Little town on the prair.., p.12
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       Little Town on the Prairie, p.12

         Part #7 of Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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  “I should make a clean breast of it, to Pa and Ma,” she thought. She felt again a scalding fury against Miss Wilder. She had not meant to do harm when she wrote that verse; she had written it at recess, not in school hours. It was all too difficult to explain. Perhaps, as Ma had said, it would blow over. Least said, soonest mended. Yet at that moment perhaps someone was telling Pa.

  Mary Power was troubled, too. They both made mistakes and had to unravel stitches. Never had they accomplished so little in a Saturday afternoon. Neither of them said a word about school. All the pleasure was gone from school. They were not looking forward to Monday morning.

  That Monday morning was the worst yet. There was no pretense of study. The boys whistled and catcalled, and scuffled in the aisles. All the little girls but Carrie were whispering and giggling and even moving from seat to seat. Miss Wilder’s, “Quiet, please! Please be quiet!” could hardly be heard.

  There was a knock at the door. Laura and Ida heard it; they sat nearest the door. They looked at each other, and when the knock came again, Ida raised her hand. Miss Wilder paid no attention.

  Suddenly a loud knock sounded on the entry’s inner door. Everyone heard that. The door opened and the noise died away to silence. The room grew deathly still as Pa came in. Behind him came two other men whom Laura did not know.

  “Good morning, Miss Wilder,” said Pa. “The school board decided it was time to visit the school.”

  “It is about time that something was done,” Miss Wilder returned. She flushed red and then went pale while she answered, “Good morning,” to the other two men and welcomed them, with Pa, to the front of the room. They stood looking over it.

  Every pupil was perfectly still, and Laura’s heart pounded loud.

  “We heard you have been having a little trouble,” the tall, solemn man said gravely but kindly.

  “Yes, and I am very glad of this opportunity to tell you gentlemen the facts of the case,” Miss Wilder replied angrily. “It is Laura Ingalls who makes all the trouble in this school. She thinks she can run the school because her father is on the school board. Yes, Mr. Ingalls, that is the truth! She brags that she can run this school. She didn’t think I would hear of it, but I did!” She flashed a glance of angry triumph at Laura.

  Laura sat dumbfounded. She had never thought that Miss Wilder would tell a lie.

  “I am sorry to hear this, Miss Wilder,” said Pa. “I am sure that Laura did not intend to make trouble.”

  Laura raised her hand, but Pa lightly shook his head at her.

  “She encourages the boys to be unruly, too. That is the whole trouble with them,” Miss Wilder declared. “Laura Ingalls eggs them on, in every kind of mischief and disobedience.”

  Pa looked at Charley and his eyes were twinkling. He said, “Young man, I hear you got punished for sitting on a bent pin.”

  “Oh, no, sir!” Charlie replied, a picture of innocence. “I was not punished for sitting on it, sir, but for getting up off it.”

  The jolly member of the school board suddenly choked a laugh into a cough. Even the solemn man’s mustache twitched. Miss Wilder flushed dark red. Pa was perfectly sober. No one else felt like smiling.

  Slowly and weightily, Pa said, “Miss Wilder, we want you to know that the school board stands with you to keep order in this school.” He looked sternly over the whole room. “All you scholars must obey Miss Wilder, behave yourselves, and learn your lessons. We want a good school, and we are going to have it.”

  When Pa spoke like that, he meant what he said, and it would happen.

  The room was still. The stillness continued after the school board had said good day to Miss Wilder and gone. There was no fidgeting, no whispering. Quietly every pupil studied, and class after class recited diligently in the quiet.

  At home Laura was quiet, too, wondering what Pa would say to her. It was not her place to speak of what had happened, until he did. He said nothing about it until the supper dishes were washed and they were all settled for the evening around the lamp.

  Then laying down his paper he looked at Laura and said slowly, “It is time for you to explain what you said to anyone, that you could give Miss Wilder the idea that you thought you could run the school because I am on the school board.”

  “I didn’t say such a thing, and I did not think so, Pa,” Laura said earnestly.

  “I know you didn’t,” said Pa. “But there was something that gave her such an idea. Think what it could have been.”

  Laura tried to think. She was not prepared for this question, for she had been defending herself in her mind and declaring that Miss Wilder had told a lie. She had not looked for the reason why Miss Wilder told it.

  “Did you speak to anyone about my being on the school board?” Pa prompted her.

  Nellie Oleson had often spoken of that, but Laura had only wished that she wouldn’t. Then she remembered the quarrel, when Nellie had almost slapped her. She said, “Nellie Oleson told me that Miss Wilder said you haven’t much to say about the school, even if you are on the school board. And I said—”

  She had been so angry that it was hard to remember exactly what she had said. “I said that you have as much to say about the school as anybody. Then I said, It’s too bad your father doesn’t own a place in town. Maybe if you weren’t just country folks, your father could be on the school board.’”

  “Oh, Laura,” Ma said sorrowfully. “That made her angry.”

  “I wanted to,” said Laura. “I meant to make her mad. When we lived on Plum Creek she was always making fun of Mary and me because we were country girls. She can find out what it feels like, herself.”

  “Laura, Laura,” Ma protested in distress. “How can you be so unforgiving? That was years ago.”

  “She was impudent to you, too. And mean to Jack,” Laura said, and tears smarted in her eyes.

  “Never mind,” Pa said. “Jack was a good dog and he’s gone to his reward. So Nellie twisted what you said and told it to Miss Wilder, and that’s made all this trouble. I see.” He took up his paper. “Well, Laura, maybe you have learned a lesson that is worth while. Just remember this, ‘A dog that will fetch a bone, will carry a bone.’”

  For a little while there was silence, and Carrie began to study her spelling. Then Ma said, “If you will bring me your album, Laura, I would like to write in it.”

  Laura fetched her album from her box upstairs, and Ma sat at the desk and carefully wrote in it with her little pearl-handled pen. She dried the page carefully over the lamp, and returned the album to Laura.

  On the smooth, cream-colored page, in Ma’s fine handwriting, Laura read:

  Chapter 16

  Name Cards

  After all the preparation for winter, it seemed that there would be no winter. The days were clear and sunny. The frozen ground was bare of snow.

  The fall term of school ended and Miss Wilder went back to Minnesota. The new teacher, Mr. Clewett, was quiet but firm, a good disciplinarian. There was not a sound in school now, except the low voices of classes reciting, and in the rows of seats every pupil diligently studied.

  All the big boys were coming to school. Cap Garland was there, his face tanned dark red-brown and his pale hair and pale blue eyes seeming almost white. His smile still flashed quick as lightning and warmer than sunshine. Everyone remembered that he had made the terrible trip with Almanzo Wilder, last winter, to bring the wheat that saved them all from dying of hunger. Ben Woodworth came back to school, and Fred Gilbert, whose father had brought in the last mail after the trains stopped running, and Arthur Johnson, Minnie’s brother.

  Still there was no snow. At recess and at noon the boys played baseball, and the big girls did not play outdoors anymore.

  Nellie worked at her crocheting. Ida and Minnie and Mary Power stood at the window, watching the ball games. Sometimes Laura stood with them, but usually she stayed at her desk and studied. She had a feeling of haste, almost of fear, that she would not be able to pass the examinations and
get a teacher’s certificate when she was sixteen. She was almost fifteen now.

  “Oh, come on, Laura. Come watch this ball game,” Ida coaxed one noon. “You have a whole year to study before you need to know so much.”

  Laura closed her book. She was happy that the girls wanted her. Nellie scornfully tossed her head. “I’m glad I don’t have to be a teacher,” she said. “My folks can get along without my having to work.”

  With an effort Laura held her voice low and answered sweetly. “Of course you needn’t, Nellie, but you see, we aren’t poor relations being helped out by our folks back east.”

  Nellie was so angry that she stammered as she tried to speak, and Mary Power interrupted her coolly. “If Laura wants to teach school, I don’t know that it’s anybody’s business. Laura is smart. She will be a good teacher.”

  “Yes,” Ida said, “She’s far ahead of—” She stopped because the door opened and Cap Garland came in. He had come straight from town and he had in his hand a small striped paper bag.

  “Hello, girls,” he said, looking at Mary Power, and his smile lighted up as he held out the bag to her. “Have some candy?”

  Nellie was quick. “Oh, Cappie!” she cried, taking the bag. “How did you know that I like candy so much? The nicest candy in town, too!” She smiled up into his face with a look that Laura had never seen before. Cap seemed startled, then he looked sheepish.

  “Would you girls like some?” Nellie went on generously, and quickly she offered each one the opened bag, then taking a piece herself, she put the bag in her skirt pocket.

  Cap looked pleadingly at Mary Power, but she tossed her head and looked away. Uncertainly he said, “Well, I’m glad you like it,” and went out to the ball game.

  The next day at noon he brought candy again. Again he tried to give it to Mary Power, and again Nellie was too quick.

  “Oh, Cappie, you are such a dear boy to bring me more candy,” she said, smiling up at him. This time she turned a little away from the others. She had no eyes for anyone but Cap. “I mustn’t be a pig and eat it all myself, do have a piece, Cappie,” she coaxed. He took a piece and she rapidly ate all the rest while she murmured to Cap how nice he was, and so tall and strong.

  Cap looked helpless, yet pleased. He would never be able to cope with Nellie, Laura knew. Mary Power was too proud to enter into competition with her. Angrily Laura wondered, “Must a girl like Nellie be able to grab what she wants?” It was not only the candy.

  Until Mr. Clewett rang the bell, Nellie kept Cap by her side and listening to her. The others pretended not to notice them. Laura asked Mary Power to write in her autograph album. All the girls but Nellie were writing in each other’s albums. Nellie did not have one.

  Mary Power sat at her desk and carefully wrote, with ink, while the others waited to read the verse when she finished it. Her writing was beautiful, and so was the verse she had chosen.

  The rose of the valley may wither,

  The pleasures of youth pass away,

  But friendship will blossom forever

  While all other flowers decay.

  Laura’s album had many treasures in it now. There was the verse that Ma had written, and on the next page was Ida’s.

  In memory’s golden casket,

  Drop one pearl for me.

  Your loving friend,

  Ida B. Wright.

  Every now and then Cap looked helplessly at them over Nellie’s shoulder, but they paid no attention to him or Nellie. Minnie Johnson asked Laura to write in her album, and Laura said, “I will, if you’ll write in mine.”

  “I’ll do my best, but I can’t write as beautifully as Mary does. Her writing is just like copper plate,” Minnie said, and she sat down and wrote.

  When the name that I write here

  Is dim on the page

  And the leaves of your album

  Are yellow with age,

  Still think of me kindly

  And do not forget

  That wherever I am

  I remember you yet.

  Minnie Johnson.

  Then the bell rang, and they all went to their seats.

  That afternoon at recess, Nellie sneered at autograph albums. “They’re out of date,” she said. “I used to have one, but I wouldn’t have one of the old things now.” No one believed her. She said, “In the east, where I come from, it’s name cards that are all the rage now.”

  “What are name cards?” Ida asked.

  Nellie pretended to be surprised, then she smiled, “Well, of course you wouldn’t know. I’ll bring mine to school and show you, but I won’t give you one, because you haven’t one to give me. It’s only proper to exchange name cards. Everybody’s exchanging name cards now, in the east.”

  They did not believe her. Autograph albums could not be out of style, because theirs were almost new. Ma had brought Laura’s from Vinton, Iowa, only last September. On the way home after school, Minnie Johnson said, “She’s just bragging. I don’t believe she had name cards, I don’t believe there’s any such a thing.”

  But next morning she and Mary Power were so eager to see Laura that they waited for her to come out of the house. Mary Power had found out about name cards. Jake Hopp, who ran the newspaper, had them at the newspaper office next to the bank. They were colored cards, with colored pictures of flowers and birds, and Mr. Hopp would print your name on them.

  “I don’t believe Nellie Oleson has any,” Minnie still declared. “She only found out about them before we did, and she plans to get some and pretend they came from the east.”

  “How much do they cost?” Laura asked.

  “That depends on the pictures, and the kind of printing,” Mary told them. “I’m getting a dozen, with plain printing, for twenty-five cents.”

  Laura said no more. Mary Power’s father was the tailor and he could work all winter, but now there was no carpentering work in town and would be none till spring. Pa had five to feed at home, and Mary to keep in college. It was folly even to think of spending twenty-five cents for mere pleasure.

  Nellie had not brought her name cards that morning. Minnie asked her, as soon as they gathered around the stove where she was warming her hands after her long, chilly walk to school.

  “My goodness, I forgot all about them!” she said. “I guess I’ll have to tie a string on my finger to remind me.” Minnie’s look said to Mary Power and Laura, “I told you so.”

  At noon that day Cap did bring candy again, and as usual Nellie was nearest the door. She began to coo, “Oo-oo, Cappie!” and just as she was grasping the bag of candy, Laura reached and whisked it from her surprised hand, and gave it to Mary Power.

  Everyone was startled, even Laura. Then Cap’s smile lighted his whole face, he glanced gratefully at Laura and looked at Mary.

  “Thank you,” Mary said to him. “We will all enjoy the candy so much.” She offered it to the others, while as he went out to the ball game Cap gave one backward look, a grin of delight.

  “Have a piece, Nellie,” Mary Power invited.

  “I will!” Nellie took the largest piece. “I do like Cap’s candy, but as for him—pooh! you may have the greeny.”

  Mary Power flushed, but she did not answer. Laura felt her own face flame. “I guess you’d take him well enough if you could get him,” she said. “You knew all the time he was bringing the candy to Mary.”

  “My goodness, I could twist him around my finger if I wanted to,” Nellie bragged. “He isn’t such a much. It’s that chum of his I want to know, that young Mr. Wilder with the funny name. You’ll see,” she smiled to herself, “I’m going riding behind those horses of his.”

  Yes, she surely would, Laura thought. Nellie had been so friendly with Miss Wilder, it was a wonder that Miss Wilder’s brother had not invited her for a drive before now. As for herself, Laura knew she had spoiled any chance of such a pleasure.

  Mary Power’s name cards were finished the next week, and she brought them to school. They were beautiful. The ca
rds were palest green, and on each was a picture of a bobolink swaying and singing on a spray of goldenrod. Beneath it was printed in black letters, MARY POWER. She gave one to Minnie, one to Ida and one to Laura, though they had none to give her. That same day, Nellie brought hers to school. They were pale yellow, with a bouquet of pansies and a scroll that said, “For Thoughts.” Her name was printed in letters like handwriting. She traded one of her cards for one of Mary’s.

  Next day, Minnie said she was going to buy some. Her father had given her the money, and she would order them after school if the other girls would come with her. Ida could not go. She said cheerfully, “I ought not to waste time. Because I’m an adopted child, you see, I have to hurry home to help with the housework as much as I can. I couldn’t ask for name cards. Father Brown is a preacher and such things are a vanity. So I’ll just enjoy looking at yours when you get them, Minnie.”

  “Isn’t she a dear?” Mary Power said after Ida had left them. No one could help loving Ida. Laura wished to be like her, but she wasn’t. Secretly she so wanted name cards that she almost felt envious of Mary Power and Minnie.

  In the newspaper office Mr. Hopp in his ink-spotted apron spread the sample cards on the counter for them to see. Each card was more beautiful than the last. And Laura was mean enough to be pleased that Nellie’s was among them; it proved that she had bought her cards there.

  They were every pale, lovely color, some even had gilt edges. There was a choice of six different bouquets, and one had a bird’s nest nestled among the flowers, two birds on its rim, and above them the word Love.

  “That’s a young man’s card,” Mr. Hopp told them. “Only a young fellow’s brash enough to hand out a card with ‘Love’ on it.”

  “Of course,” Minnie murmured, flushing.

  It was so hard to choose among them that finally Mr. Hopp said, “Well, take your time. I’ll go on getting out the paper.”

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