Satin Boots: Six Short Western Romances
Excerpt from Coming Home
Life is hard. No one knows this better than Dessie Humphrey who’s trying to hold onto the family farm. When aid comes in the form of a wanted gunslinger, she’s in no position to refuse.
There was a reason gravediggers were men. They had greater strength and could dig faster and deeper than any woman. Desdemona Ophelia Antoinette Humphrey—so named by her late mother, unlamented for saddling her with such a cumbersome name—wiped her sweaty forehead with the back of a dirty sleeve before shoveling the last few spades of dirt on her father’s grave. The milk cow lowed in the barn and the horses neighed from the corral, reminding her that they were hungry.
“I’m hungry, too,” she muttered to no one in particular and silently promised to say a few prayers over Papa’s grave the next morning. She still had work to do.
With a sigh, Dessie tamped the dirt and then dragged the shovel behind her on the way to the barn. She fed the horses first, then returned to the barn and fed the cow. The usually placid beast munched hay as she grabbed the milk bucket and a stool. After taking a moment to crack her knuckles, Dessie set herself to the task of milking the cow.
When the pail was full, she carried it into the house and set it on the countertop. The cat meowed, wanting her share of the warm, creamy liquid.
“Here you go, Faust,” she said, pouring him a small dish and setting it on the floor. Sighing, she straightened and groaned as stiffening muscles protested. She looked about the small cabin, two days of chores undone because she’d had to tend to her father’s body.
Damn him for leaving her all alone.
Dessie chastised herself under her breath for such uncharitable thoughts. Papa did the best he could. It wasn’t his fault he’d been gored by that bull. It wasn’t his fault the wound had festered. It wasn’t … Oh, yes, it was. I told him not to mess with that bull, but, no, he wouldn’t listen to me.
Her very bones ached with exhaustion, yet there’d be no supper if she did not cook it. She’d eaten the last of the bread the day before. Her eyes watered with self-pity as she hauled in a bucket of water to fill the kettle. After putting the kettle on the hearth to boil, she fetched the last few logs from the wood pile and added them to the coals. If she were lucky, the coals remained hot enough to ignite the wood. She wasn’t. So, she fetched some kindling and nursed the coals into igniting the kindling which then did their job by giving the logs enough time to catch fire.
She scooped out the last of the flour, made a basic dough with two eggs gathered from the hens that morning, a generous spoonful of bicarbonate of soda, and a splash of milk.
“I think we have some cheese left,” she muttered to herself and the cat, but found none. “Damn.”
She smiled, though the expression was bitter. She repeated the profanity a little louder. That felt good. Liberating.
She added more milk to the dough and kneaded it until the sponge felt elastic. Dessie plopped the dough into a Dutch oven and set it into the coals to bake. She’d have soda bread, fried eggs, and milk for supper. While the bread baked, she poured the remainder of the milk into the butter churn and began moving the paddle to make good use of the cow’s contribution to the household before the milk spoiled in the summer heat.
By the time she went to bed, Dessie was almost too tired to wash. However, her mother’s admonition of cleanliness being next to godliness mandated she expend the last of her energy fetching another pail of water and making good use of that. Respectable ladies did not retire for the night stinking like a stevedore.
Dessie’s last thought as she closed her eyes was that she had no idea what a stevedore was.
The merry chirp of birds mingled with barnyard noises of hungry animals woke her the next morning. Dessie regarded the soiled dress she’d worn the day before with distaste and decided to wear her other dress. Possessing a sum total of three dresses, all in various states of threadbare deterioration, she donned the one clean gown that remained. As had become her custom, she took care of the livestock before feeding herself.