The blizzard that sent Laura and Carrie home from school is finally over. (Except it’s Tuesday, and the blizzard started on Friday, which makes it four days by my count. But I digress.) The first mention is made of the trains being unable to get through. Pa delivers this ominous quip: “In weather like this, who cares about trains?” (Pa! Stop it! Please!)
The solution is that some of the town’s menfolk are taking a trip to Volga to dig the train out, and Pa’s itchy western foot wants to go–even though Volga is east. Mr. Foster will tend to the stock while he’s gone. The girls stop on the way to school to watch the men take off on the railroad tracks in the handcar. “We’ll roll–the o-old–chariot along, and we WON’T drag ON beHIND!”
Interestingly, Royal Wilder is mentioned, but Almanzo is not. Maybe he lost the coin toss?
Pa comes back next day on the work-train, and with him is — well, I’ll be jiggered! It’s Mr. Edwards!
Pa hasn’t seen Mr. Edwards since the wildcat from Tennessee helped him secure his claim the previous spring, and before that, they’d left him in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. I love the “headlong rush” that Grace stops short in the middle of when she sees this stranger coming into the front room. I also love the dish of mashed potatoes Ma is holding when she recognizes Mr. Edwards.
Laura, the writer, implies awareness dawning of Mary’s blindness as Mr. Edwards speaks “gently” about the girls. He’s asked to stay on after dinner, but he’s going on West with the train. (WEST? If the town of De Smet had it so badly without the train, what about the folks beyond them? I know Mr. Edwards is fictional at this point, but there had to be folks in his situation at that time.)
And here we get political. It’s also one of those parts part that — I admit it — I always glossed over as a child. (See also: By the Shores of Silver Lake, “Wonderful Afternoon”; These Happy Golden Years, Uncle Tom’s adventures in the Dakota Badlands) Now, in the Ingalls’ kitchen, Mr. Edwards goes on a mild rampage at the government. I read it pretty carefully this time. That Edwards is so dang quotable:
The politicians are a-swarming in already, and ma’am if’n there’s any worst pest than grasshoppers it surely is politicians. Why, they’ll tax the lining out’n a man’s pockets to keep up these here county-seat towns!
So he says he “put in” every last thing he had for the tax guy that came along and taxed him last summer. Horses, oxen, cow, and then with further prodding from the tax man, added his five children. But thanks to Rose and Laura the writer, Mr. Edwards is a good feminist — or is perhaps married to one. “[My wife] says I don’t own her and I don’t aim to pay no taxes on her,” he tells the tax man.
This surprises Ma, who had no knowledge of a wife and children, and, seemingly, Pa, who admits to as much. When he advises Edwards that he actually doesn’t have to pay taxes on his wife and kids, Edwards shruggingly says “He wanted a big tax list.”
But wait! Mr. Edwards is not married to a feminist! In fact, he’s not married at all. He just wanted to put one over on the tax man. “Got no children and no wife, nohow.”
Mr. Edwards, it seems, is the perpetual bachelor.
But no time for a reaction, because the train whistle is calling, and Mr. Edwards bids his goodbyes, saving Mary for last. “He has a heart of gold,” Ma says in his wake, apparently forgetting how he taught Laura to spit. Oh, wait. That’s the TV show.
Mary stands up and something flutters to the floor. “Mary!” Laura cries. “A twenty dollar – You dropped a twenty dollar bill!”
“That Edwards,” says Pa.
I love the image Laura paints of everyone standing around speechless, knowing they need to return the money, while the train train whistle announces Edwards’ departure.
Then, with a dreamy look on her face, Mary does some quick mental math of her college fund. Added to the money the family collected on last spring’s boarders at the Surveyors’ House, it now totals $35.25.