Laura and Lena
When Laura first saw Lena, she knew she would like her. Lena's eyes were black and snappy. Her curly hair was black as black could be.
"Do you like to ride horseback?" Lena asked Laura right away. "We've got two black ponies. I can drive them all by myself Tomorrow I'm going for the washing. You can come too, if you want to. Do you?"
"Yes!" said Laura.
Lena was Laura's cousin. She was one year older than Laura, and she had a little brother named Jean. Lena and Jean lived with Uncle Hi and Aunt Docia in a railroad camp in Dakota Territory.
Uncle Hi worked for the railroad. Laura's Pa had come to help him. Laura and her sisters, Mary, Carrie, and baby Grace, and their Ma and Pa had traveled all the way from Minnesota to Dakota Territory. They were staying with Uncle Hi and Aunt Docia until they found a place of their own.
Uncle Hi and Aunt Docia's little house was so crowded, there was no room for Laura and Lena. They had to sleep in a tent.
After supper, Lena took Laura outside. The tent looked small under the big black sky. It seemed far away from the warm, cozy house.
When Laura peeked inside, she saw that the tent was empty. There was onlya blanket spread over the grass on the ground. Laura felt a little lost and lonesome. She didn't think she would like sleeping on the ground in a tent. She wished Ma and Pa were there.
Lena thought it was great fun to sleep in the tent. She flopped down right away.
"Don't we undress?" Laura asked sleepily. She was very tired. It had been a long journey from their little house on the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota. Now she was far away, in a strange new place.
"What for?" Lena asked. "You onlyhave to put on your clothes again in the morning. Besides, there aren't any covers."
So Laura lay down beside Lena. She closed her eyes, and in no time at all, it was morning.
Sunshine coming through the tent woke Laura. She opened her eyes just asLena opened hers. The girls looked at each other and laughed.
"Hurry up!" Lena sang out. "We're going for the washing!"
Since they hadn't undressed, there was no need to dress.
Laura and Lena jumped up and ran outside. The sun was shining, and the prairie stretched out as far as Laura could see. There were two black ponies grazing in the tall prairie grass. Their shining manes and tails were blowing in the wind.
"We've got to eat breakfast first," Lena said. "Come on, Laura! Hurry!"
They raced inside the house. Everyone was already at the table. Aunt Docia was frying pancakes.
Aunt Docia cooked for all the men in the railroad camp. There were so manymeals to cook, and so many dishes to wash, that Aunt Docia and Lena were busy every day from sunrise to sunset. There was never any time for them to wash their clothes. So Aunt Docia had hired a homesteader's wife to do it for her.
The homesteaders lived three miles away. It was Lena's job to drive the buggy to pick up the washing.
After breakfast, Lena untied the black ponies from their picket lines. Laura helped her harness them to the buggy. Lena and Laura climbed up, and Lena took the reins.
Pa had never let Laura drive his horses. He said she was not strong enough to hold them if they ran away.
As soon as Lena took the reins, the black ponies began to trot. The buggy wheels turned quickly, and the prairie wind blew. Faster and faster went the ponies. Faster went thewheels. Laura and Lena laughed with joy.
The trotting ponies touched noses, gave, a little squeal, and started to run.
Up sailed the buggy, and Laura almost bounced out of the seat. Her bonnet flapped behind her. She held on to the edge of the seat. The ponies were stretched out low, running with all their might.
"They're running away!" Laura cried.
"Let 'em run!" Lena shouted. "They can't run against anything but grass!" And then Lena yelled to the ponies, "Hi! Yi! Yi, yi, yee-eep!"
The ponies' long black manes and tails streamed behind them. Their feet pounded and the buggy sailed. Everything went rushing by too fast to be seen.
"Hi, yi, yi, yi yipee-ee!" Lena and Laura called together. But the ponies couldn't go any faster. They were going as fast as they could.
"I wish I could drive," Laura said. I always wanted to, but Pa won't let me."
"You can drive a ways," Lena offered. Just then the ponies touched noses, squealed, and ran.
"You can drive on the way home! Lena promised.
Singing and whooping, they went racing on across the prairie. Every time Lena slowed the ponies, they got their breath back and ran again. In no time at all, they reached the homesteaders' little one-room house.
The homesteader's wife came out to the buggy. She carried a heavy basket of washing. Her face and arms and bare feet were brown as leather from the sun.
Lena talked to the homesteader's wife for a while, and then she tugged on the reins. Soon Laura and Lena were far out in the middle of the prairie again.