Back in the meadow, Copper picked a bright patch of sunlight and sat with Lilly to dry her hair. She’d rest just a moment before starting home, although there was so much to do she couldn’t afford the time. Eggs needed gathering, the milk from the morning needed straining, and she needed to see what she could salvage from the garden. How could she get everything done alone? Of course there was her neighbor John Pelfrey. John had been so good already, planting the garden and bringing her a cow and some chickens, but Copper didn’t want to rely on that goodness. John had his own work to do, and the last thing she wanted was to be beholden.

Things sure had changed since she’d been gone. There used to be a houseful of Pelfreys right across the creek, but they’d moved away, leaving only John. Copper wondered why he hadn’t gone with them. She felt a smile tugging the corner of her mouth as she remembered how she and John had once been sweethearts—at least they’d played at being sweethearts, children that they were. Well, that was in the past. She was through with all that. She’d never risk that kind of pain again.

Lilly was down for a nap, and Copper took the churn out to the porch. Up and down, up and down, the smooth wooden dasher slid through her fingers. Come supper, there would be butter on their corn bread to go with the soup beans that simmered on the cookstove. She’d make a wilted salad with the ramps and cress she’d gathered this morning. Her hands sensed the change in the milk as it formed soft lumps. Lifting the lid, she saw that it was nearly finished. Soon she could pour off the whey and put the solid in the molds. Lilly loved the butterfly that formed atop the butter from the mold.

A horse and two riders appeared from around the corner of the barn.

The dasher fell back into the churn as Copper stood. “Who in the world could that be?”

The old tomcat who lay beside the chair didn’t answer, busy as he was licking a splash of whey from his foot.

The horse ambled across the yard, taking his own sweet time. The riders, a girl of about fifteen and an older boy, stared at Copper. The girl smiled.

“May I help you?” Copper asked.

The boy reached out an arm. His muscles stood up like knots on an apple tree limb.

The girl grasped it and swung herself down. “Mammaw says you need some help.”

“Do I know your mammaw?”

“Everybody knows Fairy Mae Whitt. She’s lived up Crook-Neck Holler for seventy-five years, give or take.” The girl marched up on the porch and settled her ample hips in the chair at the churn, taking over the dasher.

Copper knew of Fairy Mae Whitt. She’d visited up Crook-Neck with her daddy on occasion when she was a girl. Daddy would go checking on neighbors after a storm or some such thing. Fairy Mae was a good woman, widowed as long as Copper could remember. Copper reckoned Fairy Mae wouldn’t send trouble to her door. Besides, her daddy taught her to never turn away a stranger. “We might be entertaining angels unaware,” she’d heard him say at least a dozen times.

“Come on up,” Copper said to the boy. “Rest a spell and have a glass of water.”

The young man stayed on his horse; his Adam’s apple bobbed in time to the churn.

The girl beckoned, so the boy slid off the horse, looping its reins around the porch rail. The horse was a fine-looking animal. Its coat, brushed to a shine, glinted red in the sunlight. Oddly its hooves shone too.

“Stove blacking and sheep tallow,” the girl said as if Copper had asked. “Dimmert polishes them every night.”

The quiet fellow eased over to stand behind the girl. His own bare feet could have used some attention. Taking the water Copper offered, he drank it down in one gulp.

“Thank ye,” the girl answered for both of them. “Darcy Whitt,” she said, releasing the dasher and sticking out her hand.