Laura was running straight toward the south. Grass whipped soft against her bare feet. Butter- flies fluttered over the flowers. There wasn’t a bush nor a weed that Grace could be hidden be- hind. There was nothing, nothing but grass and flowers swaying in the sunshine.
If she were little and playing all by herself, Laura thought, she wouldn’t go into the dark Big Slough, she wouldn’t go into the mud and the tall grass. “Oh, Grace, why didn’t I watch you?” she thought. Sweet pretty little helpless sister—“Grace! Grace!” she screamed. Her breath caught and hurt in her side.
She ran on and on. “Grace must have gone this way. Maybe she chased a butterfly. She didn’t go into Big Slough! She didn’t climb the hill, she wasn’t there. Oh, baby sister, I couldn’t see you anywhere east or south on this hateful prairie.” “Grace!”
The horrible, sunny prairie was so large. No lost baby could ever be found on it. Ma’s calling and Pa’s shouts came from Big Slough. They were thin cries, lost in wind, lost on the enormous bigness of the prairie.
Laura’s breathing hurt her sides under the ribs. Her chest was smothering and her eyes were dizzy. She ran up a low slope. Nothing, nothing, not a spot of shadow was anywhere on the level prairie all around her. She ran on, and suddenly the ground dropped before her. She almost fell down a steep bank.
There was Grace. There, in a great pool of blue, sat Grace. The sun shone on her golden hair blowing in the wind. She looked up at Laura with big eyes as blue as violets. Her hands were full of violets. She held them up to Laura and said, “Sweet! Sweet!”
Laura sank down and took Grace in her arms. She held Grace carefully and panted for breath. Grace leaned over her arm to reach more violets. They were surrounded by masses of violets blossoming above low-spreading leaves. Violets covered the flat bottom of a large, round hollow. All around this lake of violets, grassy banks rose almost straight up to the prairie-level. There in the round, low place the wind hardly disturbed the fragrance of the violets. The sun was warm there, the sky was overhead, the green walls of grass curved all around, and butterflies fluttered over the crowding violet-faces.
Laura stood up and lifted Grace to her feet. She took the violets that Grace gave her and clasped her hand. “Come, Grace,” she said. “We must go home.”
She gave one look around the little hollow while she helped Grace climb the bank.
Grace walked so slowly that for a little while Laura carried her. Then she let her walk, for Grace was nearly three years old, and heavy. Then she lifted her again. So, carrying Grace and helping her walk, Laura brought her to the shanty and gave her to Mary.
Then she ran toward the Big Slough, calling as she ran. “Pa! Ma! She’s here!” She kept on calling until Pa heard her and shouted to Ma, far in the tall grass. Slowly, together, they fought their way out of Big Slough and slowly came up to the shanty, draggled and muddy and very tired and thankful.
“Where did you find her, Laura?” Ma asked, taking Grace in her arms and sinking into her chair.
“In a—” Laura hesitated, and said, “Pa, could it really be a fairy ring? It is perfectly round. The bottom is perfectly flat. The bank around it is the same height all the way. You can’t see a sign of that place till you stand on the bank. It is very large, and the whole bottom of it is covered solidly thick with violets. A place like that couldn’t just happen, Pa. Something made it.”
“You are too old to be believing in fairies, Laura,” Ma said gently. “Charles, you must not encourage such fancies.”
“But it isn’t—it isn’t like a real place, truly,” Laura protested. “And smell how sweet the violets are. They aren’t like ordinary violets.”
“They do make the whole house sweet,” Ma admitted. “But they are real violets, and there are no fairies.”
“You are right, Laura; human hands didn’t make that place,” Pa said. “But your fairies were big, ugly brutes, with horns on their heads and humps on their backs. That place is an old buffalo wallow. You know buffaloes are wild cattle. They paw up the ground and wallow in the dust, just as cattle do.
“For ages the buffalo herds had these wallowing places. They pawed up the ground and the wind blew the dust away. Then another herd came along and pawed up more dust in the same place. They went always to the same places, and—”
“Why did they, Pa?” Laura asked.
“I don’t know,” Pa said. “Maybe because the ground was mellowed there. Now the buffalo are gone, and grass grows over their wallows. Grass and violets.”
“Well,” Ma said. “All’s well that ends well, and here it is long past dinnertime. I hope you and Carrie didn’t let the biscuits burn, Mary.”
“No, Ma,” Mary said, and Carrie showed her the biscuits wrapped in a clean cloth to keep warm, and the potatoes drained and mealy-dry in their pot. And Laura said, “Sit still, Ma, and rest. I’ll fry the salt pork and make the gravy.”
No one but Grace was hungry. They ate slowly, and then Pa finished planting the windbreak. Ma helped Grace hold her own little tree while Pa set it firmly. When all the trees were planted, Carrie and Laura gave them each a full pail of water from the well. Before they finished, it was time to help get supper.
“Well,” Pa said at the table. “We’re settled at last on our homestead claim.”
“Yes,” said Ma. “All but one thing. Mercy, what a day this has been. I didn’t get time to drive the nail for the bracket.”
“I’ll tend to it, Caroline, as soon as I drink my tea,” Pa said.
He took the hammer from his toolbox under the bed and drove a nail into the wall between the table and the whatnot. “Now bring on your bracket and the china shepherdess!” he said.
Ma brought them to him. He hung the bracket on the nail and stood the china shepherdess on its shelf. Her little china shoes, her tight china bod- ice and her golden hair were as bright as they had been so long ago in the Big Woods. Her china skirts were as wide and white, her cheeks as pink and her blue eyes as sweet as ever. And the bracket that Pa had carved for Ma’s Christmas present so long ago was still without a scratch, and even more glossily polished than when it was new.
Over the door Pa hung his rifle and his shot- gun, and then he hung on a nail above them a bright, new horseshoe.
“Well,” he said, looking around at the snugly crowded shanty. “A short horse is soon curried. This is our tightest squeeze yet, Caroline, but it’s only a beginning.” Ma’s eyes smiled into his eyes, and he said to Laura, “I could sing you a song about that horseshoe.”
She brought him the fiddle box, and he sat down in the doorway and tuned the fiddle. Ma settled in her chair to rock Grace to sleep. Softly Laura washed the dishes and Carrie wiped them while Pa played the fiddle and sang.
“We journey along quite contented in life
And try to live peaceful with all. We keep ourselves free from all trouble and strife
And we’re glad when our friends on us call.
Our home it is happy and cheerful and bright,
We’re content and we ask nothing more.
And the reason we prosper, I’ll tell you now,
There’s a horseshoe hung over the door.
“Keep the horseshoe hung over the door!
It will bring you good luck ever- more.
If you would be happy and free from all care,
Keep the horseshoe hung over the door!”
“It sounds rather heathenish to me, Charles,” Ma said.
“Well, anyway,” Pa replied, “I wouldn’t won- der if we do pretty well here, Caroline. In time we’ll build more rooms on this house, and maybe have a driving team and buggy. I’m not going to plow up much grass. We’ll have a garden and a little field, but mostly raise hay and cattle. Where so many buffalo ranged, must be a good country for cattle.”
The dishes were done. Laura carried the dish- pan some distance from the back door and flung the water far over the grass where tomorrow’s sun would dry it. The first stars were pricking through the pale sky. A few lights twinkled yellow in the little town, but the whole great plain of the earth was shadowy. There was hardly a wind, but the air moved and whispered to itself in the grasses. Laura almost knew what it said. Lonely and wild and eternal were land and water and sky and the air blowing.
“The buffalo are gone,” Laura thought. “And now we’re homesteaders.”[/sociallocker]