Tuesday, September 30, 2014


By Ada Brownell
The next morning Jenny awoke more rested than she’d been since leaving home. She didn’t feel feverish anymore.
“Good morning, Jenny.” No, she wasn’t over the laryngitis. All she could do, even in talking to herself, was whisper.
Maude’s bellow sounded urgent. Jenny missed the rooster’s crow, but there was no way she could not hear the cow’s voice. Then a chugging overpowered Maude’s bellyaching. It sounded like one of those automobiles Jenny saw occasionally in Peachville. She opened the cellar door a bit. A shiny new Model T Ford like she’d seen in pictures rumbled past, its red paint and black leather seats glowing in the sunshine.
Awestruck, she opened the door wide and stood outside looking. Swirls of dust billowed in the wind, but the car disappeared.
She pulled her fingers through her hair. How could a machine be as safe as horses? The thing ate gasoline! Gas was dangerous.
Knees wobbly, she dropped back into the cellar. Since she hadn’t changed out of the dandy clothes, she took them off, put on her brother’s pants, the shirt she got from William, and her boots. She pulled up her hair, mashed on the cowboy hat, and headed for the barn. Today she’d ride Leather around the pasture and make sure it was secure. If it was, Leather could go free. But first, Jenny had to get the milk out of the cow and shut her up.
She no more than opened the barn door when Rocky’s head bowed, aimed right at her stomach. All four hooves kicked up dust and speed. How had she forgotten the goat?
For a moment, anger surged from her head and out her fingertips. “Okay, billy goat, maybe you’ve met your match.” She jumped out of the way. How she wished she could yell instead of whisper.
Rocky burst out of the barn. His head crashed into the back of the chicken house. Chickens and feathers flew in the air, and Jenny would have liked to know what they said to each other with their loud squawking.
Rocky appeared a little dizzy when he picked himself up, but he eyed Jenny again. She stood ready. A coward in disguise, he backed up, stared at her again, and trotted away, head high, like a show animal instead of the baaing idiot Jenny believed him to be.
You like to shoot your victims in the back, but I got you this time!” Oh, how Jenny needed her voice. A whisper couldn’t make any impact.
She kept an eye on him as she walked to the windmill and washed out the bucket. She sat down. Oh, no, she didn’t wash the cow’s udder the previous night. After two trips to the water tank to fill the bucket so she could wash the teats, then rewashing the bucket, she went to milking.
Would Grouch buy the cow? After all, Jenny would need more money than she had to feed the animals, and Maude was a pain.
As Jenny milked, she kept from getting too close to the cow’s rear end. She congratulated herself when Maude left a significant cow pie, but it didn’t splash. Yet Maude’s tail kept whacking Jenny upside the head. Pure joy filled her when the bucket was full and the cow empty.
She strained the milk into large jars she found in the kitchen then took them down in the well house to cool.
It was past time to feed the chickens and gather eggs, so she found a basket and went into the henhouse. Several of the chickens sat on multiple eggs and tried to peck Jenny when she reached under them.
Okay, ladies, I’ll leave you to sit on those eggs. She only needed a few anyway. Let the hens raise big families!
Three days later, she walked through what remained from the burned-out house. A huge hole gaped where the fire blazed through the roof around the fireplace. But a nice kitchen stove was intact, and one bedroom still had a bed and a dresser. But everything had been rained on. With the headache remaining from her recent illness, the house looked like a disaster.
If that thief hadn’t swiped her satchel, a little lumber and a good carpenter could fix the house in no time. Window glass even remained. She might be able to chop down trees and shore up the walls. But the roof? Not without money.
Having no heart to cook, she picked up a fork and spoon from the kitchen cabinet and went back to the cellar for jerky and canned goods. This time she saw a section of pearly white pears packed into jars and surrounded with clear syrup. Her taste buds celebrated as she chewed.
She searched the trunk for something to read, but none of the books interested her today. She lay back on her pallet to rest.
Hoof beats pounded and a wagon rattled outside. “Mister MacDougal! Hello! Mrs. MacDougal! What on earth happened here?”
Should she answer? Maybe it was Grouch.
“This is William, the peddler. Anybody home?”
William? Here?
She crept up the steps and peered out the cellar door. The familiar wagon was parked beside what was left of the house.
“They’re not here,” her throat squeaked out the words.
William almost fell off his perch on the wagon. “What? Jenny! What happened here?”
“Mister MacDougal is in the grave up on the hill. He died in the fire. Mrs. MacDougal went back to Boston to have her baby and live with her parents. She gave me this property. Do you know what you’re supposed to do with a billy goat?”
William blinked. “Jenny, you look and sound terrible. Are you all right?”
She couldn’t stop the grin. “Is that a compliment?” A little of her voice came back.
“What are you doing here?”
“I told you.”
He jumped down and tied his mules.
“You mean they gave you their homestead? They loved it here.”
Jenny walked closer into the sunshine where she wouldn’t need to try so hard to be heard. “Not anymore. She never wants to see this place again. What are you doing here?”
William turned, his face freshly shaven. He removed his hat. Except for the ring the hat squashed around his head, his auburn hair lay attractively combed. “Mrs. MacDougal was one of my first customers when I came to this part of the country. Almost bought me out. They were great people. This is a tragedy.”
He walked up the hill toward the grave, his face solemn.

Jenny followed. “You might keep an eye on the goat. He’s a dirty sneak and attacks from behind.”

© 2014 Ada B. Brownell

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Buy here for 99 cents through Oct. 4Buy here: 99 cents thru Oct. 4irty sneak and attacks from behind.”