On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 11)
On The Banks Of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
All that long, quiet afternoon they stayed in the dugout. The cattle did not come back to the hay-stacks. Slowly the sun went down the western sky. Soon it would be time to meet the cattle at the big gray rock, and Laura and Mary wished that Pa and Ma would come home. Again and again they went up the path to look for the wagon. At last they sat waiting with Jack on the grassy top of their house. The lower the sun went, the more attentive Jack’s ears were. Often he and Laura stood up to look at the edge of the sky where the wagon had gone, though they could see it just as well when they were sitting down. Finally Jack turned one ear that way, then the other. Then he looked up at Laura and a waggle went from his neck to his stubby tail. The wagon was coming! They all stood and watched till it came out of the prairie. When Laura saw the oxen, and Ma and Carrie on the wagon seat, she jumped up and down, swinging her sunbonnet and shouting, “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
“They’re coming awful fast,” Mary said. Laura was still. She heard the wagon rattling loudly. Pete and Bright were coming very fast. They were running. They were running away. The wagon came bumpity-banging and bouncing. Laura saw Ma down in a corner of the wagon box, hanging on to it and hugging Carrie. Pa came bounding in long jumps beside Bright, shouting and hitting at Bright with the goad. He was trying to turn Bright back from the creek bank. He could not do it. The big oxen galloped nearer and nearer the steep edge. Bright was pushing Pa off it. They were all going over. The wagon, Ma, and Carrie, were going to fall down the bank, all the way down to the creek.
Pa shouted a terrible shout. He struck Bright’s head with all his might, and Bright swerved. Laura ran screaming. Jack jumped at Bright’s nose. Then the wagon, Ma, and Carrie flashed by. Bright crashed against the stable and suddenly everything was still. Pa ran after the wagon and Laura ran behind him. “Whoa, Bright! Whoa, Pete,” Pa said. He held on to the wagon box and looked at Ma. “We’re all right, Charles,” Ma said. Her face was gray and she was shaking all over. Pete was trying to go on through the doorway into the stable, but he was yoked to Bright and Bright was headed against the stable wall. Pa lifted Ma and Carrie out of the wagon, and Ma said, “Don’t cry, Carrie. See, we’re all right.”
Carrie’s pink dress was torn down the front. She snuffled against Ma’s neck and tried to stop crying as Ma told her. “Oh, Caroline! I thought you were going over the bank,” Pa said. “I thought so, too, for a minute,” Ma answered. “But I might have known you wouldn’t let that happen.” “Pshaw!” said Pa. “It was good old Pete. He wasn’t running away. Bright was, but Pete was only going along. He saw the stable and wanted his supper.” But Laura knew that Ma and Carrie would have fallen down into the creek with the wagon and oxen, if Pa had not run so fast and hit Bright so hard. She crowded against Ma’s hoopskirt and hugged her tight and said, “Oh, Ma! Oh, Ma!” So did Mary. “There, there,” said Ma. “All’s well that ends well. Now, girls, help bring in the packages while Pa puts up the oxen.”
They carried all the little packages into the dugout. They met the cattle at the gray rock and put Spot into the stable, and Laura helped milk her while Mary helped Ma get supper. At supper, they told how the cattle had got into the hay-stacks and how they had driven them away. Pa said they had done exactly the right thing. He said, “We knew we could depend on you to take care of everything. Didn’t we, Caroline?” They had completely forgotten that Pa always brought them presents from town, until after supper he pushed back his bench and looked as if he expected something. Then Laura jumped on his knee, and Mary sat on the other, and Laura bounced and asked, “What did you bring us, Pa? What? What?”
“Guess,” Pa said. They could not guess. But Laura felt something crackle in his jumper pocket and she pounced on it. She pulled out a paper bag, beautifully striped with tiny red and green stripes. And in the bag were two sticks of candy, one for Mary and one for Laura! They were maple-sugar-colored, and they were flat on one side. Mary licked hers. But Laura bit her stick, and the outside of it came off, crumbly. The inside was hard and clear and dark brown. And it had a rich, brown, tangy taste. Pa said it was horehound candy. After the dishes were done, Laura and Mary each took her stick of candy and they sat on Pa’s knees, outside the door in the cool dusk. Ma sat just inside the dugout, humming to Carrie in her arms. The creek was talking to itself under the yellow willows. One by one the great stars swung low and seemed to quiver and flicker in the little wind.
Laura was snug in Pa’s arm. His beard softly tickled her cheek and the delicious candy-taste melted on her tongue. After a while she said, “Pa.” “What, little half-pint?” Pa’s voice asked against her hair. “I think I like wolves better than cattle,” she said. “Cattle are more useful, Laura,” Pa said. She thought about that a while. Then she said, “Anyway, I like wolves better.” She was not contradicting; she was only saying what she thought. “Well, Laura, we’re going to have a good team of horses before long,” Pa said. She knew when that would be. It would be when they had a wheat crop.