Chapter 1. Somewhere in Arizona Territory.
True strength is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart.—unknown.
Somewhere in Arizona Territory.
Dannie stared at the map of America spread out in front of her. Her finger slid across the page until it rested on the area marked as Arizona. She closed her eyes and let her mind travel five years back in time.
"Dannie," the voice of her mother called, "we have visitors."
"Coming Mamma," Dannie replied and made her way down the stairs as fast as ladylike permitted. Coming into the parlor, she was greeted by her father and a gentleman she did not know.
"Mr. Grant," her father, the Reverend Robert Preston, introduced, "my daughter, Danielle Preston. Danielle, Lawson Grant."
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Preston" Mr. Grant said, taking Dannie's hand and kissing it.
"The pleasure is all mine," Dannie replied with a small curtsy. "Are you from America, sir? Your accent suggests such."
"You are very observant, Miss Preston," Mr. Grant chuckled as he took the seat Mrs. Preston had offered. "I am from Boston."
"What brings you to our little town of Collingham?"
"Mr. Grant is an old acquaintance of mine," Reverend Preston explained. "We met in Oxford when he was studying the law and I was studying theology."
"Business has brought me back to England and I thought I would look in my old friend," Mr. Grant added. "What is more, I bring news of your father's cousin Christopher Martin."
"Is that so?" The soft brown eyes of her father had lit up, "I hope it is good news. I have not heard from Chris ever since he left England to 'seek out his fortune'."
"I have no news directly from him, but I have heard he has made his fortune and is the owner of a large cattle ranch."
"Cattle ranch?" Reverend Preston was very surprised. "Goodness me, what an exotic lifestyle he has chosen! I see he has truly given up the practice of medicine. What a pity, he would have made an excellent doctor. Where is this ranch of his?"
"Somewhere in Arizona Territory," Mr. Grant replied.
Dannie opened her eyes and stared at the map once again. Somewhere, somewhere in Arizona Territory. She turned her eyes from the atlas to the framed photograph of her father. Taking it in her hands, she gazed at it tenderly. Everyone always told her she was a direct copy of him, and it was true. All of Dannie's features, the oval shape of her head, the round chin, her small nose and thin lips, the large, dark brown eyes and jet black hair, all this had been given to her by the dear man she had called Papa for twenty one years. Mamma often complained how after all the work she went through carrying Dannie for nine months and giving birth to her, it was unfair Dannie shouldn't resemble her at all.
"Oh Papa," Dannie whispered, "dearest, sweetest Papa, where, where in Arizona Territory?" Pressing the photograph to her chest, Dannie let the tears spill out of her eyes. The death of her parents had happened so suddenly and she was still trying to fully realize the fact that she was now on her own. Father had left her some money, but it was not enough to live on. She would soon have to give up the house when the new minister moved in, and to top it off, Paul had recently informed her that their engagement was at an end. Dannie fought to keep her head above the waters swirling around her that had so unexpectedly come flooding down on her. In all this darkness, there was one ray of hope. Her father had a cousin living in America. He had departed many years ago, before Dannie had been born, but he was the only family she had left. After much thought and prayer, Dannie had decided she was going to try and find him.
"You always wanted to restore connections with Mr. Martin," Dannie softly spoke to her deceased father, "I suppose now is as good a time as any. I only wish I had more concrete directions." Setting the photograph back on the table, Dannie wiped her tears and gathered her wits about her. She was a girl of strong character, a trait she had inherited from her mother, and was determined not to let her grief get the better of her. Closing the atlas, she fetched her bonnet and went to visit the house of her closest friend, Margret. She would be the first person to hear of Dannie's tremendous plan.
"You don't even know where Mr. Martin lives!" Margret's voice was desperate and upset.
"Yes, I do," Dannie calmly replied. "He lives in America."
"America?" Margret lifted her eyebrow. "Can you be at least a little more specific?"
"Somewhere in Arizona Territory."
Margret frowned at her friend, "Dannie, I beg of you to please reflect for a moment on what a foolish idea this is? You have no idea where to find him; you don't even know anything about the man except that he was a cousin of your late father."
"I know he owns a ranch," Dannie stubbornly stuck to her own, "which significantly narrows everything down."
"Oh, so you plan to go through all the ranches in Arizona trying to find the one Mr. Martin owns?" Margret skeptically asked.
"Well, come to think of it, how many can there be?"
Margret groaned and buried her head into her hands, "oh, Dannie, Dannie, I don't understand how a girl as knowledgeable as yourself can still manage to be so naïve."
Dannie sat down next to her. "I know there are all sorts of stories about the American west, but perhaps not as bad as we think."
Margret lifted her head and looked into Dannie's dark brown eyes. "I've heard it is a wild, uncivilized place crawling with Indians and outlaws. Do you really want to go out there, all on your own, to find some relative you never met? We don't know what sort of a man he is. Maybe he's a villain, or a scoundrel, or something worse. I know the loss of your parents and Paul abandoning you has made you very desperate, but why can you not remain in England?"
"What am I going to do in England?"
"You could become a governess," Margret suggested. "There are a lot of very good families who would be willing to take you. You are very accomplished and have a solid education. If you really want to get away from Collingham, why not just move to the city? You could go travel to Leeds for example. If that is too nearby how about Manchester, or York? Who knows, Richard may even be able to help you find a place in London. I think my husband once mentioned having some kind of connections there. Think of how exciting it would be for you to live and work in the capital?"
Dannie gave a firm shake of her head. "No. England has robbed me of family, finances, and fiancé and I refuse to stay within its borders. Can't you see Meg, England no longer holds anything for me? If Paul hadn't...hadn't broken our engagement, the thought of leaving would have never crossed my mind. You remember, don't you, how much I wanted to marry him, to start a family with him, but that is all gone and all I want to do is get away, and get away for good."
"Dannie, for mercy's sake, be reasonable!"
"I'm sorry, Meg," Dannie spoke resolutely as she stood up, "I'm afraid I can't be reasonable. I've made up my mind to go America. Now, you must excuse me, the day after tomorrow the new minister will take up lodgings in the house and I must have completely cleared by then. Tell Richard to come tomorrow at nine. He promised he would help me with auctioning off fathers books." Dannie's face grew sad. "I wish I could take them with me, but I need to travel light and a library is certainly not something you can take across the ocean."
Margret gave a sigh of defeat. Leaning over, Dannie placed a kiss on her friend's cheek. "Father always told me that faith is like walking off a cliff and knowing you will get across safely to the other side, even if that means God must build you a bridge or give you wings. Personally, I would prefer wings, but a bridge will suit me just as well."
Margret had to laugh. "Of all his maximums, that is the one you remembered? What was that other saying of his, fortune favors the brave..."
"But the only hope for the reckless is God's pity," Dannie finished.
"That fits you to a T Danielle Frances Preston, because this whole endeavor is as reckless as it comes!"
"Well, I like to think I have an advantage when it comes to God's pity. God has a special place in his heart for orphans, does He not?"
"For your sake, Dannie, I hope He does."
Dannie giggled at her friend's less than supportive humor, and departed from the house. There was much to prepare for her voyage to America and she wanted to get it done and over as quick as possible. The sooner she got away from the painful memories of her parents and Paul, the better for her.
Collingham is a real village located in the county of West Yorkshire, roughly 10 miles north of the city of Leeds. It is a beautiful English village. The church the fictional character of Reverend Preston was vicar of is St. Oswald's church, which was originally built in the 15th century and is still active today. You can see a picture of it in the media section.