Mary Elizabeth stood on the bridge, staring forlornly at the river. Her callused hands clutched a faded rag doll. Tears cascaded down her sun-weathered face. The first star had just appeared in the twilight sky. Chirping crickets and flowing water provided an accompaniment to her sobs.
The doll belonged to Mary Elizabeth’s daughter. It had been a year since the accident, a year of silence and emptiness. Days blurred together, weeks became months. It was still difficult for her to grasp the enormity of the solitude. Her husband and child both dead, drowned in the river below her. Something had frightened the horses and they took off running. The wagon lurched and…
She didn’t want to think about it anymore, didn’t want to feel the grief and experience the loneliness that smothered her as the sun rose each morning. Many evenings she walked out here to the river, to gaze at her family’s final resting place.
They are down there, she thought. Now is the time for me to join them. In the fading light, she searched for an opening in the wood slats she could squeeze through or break off so she could jump.
“Mary Elizabeth, what are doing out here at this hour without a lantern?” The voice and approaching wagon startled her back to the present. She turned around. “I went to the house and knocked. I was worried when you did not answer.” It was her younger brother, Edward.
“It’s Clara. She’s delivering the baby and Doc was called away to Hartsfield. Margaret needs your help. She asked me to fetch you,” Edward informed her.
It took Mary Elizabeth a moment to understand what he was saying. She hesitated, stuffing the doll into her apron pocket. But seeing the worried look in his eyes, she walked toward her brother. Edward climbed down and helped Mary Elizabeth into the wagon. He turned the wagon around and they sped off toward Clara and William’s farm.
As the wagon approached, Mary Elizabeth could see William hunched over on the porch. She scrambled off the wagon and climbed the front steps. William didn’t look up as she strode past him and entered the house.
She found Margaret in the bedroom, holding a small bundle in her arms and pacing around the room. Clara lay on the bed, pale and still.
“Clara?” Mary Elizabeth timidly approached the bed.
“There was so much blood. I didn’t know what to do,” Margaret sobbed.
“It’s not your fault.” Mary Elizabeth consoled her sister-in-law.
“William hasn’t said a word. Ruth is hiding somewhere, maybe in the loft. He can’t care for these children by himself. It’s planting season. These children need a mother.” She turned so Mary Elizabeth could see the baby. “It’s a boy. Charles William.”
Mary Elizabeth’s head spun when she heard the name Charles. Her husband’s name. Of course William would honor his deceased brother by giving his son that name. Still, she wasn’t prepared for the flood of grief washing over her. Yet she knew that, in this moment, she could not surrender to her sorrow. She knew what needed to be done.
“I’ll take Ruth and Charles to my house for the night. Edward can take us home on the way to fetch the reverend. Stay here with William and Clara.” Mary Elizabeth went up to the loft to find Ruth.
“Ruth. It’s Aunt Mary Elizabeth.” She knelt beside her niece who was curled up the corner under a quilt. “Come on, darling. You’re coming with me tonight. I know you’re scared, but I’m here. Look. I have something for you.” Mary Elizabeth held out the doll for Ruth to see.
Ruth crawled out from her hiding place and looked up with somber eyes, tears streaked across her freckled face. Silently, she reached out and took the doll and hugged it. Then Ruth held out her arms and Mary Elizabeth carried her and the quilt downstairs.
After all the details were explained, Mary Elizabeth climbed onto the wagon seat. Margaret handed her the baby, while Edward tucked Ruth into the back. Without words, they headed to Mary Elizabeth’s house.
As they crossed the bridge, Mary Elizabeth trembled. She thought about her reason for being on the bridge earlier and what could have happened. She squeezed her eyes shut to keep out the tears while she prayed.
Heavenly Father, give me strength to bear the sorrow and the blessings You have given to me.
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