Moving the teakettle to the front to heat faster, she was busy filling a bucket with water when Garrett and Jim came in the room.
“I’m afraid to do too much more until the doc gets here,” Garrett said, nodding toward Aundy. “Maybe you can help her get cleaned up, Ma, and then see about setting her arm. Looks to me like it’s probably broken.”
“What?” Nora asked, spinning around to see Aundy holding her arm, her own face pale and pinched with pain. “Why didn’t you say something earlier? I would have set your arm before we ever left my house.”
“We need to see to Erik first,” Aundy said, feeling her legs grow weak beneath her. “I’ll be fine.”
“My lands, child,” Nora said, taking control of the situation. Gently placing her hand on Aundy’s muddy shoulder, she directed her to sit in one of the kitchen chairs. “Garrett, you and Jim take this water and these rags and see what you can do about cleaning Erik. Just be gentle, we don’t know what might be injured,” Nora said, handing Garrett the bucket full of water while Jim took a stack of rags and a couple of towels.
Aundy began to shiver, whether from the shock or her cold, muddy clothing she didn’t know. Sitting white-faced in the chair, she pinched her lips together in an effort to keep from fainting. Other than being knocked out when the wagon wrecked, she didn’t plan to lose consciousness again.
Trying to focus her attention on anything other than her arm and Erik lying injured in the other room, she noticed a basket packed with food on the counter. It was most likely the cold supper Erik mentioned Nora prepared.
“It was nice of you to provide supper for us,” Aundy said, using her good hand to motion to the basket.
“My pleasure. It’s not every day a new bride moves into the neighborhood. Erik was so excited about you coming, he nearly burst his buttons,” Nora said, smiling from the sink where she filled yet another kettle then set it on the stove. “We hope you’ll enjoy being a part of our Pendleton community. The town is definitely growing and we need good families to help lead it in the right direction.”
“I didn’t have the opportunity to see much in town, but it looks like you have a nice variety of shops and stores.”
“Yes, and if there’s something you want that’s not available in town, the mercantile can order just about anything,” Nora said, deciding Aundy had to have a bath before she could do anything with her arm.
Garrett and Jim returned with a pile of dirty rags and damp towels. Opening the kitchen door, Garrett stepped off the porch and dumped the water on a nearby bush, then rinsed the mud out of the bucket before setting it on the end of the counter.
“How is he?” Nora asked, watching Garrett.
“Same. I think we got most of the mud off. We wiped down the oil cloth and put one of your old blankets over him.” Garrett leaned over and whispered something to Nora, causing her to nod her head with a grim expression.
“Fine,” Nora said, rolling up the sleeves of her dress. “Can you boys run back down and get Aundy’s trunks? She’ll need clean clothes to put on and I doubt Erik has anything here fit for her to wear. You better take care of Erik’s horses, too. We’ll pray the doc shows up soon.”
“Yes, Ma,” Garrett said, opening the door. “I think Erik gave all the hands orders to stay away from the house the rest of the day, so I don’t know that any of them will be around to offer assistance. Once we get the horses cared for, I’ll see about rounding them up.”
“Good,” Nora said, pointing toward the back door, indicating it was time for Garrett to get out of the kitchen.
“Let’s get you cleaned up, honey. Garrett helped Erik put in a bathroom recently, once he knew you were coming. Not too many farm wives have indoor plumbing, but Erik wanted to make sure you had every convenience he could provide. He thought it might be hard for you to get used to country life and wanted to do what he could to make you feel at home.”
Aundy couldn’t speak, thinking of Erik’s thoughtfulness. Nodding her head, she tried to blink back her tears.
“I’ll go run the water then we’ll get you out of those muddy clothes,” Nora said, bustling out of the kitchen and down a short hallway. Aundy could hear water running and looked forward to getting out of her filthy clothes and scrubbing away the mud.
Nora returned to the kitchen, carrying one of the old towels she brought from home.
“Take off your muddy clothes, honey, and wrap this around yourself, that way you won’t be dragging all the mud along with you,” Nora said, setting the towel on the table while Aundy got to her feet and tried unsuccessfully to unbutton her dress with one hand. Nora helped Aundy remove her clothes and wrapped the towel around the girl. Embarrassed to be in need of assistance, and from a complete stranger, Aundy’s pink cheeks flamed through the mud splattered on her face.
“Go soak a while and by the time you’re ready to get out, the boys should be back with your things,” Nora said, pointing toward the bathroom.
Hurrying down the hall, Aundy glanced at her arm, glad to see bone was not poking through the skin. Maybe it was just sprained.
Eyeing the wonderful bathtub, Aundy closed the door behind her and used the old towel to wipe off as much mud as she could before sinking into the steaming water.
Taking a few moments to let the water relax her sore, abused muscles, she continued to send up prayers on Erik’s behalf. She couldn’t hear what Garrett whispered to Nora, but by the looks on both their faces, it had to be bad. She felt guilty soaking in a tub of hot water with a bar of fragrant rose soap Erik had no doubt purchased for her scenting the air while he lay unmoving in his bed. As soon as she was clean, she’d go sit with him and hold his hand. It was the least she could do.
Trying to wash her hair one-handed, she was relieved when Nora knocked and stuck her head around the door. “Need any help?”
“If you don’t mind, I could use some with my hair,” Aundy said, looking chagrined.
Smiling, Nora soaped Aundy’s hair, keeping up a running conversation while she did so. “Did Erik say you were from Chicago?” Nora asked as she busied herself massaging Aundy’s scalp. Aundy didn’t think anything had ever felt so good before and closed her eyes.
“He said something about you being a seamstress. Is that correct?”
“I worked as a seamstress in a factory that made ready-made clothing. Our mother taught my sister and me to sew when we were quite young.”
“Did your sister work in the factory with you?”
Aundy shook her head. “No, thank goodness. Ilsa has a rare talent with a needle. She works for my aunt, creating gowns for some of Chicago’s most elite clientele. I would not have allowed her to work in the factory.”
“Oh? Why not?” Nora asked, not familiar with what factory work entailed.
“The hours are long, the pay is poor, and the working conditions are less than pleasant,” Aundy said, managing to suppress a shudder. Her beautiful, delicate younger sister wouldn’t have lasted a week in the factory. Some of the male supervisors weren’t above making life miserable for the pretty girls who turned down their attentions. On top of that, the work was backbreaking, sitting in front of a sewing machine for hours on end with insufficient lighting. Aundy never had any problems because she wasn’t perceived as one of the young, attractive girls. Instead, she was lumped in with the matrons who largely went unbothered.
Wanting to make a better life for herself, and eventually her sister, Erik offered Aundy the opportunity when he asked her to marry him. Educated, Aundy hadn’t been able to secure any suitable work when she found herself desperate to earn an income, which was why she took the job in the factory. Her family needed the money and didn’t have the luxury of waiting for a good job to come along.
“Does your sister still work for your aunt?”
“Yes, she does,” Aundy said, her tone taking on an edge as she thought about the cruel woman who held her sister’s fate in her hands. “I was hoping to eventually bring Ilsa out here to live on the farm. Erik mentioned in one of his letters that he wouldn’t mind. He just asked that I wait a few months to give us time to get used to being married. Now, I…”
Nora put a gentle hand on Aundy’s head as the girl struggled to keep the tears filling her eyes from rolling down her cheeks. Erik’s bride seemed to be a strong, capable girl who took things head-on and without a lot of fuss. She would make any rancher or farmer a good wife, especially someone like Erik who was older and somewhat set in his ways. “Everything will work out just fine, Aundy. Don’t you worry.”
“Thank you, Nora,” Aundy whispered, squeezing the woman’s hand in her right one.
Nora laughed as she noticed Aundy’s fingers beginning to look shriveled from the water. “Let me see if I can find something for you to wear until Garrett and Jim get back with your clothes. We need to get you out of there before you melt into the water.”
Nora hurried off then returned with a warm, flannel robe in a dark shade of blue.
Handing Aundy a towel, Nora turned her back, giving the girl some privacy while she dried off.
“I appreciate you helping me,” Aundy said as she pulled on the robe after rubbing herself briskly with a rough towel. A masculine scent clung to the robe and she knew it must belong to Erik.
Watching her struggle to dry her long, blond tresses, Nora took over, using the towel to squeeze out excess water.
A noise from the front room sent Nora hurrying out the door while Aundy waited in the bathroom. She heard the clomping of boots in the hallway, going past the bathroom door and the sound of something heavy being set on the floor in the next room.
The men’s footsteps thudded back toward the front door as a knock sounded on the door. Nora opened it and motioned Aundy to follow her to the bedroom next door, where her trunks sat against one wall.
“The boys used some burlap at the barn to get your trunks clean, although I think that one,” Nora said, pointing to the trunk with the broken lid, “is sadly beyond saving. I’ve got your dirty clothes soaking so we can get that nasty mud out of them.”
Nora unfastened the straps and latches on the trunks, pushing up the heavy lids and watching as Aundy dug inside, taking out clothes. Noticing the sensible girl chose a dark green dress she could wear without a corset, Nora nodded her approval. Although wrinkled, it was clean and serviceable.
Noticing the fine stitching that made the dress look special, Nora smiled. “Did you or your sister make this dress?”
“Ilsa made it for me. Like I said, she’s the one who’s talented with a needle. I can run a sewing machine with the best of them, but Ilsa makes things lovely,” Aundy said while Nora helped her dress.
Studying the bruising on Aundy’s injured arm, Nora didn’t like the looks of a knot that formed under the skin. “Where’s your hairbrush, honey? I can help you with your hair,” Nora asked. Aundy pointed to her bag sitting on top of the broken trunk.
Nora took out the hairbrush and a length of black ribbon. “Come sit here and I’ll brush your hair.”
Aundy sat in the chair Nora indicated and was quiet while the woman brushed her long hair. Although not curly, it wasn’t exactly straight either, and most often took on a life of its own. Nora brushed it until she was satisfied with her efforts then pulled it back and tied a ribbon at Aundy’s nape to hold the hair out of her face. Enjoying the experience, Aundy couldn’t think of the last time someone brushed her hair for her. It was probably Ilsa back before their parents died.
“Your hair is lovely, honey. So long and thick, and such a pretty color.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate you brushing it for me,” Aundy said, getting to her feet and digging in her trunk for a pair of slippers. Sliding them on, her cold toes instantly felt warmer. “May I sit with Erik, please?”
“Certainly,” Nora said, smiling at Aundy and patting the girl’s cheek. Traveling across the country to marry a man she’d never met had to be frightening. To have the horses spook and wreck the wagon before they even got home from the wedding must be terrifying. She was very impressed with Erik’s bride, especially when she didn’t complain about her arm hurting though it clearly had to.
Walking down the hall together, Aundy looked up when Garrett opened the front door. “Ma, I thought…” Garrett said, but lost his ability to focus as he noticed Aundy, clean and fresh with her blond hair hanging in golden streamers down her back.
“You thought what, son?”
“Um… I… we might need a couple of sticks for a splint for Mrs. Erickson’s arm,” Garrett said, handing Nora two thin but sturdy sticks as he suddenly remembered why he’d come into the house. He hadn’t counted on Erik’s bride being so young, tall, or attractive. Giving himself a mental shake, Garrett reminded himself the woman was married to one of his very good friends.
“I was hoping to wait until the doctor arrives, but maybe we should go ahead and set it,” Nora said, eyeing Aundy’s arm.
“I can wait,” Aundy said, not anxious to have anything done to her arm. She’d seen plenty of accidents at the factory. It was going to hurt like everything to pull her arm back into place, if that was, in fact, what needed to happen.
Still carrying the sticks, Nora led the way to Erik’s bedroom where he rested pale and unmoving on the bed.
Aundy stood at the door, listening to his labored breathing. His chest rattled with every effort he made to draw in air. Although a blanket covered him to his waist, she could see Nora tried to bandage the multiple scrapes and open wounds that were bleeding. A red spot soaking through the blanket on his thigh indicated more wounds. Aundy hoped the doctor would soon arrive.