William thought about turning back the whole ride over to Brockwayville. He thought it, dithered and pondered, but did not once turn the reins. Ambition pushed him forward. Pride, too. Without him, their little endeavor would be as cold in the ground as Black Hen. William puffed out his chest at that.
He deflated quickly, looked around to be sure no one saw. No one thinks highly of a man too proud of himself. Only twenty-one and nothing to be prideful about, anyway. William had enough sense to be able to laugh at his own self. Want to get it outta the way before she does, if I even catch a glimpse, he thought.
Uncle Junior at the livery stables gave him a beauty that morning. The kind of horse a man felt like taking when he went a-courtin’. Guess he was, in a couple of ways. William admired the horse with the sunlight rising through the trees. Some trees, anyway. Fewer than there used to be, said mama. Fewer than there were before he went Cincinnati last winter. Lord, but he saw some women there. His mind drifted pleasurably. William hauled up short, reminding himself of his vow.
No more women. Less liquor. No more trouble. I went to Cincy. I had as fine a time a poor man could have in a city, and kept Mama from hearin’ most of it. There’s something to be proud about. William threw out the kind of fine laugh he’s known for, startling the horse. She settled right back down, though, and only gave him sort of a look.
“I know, girl,” he said, patting the mare’s neck. “Penelope’s the only female fer me. Human, at least, anymore. I promised.” He’d come back from the only debauchery a man who’s been helping support his family could. The boys been determined to be men for their mama since they’s born. Cincinnati sure was fun, though. Playing around, learning, burning with ambition.
He’d come back to Brookville, spotted Penelope Clarke, and promised her he’d not feel another woman’s breasts, nor any of the other fun bits, ‘less they were hers. Well, excluding patients. And, well, he’d not precisely made that promise to Penelope, out loud, in person, or any other way. “Wouldn’t do to discuss delicate things with a delicate lady.” William said that last bit aloud.
The horse snorted. “That’s last of the flies, I suspect,” said William to her. Reassuring the mare.