Chapter 19: Loss and Recovery
When I returned from the funeral, the first person I saw was my sweet Alexander. I rushed to his cradle and scooped him up. Breathing in his innocent baby scent, I cradled him snugly to my chest.
The house was silent, eerily so. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths as I laid Alexander back in his cradle. "I love you." I whispered to him. There was nothing wrong with him and yet I was afraid to let him out of my sight. My heart ached as I brushed my fingers against his baby soft skin.
Taking another moment to steady myself, I looked toward the stairs and blinked back a new wave of tears. From some where above I heard weak coughing. As I got to the bottom of the stairs I could hear Wesley humming a gentle lullaby. The coughing subsided and only the melody could be heard.
I put a foot on the first step and closed my eyes. I wanted to go up, I wanted to be with them but I was scared, terrified even. Still, I had to go up. With my eyes closed and my heart pounding, I climbed the stairs slowly. One of the steps creaked as I put my weight on it and the humming stopped. My eyes were still closed when I reached the top step and then I opened them and walked through the open door. I saw Wesley laying with Rachel, he was stroking her hair and her eyes opened when she heard me come in. She gave me a weak smile and then buried her head back into her daddy's shoulder.
One second, two ... maybe it was an eternity. It felt like and eternity as I turned my head to look at Sarah's bed. There wasn't a sound coming from that side of the room and I tried to prepare myself. She'd been so strong but I'd seen so many little caskets - too many - while at the cemetery that morning. I didn't realize I'd been holding my breath until I saw her pale, but serene face poking out from the covers of her bed.
She was quiet - sleeping more soundly than she had in days. But she was there. I stumbled back as I released the breath. I felt light headed as I stared at her. "Lizzie?" I heard Wesley's whisper. He sounded miles away from me even though it was just a few feet. I heard the springs of Rachel's bed creak and she let out a soft groan as he moved. "Lizzie?" he asked, now standing beside me. "She's fine Lizzie, she fell asleep after the doc came by. She's okay."
I looked at him and blinked away tears. "We almost lost her Wes. She was gone..." I said softly, burying my head against his shoulder to muffle my sobs. His arms wrapped around me immediately. "I know, I know..." he murmured.
I don't know how long I stayed there in his arms but from downstairs I heard Hannah fussing in her crib. Wesley pulled back. "I'll take care of her." he said kissing my forehead. I looked from Rachel to Sarah and dried my eyes. Between the sickness and John's funeral, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted. I sank onto the end of Sarah's bed and leaned back against the wall. Even though I felt like I'd shed every tear in my body, I found myself crying softly again as I watched Sarah's sleeping form.
"Why are you crying Mama?" Sarah asked opening her eyes slowly and kicking off the blankets.
I didn't say anything, merely took her into my arms and cradled her close to me. I kissed the top of her head several times and squeezed her tightly, reminding myself over and over again that she was real and alive.
The girls remained house bound for several days but they were recovering. Doctor Rheyer assured me that they had come through the worst of it and felt confident that as long as we were careful, the younger two should be fine as well. Unfortunately, most weren't so lucky. Many of the families who had stayed through the drought buried someone, many of them children. When the worst of it appeared to have passed, almost everyone was wearing black for someone and a dreadful sorrow fell over the town.
Catherine visited John's grave as often as she could. She still hadn't cried that I'd seen; I suspected she was trying to be brave. Alan helped with his sisters as much as he could. I saw her standing in the cemetery alone one Sunday morning and walked over to stand with her.
"Catherine." I said quietly, slipping my hand into hers.
She shook her head without looking at me. "I don't know what to do." she said quietly.
"I'm so sorry." I said squeezing her hand.
"Tell me what to do Lizzie." she said looking at me. A few lone tears made tracks down her face.
"I don't know what you should do sweetie." I said sadly.
"I can't stay here, I....I just can't. But I don't want to take the children from their family, you and the Garretts. I can't do that to them." she said looking back at John's stone. "What do I do?" she asked, now crying harder.
I had no answers for her, I had no words to comfort her. I pulled her into a hug and held her.
As we stood there I felt water droplets hit my face and head. I looked up and felt more water hitting my face. It was raining....
Catherine looked up as well and when a drop hit her on the nose we both smiled just a little bit. The rain started to fall harder and we hurried to the church where everyone else was gathering on the steps and small porch.
The rain continued to fall for days, the girls continued to improve and even though they had to read the same books over and over when they wanted to go outside and play in the rain, they didn't complain. Sarah started making up new ending to the stories to make Rachel laugh.
With the influx of rain and the girls' on the mend, Wesley went back to the fields. What small crop we'd had left before the sickness had wilted away for the most part but he was willing to start fresh as spring was on it's way.
A few of the people had left town started trickling back but most of them stayed gone. I was in town posting a letter to Wesley's father when I heard gossip about some of the outlying farms.
"The Porter's lost two cows to a rustler" a man said behind me. Later Doctor Rheyer confirmed what I'd heard.
"There've been several families losing livestock or having their food stores broke into lately." he said.
Virgil Flynn overheard our conversation and came over. "My hen house was busted open last night, there were feathers scattered from the door to the edge of the wood!" he said "A half dozen chickens missin'!" he added.
"Did you hear or see anything?" I asked concerned. He shook his head sadly and went on his way.
At the telegraph office I ran into Mr. Garrett and he'd heard everything I'd heard. "Any problems at the boarding house?" I asked. He had moved into the boarding house when he'd married Widow Culpepper.
"Not a single thang." he said. "How is Catherine doing?" he asked sadly. Catherine had stayed in town so far but didn't visit town often, she holed herself into the house for the most part.
"She's....I don't know. It's not good for her but she's stubborn." I said sadly. He nodded.
One night not long after the girls had recovered, lightening lit the sky though no rain was falling. The girls were outside playing, enjoying their new freedom, when I heard them both screaming. I dropped the dish I was washing (which shattered in the sink) and ran out to see what was going on. Wesley was late in the fields but heard the screaming as well and I could hear him running towards us.
Lightening had set the barn on fire and Sarah and Rachel were too close. I ran to them, despite the fire, and snatched them away. After assuring myself they were fine, I sent them inside. Wesley and I were battling the fire with water and blankets when I saw a dirty, disheveled woman stumbled out from the side. Beside her was a thin little boy.
"Help me..." she said holding her head. Her clothes were crusted with dirty. "Help me...." she said again and then she stumbled forward a few steps and fell to the ground in a heap beside her boy. The boy looked dispassionate, his eyes.
I ran over to them, Wesley still battling the fire. Out of the corner of his eye he saw me and hollered for me to stop. "Lizzie!" I ignored him and hurried to the woman.