Book 5, 4. CONDUCTOR | Little House On The Prairie By Laura Ingalls Wilder


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CONDUCTOR

The Conductor went on, and Laura said low, “Oh, Mary! so many shining brass buttons on his coat, and it says CONDUCTOR right across the front of his cap!”

“And he is tall,” Mary said. “His voice is high up.”

Laura tried to tell her how fast the telegraph poles were going by. She said, “The wire sags down between them and swoops up again,” and she counted them. “One—oop! two—oop! three! That’s how fast they’re going.”

“I can tell it’s fast, I can feel it,” Mary said happily.

On that dreadful morning when Mary could not see even sunshine full in her eyes, Pa had said that Laura must see for her. He had said, “Your two eyes are quick enough, and your tongue, if you will use them for Mary.” And Laura had promised. So, she tried to be eyes for Mary, and it was seldom that Mary need ask her, “See out loud for me, Laura, please.”

“Both sides of the car are windows, close together,” Laura said now. “Every window is one big sheet of glass, and even the strips of wood between the windows shine like glass, they are so polished.”

“Yes, I see,” and Mary felt over the glass and touched the shining wood with her fingertips.

“The sunshine comes slanting in the south windows, in wide stripes over the red velvet seats and the people. Corners of sunshine fall on the floor and keep reaching out and going back. Up above the windows the shiny wood curves in from the walls on both sides, and all along the middle   of the ceiling there’s a higher place. It has little walls of tiny, long, low windows, and you can see blue sky outside them. But outside the big windows, on both sides, the country is going by. The stubble fields are yellow, and haystacks are by the barns, and little trees are yellow and red in clumps around the houses.

“Now I will see the people,” Laura went on murmuring. “In front of us is a head with a bald spot on top and side whiskers. He is reading a newspaper. He doesn’t look out of the windows at all. Farther ahead are two young men with their hats on. They are holding a big white map and looking at it and talking about it. I guess they’re going to look for a homestead too. Their hands are rough and callused so they’re good workers. And farther ahead there’s a woman with bright yellow hair and, oh, Mary! the brightest red vel- vet hat with pink roses—”

Just then someone went by, and Laura looked up. She went on, “A thin man with bristly eye- brows and long mustaches and an Adam’s apple just went by. He can’t walk straight, the train’s going so fast. I wonder what— Oh, Mary! He’s turning a little handle on the wall at the end of the car, and water’s coming out!

“The water’s pouring right into a tin cup. Now he’s drinking it. His Adam’s apple bobs. He’s filling the cup again. He just turns the handle, and the water comes right out. How do you suppose it— Mary! He’s set that cup on a little shelf. Now he’s coming back.”

After the man had gone by, Laura made up her mind. She asked Ma if she could get a drink of water, and Ma said she might. So she started out. She could not walk straight. The lurching car made her sway and grab at the  seat backs all the way. But she got to the end of the car and looked at the shining handle and spout, and the little shelf under them that held the bright tin cup. She turned the handle just a little, and water came out of the spout. She turned the handle back, and the water stopped. Under the cup there was a little hole, put there to carry away any water that spilled. Laura had never seen anything so fascinating. It was all so neat, and so marvelous, that she wanted to fill the cup again and again. But that would waste the water. So, after she drank, she only filled the cup part way, in order not to spill it, and she carried it very carefully to Ma.

Carrie drank, and Grace. They did not want any more, and Ma and Mary were not thirsty. So, Laura carried the cup back to its place. All the time the train was rushing on and the country rushing back, and the car swaying, but this time Laura did not touch one seat that she passed. She could walk almost as well as the Conductor. Surely nobody suspected that she had never been on a train before.

Then a boy came walking along the aisle, with a basket on his arm. He stopped and showed it to everyone, and some people took things out of it and gave him money. When he reached Laura, she saw that the basket was full of boxes of candy and of long sticks of white chewing gum. The boy showed them to Ma and said, “Nice fresh candy, ma’am? Chewing gum?”

Ma shook her head, but the boy opened a box and showed the colored candy. Carrie’s breath made an eager sound before she knew it.

The boy shook the box a little, not quite spilling the candy out. It was beautiful Christmas candy, red pieces and yellow pieces and some striped red-and-white. The boy said, “Only ten cents, ma’am, one dime.”

Laura, and Carrie too, knew they could not have that candy. They were only looking at it. Suddenly Ma opened her purse and counted out a nickel and five pennies into the boy’s hand. She took the box and gave it to Carrie.

When the boy had gone on, Ma said, excusing herself for spending so much, “After all, we must celebrate our first train ride.”

Grace was asleep, and Ma said that babies should not eat candy. Ma took only a small piece. Then Carrie came into the seat with Laura and Mary and divided the rest. Each had two pieces. They meant to eat one and save the other for next day, but sometime after the first pieces were gone, Laura decided to taste her second one. Then Carrie tasted hers, and finally Mary gave in. They licked those pieces all away, little by little.

They were still licking their fingers when the engine whistled long and loud. Then the car went more slowly, and slowly the backs of shanties went backward outside it. All the people began to gather their things together and put on their hats, and then there was an awful jolting crash, and the train stopped. It was noon, and they had reached Tracy.

“I hope you girls haven’t spoiled your dinners with that candy,” Ma said.

“We didn’t bring any dinner, Ma,” Carrie re- minded her.

Absently Ma replied, “We’re going to eat dinner in the hotel. Come, Laura. You and Mary be careful.”

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