Kendrick, p.1

Kendrick, page 1

 part  #9 of  Bachelors and Babies Series

 

Kendrick
 


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Kendrick


  Kendrick

  Bachelors & Babies

  Book 9

  By Zina Abbott

  Copyright © 2020 Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to Adrian D. A., my “manager” and sibling negotiator during her teenage years and her four beautiful daughters.

  What an inspiration!

  Acknowledgements

  A special thank you goes to Charlene Raddon for organizing and coordinating this series, Bachelors and Babies. It promises to be an exciting series to which I am pleased to contribute. She also provided all our beautiful covers through her book cover business, Silver Sage Book Covers.

  I wish to thank the other authors in the series for their insight, suggestions and support as we worked together.

  I also wish to thank Linda Carroll-Bradd of Lustre Editing for copy editing this book to help it be as error-free as possible. Any errors you find are those of the author. I appreciate receiving a private message regarding any grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors so that I may correct them. My contact information is at the end of the book.

  Cover © Charlene Raddon, silversagebookcovers.com

  .

  Disclaimer

  Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental and unintended.

  Prologue

  Columbia, California – Monday, March 20, 1854

  A fter he figured most of his morning customers had purchased their meat for the day, Kendrick ran the fingers of one hand through his dark brown hair and, with the other, grabbed the two remaining hard-boiled eggs out of the wire basket on his counter. He turned toward the door leading to the kitchen—one of the two rooms that made up the living quarters of his building. Even though it was not noon yet, he had been up early—with the chickens, so to speak—so he could feed his chickens and let them loose in the enclosed yard he built for them.

  As Kendrick peeled the shells away from the eggs he would eat, along with part of the loaf of bread still soft enough to tear, for lunch, he gazed out of the window and studied the deep blue sky. He had learned that, unlike the San Joaquin Valley to the west, although fog in Columbia was not unheard of, the California foothills west of the Sierra Nevada Mountains did not get much fog in the winter. At least, there were few clouds in the sky. The town had seen its fair share of overcast and drizzling rain this winter. The outdoor weather appeared deceptively appealing in its bid to encourage him to step outside. He already knew, from both experience and comments made by several of this morning’s customers, that, with no cloud cover to hold the heat, the air outside was far colder than the sunny day suggested.

  Sometimes, this part of California did not follow the wisdom of the weather saw: “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Instead, sometimes the start of the month of March offered cool, but otherwise beautiful, weather. It was the end of the month and going into April that could often turn cold, windy, and stormy. When that happened, it benefitted the miners. The added spring rain filled the creeks and allowed for pan-washing the soil in search of gold. It would also refill his rain barrel he kept outside his kitchen door. If a storm blew this day, it would do so toward afternoon.

  His thoughts went to the miners working out in this weather. With rarely getting snow, and then only a light dusting that tended to burn off within hours, the winter weather here could not compare with the snowstorms in the East. However, often the cold back there was a dry cold. Here, although not humid like the South or along the great rivers, the winter weather held enough moisture to promise a coldness that cut to the bone. With their boots constantly wet from stepping into the seasonal winter streams of snowmelt to shake the valueless soil away from the precious gold flakes, they started each day cold, and they grew more so as the day progressed. Yet, most of them declared each day’s take in gold was worth it.

  Following the war with Mexico that brought him out west, he stayed after hearing about the discovery of gold in California. Like many in the early years, he first tried the Coloma area. Gradually, he moved south. He spent over a year mining in what had originally been known as Hildreth’s Diggings. To give it a more dignified air, not to mention making a statement to the non-Americans who flooded to the area that California was now a state in the United States of America, the residents changed the name to American Camp. Unfortunately, many cities by that name had sprung up, and it was not long before the residents decided upon a new name, Columbia.

  After his second winter in Columbia, once the seasonal creeks dried up, requiring more creativity in getting gold-rich dirt to a water source, he decided there was a better way to mine the area. Unlike so many others, he did not turn around and waste what gold he found on liquor and fancy women. That winter, he collected enough gold to buy a lot and the equipment he needed to open a business.

  Running a saloon or boardinghouse did not appeal to him. However, most men liked to eat. Beef was the preferred menu item, although a nice pork chop now and then also seemed popular. Even when funds were low, they liked bacon or side pork to go with the beans and potatoes that were staples. Kendrick had turned his experience helping to butcher beef and hogs on his family farm back in Indiana into a butcher shop business.

  His venture of raising chickens proved challenging at times. He had been required to secure his chicken coop and yard from thieving varmints of both the four-legged and two-legged varieties. He occasionally sold some for meat, plus he sold fresh eggs seven days a week. Those that did not sell, he boiled and sold hard-cooked for those looking for a quick noon meal.

  Since these last two hard-cooked eggs had not sold that morning, he intended to eat them for a quick mid-morning snack. He grabbed them and walked through the doorway to his kitchen. Halfway through peeling his second egg, he heard the sound of his front door opening. He quickly chewed and swallowed the first egg still in his mouth and set the other on the oilcloth covering his table. He wiped his hands on a rag he’d earlier tossed on the drainboard of the dry sink. Still wearing a blood-smeared apron he used to protect his everyday clothing from the inevitable gore of his work, he entered the room that served as his shop.

  “Oh, my!”

  Kendrick came to an abrupt stop. A couple he had never seen before stood in the center of his shop.

  A big man with medium-brown hair he wore shoulder length and a barrel chest and shoulders a width and a half of those belonging to the average man was dressed in a gray wool suit. It fit so well that Kendrick suspected a well-trained tailor crafted it. Upon his gaze connecting with Kendrick’s, he walked next to the front door and, with his arms folded, spread his feet into a wide stance.

  However, it was the woman with him on whom Kendrick focused his attention. It was not the fancy clothes that caught his eye as much as the beautifully styled dark brown hair and dark brown round eyes. They peeked out from beneath her deep blue bonnet with its white lace framing her face. A jaunty bow in black ribbon was tied to the side of her chin. Her dress—what he could see of it showing around the edges of her long, dark blue wool cape—was made of gray silk.

  Silk? In the rough-and-tumble mining camps of the Mother Lode?

  With a start, he realized she also studied him. More to the point, her gaze appeared to be glued to his middle. Self-conscious of the state of his apron, with its blood smears from his hours of cutting meat into saleab
le pieces, Kendrick loosened the knot of the ties holding it in place. He tossed it on the shelf behind him, next to the burlap-covered remaining cuts of meat he had available for sale.

  The woman turned the edges of her cape back across her shoulders which exposed more of her dress. Although not overly fussy like he had seen on some of the gowns worn by Army officers’ wives and women in San Francisco, it did have a white linen collar edged in lace on its high neckline. The drop-shoulder sleeves were banded with thin black braided trim where the silk flared above the white linen cuffs that buttoned at her wrists. Although full, the skirt was not excessively wide.

  Then again, what few women there were in the mining camps tended to dress sensibly without a multitude of petticoats.

  Surely, this woman did not live in the region. Visiting from San Francisco? Or maybe she came from Sacramento, although the state capitol was rather far north of Columbia. Either way, Kendrick could not begin to guess why she now stood in his butcher shop, especially when the clothes she and her husband wore hinted of them being wealthy enough to hire servants to take care of the daily marketing.

  Kendrick shook his head. Where were his manners? “Good morning, ma’am. How may I help you?”

  Clutching a white handkerchief edged in lace in her left hand, the woman stepped forward. “So, this is a butcher shop?”

  Kendrick smiled and nodded. Yes, ma’am, that’s what my sign out front says.

  She paused as she turned in a full circle. Next, she studied the leg of pork hanging from a hook in the corner. “I don’t actually know how butcher shops work. Do you always leave meat hanging out like this?”

  Kendrick cleared his throat. “Yes, at least until the day’s customers have had their opportunity to purchase what they want fresh. At the end of the day, I’ll take what is left and prepare it for my smokehouse. Finding someone who sold me a hog this time of year was a pleasant benefit. Winter is usually the time for preserved meat, but I am able to offer some fresh pork roasts and chops to my customers this week.” He gestured toward a shelf behind him he kept covered with cheesecloth. “I still have a few chops available for any miners looking for a good piece of pork who may come in after they finish working their claims.”

  “I see.”

  The woman spoke so softly he barely heard her. Kendrick rubbed his fingers down his pants legs. Then, chastising himself for exhibiting the nervous gesture, he dropped his hands to his sides. “Is there something particular I can help you with today, ma’am?”

  “Do you have one of those fresh pork roasts you mentioned available?”

  Kendrick hesitated. “Yes. It’s on a different cut out in my shed. It will take a few minutes for me to get it for you.”

  She turned to the man behind her. “Do you think Eva Mae would like a fresh pork roast to fix, Benny?”

  He walked over to stand next to her. “I’m sure she would, Madam, although I think she is used to buying our meat from the butcher back in town. She would know better than me if it was good quality or not.”

  Kendrick tamped down his annoyance at the man’s suggestion that he might not offer quality cuts of meat.

  Madam, not ma’am? Kendrick found his form of address unusual. It sounded more like a name rather than a title. Then again, what did he know about the niceties of the well-to-do?

  The woman shook her head. “Thank you, but perhaps we won’t bother with that right now.” She stepped forward, and her brow wrinkled as she stared at the empty wire basket at the end of his counter. “You sell eggs?”

  “Yes, although, as you see, I’m out for the day. I do raise my own chickens for both meat and eggs.”

  Her face growing animated, she smiled as her gaze met his. “You have chickens?” She turned to Benny. “I remember, when I was a child back home, our housekeeper and her husband used to raise chickens. I loved to go where they were kept and look at them. Sometimes, I was allowed to feed them. They were so pretty.” She turned back to Kendrick. “Are they close by where we might see them?”

  As he thought about what to do, Kendrick inhaled. His chickens were just chickens, and his chicken coop nothing fancy. He doubted this high-society woman would find it impressive. However, if she wanted to see his chickens, it did not cost him anything but a little time to show her. “I’ll be happy to take you to see them, ma’am. However, you must understand, my backyard where they are kept is not intended for the public. I'm afraid it's not very tidy. I do have the chickens enclosed so you can get close enough to see them without getting anything unpleasant on your shoes.”

  “Yes, I want to see them.” She turned again to the man with her. “That shouldn’t take us too long, do you think, Benny?”

  Benny tipped his head. “Whatever you want, Madam.”

  “I keep my yard locked, so if you would like to step outside and to the left as you face the building, I’ll meet you by the gate.”

  As the pair walked out his front door, Kendrick hurried through his living quarters to the back entrance. Upon arriving at the side gate, he unlatched and opened it to allow his mystery visitors to enter.

  The woman stepped through the gate first, her head twisting side to side as if trying to take in everything there was to see.

  Kendrick had his butcher shed in the far back of his lot—a structure barely large enough to hold one animal at a time—his smokehouse, a storage shed, a carriage shed to protect his buckboard he used for hauling from the weather, and his chicken coop. Off to the side, opposite the chicken coop, he kept his supply of pine and oak firewood, plus a separate pile of mesquite he burned to smoke his meat. “It’s not much, ma’am, but it does the job.”

  Her words came out soft, as if she were thinking aloud. “So secure, and you have a garden area.”

  Kendrick hunched his shoulders as a brisk burst of wind nearly blew his hat off of his head. He looked off to the west. Far in the distance, he thought he saw the edge of a bank of clouds. He shook his head. The signs were there—a storm was blowing in off the Pacific Ocean and would reach the foothills either that evening or later in the night.

  Kendrick gestured toward the chicken coop—the fowl fortress, as he often thought of it, since a lot of work had gone into making it secure. “Here are my chickens, ma’am. With it being winter right now, I don’t have as many as I do most of the year. I still own enough to provide a good supply of eggs, plus I offer butchered chickens for sale, two each Saturday, for those folks who enjoy having one in their Sunday pot.”

  He glanced at his guests. The woman, her cloak now wrapped tightly across her body, turned her back to the gust of wind. Once it passed, she stepped closer and, pressing her handkerchief to her nose, leaned forward. She positioned her face as close to the poles Kendrick had used to construct the coop without her skin actually touching the wood. For the first time, Kendrick noticed the flush to her skin—very becoming, but one he guessed that indicated a fever.

  Why would a woman suffering from illness be out in this weather?

  “Oh, I think they are the same kind of chickens I remember from back home.” She turned to face Kendrick. “You said you two each Saturday. I know this is a Monday, but would you sell one to me today?”

  Kendrick shrugged. Why not? “I can, ma’am. You may pick out the one you want, or I'll do it for you.”

  She pointed to the bird with deep green tail feathers. “That chicken is so pretty. What about that one?” She choked out the last word.

  Kendrick hesitated but a second. “Well, ma’am, maybe I better ask you first, how do you plan to prepare the chicken? The one you picked is Rochester, my rooster. He’s old, but not too old to keep my hens happy. I can buy another rooster, if you are determined to have him. However, unless you plan to stew him, his meat will be rather tough. Perhaps you might prefer one of my hens. I have several that were hatched just last spring, and they’re young enough to still be tender.” Fighting the desire to shift his weight from one foot to the other, Kendrick felt his skin crawl under her scruti
ny.

  “Oh.” She turned to her companion. “What do you think, Benny? Would your sister prefer a hen?”

  “If you want fried or baked chicken, Madam, then Eva Mae would much prefer the hen.”

  The woman turned back to face Kendrick, a smile lighting her face. “I’ll bow to your wisdom and take the hen. If you can spare them, I’ll take two.” She coughed several times into her handkerchief.

  Kendrick smiled as he calculated whether or not butchering the two hens now would set him short as far as having enough egg-producing hens to replenish his stock of chickens for the coming year. He decided he would sell her the two requested chickens, and not offer any to his regular customers on Saturday. With the cool winter weather, he would be able to offer some fresh pork roasts instead.

  “I’ll be happy to pick out two nice hens that will give you tender meat. I can have them ready for you—“

  Kendrick’s words were lost when she fell into another coughing spell. The wind blew against the brim of her bonnet and teased the edges of her cape into a dance around her skirt. He watched Benny step forward and place his arm around her hunched shoulders.

  Kendrick waited patiently. In spite of her beauty, she bore the ravages of whatever condition she suffered from on her face. He suspected she might be getting over a bout of pneumonia or bronchitis.

  Benny kept his voice soft and solicitous. “We need to get you indoors somewhere out of this wind, Madam. I’m sure they have a restaurant that serves a nice cup of tea.”

  The woman fluttered her hand as she waited for the bout to pass. She next canted her head and studied Kendrick. “May I have your name, sir?”

  Surprised at the woman’s request, Kendrick felt his eyebrows lift. He once again smiled and nodded. “Certainly, ma’am. Kendrick Denham, at your service, although most people know me as Rick.”

 
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