The wind began driving the steadily increasing sprinkles straight sideways. The lightning and thunder continued, and the icy drops of rain grew fatter, soaking into their thin, mud-soaked nightclothes. This was all the man needed to finish the work of his fall. Sophie finally said, “The barn it is. Let’s go.”

They hauled the injured man down a nearly invisible trail that wound away from the cabin. Another small clearing, one of hundreds that appeared inside the twisting maze of the thicket, opened up at the decrepit barn. Mercifully, the rain was coming from the north and the shed opened to the east. The inside was dry except for the multiple leaks in the roof. A stack of the first spring prairie grass Sophie and the girls had cut took up the driest corner. With some quick pitch-forking, they got the man situated on a soft bed of fresh-scented hay. It was a better bed than the one Sophie had.

Hector was released. As if in a huff at the uninvited company, he went to the far corner of the tiny shed. That put about ten feet between him and the intruders in his domain.

Sophie knelt in the hay beside the still-unconscious man. “Bring the lantern up close, Mandy. Be mindful of fire.”

“I’ll fetch blankets and check on the little ’uns, Ma.” Beth darted out into the storm.

As the lantern light fell on the man, and with a sudden extended flash of lightning, Sophie saw bright red soaked through the coating of dirt on his face and across the front of his shirt. The stranger was drenched in his own blood.

With a dart of aggravation, Sophie thought the man was determined to die one way or another. She felt stubbornness well up inside of her that would have humbled Hector. After all she’d been through, he’d live if she had to grab his worthless life and hold him on this side of the pearly gates with her bare hands!

Taken from Petticoat Ranch.  © 2006 by Mary Connealy. ISBN 978-1-59789-647-4.  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher. 

Published by Barbour Publishing, Inc., P.O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683