There came a night when moonlight shone silver clear. The earth was endless white, and the wind was still.
Beyond every window the white world stretched far away in frosty glitter, and the sky was a curve of light. Laura could not settle down to anything. She didn’t want to play games. She hardly heard even the music of Pa’s fiddle. She did not want to dance, but she felt that she must move swiftly. She must be going somewhere.
Suddenly she exclaimed, “Carrie! Let’s go slide on the ice!”
“In the night, Laura?” Ma was astonished. “It’s light outdoors,” Laura replied. “Almost as
light as day.”
“It will be all right, Caroline,” Pa said. “There’s nothing to hurt them, if they don’t stay too long and freeze.”
So Ma told them, “You may go for a quick run.
Don’t stay until you get too cold.”
Laura and Carrie hurried into their coats and hoods and mittens. Their shoes were new and the soles thick. Ma had knit their stockings of woolen yarn, and their red flannel underclothes came down over their knees and buttoned in a snug band around each stocking. Their flannel petticoats were thick and warm, and their dresses and their coats were wool, and so were their hoods and mufflers.
Out of the warm house they burst into the breath-taking air that tingled with cold. They ran a race on the snowy path down the low hill to the stables. Then they followed the path that the horses and the cow had made when Pa led them through the snow to water at the hole, he had cut in the lake ice.
“We mustn’t go near the water hole,” Laura said, and she led Carrie along the lake shore until they were well away from it. Then they stopped and looked at the night.
It was so beautiful that they hardly breathed. The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world. Far, far away in every direction stretched motionless flatness, softly shining as if it were made of soft light. In the midst lay the dark, smooth lake, and a glittering moon path stretched across it. Tall grass stood up in black lines from the snow drifted in the sloughs.
The stable lay low and dark near the shore, and on the low hill stood the dark, small, surveyors’ house, with the yellow light in the window twinkling from its darkness.
“How still it is,” Carrie whispered. “Listen how still it is.”
Laura’s heart swelled. She felt herself a part of the wide land, of the far deep sky and the brilliant moonlight. She wanted to fly. But Carrie was little and almost afraid, so she took hold of Carrie’s hand and said, “Let’s slide. Come on, run!”
With hands clasped, they ran a little way. Then with right foot first they slid on the smooth ice much farther than they had run.
“On the moonpath, Carrie! Let’s follow the moonpath,” Laura cried.
And so they ran and slid, and ran and slid again, on the glittering moonpath into the light from the silver moon. Farther and farther from shore they went, straight toward the high bank on the other side.
They swooped and almost seemed to fly. If Carrie lost her balance, Laura held her up. If Laura was unsteady, Carrie’s hand steadied her.
Close to the farther shore, almost in the shad- ow of the high bank, they stopped. Something made Laura look up to the top of the bank.
And there, dark against the moonlight, stood a great wolf!
He was looking toward her. The wind stirred his fur and the moonlight seemed to run in and out of it.
“Let’s go back,” Laura said quickly, as she turned, taking Carrie with her. “I can go faster than you.”
She ran and slid and ran again as fast as she could, but Carrie kept up.
“I saw it too,” Carrie panted. “Was it a wolf?” “Don’t talk!” Laura answered. “Hurry!”
Laura could hear their feet running and sliding on the ice. She listened for a sound behind them, but there was none. Then they ran and slid without a word until they came to the path by the water hole. As they ran up the path, Laura looked back but she could see nothing on the lake nor on the bank beyond.
Laura and Carrie didn’t stop running. They ran up the hill to the house, opened the back door and ran into the lean-to. They ran across that, burst through the door into the front room and slammed it shut behind them. Then leaned against it, panting.
Pa sprang to his feet. “What is it?” he asked. “What has frightened you?”
“Was it a wolf, Laura?” Carrie gasped.
“It was a wolf, Pa,” Laura gulped, catching her breath. “A great, big wolf! And I was afraid Carrie couldn’t run fast enough but she did.”
“I should say she did!” Pa exclaimed. “Where is this wolf?”
“I don’t know. It is gone,” Laura told him.
Ma helped them take off their wraps. “Sit down and rest! You are all out of breath,” she said.
“Where was the wolf?” Pa wanted to know. “Up on the bank,” Carrie said, and Laura added, “The high bank across the lake.”
“Did you girls go clear there?” Pa asked in surprise. “And ran all the way back after you saw him! I had no idea you would go so far. It is a good half-mile.”
“We followed the moonpath,” Laura told him. Pa looked at her strangely. “You would!” he said. “I thought those wolves had gone. It was careless of me. I’ll hunt them tomorrow.”
Mary sat still, but her face was white. “Oh, girls,” she almost whispered. “Suppose he had caught you!”
Then they all sat silent while Laura and Carrie rested.
Laura was glad to be safe in the warm room with the desolate prairie shut out. If anything had happened to Carrie, it would have been her fault for taking her so far across the lake.
But nothing had happened. She could almost see again the great wolf with the wind ruffling the moonlight on his fur.
“Pa!” she said in a low voice. “Yes, Laura?” Pa answered.
“I hope you don’t find the wolf, Pa,” Laura said.
“Why ever not?” Ma wondered.
“Because he didn’t chase us,” Laura told her. “He didn’t chase us, Pa, and he could have caught us.”
A long, wild, wolf howl rose and faded away on the stillness.
Another answered it. Then silence again. Laura’s heart seemed to turn over with a sickening flop and she found herself on her feet. She was glad of Ma’s steadying hand on her arm.
“Poor girl! You are nervous as a witch and no wonder,” Ma said softly.
Ma took a hot flatiron from the back of the stove, wrapped it tightly in a cloth and gave it to Carrie.
“It is bedtime,” she said. “Here is the hot iron for your feet.
“And here is yours, Laura,” as she wrapped an- other. “Be sure you put it in the middle of the bed so Mary’s feet can reach it too.”
As Laura shut the stair door behind them, Pa was talking earnestly to Ma. But Laura could not hear what he said for the ringing in her ears.[/sociallocker]