Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 14. A Father's Cousin.

I think of my life as a form of music, not always good music, but still having some form of melody—John Steinbeck

Chapter 14.

A Father's Cousin.

   "Have a seat, please." Christopher Marin waved towards two chairs. Jake plopped down first, Dannie hesitantly followed. She wrung her hands together, wondering how best to present her whole situation. She didn't want to appear like a beggar in front of a very rich relative.

   "It is Mr. Christopher Martin I am speaking too?" She asked at last.

   "Yes, my name is Christopher Martin." He nodded his head.

   "Mr. Martin, I'm not sure how best to go about this, but I suppose I will start by asking if the name Robert Preston means anything to you?"

   Mr. Martin was a little taken back with the question. "Robert Preston?" He slowly repeated, a shadow crossing his face. "That was the name of my cousin, the son of my mother's brother. He was studying in divinity school when I left for America. Why do you ask?"

   Dannie felt a flood of relief surge her whole body. At least she knew for certain that this was the correct Mr. Martin. "Sir, my name is Danielle Preston and I am Robert Preston's daughter."

   "You don't say?" Mr. Martin couldn't quite comprehend what Dannie had just told him, and he had trouble keeping his composure. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Preston," he said, not quite knowing what else to say."I never thought I'd see anyone from that side of the family again. I was sure they had forgotten all about me, hardly thought of them myself. How is your father? I can tell he married, seeing you are his daughter. Is he well and happy?" 

Poor Dannie didn't have time to answer any of the questions, they kept pouring out in a steady flow. 

"Does he still reside in Leeds? Did he take up orders? He was ordained a minister, was he not? Was it Edith Whickem that he ended up marrying? He couldn't take his eyes off the girl in his youth. Has he any children besides you? How did you find me? And how is it that you are here and he is not?" At last there was a pause long enough for Dannie to answer in a soft voice.

   "Mr. Martin, I hate to be the bearer of ill news, but my father is dead."

   "Oh!" Martin lost several shades of color from her words. "I'm...I'm very sorry to hear that. When did he die?"

   "About a month ago. He was taken with scarlet fever and in the end it got the better of him."

   "I see." Mr. Martin was silent for a few minutes. "Poor Robert," he whispered, more to himself than to Dannie. "He would be only in his early forties now, not quite the age to die." Mr. Martin looked out the window for a full minute. Dannie and Jake both felt it best to wait until he fully digested this news, and remained silent. At last he turned back to Dannie. "And what of your mother?"

   "My mother, who was indeed Edith Whickem, passed away as well. She caught the fever from Papa, and they both died in the same day."

   "My condolences, Miss Preston. To lose both father and mother in one day, I'm very sorry."

   "Thank you, sir."

   "So what is it that brings you to my door?"

   Dannie swallowed hard. "Mr. Martin, I'm afraid I shall have to be very frank with you. After the death of my father I was left with very little money and nowhere to live. Papa wasn't very practical when it came finances, and neither he or mother owned any property. You are the closest living relative that I knew of, and I came here to you because I didn't know where else to go. I do have a distant relative of my mother's living somewhere in Australia, but I have no idea where..."  

"Not to mention the man is a criminal and was sent there in chains," Jake suddenly put in. This interruption caused Dannie to glare at Jake, who shrugged his shoulders with a justified expression on his face.

   "I have no idea where to find him," Dannie picked up where she had left off. "And I also do not have the money to go out there and search for him."

   "So you came to me seeking support?" Mr. Martin asked.

   "Yes sir. I know we are complete and total strangers, my father only mentioned you once or twice, but at this moment, I do not know who else to turn to. I'm afraid I have no money, no connections, and very few friends. I am quite alone in this world, and I was hoping you would take pity on me. This may seem very presumptuous of me, and believe me when I say I do not wish to be viewed as some troublesome, penniless relative. If you do not wish to help me, I shall depart at once and try to make my own way in life. I only thought perhaps I would come to you first."

   Christopher Martin looked the girl up and down once more. Her clothes were worn and covered with the Arizona dust, as was the bonnet she held in her hands. Her dark brown eyes, which looked so much like the ones of his deceased cousin, looked pleadingly at him. He heaved a heavy sigh as he thought over this very unexpected turn of events.

   "I'll have to talk to my wife," he said at last. "Could wait here a moment?"

   "Yes of course," Dannie replied and Mr. Martin stood up and left the room.

   "Oh God, please don't let them turn me away," she whispered as she watched Mr. Martin leave the room.

   "Don't worry, I'm sure he'll take you in," Jake tried to reassure, reaching out and placing his hand over hers.

   "And if he doesn't."

   "Then I'll take you right back to the Callaways."

   "You would take the three day journey back? I'd think you'd be tired of traveling with me by now."

   "Yeah well, with time you tend to get a little easier to be around."

   His attempt at humor did produce a nervous giggle from Dannie as she continued to watch the door. The minutes crawled at a snail's pace. The large clock on the wall ticked out the seconds and pretty soon Dannie thought this noise would drive her insane.

   "Oh I wish Pa...." Dani voice died as she silently wished her father had kept communication with Mr. Martin. All this would be a lot easier if he had. Her sentence remained unfinished, however, and Jake on hearing what she had said, looked away. She was wishing Paul had never broken the engagement and that she was back there in England with him right now. Why did she always have to be thinking of Paul? It wasn't Paul who had brought her here, it wasn't Paul who was willing to take her on the three day journey back, and it certainly wasn't Paul comforting and reassuring her that everything was going to work out alright. Come to think of it, it was thanks to Paul that the poor girl had to drag herself all the way out here in the first place.

   The door to the room suddenly swung open and a lady walked in. She had blonde hair gathered up in an decorous bun on the top of her head. Her brown dress was simple, but elegant, and while having great taste, it was modest enough for a woman of her forty something years. She was a little plump, but this gave her a motherly appearance. Her blue eyes were small and her nose rather long. She had a bright smile on her face, giving Dannie a measure of comfort.

   "Just look at the poor dear," she spoke up with a thick southern accent. "Of course we'll take her in, and will be pleased and happy to do it."

   Dannie thought she would faint right then and there with relief.

   "Danielle Preston, right?" The lady held out her hand to Dannie. "I'm Jessica Martin, Mr. Martin's wife. My husband explained the whole situation to me, and we'd be more than happy to take you into our home."

   "Oh Mrs. Martin," Dannie felt the tears beginning to flow down her cheeks. "I am ever in you debt, I have no idea how to thank you enough."

   "Nonsense girl, you are a true Godsend."

   "What do you mean?"

   "Just the other day I was talking to my husband and I said: Chris, our Sophie is already a young woman and all her life she's been surrounded by nothing but a host of men. Of course there is Grace, Carolina, and myself, but we've put our young years behind us long ago. Sophie needs a companion, a female companion, someone her age for her to be friends with. Let's find an orphan, I tell him, who has nowhere to go and needs help. And lo and behold, the never next day you show up. Chris, I say, if this isn't God's will, then I don't know what is. And to think that you are family on top of it all. Why, it would be nothing short of a sin to send you away! Oh don't cry, poor dear, we'll be so happy to have you. Our Sophie will have a proper companion at last." With these words Mrs. Martin drew Dannie into her arms, and Dannie broke down into tears of relief.

   "There, there now," Mrs. Martin soothed the weeping girl. "You've had a long hard journey. Arizona weather can be really rough. Just look at you, covered from head to toe in dust. And that storm yesterday, I'm guessing it caught up with you while you were on the road, didn't it?"

   Dannie nodded her head. She swallowed her tears, and gaining control over her emotions, put her crying to a halt.

   "That's a good girl," Mrs. Martin beamed. "We'll get you washed and cleaned and then you can have some supper."

   "Ah, Momma, I see Daddy lets you speak to the new comer." Sophie's voice rang out. Now that the door was wide open, she figured she had a right to enter.

   "Sophie, this is Danielle Preston, she's the daughter of your father's cousin."

   "I already met her, but I didn't know she was related to me."

   "Her parents, God rest their souls, are gone, and she has come to stay with us."

   "You are going to live here?" Sophie's eyes lit up.

   "I'm sorry it's all so unexpected," Dannie apologized. "I would have written and asked ahead of time, but I didn't have an address. Papa didn't know where you lived exactly, all we ever heard was that Mr. Martin owned a ranch somewhere in Arizona Territory."

   "You mean to tell me that you had no idea where to find us?" Mrs. Martin asked in surprise. "And you still set sail from England?"

   "I suppose you could say I walked on the water," Dannie said with a smile. "And thank God, I made it quite alright, without drowning."

   "Why child, you certainly have some faith." Mrs. Martin shook her head. "Now, I'm thinkin' you might want to wash and change."

   "That would be very nice."

   "Are your things in the wagon?"

   "No, all I have is in this bag," Dannie pointed to the carpet bag on the floor.

   "That's it?"

   "I needed to travel light."

   "I'll help Danielle settle in, Momma," Sophie offered. She was quite excited with the idea of a girl her age living with them.

   "That's a proper idea, love. I'll have Carolina get her a bath ready and we'll find her a place to sleep."

   "She can room with me, I've got a large room with plenty of space."

   "You sure?"

   "Really, Momma, Ed and Caleb roomed together and everyone thought that just fine."

   "Ah yes, well, if you don't mind and Danielle here doesn't mind."

   "I'll sleep wherever you put me, it can even be in the barn."

   Sophie and Mrs. Martin burst out laughing at this. "Dear, dear girl," Mrs. Martin said once she had calmed down. "Alright, Sophie, I'm leaving Danielle in your care. You make sure she feels at home here. And don't go showing her the herd until she had settled down."

   "Come with me." Sophie stated, reaching over and grasping Dannie's bag. "I'll show you to my room. It's really excitin' to know you are here to stay. I've never had much contact with other girls my age, life out here is pretty secluded. How old are you?"

   "I'm twenty one years," Dannie stated, wincing a little at her own age. "How about you?"

   "Twenty, just turned a couple of months ago. Wow, to think I am only one year younger than you, that's like nothin'. I've never had a girl around who was the same age as I was. I'll warn you ahead of time that ranches tend to be somethin' of a men's world, so findin' any women can be pretty difficult."

   Dannie couldn't keep from smiling. Sophie was a real chatterbox, but this fact was very comforting. How pleasant to know they were happy to have her, that they were more than glad to welcome her into their family.

   "Wait." Dannie suddenly turned back and stared at the empty room. "Where is Jake?"

   "Jake left," A voice called out. The two girls turned around and Dannie found herself looking at a new face belonging to a young man with features very similar to Sophie's. He had same round face, same blue eyes, same long, dark eyelashes that contrasted sharply with the blond hair. He was quite a bit taller than Sophie however and his appearance was hardy and robust, though perhaps slightly ragged.

   "Ah, Caleb, meet Danielle, she's the daughter of father's cousin. Danielle, this is Caleb, my twin brother. Danielle is going to live with us now, Caleb, cause her parents died."

   "Well, this is surprisin'." A smile broke out on Caleb's face, revealing a chipped tooth. "Nice to meet you Dannie...you don't mind be called Dannie do you?"

   "Not at all, everyone called me that back home," Dannie replied. "You said something about Jake leaving?"

   "Yup, rode off just a couple of minutes ago. He was in a hurry to get to the Cora Belle, said Walkers was probably wonderin' what the hell happened to him."

   "He rode away?" Dannie couldn't believe it. "Just like that? Without even saying goodbye?"

   "Oh Dannie, I wouldn't act so surprised," Sophie snorted. "Jake's known to be very cold when it comes to women. I'd be shocked if he would have actually taken the time to say goodbye. He's not what you would call a gentleman. He knows horses and cattle like the back of his hand, but when it comes to manners and women, he's at the bottom of the food chain, if you follow me. I don't know how you survived three and a half days of him, must have driven you insane."

   "We did have a rather bad start," Dannie confessed. "But later on we managed to get by just fine, even friendly I would say."

   "Yeah well, Jake is Jake and he's not the sort who is going to go out of his way to say goodbye to a girl."

   "I guess not," Dannie softly said. "I just thought," her voice became barely audible. "I just thought perhaps it would be a little different. Oh well, never mind." Dannie shook her head. Who was Jake to her? Some cowboy she'd met in a hotel. They had never been properly introduced, they had ridden together without a chaperon, and to be sure, they had become friendly, but four days couldn't exactly be called a long time. Still...ever since last night, Jake had somehow been different. It was like she had seen the other side to him, the side he never showed anyone, and Dannie realized she was going to miss the obnoxious, yet kindhearted cowboy.

   "Is the Cora Belle ranch very far from here?" She asked, following Sophie down the hall and up a flight of stairs.

   "No, not really, couple of hours by horse, but I wouldn't waste my time. It's a small, almost wild place, and as I mentioned before, Jake may not be all that welcomin'."

   Dannie nodded her head. Maybe it was all for the better. She still had mixed, hurt feelings concerning Paul and the time with Jake had only added to the confusion in her mind. Dannie blushed when she remembered falling asleep on his arm, the blush deepened when she remembered all the times she had called him the wrong name. She needed to settle down and start her life afresh, and that was best done on a clean head. If Jake wanted to be friends, he knew where to find her. Right now she would focus on starting her new way of life. Thank God, she was surrounded by kind, godly people. Dannie hoped that somehow she would manage to fit in this large and very foreign place.

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