Helen wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with a handkerchief as she bowed her head over a bubbling pot of stew. Stew wasn’t what she would consider the most ideal meal for a hot day like today, but Mrs. Olsen had insisted that it was what they wanted.
“Helen, is that almost done? The Olsens are sitting down for lunch.” Savannah bustled past her with two baskets overflowing with bread.
“It will be done in about two minutes. Is everything else on the table?”
“Yes. Pretty much.” Savannah hurried from the room. Helen pulled out three large bowls and ladled big scoops of chicken stew into each. The chicken was fresh from that very morning. Steam rose off the top of the golden broth. Helen grabbed a fresh apron and changed into it, throwing her used one aside, and took two of the bowls out to the table. The Olsens were indeed already sitting and waiting to be served.
Mrs. Olsen’s parents came from England, and at one point, the Olsens had lived in a nice estate in New York. Helen was pretty sure it was this history that led them to require such treatment. Their home was not the fanciest, she was sure, but it was nicer than most anything anyone would find in Bectown, Texas. This was a ranching town, and the Olsens also owned one of the largest ranches these days.
Helen set the first bowl of stew in front of Mr. Olsen and the second in front of Mrs. Olsen. She returned for the third and placed it carefully in front of Milly. The Olsens were kind in their own way. They paid a decent salary and never treated her badly. Their daughter, on the other hand, was a different story. Helen wouldn’t go as far as to say that she had bad intentions or was a bad person, but she had never learned to be considerate or patient with others. They were virtues that Milly Olsen knew little or nothing about.
Helen heard the whispered complaints about her food as she put the plate in front of Milly, but she said nothing. Instead, she left the table with a polite smile. Back in the kitchen, Savannah had already dished up two bowls and a plate of fresh bread and butter and was sitting at the small makeshift table they usually used to prepare food.
“There you are. This looks delicious.” Savannah stirred a spoon in her stew.
“Thanks.” Helen took her seat across from Savannah. “Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be eating out there at our own table and have workers of our own? We are always the servants, but it would sure be neat to be the ones in charge for a change.”
“All the time. I think that is what I expected when I decided to stay out west. Things haven’t gone as I planned.” Savannah brushed a strand of red hair away from her face. The color of her hair reminded Helen of strawberries. It was a vibrant color that caught the eye of everyone who was nearby. While Milly never passed up the opportunity to say something mean about Savannah’s hair, Helen was pretty sure that she was just envious.
“Do you ever regret not listening to your parents?” Helen asked.
“I don’t know. I mean, marrying a wealthy man might be most girls’ dream, but it wasn’t mine. I didn’t want to end up on some gentleman’s arm just to be shown around like some possession.”
“What if he would have been terribly handsome, and you would have had the love story that went down in history? You never even met him.”
“That is the part I try not to think about.” Savannah shook her head. “Let’s say grace.”
Helen nodded, and they bowed their heads. Both their parents were God-fearing and had taken them to church at a young age, instilling the habit early on. Helen sighed; if only her parents were still there. She wondered what they would think of her if they could see her now. She wondered if they would be disappointed in how little she had accomplished on her own.
After they had prayed, Savannah took a bite of stew. “This is delicious. And the bread was a nice complement.”
Even though the food was great and the company just as good, both Helen and Savannah made sure to finish their food as quickly as possible. There was so much work to do before the day was done. They couldn’t afford to take long for lunch. When they were finished, they started on the dishes, as well as laying out a few things for dinner. By the time the Olsens had finished their meal, Helen had already done the rest of the dishes. She had a routine, and she and Savannah had a way of managing everything they needed to in time.
After everything from lunch was put up, Helen started through the house gathering clothes. She needed to do the wash every single day and right on time, or there would be problems. After she’d gathered things from the house, she went out to the bunkhouse, where she collected the basket of dirty clothes. After taking the clothes and getting them soaking, she took out the leftover stew and handed it to one of the ranch hands at the bunkhouse. Six ranch hands worked and lived on the Olsens’ property. Helen always took the food left from the afternoon meal and the evening meal out to the bunkhouse. The ranch hands bought extra food to complement what she made, but usually, there was plenty.
It wasn’t that her work on the Olsen ranch was necessarily difficult, but it was tiring. The things she needed to do were clear, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t exhausted and ready to fall asleep for a week at the end of each day. Despite that, she was determined to do a good job because this was the only job she had right now. One day, she would be the one at the nice table with a ranch of her own; she was sure of it.
“Are you okay?” Savannah asked in the dark room. At long last, after an exhausting day, Helen and Savannah were in the little room they shared, staring up at the ceiling as they settled down for the night.
“Yes, why do you ask?” Helen could hardly see anything past her hand in front of her face. Savannah’s bed was only a few feet away from hers. She enjoyed having Savannah there to talk with at night. It made her feel a little less alone in the world.
“You seemed sort of quiet all day.”
Helen swallowed hard in the dark. “Today marks three years since my mother passed away,” she said quietly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” Helen didn’t expect anyone else to remember the exact date. Whenever this day rolled around, she always felt the sadness creep up on her.
“If there is anything I can do, let me know.” Savannah sounded truly sorry, but there really was nothing that she could do. They had only known each other for around six months. Savannah had no way of knowing everything about her. Helen let her mind drift to her mother. It felt like so long ago and also like just a day ago when she’d been able to speak to her mama. She let the memories surround her.
“Helen, are you ready to go? I don’t want to be late this week.” Helen’s mother knocked urgently on the door of the room they shared.
“I’m coming, Mama!” Helen called. She adjusted the bun at the back of her head. She loved Sundays with her mother. Going to the little church in town and listening to the minister was just part of the day that Helen loved. After going to the church service, they always went and had something to eat, even if it was just something simple at a diner.
When Helen stepped out of the room, she smiled. Her mother looked beautiful. Her hair was done up, and she had two little ringlets in front of her ears.
“You look lovely.” Her mother reached out and gave her arm a soft squeeze. “Let’s get going.” They didn’t have a wagon or buggy to go to church, but Helen didn’t mind. The long walk with her mother was enjoyable. The day was warm but not overbearing. There was a light breeze pushing the heat away from them. It was the type of day that Helen loved in Texas.
“Did you talk to the Dellers about me working for them?” Helen asked.
The Dellers were the family that her mother worked for. They owned a large ranch, and her mother had cooked and cleaned with them for the last couple of years. They were very kind and allowed Helen to stay with her mother in the small room included in her salary.
“I did mention it to Mrs. Deller, but are you sure you want to commit to that right now? You already do washing for people in town, and you are going to school. I don’t want you to take on too much to handle.”
Helen nodded and thought for a moment on her mother’s words. Of course, she wanted more responsibility and to help her mother. She knew how hard her mother worked to keep both of them with food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs. Helen wanted to help as much as she could, even if it wasn’t that significant. Right now, she gathered clothes in town, and then she washed those clothes for a small amount of pay. Her mother insisted that her small wage helped immensely, but Helen wasn’t so convinced.
“If Mrs. Deller would give me the chance, I would love to work for them officially and help out.” Helen was going to let her mother make the final decision. “I just worry about you. You always work so hard for both of us, and I know that you deserve a break sometimes.”
“You don’t have to worry about me, Helen. I am your mother, and it’s my job to take care of you, at least as long as I can.”
Helen swallowed hard. She missed her father. If he were still there with them, maybe things wouldn’t be so hard. He had always taken care of all of them, and she missed his smile and instructive words.
“Look at that; it seems like we are one of the first ones to arrive.” Her mother’s excited voice pulled her back to the conversation. Helen quickened her step. It was a rare day when they managed to arrive early.
Helen smiled at the memory. She cherished every single memory of the times that she spent time with her mother. They were best friends alongside being mother and daughter. Helen had often dreamed of the day when she could provide for them both and give her mother an easy life. She had imagined the moment her mother would see her get married. But none of that had come to pass the way that she wanted. Now she was all alone in life, living in her employer’s home. She wondered if her mother had felt the crushing loneliness and despair that she felt now.
Helen woke up to the sound of the rooster crowing. There were days when she woke up beforehand, but not today.
“Savannah, wake up. We are going to start work late.” Helen gave Savannah a light shake. Her friend turned and buried her face into her blanket with a groan. Savannah hated getting up early. Helen often wondered how she had managed to get up on time before Helen had started working on the Olsens’ ranch.
“Come on, Savannah. You have around ten minutes before I’m dressed and ready.” Helen searched through her things and took out a clean petticoat as well as some long stockings and a simple dress for work. She pulled on the scratchy petticoat, then the dress, and buttoned it up to her neck. She tied on a brown apron to complete her outfit. Once she was properly dressed, she took a second to rinse her face in the small bowl of water on the tiny vanity that she and Savannah used. It could hardly be classified as a vanity since it was more like a table, but they liked to imagine themselves fancy ladies and consider it a vanity.
Helen pulled a brush through her hair and wove it into a tight bun at the back of her head. It was much easier to get her work done quickly and efficiently rather than having it down or in braids. She turned to find Savannah sitting on the edge of her bed, an exhausted look on her face and droopy eyes showing just how tired she still was.
“Trouble sleeping?” Helen asked.
“No, just not enough sleep. I wish I could sleep in until the sun was good and up.”
Helen giggled. “That would be too much sleep, I think. When would we get all our work done?”
“Does a house really have to be cleaned every single day?” Savannah slowly stood and started rummaging through her clothes in a separate chest on her side of the room.
“I believe it does. Especially with how big this house is. It would never stay clean otherwise. Not to mention, the cooking, the wash, the chores, making the butter … there is just too much to do.” Helen couldn’t even list everything. Today, she needed to weed the garden and water the plants at the back of the house on top of her normal duties. She was glad that she took care of most of the cooking. She enjoyed cooking, and she had many recipes she had learned from her mother. The activity made her feel closer to her mother in a way.
“Well, fine. I suppose we had better get going then.”
Helen busied herself making their beds and doing her best to organize her few possessions in her chest while Savannah got dressed. By the time they stepped out into the hall, the sun was starting to make its first appearance on the horizon.
“I am going to the kitchen to get started on breakfast. I’ll see you in there.” Helen gave Savannah a quick smile before turning and heading to the kitchen. Each morning, she took care of the cooking and the meals while Savannah got started with the cleaning. Mrs. Olsen liked everything to be done as quickly as possible and in a particular manner. Speaking of Mrs. Olsen, Helen nearly ran into her and Milly Olsen as she rounded the corner.
“I’m sorry.” Helen took a step back, straightening her apron.
“It’s no trouble, Helen. Are you about to get breakfast started?”
“It’s late enough,” Milly crossed her arms and looked Helen up and down with a disdainful glare.
“Milly!” Mrs. Olsen chided. “We were thinking that some porridge would be nice this morning.” Mrs. Olsen had turned her attention back to Helen.
“Of course, it shouldn’t be too long. Excuse me.” Helen slipped through the doors of the kitchen. She stopped as Milly and Mrs. Olsen’s conversation drifted into her.
“You shouldn’t talk like that to people, Milly.” Mrs. Olsen’s tone was sad, disappointed even.
“She’s just a servant. It’s not like she’s like us.”
“Milly Olsen, that is enough. Helen is exactly like us. Do you think I was born with what I have? I had to work hard to get it. Just because you never had to work for what you have doesn’t mean that it is normal. We should treat everyone kindly, no matter their status in life.” Mrs. Olsen’s words were full of love. Her reprimand made Helen’s chest ache. She missed those types of reprimands from her own mother. She had a feeling that Milly didn’t appreciate it.
“I don’t know why you are defending her. She works for us.”
“Yes, she works for us. That means that she has a job to do, not that we pay her to treat her however we wish. Now, in the future, you need to make a much bigger effort to be respectful and kind, do you understand?”
“Yes, Mother.” Milly did not sound like she had any intention of doing so. “I’ll wait for you at the table.”
“What am I going to do with you?” Helen heard Mrs. Olsen say softly as the sound of Milly’s retreating feet filled the air. Helen shook her head and set about making the porridge. She didn’t blame Mr. and Mrs. Olsen. From what she’d seen, they were wonderful parents to Milly. They gave her everything she might need to succeed, and yet she insisted on always having a bad attitude and rarely listening to what her parents had to say. Of course, they had doted on her as she was their only child.
Helen remembered her own mother being so strict on her when she was younger. She would say, “Families with one child have more likelihood of that child coming out spoiled rotten, and that is not happening to you, my dear, not to you.” Those words had a special spot in her heart now that she was old enough to understand.
Helen started a fire in the stove and filled a large pot full of water. She always cooked extra-large meals so that the ranch hands could eat too. Breakfast was especially important to keep them going through the day. Helen wondered if being a ranch hand was nicer than working in the kitchen, if anyone would hire a woman as a ranch hand, or if being a ranch hand even paid better.
She began to prepare the dishes for the morning meal. Her dream was to open her own business someday. Maybe a diner, a hotel, or even both. Of course, she knew that women owning businesses and the like wasn’t exactly looked well upon, but maybe that would change as time passed. She had heard that some women were trying to change people’s minds about that. Maybe they would be successful. For now, her dream lived in the little handkerchief of money she’d managed to save in her box of belongings at the corner of her clothes chest. It was all she had in the world but the start of what she might have in the future.
Helen hummed to herself as she worked. It made the time pass faster somehow. The porridge was made quickly and served up equally as fast. Helen lugged the pot of remaining porridge out to the bunkhouse, where she could hear the ranch hands talking. They were always up before dawn. She saw them going to the barn, getting their horses, and heading out to the pastures early in the morning. Sometimes, they would wait for breakfast, or sometimes, they would head out, then come back later to eat. She had seen them around the ranch plenty of times, but she hadn’t spoken to them much. Not much more than she needed to do to hand over their food.
Today, she knocked on the door and waited. After a few minutes, a young man answered. He was tall, much taller in person than when she had seen him from afar. She didn’t remember his name. He had sandy blond hair and green eyes that were almost a grey color. For a moment, she lost her sense of words and felt dumbfounded as he smiled at her and met her gaze.
“I- uh – brought the porridge.” Helen had no idea what it was about the man who unnerved her so much. It was in a good way. In a way that made her want to know more about him. His smile seemed so genuine and friendly.
“Mmm … smells heavenly. Thanks. I’ll take it from here.” He took the pot from her hands and went back into the bunkhouse. Helen shook off the flustered feeling and wiped the smile from her face as she headed back to the house. That was a strange encounter indeed. She somehow hoped she would run into that man again.
Maybe she just needed a bit more excitement, and he was something different that had happened to her since coming to work for the Olsens. Hopefully, she would get the chance to find out.
“An Innocent Change of Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After the terrible loss of her mother, Helen Freeman has had a rough time getting by on her own. When she finally finds a stable position as a cook and maid at the Olsen’s ranch, things seem to be looking up for the first time. In addition to working alongside her best friend, she is also swept off her feet by a handsome ranch hand. There is nothing else Helen could wish for…
Until a shocking turn of events shatters her world…
Jon Garner has always enjoyed working on a ranch and his life’s dream is to one day be able to own one. The idea of finding a partner has never really been on his mind, but upon meeting Helen her unique personality and charm instantly captivate him. He could have never imagined she would be accused of something so horrible though…
Will Jon manage to uncover the truth and help clear Helen’s name?
Helen and Jon are faced with unthinkable challenges that could tear them apart forever. Will they falter or will they fight to come back stronger than ever? Will the sparks between them have a chance to grow into a loving connection?
“An Innocent Change of Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.