The spring rains didn’t let up for days, washing out any chance of getting to the Meadow Creek Revival. The small creek near the house swelled till there was no question of fording. Anya was devastated to know she’d be stuck a while longer, but Joe was relieved at the reprieve, having no idea how he’d manage. For the next few weeks, they settled into a routine. Joe tore a strip of the flannel and fashioned a sling so Anya could manage the baby as she worked. She her strength and hearing improved every day, and she was putting on a little weight, something she’d never done. As well as cooking and cleaning, she worked alongside Joe putting in a garden. She felt better knowing Joe and the little ones would have something to eat after she was far way. As they planted beans, squash, corn, cabbages, and spring onions, the boy tagged along, packing dirt over the seed as they planted. With the baby on her back, she had to stop and rest often, but it was pleasant, hopeful work, the type she enjoyed. She thought a few times of the fine crop they’d harvest till she remembered with a jolt, she wouldn’t be there. One day, Joe stood and watched her for a while on his way back from the barn with another load of manure, thinking she and the children on his place was the finest sight he’d ever seen. He strode back to the patch, telling her, “These young’uns has got to have a name. We cain’t just keeping callin’ em The Boy and The Baby. Even my barn cats has got a name.” Anya kept right on with her planting, not bothering to answer. “Let’s call the boy Joe and the baby, Sally.”
As she was coming back from turning the chickens out to scratch one morning, she came around the barn to find Joe in conversation with a man on a horse. She tried to duck out of sight, but the man waved and called out, “Howdy, Ma’am.”
“Anya, this is Rufus Menlo, our nearest neighbor.” Joe introduced her.
“Proud to meet you, ma’am. The preacher told me Joe done got hitched to a widow-woman, but I didn’t expect to see such a purty one. My woman is gonna be wantin’ to git over and meet you soon as she can. She ain’t had a woman to talk to in a while and now there’s one on the next section.” Anya didn’t bother to correct him. “We don’t usually git much news around here, and now there’s a marrying and a killing, all in a few days.” He continued without hesitation. “My boy Melvin was out lookin’ for strays and saw buzzards circling and come over a rise to find a sorry sight. The buzzards had already worked the man over, but Melvin could see his head bashed in. He was a peddler and somebody must’a robbed him and stole his horse. They was a woman’s things in his peddler’s cart. Melvin went for the sheriff, and he’s on the lookout for whoever might’of done ‘em in. Some drifters told the sheriff they’d seen him with a fancy woman a few days before. He’s thinking some lowlife might’of knocked that peddler in the head and took off with the woman, or else the woman did the feller in, but it don’t really seem like something a woman could do, does it? The sheriff’s on the lookout for any folk that don’t fit around here.”
At hearing his news, Anya retched and wiped her mouth on her skirt. “I’m sorry ma’am. I never thought of you being delicate. Let me git on my way. I’ll send my woman over to see you.” Rufus kneed his horse and went on his way.
“Here, sit down. Let me get you some water.” Joe steadied her to a chair at the table and poured her a glass of water. “Drink this. It ought to steady you a bit.”