Philip clucks to the horse and calls out, “See you a few hours, Honey.”
The three town-goers and the four staying at home wave to each other before Loretta turns and heads into the house.
“I’d better check my bread,” she says to aloud, though speaking to herself.
Lucy sits under the tree playing with her doll, unheeding of her younger sister. Caleb is standing with his hands in his pants pockets watching the clouds. Like as not, he is day dreaming about the adventure he and Phineas had been planing the night before. He moves his head, then starts. His eyes bug out and he opens his mouth.
His scream is echoed by a terrified yell from the little girl as she tumbles off the well wall and down the cold water. Caleb sprint across the yard and leans over the well.
“Hang on! I’m coming!” he calls down to his frantically bobbing little sister. He throws a leg over the wall and slides onto his stomach as he brings the other one over. He holds that pose for a second, then lets go to splash in next to Beatrice.
Lucy, finally realizing what had just happened, starts to scream hysterically.
Loretta rushes out of the house only to see one of her children in sight. That child is standing under the tree where she had last been seen, her precious dolly in a crump by her feet, tears coursing down her cheeks.
Running over to her daughter, Loretta demands, “Lucy! What is the matter?”
Lucy can only point toward the well. Loretta follows her daughter's finger with her eyes. Her worried expression gets deeper. Quickly, she moves over to the well and looks in. After a moments shock, she straightens up with a look of horror. “Oh, God... Caleb? What on earth are you doing down there?” *see note at bottom
Caleb has his shoulders against one side of the well and his feet firmly planted on the other. He has a tight grip on his sister’s dress and one arm. He informs his mother matter of factly, “Beatrice fell in."
Loretta wasn't much comforted by this, but by now she had reached a state where her mind worked again. "I’m going to lower the bucket. See if you can get ahold of it and let me pull you up.”
She lowers the bucket slowly so as not to clunk her children's heads with it. Caleb attempts to grab it tightly and hold onto his water-logged 4-year-old sister. It is no good; he couldn't hang onto both. Both children go under. Caleb fights his head up, then turns his attention back to his sister.
“Bea! Let go. Just relax…I got you. If you keep fighting, we’ll both go down….Calm down.”
During this speech his head disappears at least once. Beatrice finally relaxes and Caleb once again gets his feet and shoulders planted strongly.
Calmly, Caleb informs his mother, “Mama…that won’t work.”
Loretta stares down at her soaking son and asks rather rhetorically, “What am I to do?”
Caleb, like usual, wasn't one who lacked ideas--or the words to express them. “One of the Burke boys?”
Loretta almost laughs in relief, “Yes. Yes, of course. Lucy! Lucy, you must stop your hysterics! There now…we need you.”
Lucy manages to swallow her tears and look attentively at her mother.
Loretta says gently, “I need you to be a big girl and run over to Mr. Burke's and see if any of the boys can come help. Hurry now!”
Lucy starts off at a stumbling run, still sniffling.
Loretta peers down the well again, “Are you okay down there?”
Caleb, it must be admitted, was actually almost having fun. He grins, “Kinda stiff, but yes." He shifts hs grip on Beatrices dress and tells her, "Bea…Mama’s going to get you out real soon, okay?”
Beatrice, fairly calm, looks trustingly into her big brother's face with blue eyes almost as fun-filled as his, “’K, Caleb.”
Caleb grins at her, “Just hold onto me. We have to wait a little.”
Beatrice puts her head on his shoulder, saying in her baby voice, “I'll wait here.”
Loretta smiles in spite of herself as she looks down at her children. Caleb, short but firmly built with his feet and shoulders jammed as strongly as he could get them against the opposing walls of the well, and Beatrice, wet-hair hanging limply around her face, floating with her head leaned on her brothers shoulder.
Lucy stumbles into the yard, tears still wandering down her face. Rodger is mending a harness on the front steps. He looks up and demands, “Lucy! What on earth is the matter?”
He jumps up and drops the harness and runs to meet her, kneeling in the dirt and putting his arms around her. Lucy puts her head on his shoulder and sobs, “Caleb and Bea are down the well! Mama said can you come and get them out?”
Rodger picks her up and heads toward the barn.
“Phin! Get your horse saddled!” he calls out.
Phineas' voice drifts out of the barn, “What about the stalls?”
Rodger responds, “Forget about the stalls! Caleb and Beatrice are down the well!”
Phineas head appears at the door, “WHAT?”
As the Burke boys, with Lucy seated in front of Rodger, gallop into the James' barn yard, Loretta steps forward.
“Thank-God you’ve come! Caleb is starting to get tired, even though he won’t admit it.”
Phineas jump off his horse, and Rodger quickly follows after helping Lucy tumble off. Everyone leans over the well. Rodger straddles the wall and grabs the bucket. Quickly, he unties it and tosses it aside. Turning to his brother, he says, “Okay, Phin.”
Phineas allows his brother to tie the rope under his arms. Then he too climbs onto the well wall. Rodger pulls on his gloves, which he almost aways carried in his back pocket, and grabs the rope and holds it taunt.
Rodger asks, almost embarressed like, “Mrs. James, if you don’t mind, could you get the tail end of the rope and help me?”
She quickly grabs the rope and braces with it. Slowly, inch by inch they lower Phineas down into the well.
From the depths of the well, Phineas orders, “A little more! Get me all the way into the water!”
Once he is in the water up to his armpits, Phineas grins at his buddy, “Hey Caleb…how you holding up?”
Caleb admits, “I’m looking forward to getting out of here.”
Phineas laughs, “Gotcha. Alright now, Bea, crawl over here and get on my back—like I’m giving you a piggyback.”
Beatrice, helped some by her brother, scrambles across his chest and grabs onto Phineas tightly. Caleb winces as kicks him and braces harder than ever.
Once Beatrice is securely on his back, Phineas calls up, “Heave ho! Pull me up, Rodger!”
Up top, Rodger braces himself and starts to haul on the rope. Loretta does her share and even Lucy pitches in. As soon as Phineas is level with the top of the well and has a grip on it, Loretta plucks Beatrice off his back.
Rodger calls down, “Caleb, if I just lower the rope with a loop in it, you reckon you can get it around you?”
Caleb responds, “I think so.”
Rodger, “Alright. Give me a minute to get Phineas untied and then we’ll drop that rope.”
Rodger unties Phineas as quickly as he could, then drops the rope back into the well. Caleb grabs at it and splashes around, finally getting it secured under his arms. Once it is secure, he hollers up, “Okay! Let’s get me out of here!”
Upon reaching the top of the well, Rodger grabs Caleb by the front of his shirt and pulls him on over. In a minute Caleb is laying face down in the dirt. He smiles contentedly, “I’m wore plumb out.”
Loretta doesn't say anything, but picks him up, soaking wet and dirty and holds him to her, thankfulness and pride showing in her eyes.
Rodger turns to his brother and says quietly, “Come on, Phin. Let’s move on.”
They mount their horses and turn to go. Loretta smiles at them through the tears forming in her eyes, “Thank-you boys.”
Rodger, ever the gentleman, returns, “A pleasure, ma’am!”
Then, tipping his hat, kicks his horse into a run. Phineas follows his example, leaving the thankful mother to further care for h.
*Note: This is not a frivolous use of God's name. It is two-word prayer.