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مجموعه: مجموعه خانه ی کوچک / کتاب: کناره های نهر آلو / فصل 22

مجموعه خانه ی کوچک

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TOWN PARTY

Laura and Mary had never been to a party and did not quite know what it would be like. Ma said it was a pleasant time that friends had together.

After school on Friday she washed their dresses and sunbonnets. Saturday morning she ironed them, fresh and crisp. Laura and Mary bathed that morning, too, instead of that night.

“You look sweet and pretty as posies,” Ma said when they came down the ladder, dressed for the party. She tied on their hair-ribbons and warned them not to lose them. “Now be good girls,” she said, “and mind your manners.”

When they came to town they stopped for

Cassie and Christy. Cassie and Christy had never been to a party, either. They all went timidly into Mr. Oleson’s store, and Mr. Oleson told them, “Go right on in!”

So they went past the candy and pickles and plows, to the back door of the store. It opened, and there stood Nellie all dressed up, and Mrs. Oleson asking them in.

Laura had never seen such a fine room. She could hardly say “Good afternoon, Mrs. Oleson,” and “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am.”

The whole floor was covered with some kind of heavy cloth that felt rough under Laura’s bare feet. It was brown and green, with red and yellow scrolls all over it. The walls and the ceiling were narrow, smooth boards fitted together with a crease between them. The table and chairs were of a yellow wood that shone like glass, and their legs were perfectly round. There were colored pictures on the walls.

“Go into the bedroom, girls, and leave your bonnets,” Mrs. Oleson said in a company voice.

The bedstead was shiny wood, too. There were two other pieces of furniture. One was made of drawers on top of each other, with two little drawers sitting on its top, and two curved pieces of wood went up and held a big looking-glass between them. On top of the other stood a china pitcher in a big china bowl, and a small china dish with a piece of soap on it.

There were glass windows in both rooms, and the curtains of those windows were white lace.

Behind the front room was a big lean-to with a cookstove in it, like Ma’s new one, and all kinds of tin pots and pans hanging on the walls.

All the girls were there now, and Mrs. Oleson’s skirts went rustling among them. Laura wanted to be still and look at things, but Mrs. Oleson said, “Now, Nellie, bring out your playthings.”

“They can play with Willie’s playthings,” Nellie said.

“They can’t ride on my velocipede!” Willie shouted.

“Well, they can play with your Noah’s ark and your soldiers,” said Nellie, and Mrs. Oleson made Willie be quiet.

The Noah’s ark was the most wonderful thing that Laura had ever seen. They all knelt down and squealed and laughed over it. There were zebras and elephants and tigers and horses; all kinds of animals, just as if the picture had come out of the paper-covered Bible at home.

And there were two whole armies of tin soldiers, with uniforms painted bright blue and bright red.

There was a jumping-jack. He was cut out of thin, flat wood; striped paper trousers and jacket were pasted on him, and his face was painted white with red cheeks and circles around his eyes, and his tall cap was pointed. He hung between two thin red strips of wood, and when you squeezed them he danced. His hands held on to twisted strings. He would turn a somersault over the strings; he would stand on his head with his toe on his nose.

Even the big girls were chattering and squealing over those animals and those soldiers, and they laughed at the jumping-jack till they cried.

Then Nellie walked among them, saying, “You can look at my doll.”

The doll had a china head, with smooth red cheeks and red mouth. Her eyes were black and her china hair was black and waved. Her wee hands were china, and her feet were tiny china feet in black china shoes.

“Oh!” Laura said. “Oh, what a beautiful doll! Oh, Nellie, what is her name?”

“She’s nothing but an old doll,” Nellie said. “I don’t care about this old doll. You wait till you see my wax doll.”

She threw the china doll in a drawer, and she took out a long box. She put the box on the bed and took off its lid. All the girls leaned around her to look.

There lay a doll that seemed to be alive.

Real golden hair lay in soft curls on her little pillow. Her lips were parted, showing two tiny white teeth. Her eyes were closed. The doll was sleeping there in the box.

Nellie lifted her up, and her eyes opened wide. They were big blue eyes. She seemed

to laugh. Her arms stretched out and she said,

“Mamma!”

“She does that when I squeeze her stomach,” Nellie said. “Look!” She punched the doll’s stomach hard with her fist, and the poor doll cried out, “Mamma!”

She was dressed in blue silk. Her petticoats were real petticoats trimmed with ruffles and lace, and her panties were real little panties that would come off. On her feet were real little blue leather slippers.

All this time Laura had not said a word. She couldn’t. She did not think of actually touching that marvelous doll, but without meaning to, her finger reached out toward the blue silk.

“Don’t you touch her!” Nellie screeched.

“You keep your hands off my doll, Laura

Ingalls!”

She snatched the doll against her and turned her back so Laura could not see her putting her back in the box.

Laura’s face burned hot and the other girls did not know what to do. Laura went and sat on a chair. The others watched Nellie put the box in a drawer and shut it. Then they looked at the animals and the soldiers again and squeezed the jumping-jack.

Mrs. Oleson came in and asked Laura why she was not playing. Laura said, “I would

rather sit here, thank you, ma’am.”

“Would you like to look at these?” Mrs. Oleson asked her, and she laid two books in Laura’s lap.

“Thank you, ma’am,” Laura said.

She turned the pages of the books carefully. One was not exactly a book; it was thin and it had no covers. It was a little magazine, all for children. The other was a book with a thick, glossy cover, and on the cover was a picture of an old woman wearing a peaked cap and riding on a broom across a huge yellow moon. Over her head large letters said,

Laura had not known there were such wonderful books in the world. On every page of that book there was a picture and a rhyme. Laura could read some of them. She forgot all about the party.

Suddenly Mrs. Oleson was saying: “Come, little girl. You mustn’t let the others eat all the cake, must you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Laura said. “No, ma’am.”

A glossy white cloth covered the table. On it was a beautiful sugar-white cake and tall glasses.

“I got the biggest piece!” Nellie shouted, grabbing a big piece out of that cake. The others sat waiting till Mrs. Oleson gave them their pieces. She put each piece on a china plate.

“Is your lemonade sweet enough?” Mrs. Oleson asked. So Laura knew that it was lemonade in the glasses. She had never tasted anything like it. At first it was sweet, but after she ate a bit of the sugar-white off her piece of cake, the lemonade was sour. But they all answered Mrs. Oleson politely, “Yes, thank you, ma’am.”

They were careful not to let a crumb of cake fall on the tablecloth. They did not spill one drop of lemonade.

Then it was time to go home, and Laura remembered to say, as Ma had told them to: “Thank you, Mrs. Oleson. I had a very good time at the party.” So did all the others.

When they were out of the store, Christy said to Laura, “I wish you’d slapped that mean Nellie Oleson.”

“Oh no! I couldn’t!” Laura said. “But I’m going to get even with her. Sh! Don’t let Mary know I said that.”

Jack was waiting lonesome at the ford. It was Saturday, and Laura had not played with him.

It would be a whole week before they would have another day of playing along Plum Creek.

They told Ma all about the party, and she said, “We must not accept hospitality without making some return. I’ve been thinking about it, girls, and you must ask Nellie Oleson and the others to a party here. I think a week from Saturday.”

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