So the Ingalls family is moving to town for the winter. Mostly the chapter is spent telling us exactly what Pa’s store building looks like, where it is in town, and how it’s set up for winter. A good prairie primer on interior decoration (though the best of the put-a-room-together paragraphs are yet to come in later books).
Pa, we learn, has old-school cred already. His building is already weathered gray; it’s been around for a whole six months, not the mere weeks certain new kids have been on the block.
During this read-through I paid strict attention to the description of the building, since, well, I guess I really haven’t before. But as I learned in those what-does-this-object-look-like-when-it’s-folded-up questions in the standardized tests I took in high school, I’m not that spacially adept. So I’ll do the best I can.
There’s a kitchen in the back, and a front room (which is, uh, in the front). The lean-to opens into the kitchen under the stairs that lead to the second floor. Its north-ish window looks toward the Depot. Once the family has unpacked, it contains, best I can tell, the cookstove and a drygoods box that stands upright as a cupboard, useful for storing dishes in exactly the same places they were in the shanty for easy blind access. That’s pretty much it.
The table goes into the front room. Two windows are on either side of the front room’s door, and Laura is itching to get curtains over them to keep prying eyes out. Also in the room is a coal heater, next to the table. (I find myself filled with foreboding and dread, wanting to warn them: “No! Don’t waste coal in the extra room! You’re going to need it!”) Braided rag rugs are laid in front of each door. After the rocking chairs are placed by the window (to take advantage of sunlight for reading), and cushions placed on them, the last object in the room is a gorgeous “boughten” varnished yellow roll-top desk, which has been bequeathed by Judge Carroll — presumably to be used by Pa in his role as Justice of the Peace. Except as readers, we do not know this.
(Has 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 talking.”)
Outside, we learn that the Garlands are their neighbors, sort of behind the stable on the north side of the building. Florence Garland, who happens to teach the school Laura is so reluctant to attend, lives there with her family, including everyone’s towheaded crush, Cap Garland. Alas, more to come on him in the next chapter.
Laura, Carrie and Mary will sleep above the kitchen; Ma and Pa (and presumably Grace?) will sleep in the room above the front room. These rooms, we learn, are divided with a “building-paper partition.” Building paper? Ma and Laura pull the bedstead pieces Pa hands to them through the trap door, and they assemble the beds while Carrie and Pa fill the hay-ticks. Well, straw-ticks, except there’s no straw, so the families have to sleep on the slough. Or specifically, on feather beds on top of the slough. And they are sweet-smelling.
Laura can see the school out the window down Second Street. They’ve heard the kids going by at school’s end, which compels Ma to say something on the order of “Hooray, now you girls can go to school!”
Which begs the question: If the Long Winter hadn’t already started and the heap big snow did not come, would Laura and Carrie have gone to school?
We wrap up with the now-ominous-sounding confidence that living in town means never running short of supplies; then Pa makes his best guess at the size of the town, naming all the families living there. “Then the Wilder boys” — the Wilder boys!! — “are baching in the feed store,” he says, and we can’t help but crave pancakes.
(In a later chapter, it’s worth noting, “baching” has been switched to “batching.” And speaking of grammatical snafus, there’s one sentence in this chapter that I can’t make sense of whatsoever–and this is the first time I’ve noticed it. It’s in the last third of the chapter. Can you find it too?)
Pa begins again waxing poetic about the great wide West. “Oregon’s the place to be nowadays,” he says, sounding for all the world like your shiftless uncle who shows up every Thanksgiving wisful about his latest failed plan. Ma merely indulges his verbal daydreaming, waiting till he’s done to pleasantly but firmly lay down the law. “Now is the time for the girls to be getting some schooling.”