These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 9)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Superintendent’s Visit
“I have only to get through one day at a time,” Laura thought, when she went into the house. Everything was still all wrong there. Mrs. Brewster did not speak; Johnny was always miserable, and Mr. Brewster stayed at the stable as much as he could. That evening while she studied, Laura made four marks on her notebook, for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. She would mark off one of them every night; when they were gone, there would be only one week more.
Day after day the weather grew colder again, but still there was no blizzard. The nights passed quietly, though Laura lay half-asleep and woke often. Each evening she crossed out a mark. It seemed to make time pass more quickly, to look forward to crossing out one more day.
All Wednesday night she heard the wind howling and snow beating on the window. She dreaded that there might be no school next day. But in the morning the sun was shining, though there was no warmth in it. A bitter wind rolled the snow low across the prairie. Laura gladly faced it as she fought her way to the school shanty, breaking her path again.
Snow was blowing through the cracks, and once more she let her pupils stand by the stove to study. But slowly the red-hot stove warmed the room, until at recess Laura could hardly see her breath when she blew it above Clarence’s back seat. So when she called the school to order she said, “The room is warmer now. You may take your seats.”
They were hardly in their places, when a sudden knock sounded on the door. Who could it be? she wondered. As she hurried to the door, she glanced through the window, but nothing was to be seen. At the door stood Mr. Williams, the county superintendent of schools.
His blanketed team stood tied to a corner of the school shanty. The soft snow had muffled the sounds of their coming, and they had no bells.
This was the test of Laura’s teaching, and how thankful she was that the pupils were in their seats. Mr. Williams smiled pleasantly, as she gave him her chair by the red-hot stove. Every pupil bent studiously to work, but Laura could feel how alert and tense they were. She was so nervous that it was hard to keep her voice low and steady.
It heartened her, that each one tried hard to do his best for her. Even Charles made an effort, and surpassed himself. Mr. Williams sat listening to recitation after recitation, while the wind blew low and loud and the snow drifted through the cracks in the walls.
Charles raised his hand and asked, “Please may I come to the stove to warm?” Laura said that he might, and without thinking to ask permission, Martha came too. They were studying from the same book. When their hands were warm, they went back to their seat, quietly, but without asking permission. It did not speak well for Laura’s discipline.
Just before noon, Mr. Williams said that he must go. Then Laura must ask him if he wished to speak to the school.
“Yes, I do,” he answered grimly, and as he rose to his full height of six feet, Laura’s heart stood still. Desperately she wondered what she had done that was wrong.
With his head nearly touching the ceiling he stood silent a moment, to emphasize what he intended to say. Then he spoke.
“Whatever else you do, keep your feet warm.”
He smiled at them all, and again at Laura, and after shaking her hand warmly, he was gone.
At noon Clarence emptied the coal hod into the stove, and went out into the cold to fill it again at the bin. As he came back he said, “We’ll need more coal on the fire before night. It’s getting colder, fast.”
They all gathered close to the stove to eat their cold lunches. When Laura called the school to order she told them to bring their books to the fire. “You may stand by the stove or move about as you please. So long as you are quiet and learn your lessons, we will let that be the rule as long as this cold weather lasts.”
The plan worked well. Recitations were better than ever before, and the room was quiet while they all studied and kept their feet warm.