CATTLE IN THE HAY
Summer was gone, winter was coming, and now it was time for Pa to make a trip to town. Here in Minnesota, town was so near that Pa would be gone only one day, and Ma was going with him.
She took Carrie, because Carrie was too little to be left far from Ma. But Mary and Laura were big girls. Mary was going on nine and Laura was going on eight, and they could stay at home and take care of everything while Pa and Ma were gone.
For going-to-town, Ma made a new dress for Carrie, from the pink calico that Laura had worn when she was little. There was enough of it to make Carrie a little pink sunbonnet. Carrie’s hair had been in curlpapers all night. It hung in long, golden, round curls, and when Ma tied the pink sunbonnet strings under Carrie’s chin, Carrie looked like a rose.
Ma wore her hoopskirts and her best dress, the beautiful challis with little strawberries on it, that she had worn to the sugaring-dance at Grandma’s, long ago in the Big Woods.
“Now be good girls, Laura and Mary,” was the last thing she said. She was on the wagon seat, with Carrie beside her. Their lunch was in the wagon. Pa took up the ox goad.
“We’ll be back before sundown,” he promised. “Hi-oop!” he said to Pete and Bright. The big ox and the little one leaned into their yoke and the wagon started.
“Good-by, Pa! Good-by, Ma! Good-by, Carrie, good-by!” Laura and Mary called after it.
Slowly the wagon went away. Pa walked be- side the oxen. Ma and Carrie, the wagon, and Pa all grew smaller, till they were gone into the prairie.
The prairie seemed big and empty then, but there was nothing to be afraid of. There were no wolves and no Indians. Besides, Jack stayed close to Laura. Jack was a responsible dog. He knew that he must take care of everything when Pa was away.
That morning Mary and Laura played by the creek, among the rushes. They did not go near the swimming-hole. They did not touch the straw- stack. At noon they ate the corn dodgers and molasses and drank the milk that Ma had left for them. They washed their tin cups and put them away.
Then Laura wanted to play on the big rock, but Mary wanted to stay in the dugout. She said that Laura must stay there, too.
“Ma can make me,” Laura said, “but you can’t.”
“I can so,” said Mary. “When Ma’s not here, you have to do what I say because I’m older.”
“You have to let me have my way because I’m littler,” said Laura.
“That’s Carrie, it isn’t you,” Mary told her. “If you don’t do what I say, I’ll tell Ma.”
“I guess I can play where I want to!” said Laura.
Mary grabbed at her, but Laura was too quick. She darted out, and she would have run up the path, but Jack was in the way. He stood stiff, looking across the creek. Laura looked too, and she screeched, “Mary!”
The cattle were all around Pa’s haystacks. They were eating the hay. They were tearing into the stacks with their horns, gouging out hay, eating it and trampling over it.
There would be nothing left to feed Pete and Bright and Spot in the wintertime.
Jack knew what to do. He ran growling down the steps to the footbridge. Pa was not there to save the haystacks; they must drive those cattle away.
“Oh, we can’t! We can’t!” Mary said, scared. But Laura ran behind Jack and Mary came after her. They went over the creek and past the spring. They came up on the prairie and now they saw the fierce, big cattle quite near. The long horns were gouging, the thick legs trampling and jostling, the wide mouths bawling.
Mary was too scared to move. Laura was too scared to stand still. She jerked Mary along. She saw a stick and grabbed it up and ran yelling at the cattle. Jack ran at them, growling. A big red cow swiped at him with her horns, but he jumped behind her. She snorted and galloped. All the other cattle ran humping and jostling after her, and Jack and Laura and Mary ran after them.
But they could not chase those cattle away from the haystacks. The cattle ran around and around and in between the stacks, jostling and bawling, tearing off hay and trampling it. More and more hay slid off the stacks. Laura ran panting and yelling, waving her stick. The faster she ran, the faster the cattle went, black and brown and red, brindle, and spotted cattle, big and with awful horns, and they would not stop wasting the hay. Some tried to climb over the toppling stacks. Laura was hot and dizzy. Her hair unbraided and blew in her eyes. Her throat was rough from yelling, but she kept on yelling, running, and waving her stick. She was too scared to hit one of those big, horned cows. More and more hay kept coming down and faster and faster they trampled over it.
Suddenly Laura turned around and ran the other way. She faced the big red cow coming around a haystack.
The huge legs and shoulders and terrible horns were coming fast. Laura could not scream now. But she jumped at that cow and waved her stick. The cow tried to stop, but all the other cattle were coming behind her and she couldn’t. She swerved and ran away across the plowed ground, all the others galloping after her.
Jack and Laura and Mary chased them, farther and farther from the hay. Far into the high prairie grasses they chased those cattle.
Johnny Johnson rose out of the prairie, rubbing his eyes. He had been lying asleep in a warm hollow of grass.
“Johnny! Johnny!” Laura screeched. “Wake up and watch the cattle!”
“You’d better!” Mary told him.
Johnny Johnson looked at the cattle grazing in the deep grass, and he looked at Laura and Mary and Jack. He did not know what had happened and they could not tell him because the only words he knew were Norwegian.
They went back through the high grass that dragged at their trembling legs. They were glad to drink at the spring. They were glad to be in the quiet dugout and sit down to rest.