WREATH OF ROSES
Out on the prairie beyond the stable there was a long gray rock. It rose up above the waving grasses and nodding wildflowers. On top it was flat and almost smooth, so wide that Laura and Mary could run on its side by side, and so long that they could race each other. It was a wonderful place to play.
Gray-green lichens with ruffled edges grew flat on it. Wandering ants crossed it. Often a butter- fly stopped to rest there. Then Laura watched the velvety wings slowly opening and closing, as if the butterfly breathed with them. She saw the tiny feet on the rock, and the feelers quivering, and even the round, lidless eyes.
She never tried to catch a butterfly. She knew that its wings were covered with feathers too tiny to see. A touch would brush off those tiny feathers and hurt the butterfly.
The sun was always warm on the big gray rock. Sunshine was always on the waving prairie grasses, and birds and butterflies in the sunshine. Breezes always blew there, warm and perfumed from the sun-warmed grasses. Far away, toward the place where the sky came down to the land, small dark things moved on the prairie. They were cattle, grazing.
Laura and Mary never went to play on the gray rock in the mornings, and they did not stay there when the sun was going down, because morning and evening the cattle went by.
They went by in a herd, with trampling hoofs and tossing horns. Johnny Johnson, the herd boy, walked behind them. He had a round red face, and round blue eyes, and pale, whitey-yellow hair. He grinned and did not say anything. He couldn’t. He did not know any words that Laura and Mary knew.
Late one afternoon Pa called them from the creek. He was going to the big rock to see Johnny Johnson bring the cattle home, and Laura and Mary could go with him.
Laura skipped with joy. She had never been so close to a herd of cattle, and she would not be afraid when Pa was there. Mary came slowly, staying close to Pa.
The cattle were already quite near. Their bawling was growing louder. Their horns tossed above the herd, and a thin, golden dust rose up around them.
“Here they come!” Pa said. “Scramble up!” He boosted Mary and Laura onto the big rock. Then they looked at the cattle.
Red backs and brown backs, black and white and spotted backs, surged by. Eyes rolled and tongues licked flat noses; heads tipped wickedly to gouge with fierce horns. But Laura and Mary were safe on the high gray rock, and Pa stood against it, watching.
The last of the herd was going by, when both Laura and Mary caught sight of the prettiest cow they had ever seen.
She was a small white cow. She had red ears, and in the middle of her forehead there was a red spot. Her small white horns curved inward, pointing to that red spot. And on her white side, right in the middle, there was a perfect circle of red spots as big as roses.
Even Mary jumped up and down.
“Oh, look! Oh, look!” Laura shouted. “Pa, see the cow with the wreath of roses!”
Pa laughed. He was helping Johnny Johnson drive that cow away from the others. He called back: “Come along, girls! Help me drive her into the stable!”
Laura jumped off the rock and ran to help him, shouting, “Why, Pa, why? Oh, Pa, are we going to keep her?”
The little white cow went into the stable, and Pa answered, “She’s our cow!”
Laura turned and ran as fast as she could. She pounded down the path and rushed into the dugout, yelling: “Oh, Ma, Ma! Come see the cow! We’ve got a cow! Oh, Ma, the prettiest cow!”
Ma took Carrie on her arm and came to see. “Charles!” she said.
“She’s ours, Caroline!” said Pa. “How do you like her?”
“But, Charles!” Ma said.
“I got her from Nelson,” Pa told her. “I’m paying him by day’s work. Nelson’s got to have help, haying and harvesting. Look at her. She’s a good little milch cow. Caroline, we’re going to have milk and butter.”
“Oh, Charles!” said Ma.
Laura did not wait to hear any more. She turned around and ran again, as fast as she could go, along the path and down into the dugout. She grabbed her tin cup from the supper table, and she rushed back again.
Pa tied the pretty white cow in her own little stall, beside Pete and Bright. She stood quietly chewing her cud. Laura squatted down beside her, and holding the tin cup carefully in one hand, she took hold of that cow with her other hand and squeezed just as she had seen Pa do when he milked. And sure, enough a streak of warm white milk went straight into the tin cup.
“My goodness! What is that child doing!” Ma exclaimed.
“I’m milking, Ma,” said Laura.
“Not on that side,” Ma told her, quickly. “She’ll kick you.”
But the gentle cow only turned her head and looked at Laura with gentle eyes. She looked surprised, but she did not kick.
“Always milk a cow from the right side, Laura,” said Ma. But Pa said: “Look at the little half-pint! Who taught you to milk?”
Nobody had taught Laura. She knew how to milk a cow; she had watched Pa do it. Now they all watched her. Streak after streak of milk zinged into the tin cup; then streak after streak purred and foamed, till the white foam rose up almost to the cup’s brim.
Then Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura each took a big swallow of that warm, delicious milk, and what was left Carrie drank up. They felt good inside and they all stood looking at that beautiful cow.
“What is her name?” Ma asked.
Pa’s big laugh rang out and he said, “Her name is Reet.”
“Reet?” Ma repeated. “What outlandish name is that?”
“The Nelsons called her some Norwegian name,” said Pa. “When I asked what it meant, Mrs. Nelson said it was a reet.”
“What on earth is a reet?” Ma asked him. “That’s what I asked Mrs. Nelson,” said Pa.
“She kept on saying, ‘a reet,’ and I guess I looked as foolish as I felt, for finally she said, ‘a reet of roses.’”
“A wreath!” Laura shouted. “A wreath of roses!”
Then they all laughed till they could not laugh any more, and Pa said: “It does beat all. In Wisconsin we lived among Swedes and Germans. In Indian Territory we lived among the Indians. Now here in Minnesota all the neighbors are Norwegians. They’re good neighbors, too. But I guess our kind of folks is pretty scarce.”
“Well,” said Ma, “we’re not going to call this cow Reet, nor yet Wreath of Roses. Her name is Spot.”