Friday, May 24, 2013
Chapter 20: Scream in the Night
"They stood by the fire and listened. They couldn't hear anything but the wind. And they could not do anything. But at least they were not lying down in bed.
Suddenly fists pounded on the door and Pa shouted: 'Let me in! Quick, Caroline!'"
The days are short and cold now. Mary and Laura spend most of the time inside their snug cabin, either helping Ma or playing games with Carrie. Pa goes out trapping and hunting every day.
The winter wind sweeps and howls over the prairie, never still. But one night a loud and terrible scream wakes everyone up. It is not the wind.
"Charles! What was it?" Ma says.
"It's a woman screaming," Pa said. "Sounded like it came from Scott's"
Pa puts on his boots, his heavy coat, and his fur cap. He lights the candle in the lantern, grabs his rifle, and heads out the door. He is going to make sure that the Scotts are alright.
Ma and the girls are left alone in the cabin. Ma tells the girls to go back to sleep, but they are not sleepy. Laura imagines Pa walking along the top of the bluff, the candle shining here and there through the holes cut in the lantern.
It seems like hours go by, and then they hear the terrible screaming again. It seems very close to the house. Ma jumps up to put more wood on the fire. Laura jumps up, too, but Ma tells her to go back to bed. Laura begs so hard to stay up that Ma lets her and they stand together by the fire, listening.
Suddenly, they hear fists pounding hard on the door and Pa's voice shouting, "Let me in!"
Ma opens the door and Pa slams it quickly behind him. He is breathing hard from running. "Whew! I'm scared yet," he says.
"What was it, Charles?" Ma asks him.
"A panther," Pa answers.
Pa tells how he hurried as fast as he could to Mr. Scott's house. But when he got there, the house was dark and still. Pa could not find anything wrong, and he didn't want to look like a fool waking them up. So he turned around and came home feeling silly.
It was just as he was hurrying along the edge of the bluff that the scream came again. It sounded like it was right under his feet. The panther was up in the top of a tree that grew against the bluff and Pa lit out for home as fast as he could run.
Laura is glad Pa is safe. She helps him take off his boots and asks, "Would a panther carry off a little girl, Pa?"
"Yes, and kill and eat her, too. You and Mary must stay in the house until I kill that panther."
Pa spends days hunting the panther with no luck before he meets an Indian in the woods. The Indian uses signs to tell Pa that he shot and killed the panther the day before. Pa is glad and the Indian is glad. All the little girls and little papooses are safe.
Well, I could have built my own panther in the time it's taken me to get around to writing this post. Spring is a very busy time on the prairie, OK? But at last, I've seized myself by the scruff of the neck with the worst threat of all----no more Facebook on the prairie until I get this posted.
Aaaaaaargh! Going through withdrawal here........
For this chapter, I decided to go for a four mile nighttime walk, panthers optional. Of course, a gentle and innocent creature such as myself cannot go walking out after dark alone, so Caleb was cordially conscripted---I mean----invited to join me. The party pooper didn't want me to randomly wake him up in the middle of the night in order to make it more authentic, so I was forced to leave just after sunset.
I could deal with that as long as it would be dark enough that no one could see the latest crazy thing I was up to. Because we had to do the walk by lamplight, naturally.
I wasn't able to find a kerosene lantern to carry and didn't want to wait to order one. As it turned out, I could have knitted one in the time it's taken me to post, but I didn't know that at the time. Plus, I don't think a knitted lantern would actually be that durable.
I borrowed the closest thing I could find---a battery-operated camp lantern from my sister. Clutching a few sad, desperate rags of authenticity about me, I tried to make it more realistic by making a "tin-punch" effect out of cardboard wrapped around the lantern.
I started out by drawing a design on the cardboard strip, then making holes in the cardboard with a hammer and nail. This lasted for the first panel.
Wanting to get out of the house sometime before midnight, I just started hammering randomly around on the cardboard.
Sadly, it was difficult to tell which one was the design.
"Pa put on his warm, bright plaid coat, and his fur cap, and his muffler. He lighted the candle in the lantern, took his gun, and hurried outdoors."
Lantern readied, it was time to throw on our layers and prepare for the trek. It was a warm evening for the season---about 25 degrees---but a south wind was blowing, bringing just a hint of chill to the air.
I wisely decided to err on the side of caution while dressing. After all, I could always take layers off if I found myself too warm.
Caleb posed nobly with the lantern as we were leaving...
Then gave it to me to carry the rest of the way.
My driveway faces south, right into that blessed little breeze. I wasn't even halfway to the end of it before I was ready to turn around, warm clothes notwithstanding. Who needs to walk a full four miles, anyway? I was sure I could come up with something creative to make a blog post out of a walk to the end of our driveway.
But Caleb and I decided to try and make it a leetle ways down the road. Once we turned, the wind wouldn't be full in our faces anymore and we might start to thaw out a little.
"Tiny bright spots of candlelight darted here and there from the holes cut in the tin lantern. The flickering lights seemed to be lost in the black dark."
The lantern really did make dancing little lights, just like in the chapter. Unfortunately, the full moon made much bigger little lights, so we really couldn't see the lantern-light much at all.
But at least we had it along.
In case the moon went out, or something.
Well, once we got started on the road, we just kept going. It's two miles to the end of our road, so a round trip would take us the required 4 miles. It was actually a fairly pleasant walk, as long as you weren't too picky about little things like feeling your toes.
As we got closer to the intersection with the main road, I maintained an unceasing vigilance, ready to leap into the bushes at the first sign of a car. Only there weren't any bushes. Maybe I could quickly cover myself with snow or something....
Thankfully, it never came to that, and I was able to have Caleb snap a quick picture of me before we slunk hurriedly away from the main road.
Finley's looking away because he hates having his picture taken. Maybe I overdid it a smidge when he was a child, but he was such a cuuuuuuuuute puppy....
Seriously! How could I help myself?
"All that time they had been lying and listeing to the wind, and Pa had not come back.
Then, high above the shrieking of the wind they heard again that terrible scream. It seemed quite close to the house."
We made it back home, getting to have the opposite side of our face frozen on the homeward journey. We never heard any panthers screaming, but the migrating geese did set up quite a ruckus as we passed their prairie potholes.
I'd be yelling, too, if I had to stand in snow melt to keep the coyotes from eating me.
There should be a picture right here of Caleb and me triumphantly snug and warm back in our kitchen. But there's not. When we got home, we blew through the house and went straight to our warm beds.
I'm sure Pa did, too.
Whew! Now for some Facebook....