OX ON THE ROOF
Now Laura and Mary had chores to do. Every morning before the sun was up they had to drive Spot to the big gray rock to meet the herd, so that Johnny could take her with the other cattle to eat grass all day. And every afternoon they had to remember to meet the herd and put Spot in the stable.
In the mornings they ran through the dewy chill grass that wet their feet and dabbled the hems of their dresses. They liked to splash their bare feet through the grass all strung with dew- drops. They liked to watch the sun rise over the edge of the world.
First everything was gray and still. The sky was gray, the grass was gray with dew, the light was gray, and the wind held its breath.
Then sharp streaks of green came into the eastern sky. If there was a little cloud, it turned pink. Laura and Mary sat on the damp, cold rock, hugging their chilly legs. They rested their chins on their knees and watched, and in the grass be- low them Jack sat, watching, too. But they never could see when the sky first began to be pink.
The sky was very faintly pink, then it was pinker. The color went higher up the sky. It grew brighter and deeper. It blazed like fire, and suddenly the little cloud was glittering gold. In the center of the blazing color, on the flat edge of the earth, a tiny sliver of sun appeared. It was a short streak of white fire. Suddenly the whole sun bounded up, round and huge, far bigger than the ordinary sun and throbbing with so much light that its roundness almost burst.
Laura couldn’t help blinking. While she blinked just once, the sky turned blue, the golden cloud vanished. The everyday sun shone over the prairie grasses where thousands of birds were flying and twittering.
In the evenings when the cattle came home, Laura and Mary always ran fast to get up on the big rock before all those heads and horns and trampling legs reached them.
Pa was working for Mr. Nelson now, and Pete and Bright had no work to do. They went with Spot and the other cattle to eat grass. Laura was never afraid of gentle, white Spot, but Pete and Bright were so big that they would scare anybody.
One evening all the cattle were angry. They came bellowing and pawing, and when they reached the big rock they did not go by. They ran around it, bawling and fighting. Their eyes rolled, their horns tossed and slashed at each other. Their hoofs raised a smudge of dust and their clashing horns were frightful.
Mary was so scared that she could not move. Laura was so scared that she jumped right off the rock. She knew she had to drive Spot and Pete and Bright into the stable.
The cattle towered up in the dust. Their feet trampled and their horns slashed, and they bawled. But Johnny helped to head Pete and Bright and Spot toward the stable. Jack helped, too. Jack growled at their heels and Laura ran yelling behind them. And with his big stick Johnny drove the herd away.
Spot went into the stable. Then Bright went in. Pete was going in, and Laura was not scared now, when suddenly big Pete wheeled around. His horns hooked and his tail stood up, and he galloped after the herd.
Laura ran in front of him. She waved her arms and yelled. He bellowed and went thundering to- ward the creek bank.
Laura ran with all her might, to get in front of him again. But her legs were short, and Pete’s were long. Jack came running as fast as he could. But he only made Pete jump longer jumps.
Pete jumped right on top of the dugout. Laura saw his hind leg go down, down through the roof. She saw him sit on it. That big ox was going to fall on Ma and Carrie, and it was Laura’s fault because she had not stopped him.
He heaved and pulled his leg up. Laura had not stopped running. She was in front of Pete now and Jack was in front of him, too.
They chased Pete into the stable and Laura put up the bars. She was shaking all over and her legs were weak. Her knees kept hitting together.
Ma had come running up the path, carrying Carrie. But no harm had been done. There was only a hole through the roof where Pete’s leg had come down and gone up again. Ma said it had given her a turn to see it coming down through the ceiling.
“But there’s no great damage done,” she said. She stuffed the hole full of grass and swept out the earth that had fallen into the dugout. Then she and Laura laughed because it was funny to live in a house where a steer could step through the roof. It was like being rabbits.
Next morning while Laura was doing the dishes, she saw some little dark things rolling down the whitewashed wall. They were crumbs of earth. She looked up to see where they came from, and she jumped away from there quicker than a rabbit. A big rock smashed down, and the whole ceiling poured down over it.
The sun shone down into the house and the air was full of dust. Ma and Mary and Laura choked and sneezed, looking up at the sky where a ceiling should have been. Carrie sat sneezing in Ma’s arms. Jack rushed in, and when he saw the sky overhead, he growled at it. Then he sneezed.
“Well, that settles it,” said Ma.
“What does, Ma?” Laura asked. She thought Ma meant something was settling the dust.
“This does,” Ma said. “Pa will have to mend that roof tomorrow.”
Then they carried out the rock and the earth and the bunches of hay that had fallen. Ma swept and swept again with the willow-twig broom.
That night they slept in their house, under the starry sky. Such a thing had never happened be- fore.
Next day Pa had to stay at home to build a new roof. Laura helped him carry fresh willow boughs and she handed them to him while he wedged them into place. They put clean fresh grass thick over the willows. They piled earth on the grass. Then over the top Pa laid strips of sod cut from the prairie.
He fitted them together and Laura helped him stamp them down.
“That grass will never know it’s been moved,” Pa said. “In a few days you won’t be able to tell this new roof from the prairie.”
He did not scold Laura for letting Pete get away. He only said, “It’s no place for a big ox to be running, right over our roof!”