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The Blacksmith's Bravery
By Susan Page Davis
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2010 Susan Page Davis
All rights reserved.
Fergus, Idaho October 1887
Griffin Bane picked up the big bay's foot. He stretched the gelding's hind leg back and rested the hoof on his leather-aproned knee. Reaching with his long arm, he pulled a rasp from his toolbox. The horse had chipped its hoof so badly that the nails had come loose. As he filed away at the remaining clinches on the nails, a shadow blocked his light.
"Ethan." Griffin didn't have to look up to recognize the sheriff's voice.
"Scout lost a shoe. I wondered if you could tend to him."
"Did you find the shoe?"
"Yeah, got it right here."
Griffin glanced up at the worn shoe Ethan held. Bent nails dangled from the half-dozen holes on each side.
"Front foot," Griffin noted.
"Yep. There's some bad footing out Silver City way. I rode up there yesterday."
Griffin grunted, placed the rasp in his toolbox, and pulled out the shoe pullers. "Reckon I can do it after this one." As he fitted the pincher ends under the edge of the horseshoe he was removing, he added, "Got to do the coach horses first."
"That's all right. I plan to stay in town this morning."
"Is his foot all right?"
"I think so. He's not limping."
Hurried footsteps echoed on the boardwalk that ran up the street from the feed store. They pattered softly on the ground after they reached the spot where the walkway ended. Griffin looked up. The dark-haired girl from the Spur & Saddle—Vashti—scurried toward them.
"Morning, Mr. Bane. Morning, Sheriff." She stopped a couple of yards away.
"Miss Edwards," said Ethan, tipping his hat.
Griffin grunted. Odd green eyes she had, almost like aspen leaves.
"Miss Bitsy wanted me to buy her a ticket to Boise. She's got business there and wants to take the afternoon stage, but you weren't at the office."
Griffin clenched his teeth and twisted the pullers, prying the remaining nails out of the bay's hoof. The shoe came off, and he tossed it on the ground near Vashti's feet. He reached for the hoof nippers and began clipping off the ragged horn around the edge of the hoof. "Tell her I'll be up to the office in a couple of hours. I've got two horses to shoe, but I'll be there in plenty of time before the stage leaves."
"All right." Vashti didn't move.
Griffin clipped all the way around the hoof and exchanged the nippers for a rasp so he could smooth the surface of the hoof wall before he put a new shoe on. "You want something else?" he growled.
"No, sir. I'll tell her." Vashti turned away and hurried back up the street.
"Pretty thing," Ethan said.
"I'm surprised at you, Sheriff, you being married and all."
Ethan grinned. "I said that on your behalf."
"Ha." Griffin finished smoothing the horse's hoof and set it down. He straightened and tossed the rasp into the toolbox, then pressed both hands to the small of his back.
"You getting the rheumatiz, Griff? A young fella like you?"
Griffin grunted. At thirty-five, he didn't think he ought to be having old folks' ailments. "Reckon it's all the hours I spend bent over."
Around the corner of the smithy from the livery stable came Marty Hoffstead, who had lately been working for Griffin, though he never had much to show for the hours he claimed he put in.
"Kin you come look at the brown wheel horse? I think he's favoring his off forefoot."
Griffin sighed. "I hope you're wrong, because I don't have a replacement for him today for the stagecoach team. I'll come look when I finish this job, but then I've got to reset the shoes on the sheriff's paint."
Marty nodded. "Oh, and Ned came over from the boardinghouse. Says Bill's got the heaves and he's shaking all over. Doesn't know if he can make the run to Boise this afternoon."
"Wonderful." Griffin lifted his eyes skyward and shook his head. "I'll probably end up driving myself. Again." He frowned at Marty. "You tell Bill if he's not dead, he'd better be on the box of that coach at two o'clock."
"I'll tell him, but I wouldn't count on it." Marty walked away.
"Looks like you could use more help around here," Ethan noted.
"You're telling me. Ever since I took over the stage line, I've been running nonstop. Can't get anyone to work the forge, and I can't get enough help running the livery. And keeping good drivers? Let's not even get started on that."
"Maybe you should advertise for help."
"Maybe so." Griffin scooped up the horseshoe he'd just removed from the coach horse and stalked into the smithy.
* * *
At half past eleven, Vashti scurried about the dining room of the Spur & Saddle with a wet dishrag, making sure all the tables were clean. Already a few folks had come in for lunch and seated themselves. Bitsy Moore, who owned the establishment with her husband, sauntered over to the table where Mayor Peter Nash and his wife, Ellie, sat.
"Good morning, folks. What'll it be?"
Bitsy could charm anyone with her sunny smile. Though Vashti reckoned Bitsy was twice her own age—approaching fifty—she still showed signs of the pretty woman she'd been. Her reddish hair had faded, but she no longer dyed it. She wore one of the satin gowns she'd purchased back when the Spur & Saddle was a saloon, but she'd recently added a creamy lace insert across the top of the bodice. Bitsy had gone more modest since she got religion, and she insisted the hired help adjust their fashions, too. She kept her bright lip color and rouge and her flamboyant jewelry. Bitsy did enjoy decking herself out.
"What's Augie cooking today?" Ellie asked.
"Thought I smelled fried chicken." Peter smiled hopefully at Bitsy.
"Oh yeah, he's got fried chicken. Venison stew, too. Biscuits and sourdough bread. And we've got us some carrots and Hubbard squash."
"I fancy the squash, myself." Ellie smiled across at her husband. "Of course, Peter never cared for winter squash."
"Bring me the fried chicken. You got potatoes with that?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor."
"Good. And the carrots."
Vashti scurried behind the serving counter that had been made out of the old bar. She poured two glasses of water. Bitsy paused beside her on her way into the kitchen to give Augie the Nashes' order.
"Before it gets busy, could you run across and see if Griffin's got the ticket office open yet? I don't want to get there at the last minute and not have my ticket."
"Yes'm." Vashti delivered the water glasses with a smile to the Nashes and ducked out the door and across the street.
She hiked up her skirt and ran past the emporium and across the alley to the stagecoach office. The big blacksmith had shed his apron and was tacking a notice to the wall beside the door.
"Mr. Bane, Miss Bitsy sent me for her ticket to Boise." Vashti halted beside him, panting.
He looked up. "Oh sure. Just a second." He hammered a final tack into the poster and went inside. "You got the money?"
"Yes." Vashti stared at the notice he'd posted:
Livery Stable Hands
She pulled in a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and stepped inside. Griffin sat at the desk, fumbling at the ticket book with his big hands.
"You said she's going through to Boise?"
"That's right. On business. Taking the two o'clock."
Griffin wrote in the book and tore out the ticket. "Three dollars and six bits."
Vashti handed over the money Bitsy had given her that morning. "I noticed that poster you put up."
"Uh-huh." Griffin gave her the ticket. He put the ticket book in a drawer and, in the process, knocked his pen off the desk. He bent to retrieve it.
"It says you're hiring."
He sat up and squinted at her. "That's right. I need some more manpower."
She ignored the man part and plunged on. "Mr. Bane, I'd love the chance to drive. I learned how when I was a kid, and I've always been good with horses. I know I could do the job."
His jaw dropped.
"If you'll give me a chance, I can take the stage through. I know I can, easy as pie."
Griffin stood and stared down at her with such a thunderous expression that Vashti faltered to a stop and waited.
"You want to drive?"
He threw back his head and laughed.CHAPTER 2
Something must be funny."
Griffin Bane looked past the saloon girl. Ned Harmon, one of his shotgun messengers for the stage line, stood in the doorway to his office.
His office. Griffin still found it hard to believe he had one. But since the former division manager of the Wells Fargo branch line had died, he'd taken over running the coaches, office and all.
"It's downright balderdash, Ned. This here gal thinks she can drive a stage."
Ned's eyes narrowed, and he looked Vashti up and down. The girl had enough decency to blush.
"Mr. Bane, I really can drive." She turned to him, clutching the pasteboard ticket. "I used to drive my daddy's team when I was eight or ten years old. Sometimes I even drove a four-in-hand. I haven't had much chance to work with horses these last ten years or so, but—"
Griffin held up one hand in protest. "Gal, you can't be more than—what?—seventeen? Eighteen?"
Vashti stopped short and eyed him cautiously. A gentleman never asked a woman her age, but Griff had never counted himself a gentleman, and he didn't reckon Ned was one, either.
She clenched her teeth. "I'm twenty-four, and if you two spread that around town, you'll live to regret it, but not much longer."
Ned howled with laughter. "Maybe you'd best hire her, Griff."
The blacksmith shook his head. No way was he going to hire a girl, even if she was older than she looked. He'd be the laughingstock of the Idaho Territory if people saw her driving one of his stagecoaches. Passengers would refuse to ride with her, and the shotgun riders would want to start a flirtation. She was pretty enough, after all. And if they knew she used to work in a saloon ...
Nope, he wasn't going to think about that. He put on a firm face and said, "No."
He strode past her and Ned, ducked his head, and escaped out into the sunlight. Behind him, Ned was still laughing. He was halfway to Walker's Feed when he realized light footsteps pattered after him down the boardwalk. He swung around, and the girl almost plowed into him. She stopped so short, her earrings swayed.
"You followin' me?"
Well, she had spunk. "I thought you were still working for Bitsy and Augie."
"Then you don't need a job."
"Well, sir, it's like this." She glanced over her shoulder.
Ned had come out of the Wells Fargo office and ambled off across the street toward the boardinghouse. Griffin wondered vaguely what he'd wanted. He'd better not have come to tell him Bill couldn't drive today.
"Bitsy and Augie aren't doing so good," Vashti said. "This is just between you and me. Bitsy would have a conniption if she knew I'd told anyone. But they're not making nearly the profit they were when they sold liquor. Goldie's started clerking at the emporium, and I figured to look around for another job myself. Miss Bitsy says we're welcome to board with them as long as we want to, but it wouldn't hurt to look for another position. She figures she and Augie can support themselves but not much more than that unless we get more people in this town to patronize the restaurant."
Griffin frowned. He didn't like to hear his friends were having trouble. "That right? Augie came by the smithy day before yesterday, and he didn't say anything."
"He wouldn't. They're proud, both of 'em."
"Reckon that's so. But I can't let a girl drive a stagecoach. It wouldn't be fittin'."
She sighed. "Please, Mr. Bane. I really do know how to drive."
"Maybe so, but driving six is a whole lot different from driving two. Or even four. It takes drivers years to master it."
"Then let me start."
He shook his head. "I can't. I might find something else for you, though."
"Well, I can't shoe horses."
"Could you work at the livery?"
She wrinkled her nose. "I suppose I could, but ..."
"What? You're too dainty to shovel manure?"
"I wasn't going to say that. I don't know as I'd want to work with Marty Hoffstead. I heard he goes over to the Nugget every night and puts back a few, and when he's got a brick in his hat, he treats those girls over there shamefully."
"Yes, sir, and I wouldn't make up stuff like that."
"I don't imagine you would." Griffin had heard Marty tell some coarse stories, and he'd seen him stagger out of the Nugget on a few occasions, but lately he couldn't be fussy about whom he hired. He scratched his chin through his beard. It was getting long—he ought to trim it, or soon it would be catching sparks from the forge. As if he had time. He didn't even get a minute to work with the colt he'd hoped to start training this fall. "Well, it'd help me some if you could sit in the office for a couple of hours every morning, say ten to noon, when folks want to buy tickets. I'd give you two bits for every ticket you sold."
"Well ... I usually help Bitsy set up for lunch, but if she can spare me—how many tickets do you think I'd sell?"
"Maybe none. Maybe two or three."
He could see she didn't think much of the idea. "You think about it. I've got to make sure the team's ready for the afternoon stage. If you want to try it, come see me later."
Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked swiftly toward the livery. All he needed was a pretty girl flitting about, getting in the way. The thought of that little bit of a thing handling a stagecoach made him laugh again. As if she could hold down six horses.
Of course, she was part of that shooting club Trudy Dooley—that is, Trudy Chapman now, since she married the sheriff—had started for the ladies. Unless he misremembered, Vashti had placed pretty well in the shooting match at the last town picnic. If someone could take Ned Harmon's place riding shotgun, then Ned could drive—he wasn't half bad in a pinch, though he needed more finesse to become a really good driver. Why, then Griffin might get by with the drivers he had. Provided Bill recovered from whatever ailed him.
He shook his head. What was he thinking? A girl for a shotgun messenger. He must be mad-brained. He stomped into the stable. Marty was just bringing in the two wheelers. They'd never have the team ready in time. Griffin dashed out back to get the swing horses from the corral.
Loco. That's what he was to even think of hiring a woman for this business. Crackbrained.
* * *
The next day, Vashti served lunch to three patrons. Bitsy wouldn't be back until the following afternoon, but there was barely enough work to keep Vashti busy, even though Augie had cooked a scrumptious roast beef dinner. The restaurant business was mighty slow now that the days were getting shorter. People were trying to get things ready for the coming winter and not thinking about eating in town.
When Oscar Runnels, Doc Kincaid, and Parnell Oxley had finished their meals and sauntered out of the Spur & Saddle, Vashti whisked their dishes into the kitchen and had them washed, dried, and put away before Augie had covered the stew pot and put the leftover lemon meringue in the pie safe. Augie walked over to the corner shelf where he and Bitsy kept the cash box. He opened the cover and stared down into it.
"Things are getting tight, aren't they?" Vashti asked.
"A mite." Augie slapped the lid shut. "We've been through hard times before."
"Still, you have to buy enough food for twenty, in case they come, and if nobody shows up, it goes to waste."
"Mrs. Thistle wants four pies for the boardinghouse." Augie pulled his sifter out of the flour barrel. "Guess I'll get started."
The boardinghouse down the street, owned by schoolmarm Isabel Fennel, was feeding more people than the Spur & Saddle. Terrence and Rilla Thistle, who ran the place, could count on their boarders. The stagecoach drivers and messengers usually slept and ate at the Fennel House, and sometimes passengers from the stagecoaches did, too. A few would wander out in the evening for dinner at the Spur & Saddle, but most of the Moores' customers were townsfolk who wanted a change of pace. Some of them probably came to help Augie and Bitsy. The Sunday chicken dinner was still the big event of the week at the Spur & Saddle, but that didn't generate enough to support the Moores and their two hired girls.
"I'm going out for a minute." Vashti took off her apron and hung it up. "Do you need anything?"
"No, I don't think so."
Excerpted from The Blacksmith's Bravery by Susan Page Davis. Copyright © 2010 Susan Page Davis. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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