Jack was waiting to meet them at the ford that night, and at supper they told Pa and Ma all about school. When they said they were using Teacher’s slate, Pa shook his head. They must not be beholden for the loan of a slate.
Next morning, he took his money out of the fiddle-box and counted it. He gave Mary around silver piece to buy a slate.
“There’s plenty of fish in the creek,” he said. “We’ll hold out till wheat-harvest.”
“There’ll be potatoes pretty soon, too,” said Ma. She tied the money in a handkerchief and pinned it inside Mary’s pocket.
Mary clutched that pocket all the way along the prairie road. The wind was blowing. Butterflies and birds were flying over the waving grasses and wildflowers. The rabbits loped be- fore the wind and the great clear sky curved over it all. Laura swung the dinner-pail and hippety- hopped.
In town, they crossed dusty Main Street and climbed the steps to Mr. Oleson’s store. Pa had said to buy the slate there.
Inside the store there was a long board counter. The wall behind it was covered with shelves, full of tin pans and pots and lamps and lanterns and bolts of colored cloth. By the other wall stood plows and kegs of nails and rolls of wire, and on that wall hung saws and hammers and hatchets and knives.
A large, round, yellow cheese was on the counter, and on the floor in front of it was a barrel of molasses, and a whole keg of pickles, and a big wooden box full of crackers, and two tall wooden pails of candy. It was Christmas candy; two big pails full of it.
Suddenly the back door of the store burst open, and Nellie Oleson and her little brother Willie came bouncing in. Nellie’s nose wrinkled at Laura and Mary, and Willie yahed at them: “Yah! Yah! Long-legged snipes!”
“Shut up, Willie,” Mr. Oleson said. But Willie did not shut up. He went on saying: “Snipes! Snipes!”
Nellie flounced by Mary and Laura and dug her hands into a pail of candy. Willie dug into the other pail. They grabbed all the candy they could hold and stood cramming it into their mouths. They stood in front of Mary and Laura, looking at them, and did not offer them even one piece.
“Nellie! You and Willie go right back out of here!” Mr. Oleson said.
They went on stuffing candy into their mouths and staring at Mary and Laura. Mr. Oleson took no more notice of them. Mary gave him the money and he gave her the slate. He said: “You’ll want a slate pencil, too. Here it is. One penny.”
Nellie said, “They haven’t got a penny.” “Well, take it along, and tell your Pa to give
me the penny next time he comes to town,” said Mr. Oleson.
“No, sir. Thank you,” Mary said. She turned around and so did Laura, and they walked out of the store. At the door Laura looked back. And Nellie made a face at her. Nellie’s tongue was streaked red and green from the candy.
“My goodness!” Mary said. “I couldn’t be as mean as that Nellie Oleson.”
Laura thought: “I could. I could be meaner to her than she is to us, if Ma and Pa would let me.” They looked at their slate’s smooth, soft-gray surface, and its clean, flat wooden frame, cunningly fitted together at the corners. It was a handsome slate. But they must have a slate pencil.
Pa had already spent so much for the slate that they hated to tell him they must have another penny. They walked along soberly, till suddenly Laura remembered their Christmas pennies. They still had those pennies that they had found in their stockings on Christmas morning in Indian Territory.
Mary had a penny, and Laura had a penny, but they needed only one slate pencil. So, they decided that Mary would spend her penny for the pencil, and after that she would own half of Laura’s penny. Next morning, they bought the pencil, but they did not buy it from Mr. Oleson. They bought it at Mr. Beadle’s store and post-office, where Teacher lived, and that morning they walked on to school with Teacher.
All through the long, hot weeks they went to school, and every day they liked it more. They liked reading, writing, and arithmetic. They liked spelling-down on Friday afternoons. And Laura loved recess, when the little girls rushed out into the sun and wind, picking wildflowers among the prairie grasses and playing games.
The boys played boys’ games on one side of the schoolhouse; the little girls played on the other side, and Mary sat with the other big girls, ladylike on the steps.
The little girls always played ring-around-a- rosy, because Nellie Oleson said to. They got tired of it, but they always played it, till one day, before Nellie could say anything, Laura said, “Let’s play Uncle John!”
“Let’s! Let’s!” the girls said, taking hold of hands. But Nellie grabbed both hands full of Laura’s long hair and jerked her flat on the ground.
“No! No!” Nellie shouted. “I want to play ring-around-a-rosy!”
Laura jumped up and her hand flashed out to slap Nellie. She stopped it just in time. Pa said she must never strike anybody.
“Come on, Laura,” Christy said, taking her hand. Laura’s face felt bursting and she could hardly see, but she went circling with the others around Nellie. Nellie tossed her curls and flounced her skirts because she had her way. Then Christy began singing, and all the others joined in:
“Uncle John is sick abed. What shall we send him?”
“No! No! Ring-around-a-rosy!” Nellie screamed. “Or I won’t play!” She broke through the ring and no one went after her.
“All right, you get in the middle, Maud,” Christy said. They began over.
“Uncle John is sick abed.
What shall we send him?
A piece of pie, a piece of cake, Apple and dumpling!
What shall we send it in? A golden saucer.
Who shall we send it by? The governor’s daughter.
If the governor’s daughter ain’t at home, Who shall we send it by?”
Then all the girls shouted, “By Laura Ingalls!”
Laura stepped into the middle of the ring and they danced around her. They went on playing Uncle John till Teacher rang the bell. Nellie was in the schoolhouse, crying, and she said she was so mad that she was never going to speak to Laura or Christy again.
But the next week she asked all the girls to a party at her house on Saturday afternoon. She asked Christy and Laura, specially.