Sophie heard the girls jump out of bed as she headed outside in her nightgown with untied boots on her feet.

She saw where he’d gone over and her stomach lurched. He couldn’t have picked a worse drop. She stumbled and skidded toward the bottom of the creek, risking her own neck on the treacherous path.

Hearing Amanda call out from overhead, Sophie yelled, “Down here, Mandy. Quickly.” Sophie picked her way over the jumble of dirt and stones edging the swollen waters of the creek. In the starless night, she couldn’t make out anything. She glanced behind her and saw, with relief, ten-year-old Mandy coming with a brightly lit kerosene lantern.

Sophie continued to scramble over the debris. She stepped in mud and sank until water overflowed her boot. The thunder came more steadily now, until it was a constant collision of sound. The approaching lightning gained enough strength to light up even the depths of the creek.

Feeling her way, on her hands and knees now, she tried to pierce the utter darkness with her vision. Where is he, Lord?

A wailing wind cried at them that it was bringing disaster in its wake. Suddenly, the thunder and lightning held a worse threat than savage rain. The storm was coming from the north. It was probably already raining upstream. The creek might flood without a single drop of water falling here. And she now stood in the path of that flash flood. Worse still, she’d just ordered her children to come after her.

Sophie listened intently for the roar of oncoming water. She heard nothing. They still had time.

Mandy caught up with her. “Here’s the lantern and rope.”

Sophie took the lantern. “A rider and horse went over that drop-off. Help me find him, and hurry! It’s raining up north!”

Her girls had lived in their little thicket hideaway long enough to know what it meant when rain came in from the north. Sophie saw Mandy glance fearfully over her shoulder into the darkness of the creek. Then, practical girl that Mandy was, she started searching for the rider.

“Oh, Ma. Can he have lived?” Mandy went ahead of Sophie to the very edge of the dimly illuminated area.

“I don’t know, honey,” Sophie said grimly as she surveyed the area, looking for a glimpse of fabric or a bit of horsehide. “I don’t hear him. He might be buried under these rocks. He might have been swept away by the creek. We only have a few minutes to search.”

“Here, Ma. I think I found him!” Mandy’s voice was sharp with excitement. A bolt of lightning lit up Mandy’s frightened face. Sophie saw Mandy’s blue eyes, so like her own, glow in the jagged glare. Her blond hair, identical to Sophie’s and the other girls’, hung bedraggled and muddy to her waist.

Sophie rushed to her daughter’s side and saw a single hand, coated with dirt, extending from a pile of mud and rocks. The two of them fell to the ground and began digging away the soil. They ignored the tear of jagged stones on their hands and the damage to their nightgowns, the only ones they owned. Sophie heard soft trudging steps as Hector came down the creek path. She dug faster, knowing that with the mule’s help they could move the man as soon as they freed him.

Another rumble of thunder sounded closer. The lightning lanced the sky just as Sophie uncovered the stranger’s face and pushed away the mud. The man was utterly still. As limp as in death. She didn’t stop to check his condition. If there was life left in him after the fall, the suffocating dirt would snatch it away. She and Mandy uncovered his shoulders as eight-year-old Elizabeth came up.

“Get this rope around his shoulders, Mandy. Beth, hitch it around Hector’s neck. We’ve got to get out of this creek before the water comes!” Even as she said it, Sophie heard the first distant crash of waves against the sides of the creek. Once the sound was audible, there were only minutes before the wall of water would sweep by their cabin.