From Chap. 10, 1818

Hubbs and I parted company in Kentucky and I headed for my Indiana home, arriving September 2, 1818. Even though I took my time in dismounting and unloading my horse, the children were nowhere to be seen. Christiana did not rush out to meet me. When I started toward the front door, it opened slowly. She appeared, but was not smiling. Dark circles were visible under her eyes. I stopped in the path. I did not want to go farther. "What is it?" I asked.

"Didn't you get William's message?"

"No."

"It's Mahala."

"She ill?"

"She died . . . Monday . . . spotted fever."

Unable to speak, I mechanically raised my arms and encased Christiana when she came to me.

"She's in the springhouse," she sobbed. "I was just praying you'd come home to say the last words over her."

With Christiana remaining several steps behind me, I walked down the path to the springhouse, our place of safety during storms. There in the cool, dank, shadows, sheltered by a dripping bulwark of moss-covered timbers, lay a plank coffin with the lid closed.

Too weak to stand, I leaned against the stone trough that brought water from the spring. Becoming ever weaker, I sat down on the edge, carefully, as if the very ground might at any time disappear from beneath me. Maybe that's why Christiana stayed in the yard. With the weight of her grief in here, too, the ground surely would have slipped away.

I slumped forward and wrapped myself in the concert of water--high-pitched drips, low-pitched drops, some falling in rapid succession, others spaced a minute apart. All echoed upon themselves. In the opposite trough crocks stood in cool water. Mahala had helped her mother fill them and tie on the oilcloth covers . . . cream . . . butter . . . . Such joy she had found in fetching one for a meal. All she ever wanted to do, Lord, was please you and us.

I felt Christiana's hand on my shoulder. She stayed with me as I finally forced myself to approach the coffin. I raised the lid, pushed back the shroud, and beheld the grayish body that had been occupied by our precious Mahala. Her mother and I wept together.