyone except maybe Kate. She knew from reading her book how some of the tricks were done.
“What is it?” she asked Sarah impatiently.
“I …” Sarah began. Then suddenly she turned her face to the wall, but not before Kate saw the quick tears come into her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Kate apologized. She sat on the bed and took Sarah’s hot hands into hers. “I didn’t mean to be cross. Now what can I get for you? A piece of cloud? A chunk of the barn roof?”
“Kate,” Sarah said, trying to match her sister’s smile, “all I want is a drink of water.”
“I guess I can manage that,” Kate said. She went down the ladder and out to the well. As she brought the sloshing bucket up, Kate thought she heard someone behind her. She turned and was startled to see an elderly man standing there.
“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” the stranger said. He had a long gray beard and wore a huge floppy hat that let long wisps of hair fly out behind. “I just wondered if you could spare some water for me and my horse over there.”
Kate turned to look where he was pointing. A tired horse and an old wagon stood at the edge of the clearing.
“He’s come up lame,” the man said.
“Here,” said Kate, “you can get a drink from this bucket and your horse can drink from the trough. Then we’ll take him into the barn where I can look at his hoof. I’m pretty good with horses.”
The old man unhitched the old horse and let it drink before leading it to a stall. Kate brought some medicine and bandages. Gently she talked to the horse while applying some ointment. Then she expertly wrapped the leg with white strips of cotton cloth. “He’ll be all right now,” she announced, “but you better let him rest a little while.”
“You’ve done a good job,” he said. “Never saw a horse doctor do better. I’ll just settle down here for a bit and keep him company.”
Kate left the old man in the barn and hurried into the house with the bucket. She explained the delay to Sarah and told her all about the man and the horse. Then she went down to fix dinner. While she was boiling potatoes, she imagined the silken scarves that the magician would draw out of his sleeves, the top hat with the rabbit suddenly appearing under it, the doves that would fly out of his coat and swoop around the tent.
She took a tray up to Sarah and then went to the barn and invited the old man up to the house for something to eat.
“I’d be grateful,” he said. “And look how much better my horse is.”
Kate led the way to the house. Later, when the old man had finished his meal, he patted the front of his vest and said, “That was a fine meal. I would like to pay you for it and also for treating my horse.”
“Oh, I don’t want pay,” Kate told him. “Mama says that we should do whatever we can to help people, and it will come back to us in some way. So don’t you worry about it.”
“There is something I can do if you’d like. I’m on my way to the next town to give a magic show. I’d never have made it without your help.”
“You mean you’re a—”
“I’m a magician, yes. How would you like to ride into town with me and see a free show?”
Kate thought for just one wonderful moment about riding into town high up on the wagon seat with the magician, waving and smiling at the crowd. But then she explained to him about Sarah.
“Ah, then,” he said, “I’ll just put on a show for you right here!”
He folded down the sides of the wagon and opened up the ends to display a stage full of interesting and exciting things—flags, bells, horns, metal tables with “invisible” tops, silk scarves, hats, balls, and balloons.
“Wait until I get back before you start,” Kate said, running to the house. She climbed the ladder and pulled and tugged Sarah’s bed over to the window. “Look out,” she said, “and watch the magic show. The man with the lame horse I told you about is the magician who was on his way to town!”
After she was sure Sarah was comfortable, Kate hurried back outside and onto the porch steps where she sat hugging her knees.
The magician had changed. He no longer looked like a tired old man. He was dressed in a red velvet jacket, a white top hat, and very tight breeches that tucked into shiny black boots. His hands were thin and dexterous, and he used them in ways that even Kate could not follow. He made things appear and disappear and fly and walk and multiply and divide and waver and float until her head was spinning.
And then, too soon, the show was over. The magician bowed, folded up the sides of his wagon, and went into the barn to change. When he came out leading his horse, the magician looked just the same as he did when Kate first saw him. “My horse is hardly limping now,” he said. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You’ve more than thanked me,” Kate answered. “I’ll remember your wonderful magic show all my life. I’m going to be a magician some day too.”
“If you really want to be one, you will, young lady,” the magician said encouragingly. And then, handing her a carved wooden box with a tiny gold clasp on the lid, he said, “Here, this will be your first magic prop.”
Inside was layer upon layer of beautiful silk scarves. They were in shades of palest pink to fiery red to deep purple.
“From me and my horse,” he said. “Take them and learn to use them. I know you can do it.”
“Oh, I will,” Kate promised. “And thank you ever so much.”
As the magician drove off down the road toward town, Kate thought of the excited people who would watch the show. Some were probably already sitting in the tent waiting for the famous magician. But she and Sarah had seen his show already!
Her feet hardly touching the rungs, Kate flew up the ladder to show the box of scarves to Sarah.