Winter ended at last. There was a softer note in the sound of the wind, and the bitter cold was gone. One day Pa said he had seen a flock of wild geese flying north. It was time to take his furs to Independence.
Ma said, “The Indians are so near!”
“They are perfectly friendly,” said Pa. He of- ten met Indians in the woods where he was hunting. There was nothing to fear from Indians.
“No,” Ma said. But Laura knew that Ma was afraid of Indians. “You must go, Charles,” she said. “We must have a plow and seeds. And you will soon be back again.”
Before dawn next morning Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon, loaded his furs into it, and drove away.
Laura and Mary counted the long, empty days. One, two, three, four, and still Pa had not come home. In the morning of the fifth day they began earnestly to watch for him.
It was a sunny day. There was still a little chill in the wind, but it smelled of spring. The vast blue sky resounded to the quacks of wild ducks and the honk-honk-honking of wild geese. The long, black-dotted lines of them were all flying north.
Laura and Mary played outdoors in the wild, sweet weather. And poor Jack watched them and sighed. He couldn’t run and play anymore, because he was chained. Laura and Mary tried to comfort him, but he didn’t want petting. He wanted to be free again, as he used to be.
Pa didn’t come that morning; he didn’t come that afternoon. Ma said it must have taken him a long time to trade his furs.
That afternoon Laura and Mary were playing hop-scotch. They marked the lines with a stick in the muddy yard. Mary really didn’t want to hop; she was almost eight years old and she didn’t think that hop-scotch was a ladylike play. But Laura teased and coaxed, and said that if they stayed outdoors they would be sure to see Pa the minute he came from the creek bottoms. So Mary was hopping.
Suddenly she stopped on one foot and said, “What’s that?”
Laura had already heard the queer sound and she was listening to it. She said, “It’s the Indians.”
Mary’s other foot dropped and she stood frozen still. She was scared. Laura was not exactly scared, but that sound made her feel funny.
It was the sound of quite a lot of Indians, chop- ping with their voices. It was something like the sound of an ax chopping, and something like a dog barking, and it was something like a song, but not like any song that Laura had ever heard. It was a wild, fierce sound, but it didn’t seem angry. Laura tried to hear it more clearly. She couldn’t hear it very well, because hills and trees and the wind were in the way, and Jack was savagely growling.
Ma came outdoors and listened a minute. Then she told Mary and Laura to come into the house. Ma took Jack inside, too, and pulled in the latchstring.
They didn’t play anymore. They watched at the window and listened to that sound. It was harder to hear, in the house. Sometimes they couldn’t hear it; then they heard it again. It hadn’t stopped.
Ma and Laura did the chores earlier than usual. They locked Bunny and the cow and calf in the stable, and took the milk to the house. Ma strained it and set it away. She drew a bucket of fresh water from the well, while Laura and Mary carried in wood. All the time that sound went on; it was louder, now, and faster. It made Laura’s heartbeat fast.
They all went into the house and Ma barred the door. The latch-string was already in. They wouldn’t go out of the house till morning.
The sun slowly sank. All around the edge of the prairie the edge of the sky flushed pink. Firelight flickered in the dusky house and Ma was getting supper, but Laura and Mary silently watched from the window. They saw the colors fade from everything. The land was shadowy, and the sky was clear, pale gray. All the time that sound came from the creek bottoms, louder and louder, faster and faster. And Laura’s heartbeat faster and louder.
How she shouted when she heard the wagon! She ran to the door and jumped up and down, but she couldn’t unbar it. Ma wouldn’t let her go out. Ma went out, to help Pa bring in the bundles.
He came in with his arms full, and Laura and Mary clung to his sleeves and jumped on his feet.
Pa laughed his jolly big laugh. “Hey! hey! don’t upset me!” he laughed. “What do you think I am? A tree to climb?”
He dropped the bundles on the table, he hugged Laura in a big bear hug, and tossed her and hugged her again. Then he hugged Mary snugly in his other arm.
“Listen, Pa,” Laura said. “Listen to the Indi- ans. Why are they making that funny noise?”
“Oh, they’re having some kind of jamboree,” Pa said. “I heard them when I crossed the creek bottoms.”
Then he went out to unhitch the horses and bring in the rest of the bundles. He had got the plow; he left it in the stable, but he brought all the seeds into the house for safety. He had sugar, not any white sugar this time, but brown. White sugar cost too much. But he had brought a little white flour. There were cornmeal and salt and coffee and all the seeds they needed. Pa had even got seed potatoes. Laura wished they might eat the potatoes, but they must be saved to plant.
Then Pa’s face beamed, and he opened a small paper sack. It was full of crackers. He set it on the table, and he unwrapped and set beside it a glass jar full of little green cucumber pickles.
“I thought we’d all have a treat,” he said.
Laura’s mouth watered, and Ma’s eyes shone softly at Pa. He had remembered how she longed for pickles.
That wasn’t all. He gave Ma a package and watched her unwrap it and in it was enough pretty calico to make her a dress.
“Oh, Charles, you shouldn’t! It’s too much!” she said. But her face and Pa’s were two beams of joy.
Now he hung up his cap and his plaid coat on their pegs. His eyes looked sidewise at Laura and Mary, but that was all. He sat down and stretched out his legs to the fire.
Mary sat down, too, and folded her hands in her lap. But Laura climbed onto Pa’s knee and beat him with her fists. “Where is it? Where is it? Where’s my present?” she said, beating him.
Pa laughed his big laugh, like great bells ringing, and he said, “Why, I do believe there is something in my blouse pocket.”
He took out an oddly shaped package, and very, very slowly he opened it.
“You first, Mary,” he said, “because you are so patient.” And he gave Mary a comb for her hair. “And here, flutter budget! this is for you,” he said to Laura.
The combs were exactly alike. They were made of black rubber and curved to fit over the top of a little girl’s head. And over the top of the comb lay a flat piece of black rubber, with curving slits cut in it, and in the very middle of it a little five-pointed star was cut out. A bright colored ribbon was drawn underneath, and the color showed through.
The ribbon in Mary’s comb was blue, and the ribbon in Laura’s comb was red.
Ma smoothed back their hair and slid the combs into it, and there in the golden hair, exactly over the middle of Mary’s forehead, was a little blue star. And in Laura’s brown hair, over the middle of her forehead, was a little red star.
Laura looked at Mary’s star, and Mary looked at Laura’s, and they laughed with joy. They had never had anything so pretty.
Ma said, “But, Charles, you didn’t get your- self a thing!”
“Oh, I got myself a plow,” said Pa. “Warm weather’ll be here soon now, and I’ll be plowing.”
That was the happiest supper they had had for a long time. Pa was safely home again. The fried salt pork was very good, after so many months of eating ducks and geese and turkeys and venison. And nothing had ever tasted so good as those crackers and the little green sour pickles.
Pa told them about all the seeds. He had got seeds of turnips and carrots and onions and cabbage. He had got peas and beans. And corn and wheat and tobacco and the seed potatoes. And watermelon seeds. He said to Ma, “I tell you, Caroline, when we begin getting crops off this rich land of ours, we’ll be living like kings!”
They had almost forgotten the noise from the Indian camp. The window shutters were closed now, and the wind was moaning in the chimney and whining around the house. They were so used to the wind that they did not hear it. But when the wind was silent an instant, Laura heard again that wild, shrill, fast-beating sound from the Indian camps.
Then Pa said something to Ma that made Laura sit very still and listen carefully. He said that folks in Independence said that the government was going to put the white settlers out of the Indian Territory. He said the Indians had been complaining and they had got that answer from Washington.
“Oh, Charles, no!” Ma said. “Not when we have done so much.”
Pa said he didn’t believe it. He said, “They always have let settlers keep the land. They’ll make the Indians move on again. Didn’t I get word straight from Washington that this country’s going to be opened for settlement any time now?”
“I wish they’d settle it and stop talking about it,” Ma said.
After Laura was in bed, she lay awake a long time, and so did Mary. Pa and Ma sat in the firelight and candlelight, reading. Pa had brought a newspaper from Kansas, and he read it to Ma. It proved that he was right, the government would not do anything to the white settlers.
Whenever the sound of the wind died away, Laura could faintly hear the noise of that wild jamboree in the Indian camp. Sometimes even above the howling of the wind she thought she still heard those fierce yells of jubilation. Faster, faster, faster they made her heartbeat. “Hi! Hi! Hi-yi! Hah! Hi! Hah!”