“Edie! Get yer ass in
here!” The gravelly voice rang out in the small house.
Huyana froze and held
her breath. The knife she’d been using to chop carrots slipped from her grasp
and clattered onto the tabletop. She hugged her slim waist and listened
carefully for sounds of movement.
Had William Montgomery
gone back to sleep? She hoped so. If he was asking for his wife then he was
going to have one of his bad days and therefore the longer he rested, the
better. At least if he woke later, she would have company to help her deal with
him. Even with all her experience of people, the old man’s sudden fluctuations
from joy to anger to confusion still unsettled her and she’d prefer to have
someone else nearby.
Someone like Matthew
She shrugged away the
thought. In the short space of time in which she’d known the handsome cowboy,
she’d seen only good in him. He’d been kind, helpful and attentive, even coming
to find her in Virginia City, where she’d been employed as a maid, to offer her
the post as carer to William Montgomery. Not that other folks were hammering down
the Duggans’ door to get the position, of course. But Matthew knew that her
employer was leaving town and Huyana would soon be without an income. Matthew
had suggested that his older brother, Kenan, offer Huyana the job. And mighty
glad she was about it too. At first. But now she knew how hard it was caring
for William Montgomery alone, she wondered if she’d made the right decision.
But of course she had.
What other choice did she have? With her circumstances and her questionable
background, what else could she expect to do? Whore? Beg? Steal? The choices
for a mixed-race woman were limited indeed. Besides, it meant that she got to
see Matthew Duggan regularly, even if she did clam up like a sixteen-year-old
maiden every time he stepped over the threshold.
Huyana jumped. She’d
have to go check on William. He was clearly distressed. His wife had been in
the ground just over a month. Sometimes he remembered this clearly, but at
other times, he still thought she was alive and well. A wave of sympathy washed
over Huyana. She knew what it was to love and lose someone and William deserved
her compassion. The poor man was dealing with his raw grief in his moments of
lucidity. Healing would likely take him longer than the average person because
he wasn’t experiencing the heartache constantly with its full ferocity.
Instead, it came in agonizing bursts, then, as if his mind was protecting him,
he regressed to his confused state and forgot all about Edie’s death until the
next lucid period. It was like a slow form of torture, and Huyana wished on a
daily basis that she could do something to alleviate William’s pain and
Huyana scooped up the
carrots from the flat wooden chopping board and dropped them into a bowl then
wiped her hands on her apron. She crossed the room and stood outside the door
of William’s bedroom then rapped her knuckles against the wood.
“You all right in
there, Mr. Montgomery?”
“Who in the hell is
Huyana shivered as she
heard the confusion in William’s tone.
“It’s me, Mr. Montgomery.
Huyana. Your help.”
“Say what?” His voice
was closer now, as if he muttered with his lips pressed against the wooden
boards of the door. Huyana slowly unlocked the door and took a step back. The
lock was a precautionary measure that the Duggans had insisted upon to prevent
William from wandering off during the night when Huyana slept or when she was
outside in the yard. “Who’s ya say yer?”
“Huyana.” Her own name
tripped off her lips as it had done thousands of times before, but this time it
filled her with dread because she feared his reaction.
“What in the hell kind
of a name is that?”
The door swung inward
and Huyana braced herself as William Montgomery staggered out into the main
room of the house. He reminded her of an acorn calf, all unsteady on his legs
and wary of his surroundings. Huyana winced as his stale smell reached her
nostrils. She had only washed him last evening with Catherine Duggan’s help but
it seemed that the old man had pissed his bed again. She’d left the pot right
next to his bed in plain view, but unfortunately he didn’t always think to use
it. At times, the floor and his undergarments seemed to serve him just as well.
Like an animal.
Like a child. A poor
helpless infant who sometimes doesn’t know right from wrong.
William stared around
the room as if seeing it for the first time. He squinted against the September
morning light that seeped through the small windows and warmed the floorboards.
He eyed the fire that burned in the grate suspiciously, as if wondering how it
had gotten there. His face held the look of a lost child as he scratched his
matted gray hair, and Huyana’s heart broke for him.
It was going to be a