Read Banking on Temperance Online

Authors: Becky Lower

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Historical

Banking on Temperance (4 page)

BOOK: Banking on Temperance
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Even though she had spent most of the previous day in the alley behind the bank, she was able to break away from her duties for a short time and walked the boarded sidewalks of the town. Temperance had never been in a large city before, and she drank in the sight of the tall buildings that lined the cobblestone streets. Her footsteps led her to the docks and she studied the steamboats as they moved up and down the river. The air fairly crackled with excitement, and Temperance was in awe of the bustling, thriving town. The river was a maze of frantic activity, with shouts from the dockhands permeating the air, lending an aura of excitement to the proceedings.

Everything her family needed was at their disposal, even gainful employment for a young lady. She was certain she and her mother could find work, as could Justice. They would be able to put some money together, and breathe a bit more easily. Certainly finding Mr. Fitzpatrick and him wanting to help just because the Jones family reminded him of his own was a wonderful stroke of luck on their part. She couldn’t wait to see the soddy, even though she schooled herself not to expect much.

As she gazed about the countryside she was now riding into, she realized that although St. Louis was considered a civilized town, one didn’t have to go far to be thrust back into the country. This dirt road, leading to Basil’s brother-in-law’s ranch, was a good example of that. She slowed the horse to a walk as a house came into view. Horses in all shapes and sizes were in the pens in front of the home, so she figured this was the right place.

Temperance caught sight of a young woman near one of the pens and rode up to her. The woman jumped down from the rung of the pen as Temperance approached and dismounted.

“You must be Miss Jones. I’m Ginger, Basil’s sister. I’ve been waiting for you. I’m so happy to meet you.” She grabbed Temperance in a hug. “You don’t know what torture it is, to not have sisters around. I hope we can become friends.”

“I’d surely be in favor of that. It’s hard sometimes for me to remember to have fun. Please call me Temperance.”

Ginger glanced down the road. “Is my brother with you?”

“He’s coming along with Ma. But I had to let the horse run a bit, so I beat them here.”

“I can see now why Basil is so taken with you.”

Temperance smiled. They were going to become best friends, she could tell. She tucked away the comment Ginger made about Basil liking her to think about tonight when she had some quiet time.

• • •

Along with Ginger and Joseph, Basil, Temperance, and Martha rode over to the small soddy. “Oh, dear,” Martha whispered as they approached the forlorn structure. They dismounted and the ladies headed inside to take a look around. Basil and Joseph stood in front of the small house.

Joseph explained his plans to Basil. “I can bring my brothers over tomorrow. We will build the loft, repair the roof, and get the stove working by the time they bring the wagon out, if Mrs. Jones decides this place will do.”

Soon, the women emerged from the little structure and Basil turned to Martha.

She spread her hands. “I can’t thank you enough. My husband will be dry and warm here, and that’s about all I can ask for. The children can remain sleeping in the wagon until winter sets in, so we should be fine here.” Basil caught the tremor in her voice as she swallowed hard.

Joseph detailed the plan for Martha. “We will repair the roof for you, and make certain the woodstove is still working by tomorrow. If the walls can support a sleeping loft, we will build one for you, so the children can sleep inside, too. This will do for the rest of the summer, and possibly, by the time winter sets in, our house will be completed and you can then move into the hunter’s cabin where Ginger and I are now staying.”

Basil glanced again at Martha, who nodded in agreement.

“Then it’s settled. Drive the wagon out here tomorrow, and get moved in,” Basil replied. “You can stable the mules in the barn on the main part of the ranch, and let Joseph’s family fatten them up for you over the winter.”

With a huge breath and glistening tears in her eyes, Martha turned from the group and walked to the horse she’d rode in on. She placed a hand on the horse’s withers, clearly hoping no one witnessed her tears.

• • •

Temperance followed, and put her hand on her mother’s shoulder. Her mother was having a hard time not only accepting their crude circumstances, but also accepting the kindness of strangers.

“It’ll be all right, Ma,” she whispered. “You know this is the best we can manage for Da, and that’s the most important thing right now. Both Justice and I will find work in town, and we’ll make some money to get by. You can stay with Da and nourish him back to health here.”

Martha wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. “I’m being a foolish old woman. Of course it’ll be all right.” She turned to Basil and Ginger. “The Lord bless you all. We will drive out in the morning. My boy, Justice, can help some with the repairs. Thank you.”

The trio from town mounted up, and began the trek back to the city. Martha remained quiet. Temperance glanced worriedly at her mother, and slowed her horse to lag behind a bit. As she had hoped, Basil fell in beside her. He pulled a cheroot out of his pocket and lit up. Temperance breathed in the subtle scent of the tobacco and relaxed for the first time since arriving into town. She rode alongside Basil in silence for a time, and focused on the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves.

“My mother is grateful for all you’ve done, Mr. Fitzpatrick, even though she’s having a hard time accepting our present circumstances,” she said quietly.

“I understand your mother’s concerns. Alone, with a sick husband and a brood of children to care for. But here in the West, we have to rely on each other for survival. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary.”

“Regardless, we appreciate it. Now, Justice and I need to find work, so we can begin to save money for the next leg of our journey.”

Basil glanced quickly at her. “You can’t mean you’re still thinking about heading to Oregon?”

“Well, of course. It’s been our father’s dream for quite some time, and he has managed to make all of us see how much better our lives would be if we could just get there. And it would keep Justice and Valor from having to enter the military, which is against our religion. My father is a circuit-riding preacher for the Church of the Brethern. Even though St. Louis is a lovely town, we’ll be heading out in the spring. But in the meantime, we need to work. Do you know of any businesses in town where we could find employment?”

Basil turned in his saddle and gave her a long look. “Can you clean a bank?”

Temperance bristled at the comment. “Of course I can. I may be small, but cleaning is something I do quite well. I might need a ladder or a stool to reach up high, but I am strong and mighty good at cleaning. Are you offering me a job?”

“I would only need you a few times a week, so you might want to look elsewhere for regular employment, but yes, after the bank closes for the day, you can clean it for me. The woman I had doing it just left town. She’d been cleaning for me and also working at the tavern. A man evidently came into the tavern and said he was looking for a wife, and off she went.”

Temperance smiled. “Good for her. It’s not an easy life, being a single woman alone in the world.”

“You are absolutely right about that. Women need to be taken care of, and to stay at home raising their families, while the husband works to provide for them.”

Temperance spared him a withering sidelong glance. “Can you possibly think that women who are raising families and caring for the home aren’t ‘working’? You seem to be an intelligent man. I’m surprised at you.”

Basil glanced over to the small woman and grinned. “And you surprise me, Miss Jones.”

Chapter Five

Basil paced restlessly as he waited for the arrival of Temperance from the ranch. The wagon carrying the Jones family left the alley two days ago, on its way to the soddy. He had not seen the family since their departure.

He released a long breath when the knock at the back door came, and he viewed her waiting to be let in. He told himself his reaction was merely the result of wanting to make certain the entire family was all right. After all, the road from Joseph’s ranch was long and lonely — no place for a woman to be traversing by herself, but then, there was no other way.

After a quick review of what Basil wanted cleaned, he showed Temperance where the cleaning supplies were kept. Then Basil turned to her. “My quarters are on the second floor. There’s a flight of stairs by the back door leading up to them. If you’ll let me know when you are finished, I’ll let you out and lock up after you. Try not to be too long, since it’s not a smart idea to be on the road after dark. Especially since you’re new in town and don’t yet know the way.”

“Yes, Mr. Fitzpatrick. I’ll do a good job for you.”

“Just don’t be running off with the next man who comes to town looking for a wife, all right?” Basil gave her a wink and a grin before he left her on her own and headed upstairs.

The business suits he was forced to wear while at the bank were Basil’s least favorite part of his job, and he couldn’t wait to shed them and put on his comfortable deerskin leggings and simple white shirt. He breathed a sigh of relief and decided to pad around his quarters barefooted, rather than force his aching feet into shoes or boots again. After all, it was mid-summer and, when he was younger, he used to run barefoot all season, much to the chagrin of his mother, who despaired of him ever becoming civilized. There was no sweet-smelling grass in town for him to run his feet through, but he preferred going barefoot regardless.

With his mother on his mind, he settled in behind his desk in the small open room of the flat and began to pen a letter to her. He decided the news about his sister’s pregnancy should come from Ginger, but he had so much other news to impart, his fountain pen flew across the page. The silence was marred only by the scratch of pen against paper. He was on his fifth page when a soft knock came at the door. Basil had been so immersed in his writing, he’d almost forgotten about the tiny woman downstairs. He rose from the desk and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe the ink from his fingers as he walked to the door.

Temperance took a step back from the door when he opened it. The involuntary motion on her part put her in a precarious position, as she teetered on the top step. Basil reached out and grasped her arms to pull her safely back to the landing. When he caught the blush creep into her cheeks at the familiarity of his actions, he dropped his hands.

“Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick. I’m not usually so clumsy.”

“Quite all right. Let me just put some shoes on and I’ll head downstairs with you to inspect your work and let you out.”

She glanced from his face to his feet and smiled. “Noble hates to wear shoes, too, but then, he’s only four years old.”

“Old habits die hard, I’m afraid. I never cared much for wearing shoes when I was his age, either.”

Basil quickly pulled on his soft boots and tucked his shirt into his leggings. As he turned back to the landing where Temperance was standing, he witnessed her color deepening even further and she took a long, slow breath. Had she never been alone with a man before? He shook his head. Of course not. She was a good, respectable girl — not his usual choice for companionship. She was Temperance, personified.

He decided not to prolong her discomfort, and they headed downstairs. Basil was impressed with how clean she had made the bank in such a short time.

“Very nicely done. Would you also consider cleaning my quarters on a regular basis? My mother will be the first to admit, I’m no good at picking up after myself.”

Temperance’s blush bloomed again. “Of course, sir. I’d be happy to. From the little I could see of your place, you certainly could use my cleaning services. But you’d have to be somewhere else while I’m working up there.”

He smiled at her. “I understand. You do have a reputation to maintain, and being alone with a man could place that reputation in jeopardy. Maybe you could come early on the days you clean the bank and clean my flat while I’m still working?”

“That’s a very good solution. Yes, I’d be happy to keep things tidy. But I also need to find something else to do. Did they fill the position left open at the tavern by your former cleaning lady?”

Basil grinned. “A woman named Temperance serving ale and spirits to rough cowboys and outlaws at a saloon? Not a good idea.”

“All right then. If not a tavern, what about a diner of some kind? Surely these cowboys and outlaws eat somewhere outside of a saloon.”

“Well, there is a restaurant, a public house, in a converted farmhouse on the road to Joseph’s place that might need some help, either in the kitchen or as a waitress. You could stop by and inquire on your way home. Tell them you’re a friend of mine and of Joseph’s, since we frequent the place. And speaking of home, how is your family settling in to the soddy?”

“It’s cold and dark, and there are bugs everywhere. But it’s dry, at least, and my father is shielded from the wind and sun. For that, we are grateful.”

“Is he improving?”

“Not that I can see. Only time will tell. He’s been ill for quite a while.”

• • •

Temperance hurried to the mare she was riding and mounted up. Her skirt rode up as she threw one leg over the horse, and she bent over to pull the skirt down over her ankles as best she could. She’d definitely have to talk to Ginger about proper riding attire in the West. However it was not Ginger who was uppermost in her thoughts as she headed out of town, but rather her brother, Basil.

When she’d seen him in his quarters dressed casually, in the same manner of most of the men she had known before coming to St. Louis, she did a quick mental comparison. Basil left them all way behind in terms of being handsome, chiseled, strong young men. Even her beau, Jeremiah, came up short, she realized, with a start, and a little stab of guilt. She’d had to take a step back from his overwhelming presence, and, as a result, nearly tumbled down the stairs. If he hadn’t reached out to catch her, she would have ended up in a pile at the bottom of the staircase. She was mortified.

BOOK: Banking on Temperance
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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