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CHAPTER ONE, PART TWO FROM
OUT OF THE EMBERS
BY AMANDA CABOT
One Friday, December 21, 1855
Evelyn made a show of looking in every direction. “I don’t see any daddies here. Maybe if we sing, someone will hear us.”
As Polly’s eyes brightened, Evelyn smiled. Singing would be a good distraction for both of them. And so they sang song after song. Neither of them could carry a tune, but that didn’t bother them or Reginald. Evelyn imagined the gelding twitching his ears in time to their singing, and her spirits rose with each mile they traveled. Polly was once again cheerful, there was no rain in sight, and it would be another month before she had to return to Gilmorton— three reasons to give thanks.
Her smile was as bright as Polly’s until she saw it. It was only the slightest of limps, and yet Evelyn knew something was wrong. Unwilling to take any chances, she stopped the wagon and climbed out. A quick look at Reginald’s front right leg confirmed her fears.
“What’s wrong?” Polly asked for the second time since they’d left Gilmorton.
“Reginald’s lost a shoe.”
Peering over the side of the wagon, Polly grinned. “I’ll find it.”
Evelyn shook her head. “You need to stay in the wagon.” Though the sun was past its zenith, the day was still warm enough that snakes could be out, and ever-curious Polly might reach for one. Evelyn glanced at Reginald’s hoof one last time. There was no choice. She wouldn’t risk permanent injury by having him pull the wagon all the way to Logansville.
“We’re going back to Gilmorton.” As much as she wished otherwise, it was closer.
“Okay.” Polly watched wide-eyed as Evelyn unhooked the wagon. “What are you doing?”
“We need to leave the wagon here.” Even though it meant that anyone coming by could steal the contents, she had to take the chance. “Reginald can’t pull it until he gets a new shoe.”
Evelyn lifted Polly out of the wagon and placed her on the horse’s back. “Hold on to the harness.”
Normally agreeable Polly turned petulant. “I wanna walk with you.”
Evelyn wouldn’t argue. “All right, but when you get tired, Reginald will be glad to carry you.” The horse was exceptionally good with children, which was fortunate, given the number who called the orphanage home.
“This is fun!” Polly exclaimed as she began to skip down the road. It was no longer fun by the time they reached Gilmorton. Polly was tired and fussy. To make matters worse, the blacksmith was in the middle of shoeing another horse and told Evelyn it would be at least half an hour before he could see to Reginald.
“Whoever shoed this horse the last time deserves to be shot,” the blacksmith said when he was finally able to inspect the gelding’s hoof. “He didn’t know what he was doin’.
” Evelyn tried not to sigh. Mrs. Folger had wanted to give Buster a chance, claiming he had an aptitude for caring for horses, but it appeared that the matron had been mistaken. “Did he do any permanent damage?”
“Nah.” The blacksmith scraped a rough edge off the hoof. “Just be sure to bring Reginald here next time he needs a shoe. He may be gettin’ on in years, but he’s a fine piece of horseflesh.”
Evelyn and Polly rode the fine piece of horseflesh back to the wagon. Fortunately, the contents were all there. Unfortunately, the delays meant that they’d be very late arriving home. In all likelihood, everyone would be asleep, even Mrs. Folger. The matron wouldn’t be pleased, but at least Evelyn hadn’t lost the supplies she’d purchased today.
Darkness had fallen long before they reached Logansville, and Polly—worn out by the walking as well as the excitement of the day—slept on the bench next to Evelyn. Though she stirred occasionally, each time she did, she drifted back to sleep. This time, however, she sat up, rubbed her eyes, and pinched her nose.
“What’s that smell?” Evelyn sniffed. “It’s smoke.” She squinted, looking for the source of the odor, but saw nothing.
“Phew! I don’t like that.”
“I don’t either, but we’re almost home.” Though it was late, someone must be burning trash. “It won’t smell as bad once we’re indoors.”
Evelyn had already decided to let Polly sleep with her tonight rather than risk waking the other girls. That prospect, along with the promise that she could help stir the oatmeal tomorrow morning, had buoyed Polly’s spirits when the only supper Evelyn could offer her had been the cheese and bread she’d purchased while waiting for the blacksmith. Though Gilmorton had a restaurant, that was one place Evelyn would not enter no matter how hungry she might be. When they reached the orphanage, she would warm some milk for Polly.
They were almost there. Within half an hour, Evelyn would have Reginald in his stall and Polly in her bed. The horse tossed his head, perhaps disturbed by the smoke that had intensified.