Rev. Jackdaw scowled as he handed her the reins. “Keep it slow.” He climbed out, made a shoving motion to Bridget, telling her to get out of the cart. He grabbed the bridle at the throatlatch and tugged. “Step on.”
Effie’s eyes widened as they started down, rolling over ruts and holes, some as deep as a foot. The cuts, from seasons of neglect and water washing down, made her think of monstrous claw marks. She clutched the reins as the buggy rocked and lurched. Each time she bounced inches above the seat, she slammed her foot harder on the brake and struggled to keep herself from flying off. She wished she’d been allowed to walk with Bridget, but she had no more say in how she descended than Nell.
“Slow!” Rev. Jackdaw yelled at her.
She tried to concentrate, to stay focused just on braking and keeping the reins taut. She couldn’t look at the lodge, couldn’t think right now about living in the uncivilized West with trees, an orphan, and a man who paid no more mind to her wants than he did to his horse’s.
She stomped her full weight on the brake, the wood and leather pads gripping and squeaking. They had no choice but to go down. No one would risk leaving a horse and buggy unattended in this wild. But if a wheel sank into a furrow, though they moved against the cuts, or the bouncing snapped the old buggy’s axel, even if Nell stepped into a hole, splintering a cannon bone, Effie didn’t care. What lay at the bottom felt like dropping off the edge of civilization.
“Slow! Can’t you hear?”
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