The story of Katy - and Kate - continues

I rediscovered Katy at an African flea market. She was a childhood friend of mine. Growing up in rural eastern England, I devoured the stories of Katy Carr, an impetuous teenager living in America in the middle of the 19th century.

Katy's mother died young, leaving her and her absent-minded father, Dr. Carr, in charge of a brood of children. Katy got into - and out of - all sorts of scrapes as she struggled toward young womanhood.

It didn't matter that author Susan Coolidge (real name Sarah Chauncey Woolsey) wrote "What Katy Did" - the first of the Katy stories - exactly 100 years before I was born, and that her tales took place in a landscape so very different from my own Lincolnshire. Reading by torchlight under a flowered duvet, I was hooked.

My favorite book was "What Katy Did at School." In it, Dr. Carr makes a surprise decision to send Katy and her meek sister Clover to boarding school.

I knew only Bowl Alley Lane Junior School in Horncastle, with its bustling canteen and friendly dinner ladies. Katy's stay at Hillsover school, where the terrifying Miss Nipson held sway and where it was an honor to belong to the Society for the Suppression of Foolish Flirtations, was fascinating.

I called myself Katy instead of Kate until I was 12. And then I got engrossed in French lessons and Charles Dickens and forgot all about Katy.

That is, until I wandered through a flea market in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, a few weeks ago. There, on a bookstall, next to the piles of ancient car magazines, I saw a picture of Katy in an emerald-green dress and red gloves, waving from the deck of a steamer with two traveling companions, a tall blonde woman and a little girl.

It was "What Katy Did Next," Coolidge's third book, published in 1886.

Back at my cottage, I opened my find and realized Katy and I had each done quite a bit of traveling since we last met.

In this story, Katy is now 21 and gets offered a trip to Europe by a grateful patient of her father's. She sails to England with Mrs. Ashe and her daughter before embarking on a tour of France and Italy.

Katy and I don't agree on everything about Europe. She wasn't impressed with Paris, my home for three wonderful years when I was in my mid-20s. Katy thought Paris was horribly damp, and she got only "brief glimpses" of the Louvre.

Now if I'd have had a chance to show Katy around Paris, I'd have persuaded her to climb up Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur basilica glowing like a white wedding cake at dusk, and I'd have taken her for a glass of sugary mint tea at the mosque on the rue Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire.

I'm sure I could have made her revise her impressions.

Never mind. Katy and I agreed that the city of Nice was "perfectly delicious," and, like me, Katy found Venice a "fairy tale."

There's just one disappointing thing with "What Katy Did Next," I realized when I closed the book. I may never find out what Katy did After That. Although there are two more books in the series, is it likely I will ever find them? Katy's cousin guesses Katy is going to marry Mrs. Ashe's brother, Ned, but then what happens?

Here's the answer: Katy Went to Africa.

Katy married her beau. OK, so it wasn't Ned, the dashing sailor, but this Katy's husband was tall, dark, and incredibly handsome (so Katy thought).

They rented a small house, something Rose Red, Katy's best friend at Hillsover, would have approved of - a thatched one-bedroom cottage in southern Africa.

Of course, Rose Red may have objected to the saucer-sized spiders dotting the rafters. And the cobra seen lurking near the msasa tree at Christmastime.

This Katy didn't have a sister Elsie to write to, but she did e-mail her small sister, Edie, who was living her own adventure as a fashion designer in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Three years after her wedding, Katy had a son: a flaxen-haired infant who was delightfully round in shape and who never cried "except when it was clearly (his) duty to cry," just like Rose Red's baby Rose.

Sons are delightfully time-consuming, Katy found. She remembered another childhood heroine, Josephine March of "Little Women." Harum-scarum Jo grew up to live with not one but lots of boys, two of her own and countless others she adopted. How did Jo find time to write between all that tree-climbing, Katy wondered.

When this Katy sat at her computer late at night and tapped out a few pages of her own story (electricity permitting of course - there were lots of power cuts in Zimbabwe), she knew exactly what the title of her next chapter was.

The best stories are the ones you live yourself.

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