On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 19)

On The Banks Of Plum Creek

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 19

The Fish-Trap

The more Laura was told about school, the more she did not want to go there. She did not know how she could stay away from the creek all day long. She asked, “Oh, Ma, do I have to?”

Ma said that a great girl almost eight years old should be learning to read instead of running wild on the banks of Plum Creek.

“But I can read, Ma,” Laura begged. “Please don’t make me go to school. I can read. Listen!”

She took the book named Millbank, and opened it, and looking up anxiously at Ma she read, “The doors and windows of Millbank were closed. Crape streamed from the door knob—”

“Oh, Laura,” Ma said, “you are not reading! You are only reciting what you’ve heard me read to Pa so often. Besides, there are other things to learn—spelling and writing and arithmetic. Don’t say any more about it. You will start to school with Mary Monday morning.”

Mary was sitting down to sew. She looked like a good little girl who wanted to go to school.

Just outside the lean-to door Pa was hammering at something. Laura went bounding out so quickly that his hammer nearly hit her.

“Oop!” said Pa. “Nearly hit you that time. I should have expected you, flutterbudget. You’re always on hand like a sore thumb.”

“Oh, what are you doing, Pa?” Laura asked him. He was nailing together some narrow strips of board left from the house-building.

“Making a fish-trap,” said Pa. “Want to help me? You can hand me the nails.”

One by one, Laura handed him the nails, and Pa drove them in. They were making a skeleton box. It was a long, narrow box without a top, and Pa left wide cracks between the strips of wood.

“How will that catch fish?” Laura asked. “If you put it in the creek they will swim in through the cracks but they will swim right out again.”

“You wait and see,” said Pa.

Laura waited till Pa put away the nails and hammer. He put the fish-trap on his shoulder and said, “You can come help me set it.”

Laura took his hand and skipped beside him down the knoll and across the level land to the creek. They went along the low bank, past the plum thicket. The banks were steeper here, the creek was narrower, and its noise was louder. Pa went crashing down through bushes, Laura climbed scrooging down under them, and there was a waterfall.

The water ran swift and smooth to the edge and fell over it with a loud, surprised crash-splashing. From the bottom it rushed up again and whirled around, then it jumped and hurried away.

Laura would never have tired of watching it. But she must help Pa set the fish-trap. They put it exactly under the waterfall. The whole waterfall went into the trap, and boiled up again more surprised than before. It could not jump out of the trap. It foamed out through the cracks.

“Now you see, Laura,” said Pa. “The fish will come over the falls into the trap, and the little ones will go out through the cracks, but the big ones can’t. They can’t climb back up the falls. So they’ll have to stay swimming in the box till I come and take them out.”

At that very minute a big fish came slithering over the falls. Laura squealed and shouted, “Look, Pa! Look!”

Pa’s hands in the water grabbed the fish and lifted him out, flopping. Laura almost fell into the waterfall. They looked at that silvery fat fish and then Pa dropped him into the trap again.

“Oh, Pa, can’t we please stay and catch enough fish for supper!” Laura asked.

“I’ve got to get to work on a sod barn, Laura,” said Pa. “And plow the garden and dig a well and—” Then he looked at Laura an’ said, “Well, little half-pint, maybe it won’t take long.”

He sat on his heels and Laura sat on hers and they waited. The creek poured and splashed always the same and always changing. Glints of sunshine danced on it. Cool air came up from it and warm air lay on Laura’s neck. The bushes held up thousands of little leaves against the sky. They smelled warm and sweet in the sun.

“Oh, Pa,” Laura said, “do I have to go to school?”

“You will like school, Laura,” said Pa.

“I like it better here,” Laura said, mournfully.

“I know, little half-pint,” said Pa, “but it isn’t everybody that gets a chance to learn to read and write and cipher. Your Ma was a school-teacher when we met, and when she came west with me I promised that our girls would have a chance to get book learning. That’s why we stopped here, so close to a town that has a school. You’re almost eight years old now, and Mary going on nine, and it’s time you begun. Be thankful you’ve got the chance, Laura.”

“Yes, Pa,” Laura sighed. Just then another big fish came over the falls. Before Pa could catch it, here came another!

Pa cut and peeled a forked stick. He took four big fish out of the trap and strung them on the stick. Laura and Pa went back to the house, carrying those flopping fish. Ma’s eyes were round when she saw them. Pa cut off their heads and stripped out their insides and showed Laura how to scale fish. He scaled three, and she scaled almost all of one.

Ma rolled them in meal and fried them in fat, and they ate all those good fish for supper.

“You always think of something, Charles,” said Ma. “Just when I’m wondering where our living is to come from, now it’s spring.”

Pa could not hunt in the springtime, for then all the rabbits had little rabbits and the birds had little birds in their nests.

“Wait till I harvest that wheat!” Pa said. “Then we’ll have salt pork every day. Yes, by gravy, and fresh beef!”

Every morning after that, before he went to work, Pa brought fish from the trap. He never took more than they needed to eat. The others he lifted out of the trap and let swim away.

He brought buffalo fish and pickerel, and catfish, and shiners, and bullheads with two black horns. He brought some whose names he did not know. Every day there was fish for breakfast and fish for dinner and fish for supper.

 

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