As the stagecoach lumbered through the dark night, Mama mumbled fretfully in her sleep. Eleven-year-old Elsie was too worried to even doze. Nervously she tucked the quilts tighter around her mother. Here on the high plains of Utah Territory it was cold.
The stagecoach lurched through a large chuckhole, rousing Mama. She said clearly, “John, just put the water by the stove.”
Alarm surged through Elsie. John was Papa’s name, but he was thousands of miles away on a mission in London. Touching Mama’s forehead, Elsie found it burning with fever. There was no water, nothing to help her. How she wished she’d never listened to that doctor. He’d advised her to take Mama to St. George, where it was warmer in the winter. But traveling seemed to make Mama worse.
“I’m Sister Reed,” a kind-faced woman across from her said. “Your mother is very sick, isn’t she?”
“She needs rest and a comfortable bed.”
Sister Reed was right, but where would they find that in this sagebrush desert? Elsie turned to the man next to her. “Sir, when will we reach the next town?”
“There’s no town between here and Fillmore. The next stop is Cove Fort.” He looked kindly at the sick woman. “The Hinckleys run the fort for the Church. They’re real good folks. You could let your mother rest there. They have good food and clean rooms and only charge twenty-five cents a night.”
Elsie’s heart sank. Where would she get twenty-five cents?
Sister Reed saw the look on her face. “I’ve heard of Ira Hinckley and his sweet wife. She’ll take one look at your mama and put her to bed—won’t charge you a penny for it, either.”
Elsie stared at the woman in disbelief. “You mean they’d help us, and they don’t even know us?”
The woman smiled tiredly. “They’ll help you and be happy to do it. I plan to stay there for a day or two myself. All this bouncing around is hard on old bones.”
Just then Mama moaned and sat up. “John, could you bring me that pail of water. I’m so thirsty!”
Gently pushing her back, Elsie replaced the covers. All through that long, bumpy night she watched over her mother and prayed that they would find help at Cove Fort.
When the sun peeked up over the foothills, the man nudged her. Pointing to a dark spot off through the sagebrush, he said, “See that? That’s Cove Fort. We’ll get there about breakfast time. So hang on, little lady. We’ll have your ma in good hands real soon.”
Her heart hammering, Elsie prayed that what they told her was true. She prayed that the Hinckleys would take them in. She prayed that her mother would soon have a place to rest and get well.
As the stagecoach pulled up in front of the fort, Elsie’s heart sank. Built of limestone blocks with thick wooden doors, it looked solid, but rough. How could a sick woman find comfort in there?
Brother Hinckley swung open the doors as the stagecoach bumped to a stop. He greeted the driver as several young men hurried out of a bunkhouse next door and helped hitch fresh horses to the coach.
Sister Reed stepped out of the coach and spoke softly to Brother Hinckley. Soon Mama was carried from the coach through those heavy doors. Elsie followed close behind.
She saw that the fort was actually a big square. Though the outside of the fort was solid rock, inside, it was divided into rooms with doors and windows. Her mother was carried into one of the rooms and tucked into a soft straw bed on a rope mattress. Homemade quilts piled on the shivering woman comforted her.
Elsie heard Sister Reed whispering to Sister Hinckley. She caught the words “… husband just left … mission … baby.” Elsie listened fearfully. Was her mother going to have a baby? Was that why she was so sick?
Elsie thought of the two baby brothers who hadn’t lived more than a few days. Would that happen again?
While she was worrying, she noticed several young girls bustling around the fort. She counted seven Hinckley girls in all. One of them came and showed her into the dining room. There they served her fresh milk and warm bread, but the food stuck in her throat.
Sister Reed came and sat beside her. “Sister Hinckley’s taking care of your mama now. She thinks a good long rest will help her get well. You’re to stay here until your ma can travel again.”
“But I don’t have any money,” Elsie moaned. “What will I do?”
Sister Reed put her arm around Elsie. “Now don’t you worry about that. Just eat your meal.” She thanked the young woman who set a plate of food before her. “That gives me an idea,” she said, looking at the girl bustling around. “You could help the Hinckleys for your room and board.”
Elsie’s heart began to lighten. Could she really do that? “What could I do?”
Pointing to a girl about thirteen years old, Sister Reed said, “That young lady takes care of the milk from thirty cows. That’s a lot of work for one person.”
“I’d love to help! Before Papa left, we had lots of cows. Mama says that I make better cheese than most grown women.”
Sister Reed smiled at her. “Then offer your help. There’s much to be done in this world. If able, no one has the right to just sit around and let others do for them.”
Gladly Elsie helped wash the dishes. Then she asked where the milk was cared for and offered her help. Soon she and the young girl were chatting happily. With such cheerful company, it seemed to take just minutes to care for the milk.
Then Elsie crossed over to her mother’s room. Mama was sleeping quietly. Gently touching her forehead, Elsie found it cool. Laying her head down beside Mama, she gave thanks.
How tired she was, but how grateful! She knew that her prayers were being answered by good people willing to help a couple of strangers. How thankful she was to Heavenly Father for these good people.