22 September 2011

from The First Four Years, part 4, A Year of Grace (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Manly and Peter were putting up hay on some land two miles away a week later.  Laura started the fire for supper in the kitchen stove.  The summer fuel was old, tough, long, slough hay, and Manly had brought an armful into the kitchen and put it down near the stove.

After lighting the fire and putting the tea kettle on, Laura went back into the other part of the house, shutting the kitchen door.

When she opened it again, a few minutes later, the whole inside of the kitchen was ablaze: the ceiling, the hay, and the floor underneath and wall behind.

As usual, a strong wind was blowing from the south, and by the time the neighbours arrived to help, the whole house was in flames.

Manly and Peter had seen the fire and come on the run with the team and the load of hay.

Laura had thrown one bucket of water on the fire in the hay, and then, knowing she was not strong enough to work the pump for more water, taking the little deed-box from the bedroom and Rose by the hand, she ran out and dropped on the ground in the little half-circle drive before the house.  Burying her face on her kneees she screamed and sobbed, saying over and over, 'Oh, what will Manly say to me?'  And there Manly found her and Rose, just as the house roof was falling in.

The neighbours had done what they could but the fire was so fierce that they were unable to go into the house.

Mr Sheldon had gone in through the pantry window and thrown all the dishes out through it towards the trunk of the little cottonwood tree, so the silver wedding knives and forks and spoons rolled up in their wrappers had survived.  Nothing else had been saved from the fire except the deed-box, a few work clothes, three sauce dishes from the first Christmas, and the oval glass bread plate around the margin of which were the words, 'Give us this day our daily bread'.

And the young cottonwood stood by the open cellar hole, scorched and blackened and dead.

After the fire Laura and Rose stayed at her Pa's for a few days.  The top of Laura's head had been blistered from the fire and something was wrong with her eyes.  The doctor said the heat had injured the nerves and so she rested for a little at her old home, but at the end of the week Manly came for her.

Mr Sheldon needed a housekeeper and gave Laura and Manly houseroom and use of his furniture in return for board for himself and his brother.  Now Laura was so busy she had no time for worry, caring for her family of three men, Peter, and Rose, through the rest of the haying and while Manly and Peter built a long shanty, three rooms in a row, near the ruins of their house.  It was built of only one thickness of boards and tar-papered on the outside, but it was built tightly, and being new, it was very snug and quite warm.

September nights were growing cool when the new house was ready and moved into.  The twenty-fifth of August had passed unnoticed and the year of grace was ended.

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