Little Town on the Prairie (Chaprer 12)
Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Snug for Winter
All through the pleasant fall weather Laura and Carrie were busy girls. In the mornings they helped do the chores and get breakfast. Then they filled their dinner pail, dressed for school and hurried away on the mile walk to town. After school they hurried home, for there was work to do until darkness came.
Saturday was a whole day of busy working, in a hurry to be ready to move to town.
Laura and Carrie picked up potatoes while Pa dug them. They cut the tops from turnips and helped Pa pile them in the wagon. They pulled and topped the carrots, too, and the beets and onions. They gathered the tomatoes and the ground-cherries.
The ground-cherries grew on low leafy bushes. Thick on the stems under the large leaves hung the six-cornered bells, pale grey and thinner than paper, and inside each bell was a plump, golden, juicy round fruit.
The husk-tomatoes were covered with a smooth, dull-brown husk. When this was opened there lay the round, bright-purple tomato, larger than a ground-cherry but much smaller than the red tomatoes that openly flaunted their bright colors.
All day long while the girls were in school, Ma made preserves of the red tomatoes, of the purple husk-tomatoes, and of the golden ground-cherries. She made pickles of the green tomatoes that would not have time to ripen before it froze. The house was full of the sirupy scent of preserves and the spicy odor of pickles.
“We will take our provisions with us when we move to town this time,” said Pa with satisfaction. “And we must go soon. I don’t want another October blizzard to catch us in this thin-walled little house.”
“This winter isn’t going to be as hard as last winter,” Laura said. “The weather doesn’t feel the same.”
“No,” Pa agreed. “It isn’t likely this winter will be as hard, nor come as soon, but this time I intend to be ready for it when it does come.”
He hauled the oat straw and the corn fodder and stacked them near his haystacks in town. He hauled the potatoes and turnips, beets and carrots, and stored them in the cellar of his store building. Then busily all one Monday evening and far into the night, Laura and Carrie helped Ma pack clothes and dishes and books.
It was then that Laura discovered a secret. She was on her knees, lifting winter underwear out of Ma’s bottom bureau drawer, and under the red flannels she felt something hard. She put in her hand and drew out a book.
It was a perfectly new book, beautifully bound in green cloth with a gilded pattern pressed into it. The smooth, straight, gilt edges of the pages looked like solid gold. On the cover two curving scrolls of lovely, fancy letters made the words,
Laura was so startled and so amazed by this rich and beautiful book, hidden there among the flannels, that she almost dropped it. It fell open on her hands. In the lamplight the fresh, untouched pages lay spread, each exciting with unread words printed upon it in clear, fine type. Straight, thin red lines enclosed each oblong of printing, like the treasure it was, and outside the red lines were the page’s pure margins.
Near the bottom of the left-hand page was a short line in larger type: THE LOTOS-EATERS.
“Courage!” was the first word under that, and breathlessly Laura read,
“Courage!” he said, and pointed to the land,
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And, like a—
Laura stopped, aghast. Suddenly she had realized what she was doing. Ma must have hidden this book. Laura had no right to read it. Quickly she shut her eyes, and then she shut the book. It was almost more than she could do, not to read just one word more, just to the end of that one line. But she knew that she must not yield one tiny bit of temptation.
She put the book where it had been, between the red flannels. She put the flannels back into the drawer, shut the drawer, and opened the drawer above it. Then she did not know what to do.
She should confess to Ma what she had done. But instantly she knew that Ma must be keeping the book hidden, for a surprise. She thought swiftly, and her heart was pounding hard, that Pa and Ma must have bought that book in Vinton, Iowa; they must be saving it for a Christmas present. A book so rich and fine, a book of poems, could only be a Christmas present. And Laura was the oldest girl at home now; it must be a Christmas present for her!
If she confessed to Ma, she would spoil their Christmas pleasure, that they were looking forward to. Pa and Ma would be so disappointed.
It seemed a long time since she had found that book, but really it had only been a moment. Ma came in hurriedly and said, “I’ll finish in here, Laura, you go to bed now, it’s past your bedtime.”
“Yes, Ma,” Laura said. She knew that Ma had feared she would open that lower drawer and find the book. Never before had she kept a guilty secret from Ma, but now she did not say a word.
After school next day, she and Carrie did not take the long walk to the claim. Instead they stopped at Pa’s store building at the corner of Second Street and Main. Pa and Ma had moved into town for the winter.
The stove and the cupboard were set up in the kitchen. Upstairs the bedsteads stood under the slanting shingle roof, the straw ticks lay plumply on them under heaped quilts and pillows. Making the beds was all that Ma had left for Laura and Carrie to do. And Laura was sure that the Christmas book, Tennyson’s Poems, was hidden in Ma’s bureau drawer. She would never look to see, of course.
Yet every time she saw the bureau she could not help thinking,
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And, like a—
Like what? She would have to wait until Christmas to learn the rest of that lovely poem. “Courage!” he said, and pointed to the land. “This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.” In the afternoon they came unto a land in which it seemed always afternoon. But it did not seem to Laura that Christmas was soon.
Downstairs Ma had already made the big storeroom neat and pleasant. The heater was polished, the curtains hung fresh at the window, the clean little rag rugs lay on the swept floor. The two rocking chairs were in the sunny corner. Mary’s was empty.
Often Laura missed Mary so much that she ached. But it would do no good to speak of it. Mary was in college, where she had so wanted to be. A teacher had written Pa that she was well and making rapid progress; soon she would be able to write a letter.
So no one spoke of the emptiness they all felt now. Quietly and cheerfully they went about getting supper and setting the table, and Ma did not know that she sighed when she said, “Well, we are all settled snug for the winter.”
“Yes,” Pa said. “This time we are well fixed for it.”
They were not the only ones who were ready. Everyone in the town had been preparing. The lumberyard was stocked with coal, the merchants had stuffed their stores full of goods. There was flour at the mill, and wheat in its bins.
“We will have coal to burn and something to eat all winter, if the trains can’t get through,” Pa gloated. It was good to feel safe and prospering, with food enough and fuel enough so that they need not dread hunger or cold.
Laura missed the pleasant long walks to school and back. She had delighted in them. But now there was no hurry in the mornings, since she had no chores to do. Pa did them all, now that he had no farm work. And the shorter walk was better for Carrie.
Pa and Ma and Laura were worried about Carrie. She had never been strong, and she was not recovering from the hard winter as she should. They spared her all but the lightest housework, and Ma coaxed her appetite with the best there was to eat. Still she was thin and pale, small for her age and spindly. Her eyes were too large in her peaked little face. Often in the mornings, though the walk was only a mile and Laura carried her books, Carrie grew tired before they reached the schoolhouse. Sometimes her head ached so badly that she failed in her recitations. Living in town was easier. It would be much better for Carrie.