06 October 2023

from Farmer Boy, chapter 15, Cold Snap (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

 The air was still and cold that night, and the stars had a wintry look.  After supper Father went to the barns again.  He shut the doors and the little wooden windows of the horses' stalls, and he put the ewes with their lambs into the fold.

When he came in, Mother asked if it was any warmer.  Father shook his head.

'I do believe it is going to freeze,' he said.

'Pshaw! surely not!' Mother replied. But she looked worried.

Sometime in the night Almanzo felt cold, but he was too sleepy to do anything about it. Then he heard Mother calling:

'Royal! Almanzo!' He was too sleepy to open his eyes.

'Boys, get up! Hurry!' Mother called. 'The corn's frozen!'

He tumbled out of bed and pulled on his trousers. He couldn't keep his eyes open, his hands were clumsy, and big yawns almost dislocated his jaw. He staggered downstairs behind Royal.

Mother and Eliza Jane and Alice were putting on their hoods and shawls.  The kitchen was cold; the fire had not been lighted.  Outdoors everything looked strange.  The grass was white with frost, and a cold green streak was in the eastern sky, but the air was dark.

Father hitched Bess and Beauty to the wagon.  Royal pumped the watering-trough full.  Almanzo helped Mother and the girls bring tubs and pails, and Father set barrels in the wagon.  They filled the tubs and barrels full of water, and then they walked behind the wagon to the cornfield.

All the corn was frozen.  The little leaves were stiff, and broke if you touched them.  Only cold water would save the life of the corn.  Every hill must be watered before the sunshine touched it, or the little plants would die.  There would be no corn-crop that year.

The wagon stopped at the edge of the field.  Father and Mother and Royal and Eliza Jane and Alice and Almanzo filled their pails with water, and they all went to work, as fast as they could.

Almanzo tried to hurry, but the pail was heavy and his legs were short.  His wet fingers were cold, the water slopped against his legs, and he was terribly sleepy.  He stumbled along the rows, and at every hill of corn he poured a little water over the frozen leaves.

The field seemed enormous.  There were thousands and thousands of hills of corn.  Almanzo began to be hungry.  But he couldn't stop to complain.  He must hurry, hurry, hurry, to save the corn.

The green in the east turned pink.  Every moment the light brightened.  At first the dark had been like a mist over the endless field, now Almanzo could see to the end of the long rows.  He tried to work faster.

In an instant the earth turned from black to grey.  The sun was coming to kill the corn.

Almanzo ran to fill his pail; he ran back.  He ran down the rows, splashing water on the hills of corn.  His shoulders ached and his arm ached and there was a pain in his side.  The soft earth hung on to his feet.  He was terribly hungry.  But every splash of water saved a hill of corn.

In the grey light the corn had faint shadows now.  All at once pale sunshine came over the field.

'Keep on!' Father shouted.  So they all kept on; they didn't stop.

But in a little while Father gave up.  'No use!' he called.  Nothing would save the corn after the sunshine touched it.

Almanzo set down his pail and straightened up against the ache in his back.  He stood and looked at the cornfield.  All the others stood and looked, too, and did not say anything.  They had watered almost three acres.  A quarter of an acre had not been watered.  It was lost.

Almanzo trudged back to the wagon and climbed in.  Father said:

'Let's be thankful we saved most of it.'

They rode sleepily down to the barns.  Almanzo was not quite awake yet, and he was tired and cold and hungry.  His hands were clumsy, doing the chores.  But most of the corn was saved.

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