A Visit to the Neighbors
Fawn looked at the wagon tracks that had sent her favorite horse and her mother to their deaths in the creek. Arctic Sun’s leg had been broken and his neck twisted as his head apparently hit the rocks. Nana had said Lottie (her native name had been Laughing Eyes) had been thrown from the seat and strangled in the harnessing. It seemed like an accident. No way, Fawn thought. There seemed to be nothing wrong with the bridge as they crossed to go home. There had been no recent rain to cause the creek to overflow its banks. She could see no evidence that there had been any wildlife that would have caused the accident. Something just wasn’t right. As they pulled up to the barn the clouds finally dropped their burden in a deluge. Fawn pulled the wagon to the front door, helped Nana down from the buckboard, and left to put the horse and wagon away. There would be no solutions to anything this day.
The next day dawned with bright sunshine and leftover rain droplets glistening on the leaves of the hickory and birch trees. Fawn stretched, arose from sleep, and prepared herself for the day ahead. She would have to find work if they were to continue living in this house. But what would she do about Nana? Her musings made her tug too hard on the bun she was trying to shape her hair into; it fell to the middle of her back and she had to start again. Reigning in her thoughts, she coifed her hair as befitting a young lady and went downstairs to prepare breakfast.
Nana insisted on saying grace over the meal. Fawn dutifully bowed her head and waited for the opportunity to speak. She picked up her fork but before she could speak Nana straightened her back and began. “Fawn, I know you just got home two days ago, and your heart is hurting, same as mine. But you gotta go find work. We got rent ta pay and supplies ta get. Gonna have to find a way to get a new wagon too.”
Fawn swallowed a bite of potatoes and put down her fork, put her elbows on the table, and layered her hands one over the other. “I know, Nana. I was thinking about that this morning. I plan to go but I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
“Fawn, I’ll be fine by myself. I’m old and slow, but I ain’t bedridden.”
“Nana,” Fawn tried to reason, “I don’t want to leave you here alone. There doesn’t seem to be much choice now, but. . .”
“You go on over to the Gardners and see if they know anyone that needs a teacher. Maybe they know someone we can do laundry for.” Nana was adamant. Her eyes narrowed their blue irises turned to slate. She leaned forward and looked Fawn straight in the eye. That look always meant the discussion was closed.
“Nana, I don’t. . .”
Nana rose from the table, leaned on the left crutch and started to raise the other one as if to strike.
“Alright, Nana, I’ll go. I’ll be back as quick as I can,right after I finish breakfast I’ll feed Sun and ride over.”
She ran to the barn, gave the gelding his morning mash, and talked to him while he ate. As she bridled Midnight Sun she told him her troubles. “I am at a loss to know what to do, Sun.” She jumped on his back, adjusted her skirt so she wouldn’t have to sit side saddle. “I bet you miss your stable mate, too, don’t you? Now you have no one to help you pull when the wagon is loaded. I’m sorry you are alone now, just like me and Nana.”
They galloped across the wooden bridge and up the hill on the other side of the valley. She dismounted almost before the horse got stopped. Ellen Gardner was in the garden when she saw the young woman.
Dusting her hands together, she approached Fawn.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, enveloping Fawn in a motherly hug.
Just then two little girls came running out. “Miss Fawn, you’re here. We’re so glad to see you.” Melanie and Sarah Beth Gardner stroked the mane and neck of the black gelding after they gave Fawn a welcoming hug and a barrage of questions.
Fawn hugged them back, delighted to see them too.
“You girls go to the garden and water the seeds I just planted. I need to talk to Miss Fawn.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they chorused as they skipped to their chore.
“It’s good to see you too, Miss Ellen. I can’t stay long. Nana is home by herself now that Mama’s gone. I need to ask if you know anyone who needs a teacher for their children or someone who would be willing to pay to have their laundry done.”
Ellen pushed a few strands of stray brown hair out of her face. “Whew. Well, now, let me think a little bit. Everybody here in the holler teaches their own young’uns and does their own laundry. Tell you what. I know you have to get back to Nana. I’ll think on it and send Jason over later.”
“Thank you, Miss Ellen. I have to run. See you later.”
“Fawn, wait a minute. Tell me how your grandmother is doing. This has to be a terrible blow, especially after losing your brother and your father. She’s had a lot of hardship in her life in a relatively short period of time.”
“You are right, Miss Ellen. First Grandfather was killed in battle almost as soon as the war started. Six months later it was my father, and finally, a year after that, Gray lost his life.” Tears welled in her eyes. She quickly brushed them away.
“Anyway,” she choked back a sob and f...