Little town on the prair.., p.13
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       Little Town on the Prairie, p.13
 

         Part #7 of Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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  He went back to inking the type and laying sheets of paper on it. He had lighted the lamp before Minnie finally decided to take the pale blue card. Then guiltily, because they were so late, they all hurried home.

  Pa was washing his hands and Ma was putting supper on the table when Laura came in, breathless. Quietly Ma asked, “Where have you been, Laura?”

  “I’m sorry, Ma. I only meant to take a minute,” Laura apologized. She told them about name cards. Of course she did not say that she wanted some. Pa remarked that Jake was up-and-coming, bringing out such novelties.

  “How much do they cost?” he asked, and Laura answered that the cheapest cost twenty-five cents a dozen.

  It was almost bedtime, and Laura was staring at the wall, thinking about the War of 1812, when Pa folded his paper, laid it down, and said, “Laura.”

  “Yes, Pa?”

  “You want some of these new-fangled name cards, don’t you?” Pa asked.

  “I was just thinking the same thing, Charles,” said Ma.

  “Well, yes, I do want them,” Laura admitted. “But I don’t need them.”

  Pa’s eyes smiled twinkling at her as he took from his pocket some coins and counted out two dimes and a nickel. “I guess you can have them, Half-Pint,” he said. “Here you are.”

  Laura hesitated. “Do you really think I ought to? Can we afford it?” she asked.

  “Laura!” Ma said. She meant, “Are you questioning what your Pa does?”

  Quickly Laura said, “Oh, Pa, thank you!”

  Then Ma said, “You are a good girl, Laura, and we want you to have the pleasures of other girls of your age. Before school tomorrow morning, if you hurry, you can run up the street and order your name cards.”

  In her lonely bed that night without Mary, Laura felt ashamed. She was not truly good, like Ma and Mary and Ida Brown. At that very minute she was so happy to think of having name cards, not only because they were beautiful, but partly to be meanly even with Nellie Oleson, and partly to have things as nice as Mary Power and Minnie had.

  Mr. Hopp promised that the cards would be ready on Wednesday at noon, and that day Laura could hardly eat her dinner. Ma excused her from doing the dishes, and she hurried to the newspaper office. There they were, delicate pink cards, with a spray of pinker roses and blue cornflowers. Her name was printed in thin, clear type: Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.

  She had hardly time to admire them, for she must not be late to school. A long block from Second Street, she was hurrying along the board sidewalk, when suddenly a shining buggy pulled up beside it.

  Laura looked up, surprised to see the brown Morgans. Young Mr. Wilder stood by the buggy, his cap in one hand. He held out his other hand to her and said, “Like a ride to the schoolhouse? You’ll get there quicker.”

  He took her hand, helped her into the buggy, and stepped in beside her. Laura was almost speechless with surprise and shyness and the delight of actually riding behind those beautiful horses. They trotted gaily but very slowly and their small ears twitched, listening for the word to go faster.

  “I—I’m Laura Ingalls,” Laura said. It was a silly thing to say. Of course he must know who she was.

  “I know your father, and I’ve seen you around town for quite a while,” he replied. “My sister often spoke of you.”

  “Such beautiful horses! What are their names?” she asked. She knew quite well, but she had to say something.

  “The near one is Lady, and the other is Prince,” he told her.

  Laura wished he would let them go faster—as fast as they could go. But it would not be polite to ask.

  She thought of speaking about the weather, but that seemed silly.

  She could not think of anything to say, and in all this time they had gone only one block.

  “I have been getting my name cards,” she heard herself saying.

  “That so?” he said. “Mine are just plain cards. I brought them out from Minnesota.”

  He took one from his pocket and handed it to her. He was driving with one capable hand, keeping the lines in play between his gloved fingers. The card was plain and white. Printed on it in Old English letters was, Almanzo James Wilder.

  “It’s kind of an outlandish name,” he said.

  Laura tried to think of something nice to say about it. She said, “It is quite unusual.”

  “It was wished on me,” he said grimly. “My folks have got a notion there always has to be an Almanzo in the family, because ’way back in the time of the Crusades there was a Wilder went to them, and an Arab or somebody saved his life. El Manzoor, the name was. They changed it after a while in England, but I guess there’s no way to improve it much.”

  “I think it is a very interesting name,” said Laura honestly.

  She did think so, but she did not know what to do with the card. It seemed rude to give it back to him, but perhaps he did not mean her to keep it. She held it so that he could take it back if he wanted to. The team turned the corner at Second Street. In a panic Laura wondered whether, if he did not take back his card, she should give him one of hers. Nellie had said it was proper to exchange name cards.

  She held his card a little nearer to him, so that he could see it plainly. He went on driving.

  “Do you—do you want your card back?” Laura asked him.

  “You can keep it if you want to,” he replied.

  “Then do you want one of mine?” She took one out of the package and gave it to him.

  He looked at it and thanked her. “It is a very pretty card,” he said as he put it in his pocket.

  They were at the schoolhouse. He held the reins while he sprang out of the buggy, took off his cap and offered his hand to help her down. She did not need help; she barely touched his glove with her mitten-tip as she came lightly to the ground.

  “Thank you for the ride,” she said.

  “Don’t mention it,” he answered. His hair was not black, as she had thought. It was dark brown, and his eyes were such a dark blue that they did not look pale in his darkly tanned face. He had a steady, dependable, yet light-hearted look.

  “Hullo, Wilder!” Cap Garland greeted him and he waved in answer as he drove away. Mr. Clewett was ringing the bell, and the boys were trooping in.

  As Laura slipped into her seat, there was barely time for Ida to squeeze her arm delightedly and whisper, “Oh, I wish you could have seen her face! when you came driving up!”

  Mary Power and Minnie were beaming at Laura across the aisle, but Nellie was looking intently away from her.

  Chapter 17

  The Sociable

  One Saturday afternoon Mary Power came blowing in to see Laura. Her cheeks were pink with excitement. The Ladies’ Aid Society was giving a dime sociable in Mrs. Tinkham’s rooms over the furniture store, next Friday night.

  “I’ll go if you do, Laura,” Mary Power said. “Oh, please may she, Mrs. Ingalls?”

  Laura did not like to ask what a dime sociable was. Fond as she was of Mary Power, she felt at a slight disadvantage with her. Mary Power’s clothes were so beautifully fitted because her father tailored them, and she did her hair in the stylish new way, with bangs.

  Ma said that Laura might go to the sociable. She had not heard, until now, that a Ladies’ Aid was organized.

  To tell the truth, Pa and Ma were sadly disappointed that dear Rev. Alden from Plum Creek was not the preacher. He had wanted to be, and the church had sent him. But when he arrived, he found that Rev. Brown had established himself there. So dear Rev. Alden had gone on as a missionary to the unsettled West.

  Pa and Ma could not lose interest in the church, of course, and Ma would work in the Ladies’ Aid. Still, they could not feel as they would have felt had Rev. Alden been the preacher.

  All next week Laura and Mary Power looked forward to the sociable. It cost a dime, so Minnie and Ida doubted that they could go, and Nellie said that, really, it didn’t interest her.

  Friday seemed long to Laura and Mary Power, they were so
impatient for night to come. That night Laura did not take off her school dress, but put on a long apron and pinned its bib under her chin. Supper was early, and as soon as she had washed the dishes Laura began to get ready for the sociable.

  Ma helped her carefully brush her dress. It was brown woolen, made in princess style. The collar was a high, tight band, close under Laura’s chin, and the skirt came down to the tops of her high-buttoned shoes. It was a very pretty dress, with piping of red around wrists and collar, and the buttons all down the front were of brown horn, with a tiny raised castle in the center of each one.

  Standing before the looking glass in the front room, where the lamp was, Laura carefully brushed and braided her hair, and put it up and took it down again. She could not arrange it to suit her.

  “Oh, Ma, I do wish you would let me cut bangs,” she almost begged. “Mary Power wears them, and they are so stylish.”

  “Your hair looks nice the way it is,” said Ma. “Mary Power is a nice girl, but I think the new hair style is well called a ‘lunatic fringe.’”

  “Your hair looks beautiful, Laura,” Carrie consoled her. “It’s such a pretty brown and so long and thick, and it shines in the light.”

  Laura still looked unhappily at her reflection. She thought of the short hairs always growing at the edge around her forehead. They did not show when they were brushed back, but now she combed them all out and downward. They made a thin little fringe.

  “Oh, please, Ma,” she coaxed. “I wouldn’t cut a heavy bang like Mary Power’s, but please let me cut just a little more, so I could curl it across my forehead.”

  “Very well, then,” Ma gave her consent.

  Laura took the shears from Ma’s workbasket and standing before the glass she cut the hair above her forehead into a narrow fringe about two inches long. She laid her long slate pencil on the heater, and when it was heated she held it by the cool end and wound wisps of the short hair around the heated end. Holding each wisp tightly around the pencil, she curled all the bangs.

  The rest of her hair she combed smoothly back and braided. She wound the long braid flatly around and around on the back of her head and snugly pinned it.

  “Turn around and let me see you,” Ma said. Laura turned.

  “Do you like it, Ma?”

  “It looks quite nice,” Ma admitted. “Still, I liked it better before it was cut.”

  “Turn this way and let me see,” said Pa. He looked at her a long minute and his eyes were pleased. “Well, if you must wear this ‘lunatic fringe,’ I think you’ve made a good job of it.” And Pa turned again to his paper.

  “I think it is pretty. You look very nice,” Carrie said softly.

  Laura put on her brown coat and set carefully over her head her peaked hood of brown woolen lined with blue. The brown and the blue edges of cloth were pinked, and the hood had long ends that wound around her neck like a muffler.

  She took one more look in the glass. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, and the curled bangs were stylish under the hood’s blue lining that made her eyes very blue.

  Ma gave her a dime and said, “Have a pleasant time, Laura. I am sure you will remember your manners.”

  Pa asked, “Had I better go with her as far as the door, Caroline?”

  “It’s early yet, and only across the street, and she’s going with Mary Power,” Ma answered.

  Laura went out into the dark and starry night. Her heart was beating fast with anticipation. Her breath puffed white in the frosty air. Lamplight made glowing patches on the sidewalk in front of the hardware store and the drugstore, and above the dark furniture store two windows shone bright. Mary Power came out of the tailor shop, and together they climbed the outdoor stairs between it and the furniture store.

  Mary Power knocked on the door, and Mrs. Tinkham opened it. She was a tiny woman, in a black dress with white lace ruffles at throat and wrists. She said good evening, and took Mary Power’s dime and Laura’s. Then she said, “Come this way to leave your wraps.”

  All the week Laura had hardly been able to wait to see what a sociable was, and now she was here. Some people were sitting in a lighted room. She felt embarrassed as she hurriedly followed Mrs. Tinkham past them into a small bedroom. She and Mary Power laid their coats and hoods on the bed. Then quietly they slipped into chairs in the larger room.

  Mr. and Mrs. Johnson sat on either side of the window. The window had dotted-Swiss curtains, and before it stood a polished center table, holding a large glass lamp with a white china shade on which red roses were printed. Beside the lamp lay a green plush photograph album.

  A bright flowered carpet covered the whole floor. A tall shining heater with isinglass windows stood in its center. The chairs around the walls were all of polished woods. Mr. and Mrs. Woodworth were sitting on a sofa with shining high wooden back and ends and a glittering black haircloth seat.

  Only the walls of boards were like those in the front room at home, and these were thickly hung with pictures of people and places that Laura did not know.

  Some had wide, heavy, gilded frames. Of course Mr. Tinkham owned the furniture store. Cap Garland’s older sister Florence was there, with their mother. Mrs. Beardsley was there, and Mrs. Bradley, the druggist’s wife. They all sat dressed up and silent. Mary Power and Laura did not speak, either. They did not know what to say.

  Someone knocked at the door. Mrs. Tinkham hurried to it, and Rev. and Mrs. Brown came in. His rumbling voice filled the room with greetings to everyone, and then he talked with Mrs. Tinkham about the home he had left in Massachusetts.

  “Not much like this place,” he said. “But we are all strange here.”

  He fascinated Laura. She did not like him. Pa said he claimed to be a cousin of John Brown of Ossawatomie who had killed so many men in Kansas and finally succeeded in starting the Civil War. Rev. Brown did look just like the picture of John Brown in Laura’s history book.

  His face was large and bony. His eyes were sunk deep under shaggy white eyebrows and they shone hot and fierce even when he was smiling. His coat hung loose on his big body, his hands at the end of the sleeves were large and rough with big knuckles. He was untidy. Around his mouth his long white beard was stained yellow as if with dribbling tobacco juice.

  He talked a great deal, and after he came the others talked some, except Mary Power and Laura. They tried to sit politely, but now and then they did fidget. It was a long time before Mrs. Tinkham began to bring plates from the kitchen. On each plate was a small sauce dish of custard and a piece of cake.

  When Laura had eaten hers, she murmured to Mary Power, “Let’s go home,” and Mary answered, “Come on, I’m going.” They set their empty dishes on a small table near them, put on their coats and hoods, and said good-by to Mrs. Tinkham.

  Down on the street once more, Laura drew a deep breath. “Whew! If that is a sociable, I don’t like sociables.”

  “Neither do I,” Mary Power agreed. “I wish I hadn’t gone. I’d rather have the dime.”

  Pa and Ma looked up in surprise when Laura came in, and Carrie eagerly asked, “Did you have a good time, Laura?”

  “Well, no, I didn’t,” Laura had to admit. “You should have gone, Ma, instead of me. Mary Power and I were the only girls there. We had no one to talk to.”

  “This is only the first sociable,” Ma made excuse. “No doubt when folks here are better acquainted, the sociables will be more interesting. I know from reading The Advance that church sociables are greatly enjoyed.”

  Chapter 18

  Literaries

  Christmas was near, yet there was still no snow. There had not been a single blizzard. In the mornings the frozen ground was furry white with hoarfrost, but it vanished when the sun rose. Only the underneath of the sidewalk and the shadows of the stores were frosty when Laura and Carrie hurried to school. The wind nipped their noses and chilled their mittened hands and they did not try to talk through their mufflers.

  The wind had a desolate sound. The sun
was small and the sky was empty of birds. On the endless dull prairie the grasses lay worn-out and dead. The schoolhouse looked old and gray and tired.

  It seemed that the winter would never begin and never end. Nothing would ever happen but going to school and going home, lessons at school and lessons at home. Tomorrow would be the same as today, and in all her life, Laura felt, there would never be anything but studying and teaching school. Even Christmas would not be a real Christmas without Mary.

  The book of poems, Laura supposed, was still hidden in Ma’s bureau drawer. Every time Laura passed the bureau at the head of the stairs in Ma’s room, she thought of that book and the poem she had not finished reading. “Courage!” he said, and pointed to the land, “This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.” She had thought the same thought so often that it was stale, and even looking forward to the book for Christmas was no longer exciting.

  Friday night came again. Laura and Carrie washed the dishes as usual. As usual, they brought their books to the lamplit table. Pa was in his chair, reading the paper. Ma was gently rocking and her knitting needles were clicking as they always did. As usual, Laura opened her history book.

  Suddenly she could not bear it all. She thrust back her chair, slammed her book shut and thumped it down on the table. Pa and Ma started, and looked at her in surprise.

  “I don’t care!” she cried out. “I don’t want to study! I don’t want to learn! I don’t want to teach school, ever!”

  Ma looked as stern as it was possible for her to look. “Laura,” she said, “I know you would not swear, but losing your temper and slamming things is as bad as saying the words. Let us have no more wooden swearing.”

  Laura did not answer.

  “What is the matter, Laura?” Pa asked. “Why don’t you want to learn, and to teach school?”

  “Oh, I don’t know!” Laura said in despair. “I am so tired of everything. I want—I want something to happen. I want to go West. I guess I want to just play, and I know I am too old,” she almost sobbed, a thing she never did.

 
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