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Jasper and Mary Johnson were an older couple on their way home from trading with an herbalist when they saw a small figure on the ground. They were riding in a wagon and pulled the horses to a stop. Jasper climbed down to see what the figure was. He was horrified to see the figure was a child.
“Mary it’s a girl!” Jasper yelled with southern twang.
hastily climbed down from the wagon and ran to her husband’s side. She gasped when she saw the girl. The left side of her beautiful light brown hair was a mess of congealed blood mixed with leaves and dirt. The fair colored skin of her face, arms, ad legs was scattered with lacerations and abrasions. was concerned that one laceration on the girl’s left cheek might leave a scar. was relieved to see that the girl was breathing.
“What could have happened to her?” Mary asked.
“I don’t know dear. Should we try to give her some water?”
Mary hurried back to the wagon a grabbed a canteen of water. She gently opened the girl’s mouth and poured in a small amount of water. The girl choked on the liquid and her blue eyes opened slightly.
“What’s your name darling?’ Jasper inquired.
“Cora.” she said weakly.
“Where’s your family?’ Mary asked.
“They’re dead.” Cora said closing her eyes.
“We need to get her off the road.” Mary told her husband.
“And where do you reckon we take her?” Jasper questioned with a raised eyebrow.
“She can come home with us.”
“Mary, what’re you thinking?”
“You heard her. Her family is dead. She’s alone. If we leave her alone she could die.” Mary stated while she battered her eyes.
“Fine”, Jasper sighed. “I guess I lost this battle. Help me put her in the bed of the wagon.”
Jasper and Mary gently lifted Cora and placed her in the back of the wagon. Mary climbed in the back with her new ward and nursed her physical wounds. Mary tore some material from the hem of her dress and used the material to clean the wounds on Cora’s face. She had a hard time untangling Cora’s hair and decided to wait. She pulled whatever debris would come loose from her hair. Mary gently gave Cora small drops of water as they jutted down the road. Sometimes Cora would squirm and mutter things in her sleep. Mary could not understand what she was saying. Then Cora would become quiet again and her body would go limp. Mary wondered what could have happened. She knew her questions would have to wait. The main priority was healing Cora’s physical wounds. When Cora was ready she could try to heal her emotional wounds as well. Mary was happy see that Cora was trying to open her eyes.
Cora regained consciousness she noticed something hard beneath her back. She was also bouncing up and down. There was something soft under her head. The pain in her head was better so she slowly opened her eyes. The sight before her was the weathered, concerned face of a woman. The woman had black hair with flecks of grey. Her eyes were brown and round. When the woman noticed that Cora was looking at her she smiled.
“Hi. My name is Mary. My husband Jasper and I found on the road. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
“The camp I lived in with my family was attacked. Everyone is dead. I am all alone.”
Cora explained to Mary what happened and the realization of the past few days set in. The shock and then the will to survive were replaced by an immense sadness and grief. Mary held Cora close as she continued to tell her story. Mary found it difficult to console Cora at times. She could not believe what Cora had been through and what she had seen. When Cora’s sobbing stopped Mary attempted to talk to her.
“My husband and I thought you can come stay with us. If you are okay with that?”
“I don’t want to be a bother.” Cora sniffled.
“Nonsense,” Mary snorted, “you wouldn’t be a bother. We could use some help on our ranch. You can pay us back by doing chores. Does that sound reasonable?’
“Yes ma’am, it does.”
“Please call me Mary.”
“Thank you… Mary.”
“You’re welcome Cora.”
Cora spent most of the ride in silence. Mary was no longer concerned about Cora’s physical wounds. The color had returned to Cora’s cheeks, and she no longer needed to lean on Mary to support her weight. Mary moved to the front of the wagon to sit with Jasper. Cora listened to their idle chatter. It helped distract her from her own thoughts. Cora looked that the two horses pulling the wagon. They fascinated her. The hair on their bodies was a brownish red color. The hair on their tails and manes was long and looked coarse. She had seen horses in pictures but did not realize how tall they were. She watched their muscles move as they pulled the wagon, and their chests expand and contract as they breathed. Watching the horses and listening to Jasper and Mary talk was a welcome distraction during the day. But there was nothing to distract her as she slept at night. Many times she woke up screaming and Mary would be at her side attempting to comfort her.
As they continued down the road, Cora noticed the trees beginning to change. The forest she grew up in was mainly filled with oak trees. The oak trees were slowly morphing into pine trees. The air was also changing, becoming cooler. At night she has to lay close to Mary to stay warm. The dirt was even becoming a darker brown. She wondered how far they had traveled. Finally, after a little more than a week on the road they came to a ranch.