Now in the daytimes Pa was driving the wagon up and down Plum Creek and bringing load after load of logs to the pile by the door. He cut down old plum trees and old willows and cottonwoods, leaving the little ones to grow. He hauled them and stacked them, and chopped and split them into stove wood, till he had a big woodpile.
With his short-handled ax in his belt, his traps on his arm, and his gun against his shoulder, he walked far up Plum Creek, setting traps for muskrat and mink and otter and fox.
One evening at supper Pa said he had found a beaver meadow. But he did not set traps there be- cause so few beavers were left. He had seen a fox and shot at it but missed.
“I am all out of practice hunting,” he said. “It’s a fine place we have here, but there isn’t much game. Makes a fellow think of places out west where—”
“Where there are no schools for the children, Charles,” said Ma.
“You’re right, Caroline. You usually are,” Pa said. “Listen to that wind. We’ll have a storm to- morrow.”
But the next day was mild as spring. The air was soft and warm, and the sun shone brightly. In the middle of the morning Pa came to the house.
“Let’s have an early dinner and take a walk to town this afternoon,” he said to Ma. “This is too nice a day for you to stay indoors. Time enough for that when winter really comes.”
“But the children,” said Ma. “We can’t take Carrie and walk so far.”
“Shucks!” Pa laughed at her. “Mary and Laura are great girls now. They can take care of Carrie for one afternoon.”
“Of course, we can, Ma,” said Mary; and Laura said, “Of course we can!”
They watched Pa and Ma starting gaily away. Ma was so pretty, in her brown-and-red Christ- mas shawl, with her brown knit hood tied under her chin, and she stepped so quickly and looked up at Pa so merrily that Laura thought she was like a bird.
Then Laura swept the floor while Mary cleared the table. Mary washed the dishes and Laura wiped them and put them in the cupboard. They put the red-checked cloth on the table. Now the whole long afternoon was before them and they could do as they pleased.
First, they decided to play school. Mary said she must be Teacher, because she was older and besides, she knew more. Laura knew that was true. So, Mary was Teacher and she liked it, but Laura was soon tired of that play.
“I know,” Laura said. “Let’s both teach Carrie her letters.”
They sat Carrie on a bench and held the book before her, and both did their best. But Carrie did not like it. She would not learn the letters, so they had to stop that.
“Well,” said Laura, “let’s play keeping house.”
“We are keeping house,” said Mary. “What is the use of playing it?”
The house was empty and still, with Ma gone. Ma was so quiet and gentle that she never made any noise, but now the whole house was listening for her.
Laura went outdoors for a while by herself, but she came back. The afternoon grew longer and longer. There was nothing at all to do. Even Jack walked up and down restlessly.
He asked to go out, but when Laura opened the door he would not go. He lay down and got up and walked around and around the room. He came to Laura and looked at her earnestly.
“What is it, Jack!” Laura asked him. He stared hard at her, but she could not understand, and he almost howled.
“Don’t, Jack!” Laura told him, quickly. “You scare me.”
“Is it something outdoors?” Mary wondered. Laura ran out, but on the doorstep, Jack took hold of her dress and pulled her back. Outdoors was bitter cold. Laura shut the door.
“Look,” she said. “The sunshine’s dark. Are the grasshoppers coming back?”
“Not in the winter-time, goosie,” said Mary. “Maybe it’s rain.”
“Goosie yourself!” Laura said back. “It doesn’t rain in the winter-time.”
“Well, snow, then! What’s the difference?” Mary was angry and so was Laura. They would have gone on quarreling, but suddenly there was no sunshine. They ran to look through the bed- room window.
A dark cloud with a fleecy white underside was rolling fast from the north-west.
Mary and Laura looked out the front window. Surely it was time for Pa and Ma to come, but they were nowhere in sight.
“Maybe it’s a blizzard,” said Mary. “Like Pa told us about,” said Laura.
They looked at each other through the gray air. They were thinking of those children who froze stark stiff.
“The wood box is empty,” said Laura.
Mary grabbed her. “You can’t!” said Mary. “Ma told us to stay in the house if it stormed.” Laura jerked away and Mary said, “Besides, Jack won’t let you.”
“We’ve got to bring in wood before the storm gets here,” Laura told her. “Hurry!”
They could hear a strange sound in the wind, like a far-away screaming. They put on their shawls and pinned them under their chins with their large shawl-pins. They put on their mittens. Laura was ready first. She told Jack, “We’ve got to bring in wood, Jack.” He seemed to understand. He went out with her and stayed close at her heels. The wind was colder than icicles. Laura ran to the woodpile, piled up a big armful of wood, and ran back, with Jack behind her. She could not open the door while she held the wood. Mary opened it for her.
Then they did not know what to do. The cloud was coming swiftly, and they must both bring in wood before the storm got there. They could not open the door when their arms were full of wood. They could not leave the door open and let the cold come in.
“I tan open the door,” said Carrie. “You can’t,” Mary said.
“I tan, too!” said Carrie, and she reached up both hands and turned the doorknob. She could do it! Carrie was big enough to open the door.
Laura and Mary hurried fast, bringing in wood. Carrie opened the door when they came to it and shut it behind them. Mary could carry lar- ger armfuls, but Laura was quicker.
They filled the wood box before it began to snow. The snow came suddenly with a whirling blast, and it was small hard grains like sand. It stung Laura’s face where it struck. When Carrie opened the door, it swirled into the house in a white cloud.
Laura and Mary forgot that Ma had told them to stay in the house when it stormed. They forgot everything but bringing in wood. They ran frantically back and forth, bringing each time all the wood they could stagger under.
They piled wood around the wood box and around the stove. They piled it against the wall. They made the piles higher, and bigger.
Bang! they banged the door. They ran to the woodpile. Clop-clop-clop they stacked the wood on their arms. They ran to the door. Bump! it went open, and bang! they back-bumped it shut, and thumpity-thud-thump! they flung down the wood and ran back, outdoors, to the woodpile, and panting back again.
They could hardly see the woodpile in the swirling whiteness. Snow was driven all in among the wood. They could hardly see the house, and Jack was a dark blob hurrying beside them. The hard snow scoured their faces. Laura’s arms ached and her chest panted and all the time she thought, “Oh, where is Pa? Where is Ma?” and she felt “Hurry! Hurry!” and she heard the wind screeching.
The woodpile was gone. Mary took a few sticks and Laura took a few sticks and there were no more. They ran to the door together, and Laura opened it and Jack bounded in. Carrie was at the front window, clapping her hands and squealing. Laura dropped her sticks of wood and turned just in time to see Pa and Ma burst, running, out of the whirling whiteness of snow.
Pa was holding Ma’s hand and pulling to help her run. They burst into the house and slammed the door and stood panting, covered with snow. No one said anything while Pa and Ma looked at Laura and Mary, who stood all snowy in shawls and mittens.
At last Mary said in a small voice, “We did go out in the storm, Ma. We forgot.”
Laura’s head bowed down, and she said, “We didn’t want to burn up the furniture, Pa, and freeze stark stiff.”
“Well, I’ll be darned!” said Pa. “If they didn’t move the whole woodpile in. All the wood I cut to last a couple of weeks.”
There, piled up in the house, was the whole woodpile. Melted snow was leaking out of it and spreading in puddles. A wet path went to the door, where snow lay unmelted.
Then Pa’s great laugh rang out, and Ma’s gentle smile shone warm on Mary and Laura. They knew they were forgiven for disobeying, because they had been wise to bring in wood, though perhaps not quite so much wood.
Sometime soon they would be old enough not to make any mistakes, and then they could always decide what to do. They would not have to obey Pa and Ma anymore.
They bustled to take off Ma’s shawl and hood and brush the snow from them and hang them up to dry. Pa hurried to the stable to do the chores be- fore the storm grew worse. Then while Ma rested, they stacked the wood neatly as she told them, and they swept and mopped the floor.
The house was neat and cosy again. The tea- kettle hummed, the fire shone brightly from the draughts above the stove hearth. Snow swished against the windows.
Pa came in. “Here is the little milk I could get here with. The wind blew it up out of the pail. Caroline, this is a terrible storm. I couldn’t see an inch, and the wind comes from all directions at once. I thought I was on the path, but I couldn’t see the house, and—well, I just barely bumped against the corner. Another foot to the left and I never would have got in.”
“Charles!” Ma said.
“Nothing to be scared about now,” said Pa. “But if we hadn’t run all the way from town and beat this storm here—” Then his eyes twinkled, he rumpled Mary’s hair and pulled Laura’s ear. “I’m glad all this wood is in the house, too,” he said.