These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 12)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
East or West, Home Is Best
Gladly Laura set out to school with Carrie Monday morning. As they picked their way across the icy ruts of the street, Carrie said with a happy sigh, “It’s good to be walking to school together again. It never seemed right without you.”
“I feel the same way,” Laura answered.
When they went into the schoolhouse, Ida exclaimed joyfully, “Hello, Teacher!” and everyone turned from the stove to gather around Laura. “How does it seem to be coming to school yourself?” Ida asked; her nose was swollen and red from the cold, but her brown eyes were gay as ever.
“It seems good,” Laura answered, squeezing Ida’s hand while all the others welcomed her back. Even Nellie Oleson seemed friendly.
“Quite a few sleigh rides you’ve been having,” Nellie said. “Now you’re home again, maybe you’ll take some of us with you.”
Laura only answered, “Maybe.” She wondered what Nellie was scheming now. Then Mr. Owen left his desk and came to greet Laura.
“We are glad to have you with us again,” he said. “I hear you did well with your school.”
“Thank you, sir,” she answered. “I am glad to be back.” She wanted to ask who had spoken to him about her teaching, but of course she did not.
The morning began a little anxiously, for she feared that she might be behind her class, but she found that she had more than kept up with it. The recitations were all reviews of lessons that she had learned during the wretched evenings at the Brewsters’. She knew them perfectly; she was still sailing at the head of the class with flying colors, and she was feeling happily confident until the morning recess.
Then the girls began to talk about their compositions, and Laura discovered that Mr. Owen had told the grammar class to write, for that day’s lesson, a composition on “Ambition.”
The grammar class would be called to recite immediately after recess. Laura was in a panic. She had never written a composition, and now she must do in a few minutes what the others had been working at since yesterday. They had all written their compositions at home, and Mrs. Brown had helped Ida write hers. Mrs. Brown wrote for the church papers, so Ida’s composition would be good.
Laura had no idea how to begin. She knew nothing about ambition. The only thought in her head was that she was going to fail in a class that she had always led. She must not fail, she couldn’t. She would not. But how did one write a composition? Only five minutes were left.
She found herself staring at the yellow leather cover of the dictionary on its stand by Mr. Owen’s desk. Perhaps, she thought, she might get an idea from reading the definition of ambition. Her fingers were chilly as she hurriedly turned the A pages, but the definition was interesting. Back at her desk, she wrote as fast as she could, and kept on writing desperately while the school was called to order. Miserably she felt that her composition was not good, but there was no time to write it over nor to add anything more. Mr. Owen was calling the grammar class to recite.
One by one, as he called upon them, the others read their compositions, while Laura’s heart sank. Each one seemed better than her own
At last Mr. Owen said, “Laura Ingalls,” and all the class rustled as everyone looked at her expectantly.
Laura stood up, and made herself read aloud what she had written. It was the best that she had been able to do.
Ambition is necessary to accomplishment. Without an ambition to gain an end, nothing would be done. Without an ambition to excel others and to surpass one’s self there would be no superior merit. To win anything, we must have the ambition to do so.
Ambition is a good servant but a bad master. So long as we control our ambition, it is good, but if there is danger of our being ruled by it, then I would say in the words of Shakespeare, “Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.”
That was all. Laura stood miserably waiting for Mr. Owen’s comment. He looked at her sharply and said, “You have written compositions before?”
“No, sir,” Laura said. “This is my first.”
“Well, you should write more of them, I would not have believed that anyone could do so well the first time,” Mr. Owen told her.
Laura stammered in astonishment. “It is s…so short… It is mostly from the dictionary…”
“It is not much like the dictionary,” Mr. Owen said. “There are no corrections. It grades one hundred. Class is dismissed.”
It couldn’t be marked higher. Laura still was at the head of her class. She felt confident now that with steady work she would keep her place at the head of her classes, and she looked forward happily to writing more compositions.
Time no longer dragged. That week went by in a flash, and on Friday when Laura and Carrie went home to dinner Pa said, “I have something for you, Laura.”
His eyes were twinkling as he drew his pocketbook from his pocket. Then one by one he laid in her hand four ten-dollar bills.
“I saw Brewster this morning,” Pa explained. “He gave me this for you, and said you taught a good school. They would like to have you back next winter. But I told him you wouldn’t go so far from home again in the wintertime. I know it wasn’t pleasant at Brewster’s even if you didn’t complain, and I’m proud that you stuck it out, Laura.”
“Oh, Pa! It was worth it,” Laura said breathlessly. “Forty dollars!”
She had known that she was earning forty dollars, but the bills in her hand made the fact seem real for the first time. She looked at them, hardly able to believe it even now. Four ten-dollar bills; forty dollars.
Then she held it out to Pa. “Here, Pa. Take it and keep it for Mary. It’s enough so that she can come home on her vacation this summer, isn’t it?”
“Plenty for that, and then some,” said Pa, as he folded the bills again into his pocketbook.
“Oh, Laura, aren’t you going to have anything at all for teaching your school?” Carrie exclaimed.
“We’ll all see Mary this summer,” Laura answered happily. “I was only teaching school for Mary.” It was a wonderful feeling, to know that she had helped so much. Forty dollars. As she sat down to the good dinner in the pleasant kitchen of home, she said, “I wish I could earn some more.”
“You can if you want to,” Ma said unexpectedly. “Mrs. McKee said this morning she would like to have you help her on Saturdays. She has more dressmaking than she can do alone, and she will pay you fifty cents and dinner.”
“Oh!” Laura cried out. “Did you tell her I will, Ma?”
“I said you might if you’d like to,” Ma smiled.
“When? Tomorrow?” Laura eagerly asked.
“Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock,” said Ma. “Mrs. McKee said she wouldn’t be ready for you till that late. Only from eight to six, she said, unless there’s a rush, and she’ll give you your supper if you stay to finish up something in the evening.”
Mrs. McKee was the town’s dressmaker. The McKees were newcomers who lived in a new house, between Clancy’s drygoods store and the new office building at the corner of Main and Second Street. Laura had met Mrs. McKee at church, and liked her. She was tall and slender with kind blue eyes and a pleasant smile. Her light brown hair was worn in a knot at the back of her head.
So now Laura’s time was full, and all of it was pleasant. The crowded days at school went swiftly by, and all the week Laura looked forward to the day of sewing busily in Mrs. McKee’s living room—that was always in such spotless order that Laura hardly noticed the cookstove at one end.
On Sunday morning there was Sunday School and church, and every pleasant Sunday afternoon there was the sleigh-ride party. Prince and Lady came down the street with their full strings of sweet-toned bells gaily ringing, and stopped at the door for Laura, and she went with Almanzo in the little cutter behind the prettiest and fastest-stepping horses in the Sunday parade.
But best of all were the mornings and the evenings at home. Laura realized that she had never appreciated them until now. There were no sullen silences, no smoldering quarrels, no ugly outbreaks of anger.
Instead there was work with pleasant talk, there were happy little jokes and evenings of cosy studying and reading, and the music of Pa’s fiddle. How good it was to hear the old familiar tunes as the fiddle sang them in the warm, lamplighted room of home. Often Laura thought how happy and how fortunate she was. Nothing anywhere could be better than being at home with the home folks, she was sure.