They bid farewell to Rachel and loaded their wagon into the back of the Chief’s pickup truck. His office was nearby, across the street from the church and next to the hotel.
“They’ve got prayer services going on every day,” the Chief explained, pointing to the church, which had many people congregated on its steps. All of them wore yellow armbands and some of them waved at the Chief’s truck. “If you want to stay the night, which is a mighty good idea if I do think so myself, you might want to go to their evensong and morning-prayer services. You never know what you might meet on the road.”
“Where would we spend the night?” Eva asked, wanting to keep Noah from making any snide remark about church. “Do you have a place we could camp?”
“Oh, no! You can stay in the hotel right there, see? The King’s Inn has been around for two hundred years and we keep it running. We’ve got a couple of rooms set aside for travellers like yourselves. No one’s staying the night tonight, so we can spare you two a room. Got real soft beds.”
After so many days of sleeping in a damp sleeping-bag, Eva was not sure what to make of even the idea of a soft bed.
A middle-aged woman showed them to their room, which was still decorated liked an old-fashioned inn, and apologised lightly for the lack of amenities. The electricity would be shut off at midnight and the room had no electronics. They did not even have an alarm-clock, the woman further explained, but they had a telephone, which worked at all times and could be used for a wake-up call in the morning. Otherwise, Eva thought the room was more than wonderful – the bed was covered in goose-down pillows and had an adjustable mattress. Moreover, they actually had a shower and sink!
There was only one bed, however, and they waited until the innkeeper had left before remarking upon that fact.
“So, what about the bed?” Eva asked tentatively, already sprawled across the down quilt.
“You can take it – I’ll sleep on this chair, or maybe the floor, since we have so many blankets.”
“Really? That doesn’t seem very fair.”
“It’s my fault they didn’t give us two beds. I’m the one that said we were married,” Noah insisted, trying not to sound disappointed at missing at sleeping on a genuine bed. “I didn’t even consult you on that one, sorry.”
“Well, now that you brought that up, what were you thinking?” Eva tried to sound annoyed, but she remained flat on the bed. “I doubt our being married or not would have made a difference if the deputy had decided to shoot you.”
“It was his tone of voice – the sort you use when you want everything answered ‘yes, sir’ or something. I don’t remember! What were you thinking?”
“’Holy God Almighty, make him stop pointing that gun in our faces,’ or something like that,” Eva deadpanned. “Then ‘Wait, what? Sure, we’re married now?’ I mean, you could have mentioned to me when we were talking somewhere before we got here that you wanted us to say we were married.”
“I’m sorry about that. But other than the actually being married part, we’re stuck with each other, apparently. Unless you still want to go off on your own?”
She shook her head.
“So we are married, sort of – if we take long enough, we’ll be common-law by the time we get home!” He was attempting to be jovial, but Eva sat up in alarm.
“Do you think it will take that long?”
“It might. Or we might be back this time next year. Who knows?”
“Well, if I have to be your wife, which isn’t the worst proposition, I guess, can you start consulting me on your plans?”
“Don’t I do that already?”
“Except for the part where you decided that I was your wife.”
“I told you, I wasn’t really thinking. Which I guess tells you something.”
“That I don’t mind the idea as much as you seem to?”
“I don’t mind, as long as you don’t mind treating me like one. Except for the bed part.”
“As I said, you can have the bed.”
For the rest of the afternoon, Eva read her prayerbook and Noah studied their road-atlas just as religiously. Upon hearing a dinner bell, they donned their new yellow hats and made their way downstairs, where supper was being served: bagels, jam, and a fruit-based food-bar each, along with a cup of tea and condensed milk. When they finished their meal, the churchbells rang and nearly everyone in the room drifted across the street. Eva noted that the Chief left his office to join the congregation.
“I’m going to the evening service,” Eva announced, finishing the last of her tea. “Do you want to come with me?”
“No thanks,” Noah replied simply. “I’ll go back up to our room and watch over our stuff.”
“Make sure to put in a good word with the Almighty for him,” the woman behind the counter whispered to her as she left. “You look like you bit off more than you can chew for a husband.”
Momentarily startled at the comment, Eva smiled sweetly.
“He’s really a good man, ma’am, but he’s been through a lot lately.”
The woman nodded and smiled back, before returning to her work cleaning up supper. Eva crossed the street and was delighted to find standing room at the back of the church.
“Good evening, brave men and women of Timothy Creek!” the priest began. “We will immediately begin our evensong service, which for those of you who are lucky enough to have books, begins on page fifty-three. If you have a book and see a neighbour without one, please share as you can. We’re all in this together now. Afterwards, we will have our customary Tuesday night hymn-sing. I hope that we can continue our tradition every Tuesday night. Now, let us begin…”