These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 22)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
School began next day in the new brick schoolhouse on Third Street in town. This was a two-story schoolhouse, with two teachers. The small children were in the downstairs room, and the older ones upstairs.
Laura and Carrie were in the upstairs room. It seemed strangely large and empty, without the small children. Yet almost all the seats were filled with boys and girls whom they did not know. Only a few back seats were empty, and these would be filled when the weather grew too cold for farm work and the big boys came to school.
At recess Ida and Laura stood at an upstairs window, looking down at the children playing outdoors, and talking with Mary Power and Minnie Johnson. Ida and Elmer were coming to the singing school Friday night, and so were Minnie and her brother, Arthur, and Mary Power with her new beau, Ed.
“I wonder why Nellie Oleson isn’t coming to school,” Laura wondered, and Ida said, “Oh, hadn’t you heard? She’s gone back to New York.”
“Yes, she’s gone back there to stay with some relatives. You know what I bet, I bet she talks all the time about how wonderful it is in the west!” Ida laughed. They all laughed.
All alone among the empty seats one of the new girls was sitting by herself. She was very blonde, and tall and slender, and she looked unhappy. Suddenly Laura knew how she felt. They were all having such a good time, and there she sat, left out and lonely and shy, as Laura used to feel.
“That new girl looks nice, and she looks lonesome,” Laura said in a low voice. “I’m going to go talk to her.”
The new girl’s name was Florence Wilkins. Her father had a claim northwest of town, and she intended to be a schoolteacher. Laura had been sitting with her and talking only a little while, when the others came from the window and gathered around them. Florence was not coming to the singing school. She lived too far away.
On Friday evening, Laura was ready promptly at seven, in her brown poplin and her brown velvet hat, and promptly at seven Almanzo came. Barnum stopped, and Laura jumped into the buggy so quickly that Almanzo started him again before he had time to rear.
“That’s the first time,” Almanzo said. “He’s getting slower about rearing. Maybe sometime he’ll forget it.”
“Maybe.” Laura doubted it. She quoted, “‘May bees don’t fly in September.’”
Singing school was to be in the church, and as they came into town Almanzo said that they would better leave a little early, before the others came out, because a crowd around Barnum would excite him. Laura replied, “When you think it’s time, just leave, and I will come.”
Almanzo tied Barnum to one of the hitching posts, and they went into the lighted church. He had paid tuition for two, and bought a singing book. The class was already there, and Mr. Clewett was seating them. He placed the bass singers in a group, the tenors in another, and sopranos and altos in groups.
Then he taught them the names and values of the notes, the holds, the slurs, and the rests, and the bass, tenor, and treble clefs. After this, he allowed a short recess, and basses, altos, tenors, and sopranos all mixed together, talking and laughing, until Mr. Clewett called them to order again.
They practiced singing scales. Mr. Clewett gave the pitch with his tuning fork again and again. When almost all of them managed to sound very nearly the same note, they were off, up and down the scale, singing “Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si, do.” Exhausted from climbing so high, the voices all gladly came down again, “Do, si, la, sol, fa, mi, re, do!”
Up and down and up and down they sang, sometimes striking the notes and sometimes not, but always with good will. Laura had taken a place at the end of a seat, and she watched for a sign from Almanzo. When quietly he went to the door, she slipped away and followed.
While they hurried to the buggy he said, “I’ll help you in before I untie him. Likely he’ll rear as soon as he is untied, but not before if you don’t tighten the lines. Take a good hold on them, but don’t move them until he starts. I’ll try to get in before he comes down, but if I can’t make it, you must hold him. Let him run, but don’t let him run away. Drive him around the church and pass me again. Don’t be afraid, you can drive him. You have, you know.”
She had never driven him when he was starting, Laura thought, though she said nothing. Climbing quickly into the buggy, she took hold of the lines where they lay across the dashboard. She gripped them tightly but did not move them.
At the hitching post, Almanzo untied Barnum. The instant his head was free, Barnum reared. Up and up he went until he stood straight on his hind legs; he was down again and running before Laura could catch her breath. The buggy wheels left the ground and struck it with a jolt.
Laura held firmly to the lines. Barnum was racing away on the open prairie beyond the church. She pulled steadily harder with her right arm than with the left, and to her joy Barnum turned that way. He came swiftly around in a very neat circle. The church whirled in its center, and as its side turned toward her, Laura pulled with all her strength on both lines evenly. But Barnum did not stop. They flashed past Almanzo, still standing at the hitching post.
With Barnum’s first leap, Laura’s heart had leaped too, up into her throat where it nearly choked her. Now they were out on the prairie again. She pulled steadily on the right-hand line, and again Barnum turned. Very quickly the other side of the church was coming toward her, and Laura pulled on both lines. Barnum almost paused, then with a rearing plunge he was running again.
This time Laura’s heart stayed in its place. She pulled with her right arm, and Barnum circled neatly. They passed around the church, and Laura rose a little from the seat. With all her weight she pulled. And Barnum stopped. He reared at once, and leaped and ran.
“All right, run,” Laura thought. She held him firmly; she guided him around the circle on the prairie, and again she braced her feet and pulled with all her might. This time, Almanzo got into the buggy. As he did so, the church door opened. All the singing school pupils came pouring out, and someone shouted, “Need help?”
Barnum rose straight up in the air, and came down running.
Almanzo’s hands closed on the lines ahead of Laura’s, and slid back as she let go. She was glad to let him have the lines.
“Just in time,” he said. “We never would have got away if that crowd had swarmed around us. Was it too much for you?”
Laura was shaking. Her hands were numb, and it was hard to keep her teeth from chattering, so she only said, “Oh, no.”
For a moment or two Almanzo spoke to Barnum, who soon began to trot. Then Laura said, “Barnum wasn’t bad. He was just tired of standing still so long.”
“He was plain mad about it,” Almanzo said. “Next time we’ll leave at recess.” He added, “Let’s go home the long way, it is such a nice night for a drive.”
He turned Barnum to the road that crossed the western end of Big Slough. The wind blew softly in the prairie grass, and above the dark land hung myriads of large stars quivering with light.
On and on Barnum trotted, gently now as if he, too, were enjoying the quietness of the night and the brilliant stars.
Almanzo spoke quietly. “I don’t know when I ever saw the stars so bright.”
Then Laura began to sing softly.
“In the starlight, in the starlight,
Let us wander gay and free,
For there’s nothing in the daylight
Half so dear to you and me.
Like the fairies in the shadow
Of the woods we’ll steal along,
And our sweetest lays we’ll warble,
For the night was made for song.
When none are by to listen,
Or to chide us in our glee,
In the starlight, in the starlight,
Let us wander gay and free.”
Barnum stopped at the door and stood quietly while Laura got out. Almanzo said, “I’ll be along Sunday afternoon.”
“I will be ready,” Laura answered. Then she went in.
Pa and Ma were waiting up for her. Ma gave a little sigh of relief, and Pa asked, “Does that devil horse of Wilder’s drive all right at night?”
“He is really a gentle horse,” said Laura. “And he stood so quietly when I got out. I like him.”
Ma was satisfied, but Pa looked at her sharply. It was not a lie; she had spoken the truth, and she could not tell them how she had driven Barnum. That would worry them, and perhaps they would forbid her to do it again. She intended to drive Barnum. When she and Barnum were used to each other, perhaps, just perhaps, she could make him act gently.