The Long Winter (Chapter 24)

The Long Winter

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 24
Not Really Hungry

“It’s remarkable how the potatoes came out exactly even,” said Pa.

Slowly they ate the last potatoes, skins and all. The blizzard was beating and scouring at the house, the winds were roaring and shrieking. The window was pale in the twilight and the stove pressed out its feeble heat against the cold.

“I’m not hungry, honest, Pa,” Laura said. “I wish you’d finish mine.”

“Eat it, Laura,” Pa told her, kindly but firmly. Laura had to choke down mouthfuls of the potato that had grown cold on the cold plate. She broke a little piece from her slice of brown bread and left the rest. Only the hot, sweet tea was good. She felt numb and half-asleep.

Pa put on his overcoat and cap again and went into the lean-to to twist hay. Ma roused herself.

“Come, girls! Wash up the dishes and wipe the stove and sweep while I make the beds, and then settle down to your studies. When they’re done I’ll hear your recitations, and then I have a surprise for supper!”

No one really cared but Laura tried to answer Ma. “Have you, Ma? That’s nice,” she said. She washed the dishes and swept the floor, and getting into her patched coat she went into the lean-to to help Pa twist hay. Nothing seemed real but the blizzard that never stopped.

That afternoon she began:

“Old Tubal Cain was a mighty man, a mighty man was he,
He called for his pipe and he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three…

“Oh, Ma, I don’t know what’s the matter with me! I can’t think!” she almost wailed.

“It’s this storm. I believe we are all half-asleep,” Ma said. After some time she went on, “We must stop listening to it.”

Everything was very slow. Mary asked after a while, “How can we stop listening to it?”

Ma slowly let the book close. At last she got up. “I will get the surprise,” she said.

She brought it from the front room. It was a part of a salt codfish, frozen solidly, that she had been keeping there. “We’ll have codfish gravy on our bread, for dinner!” she told them.

“By George, Caroline, nothing can beat the Scotch!” Pa exclaimed.

Ma put the codfish in the open oven to thaw, and took the coffee mill from him. “The girls and I will finish the grinding. I’m sorry, Charles, but I’ll need more hay, and you must have time to warm before you do the chores.”

Laura went to help him. When they brought in the armfuls of hay sticks, Carrie was wearily grinding at the coffee mill and Ma was flaking the codfish.

“Just the smell of it chirks a fellow up,” Pa said. “Caroline, you are a wonder.”

“I think it will be tasty for a change,” Ma admitted. “But the bread’s what we have to be thankful for, Charles.” She saw him looking at the wheat in the milk pail and she told him, “There’s enough to outlast this storm, if it’s no longer than usual.”

Laura took the coffee mill from Carrie. It worried her to see how thin and white Carrie was, and so exhausted from grinding. But even worry was dull and farther away than the hateful ceaseless pounding of the storm. The coffee mill’s handle ground round and round, it must not stop. It seemed to make her part of the whirling winds driving the snow round and round over the earth and in the air, whirling and beating at Pa on his way to the stable, whirling and shrieking at the lonely houses, whirling the snow between them and up to the sky and far away, whirling forever over the endless prairie.

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