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.