Chapter OneTwo Bears in the Big Woods
The Big Woods were full of wolves and panthers. Gray foxes had dens in the hills. White-tailed deer roamed among the trees. There were even bears in the woods. Once Laura saw one up close, though she didn't know it at the time.
It happened when Laura was small. Her sister Mary was a bit older, and Carrie was just a baby. They lived in a little log house with Pa and Ma, a bulldog named Jack and a cat named Black Susan.
Spring had just begun to come to the woods. Early one morning Pa said he must go to town. He tied up a bundle of his furs to trade. There were so many furs that the bundle was almost as big as Pa. With so much to carry he had to leave his gun at home.
Ma was worried. But Pa said he would walk very fast and be home before dark.
The nearest town was far away. Laura and Mary knew Pa would bring them home presents from the store. All day long they waited.
Finally the sun sank low above the treetops. Laura and Mary watched eagerly for Pa. Then the sun sank out of sight, and still he did not come.
The woods grew dark. Ma started supper and set the table. But still Pa did not come.
Soon it was time to do the chores. Ma said Laura could come with her while she milked the cow. Laura could carry the lantern. Laura was proud to be helping Ma. She held the lantern carefully. Little bits of light leaped around her on the snow. Night had almost come. There was just a dim gray light in the dark Woods.
Laura saw the shape of Sukey, the brown cow, standing at the barnyard gate. She was surprised. So was Ma. It was too early in the spring for Sukey to be let out in the woods to eat grass. Why wasn't she in the barn?
But Lauraremembered that sometimes Pa left Sukey's stall door open so she could come into the barnyard. Maybe that was why she was out.
Ma pushed against the gate to open it, but Sukey was standing against it. The gate wouldn't open.
"Sukey!" Ma said. "Get over!" She reached across the gate and slapped Sukey's big shoulder.
Just then a bit of light from the lantern shone on Sukey. Laura saw long, shaggy black fur. She saw two little, glittering eyes.
Sukey had short brown fur and large, gentle eyes.
Ma said, very quietly, "Laura, walk back to the house."
So Laura turned around and began to walk. Ma came behind her. Halfway there Ma snatched Laura up, lantern and all, and ran. She raced into the house and slammed the door.
"Ma," Laura said, "was it a bear?"
"Yes, Laura," Ma said. "It was a bear."
Laura began to cry. She hung on to Ma and sobbed, "Oh, will he eat Sukey?"
Ma hugged her. "No, Sukey is safe in the barn. The door is made to keep bears out. The bear cannot get in."
Laura felt better. "But he could have hurt us, couldn't he?" she asked.
"He didn't hurt us," Ma said. "You were a good girl, Laura, to do exactly as I told you, without asking why."
Ma was trembling. Suddenly she laughed. "To think I've slapped a bear!"
Then she put supper on the table for Laura and Mary. Pa still had not come home.
After supper Laura and Mary put on their nightgowns. They said their prayers. Ma sat by the lamp mending one of Pa's shirts while Laura and Mary snuggled into their trundle bed.
Without Pa, the house seemed cold and still and strange. Laura listened to the wind in the Big Woods. It went crying around the house as though it were lost in the dark and the cold.
Mafinished mending the shirt. Then Laura saw her do something Ma had never done before. She went to the door and pulled the latch-string through its hole. Now no one could get inside unless Ma lifted the latch.
Ma went to the big bed and took out Carrie, all limp and sleeping. She took her to the rocking chair and sat there rocking gently. When Laura and Mary fell asleep, she was still sitting there rocking. Pa had not come home.
But in the morning, there he was! He had brought candy for Laura and Mary and pretty calico for new dresses. And he had brought home a story-another bear story.
It had taken Pa a long time to do the trading yesterday. "It was nearly sundown before I could start home," he said. "I tried to hurry, but the walking was hard and I was tired. I had not gone far before night came. And I was alone in the Big Woods without my gun."
Laura and Mary looked at Pa with wide, scared eyes.
Pa went on. I knew that some of the bears had come out of their dens. I had seen their tracks when I went to town in the morning. Bears are hungry and cross at this time of year. I did not want to meet one.
"Then I came into an open place, and there, right in the middle of the road, I saw a big black bear."
Laura gasped. Mary's mouth was a round, scared O. "He was standing up on his hind legs," said Pa, "looking at me. I could see his eyes shine. I could see his pig snout. I could even see one of his claws in the starlight.
"My scalp prickled and my hair stood straight up. I stopped in my tracks. The bear didn't move. There he stood, looking at me.