These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 16)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
It was such a joy to have Mary at home that the summer days were not long enough for all their pleasures. Listening to Mary’s stories of her life in college, reading aloud to her, planning and sewing to put her clothes in order, and once more going with her for long walks in the late afternoon, made the time go by too swiftly.
One Saturday morning Laura went to town to match Mary’s last winter’s best dress in silk, to make a new collar and cuffs. She found just what she wanted in a new milliner’s and dressmaker’s shop, and while Miss Bell was wrapping the little package she said to Laura, “I hear you’re a good sewer. I wish you would come and help me. I’ll pay you fifty cents a day, from seven o’clock to five, if you’ll bring your dinner.”
Laura looked around the pleasant, new place, with the pretty hats in two windows, bolts of ribbon in a glass showcase, and silks and velvets on the shelves behind it. There was a sewing machine, with an unfinished dress lying across it, and another lay on a chair nearby.
“You can see there is more work here than I can do,” Miss Bell said in her quiet voice. Miss Bell was a young woman and Laura thought her handsome with her tall figure and dark hair and eyes.
Laura decided that it would be pleasant to work with her.
“I will come if Ma is willing I should,” she promised.
“Come Monday morning if you can,” said Miss Bell.
Laura left the shop and went up the street to the post office to mail a letter for Mary. There she met Mary Power, who was on her way to do an errand at the lumberyard. They had not seen each other since the buggy ride in early spring, and there was so much to talk about that Mary begged Laura to come with her.
“All right, I will,” said Laura. “I’d like to ask Mr. McKee how Mrs. McKee and Mattie are getting along, anyway.”
They walked slowly, talking all the way up the street, across the cindery railroad tracks and the dusty street to the corner of the lumberyard, and there they stood talking.
A yoke of oxen was coming slowly into town on the country road from the north, hauling a lumber wagon. A man walked beside the farther ox and Laura idly watched him as he swung a long whip. The oxen trudged along until nearly to the corner, then started ahead quickly.
Laura and Mary stepped back. The man commanded, “Whoa! Haw!” But the oxen did not turn left. They swung to the right, around the corner.
“Gee, then! Go where you’re a mind to!” the driver ordered them, impatiently, but joking. Then he looked at the girls, and they exclaimed together, “Almanzo Wilder!”
He raised his hat with a cheerful flourish to them, and hurried along the street with the oxen.
“I didn’t know him without his horses!” Laura laughed.
“And the way he was dressed,” Mary disparaged him. “In those rough clothes and ugly heavy shoes.”
“He is likely breaking sod, and that is why he had oxen. He wouldn’t work Prince and Lady so hard,” Laura explained, more to herself than to Mary Power.
“Everybody is working,” Mary remarked. “Nobody can have any fun in the summertime. But Nellie Oleson is going to ride behind those horses yet, if she possibly can. You know the Olesons’ claim is a little way east of the Wilder boys’ claims.”
“Have you seen her lately?” Laura asked.
“I never see anybody,” Mary answered. “All the girls are out on their fathers’ claims, and Cap is teaming every day. Ben Woodworth is working at the depot, and nobody can get a word with Frank Harthorn nowadays, he works all the time in the store since his father has made him a partner. Minnie and Arthur are out with their folks on their homestead, and here I haven’t seen you since early April.”
“Never mind, we’ll see each other all next winter. Besides, I am coming to town to work if Ma says I may,” and Laura told Mary that she expected to sew for Miss Bell.
Suddenly she saw that the sun was almost overhead. She stopped only a moment in the lumberyard office, to hear from Mr. McKee that Mrs. McKee and Mattie were getting along all right, though they still missed her, Then quickly she said good-by to Mary and hurried away on her walk home. She had stayed in town too long. Though she walked so fast that she was almost running, dinner was ready when she reached home.
“I am sorry I stayed so long, but so many things happened,” she made excuse.
“Yes?” Ma inquired, and Carrie asked, “What happened?”
Laura told of meeting Mary Power and of seeing Mr. McKee. “I visited too long with Mary Power,” she confessed. “The time went so quickly that I did not know it was so late.” Then she told the rest. “Miss Bell wants me to work for her in her shop. May I, Ma?”
“Why, Laura, I declare I don’t know,” Ma exclaimed. “You have only just got home.”
“She will pay me fifty cents a day, from seven o’clock to five, if I bring my own dinner,” Laura told them.
“That is fair enough,” said Pa. “You take your own dinner, but you get off an hour early.”
“But you came home to be with Mary,” Ma objected.
“I know, Ma, but I will see her every night and morning and all day Sunday,” Laura argued. “I don’t know why, but I feel I ought to be earning something.”
“That is the way it is, once you begin to earn,” Pa said.
“I will be earning three dollars a week,” said Laura. “And seeing Mary, too. We will have lots of time to do things together, won’t we, Mary?”
“Yes, and I will do all your housework while you’re gone,” Mary offered. “Then on Sundays we’ll have our walks.”
“That reminds me, the new church is done,” said Pa. “We must all go to church tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll be so glad to see the new church! I can hardly believe there is one!” Mary said.
“It’s there sure enough,” Pa assured her. “We’ll see for ourselves tomorrow.”
“And the next day?” Laura asked.
“Yes, you may go to work for Miss Bell. You can try it for a while anyway,” Ma said.
Sunday morning Pa hitched the horses to the wagon and they all rode to church. It was large and new, with long seats that were comfortable to sit in. Mary liked it very much, after the small chapel at college, but she knew hardly anyone there. On the way home she said, “There were so many strangers.”
“They come and they go,” Pa told her. “No sooner do I get acquainted with a newcomer than he sells the relinquishment of his claim and goes on west, or else his family can’t stand it here and he sells out and moves back east. The few that stick are so busy that we don’t have time to know each other.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mary said. “I will soon be going back to college, and I know everyone there.”
After the Sunday dinner, when the work was done, Carrie sat down to read the Youth’s Companion, Grace went to play with the kittens in the clean grass near the door, Ma rested in her rocking chair by the open window, and Pa lay down for his Sunday nap. Then Laura said, “Come, Mary, let’s go for our walk.”
They walked across the prairie to the south, and all along their way the wild June roses were blooming. Laura gathered them until she filled Mary’s arm with all she could hold.
“Oh, how sweet!” Mary kept saying. “I have missed the spring violets, but nothing is sweeter than prairie roses. It is so good to be home again, Laura. Even if I can’t stay long.”
“We have until the middle of August,” said Laura. “But the roses won’t last that long.”
“‘Gather ye roses while ye may,’” Mary began, and she quoted the poem for Laura. Then as they walked on together in the rose-scented warm wind, she talked of her studies in literature. “I am planning to write a book some day,” she confided. Then she laughed. “But I planned to teach school, and you are doing that for me, so maybe you will write the book.”
“I, write a book?” Laura hooted. She said blithely, “I’m going to be an old maid schoolteacher, like Miss Wilder. Write your own book! What are you going to write about?”
But Mary was diverted from the subject of books. She inquired, “Where is that Wilder boy, that Ma wrote me about? It seems like he’d be around sometime.”
“I think he is too busy on his claim. Everybody is busy,” Laura answered. She did not mention seeing him in town. For some reason that she could not explain, she felt shy of talking about it. She and Mary turned and went rather quietly back to the house, bringing into it the fragrance of the roses they carried.
Swiftly that summer went by. Every weekday Laura walked to town in the early morning, carrying her lunch pail. Often Pa walked with her, for he was doing carpenter work on new buildings that newcomers were building. Laura could hear the hammers and saws while she sewed steadily all day long, pausing only to eat her cold lunch at noon. Then, often with Pa, she walked home again. Sometimes there was a pain between her shoulders from bending over her work, but that always disappeared during the walk, and then came the happy evening at home.
At supper she told of all she had seen and heard in Miss Bell’s shop, Pa told any news he had gathered, and they all talked of the happenings on the claim and in the house: how the crops were growing, how Ma was getting along with-Mary’s sewing, how many eggs Grace had found, and that the old speckled hen had stolen her nest and just came off with twenty chicks.
It was at the supper table that Ma reminded them that tomorrow was Fourth of July. “What are we going to do about it?”
“I don’t see that we can do anything, Caroline. No way that I know of, to prevent tomorrow’s being the Fourth,” Pa teased.
“Now, Charles,” Ma reproached him, smiling. “Are we going to the celebration?”
There was silence around the table.
“I cannot hear you when you all talk at once,” Ma teased in her turn. “If we are going, we must think about it tonight. I’ve been so enjoying having Mary here that I forgot about the Fourth, and nothing is prepared for a celebration.”
“My whole vacation is a celebration, and it seems to me enough,” Mary said quietly.
“I have been in town every day. It would be a treat to me to miss a day.” Then Laura added, “But there are Carrie and Grace.”
Pa laid down his knife and fork. “I’ll tell you what. Caroline, you and the girls cook a good dinner, I will go to town in the morning and get some candy and firecrackers. We will have our own Fourth of July celebration right here at home. What do you say to that?”
“Get lots of candy, Pa!” Grace begged, while Carrie urged, “And lots of firecrackers!”
Everyone had such a good time next day that they all agreed it was much more fun than going to town. Once or twice Laura wondered if Almanzo Wilder were in town with the brown horses, and the thought of Nellie Oleson just crossed her mind. But if Almanzo wanted to see her again, he knew where she was. It was not her place to do anything about it, and she didn’t intend to.
All too soon the summer was gone. In the last week of August Mary went back to college, leaving an emptiness in the house. Now Pa cut the oats and wheat with his old hand cradle, because the fields were still so small that they would not pay for having a harvester. When the corn was ripe he cut it and shocked it in the field. He was thin and tired from all the hard work he had done, in town and in the fields, and he was restless because people were settling the country so thickly.
“I would like to go west,” he told Ma one day. “A fellow doesn’t have room to breathe here any more.”
“Oh, Charles! No room, with all this great prairie around you?” Ma said. “I was so tired of being dragged from pillar to post, and I thought we were settled here.”
“Well, I guess we are, Caroline. Don’t fret. It’s just that my wandering foot gets to itching, I guess. Anyway I haven’t won that bet with Uncle Sam yet, and we stay right here till we win it! till I can prove up on this homestead claim.”
Laura knew how he felt for she saw the look in his blue eyes as he gazed over the rolling prairie westward from the open door where he stood. He must stay in a settled country for the sake of them all, just as she must teach school again, though she did so hate to be shut into a schoolroom.