The Black Beauty
by Erin Dillman
The house on the corner had just been painted blue. The painters were collecting their buckets and brushes, ladders and hats and were about to walk off home for their supper. They’d be back tomorrow to put the new sign above the door. Roderick stared at the house from down the street. Blue was a stunning colour, it was the only house that colour for miles, and just in time for the annual Town Festival. Mrs. Elliot was to be crowned business owner of the year and everyone knew it. Her bread was the best around and she had done a good job, stepping in after Ole’ Mr. Elliot died so suddenly at last year’s Town Festival. It was a courtesy really, to crown her this year, but Roderick felt it his duty to do something extra special for Mrs. Elliot. He had asked Birch, the tradesman that usually came by every few weeks, to keep an eye out for anything extraordinary to give her. He had said it needed to represent her and what she does for their community. He gave Birch a list of the things she made daily to inspire his search. Bread, muffins, tarts and pretzels, those he said, were new. She really had stepped up and changed the way Elliot’s Bakery had done things, and Roderick, was proud. Birch however, knew that Roderick had fallen for Mrs. Elliot and was on a mission to find him something that would win her over.
Mrs. Elliot was like a mother to everyone in town without one of their own. She was short, but strong, with long brown hair usually pulled up into a high bun on her head. Because she worked in the bakery day and night, she smelled like fresh dough if you ever got close enough to her. Roderick hadn’t told any one about it, though everyone some how knew, he had takin’ a liking to Mrs. Elliot, and he almost couldn’t admit it, all those boys now livin’ without a daddy. She had never giving him more than a smile when he bought his daily bread and now, almost daily pretzels. Although she did have money to make for her time and energy, she had a soft spot for those without mamas of their own, and after feeding her own brood of boys she often left a few of the days leftovers out for whoever might need some. She felt no need to waste the bread. She was soft, and good despite all the misgiving’s life had given to her.
Roderick stayed there thinking about Mrs. Elliot and her boys and their blue house, until the sun went down. As candles lit up the windows on the second floor, he fixed his hat and headed the opposite way to his own lonely house. Roderick was lost in his own thoughts, the Town Festival was in three days, and though he wasn’t of important standing in the town, he felt that it was partly his duty to make sure everything went off without a problem. He over heard the Sherriff talking about some rowdy clown bandits a few counties west and was hoping they’d keep going that way. The last thing he needed was some no-good fools ruining his big day. He would finally get to award the business owner of the year award to none other than Mrs. Elliot, and his special surprise, whatever it was that Birch had found, was sure to make a bigger impression than his daily visits to the bakery.
When Roderick got to his own one story, white, sad looking house a few roads over, he climbed the steps of his porch and opened the door. He was too nervous to eat, and there was nothing to do now that the sun went down. He lit a candle inside the door and walked into the lounge. He had a pile of books on the floor beside his chair, and thought that reading would ease his mind so he could go to bed.
The next morning, he got word that Birch would be riding in to town with his special gift for Mrs. Elliot and Roderick was to meet him in the saloon to complete their exchange. Roderick could hardly sit still. He paced around his small house until it seemed about the right time to meet Birch. The Saloon was across the street from the bakery but he was sure Mrs. Elliot wouldn’t pay any mind to him. The day was hot and he made sure to adjust his hat to keep the sun out of his eyes. He was in such a rush that he made it half way up the road before he realized he had forgot to get the money he was sure he’d owe Birch, but he knew Birch knew that he was good for it and he didn’t turn back. So, he walked the way he had come in the dark of last night, nervous but excited to see what exactly Birch had found for him.
Birch was an easy man to spot; he didn’t look much like a cowboy and anyone who didn’t look like a cowboy around here stood out like a sore thumb. He often wore a jacket with pockets in every place possible, Birch said this was a better way to travel, than with trunks of treasures. His hat was in bad shape, and he hadn’t had a good shave in a while. He looked like a traveling man, still, the site of so much dirt on one person made Roderick itchy. As he entered the Saloon, he spotted the man in the corner. Roderick ordered two drinks and took a long swig of his whiskey before going to the table where Birch sat, his back to him.
Setting the drinks on the table in front of him he sat down,
‘Howdy Birch, safe travels I hope.’
‘Ah Roderick, you know how it is these days, out in the cold world full of bandits. It’s hard to be a trader when no one wants to open their doors.’
Birch took a sip of the whiskey set before him and winced; it was not his favourite. He would have preferred bourbon.
‘Let’s get down to business then Birch, what’d you find?’
Birch nodded and felt around in the pockets of his jacket, he patted his chest before remembering where the precious item had been kept. He opened his jacket to reveal a secret pocket and with great care pulled out a pouch and put it on the table in front of him. Roderick eagerly reached for the pouch set before him. It was heavy and as he went to open it, Birch thrust his own hands out to stop him.
‘Now I wouldn’t open it right here if I was you Roderick,’ he said, the look in his eyes, almost frantic.
‘ I ought to know what it is you found for me before I pay you’ Roderick answered his hands still on the pouch.
‘ Oh, you can look all you want, but I don’t want you lookin’ at me directly after is all.’ The corner of Birch’s mouth began to twitch, threatening a smile.
‘And why not?’
Birch leaned in, his hands still on Roderick’s and whispered
‘Now it ain’t no secret around town and it ain’t no secret to me that you’ve taken a quick liking to a little miss baker lady across the street, and it ain’t no secret to anyone with eyeballs in their head that she’s got her mind on anythin’ but love, especially for someone who ain’t nothing at all.’
Roderick looked away, pulling his hands back toward himself, forgetting the pouch for a moment, he took a drink. Regaining his composure, he met Birch’s gaze again.
‘Never fear my friend, a trader finds many a thing for people like you along the way, I’ll just tell you right now that Mrs. Elliot is gonna open this pouch, look right in your eyes, and fall madly in love with ya, and that partner, is going to come at a higher price than I originally told you.’
‘Who do you think I am? I don’t believe in any magic love spells, whoever sold you that got a whole lot more out of you than what it’s worth.’
‘I promise you; it’ll work. I’ve seen this ‘magic’ as you call it with my own eyes, I even looked at that thing myself, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t chased out of town by the lady who sold it to me herself.’
Roderick wasn’t convinced but, he finished his whiskey, and motioned to grab the pouch again. Birch’s hands went up in mock surrender,
‘It’s all yours my friend, but it comes at a price’
Standing and putting the pouch in his pocket Roderick said
‘ I’ll pay ya when it works’ he tilted his hat to Birch
‘Partner’ and he strode out of the saloon.
‘ It’s called The Black Beauty!’ Birch hollered after him.
Roderick hurried home, he didn’t even glance in the direction of the bakery as he walked out of the saloon and down the steps. He was almost down the street, his back to the blue house on the corner, when he heard the voice of none other than Mrs. Elliot calling his name. He turned and smiled into the sun.
‘What can I do for you Mrs. Elliot?’
‘Oh Roderick, how many times must I ask you to call me Rose, I just thought you might be hungry since you hadn’t come to get any bread or tarts since the other day.” She handed him a bundle that was warm to the touch. She had flour in her hair and on her cheek and as much as Roderick wanted to brush it away for her, he hadn’t. He thanked her and wished her a good night before turning back down the road home. He had longed for her attention but when she gave it to him, when he had a means in his own pocket to supposedly make her love him, he hadn’t known what to do with it. He tossed these ideas in his mind for the walk home.
Inside his meager kitchen he opened the bundle, not only was there a fresh loaf of bread, but she had kindly given him a few of the pretzels he loved so much. Golden brown, with salt on top. The smell was enough to make him eat a whole one standing alone in his kitchen, he felt like a fool. Then he remembered the package of his own. Pulling it from his pocket he felt to true weight of it for the first time. It was heavier than he expected it to be, pulling open the strings that kept the pouch closed, he dumped the thing into his waiting hand. It was beautiful. It was a stunning. The Black Beauty was a necklace that had three black, rounded stones that were collected in a way that looked like half of a flower above intricate metal webbing, and falling so daintily from the webbing was a smaller, smoother black stone. It was more than he had hoped, and Roderick took a brief moment to wonder how someone like Birch could get their hands on something like this. It seemed almost criminal. Roderick hadn’t noticed his temperature rise, hadn’t noticed the sudden happiness that had enveloped him, until it’s absence when he slid the precious Black Beauty back into its pouch for safe keeping. He thought about it for all but a moment, before he reminded himself that magic didn’t exist. If Mrs.Elli- Rose was going to fall in love with him, it might be because of this necklace, but it wouldn’t be because of any magic. Roderick left the kitchen and entering the bedroom, tucked the pouch into a small drawer on his bedside table
The next day passed with little excitement. Roderick went about his regular business, perhaps all that was different was the sudden cheeriness that Roderick expressed when passing his neighbours throughout the town. He stopped into the bakery to give thanks to Rose but one of her boys, Thomas or David, he couldn’t remember had said she was busy getting ready for the festival and didn’t have time to talk. He said thank you all the same and continued on, he absolutely couldn’t wait to give her the Black Beauty. He had been one of his only thoughts the whole day.
The morning of the festival came and he heard the bustle of the town before his eyes had even opened. Today was the day. Carefully, Roderick washed up and put on his best shirt. Taking the Black Beauty from its home in the bedside table he took a quick look at it once again. He felt warm, he felt joyful, he felt love like he had never felt it before, and as he slipped it back into it’s pouch and put it in to his pocket, he could feel his heart trying to beat right out of his chest. Roderick had to stop himself from running to the bakery, the ceremony wouldn’t start for a couple of hours yet and he wanted it to be a surprise to everyone in town, when Rose opened the pouch, saw this immaculate gift, looked into his eyes, and realized that she loved him.
The main road was already bustling with people building and filling stalls with foods and gifts, people from the next town over had already come to show their support. At the end of the road that big, beautiful, blue house was gleaming. Roderick hadn’t noticed the sign being put up the other day and stood now in the sun, to give it his full attention, it was crisp. It added a real elegance to the whole place; it almost made the rest of the town look in a worse state than it truly was in. Clearly the booming business this year had allowed for some spending on Rose’s part to liven the place up.
The Sherriff collected everyone in front of the small wooden platform a few moments later. Earlier than Roderick had anticipated. It was a good crowd this year, since the town had grown, and the visitors no doubt had come to try the treats that Rose had started making this year.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great honour as Sherriff to welcome you to the annual Town Festival, in which we honour someone who has shown extreme success in business this year, that has created some new popularity for our lovely town, and has created a place for us all to gather and be friendly with one another. I now call on Sir Roderick to come up here and bestow the title of Best Business Owner of the year, on the lucky lady-I-I mean the lucky winner!’
Roderick felt his palms start to sweat but he smiled and greeted people left and right as he walked through the crowd and up onto the platform. Rose was standing in the front row, wearing a dress he hadn’t seen her in before, her hair, now clean, was in a beautiful braid. She was surrounded by her children, all dressed handsomely and for a moment he couldn’t help but believe that they would soon be his family. He cleared his throat
‘Hello everyone! It is my great pleasure to announce Business Owner of the Year, and I won’t keep you waiting, we all know that someone in this town deserves this title and the prize of $100 collected by town over the past year. I would like to welcome this year’s winner Rose Elliot up to the platform!’
There was a small cheer as friends and family showed support for Rose, and her smiled nearly knocked him over and she reached for his hand to help her up.
‘Thank you so much!’ Rose exclaimed as she turned to face the crowd before her
‘You all know how hard this past year has been for me and my boys, I wouldn’t have chose this life in an instant but you all welcoming me to take charge of my late husband’s business has just been all the blessin’ I could have ever hoped. I’ve made some special pretzels and tarts for this day and I welcome you all to come into the bakery to try the flavours, on the house!’
Again, a small cheer rose from the crowd, but people had already begun to wander toward the bakery. This was Roderick’s chance.
‘ Rose’ he said reaching into his pocket ‘ I got you a little something extra to show how much you mean to me, to the town, and just to show ya that we care about you a lot.’
Rose looked at him in a way that made him realize he had made a mistake, but it was too late, hopefully the magic on this thing did work, was all Roderick could think. He handed over the pouch to her and as she opened it, Roderick heard the unmistakable gallop of a group of horses behind him.
‘Excuse me lady,’ said a voice that Roderick recognized, Romeo the worst bandit this side of the river.
Rose gasped as she saw Black Beauty and before looking at Roderick, looked toward Romeo.
‘That there is a The Black Beauty and I’m here to take that from you, one way or another.’ Romero pulled out his pistol and pointed it at her. Roderick’s heart was in his throat. Rose looked terrified for a few seconds, until her face lit up with joy and warmth.
‘ Oh sure darlin’ she said as hopped off the platform and went toward Romeo without fear.
’ Just promise you’ll take me with you.’
Around him the town felt deserted. Everyone was inside, and so Roderick reached for his own revolver. She was supposed to fall in love with him, not Romeo the bandit. His hands were shaking.
‘ Leave her alone Romeo’ He said raising his revolver, steading his arm.
Romeo laughed as he helped Rose up onto his horse
‘ I’m not doin anything at all, I’m just here to take the Black Beauty’ as Rose settled behind him on his horse he looked toward the rest of the bandit crew
‘Seems I got another beauty for myself as well’ He laughed, and the men hooted and hollered in response
‘Rose, Rose c’mon, that necklace doesn’t work like that Rose, your boys, your family, the bakery, Rose please, please come back’ Roderick pleaded but as she looked at him he could tell she would not be swayed by his words.
‘but Roderick, I’ve found the love of my life’ She kissed Romeo’s cheek and he smiled the ugliest smile Roderick had ever seen.
‘Seems the rumours about this Black Beauty are true! The love of her life!’ again the men in the back laughed.
‘We better get gon’ before the sun sets, it’s a dangerous place in the desert at night.’ Romeo laughed again, he was still waving his pistol in his hand, but as Roderick saw Rose’s arms lace around his torso, he turned the horse to leave. Roderick raised his pistol higher and fired into the sky.
‘Leave her be.’ He said as forcefully as he could, but Romeo had dealt with far worse men, and knew Roderick didn’t have it in him to shoot someone in front of the woman he loved.
‘Bye now’ Romeo said and he began to trot away, his poesy filing in behind him. Roderick fell to his knees on the platform, his heart aching. He had been so close to winning her over. He had been so close to having a family. He raised his pistol and shot again but he missed. He heard the sound of another horse but to his left and this time he heard the Sherriff say
‘Roderick get on your damn horse, we’re gonn’ get her back’ Roderick snapped to his senses. Got on his horse, sadness giving way to rage,
‘H-yeah’ He hollered and he road off after them.
..to be continued.