She sat in a heap next to the smoking embers of what used to be a cabin. Her face was black except where the tears had run down. Her dress streaked with black had some holes where the fire had grabbed it but she had managed to extinguish those flames.
A rider came into the yard. She didn’t even look up.
* * * * *
He was too late. He had seen the flames from a couple of miles away and smelled the smoke as the wind carried it to his homestead. He had ridden as fast as he could in hopes of helping whoever was in trouble.
There didn’t seem to be anything left. Two buildings lay in smoking embers.
His heart lurched. Was that a woman?
He rode a bit closer, then dismounted. Yes, it was a woman, but she didn’t move a muscle, didn’t even seem to be aware that he was there.
He stepped closer. “Ma’am?”
He squatted and touched her arm. “Ma’am, are you okay?”
When her eyes met his, his heart plunged into his stomach. Her eyes displayed emptiness. A couple of stray tears trickled down her cheeks. She seemed unable to speak.
She appeared to be a few years younger than he. Her empty eyes were smoky gray and her brown hair lay in tangles on her shoulders. He was certain that cleaned up she’d be right pretty.
One thing was certain, she was alone and needed help. He wasn’t about to leave her here.
“Ma’am, my name’s Joshua Collins. I live just a few miles from here. I’d like to take you home with me. I promise no harm will come to you, but you can’t stay here. Can you stand?”
He took her hand and placed his arm around her waist to help her to her feet. She didn’t appear to have any injuries aside from some blisters on her hands he reckoned she got from trying to stop the fire. He led her to his horse and helped her mount. He climbed up behind her and headed back to his homestead at a much slower pace than when he was trying to get here.
At his homestead, he got some cool water and cleaned her hands and face. He put some ointment on her hands. She was exhausted and hadn’t spoken a word. He let her have his bed and he slept on a chair in the living room. He’d see about getting her some things tomorrow.
He had just dozed off when a woman’s scream startled him awake. He went into the bedroom to find the woman sitting up in the bed. She was screaming, “Clint, no, Clint don’t go in there! The barn’s too far gone! Clint!” Then she started sobbing. He sat down and held her in his arms. “It’s okay. You’re safe. I’m so sorry about Clint.”
When her sobbing quieted, he told her to lie back down, covered her with the blanket and went back to his chair in the living room. This poor woman had a long road ahead. He would do whatever he could to make it easier for her.