Little Town on the Prairie (Chaprer 14)
Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Sent Home From School
Miss Wilder was puzzling everyone in school. From the first day, of course, the boys had been trying to find out how far they could go in naughtiness before she made them behave themselves, and no one could understand why she did not show them.
At first they fidgeted and then they began making little noises with their books and slates. Miss Wilder paid no attention until the noise was disturbing. Then she did not speak sharply to the noisiest boy, but smiled at them all and politely asked them to be quieter.
“I know you do not realize that you are disturbing others,” she said.
They did not know what to make of this. When she turned to the blackboard, the noise would grow loud again. The boys even began to whisper.
Every day Miss Wilder asked everyone, several times, to be just a little quieter, please. This was not fair to those who were making no noise at all. Soon all the boys were whispering, nudging each other, and sometimes slyly scuffing in their seats. Some of the little girls wrote notes to each other on their slates.
Still Miss Wilder did not punish anyone. One afternoon she rapped on her desk to call the whole school to attention, and talked to them about how good she was sure they all meant to be. She said she did not believe in punishing children. She meant to rule them by love, not fear. She liked them all and she was sure that they liked her. Even the big girls were embarrassed by her way of talking.
“Birds in their little nests agree,” she said, smiling, and Laura and Ida almost squirmed from embarrassment. Besides, that showed that she knew nothing at all about birds.
Miss Wilder kept on always smiling even when her eyes were worried. Only her smiles at Nellie Oleson seemed real. She seemed to feel that she could depend on Nellie Oleson.
“She’s a—well, almost a hypocrite,” Minnie said, low, one day at recess. They were standing at the window, watching the boys play ball. Miss Wilder and Nellie were chatting together by the stove. It was cooler at the window, but the other girls would rather be there.
“I don’t think she really is, quite,” Mary Power answered. “Do you, Laura?”
“No-o,” Laura said. “Not exactly. I think she just hasn’t got very good judgment. But she does know everything in the books. She is a good scholar.”
“Yes, she is,” Mary Power agreed. “But can’t a person know what is in books and still have more common sense? I wonder what is going to happen when the big boys come to school, if she can’t control these little ones.”
Minnie’s eyes lighted up with excitement, and Ida laughed. Ida would be good and gay and laughing, no matter what happened, but Mary Power was sober and Laura was worried. She said, “Oh, we must not have trouble in school!” She must be able to study and get a teacher’s certificate.
Now that Laura and Carrie were living in town, they went home at noon for a good, hot dinner. Surely the hot food was better for Carrie, though it seemed to make no difference. She was still pale and spindly, and always tired. Often her head ached so badly that she could not learn her spelling. Laura helped her with it. Carrie would know every word in the morning; then when she was called upon to recite, she would make a mistake.
Ida and Nellie still brought their dinners to school, and so did Miss Wilder. They ate together, cozily by the stove. When the other girls came back to school, Ida would join them, but Nellie often chatted with Miss Wilder through the whole noon hour.
Several times she said to the other girls, with a sly smile, “One of these days I’m going riding behind those Morgan horses, in that new buggy. You just wait and see!” They did not doubt it.
Coming in one day at noon, Laura took Carrie to the stove, to take off her wraps in the warmth. Miss Wilder and Nellie were there, talking earnestly together. Laura heard Miss Wilder say indignantly, “—school board!” Then they both saw her.
“I must ring the bell,” Miss Wilder said hurriedly, and she did not look at Laura as she passed by her. Perhaps Miss Wilder had some complaint against the school board, Laura thought, and she had remembered when she saw Laura, that Pa was on the board.
That afternoon, again, Carrie missed three words in her spelling lesson. Laura’s heart ached. Carrie looked so white and pitiful, she tried so hard, but it was plain to see that her head was aching terribly. It would be a little comfort to her, Laura thought, that Mamie Beardsley made some mistakes, too.
Then Miss Wilder closed her speller, and said sadly that she was disappointed and grieved. “Go to your seat, Mamie, and study this same lesson again,” she said. “Carrie, you may go to the blackboard. I want to see you write, ‘cataract,’ ‘separate,’ and ‘exasperate,’ on the board, correctly, fifty times each.”
She said it with a kind of triumph in her voice.
Laura tried to control her temper, but she could not. She was furious. It was meant as a punishment for poor little Carrie, to make her stand ashamed before the whole school. It was not fair! Mamie had missed words, too. Miss Wilder let Mamie off, and punished Carrie. She must see that Carrie did her best, and was not strong. She was mean, mean and cruel, and she was not fair!
Laura had to sit helpless. Carrie went miserably but bravely to the blackboard. She was trembling and she had to wink back tears but she would not cry. Laura sat watching her thin hand slowly writing, one long line of words and then another. Carrie grew pale and paler, but she kept on writing. Suddenly her face went gray, and she hung on to the eraser trough.
Quickly Laura raised her hand, then she jumped up, and when Miss Wilder looked at her she spoke without waiting for permission. “Please! Carrie is going to faint.”
Miss Wilder turned swiftly and saw Carrie.
“Carrie! You may sit down!” she said. Sweat came out on Carrie’s face and it was not so deathly gray. Laura knew the worst was over. “Sit down on the front seat,” Miss Wilder said, and Carrie was able to get to it.
Then Miss Wilder turned to Laura. “Since you do not want Carrie to write her misspelled words, Laura, you may go to the board and write them.”
The whole school was frozen silent, looking at Laura. It was a disgrace for her, one of the big girls, to stand at the blackboard writing words as a punishment. Miss Wilder looked at Laura, too, and Laura looked straight back.
Then she went to the blackboard and took the chalk. She began to write. She felt her face grow flaming hot, but after a moment she knew that no one was jeering at her. She went on rapidly writing the words, all alike, one below another.
Several times she heard behind her a low, repeated, “Sssst! Sssst!” The whole room was noisy, as usual. Then she heard a whispered, “Laura! Sssst!”
Charley was signaling to her. He whispered, “Sssst! Don’t do it! Tell her you won’t do it! We’ll all stand by you!”
Laura was warmed all through. But the one thing that must not happen was trouble in school. She smiled and frowned and shook her head at Charley. He sank back, disappointed but quiet. Then suddenly Laura’s eye caught a furious glance from Miss Wilder. Miss Wilder had seen the whole thing.
Laura turned to the blackboard and went on writing. Miss Wilder said nothing to her or to Charley. Laura thought resentfully, “She has no right to be mad at me. She might have the grace to appreciate my trying to help keep order in school.”
After school that evening Charley and his chums, Clarence and Alfred, walked close behind Laura and Mary Power and Minnie.
“I’ll fix that old meanie tomorrow!” Clarence bragged, loudly, so that Laura would hear him. “I’m going to put a bent pin in her chair.”
“I’ll break her ruler beforehand,” Charley promised him. “So she can’t punish you if she catches you.”
Laura turned around and walked backward. “Please don’t do that, boys. Please,” she asked them.
“Aw, why not? It’ll be fun, and she won’t do anything to us,” Charley argued.
“But where is the fun?” Laura said. “That is no way for you boys to treat a woman, even if you don’t like her. I do wish you wouldn’t.”
“We-e-ll,” Clarence gave in. “Oh, all right. I won’t, then.”
“Then we won’t, either,” Alfred and Charley agreed. Laura knew they would keep their word, though they didn’t want to.
Studying her lessons by the lamp that night, Laura looked up to say, “Miss Wilder doesn’t like Carrie nor me, and I don’t know why.”
Ma paused in her knitting. “You must imagine it, Laura,” she said.
Pa looked over the edge of his paper. “See that you don’t give her any reason, and you’ll soon feel differently.”
“I don’t give her any reason not to like me, Pa,” Laura said earnestly. “Maybe Nellie Oleson influences her,” she added, bending her head again over her book, and to herself she thought, “She listens too much to Nellie Oleson.”
Laura and Carrie were early at school next morning. Miss Wilder and Nellie were sitting together by the stove. No one else was there. Laura said good morning, and as she went into the warmth of the stove her skirt brushed against the coal hod and caught on its broken rim.
“Oh, bother!” Laura exclaimed as she stood to loosen it.
“Did you tear your dress, Laura?” Miss Wilder asked acidly. “Why don’t you get us a new coal hod, since your father is on the school board and you can have everything as you want it?”
Laura looked at her in amazement. “Why, no, I can’t!” she exclaimed. “But likely you could have a new coal hod if you want one.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Miss Wilder.
Laura could not understand why Miss Wilder spoke to her in that way. Nellie pretended to be intent on a book, but a sly smile was at the corner of her mouth. Laura could not think what to say, so she said nothing.
All that morning the room was restless and noisy, but the boys kept their promise. They were no naughtier than usual. They did not know their lessons, for they would not study, and Miss Wilder was so harassed that Laura pitied her.
The afternoon began more quietly. Laura was intent on her geography lesson. Glancing up, while she memorized and thought about the exports of Brazil, she saw Carrie and Mamie Beardsley buried in study. Their heads were together over their spelling book, their eyes were fixed upon it, and their lips silently moved as they spelled the words to themselves. They did not know that they were swaying back and forth, and that their seat was swaying a little with them.
The bolts that should fasten the seat to the floor must be loose, Laura thought. The movement of the seat made no sound, so it did not matter. Laura looked at her book again and thought about seaports.
Suddenly she heard Miss Wilder speak sharply. “Carrie and Mamie! You may put away your books, and just rock that seat!”
Laura looked up. Carrie’s eyes and mouth were open in surprise. Her peaked little face was white from shock, then red with shame. She and Mamie put away their speller and rocked the seat, meekly and still quietly.
“We must have quiet in order to study,” Miss Wilder explained sweetly. “Hereafter anyone who disturbs us may continue that disturbance until he or she is thoroughly tired of making it.”
Mamie did not mind so much, but Carrie was so ashamed that she wanted to cry.
“Go on rocking that seat, girls, till I give you leave to stop,” said Miss Wilder, with that queer triumphant tone in her voice again. She turned to the blackboard, where she was explaining an arithmetic problem to the boys, who paid no attention.
Laura tried again to think about Brazil, but she could not. After a moment, Mamie gave a little toss of her head and boldly moved across the aisle into another seat.
Carrie went on rocking, but the double seat was too heavy for one little girl to rock from one end. Slowly its motion stopped.
“Keep on rocking, Carrie,” Miss Wilder said sweetly. She said nothing to Mamie.
Laura’s face flushed hot with fury. She did not even try to control her temper. She hated Miss Wilder, for her unfairness and her meanness. There sat Mamie, refusing to take her share of the punishment, and Miss Wilder did not say a word to her. Carrie was not strong enough to rock the heavy seat alone. Laura could hardly control herself. She bit her lip hard, and sat still.
Surely, she thought, Carrie will be excused soon. Carrie was white. She was doing her best to keep the seat rocking, but it was too heavy. Its movement grew less, and less. At last with all her strength Carrie could hardly move it at all.
“Faster, Carrie! Faster!” Miss Wilder said. “You wanted to rock the seat. Now do it.”
Laura was on her feet. Her fury took possession of her, she did not try to resist it, she gave way completely. “Miss Wilder,” she cried, “if you want that seat rocked faster, I’ll rock it for you!”
Miss Wilder pounced on that gladly. “You may do just that! You needn’t take your book, just rock that seat.”
Laura hurried down the aisle. She whispered to Carrie, “Sit still and rest.” She braced her feet solidly on the floor; and she rocked.
Not for nothing had Pa always said that she was as strong as a little French horse.
“THUMP!” went the back legs on the floor.
“THUMP!” the front legs came down. All the bolts came quite loose, and “THUMP, THUMP! THUMP, THUMP!” the seat went in rhythm, while gladly Laura rocked and Carrie sat resting.
Not even the swinging weight eased Laura’s fury. She grew angrier and angrier, while louder and faster she rocked.
“THUMP, THUMP! THUMP, THUMP!”
No one could study now.
“THUMP, THUMP! THUMP, THUMP!”
Miss Wilder could hardly hear her own voice. Loudly she called the Third Reader class.
“THUMP, THUMP! THUMP, THUMP!”
No one could recite, no one could even be heard.
“THUMP, THUMP! THUMP, THUMP! THUMP—”
Loudly Miss Wilder said, “Laura, you and Carrie are excused from school. You may go home for the rest of the day.”
“THUMP!” Laura made the seat say. Then there was dead silence.
Everyone had heard of being sent home from school. No one there had seen it done before. It was a punishment worse than whipping with a whip. Only one punishment was more dreadful; that was to be expelled from school.
Laura held her head up, but she could hardly see. She gathered Carrie’s books together. Carrie followed shrinking behind her and waited trembling by the door while Laura took her own books. There was not a sound in the room. From sympathy, Mary Power and Minnie did not look at Laura. Nellie Oleson, too, was intent on a book, but the sly smile quivered at the corner of her mouth. Ida gave Laura one stricken glance of sympathy.
Carrie had opened the door, Laura walked out, and shut it behind them.
In the entry, they put on their wraps. Outside the schoolhouse everything seemed strange and empty because no one else was there, no one was on the road to town. The time was about two o’clock, when they were not expected at home.
“Oh, Laura, what will we do?” Carrie asked forlornly.
“We’ll go home, of course,” Laura replied. They were going home; already the schoolhouse was some distance behind them.
“What will Pa and Ma say?” Carrie quavered.
“We’ll know when they say it,” said Laura. “They won’t blame you, this isn’t your fault. It’s my fault because I rocked that seat so hard. I’m glad of it!” she added. “I’d do it again!”
Carrie did not care whose fault it was. There is no comfort anywhere for anyone who dreads to go home.
“Oh, Laura!” Carrie said. Her mittened hand slid into Laura’s, and hand in hand they went on, not saying anything more. They crossed Main Street and walked up to the door. Laura opened it. They went in.
Pa turned from his desk where he was writing. Ma rose up from her chair and her ball of yarn rolled across the floor. Kitty pounced on it gaily.
“What in the world?” Ma exclaimed. “Girls, what is the matter? Is Carrie sick?”
“We were sent home from school,” Laura said.
Ma sat down. She looked helplessly at Pa. After a dreadful stillness, Pa asked, “Why?” and his voice was stern.
“It was my fault, Pa,” Carrie quickly answered. “I didn’t mean to, but it was. Mamie and I began it.”
“No, it’s all my fault,” Laura contradicted. She told what had happened. When she had finished, the stillness was dreadful again.
Then Pa spoke sternly. “You girls will go back to school tomorrow morning, and go on as though none of this had happened. Miss Wilder may have been wrong, but she is the teacher. I cannot have my girls making trouble in school.”
“No, Pa. We won’t,” they promised.
“Now take off your school dresses and settle down to your books,” said Ma. “You can study here, the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow you’ll do as Pa says, and likely it will all blow over.”