Little Town on the Prairie (Chaprer 17)

Little Town on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 17
The Sociable

One Saturday afternoon Mary Power came blowing in to see Laura. Her cheeks were pink with excitement. The Ladies’ Aid Society was giving a dime sociable in Mrs. Tinkham’s rooms over the furniture store, next Friday night.

“I’ll go if you do, Laura,” Mary Power said. “Oh, please may she, Mrs. Ingalls?”

Laura did not like to ask what a dime sociable was. Fond as she was of Mary Power, she felt at a slight disadvantage with her. Mary Power’s clothes were so beautifully fitted because her father tailored them, and she did her hair in the stylish new way, with bangs.

Ma said that Laura might go to the sociable. She had not heard, until now, that a Ladies’ Aid was organized.

To tell the truth, Pa and Ma were sadly disappointed that dear Rev. Alden from Plum Creek was not the preacher. He had wanted to be, and the church had sent him. But when he arrived, he found that Rev. Brown had established himself there. So dear Rev. Alden had gone on as a missionary to the unsettled West.

Pa and Ma could not lose interest in the church, of course, and Ma would work in the Ladies’ Aid. Still, they could not feel as they would have felt had Rev. Alden been the preacher.

All next week Laura and Mary Power looked forward to the sociable. It cost a dime, so Minnie and Ida doubted that they could go, and Nellie said that, really, it didn’t interest her.

Friday seemed long to Laura and Mary Power, they were so impatient for night to come. That night Laura did not take off her school dress, but put on a long apron and pinned its bib under her chin. Supper was early, and as soon as she had washed the dishes Laura began to get ready for the sociable.

Ma helped her carefully brush her dress. It was brown woolen, made in princess style. The collar was a high, tight band, close under Laura’s chin, and the skirt came down to the tops of her high-buttoned shoes. It was a very pretty dress, with piping of red around wrists and collar, and the buttons all down the front were of brown horn, with a tiny raised castle in the center of each one.

Standing before the looking glass in the front room, where the lamp was, Laura carefully brushed and braided her hair, and put it up and took it down again. She could not arrange it to suit her.

“Oh, Ma, I do wish you would let me cut bangs,” she almost begged. “Mary Power wears them, and they are so stylish.”

“Your hair looks nice the way it is,” said Ma. “Mary Power is a nice girl, but I think the new hair style is well called a ‘lunatic fringe.’”

“Your hair looks beautiful, Laura,” Carrie consoled her. “It’s such a pretty brown and so long and thick, and it shines in the light.”

Laura still looked unhappily at her reflection. She thought of the short hairs always growing at the edge around her forehead. They did not show when they were brushed back, but now she combed them all out and downward. They made a thin little fringe.

“Oh, please, Ma,” she coaxed. “I wouldn’t cut a heavy bang like Mary Power’s, but please let me cut just a little more, so I could curl it across my forehead.”

“Very well, then,” Ma gave her consent.

Laura took the shears from Ma’s workbasket and standing before the glass she cut the hair above her forehead into a narrow fringe about two inches long. She laid her long slate pencil on the heater, and when it was heated she held it by the cool end and wound wisps of the short hair around the heated end. Holding each wisp tightly around the pencil, she curled all the bangs

The rest of her hair she combed smoothly back and braided. She wound the long braid flatly around and around on the back of her head and snugly pinned it.

“Turn around and let me see you,” Ma said. Laura turned.

“Do you like it, Ma?”

“It looks quite nice,” Ma admitted. “Still, I liked it better before it was cut.”

“Turn this way and let me see,” said Pa. He looked at her a long minute and his eyes were pleased. “Well, if you must wear this ‘lunatic fringe,’ I think you’ve made a good job of it.” And Pa turned again to his paper.

“I think it is pretty. You look very nice,” Carrie said softly.

Laura put on her brown coat and set carefully over her head her peaked hood of brown woolen lined with blue. The brown and the blue edges of cloth were pinked, and the hood had long ends that wound around her neck like a muffler.

She took one more look in the glass. Her cheeks were pink with excitement, and the curled bangs were stylish under the hood’s blue lining that made her eyes very blue.

Ma gave her a dime and said, “Have a pleasant time, Laura. I am sure you will remember your manners.”

Pa asked, “Had I better go with her as far as the door, Caroline?”

“It’s early yet, and only across the street, and she’s going with Mary Power,” Ma answered

Laura went out into the dark and starry night. Her heart was beating fast with anticipation. Her breath puffed white in the frosty air. Lamplight made glowing patches on the sidewalk in front of the hardware store and the drugstore, and above the dark furniture store two windows shone bright. Mary Power came out of the tailor shop, and together they climbed the outdoor stairs between it and the furniture store.

Mary Power knocked on the door, and Mrs. Tinkham opened it. She was a tiny woman, in a black dress with white lace ruffles at throat and wrists. She said good evening, and took Mary Power’s dime and Laura’s. Then she said, “Come this way to leave your wraps.”

All the week Laura had hardly been able to wait to see what a sociable was, and now she was here. Some people were sitting in a lighted room. She felt embarrassed as she hurriedly followed Mrs. Tinkham past them into a small bedroom. She and Mary Power laid their coats and hoods on the bed. Then quietly they slipped into chairs in the larger room.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson sat on either side of the window. The window had dotted-Swiss curtains, and before it stood a polished center table, holding a large glass lamp with a white china shade on which red roses were printed. Beside the lamp lay a green plush photograph album.

A bright flowered carpet covered the whole floor. A tall shining heater with isinglass windows stood in its center. The chairs around the walls were all of polished woods. Mr. and Mrs. Woodworth were sitting on a sofa with shining high wooden back and ends and a glittering black haircloth seat.

Only the walls of boards were like those in the front room at home, and these were thickly hung with pictures of people and places that Laura did not know.

Some had wide, heavy, gilded frames. Of course Mr. Tinkham owned the furniture store. Cap Garland’s older sister Florence was there, with their mother. Mrs. Beardsley was there, and Mrs. Bradley, the druggist’s wife. They all sat dressed up and silent. Mary Power and Laura did not speak, either. They did not know what to say.

Someone knocked at the door. Mrs. Tinkham hurried to it, and Rev. and Mrs. Brown came in. His rumbling voice filled the room with greetings to everyone, and then he talked with Mrs. Tinkham about the home he had left in Massachusetts.

“Not much like this place,” he said. “But we are all strange here.”

He fascinated Laura. She did not like him. Pa said he claimed to be a cousin of John Brown of Ossawatomie who had killed so many men in Kansas and finally succeeded in starting the Civil War. Rev. Brown did look just like the picture of John Brown in Laura’s history book.

His face was large and bony. His eyes were sunk deep under shaggy white eyebrows and they shone hot and fierce even when he was smiling. His coat hung loose on his big body, his hands at the end of the sleeves were large and rough with big knuckles. He was untidy. Around his mouth his long white beard was stained yellow as if with dribbling tobacco juice.

He talked a great deal, and after he came the others talked some, except Mary Power and Laura. They tried to sit politely, but now and then they did fidget. It was a long time before Mrs. Tinkham began to bring plates from the kitchen. On each plate was a small sauce dish of custard and a piece of cake.

When Laura had eaten hers, she murmured to Mary Power, “Let’s go home,” and Mary answered, “Come on, I’m going.” They set their empty dishes on a small table near them, put on their coats and hoods, and said good-by to Mrs. Tinkham.

Down on the street once more, Laura drew a deep breath. “Whew! If that is a sociable, I don’t like sociables.”

“Neither do I,” Mary Power agreed. “I wish I hadn’t gone. I’d rather have the dime.”

Pa and Ma looked up in surprise when Laura came in, and Carrie eagerly asked, “Did you have a good time, Laura?”

“Well, no, I didn’t,” Laura had to admit. “You should have gone, Ma, instead of me. Mary Power and I were the only girls there. We had no one to talk to.”

“This is only the first sociable,” Ma made excuse. “No doubt when folks here are better acquainted, the sociables will be more interesting. I know from reading The Advance that church sociables are greatly enjoyed.”

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