Little Town on the Prairie (Chaprer 25)
Little Town on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Unexpected In December
Next day was blank and limp. They would not try again to have Christmas without Mary. The only presents hidden away were for Carrie and Grace, and though Christmas was not until tomorrow, they had opened that morning the small Christmas box from Mary.
There.would be a whole week without school. Laura knew that she should improve the time in study, but she could not settle down to her books.
“It’s no fun studying at home when Mary isn’t here to study with,” she said.
Dinner was over and the house all in order, but it seemed empty without Mary in her rocking chair. Laura stood looking around the room as though searching for something she had lost.
Ma laid down her church paper. “I declare I can’t get used to her being gone, either,” she said. “This piece by a missionary is interesting, but I have read aloud to Mary for so long that I can’t properly read to myself.”
“I wish she hadn’t gone!” Laura burst out, but Ma said she must not feel so.
“She is doing so well in her studies, and it is wonderful that she is learning so many things—running a sewing machine, and playing the organ, and doing such pretty beadwork.”
They both looked toward the small vase made of tiny beads, blue and white, strung on fine wire, that Mary had made and sent home for them all for Christmas. It stood on the desk near Laura. She went to it and stood fingering the bead fringe around it as Ma talked on.
“I am a little worried about how we are going to find the money for the new summer clothes she needs, and we must manage to send her a little spending money. She should have a Braille slate of her own, too. They are expensive.”
“I’ll be sixteen, two months from now,” Laura said hopefully. “Maybe I can get a certificate next summer.”
“If you can teach a term next year, we may be able to have Mary come home for a summer vacation,” said Ma. “She has been away so long, she ought to come home for a little while, and it would cost only the railroad fare. But we must not count our chickens before they are hatched.”
“I’d better be studying, anyway,” Laura sighed. She was ashamed of her moping idleness, when Mary had the patience to do such perfect work with tiny beads that she could not see.
Ma took up her paper again and Laura bent over her books, but she could not rouse herself from her listlessness.
From the window, Carrie announced, “Mr. Boast is coming! And there’s another man with him. That’s him now, at the door!”
“‘That is he,’” said Ma.
Laura opened the door and Mr. Boast came in, saying, “How do you do, everyone? This is Mr. Brewster.”
Mr. Brewster’s boots, his thick jacket and his hands showed that he was a homesteader. He did not have much to say.
“How do you do?” said Ma as she placed chairs for them both. “Mr. Ingalls is over in town somewhere. How is Mrs. Boast? I am disappointed that she did not come with you.”
“I didn’t plan to come,” said Mr. Boast. “We just stepped in to speak to this young lady,” and his black eyes flashed a look at Laura.
She was very much startled. She sat very straight, as Ma had taught her, with her hands folded in her lap and her shoes drawn back beneath her skirts, but her breath caught. She could not think what Mr. Boast meant.
He went on. “Lew Brewster, here, is looking for a teacher for the new school they are starting in their district. He came in to the School Exhibition last night. He figures that Laura’s the teacher they want, and I tell him he can’t do better.”
Laura’s heart seemed to leap and fall back, and go on falling.
“I am not old enough yet,” she said.
“Now, Laura,” Mr. Boast said to her earnestly, “there is no need to tell your age unless someone asks you. The question is, Will you teach this school if the county superintendent gives you a certificate?”
Laura was speechless. She looked at Ma and Ma asked, “Where is the school, Mr. Brewster?”
“Twelve miles south of here,” Mr. Brewster replied.
Laura’s heart sank even further. So far from home, among strangers, she would have to depend entirely upon herself, with no help at all. She could not come home until the school term was over. Twelve miles and back was too far to travel.
Mr. Brewster went on, “It’s a small neighborhood. The country around there isn’t settled up yet. We can’t afford more than a two-month’s school, and all we can pay is twenty dollars a month and board.”
“I’m sure that seems a reasonable sum,” said Ma.
It would be forty dollars, Laura thought. Forty dollars! She had not realized that she could earn so much money.
“Mr. Ingalls would rely on your advice, I know, Mr. Boast,” Ma added.
“Lew Brewster and I knew each other back East,” said Mr. Boast. “It’s a good chance for Laura if she’ll take it.”
Laura was so excited she could hardly speak. “Why, yes,” she managed to stammer. “I would be glad to teach the school if I could.”
“Then we must hurry along,” said Mr. Boast as he and Mr. Brewster stood up. “Williams is in town, and if we can catch him before he starts home, he’ll come over and give you the examination right now.”
They had said good day to Ma and hurried away.
“Oh, Ma!” Laura gasped. “Do you think I can pass?”
“I believe you can, Laura,” Ma said. “Do not be excited nor frightened. There is no occasion to be. Just pretend that it is a school examination and you will be all right.”
It was only a moment before Carrie exclaimed, “That’s him now—”
“‘This is he,’” Ma said almost sharply.
“That’s he coming— It don’t sound right, Ma—”
“‘Doesn’t sound right,’” said Ma.
“Right straight across from Fuller’s Hardware!” cried Carrie.
The knock came at the door. Ma opened it. A large man, with a pleasant face and friendly manner, told her that he was Williams, the county superintendent. “So you’re the young lady that wants a certificate!” he said to Laura. “There’s not much need to give you an examination. I heard you last night. You answered all the questions. But I see your slate and pencil on the table, so we might as well go over some of it.”
They sat together at the table. Laura worked examples in arithmetic, she spelled, she answered questions in geography. She read Marc Antony’s oration on the death of Caesar. She felt quite at home with Mr. Williams while she diagrammed sentences on her slate and rapidly parsed them.
Scaling yonder peak, I saw an eagle
Wheeling near its brow.
“‘I’ is the personal pronoun, first person singular, here used as the subject of the verb ‘saw,’ past tense of the transitive verb ‘to see.’ ‘Saw’ takes as its object the common generic noun, ‘eagle,’ modified by the singular article, ‘an.’
“‘Scaling yonder peak’ is a participial phrase, adjunct of the pronoun, ‘I’,’ hence adjectival. ‘Wheeling’ is the present participle of the intransitive verb, ‘to wheel,’ here used as adjunct to the noun, ‘eagle,’ hence adjectival. ‘Near its brow’ is a prepositional phrase, adjunct of the present participle of the verb ‘to wheel,’ hence adverbial.”
After only a few such sentences, Mr. Williams was satisfied. “There is no need to examine you in history,” he said. “I heard your review of history last night. I will cut your grades a little for I must not give you more than a third grade certificate until next year. May I have the use of pen and ink?” he asked Ma.
“They are here at the desk,” Ma showed him.
He sat at Pa’s desk and spread a blank certificate on it. For moments there was no sound but the faint scratch of his sleeve on the paper as he wrote. He wiped the pen-point on the wiper, corked the ink bottle again, and stood up.
“There you are, Miss Ingalls,” he said. “Brewster asked me to tell you that the school opens next Monday. He will come for you Saturday or Sunday, depending on the looks of the weather. You know it is twelve miles south of town?”
“Yes, sir. Mr. Brewster said so,” Laura replied.
“Well, I wish you good luck,” he said cordially.
“Thank you, sir,” Laura answered.
When he had said good day to Ma and gone, they read the certificate.
Laura still stood in the middle of the room, holding that certificate, when Pa came in.
“What is it, Laura?” he asked. “You look as if you expect that paper to bite you.”
“Pa,” Laura said, “I am a schoolteacher.”
“What!” said Pa. “Caroline, what is this?”
“Read it.” Laura gave him the certificate and sat down. “And he didn’t ask me how old I am.”
When Pa had read the certificate and Ma had told him about the school, he said, “I’ll be jiggered.” He sat down and slowly read the certificate again.
“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s pretty fine for a fifteen-year-old.” He meant to speak heartily but his voice had a hollow sound, for now Laura was going away.
She could not think what it would be to teach school twelve miles away from home, alone among strangers. The less she thought of it the better, for she must go, and she must meet whatever happened as it came.
“Now Mary can have everything she needs, and she can come home this next summer,” she said. “Oh, Pa, do you think I—I can teach school?”
“I do, Laura,” said Pa. “I am sure of it.”