08 January 2008

from These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder), chapter 2, First Day of School

Then she was so frightened that she said aloud, 'I've got to go on.' Black soft-coal smoke roses 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 home-made 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 sunshine. 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.'

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