Although this isn’t Fiction Friday, I’m sharing a “Little House On The Prairie”
fic I wrote several years ago, wherein a newcomer to Walnut Grove becomes the target of scuttlebutt, “courtesy” of Harriet Oleson.
Characters not invented by me are the property of Ed Friendly Productions and NBC Productions.
Sometimes The Truth Can Be A Vicious Lie
“The nerve of some people,” Harriet Oleson sniffed indignantly, stalking into the Mercantile. “The unmitigated nerve of some people!”
“Who, or what are you talking about?” Nels asked.
“That new woman,” Harriet answered. “She has actually opened her own store. She calls it Emerson’s Emporium. Honestly! Of all the pretentious names!”
“Now, Harriet, there is no law against somebody else opening a store.”
“But what if our mercantile starts to lose business to this, ugh, Emerson’s Emporium?” Harriet demanded.
“You know,” Nels said reasonably, “a little healthy competition could turn out to be good for Walnut Grove,and for us. And,” he went on, “Mrs. Emerson has every right to have a store of her own.”
“If she really is Mrs.Emerson.”
“What do you mean by that, Harriet?”
“Well,” Harriet said, “she claims to be a widow, but can she prove it?”
Nels knew by experience that there was no use, absolutely none, in arguing the point.
“I’m going for a walk,” Nels said.
“We’re not finished discussing this,” said Harriet.
I’m finished discussing it, Harriet.”
Harriet wisely… or should I say “craftily?”… dropped the subject. She could wait. She was sure that, in time, she would find some way to discredit her competitor, and perhaps, even get her to leave Walnut Grove.
A few days later, Nellie came home from school, walked into the Mercantile, and helped herself to a stick of peppermint.
Nels was not in the store.
“Mother,” Nellie said, sucking her candy, “I have something to tell you. Something about that Mrs. Emerson, and believe me, you’ll want to hear this.”
“Yes. Today during recess, Edith Emerson… Mrs. Emerson’s own daughter… told me that her mother just loves rye.”
“What?!” Harriet gasped.
“Mrs. Emerson just loves rye,” Nellie reiterated. She went on to repeat exactly what Edith had said.
“Well,” Harriet said, “we need not mention that part. And let’s not say anything about this to your father.”
“Of course not,” Nellie agreed, smirking.
Yes, Edith Emerson had said that her mother loved rye. Nellie had heard her, and so had Mary and Laura Ingalls. But Miss Beadle had sent Mary, Laura and Carrie home early with what turned out to be chicken pox.
Harriet Oleson, of course, lost no time in sharing what Nellie had told her, or rather part of what Nellie had told her, with anyone who would listen to her. And, unfortunately, quite a few people did. So many of us have a taste for gossip, as long as it isn’t about ourselves.
However, to their credit, most parents did not forbid their children to play with Edith. On the contrary, they said things like, “You must be very, very kind to Edith Emerson. Poor child, having mother like that!”
Their kindness, their compassion, however, did not extend to Mrs. Emerson.
“Good morning, Mrs. Jones. That’s a lovely hat,” Mrs. Emerson greeted a neighbor.
“Hmmmph!” sniffed Mrs. Jones, walking by with her nose in the air.
Several minutes later, Mrs. Emerson saw a lady who, several days ago, had come in to Emerson’s Emporium for some narrow pink ribbon.
“I don’t have any right now,” Mrs. Emerson had had to say, “but I’ll be glad to order some.”
Now she said, “I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve got that ribbon you wanted.”
“I’ve changed my mind,” the lady said.
“You don’t want the ribbon?”
“I don’t want to buy anything from you,” the woman snapped. “I’ll do my shopping at Oleson’s Mercantile. And please do not speak to me.”
“Why are you so hostile towards me all of a sudden?” a hurt, puzzled Mrs. Emerson asked.
“I do not owe a woman like you any explanation. I just feel sorry for that poor daughter of yours.”
At first, Mrs. Emerson thought that these were just two isolated incidents. She soon found out that she was mistaken.
She had, for no reason that she could figure out, become the town pariah.
Nobody invited her into their homes for a meal, or just for a little chat.
And, to Mrs. Emerson’s great dismay, (and Harriet Oleson’s even greater satisfaction), Emerson’s Emporium soon had no customers. None. Those who had shopped there when the Emporium first opened now returned, apologetically, to Oleson’s Mercantile.
Several days went by. The Ingalls girls recovered from their chicken pox.
Harriet Oleson saw Caroline Ingalls, who had been the first customer Mrs. Emerson had had since the rumor about her had started, walk out of Emerson’s Emporium with a package.
“Really, Mrs. Ingalls!”
“Now, Mrs. Oleson,” Caroline said soothingly, “a little competition won’t hurt your Mercantile, now will it?”
“I’m not concerned about the competition,” Harriet said. “I’m concerned about what people will say about you if they find out that you went into that store.”
“Mrs. Oleson, I have the right to shop wherever I choose, and nobody has the right to say anything about it.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Harriet said, “you don’t know. You’ve been busy with your girls while they’ve been ill. How are they?” Harriet pretended to be concerned.
“They’re fine now, thank you. They will be going back to school tomorrow. Now what is it that I don’t know?”
“You don’t know that Mrs. Emerson is just loves rye.”
“Really?” Caroline asked skeptically.
“Really. Her own daughter told this to my Nellie the other day.”
On her way home, Caroline Ingalls met several other women. Each one greeted her with inquiries about her daughters’ health,and then went on to tell her that she should avoid Mrs. Emerson, because that woman drank.
Mrs. Emerson didn’t seem like the type of woman who drank. Caroline resolved to find out the truth. But how?
“Caroline,” Charles Ingalls said that evening at supper, “I heard a rumor in town today, and I don’t know what to make of it.”
“Was the rumor about Mrs. Emerson?”
“Oh, you heard it, too?”
“Yes,” Caroline said. “According to Harriet Oleson, Mrs. Emerson’s own daughter told Nellie that her mother just loves rye.”
Laura looked at Mary. Mary nodded at Laura.
“Mrs. Emerson doesn’t drink,” Laura said. “That day we came down with the chicken pox, Mary and Nellie and Edith and I were talking about what kind of bread we like best, and Edith said that corn bread was her favorite, but that her mother just loves rye.”
“So that explains it,” Caroline said.
Mary and Laura nodded their heads.
“I’m glad we’ve gotten that cleared up,” Charles said. “Now your Ma and I can save poor Mrs. Emerson’s reputation before things go any further.”
“I wonder,” Caroline said, “if Harriet knew that it was bread, and not whisky, that Edith was talking about.”
“Of course she knew,” Mary said. “Nellie tells her everything she hears.”
Laura looked thoughtful.
“What are you thinking, Half Pint?”
“Well, Pa,” Laura said, “when Mrs. Oleson told people that Mrs. Emerson just loves rye, it was the truth, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, in a way, it was,” Charles said reluctantly.
“Then why doesn’t it feel like the truth?” Laura asked.
“Because,” Charles answered, “sometimes the truth can be a vicious lie.”