Wednesday, August 5, 2020

(Concluding) Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Chapter 13 and 14

Chapter 13      Rip Van Winkle
Naturally, the girls are very excited on the day of the performance for their stage debut.  The trio walks to Winona’s house and Mr. Root drives them downtown in his cutter.   Tib made daily visits to the Melborn Hotel to be coached by Mrs. Poppy (how does she know the part so well?) and since then has been rehearsing with the cast.  Surprisingly, Tib is not a “quick study” but once she learns something she is completely confident without no stage fright.   The girls are told they will cling to the coat-tails of the actor playing Rip.

“I’m getting scared,” said Tacy.  Her cheeks didn’t need any paint; they were flaming. 
“You’ll be all right,” Betsy reassured her. “Just stay close to me.”
Mrs. Poppy is nervous on their behalf but she puts her arm around Tib.
“Girls,” she said, “you’re going to be proud of Tib today.”
“We know it!” shouted Betsy and Tacy.  It wasn’t the first time they had been proud of Tib.
Winona shouted too.  They surrounded Tib like a loyal bodyguard on the walk to the opera house. 
Mrs. Poppy walked bulkily in their midst.  She was wearing her sealskin coat and cap; and her yellow hair and the diamonds in her ears gleamed against the fur.  She was smiling, but now and then she looked at Betsy  with an urgent, almost worried look.
“I’m going to get along all right, Mrs. Poppy,” said Betsy.  “All of us are.”
“Of course, you are,” said Mrs. Poppy.  “It isn’t that . . . ”
She didn’t say what it was.
They are excited about going in through the stage door where they had seen Little Eva.  “I love to go in doors that say ‘Private Keep Out,’” said Winona (and I am in complete agreement).  Tib has her own dressing room, and the other three are in another.  The wardrobe mistress brings them costumes: long dresses with little Dutch caps.  One of the actors, Mr. Kee, is given the assignment of showing them around.  He is wearing a wig and costume, and has dancing blue eyes.  He calls the girls “braids, curls, and locks” and shows them the set and explains how they will know their cue and what to do when they go on stage.  After the first act, they won’t be needed until the end.
“You can sit in the wings and watch the play.  I’ll join you whenever I can.  Any questions now?”
“No,” said Betsy.  “I’m sure we can do it.  We give plays all the time.  I’m sure I ought to know how to act,” she added importantly.  “My uncle is and actor.”
“He is?” asked the young man.  “What’s his name?”
“Keith Warrington.” Betsy pronounced it proudly.
“Keith Warrington?”
Mr. Kee sounded so surprised that Betsy asked quickly, “You don’t happen to know him, do you?”
“Never heard of him.”
The mysterious Mr. Kee remembers an urgent errand elsewhere and puts two little boys in charge of the girls.  They show the girls a peephole in the curtain and the girls are able to see their friends and family in the audience.   Then all the actors move into their places.  “The curtain goes up!” Winona whispers to Betsy.  The first act begins, concluding with Tib’s dance.  She takes a curtain call with the actor playing Rip and all of Deep Valley cheers.  During the second act, Mr. Kee arranges chairs for the girls offstage where they can see.   He is interested in Betsy’s description of her uncle’s trunk, which she uses as a desk.  She tells him how her uncle ran away from home but sent his trunk to his sister at the outset of the Spanish War.  Betsy says her sister Julia takes after Uncle Keith.
Does she look like him?” he asked abruptly.
“No,” said Betsy.  “Julia and Margaret and I all have dark hair like our father’s.  Uncle Keith has red hair like our mother’s.  But Julia gets her talent for singing and acting from Uncle Keith and I get my writing from him.”
Between acts, they look through the peephole again, and Betsy points out her sisters, and explains that her parents are coming to the evening show.   The show is a success and the audience almost wears out its hands clapping.  There is time to rush home to dinner between the matinee and the evening show, and everyone is waiting by the stage door.   To Betsy’s surprise, Mr. Kee is there in street clothes, tall and slender with a sweep of dramatic red hair now he is no longer wearing a wig.
“Braids,” he said to Betsy, coming forward, “what do you think your mother is having for supper?”
Betsy is puzzled when he says he is coming home with her for summer but when he smiles, she suddenly realizes:
“Uncle Keith!” cried Betsy.   She tumbled into his arms, and everyone joins in.   Dancing about in delirious joy, Betsy saw Mrs. Poppy.  She was standing a little distance away, watching them and smiling.  Her eyes looked as though she were ready to cry. 

Did you see this reunion coming a mile away?  An adult reader would but as an 8 or 9 year old, I am not sure I was sophisticated enough to see all the clues, at least not until “Mr. Kee” started asking questions like a stalker. 

Flashback: in Betsy-Tacy, Betsy made up the song: I wish I could go to Milwaukee, With Tacy ahold of my hand . . .”    Often, the girls are hand in hand.   Here, Tacy is terrified of being on stage but reaches for Betsy’s hand when it’s time to go on stage.    When we discuss BISOH, we’ll see if the song was prophetic or not.   By the way, this is clearly not a question. 

Chapter 14, The Curtain Goes Up

Uncle Keith reveals that while his career has been moderately successful and his current company quite reputable, he was very proud and had not been planning to seek out his family while in Deep Valley until he met chatty Cathy – I mean, Betsy.

They all come up with ideas how he should surprise Mrs. Ray, which Mr. Ray should not agree to.   They decide Keith will pretend to be Rip Van Winkle (it is true, he has been gone for years, although not asleep), carry Margaret into the house on his back, and Betsy and Julia will hold his coat-tails.   Mrs. Ray is cooking dinner in her fancy outfit for the theatre.  When she recognizes Keith, she throws her arms around him and everyone cries.    He explains that he uses two stage names, Warring Kee and Keith Warrington, but he asked to use Warring Kee while in Deep Valley because it was less likely to be recognized.   If he hadn’t met Betsy, he would not have gotten in touch.

It turns out that Mrs. Poppy recognized his name and asked the stage manager to arrange for Mr. Kee to show the little girls around, as she was hoping for just such an outcome.  I guess she knew Betsy was outgoing even without hot chocolate and whipped cream. 
Mrs. Ray’s eyes grew soft as Mrs. Poppy’s part in the affair became clear.
“How very kind of her!” she said.  “From now on, Betsy, Mrs. Poppy is my friend as well as yours.”
“Will you call on her?” asked Betsy.
“With my card case and Old Mag, just as you asked me to,” Mrs. Ray said, smiling. . .
Betsy knew then that Mrs. Poppy’s which was coming true.
Julia sings a song called The Rosary for her uncle, and she sang it so well, he gets up to kiss her.  It is time to get back to the theatre for the evening show but Mr. Ray says he’ll see what the Sun has to say about the show (could a review of the matinee already be printed and delivered?  That Mr. Root runs quite a paper) but Mr. Ray is staring at the front page.  Everyone runs over to see, and what do you know – Betsy’s poem, The Curtain Goes Up, is on the front page of the Sun, under the name of Betsy Warrington Ray (and, again, it should be Elizabeth).   All the Rays are mystified but Betsy remembers she gave the poem to Winona who must have given it to her father, editor in chief of the Sun.
Uncle Keith read the poem aloud in his beautiful trained actor’s voice,   It wasn’t as good as he made it sound; Betsy knew that.   But it was good enough so that she felt as she listened that some day she could write something good.  Betsy thinks about the new friends she has made that year and she thinks about becoming a teen with Tacy and Tib.  She even thought of Tom and Herbert and of how, by and by, they would be carrying her books and Tacy's and Tib's up the hill from high school. 
The curtain goes up,
The curtain goes up . . .” 
Uncle Keith read in his vibrant actor’s voice. 
When Betsy wrote the poem, she was thinking about her magical first visit to the theatre but as Maud concludes this book and says goodbye to Betsy, Tacy and Tib’s childhood years, she gives us a glimpse of the curtain going up on their high school years.  So just as this story began with Betsy on Hill Street, looking down on the city, it concludes with a hint to the reader that there is a new high school world ahead for our trio. 
Literary/Musical/Historical References:

"The Rosary" is a song (1898) by Ethelbert Nevin with text by Robert Cameron Rogers. The song was a popular song of turn of the century opera singers such as Rosa Ponselle and Ernestine Schumann-Heink. 

The end! 

Images copyright to HarperCollins

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