The grass was dry and withered, and the cows must be taken out of the woods and kept in the barn to be fed. All the bright-colored leaves became dull brown when the cold fall rains began.
There was no more playing under the trees. But Pa was in the house when it rained, and he began again to play the fiddle after supper.
Then the rains stopped. The weather grew colder. In the early mornings everything sparkled with frost. The days were growing short and a little fire burned all day in the cookstove to keep the house warm. Winter was not far away.
The attic and the cellar were full of good things once more, and Laura and Mary had star- ted to make patchwork quilts. Everything was be- ginning to be snug and cosy again.
One night when he came in from doing the chores Pa said that after supper he would go to his deer-lick and watch for a deer. There had been no fresh meat in the little house since spring, but now the fawns were grown up, and Pa would go hunting again.
Pa had made a deer-lick, in an open place in the woods, with trees nearby in which he could sit to watch it. A deer-lick was a place where the deer came to get salt. When they found a salty place in the ground, they came there to lick it, and that was called a deer-lick. Pa had made one by sprinkling salt over the ground.
After supper Pa took his gun and went into the woods, and Laura and Mary went to sleep without any stories or music.
As soon as they woke in the morning they ran to the window, but there was no deer hanging in the trees. Pa had never before gone out to get a deer and come home without one. Laura and Mary did not know what to think.
All day Pa was busy, banking the little house and the barn with dead leaves and straw, held down by stones, to keep out the cold. The weather grew colder all day, and that night there was once more a fire on the hearth and the windows were shut tight and chinked for the winter.
After supper Pa took Laura on his knee, while Mary sat close in her little chair. And Pa said:
“Now I’ll tell you why you had no fresh meat to eat today.
“When I went out to the deer-lick, I climbed up into a big oak tree. I found a place on a branch where I was comfortable and could watch the deer-lick. I was near enough to shoot any animal that came to it, and my gun was loaded and ready on my knee.
“There I sat and waited for the moon to rise and light the clearing.
“I was a little tired from chopping wood all day yesterday, and I must have fallen asleep, for I found myself opening my eyes.
“The big, round moon was just rising. I could see it between the bare branches of the trees, low in the sky. And right against it I saw a deer standing. His head was up, and he was listening. His great, branching horns stood out above his head. He was dark against the moon.
“It was a perfect shot. But he was so beautiful, he looked so strong and free and wild, that I couldn’t kill him. I sat there and looked at him, until he bounded away into the dark woods.
“Then I remembered that Ma and my little girls were waiting for me to bring home some good fresh venison. I made up my mind that next time I would shoot.
“After a while, a big bear came lumbering out into the open. He was so fat from feasting on berries and roots and grubs all summer that he was nearly as large as two bears. His head swayed from side to side as he went on all fours across the clear space in the moonlight, until he came to a rotten log. He smelled it and listened. Then he pawed it apart and sniffed among the broken pieces, eating up the fat white grubs.
“Then he stood up on his hind legs, perfectly still, looking all around him. He seemed to be suspicious that something was wrong. He was trying to see or smell what it was.
“He was a perfect mark to shoot at, but I was so much interested in watching him, and the woods were so peaceful in the moonlight, that I forgot all about my gun. I did not even think of shooting him, until he was waddling away into the woods.
“‘This will never do,’ I thought. ‘I’ll never get any meat this way.’
“I settled myself in the tree and waited again. This time I was determined to shoot the next game I saw.
“The moon had risen higher and the moon- light was bright in the little open place. All around it the shadows were dark among the trees. “After a long while, a doe and her yearling fawn came stepping daintily out of the shadows. They were not afraid at all. They walked over to the place where I had sprinkled the salt, and they both licked up a little of it.
“Then they raised their heads and looked at each other. The fawn stepped over and stood be- side the doe. They stood there together, looking at the woods and the moonlight. Their large eyes were shining and soft.
“I just sat there looking at them, until they walked away among the shadows. Then I climbed down out of the tree and came home.”
Laura whispered in his ear, “I’m glad you didn’t shoot them!”
Mary said, “We can eat bread and butter.”
Pa lifted Mary up out of her chair and hugged them both together.
“You’re my good girls,” he said. “And now it’s bedtime. Run along, while I get my fiddle.”
When Laura and Mary had said their prayers and were tucked snugly under the trundle bed’s covers, Pa was sitting in the firelight with the fiddle. Ma had blown out the lamp because she did not need its light. On the other side of the hearth she was swaying gently in her rocking chair and her knitting needles flashed in and out above the sock she was knitting.
The long winter evenings of fire-light and music had come again.
Pa’s fiddle wailed while Pa was singing:
“Oh, Susi-an-na, don’t you cry for me, I’m going to Cal-i-for-ni-a, The gold dust for to see.”
Then Pa began to play again the song about Old Grimes. But he did not sing the words he had sung when Ma was making cheese. These words were different. Pa’s strong, sweet voice was softly singing:
“Shall auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind? Shall auld acquaintance be forgot, And the days of auld lang syne?
And the days of auld lang syne, my friend, And the days of auld lang syne,
Shall auld acquaintance be forgot, And the days of auld lang syne?”
When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”
“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”
But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire- light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.
She thought to herself, “This is now.”
She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now.
They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
EXCERPT FROM FARMER BOY
It was January in northern New York State, sixty- seven years ago. Snow lay deep everywhere. It loaded the bare limbs of oaks and maples and beeches; it bent the green boughs of cedars and spruces down into the drifts. Billows of snow covered the fields and the stone fences.
Down a long road through the woods a little boy trudged to school, with his big brother Royal and his two sisters, Eliza Jane and Alice. Royal was thirteen years old, Eliza Jane was twelve, and Alice was ten. Almanzo was the youngest of all, and this was his first going-to-school, because he was not quite nine years old.
He had to walk fast to keep up with the others, and he had to carry the dinner-pail.
“Royal ought to carry it,” he said. “He’s big- ger than I be.”
Royal strode ahead, big and manly in boots, and Eliza Jane said:
“No, ’Manzo. It’s your turn to carry it now, because you’re the littlest.”
Eliza Jane was bossy. She always knew what was best to do, and she made Almanzo and Alice do it.
Almanzo hurried behind Royal, and Alice hurried behind Eliza Jane, in the deep paths made by bobsled runners. On each side the soft snow was piled high. The road went down a long slope, then it crossed a little bridge and went on for a mile through the frozen woods to the school- house.
The cold nipped Almanzo’s eyelids and numbed his nose, but inside his good woolen clothes he was warm. They were all made from the wool of his father’s sheep. His underwear was creamy white, but Mother had dyed the wool for his outside clothes.
Butternut hulls had dyed the thread for his coat and his long trousers. Then Mother had woven it, and she had soaked and shrunk the cloth into heavy, thick fullcloth. Not wind nor cold nor even a drenching rain could go through the good fullcloth that Mother made.
For Almanzo’s waist she had dyed fine wool as red as a cherry, and she had woven a soft, thin cloth. It was light and warm and beautifully red.
Almanzo’s long brown pants buttoned to his red waist with a row of bright brass buttons, all around his middle. The waist’s collar buttoned snugly up to his chin, and so did his long coat of brown fullcloth. Mother had made his cap of the same brown fullcloth, with cozy earflaps that tied under his chin. And his red mittens were on a string that went up the sleeves of his coat and across the back of his neck. That was so he couldn’t lose them.
He wore one pair of socks pulled snug over the legs of his underdrawers, and another pair outside the legs of his long brown pants, and he wore moccasins. They were exactly like the moccasins that Indians wore.
Girls tied heavy veils over their faces when they went out in winter. But Almanzo was a boy, and his face was out in the frosty air. His cheeks were red as apples and his nose was redder than a cherry, and after he had walked a mile and a half, he was glad to see the schoolhouse.
It stood lonely in the frozen woods, at the foot of Hardscrabble Hill. Smoke was rising from the chimney, and the teacher had shoveled a path through the snowdrifts to the door. Five big boys were scuffling in the deep snow by the path.
Almanzo was frightened when he saw them. Royal pretended not to be afraid, but he was. They were the big boys from Hardscrabble Settlement, and everybody was afraid of them.
They smashed little boys’ sleds, for fun. They’d catch a little boy and swing him by his legs, then let him go headfirst into the deep snow. Sometimes they made two little boys fight each other, though the little boys didn’t want to fight and begged to be let off.
These big boys were sixteen or seventeen years old and they came to school only in the middle of the winter term. They came to thrash the teacher and break up the school. They boasted that no teacher could finish the winter term in that school, and no teacher ever had.
This year the teacher was a slim, pale young man. His name was Mr. Corse. He was gentle and patient, and never whipped little boys because they forgot how to spell a word. Almanzo felt sick inside when he thought how the big boys would beat Mr. Corse. Mr. Corse wasn’t big enough to fight them.
There was a hush in the schoolhouse, and you could hear the noise the big boys were making outside. The other pupils stood whispering together by the big stove in the middle of the room.
Mr. Corse sat at his desk. One thin cheek rested on his slim hand and he was reading a book. He looked up and said pleasantly:
Royal and Eliza Jane and Alice answered him politely, but Almanzo did not say anything. He stood by the desk, looking at Mr. Corse. Mr. Corse smiled at him and said:
“Do you know I’m going home with you to- night?” Almanzo was too troubled to answer. “Yes,” Mr. Corse said. “It’s your father’s turn.”
Every family in the district boarded the teacher for two weeks. He went from farm to farm till he had stayed two weeks at each one. Then he closed school for that term.
When he said this, Mr. Corse rapped on his desk with his ruler; it was time for school to be- gin. All the boys and girls went to their seats. The girls sat on the left side of the room and boys sat on the right side, with the big stove and wood- box in the middle between them. The big ones sat in the back seats, the middle-sized ones in the middle seats, and the little ones in the front seats.
All the seats were the same size. The big boys could hardly get their knees under their desks, and the little boys couldn’t rest their feet on the floor.
Almanzo and Miles Lewis were the primer class, so they sat on the very front seat and they had no desk. They had to hold their primers in their hands.
Then Mr. Corse went to the window and tapped on it. The big boys clattered into the entry, jeering and loudly laughing. They burst the door open with a big noise and swaggered in. Big Bill Ritchie was their leader. He was almost as big as Almanzo’s father; his fists were as big as Almanzo’s father’s fists. He stamped the snow from his feet and noisily tramped to a back seat. The four other boys made all the noise they could, too.
Mr. Corse did not say anything.
No whispering was permitted in school, and no fidgeting. Everyone must be perfectly still and keep his eyes fixed on his lesson. Almanzo and Miles held up their primers and tried not to swing their legs. Their legs grew so tired that they ached, dangling from the edge of the seat. Sometimes one leg would kick suddenly, before Almanzo could stop it. Then he tried to pretend that nothing happened, but he could feel Mr. Corse looking at him.
In the back seats the big boys whispered and scuffled and slammed their books. Mr. Corse said sternly:
“A little less disturbance, please.”
For a minute they were quiet, then they began again. They wanted Mr. Corse to try to punish them. When he did, all five of them would jump on him.
At last the primer class was called, and Almanzo could slide off the seat and walk with Miles to the teacher’s desk. Mr. Corse took Almanzo’s primer and gave them words to spell.
When Royal had been in the primer class, he had often come home at night with his hand stiff and swollen. The teacher had beaten the palm with a ruler because Royal did not know his les- son. Then Father said:
“If the teacher has to thrash you again, Royal, I’ll give you a thrashing you’ll remember.”
But Mr. Corse never beat a little boy’s hand with his ruler. When Almanzo could not spell a word, Mr. Corse said:
“Stay in at recess and learn it.”
At recess, the girls were let out first. They put on their hoods and cloaks and quietly went out- doors. After fifteen minutes, Mr. Corse rapped on the window and they came in, hung their wraps in the entry, and took their books again. Then the boys could go out for fifteen minutes.
They rushed out shouting into the cold. The first out began snowballing the others. All that had sleds scrambled up Hardscrabble Hill; they flung themselves, stomach-down, on the sleds and swooped down the long, steep slope. They upset into the snow; they ran and wrestled and threw snowballs and washed one another’s faces with snow, and all the time they yelled as loud as they could.
When Almanzo had to stay in his seat at recess, he was ashamed because he was kept in with the girls.
At noontime everyone was allowed to move about the schoolroom and talk quietly. Eliza Jane opened the dinner-pail on her desk. It held bread- and-butter and sausage, doughnuts and apples, and four delicious apple-turnovers, their plump crusts filled with melting slices of apple and spicy brown juice.
After Almanzo had eaten every crumb of his turnover and licked his fingers, he took a drink of water from the pail with a dipper in it, on a bench in the corner. Then he put on his cap and coat and mittens and went out to play.
The sun was shining almost overhead. All the snow was a dazzle of sparkles, and the wood- haulers were coming down Hardscrabble Hill. High on the bobsleds piled with logs, the men cracked their whips and shouted to their horses, and the horses shook jingles from their string of bells.
All the boys ran shouting to fasten their sleds to the bobsleds’ runners, and boys who had not brought their sleds climbed up and rode on the loads of wood.
They went merrily past the schoolhouse and down the road. Snowballs were flying thick. Up on the loads the boys wrestled, pushing each other off into the deep drifts. Almanzo and Miles rode shouting on Miles’ sled.
It did not seem a minute since they left the schoolhouse. But it took much longer to go back. First, they walked, then they trotted, then they ran, panting. They were afraid they’d be late. Then they knew they were late. Mr. Corse would whip them all.
The schoolhouse stood silent. They did not want to go in, but they had to. They stole in quietly. Mr. Corse sat at his desk and all the girls were in their places, pretending to study. On the boys’ side of the room, every seat was empty.
Almanzo crept to his seat in the dreadful silence. He held up his primer and tried not to breathe so loud. Mr. Corse did not say anything.
Bill Ritchie and the other big boys didn’t care. They made all the noise they could, going to their seats. Mr. Corse waited until they were quiet. Then he said:
“I will overlook your tardiness this one time.
But do not let it happen again.”
Everybody knew the big boys would be tardy again. Mr. Corse could not punish them because they could thrash him, and that was what they meant to do.[/sociallocker]