Little town on the prair.., p.15
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       Little Town on the Prairie, p.15
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         Part #7 of Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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  Most marvelous of all was the pig. It stood so lifelike, propped up by short sticks, above a great pan filled with baked apples. It smelled so good. Better than any smell of any other food was that rich, oily, brown smell of roasted pork, that Laura had not smelled for so long.

  Already people were sitting at the tables, filling and refilling their plates, passing dishes to each other, eating and talking. Already the rich, pale meat, steaming hot inside its rim of crackling brown fat, was being sliced away from one side of the pig.

  “How much pork have you got there?” Laura heard a man ask as he passed back his plate for more, and the man who was carving answered, while he cut a thick slice, “Can’t say exactly, but it weighed a good forty pounds, dressed.”

  There was not a vacant place at the table. Up and down behind the chairs Mrs. Tinkham and Mrs. Bradley were hurrying, reaching behind shoulders to refill cups with tea or coffee. Other ladies were clearing away used plates and replacing them with clean ones. As soon as anyone finished eating and left his place, it was taken, though the supper cost fifty cents. The church was almost full of people, and more were coming in.

  This was all new to Laura. She felt lost and did not know what to do, until she saw Ida busily washing dishes at a table in a corner. Ma had begun to help wait on table, so Laura went to help Ida.

  “Didn’t you bring an apron?” Ida asked. “Then pin this towel on, so I can’t splash your dress.” Being a minister’s daughter, Ida was used to church work. Her sleeves were rolled up, her dress was covered by a big apron, and she laughed and chattered while she washed dishes at a great rate and Laura swiftly wiped them.

  “Oh, this supper’s a great success!” Ida rejoiced. “Did you ever think we’d get such a crowd!”

  “No,” Laura answered. She whispered, “Will anything be left for us to eat?”

  “Oh, yes!” Ida answered confidently, and she went on, low, “Mother Brown always sees to that. She’s keeping back a couple of the best pies and a layer cake.”

  Laura did not care so much for the fruit pies and the cake, but she did hope that some of the pork might be left when her turn came to go to the table.

  Some was left when Pa got places for Carrie and Grace and himself. Laura glimpsed them, eating happily, while she went on wiping dishes. As fast as she wiped plates and cups, they were whisked away to the tables, while even faster, it seemed, more dirty ones were piled around the dishpan.

  “We really need help here,” Ida said cheerfully. No one had expected such a crowd. Ma was fairly flying about, and so were most of the other ladies. Faithfully Laura kept on wiping dishes. She would not leave Ida to cope with them alone, though she grew hungrier and hungrier, and had less and less hope of getting anything to eat.

  It was a long time before the tables began to be deserted. At last only the members of the Ladies’ Aid, and Ida and Laura, were still hungry. Then plates and cups, knives and forks and spoons, were washed and wiped again, one table was set again, and they could sit down. A pile of bones lay where the pig had been, but Laura was happy to see that plenty of meat remained on them, and some chicken pie was left in the pan. Quietly Mrs. Brown brought out the kept-back layer cake and the pies.

  For a little while Laura and Ida rested and ate, while the women complimented each other’s cooking and said what a success the supper had been. There was a clamor of talking all along the crowded benches by the walls, and in the corners and around the stove the men stood talking.

  Then the tables were finally cleared. Laura and Ida washed and wiped dishes again, and the women sorted them out and packed them into baskets with whatever food was left. It was a compliment to Ma’s cooking that not a bite of the pumpkin pie nor a spoonful of the beans remained. Ida washed the baking pan and the milkpan, Laura wiped them, and Ma crowded them into her basket.

  Mrs. Bradley was playing the organ, and Pa and some others were singing, but Grace was asleep and it was time to go home.

  “I know you are tired, Caroline,” said Pa as he carried Grace homeward, while Ma carried the lantern to light the way and Laura and Carrie followed, lugging the basket of dishes. “But your Aid Society sociable was a great success.”

  “I am tired,” Ma replied. A little edge to her gentle voice startled Laura. “And it wasn’t a sociable. It was a New England Supper.”

  Pa said no more. The clock was striking eleven when he unlocked the door, and the next day was another school day, and tomorrow night was the Friday Literary.

  It was to be a debate, “Resolved: That Lincoln was a greater man than Washington.” Laura was eager to hear it, for Lawyer Barnes was leading the affirmative and his argument would be good.

  “They will be educational,” she said to Ma while they were hurriedly getting ready to go. She was really carrying on an argument with herself, for she knew that she should be studying. She had missed two whole evenings of study in that one week. Still, there would be a few days at Christmas, between the school terms, when she could make up for lost time.

  The Christmas box had gone to Mary. In it Ma carefully placed the nubia that Laura had crocheted of soft, fleecy wool, as white as the big snowflakes falling gently outside the window. She put in the lace collar that she had knitted of finest white sewing thread. Then she put in six handkerchiefs that Carrie had made of thin lawn. Three were edged with narrow, machine-made lace, and three were plainly hemmed. Grace could not yet make a Christmas present, but she had saved her pennies to buy half a yard of blue ribbon, and Ma had made this into a bow for Mary to pin at her throat, on the white lace collar. Then they had all written a long Christmas letter, and into the envelope Pa put a five-dollar bill.

  “That will buy the little things she needs,” he said. Mary’s teacher had written, praising Mary highly. The letter said, too, that Mary could send home an example of her bead work if she could buy the beads, and that she needed a special slate to write on, and that perhaps later they would wish her to own another kind of special slate on which to write Braille, a kind of writing that the blind could read with their fingers.

  “Mary will know that we are all thinking of her at Christmas time,” said Ma, and they were all happier in knowing that the Christmas box was on its way.

  Still, without Mary it was not like Christmas. Only Grace was wholly joyous when at breakfast they opened the Christmas presents. For Grace there was a real doll, with a china head and hands, and little black slippers sewed on her cloth feet. Pa had put rockers on a cigar box to make a cradle for the doll, and Laura and Carrie and Ma had made little sheets and a pillow and a wee patchwork quilt, and had dressed the doll in a nightgown and a nightcap. Grace was perfectly happy.

  Together Laura and Carrie had bought a German-silver thimble for Ma, and a blue silk necktie for Pa. And at Laura’s plate was the blue-and-gilt book, Tennyson’s Poems, Pa and Ma did not guess that she was not surprised. They had brought from Iowa a book for Carrie, too, and kept it hidden. It was Stories of the Moorland.

  That was all there was to Christmas. After the morning’s work was done, Laura at last sat down to read “The Lotos-Eaters.” Even that poem was a disappointment, for in the land that seemed always afternoon the sailors turned out to be no good. They seemed to think they were entitled to live in that magic land and lie around complaining. When they thought about bestirring themselves, they only whined, “Why should we ever labor up the laboring wave?” Why, indeed! Laura thought indignantly. Wasn’t that a sailor’s job, to ever labor up the laboring wave? But no, they wanted dreamful ease. Laura slammed the book shut.

  She knew there must be beautiful poems in such a book, but she missed Mary so much that she had no heart to read them.

  Then Pa came hurrying from the post office with a letter. The handwriting was strange, but the letter was signed, Mary! She wrote that she placed the paper on a grooved, metal slate, and by feeling the grooves she could form the letters with a lead pencil. This letter was her Christmas present to them all.

  She wrote
that she liked college and that the teachers said she was doing well in her studies. She was learning to read and to write Braille. She wished that she might be with them on Christmas, and they must think of her on Christmas day as she would be thinking of them all.

  Quietly the day went by after the letter was read. Once Laura said, “If only Mary were here, how she would enjoy the Literaries!”

  Then suddenly she thought how swiftly everything was changing. It would be six more years before Mary came home, and nothing could ever be again the same as it had been.

  Laura did no studying at all between those school terms, and January went by so quickly that she had hardly time to catch her breath. That winter was so mild that school was not closed for even one day. Every Friday night there was a Literary, each more exciting than the last.

  There was Mrs. Jarley’s Wax Works. From miles around, everyone came that night. Horses and wagons and saddle ponies were tied to all the hitching posts. The brown Morgans stood covered with neatly buckled blankets, and Almanzo Wilder stood with Cap Garland in the crowded schoolhouse.

  A curtain of white sheets hid the teacher’s platform. When this curtain was drawn aside, a great gasp went up, for all along the wall and across each end of the platform was a row of wax figures, life-size.

  At least, they looked as if they were made of wax.

  Their faces were white as wax, except for painted-on black eyebrows and red lips. Draped in folds of white cloth, each figure stood as motionless as a graven image.

  After some moments of gazing on those waxen figures, Mrs. Jarley stepped from behind the drawn-back curtain. No one knew who she was. She wore a sweeping black gown and a scoop bonnet, and in her hand she held the teacher’s long pointer.

  In a deep voice she said, “George Washington, I command thee! Live and move!” and with the pointer she touched one of the figures.

  The figure moved! In short, stiff jerks, one arm lifted and raised from the folds of white cloth a waxlike hand gripping a hatchet. The arm made chopping motions with the hatchet.

  Mrs. Jarley called each figure by its name, touched it with the pointer, and each one moved jerkily. Daniel Boone raised and lowered a gun. Queen Elizabeth put on and took off a tall gilt crown. Sir Walter Raleigh’s stiff hand moved a pipe to and from his motionless lips.

  One by one all those figures were set in motion. They kept on moving, in such a lifeless, waxen way that one could hardly believe they were really alive.

  When finally the curtain was drawn to, there was one long, deep breath, and then wild applause. All the wax figures, naturally alive now, had to come out before the curtain while louder and louder grew the applause. Mrs. Jarley took off her bonnet and was Gerald Fuller. Queen Elizabeth’s crown and wig fell off, and she was Mr. Bradley. There seemed no end to the hilarious uproar.

  “This is the climax, surely,” Ma said on the way home.

  “You can’t tell,” Pa said teasingly, as if he knew more than he would say. “This whole town has its ginger up now.”

  Mary Power came next day to visit with Laura, and all the afternoon they talked about the waxworks. That evening when Laura settled down to study she could only yawn.

  “I might as well go to bed,” she said, “I’m too slee—” and she yawned enormously.

  “This will make two evenings you’ve lost this week,” said Ma. “And tomorrow night there’s church. We are living in such a whirl of gaiety lately that I declare— Was that a knock at the door?”

  The knock was repeated, and Ma went to the door. Charley was there, but he would not come in. Ma took an envelope that he handed her, and shut the door.

  “This is for you, Laura,” she said.

  Carrie and Grace looked on wide-eyed, and Pa and Ma waited while Laura read the address on the envelope. “Miss Laura Ingalls, De Smet, Dakota Territory.”

  “Why, what in the world,” she said. She slit the envelope carefully with a hairpin and drew out a folded sheet of gilt-edged notepaper. She unfolded it and read aloud.

  Ben M. Woodworth

  requests the pleasure of

  your company at his home

  Saturday Evening January 28th

  Supper at Eight o’clock

  Just as Ma sometimes did, Laura sat limply down. Ma took the invitation from her hand and read it again.

  “It’s a party,” Ma said. “A supper party.”

  “Oh, Laura! You’re asked to a party!” Carrie exclaimed. Then she asked, “What is a party like?”

  “I don’t know,” Laura said. “Oh, Ma, what will I do? I never went to a party. How must I behave at a party?”

  “You have been taught how to behave wherever you are, Laura,” Ma replied. “You need only behave properly, as you know how to do.”

  No doubt this was true, but it was no comfort to Laura.

  Chapter 20

  The Birthday Party

  All the next week Laura thought of the party. She wanted to go and she did not want to. Once, long ago when she was a little girl, she had gone to Nellie Oleson’s party, but that was a little girl’s party. This would be different.

  At school Ida and Mary Power were excited about it. Arthur had told Minnie that it would be a birthday party, for Ben’s birthday. From politeness they could hardly say a word about it, because Nellie was with them at recess, and Nellie had not been invited. She could not have come, because she lived in the country.

  On the night of the party, Laura was dressed and ready at seven o’clock. Mary Power was coming to go with her to the depot, but she would not come for half an hour yet.

  Laura tried to read again her favorite of Tennyson’s poems,

  Come into the garden, Maud,

  For the black bat, night, has flown,

  Come into the garden, Maud,

  I am here at the gate alone;

  And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad

  And the musk of the rose is blown.

  She could not sit still. She took one more look into the looking glass that hung on the wall. She wished so much to be tall and slim that she almost hoped to see a slender, tall girl. But in the glass she saw a small, round girl in a Sunday-best dress of blue cashmere.

  At least it was a young lady’s dress, so long that it hid the high tops of her buttoned shoes. The full-gathered skirt was gathered as full in the back as it could possibly be. Over it fitted the tight basque that came down in points in front and in back, and buttoned snugly with little green buttons straight up the front. A band of blue-and-gold-and-green plaid went around the skirt just above the hem, and narrow strips of plaid edged the pointed bottom of the basque and went around the wrists of the tight, long sleeves. The upstanding collar was of the plaid, with a frill of white lace inside it, and Ma had lent Laura her pearl-shell pin to fasten the collar together under her chin.

  Laura could not find one fault with the dress. But, oh! how she wished she were tall and willowy, like Nellie Oleson. Her waist was as round as a young tree, her arms were slender but round, too, and her very small hands were rather plump and capable-looking. They were not thin and languid like Nellie’s hands.

  Even the face in the glass was all curves. The chin was a soft curve and the red mouth had a short, curving upper lip. The nose was almost right, but the least bit of a saucy tilt kept it from being Grecian. The eyes, Laura thought, were too far apart, and they were a softer blue than Pa’s. They were wide-open and anxious. They did not sparkle at all.

  Straight across the forehead was the line of curled bangs. At least, her hair was thick and very long, though it was not golden. It was drawn back smooth from the bangs to the heavy mat of the coiled braid that covered the whole back of her head. Its weight made her feel really grown-up. She turned her head slowly to see the lamplight run glistening on its brown smoothness. Then suddenly she realized that she was behaving as if she were vain of her hair.

  She went to the window. Mary Power was not yet in sight. Laura so dreaded the party that she felt she simply could
not go.

  “Sit down and wait quietly, Laura,” Ma gently admonished her. Just then Laura caught sight of Mary Power, and feverishly she got into her coat and put on her hood.

  She and Mary Power said hardly anything as they walked together up Main Street to its end, then followed the railroad track to the depot, where the Woodworths lived. The upstairs windows were brightly lighted, and a lamp burned in the telegraph office downstairs, where Ben’s older brother Jim was still working. He was the telegraph operator. The electric telegraph’s chattering sounded sharp in the frosty night.

  “I guess we go into the waiting room,” Mary Power said. “Do we knock, or just go right in?”

  “I don’t know,” Laura confessed. Oddly, she felt a little better because Mary Power was uncertain, too. Still her throat was thick and her wrists were fluttering. The waiting room was a public place, but its door was shut and this was a party.

  Mary Power hesitated, then knocked. She did not knock loudly, but the sound made them both start.

  No one came. Boldly Laura said, “Let’s go right in!”

  As she spoke, she took hold of the door handle, and suddenly Ben Woodworth opened the door.

  Laura was so upset that she could not answer his, ‘Good evening.” He was wearing his Sunday suit and stiff white collar. His hair was damp and carefully combed. He added, “Mother’s upstairs.”

  They followed him across the waiting room and up the stairs to where his mother was waiting in a little hall at their head. She was small as Laura, and plumper, and she was daintiness itself, in a soft, thin gray dress with snowy white ruffles at throat and wrists. But she was so friendly that Laura felt comfortable at once.

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