Summary: No copyright infringement intended. A “What Happened Instead” story, based on the “Bunny” episode of “Little House on the Prairie” with scenes inspired by “Little House’s” “I’ll Be Waving As You Drive Away” and the “Bonanza” episode, “Bullet for a Bride.”
Category: Little House on the Prairie
Word Count: 6812
Walnut Grove is a small town, both in size and population. To the casual observer visiting this town in 1870s Minnesota, it encompasses a mercantile, a one-room schoolhouse, and a lumber mill, with a post office, doctor’s office and not much more without the many farms nearby.
The mercantile, a white clapboard building with wooden steps leading up to it, stands at the heart of the town, where the weekly stagecoach passes through and stirs up the unpaved road and children who live in the country, including the Ingalls girls, find their way over the humble wood bridge to the schoolhouse, also a white clapboard building. The schoolhouse serves as a church on Sunday and a meeting hall as needed.
Children who live close to town or in town, as the Oleson children do, are the minority here. This is a farming community dependent on the success of this year’s crop, primarily wheat. Most families use their livestock to help make ends meet. For instance, many eggs from the Ingalls family’s hens wind up at the Oleson’s mercantile to help pay for household supplies, including sugar, flour, and coffee.
Most of the children who attend school here have chores to do once the school day is over, and Laura Ingalls is no exception.
This particular spring day, the pig-tailed youngster ran down the stairs from the schoolhouse and raced to finish one additional chore before she went home.
She’d brought two extra apples to school with her today. One for Miss Beadle, the town’s schoolteacher, in appreciation for extra help in math at recess and the other for Bunny. Bunny, now stabled in the Oleson’s barn, was the horse she traded to the storekeeper, Mr. Oleson, in exchange for the stove her mother wanted several Christmases ago.
“Get away from my horse!” a little girl yelled harshly, her dainty step matching the bounce of her blonde curls and well-starched dress. “You get away from my horse, Laura Ingalls!”
“I’m not doing anything, Nellie Oleson,” Laura stated as she stood near the fence connected to the Olesons’ barn. She hadn’t pulled out the apple she planned to offer Bunny, so she hadn’t done anything yet.
“You’ve been feeding my horse again, haven’t you?” the blonde girl demanded.
“No, I haven’t,” Laura protested, as she hid the apple behind her.
“What’s that behind your back?”
“My hands,” Laura answered saucily as she held them up for Nellie to see.
The apple was now lying in the straw by the fence, so she had no fear of being caught with it.
“You shouldn’t have sold that animal to my father if you were going to spend so much time with MY horse.”
“If she’s really your horse, why don’t you ride her?” Laura asked. “Give her treats once in awhile, let her know she’s YOUR horse.”
Nellie disappeared into the barn at one end of the fence, then reappeared through a door into the stall where Bunny stood, carrying a whip. “Bunny’s my horse now, and I’ll treat her any way I want to.”
“All I’m doing is making sure she’s taken care of,” Laura explained as Nellie climbed onto the horse’s back and pulled the rein harshly. Bunny’s eyes began to roll in fear as she pulled that rein.
Laura wasn’t exactly sure how it all happened. One minute, Nellie pulled Bunny’s rein again, and the next, the horse reared up into the air, dropping Nellie to the ground.
“Nellie!” Laura called out as she climbed through the fence to find out if the girl was hurt.
There was no response. Not wanting to waste a minute since Nellie could be seriously hurt, she climbed back through the fence and ran across town calling out, “Doctor Baker, Doctor Baker! It’s Nellie!”
Her cries brought not only Doctor Baker but also the Olesons from their mercantile, still wearing their shop aprons.
“What’s wrong, Laura?” a dark-haired man asked after he ran from the lumber mill.
“It’s Nellie, Pa” she repeated.
“Half-pint, what happened?”
Without a word, Laura broke free to run back to the stall.
“Oh, no!” Mrs. Oleson called out as she fainted in the middle of the street, apron-covered skirts and shoes sticking straight up. Mr. Oleson shrugged his shoulders, since she had a habit of reacting that way to bad news.
“Take care of your wife, Nels. I’ll take care of Laura, find out what happened,” declared Laura’s father.
“Thanks, Charles,” Mr. Oleson said, nodding as he looked at his wife and asked, “Where do you keep your smelling salts, Harriet?” Since she didn’t respond, he decided to do the only thing he knew to do. He went into the mercantile and returned with a bucket full of water, which he casually carried to his wife’s side. By now a crowd of people were standing around her, Mrs. Foster from the post office waving smelling salts under her nose to no avail.
“Step back, this ought to do the trick,” Mr. Oleson suggested as Mrs. Foster obliged. He pulled the bucket back a few inches, then doused Mrs. Oleson with the water.
She sputtered, sat straight up, then demanded “Nels Oleson, what is the meaning of this?” as she looked around.
“Thought you looked like you could use a good bath, Harriet,” he answered, making the townspeople laugh.
“Mother?” a child called from a distance.
“Nellie?” Mrs. Oleson asked, her voice rising as she returned to her feet.
“Mother?” the child repeated.
“Mother’s coming, darling,” Mrs. Oleson called out sweetly as she hurried to her daughter’s side, forgetting that only moments ago she had fallen into a faint in the middle of the street.
The townspeople gathered closer to the unfolding drama, until Laura’s father said, “There’s nothing left to see, folks. Let’s let the doctor do his work.”
Laura stood a few feet away, watching as the doctor examined Nellie.
“Laura, that includes you, too. You have chores at home.”
“Don’t ‘But Pa!’ me. I’ll let you know about Nellie when I get there. Right now, I have an order to finish for Mr. Hansen. Tell Ma I’ll be home before dark.”
Laura slowly walked away, then looked back one more time before she obeyed her father.
Later that afternoon, she was trying to figure out a math problem in the day’s homework. Her mind really wasn’t on what she was doing, which meant she was more prone to daydream than usual.
Sitting downstairs at the kitchen table with her sister, Mary, she might not have daydreamed as much. Today her sister needed more of the table so Laura was sitting in the loft, on the bed they shared. The loft window overlooked the barnyard between their house and the barn, so it was even more tempting to keep a watch for her father’s wagon.
When he arrived, she thought she was dreaming. Not because her parents were talking so quietly in the yard she could not hear a word they said, but because Bunny was tied to the back of the wagon.
She blinked two or three times before she was sure the horse really was there.
Down went the tablet, pencil and book, and she raced as quickly as she could down the ladder that led by the kitchen table.
“Laura?” her sister called out to the blur that passed her so fast it sent her papers flying off the table.
Covering the yard as fast as her legs would carry her, she followed the wagon tracks and found her parents and the horse in the barn.
“Bunny!” she called out once she was within touching distance.
“Laura, there’s something you need to know,” her father started solemnly, looking to her mother for agreement.
“What is it, Pa?” the little girl asked, knowing that something must be wrong from his tone of voice.
“Bunny’s not here to stay,” he explained. “She’s only visiting for a few days because Nellie…”
He stopped, searching for a gentle way to tell her the news.
“You know that Nellie had an accident, because you told me that when you came home,” her mother started.
“Is she…” Laura began, afraid to say the next word.
“She can’t see, Laura. She’s blind,” her father answered.
“Blind? Can’t see?” Laura asked, starting to cry. “Bunny didn’t mean it, Pa. She only threw her because Nellie was being mean to her. If I’d known Bunny was going to throw her, I would have stopped her from getting on her.”
Both parents put an arm around the grieving little girl, and an arm around each other as their own tears fell for a moment.
After a deep sigh, her father teased, “As if you could ever stop Nellie Oleson from doing anything!” shaking his head at that very idea.
“And no one’s blaming Bunny, either,” her mother said, stroking her hair to comfort her. “We all know what Nellie is like.”
“Well…” her father began, before her mother sent him a warning glance.
“I shouldn’t have been feeding Bunny apples. Now she likes me better than she likes Nellie.”
“Half-pint, I think Bunny liked you better than she liked Nellie before you fed her those apples,” he told her, patting her on the nose with his index finger.
“You really think so, Pa?”
“I know so,” he stated emphatically. “You should have heard her neigh and whinny once she recognized where she was going this afternoon.”
“Really and truly, Half-pint.” Thinking that a distraction was in order just about now, he suggested, “Now go get that saddle I made for Bunny, so it’ll be all ready the next time you want to take her for a ride.”
Laura gulped, then asked, “How long will she get to stay, Pa?”
“I don’t know. We’re hoping that Nellie gets her sight back. She may want Bunny back if that happens.”
“NO!!” Laura moaned as she ran out of the yard, scaring her parents and the horse.
An hour or so later, her mother found her at the lake she often visited when something was bothering her, and sometimes when the fish were biting and she was ready to catch some for that evening’s meal.
“Laura,” her mother called out from behind her.
Laura didn’t move, simply sniffled and gulped, then cried some more.
“Laura,” her mother called out again. “You have a visitor.”
“Bunny!” the child called out as she stood up, then ran to her beloved friend.
Once Laura was through patting the horse and had stopped crying, her mother continued, “You left without taking care of your horse, Laura. Your pa and I had to clean up the saddle and get her ready to ride this time. Is that going to happen again?”
“Oh, no, Ma. I’ll take really good care of her from now on,” Laura promised, crossing her heart with her finger then holding up her right hand to assure her mother she really meant it.
“That’s my girl,” her mother said, smiling. “There’s someone else you can help, you know.”
“I think it’d help both of you,” Caroline suggested, sitting down on a rock next to the lake. “When Doc Baker and her parents say she can have visitors, she’ll need a friend to read to her, help her to pass the time until she feels better.”
“But we’re not friends,” Laura pointed out.
“You can still help her. Remember the sermon at church a few weeks ago, about not just helping your friends. We should help our enemies, too.”
“She’s more of an enemy than a friend,” Laura said.
“That could change, Laura. Give it a try.”
Laura frowned, then turned to her mother. “What if she’s still the same ol’ Nellie?”
“If she’s ‘the same ol’ Nellie’, does that mean you have to be the ‘same ol’ Laura’?”
Laura thought about it for a minute before climbing into Bunny’s saddle.
Maybe I don’t have to be the “same ol’ Laura?”
A few days after Laura’s conversation with her mother at the lake, the family was in town together for church services. Laura usually ran off to see friends soon as their wagon reached the church yard, but today she was content to stand and observe neighbors as they arrived.
Although dressed in their Sunday-best, there was nothing unusual about their clothes, except that they were reserved for this day of the week. A few women and girls wore store-bought dresses, but most clothing was hand-sewn, just like what Laura’s family wore. The men wore suits or their cleanest work clothes if they did not own a suit. Every face looked fresh-scrubbed after a Saturday night bath. In the winter, coats would be hung up in the cloak room, the first room anyone saw when they entered the building. Warmer weather this time of year meant there were no coats hung on the hooks there, and that the doors would probably stay open during the service to cool the building. Instead of schoolbooks, songbooks were placed on the desks.
Occupants ranged in age from babes in arms to older adults, in addition to the children who attended the school. The church buzzed with conversation as people shared the week’s happenings with their neighbors and waited for the service to start.
The Olesons were not in church that morning, but everyone there had heard what happened to Nellie by the time the service was over because Rev. Alden mentioned it.
A short, stout man whose half-crown of white hair circled his head, he wore the black suit of a minister but was always ready for a good laugh or to console a sad heart. Laura noticed him standing at the front of the church as she took her seat in the pew next to Mary, in front of their parents and her younger sister, Carrie.
He began the congregation’s prayer time with “May Nellie and her parents be comforted in this hour of need, and her sight be restored.”
Instead of listening to the congregation’s prayers, Laura found herself thinking about what it meant if Nellie couldn’t see again. She’d never known a blind person before. She hoped Nellie would be able to see again tomorrow, because then she would not have to help her. But she also hoped Nellie wouldn’t be able to see again because she would have to give Bunny back.
She told Mary that the night after the fall. Her sister was brushing out her long, blonde hair, seated in a chair at the desk they shared together in their loft, and scolded “Laura! What a dreadful thing to say.”
“Only sometimes. I think it’d be awful not to be able to see.”
“I do, too.”
“Girls, it’s bedtime,” their father called out from downstairs. Mary put down her brush and climbed into bed while Laura blew out the flame in the kerosene lamp by their bed and jumped into her place.
“Don’t tell Ma and Pa?” Laura whispered.
“Don’t tell them what?” her sister asked, surprised.
Laura giggled, then said “If you’ve forgotten, so have I,” as she’d rolled over and fallen asleep.
She caught herself about to fall asleep in church this morning, as Rev. Alden began the sermon.
“You remember that I said a few weeks ago that we should help others. There’s a family in our town who needs our help. As most of you know, Nellie Oleson fell from a horse this week.”
A pair of women in the congregation gasped from the back of the room, where Laura couldn’t see who they were.
“Doc Baker says she may regain her sight, and we’ve prayed this morning that may happen. In the meantime, the Olesons could use our help. I know we’re not used to them needing help, but it would be most appreciated.”
Rev. Alden continued, “Think of all the times the Olesons have lent a hand to each and every one of us.”
“How about all the times they have extended credit in their store?”
Again no response.
“Ah, Nels ain’t so bad,” a man called out from the back of the room. Most of the congregation laughed, then started sharing stories of how Mr. Oleson had helped each and every one of them, somehow, over the years he’d been in business in Walnut Grove.
“And it’s Nels doing the asking,” the reverend told them once quiet was restored. “Perhaps your child could read to Nellie, or you could lend Harriet a hand with the housework?”
“Not my Prudence. Know what that Nellie did?” a wiry woman said as she stood up and boldly approached the minister, as if to accuse him of the wrongdoing as he stood on the platform at the front of the church.
Rev. Alden moved toward her, touched her shoulder and said, “We do not shoot our wounded in this church. What Nellie has done or not done in the past is not for us to judge.”
“Do we only help our friends? No! We do what God has told us to do, in these pages,” the preacher said, holding up his copy of the Bible.
Laura wanted to shrink down in the pew she shared with Mary.
“Laura,” her mother whispered as the rest of the adults talked about what they would do.
“Remember what we talked about?”
Laura shook her head “no,” then sighed and stood up. She walked toward the front of the church, where Rev. Alden was writing down names and what people were offering to do. They made room for her as she moved closer to the minister, then tugged on his sleeve.
“Rev. Alden?” she started, looking up at his face and suddenly feeling bolder.
“Yes, Laura?” he asked.
“I’ll go over to Nellie’s and help her with her schoolwork.”
He smiled at her and wrote her name down, too.
“That’s only because it was her horse and she feels guilty,” the woman who’d approached the minister earlier whispered.
Laura started to cry as the woman’s words stung her. The reverend brushed her tears away and said, “Again, we do not shoot our wounded. It may have been Laura’s horse, but Laura did not cause Nellie’s fall.”
“Why did it happen, Reverend?” another adult asked.
The reverend paused, pursing his lips. “If I knew the answer to that, Tom, I would be God. I’m only a mortal, as are all of you. We simply do the best we can and pray that God will lead us all through this time.”
Everyone nodded and returned to their seats. Before Laura took her seat, the minister whispered to her, “Laura, it’s not your fault.”
As her eyes widened with surprise, he smiled at her, then said in a voice barely above a whisper, “I would have felt guilty if this’d happened to a classmate when I was your age.”
She smiled back, mouthed “Thanks,” then went back to her seat.
“We’ll now close our service with ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’,” the reverend directed and they began to sing.
Laura and her father walked into the Olesons’ store after school the Monday after Nellie’s fall.
The building stood across the street from the school, so it was not a long walk. But to Laura, it seemed to take forever. She was grateful her father had offered to walk into the store with her, since she wasn’t sure what to say when she got there. She was more familiar with the outside of the large clapboard house, as she passed it every schoolday and on Sundays. Nellie and her brother Willie often stood out on the porch that covered the entire front of the white building, taunting whoever passed by. Nellie would stand there dressed in fancy dresses and her brother would stand there in his knee pants, knee socks, and expensive shirts.
“Good to see you both,” Nels called out from the cash register. “She’s upstairs, Laura.”
Laura stood in the doorway for a moment, looked at her father as if to say “Do I really have to?”
“Go ahead, Laura,” he prompted and she walked over to the stairway that led up to the family quarters above the store. She knew where the stairs led, because she’d been to a birthday party for Nellie a few years ago.
She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, looked back at her father again, and he said, “I’ll be right here if you or Nellie need anything.”
Knowing that her father was going to be there gave her the courage she needed to climb those stairs. She hadn’t expected it to be this difficult.
Once upstairs, she again admired the expensive fabrics that draped the windows at the front of the house, and the upholstered furniture in the hallway leading to Nellie’s room. She knew that Mrs. Oleson decorated her home herself, sending away for almost all of the furniture. Nothing handmade, like Laura was accustomed to in her own home.
She found her way to Nellie’s room. The door was closed, so she knocked.
“Come in,” a small voice called out. It sounded almost like Nellie’s voice, without the shrillness Laura was accustomed to. More like a whisper, she decided as she opened the door and saw Nellie sitting in her bed, surrounded by the dolls from France her mother had given her.
Laura didn’t understand why they had to come from France, but knew Mrs. Oleson was very proud of the fact they did.
“It’s Laura,” she said from the doorway, not sure what to say or do.
“Father said you’d pay me a visit soon,” the girl replied. “Come sit on the bed and we can catch up on school.”
Laura walked to the bed and moved the dolls that surrounded Nellie to the dresser to her left. Nellie looked almost the same, except that she wore a nightgown and didn’t look Laura in the eye.
Before her visitor had opportunity to admire the wallpaper in the room, the girl asked “Did you bring my schoolwork?”
“Not this time. Miss Beadle thought you might need another day or two of rest.”
“All I’ve done is rest. I want to do something else!”
“I don’t want to fall too far behind. When I get my sight back, I want to be ahead of the other students.”
Laura started to cry, reminded that Nellie couldn’t see.
“Don’t cry, Laura. Mother’s going to take care of everything,” the little girl assured her.
Sniffling once more, the visitor decided that she wouldn’t cry.
“Tell me about school. Anyone new?”
“No. We’ve been working on fractions, and there’s a report due for geography by the end of the month.”
“How’s Jason?” Nellie asked. Laura noticed that Nellie got an odd smile on her face when she mentioned his name, as if she knew a secret and wasn’t about o share it. Laura remembered the trouble Nellie had given her when he was new in town because she liked him, too.
A boy with a mind toward inventing things, he’d gravitated toward Laura from the start. It wasn’t until Nellie played the talking machine that he’d noticed her at all. Nellie used the machine that recorded sound first to get Jason’s attention, knowing that he was an aspiring inventor, then used it against Laura at school another day, playing back a conversation the two girls had shared about Laura liking him in front of the whole school.
Even though Jason had written “Jason Loves Laura” on the blackboard the next morning and they’d spent many hours planning what they would invent someday, the anger she’d felt that day returned, knotting her stomach.
Her hands balled up into fists for a moment, before she remembered that she didn’t have to be the same Laura.
Laura shrugged and said, “All right, I guess. I don’t see much of him.”
“I won’t be seeing much of him, either,” Nellie said, sadly. “He won’t want to see a blind girl, will he?”
“Nellie, you look like you could use some more rest,” Laura suggested as she rose to leave the room, then ran out of the house before she completely lost her temper.
“I just thought about him not coming around here anymore, is all,” Nellie called out to her.
Nothing’s ever going to be the same again, Laura thought repeatedly the entire time she ran for home. She found her way into the barn, where she laid her head on her horse’s back and cried out “Oh, Bunny!”
Tears streamed down her freckled face and flowed until there were no more.
Bunny didn’t move as Laura let the tears fall, and the dampness didn’t seem to bother the horse one bit. Laura blinked and knew she would have to face Nellie again, much as she didn’t want to.
Just as she had to face both of her parents again when her father came home from town.
She heard their voices first before she saw them standing in the doorway of the barn. Neither of them wavered as she looked into their eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Laura, I’m not going to spank you for running away,” he started. “You’re big enough to know that won’t solve your problem, and maybe you’ve already figured out that it doesn’t change what happened.”
“I don’t know what else to do!” she wailed.
“We’ll think of something,” he promised. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Your mother and I will help you, if you want us to.”
“I just want to take care of my chores and ride Bunny,” she answered as she put the saddle over the horse’s back.
“Chores and Bunny can wait right now, Half-pint. The way you ran out of the Olesons, I thought Nellie might have said something to upset you.”
“She said she wanted to do something besides resting.”
“Was that why you ran out of the store?”
“No, Pa. She said, she said…” Laura gulped before she could finish her sentence, “that she’s blind!”
“Laura, she is blind. What are you going to do tomorrow when she talks about being blind?”
The pigtailed youngster shrugged, and then the answer flashed in her mind. “Ma, I’ll just take her homework to her and leave it for her.”
“That wasn’t the arrangement, Laura.”
“I don’t want to be a friend to her! I hate her.”
“LAURA! We don’t hate anyone,” declared her father.
Laura looked to her mother then, hoping there would be an easy answer or that the problem would go away without her having to do anything.
Her ma paused, then said, “I think you could talk about what’s going on at school.”
“I did,” Laura responded.
“And that’s when she said something about being blind?”
“Would it help if I go in with you to see Nellie?” Ma asked.
Laura stepped away from Bunny, wiped her eyes and sniffed. Maybe Nellie won’t even bring him up then, she thought.
She smiled at the thought of her mother seeing the Oleson’s beautiful home, and how she would enjoy telling her about all the pretty things they had.
And then she knew the answer.
“Thank you for offering, Ma, but I can do this myself,” she said, running toward her parents and embracing them both.
“What brought that on?” her father asked as he pulled away a moment later.
“I’m so lucky, Pa. I thought I was alone in helping Nellie, but I’m really not.”
“Just be sure you take the books with you tomorrow so you and Nellie can start studying.”
Laura took the school books with her to Nellie’s the next day and nothing more was mentioned about Jason. The only time something came up about Nellie’s situation was when Laura spread out the paper she intended to use for the map they had to turn in at the end of the month.
“Look, Nellie, here’s…” Laura had started as she opened the book the teacher had loaned her for the assignment, to be returned so another child could use it. She gasped as she realized what she had just said.
“I can’t see, Laura,” Nellie reminded her, pounding her fist into her mattress. “How can I draw something I can’t see?”
Laura thought about it for a minute, then offered, “I could draw it for you, this time. Maybe Miss Beadle can give you a different assignment so you can do the same work?”
“It’s hopeless, Laura. I overheard Doc Baker tell my parents that they may have to put me in an institution for blind people,” the sightless girl told her.
“There’s no place like that around here,” Laura pointed out.
“I know. They’d have to send me to Iowa or some other place far away.”
Sent far away? Laura was glad that Nellie couldn’t see for a moment, because she was grinning from ear to ear at the idea of her being far away.
Then she stopped smiling at the idea of being sent far away from home, not knowing anyone and not being able to see anything. That would be worse than not being able to see. She knew then what she needed to do.
“What are you doing?” Nellie asked, her face pointed away from Laura. “Are you still here?”
Laura nodded as she put pen to paper and drew a map very similar to the one in the book.
“Laura? Where are you?” Nellie whined.
“I’m right here, Nellie,” she said. “Let me finish drawing this map and then we can do the next part of the assignment.”
“What else did Miss Beadle give us to do in school?”
“Arithmetic, some spelling, and a few pages of history.”
“How am I going to see to write the answers?”
“You tell me the answers and I’ll write them down.”
Laura was too busy drawing to notice Nellie’s smile as it dawned on her that she wouldn’t have to do any more schoolwork now.
Laura continued to “help” Nellie for weeks, until the night her parents called her downstairs from the loft.
Pa smoked his pipe in front of the fireplace that divided the kitchen from her parents’ and younger sister’s bedrooms on the ground floor as Ma rocked and mended socks.
“Laura, what’s this about you falling asleep in school?” her father asked.
“Miss Beadle says you fell asleep in school two weeks ago, then this morning.”
“I’m all right, Pa,” Laura said, yawning even though it was too early for bedtime.
“And she also says that you are falling behind in your schoolwork.”
“I know,” she agreed.
“You know? What are you going to do about it?” he demanded.
“Charles, she’s a child,” her mother reminded him.
“Caroline, I know she’s a child. She’s our child and I expect her to give me some answers.”
“So does Nellie,” Laura said without thinking. Oops.
“Meaning?” he asked.
“I haven’t been doing my homework because I’ve been writing down her answers for her.” Laura cringed.
“That’s cheating,” he told her.
“She gives me some of the answers,” she explained hastily, yawning again between “some” and “of.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Ma, she told me the first day, well, the second day I went over that her parents might send her away because she’s blind.”
“Where did she get that idea?” he asked.
“She said she overheard them talking with Doc Baker about it. A school in Iowa or someplace far away.”
Ma and Pa exchanged glances, then Pa asked “Do her parents know that she overheard the conversation?”
“I don’t know. It’s scary to think about being blind, some place where you don’t know anyone.”
“I’m proud of you for helping Nellie and having enough compassion to do what you thought was the right thing, but you can’t fall any further behind. Is that understood?”
“Miss Beadle suggested that you stay home tomorrow so you can catch up on some of that work. I’ll tell the Olesons that you won’t be over tomorrow when I go into town.”
“Aren’t you going to punish me?”
Her parents exchanged glances, waited for her to say more.
“You were doing what I told you to do,” Ma said. “I probably would have done the same thing.”
“But if you fall asleep in school or we hear you are doing Nellie’s work again, we will have to punish you. Understood?”
“Now off to bed with you,” Ma scolded. Laura quickly obeyed, relieved that she could get some sleep now.
The next afternoon, she was well on her way to catching up on the missed assignments. It was such a pretty, sunny day out there, as she looked out the window from the kitchen table.
She could take a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine in the barnyard. She’d missed out on a lot of sunshine while helping Nellie. And after all, when winter arrived they’d be practically housebound if a blizzard hit Walnut Grove.
While winter was months away, Laura couldn’t wait another minute, she had to go out in the yard.
And after a few minutes with the sun shining on her face, she started to think about her sister Mary playing with their friends on the playground at school. Laura wanted to be there right this minute, too, jumping rope, whatever they liked now that Nellie wasn’t around to tell them what to play, which was always what she wanted to play.
Laura would have gone to town on her own if her parents and Carrie didn’t arrive at that particular moment.
Her father stopped the team, pulled the wagon’s brake, and asked “Half-pint, did you finish your homework for tomorrow?”
“Good girl,” he complimented her before snapping his fingers. “Forgot to pick up something else in town. Caroline, you and Carrie start supper and Half-pint and I’ll go back to town to pick up the paint for those wheels I’m repairing.”
Laura’s mother and little sister jumped down from the wagon, then walked into the house with several items they’d brought back with them. Why would Pa want to go all the way back to town?
“Bring your homework with you so Miss Beadle can grade it for you,” Pa suggested. She scurried into the house, then ran out with the homework.
He was tying Bunny to the back of the wagon.
She gulped, thinking that they were going to return the horse to the Olesons but knowing better than to protest.
Instead, she said, “Pa, we don’t have to go back to town today.”
“Yes, we do,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“Mr. Oleson and I had a long talk today. I’ll tell you about it on the road.”
She climbed onto the front seat of the wagon next to him, looked back at Bunny, and they were off.
“Mr. Oleson wants to reward you for all you’ve done for Nellie.”
“Even though I fell behind in school?”
“You’re not behind on today’s work, are you?”
“No,” she replied.
He urged the team on at that point and said nothing more.
After Laura turned in the finished assignment and received another one for the following day, she ran toward the Olesons’ place, where Pa’s wagon was stopped.
As she approached the house, she heard one of Nellie’s music boxes playing and someone singing. Curious, she stepped closer to the house and looked inside the window.
Nellie was dancing in front of a mirror in the hallway, admiring her reflection.
Laura backed away from the window, and then looked again. The truth hit her so hard she almost gasped out loud and gave herself away. Nellie could see.
Questions attempted to form themselves in her mind, and then she got angry. She banged on the Olesons’ front door. Nellie scrambled inside, then called out weakly, “It’s open.”
Laura found her seated on the sofa and suggested they go outside.
“I can’t see.”
“I can see for both of us. Just take my shoulder.”
“Why all this interest in going outside? You’re acting strange.”
Laura smiled at her, hoping she would ask why she was smiling. “Just stand up. I’ll help you if you like.”
Nellie stood, put her hand on Laura’s shoulder, and walked behind her. “This is the porch, there’s a step coming,” Laura reminded her.
They stepped off the porch and moved toward the store before Laura noticed Bunny, who was still hitched to her father’s wagon, wearing a big red bow like she was a Christmas gift. Pa and Mr. Oleson stood by the wagon, smiling.
“What’s that horse doing here?” Nellie asked.
“What horse?” Laura responded.
“Mother said it’d been destroyed!” she screamed.
Laura calmly soothed, “Whoa, Bunny,” as the animal attempted to back up, eyes rolled in the same fear Laura remembered from the day of Nellie’s fall.
The other girl continued to shriek, then ran off to the store’s porch. After grabbing a broom sitting there, she wielded it as she dashed toward the horse.
“Oh no you don’t,” Mr. Oleson said as he grabbed the broom from her hands. He stared at her as realization dawned, then threw the broom to the ground and grabbed one of Nellie’s arms. “I want answers from you, young lady.”
“What kind of answers, Father?” she asked, cowering as he approached her.
“Were you blind all along or were you pretending?”
“I couldn’t see after I fell off that nasty beast,” she sneering, pointing at Bunny.
“How long have you been able to see?”
“Just a few days,” she whined as her mother stormed out of the store.
“Nels, what is the meaning of this?”
“Harriet, you’ll be happy to know that your daughter can see again.”
“How…?” Mrs. Oleson began to ask as she reached out to hug Nellie.
“It happened a few days ago, Mother. After Laura finished the last map for me,” she answered with a victorious grin. “I would have told you if Laura had been here today instead of doing her own work. Selfish little girl!”
“Yes, Laura, you were very selfish to not be here today.”
“Harriet, Laura wasn’t the selfish one,” declared Mr. Oleson.
“Nels, siding against your own daughter. Shame on you.”
“No, shame on your daughter. You know why Laura wasn’t here?” ask Laura’s father.
“No,” Mrs. Oleson admitted, trying to shield her face.
“My daughter did Nellie’s work for her all this time so she wouldn’t have to be sent away to school,” Laura’s pa explained. “Hardly a selfish act.”
“Nellie Oleson, you come with me,” her mother scolded. “Embarrassing me like this!”
Nellie struggled to get out of her mother’s grip on her hair, but it was too strong for her. The whole town could hear the scolding all the way to the house.
Once the door closed behind them, Mr. Oleson walked over to Bunny, took the reins and said, “Laura, I want you to keep Bunny.”
Laura’s eyes grew wide and she looked to her father, who smiled mischievously, nodded and said “That’s why I brought you into town this afternoon.”
Mr. Oleson continued. “You’ve always loved this horse. Nellie hasn’t ridden in a long time, and she needs to learn how to take care of an animal before we let her have another one.”
“Nellie may not appreciate all that you did for her, but I do.”
Laura grinned, then took off for home riding her trusted friend.
“That’s quite a little girl you’ve got there,” Mr. Oleson said as Laura’s father climbed into his wagon and prepared to follow her.
“We think so, too.”
“About Nellie. . .”
“No need to say a word, Nels.”
“What a mean trick to play on all of us.”
“Maybe it didn’t start off as a trick?”
“You think she really couldn’t see at first?”
“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
“And I will,” Nellie’s father promised.
Nellie admitted to her parents later that she had started to see a few days earlier but didn’t want to give up all the extra attention she had received or Laura’s help.
Her mother offered her a new dress as a reward, while her father shook his head and said nothing.
Meanwhile, Laura and Bunny made many rides in the days ahead, getting reacquainted with each other.