The walls are up,” Pa was saying to Ma in the morning. “We’d better move in and get along as best we can without a floor or other fixings. I must build the stable as fast as I can, so Pet and Patty can be inside walls, too. Last night I could hear wolves howling from every direction, seemed like, and close, too.”
“Well, you have your gun, so I’ll not worry,” said Ma.
“Yes, and there’s Jack. But I’ll feel easier in my mind when you and the girls have good solid walls around you.”
“Why do you suppose we haven’t seen any Indians?” Ma asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Pa replied, carelessly. “I’ve seen their camping-places among the bluffs. They’re away on a hunting-trip now, I guess.”
Then Ma called: “Girls! The sun’s up!” and Laura and Mary scrambled out of bed and into their clothes.
“Eat your breakfasts quickly,” Ma said, put- ting the last of the rabbit stew on their tin plates. “We’re moving into the house today, and all the chips must be out.”
So, they ate quickly, and hurried to carry all the chips out of the house. They ran back and forth as fast as they could, gathering their skirts full of chips and dumping them in a pile near the fire. But there were still chips on the ground in- side the house when Ma began to sweep it with her willow-bough broom.
Ma limped, though her sprained ankle was beginning to get well. But she soon swept the earthen floor, and then Mary and Laura began to help her carry things into the house.
Pa was on top of the walls, stretching the can- vas wagon-top over the skeleton roof of saplings. The canvas billowed in the wind, Pa’s beard blew wildly, and his hair stood up from his head as if it were trying to pull itself out. He held on to the canvas and fought it. Once it jerked so hard that Laura thought he must let go or sail into the air like a bird. But he held tight to the wall with his legs, and tight to the canvas with his hands, and he tied it down.
“There!” he said to it. “Stay where you are, and be—”
“Charles!” Ma said. She stood with her arms full of quilts and looked up at him reprovingly.
“—and be good,” Pa said to the canvas. “Why, Caroline, what did you think I was going to say?”
“Oh, Charles!” Ma said. “You scalawag!”
Pa came right down the corner of the house. The ends of the logs stuck out, and he used them for a ladder. He ran his hand through his hair so that it stood up even more wildly, and Ma burst out laughing. Then he hugged her, quilts, and all.
Then they looked at the house and Pa said, “How’s that for a snug house!”
“I’ll be thankful to get into it,” said Ma.
There was no door and there were no windows. There was no floor except the ground and no roof except the canvas. But that house had good stout walls, and it would stay where it was. It was not like the wagon that every morning went on to some other place.
“We’re going to do well here, Caroline,” Pa said. “This is a great country. This is a country I’ll be contented to stay in the rest of my life.”
“Even when it’s settled up?” Ma asked. “Even when it’s settled up. No matter how
thick and close the neighbors get, this country will never feel crowded. Look at that sky!”
Laura knew what he meant. She liked this place, too. She liked the enormous sky and the winds, and the land that you couldn’t see to the end of. Everything was so free and big and splendid.
By dinner time the house was in order. The beds were neatly made on the floor. The wagon- seat and two ends of logs were brought in for chairs. Pa’s gun lay on its pegs above the door- way. Boxes and bundles were neat against the walls. It was a pleasant house. A soft light came through the canvas roof, wind and sunshine came through the window holes, and every crack in the four walls glowed a little because the sun was overhead.
Only the campfire stayed where it had been. Pa said he would build a fireplace in the house as soon as he could. He would hew out slabs to make a solid roof, too, before winter came. He would lay a puncheon floor and make beds and tables and chairs. But all that work must wait un- til he had helped Mr. Edwards and had built a stable for Pet and Patty.
“When that’s all done,” said Ma, “I want a clothes-line.”
Pa laughed. “Yes, and I want a well.”
After dinner he hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon, and he hauled a tubful of water from the creek so that Ma could do the washing. “You could wash clothes in the creek,” he told her. “Indian women do.”
“If we wanted to live like Indians, you could make a hole in the roof to let the smoke out, and we’d have the fire on the floor inside the house,” said Ma. “Indians do.”
That afternoon she washed the clothes in the tub and spread them on the grass to dry.
After supper they sat for a while by the campfire. That night they would sleep in the house; they would never sleep beside a campfire again. Pa and Ma talked about the folks in Wisconsin, and Ma wished she could send them a letter. But Independence was forty miles away, and no letter could go until Pa made the long trip to the post- office there.
Back in the Big Woods so far away, Grandpa and Grandma and the aunts and uncles and cous- ins did not know where Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary and Baby Carrie were. And sitting there by the campfire, no one knew what might have happened in the Big Woods. There was no way to find out.
“Well, it’s bedtime,” Ma said. Baby Carrie was already asleep. Ma carried her into the house and undressed her, while Mary unbuttoned Laura’s dress and petticoat waist down the back, and Pa hung a quilt over the door hole. The quilt would be better than no door. Then Pa went out to bring Pet and Patty close to the house.
He called back, softly, “Come out here, Caroline, and look at the moon.”
Mary and Laura lay in their little bed on the ground inside the new house and watched the sky through the window hole to the east. The edge of the big, bright moon glittered at the bot- tom of the window space, and Laura sat up. She looked at the great moon, sailing silently higher in the clear sky.
Its light made silvery lines in all the cracks on that side of the house. The light poured through the window hole and made a square of soft radiance on the floor. It was so bright that Laura saw Ma plainly when she lifted the quilt at the door and came in.
Then Laura very quickly lay down, before Ma saw her naughtily sitting up in bed.
She heard Pet and Patty whinnying softly to Pa. Then the faint thuds of their feet came into her ear from the floor. Pet and Patty and Pa were coming toward the house, and Laura heard Pa singing:
“Sail on, silver moon!
Shed your radiance o’er the sky—”
His voice was like a part of the night and the moonlight and the stillness of the prairie. He came to the doorway, singing:
“By the pale, silver light of the moon—”
Softly Ma said, “Hush, Charles. You’ll wake the children.”
So, Pa came in without a sound. Jack followed at his heels and lay down across the doorway. Now they were all inside the stout walls of their new home, and they were snug and safe. Drowsily Laura heard a long wolf-howl rising from far away on the prairie, but only a little shiver went up her backbone and she fell asleep.