THE MONTH OF ROSES
All through that lovely month of June, Laura sewed shirts. Wild roses were blooming in great sweeps of pink through the prairie grasses, but Laura saw them only in the early mornings when she and Pa were hurrying to work.
The soft morning sky was changing to a clearer blue, and already a few wisps of summer cloud were trailing across it. The roses scented the wind, and along the road the fresh blossoms, with their new petals and golden centers, looked up like little faces.
At noon, she knew, great white cloud-puffs would be sailing in sparkling blue. Their shadows would drift across blowing grasses and fluttering roses. But at noon she would be in the noisy kitchen.
At night when she came home, the morning’s roses were faded, and their petals were scattering on the wind.
Still, she was too old now to play anymore. And it was wonderful to think that already she was earning good wages. Every Saturday night Mrs. White counted out a dollar and a half, and Laura took it home to Ma.
“I don’t like to take all your money, Laura,” Ma said once. “It does seem that you should keep some for yourself.”
“Why, Ma, what for?” Laura asked. “I don’t need anything.”
Her shoes were still good; she had stockings and underwear and her calico dress was almost new. All the week, she looked forward to the pleasure of bringing home her wages to Ma. Often, she thought, too, that this was only the be- ginning.
In two more years, she would be sixteen, old enough to teach school. If she studied hard and faithfully, and got a teacher’s certificate, and then got a school to teach, she would be a real help to Pa and Ma. Then she could begin to repay them for all that it had cost to provide for her since she was a baby. Then, surely, they could send Mary to college.
Sometimes she almost asked Ma if they could not somehow manage to send Mary to college now, counting on her earnings later to help keep Mary there. She never quite spoke of it, for fear that Ma would say it was too great a chance to take.
Still, the faint hope kept her going more cheerfully to town to work. Her wages were a help. She knew that Ma saved every penny that could be saved, and Mary would go to college as soon as Pa and Ma could possibly send her.
The town was like a sore on the beautiful, wild prairie. Old haystacks and manure piles were rotting around the stables, the backs of the stores’ false fronts were rough and ugly. The grass was worn now even from Second Street, and gritty dust blew between the buildings. The town smelled of staleness and dust and smoke and a fatty odor of cooking. A dank smell came from the saloons and a musty sourness from the ground by the back doors where the dishwater was thrown out. But after you had been in town a little while you did not smell its smells, and there was some interest in seeing strangers go by.
The boys and girls that Laura had met in town last winter were not there now. They had gone out to stay on homestead claims. The storekeepers stayed in town to run their stores and bach in the rooms behind them, while wives and children lived all summer out on the prairie in claim shanties. For the law was that a man could not keep a homestead claim unless his family lived on it, six months of every year for five years. Also, he must keep ten acres of the sod broken up and planted to crops for five years, before the Government would give him a title to the land. But nobody could make a living from that wild land. So the women and girls stayed all summer in claim shanties to satisfy the law, and the boys broke the sod and planted crops, while the fathers built the town and tried to make money enough to buy food and tools from the East.
The more Laura saw of the town, the more she realized how well off her own family was. That was because Pa had got a whole year’s start ahead of the others. He had broken sod last year. Now they had the garden, and the oatfield, and the second planting of corn was growing quite well in the sod. Hay would feed the stock through the winter, and Pa could sell the corn and oats, to buy coal. All the new settlers were beginning now where Pa had begun a year ago.
When Laura looked up from her work she could see almost the whole town, because nearly all the buildings were in the two blocks across the street. All their false fronts stood up, square-cornered at different heights, trying to make believe that the buildings were two stories high.
Mead’s Hotel at the end of the street, and Beardsley’s Hotel almost opposite Laura, and Tinkham’s Furniture Store near the middle of the next block, really did have two stories. Curtains fluttered at their upstairs windows and showed how honest those buildings were, in that row of false fronts.
That was the only difference between them and the other buildings. They were all of pine lumber beginning to weather gray. Each building had two tall glass windows in its front, and a door between them. Every door was open to the warm weather, and every doorway was filled with a strip of faded pink mosquito netting tacked onto a framework to make a screen door.
In front of them all ran the level board side- walk, and all along its edge were hitching posts. There were always a few horses in sight, tied here and there to the posts, and sometimes a wagon with a team of horses or oxen.
Once in a while, when she bit off a thread, Laura saw a man cross the sidewalk, untie his horse, swing onto it and ride away. Sometimes she heard a team and wagon, and when the sounds were loudest she glanced up and saw it passing by.
One day an outburst of confused shouting startled her. She saw a tall man come bursting out of Brown’s saloon. The screen door loudly slammed shut behind him.
With great dignity the man turned about. He looked haughtily at the screen door, and lifting one long leg he thrust his foot contemptuously through the pink mosquito netting. It tore jaggedly from top to bottom. A yell of protest came out of the saloon.
The tall man paid no attention whatever to the yell. He turned haughtily away, and saw in front of him a round little, short man. The short man wanted to go into the saloon. The tall man wanted to walk away. But each was in front of the other.
The tall man stood very tall and dignified.
The short man stood puffed out with dignity.
In the doorway the saloonkeeper complained about the torn screen door. Neither of them paid any attention to him. They looked at each other and grew more and more dignified.
Suddenly the tall man knew what to do. He linked his long arm in the little man’s fat arm, and they came down the sidewalk together, singing.
“Pull for the shore, sailor! Pull for the shore!
Heed not the stormy winds—”
The tall man solemnly lifted his long leg and thrust his foot through Harthorn’s screen door. A yell came out. “Hey, there! What the—”
The two men came on, singing.
“Though loudly they roar! Pull for the shore, sailor—”
They were as dignified as could be. The tall man’s long legs made the longest possible steps.
The puffed-out little man tried with dignity to stretch his short legs to steps as long.
“Heed not the stormy winds—”
The tall man gravely thrust his foot through the mosquito-netting door of Beardsley’s Hotel. Mr. Beardsley came boiling out. The man marched solemnly on.
“Though loudly they roar!”
Laura was laughing so that tears ran out of her eyes. She saw the long, solemn leg rip the mosquito netting in the door of Barker’s grocery. Mr. Barker popped out, protesting. The long legs stalking and the fat short legs gravely stretching went away from him haughtily.
“Pull for the shore!”
The tall man’s foot pushed through the screen door of Wilder’s Feed Store. Royal Wilder yanked it open and said what he thought.
The two men stood listening gravely until he stopped for breath. Then the fat little man said with great dignity, “My name is Tay Pay Pryor and I’m drunk.”
They went on, arm in arm, chanting those words. First the pudgy little man,
“My name is Tay Pay Pryor—”
Then both of them together, like bullfrogs, “—and I’m drunk!”
The tall man would not say that his name was T. P. Pryor but he always came in solemnly, “—and I’m DRUNK!”
They wheeled square about and marched into the other saloon. Its screen door slammed loudly behind them. Laura held her breath, but that one door’s mosquito netting stayed smooth and whole.
Laura laughed till her sides ached. She could not stop when Mrs. White snapped out that it was
a disgrace to snakes, what men would do with liquor in them.
“Think of the cost of all those screen doors,” Mrs. White said. “I’m surprised at you. Young folks nowadays seem to have no realizing sense.” That evening when Laura tried to describe those two men so that Mary could see them, no one laughed.
“Goodness gracious, Laura. How could you laugh at drunken men?” Ma wanted to know.
“I think it is dreadful,” Mary added.
Pa said, “The tall one was Bill O’Dowd. I know for a fact that his brother brought him to a claim out here, to keep him from drinking. Two saloons in this town are just two saloons too many.”
“It’s a pity more men don’t say the same,” said Ma. “I begin to believe that if there isn’t a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it.”
Pa twinkled at her. “Seems to me you have plenty to say, Caroline. Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either.”
“Be that as it may be,” said Ma. “It’s a crying shame that such things can happen before Laura’s very eyes.”
Pa looked at Laura, and his eyes were still twinkling. Laura knew that he didn’t blame her for laughing.[/sociallocker]