RUSHES AND FLAGS
Every morning after Mary and Laura had done the dishes, made their bed and swept the floor, they could go out to play.
All around the door the morning-glory flowers were fresh and new, springing with all their might out of the green leaves. All along Plum Creek the birds were talking. Sometimes a bird sang, but mostly they talked. “Tweet, tweet, oh twitter twee twit!” one said. Then another said, “Chee, Chee, Chee,” and another laughed, “Ha ha ha, tiraloo!” Laura and Mary went over the top of their house and down along the path where Pa led the oxen to water.
There along the creek rushes were growing, and blue flags. Every morning the blue flags were new. They stood up dark blue and proud among the green rushes.
Each blue flag had three velvet petals that curved down like a lady’s dress over hoops. From its waist three ruffled silky petals stood up and curved together. When Laura looked down inside them, she saw three narrow pale tongues, and each tongue had a strip of golden fur on it.
Sometimes a fat bumble-bee, all black velvet and gold, was bumbling and butting there.
The flat creek bank was warm, soft mud. Little pale-yellow and pale-blue butterflies hovered there and alighted and sipped. Bright dragonflies flew on blurry wings. The mud squeezed up between Laura’s toes. Where she stepped, and where Mary stepped, and where the oxen had walked, there were tiny pools of water in their footprints.
Where they waded in the shallow water a footprint would not stay. First a swirl like smoke came up from it and wavered away in the clear water. Then the footprint slowly melted. The toes smoothed out and the heel was only a small hollow.
There were tiny fishes in the water. They were so small that you could hardly see them. Only when they went swiftly sometimes a silvery belly flashed. When Laura and Mary stood still these little fishes swarmed around their feet and nibbled. It was a tickly feeling.
On top of the water the water-bugs skated. They had tall legs, and each of their feet made a wee dent in the water. It was hard to see a water- bug; he skated so fast that before you saw him, he was somewhere else.
The rushes in the wind made a wild, lonely sound. They were not soft and flat like grass; they were hard and round and sleek and jointed. One day when Laura was wading in a deep place by the rushes, she took hold of a big one to pull her- self up on the bank. It squeaked.
For a minute Laura could hardly breathe. Then she pulled another. It squeaked and came in two.
The rushes were little hollow tubes, fitted together at the joints. The tubes squeaked when you pulled them apart. They squeaked when you pushed them together again.
Laura and Mary pulled them apart to hear them squeak. Then they put little ones together to make necklaces. They put big ones together to make long tubes. They blew through the tubes into the creek and made it bubble. They blew at the little fishes and scared them. Whenever they were thirsty, they could draw up long drinks of water through those tubes.
Ma laughed when Laura and Mary came to dinner and supper, all splashed and muddy, with green necklaces around their necks and the long green tubes in their hands. They brought her bouquets of the blue flags and she put them on the table to make it pretty.
“I declare,” she said, “you two play in the creek so much, you’ll be turning to water-bugs!”
Pa and Ma did not care how much they played in the creek. Only they must never go upstream beyond the little willow valley. The creek came around a curve there. It came out of a hole full of deep, dark water. They must never go near enough to that hole, even to see it.
“Someday I’ll take you there,” Pa promised them. And one Sunday afternoon he told them that this was the day.