Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 13)
Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura was enjoying school. She knew all the pupils now, and she and Ida, Mary Power and Minnie, were becoming fast friends. At recess and noon they were always together.
In the crisp, sunny weather the boys played ante-over and catch, and sometimes they just threw the ball against the schoolhouse and ran jostling and bumping together to catch it in the wild prairie grasses. Often they coaxed Laura, “Come, play with us, Laura. Aw, come on!”
It was tomboyish to run and play, at her age. But she did so love to run and jump and catch the ball and throw it, that sometimes she did join in the games. The boys were only little boys. She liked them, and she never complained when the games grew rough now and then. One day she overheard Charley saying, “She isn’t a sissy, even if she is a girl.”
Hearing that made her feel glad and cozy. When even little boys like a big girl, she knows that everyone likes her.
The other girls knew that Laura was not really a tomboy, even when her face was hot from running and jumping, and the hairpins were coming loose in her hair. Ida sometimes played, too, and Mary Power and Minnie would look on, applauding. Only Nellie Oleson turned up her nose.
Nellie would not even go walking, though they asked her politely. It was all “too rough, really,” she said.
“She’s afraid of spoiling her New York State complexion,” Ida laughed.
“I think she stays in the school house to make friends with Miss Wilder,” said Mary Power. “She talks to her all the time.”
“Well, let her. We have a much better time without her,” Minnie said.
“Miss Wilder used to live in New York State, too. Likely that is what they talk about,” Laura remarked.
Mary Power gave her a laughing, sidelong glance and squeezed her arm. No one called Nellie “teacher’s pet,” but that was what they were thinking. Laura did not care. She was at the head of the class in all their studies, and she need not be a teacher’s pet to stay there.
Every evening after supper she studied till bedtime. It was then that she missed Mary most painfully. They had always gone over their lessons together. But she knew that far away in Iowa, Mary was studying, too, and if she were to stay in college and enjoy all its wonderful opportunities of learning, Laura must get a teacher’s certificate.
All this went through her head in a flash, while she went walking, arm in arm with Mary Power and Ida. “You know what I think?” Minnie asked.
“No, what?” they all asked her.
“I bet that’s what Nellie’s scheming about,” Minnie said, and she nodded at a team that was coming toward them along the wagon tracks ahead. It was the brown Morgan horses.
All their slender legs were moving swiftly, their hoofs raising little explosions of dust. Their glossy shoulders glistened, their black manes and tails blew shining in the wind. Their ears pricked forward, and their glancing bright eyes saw everything gaily. Dancing little red tassels trimmed their bridles.
Sunlight ran glistening on the curve of their arched necks, straight along their smooth sides and curving again on their round haunches. And behind them ran a shining new buggy. Its dashboard glittered, its spotless black top curved over the seat on gleaming black spokes, its wheels were red. Laura had never seen such a buggy.
“Why didn’t you bow, Laura?” Ida asked when it had sped by.
“Didn’t you see him raise his hat to us?” said Mary Power. Laura had seen only the beautiful horses, till the buggy flashed before her eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be impolite,” she said. “They are just like poetry, aren’t they?”
“You don’t mean she’s setting her cap for him, Minnie,” Mary Power said. “Why, he’s a grown-up man, he’s a homesteader.”
“I’ve seen her looking at those horses,” said Minnie. “I bet she’s made up her mind to get a ride behind them. You know that kind of scheming look she has sometimes. And now that he’s got such a buggy—”
“He didn’t have any buggy last Fourth of July,” said Laura.
“It’s just come from the east,” Minnie told them. “He ordered it after he sold his wheat crop. He had a wonderful wheat crop.” Minnie always knew such news, because her brother Arthur told her.
Slowly Mary Power said, “I do believe you are right, I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Laura felt a little guilty. She wouldn’t make up to Miss Wilder just to get a ride behind Almanzo Wilder’s horses. Yet she had often thought that if Miss Wilder liked her, she might someday take her riding behind them.
Miss Wilder had taken a claim on this road, only a quarter of a mile beyond the schoolhouse. She lived there in a little claim shanty. Almanzo often brought her to the schoolhouse in the morning, or stopped after school to take her home. And always, when she saw those horses, Laura hoped that Miss Wilder might, perhaps, sometime, ask her for a ride. Could it be that she was as horrid as Nellie Oleson?
Now that she had seen that buggy, more than ever Laura wanted such a ride. How could she prevent such thoughts, when those horses were so beautiful and the buggy so swift?
“It’s almost time for the bell,” Ida said, and they all turned back to the schoolhouse. They must not be late. In the entry they drank from the dipper that floated in the water pail there. Then they went in, tanned and windblown, and hot and dusty. Nellie was neat and ladylike, her skin was white, and every hair of her head was in its place.
She looked down her nose at them, and smiled a lofty smile. Laura looked straight back at her, and Nellie gave a little flounce of her shoulder and chin. “You needn’t think you’re so much, Laura Ingalls!” Nellie said. “Miss Wilder says your father has nothing much to say about this school, even if he is on the school board.”
“Why!” Laura gasped.
“I guess he’s got as much to say about this school as anybody, and maybe more!” Ida said stoutly. “Hasn’t he, Laura?”
“He certainly has!” Laura cried.
“Yes,” said Mary Power. “He has more, because Laura and Carrie are in this school and the others on the board haven’t any children.”
Laura was furious with rage, that Nellie dared to say anything against Pa. On the steps Miss Wilder was ringing the bell and its noise clanged in Laura’s head. She said, “It’s just too bad your folks are nothing but country folks, Nellie. If you lived in town, then maybe your father could be on the school board and have something to say about this school.”
Nellie was going to slap her. Laura saw her hand rising, and she barely had time to think that she must not, must not slap Nellie, and to hope she wouldn’t. Then Nellie’s hand dropped quickly and she slid into her seat. Miss Wilder had come in.
All the pupils came clattering, and Laura sat down in her own seat. She was still so angry that she could hardly see. Under the desk-top Ida’s hand gave her clenched fist a quick little squeeze that meant, “Good for you! You served her right!”