On The Banks Of Plum (Chapter 8)
On The Banks Of Plum
Laura Ingalls Wilder
When Mr. Nelson’s harvesting was done, Pa had paid for Spot. He could do his own harvesting now. He sharpened the long, dangerous scythe that little girls must never touch, and he cut down the wheat in the small field beyond the stable. He bound it in bundles and stacked them.
Then every morning he went to work on the level land across the creek. He cut the prairie grass and left it to dry in the sunshine. He raked it into piles with a wooden rake. He yoked Pete and Bright to the wagon, and he hauled the hay and made six big stacks of it over there. At night he was always too tired, now, to play the fiddle. But he was glad because when the hay was stacked he could plow that stubble land, and that would be the wheat-field.
One morning at daylight three strange men came with a threshing-machine. They threshed Pa’s stack of wheat. Laura heard the harsh machinery noises while she drove Spot through the dewy grass, and when the sun rose chaff flew golden in the wind. The threshing was done and the men went away with the machine before breakfast.
Pa said he wished Hanson had sown more wheat. “But there’s enough to make us some flour,” he said. “And the straw, with what hay I’ve cut, will feed the stock through the winter. Next year,” he said, “we’ll have a crop of wheat that will amount to something!” When Laura and Mary went up on the prairie to play, that morning, the first thing they saw was a beautiful golden straw-stack. It was tall and shining bright in the sunshine.
It smelled sweeter than hay. Laura’s feet slid in the sliding, slippery straw, but she could climb faster than straw slid. In a minute she was high on top of that stack. She looked across the willow-tops and away beyond the creek at the far land. She could see the whole, great, round prairie. She was high up in the sky, almost as high as birds. Her arms waved and her feet bounced on the springy straw.
She was almost flying, ’way high up in the windy sky. “I’m flying! I’m flying!” she called down to Mary. Mary climbed up to her. “Jump! Jump!” Laura said. They held hands and jumped, round and round, higher and higher. The wind blew and their skirts flapped and their sunbonnets swung at the ends of the sunbonnet strings around their necks. “Higher! Higher!” Laura sang, jumping. Suddenly the straw slid under her. Over the edge of the stack she went, sitting in straw, sliding faster and faster. Bump! She landed at the bottom. Plump!
Mary landed on her. They rolled and laughed in the crackling straw. Then they climbed the stack, and slid down it again. They had never had so much fun. They climbed up and slid, climbed and slid, until there was hardly any stack left in the middle of loose heaps of straw. Then they were sober. Pa had made that straw-stack and now it was not at all as he had left it.
Laura looked at Mary and Mary looked at her, and they looked at what was left of that straw-stack. Then Mary said she was going into the dugout, and Laura went quietly with her. They were very good, helping Ma and playing nicely with Carrie, until Pa came to dinner.
When he came in he looked straight at Laura, and Laura looked at the floor. “You girls mustn’t slide down the straw-stack any more,” Pa said. “I had to stop and pitch up all that loose straw.” “We won’t, Pa,” Laura said, earnestly, and Mary said, “No, Pa, we won’t.” After dinner Mary washed the dishes and Laura dried them. Then they put on their sunbonnets and went up the path to the prairie.
The straw-stack was golden-bright in the sunshine. “Laura! What are you doing!” said Mary. “I’m not doing anything!” said Laura. “I’m not even hardly touching it!” “You come right away from there, or I’ll tell Ma!” said Mary. “Pa didn’t say I couldn’t smell it,” said Laura. She stood close to the golden stack and sniffed long, deep sniffs.
The straw was warmed by the sun. It smelled better than wheat kernels taste when you chew them. Laura burrowed her face in it, shutting her eyes and smelling deeper and deeper. “Mmm!” she said. Mary came and smelled it and said, “Mmm!” Laura looked up the glistening, prickly, golden stack. She had never seen the sky so blue as it was above that gold.
She could not stay on the ground. She had to be high up in that blue sky. “Laura!” Mary cried. “Pa said we mustn’t!” Laura was climbing. “He did not, either!” she contradicted. “He did not say we must not climb up it. He said we must not slide down it. I’m only climbing.” “You come right straight down from there,” said Mary. Laura was on top of the stack.
She looked down at Mary and said, like a very good little girl, “I am not going to slide down. Pa said not to.” Nothing but the blue sky was higher than she was. The wind was blowing. The green prairie was wide and far. Laura spread her arms and jumped, and the straw bounded her high. “I’m flying! I’m flying!” she sang. Mary climbed up, and Mary began to fly, too.
They bounced until they could bounce no higher. Then they flopped flat on the sweet warm straw. Bulges of straw rose up on both sides of Laura. She rolled onto a bulge and it sank, but another rose up. She rolled onto that bulge, and then she was rolling faster and faster; she could not stop. “Laura!” Mary screamed. “Pa said—” But Laura was rolling. Over, over, over, right down that straw-stack she rolled and thumped in straw on the ground.
She jumped up and climbed that straw-stack again as fast as she could. She flopped and began to roll again. “Come on, Mary!” she shouted. “Pa didn’t say we can’t roll!” Mary stayed on top of the stack and argued. “I know Pa didn’t say we can’t roll, but—” “Well, then!” Laura rolled down again. “Come on!” she called up. “It’s lots of fun!” “Well, but I—” said Mary. Then she came rolling down. It was great fun. It was more fun than sliding. They climbed and rolled and climbed and rolled, laughing harder all the time. More and more straw rolled down with them. They waded in it and rolled each other in it and climbed and rolled down again, till there was hardly anything left to climb.
Then they brushed every bit of straw off their dresses, they picked every bit out of their hair, and they went quietly into the dugout. When Pa came from the hay-field that night, Mary was busily setting the table for supper. Laura was behind the door, busy with the box of paper dolls.
“Laura,” Pa said, dreadfully, “come here.” Slowly Laura went out from behind the door. “Come here,” said Pa, “right over here by Mary.” He sat down and he stood them before him, side by side. But it was Laura he looked at. He said, sternly, “You girls have been sliding down the straw-stack again.” “No, Pa,” said Laura. “Mary!” said Pa. “Did you slide down the straw-stack?” “N-no, Pa,” Mary said. “Laura!” Pa’s voice was terrible. “Tell me again, DID YOU SLIDE DOWN THE STRAW-STACK?” “No, Pa,” Laura answered again. She looked straight into Pa’s shocked eyes. She did not know why he looked like that. “Laura!” Pa said. “We did not slide, Pa,” Laura explained. “But we did roll down it.”
Pa got up quickly and went to the door and stood looking out. His back quivered. Laura and Mary did not know what to think. When Pa turned around, his face was stern but his eyes were twinkling. “All right, Laura,” he said. “But now I want you girls to stay away from that straw-stack. Pete and Bright and Spot will have nothing but hay and straw to eat this winter.
They need every bite of it. You don’t want them to be hungry, do you?” “Oh no, Pa!” they said. “Well, if that straw’s to be fit to feed them, it MUST—STAY—STACKED. Do you understand?” “Yes, Pa,” said Laura and Mary. That was the end of their playing on the straw-stack.