Wilder, Laura Ingalls. 1943. These Happy Golden Years.
Sunday afternoon was clear, and the snow-covered prairie sparked in the sunshine. A little wind blew gently from the south, but it was so cold that the sled runners squeaked as they slid on the hard-packed snow. The horses' hoofs made a dull sound, clop, clop, clop. Pa did not say anything.
These Happy Golden Years begins directly after the close of Little Town On the Prairie. Laura is fifteen--a few weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday. She has been hired to teach school for two months. The school where she is to teach is for a community around twelve miles away. Pa is taking her to the place where she'll be boarding. She expects to stay there for eight weeks all on her own--homesick or not; miserable or not. The Brewsters--the family she stays with--are miserable company. Mrs. Brewster is one angry, potentially psycho woman. (I never could quite figure out why she's threatening her husband with a knife.) School is awful. She doesn't really like teaching at all. But the thing that keeps her going--the thing that surprises her week after week after week--is that Almanzo comes to take her home and back each and every weekend no matter how cold. These trips are often silent, but much appreciated.
But when the eight weeks are over, Laura is surprised that his courting--his wooing--continues. Rides in his sleigh. Rides in his buggy. He's an almost constant present every week.
It isn't just rides and courting, however. Laura is back in school, back with her friends, back with her family. Seasons come and go. Other teaching opportunities arise--which she accepts--none are ever as horrid as the first.
Without a doubt, my favorite gleeful, giddy-making chapter is "Barnum Walks."
"I was wondering..." Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura's hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun-browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before. "Your hand is so small" he said. Another pause. Then quickly, "I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring."
"That would depend on who offered it to me," Laura told him.
"If I should?" Almanzo asked.
"Then it would depend on the ring." Laura answered and drew her hand away.
The next week...well, I don't want to spoil it. But I love it.
"It will have to be a little house. Do you mind?"
"I have always lived in little houses. I like them." (214-215)
Anyway, it is a thoroughly enjoyable, perfect, perfect book.