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The Long Winter, Chapter 2: “An Errand To Town”

My heart’s a-flutter. For in this chapter, our heroine meets her hero for the first time, and sighs of delight echo across the prairies from romantic young (and old?) readers.

At the opening of our scene, it’s still hot. Even in September, Pa works steadily to cut hay, thinking ahead to spring when some of it might be sold for extra income. But there’s surprise here, as a light September frost overtakes the prairie, and Pa seems to work with doubled speed.

So the momentary pause of a broken tooth on his new mower machine, which once might have encouraged the gregarious Ingalls patriarch to go to town, prompts Pa to ask Laura to go instead. As far as we can tell, as readers, this is the first time Laura has been trusted to go town by herself on an important errand.

She rushes to the house, where Ma puts the kibosh on her borrowing Mary’s fresh bonnet. Laura’s own bonnet would be fresher, Ma cautions, if she took better care of it. But she allows Laura to change to a clean dress and gives Carrie permission to keep Laura company on the walk.

It’s a nice scene, as Laura and Carrie follow the wagon tracks into De Smet, talking along the way, but going silent as they reach Main Street. They go into Fuller’s Hardware, ask Mr. Fuller for the mowing machine section, pay for it, and leave, still silent, until they get back out of town.

There we discover the pair of them both suffer from shyness, which isn’t surprising given their general lack of association with any other than their own families. Still, Laura and Carrie are feeling very grown up, talking as sisters, walking home, when they decide to take a shortcut through the slough.

Oops. Bad idea.

At first, Laura writes,  it seemed fun. The tall slough grasses, which overshadowed them, seemed like the jungle in Pa’s big green book. But it’s not long before they realize they’re lost. They know that this could be critical; it’s VERY easy to get lost in the slough, and never be found again.

(Having seen the slough at the Homestead, I agree–it’s a scary, deceptive place. I completely understand how easy it could have been to get lost.)

They stumble around for awhile, agreeing that there was nothing else to do but go on, when they start to hear male voices coming from a clearing. They walk into a cleared space in which a “man” and a “boy” are working. The boy is on top of the hay wagon, giving his brother a hard time. But it’s clear that the boy works hard from his sunburnt skin. He had black hair and blue eyes, and they twinkled at Laura as if he “had known her for a long time.”

In fact, what’s notable about this scene is the subtext that shows that Almanzo Wilder is intrigued by his new neighbor. “He was still looking at her,” she writes. And she recognizes the horses, gleaming and beautiful, as the Wilder boys’ horses. So these, she thinks, must be the Wilder brothers.

Almanzo points out the direction in which he can see Pa mowing, and Laura thanks him. She and Carrie speed off in that direction, find Pa, give him the mower section, then head for the house.

They’ve learned one other thing about sisters: Sisters can band together. “Are you going to tell Ma and Pa?” that they got lost, Carrie asks. Laura replies, “We have to if they ask us.”

Which means they’ve also learned that as grown-ups, sometimes it’s better to keep things to themselves.

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12 responses to “The Long Winter, Chapter 2: “An Errand To Town””

  1. MamaHen

    I’ve always liked this chapter. It just seems more personal and I like the interaction between the sisters.

  2. Sandra Hume

    I somehow seem to always “forget” (selective memory?) that this is where she meets Almanzo for the first time. Sometimes I try to decide from memory when she meets him: “Is it in Silver Lake or Little Town?” And the answer is neither — it’s The Long Winter!

    Another thing I noticed only recently is that when Carrie says “I know. We’re lost,” she doesn’t actually say it. She thinks it. And it’s written as Laura imagines her thinking it, by reading the look on her face.

  3. Lauri

    I notice that it’s always been Mary & Laura, and here it’s part of the switch to Laura & Carrie

    1. Lauri

      **Didn’t mean to post just yet.
      I like how Laura doesn’t want to wear a bonnet, but yet when she goes into town she wants the nicer bonnet. Our little tomboy maybe growing up a bit. :) And this very much is a “meet cute” that a movie would love. It may have been two more years before Laura spent any time thinking of Almanzo, but he noticed her much earlier. And it was a long, cold winter ahead with plenty of time to think…

  4. Sommer

    This is a great chapter because it does show the developing friendship of Laura and Carrie. Their relationship seems to be really close, it always seemed like there was a strain between Laura and Mary…but not for her and Carrie. Sweet!

    And of course it is a great intro in to the world of Almanzo :-)

  5. Susan Barton Malphurs

    As I read this chapter, my heart so identifies with Laura’s feelings of comfort within the wilderness of the prairie versus the unease that sank upon her spirit as she considered town. It particularly strikes me then, when she remarked on the boastful nature of the stores’ false fronts. What wisdom and insight into human nature with one brief notation!

    As the baby in a family with two girls, I could deeply appreciate the warmth, security and admiration of Carrie toward Laura as they walked. Isn’t it impressive how in a few paragraphs, we can so readily know the love and trust between them… as if we could join hands with them… without joining hands?!

  6. Shelley

    Ooo Amy…I like how you put this about Almanzo: “Almanzo Wilder is intrigued by his new neighbor”. That makes my heart flutter knowing what is to come =)

  7. Wendy McClure

    It’s funny/interesting how the narration refers to Almanzo as a “boy” in this chapter, but then in the first of his scenes with Royal at the feed store there’s all this stuff about what a MAN he is. It’s a nice way to show that the narrative switches perspective. And it’s kind of perfect that Laura can see how young Almanzo is (the fictional lie-about-his-age-to-get-a-claim Almanzo, that is!), but in his OWN head he’s a man!

  8. Beyond Little House | The Long Winter, Chapter 3: The Fall of the Year

    [...] up on past chapters: 1: Make Hay While the Sun Shines, 2: An Errand to Town. Want to cover a chapter in this read-along? Find out more [...]

  9. Beyond Little House | The Long Winter, Chapter 4: October Blizzard

    [...] chapters: 1: Make Hay While the Sun Shines, 2: An Errand to Town. 3: The Fall of the Year. To cover a chapter in this read-along, find out more [...]

  10. Beyond Little House | The Long Winter, Ch. 5: After the Storm

    [...] chapters: 1: Make Hay While the Sun Shines, 2: An Errand to Town. 3: The Fall of the Year, 4: October Blizzard. To cover a chapter in this read-along, find out more [...]

  11. Beyond Little House | Chapter 8: Settled In Town

    [...] Judge Carroll been renting Pa’s building up until now? During “An Errand To Town,” all it says about Pa’s building is that “It was rented and two men sat inside it [...]

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