“I reckon the first thing to do is check on the livestock in the barn and then saddle up Mabel and Barney and see after those colts. We can look for them as we ride over to the Weatherby place. Head over to the Rutherfords after that. Check on how they all fared. Those two colts might have come to their senses before they got too far.”
Ben’s matter-of-fact tone prompted Agnes to snap out of her daze. She pushed herself to a sitting position, knees to her chest in a ball of energy and hyper-awareness. She ran her hands down her shins and felt the twin lumps where she had collided with the wood box. She assessed the rest of her body. She rotated her shoulder where she had slammed into the wall. Nothing broken or out of place, but she knew it would hurt and she’d be favoring that arm for a while. Her face was scratched from the wall’s wooden planks. It stung as she touched it. She gingerly felt with her fingers from her brow line down to her jaw. Her fingers came away speckled with blood. She wiped them on the underside of her apron and finally looked Ben full in the face.
“Looks like you’re not too far gone,” he said quietly. Kindly. No, she supposed she was not too far gone. Shaken up both body and spirit, but alive.
“And you, are you all right? She asked Ben. Her language sounded out of place in this land that had suddenly turned foreign to her. Ben only smiled in response, stood up, and reached a hand to Agnes. She appreciated the help. She felt slightly off balance as she stood. Her muscles were taut as though she was ready to run a race. Her body was preparing itself for flight in case the shaking began again.
Ben headed for the house and she followed him. Upon reaching the porch, Ben extended his arm and shook a supporting beam which held steady. He made his way up the stairs, testing the integrity of the home. With his solid farmer hands, he tested out the door frame and then disappeared inside. He called for Agnes, trying to draw her inside, but Agnes, remembering the dancing staircase and demolished chimney, balked at the porch, refusing to re-enter the house. What if the whole thing decided to just surrender to fright and collapse like she had minutes earlier? She hollered for Ben to check to make sure the fire was completely out and to gather some food and any doctoring supplies he thought might come in handy.
Agnes realized her torn dress revealed a wide swath of petticoat. On any ordinary day, being seen out and about in such an outfit would be unthinkable, but Agnes was beyond caring and figured everyone else would be too. It would have to do as she wasn’t going to enter the house to change clothes.
As Ben continued preparations in the home, Agnes went to the well and dropped the bucket in. They would want water during the search and she wanted to clean the blood from her face. She turned the crank one last time and pulled the full bucket toward her. She caught her wavering reflection; sections of her hair had pulled from her braid and quivered in the air. Medusa, she thought as she went to pull a dipper of water. She crinkled her nose. The water was giving off an evil smell. She couldn’t place it. It was reminiscent of something from the blacksmith’s shop or eggs that the hens laid outside the roost and were unwittingly discovered rotten month later. Agnes’s shoulders dropped in defeat. If the well were gone, she didn’t want to think about what they would have to do.
Hauling water from the creek was drudgery. They’d done it when Agnes first arrived at the homestead as a child, before the well was dug. They usually only stored enough for drinking and cooking because hauling the water home in the dust or mud was such dirty work. It was hardly worth the effort to haul all the water to take a bath. Better to keep yourself clean by cutting down on the heaving around the buckets in the first place. The creek always felt too close to take the time to ready the wagon to go to it. But by the time Agnes had managed to make it back home on foot with two sloshing buckets, she always regretted her decision.
Agnes hoped the foul well water was temporary and supposed they would have to stop by the creek and collect water there before searching for the two colts. Unlike the optimistic Ben, she thought there was little chance of finding them. She was sure they were terrified and had likely quit their home for the next county by now.
Ben had saddled up the amiable Mabel and Barney who, now that the ground had settled, were back to their normal plodding selves.
“Barn’s not too bad,” Ben reported. “Everybody’s a little jittery, but they’ll pull through. They sure sounded worse than they were.” Structurally, the barn’s fine—just a mess. It’s the corral we’ll have to fix when we get back. House seems stable too.” He held Mabel’s reins as Agnes hitched up her skirts and settled herself astride the mare with her petticoats exposed to the knee. Agnes wondered what Ben thought of her appearance. In truth, Agnes spent a lot of time wondering what Ben, this near stranger that she had married, thought about her.