The Long Winter (Chaprer 14)
The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
One Bright Day
That blizzard lasted only two days. Tuesday morning Laura woke up suddenly. She lay with her eyes wide open, listening to hear again what had awakened her. There was no sound at all. Then she knew. The stillness had startled her awake. There was no noise of winds, no swish! swish! of icy snow scouring the walls and roof and window.
The sun was glowing bright through the frost on the window at the top of the stairs, and downstairs Ma’s smile was like sunshine.
“The blizzard’s over,” she said. “It was only a two days’ blizzard.”
“You never can tell what a blizzard will do,” Pa agreed.
“It may be that your hard winter won’t prove to be so hard after all,” Ma said happily. “Now the sun is shining, they should have the trains running again in no time, and, Laura, I’m sure there will be school today. Better get yourself ready for it while I get breakfast.”
Laura went upstairs to tell Carrie and to put on her school dress. In the warm kitchen again she scrubbed her face and neck well with soap and pinned up her braids. Pa breezed in gaily from doing the chores.
“Old Sol’s bright and shining this morning!” he told them. “Looks like his face was well washed in snow.”
Hashed brown potatoes were on the table and Ma’s wild ground-cherry preserves shone golden in a glass bowl. Ma stacked a platter with toast browned in the oven, and then took from the oven a small dish of butter.
“I had to warm the butter,” she said. “It was frozen as hard as a rock. I could not cut it. I hope Mr. Boast brings us some more soon. This is what the cobbler threw at his wife.”
Grace and Carrie were puzzled, while all the others laughed. It showed how happy Ma was that she would make jokes.
“That was his awl,” Mary said. And Laura exclaimed, “Oh, no! It was the last. That was all he had.”
“Girls, girls,” Ma said gently because they were laughing too much at the table. Then Laura said, “But I thought we were out of butter when we didn’t have any yesterday.”
“Pancakes were good with salt pork,” said Ma. “I saved the butter for toast.” There was just enough butter for a scraping on every slice.
Breakfast was so merry in the warmth and stillness and light that the clock was striking half past eight before they finished, and Ma said, “Run along, girls. This one time I’ll do your housework.”
The whole outdoors was dazzling, sparkling brightly in bright sunshine. All the length of Main Street was a high drift of snow, a ridge taller than Laura. She and Carrie had to climb to its top and get carefully down its other side. The snow was packed so hard that their shoes made no marks on it and their heels could dig no dents to keep them from slipping.
In the schoolyard was another glittering drift almost as high as the schoolhouse. Cap Garland and Ben and Arthur and the little Wilmarth boys were skating down it on their shoes, as Laura used to slide on Silver Lake, and Mary Power and Minnie were standing out in the cold sunshine by the door watching the fun the boys were having.
“Hello, Laura!” Mary Power said gladly, and she tucked her mittened hand under Laura’s arm and squeezed it. They were pleased to see each other again. It seemed a long time since Friday, and even since the Saturday afternoon that they had meant to spend together. But there was no time to talk, for Teacher came to the door and girls and boys must go in to their lessons.
At recess Mary Power and Laura and Minnie stood at the window and watched the boys sliding down the snowdrift. Laura wished she could go outdoors to play too.
“I wish we weren’t too big now,” she said. “I don’t think it’s any fun being a young lady.”
“Well, we can’t help growing up,” Mary Power said.
“What would you do if you were caught in a blizzard, Mary?” Minnie Johnson was asking.
“I guess I would just keep on walking. You wouldn’t freeze if you kept on walking,” Mary answered.
“But you’d tire yourself out. You’d get so tired you’d die,” said Minnie.
“Well, what would you do?” Mary Power asked her.
“I’d dig into a snowbank and let the snow cover me up. I don’t think you’d freeze to death in a snowbank. Would you, Laura?”
“I don’t know,” Laura said.
“Well, what would you do, Laura, if you got caught in a blizzard?” Minnie insisted.
“I wouldn’t get caught,” Laura answered. She did not like to think about it. She would rather talk with Mary Power about other things. But Miss Garland rang the bell and the boys came trooping in, red with the cold and grinning.
That whole day long everyone was as cheerful as the sunshine. At noon Laura and Mary Power and Carrie, with the Beardsley girls, raced in the shouting crowd over the big snowdrifts home to dinner. On top of the high drift that was Main Street, some went north and some went south and Laura and Carrie slid down its east side to their own front door.
Pa was already in his place at the table, Mary was lifting Grace onto the pile of books in her chair, and Ma was setting a dish of steaming baked potatoes before Pa. “I do wish we had some butter for them,” she said.
“Salt brings out the flavor,” Pa was saying, when a loud knocking sounded on the kitchen door. Carrie ran to open it and, big and furry as a bear in his buffalo coat, Mr. Boast came in.
“Come in, Boast! Come in, come in!” Pa kept saying. They were so glad to see him. “Come in and put your feet under the table. You’re just in time!”
“Where is Mrs. Boast?” Mary inquired.
“Yes, indeed! Didn’t she come with you?” Ma said eagerly.
Mr. Boast was getting out of his wraps. “Well, no. You see, Ellie thought she must do the washing while the sun shone. I told her we’ll have more good days but she said then she’d come to town on one of them. She sent you some butter. It’s from our last churning. My cows are going dry. The weather we’ve been having, I couldn’t take care of them.”
Mr. Boast sat up to the table and they all began on the good baked potatoes, with butter, after all.
“Glad to know you came through the storm all right,” Pa said.
“Yes, we were lucky. I was watering the stock at the well when the cloud came up. I hurried them in, had them all snug in the stable and got halfway to the house before the storm struck,” Mr. Boast told them.
The baked potatoes and hot biscuits with butter were delicious, and to finish the dinner there were more biscuits with some of Ma’s rich tomato preserves. “There’s no more salt pork in town,” Pa said. “Getting all our supplies from the east, this way, we run a little short when the trains don’t get through.”
“What do you hear about the train?” Mr. Boast asked him.
“They’ve put extra gangs to work on the Tracy cut, Woodworth says,” Pa replied. “And they’re bringing out snowplows. We can look for a train before the end of the week.”
“Elbe’s counting on my getting some tea and sugar and flour,” said Mr. Boast. “The storekeepers raising prices any?”
“Not that I know of,” Pa reassured him. “Nothing’s running short but meat.”
Dinner was eaten and Mr. Boast said he must be getting along to reach home before night. He promised to bring Mrs. Boast in to see them all one day soon. Then he and Pa went up Main Street to Harthorn’s grocery and Laura and Carrie, hand in hand, went joyously climbing up the drifts and sliding down them, back to school.
All that happy afternoon they were full of the clear, cold air and as bright as the sunshine. They knew their lessons perfectly, they enjoyed reciting them. Every face in school was smiling and Cap Garland’s flashing grin included them all.
It was good to see the town alive again and to know that again all the weekdays would be school days.
But in the night Laura dreamed that Pa was playing the wild storm-tune on his fiddle and when she screamed to him to stop, the tune was a blinding blizzard swirling around her and it had frozen her to solid ice.
Then she was staring at the dark, but for a long time that nightmare held her stiff and cold. It was not Pa’s fiddle she heard, but the storm wind itself and the swish! swish! of icy snow on the walls and the roof. At last she was able to move. So cold that the dream still seemed half real, she snuggled close to Mary and pulled the quilts over her head.
“What is it?” Mary murmured in her sleep.
“A blizzard,” Laura answered.