By The Shores Of Silver Lake (Chaprer 26)

By The Shores Of Silver Lake

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 26
The Building Boom

There was no time for a good, long talk with Pa. Already the sunshine from the western window slanted far across the floor, and Ma said, “We must be getting supper. The men will be here soon.”

“What men?” Pa asked.

“Oh, wait, Ma, please, I want to show him,” Laura begged. “It’s a surprise, Pa!” She hurried into the pantry, and from the almost empty sack of beans where it was hidden, she pulled out the little sack full of money. “Look, Pa, look!”

Pa felt the little sack in amazement. He looked at their faces, all shining with smiles. “Caroline! What have you girls been up to?”

“Look inside, Pa!” Laura cried. She could not wait while he untied the little sack. “Fifteen dollars and twenty-five cents!”

“I’ll be jiggered!” Pa said.

Then while Laura and Ma started to get supper, they told him all that had happened while he was away. Before they had finished talking, another wagon pulled up at the door. There were seven strangers at supper that night; another dollar and seventy-five cents. And now that Pa was at home, the strangers could sleep on the floor around the stove. Laura did not care how many dishes she washed, nor how sleepy and tired she was. Pa and Ma were getting rich, and she was helping.

In the morning she was surprised. There was hardly time to talk; so many men were there for breakfast, she could hardly wash the dishes fast enough, and when at last she could empty the dishpan and hang it up there was hardly time to sweep and scrub the muddy floor before she must begin peeling potatoes for dinner. She had only a glimpse of the sunny, cold, blue-and-white-and-brown March day outdoors, while she emptied the dishpan. And she saw Pa driving a load of lumber toward the townsite.

“What on earth is Pa doing?” she asked Ma. “He’s putting up a building on the townsite,” said Ma.

“Who for?” Laura asked, beginning to sweep. Her fingers were shrunken in ridges, from being so long in the dishwater.

“‘For whom,’ Laura,” Ma corrected her. “For himself,” and she tugged through the doorway an armful of bedding that she was taking outdoors to air.

“I thought we were going to move to the claim,” Laura said when Ma came in.

“We have six months before we must build on the homestead,” said Ma. “Lots in town are going so fast your Pa thinks he can make money by building on one. He’s using the lumber from the railroad shanties and putting up a store building to sell.”

“Oh, Ma, isn’t it wonderful, all the money we’re making!” Laura said, sweeping vigorously while Ma gathered another armful of bedding.

“Draw the broom, Laura; don’t flip it, that raises the dust,” said Ma. “Yes, but we mustn’t count chickens before they’re hatched.”

That week the house filled with steady boarders, men who were building houses on the townsite or on their homestead claims. From dawn until far into the night, Ma and Laura hardly had time to catch their breaths. All day long there was a racket of wagons passing. Teamsters were hauling lumber from Brookings as fast as they could, and yellow skeletons of buildings rose every day. Already you could see Main Street  growing up from the muddy ground along the railroad grade.

Every night beds covered the floor of the big room and the lean-to. Pa slept on the floor with the boarders so that Mary and Laura and Carrie could move into the bedroom with Ma and Grace, and more boarders’ beds covered the whole floor of the attic.

The supplies were all gone, and now Ma had to buy flour and salt and beans and meat and corn meal, so she did not make so much money. Supplies cost three and four times as much as they cost in Minnesota, she said, because the railroad and the teamsters charged so much for the hauling. The roads were so muddy that the teamsters could not haul large loads. Anyway, she made a few cents’ profit on every meal, and any little bit they could earn was better than nothing.

Laura did wish she could get time to see the building that Pa was putting up. She wished she could talk to him about the building, but he ate with the boarders and hurried away with them. There was no time for talking now.

Suddenly, there on the brown prairie where nothing had been before, was the town. In two weeks, all along Main Street the unpainted new buildings pushed up their thin false fronts, two stories high and square on top. Behind the false fronts the buildings squatted under their partly shingled, sloping roofs. Strangers were already living there; smoke blew gray from the stovepipes, and glass windows glinted in the sunshine.

One day Laura heard a man say, through the clattering at the dinner table, that he was putting up a hotel. He had got in the night before with a load of lumber hauled from Brookings. His wife was coming out on the next load. “We’ll be doing business within a week,” he said.

“Glad to hear it, sir,” Pa said. “What this town needs is a hotel. You’ll be doing a land-office business, as quick as you can get started.”

As suddenly as the hurry had begun, it ended. One evening Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary and Carrie and Grace sat down to supper. No one else was there. Around them was their own house again; no one else was in it. A beautiful quiet was there, peaceful and cool, like the silence when a blizzard stops, or the restfulness of rain after a long fever of drought.

“I declare! I didn’t know I was so tired,” Ma sighed peacefully.

“I’m glad you and the girls are through working for strangers,” said Pa.

They did not talk much. It was so pleasant to eat supper again alone.

“Laura and I counted up,” said Ma. “We made over forty dollars.”

“Forty-two dollars and fifty cents,” said Laura.

“We’ll put it aside and hang on to it if we can,” said Pa.

If they could save it, Laura thought, it would be that much toward sending Mary to college.

“I expect the surveyors to show up any day now,” Pa went on. “Better be ready to move so I can turn over this house to them. We can live in town till I can sell the building.”

“Very well, Charles. We’ll wash the bedding tomorrow and start getting ready to pack,” said Ma. Next day Laura helped to wash all the quilts and blankets. She was glad to lug the loaded basket out to the clothesline in the sweet, chilly March weather.

Teamsters’ wagons were slowly pulling along the muddy road toward the west. Only an edging of ice remained around the shores of Silver Lake and among the dead slough grass. The lake water was blue as the sky, and far away in the shimmering sky an arrow of tiny black dots came up from the south. Faintly from far away came the wild, lonely sound of the wild geese calling.

Pa came hurrying to the house. “First spring flock of geese’s in sight!” he said. “How about roast goose for dinner?” He hurried away with his gun.

“Mm, it will be good,” Mary said. “Roast goose with sage stuffing! Won’t you like that, Laura!”

“No, and you know I don’t,” Laura answered. “You know I don’t like sage. We’ll have onion in the stuffing.”

“But I don’t like onion!” Mary said crossly. “I want sage!”

Laura sat back on her heels where she was scrubbing the floor. “I don’t care if you do. We won’t have it! I guess I can have what I want sometimes!”

“Why, girls!” Ma said astonished. “Are you quarreling?”

“I want sage!” Mary insisted.

“And I want onion!” Laura cried.

“Girls, girls,” Ma said in distress. “I can’t think what’s got into you. And I never heard of anything so silly! You both know we have no sage, nor onion either.”

The door opened, and Pa came in. Soberly he put his gun in its place.

“Not a goose within gunshot,” he said. “The whole flock rose when it came to Silver Lake and kept on going north. They must have seen the new buildings and heard the noise. Looks like hunting’s going to be slim around here from now on.”

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