The crying lasted all night long. It had been coming on for months.
But when the army called James to Texas in the fall, Heidi had kissed him goodbye, then went back to playing with her doll.
And when the telegram came, informing Jessica her husband wouldn’t be home for Christmas, she had dreaded telling her daughter the news. But Heidi just hugged Sally, then took the dog outside for a cold walk.
And even when the letters stopped coming, and they didn’t hear from James — or about James — in January, or in February, Heidi didn’t seem to notice. Jessica was worried, especially with spring coming and crops to plant, but she tried to keep it to herself.
But then on Good Friday, as March roared to a close, the little girl gasped when she stepped into the kitchen while Jessica was cooking dinner.
“Mommy, what happened to your belly!”
Reflexively, Jessica wrapped her fingers around her bulging stomach. She had wanted to tell James first, but now Heidi was standing before her, eyes wide and worried.
“Honey, sit down.”
The news that she was going to be a big sister was too much for Heidi, on top of everything else, and she ran out of the cabin, Sally close on her heels.
Jessica ran after them and caught up with her daughter just past the big oak at the opening to front meadow. The dog was not with her.
“Mommy, Sally ran in there!” Heidi pointed to the stand of woods to the west of their property. The sun was already setting.
They called for the dog and walked along the edge of the forest for half an hour or more, but as the woods came alive for the night, Jessica began to feel uneasy. It wasn’t safe for the two of them to be out in frontier wilderness in the dark.
“Come on, Heidi. Sally sleeps outside sometimes, anyway. She’ll be fine.”
“Heidi, we have to go in. Sally will be back in the morning.”
But Sally hadn’t come back by Saturday morning. And when Jessica went to the barn to make sure the wagon was ready for their trip into town on Sunday, she found one of its axles was broken.
It had been a few weeks since they’d made the trip, and it had been cold and snowy. The wagon must have cracked in the ice, then come apart as it settled in the barn.
There would be no Easter services for them that year. It was just too far for Jessica to walk, being with child.
She held off telling Heidi the latest round of bad news, hoping Sally would show up and help lessen the blow. But when the dog was still missing as night fell on Saturday, Jessica had no choice.
Easter was Heidi’s favorite occasion of the whole year, and she was so looking forward to dressing up in her fancy outfit and riding into town to see all the fancy ladies in their hats, and all the colorful spring flowers.
She melted into tears as yet another loss piled on her heart. Jessica folded the child into her arms, and sat her in the feather bed. The girl sobbed for what seemed hours, then trailed off to a steady whimper that rose and fell with her breath.
Finally, when both of their clothes were soaked through with tears, Heidi fell asleep. Eventually, her mewls grew far enough apart that her mother was able to doze off, too.
It was a fitful sleep for Jessica, filled with dreams of James and their unborn child, and anguished wails … she wasn’t sure if they were Heidi’s or her own.
She awoke to low morning sun rays streaming through the thick, wavy cabin window, and to whimpering. She rolled over to console her daughter, but found the bed empty.
Panicked, Jessica sprang to her feet and dashed out the door of the cabin. There under the front overhang, Heidi sat flat on the floorboards. Sally’s head was in her lap, and seven tiny puppies nuzzled into the dog’s belly.
“Look, Mommy!” Heidi beamed. “Sally came home for Easter!”