Day after day was hotter than the day before. The wind was hot. “As if it came out of an oven,” Ma said.
The grass was turning yellow. The whole world was rippling green and gold under the blazing sky.
At noon the wind died. No birds sang. Everything was so still that Laura could hear the squirrels chattering in the trees down by the creek. Suddenly black crows flew overhead, cawing their rough, sharp caws. Then everything was still again.
Ma said that this was midsummer.
Pa wondered where the Indians had gone. He said they had left their little camp on the prairie. And one day he asked Laura and Mary if they would like to see that camp.
Laura jumped up and down and clapped her hands, but Ma objected.
“It is so far, Charles,” she said. “And in this heat.”
Pa’s blue eyes twinkled. “This heat doesn’t hurt the Indians and it won’t hurt us,” he said. “Come on, girls!”
“Please, can’t Jack come, too?” Laura begged. Pa had taken his gun, but he looked at Laura and he looked at Jack, then he looked at Ma, and he put the gun up on its pegs again.
“All right, Laura,” he said. “I’ll take Jack, Caroline, and leave you the gun.”
Jack jumped around them, wagging his stump of a tail. As soon as he saw which way they were going, he set off, trotting ahead. Pa came next and behind him came Mary, and then Laura. Mary kept her sunbonnet on, but Laura let hers dangle down her back.
The ground was hot under their bare feet. The sunshine pierced through their faded dresses and tingled on their arms and backs. The air was really as hot as the air in an oven, and it smelled faintly like baking bread. Pa said the smell came from all the grass seeds parching in the heat.
They went farther and farther into the vast prairie. Laura felt smaller and smaller. Even Pa did not seem as big as he really was. At last they went down into the little hollow where the Indians had camped.
Jack started up a big rabbit. When it bounded out of the grass Laura jumped. Pa said, quickly: “Let him go, Jack! We have meat enough.” So, Jack sat down and watched the big rabbit go bounding away down the hollow.
Laura and Mary looked around them. They stayed close to Pa. Low bushes grew on the sides of the hollow—buckbrush with sprays of berries faintly pink, and sumac holding up green cones but showing here and there a bright red leaf. The goldenrod’s plumes were turning gray, and the ox-eyed daisies’ yellow petals hung down from the crown centers.
All this was hidden in the secret little hollow. From the house Laura had seen nothing but grasses, and now from this hollow she could not see the house. The prairie seemed to be level, but it was not level.
Laura asked Pa if there were lots of hollows on the prairie, like this one. He said there were.
“Are Indians in them?” she almost whispered.
He said he didn’t know. There might be.
She held tight to his hand and Mary held to his other hand, and they looked at the Indians’ camp. There were ashes where Indian campfires had been. There were holes in the ground where tent-poles had been driven. Bones were scattered where Indian dogs had gnawed them. All along the sides of the hollow, Indian ponies had bitten the grasses short.
Tracks of big moccasins and smaller moccasins were everywhere, and tracks of little bare toes. And over these tracks were tracks of rabbits and tracks of birds, and wolves’ tracks.
Pa read the tracks for Mary and Laura. He showed them tracks of two middle-sized moccasins by the edge of a camp fire’s ashes. An Indian woman had squatted there. She wore a leather skirt with fringes; the tiny marks of the fringe were in the dust. The track of her toes inside the moccasins was deeper than the track of her heels because she had leaned forward to stir something cooking in a pot on the fire.
Then Pa picked up a smoke-blackened forked stick. And he said that the pot had hung from a stick laid across the top of two upright, forked sticks. He showed Mary and Laura the holes where the forked sticks had been driven into the ground. Then he told them to look at the bones around that campfire and tell him what had cooked in that pot.
They looked, and they said, “Rabbit.” That was right; the bones were rabbits’ bones.
Suddenly Laura shouted, “Look! Look!” Something bright blue glittered in the dust. She picked it up, and it was a beautiful blue bead. Laura shouted with joy.
Then Mary saw a red bead, and Laura saw a green one, and they forgot everything but beads. Pa helped them look. They found white beads and brown beads, and more and more red and blue beads. All that afternoon they hunted for beads in the dust of the Indian camp. Now and then Pa walked up to the edge of the hollow and looked toward home, then he came back and helped to hunt for more beads. They looked all the ground over carefully.
When they couldn’t find any more, it was al- most sunset. Laura had a handful of beads, and so did Mary. Pa tied them carefully in his handkerchief, Laura’s beads in one corner and Mary’s in another corner. He put the handkerchief in his pocket, and they started home.
The sun was low behind their backs when they came out of the hollow. Home was small and very far away. And Pa did not have his gun.
Pa walked so swiftly that Laura could hardly keep up. She trotted as fast as she could, but the sun sank faster. Home seemed farther and farther away. The prairie seemed larger, and a wind ran over it, whispering something frightening. All the grasses shook as if they were scared.
Then Pa turned around and his blue eyes twinkled at Laura. He said: “Getting tired, little half-pint? It’s a long way for little legs.”
He picked her up, big girl that she was, and he settled her safe against his shoulder. He took Mary by the hand, and so they all came home together.
Supper was cooking on the fire, Ma was set- ting the table, and Baby Carrie played with little pieces of wood on the floor. Pa tossed the handkerchief to Ma.
“I’m later than I meant, Caroline,” he said. “But look what the girls found.” He took the milk-bucket and went quickly to bring Pet and Patty from their picket-lines and to milk the cow. Ma untied the handkerchief and exclaimed at what she found. The beads were even prettier
than they had been in the Indian camp.
Laura stirred her beads with her finger and watched them sparkle and shine. “These are mine,” she said.
Then Mary said, “Carrie can have mine.”
Ma waited to hear what Laura would say. Laura didn’t want to say anything. She wanted to keep those pretty beads. Her chest felt all hot in- side, and she wished with all her might that Mary wouldn’t always be such a good little girl. But she couldn’t let Mary be better than she was.
So, she said, slowly, “Carrie can have mine, too.”
“That’s my unselfish, good little girls,” said Ma.
She poured Mary’s beads into Mary’s hands, and Laura’s into Laura’s hands, and she said she would give them a thread to string them on. The beads would make a pretty necklace for Carrie to wear around her neck.
Mary and Laura sat side by side on their bed, and they strung those pretty beads on the thread that Ma gave them. Each wet her end of the thread in her mouth and twisted it tightly. Then Mary put her end of the thread through the small hole in each of the beads, and Laura put her end through her beads, one by one.
They didn’t say anything. Perhaps Mary felt sweet and good inside, but Laura didn’t. When she looked at Mary, she wanted to slap her. So, she dared not look at Mary again.
The beads made a beautiful string. Carrie clapped her hands and laughed when she saw it. Then Ma tied it around Carrie’s little neck, and it glittered there. Laura felt a little bit better. After all, her beads were not enough beads to make a whole string, and neither were Mary’s, but together they made a whole string of beads for Carrie.
When Carrie felt the beads on her neck, she grabbed at them. She was so little that she did not know any better than to break the string. So, Ma untied it, and she put the beads away until Car- rie should be old enough to wear them. And often after that Laura thought of those pretty beads and she was still naughty enough to want her beads for herself.
But it had been a wonderful day. She could al- ways think about that long walk across the prairie, and about all they had seen in the Indian camp.