GOING TO TOWN
How they hurried and scurried then! They dressed in their winter best, bundled up in coats and shawls, and climbed into the wagon. The sun shone bright and the frosty air nipped their noses. Sleet sparkled on the frozen-hard ground.
Pa was on the wagon seat, with Ma and Carrie snug beside him. Laura and Mary wrapped their shawls around each other and snuggled together on their blanket in the bottom of the wagon. Jack sat on the doorstep and watched them go; he knew they would come back soon.
Even Sam and David seemed to know that everything was all right, now that Pa was home again. They trotted gaily, till Pa said, “Whoa!” and hitched them to the hitching-posts in front of Mr. Fitch’s store.
First, Pa paid Mr. Fitch part of the money he owed Mr. Fitch for the boards that built the house. Then, he paid for the flour and sugar that Mr. Nel- son had brought to Ma while Pa was gone. Next, Pa counted the money that was left, and he and Ma bought Mary’s shoes.
The shoes were so new and shining on Mary’s feet that Laura felt it was not fair that Mary was the oldest. Mary’s old shoes would always fit Laura, and Laura would never have new shoes. Then Ma said, “Now, a dress for Laura.”
Laura hurried to Ma at the counter. Mr. Fitch was taking down bolts of beautiful woolen cloth. The winter before, Ma had let out every tuck and seam in Laura’s winter dress. This winter it was very short, and there were holes in the sleeves where Laura’s elbows had gone through them because they were so tight. Ma had patched them neatly, and the patches did not show, but in that dress, Laura felt skimpy and patched. Still, she had not dreamed of a whole new dress.
“What do you think of this golden-brown flannel, Laura?” Ma asked.
Laura could not speak. Mr. Fitch said, “I guarantee it will wear well.”
Ma laid some narrow red braid across the golden-brown, saying, “I think three rows of this braid, around the neckband and the cuffs and the waistband. What do you think, Laura? Would that be pretty?”
“Oh yes, Ma!” Laura said. She looked up, and her eyes and Pa’s bright blue eyes danced together.
“Get it, Caroline,” said Pa. Mr. Fitch measured off the beautiful golden-brown flannel and the red braid.
Then Mary must have a new dress, but she did not like anything there. So, they all crossed the street to Mr. Oleson’s store. There they found dark blue flannel and narrow gilt braid, which was just what Mary wanted.
Mary and Laura were admiring it while Mr. Oleson measured, when Nellie Oleson came in. She was wearing a little fur shouldercape.
“Hello!” she said, and she sniffed at the blue flannel. She said it was all right for country folks. Then she turned to show off her fur, and said, “See what I got!”
They looked at it, and Nellie asked, “Don’t you wish you had a fur cape, Laura? But your Pa couldn’t buy you one. Your Pa’s not a storekeeper.”
Laura dared not slap Nellie. She was so angry that she could not speak. She did turn her back, and Nellie went away laughing.
Ma was buying warm cloth to make a cloak for Carrie. Pa was buying navy beans and flour and cornmeal and salt and sugar and tea. Then he must get the kerosene-can filled and stop at the post-office. It was after noon, and growing colder, before they left town, so Pa hurried Sam and David and they trotted swiftly all the way home.
After the dinner dishes were washed and put away, Ma opened the bundles and they all enjoyed looking their fill at the pretty dressgoods.
“I’ll make your dresses as quickly as I can, girls,” said Ma. “Because now that Pa is home, we’ll all be going to Sunday school again.”
“Where’s that gray challis you got for your- self, Caroline?” Pa asked her. Ma flushed pink and her head bowed while Pa looked at her. “You mean to say you didn’t get it?” he said.
Ma flashed at him, “What about that new overcoat for yourself, Charles?”
Pa looked uncomfortable. “I know, Caroline,” he said. “But there won’t be any crops next year when those grasshopper eggs hatch, and it’s a long time till I can maybe get some work, next harvest. My old coat is good enough.”
“That’s just what I thought,” said Ma, smiling at him.
After supper, when night and lamplight came, Pa took his fiddle out of the box and tuned it lovingly.
“I have missed this,” he said, looking around at them all. Then he began to play. He played “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home.” He played “The sweet little girl, the pretty little girl, the girl I left behind me!” He played and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Swanee River.” Then he played and they all sang with him, “’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”