Marie finished washing the dishes with the water she had heated. Ma still had not returned, and Marie became curious and a bit concerned. After she had worked herself into a fret, she set off to find her.
That task wasn't hard. Hearing a wail that could only have come from her mother's throat, Marie broke into a run. The continuing anguished sound came from the meadow, and as soon as she could, Marie arrived and found the source.
Ma would have crumpled in a heap, save that Pa was holding her up, his arms wrapped around her in a tight embrace. Mr. and Mrs. Hilbrands from Pueblo Town were standing nearby, Mrs. Hilbrands wringing her hands, and Mr. Hilbrands stroking his chin and muttering, "I didn't think she'd take it so hard," over and over.
Pa caught sight of Marie and motioned her over with his head.
Does he think I won't come near because she's crying? Marie thought, still regarding her father poorly. She looked a question at Mr. Hilbrands, and patted her mother's cheeks, saying, "There now, Ma. It can't be that bad."
Ma answered in a high, thin voice, "He's been shot, daughter."
"Who, Ma?" she asked, as a chill passed through her body. She knew full well the commotion must have something to do with James.
"What about him, Ma?"
"He left the Hilbrands, but he's shot up."
Marie looked at the Hilbrands, gauging which of them would tell the clearer story, and decided to query the missus.
"Ma'am, is it all that bad?"
Mrs. Hilbrands quit the hand-wringing and seemed to pull herself together. "He was some bad, with two wounds, but is not in danger of death. He refused to let Mr. Hilbrands write a note to your Ma and Pa. He left a few days ago, and I do not know for sure where he went."
"I reckon he was much improved when he left after some weeks with us," Mr. Hilbrands chimed in. "He sat the saddle fine."
"Julie," Pa murmured. "You hear that? He could ride when he left Pueblo Town."
"Mandy said the daughter told her he could stretch his arms above his head when he decided he'd had enough of bed rest. He drove a mule team for me before he took out. I reckon he's on the mend, Miz Owen."
Ma wiped her eyes and straightened in Pa's arms. Marie stepped back.
"I regret fussing so much," Ma said, her voice still thin and whispery. "It came as a great shock," she took a gulp of air and continued, "to learn he was doin' so poorly and I didn't know of it. I should have felt his wounds in my gut."
"Julie, you can't sense everything," Pa protested.
"I should have known," she insisted.
"Ma, Mr. Hilbrands says he's on the mend now," Marie said. "Take comfort in that."
Ma stood still, breathing deeply. "It appears he's not going to come home soon as I'd hoped."
"He did ask about a job with Angus Campbell," Mr. Hilbrands said. "He didn't stop in to give you greetings on his way south?"
Ma shook her head. "He did not," she said, with a return to a moaning sound.
"There now, Ma," Marie said, stepping up to stroke her cheek. "He'll come back when he's calmed down some. A body must be a tad bit angry when he's been shot up."
"It was a drunk Irish did it, I was told," Mr. Hilbrands put forth.
No one had anything to say in reply to that, and Mr. Hilbrands continued, "I think the worst of it was over when young James left town."
"The worst of what?" asked Marie.
Mr Hilbrands shook his head. "There's still some sentiment against those of us who, ahem, who took sides against the Union," he said with a shake of his head. "There are saloons who cater to Unionists, and other who serve the Southerners in town. They don't mix freely."
"Oh dear," Marie said, mostly to herself. Then she spoke up in a firm voice. "Ma, he's out of the town, and it's a good and proper that he left. We will hear from him by and by, I know it."
Ma gave a moaning sigh, then shook off Pa's arms. "We will pray fervently for that," she said, then turned to Mrs. Hilbrands. "Amanda, despite the news you bring, you're mighty welcome to our homestead. Rod, help Mr. Hilbrands unload the wagon."