Authors: Kirsten Osbourne
Tags: #Historical Romance, #Westerns, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Victorian, #Western
Andy wanted to kick himself for actually marrying the girl. He should have married someone older and ugly if he’d wanted to keep his wits about him. He could already tell that Tracy was going to be difficult to be around. She was a chatterer. She asked too many questions, and she was too pretty for his comfort. He was already thinking about what it would be like to take her to bed, and he didn’t
want to think about that. She was there to keep house and cook. Anything else was just a side benefit and not something he should be thinking about during daylight hours.
He couldn’t believe how quickly Mattie had taken to her. He was certain he could have sent her home if not for that. Mattie had barely spoken to anyone outside the family since their parents’ death.
She’d been particularly close to their mother, and he worried about her every day. He didn’t know how to give her what she needed to go back to being the loud, funny little girl she’d once been. He hoped that Tracy would help her come out of her shell.
Tracy didn’t know what she’d expected the ranch to look like, but she knew when she saw it, that it was not what she’d envisioned at all. The house was not painted, and needed to be badly. It was
big, but not in the way Elizabeth’s house had been big. Elizabeth’s house was a perfectly manicured and cared for piece of beautiful architecture. This house was…well, it looked like it had been designed by someone who had a few too many drinks before he picked up his pen. There seemed to be a main house that had been added on to in every direction over the years.
There were other buildings throughout the yard,
including what she assumed was maybe a chicken coop? She wasn’t sure. She got down from the wagon, wishing she felt a little less stiff, but days on a train made for a really stiff body.
Francis carried her bag for her and led her into the house, showing her around. She looked around for Andrew, but it seemed he’d already disappeared. Where had he gone so quickly? She was starting to think he didn’t really want a wife after all.
Francis set her bag down on the bed in the only downstairs bedroom. “This is Andy’s room. I cleaned out his top two drawers for your things.” He smiled at her as if to tell her everything would be okay.
“Is Andy always this…grumpy? I would have thought he’d be excited for me to finally arrive. It’s like he didn’t want a wife.”
Francis turned red and looked at his feet, obviously trying to decide what to say. “Well…he didn’t.”
“What? Then why did he send a letter out asking for one?” Was there some kind of mix up? What had happened?
Francis sighed, his eyes meeting hers finally. “I sent off the letter. We needed someone to cook and clean. I tried to talk Andy into finding a wife, but he said he didn’t need one. I saw the advertisement in the paper a month or so ago, so I responded for him. I figured I’d be able to talk him into it before you got here, but I just told him last night.” He shook his head. “He was planning to send you home right up until Mattie got so excited to see you. He couldn’t send you away then.”
Tracy sat down on the edge of the bed, staring off into space for a moment. He hadn’t wanted her? No wonder he acted like she was a nuisance. She sighed. She was going to have to be the best darn bride a man had ever had to make him happy.
She wanted to cry and scream that no one had ever wanted her. Not her mother, not the people at the orphanage, and now her husband didn’t want her either. Instead she stood up and opened her bag, removing her apron and pulling it down over her dress, tying it behind her back. She might as well get to work. The fact that her husband didn’t want her didn’t make her any less married, and she was going to be the best wife any man had ever seen.
Tracy said nothing else to Francis as she hurried into the kitchen to check to see what the family had in stock. She hadn’t eaten since early that morning on the train, and it was still several hours before supper, but she wasn’t going to complain. It was her job to feed everyone.
As soon as she walked into the kitchen, Mattie hurried in behind her. “I don’t have an apron, Tracy. Can I help cook without one?”
Tracy smiled down at the little girl looking up at her so eagerly. It was a good thing she liked children, because it looked like this little girl was going to be permanently attached to her side. “Of course you can! What do you want to make for supper?”
Mattie shrugged. “We only ever eat bread that we buy in town and beef jerky. What do you know how to make?”
“I know how to make a great many things. I helped in the kitchen at the orphanage where I’ve lived ever since I was a baby.” Tracy looked around the sparse kitchen. “Where is the food kept?” she asked.
“There’s a little food in the cellar, I think.”
Tracy nodded, looking around for the cellar door. She didn’t see one. “How do I get to the cellar?”
“There’s a door outside that leads down to it. Do you want me to show you?”
“Yes, please.” Tracy followed as the little girl led the way outside and to a big door on the side of the house.
“It’s down here.” Mattie opened the door for her, and Tracy led the way down, carefully leaving the door wide open for light, because she hadn’t thought to bring a lantern.
Once she got to the bottom of the short stair case, Tracy sighed with disbelief. How could anyone cook a decent meal with no real ingredients? There was no flour or sugar. No meat. The only things they seemed to have were beef jerky and crackers. She couldn’t make a decent meal with those two ingredients. No one could.
She thanked Mattie for her help and climbed the stairs out of the cellar. She needed to find Andy or at least find Francis. One of them could tell her how to hitch up the team to go get food. Right?
Tracy found Francis first. He was leading the horses to their stall. “Wait!”
Francis turned and smiled at her. “Can I help you with something?”
“Would you hitch the team back up for me? I need to go to town if I’m going to be able to cook supper tonight. There’s nothing edible in the house except crackers and beef jerky, and that’s not a meal I’m willing to serve.”
Francis’s smile wavered for a moment. “I don’t think Andy would like for you to go into town by yourself. Not just yet. We have eggs and milk. Would those help?”
Tracy shrugged. “Meat would help. Beans would help.”
“I can butcher a chicken? Bring it to you?”
Tracy smiled and nodded. “I’ll take Mattie to collect eggs then, and we can make dinner from that. It won’t be the best in the world, but it will be edible.” She went back down to the cellar and took some of the crackers from the barrel, carrying them in her apron. After putting them on the only clean plate she could find, she took the egg basket off the hook by the door and went out to collect eggs, Mattie trailing behind her.
Mattie knew all the good hiding places for eggs, and they were able to make quick work of it the task. Once they were back inside, Tracy rolled up her sleeves and started water boiling. She was relieved to see there was a pump in the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to fetch water from a well. It should make things much easier.
Mattie looked around the kitchen and tears welled up in her eyes. “
Do we have to wash
Tracy laughed softly. “I’m used to washing way more than this. In the orphanage where I grew up, we’d have as many as twenty children living there. I would do the dishes for everyone. We’ll do them fast, and we’ll get them done.”
Mattie sniffled slightly, but she helped clear the table to make the work quicker. The two of them worked together and had the table cleared and the dishes stacked in no time. While they worked, Tracy peppered Mattie with questions.
“Do you go to school in town?”
Mattie shook her head. “There’s no school close enough. Ma taught Andy, Fwansis, and Arthur, but she died before it was time to start teaching me.”
“I’m sure Francis and Arthur could use a few more lessons as well. I’ll sit all three of you down and teach you when fall comes. There’s too much to do this summer.” Tracy eyed the little girl. Her dress was too short, and her hair was in a sad way. “I brought some pretty fabric with me. If we’re careful, we’ll have enough for us each to have a new dress. Would you like that?”
Mattie’s eyes lit up at the prospect. “The boys don’t know how to sew, and Andy says we don’t take charity from others. One of the women at church wanted to give me her daughter’s dresses, but he wouldn’t let me take them.”
Tracy sighed sadly. She’d worn used dresses her entire life. It was the way of the orphanage. They were given used dresses and whoever the dresses fit would wear them until they didn’t fit or wore out. If they could be worn by someone else, they were. If not, they went into the rag bag, and someone would be sleeping under them the next winter
in the form of a quilt. “Well, we’ll make sure you have a pretty new dress just as soon as I can make it work.”
Mattie smiled. “You really are going to be a good sister, aren’t you?”
“I’m going to try.” She didn’t know how she was going to make her peace with her new husband. He seemed to resent her, but she’d done nothing wrong. Why had Francis meddled that way?
The door opened and Francis came into the kitchen with a freshly plucked chicken dangling from his hand. He’d taken the time to chop off the head and feet, which made it easier for Tracy to deal with. She’d have done it either way, but she thanked him for his help.
As soon as they were finished with the dishes, Tracy wiped off the table and got down a large mixing bowl. She put the crackers she’d brought up into the bowl and used her hands to crush them. Mattie noticed what she was doing and giggled. “May I help?”
Tracy hadn’t thought of how much fun that would be to a child. “My hands are getting tired, and I need to
whip the eggs. Do you think you could finish crushing them all?”
“Oh, yes!” Mattie happily put her hands in the bowl and crushed the crackers while Tracy found another small bowl and a large pan. She whipped up the eggs with some salt and pepper.
Tracy cut the chicken into pieces like she’d seen at the orphanage before Mattie was finished crushing the crackers. She sat for a moment looking around the room. She couldn’t help but wonder if anyone had swept the house since their mother had died. It certainly didn’t look like it. She had her work cut out for her. Even with Mattie’s help, it was going to take a good week to have the house clean. The place was a pigsty.
Mattie finished with the crackers
, and Tracy showed her what they were going to do. She dipped a piece of chicken into the egg mixture and then rolled it in the cracker crumbs. “I’ve never actually seen anyone cook chicken this way before, but I hope it will be good.” She had seen some lard in the cellar so she knew that she would have oil to fry it all in. “Are there any potatoes?”
Mattie shook her head. “No. We’ve only eaten crackers and beef jerky since Ma died.”
Tracy made a face. How could anyone exist on only those two things for over a year? “Well, we’ll have a better meal tomorrow night after someone takes the time to go into town for supplies. It’s not too late in the year for us to start a garden either. We’ll eat like kings come September.”
Tracy rushed back down to the cellar to get some lard and the two girls fried the chicken together. They would have nothing to eat with it, but at least it was something different than what they’d eaten for way too long.
When the three ‘men’ arrived home for dinner, Mattie and Tracy had set the table with a pretty table cloth, and the chicken sat at the center of the table ready to be eaten. Andy took his place at the head of the table and peered at the chicken.
“What piece is that?” he asked as he pointed with his fork at one of the pieces on the platter. “And why does it look so funny?”
Tracy smiled sweetly at her new husband instead of kicking him as she wanted to do. “I have no idea how to cut up a chicken. I did my best. It looks funny because there is no flour in this house. There are no ingredients of any sort that a reasonable person can make a meal with. So I did my best with what was available to me.”
Andy stabbed a piece as he bit the inside of his lip. He wasn’t going to say another word about how funny the food looked. He was afraid his new wife would stab him in the throat with his fork if he did. He put the piece down onto his plate and looked at it for another minute. “Let’s pray.” He bowed his head and his family followed suit.
After their quick prayer, he took a bite of the odd looking chicken and smiled. “We may not have ingredients, but you did a good job on this chicken.”
Tracy nodded as the others all picked up their pieces and bit into them. Mattie said, “This is the best thing I’ve eaten since Ma died.” Francis and Arthur didn’t speak
, because they were too busy stuffing food in their mouths.
“I’ll still need to go to town tomorrow to buy supplies.
You can go with me, or I’ll go alone. I don’t much care at this point. I can’t keep making meals with no real ingredients.”
Andy swallowed the bite of food in his mouth. “Now that I know you can cook like this, you’ll have all the ingredients you want. Francis will ride into town with you tomorrow and help you.”