These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 24)

These Happy Golden Years

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 24
Almanzo Goes Away

Even at home Laura felt that her ring was conspicuous. Its smooth clasp was strange on her first finger, and the garnet and pearls were constantly catching the light. Several times on the way to school next morning she almost took it off and tied it into her handkerchief for safekeeping. But, after all, she was engaged; that could not always be a secret.

She did not mind being almost late to school that morning. There was barely time to slide into her seat with Ida before Mr. Owen called the room to order, and quickly she opened a book so that it hid her left hand. But just as she was beginning to study, a glitter caught her eye.

Ida’s left hand was resting on the desk where Laura would be sure to see the broad circlet of gold shining on the first finger.

Laura looked from the ring to Ida’s laughing, blushing face and shy eyes, and then she broke a school rule. She whispered, “Elmer?” Ida blushed even rosier, and nodded. Then under the edge of the desk, Laura showed Ida her own left hand.

Mary Power and Florence and Minnie could hardly wait until recess to pounce upon them and admire their rings. “But I’m sorry you have them,” Mary Power said, “for I suppose both of you will be quitting school now.”

“Not me,” Ida denied. “I am going to school this winter, anyway.”

“So am I,” said Laura. “I want to get a certificate again in the spring.”

“Will you teach school next summer?” Florence asked.

“If I can get a school,” Laura replied.

“I can get the school in our district if I can get a certificate,” Florence told them, “but I’m afraid of teachers’ examinations.”

“Oh, you will pass,” Laura encouraged her. “There’s nothing much to it, if only you don’t get confused and forget what you know.”

“Well, I’m not engaged, nor do I want to teach,” said Mary Power. “How about you, Ida? Are you going to teach for a while?”

Ida laughed, “No, indeed! I never did want to teach. I’d rather keep house. Why do you suppose I got this ring?”

They all laughed with her, and Minnie asked, “Well, why did you get yours, Laura? Don’t you want to keep house?”

“Oh, yes,” Laura answered. “But Almanzo has to build it first.” Then the big new bell clanged in the cupola, and recess was over.

There was no singing school now, so Laura did not expect to see Almanzo until the next Sunday. She was surprised when Pa asked her, Wednesday night, whether she had seen Almanzo.

“I saw him at the blacksmith shop,” Pa told her. “He said he’d see you after school if he could, and if not, to tell you he didn’t have time. It seems he and Royal are leaving next Sunday for Minnesota. Something’s come up, and Royal’s got to go sooner than he expected.” Laura was shocked. She had known that Almanzo and his brother planned to spend the winter with their folks in Minnesota, but he had not intended to go so soon. It was shocking that the whole pattern of the days could be broken so suddenly. There would be no more Sunday drives. “It may be best,” she said. “They will be sure to reach Minnesota before snow falls.”

“Yes, they’ll likely have good weather for the trip,” Pa agreed. “I told him I’d keep Lady while they’re gone. He’s going to leave the buggy here, and he said you are to drive Lady as much as you please, Laura.”

“Oh, Laura! will you take me driving?” Carrie asked, and Grace cried, “Me, too, Laura! Me, too?”

Laura promised that she would, but the rest of that week seemed oddly empty. She had not realized before how often, during a week, she had looked forward to the Sunday drives.

Early next Sunday morning, Almanzo and his brother Royal came. Royal was driving his own team, hitched to his peddler’s cart. Almanzo drove Lady, hitched single to his shining, lazy-back buggy. Pa came out of the stable to meet them, and Almanzo drove the buggy under the hay-covered shed. There he unhitched Lady, then led her into the stable.

Afterward, leaving Pa and Royal talking, he came to the kitchen door. He hadn’t time to stop, he told Ma, but he would like to see Laura for a moment.

Ma sent him into the sitting room, and as Laura turned from plumping up the cushions on the window seat, the ring on her hand sparkled in the morning light.

Almanzo smiled. “Your new ring is becoming to your hand,” he said.

Laura turned her hand in the sunshine. The gold of the ring gleamed, the garnet glowed richly in the center of the flat, oval set, and on either side of it the pearl shimmered lustrously.

“It is beautiful, this ring,” she said.

“I would say the hand,” Almanzo replied. “I suppose your father told you that Royal and I are going home sooner than we expected. Royal decided to drive through Iowa, so we are starting now. I brought Lady and the buggy over, for you to use whenever you please.”

“Where is Prince?” Laura asked.

“One of my neighbors is keeping Prince, and Lady’s colt, and Cap is keeping Barnum and Skip. I’ll need all four of them in the spring.” A shrill whistle sounded from outside, “Royal is calling, so kiss me good-by and I’ll go,” Almanzo finished.

They kissed quickly, then Laura went with him to the door and watched while he and Royal drove away. She felt left behind and unhappy. Then at her elbow Carrie asked, “Are you going to be lonesome?” so soberly that Laura smiled.

“No, I’m not going to be lonesome,” she answered stoutly. “After dinner we will hitch up Lady and go for a drive.”

Pa came in and went to the stove. “It’s getting so a fire feels good,” he said. “Caroline, what would you think of staying here all winter, instead of going to town? I’ve been figuring. I believe I can rent the building in town this winter, and if I can, I can tar-paper and side this house. Maybe even paint it.”

“That would be a gain, Charles,” Ma said at once.

“Another thing,” Pa continued. “We have so much stock now, it would be a big job to move all the hay and fodder. With this house sided outside, and good thick building paper inside, we’d be snug here. We can put up the coal heater in the sitting room and get our winter’s supply of coal. There’s a cellarful of vegetables from the garden, pumpkins and squashes from the field. Even if the winter’s so bad I can’t get to town often, we won’t need to worry about being hungry or cold.”

“This is true,” said Ma. “But, Charles, the girls must go to school, and it’s too far for them to walk in the wintertime. A blizzard might come up.”

“I will drive them there and back,” Pa promised. “It’s only a mile, and it will be a quick trip with the bobsled and no load.”

“Very well,” Ma consented. “If you rent the building in town, and want to stay here, I am satisfied to do so. I will be glad not to move.”

So before snow fell, all was snug on the homestead claim. In its new siding the little house was really a house, no longer a claim shanty. Inside, thick gray building paper covered all the pine-board walls. They had grown so brown with time, that the lighter paper brightened the rooms, and the freshly starched white muslin curtains gave them a crisp look.

When the first heavy snows came, Pa put the wagon box on the bobsled runners, and half-filled it with hay. Then on school days, Laura and Carrie, with Grace snuggled between them, sat on the blanket-covered hay, with other blankets tucked over and around them, while Pa drove them to the schoolhouse in the morning and brought them home at night to the warmly welcoming house.

Every afternoon on his way to the school, he stopped at the post office, and once or twice a week there was a letter for Laura, from Almanzo. He had reached his father’s home in Minnesota; he would come back in the spring.

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