Little town on the prair.., p.18
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       Little Town on the Prairie, p.18
 

         Part #7 of Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
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  In the shelter of the fold,

  But one was out on the hills away,

  Far off from the gates of gold,

  Away on the mountains wild and bare,

  Away from the tender shepherd’s care.”

  If a revival meeting could be nothing but singing, Laura would have loved it, though she felt that she should be studying, not wasting time in enjoyment. Her voice rose clear and true as Pa’s, as they sang,

  “Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”

  Then the long prayer began. Laura bent her head and closed her eyes while Reverend Brown’s harsh voice singsonged on and on. It was a great relief to stand up at last, and sing again. This was a hymn with a dancing swing and a throbbing beat.

  “Sowing the seed by the daylight fair,

  Sowing the seed by the noonday glare,

  Sowing the seed by the fading light,

  Sowing the seed in the solemn night,

  Oh, what shall the harvest be-e-e,

  Oh, what shall the harvest be?”

  Reverend Brown’s preaching went on with the throbbing and swinging. His voice rose and fell, thundered and quivered. His bushy white eyebrows raised and lowered, his fist thumped the pulpit. “Repent ye, repent ye while yet there is time, time to be saved from damnation!” he roared.

  Chills ran up Laura’s spine and over her scalp. She seemed to feel something rising from all those people, something dark and frightening that grew and grew under that thrashing voice. The words no longer made sense, they were not sentences, they were only dreadful words. For one horrible instant Laura imagined that Reverend Brown was the Devil. His eyes had fires in them.

  “Come forward, come forward and be saved! Come to salvation! Repent, ye sinners! Stand up, stand up and sing! Oh, lost lambs! Flee from the wrath! Pull, pull for the shore!” His hands lifted them all to their feet, his loud voice sang:

  “Pull for the shore, sailor!

  Pull for the shore!”

  “Come! Come!” his voice roared through the storm of singing, and someone, a young man, came stumbling up the aisle.

  “Heed not the stormy winds,

  Though loudly they roar.”

  “Bless you, bless you, my sinning brother, down on your knees and God bless you; are there any more? Any more?” Reverend Brown was shouting, and his voice roared again into the song, “Pull for the Shore!”

  The first words of that hymn had made Laura want to laugh. She remembered the tall thin man and the pudgy little one, so solemnly singing it, and all the storekeepers popping from the torn screen doors. Now she felt that all the noise and excitement was not touching her.

  She looked at Pa and Ma. They were quietly standing and quietly singing, while the dark, wild thing that she had felt was roaring all around them like a blizzard.

  Another young man, and then an older woman, went forward and knelt. Then church was over, yet somehow not over. People were pressing forward to crowd around those three and wrestle for their souls. In a low voice Pa said to Ma, “Come, let’s go.”

  He carried Grace down the aisle toward the door. Ma followed with Carrie, and behind her Laura followed close. In the back seats all the young men and boys stood watching the people passing by. Laura’s dread of strangers came over her and the open door ahead seemed a refuge from their eyes.

  She did not notice a touch on her coat sleeve until she heard a voice saying, “May I see you home?”

  It was Almanzo Wilder.

  Laura was so surprised that she could not say a word. She could not even nod or shake her head. She could not think. His hand stayed on her arm and he walked beside her through the door. He protected her from being jostled in the crowded entry.

  Pa had just lighted the lantern. He lowered the chimney and looked up, just as Ma turned back and asked, “Where’s Laura?” They both saw Laura with Almanzo Wilder beside her, and Ma stood petrified.

  “Come on, Caroline,” said Pa. Ma followed him, and after one wide-eyed stare, Carrie did too.

  The ground was white with snow and it was cold, but there was no wind, and stars shone brightly in the sky.

  Laura could not think of a word to say. She wished that Mr. Wilder would say something. A faint scent of cigar smoke came from his thick cloth overcoat. It was pleasant, but not as homelike as the scent of Pa’s pipe. It was a more dashing scent, it made her think of Cap and this young man daring that dangerous trip to bring back the wheat. All this time she was trying to think of something to say.

  To her complete surprise, she heard her own voice, “Anyway, there’s no blizzard.”

  “No. This is a nice winter, not much like the Hard Winter,” said he.

  Again there was silence, except for the crunch of their feet on the snow-covered path.

  On Main Street, dark groups hurried homeward, with lanterns that cast big shadows. Pa’s lantern went straight across the street. Pa and Ma and Carrie and Grace went in and were at home.

  Laura and Almanzo stood outside the closed door.

  “Well, good night,” he said, as he made a backward step and raised his cap. “I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

  “Good night,” Laura answered, as she quickly opened the door. Pa was holding the lantern up while Ma lighted the lamp, and he was saying, “—trust him anywhere, and it’s only walking home from Church.”

  “But she’s only fifteen!” said Ma.

  Then the door was shut. Laura was inside the warm room. The lamp was lighted, and everything was right.

  “Well, what did you think of the revival meeting?” Pa asked, and Laura answered, “It isn’t much like Reverend Alden’s quiet sermons. I like his better.”

  “So do I,” said Pa. Then Ma said it was past bedtime.

  Several times next day, Laura wondered what young Mr. Wilder had meant by saying that he would see her that night. She did not know why he had walked home with her. It was an odd thing for him to do, for he was a grown-up. He had been a homesteader for a few years, so he must be at least twenty-three years old, and he was Pa’s friend more than hers.

  That night in church she did not mind the sermon at all. She only wished she need not be there, when so many people, all together, grew so excited. She was glad when Pa said again, “Let’s go.”

  Almanzo Wilder stood in the line of young men near the door, and Laura was embarrassed. She saw now that several young men were taking young ladies home. She felt her cheeks flushing and she did not know where to look. Again he asked, “May I see you home?” and this time she answered politely, “Yes.”

  She had thought what she would have said last night, so now she spoke about Minnesota. She had come from Plum Creek and he had come from Spring Valley, but before that he had lived in New York State, near Malone. Laura thought she kept the conversation going quite well, until they reached the door where she could say, “Good night.”

  Every night that week he saw her home from the revival meeting. She still could not understand why. But the week soon ended, so that again she could spend the evenings in study, and she forgot to wonder about Almanzo in her dread of the School Exhibition.

  Chapter 24

  The School Exhibition

  The room was warm and the lamp burned clear and bright, but Laura’s chilly fingers could hardly button her blue cashmere basque and it seemed to her that the looking glass was dim. She was dressing to go to the School Exhibition.

  She had dreaded it for so long that now it did not seem real, but it was. Somehow she had to get through it.

  Carrie was frightened, too. Her eyes were very large in her thin face, and she whispered to herself, “‘Chisel in hand stood the sculptor boy,’” while Laura tied on her hair ribbon. Ma had made a new dress of bright plaid woolen for Carrie to wear when she spoke her piece.

  “Ma, please hear me say my piece again,” she begged.

  “There isn’t time, Carrie,” Ma replied. “We’re almost late as it is. I’m sure you know it perfectly well. I’ll hear you say it on the
way. Are you ready, Laura?”

  “Yes, Ma,” Laura said faintly.

  Ma blew out the lamp. Outdoors a cold wind was blowing and snow blew white along the ground. Laura’s skirts whipped in the wind, her hoops crawled up maddeningly, and she feared that the curl was coming out of her bangs.

  Desperately she tried to remember all that she must say, but she could not get beyond, “America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus, a native of Genoa in Italy—” Carrie was breathlessly chanting, “‘Waiting the hour when at God’s command—’”

  Pa said, “Hullo, they’ve got the church lighted up.”

  Both the schoolhouse and the church were lighted. A thick, dark line of people with splotches of yellow lanternlight was moving toward the church.

  “What’s up?” Pa asked, and Mr. Bradley answered, “So many have come, they can’t all get into the schoolhouse. Owen’s moving us into the church.” Mrs. Bradley said, “I hear you’re going to give us a real treat tonight, Laura.”

  Laura hardly knew what she answered. She was thinking, “Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa in Italy—America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Christopher Columbus, a—” She had to get past Columbus.

  In the entry the crowd was so jammed that she feared her wire hoops were pressed out of shape. There was no more room for wraps on the hooks there. The aisles were packed with people trying to find seats. Mr. Owen was heard repeating, “These front seats are reserved for the scholars. Pupils please come forward to these seats.”

  Ma said she would take care of the wraps. She helped Carrie out of her coat and hood while Laura took off her coat and hat and nervously felt her bangs.

  “Now, Carrie, you have only to do as well as you have been doing,” Ma said as she straightened Carrie’s full plaid skirt. “You know your piece perfectly.”

  “Yes, Ma,” Carrie whispered. Laura could not speak. Dumbly she guided Carrie up the aisle. On the way Carrie pressed back against her and looked up pleadingly. “Do I look all right?” she whispered.

  Laura looked at Carrie’s round, scared eyes. One whisp of fair hair straggled above them. Laura smoothed it back. Then Carrie’s hair was perfectly sleek from the middle parting to the two stiff braids hanging down her back.

  “There, now you look just right!” Laura said. “Your new plaid dress is beautiful.” Her voice did not seem to be hers, it was so serene.

  Carrie’s face lighted up, and she went wriggling past Mr. Owen to her classmates in the front seat.

  Mr. Owen said to Laura, “The pictures of the Presidents are being put up on the wall here, just as they were in the schoolhouse. My pointer is on the pulpit. When you come to George Washington, take up the pointer, and point to each President as you begin to speak about him. That will help you remember the proper order.”

  “Yes, sir,” Laura said, but now she knew that Mr. Owen was worrying, too. She, of all persons, must not fail, because hers was the principal part in the Exhibition.

  “Did he tell you about the pointer?” Ida whispered, as Laura sat down beside her. Ida looked like a dim copy of her usual happy self. Laura nodded, and they watched Cap and Ben, who were tacking up the pictures of the Presidents on the board wall, between the studding. The pulpit had been moved back against the wall to leave the platform clear. They could see the long school pointer lying on it.

  “I know you can do your part, but I’m scared,” Ida quavered.

  “You won’t be when the time comes,” Laura encouraged her. “Why, we are always good in history. It’s easier than the mental arithmetic we’ve got to do.”

  “I’m glad you have the beginning part, anyway,” Ida said. “I couldn’t do that, I just couldn’t.”

  Laura had been glad to have that part because it was more interesting. Now there was only a jumble in her head. She kept trying to remember all that history, though she knew it was too late now. But she must remember it. She dared not fail.

  “Please come to order,” Mr. Owen said. The School Exhibition began.

  Nellie Oleson, Mary Power and Minnie, Laura and Ida and Cap and Ben and Arthur filed up onto the platform. Arthur was wearing new shoes, and one of them squeaked. In a row, they all faced the church full of watching eyes. It was all a blur to Laura. Rapidly Mr. Owen began to ask questions.

  Laura was not frightened. It did not seem real that she was standing in the dazzle of light, wearing her blue cashmere and reciting geography. It would be shameful to fail to answer, or to make a mistake, before all those people and Pa and Ma, but she was not frightened. It was all like a dream of being half-asleep, and all the time she was thinking, “America was discovered by Christopher Columbus—” She did not make one mistake in geography.

  There was applause when that was over. Then came grammar. This was harder because there was no blackboard. It is easy enough to parse every word in a long, complex-compound sentence full of adverbial phrases, when you see the sentence written on slate or blackboard. It is not so easy to keep the whole sentence in mind and not omit a word nor so much as a comma. Still, only Nellie and Arthur made mistakes.

  Mental arithmetic was even harder. Laura disliked arithmetic. Her heart beat desperately when her turn came and she was sure she would fail. She stood amazed, hearing her voice going glibly through problems in short division. “Divide 347,264 by 16. Sixteen into 34 goes twice, put down 2 and carry 2; sixteen into 27 goes once, put down 1 and carry 11; sixteen into 112 goes seven times, put down 7 and carry naught; sixteen into 6 does not go, put down naught; sixteen into 64 goes 4 times, put down 4. Three hundred and forty-seven thousand, two hundred and sixty-four divided by sixteen equals— twenty-one thousand, seven hundred and four.”

  She need not multiply back to make sure the answer was right. She knew it was right because Mr. Owen set another problem.

  At last he said, “Class dismissed.”

  Through a great noise of applause, they all turned and filed back to their seat. Now the younger pupils would speak their pieces. Then Laura’s turn would come.

  While one after another the girls and boys were called to the platform and recited, Laura and Ida sat still and stiff with dread. All the history that Laura knew raced madly through her mind. “America was discovered… The Congress of Confederated Colonies in Philadelphia assembled… ‘There is only one word in this petition which I disapprove, and that is the word Congress…’ Mr. Benjamin Harrison rose and said, ‘There is but one word in this paper, Mr. President, which I approve, and that is the word Congress.’… ‘And George the Third… may profit by their example. If this be treason, gentlemen, make the most of it!’… Give me liberty or give me death… We hold these truths to be self-evident… Their feet left bloody tracks upon the snow…”

  Suddenly Laura heard Mr. Owen say, “Carrie Ingalls.”

  Carrie’s thin face was strained and pale as she made her way to the aisle. All the buttons up the back of her plaid dress were buttoned outside-in. Laura should have thought to button her up; but no, she had left poor little Carrie to do the best she could, alone.

  Carrie stood very straight, her hands behind her back and her eyes fixed above the crowd. Her voice was clear and sweet as she recited:

  “Chisel in hand stood a sculptor boy

  With his marble block before him,

  And his face lit up with a smile of joy

  As an angel dream passed o’er him.

  He carved that dream on the yielding stone

  With many a sharp incision;

  In Heaven’s own light the sculptor shone—

  He had caught that angel vision.

  “Sculptors of life are we as we stand,

  With our lives uncarved before us,

  Waiting the hour when at God’s command

  Our life-dream passes o’er us.

  Let us carve it then on the yielding stone

  With many a sharp incision.

  Its Heavenly beauty shall be our own—

  Our lives, tha
t angel vision.”

  She had not once faltered, nor missed a single word. Laura was proud, and Carrie flushed rosily as she marched smiling down to her place amid a loud clapping of hands.

  Then Mr. Owen said, “Now we will listen to a review of the history of our country from its discovery to the present time, given by Laura Ingalls and Ida Wright. You may begin, Laura.”

  The time had come. Laura stood up. She did not know how she got to the platform. Somehow she was there, and her voice began. “America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa in Italy, had long sought permission to make a voyage toward the west in order to discover a new route to India. At that time Spain was ruled by the united crowns of—”

  Her voice was shaking a little. She steadied it and went carefully on. It did not seem real that she was standing there, in her blue cashmere held grandly out by the hoops, with Ma’s pearl pin fastening the lace cascade under her chin, and her bangs damp and hot across her forehead.

  She told of the Spanish and the French explorers and their settlements, of Raleigh’s lost colony, of the English trading companies in Virginia and in Massachusetts, of the Dutch who bought Manhattan Island and settled the Hudson Valley.

  At first she spoke into a blur, then she began to see faces. Pa’s stood out from all the others. His eyes met hers and they were shining as slowly he nodded his head.

  Then she was really launched upon the great history of America. She told of the new vision of freedom and equality in the New World, she told of the old oppressions of Europe and of the war against tyranny and despotism, of the war for the independence of the thirteen new States, and of how the Constitution was written and these thirteen States united. Then, taking up the pointer, she pointed to George Washington.

 
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