It’s time to head back to Lupine Valley for Part 2 of this year’s story. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Henry’s heart pounded as he made his way down the path to the edge of the woods. The creek, splashing over and through the rocks, along with the wind swishing through the trees, helped to cover the sound of his footsteps. He followed the light which seemed to be on his side of the creek, up near the giant oak that spread its branches out over the water. The memory of the kids swinging off of that tree into the water many a hot summer day brought a quick, unbidden smile. In fact, it had come to be known as the “Swinging Tree”.
As he crept closer he realized that the light was made by a fire. He carefully approached and stood behind the big oak. His eyes first spotted a small traveling bag and lantern on the ground nearby. The lantern would explain the moving light. Its owner probably had been using it earlier when Grace looked out the window. As his eyes lifted and focused in on the fire and the lone person who sat beside it, they grew wide with surprise.
A young woman–why she looked younger than his own Jane–sat on a log with her hands and feet towards the fire, looking both hopeless and exhausted. As he was deciding how to handle this odd situation, he saw her shift her weight in an ungainly manner and suddenly realized that she was very pregnant. He stood there helplessly for a moment and then realized: His wife would know what to do. He’d see if he could convince the girl to go up to the house to see Grace.
He didn’t want to scare her, so he moved a bit closer and then cleared his throat. She startled and fear crept into her eyes. He stepped out of the shadows.
“Ummm, ma’am, hello there. My name is Henry and my wife and I live in the cabin up on the hill,” he pointed towards the speck of friendly light that could just barely be made out through the woods, “Are you okay, ma’am?”
His words, spoken so kindly, made the girl feel safe. And then the tears started to flow. She seemed unable to stop them. Henry stood awkwardly by, unsure of what to do. He wished now that he would have brought Grace along. But, of course, he never expected to find a pregnant girl by herself when he had set out a few minutes ago.
“Are you alone?” He asked gently.
She nodded her head, as a new wave of tears took over. He sat down on a nearby tree trunk and waited patiently. Being married for over 40 years and having daughters to boot, he knew womenfolk sometimes just had to have a good cry.
When she started to settle down he asked her if she would like to come up to the cabin to get warm. His wife always had a ready pot of tea in the evening and she looked like she could use a cup.
She hesitantly nodded her head, pulled her shawl on more tightly, and then picked up the small bag and lantern that Henry had spotted earlier. By the looks of things, that baby could come any day. Henry couldn’t help but wonder what she was doing out here all alone by his creek.
He offered to take her bag, which she gave him, and then held his lamp up nice and high to give plenty of light as they walked up the dark path through the woods and out into the meadow. There the moon shone brightly and it was easier to see. Soon they were at the little cabin and opened the door.
Grace’s heavy heart lifted as she saw her husband come through the door. But what a surprise to see a very pregnant girl follow him in. Why, she looked to be no more than sixteen!
“Well, my dear, you weren’t seeing things. I found this young woman down at the Swinging Tree, warming herself by a fire.”
“Oh, my goodness! Oh, dearie, come and sit by the fire,” Grace drew her towards the rocking chair by the cozy fire.
The girl lowered herself carefully onto the plump cushion that Grace had handmade for the hard wooden seat. It felt heavenly after what she had been through for the past couple of days.
Grace busied herself in getting the girl a cup of hot tea. She swirled a bit of honey in it before handing it to her.
The girl put her hands around it and sighed deeply. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes shining with unshed tears, as she took a sip of the hot liquid. She didn’t say any more and, after just a few moments, set the tea down on the hearth, leaned back in the chair, and closed her eyes.
Grace pulled back and whispered to Henry, “the poor thing is exhausted. Let’s just make a bed up her for tonight. We can find out more tomorrow.”
Henry agreed and so Grace went into the girls’ bedroom to prepare it for their guest.
Soon, the girl was sleeping peacefully in the comfortable bed in the cozy cabin.
As Grace peeped in on her for the umpteenth time, Henry laughed.
“She’s not going to disappear.”
Grace gave a wry smile, “She’s just so young. I wonder what her story is.”
“I am sure we will find out in the morning.”
And with that they blew out the candle on the table and went to bed, too.