On The Banks Of Plum (Chapter 23)
On The Banks Of Plum
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Will you come to my party?” Laura asked Christy and Maud and Nellie Oleson. Mary asked the big girls. They all said they would come.
That Saturday morning the new house was specially pretty. Jack could not come in on the scrubbed floors. The windows were shining and the pink-edged curtains were freshly crisp and white. Laura and Mary made new starry papers for the shelves, and Ma made vanity cakes.
She made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom. Then it swelled underneath till it was round, and Ma lifted it out with a fork.
She put every one of those cakes in the cupboard. They were for the party.
Laura and Mary and Ma and Carrie were dressed up and waiting when the guests came walking out from town. Laura had even brushed Jack though he was always clean and handsome in his white and brown-spotted short fur.
He ran down with Laura to the ford. The girls came laughing and splashing through the sunny water, all except Nellie. She had to take off her shoes and stockings and she complained that the gravel hurt her feet. She said: “I don’t go bare-footed. I have shoes and stockings.”
She was wearing a new dress and big, new hair-ribbon bows.
“Is that Jack?” Christy asked, and they all patted him and said what a good dog he was. But when he politely wagged to Nellie, she said: “Go away! Don’t you touch my dress!”
“Jack wouldn’t touch your dress,” Laura said.
They went up the path between the blowing grasses and wild flowers, to the house where Ma was waiting. Mary told her the girls’ names one by one, and she smiled her lovely smile and spoke to them. But Nellie smoothed down her new pretty dress and said to Ma:
“Of course I didn’t wear my best dress to just a country party.”
Then Laura didn’t care what Ma had taught her; she didn’t care if Pa punished her. She was going to get even with Nellie for that. Nellie couldn’t speak that way to Ma.
Ma only smiled and said: “It’s a very pretty dress, Nellie. We’re glad you could come.” But Laura was not going to forgive Nellie.
The girls liked the pretty house. It was so clean and airy, with sweet-smelling breezes blowing through it and the grassy prairies all around. They climbed the ladder and looked at Laura’s and Mary’s very own attic; none of them had anything like that. But Nellie asked, “Where are your dolls?”
Laura was not going to show her darling rag Charlotte to Nellie Oleson. She said: “I don’t play with dolls. I play in the creek.”
Then they went outdoors with Jack. Laura showed them the little chicks by the haystacks, and they looked at the green garden rows and the thick-growing wheat-field. They ran down the knoll to the low bank of Plum Creek. There was the willow and footbridge, and the water coming out of the plum thicket’s shade, running wide and shallow over sparkling pebbles and gurgling under the bridge to the knee-deep pool.
Mary and the big girls came down slowly, bringing Carrie to play with. But Laura and Christy and Maud and Nellie held their skirts up above their knees and went wading into the cool, flowing water. Away through the shallows the minnows went swimming in crowds away from the shouts and splashing.
The big girls took Carrie wading where the water sparkled thin in the sunshine, and gathered pretty pebbles along the creek’s edge. The little girls played tag across the footbridge. They ran on the warm grass, and played in the water again. And while they were playing, Laura suddenly thought of what she could do to Nellie.
She led the girls wading near the old crab’s home. The noise and splashing had driven him under his rock. She saw his angry claws and browny-green head peeping out, and she crowded Nellie near him. Then she kicked a big splash of water onto his rock and she screamed:
“Oo, Nellie! Nellie, look out!”
The old crab rushed at Nellie’s toes, snapping his claws to nip them.
“Run! Run!” Laura screamed, pushing Christy and Maud back toward the bridge, and then she ran after Nellie. Nellie ran screaming straight into the muddy water under the plum thicket. Laura stopped on the gravel and looked back at the crab’s rock.
“Wait, Nellie,” she said. “You stay there.”
“Oh, what was it? What was it? Is he coming?” Nellie asked. She had dropped her dress, and her skirt and petticoats were in the muddy water.
“It’s an old crab,” Laura told her. “He cuts big sticks in two with his claws. He could cut our toes right off.”
“Oh, where is he? Is he coming?” Nellie asked.
“You stay there and I’ll look,” said Laura, and she went wading slowly and stopping and looking. The old crab was under his rock again, but Laura did not say so. She waded very slowly all the way to the bridge, while Nellie watched from the plum thicket. Then she waded back and said, “You can come out now.”
Nellie came out into the clean water. She said she didn’t like that horrid old creek and wasn’t going to play any more. She tried to wash her muddy skirt and then she tried to wash her feet, and then she screamed.
Muddy-brown bloodsuckers were sticking to her legs and her feet. She couldn’t wash them off. She tried to pick one off, and then she ran screaming up on the creek bank. There she stood kicking as hard as she could, first one foot and then the other, screaming all the time.
Laura laughed till she fell on the grass and rolled. “Oh, look, look!” she shouted, laughing. “See Nellie dance!”
All the girls came running. Mary told Laura to pick those bloodsuckers off Nellie, but Laura didn’t listen. She kept on rolling and laughing.
“Laura!” Mary said. “You get up and pull those things off, or I’ll tell Ma.”
Then Laura began to pull the bloodsuckers off Nellie. All the girls watched and screamed while she pulled them out long, and longer, and longer. Nellie cried: “I don’t like your party!” she said. “I want to go home!”
Ma came hurrying down to the creek to see why they were screaming. She told Nellie not to cry, a few leeches were nothing to cry about. She said it was time now for them all to come to the house.
The table was set prettily with Ma’s best white cloth and the blue pitcher full of flowers. The benches were drawn up on either side of it. Shiny tin cups were full of cold, creamy milk from the cellar, and the big platter was heaped with honey-colored vanity cakes.
The cakes were not sweet, but they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue.
They ate and ate of those vanity cakes. They said they had never tasted anything so good, and they asked Ma what they were.
“Vanity cakes,” said Ma. “Because they are all puffed up, like vanity, with nothing solid inside.”
There were so many vanity cakes that they ate till they could eat no more, and they drank all the sweet, cold milk they could hold. Then the party was over. All the girls but Nellie said thank you for the party. Nellie was still mad.
Laura did not care. Christy squeezed her and said in her ear, “I never had such a good time! And it just served Nellie right!”
Deep down inside her Laura felt satisfied when she thought of Nellie dancing on the creek bank.