By The Shores Of Silver Lake (Chaprer 22)
By The Shores Of Silver Lake
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Happy Winter Days
The Christmasy feeling lasted day after day. Every morning Mrs. Boast did her breakfast work quickly and came to spend her time with “the other girls,” as she said. She was always merry and full of fun and always so pretty, with her soft dark hair and laughing blue eyes and the bright color in her cheeks.
That first week the sun shone brightly, there was no wind, and in six days the snow was all gone. The prairie showed bare and brown, and the air seemed warm as milk. Mrs. Boast had cooked the New Year’s dinner.
“You can all crowd into my little place for once,” she said.
She let Laura help her move things. They put the table on the bed and opened the door wide against the wall. Then they set the table in the exact middle of the house. One corner of it almost touched the stove, and the other end was almost against the bed. But there was room for them all to come in, single file, and sit around it. Mrs. Boast sat by the stove and served the food from its hot top.
First, there was oyster soup. In all her life Laura had never tasted anything so good as that savory, fragrant, sea-tasting hot milk, with golden dots of melted cream and black specks of pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters at its bottom. She sipped slowly, slowly from her spoon, to keep that taste going over her tongue as long as she could.
And with this soup, there were little round oyster crackers. The little oyster crackers were like doll-crackers, and they tasted better because they were so light and small.
When the last drop of soup was gone, and the last crackers divided and crunched, there were hot biscuits with honey, and dried-raspberry sauce. And then a big dishpan full of tender salty popcorn, that had been keeping hot on the back of the stove.
That was the New Year’s dinner. It was light but filling. There was something fashionable about it because it was so odd and new, so different, and so daintily served on Mrs. Boast’s pretty dishes and brand-new tablecloth.
Afterward they sat talking in the little house, with the soft air coming in and beyond the open door, the brown prairie stretching far away and the soft blue sky curving down to meet it.
“I’ve never tasted finer honey, Mrs. Boast,” said Pa. “I’m glad you brought it out from Iowa.”
“The oysters too,” said Ma. “I don’t know when I’ve had such a treat as this dinner.”
“It’s a good beginning for 1880,” Pa declared. “The seventies haven’t been so bad, but it looks like the eighties’ll be better. If this is a sample of a Dakota winter, we’re all lucky we came west.”
“This is certainly a fine country,” Mr. Boast agreed. “I’m glad I’ve got my claim filed on a hundred and sixty acres of it, and I wish you had, Ingalls.”
“I’ll have it before I’m a week older,” said Pa. “I’ve been waiting for the land office to open at Brookings, to save me more than a week’s travel to Yankton and back. They said the Brookings office would open the first of the year, and by Jove, with weather like this I’m starting tomorrow! If Caroline says so.”
“I do, Charles,” Ma said quietly. Her eyes, her whole face, were shining with gladness because now, so soon, Pa would surely have their homestead.
“That settles it,” said Pa. “Not that I figure there’s any danger of being too late, but it might as well be done and over with.”
“The sooner the better, Ingalls,” Mr. Boast said. “I tell you, you’ve got no notion what the rush is going to be this spring.”
“Well, nobody’ll be there quicker than I’ll be,” Pa answered. “Starting before sun-up, I ought to show up at the land office bright and early day after tomorrow morning. So if you folks want to send any letters back to Iowa, get ’em fixed up and I’ll take ’em along and mail them in Brookings.”
That ended New Year’s dinner. Mrs. Boast and Ma were writing letters that afternoon, and Ma packed a lunch for Pa to take with him. But at nightfall a wind full of snow was blowing and frost began to creep up the windowpanes again.
“This is no kind of weather to go anywhere,” Pa said. “Don’t worry about the homestead, Caroline. I’ll get it.”
“Yes, Charles, I know you will,” Ma replied.
In the stormy weather Pa tended his trap lines and stretched skins to dry. Mr. Boast hauled brushwood from Lake Henry and chopped it up to burn, for he had no coal. And every day Mrs. Boast came.
Often when the sun was shining, she and Laura and Carrie, well wrapped-up, played in the deep snow together. They wrestled and ran and threw snowballs, and one day they made a snowman. And hand in hand in the sharp, bright cold the three of them ran and slid on the ice of Silver Lake. Laura had never laughed so much.
Late one afternoon, when they had been sliding and were coming home warm and breathless, Mrs. Boast said, “Laura, come over to my house a minute.”
Laura went with her and Mrs. Boast showed her a tall stack of newspapers. She had brought all those New York Ledgers from Iowa.
“Take as many as you can carry,” she said. “When you get them read, bring them back and get some more.”
Laura ran all the way home with an armful of papers. She burst into the house and dropped them in Mary’s lap.
“See, Mary! See what I’ve brought!” she cried. “Stories! They’re all stories!”
“Oh, hurry up and get the supper work done so we can read,” Mary said eagerly. But Ma said, “Never mind the work, Laura! Read us a story!”
So while Ma and Carrie got supper, Laura began to read to them all a wonderful story, about dwarfs and caves where robbers lived and a beautiful lady who was lost in the caves. At the most exciting part she came suddenly to the words, “To be continued.” And there was not another word of that story.
“Oh, dear me, we never will know what became of that lady,” Mary lamented. “Laura, why do you suppose they print only part of a story?”
“Why do they, Ma?” Laura asked.
“They don’t,” said Ma. “Look at the next paper.”
Laura looked, at the next and the next and next. “Oh, here it is!” she cried. “And more—and more—It goes right on down through the pile.
It’s all here, Mary! Here it says, ‘The End.’”
“It’s a continued story,” said Ma. Laura and Mary had never before heard of a continued story, but Ma had.
“Well,” Mary said contentedly. “Now we can save the next part for tomorrow. Every day we can read one part, and that will make the stories last longer.”
“That’s my wise girls,” said Ma. So Laura did not say that she would rather read as fast as she could. She laid the papers carefully away. Every day she read one more part of the story, and then they wondered until next day what would happen next to the beautiful lady.
On stormy days, Mrs. Boast brought her sewing or knitting, and those were cosy days of reading and talking. One day Mrs. Boast told them about whatnots. She said that everyone in Iowa was making whatnots, and she would show them how.
So she told Pa how to make the shelves, three-cornered, to fit in a corner. He made five shelves of graduated sizes, the largest at the bottom and the smallest at the top, all fastened solidly with narrow strips of board between them. When he had finished, the whatnot fitted snugly into a corner of the room and stood firmly on three legs. Its top shelf was as high as Ma could easily reach.
Then Mrs. Boast cut a curtain of pasteboard to hang from the edge of each shelf. She scalloped the bottom of the pasteboard, a large scallop in the middle and a smaller scallop at each side. The pieces of pasteboard and the scallops were graduated like the shelves, from large at the bottom to small at the top.
Next Mrs. Boast showed them how to cut and fold small squares of heavy wrapping paper. They folded each square cornerwise and then across, and pressed it smooth. When dozens of the squares were folded, Mrs. Boast showed Laura how to sew them in rows on the pasteboard, close together, with points down. Each row overlapped the row below it, and each point must lie between two points of the row below it, and the rows must follow the scallops’ curves.
While they worked in the snug, cosy house, they told stories and sang and talked. Ma and Mrs. Boast talked mostly about the homesteads. Mrs. Boast had seeds enough for two gardens; she said she would divide with Ma, so Ma need not worry about seeds. When the town was built, there might be seeds in town to sell, but again there might not. So Mrs. Boast had brought plenty from the gardens of her friends in Iowa.
“I’ll be thankful when we’re settled,” Ma said. “This is the last move we’re going to make. Mr. Ingalls agreed to that before we left Minnesota. My girls are going to have schooling and lead a civilized life.”
Laura did not know whether or not she wanted to be settled down. When she had schooling, she would have to teach school, and she would rather think of something else. She would rather sing than think at all. She could hum very softly without interrupting the talk, and then often Ma and Mrs. Boast and Mary and Carrie would sing with her. Mrs. Boast had taught them two new songs. Laura liked “The Gypsy’s Warning.”
“Do not trust him, gentle lady,
Though his voice be low and sweet,
Heed not him who kneels before you,
Gently pleading at your feet,
Now thy life is in the morning,
Cloud not this, thy happy lot,
Listen to the gypsy’s warning,
Gentle lady, heed him not.”
The other new song was, “When I Was One and Twenty, Nell, and You Were Seventeen.” It was Mr. Boast’s favorite song. He had been twenty-one when he met Mrs. Boast, and she had been seventeen. Her name was really Ella, but Mr. Boast called her Nell.
At last the five pasteboard pieces were neatly covered with rows above rows of the little paper points, and no stitches showed except along the top of the top row. Then Mrs. Boast sewed a wide strip of the brown paper above these stitches and folded it over to hide them.
Finally, they tacked each pasteboard curtain to its shelf. The stiff scallops, covered with the stiff little paper points, hung down stiffly. Then Pa carefully painted the whole whatnot, and all the little paper points, a rich, dark brown. When the paint dried, they set the whatnot in the corner behind Mary’s chair.
“So that’s a whatnot,” Pa said.
“Yes,” said Ma. “Isn’t it pretty?”
“It’s a neat job,” said Pa.
“Mrs. Boast says they’re all the rage in Iowa,” she told him.
“Well, she ought to know,” Pa agreed. “And there’s nothing in Iowa too good for you, Caroline.”
But the best time of all was after supper. Every evening Pa played the fiddle, and now Mr. Boast’s and Mrs. Boast’s beautiful voices rounded out the singing. Gaily Pa played and sang:
“When I was young and single,
I could make the money jingle
And the world went well with me then,
O then! The world went well with me then.
“I married me a wife, O then! O then!
I married me a wife, O then!
I married me a wife, she was the joy of my life,
And the world went well with me then!”
The song went on to say that she was not such a good wife after all, so Pa never sang the rest of it. His eyes twinkled at Ma while the music laughed and whirled and then he would sing:
“She can make a cherry pie,
Billy boy! Billy boy!
She can make a cherry pie,
She can make a cherry pie
With a twinkle in her eye
But she’s a young thing
And cannot leave her mother.”
The music would go rollicking while only Pa and Mr. Boast sang:
“I bet my money on the bob-tailed mare
And you bet yours on the gray!”
Even in songs Ma did not approve of gambling, but her toe could not stop tapping while Pa played such tunes.
Then every evening they all sang one round. Mr. Boast’s tenor would begin, “Three blind mice,” and go on while Mrs. Boast’s alto began, “Three blind mice,” then as she went on Pa’s bass would join in, “Three blind mice,” and then Laura’s soprano, and Ma’s contralto, and Mary and Carrie. When Mr. Boast reached the end of the song he began it again without stopping, and they all followed, each behind the other, going round and round with words and music.
“Three blind mice! Three blind mice!
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
She cut off their tails with the carving knife,
Did you ever hear such a tale in your life
Of three blind mice?”
They kept on singing until someone laughed and then the song ended ragged and breathless and laughing. And Pa would play some of the old songs, “to go to sleep on,” he said.
“Nellie was a lady, last night she died,
Oh, toll the bell for lovely Nell,
My old—Vir-gin-ia bride.”
“Oh, do you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt?
Sweet Alice with eyes so brown,
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile,
And trembled with fear at your frown?”
“Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sweet memory brings the light
Of other days around me.”
Laura had never been so happy, and for some reason she was happiest of all when they were singing,
“Ye banks and braes of Bonny Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chaunt, ye little birds,
And I sae weary, full of care?”