Fandom: Little House on the Prairie (TV)
Characters: Harriet Oleson, Nels Oleson, Grace Snider, Caroline Ingalls
Prompt: 028 - Children
Word Count: 819
Summary: Harriet and Nels react to the death of Freddie Ingalls.
Author's Notes: My little table
The flashback dialogue is taken from the episode "The Lord is My Shepard" written by Michael Landon.
Harriet and Nels were having a slow day at the mercantile, and neither was in a very good mood. It was summer and they had sent Nellie and Willie out of the house with some food. They hoped the children would not come back until supper. Harriet was going over the accounting books, grumbling about the folks who owned money. Nels was polishing a brass plate.
They did not speak to each other.
The little bell on the front door rang and Nels and Harriet looked relieved to see a customer—until they saw the look on Grace Snider’s face.
“Mrs. Snider,” said Nels, “what is it?”
“Charles and Caroline have returned from Mankato,” she said simply.
A soft look of concern came over Nels’s face then. “Oh,” he said. “How’s Freddie?”
Grace dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief that had gone unnoticed in her hand until that moment. “He didn’t make it,” she replied softly.
“Oh no,” said Nels. “Poor Charles.”
“Poor Mrs. Ingalls,” Harriet muttered to herself.
Grace recomposed herself and cleared her throat. “I came to pick up some things for the Ingalls,” she said.
“Of course,” said Nels.
The Olesons helped Grace and turned to each other after she left.
“I feel terrible for the Ingalls,” said Nels. “To lose their son like that: he was doing so well at first.”
“Yes, he was” said Harriet remembering how healthy Freddie had looked the day she first saw him.
A part of Nels had always envied how close the Ingalls were. He had told Charles that Charles had everything a man could want, now that he had a son. But Freddie was gone and Nels had Willie. Nels felt terrible for the way he had dismissed his children that morning.
“Harriet we are very lucky, never to experience the pain of losing a child,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I know.”
Harriet Oleson was troubled. She had always spoken her mind, and now those words were coming back to haunt her. She remembered a conversation she had had with Caroline:
Well now, let’s see that’s fiv- no four now isn’t it Mrs. Ingalls?
Four is correct Mrs. Oleson.
I suppose that’s the way it is with country folk. Sort of like being a broodmare.
Harriet had always thought the poor had no business having big families. Why did they insist on having more children when they could hardly afford the ones they had? Sure the Bible said to be fruitful, but surely having just one child could fulfill that decree.
But she had not wanted this. She had not wanted the Ingalls’ son to die, and for once she regretted the words she had said.
No one in Walnut Grove saw much of the Ingalls for a few days. They had decided to have a private funeral, which everyone understood.
One night Harriet said to Nels, “do you think Mrs. Ingalls will be back in the mercantile soon?”
“Dear, I don’t know, why?” he responded.
“Well I want to pay her my condolences of course,” said Harriet.
“That’s good, Harriet” said Nels. But he took a second look at her. He knew his wife too well. “Why do you seem so eager to see her?”
“Uh, no reason,” she replied pretending to yawn.
“Harriet,” he said warningly.
“Oh all right,” she muttered and proceeded to tell Nels about her little conversation with Caroline. “I am sorry for her Nels, I just-“
“You had to say something nasty,” he said. “Why can’t you keep your nasty thoughts to yourself?”
“I-“ she began.
“And you know what? You are not to say a thing to her about that incident. She has forgotten about it. You haven’t because you know what you said was wrong.”
“Harriet, this is not about you. You will not bring up that incident to Mrs. Ingalls.”
The next morning Caroline came in for the first time with the eggs since Freddie’s death.
“Good morning, Mrs. Ingalls,” said Nels.
“Good morning,” Harriet echoed.
“Good morning,” Caroline replied.
For once, Harriet took Caroline’s eggs without contesting buying price, as she counted them Nels said, “Mrs. Ingalls, we are so sorry to hear about Freddie.”
“Yes,” Harriet replied. “I am very sorry.”
“Thank you,” Caroline nodded.
“Will that be cash or account?” Harriet asked.
“Just add it to my account,” said Caroline turning to leave.
“Mrs. Ingalls-“ Harriet began. She glanced at Nels who gave her a harsh look.
“Yes,” said Caroline, trying to hide the edge of caution in her voice.
Harriet turned away from Nels. “I am very sorry.”
Caroline nodded at her. “Thank you,” she said before going out.
Nels gave his wife a long look before turning back to his work.
For a few weeks after that, Harriet was uncharacteristically kind to Caroline. But before long, she would slip back into her unpleasant habits.
Harriet would never learn.