These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 30)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Sunset on the Hill
One Sunday Laura did not go driving, for it was Mary’s last day at home. She was going back to college next day.
The weather was so very warm that at breakfast Ma said she believed she would not go to church. Carrie and Grace would stay at home with her, while Laura and Mary went with Pa in the wagon.
Pa was waiting for them when they came from the bedroom, ready to go.
Laura wore again her sprigged, pale pink lawn dress and her new hat with the ostrich tips now sewed on tightly.
Mary’s dress was a blue lawn with small white flowers scattered over it. Her hat was a white straw sailor with a blue ribbon band. Beneath its brim in back her hair was a great mass of twisted gold, and golden bangs curled richly on her forehead, above her eyes as blue as her ribbons.
Pa looked at them for a moment. His eyes shone and his voice was proud as he exclaimed in mock dismay, “Jerusalem Crickets, Caroline! I’m not spruce enough to beau two such fine-looking young ladies to church!”
He looked nice, too, in his black suit with the black velvet collar on the coat, his white shirt and dark blue tie.
The wagon was waiting. Before he dressed Pa had combed and brushed the two farm horses and spread a clean horse blanket on the wagon seat. The team drowsed while Pa carefully helped Mary up over the wheel, then gave his hand to Laura. Over their laps they spread the light dust robe and carefully Laura tucked its edge well around her full-gathered tucked lawn skirt. Then in the sunshine and the hot wind, slowly they rode to church.
It was so crowded that morning that they could not find three empty places together. So Pa went forward to sit with the graybeards in the amen corner, while Laura and Mary sat side by side near the middle of the church.
Reverend Brown was preaching earnestly and Laura was wishing that with so much sincerity he could say something interesting, when she saw a small plump kitten straying up the aisle. Idly she watched it pounce and play, until it wandered onto the platform and stood arching its back and rubbing against the side of the pulpit. As its round, kitten eyes looked at the congregation, Laura believed she could hear its purring.
Then, at her side in the aisle, a small dog passed, trotting briskly. It was a little black-and-tan, with slender legs and a perky short tail, and its quick, business-like trot was natural to it. It was not seeking anyone nor going anywhere, but merely sight-seeing in the church, until it spied the kitten. For an instant the little dog stiffened, then with a firecracker explosion of shrill yaps, it leaped.
The kitten’s back rose in an arch, its tail swelled, and in a flash it vanished from Laura’s view.
The strange thing was that it seemed to vanish utterly. There was no chase, and the little dog was silent. Reverend Brown went on preaching. Laura barely had time to wonder, when she felt a slight swaying of her hoops, and looking down she saw the tip of the kitten’s tail slide out of sight beneath the pink lawn ruffle.
The kitten had taken refuge under her hoops, and now it began climbing up inside of them, clutching and clawing its way from wire to wire. Laura felt an impulse to laugh, but she controlled it and sat solemn as a judge. Then the little dog passed anxiously, peering and sniffing in search of the kitten, and a sudden vision of what would happen if he found it made Laura shake from head to foot with suppressed laughter.
She could feel her ribs swelling against her corsets and her cheeks puffing out and her throat choking. Mary did not know what amused Laura, but felt that she was laughing and pushed her elbow against Laura’s side, whispering, “Behave yourself.”
Laura shook all the harder and felt her face growing purple. Her hoops kept swaying under her skirts as the kitten curiously crept down them again. Its little whiskered nose and eyes peeped from beneath the pink ruffle, then, seeing nothing of the dog, it popped out suddenly and scampered down the aisle toward the door. Laura listened, but she heard no yapping so she knew that the kitten had escaped.
On the way home Mary said, “Laura, I am surprised at you. Will you never learn to behave yourself properly in church?”
Laura laughed until she cried, while Mary still sat disapproving and Pa wanted to know what had happened.
“No, Mary, I never will,” Laura said at last, wiping her eyes. “You might as well give me up as a hopeless case.” Then she told them, and even Mary had to smile.
Sunday dinner and the afternoon passed quietly in family talk, and when the sun was sinking Mary and Laura took their last walk together to the top of the low hill to see the sunset.
“I never see things so well with anyone else,” Mary said. “And when I come again you will not be here.”
“No, but you will come to see me where I am,” Laura answered. “There will be two homes for you to visit.”
“But these sunsets…” Mary began, and Laura interrupted.
“The sun will set on Almanzo’s farm, too, I hope,” she teased. “There is no little hill there, but there are ten whole acres of little trees. We shall walk among them and you shall see them. There are cottonwoods, of course, but besides, there are box elders and maples and willows. If they live, they will be a beautiful grove. Not just a windbreak around the house, like Pa’s, but a real little woods.”
“It will be strange, to see these prairies wooded,” Mary said.
“Everything changes,” said Laura.
“Yes.” They were silent a little while, then Mary said, “I wish I could be at your wedding. Don’t you want to put it off till next June?”
Slowly Laura answered, “No, Mary. I’m eighteen now and I’ve taught three terms of school, that’s one more than Ma taught. I don’t want to teach any more. I want to be settled this winter in our own home.
“It will be just the ceremony, anyway,” she added. “Pa could not afford a wedding and I would not want the folks to go to any expense. When you come back next summer, my house will be all ready for you to visit me in.”
“Laura,” Mary said. “I’m sorry about the organ. If I’d known… but I did want to see Blanche’s home, too, and it was near, and saved Pa the cost of my railroad journey, and I didn’t realize that anything would ever change, here at home. I felt it was always here, to come back to.”
“It really is, Mary,” Laura told her. “And don’t feel bad at all about the organ. Just remember what a nice time you had at Blanche’s. I am glad you went, truly I am, and so is Ma. She said so at the time.”
“Did she?” Mary’s face lighted. Then Laura told her what Ma had said of being glad that she was having good times while she was young, to remember. The sun was sinking now, and she told how its glory of crimson and gold flamed upon the sky and faded to rose and gray. “Let’s go back to the house now,” Mary said. “I can feel the change in the air.”
They stood a moment longer with hands clasped, facing the west, then slowly they walked down the slope past the stable.
“Time passes so quickly now,” said Mary. “Do you remember when the winter was so long, it seemed that summer would never come. And then in summertime, winter was so long ago we almost forgot what it was like?”
“Yes, and what good times we had when we were little,” Laura answered. “But maybe the times that are coming will be even better. You never know.”