Mary awoke with a start the next morning. She heard Laura stirring next to her, and, surprised she had been able to sleep at all through her excitement, she turned to her sister. “Laura?” she whispered.
“Yes?” her sister answered back.
“How long have you been awake?”
“I don’t know…awhile,” Laura answered. “Do you think we can start getting ready yet?”
”I don’t know,” Mary said honestly. “Ma and Pa aren’t even up yet.”
After that, the girls were silent for a few moments. Then they heard, “Hey, isn’t there supposed to be a party today?”
“Pa!” Laura exclaimed, as her father poked his head up into the girls’ room.
“Good morning!” he said. “As soon as I have myself a cup of coffee, I’ll get to work on that pumpkin carving.”
“Oh, thank you Pa!” Laura shouted. “Come on, Mary, let’s get ready!”
The sisters got ready faster than ever. Overcome by excitement, they barely even noticed the chill in the air. They spent the day watching Pa carve the pumpkin, helping Ma make potato cakes, and finally it was early afternoon. They still had several hours before the party would begin. “Oh, we’ll have to wait forever!” Laura moaned.
Ma smiled. “Laura, it won’t be forever. If you and Mary settle down here with me for a moment, I’ll help you chose some games to play.” So while Ma helped the girls, Pa went outside to chop some wood for making a fire. When he came back, they ate supper. It was starting to get later. Laura and Mary were so excited about the party they could hardly eat their food. Finally, it was sundown.
“People should start coming soon,” Mary said anxiously. “You do think they’ll come, don’t you, Ma?”
”Of course they’ll come,” Ma answered earnestly. “I’m sure they are all as excited as you are.”
At that, there was a knock at the door.
“Ah!” Laura screamed. “Someone’s here, someone’s here!”
Ma and Pa exchanged a glance and laughed. They didn’t even correct Laura for yelling inside; they just watched her and Mary run to the door together. The party had begun!
Maureen, Christine and Sarah were the first to arrive and Mary quickly invited them in. “Hi, Mr. & Mrs. Ingalls,” the girls said in unison.
“Hello, girls,” Caroline said in her gentle manner.
Soon after, Christy, Cassie and Nellie showed up together. They quickly said hi to Caroline and Charles. Nellie even curtsied to them, which they found very strange coming from Nellie. Charles could not help but chuckle. Caroline shot him a look, as she did not want him to burst out laughing, even though deep down, she wanted to laugh too.
“Glad all of you girls could make it,” Charles said.
“We are too!” They all exclaimed.
They all had a good time eating potato cakes. “They are very good, Mrs. Ingalls!” Maureen said as she ate them slowly to savor the taste.
“Thank you, Maureen,” Caroline said as she placed a hand on her shoulder. “Eat up girls, theirs plenty!”
“Yes, Ma’am!” The other girls said with delight.
“Hey, let’s all go outside,” Nellie suggested.
“Yeah, come on,” Laura agreed. “Come on, Jack! You wanna play too?” Jack quickly ran out the door. Wagging his tail happily.
They all decided toss a ball around. While the girls were busy playing, Willie was standing behind the barn, waiting for just the right time to get Jack. One of the girls must have thrown the ball really hard, because it went all the way to where Willie was standing. Willie quickly rolled the ball away from where he was. He then pulled out a piece of Jerky, to keep Jack by his side. When he noticed that the girls were busy once again, he took off, with Jack in tow. Nellie noticed he was leaving with the dog, and smirked to herself.
“Gee I wonder where the ball is.” Nellie asked in a sneaky tone, pretending to be looking around for the lost ball.
Laura went running towards the barn. “Here it is!” She exclaimed. “But where is Jack?”. she asked out loud. “Jack! Jack!” Laura called out. “Where are you, Jack?”
“Maybe he went to go use the bathroom or something,” Christine said, trying to calm Laura.
“He was chasing the ball,” Laura protested. “He was just right here.”
“Jack will come back soon, Laura,” Mary said gently.
“You’re right, Mary,” Laura agreed.
But a lot of time had passed, and still no Jack.
Laura looked towards her house. She should have been having fun with her friends, but she couldn’t keep her mind off where her dog could be. Jack never went far away from the house, or stayed away, for this long.
“Mary?” Laura whispered, almost timidly.
“What?” Mary caught the ball that Nellie threw to her. If Laura had been paying more attention, she would have realized that Nellie surprisingly seemed to be having the time of her life.
“Jack isn’t back yet.”
“He’ll be back soon, don’t worry!” Mary threw the ball to her friend Christine.
“He’s never gone for this long, Mary,” Laura said, gulping. Suddenly she felt like crying. She knew Jack wasn’t anywhere nearby – she could just sense that he wasn’t there. “We have to look for him.”
When Mary heard the urgency in her sister’s voice, she turned to face her. “You’re right, Laura. He has been gone a long while. Everybody, we have to find Jack! Spread out and look around the farm!”
While the girls all did as Mary said, Laura ran to the house. “Ma!” she called. “Pa!”
“What is it, Laura?” Ma asked, alarmed.
Pa joined her. “What’s the matter, half pint?”
“Jack’s gone!” Laura exclaimed. “We can’t find him anywhere and he’s been gone since we went outside!”
“Now, don’t worry,” Pa said. “I’m sure Old Jack’s just hiding somewhere – maybe he fell asleep in the barn again. You know he loves the hay. Have you looked?”
“No,” Laura said. “I’ll go look right now!” She darted back outside.
Caroline went to the window and watched her go. “It is getting late, Charles. Maybe we best send the girls on home before it gets too dark.”
“You’re right,” her husband answered her. “Then we can help Laura find the dog.” Pa grabbed his hat and opened the door, just as Mary reached it.
“Pa, we can’t find Jack anywhere,” she told him.
“Did you sister check the barn?”
“Yes.” Mary gasped, out of breath. “He’s no where to found.”
Nellie, who had been standing in the center of the Ingalls’ yard while the other girls searched, suddenly spoke up. “Maybe he ran away.”
Nellie’s words pierced Laura’s heart like a sharp knife. “He did not run away, Nellie!” Laura shouted with anger in her voice.
“How do you know?” Nellie seethed, her hands on her hips.
“Because I know Nellie Oleson!”
“Maybe he does not like you anymore,” Nellie said, teasing Laura further. She was trying to get Laura to cry.
“That’s enough, Nellie!” Mary said.
“Who says it’s enough?” Nellie agitated further.
“I do!” Charles Ingalls said, agreeing with his oldest daughter.
“Girls, I think its best you all go home now,” Caroline said politely. “We will try and have you all over here again really soon.”
“Yes, Mrs. Ingalls. Thank you for having us.” The girls said in unison. They all slowly dispersed, and started to walk back towards town, all except Nellie Oleson. She just kind of lingered around, like a pesky gnat that would not leave you alone.
“Jack wouldn’t run away, would he, Pa?” Laura asked, as she began to cry. She needed her Pa’s reassurance.
“No, no he wouldn’t, half pint,” her Pa said, as he hugged his daughter. “He is our faithful friend. He would never leave us like that.”
Caroline looked at Charles as if to say, I hope you are right. It hurt Caroline to see Laura so upset.
Nellie was looking from the side of the barn, giggling that Laura was all upset over Jack.
“Boy, what a dummy!” Nellie seethed out loud. “Little does she know that Willie has him at the mercantile.”
Caroline noticed Nellie hanging out near the barn. “Charles, what’s Nellie still doing here?”
“What? She’s still here? Where?”
“Over there by the barn. She’s acting very suspicious.”
“I thought she always acted like that, Caroline,” Charles said with a laugh.
“I’m serious, Charles.”
“I know you are,” he said as he put his arm around her.
“Nellie!” Charles called to her.
“Yes, Mr. Ingalls?” Nellie answered in a sweet voice.
“Do you need a ride back into town?”
“Oh, no, sir,” Nellie replied quickly. “I just want to make sure Jack is okay.”
“Have you seen Jack?” Charles asked her a bit sharply.
“No. I think he ran away,” Nellie said quickly.
“Jack wouldn’t run away,” Charles told her. “But anyway, we do need to find him. So you best get on home, I’ll give you a ride.”
“No, no! That’s okay, I can walk!” Nellie said frantically. She was worried that Mr. Ingalls would see Willie at her house with Jack. She hoped Willie had hidden him well from their parents.
“Nonsense, come on,” Charles said forcefully, climbing into the wagon seat. He had a feeling that Nellie was up to something; Caroline was right.
Reluctantly, Nellie climbed up. She didn’t know what else to do.
“Can we come too Pa?” Mary asked. “Maybe we’ll see Jack along the way.”
“Yes, girls, come along,” Charles answered. “We won’t be long,” he told Caroline.
Nellie worried the whole way into town. This wasn’t part of her plan. She had wanted to have Willie take Jack, then linger at the Ingalls’ just long enough to see Laura and Mary realize Jack was missing, then convince them he’d run away because he didn’t love them anymore. Then she planned to go home, alone.
When they got to her house, she quickly climbed down from the wagon seat. “Thank you, Mr. Ingalls. Give my best to Mrs. Ingalls.” As she scurried away towards the house, Charles cast a suspicious glance towards the storeroom. It was getting dark out and he could see a light from underneath the door. His suspicions grew when, at the last moment before entering the store, Nellie ran towards the storeroom as well.
“I’ll be right back,” he told Laura and Mary.
He walked to the Olesons’ front door and knocked. Nels answered.
“Hi, Charles,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought Nellie home from the girls’ party,” he said. “I just need a favor.”
“Sure,” Nels replied. “What is it?”
“Jack’s missing. I was wondering if I could borrow a lantern to search for him.”
”Certainly. Come on in, I have some extras in the storeroom.”
Charles followed Nels through the living room into the store. He tipped his hat to Harriet, who was adding up the days’ receipts behind the counter.
Nels reached for the storeroom door. He could hear whispering behind it. “What in the world – “ he began, pulling the door open. Before he could even look inside, the whispering turned to shouting as Jack flew out past him.
“Jack, no!” Willie called.
“Willie! Nellie, what are you doing?” Nels exclaimed, as his wife started shouting in the storeroom. “Ahh! Nels, get this fury animal out of here! Ahh!”
“I’ll get him,” Charles said, casting the children a stern look.
“What’s your dog doing here, Charles Ingalls?” Harriet yelled at him.
“Ask your children,” Charles replied, leading the dog outside.
“Charles!” Nels called. “I’m sorry about this!”
“Not your fault, Nels,” Charles said. As he descended the steps, he mumbled, “I wouldn’t expect anything less from your children.”
“Jack! Jack!” Laura and Mary called, jumping out of the wagon.
“Oh, Jack!” Laura exclaimed, hugging him. “Did Nellie Oleson hurt you?”
“I knew she had something to do with it,” Mary said, as Charles answered, “I knew Nellie had something to do with it.”
As the girls continued hugging Jack, Charles said, “Let’s take Jack home, girls.” As they got back into the wagon with Jack happily wagging his tail, he said, “You know, there was one good part to all this.”
“Pa, what could be good about Nellie and Willie taking Jack?” Mary asked curiously.
“Watching Mrs. Oleson while Jack ran around the store,” he answered with a laugh. The girls joined him. “Welcome back, Jack!” Laura said happily. She would never let Jack out of her site again. Nor would she ever trust that nasty Nellie Oleson!
"It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong."