TWO STOUT DOORS
Laura felt a soft warmth on her face and opened her eyes into morning sunshine. Mary was talking to Ma by the campfire. Laura ran outdoors, all bare inside her nightgown. There were no wolves to be seen; only their tracks were thick around the house and the stable.
Pa came whistling up the creek road. He put his gun on its pegs and led Pet and Patty to the creek to drink as usual. He had followed the wolf tracks so far that he knew they were far away now, following a herd of deer.
The mustangs shied at the wolves’ tracks and pricked their ears nervously, and Pet kept her colt close at her side. But they went willingly with Pa, who knew there was nothing to fear.
Breakfast was ready. When Pa came back from the creek, they all sat by the fire and ate fried mush and prairie-chicken hash. Pa said he would make a door that very day. He wanted more than a quilt between them and the wolves, next time.
“I have no more nails, but I’ll not keep on waiting till I can make a trip to Independence,” he said. “A man doesn’t need nails to build a house or make a door.”
After breakfast he hitched up Pet and Patty and taking his ax he went to get timber for the door. Laura helped wash the dishes and make the beds, but that day Mary minded the baby. Laura helped Pa make the door. Mary watched, but Laura handed him his tools.
With the saw he sawed logs the right length for a door. He sawed shorter lengths for crosspieces. Then with the ax he split the logs into slabs and smoothed them nicely. He laid the long slabs together on the ground and placed the shorter slabs across them. Then with the auger he bored holes through the cross-pieces into the long slabs. Into every hole he drove a wooden peg that fitted tightly.
That made the door. It was a good oak door, solid and strong.
For the hinges he cut three long straps. One hinge was to be near the top of the door, one near the bottom, and one in the middle.
He fastened them first to the door, in this way: He laid a little piece of wood on the door and bored a hole through it into the door. Then he doubled one end of a strap around the little piece of wood, and with his knife cut round holes through the strap. He laid the little piece of wood on the door again, with the strap doubled around it, and all the holes making one hole. Then Laura gave him a peg and the hammer, and he drove the peg into the hole. The peg went through the strap and the little piece of wood and through the strap again and into the door. That held the strap so that it couldn’t get loose.
“I told you a fellow doesn’t need nails!” Pa said.
When he had fastened the three hinges to the door, he set the door in the doorway. It fitted. Then he pegged strips of wood to the old slabs on either side of the doorway, to keep the door from swinging outward. He set the door in place again, and Laura stood against it to hold it there, while Pa fastened the hinges to the doorframe.
But before he did this he had made the latch on the door, because, of course, there must be some way to keep a door shut.
This was the way he made the latch: First he hewed a short, thick piece of oak. From one side of this, in the middle, he cut a wide, deep notch. He pegged this stick to the inside of the door, up and down and near the edge. He put the notched side against the door, so that the notch made a little slot.
Then he hewed and whittled a longer, smaller stick. This stick was small enough to slip easily through the slot. He slid one end of it through the slot, and he pegged the other end to the door.
But he did not peg it tightly. The peg was sol- id and firm in the door, but the hole in the stick was larger than the peg. The only thing that held the stick on the door was the slot.
This stick was the latch. It turned easily on the peg, and its loose end moved up and down in the slot. And the loose end of it was long enough to go through the slot and across the crack between the door and the wall, and to lie against the wall when the door was shut.
When Pa and Laura had hung the door in the doorway, Pa marked the spot on the wall where the end of the latch came. Over that spot he pegged to the wall a stout piece of oak. This piece of oak was cut out at the top, so that the latch could drop between it and the wall.
Now Laura pushed the door shut, and while she pushed, she lifted the end of the latch as high as it would go in the slot. Then she let it fall into its place behind the stout piece of oak. That held the latch against the wall, and the up-and-down strip held the latch in its slot against the door.
Nobody could break in without breaking the strong latch in two.
But there must be a way to lift the latch from the outside. So, Pa made the latchstring. He cut it from a long strip of good leather. He tied one end to the latch, between the peg and the slot. Above the latch he bored a small hole through the door, and he pushed the end of the latchstring through the hole.
Laura stood outside, and when the end of the latchstring came through the hole, she took hold of it and pulled. She could pull it hard enough to lift the latch and let herself in.
The door was finished. It was strong and sol- id, made of thick oak with oak slabs across it, all pegged together with good stout pegs. The latch- string was out; if you wanted to come in, you pulled the latchstring. But if you were inside and wanted to keep anyone out, then you pulled the latchstring in through its hole and nobody could get in. There was no doorknob on that door, and there was no keyhole and no key. But it was a good door.
“I call that a good day’s work!” said Pa. “And I had a fine little helper!”
He hugged the top of Laura’s head with his hand. Then he gathered up his tools and put them away, whistling, and he went to take Pet and Patty from their picket-lines to water. The sun was set- ting, the breeze was cooler, and supper cooking on the fire made the best supper-smells that Laura had ever smelled.
There was salt pork for supper. It was the last of the salt pork, so next day Pa went hunting. But the day after that he and Laura made the barn door.
It was exactly like the house door, except that it had no latch. Pet and Patty did not understand door-latches and would not pull a latchstring in at night. So instead of a latch Pa made a hole through the door, and he put a chain through the hole.
At night he would pull an end of the chain through a crack between the logs in the stable wall, and he would padlock the two ends of the chain together. Then nobody could get into that stable.
“Now we’re all snug!” Pa said. When neighbors began to come into a country, it was best to lock up your horses at night, because, where there are deer there will be wolves, and where there are horses, there will be horse-thieves.
That night at supper Pa said to Ma, “Now, Caroline, as soon as we get Edwards’ house up, I’m going to build you a fireplace, so you can do your cooking in the house, out of the wind and the storms. It seems like I never did see a place with so much sunshine, but I suppose it’s bound to rain sometime.”
“Yes, Charles,” Ma said. “Good weather never lasts forever on this earth.”