On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 16)
On The Banks Of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Wonderful House
The creek went down. All at once the days were warm, and early very morning Pa went to work the wheat-field with Sam and David, the Christmas horses.
”I declare,” Ma said, “you’re working that ground to death and killing yourself.” But Pa said the ground was dry because there had not been enough snow. He must plow deep and harrow well, and get the wheat sowed quickly. Every day he was working before the sun came and he worked till dark. Laura waited in the dark till she heard Sam and David splashing into the forth. Then she ran into the dugout for the lantern and she hurried to the stable to hold it so that Pa could see to do the chores.
He was too tired to laugh or talk. He ate supper and went to bed. At last the wheat was sowed. Then he sowed oats, and he made the potatoes patch and the garden. Ma and Mary and Laura helped plant the potatoes and sprinkle little seeds in the garden rows, and they let Carrie think she was helping.
The whole world was green with grass now; the yellow-green willow leaves were uncurling. Violets and buttercups were thick in the prairie hollows, and the sorrel’s clover-like leaves and lavender blossoms were sour and good to eat. Only the wheat-field was bare and brown.
One evening Pa showed Laura a faint green mist on that brown field. The wheat was up! Each tiny sprout was so thin you could hardly see it, but so many of them all together made that misty green. Everyone was happy that night because the wheat was a good stand.
The next day Pa drove to town. Sam and David could go to town and come back in one afternoon. There was hardly time to miss Pa, and they were not even watching for him when he came home. Laura heard the wagon first, and she was the first one up the path.
Pa was sitting on the wagon seat. His face was one big shining of joy, and lumber was piled high in the wagon box behind him. He sang out, “Here’s your new house, Caroline!”
“But Charles!” Ma gasped. Laura ran and climbed up over the wheel, up onto that pile of boards. She had never seen such smooth, straight, beautiful boards. They had been sawed by machinery.
“But the wheat’s hardly up yet!” Ma said.
“That’s all right,” Pa told her. “They let me have the lumber, and we’ll pay for it when we sell the wheat.”
Laura asked him, “Are we going to have a house made of boards?”
“Yes, flutterbudget,” said Pa. “We’re going to have a whole house built of sawed lumber. And it’s going to have glass windows!”
It was really true. Next morning Mr. Nelson came to help Pa, and they began digging the cellar for that house. They were going to have that wonderful house, just because the wheat was growing.
Laura and Mary could hardly stay in the dugout long enough to do their work. But Ma made them do it.
“And I won’t have you giving your work a lick and a promise,” said Ma. So they washed every breakfast dish and put them all away. They made their bed neatly. They brushed the floor with the willow-twig broom and set the broom in its place. Then they could go.
They ran down the steps and over the footbridge, and under the willows, up to the prairie. They went through the prairie grasses and up to the top of a green knoll, where Pa and Mr. Nelson were building the new house.
It was fun to watch them set up the skeleton house. The timbers stood up slender and golden-new, and the sky was very blue between them. The hammers made a gay sound. The planes cut long curly shavings from the sweet-smelling boards.
Laura and Mary hung little shavings over their ears for earrings. They put them around their necks for necklaces. Laura tucked long ones in her hair and they hung down in golden curls, just the color she had always wanted her hair to be.
Up on the skeleton roof Pa and Mr. Nelson hammered and sawed. Little blocks of wood fell down, and Laura and Mary gathered them in piles and built houses of their own. They had never had such a good time.
Pa and Mr. Nelson covered the skeleton walls with slanting boards nailed on. They shingled the roof with boughten shingles. Boughten shingles were thin and all the same size; they were far finer shingles than even Pa could hew with an ax. They made an even, tight roof, with not one crack in it.
Then Pa laid the floor of silky-smooth boards that were grooved along the edges and fitted together perfectly. Overhead he laid another floor for the upstairs, and that made the ceiling of the downstairs.
Across the downstairs, Pa put up a partition. That house was going to have two rooms! One was the bedroom, and the other was only to live in. He put two shining-clear glass windows in that room; one looking toward the sunrise and the other beside the doorway to the south. In the bedroom walls he set two more windows, and they were glass windows, too.
Laura had never seen such wonderful windows. They were in halves. There were six panes of glass in each half, and the bottom half would push up, and stay up when a stick was set under it.
Opposite the front door Pa put a back door, and outside it he built a tiny room. That was a lean-to, because it leaned against the house. It would keep out the north winds in the wintertime, and it was a place where Ma could keep her broom and mop and washtub.
Now Mr. Nelson was not there and Laura asked questions all the time. Pa said the bedroom was for Ma and Carrie and him. He said the attic was for Mary and Laura, to sleep in and to play in. Laura wanted so much to see it that he stopped work on the lean-to and nailed strips of board up the wall, to make the attic ladder.
Laura skipped quickly up that ladder till her head came up through the hole in the attic floor. The attic was as big as both rooms downstairs. Its floor was smooth boards. Its slanting roof was the underside of the fresh, yellow shingles. There was a little window at each end of that attic, and those windows were glass windows!
At first Mary was scared to swing off the ladder to the attic floor. Then she was scared to step down through the floor-hole onto the ladder. Laura felt scared, too, but she pretended she didn’t. And they soon got used to getting on and off the ladder.
Now they thought the house was done. But Pa nailed black tar-paper all over the outside of the house walls. Then he nailed more boards over that paper. They were long, smooth boards, one lapping over the other all up the sides of the house. Then around the windows and the doorways Pa nailed flat frames.
“This house is tight as a drum!” he said. There was not one single crack in the roof or the walls or the floor of that house, to let in rain or cold winds.
Then Pa put in the doors, and they were boughten doors. They were smooth, and far thinner than slab doors hewed with an ax, and even thinner panes were set into them above and below their middles. Their hinges were boughten hinges, and it was marvelous to see them open and shut. They did not rattle like wooden hinges or let the door drag like leather hinges.
Into those doors Pa set boughten locks, with keys that went into small, shaped holes, and turned and clicked. These locks had white china door knobs.
Then one day Pa said, “Laura and Mary, can you keep a secret?”
“Oh yes, Pa!” they said.
“Promise you won’t tell Ma?” he asked, and they promised.
He opened the lean-to door. And there stood a shiny-black cookstove. Pa had brought it from town and hidden it there, to surprise Ma.
On top, that cookstove had four round holes and four round lids fitted them. Each lid had a grooved hole in it, and there was an iron handle that fitted into the holes, to lift the lid by. In front, there was a long, low door. There were slits in this door, and a piece of iron would slide back and forth, to close these slits or open them. That was the draught. Under it, a shelf like an oblong pan stuck out. That was to catch ashes and keep them from dropping on the floor. A lid swung flat over this hollowed-out shelf. And on the lid were raised iron letters in rows.
Mary put her finger on the bottom row and spelled, out, “P A T. One seven seven ought.” She asked Pa, “What’s that spell, Pa?”
“It spells Pat,” Pa said.
Laura opened a big door on the side of the stove, and looked into a big square place with a shelf across it. “Oh Pa, what’s this for?” she asked him.
“It’s the oven,” Pa told her.
He lifted that marvelous stove and set it in the living-room, and put up the stovepipe. Piece by piece, the stovepipe went up through the ceiling and the attic and through a hole he sawed in the roof. Then Pa climbed onto the roof and he set a larger tin pipe over the stovepipe. The tin pipe had a spread-out, flat bottom that covered the hole in the roof. Not a drop of rain could run down the stovepipe into the new house.
That was a prairie chimney.
“Well, it’s done,” Pa said. “Even to a prairie chimney.”
There was nothing more that a house could possibly have. The glass windows made the inside of that house so light that you would hardly know you were in a house. It smelled clean and piny, from the yellow-new board walls and floor. The cookstove stood lordly in the corner by the lean-to door. A touch on the white-china door knob swung the boughten door on its boughten hinges, and the door knob’s little iron tongue clicked and held the door shut.
“We’ll move in, tomorrow morning,” Pa said. “This is the last night we’ll sleep in a dugout.”
Laura and Mary took his hands and they went down the knoll. The wheat-field was a silky, shimmery green rippling over a curve of the prairie. Its sides were straight and its corners square, and all around it the wild prairie grasses looked coarser and darker green. Laura looked back at the wonderful house. In the sunshine on the knoll, its sawed-lumber walls and roof were as golden as a straw-stack.