These Happy Golden Years
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams
Laura Leaves Home
Sunday afternoon was clear, and the snow-covered prairie sparkled in the sunshine. A little wind blew gently from the south, but it was so cold that the sled runners squeaked as they slid on the hard-packed snow. The horses' hoofs made a dull sound, clop, clop, clop. Pa did not say anything.
Sitting beside him on the board laid across the bobsled, Laura did not say anything, either. There was nothing to say. She was on her way to teach school.
Only yesterday she was a schoolgirl; now she was a school teacher. This had happened so suddenly. Laura could hardly stop expecting that tomorrow she would be going to school with little sister Carrie, and sitting in her seat with Ida Brown. But tomorrow she would be teaching school.
She did not really know how to do it. She never had taught school, and she was not sixteen years old yet. Even for fifteen, she was small; and now she felt very small.
The slightly rolling, snowy land lay empty all around. The high, thin sky was empty overhead. Laura did not look back, but she knew that the town was miles behind her now; it was only a small dark blot on the empty prairie's whiteness. In the warm sitting room there, Ma and Carrie and Grace were far away.
Brewster settlement was still miles ahead. It was twelve miles from town. Laura did not know what it was like. She did not know anyone there. She had seen Mr. Brewster only once, when he came to hire her to teach the school. He was thin and brown, like any homesteader; he did not have much to say for himself
Pa sat looking ahead into the distance while he held the reins in his mittened hands and now and then chirruped to the horses. But he knew how Laura felt. At last he turned his face toward her and spoke, as if he were answering her dread of tomorrow.
"Well, Laura! You are a schoolteacher now! We knew you would be, didn't we? Though we didn't expect it so soon."
"Do you think I can, Pa?" Laura answered. "Suppose . . . just suppose . . . the children won't mind me when they see how little I am."
"Of course you can," Pa assured her. "You've never failed yet at anything you tried to do, have you?"
"Well, no," Laura admitted. "But I . . . I never tried to teach school."
"You've tackled every job that ever came your way," Pa said. "You never shirked, and you always stuck to it till you did what you set out to do. Success gets to be a habit, like anything else a fellow keeps on doing."
Again there was a silence except for the squeaking of the sled runners and the clop-clop-clop of the horses' feet on the hard snow. Laura felt a little better. It was true; she always had kept on trying; she had always had to. Well, now she had to teach school.
"Remember that time on Plum Creek, Half-Pint?" Pa said. "Your Ma and I went to town, and a blizzard came up? And you got the whole woodpile into the house."
Laura laughed out loud, and Pa's laugh rang like great bells in the cold stillness. How little and scared and funny she had been, that day so long ago!
"That's the way to tackle things!" Pa said. "Have confidence in yourself, and you can lick anything. You have confidence in yourself, that's the only way to make other folks have confidence in you." He paused, and then said, "One thing you must guard against."
"What, Pa?" Laura asked.
"You are so quick, Flutterbudget. You are apt to act or speak first, and think afterward. Now you must do your thinking first and speak afterward. If you will remember to do that, you will not have any trouble."
"I will, Pa," Laura said earnestly.
It was really too cold to talk. Snug enough under the heavy blankets and quilts, they went on silently toward the south. The cold wind blew against their faces. A faint trace of sled runners stretched onward before them. There was nothing else to see but the endless, low white land and the huge pale sky, and the horses' blue shadows blotting the sparkle from the snow.
The wind kept Laura's thick black woolen veil rippling before her eyes. Her breath was frozen in a patch of frost in the veil, that kept slapping cold and damp against her mouth and nose.
At last she saw a house ahead. Very small at first, it grew larger as they came nearer to it. Half a mile away there was another, smaller one, and far beyond it, another. Then still another appeared. Four houses; that was all. They were far apart and small on the white prairie.
Pa pulled up the horses. Mr. Brewster's house looked like two claim shanties put together to make a peaked roof. Its tar-paper roof was bare, and melted snow had run into big icicles that hung from the eaves in blobby columns larger around than Laura's arms. They looked like huge, jagged teeth. Some bit into the snow, and some were broken off. The broken chunks of ice lay frozen into the dirty snow around the door, where dishwater had been thrown. There was no curtain at the window, but smoke blew from the stovepipe that was anchored to the roof with wires.
Mr. Brewster opened the door. A child was squalling in the house, and he spoke loudly to be heard. "Come in, Ingalls! Come in and warm yourself."
"Thank you," Pa replied. "But it's a long twelve miles home and I better be going."
Laura slid out from under the blankets quickly, not to let the cold in. Pa handed her Ma's satchel, that held her change of underclothes, her other dress, and her schoolbooks.
"Good-by, Pa," she said.