Day One Hundred Fifteen
Time for morning chores.
Without giving it much thought, I dressed, re-braided my hair and splashed a little water on my face. Then I went outside and followed the path to the barn, where I found Zach and Howard already busy milking the cows. “Can I help?” I asked.
They seemed surprised to see me. “You’re a guest,” Zach said. “Guests are supposed to sleep late and not worry about working.”
“I’ll be in to start some coffee in just a minute,” Howard offered. “Relax and enjoy yourself.”
“I’m a farm girl,” I said. “My day doesn’t start right unless I’m doing something useful. Where’s your chicken coop? How about I check on the hens and see if there’s any eggs?”
I think they were embarrassed to let me work, but I finally convinced them. Even though the chicken coop is no one’s idea of a good time, I’ve always found it comforting. It was my first responsibility on my family’s rancho. Fat hens and eggs warm from the nest bring back happy memories. I was almost ashamed to return to the house in such a good mood, knowing how deeply worried Zach and Howard were.
By now Howard had made a pot of coffee and was preparing breakfast. Zach was sitting at the kitchen table making a list, his brow furrowed in thought. Both men looked up when I came in with the eggs, and Howard took the basket from my hands and replaced it with a steaming cup of coffee.
I sat down next to Zach and together we worked on a list of things the children would need if they came to live with him. I advised him as best I could remember what could be brought from their house and what would have to be acquired. “Looks like you may need a pretty big wagon,” I said.
“Well,” Zach sighed. “We don’t have to bring everything today. Just the basics. I’m not giving up on my brother yet.”
After breakfast I went with Zach to hitch the team and make sure the farm was secure for the men to be absent for the day. Then I saddled Flecha and brought her around to the kitchen door. When I went inside for my things, I found Howard had filled a very nice leather bag with food for my journey. “It’s mostly boring, practical foods,” he apologized. “But there’s a few fun things in there, too. No point letting your travels get dull.”
I laughed. “No chance of that. I think I’d like a dull day or two. It would be refreshing.”
When it was time to leave, Howard made to shake my hand, but I gave him a quick hug instead, and hugged Zach, too. “Good luck. If I run across your brother, or hear anything. . .”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
I headed out, once again seeking my way east. I hadn’t been diverted too far out of my way, and I rode through the hills and low mountains to the south of the one they called Taum Sauk. It was pretty country, and the weather was mostly sunny. Around mid-day, I stopped for lunch by a small stream.
I ate the sandwich Howard had packed at the top of my bag. What a thoughtful man to know that lunch should go on top where I could get it easily! And there was a small crock of pickles and a bag of dried apples, too. There were other things deeper in the bag, but I figured I could take a look later.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, thank goodness. I hadn’t been kidding when I told Howard that a dull day was welcome. The sky started clouding up toward evening, so even though I was near a cleared area where there was a rail line passing through, I stayed in the cover of the trees where I could more easily build a shelter, in case it rained during the night.
With my shelter built and Flecha settled for the evening, I built a fire and sat down to see what I could have for supper. I could tell from the weight of the bag that Howard and Zach had been generous, but now that I looked more closely, I was overwhelmed. There was coffee, powdered milk, a small jar of honey, and a lot of dried fruit and nuts. There was bread and jerky, some dried peas, hard boiled eggs, cheese, beans, and dried tomatoes that looked like big reddish raisins. There were some small potatoes, a tin of lard, and a packet of salt. And there was also a mysterious box. It didn’t weigh much, and whatever was inside didn’t rattle. I smiled. Who doesn’t like surprises? I opened the box.
Howard and Zach sure are nice people! I brought them some very bad news on what was supposed to be a happy occasion, but they could still think of my comfort, even though I was a stranger. Maybe that’s the secret to moving beyond the bad things that happen in life—finding ways to help other people. And maybe that’s why after nearly four months of this crazy adventure, the things that used to trouble me so much have been reduced to just an occasional sadness. I’m not the only one with troubles, and there’s no use stewing in them.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Even if it rains, even if I get lost, even if the whole world falls to pieces, I have a feeling I’ll be okay.
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