Breakfast the next morning was rushed. Chad and Mitch had a busy day ahead of them and Justin was taking Uncle Benjamin to the train station as soon as breakfast was over.
Andi saw horror on Daniel’s face as he watched Chad wolf down a whole biscuit in 1 bite. She quickly finished her eggs. She’d better get a move on it; there were 13 stalls in the barn calling her name. For once she was glad to do the hated chore. At least she would have a few hours by herself without Daniel.
Andi watched as Uncle Benjamin gathered his bags and walked out to the waiting carriage with Daniel. Suddenly she felt a twinge of pity as her uncle hugged his son goodbye. She wasn’t sure but she thought she saw a tear trickle down Daniel’s cheek.
“Andi,” Chad turned to her. “I want you to teach Daniel how to muck out stalls. That would be a good chore for him to begin with.”
“But Chad!” Andi wailed. “Cant somebody else teach him?”
“No we are branding cattle today and I need every hand I can get. Don’t worry sis I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”
Andi stuck her head out of taffy’s stall and sighed. Manure was spread all around the wheelbarrow. It looked like half of the manure had missed its target. “Daniel! What did you do?” Andi cried, coming over to where he sat on an upturned bucket.
“I told you I quit! I’m not doing this anymore.”
“You have to! Everyone around here is expected to do his own share of the work!”
“I don’t care!” and with that Daniel stormed out of the barn. Andi’s eyes snapped. “You come back here and finish your job!”
But Daniel paid no heed.
Anger boiled up in Andi. Chad would get mad if the stalls weren’t cleaned. She surveyed the remaining 8 stalls. It would probably take her at least an hour to finish them. What little sympathy she felt for Daniel was long gone.
Andi spent the next hour cleaning out the stalls. It was only than that she realized that it was nearly 10. Andi, Elizabeth and, Melinda were supposed to go visit the Fosters later that morning. But since Andi had a late start there was no possibility that she could get ready in time, which suited her just fine.
Andi knew mother wouldn’t be too pleased to hear that Daniel had skipped out on her and, she would in turn tell Chad. She grinned, Daniel was in for it! Andi made her way to the house stopping to wash at the well. My, how dirty and smelly she was.
“Andrea Carter!” Melinda exclaimed as she caught sight of Andi in the doorway; water still dripping down her face.
“Hi Melinda,” Andi bit back a grin at the look of horror on her sister’s face.
“I thought you were up in your room getting ready.” Melinda said holding her nose to her hand.
Before Andi could answer Elizabeth came into the foyer. “Andrea” She said in a disappointed voice. “I know you don’t like Virginia very much but, dawdling around just so you don’t have to go is unacceptable.”
“Mother it’s not my fault! I had to muck out all the stalls!”
“But, wasn’t Daniel helping you, Andi?” Melinda questioned. Her lavender dress rustling as she came down the rest of the stairs.
“No, he left after only partially doing his first stall.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips and, Andi knew she wasn’t pleased with her nephew.
“Andrea, I suppose you will have to stay here, we don’t have time to wait for you.” Elizabeth said pulling on her gloves.
“Yes mother.” Andi said suppressing a smile. “Have a nice time.”
“We will dear.” And with that they were gone.
Andi sighed. What luck! She look out the window and saw Daniel ride away with Mitch. This was even better than she had hoped for! Now she’d have the afternoon to ride!
It was late afternoon before Andi came back. She cantered Taffy to the barn and slid to a stop. Angry voices drifted from the barn’s open door. Andi stepped closer to here. Chad and one of the ranch hands were standing in the hall.
“I’m sick of your lazy attitude, Ralph.” Chad snapped. “Leaving the fence in the south pasture partially fixed was the last straw.”
“Sorry boss,” Ralph drawled.
“Well sorry won’t cut it this time. I hate to do this but, I’m afraid, you’re fired.”
“What, you can’t do that!” his eyes blazed.
“I’m sorry Ralph, but I need dependable workers around.”
“You’d better watch out Carter, I wouldn’t want something bad to happen to such a nice family.”
Chad closed the distance between them. His fists were clenched at his side and his eyes were chips of blue ice. “Don’t you ever threaten me again!” his voice shook with rage. “Now get off of my land….Now!”
Ralph slowly slinked away, but not before saying, “I’ll get you for this Carter, if it’s the last thing I do.” He brushed passed Andi; the look he gave her was pure hatred.
“Chad….do you think he...” Andi said slowly leading Taffy in the barn.
“Don’t worry sis he won’t do anything… I hope.”
Chad had not been too pleased to hear about Daniel not helping Andi. He had a few things to say to Daniel that night. He had told Daniel firmly but kindly that you don’t leave unless a job is complete. Needless to say Andi would not have liked to be Daniel that particular moment. She had suffered Chad’s displeasure before, thank you very much.
As Andi was getting ready for supper Elizabeth came into her room looking solemn.
“Andrea I have something to tell you.” She drew out a yellowish piece of paper and handed it to Andi. It read:
Aunt Rebekah broke her leg STOP children sick STOP
mother come if you can STOP Kate.
“I’m going Andi.” Elizabeth said when Andi had finished reading the telegram. “Tomorrow morning.”
The house just wasn’t the same without mother. She had only been gone for 5 days but, Andi already missed her dreadfully.
As Andi slowly descended the stairs the front door burst open and Mitch staggered in, Chad leaning heavily on his arm. His face was deathly pale. Without a second glance Andi gasped and raced towards the kitchen.
“Melinda come quick, Chad’s hurt!”
“What?” Melinda dropped the spatula she was holding and dashed after Andi.
“Good heavens” she said softly once they reached Chad’s side. “What happened?” She asked rushing over to where Chad lay sprawled across the settee.
A nasty cut on his forehead oozed blood and Andi gasped when Mitch lifted up his shirt revealing a large black and blue spot.
“Chad was wrestling an ornery calf when it kicked him in the side.” Mitch paused. “I’m pretty sure that a rib or two is cracked or broken.”
“Good grief Chad! You could be seriously hurt!” Melinda exclaimed.
“It’s not life threatening, sis, don’t worry about me.” Chad chuckled then grimaced in pain.
It was only then that Andi saw Daniel sitting forlornly in a corner. Their eyes met and for an instant Andi thought she saw a flicked of kindness in his hazel eyes. When Doctor Weaver came he confirmed Mitch’s theory. Chad had two broken ribs. Needless to say he wouldn’t be going anywhere for the next few weeks.
The next days flew by. Chad complained and grumbled about everything. Justin stayed home to help with the branding.
Andi’s dislike for Daniel grew with each passing day. He ruined everything she did and all he ever talked about was Boston. How wonderful it was with its ice cream parlors, candy stores, and theaters. How horrid Fresno was it, how hard Chad made him work in the blistering heat and on and on it went until Andi thought she might scream!
Andi awoke to the sound of shrill whinnies coming from the barn. She sat up. Taffy! Without a second thought Andi grabbed her boots and snuck out of her room. Once outside she quickly slipped on her boots, her white night gown fluttering in the cool night air. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of a man running away from the barn.
That’s odd she thought. Maybe I should get Mitch? No I’d better not…..it’s probably just a ranch hand checking on the horses. Suddenly a hand clamped over her mouth. Andi froze in fear.
“Sh, it’s only me.” Daniel whispered.
Andi slapped his hand away from her face. “Daniel Carter, what are you doing out here?!” Andi said in an exasperated whisper.
“I could ask you the same question!” Daniel stopped and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?” he asked.
“Yeah it smells like.............smoke!” Andi ran to the barn and flung the doors open. She stared in horror. The entire back wall was consumed in flames.
“Daniel” She cried. “Get Mitch!”
“Where are you going?” He grabbed a hold of her night gown.
“To save the horses!” She cried, jerking out of his grip and dashed into the burning barn.
“Good girl, Star,” Andi crooned grabbing ahold of the skittish horse’s halter and leading her out of the stall. She coughed, the air was getting thicker. Where is everyone? Andi thought with panic, smoke stinging her eyes.
“Andi” a voice yelled from behind. “Get out of here! Mitch and the ranch hands can save the horses!”
“No Daniel!” A burning beam crashed down beside Andi. Star, wild with fear, reared, nicking Daniel in the side of his head. He crumpled to the ground.
Letting go of the halter Andi dashed over to him, her heart pounding with fear. Dark red blood ran down Daniel’s face. “Daniel” her voice cracked. She shook him once, twice, no response. “Oh Lord don’t let him be dead!” Andi grabbed his arms and tried dragging him but he was too heavy.
“Andi what happened?” came Chad’s voice.
She turned. Chads face was pale; he held his hand to his side. “Chad its Daniel, he’s been hurt!”
Chad groaned and nearly passed out when he tried to lift Daniel up but with Andi’s help they managed to hoist him up between the two of them. Sweet drenched Andi’s face and her legs shook. The barn was consumed in flames, all around them beams were falling and Andi could hear Justin shouting orders to the ranch hands.
Then they were outside, Andi sank to her knees, and breathed in the clean fresh air.
“Andi?” shock filed Melinda’s voice as she rushed over to them. She let out a gasp when she saw Daniel. “Oh Lord!”
“I have to go get the Doctor.” Chad said weekly leaning against the water trough.
“You can’t!” Melinda argued. “You’re in no condition to walk least much ride.”
“I can do it.” Andi said.
“But in the middle of the night?” Melinda wondered. “You’re only 13!”
“Andi’s right.” Chad said quietly. “She’s the only one who can go.”
Without a moment to spare, Andi dashed for the coral where the horses were. She grabbed a bridle from a pile of tack, no time for a saddle.
She caught taffy and swung up on her back. “Come on Taffy lets go.”
“Doctor Weaver” Andi pounded on the door. Oh God please let him be here! Finally she saw a light, then the door opened.
“Why Andrea.” The doctor said in surprise. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my cousin, he’s hurt real bad.”
Without another word doctor Weaver grabbed his bag.
Once he was gone Andi slowly picked up Taffy’s reins and started the long ride home. Exhaustion nearly overcame her several times but at last she arrived at the ranch.
Andi gasped at the smoldering embers of what was once their barn. She put Taffy in the corral.
“Hey sis” Mitch said in a tired voice coming up behind her.
“Hey Mitch.” she looked at her brothers soot covered face.
As they entered the house Andi caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her once clean nightgown was now a dull gray.
Melinda came out of the parlor, looking tired and worn.
“He has a slight concussion, Mitch and a broken collar bone but he’s going to be fine!”
“Thank you Lord!” Mitch murmured.
Pale streaks of light filtered into Andi’s room. She fell wearily onto the bed. Her eyes drifted shut….. Suddenly she sat up. “Oh my goodness!”
Andi bounded out of bed and flew downstairs into the parlor where the rest of the family was sitting.
“Why Andi I thought you went up to bed.” Justin said.
“I know who set the barn on fire!” Andi blurted out.
“What?” Chad exclaimed.
“Well….last night I heard the horses whinnying. I went out to check on them and, that’s when I saw him…….Ralph Evens.”
“Honey, are you sure?” Justin asked. “That’s a serious accusation.”
“Yes, I’m sure it was him!” Andi declared.
“It’s true” Daniel said weakly from the settee. “I saw him too.”
“Chad’s eyes blazed. “Why that low down----wait till I get my hands on him!”
“Chad.” Justin said quietly.
Andi slowly made her way over to the settee.
“I’m glad you’re alright Daniel,” Andi bit her lower lip. “I’m sorry for not being nice to you.”
Daniel cracked a smile. “Well I wasn’t exactly easy to be nice to.”
“Truce?” Andi stuck out her hand.
The next month flew by. Mother came home and, the boys started building a new barn. Sheriff Tate had caught and arrested Ralph Evens in the next town; Andi figured Ralph wouldn’t be bothering them for a long while. Daniel and Andi got along much better. And Andi did have to admit that she would miss her cousin when he left. Looking back Andi couldn’t believe how selfish she had been; no wonder Daniel hadn’t liked her!
“Ready?” She asked looking over at Daniel. Dressed in worn overalls and a faded shirt he looked nothing like the same boy who had come to the Carters 2 months ago.
His brown eyes twinkled as he gripped the reins of his sorrel gelding and replied. “Ready.”
“On your mark, get set, GO!”
They took off like a shot! The wind blew in Andi’s face. She dug her heals into her sturdy palomino’s side. “Come on Taffy let’s fly.”