In the dugout Laura and Mary took off all their clothes and over their bare skins they put on old patched dresses. Ma tied on her sunbonnet, Pa took Carrie on his arm, and they all set out.
They went past the cattle path and the rushes, past the willow valley and the plum thickets. They went down a steep, grassy bank, and then across a level place where the grass was tall and coarse.
They passed a high, almost straight-up wall of earth where no grass grew.
“What is that, Pa?” Laura asked; and Pa said, “That is a tableland, Laura.”
He pushed on through the thick, tall grass, making a path for Ma and Mary and Laura. Suddenly they came out of the high grass and the creek was there.
It ran twinkling over white gravel into a wide pool, curved against a low bank where the grass was short. Tall willows stood up on the other side of the pool. Flat on the water lay a shimmery pic- ture of those willows, with every green leaf fluttering.
Ma sat on the grassy bank and kept Carrie with her, while Laura and Mary waded into the pool.
“Stay near the edge, girls!” Ma told them. “Don’t go in where it’s deep.”
The water came up under their skirts and made them float. Then the calico got wet and stuck to their legs. Laura went in deeper and deeper. The water came up and up, almost to her waist. She squatted down, and it came to her chin. Everything was watery, cool, and unsteady.
Laura felt very light. Her feet were so light that they almost lifted off the creek bottom. She hopped and splashed with her arms.
“Oo, Laura, don’t!” Mary cried.
“Don’t go in any farther, Laura,” said Ma.
Laura kept on splashing. One big splash lifted both feet. Her feet came up, her arms did as they pleased, her head went under the water. She was scared. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing solid anywhere. Then she was standing up, streaming water all over. But her feet were solid. Nobody had seen that. Mary was tucking up her skirts, Ma was playing with Carrie. Pa was out of sight among the willows. Laura walked as fast as she could in the water. She stepped down deeper and deeper. The water came up past her middle, up to her arms.
Suddenly, deep down in the water, something grabbed her foot.
The thing jerked, and down she went into the deep water. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t see. She grabbed and could not get hold of any- thing. Water filled her ears and her eyes and her mouth.
Then her head came out of the water close to Pa’s head. Pa was holding her.
“Well, young lady,” Pa said, “you went out too far, and how did you like it?”
Laura could not speak; she had to breathe. “You heard Ma tell you to stay close to the bank,” said Pa. “Why didn’t you obey her? You deserved a ducking, and I ducked you. Next time you’ll do as you’re told.”
“Y-yes, Pa!” Laura spluttered. “Oh, Pa, p- please do it again!”
Pa said, “Well, I’ll—!” Then his great laughter rang among the willows.
“Why didn’t you holler when I ducked you?” he asked Laura. “Weren’t you scared?”
“I w-was—awful scared!” Laura gasped. “But p-please do it again!” Then she asked him, “How did you get down there, Pa?”
Pa told her he had swum under water from the willows. But they could not stay in the deep water; they must go near the bank and play with Mary.
All that afternoon Pa and Laura and Mary played in the water. They waded and they fought water fights, and whenever Laura or Mary went near the deep water, Pa ducked them. Mary was a good girl after one ducking, but Laura was ducked many times.
Then it was almost chore time and they had to go home. They went dripping along the path through the tall grass, and when they came to the tableland Laura wanted to climb it.
Pa climbed part way up, and Laura and Mary climbed, holding to his hands. The dry dirt slipped and slid. Tangled grass roots hung down from the bulging edge overhead. Then Pa lifted Laura up and set her on the tableland.
It really was like a table. That ground rose up high above the tall grasses, and it was round, and flat on top. The grass there was short and soft.
Pa and Laura and Mary stood up on top of that tableland and looked over the grass tops and the pool to the prairie beyond. They looked all around at prairies stretching to the rim of the sky. Then they had to slide down again to the low- land and go on home. That had been a wonderful afternoon.
“It’s been lots of fun,” Pa said. “But you girls remember what I tell you. Don’t you ever go near that swimming-hole unless I am with you.”