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Golden Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Madge Morgan groaned as steam billowed from the hood of the old clunker that served as car, truck and general chore vehicle. "Why couldn't you save your cantankerous behavior for two more blocks?" So close to her destination, yet so far. And she was late. Mrs. Crebs, her best and most demanding customer, had already warned Madge she wouldn't pay to have her laundry done unless it was delivered spotless and on time.
Madge glanced about. She could either trudge back to the center of town and the public pump for water for the radiator and get to the Crebses' late, or trundle down the street with the bundle of laundry. And still be late.
Her heavy sigh lifted her unruly bangs and provided a welcome breeze to her brow.
Better late than never. She only hoped Mrs. Crebs would agree. At least she couldn't complain about the condition of her clothing and household articles. They were crisp and spotless.
She grabbed the bundle, staggering under the weight of six sets of sheets, all nicely pressed and folded, and an amazing collection of table linens, trousers and starched shirts, all done exactly as Mrs. Crebs desired. She draped the girls' fresh dresses over her arm and plowed toward the imposing Crebs house. The stack blocked her view, but the path was straight and level right up to the front steps. Of course, she would dutifully take her armload around to the back door.
The wind pushed her dress about her legs and fought for ownership of the pile of laundry. A pair of sheets slithered sideways. Madge struggled to keep everything together. She should have tied the bundle with twine, but she hadn't expected to trundle it down the street. She hurried on her way.
And hit a wall, staggered back and lost control of her load. "No!" Her wail was far from ladylike, but she was past caring as the laundry landed in the dirt, little clouds of dust greeting its arrival.
"No. No." She swallowed back the scream tearing at her throat. No sense in announcing her problems to the neighborhood.
She saved her fury and frustration for the source of her problemthe wall shuddering her to a halta living, breathing wall that grunted at her impact. "Look what you've done."
Black eyes snapped. She was certain he saw more than an ordinary man, and she almost quivered. Almost. She knew she'd never forget their intensity nor the surprise in his voice giving it such deep tones.
"Me? You personally own this sidewalk or something?" He picked up his battered cowboy hat and slapped it against his leg before cramming it on his head, restricting his dark, overlong hair to a thick fringe around the brim. He had a square forehead and a firm mouth.
She suddenly remembered his question. "I own my share. What are you doing in the middle of the way?"
"Standing here. Minding my own business. Is that a criminal offense? First I heard of it."
"Not criminal. Just dumb." The accident wasn't his fault, and this whole conversation bordered on the absurd. "These things are as dirty as mud." Mrs. Crebs was going to have a kitten. Probably a whole batch of them, squalling and demanding attention. Nothing to do but pick up the items and try to explain what happened. She reached for the scattered articles, now tossed into disarray by the relentless wind.
Seems the man had a similar notion and bent at exactly the same moment. They cracked heads.
"Ow." She straightened and rubbed her brow.
"Ouch." He grabbed after his hat, getting away in the incessant breeze.
The wind increased, picked up gritty dirt and pelted them. They turned their backs into the attack and waited for it to pass.
She scooped up flapping laundry. The starched-and-ironed tablecloth was no longer gleaming white. Mrs. Crebs would be offended, especially when she heard the whole thing had been witnessed in amusement by a couple of men on the sidewalk and several ladies peeking from their windows.
The man responsible for her predicament reached for a starched and now crumpled shirt. She snatched it from him.
"Only trying to help," he murmured, sounding faintly amused.
"You've already done enough." How was she going to explain this?
Despite her protests, he helped gather up garments and piled them in her arms. Fabric draped and flapped over her shoulders. She hesitated, annoyance and worry warring with good manners.
"You're welcome," the man said, grinning widely. It wasn't his fault. Yet whom else could she blame?
The foolishness of trying to place responsibility for this whole situation on anyone or anything was as silly as trying to attribute the drought, the depressed prices and life in general to someone. Her life, her future, was in God's hands. Not man's. Amusement smoothed her annoyance and relaxed her eyes.
He must have seen the change in her. His grin deepened.
She assessed this stranger. Handsome. Holding himself with strength and confidence. She'd already noted his dark eyes and how they probed. Realizing she stared, she looked away. "Sorry," she gulped and slowly brought her gaze back to his. His wide grin erased the last flickers of annoyance, and she chuckled. "I don't always run full force into strangers. Nor do I usually take out my frustrations on unsuspecting visitors. It's just been that kind of day. I apologize."
He touched the brim of his hat. "Not a problem. We all have our share of troubles these days."
"Far too true." If she didn't take care of Mrs. Crebs, her difficulties would multiply several times. She tore her gaze away from the stranger and paused. "Are you staying in town?" Heat stung her eyes at the boldness of her question. Quickly, she added, "If so, welcome." She fled with her embarrassment. Now the man would think her both cranky and a dolt.
Her feet slowed as the Crebses' house came into view. Lord, help me be gracious. Help Mrs. Crebs be charitable and give me another chance. She sucked in a deep breath that did little to calm her nerves, and knocked on the back door.
Mrs. Crebs yanked it open as if she'd been waiting for Madge. Madge knew she would have been staring at the big clock hanging on the wall and clacking her fingernails against the table as she waited. "You're late again. It's inexcusable." Then she saw her laundry and shrieked.
Madge grimaced at the shrill sound, then hurried to explain. "I had an accident. I'm sorry. I'll take everything home and do it over. I promise it will be spotless."
Mrs. Crebs snatched articles from Madge. "You've ruined my best tablecloth."
"I'll fix it." She would fall on her knees and beg for another chance if it would do any good.
"Don't bother. I've given you more than enough chances. I'll find someone else. Someone I can trust. I've never heard of the Chinaman dumping laundry in the dirt."
The door slammed in Madge's face. Mrs. Crebs, with her five children, had been Madge's best customer. Without the few dollars she made doing the
Crebses' washing, Madge would never scrape together enough for the upcoming mortgage payment.
The future looked bleak.
However, she would not entertain defeat. Somehow, with hard work and perseverance, she would earn the money. Lord, open up another opportunity for me. Please.
With no reason to hurry, she didn't dash back to the car. Instead, she went out the back gate and headed for the church to pray. She desperately needed God's help.