What would the world be, once bereft O wet and wildness? Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins
The old man moved toward them with his arm in a wave. "Hello, I'm Harlan Hubbard. Looking for someone?"
"This looked like a good trail to the river...evidently we're lost." Kellie's voice trembled.
"We're phoning home now."
"Phoning? I don't think a phone will work here." Harlan shook his head but was surprised when they began talking on the phone.
Grandma was relieved to hear from them. The parents had to go out, and only she was left home to wait for the return of the young riders. The girls were also relieved when they learned that grandma had some idea where the Hubbard place was, but she couldn't hitch up the trailer to pick them up, and she thought it was getting late to make the ride home with the horses. She wondered...was it possible for them to try to stay put for the night? It was a lot to ask, but grandma and Harlan talked on the phone, and he assured her that he and Anna would do their best to make the girls and horses comfortable for the night, if that was the best solution. He asked though, that the parents try to call and confirm the plan.
"Well now, people come looking for us out of curiosity, but very few show up who are lost," Harlan explained. "There are no roads or railroad along this side of the river for several miles, so our friends have to make quite an effort to visit us, and we're used to overnight company. I think we can manage very well once Ranger accepts having horses around. I did some farming years ago with horses. They're good company in front of a plow."
Ranger, the red bone hound, was more accustomed to goats. He was wary of the visitors, but since the horses seemed to ignore him, he decided he might accept them.
In single file they followed the man and dog down the rugged path until they saw a small barn. To reach it, they led the horses along a low level area and around the wide rocky mouth of a run-off creek. The horses showed keen interest in the spring there, but Harlan explained it was best to draw water with a bucket for the horses in order to keep the source as clean as possible. Even though they collected rainwater and filtered it for use, the Hubbards tried to protect any usable water from unnecessary contamination.
"The horses can use the old goat shed. There's a fenced-in yard full of grass and weeds for them. There's clean straw, but we don't have hay since we gave up our goats. We sure miss watching the antics of the kids," Harlan's voice softened. "And it's been a very long time since we've had horses here...I'll go get a few things from the garden for them, and let Anna know what's going on."
It was a relief that this man liked the horses, and now that they were no longer lost, the girls realized the strain that they had been under. They were truly exhausted, but there would no rest until the animals were cared for.
The old goat shed was closer to the river and not far below the house. Once the horses were put in the yard with tack removed, they began grazing. It was nearly enough food for the night. Kellie made trips to the spring to fill the trough while the other girls followed Harlan to the garden. For each horse they collected a small bundle of plants like comfrey, parsley, and a washed carrot with the greens left on. Deer relished these greens and the horses would too.
Harlan went to the house and came back with oats donated by Anna from her kitchen stock. The small group stood quietly, listening to the contented crunching on the bounty offered. They might have fallen asleep at the feet of the horses but for the light clattering they heard coming from the house.
"It's time you met Anna," Harlan said. "And it's time for supper. We must wash up first; Anna sets a respectable table."