A Rented House
It was wintertime on the prairie, and things were changing all around Laura as she walked to school each morning. The wide prairie skies were no longer softly blue and filled with the voices of bobolinks and meadowlarks and sparrows. Now gray clouds had settled low over the land, and they promised a time of snow and cold and the hungry call of blackbirds in the brown, empty fields. Laura loved the winter for its stillness and its gray-white beauty. But she also knew it could be cruel. She had lived on the prairie long enough to learn that.
Laura was not so worried about what surprises winter might bring this year, for Pa had moved the whole family from their farm on Plum Creek to a snug little rented house behind the church in Walnut Grove. Walnut Grove was a newly settled town on the Minnesota prairie, and it was the safest place to be when the hard blizzards blew in and there was nothing to do but shiver and shake and wait until the storm gave back the land. On Plum Creek blizzards had been hard. Pa had nearly died in one. And some neighbors had died from being lost in the snow.
But in a little house in town the Ingalls family would be safer and happier. Pa wouldn't get lost in a blinding white storm as he drove the wagon home from town. He was already in town. Ma wouldn't worry so and watch the northwest sky for a low, black line of cloud. And Laura and Mary and Carrie would be more cheerful because they could go to school every day instead of staying in their lonely farmhouse all winter, restless and waiting for spring.
Laura liked school, and she was happy to walk there with her sisterseach day. Laura had not thought that she would like school, when she was littler. She hadn't wanted to be away from the warm company of Ma all day. She hadn't wanted to miss Jack, the dear brindle bulldog she loved so well. And most of all, she didn't want to miss Pa and his-happy blue eyes and his good cheer and his stories.
But Laura liked school now. She liked it more every day.
I like school," she said to Mary and Carrie as they made their way along the crisp dirt road leading to the schoolhouse. The sky was still not quite light, and Laura held little Carrie's hand for safety. Carrie was six years old now, but she was still the baby of the family.
"I love school," said Mary, adjusting her shawl against the chilly wind. I could live there if I didn't love home more."
Laura smiled. Mary had always been the best one at learning. Mary had always been the best at everything. She was kindest. She was the most patient. She minded Ma better. And she wasn't a tomboy, like Laura was sometimes.
Laura knew that she could never be as good as Mary, and she was glad that Ma and Pa had at least one good girl they could be proud of
I like singing the letters," said Carrie. "And tag."'
Laura smiled and squeezed Carrie's hand. Carrie was a good girl, too.
When the road ended, the girls followed the narrow path leading up to the little white schoolhouse sitting alone on the prairie. Laura could see Frank Carr carrying in the water bucket for Miss Beadle and James Harris toting a load of logs for the fire. Miss Beadle had arrived early and already started up a crackling fire in the pot-bellied stove and warmed up the frosty-cold classroom. But the cold prairie wind would blow all day long, and all day long the fire would want feeding.
"Good morning, Laura!" said Rebekah when the girls stepped through the schoolhouse door and into the cloakroom to take off their wraps.
"Good morning, Rebekah!" answered Laura. Rebekah was one of Laura's favorite friends. She always had a nice word for everybody and she loved to run, just like Laura.
When everyone had hung their wraps on nails and put their tin lunch pails on the cloakroom bench, it was time to go in and say good morning to Miss Beadle. Then school would begin.
Laura thought Miss Beadle was a fine teacher. She always looked so nice, in her pretty white bodice and her long black skirt and her dark hair pulled back and held with a comb. Miss Beadle always opened the school day with a prayer and a song. This morning the song was "Wait for the Wagon." Laura smiled as she sang, "Wait for the wagon and we'll all take a ride!" She was thinking of Pa and how much he loved taking a wagon west. Laura loved it. too. She could go west every day, her whole life long.
At the end of the school day, in a softly falling snow and a steady wind, Laura and her sisters walked back to their home in town. When they passed Oleson's General Store, Laura could see Nellie, Mr. Oleson's spoiled daughter, through the window. Laura imagined Nellie standing in front of one of the big store barrels, cramming her mouth full of candy until bedtime. Then Laura decided not to think about Nellie at all. She walked on toward the small church with the belfry on top. Behind the church there was home.
Soon Laura and her sisters opened the front door of their little rented house and stepped inside. Ma had a pot of beans on the stove, cooking with a side of pork, and the warm house smelled wonderful. Ma had always made every place they had ever lived wonderful. She called it making a place "homelike." And here, in this small house that wasn't even their own, she had done all the special things that made it home... Old Town in the Green Groves
. Copyright © by Cynthia Rylant. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.