This is the tenth of an 11-part short story based on the characters of author Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures and is posted on her blog https://circlecadventures.blogspot.com/

Part 10.

If Chad hadn’t been there… I don’t know what I would have done.

After church Sunday, Ellie rode out to the ranch with the Carters.  Lunch was superb, and afterwards Ellie looked forward to a brisk ride on Magic.

Chad slapped on his hat.  “Ready, Ellie?”

Ellie hurried down the stairs in the split skirt she had brought.  “Of course!”

They saddled their horses and started off.  The day was bright and crisp, big white clouds blew quickly across the sky, making shadows on the ground.

Chad led the way to a bubbling creek surrounded by a scattering of oak trees and dismounted.  Ellie did the same.

“Ellie-” Chad began.

Suddenly, Magic snorted fearfully and Sky pawed the ground.

Chad attempted to calm them both, but they began to go crazy.

Sky reared and pulled the reins out of Chad’s grip.  He bolted away and Magic fought to follow him.

“Let her go, Ellie!”  Chad yelled over the horse’s frightened whinnies.

Ellie let go of the reins and they whistled through her gloves as the mare spun, then galloped after Sky.

Their stranded riders looked after them in shocked surprise.

After a moment, Ellie broke the silence.  “So, are we going to walk back, or do you think they’ll come by and pick us up?”

The funny side of the situation hit Chad, and he laughed. “Well, I guess we’d better start walking, although our feet are going to be sore from hobbling with these riding boots on.”

Ellie felt as if her feet had been crushed by the time they made their way back to the house.  Both she and Chad sat down on the porch with a moan and pulled off their boots.

A familiar whicker halted Ellie.  She began to hurry to the barn, regardless of the fact that she’d left her boots behind her.  Chad pulled his back on and followed.

As she entered, she saw Magic wandering the aisle in search of her stall.

Ellie gave a surprised cry and approached carefully. Magic was completely gentle, and Ellie tied her halter to a post to keep her from running away again.

“Her saddle must have chafed her.  Has Sky come back?”  Chad asked.

Ellie shook her head.  “I haven’t seen him.”

Magic snorted and pranced, suddenly skittish again. Ellie stepped back just in time.

In one swift move, Magic reared and tore loose from the rope that held her.  The halter fell, snapped.  The powerful horse galloped past Ellie barely missing her.

The ground began to shake, and Ellie saw the barn walls sway. Chad grabbed her hand and they ran toward the door.  Ellie stumbled and fell as the ground rolled under her feet.  A beam crashed down in front of them,  and another fell behind them.

Chad pushed Ellie into a corner and shielded her from more debris that showered them.

Slowly, everything quieted, and Ellie lowered her arms from where she had been protecting her head.  Chad crouched close by; he was also covering his head.

“Are you alright?”  Chad asked.

Ellie nodded shakily.  “I think so.  You?”

“I’m fine.”  He stood up carefully, and looked around.  “There’s not much harm done.  These two beams are the most of it.”

Ellie moved to get up, but then gasped as pain shot through her ankle.

Chad spun quickly.  “What’s the matter?”  His blue eyes worried.

Ellie reached above her and grasped the board on a stall door.  She winced as she pulled herself up.  “I must have sprained my ankle when I fell.”  She balanced on one foot, and took a hopping step toward the door.  She tottered and steadied herself with one hand. Ellie took another step and overbalanced.  Chad caught her.

Ellie gripped his arm.  “I can walk, I just need a little help.”  She told him.

Chad snorted his opinion of that statement and swung her up into his arms.  Ellie opened her mouth to protest, then closed it as she realized she wasn’t going anywhere by herself.

Chad stepped over the beams and strode out of the barn. The whole Carter family had run out of the house and was in the yard.  Andi gave a shocked yell, as Chad and Ellie emerged, dusty and blinking.

“Oh, my Lord!  Thank God you weren’t killed!”  Elizabeth rushed over to them her face gray with fright.

“Ellie fell and sprained her ankle, Mother.”  Chad said grimly.

“Bring her inside, Chad.  Put her on the sofa.  I’ll have one of the men go for the doctor.”  Elizabeth motioned them toward the house.

“Tell him to get the Sheriff, too.”  Chad called as he thumped into the parlor and placed Ellie gently on a sofa.  She scooted into a sitting position.  “Thanks, Chad.”

He looked like he was going to say something, but Mitch hollered from outside and Chad stood up.  “Your welcome.”

 

There were two more earthquake aftershocks that day, but none as bad as the first.  When the doctor came, he examined Ellie’s ankle and announced that she’d not sprained it; she’d broken it.  Six weeks without an ounce of weight on it was his order, and Ellie chafed under the restriction.

“How am I going to teach school with a broken ankle?” She moaned after the doctor left. “Mrs. Stewart has enough to do, and she’s too old to be saddled with the care of an invalid.”

A soft chuckle made her jump.  She had thought she was alone.

Elizabeth sat down on the edge of the sofa and took Ellie’s hand.  “You are welcome to stay here for as long as you need to.”

Ellie protested.  “I couldn’t be such a burden!  Besides I could…I could…” She didn’t finish.   There was nothing else she could do.  Either she stayed here, or she burdened Mrs. Stewart, or she wrote home and hoped that Pa and Jem could spare Aunt Rose for six whole weeks.  The second option was unthinkable, the third was impossible-Pa and Jem (not to mention cousin Nathan) would be lost without a housekeeper-, and the first was so tempting.

Elizabeth watched Ellie think through her options with a quiet smile.  “You would be no burden, Ellie.  We would love to have you as our house guest.”

Ellie rubbed a hand across her forehead, unable to believe what she was about to do.  “Thank you, I accept.”

Ellie sent word of the situation to Mrs. Stewart by the doctor, and requested that her belongings be sent to her in the morning. Justin informed the school board, and the substitute teacher was called in.