awkwardly

Saturday

More Scary Bits from Laura Ingalls Wilder


"Before him, the black storm climbed rapidly up the sky and in silence destroyed the stars."
Other than a few choice bits like that, the descriptions of weather and daily activity get tedious in The Long Winter. Whether Wilder intended them to or not, the repetition also conveys the tedium of being stuck in a small house most of the winter during blizzards, gradually running out of supplies and food until they're eating the same thing day after day for every meal:
In the morning Laura got out of bed into the cold. She dressed downstairs by the fire that Pa had kindled before he went to the stable. They ate their coarse brown bread. Then all day long she and Ma and Mary ground wheat and twisted hay as fast as they could. The fire must not go out; it was very cold. They ate some coarse brown bread. Then Laura crawled into the cold bed and shivered until she grew warm enough to sleep.
A blizzard rages against the walls of their house on one of those tedious nights, a loud white noise that tortures them week after week.
So after supper Pa called for his fiddle and Laura brought it to him. But when he had tuned the strings and rosined the bow he played a strange melody. The fiddle moaned a deep, rushing undertone and wild notes flickered high above it, rising until they thinned away in nothingness, only to come wailing back, the same notes but not quite the same, as if they had been changed while out of hearing.

Queer shivers tingled up Laura's backbone and prickled over her scalp, and still the wild, changing melody came from the fiddle till she couldn't bear it and cried, "What is it, Pa? Oh, what is that tune?"

"Listen." Pa stopped playing and held his bow still, above the strings. "The tune is outdoors. I was only following it."

. . .

Laura lay in bed and listened to the winds blowing louder and louder. They sounded like the pack of wolves howling around the little house on the prairie long ago, when she was small and Pa had carried her in his arms. And there was the deeper howl of the great buffalo wolf that she and Carrie had met on the bank of Silver Lake.

She started trembling, when she heard the scream of the panther in the creek bed, in Indian territory. But she knew it was only the wind. Now she heard the Indian war whoops when the Indians were dancing their war dances all through the horrible nights by the Verdigris River.

The war whoops died away and she heard crowds of people muttering, then shrieking and fleeing screaming away from fierce yells chasing them. But she knew she heard only the voices of the blizzard winds. She pulled the bedcovers over her head and covered her ears tightly to shut out the sounds, but still she heard them.
Finally, there's an interesting scene that seems to indicate Charles Ingalls (or the version of him created and written by Laura) would have disagreed with the Laissez-faire libertarian politics of his grand-daughter Rose Wilder Lane, the kind of person who wrote a positive review of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Pa threatens a consumer boycott against a greedy capitalist!

During a heavy blizzard, most of the residents of De Smet, MN SD are starving or close to running out of food. Stores are empty and trains won't get through until Spring. Risking their lives to help save the townspeople, two young men set out on a clear day towards a farm rumored to have plenty of extra wheat stored away, somewhere 20 miles south. If they can't find the place and get back before another blizzard comes through, they could freeze to death in the middle of the prairie.

A storekeeper gives them money to buy as much wheat as they can. After a few harrowing chapters [*SPOILER ALERT*], they make it back to town with sixty bushels of wheat, purchased at the steep price of $1.25 per bushel.

Mr. Loftus the storekeeper asks how much they want for their labor in hauling the wheat, and both refuse payment.

When starving townsfolk show up to buy the wheat, Loftus sets the price at three dollars per bushel. Pa Ingalls says he's charging too much.
"That's my business," said Loftus. . . . He banged his fist on the counter and told them, "That wheat's mine and I've got a right to charge any price I want for it."

"That's so, Loftus, you have," Mr. Ingalls agreed with him. "This is a free country and every man's got a right to do as he pleases with his own property. . . . Don't forget every one of us is free and independent, Loftus. This winter won't last forever and maybe you want to go on doing business after it's over."

"Threatening me, are you?" Mr. Loftus demanded.

"We don't need to," Mr. Ingalls replied. "It's a plain fact. If you've got a right to do as you please, we've got a right to do as we please. It works both ways. You've got us down now. That's your business, as you say. But your business depends on our good will. You maybe don't notice that now, but along next summer you'll likely notice it."

"That's so, Loftus," Gerald Fuller said. "You got to treat folks right or you don't last long in business, not in this country."

The angry man said, "We're not here to palaver. Where's that wheat?"

"The money wasn't out of your till more than a day," Mr. Ingalls said. "And the boys didn't charge you a cent for hauling it. Charge a fair profit and you'll have the cash back inside of an hour."

"What do you call a fair profit?" Mr. Loftus asked. "I buy as low as I can and sell as high as I can; that's good business."

"That's not my idea," said George Fuller. "I say it's good business to treat people right."

"We wouldn't object to your price, if Wilder and Garland here had charged you what it was worth to go after that wheat, "Mr. Ingalls told Loftus.

"Well, why didn't you?" Mr. Loftus asked them. "I stood ready to pay any reasonable charge for hauling."

Cap Garland spoke up. He was not grinning. . . . "Don't offer us any of your filthy cash. Wilder and I didn't make that trip to skin a profit off folks that are hungry."

Almanzo was angry, too. "Get it through your head if you can, there's not money enough in the mint to pay for that trip. We didn't make it for you and you can't pay us for it."

Mr. Loftus looked from Cap to Almanzo and then around at the other faces. They all despised him. He opened his mouth and shut it. He looked beaten. Then he said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, boys. You can buy the wheat for just what it cost me, a dollar twenty-five cents a bushel."

"We don't object to your making a fair profit, Loftus," Mr. Ingalls said, but Loftus shook his head.

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