THE LADY FUGITIVE
BY ADA BROWNELL
CONCLUDING EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 13
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“Why don’t you cook up dinner? The kitchen stove looks usable.”
Jenny shivered. Mister MacDougal probably died on the living room floor. When she recalled the burned spot on the floor, she could almost hear a man groaning in pain.
“That could take awhile. Aren’t you in a hurry to get on down the road?”
“I’m in a hurry to find Benjamin, and you might be able to help me. But first, let’s look at the cook stove, see if there is anything left in the cabinets, and get a meal together. Can you make biscuits and gravy? I have food products in my wagon, too.”
The small kitchen pantry was full: baking powder, flour, lard, cornmeal, wheat cereal—even sugar. “They even left coffee.” William stuck his head into the pantry door. “Amazing. You are blessed. I told you they were nice people.”
While William cleaned the stove top and started a fire, Jenny ran to the cellar, retrieved the bucket of milk and jars of peaches and corn.
William looked at the milk bucket. “Their cow’s still giving milk?”
“Yes. I milked her last night and this morning.”
“Christian told me he put a bull with her not long ago. You should leave a little milk in her bag each time so she’ll dry up.”
“Oh. That will be a relief. I like milk, but I hate milking her.”
Jenny found a bowl and stirred up biscuits and then made cream gravy.
When the food was on the table, William sat on a wooden chest, and she used the only chair that wasn’t at least partially burned.
After a quick prayer and a few huge bites, the man swallowed. “Now help me figure out where Benjamin might be.”
Jenny searched her memory trying to remember the different stops along the railroad. Nothing surfaced, so William got pencil and paper from his wagon and drew the railroad.
Studying his drawing, Jenny pointed to the route. “I would guess he got off about here, two or three towns before Yucca Blossom.” Standing so close to his shoulder, she inhaled the fragrance of tangy soap or aftershave.
William tapped his pencil against the drawing. “I’ll stop in Yucca Blossom again, and if Ben isn’t there, I’ll head on out to these little communities along the railroad. Our pa needs us. He sounded pretty desperate in his last letter. Either he’s going to kill the young buck who’s hanging around his new wife, or the young feller’s going to kill him.”
“What difference would it make if you and Ben went home?”
“Pa thinks the fellow would think twice about hanging around the farm with Ben and me there. Also, if he wasn’t so lazy, Ben has a knack for farming. I think Pa plans to give the land to him. Poppa burns with the desire for me to travel with the passion moving picture show and wants me to continue. That’s what I feel I should do. But right now, he needs us to chase off that young man. He’s too old to lock horns with him.”
Jenny wondered why Pa’s wife wouldn’t show the young man the road, but she held her tongue.
William picked up his pencil and paper, took another swig of coffee, and turned toward his wagon. “It was nice seeing you again. Thanks for dinner.”
Jenny hurried to the cellar and nabbed two jars of peaches, a jar of pears, and one of strawberry jam. She thrust them at William. “You never know when you’ll need a quick meal.”
William smiled, bent, gave her a little squeeze, and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, lass. You’re the greatest!”
Ire flamed in Jenny, but perhaps she shouldn’t claim to be a woman when she was dressed like a man and hadn’t bathed for a week. She touched her skin where his puckered lips left the feel of whiskers, and smiled.
William’s eyebrows crunched into a frown. “I don’t know if I’ll be back. I’ll look at your mailbox and see if I can tell what the address is here. Maybe I’ll let you know if I find Benjamin.”
Jenny’s heart skipped a beat, and pain shot through her chest. She might never see him again. “Write if you can. I’d like to see you find Ben. Thanks for everything.”
William said nothing until he reached for her and wrapped her in his arms. “I won’t forget you, either. Remember what Jesus said about tribulation and trouble. We are to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. ”
He loaded himself on the wagon and urged the mules forward. Then he sang so loud it echoed among the hills, “There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No not one! No not one!”