The Long Winter (Chapter 30)
The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder
It Can’t Beat Us
Winter had lasted so long that it seemed it would never end. It seemed that they would never really wake up.
In the morning Laura got out of bed into the cold. She dressed downstairs by the fire that Pa had kindled before he went to the stable. They ate their coarse brown bread. Then all day long she and Ma and Mary ground wheat and twisted hay as fast as they could. The fire must not go out; it was very cold. They ate some coarse brown bread. Then Laura crawled into the cold bed and shivered until she grew warm enough to sleep.
Next morning she got out of bed into the cold. She dressed in the chilly kitchen by the fire. She ate her coarse brown bread. She took her turns at grinding wheat and twisting hay. But she did not ever feel awake. She felt beaten by the cold and the storms.
She knew she was dull and stupid but she could not wake up.
There were no more lessons. There was nothing in the world but cold and dark and work and coarse brown bread and winds blowing. The storm was always there, outside the walls, waiting sometimes, then pouncing, shaking the house, roaring, snarling, and screaming in rage.
Out of bed in the morning to hurry down and dress by the fire. Then work all day to crawl into a cold bed at night and fall asleep as soon as she grew warm. The winter had lasted so long. It would never end.
Pa did not sing his trouble song in the mornings any more.
On clear days he hauled hay. Sometimes a blizzard lasted only two days. There might be three days of clear cold, or even four days, before the blizzard struck again. “We’re outwearing it,” Pa said. “It hasn’t got much more time. March is nearly gone. We can last longer than it can.”
“The wheat is holding out,” Ma said. “I’m thankful for that.”
The end of March came. April began. Still the storm was there, waiting a little longer now perhaps but striking even more furiously. There was the bitter cold still, and the dark storm days, the wheat to be ground, the hay to be twisted. Laura seemed to have forgotten summer; she could not believe it would ever come again. April was going by.
“Is the hay holding out, Charles?” Ma asked.
“Yes, thanks to Laura,” Pa said. “If you hadn’t helped me in the haying, little Half-Pint, I’d not have put up enough hay. We would have run short before this.”
Those hot days of haying were very far away and long ago. Laura’s gladness because Pa said that seemed far away too. Only the blizzard and the coffee mill’s grinding, the cold and the dusk darkening to night again, were real. Laura and Pa were holding their stiff, swollen red hands over the stove, Ma was cutting the coarse brown bread for supper. The blizzard was loud and furious.
“It can’t beat us!” Pa said.
“Can’t it, Pa?” Laura asked stupidly.
“No,” said Pa. “It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up.”
Then Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.
They ate the coarse brown bread and went through the dark and cold upstairs to bed. Shivering in the cold bed Laura and Mary silently said their prayers and slowly grew warm enough to sleep.
Sometime in the night Laura heard the wind. It was still blowing furiously but there were no voices, no howls or shrieks in it. And with it there was another sound, a tiny, uncertain, liquid sound that she could not understand.
She listened as hard as she could. She uncovered her ear to listen and the cold did not bite her cheek. The dark was warmer. She put out her hand and felt only a coolness. The little sound that she heard was a trickling of water-drops. The eaves were dripping. Then she knew.
She sprang up in bed and called aloud, “Pa! Pa! The Chinook is blowing!”
“I hear it, Laura,” Pa answered from the other room. “Spring has come. Go back to sleep.”
The Chinook was blowing. Spring had come. The blizzard had given up; it was driven back to the north. Blissfully Laura stretched out in bed; she put both arms on top of the quilts and they were not very cold. She listened to the blowing wind and dripping eaves and she knew that in the other room Pa was lying awake, too, listening and glad. The Chinook, the wind of spring, was blowing. Winter was ended.
In the morning the snow was nearly gone. The frost was melted from the windows, and outdoors the air was soft and warm.
Pa was whistling as he came from doing the chores.
“Well, girls,” he said gaily. “We beat old Winter at last! Here it is spring, and none of us lost or starved or frozen! Anyway, not much frozen,” and he felt tenderly of his nose. “I do believe it is longer,” he said anxiously to Grace, and his eyes twinkled. He looked in the glass. “It is longer, and red, too.”
“Stop worrying about your looks, Charles,” Ma told him. “‘Beauty is only skin deep.’ Come eat your breakfast.”
She was smiling and Pa chucked her under the chin as he went to the table. Grace scampered to her chair and climbed into it laughing.
Mary pushed her chair back from the stove. “It is really too warm, so close to the fire,” she said.
How marvelous it was that anyone could be too warm.
Carrie would hardly leave the window. “I like to see the water run,” she explained.
Laura said nothing; she was too happy. She could hardly believe that the winter was gone, that spring had come. When Pa asked her why she was so silent, she answered soberly, “I said it all in the night.”
“I should say you did! Waking us all from a sound sleep to tell us the wind was blowing!” Pa teased her. “As if the wind hadn’t blown for months!”
“I said the Chinook,” Laura reminded him. “That makes all the difference.”