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Sam Brown, the mailman, tells his wife Elmira Brown that he just delivered a couple of books on magic to Clara Goodwater. Mrs. Brown becomes convinced that Mrs. Goodwater is using her dark powers to win the presidency of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge each year. Mrs. Brown also thinks that Mrs. Goodwater is using magic to cause her personal misfortunes, which seem to mysteriously occur right around election time each year. Mrs. Brown believes these are the only things stopping her from winning the presidency of the Lodge. She goes over to Clara Goodwater's house with Tom, an innocent boy, as protection. Mrs. Goodwater explains to her that the books are for her young cousin and that Mrs. Brown has only her own clumsiness to blame for her injuries. Mrs. Brown threatens to win the election the next day at the Lodge, and tells Tom he must be there with her.
Mrs. Brown makes up a spell of her own, a drink with just about everything she could find thrown in, using the directions from a book in the library. She heads off to the lodge, bringing Tom with her, and once there, after drinking her potion, makes a speech accusing Mrs. Goodwater of being a witch. No one at the lodge seems to take her very seriously, and Mrs. Goodwater treats the whole thing like a joke. Mrs. Brown begins to get woozy due to the drink, loses the election in a landslide, and asks Tom to show her to the ladies room. She turns left instead of right at the end of the hall and falls down forty steps, hitting every one of them on the way.
All of the ladies start crying, and Mrs. Goodwater holds Elmira, begging her not to die, claiming she will use her magic only for good in the future. It turns out that Mrs. Brown is miraculously unharmed, with nothing but bruises as a result of her fall. Tom takes in the whole scene, assumes the crying means that she has died and heads down the stairs but then is shooed out of the way by all the women coming back upstairs, laughing, and crying at the same time. Tom decides he has seen enough and takes off before anything else can happen.
Tom tells the whole story to Douglas, and the two of them get stuck on the issue of magic. Douglas asks Tom if he really believes that it was magic, and Tom seems to vacillate. Douglas is enchanted with the idea, claiming that the town has an awful lot of things going on.
Mrs. Brown is the only one who really seems to believe in witchcraft, and Mrs. Goodwater makes fun of her beliefs. It is interesting that Mrs. Brown decides that she must fight witchcraft with spells of her own. This chapter makes fun of Mrs. Brown's ignorance, but also demonstrates how easy it is to find some sort of external rationalization to fit personal motives. Mrs. Brown really dislikes Mrs. Goodwater because she wins the election every year. Elmira Brown is jealous of the popularity and power that Mrs. Goodwater so easily holds but that she so desperately wants. Of course Clara Goodwater does not really care too much for Mrs. Brown's opinions because she realizes that the woman is simply blaming someone else for her own problems. Elmira refuses to look at the situation that way, however, and this brings up the point that one can always find justification for a certain perspective. The fact that Mrs. Brown can point to her injuries and how they seem to occur around election time as evidence that Clara Goodwater is a witch just shows that an argument can be made in support of anything.
However, when it becomes a question of life and death, Mrs. Goodwater immediately puts aside her previous thoughts about Mrs. Brown and rushes to her aid. Here we see that any of the petty squabbles that may occur in the town are really inconsequential, and that all of the ladies are really friendly and concerned for each other. Mrs. Goodwater tells Elmira that she will use her magic only for good in the future because she knows that Mrs. Brown really believes in magic and, although she thinks it is ridiculous, she wants to save the woman from dying. It turns out that Mrs. Brown is fine and the women all get a big laugh out of the event, but it became clear just how much the town values its solidarity.
The irony is that after Tom describes the event to Douglas he is interested in only one thing: magic. For the children are unable to understand the other factors, such as Mrs. Brown's personal jealousy of Mrs. Goodwater and her clumsiness, that helped to motivate the entire affair. The kids are free to take from the event whatever they think is significant, and magic is certainly more important than the election of the president of the Honeysuckle Ladies Lodge. Although in some ways they probably did not really comprehend the whole episode, part of the magic for children is that they can draw conclusions that do not have to be logical and that will not be scrutinized by anyone else—they can conclude what they want to and move on from there. This means that for Douglas and Tom this event was only important because it brought forth the idea of magic in their town.
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