Guest post by Patty Collins
The chapter opens with talk of the Fourth of July. The girls decide that a celebration at home sounds more fun than facing the crowds in town. With requests for candy and firecrackers, it is decided that Ma and the girls will fix a celebration dinner and the Ingalls will enjoy the holiday at home. It is obvious that Mary’s absence is weighing on the family and though nothing is said, the thought of a celebration without her makes everyone bit melancholy.
When Pa returns from town with treats for the holiday, he also brings news that Almanzo is breaking a new team, Barnum and Skip. Laura should be ready to hop in the buggy if she wishes to go riding. Of course, Ma is hesitant to allow her to go. ”I do believe he wants to break your neck! And I hope he breaks his own, first”, these shocking words from Caroline give us a hint as to her concern for Laura as well as her disapproval of her daughter’s courting. But Pa’s reassurance subdues Ma’s uncertainty to which Caroline responds, “Your Pa says it is safe, so it must be.” This statement is rather telling. Although she may not agree, she takes Charles at his word. We see her do this many times throughout the books, but, personally, I don’t think she does it out of some Victorian “he’s the man, so he says so” or that she thinks he’s more intelligent or “knows best”. I think Caroline simply quietly decides which battles are worth a fight. (Like settling in Dakota Territory for good, so the girls can attend school.)
When Almanzo drives up riding “this circus”, Ma again expresses her disapproval, but after circling the house a few times, Almanzo is able to get the team to slow enough for Laura to jump in. Thus begins a routine that will be repeated for the next several weeks. The Sunday afternoon buggy rides all through July and August are highlighted with the excitement of getting the horses to mind, learning to ride with the buggy top in place, and just enough danger to keep Laura interested. She is confident in Almanzo’s abilities as a horseman, although several times to tries to make herself small on the seat next to him to be clear of his hands. She does, however, yearn for the chance to drive. The opportunity arrives one Sunday late in August when Almanzo arrives driving Barnum solo. He explains that he is teaching him to drive single. Finally, when Laura offers to take the reins and give him a bit of a rest, Almanzo relents. He coaches her, but it is easy to see that she needs little help. Barnum responds to how she holds the reins. “I believe his is really gentle.” Although people in the town stare as they see her driving, she sees nothing but Barnum. Laura has always has affection for other horses, but what she experiences in the buggy seat that day is a connection. This was yet another aspect that really made her understand and appreciate Almanzo.
Laura’s approval of Barnum and Skip, do not replace her affection for Prince and Lady. More than once she longed for the calm, pleasant drives behind the Morgans and wondered aloud, “I am not criticizing these horses, I just wondered if anything is wrong with Prince and Lady.” After six weeks of working to gentle the new team, Laura grows even more fond of the horses AND their master as evidenced by her quick response when Almanzo mentions that there will be a singing school it town. “I’d like to have you go with me, if you will.” “I would like to, very much.”
Let’s be honest girls, we all would! 🙂