Even if there was no stream, stopping would give Noah a chance to run. That too would be welcome. Craig knew it was hard for a two-and-a-half-year-old to sit in a wagon for so long. It was also hard for him. He and Noah shared more than the same dark brown hair and eyes. Being a schoolmaster might not involve heavy labor, but it kept Craig on his feet most of the day. The extended periods of sitting involved in traveling halfway across the state were difficult for both of them, but the result would be worth it: a new home, a new beginning, and—if his prayers were answered—the end of Noah's nightmares.
"Me eat?" Noah darted an anxious look at the back of the wagon when Craig brought it to a stop.
"We'll both eat." And so would Hercules, thanks to the lush grass. "But let's see who can reach those trees first." Craig lifted Noah and set him on the ground, knowing his son needed to release some energy. Noah had slept better since they'd been on the road, bolstering Craig's belief that the change, which many had considered extreme, would hasten the healing process, but that extra sleep meant the boy had an even greater need for activity.
"Me! Me run!"
As Noah scampered toward the trees, Craig grabbed the bag that contained their food and followed at a leisurely pace. Noah might fall in his hurry to win the race, but the thick grass meant he wouldn't hurt himself, and he'd feel independent. Rachel would have been proud. She'd claimed that the most important things parents could do were ensure that their children knew they were loved and give them the freedom to make mistakes.
"They'll learn from them," she'd declared.
"Who's the teacher here, you or me?" Craig had asked, feigning annoyance, though he knew Rachel would see through his pretense. They'd rarely argued, and when they did, it was usually because Craig thought she was being too impulsive. But there was nothing impulsive that day, simply a shared desire to raise their soon-to-be-born child the best they could.
"We'll both teach our baby," she'd said. "That's the reason God gave children two parents."
But now Noah had only one.
"Water, Pa, water!" Noah shrieked in delight.
Craig, who was only one step behind him, moved to his side, ready to catch him if he seemed likely to tumble into it, then smiled when he realized the stream was only a few inches deep. It would provide water to wash down the bread and cheese he'd bought in the last town but wouldn't be a threat to his son's safety.
Craig's smile broadened at Noah's use of the word he'd learned the day before they'd left Galveston. "I thought you were hungry." He rubbed Noah's stomach, then bent down to listen to it. "Yep. You're hungry. Let's eat first, and then you can wade."
He wouldn't deprive his son of the simple pleasure of splashing in a creek, particularly when there was no need to rush. The journey had taken less time than he'd expected, and unless they encountered a major delay, they'd arrive in Sweetwater Crossing two days earlier than he'd arranged with Mrs. Carmichael. He hoped that wouldn't create a problem, but if she wasn't ready for them, he and Noah could sleep in the wagon as they'd done every night since they'd left home.
"Good." Noah reached for the bag of food, confirming Craig's priorities.
What was good was that his son had not had a single nightmare since they left Galveston.
"He'll forget," the minister's wife had told Craig a week after Rachel was laid to rest. "Children that young forget quickly."
But Noah had not, not even after a year had passed. He still refused to be separated from Craig, even though he was too young to spend his days in a schoolroom. He still woke screaming at least once a week... until they'd left the house that held tragic memories. The difference was dramatic, proof that God still answered prayers.
Craig hoped Noah's healing would continue once they reached Sweetwater Crossing. The gently rolling hills with their sandstone and limestone outcroppings, the roads canopied with live oak branches, and the open fields carpeted with wildflowers filled his heart with joy and the sense of peace that had been missing for too long. That and the hope that Noah had begun to heal made him more confident that the decision to come to the Hill Country had been a wise one.
Though he'd balked at the thought of leaving the home he and Rachel had shared, Noah's problems convinced Craig there was little choice but to change their lives, and so he prayed for guidance. His prayers were answered sooner than he expected. Only days after he'd first prayed about his future, the minister mentioned a letter he'd received, saying a town in the Hill Country would need a new schoolteacher because the current one was about to marry.
In less time than Craig had thought possible, everything was arranged. The decision makers had been impressed with his credentials and had offered him the position of schoolmaster, a position that included room and board as well as a small salary. Craig and Noah would live with a widow who claimed to love children and whose house was catty-cornered from the school. It sounded ideal, a chance to put the past behind them. And maybe, just maybe, both he and Noah would find peace in the Hill Country.