On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 12)
On He Banks Of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
THE CHRISTMAS HORSES
Grasshopper weather was strange weather. Even at Thanksgiving, there was no snow. The door of the dugout was wide open while they ate Thanksgiving dinner. Laura could see across the bare willow-tops, far over the prairie to the place where the sun would go down. There was not one speck of snow. The prairie was like soft yellow fur. The line where it met the sky was not sharp now; it was smudged and blurry. “Grasshopper weather,” Laura thought to herself. She thought of grasshoppers’ grasshoppers’ long, folded wings and their high-jointed hind legs.
Their feet were thin and scratchy. Their heads were hard, with large eyes on the corners, and their jaws were tiny and nibbling. If you caught a grasshopper and held him, and gently poked a green blade of grass into his jaws, they nibbled it fast. They swiftly nibbled in the whole grass blade, till the tip of it went into them and was gone. Thanksgiving dinner was good. Pa had shot a wild goose for it. Ma had to stew the goose because there was no fireplace, and no oven in the little stove. But she made dumplings in the gravy. There were corn dodgers and mashed potatoes. There were butter, and milk, and stewed dried plums. And three grains of parched corn lay beside each tin plate.
At the first Thanksgiving dinner the poor Pilgrims had nothing to eat but three parched grains of corn. Then the Indians came and brought them turkeys, so the Pilgrims were thankful. Now, after they had eaten their good, big Thanksgiving dinner, Laura and Mary could eat their grains of corn and remember the Pilgrims. Parched corn was good. It crackled and crunched, and its taste was sweet and brown. Then Thanksgiving was past and it was time to think of Christmas. Still there was no snow and no rain. The sky was gray, the prairie was dull, and the winds were cold. But the cold winds blew over the top of the dugout. “A dugout is snug and cosy,” said Ma. “But I do feel like an animal penned up for the winter.” “Never mind, Caroline,” Pa said. “We’ll have a good house next year.” His eyes shone and his voice was like singing. “And good horses, and a buggy to boot! I’ll take you riding, dressed up in silks! Think, Caroline—this level, rich land, not a stone or stump to contend with, and only three miles from a railroad! We can sell every grain of wheat we raise!”
Then he ran his fingers through his hair and said, “I do wish I had a team of horses.” “Now, Charles,” said Ma. “Here we are, all healthy and safe and snug, with food for the winter. Let’s be thankful for what we have.” “I am,” Pa said. “But Pete and Bright are too slow for harrowing and harvesting. I’ve broken up that big field with them, but I can’t put it all in wheat, without horses.” Then Laura had a chance to speak without interrupting. She said, “There isn’t any fireplace.” “Whatever are you talking about?” Ma asked her. “Santa Claus,” Laura answered.
“Eat your supper, Laura, and let’s not cross bridges till we come to them,” said Ma. Laura and Mary knew that Santa Claus could not come down a chimney where there was no chimney. One day Mary asked Ma how Santa Claus would come. Ma did not answer. Instead, she asked, “What do you girls want for Christmas?” She was ironing. One end of the ironing-board was on the table and the other on the bedstead. Pa had made the bedstead that high, on purpose. Carrie was playing on the bed and Laura and Mary sat at the table. Mary was sorting quilt blocks and Laura was making a little apron for the rag doll, Charlotte. The wind howled overhead and whined in the stovepipe, but there was no snow yet. Laura said, “I want candy.”
“So do I,” said Mary, and Carrie cried, “Tandy?” “And a new winter dress, and a coat, and a hood,” said Mary. “So do I,” said Laura. “And a dress for Charlotte, and—” Ma lifted the iron from the stove and held it out to them. They could test the iron. They licked their fingers and touched them, quicker than quick, to the smooth hot bottom. If it crackled, the iron was hot enough. “Thank you, Mary and Laura,” Ma said.
She began carefully ironing around and over the patches on Pa’s shirt. “Do you know what Pa wants for Christmas?” They did not know. “Horses,” Ma said. “Would you girls like horses?” Laura and Mary looked at each other. “I only thought,” Ma went on, “if we all wished for horses, and nothing but horses, then maybe—” Laura felt queer. Horses were everyday; they were not Christmas. If Pa got horses, he would trade for them. Laura could not think of Santa Claus and horses at the same time. “Ma!” she cried. “There IS a Santa Claus, isn’t there?” “Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Ma. She set the iron on the stove to heat again. “The older you are, the more you know about Santa Claus,” she said. “You are so big now, you know he can’t be just one man, don’t you? You know he is everywhere on Christmas Eve. He is in the Big Woods, and in Indian Territory, and far away in New York State, and here. He comes down all the chimneys at the same time. You know that, don’t you?” “Yes, Ma,” said Mary and Laura.
“Well,” said Ma. “Then you see—” “I guess he is like angels,” Mary said, slowly. And Laura could see that, just as well as Mary could. Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time. Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus. Christmas Eve was the time when everybody was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done. “If everybody wanted everybody else to be happy, all the time, then would it be Christmas all the time?” Laura asked, and Ma said, “Yes, Laura.” Laura thought about that. So did Mary. They thought, and they looked at each other, and they knew what Ma wanted them to do. She wanted them to wish for nothing but horses for Pa.
They looked at each other again and they looked away quickly and they did not say anything. Even Mary, who was always so good, did not say a word. That night after supper Pa drew Laura and Mary close to him in the crook of his arms. Laura looked up at his face, and then she snuggled against him and said, “Pa.” “What is it, little half-pint of sweet cider?” Pa asked, and Laura said: “Pa, I want Santa Claus—to bring—” “What?” Pa asked. “Horses,” said Laura. “If you will let me ride them sometimes.” “So do I!” said Mary. But Laura had said it first. Pa was surprised. His eyes shone soft and bright at them. “Would you girls really like horses?” he asked them. “Oh yes, Pa!” they said. “In that case,” said Pa, smiling, “I have an idea that Santa Claus will bring us all a fine team of horses.” That settled it.
They would not have any Christmas, only horses. Laura and Mary soberly undressed and soberly buttoned up their nightgowns and tied their nightcap strings. They knelt down together and said, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take, and please bless Pa and Ma and Carrie and everybody and make me a good
girl for ever’n’ever. Amen.” Quickly Laura added, in her own head, “And please make me only glad about the Christmas horses, for ever’n’ever amen again.” She climbed into bed and almost right away she was glad. She thought of horses sleek and shining, of how their manes and tails blew in the wind, how they picked up their swift feet and sniffed the air with velvety noses and looked at everything with bright, soft eyes. And Pa would let her ride them. Pa had tuned his fiddle and now he set it against his shoulder. Overhead the wind went wailing lonely in the cold dark. But in the dugout everything was snug and cosy. Bits of fire-light came through the seams of the stove and twinkled on Ma’s steel knitting needles and tried to catch Pa’s elbow. In the shadows the bow was dancing, on the floor Pa’s toe was tapping, and the merry music hid the lonely crying of the wind.