By The Shores Of Silver Lake (Chapter 19)

By The Shores Of Silver Lake

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 19
Christmas Eve

It had snowed all day and soft, large flakes were still falling. The winds were quiet so that the snow lay deep on the ground, and Pa took the shovel with him when he went to do the evening chores.

“Well, it’s a white Christmas,” he said.

“Yes, and we’re all here and all well, so it’s a merry one,” said Ma.

The surveyors’ house was full of secrets. Mary had knitted new, warm socks for Pa’s Christmas present. Laura had made him a necktie from a piece of silk she found in Ma’s scrap bag. Together in the attic, she and Carrie had made an apron for Ma from one of the calico curtains that had hung in the shanty. In the scrap bag they found a piece of fine, white muslin; Laura had cut a small square from it, and secretly Mary had hemmed the square with her fine stitches and made a handkerchief for Ma. They put it in the apron pocket. Then they had wrapped the apron in tissue paper and hidden it under the quilt blocks in Mary’s box.

There had been a blanket, striped across the ends in red and green. The blanket was worn out, but the striped end was good, and from it Ma had cut bed shoes for Mary. Laura had made one, and Carrie the other, seaming and turning and finishing them neatly with chords and tassels of yarn. The shoes were hidden carefully in Ma’s bedroom so that Mary would not find them.

Laura and Mary had wanted to make mittens for Carrie, but they had not enough yarn. There was a little white yarn, and a little red, and a little blue, but not enough of any color to make mittens.

“I know!” Mary said. “We’ll make the hands white, and the wrists in red and blue strips!” Every morning while Carrie was making her bed in the attic, Laura and Mary had knitted as fast as they could; when they heard her coming down stairs, they hid the mittens in Mary’s knitting basket. The mittens were there now, finished.

Grace’s Christmas present was to be the most beautiful of all. They had all worked at it together in the warm room, for Grace was so little that she didn’t notice.

Ma had taken the swan’s skin from its careful wrappings, and cut from it a little hood. The skin was so delicate that Ma trusted no one else to handle that; she sewed every stitch of the hood herself. But she let Laura and Carrie piece out the lining, of scraps of blue silk from the scrap bag. After Ma sewed the swan’s-down hood to the lining, it would not tear.

Then Ma looked again in the scrap bag, and chose a large piece of soft blue woolen cloth, that had once been her best winter dress. Out of it she cut a little coat. Laura and Carrie sewed the seams and pressed them; Mary put the tiny stitches in the hem at the bottom. Then on the coat Ma sewed a collar of the soft swan’s-down, and put narrow swan’s-down cuffs on the sleeves.

The blue coat trimmed with the white swan’s-down, and the delicate swan’s-down hood with its lining as blue as Grace’s eyes, were beautiful.

“It’s like making doll’s clothes,” Laura said.

“Grace will be lovelier than any doll,” Mary declared.

“Oh, let’s put them on her now!” Carrie cried, dancing in her eagerness.

But Ma had said the coat and the hood must be laid away until Christmas, and they were. They were waiting now for tomorrow morning to come.

Pa had gone hunting. He said he intended to have the biggest jack rabbit in the territory for the Christmas dinner. And he had. At least, he had brought home the very biggest rabbit they had ever seen. Skinned and cleaned and frozen stiff, it waited now in the lean-to to be roasted tomorrow.

Pa came in from the stable, stamping the snow from his feet. He broke the ice from his mustache and spread his hands in the warmth above the stove.

“Whew!” he said. “This is a humdinger of a cold spell for the night before Christmas. It’s too cold for Santa Claus to be out,” and his eyes twinkled at Carrie.

“We don’t need Santa Claus! We’ve all been—” Carrie began, then she clapped her hand over her mouth and looked quickly to see if Laura and Mary had noticed how nearly she had told secrets.

Pa turned around to warm his back in the heat from the oven, and he looked happily at them all.

“We’re all snug under cover anyway,” he said. “Ellen and Sam and David are warm and comfortable too, and I gave them an extra feed for Christmas Eve. Yes, it’s a pretty good Christmas, isn’t it, Caroline?”

“Yes, Charles, it is,” said Ma. She set the bowl of hot corn meal mush on the table, and poured out the milk. “Come now, and eat. A hot supper will warm you quicker than anything else, Charles.”

At supper they talked about other Christmases. They had had so many Christmases together, and here they were again, all together and warm and fed and happy. Upstairs in Laura’s box there was still Charlotte, the rag doll from her Christmas stocking in the Big Woods. The tin cups and the pennies from Christmas in Indian Territory were gone now, but Laura and Mary remembered Mr. Edwards who had walked forty miles to Independence and back, to bring those presents from Santa Claus. They never had heard of Mr. Edwards since he started alone down the Verdigris River, and they wondered what had become of him.

“Wherever he is, let’s hope he’s as lucky as we are,” said Pa. Wherever he was, they were remembering him and wishing him happiness.

“And you’re here, Pa,” Laura said. “You’re not lost in a blizzard.” For a moment they all looked silently at Pa, thinking of that dreadful Christmas when he almost had not come home and they feared he never would.

Tears came into Ma’s eyes. She tried to hide them, but she had to brush them away with her hand. They all pretended not to notice. “It’s just thankfulness, Charles,” Ma said, blowing her nose.

Then Pa burst out laughing. “That was the joke on me!” he said. “Starving to death for three days and nights, and eating the oyster crackers and the Christmas candy, and all the time I was under the bank of our own creek, not a hundred yards from the house!”

“I think the best Christmas was the time there was the Sunday-school Christmas tree,” said Mary. “You’re too little to remember, Carrie, but Oh! how wonderful that was!”

“It wasn’t really as good as this one,” Laura said. “Because now Carrie is old enough to remember, and now we have Grace.” There was Carrie—the wolf didn’t hurt her. And there on Ma’s lap sat the littlest sister Grace, with her hair the color of sunshine and eyes as blue as violets.

“Yes, this is best after all,” Mary decided. “And maybe next year there’ll be a Sunday-school here.”

The mush was gone. Pa scraped the last drop of milk from his bowl and drank his tea. “Well,” he said, “we can’t have a tree, for there isn’t so much as a bush on Silver Lake. We wouldn’t want one anyway, just for ourselves. But we can have a little Sunday-school celebration of our own, Mary.”

He went to get his fiddle box, and while Ma and Laura washed the bowls and the pot and set them away, he tuned the fiddle and rosined the bow.

Frost was thick on the windowpanes and frost furred the cracks around the door. Thickly against the clear upper edges of the windowpanes the snowflakes fluttered. But lamplight was bright on the red-and-white tablecloth, and the fire glowed behind the open drafts of the stove.

“We can’t sing so soon after eating,” said Pa. “So I’ll just limber up the fiddle.”

Merrily he played, “Away Down the River on the O-hi-o!” And, “Why Chime the Bells So Merrily.” And,

“Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way!
Oh, what fun it is to ride,
In a one-hoss open sleigh!”

Then he stopped and smiled at them all. “Are you ready to sing now?”

The voice of the fiddle changed; it was going to sing a hymn. Pa played a few notes. Then they all sang:

“Yes, a brighter morn is breaking,
Better days are coming on.
All the world will be awaking
In a new and golden dawn.
And many nations shall come and say,
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord!
And He will teach us, will teach us of His ways,
And we will walk in His paths.”

The fiddle’s voice wandered away, Pa seemed to be playing his thoughts to himself. But a melody grew out of them and throbbed softly until they all joined in and sang:

“The sun may warm the grass to life,
The dew the drooping flower;
And eyes grow bright and watch the light
Of autumn’s opening hour;
But words that breathe of tenderness
And smiles we know are true
Are warmer than the summertime
And brighter than the dew.

“It is not much the world can give
With all its subtle art;
And gold and gems are not the things
To satisfy the heart;
But Oh, if those who cluster round
The altar and the hearth,
Have gentle words and loving smiles,
How beautiful the earth!”

Through the music, Mary cried out, “What’s that?”

“What, Mary?” Pa asked.

“I thought I heard—Listen!” Mary said.

They listened. The lamp made a tiny purring sound, and the coals softly settled a little in the stove. Past the little space above the white frost on the windows, falling snowflakes twinkled in the lamplight shining through the glass.

“What did you think you heard, Mary?” Pa asked. “It sounded like—There it is again!”

This time they all heard a shout. Out in the night, in the storm, a man shouted. And shouted again, quite near the house.

Ma started up. “Charles! Who on earth?”

 

 

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