This is a continuation of the story that started here.
There was a path through the pine trees and down the cliff on the left. Deer and other creatures had helped, but his and Lily’s children were the ones who wore it so deeply it could still be found. It wouldn’t be long before his grandchildren would add their own footprints to the path as they sought to play on the rocks and sand below.
The horses he’d saddled earlier whickered a soft greeting.
“This view never gets old,” Lily said as she approached, bundled in a jacket made of deerskin. She took Jameson’s free hand and admired the view with him.
“We should get going,” he said after a few minutes. The horses were getting restless.
“I suppose the bread isn’t going to bake itself,” she said with a smile at him.
“Probably not,” he smiled in return. “But we’re likely to have help today.”
“Boris paid the boy for his fourth week of work last night,” Jameson said as he helped Lily swing into the saddle of her mare.
“The boy is a curious creature,” she said as she watched her husband hook his foot in the stirrup and swing up into his saddle. The moonlight shone down on more of his forehead than it had just a few years ago, but her Jameson was still strong and lean with a striking smile. He had a good heart and ran an honest business. People could find better prices at other shops, but not better quality. “What are you going to have him do?”
“Who says I’m going to have him do anything?” he winked.
“Jameson Cole Oliver!” Lily chastised, “I married you because of your kindness. Don’t you go turning into a mean old man now!”
Jameson laughed and urged his horse forward down the road that led to town. Lily’s mare fell in beside him without need of command. “I thought I’d see how clean he is today. If he’s still all fishy, I’ll have him work the stables. If he’s clean, he can help me put that new shipment out on the shelves.”
Lily nodded her approval. “If you’re done with him before I leave for the day, maybe he can come back to the cabin and help me pick some of the vegetables from the garden. The garden won’t care if he smells fishy or clean.”
“I reckon that’d be fine too,” he nodded.
The road into town was short, but they always rode the horses. Rain could blow in without warning and sometimes supplies or projects needed carried back and forth. Jameson felt safer having Lily on horseback when she left the shop without him. He’d never tell her that or his beautiful but stubborn wife would walk every day. Her deep blue eyes smiled at him as moonlight reflected off of the scattering of grey that grew amongst the thick black hair she wore pulled back in a bun.
They both loved the trip to the store in the mornings. The townsfolk still slept, the birds weren’t yet fighting over scraps from the boats, and the only noise came from their horses’ hooves or their own hushed voices.
“Definitely a curious creature,” Lily whispered with a nod toward the stable as they turned their horses into the alley behind their store.
“Curious indeed,” he replied.
“Good morning,” the young boy said when they were close.
“Good morning,” they echoed as they dismounted.
“What’s your name, son,” Jameson asked.
“Will, sir,” he replied.
“Will, it’s a bit early for a lad your age to be out, isn’t it?” Jameson asked.
“Yes sir,” he said with a nod. “It’s just that I was hoping maybe I could work for you and Miss Lily for a while. I figured I had to be here when you get here if I had any chance of you saying yes.”
Jameson didn’t even look at Lily. She’d have that “give the boy anything he wants” look in her eyes by now. He studied Will. The lad had taken a bath and put on fresh clothes that were clean but too small. His shoes had the opposite problem. They were dusty and way too big. The boy had initially stood tall, but he began to fidget as Jameson looked him over without answering.
“I reckon we can find something for you to do, but first I want you to answer a few questions for me. Can you do that, Will.”
“Yes, Mr. Jameson,” Will nodded.
“You’ve been going from store to store. I’ve talked to the other owners and they all say that you’re a good worker. After a month, even though they’d be happy to keep paying you for the help you give them, you quit and move on to the next store. That seems odd to me. So my first question is why you want to work for Lily and me,” he said as they led the horses into the stable.
“I figure if I’m going to work for the rest of my life, I might as well like it. But there’s no way to know what I like to do until I try it. That’s all,” Will said with a shrug.
“Lily’s the only one who makes bread, but I’m not the only store the trades and sells other goods. Is it only Lily you want to work for?” Jameson asked.
Will wiggled the toe of his overly large right shoe against the floor of the stables. “No sir. I want to work for both of you.”
“What do you think you’ll learn from me that you didn’t learn from the other shops?” Jameson asked. When Will was hesitant to reply, he added, “Lie to me, boy, and you might as well head on home.”
“I’m not going to lie, Mr. Jameson. I just don’t know how to answer without you thinking I’m saying something bad about the other store owners.”
Jameson saw a touch of fear in the boy’s eyes and softened. “I don’t want you to say anything bad. I’m just trying to understand what you want.”
“Well, you and Miss Lily work the furthest from the dock, but people that come in on the ships will walk past other shops to trade their supplies and spend their coins with you even though your things cost more and they have to carry their stuff all the way here. I want to know why they do that,” Will said as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.
Jameson nodded. “That’s a good enough reason. The second question is why a lad as young as you is working. Where are your parents?”
Will bit his lip and looked at the door. For nearly a minute he stood and fidgeted as he looked at Jameson, Lily, and then the door over and over.
“I told you that I’m trying to figure out what work I want to do and am just trying different jobs,” Will finally said. He licked his lips and looked at the door one more time, weighing if he could answer Jameson’s question or if he should just leave. “My parents are at work. They’re there a lot. My dad said I could work if I wanted to.”
Lily touched Jameson’s arm. He felt the same compassion Lilly did. “I don’t think you’re lying, but I don’t think you’re telling me the whole story either. Is that true?” Jameson asked.
Will nodded and then hung his head.
“Today I’m going to have you help Lily mill the grain, and then this afternoon you’ll go home with her and help her in the garden. If you do a good job and want to come back tomorrow, we’ll come up with a plan to teach you about most things in our store. We’ll feed you breakfast and lunch as part of your pay. Some days you’ll work harder and earn more copper than on others. How’s that sound, Will?”
“Yes, Mr. Jameson. That’s more than anyone else has paid me, sir.”
The boy looked almost defiant and Jameson realized that Will thought pity was involved in his pay. Jameson squatted down on his heels to be at eye level with Will and placed a hand on his shoulder. “There will be a lot of people in this world who want to pay as little as possible for the goods they buy and the work others do for them. That’s fine for them, but I try to be a man who appreciates good quality supplies and the hard work of other people. It makes me feel comfortable expecting other people to appreciate my work and the quality of my supplies. I’m asking you to be at my store earlier than you were at any of the other stores, and even earlier than you were at the docks when you went out on the fishing boats. That’s worth a couple of meals to me. Do you understand?”
Will furrowed his brows as he thought about it, but finally he nodded.
“Now off you go with Lily. I’ve got to get the horses settled and get to work or we’ll not be ready when customers arrive.”
What have I got myself into? Jameson wondered as the lad followed Lily out of the stables.