On The Banks Of Plum Creek (Chapter 32)
On The Banks Of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
After Christmas there were a few snowy Sundays but Pa made a bobsled of split willows and they all went to Sunday school, snug in the new coat and the furs, the shawl and muffler.
One morning Pa said the chinook was blowing. The chinook was a warm wind from the north-west. In a day it melted the snow away, and Plum Creek was running full. Then came rains, pouring day and night. Plum Creek roared humping down its middle and swirled far beyond its low banks.
Then the air was mild, and the creek was tame again. Suddenly the plums and the willows blossomed and their new leaves uncurled. The prairies were green with grass, and Mary and Laura and Carrie ran barefooted over the fresh softness.
Every day was warmer than the day before, till hot summer came. It was time for Laura and Mary to go to school, but they did not go that year, because Pa must go away again and Ma wanted them at home with her. The summer was very hot. Dry, hot winds blew and there was no rain.
One day when Pa came in to dinner he said, “The grasshoppers are hatching. This hot sun is bringing them out of the eggs and up through the ground like corn popping.”
Laura ran out to see. The grass on the knoll was hopping full of tiny green things. Laura caught one in her hands and looked at it. Its wee, small wings and its tiny legs and its little head and even its eyes were the color of the grass. It was so very tiny and so perfect. Laura could hardly believe it would ever be a big, brown, ugly grasshopper.
“They’ll be big, fast enough,” said Pa. “Eating every growing thing.”
Day by day more and more grasshoppers hatched out of the ground. Green grasshoppers of all sizes were swarming everywhere and eating. The wind could not blow loud enough to hide the sound of their jaws, nipping, gnawing, chewing.
They ate all the green garden rows. They ate the green potato tops. They ate the grass, and the willow leaves, and the green plum thickets and the small green plums. They ate the whole prairie bare and brown. And they grew.
They grew large and brown and ugly. Their big eyes bulged and their horny legs took them hopping everywhere. Thick over all the ground they were hopping, and Laura and Mary stayed in the house.
There was no rain, and the days went by hotter and hotter, uglier and uglier and filled with the sound of grasshoppers until it seemed more than could be borne.
“Oh, Charles,” Ma said one morning, “seems to me I just can’t bear one more day of this.”
Ma was sick. Her face was white and thin, and she sat down tired as she spoke.
Pa did not answer. For days he had been going out and coming in with a still, tight face. He did not sing or whistle any more. It was worst of all when he did not answer Ma. He walked to the door and stood looking out.
Even Carrie was still. They could feel the heat of the day beginning, and hear the grasshoppers. But the grasshoppers were making a new sound. Laura ran to look out at them, excited, and Pa was excited, too.
“Caroline!” he said. “Here’s a strange thing. Come look!”
All across the dooryard the grasshoppers were walking shoulder to shoulder and end to end, so crowded that the ground seemed to be moving. Not a single one hopped. Not one turned its head. As fast as they could go, they were all walking west.
Ma stood beside Pa, looking. Mary asked, “Oh, Pa, what does it mean?” and Pa said, “I don’t know.”
He shaded his eyes and looked far to west and east. “It’s the same, as far as the eye can see. The whole ground is crawling, crawling west.”
Ma whispered, “Oh, if they would all go away!”
They all stood looking at that strange sight. Only Carrie climbed onto her high chair and beat the table with her spoon.
“In a minute, Carrie,” Ma said. She kept on watching the grasshoppers walking by. There was no space between them and no end to them.
“I want my breakfast!” Carrie shouted. No one else moved. Finally Carrie shouted, almost crying, “Ma! Ma!”
“There, you shall have your breakfast,” Ma said, turning around. Then she cried out, “My goodness!”
Grasshoppers were walking over Carrie. They came pouring in the eastern window, side by side and end to end, across the window sill and down the wall and over the floor. They went up the legs of the table and the benches and Carrie’s high stool. Under the table and benches, and over the table and benches and Carrie, they were walking west.
“Shut the window!” said Ma.
Laura ran on the grasshoppers to shut it. Pa went outdoors and around the house. He came in and said, “Better shut the upstairs windows. Grasshoppers are as thick walking up the east side of the house as they are on the ground, and they are not going around the attic window. They are going right in.”
All up the wall and across the roof went the sound of their raspy claws crawling. The house seemed full of them. Ma and Laura swept them up and threw them out the western window. None came in from the west, though the whole western side of the house was covered with grasshoppers that had walked over the roof and were walking down to the ground and going on west with the others.
That whole day long the grasshoppers walked west. All the next day they went on walking west. And all the third day they walked without stopping.
No grasshopper turned out of its way for anything.
They walked steadily over the house. They walked over the stable. They walked over Spot until Pa shut her in the stable. They walked into Plum Creek and drowned, and those behind kept on walking in and drowning until dead grasshoppers choked the creek and filled the water and live grasshoppers walked across on them.
All day the sun beat hot on the house. All day it was full of the crawling sound that went up the wall and over the roof and down. All day grasshoppers’ heads with bulging eyes, and grasshoppers’ legs clutching, were thick along the bottom edge of the shut windows; all day they tried to walk up the sleek glass and fell back, while thousands more pushed up and tried and fell.
Ma was pale and tight. Pa did not talk and his eyes could not twinkle. Laura could not shake the crawling sound out of her ears nor brush it off her skin.
The fourth day came and the grasshoppers went on walking. The sun shone hotter than ever, with a terribly bright light.
It was nearly noon when Pa came from the stable shouting: “Caroline! Caroline! Look outdoors! The grasshoppers are flying!”
Laura and Mary ran to the door. Everywhere grasshoppers were spreading their wings and rising from the ground. More and more of them filled the air, flying higher and higher, till the sunshine dimmed and darkened and went out as it had done when the grasshoppers came.
Laura ran outdoors. She looked straight up at the sun through a cloud that seemed almost like snowflakes. It was a dark cloud, gleaming, glittering, shimmering bright and whiter as she looked high and farther into it. And it was rising instead of falling.
The cloud passed over the sun and went on far to the west until it could be seen no longer.
There was not a grasshopper left in the air or on the ground, except here and there a crippled one that could not fly but still hobbled westward.
The stillness was like the stillness after a storm.
Ma went into the house and threw herself down in the rocking-chair. “My Lord!” she said. “My Lord!” The words were praying, but they sounded like, “Thank you!”
Laura and Mary sat on the doorstep. They could sit on the doorstep now; there were no grasshoppers.
“How still it is!” Mary said.
Pa leaned in the doorway and said, earnestly, “I would like some one to tell me how they all knew at once that it was time to go, and how they knew which way was west and their ancestral home.”
But no one could tell him.