Chapter 13. The Circle 4.
By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination—Christopher Columbus
The Circle 4.
Jake slowly opened his eyes and looked around him. The rays of the sun were beginning to pour in through the opening of the cave and it made him squint. Slowly he rose to a sitting position and looked around him. The coffee pot was standing by the fire and his cup was placed next to it. A blanket lay draped over him, though he couldn't quite remember covering himself with one. Dannie was sitting at the mouth of the cave, her back to him. Pushing back the blanket, Jake stood up and stretched, his muscles a little stiff from sleeping with rocks as his pillow. Walking over to where Dannie sat, he looked over and saw a book in her hands.
"Do you always get up this early?" He asked.
Dannie gave a bit of jump before turning to face him. "Good heavens, Jake, you gave me a fright."
"Sorry, didn't mean too."
"And the answer to your question is yes. It's something Papa and I had in common. He was a big advocate of 'early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.' Though, come to think of it," Dannie realized. "I am not at all wealthy, and it seems the rest of the world doesn't think me very wise, but I am healthy, so at least a third of that saying is true."
Her words caused Jake to chuckle. "Whatcha readin'?"
"The Book of Ruth. It's my favorite book in the whole Bible. I don't think I've ever read a more beautiful love story. Better than any novel, that is for sure."
"Do you read the Bible every day?"
"Yes, I do, usually in the mornings, it's easier for me to concentrate before the cares of the day burden my mind. Papa always said that starting the day with the word of God is good for the soul and for the body."
"Seems like your Pa had it all figured out," Jake stated, mostly because he didn't know what else to say.
"How about you, Jake, do you believe in God?"
"Yeah I do. Don't know much about Him, but I know He's up there and that He's watchin' us and taking care of us. I'm not big on the details, and if you want to engage in theological debates, I'm afraid you've picked the wrong person. But I do believe that Jesus is God's Son and that He came to earth and died and rose again and if we believe in Him we'll go to heaven."
A smile spread across Dannie's face. "Honestly Jake, you don't really need to believe in more than that. And as for theological debates, you needn't have worried, I'm really not the debating sort."
"You're not?" Jake smirked and raised his eyebrows. "Could have fooled me. Seems like debatin' is the only thing you like to do."
"That is not true," Dannie protested, her face turning red.
"No offence, Miss Danielle Preston, but I've ridden with you for three days, and if there is one thing you are good at it is debatin'. Come on, you don't mean to tell me you never had any debates on the subject of theology back home?"
"Of course not, it's not a women's place to engage in theological debates, not in England at least. Such subjects belong to the world of men."
"You never, ever once debated on theology?" Jake cocked his head a little, his voice voice challenging and persistent.
"Well," Dannie relented. "Maybe once or twice with Paul."
"Right, I should have guessed." Seemed whatever conversation they were having led to Paul and Jake was sorry he had pushed Dannie to confess.
"It was really the only subject we ever argued or debated over."
"He wasn't a Christian?"
"No, no, of course he was, he just had certain views on religion and Christianity that I didn't agree with and sometimes our opinions conflicted. We quickly learned to avoid the subject and agreed to disagree. Anyway, why are we talking about him? I certainly don't enjoy Paul coming into the conversation."
"Yeah, neither do I."
Dannie looked surprised at Jake's frank confession.
"What I mean," Jake hastened to explain. "He's nothing but a name to me and constantly talking about someone I don't know, well, it gets tiresome."
"Then let us not talk about him and set about to making breakfast." Dannie shut her Bible and stood up.
"Is the Bible the only book you brought with you?"
"No, I also have to Book of Common Prayer and a hymn book with me."
"And that's it? You just brought a bunch of church books with you? I would have thought you would have loaded your bag with books, seeing as you like to read so much."
"If I could I probably would have done that, but the idea was to travel light, and so I had to be very sparing with the books. I took only what I knew I would need."
"What did you do with the rest of the books?"
"I sold most of them." Dannie's eyes grew wistful as she thought of all the wonderful books she had been forced to give up. "What wasn't sold I left to the new minister when he came to take up residence.
"Must have been hard to have to lose them," Jake sympathized. Dannie nodded her head. The water Jake had put over the water came to a boil and he poured some of it into a cup. "Here," he handed it to Dannie.
"Thank you, but I thought I told you my opinion of your coffee."
"It's not coffee, it's tea." Jake laughed.
Dannie's eyes widened from surprise. "Tea?" she asked in disbelief, taking the cup from Jake's hand "Where on earth did you get tea from?"
"I don't know if you could go and call it proper tea, I got some herbs from the Indian tradin' post we passed by."
Dannie face broke into a shy smile. "Thank you, Jake, that was very thoughtful of you." She paused before drinking it. "Why didn't you give it to me earlier?"
Jake shrugged. "Dunno, guess I felt uncomfortable." He shuffled off to make himself some coffee, feeling very stupid with this whole tea thing.
After breakfast had been finished and they had packed everything up, Jake and Dani once more set out for the Circle 4. Around midday, Jake pointed to a fence in the distance.
"That, Miss Preston, is the beginnin' of The Circle 4. Once we get on the other side of that fence, we'll be on Christopher Martin territory."
Dannie nodded her head nervously. "What a strange name," she pointed out. "The Circle 4, I wonder who came up with it."
"You don't like it?"
"I don't know, it sounds rather odd to me." Dannie took a deep breath, her stomach was all in knots and she was getting more and more nervous as they got closer. At last she would meet Mr. Martin, but she had no idea what sort of a man he was and what to expect of him. She found her arm slowly going around Jake's as she sidled up closer to him. Right now, it seemed the whole world was against her and he was her only protection.
Jake had of course noticed Dannie was gripping his arm but decided against saying anything. He could tell by the look on her face that she was dead nervous and it felt nice to know that she was clutching him for protection and support. The only thing that sort of spoiled it for him was the feeling that she wasn't really him she was clutching, but Paul.
"You mentioned something about Mr. Martin having a daughter so that means he has a family, does it not?" Dannie asked in a small voice.
"Yup, he's married and has two kids. Caleb Martin is a nice youth, but that little princess is a piece of hell."
Dannie looked over at Jake in surprise. "Hell is a very strong word," she pointed out, her voice tainted with reproach.
"I guess it is," Jake shrugged. "And I don't mean to be rude. In fact, you probably shouldn't listen to my opinion of her. Who knows, you actually might like her, but I can't stand that young lady. She talks a hell of a lot, but never speaks two words of sense together in once sentence. She's also somethin' of a heart breaker. So many boys fell head over heels in love with her and she snubbed them all."
"Is that so?" Dannie said with a laugh. "You know, if I didn't know for a fact that you tend to have a prejudice attitude to all women, I might have believed what you are telling me."
"Like I said, don't judge her by my words. I'm just tellin' you what I think of Sophie Eleanor Martin. The two of us never did get along, and I'm probably the only man for miles around who doesn't like her. If we meet up we always end up fightin', so you had better be prepared."
"I'll keep your warning in mind," Dannie stated with another laugh. For a few minutes they rode in silence, then Dannie spoke once more. "Mr. Martin owns a lot of property, doesn't he?"
"Yup, he's very rich. One of the richest ranchers in the area. Got a lot of land and a hell of a lot of cattle."
"Is his ranch bigger than the one you work on?"
"Pfff," Jake snorted. "Way bigger, but that would make sense seein' as he's been working his ranch for about fifteen years, the Cora Belle is barely pulling four."
"I like the name, Cora Belle, it sounds very pretty."
"Clay came up with the name, he's the one who actually owns the ranch, I just work for him."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a horse breeder, but I also drive Clay's cattle. Originally we wanted to have a horse ranch, but Clay decided to do cattle as well to give us a good start, and now he's stuck with it. I keep tellin' him to ditch the cattle, the breedin' is going pretty good, and we could survive without the herd, but Clay's stubborn as a mule, so once every few months I drive it up to California and sell it off."
"What were you doing in Clearbrook? It isn't exactly California."
"I was selling off two yearlings. They were pure American Saddlebreds. Sired by a fine war horse, those two were built for stamina and speed. Because they cost an awful lot, Clay didn't trust anyone but me with the job. He knows I'm not going to steal the money from him. Abner tagged along as well because he needed to get to Santa Fe and as of yet Clearbrook is the only place with a train station."
"Do you like working on the Cora Belle, even though it's not a really big ranch?" Dannie hoped she didn't sound like she was interrogating Jake. It was just that as long as she kept talking, the horrible knot in her stomach didn't bother her.
"Yeah I do. I mean, I probably could make more money working for someone like Mr. Martin, but money is not really an important thing in my life. Clay isn't just my boss, he is my friend. We started the ranch together, and though small, it's home, so I ain't plannin' on leavin' the Cora Belle anytime soon, no matter how much other ranchers are willing to pay me."
Dannie smiled at his words. Jake had come across as arrogant and rude when she first met him, but as she was getting to know him, she was finding that she liked him more and more. The man sure had his life principles all straightened out, which was a little different than Paul.
In the distance a cluster of buildings could be seen, as they got closer, Dannie made out a large, two story house, as well as a stable in the distance, a chicken coop, a couple of kennels for dogs, and some other similar structures. There were a few people milling about here and there, stopping their work when the noticed the wagon riding up closer.
"That's the main house over there," Jake pointed to the two story structure. "Can't believe we've made it at last. At one point I felt like we would be travelin' forever."
Dannie didn't want to appear nervous, but her grip on Jake's arm tightened.
"Keep doing that and I'll lose circulation." Jake joked, giving his arm a little shake.
"Oh, I'm sorry Paul...Jake." Dannie quickly switched to the right name as she let go of Jake's arm.
"You know if you call me Paul one more time-"
"I'm really sorry," Dannie looked pleadingly at Jake. "It's just the only person I've ever, well, held on to, or traveled with anywhere besides my father was Paul, and so it's the only name I'm used to saying."
"I was wonderin'," Jake finally plucked up the courage to try and approach the question that had been bothering him since last night.
"Yes?" Dannie braced herself for whatever it was he was going to ask.
"Oh don't go lookin' all scared. I was just wonderin' if you ever wonder what it would be like if you were travelin' with him right now."
"Oh." Dannie's face colored up. "No, not really. I work hard keep my mind from such ideas. I mean, I will confess there are times when he tries to invade my mind, but I push him aside. I'm sure you understand what a terrible memory Paul is, and to think he's probably married by now." Dannie paused to reflect on this unpleasant fact. "I may not have had any money, but I would have made a good wife." Dannie almost tried to convince herself of that fact. It still hurt her to know that the only reason Paul had broken with her was her lack of a large dowry.
Jake nodded his head but he didn't say anything. Dannie wasn't anyone to him except a girl he had met five days back and had literally been forced to help, so he didn't care what she thought or what she tried not to think about.
"Hey Jake, what brings you to these parts?" A tall youngster with large eyes called out. They were near the big house and though they had gotten a few stares from several men, this was the first person to speak to them. "No way!" The boy's voice was filled with surprise when he realized there was a woman next to Jake. "You went and got hitched?"
Dannie turned to Jake in confusion. Jake felt his face go hot. "Honestly Mack, the things you come up with. She's not my wife!"
Dannie's hand went to her mouth to try and hide her smile.
"No?" Mack's large, round eyes went even larger and rounder. "Then who is she?"
"That is none of your business, she is here to see Mr. Martin," Jake snapped.
"Mr. Martin? What could she possibly want with Mr. Martin? His catchin' girl days are long over, not to mention, Missy that the man is married, but if you be a wantn'..."
"Mack, don't go provin' to the rest of the world what an idiot you are," Jake cut him off. "I said she has business with Mr. Martin, not that she wants to try and marry him."
"But what other business could she possibly have?"
Dannie was trying very hard to laugh, and not succeeding.
"Just tell me where the man is?" Jake demanded.
"Not till you tell me what she wants with him!" Mack fired back.
"It's family business actually," Dannie decided to cut in. "I am a relative of Mr. Martin. My name is Danielle Preston, and who might you be?"
"Mackenzie Rellware is my full name but most folks call my Mack and you may as well," The fellow whipped off his hat and bowed in greeting. "You've got a right pretty name, Miss Preston."
"Thank you very much." Dannie awarded Mack's good manners with a charming smile. This action that made Jake roll his eyes. He wasn't jealous of course, but Mack had no business trying to be all sweet with Dannie.
"A mighty pretty name," Mack kept on talking. "And a mighty strange accent. You're from the north or somethin'?"
"New England? They speak like that up in New York?"
"Mack, you really are a donkey with no brains," Jake burst out. He didn't know why he was suddenly so annoyed at the poor fellow. Mack had never bothered him before, but somehow the way the boy was behaving around Dannie really got on Jake's nerves. "She just said she's from Northern England, meaning Miss Preston is British. For God's sake, even a horse would be able to tell that the lady was from England. But no, you have to go on showin' off the fool you are. Just tell me where I can find Mr. Martin."
"Last I saw he was in the big house." Mack mumbled through his teeth, upset at the image Jake was painting of him in front of Dannie.
"Thank you," Jake twitched the reins and the horses began walking again.
"It was nice meeting you, Mack." Dannie called, turning around to wave to the boy. Mack smiled and waved back.
"You didn't have to be so rude, you know," she chided Jake.
"I guess not, but somehow the things he said brought out the worst in me," Jake replied, still not exactly sure why he had suddenly lost his temper.
"Hey, Jake, ya mail ordered a bride?" A voice suddenly called out.
"No!" Jake barked, giving cowboy who had spoken a glare. Soon they arrived at the front door of the house. Pulling the horses to a stop, Jake jumped down from the wagon and ran over to help Dannie down.
"There we go." He stated, holding her by the waist and lifting her down.
"Thank you P...Jake." Dannie smiled, straightening out her dress and fixing her bonnet.
Jake tried not to notice she had almost called him Paul again.
"How do I look?" Dannie asked, her face filled with anxious worry.
"Like you've been travelin' in the heat and dust for the past couple of days," Jake replied as he walked over and knocked on the door.
"Oh, very flattering," Dannie frowned, walking up beside him. "I wish there was some way for me to wash and make myself more presentable."
"Well, lookin' on the bright side this way you will look more pathetic and as such rouse the sympathy of the Martins."
"You're terrible at giving comfort you know."
"Aren't I?" Jake smiled. "Don't worry, you look fine."
The door was opened by a lady with olive skin and smooth jet black hair. She had a white blouse on and a long, brown skirt. Her facial features were very pleasant and while obviously in her middle years, she had a beauty around her that age could not hide.
"Senor Jake, you found a wife?" She asked, her voice filled with surprise.
"She's not my wife," Jake groaned while Dannie let out a giggle. "Is Mr. Martin home?"
"Si he is, come inside and wait while I go and see if he is free." The lady let them inside then went off in search for Mr. Martin.
Dannie looked around her at the house. It was not an elaborate decoration, but done with great taste and design. The furniture was a dark, oaken wood, but the drapes were a pale cream color, which kept the room from looking too gloomy. A side door opened and a young girl came walking out. She was dressed in a light green dress and her blonde curls were gathered up in an elegant but comfortable way.
"Pa isn't free just yet, he'll..." Her voice died when she noticed Dannie standing next to Jake. "Jake, you...you...you got married?" She sputtered in total shock.
"For the last time, she's not my wife!" Jake lost his temper.
"Oh." The girl eyed Dannie suspiciously. "Then who is she."
"My name is Danielle Preston and I have come here to see Mr. Martin."
"You from London?" The girl asked.
Dannie sucked her lips into a firm line. Why did everyone always ask her if she was from London?
"Is that in England?"
"Yes, it is."
"Well, I was almost right." The girl stated with a shrug. "I mean, Collingham isn't very far from London is it?"
"No, only about 200 miles, give or take."
"Oh, that is quite a distance," the girl said with a chuckle. "My name is Sophie Martin by the way, I'm Mr. Martin's daughter. What business did you want with my father?"
Before Dannie could answer the door Sophie had just walked out of opened and a man appeared. He was very tall, and his build was strong. The light brown hair was combed back, and had just a few strands of grey in it. He had on a white shirt and a brown waistcoat with a chain clipped on and leading to a pocket watch that was no doubt safely tucked in one of the pockets. The homespun pants were tucked into a pair of leather boots. He had a mustache, but no beard.
"Carolina said you wanted to see me, Jake," he said in a deep voice that had just the slight remnant of British accent to it.
"Not me," Jake shook his head. "The young lady is the one who wanted to see you." He pointed to Dannie.
"How may I help you?" Mr. Martin turned to Dannie, his brown eyes gazing at her curiously.
"I uh," Dannie faltered, feeling very awkward and out of place. "May I talk to you in private, sir?" She finally asked.
The girl's accent caught Mr. Martin by surprise and he studied her intently. She wasn't very tall, and her travelin' suit made her look thin and pale. The way she wrung her hands together made it clear she felt very out of place. He wondered just who she was and what she could possibly want from him. He motioned for her to follow him as he walked to his study.
"Please, come in," He pushed the door wide open. Dannie glanced over at Jake and was relieved to see he was following her. At least she wouldn't have to face Mr. Martin alone.
"Yes, thank you, Sophie, you may wait outside," Mr. Martin stated just as Sophie was about to enter. He politely reached over and shut the door. Sophie grumbled angrily and was about to lean over and press her ear to the door, when an angry cough stopped her.
"Come on, Carolina?" She pleaded, but Carolina marched up and grabbed her by the hand.
"No, Sophia, you must not eavesdrop. You had better go and tell your mama that we have visitors."
Sophie grumbled, but seeing as she didn't have any other option, ran off to do as Carolina had said.
So we've FINALLY reached the Circle 4 :D I hope you are enjoying the story so far, thanks so much to all of you who are reading and following :) I truly appreciate it :)