These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 15)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mary Comes Home
Laura was so glad to be at home again, out on Pa’s claim. It was good to milk the cow, and to drink all she wanted of milk, and to spread butter on her bread, and eat again of Ma’s good cottage cheese. There were lettuce leaves to be picked in the garden, too, and little red radishes. She had not realized that she was so hungry for these good things to eat. Mrs. McKee and Mattie could not get them, of course, while they were holding down their claim.
At home now there were eggs, too, for Ma’s flock was doing well. Laura helped Carrie hunt for nests that the hens hid in the hay at the stable and in the tall grass nearby.
Grace found a nest of kittens hidden in the manger. They were grandchildren of the little kitten that Pa had bought for fifty cents, and Kitty felt her responsibility. She thought that she should hunt for them as well as for her own kittens. She brought in more gophers than all of them could eat, and every day she piled the extra ones by the house door for Ma.
“I declare,” Ma said, “I never was so embarrassed by a cat’s generosity.”
The day came when Mary was coming home. Pa and Ma drove to town to fetch her, and even the train seemed special that afternoon as it came at last, unrolling its black smoke into a melting line low on the sky. From the rise of ground behind the stable and the garden, they saw the white steam puff up from its engine and heard its whistle; its far rumbling was still, and they knew that it had stopped in town and that Mary must be there now.
What excitement there was when at last the wagon came up from the slough, with Mary sitting on the seat between Pa and Ma. Laura and Carrie both talked at once and Mary tried to talk to both at the same time. Grace was in everyone’s way, her hair flying and her blue eyes wide. Kitty went out through the doorway like a streak, with her tail swelled to a big brush. Kitty did not like strangers, and she had forgotten Mary.
“Weren’t you afraid to come all by yourself on the cars?” Carrie asked.
“Oh, no,” Mary smiled. “I had no trouble. We like to do things by ourselves, at college. It is part of our education.”
She did seem much more sure of herself, and she moved easily around the house, instead of sitting quiet in her chair. Pa brought in her trunk, and she went to it, knelt down and unlocked and opened it quite as if she saw it. Then she took from it, one after another, the presents she had brought.
For Ma there was a lamp mat of woven braid, with a fringe all around it of many-colored beads strung on stout thread.
“It is beautiful,” Ma said in delight.
Laura’s gift was a bracelet of blue and white beads strung on thread and woven together, and Carrie’s was a ring of pink and white beads interwoven.
“Oh, how pretty! how pretty!” Carrie exclaimed. “And it fits, too; it fits perfectly!”
For Grace there was a little doll’s chair, of red and green beads strung on wire. Grace was so overcome as she took it carefully into her hands that she could hardly say thank you to Mary.
“This is for you, Pa,” Mary said, as she gave him a blue silk handkerchief. “I didn’t make this, but I chose it myself. Blanche and I… Blanche is my roommate. We went downtown to find something for you. She can see colors if they are bright, but the clerk didn’t know it. We thought it would be fun to mystify him, so Blanche signaled the colors to me, and he thought we could tell them by touch. I knew by the feeling that it was good silk. My, we did fool that clerk!” and, remembering, Mary laughed.
Mary had often smiled, but it was a long time since they had heard her laugh out, as she used to when she was a little girl. All that it had cost to send Mary to college was more than repaid by seeing her so gay and confident.
“I’ll bet this was the prettiest handkerchief in Vinton, Iowa!” Pa said.
“I don’t see how you put the right colors into your beadwork,” Laura said, turning the bracelet on her wrist. “Every little bead in this lovely bracelet is right. You can’t do that by fooling a clerk.”
“Some seeing person puts the different colors in separate boxes,” Mary explained. “Then we only have to remember where they are.”
“You can do that easily,” Laura agreed. “You always could remember things. You know I never could say as many Bible verses as you.”
“It surprises my Sunday School teacher now, how many of them I know,” said Mary. “Knowing them was a great help to me, Ma. I could read them so easily with my fingers in raised print and in Braille, that I learned how to read everything sooner than anyone else in my class.”
“I am glad to know that, Mary,” was all that Ma said, and her smile trembled, but she looked happier than when Mary had given her the beautiful lamp mat.
“Here is my Braille slate,” said Mary, lifting it from her trunk. It was an oblong of thin steel in a steel frame, as large as a school slate, with a narrow steel band across it. The band was cut into several rows of open squares, and it would slide up and down, or could be fastened in place at any point. Tied to the frame by a string was a pencil-shaped piece of steel that Mary said was a stylus.
“How do you use it?” Pa wanted to know.
“Watch and I’ll show you,” said Mary.
They all watched while she laid a sheet of thick, cream-colored paper on the slate, under the slide. She moved the slide to the top of the frame and secured it there. Then with the point of the stylus she pressed, rapidly, here and there in the corners of the open squares.
“There,” she said, slipping the paper out and turning it over. Wherever the stylus had pressed, there was a tiny bump, that could easily be felt with the fingers. The bumps made different patterns, the size of the squares, and these were the Braille letters.
“I am writing to Blanche to tell her that I am safely home,” said Mary. “I must write to my teacher, too.” She turned the paper over, put it in the frame again, and slipped the slide down, ready to go on writing on the blank space. “I will finish them later.”
“It is wonderful that you can write to your friends and they can read your letters,” said Ma. “I can hardly believe that you are really getting the college education that we always wanted you to have.”
Laura was so happy that she felt like crying, too.
“Well, well,” Pa broke in. “Here we stand talking, when Mary must be hungry and it’s chore time. Let’s do our work now, and we will have longer to talk afterward.”
“You are right, Charles,” Ma quickly agreed. “Supper will be ready by the time you are ready for it.”
While Pa took care of the horses, Laura hurried to do the milking and Carrie made a quick fire to bake the biscuit that Ma was mixing.
Supper was ready when Pa came from the stable and Laura had strained the milk.
It was a happy family, all together again, as they ate of the browned hashed potatoes, poached fresh eggs and delicious biscuit with Ma’s good butter. Pa and Ma drank their fragrant tea, but Mary drank milk with the other girls. “It is a treat,” she said. “We don’t have such good milk at college.”
There was so much to ask and tell that almost nothing was fully said, but tomorrow would be another long day with Mary. And it was like old times again, when Laura and Mary went to sleep as they used to, in their bed where Laura for so long had been sleeping alone.
“It’s warm weather,” Mary said, “so I won’t be putting my cold feet on you as I used to do.”
“I’m so glad you’re here that I wouldn’t complain,” Laura answered. “It would be a pleasure.”