09 January 2024

from Little House on the Prairie, chapter 2, Crossing the Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

'This creek's pretty high,' Pa said.  'But I guess we can make it all right.  You can see this is a ford, by the old wheel ruts.  What do you say, Caroline?'

'Whatever you say, Charles,' Ma answered.

Pet and Patty lifted their wet noses.  They pricked their ears forward, looking at the creek; then they pricked them backward to hear what Pa would say.  They sighed and laid their soft noses together to whisper to each other.  A little way upstream, Jack was lapping the water with his red tongue.

'I'll tie down the wagon-cover,' Pa said.  He climbed down from the seat, unrolled the canvas sides and tied them firmly to the wagon-box.  Then he pulled the rope at the back, so that the canvas puckered together in the middle, leaving only a tiny round hole, too small to see through.

Mary huddled down on the bed.  She did not like fords; she was afraid of the rushing water.  But Laura was excited; she liked the splashing.  Pa climbed to the seat, saying, 'They may have to swim, out there in the middle.  But we'll make it all right, Caroline.'

Laura thought of Jack and said, 'I wish Jack could ride in the wagon, Pa.'

Pa did not answer.  He gathered the reins tightly in his hands.  Ma said, 'Jack can swim, Laura.  He will be all right.'

The wagon went forward softly in mud.  Water began to splash against the wheels.  The splashing grew louder.  The wagon shook as the noisy water struck at it.  Then all at once the wagon lifted and balanced and swayed.  It was a lovely feeling.

The noise stopped, and Ma said, sharply, 'Lie down, girls!'

Quick as a flash, Mary and Laura dropped flat on the bed.  When Ma spoke like that, they did as they were told.  Ma's arm pulled a smothering blanket over them, heads and all.

'Be still, just as you are.  Don't move!' she said.

Mary did not move; she was trembling and still.  But Laura could not help wriggling a little bit.  She did so want to see what was happening.  She could feel the wagon swaying and turning; the splashing was noisy again, and again it died away.  Then Pa's voice frightened Laura.  It said, 'Take them, Caroline!'

The wagon lurched; there was a sudden heavy splash beside it.  Laura sat straight up and clawed the blanket from her head.

Pa was gone.  Ma sat alone, holding tight to the reins with both hands.  Mary hid her face in the blanket again, but Laura rose up farther.  She couldn't see the creek bank.  She couldn't see anything in front of the wagon but water rushing at it.  And in the water, three heads; Pet's head and Patty's head and Pa's small, wet head.  Pa's fist in the water was holding tight to Pet's bridle.

Laura could faintly hear Pa's voice through the rushing of the water.  It sounded calm and cheerful, but she couldn't hear what he said.  He was talking to the horses.  Ma's face was white and scared.

'Lie down, Laura,' Ma said.

Laura lay down.  She felt cold and sick.  Her eyes were shut tight, but she could still see the terrible water and Pa's brown beard drowning in it.

For a long, long time the wagon swayed and swung, and Mary cried without making a sound, and Laura's stomach felt sicker and sicker.  Then the front wheels struck and grated, and Pa shouted.  The whole wagon jerked and jolted and tipped backward, but the wheels were turning on the ground.  Laura was up again, holding to the seat; she saw Pet's and Patty's scrambling wet backs climbing a steep bank, and Pa running beside them, shouting, 'Hi, Patty!  Hi, Pet!  Get up!  Get up!  Whoopsy-daisy!  Good girls!'

At the top of the bank they stood still, panting and dripping.  And the wagon stood still, safely out of that creek.

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