A Different Type of Housekeeper

By Janet Brayden


            Spring was in the air at Lancer, in Morro Coyo, Green River and Spanish Wells.  It was obvious the way the grass was turning green, the waterholes were filling up, new foals and calves were being born and by the way the dust was flying in the air as rugs were hung over clotheslines and beaten and dust rags and feather dusters attacked furniture and everything else in the houses at Lancer and in the homes of the Prankster Posse’s families.   

Felicia Portillo, Rachel Millar and Susan Mays were cleaning house.  Their sons and husbands had left immediately after breakfast was finished.  Or, rather, they tried to.  Kevin, Willie and Rico were roped into helping their mothers by moving furniture around for them that the women couldn’t begin to move.  All three young men were looking for a way to escape just as soon as they could..  The bright sun and warm breezes were beckoning them to the great outdoors only their mothers seemed to be oblivious to that.

Fortunately for Willie and Rico their families lived in small and medium sized houses.  Kevin was not so lucky for the house at the Rocking M was three stories high.  Kevin was the next to oldest of five children in his family.  His older brother, Brian, was married and lived near Stockton where he worked as a cattle buyer.  Sarah, Lori and Kelly, the three youngest children, ranged in age from twenty down to twelve.  The girls were helping their mother by polishing furniture and washing walls, woodwork and windows.  Rachel herself was scrubbing floors and shelves in the kitchen and blacking the stove.

The first chance Kevin got, which was a couple of hours after lunch, he took off for the barn, saddled Coco, and headed for Lancer where he hoped things would be quieter.  He was wrong.  If anything it was busier at Lancer than at the Rocking M for Jelly Hoskins, the Lancer handyman, had decided that the barn needed a good cleaning as well as the house and Murdoch had agreed.  It wasn’t just dust that was flying in the barn and the stable – it was straw and hay.  Truth be told it was probably fur as well for those that were working under Jelly’s direction, including Johnny and Scott, were ready to wring the old man’s neck for being so bossy.

“A job worth doin’ is worth doin’ right – the first time,” Jelly said.  “Tim!  Look out there with that harness!  Get it up off the ground and onto that fence so’s you can clean it proper!  Johnny that saddle you’re carryin’s draggin’ on the ground as well.  Get it up before you have to polish the buckles all over again!  Who’s got the broom?  It’s time we got these stalls and aisles cleaned out good and proper.  I never saw such a messy stable in all my born days!”

“How’s the cleaning going, Jelly?” Murdoch asked as he arrived home from Morro Coyo.

“It’d go a whole heap better iffen certain parties paid more attention to what they’re doin’?” the grizzled one complained. “Tim, I done told you not more than two minutes ago to get that harness up off the ground!  Now look at it – it’s gonna take you the rest of the day to clean and oil it proper!”  Jelly hustled over to where the young man in question was attempting to wrestle a harness with twelve-foot long reins over to the corral fence so he could clean it.

“How much longer do we have to put up with this, Murdoch?” Scott wanted to know as he wiped his face with a bandana.

“As long as it takes to get the job done,” his father replied.  “Jelly’s right, you know.  The barn and the stable haven’t had a really good cleaning for a long time.  You’ll need to check for hay that’s gone moldy and get rid of it before it starts a fire.”

Scott put the bandana back in his pocket and turned resignedly back toward the barn.  He was met halfway back by Johnny who was carrying two saddles, two bridles and the blankets that went with them.  He put them up on the fence and grinned as he saw his three pals riding into the barnyard together.

“Hi Kev!  Rico.  Willie.  Good to see you.”

“Hi!” the other three chorused back.

“We thought we’d ride over and see if you wanted to go fishing but I guess you won’t be able to, huh?”  Kevin was disappointed.

“Nope.  Gotta keep at this until Jelly’s satisfied.  Care to lend a hand?”

“Not really,” Willie said with a grin, “but we will.  The sooner you’re done the sooner we get out of here.  At least it’s not moving furniture which we all done at home this morning.”

“Maybe not,” Johnny grimaced as he saw Jelly approaching again, “but I’ll bet your mothers don’t bark orders at you the way Jelly does.”

“Here now, what’s going on? Don’t you boys have anything better to do than disrupt our work here?”

“Jelly, my friend,” Willie said with a grin at the bewhiskered one, “this is your lucky day.  You’ve just inherited three more workers.”

“Is that right? Well then put them horses of yours in the corral and get busy moving hay bales out to this end of the barn and the straw bales out to the other end.  We’ll put them back when the place is spic and span.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Johnny wanted to know.  “I don’t see you doing any of the heavy work.”

“Somebody’s got to boss this job or it ain’t gonna get done right,” Jelly huffed.

“You’re bossing it all right, Jelly,” Scott agreed.  “You’re pushing your luck, too,” he added under his breath, “and sooner or later somebody’s going to rebel.”

The new comers quickly turned their mounts loose in the currently empty paddock near the barn and joined in with the work crew hoping to finish in time to go fishing.  They’d even take old sober sides Scott along with them if they had to.  They liked Scott well enough but they did find him a little too serious minded at the times that they most wanted to have some fun.  However, they took care never to call him ‘old sober sides” to his face.

Kevin and Johnny tackled the job of moving the hay bales out to the south end of the barn.  Willie and Rico helped Scott and Walt move the bales of straw out to the other end.  Frank was taking an inventory of each plus the bags of grain so that Murdoch would know what he needed to order in Green River next time he went to town.

In the house Teresa and Maria had already scrubbed the upstairs rooms, both declaring Johnny’s to be the worst, and Murdoch’s little area in the Great Room around his desk. They were now in the kitchen taking stock of the supplies stored in the pantry.   Juanita and Josefina had taken on the job of the largest area of the Great Room itself including dusting the furniture and books, cleaning the lamps and, with a little help from Randy Bennett, were now cleaning the chandelier.

Randy had been tasked to help the women with chores like that and to carry the rugs out and drape them over the line.  He was hauling the heavy buckets of water and ensuring that they had all the firewood they needed with which to heat it.

The work at the barn progressed quicker now that there were three extra pairs of hands.  The work of cleaning the tack, and harness, draped over the paddock fence was constantly in disarray because Kevin’s horse, Coco, was as much of a clown as his master and he kept pulling the blankets off the fence and dropping them.  Out of sheer desperation the gelding was finally haltered and tied to the fence on the other side of the paddock to keep him from disrupting Tim’s work.

Willie’s horse, Moe – short for Molasses due to his color (Johnny would say due to the way he moved) was busy munching on some hay that one of the cowhands had obligingly dropped in to the paddock for them.  Eagle, however, apparently had other things on his mind.  He wanted to help.

Nobody ever found out where he learned how to do it, but Eagle sauntered over to the gate, reached over and got hold of the latch with his teeth.  He pulled the latch back and opened the gate, then he wandered over to the ramp into the barn where he stopped and picked up a broom that someone had dropped just inside the doorway.

When Johnny and Kevin got to that doorway they were greeted by a sight so amazing to them that they dropped the bales of hay they were carrying and their jaws dropped.  Turning toward the other end of the barn they hollered for Rico. 

“Hey, Rico!”  Johnny called. “Come down here will ya?”

“You have to see this,” Kevin added.

The noise attracted everyone within earshot but it wasn’t often that Johnny Lancer sounded amazed at anything and he definitely sounded surprised now.

The group that gathered at the south end of the barn saw an amazing sight – a horse sweeping the floor.  Nearly everybody in attendance was amazed.  Nearly everybody.  Rico, the proud owner of said horse, was not in the least bit surprised and laughed at the expressions on everybody else’s faces.

“What’s the matter – haven’t you ever seen a housekeeper at work before?” he asked with a big grin as he reached out and took the broom from Eagle and leaned it against the nearest wall.

“Yeah,” Kevin said, “I’ve seen housekeepers and I’ve seen housekeepers that were horse-faced but I’ve never seen a horse that was a housekeeper!”

“Eagle’s just a different kind of housekeeper,” Rico said as he led Eagle back to the paddock. “He’s a horse-housekeeper.”


This little story was inspired by a picture in the book on horses that Rita bought me in Quechee, VT. The author of the book said that the horse in the picture belongs to them and he likes to make people think that he really can sweep the floor even though he really just holds the broom in his teeth.   I thought it was the perfect opportunity to write a story based on a picture even if it isn’t one that Sharon has posted at Lancer_Writers.  



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