UNEXPECTED IN DECEMBER
Next day was blank and limp. They would not try again to have Christmas without Mary. The only presents hidden away were for Carrie and Grace, and though Christmas was not until to- morrow, they had opened that morning the small Christmas box from Mary.
There would be a whole week without school. Laura knew that she should improve the time in study, but she could not settle down to her books.
“It’s no fun studying at home when Mary isn’t here to study with,” she said.
Dinner was over and the house all in order, but it seemed empty without Mary in her rocking chair. Laura stood looking around the room as though searching for something she had lost.
Ma laid down her church paper. “I declare I can’t get used to her being gone, either,” she said. “This piece by a missionary is interesting, but I have read aloud to Mary for so long that I can’t properly read to myself.”
“I wish she hadn’t gone!” Laura burst out, but Ma said she must not feel so.
“She is doing so well in her studies, and it is wonderful that she is learning so many things—running a sewing machine, and playing the organ, and doing such pretty beadwork.”
They both looked toward the small vase made of tiny beads, blue and white, strung on fine wire, that Mary had made and sent home for them all for Christmas. It stood on the desk near Laura. She went to it and stood fingering the bead fringe around it as Ma talked on.
“I am a little worried about how we are going to find the money for the new summer clothes she needs, and we must manage to send her a little spending money. She should have a Braille slate of her own, too. They are expensive.”
“I’ll be sixteen, two months from now,” Laura said hopefully. “Maybe I can get a certificate next summer.”
“If you can teach a term next year, we may be able to have Mary come home for a summer vacation,” said Ma. “She has been away so long, she ought to come home for a little while, and it would cost only the railroad fare. But we must not count our chickens before they are hatched.”
“I’d better be studying, anyway,” Laura sighed. She was ashamed of her moping idleness, when Mary had the patience to do such perfect work with tiny beads that she could not see.
Ma took up her paper again and Laura bent over her books, but she could not rouse herself from her listlessness.
From the window, Carrie announced, “Mr. Boast is coming! And there’s another man with him. That’s him now, at the door!”
“‘That is he,’” said Ma.
Laura opened the door and Mr. Boast came in, saying, “How do you do, everyone? This is Mr. Brewster.”
Mr. Brewster’s boots, his thick jacket and his hands showed that he was a homesteader. He did not have much to say.
“How do you do?” said Ma as she placed chairs for them both. “Mr. Ingalls is over in town somewhere. How is Mrs. Boast? I am disappointed that she did not come with you.”
“I didn’t plan to come,” said Mr. Boast. “We just stepped in to speak to this young lady,” and his black eyes flashed a look at Laura.
She was very much startled. She sat very straight, as Ma had taught her, with her hands folded in her lap and her shoes drawn back beneath her skirts, but her breath caught. She could not think what Mr. Boast meant.
He went on. “Lew Brewster, here, is looking for a teacher for the new school they are starting in their district. He came into the School Exhibition last night. He figures that Laura’s the teacher they want, and I tell him he can’t do better.”
Laura’s heart seemed to leap and fall back, and go on falling.
“I am not old enough yet,” she said.
“Now, Laura,” Mr. Boast said to her earnestly, “there is no need to tell your age unless someone asks you. The question is, Will you teach this school if the county superintendent gives you a certificate?”
Laura was speechless. She looked at Ma and Ma asked, “Where is the school, Mr. Brewster?”
“Twelve miles south of here,” Mr. Brewster replied.
Laura’s heart sank even further. So far from home, among strangers, she would have to de- pend entirely upon herself, with no help at all. She could not come home until the school term was over. Twelve miles and back was too far to travel.
Mr. Brewster went on, “It’s a small neighborhood. The country around there isn’t settled up yet. We can’t afford more than a two-month’s school, and all we can pay is twenty dollars a month and board.”
“I’m sure that seems a reasonable sum,” said Ma.
It would be forty dollars, Laura thought. Forty dollars! She had not realized that she could earn so much money.
“Mr. Ingalls would rely on your advice, I know, Mr. Boast,” Ma added.
“Lew Brewster and I knew each other back East,” said Mr. Boast. “It’s a good chance for Laura if she’ll take it.”
Laura was so excited she could hardly speak. “Why, yes,” she managed to stammer. “I would be glad to teach the school if I could.”
“Then we must hurry along,” said Mr. Boast as he and Mr. Brewster stood up. “Williams is in town, and if we can catch him before he starts home, he’ll come over and give you the examination right now.”
They had said good day to Ma and hurried away.
“Oh, Ma!” Laura gasped. “Do you think I can pass?”
“I believe you can, Laura,” Ma said. “Do not be excited nor frightened. There is no occasion to be. Just pretend that it is a school examination and you will be all right.”
It was only a moment before Carrie ex- claimed, “That’s him now—”
“‘This is he,’” Ma said almost sharply. “That’s he coming— It don’t sound right, Ma—”
“‘Doesn’t sound right,’” said Ma.
“Right straight across from Fuller’s Hard- ware!” cried Carrie.
The knock came at the door. Ma opened it. A large man, with a pleasant face and friendly manner, told her that he was Williams, the county superintendent.
“So, you’re the young lady that wants a certificate!” he said to Laura. “There’s not much need to give you an examination. I heard you last night. You answered all the questions. But I see your slate and pencil on the table, so we might as well go over some of it.”
They sat together at the table. Laura worked examples in arithmetic, she spelled, she answered questions in geography. She read Marc Antony’s oration on the death of Caesar. She felt quite at home with Mr. Williams while she diagrammed sentences on her slate and rapidly parsed them.
Scaling yonder peak, I saw an eagle Wheeling near its brow.
“‘I’ is the personal pronoun, first person sin- gular, here used as the subject of the verb ‘saw,’ past tense of the transitive verb ‘to see.’ ‘Saw’ takes as its object the common generic noun, ‘eagle,’ modified by the singular article, ‘an.’
“‘Scaling yonder peak’ is a participial phrase, adjunct of the pronoun, ‘I,’ hence adjectival. ‘Wheeling’ is the present participle of the intransitive verb, ‘to wheel,’ here used as adjunct to the noun, ‘eagle,’ hence adjectival. ‘Near its brow’ is a prepositional phrase, adjunct of the present participle of the verb ‘to wheel,’ hence adverbial.”
After only a few such sentences, Mr. Williams was satisfied. “There is no need to examine you in history,” he said. “I heard your review of history last night. I will cut your grades a little for I must not give you more than a third-grade certificate until next year. May I have the use of pen and ink?” he asked Ma.
“They are here at the desk,” Ma showed him. He sat at Pa’s desk and spread a blank certificate on it. For moments there was no sound but the faint scratch of his sleeve on the paper as he wrote. He wiped the pen-point on the wiper, corked the ink bottle again, and stood up.
“There you are, Miss Ingalls,” he said. “Brewster asked me to tell you that the school opens next Monday. He will come for you Saturday or Sunday, depending on the looks of the weather. You know it is twelve miles south of town?”
“Yes, sir. Mr. Brewster said so,” Laura replied.
“Well, I wish you good luck,” he said cordially.
“Thank you, sir,” Laura answered.
When he had said good day to Ma and gone, they read the certificate.
Laura still stood in the middle of the room, holding that certificate, when Pa came in.
“What is it, Laura?” he asked. “You look as if you expect that paper to bite you.”
“Pa,” Laura said, “I am a schoolteacher.” “What!” said Pa. “Caroline, what is this?” “Read it.” Laura gave him the certificate and sat down. “And he didn’t ask me how old I am.”
When Pa had read the certificate and Ma had told him about the school, he said, “I’ll be jiggered.” He sat down and slowly read the certificate again.
“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s pretty fine for a fifteen-year-old.” He meant to speak heartily but his voice had a hollow sound, for now Laura was going away.
She could not think what it would be to teach school twelve miles away from home, alone among strangers. The less she thought of it the better, for she must go, and she must meet whatever happened as it came.
“Now Mary can have everything she needs, and she can come home this next summer,” she said. “Oh, Pa, do you think I—I can teach school?”
“I do, Laura,” said Pa. “I am sure of it.”
EXCERPT FROM THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS
LAURA LEAVES HOME
Sunday afternoon was clear, and the snow- covered prairie sparkled in the sunshine. A little wind blew gently from the south, but it was so cold that the sled runners squeaked as they slid on the hard-packed snow. The horses’ hoofs made a dull sound, clop, clop, clop. Pa did not say anything.
Sitting beside him on the board laid across the bobsled, Laura did not say anything, either. There was nothing to say. She was on her way to teach school.
Only yesterday she was a schoolgirl; now she was a schoolteacher. This had happened so suddenly. Laura could hardly stop expecting that to- morrow she would be going to school with little sister Carrie, and sitting in her seat with Ida Brown. But tomorrow she would be teaching school.
She did not really know how to do it. She never had taught school, and she was not sixteen years old yet. Even for fifteen, she was small; and now she felt very small.
The slightly rolling, snowy land lay empty all around. The high, thin sky was empty overhead. Laura did not look back, but she knew that the town was miles behind her now; it was only a small dark blot on the empty prairie’s whiteness. In the warm sitting room there, Ma and Carrie and Grace were far away.
Brewster settlement was still miles ahead. It was twelve miles from town. Laura did not know what it was like. She did not know anyone there. She had seen Mr. Brewster only once, when he came to hire her to teach the school. He was thin and brown, like any homesteader; he did not have much to say for himself.
Pa sat looking ahead into the distance while he held the reins in his mittened hands and now and then chirruped to the horses. But he knew how Laura felt. At last he turned his face toward her and spoke, as if he were answering her dread of tomorrow.
“Well, Laura! You are a schoolteacher now! We knew you would be, didn’t we? Though we didn’t expect it so soon.”
“Do you think I can, Pa?” Laura answered. “Suppose . . . just suppose . . . the children won’t mind me when they see how little I am.”
“Of course you can,” Pa assured her. “You’ve never failed yet at anything you tried to do, have you?”
“Well, no,” Laura admitted. “But I . . . I never tried to teach school.”
“You’ve tackled every job that ever came your way,” Pa said. “You never shirked, and you always stuck to it till you did what you set out to do. Success gets to be a habit, like anything else a fellow keeps on doing.”
Again there was a silence except for the squeaking of the sled runners and the clop-clop- clop of the horses’ feet on the hard snow. Laura felt a little better. It was true; she always had kept on trying; she had always had to. Well, now she had to teach school.
“Remember that time on Plum Creek, Half- Pint?” Pa said. “Your Ma and I went to town, and a blizzard came up? And you got the whole woodpile into the house.”
Laura laughed out loud, and Pa’s laugh rang like great bells in the cold stillness. How little and scared and funny she had been, that day so long ago!
“That’s the way to tackle things!” Pa said. “Have confidence in yourself, and you can lick anything. You have confidence in yourself, that’s the only way to make other folks have confidence in you.” He paused, and then said, “One thing you must guard against.”
“What, Pa?” Laura asked.
“You are so quick, Flutter budget. You are apt to act or speak first, and think afterward. Now you must do your thinking first and speak after- ward. If you will remember to do that, you will not have any trouble.”
“I will, Pa,” Laura said earnestly.
It was really too cold to talk. Snug enough under the heavy blankets and quilts, they went on silently toward the south. The cold wind blew against their faces. A faint trace of sled runners stretched onward before them. There was nothing else to see but the endless, low white land and the huge pale sky, and the horses’ blue shadows blot- ting the sparkle from the snow.
The wind kept Laura’s thick black woolen veil rippling before her eyes. Her breath was frozen in a patch of frost in the veil, that kept slapping cold and damp against her mouth and nose.
At last she saw a house ahead. Very small at first, it grew larger as they came nearer to it. Half a mile away there was another, smaller one, and far beyond it, another. Then still another appeared. Four houses; that was all. They were far apart and small on the white prairie.
Pa pulled up the horses. Mr. Brewster’s house looked like two claim shanties put together to make a peaked roof. Its tar-paper roof was bare, and melted snow had run into big icicles that hung from the eaves in blobby columns larger around than Laura’s arms. They looked like huge, jagged teeth. Some bit into the snow, and some were broken off. The broken chunks of ice lay frozen into the dirty snow around the door, where dishwater had been thrown. There was no curtain at the window, but smoke blew from the stovepipe that was anchored to the roof with wires.
Mr. Brewster opened the door. A child was squalling in the house, and he spoke loudly to be heard. “Come in, Ingalls! Come in and warm yourself.”
“Thank you,” Pa replied. “But it’s a long twelve miles home and I better be going.”
Laura slid out from under the blankets quickly, not to let the cold in. Pa handed her Ma’s satchel, that held her change of underclothes, her other dress, and her schoolbooks.
“Good-by, Pa,” she said.
“Good-by, Laura.” His blue eyes smiled encouragement to her. But twelve miles was too far to drive often; she would not see him again for two months.
She went quickly into the house. Coming from the bright sunshine, she could not see any- thing for a moment. Mr. Brewster said, “This is Mrs. Brewster; and Lib, here’s the teacher.”
A sullen-looking woman stood by the stove, stirring something in a frying pan. A little boy was hanging on to her skirts and crying. His face was dirty and his nose needed a handkerchief.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Brewster,” Laura said as cheerfully as she possibly could.
“Just go in the other room and take off your wraps,” Mrs. Brewster said. “Hang them behind the curtain where the sofa is.” She turned her back on Laura and went on stirring the gravy in the pan.
Laura did not know what to think. She could not have done anything to offend Mrs. Brewster. She went into the other room.
The partition stood under the peak of the roof, and divided the house into two equal parts. On either side of the partition, the rafters and the tar- paper roof sloped down to low walls. The board walls were well battened down every crack. They were not finished inside; the bare studding stood against them. This was like Pa’s house on the claim, but it was smaller and had no ceiling over- head.
The other room was very cold, of course. It had one window looking out at empty prairie covered with snow. Against the wall under the window was the sofa, a boughten sofa with a curved wooden back and one end curved up. A bed was made up, on the sofa. Brown calico curtains hung against the wall at each end of it, on a string that ran across above the window, so they could be pulled together and hide the sofa. Opposite it, a bed stood against the wall, and at the foot of the bed there was just space enough for a bureau and a trunk.
Laura hung her coat and muffler and veil and hood on nails behind the calico curtain, and set Ma’s satchel on the floor under them. She stood shivering in the cold, not wanting to go into the warm room where Mrs. Brewster was. But she had to, so she did.
Mr. Brewster sat by the stove, holding the little boy on his knee. Mrs. Brewster was scraping the gravy into a bowl. The table was set, with plates and knives carelessly askew on a smudged white cloth; the cloth was crooked on the table.
“May I help you, Mrs. Brewster?” Laura said bravely. Mrs. Brewster did not answer. She dumped potatoes angrily into a dish and thumped it on the table. The clock on the wall whirred, get- ting ready to strike, and Laura saw that the time was five minutes to four.
“Nowadays breakfast is so late, we eat only two meals a day,” Mr. Brewster explained.
“Whose fault is it, I’d like to know!” Mrs. Brewster blazed out. “As if I didn’t do enough, slaving from morning to night in this . . .”
Mr. Brewster raised his voice. “I only meant the days are so short . . .”
“Then say what you mean!” Mrs. Brewster slammed the high chair to the table, snatched the little boy and sat him in it, hard.
“Dinner’s ready,” Mr. Brewster said to Laura. She sat down in the vacant place. Mr. Brewster passed her the potatoes and salt pork and gravy. The food was good but Mrs. Brewster’s silence was so unpleasant that Laura could hardly swallow.
“Is the schoolhouse far from here?” she tried to ask cheerfully.
Mr. Brewster said, “Half a mile, cross-lots. It’s a claim shanty. The fellow that homesteaded that quarter section couldn’t stick it out; he gave up and went back east.”
Then he, too, was silent. The little boy fretted, trying to reach everything on the table. Suddenly he flung his tin plate of food on the floor. Mrs.
Brewster slapped his hands, and he screamed. He went on screaming and kicking the table leg.
At last the meal was over. Mr. Brewster took the milk pail from its nail on the wall and went to the stable. Mrs. Brewster sat the little boy on the floor and gradually he stopped crying, while Laura helped to clear the table. Then she got an apron from Ma’s satchel, tied it over her brown princess dress, and took a towel, to dry the dishes while Mrs. Brewster washed them.
“What’s your little boy’s name, Mrs. Brewster?” she asked. She hoped that Mrs. Brewster would be more pleasant now.
“John,” said Mrs. Brewster.
“That’s such a nice name,” Laura said. “People can call him Johnny while he’s little, and then when he grows up, John is a good name for a man. Do you call him Johnny now?”
Mrs. Brewster did not answer. The silence grew more and more dreadful. Laura felt her face grow burning hot. She went on wiping the dishes blindly. When they were done, Mrs. Brewster threw out the dishwater and hung the pan on its nail. She sat in the rocking chair and rocked idly, while Johnny crawled under the stove and dragged the cat out by its tail. The cat scratched him and he bawled. Mrs. Brewster went on rocking.
Laura did not dare to interfere. Johnny screamed, Mrs. Brewster sullenly rocked, and Laura sat in the straight chair by the table and looked out at the prairie. The road went straight across the snow and far away, out of sight. Twelve miles away was home. Ma was getting supper now; Carrie was home from school; they were laughing and talking with Grace. Pa would come in, and swing Grace up in his arms as he used to lift Laura when she was little. They would all go on talking at the supper table. Later they would sit in the lamplight, cosily reading while Carrie studied; then Pa would play the fiddle.
The room grew dark, and darker. Laura could not see the road anymore. At last Mr. Brewster came in with the milk. Then Mrs. Brewster lighted the lamp. She strained the milk and set the pan away, while Mr. Brewster sat down and opened a newspaper. Neither of them spoke. The unpleasant silence settled heavily down.
Laura did not know what to do; it was too early to go to bed. There was no other paper, and not a book in the room. Then she thought of her schoolbooks. Going into the cold, dark bedroom she groped in Ma’s satchel and found her history book by the sense of touch. Taking it into the kitchen she sat down by the table again and began to study.
“At least, nothing hinders my studying,” she thought grimly. She felt hurt and sore as if she had been beaten, but gradually she forgot where she was, by keeping her mind fixed on history. At last she heard the clock strike eight. Then she stood up and said good night politely. Mrs. Brewster did not answer, but Mr. Brewster said, “Good night.”
In the bedroom Laura shivered out of her dress and petticoats, and into her flannel night- gown. She got under the covers on the sofa and pulled the calico curtains around it. The pillow was of feathers, and there were sheets, and plenty of quilts, but the sofa was very narrow.
She heard Mrs. Brewster talking angrily and very fast. The quilts were over Laura’s head, so that only the tip of her nose was out in the cold, but she could not help hearing Mrs. Brewster’s quarreling. “. . . suits you, but I keep a boarder!” she heard, and “. . . this horrible country out here! Schoolteacher, indeed! . . . been a teacher myself, if I hadn’t married a . . .”
Laura thought: “She doesn’t want to board the teacher, that is all. She’d be as cross to anybody else.” She did her best not to hear any more, and to go to sleep. But all night, in her sleep, she was careful not to fall off the narrow sofa, and she was dreading tomorrow when she must begin to teach school.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Laura heard a stove lid rattle. For one instant she was in bed with Mary, and Pa was building the morning fire. Then she saw the calico curtain and she knew where she was, and that today she must begin to teach school.
She heard Mr. Brewster take down the milk pail, and the door slammed behind him. On the other side of the curtain Mrs. Brewster got out of bed. Johnny whimpered, and was still. Laura did not move; she felt that if she lay still enough, she might keep the day from coming.
Mr. Brewster came in with the milk, and she heard him say, “I’m going to start a fire in the schoolhouse. I’ll be back by the time breakfast’s ready.” The door slammed behind him again.
All at once, Laura threw back the covers. The air was biting cold. Her teeth chattered and her fingers were so stiff that she could not button her shoes.
The kitchen was not so cold. Mrs. Brewster had broken the ice in the water pail and was filling the teakettle, and she replied pleasantly to Laura’s “Good morning.” Laura filled the wash basin and washed her hands and face at the bench by the door. The icy water made her cheeks tingle, and her whole face was rosy and glowing in the looking glass above the bench while she combed her hair before it.
Slices of salt pork were frying, and Mrs. Brewster was slicing cold boiled potatoes into another frying pan on the stove. Johnny fussed in the bedroom, and Laura quickly pinned her braids, tied on her apron, and said, “Let me fix the potatoes while you dress him.”
So while Mrs. Brewster brought Johnny to the stove and made him ready for breakfast, Laura finished slicing the potatoes, and salted and peppered and covered them. Then she turned the slices of meat and set the table neatly.
“I’m glad Ma told me to bring this big apron,” she said. “I like a real big apron that covers your whole dress, don’t you?”
Mrs. Brewster did not answer. The stove was red now and the whole room was warm, but it seemed bleak. Nothing but short, necessary words were said at the breakfast table.
It was a relief to Laura to put on her wraps, take her books and her tin dinner pail, and leave that house. She set out on the half-mile walk through the snow to the schoolhouse. The way was unbroken, except for Mr. Brewster’s foot- steps, which were so far apart that Laura could not walk in them.
As she floundered on, plunging into the deep snow, she suddenly laughed aloud. “Well!” she thought. “Here I am. I dread to go on, and I would not go back. Teaching school cannot possibly be as bad as staying in that house with Mrs. Brew- ster. Anyway, it cannot be worse.”
Then she was so frightened that she said aloud, “I’ve got to go on.” Black soft-coal smoke rose against the morning sky from the old claim shanty’s stovepipe. Two more lines of footprints came to its door, and Laura heard voices inside it. For a moment she gathered her courage, then she opened the door and went in.
The board walls were not battened. Streaks of sunshine streamed through the cracks upon a row of six homemade seats and desks that marched down the middle of the room. Beyond them on the studding of the opposite wall, a square of boards had been nailed and painted black, to make a blackboard.
In front of the seats stood a big heating stove. Its round sides and top were cherry-red from the heat of the fire, and standing around it were the scholars that Laura must teach. They all looked at Laura. There were five of them, and two boys and one girl were taller than she was.
“Good morning,” she managed to say.
They all answered, still looking at her. A small window by the door let in a block of sun- shine. Beyond it, in the corner by the stove, stood a small table and a chair. “That is the teacher’s table,” Laura thought, and then, “Oh my; I am the teacher.”
Her steps sounded loud. All the eyes followed her. She put her books and dinner pail on the table, and took off her coat and hood. She hung them on a nail in the wall by the chair. On the table was a small clock; its hands stood at five minutes to nine.
Somehow she had to get through five minutes, before the time to begin school.
Slowly she took off her mittens and put them in the pocket of her coat. Then she faced all the eyes, and stepped to the stove. She held her hands to it as if to warm them. All the pupils made way for her, still looking at her. She must say something. She must.
“It is cold this morning, isn’t it?” she heard herself say; then without waiting for an answer,
“Do you think you can keep warm in the seats away from the stove?”
One of the tall boys said quickly, “I’ll sit in the back seat, it’s the coldest.”
The tall girl said, “Charles and I have to sit together, we have to study from the same books.” “That’s good; then you can all sit nearer the stove,” Laura said. To her joyful surprise, the five minutes were gone! She said, “You may take your seats. School will begin.”
The little girl took the front seat; behind her sat the little boy, then the tall girl and Charles, and behind them the other tall boy. Laura rapped her pencil on the table. “School will come to or- der. I will now take your names and ages.”
The little girl was Ruby Brewster; she was nine years old. She had brown hair and sparkling brown eyes, and she was as soft and still as a mouse. Laura knew she would be sweet and good. She had finished the First Reader, and in arithmetic she was learning subtraction.
The little boy was her brother Tommy Brew- ster. He was eleven, and had finished the Second Reader, and reached short division.
The two sitting together were Charles and Martha Harrison. Charles was seventeen; he was thin and pale and slow of speech. Martha was six- teen; she was quicker, and spoke for them both.
The last boy was Clarence Brewster. He, too, was older than Laura. His brown eyes were even brighter and livelier than his little sister Ruby’s, his dark hair was thick and unruly, and he was quick in speaking and moving. He had a way of speaking that was almost saucy.
Clarence, Charles and Martha were all in the Fourth Reader. They had passed the middle of the spelling book, and in arithmetic they were working fractions. In geography they had studied the New England states, and they answered questions so well that Laura set them to learn the Middle Atlantic states. None of them had studied gram- mar or history, but Martha had brought her mother’s grammar and Clarence had a history book.
“Very well,” Laura said. “You may all begin at the beginning in grammar and history, and ex- change the books, to learn your lessons.”
When Laura had learned all this, and assigned their lessons, it was time for recess. They all put on their wraps and went out to play in the snow, and Laura breathed a sigh of relief. The first quarter of the first day was over.
Then she began to plan; she would have reading, arithmetic, and grammar recitations in the forenoon, and, in the afternoon, reading again, history, writing, and spelling. There were three classes in spelling, for Ruby and Tommy were far apart in the spelling book.
After fifteen minutes, she rapped on the window to call the pupils in. Then until noon she heard and patiently corrected their reading aloud. The noon hour dragged slowly. Alone at her table, Laura ate her bread and butter, while the others gathered around the stove, talking and joking while they ate from their dinner pails. Then the boys ran races in the snow outdoors, while Martha and Ruby watched them from the window and Laura still sat at her table. She was a teacher now, and must act like one.
At last the hour was gone, and again she rapped on the window. The boys came briskly in, breathing out clouds of frosty breath and shaking cold air from their coats and mufflers as they hung them up. They were glowing from cold and exercise.
Laura said, “The fire is low. Would you put more coal on, please, Charles?”
Willing, but slowly, Charles lifted the heavy hod of coal and dumped most of it into the stove.
“I’ll do that next time!” Clarence said. Per- haps he did not mean to be impertinent. If he did mean to be, what could Laura do? He was a chunky, husky boy, bigger than she was, and older. His brown eyes twinkled at her. She stood as tall as possible and rapped her pencil on the table.
“School will come to order,” she said.
Though the school was small, she thought best to follow the routine of the town school, and have each class come forward to recite. Ruby was alone in her class, so she must know every answer perfectly, for there was no one to help her by answering some of the questions. Laura let her spell slowly, and if she made a mistake, she might try again. She spelled every word in her lesson. Tommy was slower, but Laura gave him time to think and try, and he did as well.
Then Martha and Charles and Clarence re- cited their spelling. Martha made no mistakes, but Charles missed five words and Clarence missed three. For the first time, Laura must punish them.
“You may take your seat, Martha,” she said. “Charles and Clarence, go to the blackboard, and write the words you missed, three times each.”
Charles slowly went, and began to write his words. Clarence glanced back at Laura with a saucy look. Rapidly he wrote large and sprawling letters that covered his half of the blackboard with only six words. Then turning toward Laura, and not even raising his hand for permission to speak, he said, “Teacher! The board’s too small.” He was making a joke of punishment for failing in his lesson. He was defying Laura.
For a long, dreadful moment he stood laughing at her, and she looked straight at him.
Then she said, “Yes, the board is small, Clarence. I am sorry, but you should erase what you have written and write the words again more carefully. Make them smaller, and there will be room enough.”
He had to obey her, for she did not know what she could do if he did not.
Still grinning, good-naturedly he turned to the blackboard and wiped out the scrawls. He wrote the three words three times each, and below them he signed his name with a flourish.
With relief, Laura saw that it was four o’clock.
“You may put away your books,” she said. When every book was neat on the shelves beneath the desk tops, she said, “School is dis- missed.”
Clarence grabbed his coat and cap and muffler from their nail and with a shout he was first through the doorway. Tommy was at his heels, but they waited outside while Laura helped Ruby into her coat and tied her hood. More soberly, Charles and Martha wrapped themselves well against the cold before they set out. They had a mile to walk.
Laura stood by the window and watched them go. She could see Mr. Brewster’s brother’s claim shanty, only half a mile away. Smoke blew from its stovepipe and its west window glinted back the light from the sinking sun. Clarence and Tommy scuffled in the snow, and Ruby’s red hood bobbed along behind them. So far as Laura could see from the eastern window, the sky was clear.
The school shanty had no window from which she could see the northwest. If a blizzard came up, she could not know that it was coming until it struck.
She cleaned the blackboard, and with the broom she swept the floor. A dustpan was not needed, the cracks between the floorboards were so wide. She shut the stove’s drafts, put on her wraps, took her books and dinner pail, and shut- ting the door carefully behind her, she set out on her morning path toward Mrs. Brewster’s house.
Her first day as a teacher was over. She was thankful for that.