Here is the final installment of my dolls re-enacting the Kit series books (except I think I’m also going to have my dolls do one or two of my favorite short stories of Kit’s next month). Here is Kit Saves the Day by Valerie Tripp:
“Yahoo!” Kit whooped with joy as she flew in the kitchen waving an envelope, “Charlie’s sent a letter! Here, Dad, you read it.”
Mr. Kittredge dried his hands on the dish towel before he took the letter. Kit’s mother, dad and Aunt Millie were gathered around the very hot kitchen preserving fruit for jams and preserves.
“‘Dear Folks,'” Dad read aloud, “‘I’m sitting on a patch of snow..'”
“Snow!” Kit exclaimed enviously. It was the middle of August in Cincinnati and it was stiflingly hot.
“Shh!” Shushed Mother and Aunt Millie.
Dad continued, “‘…on a moutaintop here in Glacier National Park. This week in the CCC we’re working on a stone wall next to the road. It’s hard but most of my friends are glad to have work to do. We make sure to have fun too. I’ve told my baseball team that my kid sister Kit is the best catcher in Cincinnati! Well, break time’s over. I’ll write again soon. I miss you. I wish all of you could see how pretty Montana is. Love, Charlie.'”
For a moment after Dad finished everyone just grinned as if a fresh breeze from the Glacier had just wafted into their kitchen. Then Kit saw Mother and Dad exchange a wistful look. They miss Charlie, she thought. Kit knew how they felt. She missed him too. Charlie had been gone since June working for the Civilian Conservation Corps President Roosevelt had started to try and help people get jobs.
“This is for you, Kit,” said Dad as he handed Kit a photo of Charlie in a group of young men. They were in a forest, smiling broadly.
Kit saw a note on the back and read it out loud, ‘”Hey, Squirt! I thought you’d like this photo of me and my CCC buddies. Write and tell me what you’re up to. XO, Charlie.'”
Kit rose on her toes delightedly, “I’ll go make one of my newspapers for Charlie right now,” she announced. She slipped the photo in her pocket and was about to take off flying toward the hall but Mother stopped her.
“Kit! Have you finished your chores?”
Kit crash-landed to a stop, “No,” she admitted, “but-”
“Please do, dear, before you do anything else.”
Kit scowled, but none of the grown-ups noticed. They had already gone back to work.
I’m just a drudge Kit thought as she went out to the backyard letting the door slam behind her. She picked up her broom and went back to work beating the rug.
Mop, sweep, scrub, polish, do the laundry, wash the dishes, feed the chickens, weed the garden – my chores never end!
Dust and dirt billowed up off the rug and stuck to Kit’s sweaty face and arms so that she was soon as spotty as an old brown toad. The more Kit thought about her situation, the crosser she became. She’d never have time to write a newspaper for Charlie.
After beating the rug, she was supposed to help Dad clean out the gutters. After that, it would be time to help Mother cook and serve dinner. And after dinner, there’d be dishes to wash, dry, and put away. There would be lots of dishes too because of all the boarders. Kit whacked the rug harder than was strictly necessary.
“Wow,” said Stirling, crossing the yard toward Kit, “I wish your broom was a bat and the rug was a ball. That would have been a home run.”
“And that,” said Kit grimly as she walloped the rug again, “is as close as I’ll get to swinging a baseball bat this summer.”
Dust from the rug surrounded Stirling like a dirty cloud, but he didn’t budge. He stood patiently, waiting for Kit to explain why she was so grumpy.
“We had a letter from Charlie,” Kit said, “He sent me this.” Kit showed the note and picture to Stirling.
“Let’s go make him a newspaper,” said Stirling.
“I can’t!” Kit exploded, “I have to do my dumb chores!”
Kit knew it was unfair to snap at Stirling. Chores weren’t his fault. Besides he worked hard too at his job delivering newspapers on a street corner.
“Sorry you can’t write a newspaper for Charlie,” said Stirling.
“Well, what would I write about anyway?” said Kit, “Dusting? The laundry? I’m not doing anything exciting. Charlie’s the one having an adventure.” Kit leaned against the broom, “The truth is I’m jealous of Charlie.” Lucky Charlie was getting to see the whole beautiful country with all its colors of lakes, pines, streams, and waterfalls. “I wish I could have an adventure. I’m tired of doing the same old chores. I feel so bogged down, so stuck. I’d like to fly away and escape.”
“In that case,” said Stirling, “I don’t wish your broom was a baseball bat. I wish it was a witch’s broom.”
Kit laughed in spite of herself. She straddled the broom and pretended to try to take off but remained, of course, solidly planted on the ground. “I give up,” she said, “Looks like my broom’s stuck too.”
A few days later, Kit and Stirling were in the vegetable garden slowly picking tomatoes off of the vines. Aunt Millie had declared today to be tomato harvest day and had rousted everyone out of bed at dawn and hurried them to work.
By now it was mid-morning and Mother and Dad were in the kitchen stewing and preserving while Aunt Millie buzzed back and forth bossing all the workers.
“We’ll be glad for all this work come winter,” she said happily, “Think of the money we’ll save by eating food we’ve grown ourselves and it’ll remind us of summer. When we eat these tomatoes, we’ll remember what Shakespeare calls, ‘summer’s honey breath!’
Kit and Stirling smiled at each other. They were used to the way Aunt Millie quoted Shakespeare. She’d been a teacher for so many years that she couldn’t help teaching wherever she was. Kit was grateful to be outdoors. The kitchen was suffocating with all the stewing and stirring going on. Today in the garden there was at least a sluggish breeze.
The tomatoes glowed red and were so plump they seemed to want to burst out of their skins.
Kit bent down to pick a tomato when Grace barked a friendly bark. Grace was supposed to be a guard dog, but she seemed to think that anyone who came to the house had come only to admire her and therefore should be welcomed politely. Kit poked her head up above the tomatoes.
“Hey,” said someone.
Kit turned and saw a stranger standing at the edge of the garden. It was a teenage boy in a dusty cap and baggy clothes.
“Hey, yourself,” Kit said.
Now Stirling raised his head too. The teenage boy grinned such a big grin, that Kit and Stirling couldn’t help but smile back. Kit knew he was a hobo. He had the same scruffy, scrawny look as all the hoboes and tramps who came to the house looking for a handout or a job to do in return for food.
The boy bent down to scratch Grace. He nodded toward the garden, “The tomatoes look good.”
Just then the screen door opened and Aunt Millie came out.
The boy’s grin disappeared. He shot up straight, pulled his cap off, and pushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes, “How do, ma’am,” he said respectfully but a little wary. He sounded as if he half expected Aunt Millie to shoo him away.
But Kit knew Aunt Millie would never shoo away a stray dog, much less a stray boy. “What can I do for you, son?” she asked.
“Well, ma’am, I was just saying to the young lady yonder what a good crop of tomatoes you’ve got. Your string beans are ready to be picked, too. I’d be glad to help. Looks like maybe you could use a hand.”
“Looks like maybe you could use a bite to eat,” said Aunt Millie, “you’re as skinny as a string bean yourself!”
The boy grinned his wide, wonderful grin again, “I’d be much obliged. But not until after I work.”
Aunt Millie smiled, “What’s your name, son?”
“William Shepherd,” he answered, “but nowadays, most folks call me Texas Will, or just plain Will.”
“All right, just plain Will,” said Aunt Millie handing him an empty basket, “You can help Kit and Stirling with the picking. Mind, there won’t be any pay in it for you. None but lunch, anyway.”
“That’ll do fine, ma’am,” said Will. He bent over and went straight to work.
“I’ll tell the folks inside there’ll be one more for lunch,” said Aunt Millie as she walked back to the kitchen.
Kit was burning with curiosity about Will. She had hundreds of questions to ask him. Also, she wanted to hear Will talk more. She liked the way he pronounced his name “wheel” and called Aunt Millie “may-um”.
“Are you from Texas?”
“Yep,” said Will not stopping from his work.
“How’d you get as far as Cincinnati?” Stirling asked.
“Riding the rails, mostly. Hopping freights. I ride freight trains for free by jumping into empty boxcars.”
“Aren’t you kind of young?” Kit asked, “To be a hobo, I mean.”
“I’m fifteen. There are lots of hoboes my age, some even younger,” he glanced at Kit, “Girls not much older than you ride the rails.”
“They do?” Kit asked, fascinated.
“Yep,” said Will.
Gosh! thought Kit. What a life that must be. Very exciting – and very unstuck!
Will was a quiet worker and by lunchtime, all the ripest tomatoes were picked. Mother served a plate of sandwiches and Will looked at them as if he could devour them all. Kit knew how he felt. She was always hungry herself. Mother often teased that Kit was eating them out of house and home!
“You’re a good worker, Will,” said Aunt Millie, “You know what you’re doing in the garden.”
“I ought to,” said Will, with his winning grin, “my family had a farm back in Texas.”
“Don’t you miss your family?” asked Mother.
“I do, ma’am. And I miss the farm. It used to be beautiful. My father grew wheat. In the spring, the fields looked like a green ocean. Then hard times came. The wheat dried up, dead and brown. It cracked under your feet when you walked through the fields, and the soil was nothing but dust. A couple of big wind storms came and just blew the farm away. Scattered it. My family’s gone, too. They packed up everything and left.”
“How come you didn’t go with them?” Kit asked Will.
“Kit,” Mother scolded gently, “that’s a personal question.
“It’s all right, ma’am,” said Will, “See, my father is a proud man. It about killed him when he lost the farm and couldn’t feed us anymore. I knew he hated having me see him brought so low. And I knew I was one more mouth he couldn’t feed. So when my family packed up to leave Texas, I made up my mind to go off on my own. I figured it was time for me to take care of myself.”
Kit understood. She felt guilty about her appetite and about growing so much and so fast that she was always needing bigger clothes and shoes too. Kit thought Will was brave and noble to have left his family so that he wasn’t an expense to them anymore.
“Did you run away?” Stirling asked.
“Yep,” said Will, “I’ve been most everywhere since then. I follow the crops. I went north to harvest potatoes in the fall, south to pick walnuts in the winter, and east to pick strawberries in the spring. Now I’m on my way west to Oregon for the apple harvest.”
Dad spoke and Kit heard something that sounded like envy in his voice, “You’ve seen a lot of country for someone your age,” he said to Will.
“Yes, sir, and met a lot of people, too, but none kinder than you folks.”
Will stood up and said, “Thank you for the fine lunch. I’ll be on my way now.”
Dad glanced at Mother and Aunt Millie. All three seemed to come to an agreement without saying a word.
Kit was happy when she heard Dad say, “Just a minute, Will. We’ll be up to our elbows picking and preserving tomorrow, too. We’d be glad to have your help, if you’d like to stay. We can’t pay you, but we can feed you and give you a place to sleep.”
“I’ll give you a haircut too,” said Aunt Millie, “You look like you haven’t had one since you left home.”
Will’s grin lit his whole face, “Thanks. I’d like that. I’ll stay.”
“Good!” said Kit, “you can tell us about all the places you’ve been.”
Will stayed for supper and then said he would rather sleep outside on the ground since that was what he was used to.
Kit climbed up to her attic room which she now shared with Aunt Millie. She thought Will was wise to choose to be outdoors.
“It’s so stuffy in here!” she sighed as she flopped onto the bed.
“What can’t be cured must be endured,” Aunt Millie quoted from a Shakespeare sonnet.
“The house feels hot and crowded to me tonight. It’s getting on my nerves.”
“Anyone can get along in a palace, dear child. Living squashed together is a true test of character,” Aunt Millie replied.
Kit loved Aunt Millie, but sometimes she thought it would be nice to be alone. She clicked on her light and grabbed her favorite book, Robin Hood and His Adventures, hoping the book would help her forget the stifling heat but instead, Kit found herself thinking about Charlie and his buddies.
Kit’s thoughts flew far and wide, out into the velvety black night to Montana where Charlie was and all the faraway places Will had been. What she longed for was a real adventure of her own.
The next day, Kit was putting wet clothes to dry on the clothesline and Millie had set up an open-air barbershop first cutting Stirling’s hair and then working on Will.
“I appreciate this, ma’am,” he said, “I don’t meet barbers in the jungle.”
“What’s the jungle?” asked Stirling.
“That’s what we hoboes call our camps. A jungle is usually close to the railroad tracks. There’s one here in Cincinnati near Union Station.”
“Do you cook over a campfire?” asked Kit dreamily, “And tell stories about the places you’ve been? And sing songs, and sleep out under the stars?”
“Well…” Will began as if he were starting along explanation but then he seemed to change his mind, “Yep,” he answered simply.
“I’ve seen those camps,” Aunt Millie said as she snipped through Will’s hair, “They look mighty uncomfortable! Hot in summer, cold in winter, wet in the rain, and buggy to boot.”
“Maybe,” said Kit, “But there’d be no rugs to beat or gutters to clean. And you could just come and go as you please. It sounds fine to me.”
Aunt Millie shook her head, “A wanderer’s life is lonely and hard. I believe most people are good-hearted, but not everyone’s kind to hoboes.”
She patted Will’s back, “You’re done just plain Will. And much improved, if I do say so myself.”
“Thank you ma’am,” said Will as Aunt Millie went inside.
“I sure am glad I stopped here,” Will said.
“Why did you stop at our house?” Kit asked, “How’d you know we’d be nice?”
“I saw the sign,” said Will.
“What sign?” asked Stirling and Kit together.
“Come on,” Will tilted his head toward the fence, “I’ll show you.”
Kit and Stirling followed Will to the corner of the yard where the fence met the street.
“Look,” said Will. On the fence post, someone had drawn a sketch of a cat.
“That sign means a kind-hearted woman lives here.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Kit, enchanted, “Are there other signs too?”
“Yep. Lots of ’em. They’re a secret code that we hoboes use to tell each other what to expect in the places we go. Usually, the sign is scratched on a fence or drawn on a building or a sidewalk with chalk or coal.”
“Can you show us more?” asked Kit.
“Sure,” said Will, and Stirling, who liked to draw and always carried something to draw with handed him a stub of pencil and paper from his pocket.
Will drew a horizontal line, “One line means you’d better not stop there,” he added three more lines, “But four lines means that the lady of the house will give you food if you do chores.” Will drew a circle with two arrows pointing out of it, “This means ‘get out fast,’ and this..” he drew a big V, “means pretend to be sick.”
“Why would you do that?” asked Stirling.
“If you pretend to be sick, folks will help you and feed you,” said Will.
“But isn’t it lying to fake an illness?” asked Kit.
“I suppose it is,” said Will, “But on the road, well, sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to survive.”
“Do you ever…steal?” asked Kit.
Will took a deep breath, “Let me ask you this: say you work hard all morning helping a farmer harvest potatoes, and at the end, he gives you two wormy ones for your labor. If you slip two more potatoes in your pockets without telling him, is it stealing?”
Kit and Stirling didn’t answer.
“Hunger changes the rules somewhat,” said Will. He drew a circle and a square and put a dot in the middle of each, “This is the sign you’d leave on the stingy farmer’s fence post. It means a tempered man lives there.”
“I bet that sign is outside of Uncle Hendrick’s house,” Kit said with a grin.
“Signs aren’t the only way hoboes help each other out,” said Will, “We spread out and look for chores and work, and then come back to the jungle with whatever food we’ve been given, and add our food together to make a hobo stew.”
“Hobo stew,” said Kit, savoring the words, “I wish I could try some.”
A little while later Will came up to the house and said his good-byes and thank-yous explaining that he planned to spend the night in the jungle near Union Station and then hop a freight headed west the next day. Kit was very sorry to see him go.
“It’s duller than ever around here,” she griped to Stirling later as she carried the basket of dry clothes inside the house, “Will’s the only interesting thing that’s happened to us all summer.”
Stirling agreed, “I liked hearing about the jungle and the hoboes. I liked the secret signs Will taught us, too.”
“Didn’t that hobo stew sound good?”Kit asked.
All at once she gasped, “Oh, no! We didn’t give Will anything for the stew!”
Kit and Stirling looked at each other in dismay. Then Kit had an idea, “You know what?” she said eagerly, “I bet if we asked, Mother and Aunt Millie would give us some food. We could bring it down to the jungle and give it to Will to put in the hobo stew.”
“I don’t-“Stirling began doubtfully.
“Listen, Stirling,” Kit interrupted, “Remember the stingy farmer with the wormy potatoes Will told us about?”
“Well, we’re worse than that farmer if we don’t give Will some of the tomatoes and beans he picked. Besides, aren’t you dying to see the jungle? As soon as I finish my chores, I’ll talk to the grownups. And then we’ll go find Will.”
Despite Mrs. Howard’s fussing that jungles were full of thugs and murderers, Aunt Millie was able to persuade her that going to the jungle would be a generous and educational thing for Kit and Stirling to do. And after Stirling had promised not to eat any of the hobo stew the two children had permission to go and visit. Kit’s stomach was all fluttery as she carried the bag full of cans of tomatoes and beans. The part of her that was a writer was always intrigued by new experiences. At last she’d have something interesting to write about in her newspaper for Charlie. She’d be sure to notice everything about the jungle and no matter what Mrs. Howard said, she’d taste the hobo stew!
After a short walk, they arrived in a little grove of trees where there was a cleared out space of bare ground with a smoky fire in the middle of it.
“We’re here,” breathed Kit to Stirling, “This is the hobo jungle.”
Kit and Stirling looked around with wide eyes. Somehow, the jungle was not as comfortable-looking as Kit had imagined. There were a few tumbledown shelters made of old boards leaning against trees and a few dirty tents that sagged tiredly. The people looked tired too.
Most of the hoboes were stretched out on the ground, hard asleep, their hats covering their faces. The air smelled of wood smoke, coffee, and stew.
Kit was glad to see Will coming toward her.
“Hey,” said Will, “what are you doing here?”
Kit took the food out of the sack.
“We came to give you this food for the hobo stew. Sorry we forgot before.”
Will grinned, “Well, thanks.”
Will used a sharp rock to open the cans. He lifted the lid from the pot, added the canned tomatoes and beans from the garden, stirred the stew, and gave Kit a taste. It was very spicy. A woman came with three small, hungry children and Will fed them some stew. Then he looked at Kit’s face, “What’s the matter?”
Kit said slowly, “I didn’t expect to see little kids here.” Kit had assumed that hoboes were people like Will who’d chosen to live an adventurous life on the road. Now she understood that most of them were poor, lost people – families with tiny babies, even – who had once been settled and respectable but now, because of the Depression, had no place to call home.
Kit saw another hobo asleep with her shoes tied around her wrists.
“Why’d she do that?” asked Kit quietly.
“She’s afraid someone will steal her shoes while she’s asleep. A hobo’s shoes are his most valuable possession. Can’t get anywhere without ’em. Men gamble for shoes, and fight for ’em , too.”
Kit looked around at the other hoboes.
They were wearing street shoes, tennis shoes, old rubber boots, shoes with pieces of tire nailed to the bottom, mismatched shoes and even rags wrapped around their feet and tied on with rope. Kit felt a little ashamed of herself. The way her sandals pinched her toes was nothing compared to the way one hobo’s poor feet were rubbed raw and bleeding.
Kit’s attention was suddenly distracted by a younger boy who had come up to them.
“Well, if it isn’t Texas Will,” he said, smirking. He pronounced Will “whee-yull,” making fun of Will’s accent.
“Hello, Lex,” said Will. Kit could tell that Will did not like Lex.
“They’re friends of mine. They live just north of here.”
“So kids,” Lex drawled, “I bet Will has told you all about me, his old friend Lex, and how I’m the world’s best at hopping freights.”
Kit and Stirling shook their heads no.
“He didn’t?” said Lex, pretending to be surprised, “Well, come on then. I’ll show you how good I am. Better yet, I’ll teach you how to hop a freight. What do you say?”
“Leave ’em alone, Lex,” said Will.
But Lex ignored Will and spoke straight at Kit, “There’s nothing to it. The train I just got off is heading north. We’ll hop it and get off at the first top, still within the city limits. It’ll be a ride toward home for you and your little buddy there.”
Everyone was quiet, waiting to see what Kit would do. She knew Lex was a braggart and not to be trusted but a chance to hop a freight was a chance for a real adventure.
“Lex is all talk, Kit,” said Will, “Don’t let him bamboozle you.”
Lex still spoke to Kit, “I’m not talking you into anything, am I, Missie?” he said in a wheedling voice, “You’d like to try it. I can tell by the look in your eyes that you’re curious. Oh, but maybe you’re afraid. Is that it? You scared?”
“I am not!” said Kit hotly, “I want to do it.”
“No, Kit,” said Will, “Hopping freights is dangerous. It’s against the – ”
But Kit was not listening, “You hop freights all the time,” she cut in, “and you told me that lots of girls my age do it, too. How dangerous can it be? Don’t you see, Will? This is my one chance to do something exciting. I can’t let it go by.”
She turned to Stirling, “Listen, you don’t have to come.”
Stirling looked at Kit with hid huge, pure gray eyes, “Yes, I do.”
“This is a bad idea, Kit,” said Will, frowning, “But if you’re so set on it, I’m coming too. I’ve got to be sure you get home safely.”
Kit, Stirling, and a reluctant Will followed Lex along the riverbank over to the rail yard. They skirted the edge of the rail yard, making their way between huge freight cars and over a tangle of rails. At last Lex stopped. He pointed to a red boxcar whose door was open. It was part of a train that was so long that Kit couldn’t see the engine or the caboose.
“We’ll jump into that boxcar,” Lex said, “But we have to wait until the train moves out of the rail yard before we do.”
Kit’s heart beat fast with excitement while they waited for the train to move. Finally, with a slow hiss of steam, the wheels began to turn and Lex and Will jumped in. Kit and Stirling ran next to each other, staying even with the train. Then Stirling tripped. He started to fall forward, and for one sickening second Kit was afraid he’d be crushed under the wheels but Will caught him from behind, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and the seat of his pants, and tossed him headfirst onto the train as if he were a sack of potatoes.
The train was moving faster and faster. Kit was a good runner, but she had to run with all her might to keep up with the boxcar. Will knelt down in the open door and reached out his hand to Kit.
“Grab my hand,” he shouted. Kit put on a burst of speed. She stretched her arm out and at last she caught it. Will swung her so she flew through the air into the boxcar.
Eagerly she peered out the door as the wind blew her hair and the outside world became a blur. Kit was exhilarated. She’d never moved so fast! She’d never felt so free! For a second, for a heartbeat, Kit wished the train would never stop.
Then Stirling tugged I on her arm, “Kit! Lex led us to the wrong train. We’re not going north, toward home. We’re going south, across the river. Look!”
Sure enough, the train was barreling across the trestle bridge. With every click of the wheels, Cincinnati grew smaller and home was farther away.
Kit whirled around, “Lex!” Did you trick us on purpose?” Kit shouted.
Lex didn’t answer because just then, the brakes slammed on and the train screeched to a stop. Kit held on tight to the door to keep from falling. The train was stopped in a wooded area where a dirt road crossed the tracks.
“This is trouble!” muttered Lex. He knocked Stirling out of his way, leaped out of the boxcar, and disappeared into the trees. Outside, Kit heard angry voices and the sound of fists and sticks pounding on the boxcars.
“Will!” Kit whispered, “What’s happening?’
“The train’s been stopped by railroad bulls,” answered Will, “Bulls are men the railroad hires to throw hoboes off the trains.” He pulled off his cap, “Put this on, I don’t want them to know you’re a girl.”
“Why?” Kit started to ask.
But suddenly she was blinded by a flashlight aimed straight into her eyes.
Will and Stirling froze in the light, too.
“All right!” growled a harsh voice, “Are you bums going to come out by yourselves, or do I have to come in there and toss you out like trash? Come on! Out!”
Will jumped out of the boxcar and turned to help Kit and Stirling, but the railroad bull grasped the two children first and roughly jerked them out. Outside the boxcar was a scene of scary confusion. Railroad bulls swarmed over the train, hauling hoboes out of the boxcars, shouting and pushing the hoboes into a double line. The railroad bulls carried stout sticks and bats. Some even had guns. One of the bulls rapped Kit sharply on the back of her legs with his club, “Line up, you bum!” he ordered.
Kit spoke fiercely, “I’m not a bum.”
“Hah!” scoffed the man. He eyed Kit’s filthy overalls, dirty hands, and sooty face, “You look like a bum to me. Get into line and be quick about it.”
“Where are they taking us?” Kit asked Will as they walked forward.
“To town,” said Will, “Keep my cap on your head. Hide your hair. If they see that you’re a girl, they’ll separate us at the jail.”
“Jail?” gasped Kit, “Why are we going to jail? We didn’t do anything wrong. We’re not criminals!”
“Hopping freight trains is against the law. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. And they put us in jail so that we won’t beg or panhandle in their town. We’ll spend the night in a cell. In the morning, they’ll put us in a truck and drive us out of town.”
Spend the night in jail? thought Kit miserably. She looked behind her to see if there was any way to escape but the double line of hoboes, about twenty in all, was closely guarded by bulls on all sides. As they walked through the town, the townspeople looked at them with distrust. Kit entered the concrete cell of the jail with the other hoboes keeping close to Will and Stirling. Tears pricked her eyes as she watched the door swing shut and heard it lock with a hollow, horrifying clang.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Will softly.
“I’m not,” said Kit, though she was, “I’m mad. We’ve got to get out of here. We’ve got to do something.”
Stirling gave her an earnest look, but he said nothing.
Soon there was a loud rattle and clatter in the hall. The door opened and the sheriff announce, “Dinner.”
All the hoboes were given a mug of water and a tin plate with a cold boiled potato, a spoonful of beans, and a slice of soggy, moldy bread on it. Though Kit was hungry, she had to force herself to eat it. The food smelled sour and she had to wash it down with the rusty tasting water.
When the sheriff came to collect the mugs Kit said, “Please sir, there’s been a mistake. My friends and I aren’t hoboes. My parents don’t have a phone, but please let me call my Uncle Hendrick back in Cincinnati. He’ll tell my parents and they’ll come get us.”
The sheriff crossed his arms over his chest, “If you have relatives in Cincinnati, what were you doing on the train? You bums! Always making up stories! You think I believe that lie?”
“Please let me use the phone,” said Kit, “You’ll see I’m telling the truth.”
“Humph!” The sheriff snorted, “Where’s you money for the call?”
“Well, I don’t have any money. But-”
“Of course you don’t,” interrupted the sheriff with a mean laugh, “Nice try, boy. You’re a good panhandler. But I’ve seen too many of you beggars to fall for your tricks. Where would I be if I let every tramp who asked me make a free phone call? In the poorhouse, that’s where.”
Kit stamped her foot, “I’m not a beggar!”
“That’s enough, boy! Don’t you get sassy! And take your hat off when you’re speaking to me.” Before Kit could stop him, he snatched Will’s cap off her head.
“Look at you,” he snarled as he tossed the cap on the floor, “A girl! I knew you were a liar. Come with me. I’m going to put you in a separate cell.”
“No!” said Kit furiously. She did not want to be separated from Will and Stirling. She struggled against the sheriff, but he was too strong for her. He held her tightly by the arm and pulled her along behind him.
Just before she passed through the door, Stirling yanked hard on her sleeve and pressed something into her hand. It was a scrap of paper:
Kit knew it was one of the hobo signs. But which one? she thought frantically, what does it mean?
Suddenly she remembered.
Kit bent forward and grabbed her stomach with her free hand, “Ohhh,” she groaned and slumped against the wall, “Ohhh, my stomach. Please sir, I feel sick.” It wasn’t a lie. The dinner was churning in her queasy stomach, “Please let me go to the bathroom!”
“Oh, all right!” barked the sheriff, exasperated, “In there.”
Kit skittered into the bathroom. The second the door closed behind her, she looked around wildly, thinking, Is there a way out? Oh, there has to be! Then high up the wall, she saw a little window.
It was much too small for a grown person to fit through but –
Bang, bang! The sheriff hammered on the door, growling, “Hurry up!”
“Yes, sir,” Kit answered.
Silently, carefully, she climbed up to the window, poked her head and shoulders through and slithered out, landing hard on the ground below.
She leaned against the wall of the jail and allowed herself one shaky breath. Then she took off running. There was not a moment to lose. The sheriff would soon realize that she was gone. Oh please don’t let anyone see me, she prayed. But Kit had gone only a few yards when she heard, “Hey, you! Stop!” She looked over her shoulder. Men outside the jail had spotted her and were chasing after, shouting, “Come back you!”
Kit ran as fast as she could trying desperately to get away from the footsteps she could hear close behind her. A rough hand grabbed her shoulder, “Gotcha!”
“No!” shrieked Kit. She wrenched her shoulder out of his grasp and he lost his balance and fell. This time Kit didn’t look back. She ran for all she was worth, pelting down the dirt road toward the railroad tracks. Home, she thought, I’ve got to get home and get help for Stirling and Will!
Finally she reached the railroad tracks and followed them a short distance. Then she stopped dead. Oh no, she thought. Below her was the river and looming above her was the railroad trestle bridge.
How will I ever cross this bridge? Kit worried. Balance on the rail as if it were a tightrope? If only there were another way to cross the river! If only there were another way home!
But Kit had no choice.
Slowly she walked toward the bridge and took a deep breath. Gingerly she put one foot on the catwalk to see if it would hold her weight. It did, so she eased her other foot onto it too.
The rails were splattered with oil which made them slippery. Kit stood straight using her arms for balance. She tied not to look down. She tried not to hear the rushing river below. She knew if she slipped , she might fall and the river would sweep her away. Very cautiously, she slid one foot forward, then the other. I can do it, she said to herself I can cross this bridge. I have to.
Clouds covered the moon, making it so Kit couldn’t see far ahead. the bridge seemed to disappear into nothingness. All Kit could do was put one foot slowly, carefully, fearfully in front of the other and walk forward. Just walk, she urged herself, Keep going. Step by scary step, Kit inched her way along the catwalk until she was in the middle of the bridge. I’m halfway across now, she realized, There’s no turning back.
Suddenly the rail trembled under he feet. And eerie, mournful whistle pierced the air. It seemed to cut right through Kit.
“Oh, no!” she shrieked. A train was coming straight toward her and there was nowhere to go.
I’m trapped! thought Kit. Desperately, Kit did the only thing she could.
She flung herself down on her stomach and stretched herself flat against the catwalk. She held onto the rail with both hands, pressing her face against it.
With a howling whoosh! the train pushed the air in front of it. With a monstrous force, it shook the bridge violently. With a deafening roar, it thundered past, just a few feet from Kit. She could feel its hot, fiery breath on her back. Beneath her, the boards rattled and bounced, as it trying to toss her off the water below. Kit held on for dear life.
Then as suddenly as it appeared, the train was gone, screaming off in the dark. For a moment, Kit couldn’t move. Then she spoke to herself sternly. Get up. Get up and go. Slowly, she lifted her face. Her fingers had gripped the boards so tightly that they ached when she let go. She pushed herself to her knees and shakily, she stood. On wobbly legs, she made herself take one stop forward, then another, and another.
I’ve got to get home, she told herself over and over again, I’ve got to get help for Stirling and Will.
The bridge and the darkness seemed endless. But after a long weary time, Kit blinked. Are those lights? she wondered, squinting at pinpoints that danced ahead of her.
It’s the city! she realized. Kit longed to quicken her steps, but she knew that would be dangerous. She had to hold herself back, force herself to walk slowly and carefully until at last her feet were on solid ground and the bridge was behind her. Kit was so relieved that she wanted to collapse, but she couldn’t allow herself to stop.
She pushed on, past the rail yards, past Union Station, and through the city streets. The short, easy route she and Stirling had traveled on their way to the hoboes’ jungle earlier that day felt long and difficult going the other way now. Kit was so footsore and tired that it took all of her strength to put one foot in front of the other.
As she trudged up the last hill to home, Kit’s heart dragged as much as her feet. Why did I hop that freight? she thought, How could I have been so stupid? Desperate as she was to get home, Kit dreaded facing Mother, Dad, Aunt Millie, and Stirling’s mother. They’ll be so angry! she thought.
When at last Kit saw her house ahead of her, she broke into a run, and hot tears spilled out of her eyes, “Dad! Mother!” she called out, wiping tears from her cheeks.
The front door opened and yellow light poured out across the lawn. Dad, Mother, Aunt Millie and Mrs. Howard rushed toward Kit and brought her to the kitchen.
Dad caught Kit in his arms, “Where have you been? Are you all right? Mr. Peck went down to the jungle to find you. We’ve been frantic! What’s happened?”
“Where’s Stirling?” asked Mrs. Howard.
For a moment, Kit didn’t try to answer. She buried her face in Dad’s chest and held on tight. She knew that all her whole life long she would never forget this feeling, this wonderful feeling of being home and safe at last. Then she pulled away from Dad.
“I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault!” she sputtered, “I wanted to have an adventure, and I didn’t stop to think..” she stopped and swallowed hard, “Will and Stirling are across the river in Spencerville. They’re… they’re in jail.”
“What?” gasped all the grownups, bewildered. Mrs. Howard held onto Mother as if she were going to faint.
As swiftly as she could Kit told the whole story. Then she turned her dirt-and-tear-streaked face to Dad, “We’ve got to go to Spencerville and rescue Will and Stirling right now,” she pleaded, “we’ve got to get them out of that jail.”
Dad nodded, “We’ll take Mr. and Mrs. Bell’s car. Come on.”
When they got out of the car in Spencerville and walked into the jail, Kit held tightly to Dad’s hand. She stood very close, hidden behind him, while he talked to the sheriff about letting Will and Stirling go.
“Go ahead and take these boys,” the sheriff said as he released Will and Stirling, “We don’t like their sort around here.”
Will and Stirling hurried toward Dad with grateful expressions. All three turned toward the door. But Kit held back.
She stepped fully into the light so that the sheriff could see her clearly.
“You!” he exclaimed, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Kit looked the sheriff straight in the eyes and spoke in a level voice, “Sir, I think you should be ashamed.”
“Hopping freight trains is against the law,” said the sheriff, “It’s my job to keep bums off trains.”
“You don’t have to be so mean about it,” said Kit, “The hoboes haven’t hurt anybody. They’re just poor. There’s no reason to treat them so badly. It isn’t right, and it isn’t fair.”
The sheriff glowered, but he said nothing.
“Come along, Kit,” Dad said softly, “It’s time to go home.”
Kit followed Stirling, Will and Dad out of the jail to head to the car when Will stopped them.
“Aren’t you coming, Will?” she asked.
Will shook his head, “No, thanks, but it’s time for me to head west to Oregon. I don’t want to miss getting a job during the apple harvest.”
“Is Montana on your way?” asked Kit.
“I reckon so. I’ll stop by and say ‘hey’ to Charlie for you.”
Will shook Dad’s hand, “Good-bye, sir. Thanks for everything.” He smiled his wide heart-warming grin at Kit and Stirling, “Good-bye, you two.”
This time Kit and Stirling could not smile back, “Good-bye, Will.” Stirling’s voice was low in the darkness, and Kit’s voice was sorrowful. She was weighted down with worry, now that she knew how hard Will’s life really was. Dad started the car and Kit knelt on the seat and looked out the back window to wave good-bye to Will. But he had already turned away. He was walking west.
Scrubbed clean, and in their bathrobes, Kit and Stirling sat at the kitchen table. As soon as they’d arrived home, Mother had told them to take baths, then report to the kitchen. Now an unsmiling Aunt Millie poured them tall glasses of cold milk and put plates of hot, buttered toast in front of them.
Mother spoke first, “We are very glad you’re safe, children,” she said
“We were worried sick about you!” exclaimed Mrs. Howard.
“We’re sorry,” said Kit, “We-”
But Dad held up his hand to stop her, “I understand how it feels to want an adventure. Sometimes I think the toughest thing about this Depression is enduring it, day after day. But I hope you two understand that what you did was foolish and dangerous. You used poor judgement, and you’re lucky you didn’t have to pay for it more dearly than you did. I think I speak for Mrs. Howard and Mother and Aunt Millie when I say that we’re disappointed in you. We need to trust you to be more sensible in the future. Do you understand?”
Kit and Stirling nodded. They both looked ashamed.
“Well!” said Aunt Millie briskly, “Thank goodness it’s all over now. And as Shakespeare says, “‘All’s well that ends well’.”
Kit managed a weak smile. But as she went to her room, Kit thought perhaps this time Shakespeare and Aunt Millie were not right. Kit thought of Will and all the hardship that was before him. The thought of the hungry children she’d seen eating the hobo stew. She thought of the poor, tired hoboes gathered around their fire in the jungle, resting their weary, hurt feet. She thought of the hoboes crowded so roughly into the terrible jail. For them, all was not ended and, surely, all was not well.
Kit lay awake thinking, Everyone should see what I saw today. Hoboes have a hard life. People should know that. Someone should tell them. Someone should do something.
Maybe I could.
Kit and Ruthie played themselves
Aunt Millie……………Kat Thompson
Jack (Kit’s dad)…………Katelynne Claire
Margaret (Kit’s mother)…………..Katie Gotz
Mrs. Howard…………………Carlie Cullen
Will…………………………….Mia St. Claire
Fun things I used for the shoot:
Boxcar was a cardboard box
For the jail, I used kitchen cooling racks leaning against a tv tray surrounded by Kirsten’s Scenes and Settings.
I used a real window from a real bathroom for Kit’s escape.
I did take Kit out onto the tracks (that light behind her was from a real train) but I wasn’t brave enough to take her on a railroad bridge so I used the swinging bridge that really does cross over a river. I wish the picture would have shown the rushing river below. In real life, it was quite an eerie shoot to do. It was very warm and very foggy with absolutely no breeze. I put Kit on the railing of the bridge.
This was taken from Kit Saves the Day by Valerie Tripp copy right American Girl 2001.