“Using this apparatus, we will lower you into the cellar,” Stewart informed his daughter.
Izabella took the large blanket from Tom’s wife, allowing her to return to the orphanage children. With Vicki’s help, they fought the wind and placed the blanket over the wood to cushion Hope and protect her from possible splinters. The women squatted at either end, holding the wool fabric in place. Stewart glanced into the horizon, praying Adam and Greg would appear with the boys, but there was no sign of the men. Together, Stewart and Tom stood behind Hope and encouraged her to lean back into them. Hope was lowered back onto the board in a supine position. They secured her to the board with soft cotton bandages to prevent her from slipping as they descended the narrow steps. Izabella and Vicki were instructed to go down first and be prepared to guide him and Tom as they descended the steps. Tessa ran to her momma’s side as Vicki reached the bottom step.
Tom took his place by Hope’s head and gripped the board. Stewart descended a few steps, turned, and gripped the board by his daughter’s feet. Stewart heard Tessa gasp as the board holding her aunt was lifted off the ground.
“Shhh, Hope will not be hurt,” Vicki assured her.
* * * *
Hope had complete trust in both her father and Tom. Following her father’s instructions, she bent her knees slightly and allowed the two men to lower her body to the board. She was just as relieved when her back was resting on the blanket. It was difficult to keep her eyes open with the howling wind, but she noted the dark angry colour of the sky before closing them. Too dark knowing Alex, Matthew, Sammy, and George were still outside. She had to remain positive. Nana and Papa would be fine. They had a secure storm cellar. She had followed Nana into the room many times in her youth. Papa was meticulous about keeping everything properly maintained. Another gust of wind threw dirt against her face. The storm was intensifying. In her heart she wished to be assisting in the search, but that was impossible. She opened her eyes slightly and saw her father by her feet. He looked past her. She couldn’t see Tom, but knew the orphanage manager was behind her.
“Relax, sweetheart,” her father kept saying. “Adam and Greg shall return any moment with the boys. You must hang on and keep your legs straight. We have to tilt the board to get you down.”
Her entire body was tilted with her head slightly elevated. At least she wouldn’t experience a blood rush. Alex would squeal with delight, but at this point in her pregnancy, it wasn’t an experience she would recall with pleasant memories. As the grade of the tilt was increased, she felt her body shift, slightly, unexpectedly. It terrified her. She was risking her life to bring this child into this world; surely it couldn’t end like this. Hope couldn’t hide the fear as she clenched the sides of the stretcher board with all her strength.
“I will not allow you to fall, Hope,” her poppa promised.
She felt movement on the board as Poppa adjusted his positioning. She wished with her entire being Adam was holding the board. Adam, or even Uncle Greg. Her father was not accustomed to physical exertion. She was so large, she was certain there were two or three babies growing in her womb. She closed her eyes and began praying. For the boys, for Adam and Greg, and to give her poppa and Tom strength.
She relaxed and attempted to breathe somewhat normally.Suddenly, she began to slide. Terrified, she bent her knees, desperate to stop the momentum. Her legs seized with an unbearable, painful cramp. Reaching for her leg, she slid uncontrollably downward. Hope screamed, clenching her eyes shut. The baby, the baby! Then everything stopped with a sudden jolt and an intense pinching pain gripped her forearms. Nothing she had ever experienced in her life compared to the burning sensation in her arms. She choked on her tears. Big strong hands gripped her; Tom had stopped her from falling. She fought to remain silent and not cry out. The pain was excruciating. Make it go away.