No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1) (10 page)

BOOK: No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1)
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Chapter 11

Amy stared up at the painted wooden sign above the barn doors.

 

PARSON’S LIVERY & SALES STABLE

 

The letters were black on a cream coloured background and arched over a silhouette of a galloping horse. They had an almost jaunty feel. Bring your horse here, they said, we will look after him as if he were our own.

They made Amy nervous.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Adam had said to her before he left for the bank this morning. “You don’t have to work at the livery. You could wait until there’s an opening somewhere else. I don’t mind at all.”

He’d seemed more nervous about her working here than she was, until this moment.

You can do this
, she said to herself.

Determination lifting her head, she strode to the door.

“Thought you were going to spend all day out there, girl,” George said from his seat at the desk as she walked inside.

Amy deflated. “I... um...”

“Never mind, you’re here now. That your lunch?” He nodded at the canvas bag Adam had lent her in which she’d packed a canteen of water, a cheese sandwich and two apples.

“Yes.”

“All right, follow me.”

He led her to the far end of the building, past the rows of empty stalls, to where a set of large double doors tall enough to allow a man on a horse through without ducking opened onto a dusty paddock and a large field beyond. Around fifteen horses grazed peacefully in the lush grass. Amy spotted Stride with a beautiful white horse whose coat reflected the light, making it appear as if it was glowing.

“You can leave your bag and anything else you bring with you here,” George said, pointing into a large alcove to the left of the open doors where a stool sat beneath a hook on the wall.

She hung her bag on the hook and placed her hat and jacket over it.

George looked her up and down, nodding. “Much better than the dress. I hope you have more like it because you’re going to get dirty in here. No way to avoid it.”

He turned away and she trailed after him, wondering if Mr Lamb’s store sold trousers and sturdy boots in her size and if the two dollars Adam had given her would cover it all. Maybe when she had some more money she could get Isaiah to make her some boots. He was the best cobbler in town, after all.

“Tools are here,” George said, indicating another alcove on the other side of the doors packed with shovels, rakes, brooms, buckets, a wheelbarrow, and all sorts of other horse-related paraphernalia. “Always wash them up at the pump out back before you put them in here. There’s a brush to scrub them with next to the pump.”

Amy followed him through the doors to the outside.

“All the straw and horse manure goes on that pile over there.” He pointed across the paddock to a heap of straw buzzing with flies.

“What happens to it?” she said, wondering that it wasn’t bigger.

“Farmers come and buy it from me. It’s good for the soil. Makes the crops grow bigger.”

Amy wrinkled her nose. “We eat things that grow in horse manure?”

“Never been on a farm before, have you?” George said with a snort. “Best not to think about it. And always wash your vegetables good and clean.”

She followed him back inside. “I will, believe me.”

“Your first job is to clean out all the stalls that have been used. The shovel, rake, broom and wheelbarrow is what you’ll need. Put all the old bedding on the dung pile. When you’ve finished that, wash out each stall. I want them scrubbed clean, walls, floor, doors. They haven’t had a good clean for a while so it’ll likely take you some time and be hard work, but I don’t want any half measures. Take however long you need, but do it right.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“If anyone comes in wanting to buy anything or stable their horse here, call me. I’ll be outside. Got some fence posts need replacing. Anyone who keeps their horse here will know to come out the back. Any questions?”

Amy looked around her at the twenty-four stalls lining the walls. It seemed like an awful lot. “No, Sir, I think I’ve got it.”

“I’m not one to stand on ceremony, girl. Things will go much better between us if you just call me George. None of this ‘Sir’ nonsense. I know my place and it ain’t in the realms of ‘Sir’.”

“Yes, Sir... I mean George.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Are you sure you’re up to this? Ain’t too late to back out. This is tough work, even for a man. I don’t need you saying you can do it then deciding you can’t when it gets too hard.”

“You don’t know the meaning of the word tough until you’ve spent hours on your knees scrubbing out a range in a baking hot kitchen in the middle of summer,” she said. “I can do this. I won’t let you down.” She wasn’t sure who she was trying to persuade, him or herself, but she tried to make it look good with an added smile.

George didn’t look like he was convinced. “If you say so. Oh, there are leather gloves with the tools. They’ll be too big for you, but use them. Your hands will blister if you don’t. I ain’t spending money on a smaller pair only to have you up and leave after your first day. I’ll come and tell you when it’s time for lunch.”

He walked back out the doors, leaving her in the middle of what looked like an insurmountable number of dirty stalls.

“I can do this,” she muttered. “I can. Lord, please give me the strength to do this.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

When her lunch break came around four hours later, Amy had cleared all the stalls of straw and manure and scrubbed three until they were gleaming.

“How you holding up, girl?” George said as he walked inside, removing his hat and wiping his arm across his forehead.

“I’m fine,” Amy lied. She felt like her arms were about to fall off.

“Well, have a rest and eat something. You’ll need your strength for the afternoon.”

Amy stood, wincing a little as her back protested, and wiped her hair away from her forehead with the inside of her elbow. Although even that was filthy. She trudged outside to the pump to wash up, flinching as she flexed her hands in the cool water. The gloves had been far too big and kept slipping off. In the end she’d just given up and left them off, but it wasn’t doing anything for the skin on her palms. She hoped it would toughen up soon.

She fetched her bag and took it out into the fresh air, finding a barrel just outside the paddock fence to sit on. Taking out her sandwich, she watched the horses as she ate. She’d hoped to be able to spend more time with them, but maybe George would let her do something else when the stalls were scrubbed of their build up of grime. It had been quite some time since they’d enjoyed anything more than a cursory clean, judging by how much dirt she was removing.

When she’d finished the sandwich and one apple and emptied the canteen, she got up from the barrel, her muscles protesting. Attempting to stretch the aches away, she wandered up to the fence and leaned her arms on the top, cutting her second apple into chunks with her penknife. Seeing her, Stride trotted over, nuzzling his face against her arm in greeting.

“Good afternoon, Stride,” she said, rubbing his forehead. “You’re looking handsome today.”

She held out a chunk of apple in her palm and he delicately removed it with his lips, munching the morsel as she stroked the sleek, black mane between his ears. Behind him the white mare she’d noticed earlier had followed Stride, but stood back as if afraid to approach.

“Who’s your friend?” she said, cutting another chunk of apple and holding it out to her. “She’s a real beauty.”

The white horse looked at the apple, then at Amy. She swished her tail, but didn’t come any closer.

“It’s all right, I won’t hurt you.” Amy held out the apple further. “It’s really tasty.”

The horse took a step back, shook her head and snorted, and trotted back out into the paddock. Amy offered the apple to Stride who was eyeing it pointedly.

“You won’t get that one to come near you.” George said, walking up beside her and resting his elbows on the fence. He patted Stride’s shoulder.

Amy watched the white horse bend her head to tug up a dandelion leaf. “Why not?”

“I’ve had her for six months now. She was left abandoned, tied up beside the road. Someone brought her to me. Terrible shame it was. Beaten and almost starved, I didn’t even think she’d live. Didn’t give her a name for two weeks, until she started to gain some weight back. She healed eventually, but she won’t let anyone near her. Didn’t even like being near the other horses much until Stride took a fancy to her and followed her around until he won her over. She’ll follow him anywhere now which makes it a lot easier to get her in at night. But people, no. Not even me, and she knows me better’n anyone.”

Realising no more apple was forthcoming, Stride walked away to rejoin the white mare. The two looked striking together, the stallion’s midnight black coat contrasting with her porcelain colouring.

“What’s her name?” Amy said.

“Clementine.” He shrugged when she looked at him. “I knew a girl once with that name, prettiest thing I ever saw. Just seemed to fit.”

“So what happened with Clementine?”

George continued to watch the horses. “I married her.”

Something about his somewhat scruffy appearance, as if grooming was something he did reluctantly and only when absolutely necessary, had made her think he was on his own. “I didn’t know you were married.”

His expression didn’t change. “She died a year and a half later, giving birth to our son.”

A pang of sadness swept over her. She knew the pain of losing a loved one. “I’m so sorry.”

He shrugged. “It was a long time ago.”

“What happened to your son?”

“He grew into a fine young man. Lives here in town. Works in the hotel.” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Told me about a certain young lady that came in Saturday asking for work. He was a mite taken with her.”

Amy gasped in realisation. “You’re Zach’s father! I had no idea. You look nothing alike.”

“He takes after his ma. She had the most beautiful red hair.” He stepped back from the fence and took a watch from his pocket. “You got ten minutes more for your break. You should...” His eyes landed on her hands and he reached out to take hold of one, turning it over to reveal the sore, red skin on her palm. “Have you been wearing those gloves?”

“They’re too big. They kept coming off. It was going to take me forever to finish if I wore them.”

He huffed out a breath, frowning. “Come with me.”

Amy followed him back to the livery and hung her bag back onto her hook. Then she joined George where he was sitting at the desk beside the front doors.

“Sit,” he ordered, indicating a chair in front of him.

A blue glass jar stood on the desk next to the leather gloves. He removed the lid and scooped out a small amount of brown, greasy salve onto one finger.

“Give me your hand.”

Amy held out her right hand and he gently worked the salve into her damaged skin. It was soothing, but she still hissed in a breath when he hit a particularly painful spot.

“You should have told me you couldn’t wear the gloves,” he said, frowning.

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Ain’t no bother when one of my workers is hurting, girl.” He took some more of the salve and started on her other hand. “Didn’t they look after you at that kitchen you worked in?”

“Not really. If we got hurt, we had to fix ourselves. And then we had to work extra for the time it took us. The housekeeper wasn’t exactly the compassionate sort.”

George pushed the lid back onto the jar. “Well, when I leave this earth and stand before the Lord, I won’t have Him telling me I treated folks badly. When you’re here, you’re my responsibility.”

He picked up one of the gloves and slid it onto her hand then opened a drawer and pulled out a tangle of string. Holding the glove firmly in place, he wrapped the string around her wrist, palms and fingers until it was secure.

“Make a fist,” he said when he’d finished.

She flexed her hand. The glove stayed in place. Nodding in satisfaction, he started on the other hand.

As she watched him work, a thought came to Amy. Was this what it felt like to have a father? Was this what she’d been missing her whole life, someone to look out for her and take care of her when she was hurt? Despite the short time she’d known him, she felt a rush of affection for George. She’d thought working at the livery was a last resort, but maybe it was the best thing that could have happened to her.

“Thank you,” she said when her second hand was securely wrapped in glove and string.

“That should do for today,” he said, returning the jar and the remainder of the string to the drawer and standing. “If it gets loose, come and find me.”

He walked back towards the paddock doors, stopping at one of the stalls she’d scrubbed. For a few seconds he stood, staring at it. Amy held her breath. Finally he turned and carried on outside.

Amy went to study the stall, searching for anything she’d done wrong, but she didn’t find anything. With a shrug, she went to refill her bucket.

BOOK: No One's Bride (Escape to the West Book 1)
9.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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