By The Shores Of Silver Lake (Chaprer 28)
By The Shores Of Silver Lake
Laura Ingalls Wilder
“Wake up, sleepyhead!” Laura sang out, and with both hands she rolled Carrie back and forth under the quilts. “It’s moving day! Get up quick, we’re moving to the homestead!”
Quickly they all ate breakfast, wasting no time in talk, and quickly Laura washed the dishes and Carrie dried them, while Ma packed the last box and Pa hitched up the team. This was the gladdest moving day that Laura had known. Ma and Mary were glad because this was the end of traveling; they were going to settle on the homestead and never move again. Carrie was glad because she was eager to see the homestead, Laura was glad because they were leaving town, Pa was glad because he always liked moving, and Grace sang and shouted in gladness because all the others were glad.
As fast as the dishes were wiped, Ma packed them in the tub so they would ride safely. Pa loaded the trunk, the packed boxes and the tub of dishes into the wagon. Then Ma helped him take down the stovepipe, and they put it and the stove into the wagon box. He laid the table and the chairs on top of all, and then he looked at the load and tugged his beard.
“I’ll have to make two trips so we can all ride,” he said. “Get the rest of the stuff ready and I’ll be back.”
“But you can’t unload the stove by yourself,” Ma objected.
“I’ll manage,” said Pa. “What goes up must come down, and I’ll rig up some skids; there’s lumber out there.”
He climbed into the wagon and drove away. Then Ma and Laura rolled the bedding into tight rolls. They took down Ma’s big bedstead and the two smaller new bedsteads that Pa had bought in town, and they packed the lamps carefully in a box, right side up so that they would not spill the kerosene. They stuffed the lamp chimneys with paper and wrapped them in towels and packed them beside the lamps. Everything was ready and waiting before Pa came back.
He put the bedstead and the boxes in the wagon, and laid the rolls of bedding on them. Then Laura handed him the fiddle box and he tucked it carefully among the quilts. On top of all he laid the whatnot, on its back so that it could not be scratched. Then he brought Ellen and tied her behind the wagon.
“Now, Caroline, up you go!” He handed Ma over the wagon wheel to the spring seat. “Catch!” and he tossed Grace into Ma’s lap. “Now, Mary,” he said gently, and he helped her to the board laid close behind the seat, while Laura and Carrie clambered to their places beside her.
“Now then,” said Pa, “we will soon be home.”
“For pity’s sake, Laura, put on your sunbonnet!” Ma exclaimed. “This spring wind will ruin your complexion.” And she pulled Grace’s little bonnet farther forward to protect her fair, soft skin. Mary’s face was far back in her bonnet, and so was Ma’s, of course.
Slowly Laura pulled up her own bonnet by its strings, from where it hung down her back, and as its slatted sides came past her cheeks they shut out the town. From the tunnel of the bonnet she saw only the green prairie and blue sky.
She kept on looking at them, while she held on to the back of the spring seat and joggled to the wagon’s jolting over the wind-dried ruts of mud. While she was looking, suddenly into the sunny green and blue came two brown horses with flowing black manes and tails, trotting side by side in harness. Their brown flanks and shoulders gleamed in the sunshine, their slender legs stepped daintily, their necks were arched and their ears pricked up, and they tossed their heads proudly as they went by.
“Oh, what beautiful horses!” Laura cried. “Look, Pa! Look!” She turned her head to watch them as long as she could. They drew a light wagon. A young man stood up in the wagon, driving, and a taller man stood behind him with a hand on his shoulder. In a moment the backs of the men and the wagon loomed up so that Laura could no longer see the horses.
Pa had turned around in the seat to watch them too. “Those are the Wilder boys,” he said. “Almanzo’s driving, and that’s his brother Royal with him. They’ve taken up claims north of town, and they’ve got the finest horses in this whole country. By George, you seldom see a team like that.”
With all her heart Laura wished for such horses. She supposed she never could have them.
Pa was driving south now, across the green prairie and down a gentle slope toward Big Slough. The ranker, coarse grass of the slough filled its straggling hollow, and up from a water pool flapped a heron with dangling long legs.
“How much do they cost, Pa?” Laura asked.
“What, Flutterbudget?” said Pa.
“Horses like those.”
“A matched team like that? Not a penny under two hundred and fifty dollars, maybe three hundred,” said Pa. “Why?”
“Nothing. I was just wondering,” Laura replied. Three hundred dollars was so much money that she could hardly imagine it. Only rich people could pay such a sum for horses. Laura thought that if ever she were rich, what she would have would be two sleek brown horses with black manes and tails. She let her bonnet fly back in the wind and thought of riding behind such fast horses.
Far to the west and south, Big Slough widened and spread. On the other side of the wagon it ran narrow and marshy to the narrow tip of Silver Lake. Quickly Pa drove across the narrow part and up to the higher ground beyond.
“There it is!” he said. The little claim shanty stood bright in its newness in the sunlight. It looked like a yellow toy on the great rolling prairie covered with rippling young grass.
Ma laughed at it when Pa helped her from the wagon. “It looks like half of a woodshed that has been split in two.”
“You are wrong, Caroline,” Pa told her. “It is a little house only half built, and that half unfinished. We’ll finish it now, and build the other half soon.”
The little house and its half a slanting roof were built of rough boards with cracks between. There were no windows and no door for the doorway, but there was a floor. And a trap door in the floor opened into a cellar.
“I couldn’t do more than dig the cellar and put up rough walls yesterday,” said Pa. “But now we’re here! Nobody can jump our claim. And I’ll soon fix things up for you, Caroline.”
“I’m glad to be home, Charles,” said Ma.
Before sunset they were all settled in the funny little house. The stove was up, the beds were made, the curtain was hung to make two tiny rooms of the one small room. Supper was cooked and eaten, the dishes washed, and darkness was falling softly on the prairie. No one wanted the lamp lighted, the spring night was so beautiful.
Ma sat gently rocking by the doorless doorway, holding Grace in her lap and Carrie close beside her. Mary and Laura sat together on the threshold. Pa sat just outside the doorway, in a chair on the grass. They did not talk. They sat looking, while stars came out one by one and frogs were croaking in the Big Slough.
A little wind was whispering. The darkness was velvety soft and quiet and safe. All over the huge sky the stars were twinkling merrily.
Then Pa said softly, “I feel like music, Laura.”
Laura brought the fiddle box from its safe place under Ma’s bed. Pa took the fiddle from its nest and tuned it lovingly. Then they sang to the night and the stars:
“Oh, drive dull care away,
For weeping is but sorrow.
If things are wrong today,
There’s another day tomorrow.
“So drive dull care away
And do the best you can.
Put your shoulder to the wheel
Is the motto for every man.”
“I am going to put up the little shepherdess just as soon as the roof is finished over our heads,” said Ma.
Pa’s fiddle answered her with little notes running like water in the sunshine and widening into a pool. The moon was rising. The creamy light crept up the sky and the stars melted in it. Cool and silvery, the moonlight lay over the wide, dark land, and softly Pa sang with the fiddle:
“When the stars are brightly beaming
And the sighing winds are still,
When the twilight shadows hover o’er the lea,
There’s a tiny candle gleaming
From the cottage ’neath the hill
And I know that little beacon shines for me.”