These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 10)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Almanzo Says Good-By
That Saturday at home, Ma was worried about Laura. “Are you coming down with something?” she asked. “It isn’t like you to sit half-asleep.”
“I feel a little tired. It isn’t anything, Ma,” Laura said.
Pa looked up from his paper. “That Clarence making trouble again?”
“Oh, no, Pa! He’s doing splendidly, and they are all as good as can be.” She was not exactly lying, but she could not tell them about Mrs. Brewster and the knife. If they knew, they would not let her go back, and she must finish her school. A teacher could not walk away and leave a term of school unfinished. If she did, she would not deserve another certificate, and no school board would hire her.
So she made a greater effort to hide from them her sleepiness and her dread of going back to Mrs. Brewster’s house. There was only one more week.
By Sunday afternoon the weather had moderated. The temperature was only fifteen degrees below zero when Laura and Almanzo set out. There was hardly any wind and the sun shone brightly.
Out of a silence Laura said, “Only one more week, and I’ll be so glad when it’s over.”
“Maybe you will miss the sleigh rides?” Almanzo suggested.
“This one is nice,” Laura said. “But mostly it is so cold. I should think you’d be glad not to drive so far any more. I don’t know why you ever started making these long drives; you didn’t need to take them to get home, the way I do.”
“Oh, sometimes a fellow gets tired of sitting around,” Almanzo replied. “Two old bachelors get pretty dull by themselves.”
“Why, there are lots of people in town! You and your brother needn’t stay by yourselves,” Laura said.
“There hasn’t been anything going on in town since the school exhibition,” Almanzo objected. “All a fellow can do is hang around the saloon playing pool, or in one of the stores watching the checkers players. Sometimes he’d rather be out with better company, even if it does get cold, driving.”
Laura had not thought of herself as good company. If that was what he wanted, she thought, she should make an effort to be more entertaining. But she could not think of anything entertaining to say. She tried to think of something, while she watched the sleek brown horses, trotting so swiftly.
Their dainty feet spurned the snow in perfect rhythm, and their blue shadows flew along the snow beside them. They were so gay, tossing their heads to make a chiming of the bells, pricking their ears forward and back, lifting their noses to the breeze of their speed that rippled their black manes. Laura drew a deep breath and exclaimed, “How beautiful!”
“What is beautiful?” Almanzo asked.
“The horses. Look at them!” Laura answered. At that moment, Prince and Lady touched noses as though they whispered to each other, then together they tried to break into a run.
When Almanzo had gently but firmly pulled them into a trot again, he asked, “How would you like to drive them?”
“Oh!” Laura cried. But she had to add, honestly, “Pa won’t let me drive his horses. He says I am too little and would get hurt.”
“Prince and Lady wouldn’t hurt anybody,” Almanzo said. “I raised them myself. But if you think they’re beautiful, I wish you could’ve seen the first horse I ever raised, Starlight. I named him for the white star on his forehead.”
His father had given him Starlight as a colt, back in New York State when he was nine years old. He told Laura all about gentling Starlight, and breaking him, and what a beautiful horse he was. Starlight had come west to Minnesota, and when Almanzo first came out to the western prairies, he had come riding Starlight. Starlight was nine years old then, when Almanzo rode him back to Marshall, Minnesota, one hundred and five miles in one day, and Starlight came in so fresh that he tried to race another horse at the journey’s end.
“Where is he now?” Laura asked.
“At pasture on Father’s farm back in Minnesota,” Almanzo told her. “He is not as young as he used to be, and I need a double team for driving out here, so I gave him back to Father.”
The time had passed so quickly that Laura was surprised to see the Brewsters’ ahead. She tried to keep up her courage, but her heart sank.
“What makes you so quiet, so sudden?” Almanzo asked.
“I was wishing we were going in the other direction,” Laura said.
“We’ll be doing that next Friday.” He slowed the horses. “We can delay it a little,” he said, and she knew that somehow he understood how she dreaded going into that house.
“Till next Friday, then,” he smiled encouragingly, as he drove away.
Day by day and night by night that week went by, until there was only one more night to get through. Tomorrow was Friday, the last day of school. When that one night and one day were over, she would go home to stay. She so dreaded that something might happen, this last night. Often she woke with a start, but all was quiet and her heart slowly ceased thumping.
Friday’s lessons were unusually well-learned, and every pupil was carefully well-behaved.
When afternoon recess was over, Laura called the school to order, and said there would be no more lessons. School would be dismissed early, because this was the last day.
She knew that she must make some closing speech to the school, so she praised them all for the work they had done. “You have made good use of the opportunity you had to come to school,” she told them.
“I hope that each of you can get more schooling, but if you cannot, you can study at home as Lincoln did. An education is worth striving for, and if you cannot have much help in getting one, you can each help yourself to an education if you try.”
Then she gave Ruby one of her name-cards, of thin, pale pink cardboard with a spray of roses and cornflowers curving above her printed name. On the back she had written, “Presented to Ruby Brewster, by her teacher, with kind regards. Brewster School, February, 1883.”
Tommy was next, then Martha and Charles, and Clarence. They were all so pleased. Laura let them have a moment to enjoy looking at the pretty cards, and carefully place them in their books. Then she told them to make ready their books, slates, and pencils, to carry home. For the last time she said, “School is dismissed.”
She had never been more surprised than she was then. For instead of putting on their wraps as she expected, they all came up to her desk. Martha gave her a beautiful, red apple. Ruby shyly gave her a little cake that her mother had baked for her gift. And Tommy and Charles and Clarence each gave her a new pencil that he had carefully sharpened for her.
She hardly knew how to thank them, but Martha said, “It’s us, I mean we, that thank you, Miss Ingalls. Thank you for helping me with grammar.”
“Thank you, Miss Ingalls,” Ruby said. “I wish it had frosting on it.” The boys did not say anything, but after they had all said good-by and gone, Clarence came back.
Standing by Laura’s table and leaning against it he looked down at his cap in his hands and muttered, “I’m sorry I was so mean.”
“Why, Clarence! That’s all right!” Laura exclaimed. “And you have done wonderfully well in your studies. I am proud of you.”
He looked at her with his old saucy grin, and shot out of the room, slamming the door so that the shanty shook.
Laura cleaned the blackboard and swept the floor. She stacked her books and papers and shut the drafts of the stove. Then she put on her hood and coat and stood at the window waiting until the sleigh bells came jingling and Prince and Lady stopped at the door.
School was out. She was going home to stay! Her heart was so light that she felt like singing with the sleigh bells, and fast as the horses trotted, they seemed slow. “You won’t get there any faster, pushing,” Almanzo said once, and she laughed aloud to find that she was pushing her feet hard against the cutter’s dashboard. But he did not talk much, and neither did she. It was enough to be going home.
Not until she had thanked him nicely and said good night and was in the sitting room taking off her wrap did she remember that he had not said, “Good night.” He had not said, “I’ll see you Sunday afternoon,” as he had always said before. He had said, “Good-by.”
Of course, she thought. It was good-by. This had been the last sleigh ride.