The Buggy Ride
LHOP inspired fan fiction by Cheryl C. Malandrinos
Disclaimer: I do not own the Little House on the Prairie television series, book series, or any of the characters.
The townspeople of Walnut Grove filed out the front door as soon as Reverend Alden dismissed them. The warm weather had made the church uncomfortable and the sermon short.
Laura stood next her pa’s wagon waiting for her parents to finish chatting with Mrs. Foster. She gazed over at the buggies lined up on one side of the church. All summer long, young couples would venture out to the lake or on a long ride through the countryside, sometimes stopping to share a picnic lunch before returning home.
She saw Christie Kennedy join Jimmy Hill in his buggy and even Bart Slater had found a young lady to take for a drive. She spotted Nellie Oleson climbing into a buggy with her new beau, Tom who had just moved into town.
No one had asked Laura, and the one person she wished to go on a buggy ride with couldn’t see her as anything but a child. Nellie turned up her nose as she gave Laura a haughty stare from her seat next to Tom. The self-satisfied grin made Laura’s face hot with anger. Nellie smirked as Tom chirruped to his horses and they took off towards the lake.
Jealous and angry, Laura stomped over to the church steps where Almanzo and Eliza Jane were saying goodbye to Reverend Alden.
“Oh, hello Laura,” said Miss Wilder.
“Hello Miss Wilder. Hi Manly.”
“Howdy Beth. Is there something I can do for ya?”
Suddenly nervous, Laura glanced down at her feet. “I…uh…”
“Are you all right Laura?” Eliza Jane asked.
Laura spied the last young couple heading out of town in their buggy, bringing her confidence back. “Yes, I’m fine,” she answered with determination. “Manly, would you take me on a buggy ride this afternoon?”
Caught off-guard by her question, Almanzo wasn’t sure how to respond. He took his hat off and pushed back his wavy blond hair. He knew Laura had a crush on him and he had done his best not to encourage it, but if he said no, she would be embarrassed and hurt.
“I don’t know Beth, I’ve got a lot to do.”
Eliza Jane looked confused. “What could you possibly have to do on a Sunday?”
Laura sighed. “It’s okay, I understand.” She turned to leave.
Almanzo grabbed her arm. “Beth, it ain’t what ya think, I just…the buggy only sits two and I havta bring Eliza Jane home.”
“I can bring her home if you like,” interjected Reverend Alden.
“Why thank you,” said Miss Wilder. “See, it all worked out. Now you’re free to go if you like, Mannie.”
A renewed hope filled Laura’s eyes as she awaited Almanzo’s answer. He shrugged, no longer having an excuse not to take her.
“Well, I guess if your pa says it’s all right, we can go.”
Laura and Almanzo walked over to Charles’s wagon. Laura could see the trepidation on her pa’s face.
“Afternoon Mr. Ingalls,” said Almanzo. “Mrs. Ingalls. I was wonderin if Laura could accompany me on a buggy ride this afternoon.”
Charles turned to Caroline, then over to Laura. He saw the eagerness on Laura’s face. It scared him; almost as much as Almanzo’s unspoken intentions towards his daughter.
“I don’t know Almanzo…”
“Well, Barnum could use the exercise now that he’s fully recovered and Beth sure does seem to have a way with him.”
“Please Pa,” Laura begged.
“It’s a beautiful day for a buggy ride Charles,” said Caroline. “Besides, it’s for the horse,” she added.
“We’re just goin down to the lake,” Almanzo explained.
Charles glanced over at Caroline one last time and then turned to Laura who was almost bursting to find out if she would be allowed to go.
“Have her back by supper time,” said Charles.
Almanzo shook Charles’s hand. “I will Sir. Ya ready to go Beth?”
Laura looked up at her ma. Caroline’s eyes told her to relax and play it smart.
“I think so Manly,” Laura replied in a calm voice. She took his hand when he offered it and strolled with him towards his buggy, reminding herself not to act like a giddy school girl.
“Did we ever figure out how old he is?” Charles asked his wife.
“No, we didn’t,” Caroline replied with a smirk.
Almanzo led Barnum down the road towards the lake. Laura intentionally didn’t say too much, lest she prattle on like an immature child. Almanzo glanced over at her occasionally wondering why she wasn’t her vibrant, talkative self.
“Somethin wrong Beth?”
“Oh no Manly, everything’s fine. I’m just enjoying the ride.” ‘Enjoying the ride my foot,’ she thought. How can I enjoy the ride when I’m too scared to do the wrong thing and risk ruining it?
Laura caught sight of Nellie and Tom on the other side of the lake. When Nellie spotted Laura she began to hang all over Tom, making in difficult for him to control his horse. Laura rolled her eyes.
“That Nellie Oleson,” she said without thinking.
“What about Nellie Oleson?”
Embarrassed she tried to dismiss the comment. “Oh it’s nothing.”
“Aw c’mon, ya gotta tell me. You’ve been too quiet today. I’m beginnin to think ya don’t enjoy my company.”
“It could never be that,” she gushed. Laura’s face became warm and she put her hand up to hide the scarlet color of her cheeks. “Do you mind if I take the reins for a little while?”
“Be my guest. Barnum likes you better anyway.”
As she grabbed the reins she felt his strong hand tighten over hers. Her pulse quickened. She gazed up at him, and for a second lost herself in his ocean blue eyes.
“Ya got um?” he asked.
Shaken, all she could do was nod. When he released his grip she wished he had held onto her for a few moments longer, but then she spied Nellie staring at her and romance was forgotten. Laura slapped Barnum with the reins and called, “Ha, ha!” The horse sped into a gallop.
Almanzo saw her impish smirk as Beth brought the horse around to the other side of the lake. She edged the buggy in so close to Tom’s that it startled his horse and Tom had to shrug off Nellie to keep them from falling into the lake. Laura pulled away and slowed Barnum down to a trot, the smirk still on her face.
“You’re a little devil,” Almanzo said trying to contain his laughter.
Immediately embarrassed and ashamed, she apologized. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t very ladylike of me.”
“No, but it was very Bethlike.” He smiled at her.
Laura sighed. “Nellie Oleson always seems to get my dander up. She has everything and she flaunts it in my face.”
“She doesn’t have everythin,” said Almanzo glancing over at her. “She don’t know nothin about horses or farmin.”
“She doesn’t have to; she’s never had to work for anything.”
Almanzo grabbed the reins from her and pulled Barnum to a stop. “And she doesn’t have that beautiful reddish-brown hair either. Ya should wear it down more often. It looks real nice.”
Laura’s face felt warm again. “Thanks Manly.” She was sure he would hear her heart pounding.
“Let’s go out a little farther before we head back to your place,” he suggested.
“All right, just make sure we’re not late getting home.”
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want your pa hittin me again,” said Almanzo as he rubbed his chin.
They laughed. The tension now broken, the light conversation continued until he stopped the buggy in front of the Ingalls farm. Manly jumped down and walked around to the other side of the buggy. Laura slid her hand into his. She glanced up at him and smiled.
“I hope ya had a nice time,” he said to her.
“I did. Thank you for taking me.”
Laura walked towards the front door.
Almanzo called to her and she turned to face him again. “Would ya come with me again some time?”
In her most womanliest of voices she replied, “If my pa allows it, I would be happy to join you any time you wish to invite me.”
“Good.” He lowered his head to hide his delight. “Just one thing…”
“Don’t try to be somethin your not.”
Laura smiled with embarrassment. “I’m sorry Manly. I thought I would try to be a bit more cultured than I usually am.”
“Don’t ya know by now that I like ya just the way you are?” He blushed when he realized how forward his words sounded. “I…uh…I should get goin.”
“Me too,” she said pointing her thumb towards the house.
“See ya Beth.”
“See ya Manly,” she replied and gave him one last smile before disappearing inside.
He stared at the closed door for a moment, flustered and confused. How could he say such a thing? Now she probably would think he was interested in more than just friendship.
Storm clouds had rolled in on the journey back to town and a clap of thunder told Almanzo he should head back home. He jumped into the buggy and gazed up at the window to Laura’s bedroom. He sure did enjoy her company. He chirruped to Barnum and headed towards his place.
Inside the house Laura leaned against the front door. She gazed up at the roof, lost in her thoughts of the day. She had ridden in a buggy with Almanzo. He had touched her hand. And had he actually told her that he liked her just the way she was?
“Hi Half-pint. Did you have a nice time?” Charles asked her.
Still staring at the ceiling she answered, “U-huh.”
“Is everything okay?”
She sighed. “Everything is just fine.”
Caroline was trying to hold back her laughter as she watched them. “Are you hungry dear?”
“No Ma. I think I’ll just go up to bed.”
“It’s only supper time,” said Carrie.
“That’s okay,” said Laura as she climbed the ladder up to the loft.
A concerned Charles watched her disappear up into her room. “What do you make of that?” he asked his wife.
“She must have had a good time,” Caroline replied with a smile.
“That’s what I’m worried about.”
In her room, Laura sat on the bed with her Remembrance Book open. She wanted to write everything down while it was still fresh in her mind, as if she would ever forget it. She glanced over at what she had written and her eyes focused on the last line:
I think there’s hope that I’ll be Mrs. Almanzo James Wilder yet.