Little House on the Prairie (Chapter 23)
Little House on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Next morning Pa went whistling to his plowing. He came in at noon black with soot from the burned prairie, but he was pleased. The tall grass didn’t bother him any more.
But there was an uneasiness about the Indians. More and more Indianswere in the creek bottoms. Mary and Laura saw the smoke from their fires byday, and at night they heard the savage voices shouting.
Pa came early from the field. He did the chores early, and shut Pet andPatty, Bunny and the cow and calf, into the stable. They could not stay out in the yard to graze in the cool moonlight.
When shadows began to gather on the prairie and the wind was quiet, the noises from the Indian camps grew louder and wilder. Pa brought Jack into the house. The door was shut and the latch-string pulled in. No one could go outdoors till morning.
Night crept toward the little house, and the darkness was frightening. It yelped with Indian yells, and one night it began to throb with Indian drums. In her sleep Laura heard all the time that savage yipping and the wild, throbbing drums. She heard Jack’s claws clicking, and his low growl. Sometimes Pa sat up in bed, listening.
One evening he took his bullet-mold from the box under the bed. He sat for a long time on the hearth, melting lead and making bullets. He did not stop till he had used the last bit of lead. Laura and Mary lay awake and watched him. He had never made so many bullets at one time before. Mary asked,
“What makes you do that, Pa?”
“Oh, I haven’t anything else to do,” Pa said, and he began to whistle cheerfully. But he had been plowing all day. He was too tired to play the fiddle. He might have gone to bed, instead of sitting up so late, making bullets.
No more Indians came to the house. For days, Mary and Laura had not seen a single Indian. Mary did not like to go out of the house any more. Laura had to play outdoors by herself, and she had a queer feeling about the prairie. It didn’t feel safe. It seemed to be hiding something. Sometimes Laura had a feeling that something was watching her, something was creeping up behind her. She turned around quickly, and nothing was there.
Mr. Scott and Mr. Edwards, with their guns, came and talked to Pa in the field. They talked quite a while, then they went away together. Laura was disappointed because Mr. Edwards did not come to the house.
At dinner Pa said to Ma that some of the settlers were talking about a stockade. Laura didn’t know what a stockade was. Pa had told Mr. Scott and Mr. Edwards that it was a foolish notion. He told Ma, “If we need one, we’d need it before we could get it built. And the last thing we want to do is to act like we’re afraid.”
Mary and Laura looked at each other. They knew it was no use to ask questions. They would only be told again that children must not speak at table until they were spoken to. Or that children should be seen and not heard.
That afternoon Laura asked Ma what a stockade was. Ma said it was something to make little girls ask questions. That meant that grown-ups would not tell you what it was. And Mary looked a look at Laura that said, “I told you so.”
Laura didn’t know why Pa said he must not act as if he were afraid. Pa was never afraid. Laura didn’t want to act as if she were afraid, but she was. She was afraid of the Indians.
Jack never laid back his ears and smiled at Laura any more. Even while she petted him, his ears were lifted, his neck bristled, and his lips twitched back from his teeth. His eyes were angry. Every night he growled more fiercely, and every night the Indian drums beat faster, faster, and the wild yipping rose higher and higher, faster, wilder.
In the middle of the night Laura sat straight up and screamed. Some errible sound had made cold sweat come out all over her.
Ma came to her quickly and said in her gentle way: “Be quiet, Laura. You mustn’t frighten Carrie.”
Laura clung to Ma, and Ma was wearing her dress. The fire was covered with ashes and the house was dark, but Ma had not gone to bed. Moonlight came through the window. The shutter was open, and Pa stood in the dark by the window, looking out. He had his gun.
Out in the night the drums were beating and the Indians were wildly yelling.
Then that terrible sound came again. Laura felt as if she were falling; she couldn’t hold on to anything; there was nothing solid anywhere. It seemed a long time before she could see or think or speak.
She screamed: “What is it? What is it? Oh, Pa, what is it?”
She was shaking all over and she felt sick in her middle. She heard the drums pounding and the wild yipping yells and she felt Ma holding her safe.
Pa said, “It’s the Indian war-cry, Laura.”
Ma made a soft sound, and he said to her, “They might as well know, Caroline.”
He explained to Laura that that was the Indian way of talking about war. The Indians were only talking about it, and dancing around their fires. Mary and Laura must not be afraid, because Pa was there, and Jack was there, and soldiers were at Fort Gibson and Fort Dodge.
“So don’t be afraid, Mary and Laura,” he said again.
Laura gasped and said, “No, Pa.” But she was horribly afraid. Mary couldn’t say anything; she lay shivering under the covers.
Then Carrie began to cry, so Ma carried her to the rocking-chair and gently rocked her. Laura crept out of bed and huddled against Ma’s knee. And Mary, left all alone, crept after her and huddled close, too. Pa stayed by the window, watching.
The drums seemed to beat in Laura’s head. They seemed to beat deep inside her. The wild, fast yipping yells were worse than wolves. Something worse was coming, Laura knew it. Then it came—the Indian war-cry.
A nightmare is not so terrible as that night was. A nightmare is only a dream, and when it is worst you wake up. But this was real and Laura could not wake up. She could not get away from it.
When the war-cry was over, Laura knew it had not got her yet. She was still in the dark house and she was pressed close against Ma. Ma was trembling all over. Jack’s howling ended in a sobbing growl. Carrie began to scream again, and Pa wiped his forehead and said, “Whew!”
“I never heard anything like it,” Pa said. He asked, “How do you suppose they learned to do it?” but nobody answered that.
“They don’t need guns. That yell’s enough to scare anybody to death,” he said. “My mouth’s so dry I couldn’t whistle a tune to save my life. Bring me some water, Laura.”
That made Laura feel better. She carried a dipper full of water to Pa at the window. He took it and smiled at her, and that made her feel very much better.
He drank a little and smiled again and said, “There! now I can whistle!”
He whistled a few notes to show her that he could. Then he listened. And Laura, too, heard far away the soft pitter-pat, pat- pat, pitter-pat pat, of a pony’s galloping. It came nearer.
From one side of the house came the drum-throbbing and the fast, shrill, yapping yells, and from the other side came the lonely sound of the rider’s galloping.
Nearer and nearer it came. Now the hoofs clattered loudly and suddenly they were going by. The galloping went by and grew fainter, down the creek road.
In the moonlight Laura saw the behind of a little black Indian pony, and an Indian on its back. She saw a huddle of blanket and a naked head and a flutter of feathers above it, and moonlight on a gun barrel and then it was all gone. Nothing was there but empty prairie.
Pa said he was durned if he knew what to make of it. He said that was the Osage who had tried to talk French to him.
He asked, “What’s he doing, out at this hour riding hell bent for leather?” Nobody answered because nobody knew.
The drums throbbed and the Indians went on yelling. The terrible war-cry came again and again.
Little by little, after a long time, the yells grew fainter and fewer. At last Carrie cried herself to sleep. Ma sent Mary and Laura back to bed.
Next day they could not go out of the house. Pa stayed close by. There was not one sound from the Indian camps. The whole vast prairie was still.
Only the wind blew over the blackened earth where there was no grass to rustle. The wind blew past the house with a rushing sound like running water. That night the noise in the Indian camps was worse than the night before.
Again the war-cries were more terrible than the most dreadful nightmare. Laura and Mary huddled close against Ma, poor little Baby Carrie cried, Pa watched at the window with his gun. And all night long Jack paced and growled, and screamed when the war-cries came.
The next night, and the next night, and the next night, were worse and worse. Mary and Laura were so tired that they fell asleep while the drums pounded and the Indians yelled. But a war-cry always jerked them wide awake in terror.
And the silent days were even worse than the nights. Pa watched and listened all the time. The plow was in the field where he had left it; Pet and Patty and the colt and the cow and calf stayed in the barn. Mary and Laura could not go out of the house. And Pa never stopped looking at the prairie all around, and turning his head quickly toward the smallest noise. He ate hardly any dinner; he kept getting up and going outdoors to look all around at the prairie.
One day his head nodded down to the table and he slept there. Ma and Mary and Laura were still to let him sleep. He was so tired. But in a minute he woke up with a jump and said, sharply, to Ma, “Don’t let me do that again!”
“Jack was on guard,” Ma said gently.
That night was worst of all. The drums were faster and the yells were louder and fiercer. All up and down the creek war-cries answered war-cries and the bluffs echoed. There was no rest. Laura ached all over and there was a terrible ache in her very middle.
At the window Pa said, “Caroline, they are quarreling among themselves. Maybe they will fight each other.”
“Oh, Charles, if they only will!” Ma said.
All night there was not a minute’s rest. Just before dawn a last war-cry ended and Laura slept against Ma’s knee.
She woke up in bed. Mary was sleeping beside her. The door was open, and by the sunshine on the floor Laura knew it was almost noon. Ma was cooking dinner. Pa sat on the doorstep.
He said to Ma, “There’s another big party, going off to the south.”
Laura went to the door in her nightgown, and she saw a long line of Indians far away. The line came up out of the black prairie and it went farther away southward. The Indians on their ponies were so small in the distance that they looked not much bigger than ants.
Pa said that two big parties of Indians had gone west that morning. Now this one was going south. It meant that the Indians had quarreled among themselves. They were going away from their camps in the creek bottoms.
They would not go all together to their big buffalo hunt.
That night the darkness came quietly. There was no sound except the rushing of the wind.
“Tonight we’ll sleep!” Pa said, and they did. All night long they did not even dream. And in the morning Jack was still sleeping limp and flat on the same spot where he had been sleeping when Laura went to bed.
The next night was still, too, and again they all slept soundly. That morning Pa said he felt as fresh as a daisy, and he was going to do a little scouting along the creek.
He chained Jack to the ring in the house wall, and he took his gun and went out of sight down the creek road.
Laura and Mary and Ma could not do anything but wait until he came back. They stayed in the house and wished he would come. The sunshine had never moved so slowly on the floor as it did that day.
But he did come back. Late in the afternoon he came. And everything was all right. He had gone far up and down the creek and had seen many deserted Indian camps. All the Indians had gone away, except a tribe called the Osages.
In the woods Pa had met an Osage who could talk to him. This Indian told him that all the tribes except the Osages had made up their minds to kill the white people who had come into the Indian country. And they were getting ready to do it when the lone Indian came riding into their big pow- wow.
That Indian had come riding so far and fast because he did not want them to kill the white people. He was an Osage, and they called him a name that meant he was a great soldier.
“Soldat du Chene,” Pa said his name was. “He kept arguing with them day and night,” Pa said, “till all the other Osages agreed with him. Then he stood up and told the other tribes that if they started to massacre us, the Osages would fight them.”
That was what had made so much noise, that last terrible night. The other tribes were howling at the Osages, and the Osages were howling back at them. The other tribes did not dare fight Soldat du Chene and all his Osages, so next day they went away.
“That’s one good Indian!” Pa said. No matter what Mr. Scott said, Pa did not believe that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.