Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 16)
Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
After all the preparation for winter, it seemed that there would be no winter. The days were clear and sunny. The frozen ground was bare of snow.
The fall term of school ended and Miss Wilder went back to Minnesota. The new teacher, Mr. Clewett, was quiet but firm, a good disciplinarian. There was not a sound in school now, except the low voices of classes reciting, and in the rows of seats every pupil diligently studied.
All the big boys were coming to school. Cap Garland was there, his face tanned dark red-brown and his pale hair and pale blue eyes seeming almost white. His smile still flashed quick as lightning and warmer than sunshine. Everyone remembered that he had made the terrible trip with Almanzo Wilder, last winter, to bring the wheat that saved them all from dying of hunger. Ben Woodworth came back to school, and Fred Gilbert, whose father had brought in the last mail after the trains stopped running, and Arthur Johnson, Minnie’s brother.
Still there was no snow. At recess and at noon the boys played baseball, and the big girls did not play outdoors anymore.
Nellie worked at her crocheting. Ida and Minnie and Mary Power stood at the window, watching the ball games. Sometimes Laura stood with them, but usually she stayed at her desk and studied. She had a feeling of haste, almost of fear, that she would not be able to pass the examinations and get a teacher’s certificate when she was sixteen. She was almost fifteen now.
“Oh, come on, Laura. Come watch this ball game,” Ida coaxed one noon. “You have a whole year to study before you need to know so much.”
Laura closed her book. She was happy that the girls wanted her. Nellie scornfully tossed her head. “I’m glad I don’t have to be a teacher,” she said. “My folks can get along without my having to work.”
With an effort Laura held her voice low and answered sweetly. “Of course you needn’t, Nellie, but you see, we aren’t poor relations being helped out by our folks back east.”
Nellie was so angry that she stammered as she tried to speak, and Mary Power interrupted her coolly. “If Laura wants to teach school, I don’t know that it’s anybody’s business. Laura is smart. She will be a good teacher.”
“Yes,” Ida said, “She’s far ahead of—” She stopped because the door opened and Cap Garland came in. He had come straight from town and he had in his hand a small striped paper bag.
“Hello, girls,” he said, looking at Mary Power, and his smile lighted up as he held out the bag to her. “Have some candy?”
Nellie was quick. “Oh, Cappie!” she cried, taking the bag. “How did you know that I like candy so much? The nicest candy in town, too!” She smiled up into his face with a look that Laura had never seen before. Cap seemed startled, then he looked sheepish.
“Would you girls like some?” Nellie went on generously, and quickly she offered each one the opened bag, then taking a piece herself, she put the bag in her skirt pocket.
Cap looked pleadingly at Mary Power, but she tossed her head and looked away. Uncertainly he said, “Well, I’m glad you like it,” and went out to the ball game.
The next day at noon he brought candy again. Again he tried to give it to Mary Power, and again Nellie was too quick.
“Oh, Cappie, you are such a dear boy to bring me more candy,” she said, smiling up at him. This time she turned a little away from the others. She had no eyes for anyone but Cap. “I mustn’t be a pig and eat it all myself, do have a piece, Cappie,” she coaxed. He took a piece and she rapidly ate all the rest while she murmured to Cap how nice he was, and so tall and strong.
Cap looked helpless, yet pleased. He would never be able to cope with Nellie, Laura knew. Mary Power was too proud to enter into competition with her. Angrily Laura wondered, “Must a girl like Nellie be able to grab what she wants?” It was not only the candy.
Until Mr. Clewett rang the bell, Nellie kept Cap by her side and listening to her. The others pretended not to notice them. Laura asked Mary Power to write in her autograph album. All the girls but Nellie were writing in each other’s albums. Nellie did not have one.
Mary Power sat at her desk and carefully wrote, with ink, while the others waited to read the verse when she finished it. Her writing was beautiful, and so was the verse she had chosen.
The rose of the valley may wither,
The pleasures of youth pass away,
But friendship will blossom forever
While all other flowers decay.
Laura’s album had many treasures in it now. There was the verse that Ma had written, and on the next page was Ida’s.
In memory’s golden casket,
Drop one pearl for me.
Your loving friend,
Ida B. Wright.
Every now and then Cap looked helplessly at them over Nellie’s shoulder, but they paid no attention to him or Nellie. Minnie Johnson asked Laura to write in her album, and Laura said, “I will, if you’ll write in mine.”
“I’ll do my best, but I can’t write as beautifully as Mary does. Her writing is just like copper plate,” Minnie said, and she sat down and wrote.
When the name that I write here
Is dim on the page
And the leaves of your album
Are yellow with age,
Still think of me kindly
And do not forget
That wherever I am
I remember you yet.
Then the bell rang, and they all went to their seats.
That afternoon at recess, Nellie sneered at autograph albums. “They’re out of date,” she said. “I used to have one, but I wouldn’t have one of the old things now.” No one believed her. She said, “In the east, where I come from, it’s name cards that are all the rage now.”
“What are name cards?” Ida asked.
Nellie pretended to be surprised, then she smiled, “Well, of course you wouldn’t know. I’ll bring mine to school and show you, but I won’t give you one, because you haven’t one to give me. It’s only proper to exchange name cards. Everybody’s exchanging name cards now, in the east.”
They did not believe her. Autograph albums could not be out of style, because theirs were almost new. Ma had brought Laura’s from Vinton, Iowa, only last September. On the way home after school, Minnie Johnson said, “She’s just bragging. I don’t believe she had name cards, I don’t believe there’s any such a thing.”
But next morning she and Mary Power were so eager to see Laura that they waited for her to come out of the house. Mary Power had found out about name cards. Jake Hopp, who ran the newspaper, had them at the newspaper office next to the bank. They were colored cards, with colored pictures of flowers and birds, and Mr. Hopp would print your name on them.
“I don’t believe Nellie Oleson has any,” Minnie still declared. “She only found out about them before we did, and she plans to get some and pretend they came from the east.”
“How much do they cost?” Laura asked.
“That depends on the pictures, and the kind of printing,” Mary told them. “I’m getting a dozen, with plain printing, for twenty-five cents.”
Laura said no more. Mary Power’s father was the tailor and he could work all winter, but now there was no carpentering work in town and would be none till spring. Pa had five to feed at home, and Mary to keep in college. It was folly even to think of spending twenty-five cents for mere pleasure.
Nellie had not brought her name cards that morning. Minnie asked her, as soon as they gathered around the stove where she was warming her hands after her long, chilly walk to school.
“My goodness, I forgot all about them!” she said. “I guess I’ll have to tie a string on my finger to remind me.” Minnie’s look said to Mary Power and Laura, “I told you so.”
At noon that day Cap did bring candy again, and as usual Nellie was nearest the door. She began to coo, “Oo-oo, Cappie!” and just as she was grasping the bag of candy, Laura reached and whisked it from her surprised hand, and gave it to Mary Power.
Everyone was startled, even Laura. Then Cap’s smile lighted his whole face, he glanced gratefully at Laura and looked at Mary.
“Thank you,” Mary said to him. “We will all enjoy the candy so much.” She offered it to the others, while as he went out to the ball game Cap gave one backward look, a grin of delight.
“Have a piece, Nellie,” Mary Power invited.
“I will!” Nellie took the largest piece. “I do like Cap’s candy, but as for him—pooh! you may have the greeny.”
Mary Power flushed, but she did not answer. Laura felt her own face flame. “I guess you’d take him well enough if you could get him,” she said. “You knew all the time he was bringing the candy to Mary.”
“My goodness, I could twist him around my finger if I wanted to,” Nellie bragged. “He isn’t such a much. It’s that chum of his I want to know, that young Mr. Wilder with the funny name. You’ll see,” she smiled to herself, “I’m going riding behind those horses of his.”
Yes, she surely would, Laura thought. Nellie had been so friendly with Miss Wilder, it was a wonder that Miss Wilder’s brother had not invited her for a drive before now. As for herself, Laura knew she had spoiled any chance of such a pleasure.
Mary Power’s name cards were finished the next week, and she brought them to school. They were beautiful. The cards were palest green, and on each was a picture of a bobolink swaying and singing on a spray of goldenrod. Beneath it was printed in black letters, MARY POWER. She gave one to Minnie, one to Ida and one to Laura, though they had none to give her. That same day, Nellie brought hers to school. They were pale yellow, with a bouquet of pansies and a scroll that said, “For Thoughts.” Her name was printed in letters like handwriting. She traded one of her cards for one of Mary’s.
Next day, Minnie said she was going to buy some. Her father had given her the money, and she would order them after school if the other girls would come with her. Ida could not go. She said cheerfully, “I ought not to waste time. Because I’m an adopted child, you see, I have to hurry home to help with the housework as much as I can. I couldn’t ask for name cards. Father Brown is a preacher and such things are a vanity. So I’ll just enjoy looking at yours when you get them, Minnie.”
“Isn’t she a dear?” Mary Power said after Ida had left them. No one could help loving Ida. Laura wished to be like her, but she wasn’t. Secretly she so wanted name cards that she almost felt envious of Mary Power and Minnie.
In the newspaper office Mr. Hopp in his ink-spotted apron spread the sample cards on the counter for them to see. Each card was more beautiful than the last. And Laura was mean enough to be pleased that Nellie’s was among them; it proved that she had bought her cards there.
They were every pale, lovely color, some even had gilt edges. There was a choice of six different bouquets, and one had a bird’s nest nestled among the flowers, two birds on its rim, and above them the word Love.
“That’s a young man’s card,” Mr. Hopp told them. “Only a young fellow’s brash enough to hand out a card with ‘Love’ on it.”
“Of course,” Minnie murmured, flushing.
It was so hard to choose among them that finally Mr. Hopp said, “Well, take your time. I’ll go on getting out the paper.”
He went back to inking the type and laying sheets of paper on it. He had lighted the lamp before Minnie finally decided to take the pale blue card. Then guiltily, because they were so late, they all hurried home.
Pa was washing his hands and Ma was putting supper on the table when Laura came in, breathless. Quietly Ma asked, “Where have you been, Laura?”
“I’m sorry, Ma. I only meant to take a minute,” Laura apologized. She told them about name cards. Of course she did not say that she wanted some. Pa remarked that Jake was up-and-coming, bringing out such novelties.
“How much do they cost?” he asked, and Laura answered that the cheapest cost twenty-five cents a dozen.
It was almost bedtime, and Laura was staring at the wall, thinking about the War of 1812, when Pa folded his paper, laid it down, and said, “Laura.”
“You want some of these new-fangled name cards, don’t you?” Pa asked.
“I was just thinking the same thing, Charles,” said Ma.
“Well, yes, I do want them,” Laura admitted. “But I don’t need them.”
Pa’s eyes smiled twinkling at her as he took from his pocket some coins and counted out two dimes and a nickel. “I guess you can have them, Half-Pint,” he said. “Here you are.”
Laura hesitated. “Do you really think I ought to? Can we afford it?” she asked.
“Laura!” Ma said. She meant, “Are you questioning what your Pa does?”
Quickly Laura said, “Oh, Pa, thank you!”
Then Ma said, “You are a good girl, Laura, and we want you to have the pleasures of other girls of your age. Before school tomorrow morning, if you hurry, you can run up the street and order your name cards.”
In her lonely bed that night without Mary, Laura felt ashamed. She was not truly good, like Ma and Mary and Ida Brown. At that very minute she was so happy to think of having name cards, not only because they were beautiful, but partly to be meanly even with Nellie Oleson, and partly to have things as nice as Mary Power and Minnie had.
Mr. Hopp promised that the cards would be ready on Wednesday at noon, and that day Laura could hardly eat her dinner. Ma excused her from doing the dishes, and she hurried to the newspaper office. There they were, delicate pink cards, with a spray of pinker roses and blue cornflowers. Her name was printed in thin, clear type: Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
She had hardly time to admire them, for she must not be late to school. A long block from Second Street, she was hurrying along the board sidewalk, when suddenly a shining buggy pulled up beside it.
Laura looked up, surprised to see the brown Morgans. Young Mr. Wilder stood by the buggy, his cap in one hand. He held out his other hand to her and said, “Like a ride to the schoolhouse? You’ll get there quicker.”
He took her hand, helped her into the buggy, and stepped in beside her. Laura was almost speechless with surprise and shyness and the delight of actually riding behind those beautiful horses. They trotted gaily but very slowly and their small ears twitched, listening for the word to go faster.
“I—I’m Laura Ingalls,” Laura said. It was a silly thing to say. Of course he must know who she was.
“I know your father, and I’ve seen you around town for quite a while,” he replied. “My sister often spoke of you.”
“Such beautiful horses! What are their names?” she asked. She knew quite well, but she had to say something.
“The near one is Lady, and the other is Prince,” he told her.
Laura wished he would let them go faster—as fast as they could go. But it would not be polite to ask.
She thought of speaking about the weather, but that seemed silly.
She could not think of anything to say, and in all this time they had gone only one block.
“I have been getting my name cards,” she heard herself saying.
“That so?” he said. “Mine are just plain cards. I brought them out from Minnesota.”
He took one from his pocket and handed it to her. He was driving with one capable hand, keeping the lines in play between his gloved fingers. The card was plain and white. Printed on it in Old English letters was, Almanzo James Wilder.
“It’s kind of an outlandish name,” he said.
Laura tried to think of something nice to say about it. She said, “It is quite unusual.”
“It was wished on me,” he said grimly. “My folks have got a notion there always has to be an Almanzo in the family, because ’way back in the time of the Crusades there was a Wilder went to them, and an Arab or somebody saved his life. El Manzoor, the name was. They changed it after a while in England, but I guess there’s no way to improve it much.”
“I think it is a very interesting name,” said Laura honestly.
She did think so, but she did not know what to do with the card. It seemed rude to give it back to him, but perhaps he did not mean her to keep it. She held it so that he could take it back if he wanted to. The team turned the corner at Second Street. In a panic Laura wondered whether, if he did not take back his card, she should give him one of hers. Nellie had said it was proper to exchange name cards.
She held his card a little nearer to him, so that he could see it plainly. He went on driving.
“Do you—do you want your card back?” Laura asked him.
“You can keep it if you want to,” he replied.
“Then do you want one of mine?” She took one out of the package and gave it to him.
He looked at it and thanked her. “It is a very pretty card,” he said as he put it in his pocket.
They were at the schoolhouse. He held the reins while he sprang out of the buggy, took off his cap and offered his hand to help her down. She did not need help; she barely touched his glove with her mitten-tip as she came lightly to the ground.
“Thank you for the ride,” she said.
“Don’t mention it,” he answered. His hair was not black, as she had thought. It was dark brown, and his eyes were such a dark blue that they did not look pale in his darkly tanned face. He had a steady, dependable, yet light-hearted look.
“Hullo, Wilder!” Cap Garland greeted him and he waved in answer as he drove away. Mr. Clewett was ringing the bell, and the boys were trooping in.
As Laura slipped into her seat, there was barely time for Ida to squeeze her arm delightedly and whisper, “Oh, I wish you could have seen her face! when you came driving up!”
Mary Power and Minnie were beaming at Laura across the aisle, but Nellie was looking intently away from her.