These Happy Golden Years (Chaprer 31)
These Happy Golden Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
As always, Mary’s going away made an emptiness in the house. The next morning Ma said briskly, “We will get at your sewing now, Laura, Busy hands are a great help to being cheerful.”
So Laura brought the muslins, Ma cut them out, and the airy sitting room filled with the sewing machine’s hum and the busy cheerfulness of Ma’s and Laura’s sewing together.
“I have an idea for making the sheets,” said Laura. “I’m not going to sew those long seams down the middle with over-and-over stitch by hand. If I lap the edges flat and sew with the machine down the center, I do believe they’ll be smooth enough and even more serviceable.”
“It may well be,” said Ma. “Our grandmothers would turn in their graves, but after all, these are modern times.”
All the white sewing was quickly done on the machine. Laura brought out the dozens of yards of white thread lace that she had knitted and crocheted, and like magic the machine’s flashing needle stitched the lace edgings to the open ends of the pillow cases, the throats and wrists of the high-necked, long-sleeved nightgowns, the necks and armholes of the chemises, and the leg-bands of the drawers.
Busily working with the white goods, Ma and Laura discussed Laura’s dresses.
“My brown poplin openwork dress is good as new,” Laura said. “And my pink sprigged lawn is new. What more do I need?”
“You need a black dress,” Ma answered decisively. “I think every woman should have one nice black dress. We’d better go to town Saturday and get the goods. A cashmere, I think. Cashmere wears well, and it is always dressy for all but the very hottest days of summer. Then when that dress is out of the way, you must get something pretty for your wedding.”
“There will be plenty of time,” Laura said. In the rush of summer work, Almanzo had little time to work on the house. He had taken Ma and Laura one Sunday to see its skeleton of studding standing by the piles of lumber, back from the road behind the grove of little sapling trees.
There were to be three rooms, the large room, a bedroom, and a pantry, with a lean-to over the back door besides. But after Laura had seen how these were planned, Almanzo did not take her to look at the house again. “Leave it to me,” he said. “I’ll get a roof over it before snow flies.”
So they made their long Sunday drives to the twin lakes or to Spirit Lake and beyond.
On Monday morning Ma unfolded the soft lengths of sooty black cashmere and carefully fitting the newspaper pattern pieces to the goods so that none would be wasted, she cut confidently with her large shears. She cut out and pinned together all the skirt gores, the bodice pieces, and the sleeves. After dinner the sewing machine was threaded with black, and started.
It was humming steadily, late that afternoon, and Laura was basting the pieces of cambric lining to the cashmere pieces, when she looked up from her work and saw Almanzo driving up to the house. Something had happened, she was sure, or he would not come on Tuesday. She hurried to the door, and he said, “Come for a little drive. I want to talk to you.”
Putting on her sunbonnet, Laura went with him.
“What is it?” she asked as Barnum and Skip trotted away.
“It is just this,” Almanzo said earnestly. “Do you want a big wedding?”
She looked at him in amazement, that he should have come to ask her that, when they would see each other next Sunday. “Why do you ask?” she inquired.
“If you don’t, would you be willing and could you be ready to be married the last of this week, or the first of next?” he asked even more anxiously. “Don’t answer till I tell you why. When I was back in Minnesota last winter, my sister Eliza started planning a big church wedding for us. I told her we didn’t want it, and to give up the idea. This morning I got a letter; she has not changed her mind. She is coming out here with my mother, to take charge of our wedding.”
“Oh, no!” Laura said.
“You know Eliza,” said Almanzo. “She’s headstrong, and she always was bossy, but I could handle this, if it was only Eliza. My mother’s different, she’s more like your mother; you’ll like her. But Eliza’s got Mother’s heart set on our having a big church wedding, and if they are here before we’re married, I don’t see how I can tell Mother, ‘No.’ I don’t want that kind of a wedding, and I can’t afford what it would cost me. What do you think about it?”
There was a little silence while Laura thought. Then she said quietly, “Pa can’t afford to give me that kind of a wedding, either. I would like a little longer to get my things made. If we are married so soon I won’t have a wedding dress.”
“Wear the one you have on. It is pretty,” Almanzo urged.
Laura could not help laughing. “This is a calico work dress. I couldn’t possibly!” Then she sobered. “But Ma and I are making one that I could wear.”
“Then will you, say the last of this week?”
Laura was silent again. Then she summoned all her courage and said, “Almanzo, I must ask you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?”
Soberly he answered, “Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.”
“Well, I am not going to say I will obey you,” said Laura.
“Are you for woman’s rights, like Eliza?” Almanzo asked in surprise.
“No,” Laura replied. “I do not want to vote. But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, and, Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better judgement.”
“I’d never expect you to,” he told her. “And there will be no difficulty about the ceremony, because Reverend Brown does not believe in using the word ‘obey.’”
“He doesn’t! Are you sure?” Laura had never been so surprised and so relieved, all at once.
“He feels very strongly about it,” Almanzo said. “I have heard him arguing for hours and quoting Bible texts against St. Paul, on that subject. You know he is a cousin of John Brown of Kansas, and a good deal like him. Will it be all right, then? The last of this week, or early next?”
“Yes, if it is the only way to escape a big wedding,” said Laura, “I will be ready the last of this week or the first of next, whichever you say.”
“If I can get the house finished, we’ll say the last of this week,” Almanzo considered. “If not, it will have to be next week. Let’s say when the house is finished we will just drive to Reverend Brown’s and be married quietly without any fuss. I’ll take you home now and I may have time to get in a few more licks on the house yet tonight.”
At home again, Laura hesitated to tell of the plan. She felt that Ma would think the haste unseemly. Ma might say, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” Yet they were not really marrying in haste. They had been going together for three years.
It was not until suppertime that Laura found courage to say that she and Almanzo had planned to be married so soon.
“We can’t possibly get you a wedding dress made,” Ma objected.
“We can finish the black cashmere and I will wear that,” Laura answered.
“I do not like to think of your being married in black,” said Ma. “You know they say, ‘Married in black, you’ll wish yourself back.’”
“It will be new. I will wear my old sage-green poke bonnet with the blue silk lining, and borrow your little square gold pin with the strawberry in it, so I’ll be wearing something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue,” Laura said cheerfully.
“I don’t suppose there’s any truth in these old sayings,” Ma consented.
Pa said, “I think it is a sensible thing to do. You and Almanzo show good judgment.”
But Ma was not wholly satisfied yet. “Let Reverend Brown come here. You can be married at home, Laura. We can have a nice little wedding here.”
“No, Ma, we couldn’t have any kind of a wedding and not wait to have Almanzo’s mother here,” Laura objected.
“Laura is right, and you think so yourself, Caroline,” said Pa.
“Of course I do,” Ma admitted.