The Widow’s Rancher – 06

NADIA quickly refilled the porcelain jug and then set about making up a fire in the stone fireplace. The cabin was cold and she needed to heat some water to bathe the girl. They carried out the same routine most nights.

She’d tried many times to persuade Sissy to move into her cabin with her, but the girl refused, even though Nadia could tell she wanted to. She had some ridiculous idea about bringing embarrassment to Nadia’s door just because of her Indian heritage. Nadia didn’t care about any of that. She just wanted her young friend safe.

Once the water was hot enough, Nadia returned to the bedroom. She smiled and placed the bowl down on the small wooden bedside cabinet.

“I have a gift for you,” she said, grabbing a towel from the end of the bed. She extracted the soap from her skirt pocket and handed it to Sissy.

The young girl took it and placed it to her nose. She sniffed the bar several times, before declaring, “It smells pretty.”

“And so will you,” Nadia promised.

She took the dirty plate and placed it on the end of the bed. Taking the soap, she unwrapped it and slipped it into the warm water. She lathered it with her hands for several seconds before adding a face cloth.

“You’re so kind.” Sissy smiled.

Nadia laughed, and shook her head.

“No, I’m not. Haven’t you heard I’m the mean widow woman?”

“You’re not mean,” Sissy argued. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”

“That’s because I like you,” Nadia said, keen to keep the mood light. The girl needed a distraction to take her thoughts away from her father’s earlier visit. She returned to the bed. “But there’s plenty of people I don’t like.”

“Like who?”

Nadia wiped the cloth over Sissy’s arm.

When she first met Sissy, she’d shied away from any touch. A passing pat on the shoulder sent her flinching to the corner of the room. A brush of an arm caused uncontrollable shaking. Nadia suspected the girl’s father was the cause of these reactions. Sissy never admitted her father beat her, but the signs were there.

Slowly, Nadia rebuilt Sissy’s trust, instinctively knowing it was important not to let the young girl withdraw from physical contact.

“I’m not taken with the old crook who runs the mercantile, or some of the cowboys who hang around town.”

“I had a friend at school who wanted to be a cowboy,” Sissy said. “He was a few years older than me, but I liked him. He never called me names like the other children did.”

Nadia listened and continued to move the wet cloth over the girl’s highly freckled skin.

“What was his name?”

“Redmond. But everyone calls him Dawnie. He likes to get up way before anyone else. He’s handsome as the best bull you’ve ever seen.”

“Does he work for Diggory Rorke?” Nadia asked, sure that was the name of the young cowboy from the other morning.

“Don’t know for sure. After he left school, I never saw him much. I did see him last year at the harvest dance but he didn’t speak to me. Too busy talking to the group of men and dancing with the pretty girls.”

“Well, that can’t be true. Not if he didn’t dance with you.”

Nadia heard the hurt and disappointment in Sissy’s voice. How cruel life had been to this girl and she wasn’t even out of her teenage years. She only prayed things would improve for the young girl.

“If he works for Mr Rorke he must be a fool. I have never met such an obnoxious man.” Nadia grimaced. “I find him rude and condescending.”

Sissy nodded.

“I always found him scary.”

“I suspect so do most people,” Nadia admitted as she handed Sissy the cloth to finish washing. “I find him more annoying. He had the nerve to tell me I should remarry.”

Sissy dropped the cloth on to the thin blanket covering her legs.

“He said what?”

“As if I need another man to ruin my life.”

“He is nice to look at, though,” Sissy said.

“He’s passable, I suppose,” Nadia begrudgingly agreed. “If you squint your eyes up real close and it’s dusk.”

Sissy laughed − something Nadia hadn’t heard her do in a long time.

“It’s true.”

Sissy’s laughter drifted off and sadness took hold of her thoughts.

“I don’t think men are worth the trouble. They seem to end up hurting a woman.”

Nadia reached out and squeezed her young friend’s hand.

“I think you’re right. I’ll stick with males with four legs like Joey and my goat, Ross.”

She quickly helped Sissy dry off and change into a clean nightdress.

“Well, you’re all clean and have a full stomach. I just need to check your hip. See if the wound is healing.”

Once happy there was no sign of fresh inflammation or further bruising, Nadia kissed Sissy on top of her head.

“Goodnight, sweet thing. You go to sleep. I’ll come see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Miss Nadia. Thank you for the meal.”

Nadia closed the door and walked out of the shack. She hated leaving Sissy alone, but she needed to get a decent night’s sleep.

She made her way back through the trees, her thoughts full of the recent conversation and Diggory Rorke’s unhelpful comments.

Marriage. She couldn’t think of a thing she wanted less. Marriage to Henry put her off tying up to another man again. Five years of broken promises without the comfort of any children to soften the blow of her husband’s continued neglect and repeated adultery.

When he fell out of the preacher’s window and broke his neck, any lingering residue of affection disintegrated completely.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!