The Widow’s Rancher – 09


NADIA finished braiding Sissy’s wet hair and tied it with a length of ribbon. She had coaxed her young neighbour out of bed and on to a chair outside with the promise of some apple-pie, and Nadia figured a bit of afternoon sunshine would do her good.

Sissy sat and idly stroked her hip the way she always did when it troubled her.

“How come you don’t have no children, Miss Nadia?”

The question caused regret to pull at Nadia’s heart. She yearned for a child of her own. Someone special to love.

“I guess the Lord decided not to bless me,” she said, careful to keep sadness and regret from her voice. No point wallowing over what she’d never have. Being a childless widow was her lot. She at least owned her home, something very few women were fortunate to do.

“You wanted children, though?” She nodded and grinned.

“Oh, yes. I’d have exchanged Henry for a baby any day of the week.”

Sissy laughed.

“You don’t miss your husband?”

Nadia shook her head, and sighed.

“Terrible thing to admit, but no. Truth is, I should never have married him. I’ve lived with more shame in the years we were together than I ever felt with my family. And trust me, they did enough to make the devil hang his head in disgrace.”

“But you’re such a good person,” Sissy said.

“I try to be, but sometimes it’s hard. Like when Tupper Bell tried to rob me by raising the price of the goat this morning.”

Remembering the wasted visit made her thoughts turn to Diggory Rorke. Far too forward and pushy, the man left her no choice but to accept his invitation.

They turned at the sound of horses going down the lane to Nadia’s cabin. She paced to the end of the porch and shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun. Through the trees surrounding the shack, she made out a man sitting upon a wagon.

Nadia stepped on to the soil. She headed for the path that led to her cabin, but paused to turn to her friend.

Sissy fidgeted on the chair.

“I’ll stay here while you see what he wants.”

Nadia nodded with understanding.

“All right, sweetheart. I won’t be long.”

She reached her front yard as the wagon came to a stop. She immediately recognised the young cowboy driving it as the young man who had tried to apologise in town.

“May I help you?”

“Howdy, ma’am.” The cowboy jumped down and strolled over to her, his long-legged stride eager and slightly awkward.

“I’m Dawnie. We met the other morning.”

“I remember.” She nodded, her eyes going curiously to the wagon. Whatever was inside was making a lot of noise.

“What do you want?”

“Mr Rorke sent me over.”

Suspicious, she frowned and glanced at the wagon once again.

“What for?”

“He told me to deliver this goat to you.”

“Goat?” she repeated with surprise.

Dawnie nodded and grinned.

Nadia marched over to the wagon and climbed up the spokes of one of the back wheels. She peered over the side and came face to face with the same goat she’d tried to buy from Tupper Bell.

“Well, goodness me,” she said, dropping down on to the ground. “It’s my goat.”

Dawnie nodded and pushed up his hat.

“Mr Diggory said so. If you’ll show me the pen, I’ll get her down and settled in.”

“Just a minute,” she said. “What do you mean you’ll put her in a pen? This goat doesn’t belong to me. I never bought her. I refused to.”

Dawnie grinned some more.

“Boss said to tell you he got it for less than your agreed price with old Tupper and you can thank him tomorrow.”

Annoyance swept through her. Diggory Rorke believed her so useless she required his help to buy an animal. Well, she didn’t want this goat, and she definitely didn’t want the man’s help. If she allowed him to do this once, where would it end?

She folded her arms and shook her head.

“Take it back.”

Confused, Dawnie asked, “What?”

“Take the goat back to your boss and tell him to keep his business out of mine. I’ll see Grandma Mary when she returns.”

Dawnie yanked his hat off and shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably.

“I can’t do that, ma’am. I have to do what Mr Rorke tells me.”

“Not this time. Get on your wagon, young man, and go.”

Conversation over, she spun away and headed towards the cabin. Arguing with the young cowboy served no point when he was nothing but the messenger of a man with more ego than brains.

What right did Diggory Rorke have to try to buy her with gifts? She’d learned the hard way that once a man did you a favour, they believed you owed them for it.

“Mrs Bennett?”

She stopped and turned to Dawnie.

“Yes?”

He faced the trees separating her place from Sissy’s, arms folded with a thoughtful expression on his young face.

“Does Sissy Black still live in the old shack on the other side of the trees?”

Instantly protective of her young friend, she demanded, “Why?”

“We used to be friends when we were at school. I haven’t seen her in some time.”

Nadia hurried over to where he stood and placed herself between him and the path through the trees.

“No, she left a long time ago.”

Dawnie flicked his eyes to Nadia, disappointment in their depths.

“Do you know where she went?”

Nadia appreciated Sissy once held fond feelings for this boy, but she didn’t trust him.

“I do, but I’ll not tell you. Not after the way you acted in town the other day and the company you keep. Sissy’s a good girl. She don’t need the likes of you in her life. Goodbye, Mr Dawnie. Time you and the goat were on your way.”

 

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!