Next morning, Elijah pointed to a man lugging two empty buckets and a pole across the far edge of the vineyard. “That man will show us water.”
The man disappeared behind a fold in the hills.
“He’ll be back.” Elijah slouched against a boulder.
Nathan eased down against the rock, and Zim plopped between Nathan and Elijah. “My dad had buckets.”
“Like these?” Elijah tapped the two oak buckets beside him.
“Yup. Before he dug our well. He carried water to Goldie, our cow.”
Elijah leaned his head back. “You had a cow?”
“Used to. After my dad died, my mom sold the calf, then the cow, then my dad’s hammers and tongs and shovels. Then she sold the iron vases and the table and all the pots.”
Nathan leaned forward with his arms on his knees. “The weaver in Tishbe has a cow. But our dad says goats are less work.”
“My dad kept Goldie out by the forge, and while he banged on iron, see, I leaned into her hip and buried my nose in her hair.”
Nathan settled his forehead onto his arms. “Did Goldie give you lots of milk?”
“Sure did. I helped milk her, too.”
Elijah slapped Zim’s knee. “Milking—a useful skill.”
“I held her tail.”
“Right, Mr. Lijah. My dad sat on this stool, see. He pushed his head up against Goldie’s flank, and poked his hands underneath to pull down her milk.”
“And you held the tail.” Elijah chuckled.
“Yes sir. My dad said to use two hands, so every morning and every evening, I held Goldie’s tail like I was a bell ringer in the temple, except we don’t have anything to do with the temple or with the black tunics. Hold tight, Dad said, so she couldn’t swish him in the face or dip her tail in the milk.”
Nathan winked at Elijah. “And you were how old, Zim?”
“Oh, well, I’m eight years old, and that was a long time ago when my dad was still alive.”
Elijah nodded. “So, Nate, Zim knows how to grab on and not let go.”
The bucket man emerged with his pole across his shoulders and buckets at each end sloshing water with his strides. Elijah let the man get halfway back to the garden plots. “Come on.” He dragged Zim to his feet. “Mr. Nathan and I need a helper who hangs on with both hands.”
He retraced the bucket man’s path back to the base of a cliff where water trickled into a pool a little larger than a bucket. Elijah dipped a bucket in and pulled it out half full. He lowered his next bucket and waited while water seeped in. No wonder the bucket man had taken so long to return. “Not enough water here to rescue the professor’s vines.”
“Here comes our friend.” Zim pointed to the sweet potato farmer toiling up the path behind them in his patches-on-patches tunic.
The farmer stopped by the tiny water hole and leaned on his hoe handle. “Not a bad place to get a drink if you don’t mind lying on your face.”
Elijah pointed to his half-full bucket. “But too slow for irrigating vines. How are the sweet potatoes?”
“Well, young man, yesterday those potatoes fed my wife and children. But you boys come with me, and I’ll show you where to fill your buckets.”
“The professor hired us to rescue his vines from this drought, but we don’t want to steal water from your sweet potatoes.”
“I hope you can save a few vines. But come have a look. Then tell me about stealing water.”
Elijah followed the farmer among rises and hollows in the steepening hill.
After they hiked three times the distance from the vines to the trickle hole, the farmer pushed through bushes into a stand of sycamore and chestnut trees. “In here, boys.” He stopped by an oblong pool about the size of the professor’s study and pointed to two buckets hanging from a branch. “For my potatoes.”
The water in the pool stirred. “Watch.” He tossed a twig in and watched it zoom to the other end and disappear. “Don’t know where it comes from and don’t know where it goes. But it flows even in this drought.”
Elijah knelt at the pool with his empty bucket.
“Careful, young man. Don’t let it swallow your bucket.”
Elijah gripped the bucket and filled it. “But where’s the line of people carrying water to their garden plots over by the city wall?”
“Oh, son. Most of us in this long village are fishermen. I’m the rare duck who grows things in the dirt. As long as my cousins can hold a yardarm in one hand and a rudder in the other, they’ll never pick up a hoe. They buy cucumbers from the north, where farmers still have rain. They pay with dried fish.”
“Did you meet a man carrying water buckets on a pole?”
“My neighbor. Grows a few spices. But he’ll wait at that seep hole instead of lugging water from this far away. I’d do the same if the only thing we needed was fresh mint and garlic.”
Elijah shook his head. “I never saw such a spring before.”
“It’s these limestone hills, son. Half a day’s journey east of here, I can take you into caves where you dip your hand into rivers that never feel the sun.”
“Thank you, sir. We’ll show this to the professor.”
Nathan gawked at the pool. “Yes, thank you. And thank the Lord.”
That afternoon, Elijah and Nathan stood at the pool with Neetz and the professor.
The professor tossed a handful of leaves onto the surface and watched them disappear. “You found the water we need. Thank the Lord.” He turned to Neetz. “Do you still feel the same about this?”
“My daughter would like to help rescue vines, Nathan.”
Nathan looked straight at the professor. “Very good, sir.”
The professor smiled. “Thank you. Of course, I will not allow her to spend the day alone with you and your brother, and my wife cannot go with her. What if I were to hire Zim’s mother to work with you?”
Nathan looked at Elijah. “It seems right.”
Elijah nodded. “We can use another pair of hands to pour water on roots.”
The professor turned to go. “I’ll have Neetz buy donkeys to carry water.”
Elijah cleared his throat. “My brother knows donkeys, Professor. Could he help with the selection? Then there’s packsaddles with the proper fit for each donkey and panniers and water skins.”
The professor turned to Neetz. “You can work out those details with Nathan.”
Two days later, Elijah, Nathan, Zim, Neetz, and the widow filled water skins at the pool and loaded them into panniers on five donkeys. Each person led a donkey into the vineyard.
With the others watching, Elijah shoveled out a small depression around the base of a vine. He knelt and filled the hole with water, but the soil sucked it right down. “I’m tempted to pour all my water on this one vine—it’s so dry. But the next vine needs water, too, so I only fill this hole three times. Right, Nathan?”
Nathan stepped up next to Elijah. “That’s how I would do it.”
Elijah slapped Nathan’s shin. “Your sandal came unlaced. Give me that foot, please.”
As Nathan turned his foot toward Elijah, Neetz gawked. “Is this a Gilead thing? Or just you two?”
Zim and the widow stared at her in silence.
Neetz rolled her eyes at them. “What?”
Elijah began, “Um, well, you see—”
Nathan put his hand over Elijah’s mouth. “Neetz, my fingers don’t do laces, so my brother helps me.”
She snorted. “Nobody’s fingers do laces until you show them how. Move over, Elijah.” Neetz knelt and picked up the laces. “Forget those loops. Just make a little once-over knot and leave it there, see?” She glanced up. “Now make another little once-over knot just beyond it, see?” She grinned at Zim. “Do I sound like you?”
Nathan shook his head. “Okay. Two little knots with a gap between them.”
“Now you make a bunny ear.” She poked one lace end through the gap. “And another.” She poked the other lace through.
“Then you tug on the bunny ears.” She pulled them tight. “See how it works?” Neetz undid the laces and sat back. “You do it.”
Nathan knelt between the rows and picked up the laces. He made his own knots, poked the ends through, and tugged on the bunny ears. “Huh?” He loosened it all and dropped the laces onto the dirt. “It can’t be that easy.” He picked up the laces, redid the knots and pulled the ears tight again. “Look at that. Thank you, Neetz!”
The widow stared.
Zim shook his head. “Bunny ears.”