Day One Hundred Twenty
I found some clothes laid out on a chair. They obviously belonged to Charles, but I guess he figured my own things were too wet and dirty. I had to get a little creative with pins and twine to get everything to stay on, but it would do until I could wash and dry my own things.
In the kitchen there was a note on the table. It was neatly written, in capital letters, as if Charles didn’t have confidence in my reading skills:
FOOD IN OVEN. I AM IN BARN.
I would have to make it clear to him that I could read words of a little longer than four letters!
I checked the oven and found a plate of eggs and a cup of coffee. I was ravenous, and even though the food was a little dry, the coffee old-tasting, I didn’t care. It was delicious. I sat at the kitchen table and tried not to eat too fast, looking out the window at the lake through the trees and wondering just what stroke of luck had brought me to such a good place, when it seemed for the last few days that my luck had entirely run out. Maybe God really does hear prayers. If so, He's very generous to ignore the moments when we curse his name.
After I washed my dishes, I went out to the barn to check on Flecha and thank Charles for everything he had done for me. To my surprise, there was a woman there with him. She was tall and lanky, with big hands and a graying ponytail hanging to her waist. She was rubbing Flecha’s forehead and talking to her. Flecha saw me and raised up her head, pricking her ears forward. The woman turned and looked at me.
“Good morning. Looks like someone’s glad to see you.”
“I hope so,” I said.
Charles had been doing something at the back of the stall, and now he came forward. “Diana, this is Rachel. She’s our unofficial vet around here.”
I shook the woman’s hand. “Unofficial?”
“I have no formal training,” Rachel said. “But my father was a vet and I served as his assistant.”
“So what do you think of Flecha’s foot?”
“It’s warm and the frog is a little tender, but I didn’t see anything that has to turn into a major medical issue, if we’re aggressive.”
“What do you recommend?”
She had all kinds of ideas, and they were good ones. It would require a demanding schedule of poultices and flushing with cool water, but I didn’t mind.
“I’m also going to try to get you some ice and antibiotics,” Rachel said.
“You can get those things?” I was surprised.
So while Charles tended his gardens and checked his traps and fishing lines, Rachel and I mixed up a poultice to draw some of the heat out of Flecha’s hoof. Then we tore an old sheet into bandages, made a liniment and wrapped Flecha’s legs, which we both agreed had taken a lot of strain from hobbling in the mud for the last couple of days.
“So where am I?” I asked Rachel as we worked.
“Talmadge Pond, Missouri. Why? Where did you think you were?”
“I had no idea. That’s why I asked.”
“Where were you trying to get to?”
She nodded. “You’re pretty close. Cape Girardeau isn’t far, and you can cross the Mississippi there.”
This got me excited. “How soon do you think Flecha will be able to travel again?”
“If her foot doesn’t abscess and she doesn’t develop a secondary injury, it should stop hurting in a few days. Give it a few more days after she stops limping, and she’ll be ready for light travel.”
“So, a week? Two?”
“Maybe.” She patted Flecha’s neck. “It’s really up to her.”
We worked for a long time, and as we were finishing, Charles returned to tell us he had caught a trout, and to come have lunch. We told him we would be there in a few minutes, and went to wash up at the pump outside the barn. As we took turns working the pump handle, Rachel said, “Trout’s pretty fancy for lunch. I think you’ve made a good impression.”
I splashed some cold water on my face. “I don’t see how. I showed up filthy, I had nothing to say for myself, and then I went to sleep.”
Rachel didn’t say anything. She just murmured, “Hm,” and smiled like she knew a secret.
The three of us had lunch on the patio, and the trout and spring vegetables were a treat. Then Rachel and I went back to the barn to wash the poultice off Flecha’s hoof, and Charles returned to his chores.
I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t do much with the rest of the day. I took good notes of Rachel’s treatment regimen, offered to pay her and was told that we could settle up later. Then she left and I puttered around the barn, making sure Flecha was comfortable and that everything I would need for her care was where I could get to it easily. “You better get well soon, Flechita,”I said. “A vet, hay, and oats for you, and food and a bed for me. . . I don’t know that I can afford all this. But of course you’re worth it. We’ll find a way.”
Then I went back to the house, found my dirty clothes, washed them in the tub and laid them out to dry. They won’t dry as quickly here as things do back home in the desert, but I should be able to wear them by tomorrow, if the weather holds.
Supper was trout again, but in a sauce of wild mustard and with a salad and fried potatoes on the side. There was wine to drink, but I was sparing with it. Although Rachel had told me that Charles was “one of the nicest guys in Missouri,” I didn’t want to get careless. I needed to keep my wits about me.
I washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen after supper, at my own insistence. “I don’t want to be a burden,” I said.
“No guest is a burden.”
“I’m not a guest. I intend to pay you.”
“Don’t embarrass us both by trying to give me money. This is about karma.”
I had never heard that word. “It’s about what?”
“The things you do come back to you. Do good, and good things happen.”
“So I guess having my horse go lame in the woods was because of the bad things I’ve done in my life?”
This made him smile. “Possibly. But you ended up here, so you must’ve done some good, too.”
We went into the living room and sat down. I felt uneasy with empty hands, and looked around. “I can’t just sit like this. I don’t suppose you have some mending I could do?”
“I wouldn’t let you do it if I did. Why don’t you just relax and tell me a little about yourself.” When he saw me hesitate, he added, “Where are you from?”
I told him about the desert and the mountains, which led to him wanting to know why I had left on such a long and dangerous journey. That was a little harder to explain, since I still haven’t figured out how to explain it to myself. “I wanted something of my own,” I finally said.
“And you couldn’t do that back home because of the civil war?”
I thought for a moment. While it was true that the fighting made things complicated, that wasn’t the real problem. “No, I couldn’t do anything for myself back home because too many people had other plans for me.”
“So you’re running away.”
“I like to think of it as running to something, not running away.”
After that we talked about less serious matters. When I grew sleepy, Charles got out a book and read. I must’ve dozed off because the next thing I knew he was shaking my shoulder, suggesting I get some sleep.
Of course once I was in my own room, I was alert again. I counted out my coins and valuables. I can certainly pay the vet, and pay Charles for some of his hospitality, but I’ll need to pay to cross the river, too, and I’ll need food and other supplies. So I’ll have to insist Charles let me work around here, and see if I can do some work for Rachel, too.
I hope Flecha heals quickly. This is a nice place, and so far the people I’ve met are nice, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome. It’s both encouraging and frustrating to be so close to my destination. I’ve never been a very patient person, but it looks like I’m going to have to learn.
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