Chapter 10. Jake's Story.
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way--Leo Tolstoy
"So like I said my father, Isaac Wade, was a farmer. In time he married my mother, Leah Carver, and pretty soon I was born. It was just the three of us for about three years and then my father died."
"What did he die from?"
"Not sure. I think he caught something, came down sick with whatever, even Momma never knew what it was the killed him. Doctors were hard to get back then. He suffered for about two or three days before givin' up the ghost. Honestly, I don't remember him at all, but folks spoke of him as a good, honest man. They did say he was kinda soft, maybe that's why he died so soon, didn't have the toughness needed to live a life out in the wild part of the country. My momma was left alone on the farm, and she was of course worried how she would manage all on her own. And then, 'bout a month after my daddy's death Ben showed up at our door. He was lost and all sick and dyin' like. Momma took care of him, nursed him back to health, and he stuck around after that and married her. He had some dark past he didn't want to talk about, he never went to town, and wasn't the social sort.That aside he was a strong, tough man, who could handle the demands of farmin' and that was exactly what Momma needed."
"Did they love each other?"
Jake shrugged his shoulders. "I wouldn't know, but at any rate they got along great and he was never harsh to her. Dan appeared before the year was up and two years later Rachel made her way into this earth." A shadow appeared on Jake's face when he mentioned his sister.
"Was it hard for you to get along with your stepfather?" Dannie couldn't help from asking the question.
"Nope," Jake shook his head. "I couldn't remember my father, so Ben was the only father I knew, and I'd say he was pretty good at being a stepdaddy. I remember Rachel always complaining that he was too stern, and it was true, Ben wasn't the kind of man who knew how to show affectiom, but he didn't play favorites and that was why I respected him. Never once did he make any sort of distiction between me and his own children, and treated us all equal. He made us work hard on the farm, but the work was always fair, and we were never asked to do more than our share. Things went on like that for a good while and then one day Ben had a heart attack and died. It happened in the summer of 1864. I wasn't around when it happened, by that time I had joined the army and was fightin' in the war." Jake paused here and looked at his hands.
"You mean the War Between the States?"
"Yup, I was fighting for the Confederacy. I joined in '63 when I was seventeen. I know I was very young, but I just wanted to get away from the farm and figured the army was a good place to start. My momma cried, she said it was wicked of me, but Ben said that I needed to become a man and maybe the army would be the making of me. The day I left we shook hands and I thanked him for being the daddy he didn't have to be. I think those words touched him, of course he didn't show any emotion, but something like tears appeared in his eyes. I'm glad I parted well with Ben, because I never saw him again." Jake's voice died for a few seconds, and he looked off into the distance. "I ain't gonna talk about those war years, Dannie. I lived through hell and it took a long time for the nightmares to go away, but when I talk about the endless days I spent fightin' they all come back."
"Don't," Dannie's voice was soft. "I don't care to hear about it anyway. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is war. Just skip over those years."
Jake nodded his head. For a brief second he closed his eyes, then he shook his head and opening his eyes went on with his story. "When I got back from the war, Ben was dead and things got pretty complicated."
"Complicated?" Dannie was getting more and more intrigued with the tale.
"Growin' up, Rachel and I were pretty close, but Dan and I never got along. I don't know why, but he never let me forget that I was a half brother, and that Ben wasn't my real daddy. When I returned from the army the tension escalated to terribly heights. You see with Ben's death, the bulk of the farm to went to me. Dan only got a little part of it, and he was mad as hell. I heard from Rachel that when Dan found out I was gettin' the farm there were a lot of arguments between Dan and Ben. Dan saying that he was Ben's flesh and blood son while I was no one to the man, and that meant Dan should get the bulk of the farm. Ben's reply was that the farm originally belonged to Isaac Wade and Dan should be happy that he was getting somethin', because in reality the whole farm should have gone to me. After Ben's death Dan looked after the farm till I got back and he became very possessive of it. When I returned we tried to make it work between us, but when the year was up I had enough. I thought it was a really dumb reason for us to be so mean to each other all the time. I hated farmin', I hated the farm, and I didn't want to own it, so what on earth where we fightin' about? I approached Dan and told him that I would work with him till he was old enough to run the farm on his own, and then I would head out west. I wanted to work on a ranch with cattle and horses, but Dan was too young to handle things on his own. I told him I'd hang around till he eighteen and then I'd be off.
I think Dan was a little suspicious of me, but at the same time he liked the deal, so we came to terms and things settled between us. I think Dan was a little afraid I might change my mind, but he needn't have worried. I had more than one reason to want to get as far away from that farm as I possibly could." Jake let out a frustrated laugh. "Growin' up, I was close friends with a girl from the town who went by the name of Amy Brown. Folks always said we would get married and as we grew older we planned on getting tyin' that knot. Then I went off to war and Amy said she would wait for me to get back. During those cold, horrible years of bloodshed, I would dream of coming back, marryin' Amy and putting the war behind me. When I returned I found Amy had gone and married some other fellow. Oh she gave me plenty of reasons for her action: we had been so young we didn't know what we were doing, I was only nineteen and hardly old enough to take care of a family, she hadn't heard from me in so long and had decided I was dead and on and on the excuses went. I told her I was ashamed of ever having loved her in the first place and told her to stay as far from me as possible. I never spoke to her again, even though I had to stick around that part of Texas for another three years. And of course, as if this wasn't all bad enough, my little sister Rachel had to go and pull a stunt of her own."
Jake didn't hurry in answering. He sat silently for a few minutes, deep in thought. Dannie sensed that it was hard for him to talk about whatever happened and figured she wouldn't pressure him, so she sat silently, waiting for him to begin.
"It all happened the year Rachel turned sixteen," Jake spoke at last. "I had been helpin' Dan for three years, and he was finally eighteen years old, and Momma thought he could manage without my help. I was twenty two and itching to get away from the darn place and journey further west. And then, just as I was gettin' ready to take my leave this man appeared in our neck of the woods. I don't know his real name, everyone in the area called him Calhoon. He was a cattle rustler who rode around with his gang and stole cattle from cattle drivers and ranches. He was a wanted man and there was a six hundred dollar reward on his head. Somehow or another, Calhoon saw my sister and was really taken with her. He began seein' her in secret and pretty soon Rachel was head over heels in love with him. Rachel always was a great dreamer and hopeless romantic. I don't know what Calhoon said to her to make her so in love with him, but it worked its magic to the point that she even agreed to run away with him."
"Did she really?"
"Nope. In an unguarded moment Rachel confessed the plot to Becky, our colored maid. Thank God, Becky had a head on her shoulders and the first thing she did was tell Momma, Dan and myself what Rachel was plannin' to do. Dan and I never saw eye to eye on anythin', but that day probably for the first time in our lives, we agreed that there was no way Rachel was going to run off with a cattle rustler. We tried to talk Rachel out of the plan, but her silly little mind was set. She said she didn't care what sort of a life he led, she loved him, he loved her, and that was all that mattered. It became obvious that reasonin' with Rachel was like bangin' your head against a stone wall, and we had to take some drastic measure. I locked Rachel in the cellar with Momma and Becky the night Calhoon was supposed to come for her, and notified the Sheriff. Unfortunately," Jake's hands clenched. "Calhoon got away, but he swore that he would never leave until he got Rachel, even if it was the last thing he did. I didn't believe him at first, but pretty soon our farm new no peace and I understood Calhoon meant to carry out his threat. The fact that Rachel was just dyin' to go over with him was not much help. She tried to run away three times and when on the fourth time Calhoon nearly took off with her. She somehow snuck away in the early morning and ran off. Becky was the first to discover her absense and ran to me. I don't think I ever saddled a horse so fast in my life. I rode to town and was able to discover that Rachel had boarded the train. Course by time I got to the train station the train was pullin' out of the station. I suppose you can guess what I did."
Dani shook her head.
"I urged my horse to a gallop and took off after the train. Apple Wine was a good horse, I brought her with me from the war, and we caught up with the train and I jumped on it."
"You JUMPED on the train!"
"I'm an ex-cavalry soldier." Jake let out a bitter laugh. "I went through the cars and sure enough I found her. Calhoon had gone to take a smoke, and she was alone. That was God's mercy towards me, cause I would never have gotten off that train alive if he had been sittin' next to my sister. Rachel was looking out the window and didn't notice me, which made it easy for me to run up to her and grab her. I dragged her to the exit and she started strugglin' and calling for Calhoon to help her. Who would have thought that the little girl who ran to me for protection during a thunderstorm would one day claw my face and bite my hands. The whole car was starin' at us, wondern' what on earth was going on. We got to the door, I flung it open and holding Rachel tightly, jumped out."
"You threw yourself off a moving train?" Dannie couldn't quite believe the whole story being told to her.
"It hadn't reached it's full speed yet, and I'll admit it was risky, but I didn't have a choice. Calhoon was right after us. Rachel was shoutin' for Calhoon to shoot me." Jake spat on the ground. "She asked him to shoot me, her own brother. Calhoon would have probably done just that but as soon as I landed on the ground, I jumped up again and pulled out my gun. I got Calhoon in the shoulder. Rachel was screamin' at me that she hated me, that I killed the man she loved. It was quite a scene, and the entire train got to see it. I barely got that girl back home. I tried to reason with her again, but she wouldn't listen. For the first time she in her life, she told me I was her half-brother, and I had no business messin' with her life. I knew Calhoon was going to come back and I didn't have much time. Since Dan and I were the men of the house, I took him aside and we had a long talk. We agreed that in order to keep Rachel safe from the clutches of that monster would be to whisk her off somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was far, far from here. It had to be a place where Calhoon would never be able to find her, a place where he wouldn't even have the brains to look. I hit upon a plan, but it wasn't very appealing to Dan or myself. Momma once told me that Ben had relatives up back east and I suggested it might be best to take Rachel there. In those large cities the chances of Calhoon being able to track her down were close to zero. Of course, Dan didn't want to go east and I didn't want to either. We hated the idea of a city and movin' there was worse than death itself. Dan was plannin' to get married as soon as he would be able to support a wife, and I was itching to head out west and hook up with some ranchers. We approached Momma with our dilemma and she said that perhaps it would be best for us to split up. She would take Rachel away, Dan would stay with Becky on the farm and I would head out west like I had planned. The only problem was I knew that Calhoon would be tryin' to find Rachel and would try to get it out of us, so I told Momma not to tell me where exactly she was going. The only way to keep us all safe would be for Momma and Rachel to completely disappear and for neither Dan nor myself to know where they were." Jake paused again, his eyes growing dim. "They left one night. We woke up in the morning and they were gone, and to this day I have no idea where they are."