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As far back as Laura could remember, Jack was there. When Laura andMary, Ma and Pa, and baby Carrie lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, they never had to worry about the bears and wildcats that roamed the forest. Jack stood guard every night. He was a watchdog, and it was his job to keep the family safe.
Jack was a bulldog. He had a stocky body and short legs. His light-brown fur was short, with darker-brown streaks through it. He had a large head and strong, square jaws. When he was guarding the family, he looked very stern and fierce. But with Laura and Mary he was always gentle.
Laura was a very little girl in those days. Mary was a bit older, and she was quiet and good. Laura liked to run and play with Jack. There were no other children living nearby-there wasn't even another house in sight. Just trees and more trees. Laura and Jack weren't allowed to stray into the woods, but there was lots to do right around the little house. Especially if you were a dog.
In the summer Jack had squirrels to chase and birds to bark at. At night he protected Ma's garden from the deer that lived in the woods. The garden was planted behind the cabin. During the day the deer wouldn't come so close to the house, but at night they got brave and jumped the fence. If it hadn't been for Jack, they would have eaten all Ma's carrots and cabbages. Jack ran after them and chased them out. In the morning Laura would find little hoofprints among the turnips, with Jack's pawprints right beside them.
In the fall Ma and Pa were busy storing food for the winter. They gathered the turnips and cabbages and beets and piled them in the cellar. Mabraided onions into long ropes and hung them in the attic above heaps of pumpkins and squash. Pa brought deer meat home to be smoked and salted. And when the weather was just right, he butchered a pig.
Butchering time was great fun for Laura, Mary, and Jack. Pa let the girls roast the pig's tail on a stick. It sizzled and gave off a delicious smell. When it was brown all over, Laura and Mary ate all the meat off the bones. Nothing ever tasted as good as that pig's tall! And Jack got his share, too. Laura gave him the bones to crunch.
In the winter the little log house was snug against the cold. Laura and Jack curled up by the fireside while Pa told stories and played his fiddle. Outside the wind moaned. Sometimes at night a wolf howled outside the walls of the little log cabin. Laura knew wolves would eat little girls. But she could look out from her bed and see Jack pacing back and forth in front of the door. The hair stood up along his back and he showed his sharp teeth. Pa had promised her that Jack would never let the wolves get in. Laura snuggled under the covers next to Mary, feeling safe and cozy.
One day, when spring was just around the corner, Pa made an announcement.
"I've decided to go see the West," he said.
"I've had an offer for this place. We can sell it for enough to give us a start in the new country."
"Oh, Charles, must we go now?" Ma asked. The weather was so cold and the house so cozy.
"If we are going this year, we must go now," Pa said. "We can't cross the Mississippi after the ice breaks."
So Pa sold the little house. He sold the cow and the calf. He stretched a white canvas cover over the wagon. Soon everything was packed in the wagon and the little house stood empty.
Early in the morning the family climbed into the wagon. Laura wore her warmest clothes and her rabbit-skin hood. She and Mary held tight to their rag dolls while all their aunts and uncles and cousins kissed them good-bye. Pa picked up Mary and then Laura, and set them on the bed in the back of the wagon. Ma sat on the wagon seat next to Pa, with baby Carrie on her lap. Jack took his place under the wagon. He was going to walk all the way to the West.
At night they camped beneath the stars. And all day the wagon rolled on behind the horses. They crossed creeks and rivers. They drove through woods and strange, empty, treeless country.
One day Pa traded the tired brown horses for two black ponies. He told Laura and Mary they were called western mustangs.
"They're strong as mules and gentle as kittens," he explained. The ponies had big, gentle eyes and long manes. Laura and Mary named them Pet and Patty.
Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon, and they all traveled on together. They had come from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, across Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. And all that long way Jack had trotted under the wagon. It was a long trip for a little dog, but then Jack was not an ordinary dog.