Farmer Boy (Chapter 8)
Laura Ingalls Wilder
CHAPTER 8 SUNDAY
When Almanzo trudged into the kitchen next morning with two brimming milk-pails, Mother was making stacked pancakes because this was Sunday.
The big blue platter on the stove’s hearth was full of plump sausage cakes; Eliza Jane was cutting apple pies and Alice was dishing up the oatmeal, as usual. But the little blue platter stood hot on the back of the stove, and ten stacks of pancakes rose in tall towers on it.
Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple sugar. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges.
That was stacked pancakes. Almanzo liked them better than any other kind of pancakes.
That was stacked pancakes. Almanzo liked them better than any other kind of pancakes.
Mother kept on frying them till the others had eaten their oatmeal. She could never make too many stacked pancakes. They all ate pile after pile of them, and Almanzo was still eating when Mother pushed back her chair and said:
“Mercy on us! eight o’clock! I must fly!”
Mother always flew. Her feet went pattering, her hands moved so fast you could hardly watch them. She never sat down in the daytime, except at her spinning-wheel or loom, and then her hands flew, her feet tapped, the spinning-wheel was a blur or the loom was clattering, thump! thud! clickety- clack! But on Sunday morning she made everybody else hurry, too.
Father curried and brushed the sleek brown driving-horses till they shone. Almanzo dusted the sleigh and Royal wiped the silver-mounted harness. They hitched up the horses, and then they went to the house to put on their Sunday clothes.
Mother was in the pantry, setting the top crust on the Sunday chicken pie. Three fat hens were in the pie, under the bubbling gravy. Mother spread the crust and crimped the edges, and the gravy showed through the two pine-trees
she had cut in the dough. She put the pie in the heating-stove’s oven, with the beans and the rye ’n’ injun bread. Father filled the stove with hickory logs and closed the dampers, while Mother flew to lay out his clothes and dress herself.
Poor people had to wear homespun on Sundays, and Royal and Almanzo wore fullcloth. But Father and Mother and the girls were very fine, in clothes that Mother had made of store-boughten cloth, woven by machines.
She had made Father’s suit of fine black broadcloth. The coat had a velvet collar, and his shirt was made of French calico. His stock was black silk, and on Sundays he did not wear boots; he wore shoes of thin calfskin.
Mother was dressed in brown Merino, with a white lace collar, and white lace frills at her wrists, under the big, bell-shaped sleeves. She had knitted the lace of finest thread, and it was like cobwebs. There were rows of brown velvet around her sleeves and down the front of her basque, and she had made her bonnet of the same brown velvet, with brown velvet strings tied under her chin.
Almanzo was proud of Mother in her fine Sunday clothes. The girls were very fine, too, but he did not feel the same about them.
Their hoopskirts were so big that Royal and Almanzo could hardly get into the sleigh. They had to scrooge down and let those hoops bulge over their knees. And if they even moved, Eliza Jane would cry out: “Be careful, clumsy!”
And Alice would mourn:
“Oh dear me, my ribbons are mussed.”
But when they were all tucked under the buffalo-skin robes, with hot bricks at their feet, Father let the prancing horses go, and Almanzo forgot everything else.
The sleigh went like the wind. The beautiful horses shone in the sun; their necks were arched and their heads were up and their slender legs spurned the snowy road. They seemed to be flying, their glossy long manes and tails blown back in the wind of their speed.
Father sat straight and proud, holding the reins and letting the horses go as fast as they would. He never used the whip; his horses were gentle and perfectly trained. He had only to tighten or slacken the reins, and they obeyed him. His horses were the best horses in New York State, or maybe in the whole world. Malone was five miles away, but Father never started till thirty minutes before church-time. That team would trot the whole five miles, and he would stable them and blanket them and be on the church steps when the bell rang.
When Almanzo thought that it would be years and years before he could hold reins and drive horses like that, he could hardly bear it.
In no time at all, Father was driving into the church sheds in Malone. The sheds were one long, low building, all around the four sides of a square. You drove into the square through a gate. Every man who belonged to the church paid rent for a shed, according to his means, and Father had the best one. It was so large that he drove inside it to unhitch, and there was a manger with feedboxes, and space for hay and oats.
Father let Almanzo help put blankets on the horses, while Mother and the girls shook out their skirts and smoothed their ribbons. Then they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.
After that there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over.
It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.
At last it was over. In the sunshine outside the church, Almanzo felt better. Boys must not run or laugh or talk loudly on Sunday, but they could talk quietly, and Almanzo’s cousin Frank was there.
Frank’s father was Uncle Wesley; he owned the potato-starch mill and lived in town. He did not have a farm. So Frank was only a town boy and he played with town boys. But this Sunday morning he was wearing a store- boughten cap.
It was made of plaid cloth, machine-woven, and it had ear-flaps that buttoned under the chin. Frank unbuttoned them, and showed Almanzo that they would turn up and button across the cap’s top. He said the cap came from New York City. His father had bought it in Mr. Case’s store.
Almanzo had never seen a cap like that. He wanted one. Royal said it was a silly cap. He said to Frank:
“What’s the sense of ear-flaps that button over the top? Nobody has ears on top of his head.” So Almanzo knew that Royal wanted a cap like that, too.
“How much did it cost?” Almanzo asked.
“Fifty cents,” Frank said, proudly.
Almanzo knew he could not have one. The caps that Mother made were snug and warm, and it would be a foolish waste of money to buy a cap. Fifty cents was a lot of money.
“You just ought to see our horses,” he said to Frank.
“Huh! they’re not your horses!” Frank said. “They’re your father’s horses. You haven’t got a horse, nor even a colt.”
“I’m going to have a colt,” said Almanzo.
“When?” Frank asked.
Just then Eliza Jane called over her shoulder:
“Come, Almanzo! Father’s hitching up!”
He hurried away after Eliza Jane, but Frank called after him, low:
“You are not either going to have a colt!”
Almanzo got soberly into the sleigh. He wondered if he would ever be big enough to have anything he wanted. When he was younger, Father sometimes let him hold the ends of the reins while Father drove, but he was not a baby now. He wanted to drive the horses, himself. Father allowed him to brush and currycomb and rub down the gentle old work-horses, and to drive them on the harrow. But he could not even go into the stalls with the spirited driving-horses or the colts. He hardly dared stroke their soft noses through the bars, and scratch a little on their foreheads under the forelocks. Father said:
“You boys keep away from those colts. In five minutes you can teach them tricks it will take me months to gentle out of them.”
He felt a little better when he sat down to the good Sunday dinner. Mother sliced the hot rye ’n’ injun bread on the bread-board by her plate.
Father’s spoon cut deep into the chicken-pie; he scooped out big pieces of thick crust and turned up their fluffy yellow under-sides on the plate. He poured gravy over them; he dipped up big pieces of tender chicken, dark meat and white meat sliding from the bones. He added a mound of baked beans and topped it with a quivering slice of fat pork. At the edge of the plate he piled dark red beet pickles. And he handed the plate to Almanzo.
Silently Almanzo ate it all. Then he ate a piece of pumpkin pie, and he felt very full inside. But he ate a piece of apple pie with cheese.
After dinner Eliza Jane and Alice did the dishes, but Father and Mother and Royal and Almanzo did nothing at all. The whole afternoon they sat in the drowsy warm dining-room. Mother read the Bible and Eliza Jane read a book, and Father’s head nodded till he woke with a jerk, and then it began to nod again. Royal fingered the wooden chain that he could not whittle, and Alice looked for a long time out of the window. But Almanzo just sat. He had to. He was not allowed to do anything else, for Sunday was not a day for working or playing. It was a day for going to church and for sitting still.
Almanzo was glad when it was time to do the chores.