The First Four Years (Chapter 4)
The First Four Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Year of Grace
Fall plowing was begun as soon as haying was finished, but the work was too hard for Skip and Barnum to do even with the help of the ponies. Trixy and Fly were small and could not pull with strength. They were intended only for riding. Fly objected strenuously at times, kicking savagely when her tugs were being hitched. Once when Laura was helping Manly hitch the horses to the plow and keeping watch of Rose at the same time, she lost sight of Rose. Immediately she stopped working with the harness, and looking quickly around the yard, said, “Manly, where is Rose?”
And a little hand pulled Fly’s tail away from her body, on the opposite side of the four horses abreast, a little face showed between Fly and her tail, and Rose’s little voice said, “Here I am!” Now Manly’s hands were not nearly so stiff and clumsy. Perhaps he could soon hitch the straps and buckle the buckles himself. The team was tired at night. Laura could hardly bear to see them at the unhitching, Skip with his gay head hanging and Barnum’s dancing feet standing so patiently still.
Manly said he would have to get another team, for he wanted to break the 60 acres of sod and have the whole 160 acres ready to seed in the spring.
“But the three years are up. Do you call this farming a success?” Laura objected.
“Well, I don’t know,” Manly answered. “It is not so bad. Of course, the crops have been mostly failures, but we have four cows now and some calves. We have the four horses and the colts and the machinery and there are the sheep… If we could only get one crop. Just one good crop, and we’d be all right. Let’s try it one more year. Next year may be a good crop year and we are all fixed for farming now, with no money to start anything else.”
It sounded reasonable as Manly put it. There didn’t seem to be anything else they could do, but as for being all fixed—the five hundred dollars still due on the house worried Laura. Nothing had been paid on it. The binder was not yet paid for and interest payments were hard to make. But still Manly might be right. This might be when their luck turned, and one good year would even things up.
Manly bought two Durham oxen that had been broken to work. They were huge animals. King was red and weighed two thousand pounds. Duke was red-and-white spotted and weighed twenty-five hundred pounds. They were as gentle as cows, and Laura soon helped hitch them up without any fear—but she fastened Rose in the house while she did so. They were cheap: only twenty-five dollars each and very strong. Now Skip and Barnum took the ponies’ places and did the light work, while the cattle hitched beside them drew most of the load.
The plowing was finished easily and the breaking of the sod was done before the ground froze. It was late in doing so for it was a warm, pleasant fall.
The winter was unusually free of bad blizzards, though the weather was very cold and there was some snow.
The house was snug and comfortable with storm windows and doors, and the hard-coal heater in the front room between the front door and the east window. Manly had made the storm shed, or summer kitchen, tight by battening closely all the cracks between the board sheeting, and the cook-stove had been left there for the winter. The table had been put in its place in the front room between the pantry and bedroom doors, and Peter’s cot-bed stood against the west wall of the room where the table used to stand. Geraniums blossomed in tin cans on the window sills, growing luxuriantly in the winter sunshine and the warmth from the hard-coal heater. The days passed busily and pleasantly. Laura’s time was fully occupied with her housework and Rose, while Rose was an earnest, busy little girl with her picture books and letter blocks and the cat, running around the house, intent on her small affairs.
Manly and Peter spent much of their time at the barn, caring for the stock. The barn was long, from the first stalls where the horses and colts stood, past the oxen, King and Duke, the cows and the young cattle, the snug corner where the chickens roosted, on into the sheep barn where the sheep all ran loose.
It was no small job to clean out the barn and fill all the mangers with hay. Then there was the grain to feed to the horses, and they had to be brushed regularly. And all the animals must be watered once a day.
On pleasant days Manly and Peter hauled hay in from the stacks in the fields and fed the animals from that, leaving some on the wagon in the sheep yard for the sheep to help themselves. This was usually finished well before chore time, but one afternoon they were delayed in starting. Because the snow drifts were deep, they were hauling hay with King and Duke. The oxen could go through deep snow more easily than horses, but they were slower, and darkness came while Manly and Peter were still a mile from home.
It had begun to snow: not a blizzard, but snow was falling thickly in a slow, straight wind. There was no danger, but it was uncomfortable and annoying to be driving cattle, wallowing through snow in the pitch dark and the storm. Then they heard a wolf howl and another; then several together. Wolves had not been doing any damage recently and there were not so many left in the country, but still they were seen at times, and now and then they killed a stray yearling or tried to get into a flock of sheep.
“That sounds toward home and as though they were going in that direction,” Manly said.
“Do you suppose they will go into the sheep yard?”
“Not with Laura there,” Peter answered. But Manly was not so sure and they tried to hurry faster on their way.
At home Laura was beginning to be anxious. Supper was nearly ready, but she knew Manly and Peter would do the night chores before they ate. They should have been home before now and she wondered what could have happened. Rose had been given her supper and was sleeping soundly, but Nero, the big, black dog, was uneasy. Now and then he raised his head and growled.
Then Laura heard it—the howl of a wolf!
Again the wolf howled, and then several together, and after that, silence.
Laura’s heart stood still. Were the wolves coming to the sheep yard? She waited, listening, but could hear nothing but the swish of the snow against the windows; or was that a sheep blatting?
Must she go to the sheep yard and see that they were all right? She hesitated and looked at Rose, but Rose was still asleep. She would be all right if left alone. Then Laura put on her coat and hood, lighted the lantern, and taking it and the dog with her, went out into the darkness and the storm.
Quickly she went to the stable door, opened it, and reaching inside secured the five-tined stable fork; then shutting fast the door again, she went the length of the barn, flashing her lantern light as far as she could in every direction. Nero trotted ahead of her, sniffing the air. Around the sheep yard they went but everything was quiet except for the sheep moving restlessly around inside. There was no sight nor sound of the wolves until, as Laura stood by the yard gate listening for the last time before going back to the house, there came again the lone cry of a wolf. But it was much farther to the north than before. The wolves had gone by on the west and all was well, though Nero growled low in his throat. Laura hadn’t known she was frightened until she was safely in the house; then she found her knees trembling and sat down quickly.
Rose was still asleep and it was not long before Manly and Peter were there.
“What would you have done if you had found the wolves?” Manly asked.
“Why, driven them away, of course. That’s what I took the pitchfork for,” Laura answered. In December Laura felt again the familiar sickness. The house felt close and hot and she was miserable. But the others must be kept warm and fed. The work must go on, and she was the one who must do it.
On a day when she was particularly blue and unhappy, the neighbor to the west, a bachelor living alone, stopped as he was driving by and brought a partly filled grain sack to the house. When Laura opened the door, Mr. Sheldon stepped inside, and taking the sack by the bottom, poured the contents out on the floor. It was a paper-backed set of Waverly novels.
“Thought they might amuse you,” he said.
“Don’t be in a hurry! Take your time reading them!” And as Laura exclaimed in delight, Mr. Sheldon opened the door, closed it behind him quickly, and was gone. And now the four walls of the close, overheated house opened wide, and Laura wandered with brave knights and ladies fair beside the lakes and streams of Scotland or in castles and towers, in noble halls or lady’s bower, all through the enchanting pages of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.
She forgot to feel ill at the sight or smell of food, in her hurry to be done with the cooking and follow her thoughts back into the book. When the books were all read and Laura came back to reality, she found herself feeling much better. It was a long way from the scenes of Scott’s glamorous old tales to the little house on the bleak, wintry prairie, but Laura brought back from them some of their magic and music and the rest of the winter passed quite comfortably. Spring came early and warm. By the first of April a good deal of seeding had been done and men were busy in all the fields. The morning of the second was sunny and warm and still. Peter took the sheep out to graze on the school section as usual, while Manly went to the field. It was still difficult for him to hitch up the team, and Laura helped him get started. Then she went about her morning’s work.
Soon a wind started blowing from the northwest, gently at first but increasing in strength until at nine o’clock the dust was blowing in the field so thickly that Manly could not see to follow the seeder marks. So he came from the field and Laura helped him unhitch and get the team in the barn.
Once more in the house they could only listen to the rising wind and wonder why Peter didn’t bring the sheep in. “He couldn’t have taken them far in such a short time and he surely would bring them back,” Manly said. Dust from the fields was blowing in clouds so dense that they could see only a little way from the windows, and in a few minutes Manly went to find Peter and the sheep and help if help were needed.
He met Peter with the sheep about four hundred yards or one-quarter of a mile from the barn. Peter was on foot, leading his pony and carrying three lambs in his arms. He and the dog were working the sheep toward their yard. The sheep could hardly go against the wind but they had to face it to get home. They had not been sheared and their fleeces were long and heavy. The poor sheep with their small bodies and little feet carrying such a load of fluffy wool caught too much wind. If a sheep turned ever so little sideways, the wind would catch under the wool, lift the sheep from its feet and roll it over and over, sometimes five or six times before it could stop. Against the strength of the wind it was impossible for the sheep to get to its feet. Peter would lift it up and stand it on its feet headed right so it could walk into the wind. He was tired and the sheep dog and pony were powerless to help, so it was time for Manly to be there.
It took them both over an hour to get all the sheep the four hundred yards and into the yard. After that they all sat in the house and let the wind blow. Their ears were filled with the roar of it. Their eyes and throats smarted from the dust that was settling over the room even though the doors and windows were tightly closed. Just before noon there came a knock at the door, and when Manly opened it, a man stood on the step.
“Just stopped to tell you, your wheels are going round,” he said, and with a wave of his hand toward the barn, he ran to his wagon, climbed in, and drove on down the road. His face was black with dust and he was gone before they recognized him as the man who had bought their homestead. Laura laughed hysterically. “Your wheels are going round,” she said. “What did he mean?” She and Manly went into the kitchen and looked from the window toward the barn and then they knew. Between the house and the barn, the hay wagon with the big hayrack on it had been left standing. The wind had lifted it, turned it over and dropped it bottom side up. The wagon rested on the rack underneath, leaving the wheels free in the air, and every one of the four wheels was turning in the wind.
There was only a cold bite to eat at noon, for no one felt like eating and it was not safe to light a fire.
About one o’clock Laura insisted that she could smell fire and that there must be a prairie fire near, but no smoke could be seen through the clouds of dust.
The wind always rises with a fire, and on the prairie the wind many times blows strongly enough to carry flame from the fire to light grass ahead of the burning, so that the fire travels faster than the grass burns. Once Manly and Peter had raced toward a fire trying to save a large haystack that stood between it and them. They ran their horses’ heads up to the stack and jumped off just as a blown flame lit the opposite end of the haystack. Each had a wet grain sack to fight the fire. They scrambled up the stack and slid down the end, scraping the fire off and putting it out at the ground after it had burned back a little way from the end of the stack. They let it run down each side as a back fire and the main fire raced by and on, leaving the haystack with Manly and Peter and horses untouched. The horses had stood with their heads against the stack where they could breathe.
The wind reached its peak about two o’clock, then slackened gradually, so slowly at first it was hardly noticeable, but it died away as the sun went down and was still.
Rose lay asleep with her tired, dusty little face streaked with perspiration. Laura felt prostrated with exhaustion, and Manly and Peter walked like old men as they went out to the barn to see that the stock was all right for the night. Later they learned that there had been a prairie fire during the sixty-five mile an hour wind, a terrible raging fire that hardly hesitated at firebreaks, for the wind tore flames loose and carried them far ahead of the burning grass. In places the fire leaped, leaving unburned prairie, the flame going ahead and the wind blowing out the slower fire in the grass as a candle is blown out. Houses and barns with good firebreaks around them were burned. Stock was caught and burned. At one place a new lumber wagon stood in a plowed field a hundred yards from the grass. It was loaded with seed wheat just as the owner had left it when he had gone from the field because of the wind. When he went back, there was nothing left of the wagon and its load except the wagon irons. Everything else had burned. There was no stopping such a fire and no fighting it in such a wind.
It went across the country, leaving a blackened prairie behind until it reached the river, and then the wind went down with the sun. There it stopped, somewhere between fifty and one hundred miles from where it began. There was nothing to do but to re-seed the fields, for the seed was blown away or buried in the drifts of soil around the edges of the plowed land.
So Manly bought more seed wheat and oats at the elevator in town, and at last the seeding was finished.
Then the sheep were sheared and the selling of the wool cheered them all, for wool was worth twenty-five cents a pound and the sheep averaged ten pounds of wool apiece. Each sheep had paid for itself and fifty cents more with its wool alone. By the last of May, the lambs had all arrived, and there were so many twins that the flock was more than doubled. Lambing time was a busy time, both day and night, for the sheep must be watched and the lambs cared for. Among the hundred sheep there were only five ewes who could not or would not care for their lambs. These five lambs were brought into the house and warmed and fed milk from a bottle and raised by hand.
Rose spent her time playing in the yard now, and Laura tried to watch her as the little pink sunbonnet went busily bobbing here and there. Once Laura was just in time to see Rose struggle upright in the tub of water that stood under the pump spout; and with water running down her face and from her spread fingers at each side, Rose said without a whimper, “I want to go to bed.”
One afternoon, just after Rose had been washed and combed and dressed in fresh, clean clothes, Laura heard her shrieking with laughter, and going to the door, saw her running from the barn. “O-o-o,” Rose called. “Barnum did just like this.” And down she dropped in the dusty path, and with arms and legs waving, rolled over and over on the ground. She was such a comical sight that Laura could only laugh too, in spite of the wreck of the clean dress, the dirt on her face and hands and the dust in her hair.
Another time, Laura missed her from the yard and with fear in her heart ran to the barn door. Barnum was lying down in his stall and Rose sat on his side, kicking her heels against his stomach.
Carefully, so as not to disturb his body, the horse raised his head and looked at Laura and she was positive Barnum winked one eye. After that Laura tried to watch Rose closer, but she couldn’t bear to keep her in the house with the spring so fresh and gay outside. The work must be done between moments of looking at Rose through door and window.
Once again she was just in time to see Rose miss an accident by a narrow margin. She had evidently gone farther afield than usual and was just coming back around the corner of the barn. Then Kelpie, Trixy’s latest colt, came running around the same corner with another colt chasing her. Kelpie saw Rose too late to turn, too late to stop, so she put an extra spring in her muscles and sailed over Rose’s head, while Susan, the other colt, proving, as she always tried to, that she could do anything Kelpie did, followed behind, going neatly over Rose’s head.
Then Laura was there, and snatching Rose up, carried her to the house. Rose had not been frightened, but Laura was, and she felt rather sick. How could she ever keep up the daily work and still go through what was ahead. There was so much to be done and only herself to do it. She hated the farm and the stock and the smelly lambs, the cooking of food and the dirty dishes. Oh, she hated it all, and especially the debts that must be paid whether she could work or not.
But Rose hadn’t been hurt and now she was wanting a bottle to feed one of the pet lambs. Laura would do the same; she’d be darned if she’d go down and stay down and howl about it. What was it someone had said in that story she read the other day? “The wheel goes round and round and the fly on the top’ll be the fly on the bottom after a while.” Well, she didn’t care what became of the fly, but she did wish the bottom one could crawl up a little way. She was tired of waiting for the wheel to turn. And the farmers were the ones at the bottom, she didn’t care what Manly said. If the weather wasn’t right they had nothing, but whether they had anything or not they must find it somehow to pay interest and taxes and a profit to the businessmen in town on everything they bought, and they must buy to live. There was that note at the bank Manly had to give to get the money to buy the grain for the re-seeding after the wind storm. He was paying three percent a month on that note. That was where the wool money would have to go. No one could pay such interest as that. But there was all the summer’s living before another harvest. Her head spun when she tried to figure it out.
Would there be enough money to pay it? Their share of the wool money was only $125, and how much was that note? A bushel to the acre of seed wheat and $1 a bushel for the seed: $100. Sixty acres of oats and two bushels to the acre of seed: 120 bushels. At 42¢ a bushel, that would be $50.40. Added to the $100 for wheat the note must be for $150.40.
It seemed to make a great difference in the price whether they were selling wheat or buying it. To be sure, as Manly said, there were freight charges out and back and elevator charges. But it didn’t seem fair even so.
Anyway, they should pay the note at the bank as soon as possible. If they had to do so they could buy a book of coupons at the grocery store and give a note for that at only two percent a month. It was rather nice that the merchants had got those books with coupons from 25¢ to $5 in twenty five-or fifty-dollar books. It was convenient and it was cheaper interest. They had not bought any yet, and she had hoped they would not have to. Somehow the thought of it hurt her pride worse than a note at the bank. But pride must not stand in the way of a saving of one percent. She wouldn’t think about it anymore. Manly would do as he thought best about it. It was his business and he wasn’t worrying.
As spring turned the corner into summer, the rains stopped and the grains began to suffer for lack of moisture. Every morning Manly looked anxiously for signs of rain, and seeing none, went on about his work.
And then the hot winds came. Every day the wind blew strongly from the south. It felt on Laura’s cheek like the hot air from the oven when she opened the door on baking day. For a week, the hot winds blew, and when they stopped, the young wheat and oats were dried, brown and dead.
The trees on the ten acres were nearly all killed too. Manly decided there was no hope of replanting to have the trees growing to fulfill the law for the claims.
It was time to prove up and he could not. There was only one way to save the land. He could file on it as a pre-emption. If he did that he must prove up in six months and pay the United States $1.25 an acre. The continuous residence would be no trouble, for they were already there. The two hundred dollars cash at the end of the six months would be hard to find, but there was no other way. If Manly did not file on the land someone else would, for if he failed to prove up, the land would revert to the government and be open to settlement by anyone.
So Manly pre-empted the land. There was one advantage: Manly did not have to work among the trees anymore. Here and there one had survived and those Manly mulched with manure and straw from the barn. The mulching would help to keep the land moist underneath and so help the trees to live. The cottonwood tree before Laura’s pantry window, being north of the house, had been protected from the full force of the hot winds and from the sun. It was growing in spite of the drought. Laura loved all its green branches that waved just the other side of the glass as she prepared food on the broad shelf before the window and washed the dishes there.
No rain followed the windstorm, but often after that cyclone clouds would form in the sky and then drift away. It was cyclone weather. One sultry afternoon, Manly was in town and Peter gone with the sheep. Laura finished her work and she and Rose went out in the yard. Rose was playing with her play dishes under the cottonwood tree on the shady side of the house while Laura idly watched the clouds more from force of habit than a real fear, for she had become used to the danger of storms.
The wind had been from the south strongly in the morning, but had died down, and now Laura noticed clouds piling up in the north. There was a solid bank of blackness and before it clouds rolled. Now the wind rose, blowing hard from the south, and watching, Laura saw the dreaded funnel-shaped cloud drop its point toward the ground from the wall of black. The light turned a greenish color, and seizing Rose, Laura ran with her into the house. She quickly shut all the doors and windows before she ran into the pantry to look again, from its window, toward the storm. The point of the funnel had touched the ground and she could see the dust rise up. It passed over a field of new breaking and the strips of sod were lifted up out of sight. Then it struck an old haystack. There was a blur and the stack disappeared. The funnel-shaped cloud was moving toward the house. Laura lifted the trap door in the pantry floor and taking Rose with her went quickly through it into the cellar, dropping the door shut behind her. Holding Rose tightly, she cowered close in a corner in the darkness and listened to the wind shriek above them, expecting every second that the house would be lifted and carried away.
But nothing happened, and after what seemed hours but was really only a few minutes she heard Manly’s voice calling.
Lifting the cellar door Laura carried Rose up the stairs. She found Manly standing by his team in the yard, watching the storm as it passed eastward less than a quarter of a mile north from where they stood. It went on blowing away buildings and haystacks, but only a sprinkle of rain fell on the parched earth. Manly, in town, had seen the storm cloud and hurried home so Laura and Rose should not be alone.
There were no more cyclones, but the weather continued hot and dry, and August the fifth was especially warm.
In the afternoon Manly sent Peter to bring Laura’s Ma, and at four o’clock he sent Peter again to town, this time on his running pony for the doctor. But their son was born before the doctor could get there. Laura was proud of the baby, but strangely she wanted Rose more than anything. Rose had been kept away from her mother for the sake of quiet, and a hired girl was taking indifferent care of her. When Laura insisted, the girl brought Rose in, a shy little thing with a round baby face herself, to see her little brother.
After that Laura rested easily and soon could take an interest in the sounds from outside, knowing well, from them, what was going on. One day Peter came to the bedroom door to bid her good morning. He had stuck a long feather in his hatband and as it nodded above his good natured face he looked so comical that Laura had to laugh.
Then she heard him talking to his pony and calling his dog and knew he was taking the sheep out. He was singing:
“Oh, my! but ain’t she handsome!
Dear me! she’s the sweetest name!
Ky! yi! to love her is my dooty,
My pretty, little, posy-pink
Jenny Jerusha Jane.”
And Peter and the sheep were gone until night.
Then she heard Rose playing with her pet lambs. They were so large now that three of them went out with the sheep, but the two smallest still hung around the back door and yard to be fed and played with. Often they pushed Rose over, but it was all in the game. Then she heard the hired girl refuse to give Rose a piece of bread and butter, speaking crossly to her, and that Laura could not bear. Calling from her bed, she settled the question in Rose’s favor. Laura felt she must hurry and get her strength back. Rose shouldn’t be meanly treated by any hired girl; and besides, there were the wages of five dollars a week. They must be stopped as soon as possible for the time would come soon enough to pay a note.
Laura was doing her own work again one day three weeks later when the baby was taken with spasms, and he died so quickly that the doctor was too late.
To Laura, the days that followed were mercifully blurred. Her feelings were numbed and she only wanted to rest—to rest and not to think. But the work must go on. Haying had begun and Manly, Peter, and the herd boy must be fed. Rose must be cared for and all the numberless little chores attended to. The hay was going to be short of what was needed, for it had been so dry that even the wild prairie grass had not grown well. There were more sheep and cattle and horses to feed, so there must be more hay instead of less.
Manly and Peter were putting up hay on some land two miles away a week later. Laura started the fire for supper in the kitchen stove. The summer fuel was old, tough, long, slough hay, and Manly had brought an armful into the kitchen and put it down near the stove.
After lighting a fire and putting the tea kettle on, Laura went back into the other part of the house, shutting the kitchen door.
When she opened it again, a few minutes later, the whole inside of the kitchen was ablaze: the ceiling, the hay, and the floor underneath and wall behind.
As usual, a strong wind was blowing from the south, and by the time the neighbors arrived to help, the whole house was in flames. Manly and Peter had seen the fire and come on the run with the team and load of hay. Laura had thrown one bucket of water on the fire in the hay, and then, knowing she was not strong enough to work the pump for more water, taking the little deed-box from the bedroom and Rose by the hand, she ran out and dropped on the ground in the little half-circle drive before the house. Burying her face on her knees she screamed and sobbed, saying over and over, “Oh, what will Manly say to me?” And there Manly found her and Rose, just as the roof was falling in.
The neighbors had done what they could but the fire was so fierce that they were unable to go into the house.
Mr. Sheldon had gone in through the pantry window and thrown all the dishes out through it toward the trunk of the little cottonwood tree, so the silver wedding knives and forks and spoons rolled up in their wrappers had survived. Nothing else had been saved from the fire except the deed-box, a few work clothes, three sauce dishes from the first Christmas dishes, and the oval glass bread plate around the margin of which were the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And the young cottonwood stood by the open cellar hole, scorched and blackened and dead. After the fire Laura and Rose stayed at her Pa’s for a few days. The top of Laura’s head had been blistered from the fire and something was wrong with her eyes. The doctor said that heat had injured the nerves and so she rested for a little at her old home, but at the end of the week Manly came for her.
Mr. Sheldon needed a housekeeper and gave Laura and Manly houseroom and use of his furniture in return for board for himself and his brother. Now Laura was so busy she had no time for worry, caring for her family of three men, Peter, and Rose, through the rest of the haying and while Manly and Peter built a long shanty, three rooms in a row, near the ruins of their house. It was built of only one thickness of boards and tar-papered on the outside, but it was built tightly, and being new, it was very snug and quite warm. September nights were growing cool when the new house was ready and moved into. The twenty-fifth of August had passed unnoticed and the year of grace was ended.
Was farming a success?
“It depends on how you look at it,” Manly said when Laura asked him the question.
They had had a lot of bad luck, but anyone was liable to have bad luck even if he weren’t a farmer. There had been so many dry seasons now that surely next year would be a good crop year. They had a lot of stock. The two oldest colts would be ready to sell in the spring. Some newcomer to the land would be sure to want them, and there were the younger colts coming on. There were a couple of steers ready to sell now. Oh, they’d likely bring twelve or thirteen dollars apiece.
And there were the sheep, twice as many as last year to keep, and some lambs and the six old sheep to sell.
By building the new house so cheaply, they had money left to help pay for proving up on the land.
Maybe sheep were the answer. “Everything will be all right, for it all evens up in time. You’ll see,” Manly said, as he started for the barn. As Laura watched him go, she thought, yes, everything is evened up in time. The rich have their ice in summer, but the poor get theirs in winter, and ours is coming soon.
Winter was coming on, and in sight of the ruins of their comfortable little house they were making a fresh start with nothing. Their possessions would no more than balance their debts, if that. If they could find the two hundred dollars to prove up, the land would be theirs, anyway, and Manly thought he could.
It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely she felt her spirit rising for the struggle.
The incurable optimism of the farmer who throws his seed on the ground every spring, betting it and his time against the elements, seemed inextricably to blend with the creed of her pioneer forefathers that “it is better farther on”—only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the west. She was still the pioneer girl and she could understand Manly’s love of the land through its appeal to herself.
“Oh, well,” Laura sighed, summing up her idea of the situation in a saying of her Ma’s:
“We’ll always be farmers, for what is bred in the bone will come out in the flesh.” And then Laura smiled, for Manly was coming from the barn and he was singing:
“You talk of the mines of Australia,
They’ve wealth in red gold, without doubt;
But, ah! there is gold in the farm, boys—
If only you’ll shovel it out.”
The oval glass bread plate Laura and Manly bought for their first Christmas together. The plate survived the fire and was found among Rose Wilder Lane�s things after her death. It is now at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association in Mansfield, Missouri, for all visitors to see.