After the Indians had gone, a great peace settled on the prairie. And one morning the whole land was green.
“When did that grass grow?” Ma asked, in amazement. “I thought the whole country was black, and now there’s nothing but green grass as far as the eye can see.”
The whole sky was filled with lines of wild ducks and wild geese flying north. Crows cawed above the trees along the creek. The winds whispered in the new grass, bringing scents of earth and of growing things.
In the mornings the meadow larks rose singing into the sky. All day the curlews and killdeers and sandpipers chirped and sang in the creek bottoms. Often in the early evening the mockingbirds were singing.
One night Pa and Mary and Laura sat still on the doorstep, watching little rabbits playing in the grass in the starlight. Three rabbit mothers hopped about with lopping ears and watched their little rabbits playing, too.
In the daytime everyone was busy. Pa hurried with his plowing, and Mary and Laura helped Ma plant the early garden seeds. With the hoe Ma dug small holes in the matted grass roots that the plow had turned up, and Laura and Mary care- fully dropped the seeds. Then Ma covered them snugly with earth. They planted onions and car- rots and peas and beans and turnips. And they were all so happy because spring had come, and pretty soon they would have vegetables to eat.
They were growing very tired of just bread and meat.
One evening Pa came from the field before sunset and he helped Ma set out the cabbage plants and the sweet-potato plants. Ma had sowed the cabbage seed in a flat box and kept it in the house. She watered it carefully and carried it every day from the morning sunshine to the afternoon sunshine that came through the windows. And she had saved one of the Christmas sweet potatoes and planted it in another box. The cabbage seeds were now little gray-green plants, and the sweet potato had sent up a stem and green leaves from every one of its eyes.
Pa and Ma took each tiny plant very carefully and settled its roots comfortably in holes made for them. They watered the roots and pressed earth upon them firmly. It was dark before the last plant was in its place, and Pa and Ma were tired. But they were glad, too, because this year they’d have cabbages and sweet potatoes.
Every day they all looked at that garden. It was rough and grassy because it was made in the prairie sod, but all the tiny plants were growing. Little crumpled leaves of peas came up, and tiny spears of onions. The beans themselves popped out of the ground. But it was a little yellow bean- stem, coiled like a spring, that pushed them up. Then the bean was cracked open and dropped by two baby bean-leaves, and the leaves unfolded flat to the sunshine.
Pretty soon they would all begin to live like kings.
Every morning Pa went cheerfully whistling to the field. He had planted some early sod potatoes, and some potatoes were saved to plant later. Now he carried a sack of corn fastened to his belt, and as he plowed, he threw grains of corn into the furrow beside the plow’s point. The plow turned over a strip of sod on top of the seed corn. But the corn would fight its way up through the matted roots, and there would be a cornfield.
There would be green corn for dinner someday. And next winter there would be ripe corn for Pet and Patty to eat.
One morning Mary and Laura were washing the dishes and Ma was making the beds. She was humming softly to herself and Laura and Mary were talking about the garden. Laura liked peas best, and Mary liked beans. Suddenly they heard Pa’s voice, loud and angry.
Ma went quietly to the door, and Laura and Mary peeped out on either side of her.
Pa was driving Pet and Patty from the field, dragging the plow behind them. Mr. Scott and Mr. Edwards were with Pa, and Mr. Scott was talking earnestly.
“No, Scott!” Pa answered him. “I’ll not stay here to be taken away by the soldiers like an out- law! If some blasted politicians in Washington hadn’t sent out word it would be all right to settle here, I’d never have been three miles over the line into Indian Territory. But I’ll not wait for the sol- diers to take us out. We’re going now!”
“What is the matter, Charles? Where are we going?” Ma asked.
“Durned if I know! But we’re going. We’re leaving here!” Pa said. “Scott and Edwards say the government is sending soldiers to take all us settlers out of Indian Territory.”
His face was very red and his eyes were like blue fire. Laura was frightened; she had never seen Pa look like that. She pressed close against Ma and was still, looking at Pa.
Mr. Scott started to speak, but Pa stopped him. “Save your breath, Scott. It’s no use to say another word. You can stay till the soldiers come if you want to. I’m going out now.”
Mr. Edwards said he was going, too. He would not stay to be driven across the line like an ornery yellow hound.
“Ride out to Independence with us, Ed- wards,” Pa said. But Mr. Edwards answered that he didn’t care to go north. He would make a boat and go on down the river to some settlement farther south.
“Better come out with us,” Pa urged him, “and go down on foot through Missouri. It’s a risky trip, one man alone in a boat, going down the Verdigris among the wild Indian tribes.”
But Mr. Edwards said he had already seen Missouri and he had plenty of powder and lead.
Then Pa told Mr. Scott to take the cow and calf. “We can’t take them with us,” Pa said. “You’ve been a good neighbor, Scott, and I’m sorry to leave you. But we’re going out in the morning.”
Laura had heard all this, but she had not believed it until she saw Mr. Scott leading away the cow. The gentle cow went meekly away with the rope around her long horns, and the calf frisked and jumped behind. There went all the milk and butter.
Mr. Edwards said he would be too busy to see them again. He shook hands with Pa, saying, “Good-by, Ingalls, and good luck.” He shook hands with Ma and said, “Good-by, ma’am. I won’t be seeing you all again, but I sure will never forget your kindness.”
Then he turned to Mary and Laura, and he shook their hands as if they were grown up. “Good-by,” he said.
Mary said, politely, “Good-by, Mr. Edwards.” But Laura forgot to be polite. She said: “Oh, Mr. Edwards, I wish you wouldn’t go away! Oh, Mr. Edwards, thank you, thank you for going all the way to Independence to find Santa Claus for us.”
Mr. Edwards’ eyes shone very bright, and he went away without saying another word.
Pa began to unhitch Pet and Patty in the middle of the morning, and Laura and Mary knew it was really true; they really were going away from there. Ma didn’t say anything. She went into the house and looked around, at the dishes not washed and the bed only partly made, and she lifted up both hands and sat down.
Mary and Laura went on doing the dishes. They were careful not to let them make a sound. They turned around quickly when Pa came in.
He looked like himself again, and he was carrying the potato-sack.
“Here you are, Caroline!” he said, and his voice sounded natural. “Cook a plenty for dinner! We’ve been going without potatoes, saving them for seed. Now we’ll eat ’em up!”
So that day for dinner they ate the seed potatoes. They were very good, and Laura knew that Pa was right when he said, “There’s no great loss without some small gain.”
After dinner he took the wagon bows from their pegs in the barn. He put them on the wagon, one end of each bow in its iron strap on one side of the wagon-box, and the other end in its iron strap on the other side. When all the bows were standing up in their places, Pa and Ma spread the wagon-cover over them and tied it down tightly. Then Pa pulled the rope in the end of the wagon- cover till it puckered together and left only a tiny round hole in the middle of the back.
There stood the covered wagon, all ready to load in the morning.
Everyone was quiet that night. Even Jack felt that something was wrong, and he lay down close to Laura when she went to bed.
It was now too warm for a fire, but Pa and Ma sat looking at the ashes in the fireplace.
Ma sighed gently and said, “A whole year gone, Charles.” But Pa answered, cheerfully: “What’s a year amount to? We have all the time there is.”