THE DAY OF GAMES
It was late next morning when Ma called Laura to breakfast. The storm was fiercer and wilder. Furry- white frost covered the windows, and inside that good tight house the sugary snow was over the floor and the bedcovers. Upstairs was so cold that Laura snatched up her clothes and hurried down to dress by the stove.
Mary was already dressed and buttoning Carrie up. Hot cornmeal mush, and milk, with the new white bread and butter, were on the table. The daylight was dim white. Frost was thick on every windowpane.
Ma shivered over the stove. “Well,” she said, “the stock must be fed.”
She put on Pa’s boots and jumper and wrapped herself in the big shawl. She told Mary and Laura that she would be gone longer this time, because she must water the horses and the cattle.
When she was gone, Mary was scared and still. But Laura could not bear to be still. “Come on,” she told Mary. “We’ve got the work to do.”
They washed and wiped the dishes. They shook the snow off their bedcovers and made their bed. They warmed again by the stove, then they polished it, and Mary cleaned the wood box while Laura swept the floors.
Ma had not come back. So, Laura took the dust-cloth and wiped the windowsills and the benches and every curve of Ma’s willow rocking- chair. She climbed on a bench and very carefully wiped the clock-shelf and the clock, and the little brown-spotted dog and her own jewel-box with the gold teapot and cup-and-saucer on top. But she did not touch the pretty china shepherdess standing on the bracket that Pa had carved for Ma. Ma allowed no one else to touch the shepherdess.
While Laura was dusting, Mary combed Carrie’s hair and put the red-checked cloth on the table and got out the school-books and the slate.
At last the wind howled into the lean-to with a cloud of snow and Ma.
Her skirt and her shawl were frozen stiff with ice. She had had to draw water from the well for the horses and Spot and the calf. The wind had flung the water on her and the cold had frozen her soaked clothes. She had not been able to get to the barn with enough water. But under the icy shawl she had saved almost all the milk.
She rested a little and said she must bring in wood. Mary and Laura begged her to let them bring it, but Ma said:
“No. You girls are not big enough and you’d be lost. You do not know what this storm is like. I’ll get the wood. You open the door for me.”
She piled wood high on the wood box and around it, while they opened and shut the door for her. Then she rested, and they mopped up the puddles of snow melting from the wood.
“You are good girls,” Ma said. She looked around at the house and praised them for doing the work so nicely while she was gone. “Now,” she said, “you may study your lessons.”
Laura and Mary sat down to their books. Laura looked steadily at the page, but she could not study. She heard the storm howling and she heard things in the air moaning and shrieking. Snow swish-swished against the windows. She tried not to think of Pa. Suddenly the words on the page smeared together and a drop of water splashed on them.
She was ashamed. It would be shameful even for Carrie to cry, and Laura was eight years old. She looked sidewise to make sure that Mary had not seen that tear fall. Mary’s eyes were shut so tight that her whole face was crinkled, and Mary’s mouth was wabbling.
“I don’t believe we want lessons, girls!” Ma said. “Suppose we don’t do anything today but play. Think what we’ll play first. Pussy-in-the- corner! Would you like that?”
“Oh yes!” they said.
Laura stood in one corner, Mary in another, and Carrie in the third. There were only three corners, because the stove was in one. Ma stood in the middle of the floor and cried, “Poor pussy wants a corner!”
Then all at once they ran out of their corners and each tried to get into another corner. Jack was excited. Ma dodged into Mary’s corner, and that left Mary out to be poor pussy. Then Laura fell over Jack, and that left Laura out. Carrie ran laughing into the wrong corners at first, but she soon learned.
They all ran until they were gasping from running and shouting and laughing. They had to rest, and Ma said, “Bring me the slate and I’ll tell you a story.”
“Why do you need a slate to tell a story?” Laura asked as she laid the slate in Ma’s lap.
“You’ll see,” said Ma, and she told this story:
Far in the woods there was a pond, like this:
The pond was full of fishes, like this:
Down below the pond lived two homesteaders, each in a little tent, because they had not built their houses yet:
They went often to the pond to fish, and they made crooked paths:
A little way from the pond lived an old man and an old woman in a little house with a window:
One day the old woman went to the pond to get a pail of water:
And she saw the fishes all flying out of the pond, like this:
The old wo- man ran back as fast as she could go, to tell the old man, “All the fishes are flying out of the pond!” The old man stuck his long nose out of the house to have a good look:
And he said: “Pshaw! It’s nothing but tadpoles!” “It’s a bird!” Carrie yelled, and she clapped
her hands and laughed till she rolled off the foot- stool. Laura and Mary laughed too and coaxed, “Tell us another, Ma! Please!”
“Well, if I must,” said Ma, and she began, “This is the house that Jack built for two pieces of money.”
She covered both sides of the slate with the pictures of that story. Ma let Mary and Laura read it and look at the pictures as long as they liked. Then she asked, “Mary, can you tell that story?”
“Yes!” Mary answered.
Ma wiped the slate clean and gave it to Mary. “Write it on the slate, then,” she said. “And Laura and Carrie, I have new playthings for you.”
She gave her thimble to Laura, and Mary’s thimble to Carrie, and she showed them that pressing the thimbles into the frost on the windows made perfect circles. They could make pictures on the windows.
With thimble-circles Laura made a Christmas tree. She made birds flying. She made a log house with smoke coming out of the chimney. She even made a roly-poly man and a roly-poly woman. Carrie made just circles.
When Laura finished her window and Mary looked up from the slate, the room was dusky. Ma smiled at them.
“We have been so busy we forgot all about dinner,” she said. “Come eat your suppers now.”
“Don’t you have to do the chores first?” Laura asked.
“Not tonight,” said Ma. “It was so late when I fed the stock this morning that I gave them enough to last till tomorrow. Maybe the storm will not be so bad then.”
All at once Laura felt miserable. So did Mary.
And Carrie whimpered, “I want Pa!”
“Hush, Carrie!” Ma said, and Carrie hushed. “We must not worry about Pa,” Ma said,
firmly. She lighted the lamp, but she did not set it in the window. “Come eat your suppers now,” she said again, “and then we’ll all go to bed.”