Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 16. A Year Later.

Never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope.'—Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 16.

A Year Later.

   "Are ya sure you don't want to go to town with us, Dannie?" Sophie asked as she climbed into the wagon. "We only get out there once in a lifetime and you and I can go shoppin'. Come on."

"No thank you," Dannie shook her head. "It's hot and I feel very under the weather. The thought of driving in the heat and dust makes me feel sick." Although she had been living on the Circle 4 for a year already, Dannie still found it hard to adjust to the high temperatures, especially in the summer time.

   "But what shall I tell Cal Jennson? He will be very disappointed to know you did not come." Sophie's eyes twinkled with amusement. There was nothing she enjoyed more than teasing her friend about young Cal's attentions towards her.

   "Tell him the truth, I felt under the weather," Dannie replied with an honest shrug. "I am sure he will understand. Trust me, Sophie, you do not want me all faint and unhappy in that wagon with you. I can be very bothersome when in a bad mood."

   Sophie giggled. "If you put it that way, I'll put my pleadin' to an end. I'll be sure look for some dresses for you. I think it's about time you renewed your wardrobe."

   "Sophie, you will do no such thing! My dresses are in perfect condition and I have no need or desire to renew them."

   "If you only Sophie were as prudent as Dannie when it came to spendin' money," Caleb teased, climbing up into the wagon and taking a hold of the reigns.

"Watch that tongue, Caleb Martin, or I'll remove it," Sophie shot at him.

"Children!" Their mother scolded. "Please remember the two of you have to ride together in this here wagon for a half a day, let's not kill each other at the start of it."

   "And since when does young Martin have the reigns?" Ed Rellwar, the foreman of the Circle 4, asked. "Scoot aside mister. I'll be the one drivin' if you don't mind."

   Caleb grumbled but did as he was bid to the sound of Sophie's loud giggling.

   "You sure you don't want to come with us?" Jessie asked Dannie one last time.

   "Someone must keep Mr. Martin company while you are gone," Dannie replied. "Have a good time at the town, when should we expect you back?"

   "Tomorrow evenin' if all goes well."

   "Alright, let's git going, or we'll never make it to the town." Ed stated, twitching the reins. The horses moved forward and soon the wagon rolled away.

   Dannie waved to them as they rode off, then returned to the house in an attempt to get away from the sun.

***

   A loud commotion made Dannie look up from her book and walking to the window. She saw a bunch of the men rushing about here and there, quite of few of which she didn't recognize.

   "Come on, Roy," she called to the canine laying by the chair. "Let's go see what is going on."

   Roy, who had grown from the tiny puppy to a handsome dog, hopped up and followed his mistress as she sped out of the door and down the stairs. One year with Sophie had thrown out twenty one years of walking up and down like a lady, and Dannie had made a habit of rushing up and down the stairs two at a time. Upon reaching the first floor of the house, Dannie found the entire place in an uproar.

   "What happened?" She asked Mack as he came rushing past her.

   "Rustler attack," Mack called over his shoulder. Just at that moment, four men came through the front door, caring a makeshift stretcher between them. Dannie gave a gasp, her hand flying to her mouth while her heart suddenly began beating an an alarming rate. The figure on the stretcher, covered in dust and blood, was Jake.

   Having little tolerance for the thought of blood, much less the sight of it, Dannie was on the verge of fainting. Before she had a chance too, Mr. Martin came running up.

   "Put him in the parlor," he instructed in a loud voice. "I'll be with him in a minute."

   "What are you going to do?" Dannie's voice was small and frightened.

   "We need to get the bullets out of him. From what the men said their still stuck inside."

   "The boss is the best when it comes to handling accidents," Mack explained in a whisper as he walked past her once more. "He's the only person with decent medical experience around here." He then ran off to find his mother, Grace Rellwar, and get hot water from her.

    Dannie flew after Mr. Martin. "Mr. Martin, will you be needing any help?"

   "Yes, Dannie. Go to Grace and have her give you fresh linen and towels. Oh, and fetch my medical kit, Mack will tell you where to find it.

   Dannie nodded and ran off to do as she was bid. The image of Jake, all covered with blood and dirt was still fresh in her mind and it made her shudder. She did all Mr. Martin had asked of her as fast as she could, and returned to the parlor before fives minutes were up.

   "Excellent. Sterilize my knife in hot water then bring it to me," Mr. Martin commanded as soon as she came. Dannie was tempted to beg him to let her leave. What if she were to swoon from the all the blood that was sure to pour once they started operating? But she couldn't leave Jake like this. Gathering her wits about her, Dannie dipped the knife in hot water and brought it back to Mr. Martin.

   "Stand by me Dannie, and do exactly as I say." Mr. Martin ordered as he took the knife.

   "How many bullets did he take?"

   "Three, two in his chest and one in his leg; I'm not worried about the one in his leg, but if the bullet in his chest pierced his lung, I'm afraid he's in serious trouble. The second one just missed his heart. Whoever was aiming was obviously trying to kill him. Though judging by the scars on his chest, I can see these are not the first bullets he has taken in his life."

  It was true, Jake's chest and arms bore several marks that indicated former wounds caused by little metal balls blasted from different firearms.

   "He fought in the War Between the States," Dannie whispered. No more words were said during the operation. Dannie worked hard, fulfilling every task Mr. Martin asked of her. She fought to keep the nauseating feeling as far from her as possible. She couldn't afford to lose control of her senses, not when Jake's life was at stake.

   At last all the bullets were removed, and Mr. Martin proclaimed that no internal organs had been damaged. Two knife wounds had also been discovered in the process, one near his ribs and one in his shoulder. The wounds where all stitched shut and covered with bandages.

   "That's about all I can do," Mr. Martin stated once the operation had been complete.

   "Will he live?" Dannie asked, looking at her blood stained hands with dismay. It wasn't very pleasant to know she had another man's blood covering her skin. She must hurry and wash it off, but only after Mr. Martin gave Jake a verdict.

   "I don't know. I'd say it's about a forty to sixty percent."

   "Sixty percent being not in his favor?" Dannie's voice dropped a little.

   "I'm afraid so. He's sort of hanging between life and death right now, and he could go one way or the other. We'll just have to wait and see. He will need constant vigilance though."

   "I'll look after him," Dannie said.

   "Are you sure?"

   "More than sure. Jake brought me here even though I couldn't pay him. I guess you could say I owe him. I've never nursed a wounded man before, but I have looked after sick people and I know follow instructions and do whatever I am told."

   "Very well. I'll have the men move him to the spare room."

   Dannie scrubbed her hands clean, then she and Grace prepared the bed for Jake. Four men carried Jake over and carefully laid him down. Dannie brought her sewing from her room and Mack helped her set up a table and chair not far from the bed. Roy tried his best to stay with his mistress, but was dragged out by Grace. The sickroom was no place for a dog.

   "If his breathing becomes irregular, call me at once," Mr. Martin told Dannie. "Sam." Mr. Martin turned to an older man who had remained with Jake the entire operation and now stood at his bedside. "You'll have to inform Clay Walkers that Jake is in no condition to be moved back to the Cora Belle. His life is hanging by a thread and moving him will only make it snap. Dannie here has offered to nurse him and until he makes a turn for the better he must remain on my ranch."

   "Thank you, Mr. Martin, I'll have one of the boys take the message to Clay."

   Mr. Martin put a hand of the man's shoulder and departed from the room. Dannie stared at the figure lying on the bed. How different Jake looked now, covered in bandages, his face all swollen and beaten up.

   "So, you're Danielle Preston?"

   Dannie lifted her gaze to the man Mr. Martin called Sam. If his voice had not been so gentle, Dannie might have been a little intimidated by him. He was very large and rather dirty. He didn't seem very old, but gave the impression of someone who had been through more than most people. His complexion was very worn, and his blond hair was graying in far too many places. But the pale blue eyes were kind and the slightly unshaven face shone with warmth and care.

   "Yes, I am Danielle Preston," Dannie confirmed his words. "Who are you?"

   "Samuel Carthwrite is the full name, but most people call me Sam. I'm the foreman at the Cora Belle. Jake here spoke of you a little last year, said somethin' about taking a British girl named Danielle Preston from Clearbrook to the Circle 4 cause she was Mr. Martin's relative."

   "Jake mentioned me?" Dannie felt her cheeks going a little hot.

   "Yup, had us all shocked beyond words. Jake ain't exactly the sort of person who would take a woman anywhere, if you follow me."

   Dannie nodded.

   "I was actually hopin' to meet you at the Harvest Dance, but I came down with some kind of fever and had to miss it. I'm pleased to make the acquaintance now. You really have to be some woman to be able to convince Jake to do anythin' fer you."

   "What happened?" Dannie plucked the courage to ask.

   "We were driving cattle when we were attacked by a band of cattle rustlers. There was quite a fight, an' Jake got the worst of it. In fact, he was the only one who got hurt. Seems to have gotten quite physical, his face his all beaten up, not to mention those knife wounds. I didn't see it happenin', I just remember callin' for him an' then stumblin' upon his body in the dust. Oh lady, I thought he was dead and that was enough to make me plum horrified. I've known Jake for over three years an' the idea of him dead was more than I could handle. Luckily he was breathin', but I knew time was runnin' out. We were near the Circle 4 an' I knew Chris Martin is quite handy when it comes to medicine, so we brought him here."

   Dannie nodded her head and turned to look at Jake again. "Did you lose the herd?"

   "I'd say we lost 'bout half of it, but to hell with that. Cattle is cattle, we can buy more of it, Jake can never be replaced. If you'll excuse me, I've got to get word to Walkers. He'll be angry as hell, Jake and him are as close as brothers. Nice meetin' you though, just wish it was under more pleasant circumstances." Sam nodded to Dannie and left the room.

   Dannie haltingly reached out and placed her hand over Jake's. "You have to make it Jake," she whispered in an urgent voice. "You've survived so many things in your life already. You fought in a bloody war when you were still a boy; surely you can pull through this."

***

   "Dannie?"

   Dannie turned at the sound of Sophie's voice. "Hello, Sophie, back already?"

   "We're a day later than we planned. Good God!" Sophie's wide eyes blinked at the figure of Jake. "Daddy said it was really bad, but I didn't expect it to be this bad. How do you think he's doing?"

   "He's still alive," Dannie stated with a sigh. "Which is good news, but he hasn't woken and hardly stirred in the past three days. His leg wound picked up an infection, and it was quite an ordeal to clean it out. I've seen your father shake his head a couple of times. We still don't know if he is going to make it. All we can really do is wait and hope."

   Sophie motioned for Dannie to scoot over and perched on the same chair. "Daddy says you've hardly left his side all this time."

   "I said I'd look after him, and with you gone there wasn't much to do."

   "Do you want me to take over so you can stretch your legs a little?"

   Dannie shook her head. "Thank you Sophie, but I'll stay with him."

   "Danielle Preston, if you keep to this room day in and day out, you'll get pale and sickly. Come on, it's not like I have any less experience when it comes to nursin' someone. Two years back Caleb had a terrible accident when he fell from a horse and I was the one who pulled him through it."

   "Oh Sophie, I'm sure you might even be a better nurse than I am. The only people I've nursed were elderly folks who were one step away from death, but I can't leave him, I just can't." Dannie tenderly looked at Jake's form.

   "Dannie," Sophie took Dannie's hand. "Are you in love with Jake?"

   "How can I be when I hardly know him?" Dannie's face flushed. "I mean, I journeyed with him for four days and after that he disappeared out of my life. I haven't had seen or heard from him in this whole year. I can't tell you that I love him, but," Dannie felt her face become even hotter as she reached out and stroked the reddish blond hair. "Sophie, I think I could easily fall in love with him if only given the chance."

   "I believe this means you have completely gotten over Paul."

   "I think I've been over Paul for a long while already," Dannie said, still stroking back Jake's hair. "I mean, I've scarcely thought about him in all this time. But it was only after Jake's accident that I realized I am ready to love again, I just hope..." Dannie's voice trailed off, but Sophie got the message. Dannie was hoping that this all wasn't too late and that Jake wasn't gone for good. Sophie looked over at the unconscious form with a mixture of pity and envy. Pity for what the poor man was going through, and envy because she suddenly realized that here was someone who could easily take her dear Dannie away from her.

   "I'll go have Grace fetch you somethin' to eat," Sophie softly said, standing up giving Dannie a kiss.

   Dannie gave an absent minded nod, hardly noticing that Sophie had left, all her thoughts were occupied with thought of Jake and constant prayer that God would be merciful and allow him to pull through


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