Next day Laura was sure that Ma would not let her go to play in the creek. It was still roaring, but more softly. In the dugout she could hear it calling her. So, Laura quietly slipped outdoors without saying anything to Ma.
The water was not so high now. It had gone down from the steps and Laura could see it foaming against the footbridge. Part of the plank was above the water.
All winter the creek had been covered with ice; it had been motionless and still, never making a sound. Now it was running swiftly and making a joyful noise. Where it struck the edge of the plank it foamed up in white bubbles and laughed to itself.
Laura took off her shoes and stockings and put them safely on the bottom step. Then she walked out on the plank and stood watching the noisy water.
Drops splashed her bare feet and thin little waves ran around them. She dabbled one foot in the swirling foam. Then down she sat on the plank and plumped both legs into the water. The creek ran strong against them and she kicked against it. That was fun!
Now she was wet almost all over, but her whole skin wanted to be in the water. She lay on her stomach and thrust her arms down on each side of the plank, deep into the fast current. But that was not enough. She wanted to be really in the roaring, joyous creek. She clasped her hands together under the plank and rolled off it.
In that very instant, she knew the creek was not playing. It was strong and terrible. It seized her whole body and pulled it under the plank. Only her head was out, and one arm desperately across the narrow plank.
The water was pulling her, and it was pushing, too. It was trying to drag her head under the plank. Her chin held on to the edge and her arm clutched, while the water pulled hard at all the rest of her. It was not laughing now.
No one knew where she was. No one could hear her if she screamed for help. The water roared loud and tugged at her, stronger and stronger. Laura kicked, but the water was stronger than her legs. She got both arms across the plank and pulled, but the water pulled harder. It pulled the back of her head down and it jerked as if it would jerk her in two. It was cold. The coldness soaked into her.
This was not like wolves or cattle. The creek was not alive. It was only strong and terrible and never stopping. It would pull her down and whirl her away, rolling and tossing her like a willow branch. It would not care.
Her legs were tired, and her arms hardly felt the plank anymore.
“I must get out. I must!” she thought. The creek’s roaring was in her head. She kicked hard with both her feet and pulled hard with her arms, and then she was lying on the plank again.
The plank was solid under her stomach and under her face. She lay on it and breathed and was glad it was solid.
When she moved, her head whirled. She crawled off the plank. She took her shoes and her stockings, and she climbed slowly up the muddy steps. At the door of the dugout she stopped. She did not know what to say to Ma.
After a while she went in. Just inside the door she stood still, and water dripped off her. Ma was sewing.
“Where have you been, Laura?” Ma asked, looking up. Then she came quickly, saying: “My goodness! Turn around, quick!” She began un- buttoning Laura down the back. “What happened? Did you fall in the creek?”
“No, ma’am,” Laura said. “I—I went in.”
Ma listened and went on undressing Laura and rubbing her hard all over with a towel. She did not say a word even when Laura had told her everything. Laura’s teeth chattered, and Ma wrapped a quilt around her and sat her close to the stove.
At last Ma said: “Well, Laura, you have been very naughty, and I think you knew it all the time. But I can’t punish you. I can’t even scold you. You came near being drowned.”
Laura did not say anything.
“You won’t go near the creek again till Pa or I say you may, and that won’t be till the water goes down,” said Ma.
“No’m,” Laura said.
The creek would go down. It would be a gentle, pleasant place to play in again. But nobody could make it do that. Nobody could make it do anything. Laura knew now that there were things stronger than anybody. But the creek had not got her. It had not made her scream and it could not make her cry.