Chapter 27. The Eyes of Death.
For God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind—Paul the Apostle
The Eyes of Death.
Dannie was standing by the mirror, trying on the hat she had made and evaluating herself critically. If only her face was a little rounder, she would look so much better. She noticed Sophie's reflection in the mirror and turned to face the blonde.
"Is Jake comin' today?" Sophie questioned in a severe voice.
"No," Dannie replied, turning back to the mirror. "He had business in town. I don't suppose we shall see him today or tomorrow." Dannie sighed at this fact. What would she give to see Jake every day, and to hear him talk in his funny accent that couldn't put verbs in their proper tenses, and always seemed to swallow the 'ing' when saying anything in the present continuous. Whenever Jake was not around Dannie was restless and unhappy. She tried to behave natural, but it was easy to see she counted the minutes to Jake's next visit. This behavior annoyed Sophie and she never failed to let it show. Today was no exception.
"I'm tired of him comin' over to our ranch all the time." She grumbled, a fierce scowl appearing to her face. "He never came by so often before, now he just haunts the place. I mean, he might as well just take up residence here, he comes so often. I wonder how Walkers puts up with it, to have his right hand always runnin' off to court a woman. I mean, it's not like the two ranches are that close to each other, so the road there and back eats up a lot of time."
"It is rather annoying that the ranches have to be so far apart," Dannie agreed. "Imagine if they were in walking distance, how wonderful would that be?"
"It wouldn't be wonderful!" Sophie snapped. "Then there would be no peace from that cowboy. He's stealin' you from me and it's not fair. You're my companion, not his!"
"Oh Sophie, I am sorry," Dannie turned to face her friend. "I suppose I haven't been spending much time with you. Come, perhaps we can go for a walk together."
"I ain't goin' nowhere," Sophie retorted. "You can go off by yourself and get a taste of your own behavior towards me." Tossing her head, Sophie loudly marched up the stairs. Dannie watched her with a sad expression. While being very sympathetic towards her dear friend, Dannie felt that to go up and badger Sophie would only indulge her to keep acting like that. If Sophie didn't want to go for a walk then Dannie would go on her own, with Roy of course. She could never go anywhere without her loyal companion. He hadn't suffered from Jake's constant visits. In fact, Roy seemed liked Jake very much and was always very pleased when he showed up. Dannie and Jake would take him with them on walks and rides and so the dog had no reason to be upset with the appearance of Jake in his mistress' life. He joyfully followed when she called him outside.
"Going out, Miss Dannie?" Mack asked as she walked past him.
"Only for a walk," Dannie replied. "I'm in the mood to stretch my legs a little."
"Just don't go too far," Mack warned.
"I won't," Dannie replied absently.
Dannie and Roy walked down towards the north end of the ranch, it was rather deserted as the herd and cowboys were at the north at the moment. The afternoon sun beat down, but it wasn't as terrible as the midday sun.
"You know, Roy," Dannie spoke to the dog. "I never thought I'd say this, but I am starting to get used to Arizona, I only wish there would be a little less dust and a little more rain.
A figure riding in the distance caught her attention. "That is odd," Dannie thought. "Who would be riding out here all by themselves?"
Roy grew alert, his ears twitched, and a low growl came from his throat as he warily watched the approaching horseman. Something told Dannie that this rider was trouble, but what was she to do? She had wandered quite far from the house, and without a soul in sight, screaming wasn't going to help much. Running wasn't an option either. The rider was on a horse and if could easily catch up with her. Her thoughts raced as she prayed what to do. Suddenly an idea hit her.
"Roy," she turned to her dog. "Roy go home." Roy didn't budge, he only kept growling. "Roy, go, go home, go now and get help." She ordered. The dog refused to move
"Roy, go, go," Dannie nudged him, praying he would get the point. "Go right now." Roy turned his head and looked into his mistress' eyes. "Go find Ed."
The mention of Ed's name caused the dog perk up. "Fetch Ed, bring him here," Dannie desperately ordered. Roy hesitated for a moment, then broke off running in the direction of the house.
"Dear Lord, help him to find help," Dannie prayed, knowing at this moment Roy was her only hope. She braced herself for whoever was coming at her. The horse soon rode up and the rider pulled it to a halt. For a few seconds Dannie and the rider evaluated each other. He was a large imposing figure, with a black stetson hat that cast a shadow over his face. Leather was sewn onto his pants and he had a leather jacket and dark red neckerchief. There was a rugged, almost sinister air about him.
At last the rider dismounted and threw the reins over the neck of the horse.
"You've sure got a coward for a puppy, Missy," he told her, his voice thick and deep. "But you know, this is not the first time it's happened. For some reason dogs never like me and when I come around they take off . Usually I shoot them before they get too far, but yours wasn't in shootin' range. Pity."
Dannie was perplexed by his words and unsure of how to react. He didn't seem to notice and kept right on talking. "Whatchya doing out here all on your own, Missy?"
"I was going to ask you the same question, sir," Dannie replied, surprise at how calm her voice was. "This is not your land; it belongs to Mr. Martin."
"Does it now? Good to know, that must mean I've finally made it to the Circle 4. Didn't realize it was so far away from the town. Now don't give me that look, Missy, I'm not hurtin' no one, just lookin' for a man. Maybe you could help me."
Dannie lifted one eyebrow, inwardly praying the fear she felt inside would not show on her face.
"You wouldn't be any chance know someone by the name of Jacob Wade?"
"And if I did?"
"Well, I was hopin' you would tell me, I've got business with him."
"Who are you, sir?" Dannie skeptically asked.
A smile spread across his face, "Few people ever knew my real name, no one but me remember it now. To the world I go by the name Calhoon."
Dannie caught her breath. "Good God, you're the man Rachel nearly ran off with."
Shock registered on Calhoon's face. "My, seems you know a lot more about me than most people. Oddly enough, I don't know nothin' about you; you're a total stranger to me. I'm wonderin' how all that fits together"
Dannie wasn't sure how to answer. How could she had just said something like that? Her association was that Calhoon had been the man Rachel wanted to run away with, since that was really the first thing she had known about him. Everyone in the area knew him as a notorious cattle rustler, but to Dannie he had always been the man who'd seduced Rachel and tore about Jake's family. But to give it away had probably been the stupidest thing she'd ever done. Somehow it had come out of her mouth before she realized it.
"From where I see it," Calhoon said after a moment of thought. "Yhe only person who could have told you somethin' like that would be Jake, so I'm guessin' you know him."
"I do know him," Dannie confirmed.
"So," Calhoon seemed to have relaxed a little. "How is it that Jake Wade told you such intricate details of his life?"
"Why should you care, sir?"
"I'm just wonderin', if he told you about Rachel and me, maybe he also told you the part of where Rachel went."
"She went some place safe from you."
"And that would be?"
"I don't know, and for the record, Jake doesn't know either."
"Bullshit! He knows, he's the one who hid her from me. Robbed me of her he did."
"He did it for her own good."
"Own good? He robbed that dear soul of love. I loved that little girl, loved her with all my heart. She was the prettiest and sweetest thing I ever met. I was right ready to marry her, but no, Jake had to get in the way. I'll have you know he broke Rachel's heart. All she wanted was to be with me. I would have made her happy."
"You would have been her ruin, Calhoon."
"I told Jake I would change my ways if he would only let me have her."
"That's not the way it works. First you change your ways and then you get her. And I think we both know you weren't planning on changing your ways, so if you really loved her you would have left the poor girl alone. It is bad enough if you are determined to go to hell, but there is no need to drag someone else with you."
"Bad men can love too, Missy, and no matter what you say I loved little Rachel Inrow and I wanted to be the one to take care of her. Maybe I would've done it in my own way, but I swear I'd have done all in my power to make her happy."
"You really make it sound so romantic, sir, but the truth is you not only nearly ruined her life, but completely tore apart an entire family."
"They did that without my help. If Jake would have let me have Rachel things could've turned out for the good. I vowed I would find her if it was the last thing I did. I tried all the tricks to get Jake to reveal to me where he was hidin' her, but he managed to get away from me every time. Not for long, I knew one day I would catch up with him. He'll give me her whereabouts, I'll squeeze them out of him."
"Calhoon, for the last time, Jake doesn't know where she is. That was the whole point; he had his mother take Rachel secretly. He wanted to be sure that she would be safe from you and this was the best way to go about it. Rachel and her mother disappeared one night without telling anyone where they were going. What is more, all this happened some five, six, maybe even seven years ago. Has it ever crossed your mind that Rachel has probably forgotten about you? She may be already married and raising a family."
"I'll cross that bridge when I come to it; right now what I want is Jacob Wade. I have a score to settle with him. You know where he is, Missy?"
"My name is not Missy, sir, and I do not appreciate calling me that."
"Oh, pardon me, what should I call you."
"You from London by any chance?"
"Whatever, I'll bet it's all England."
"You from California sir?"
"Whatever, it's all America."
"Touché," Calhoon laughed. "Pretty feisty ain't ya?"
"I'm just sick of people asking me if I am from London. While England may not be as large as America, it isn't only composed of the capital city."
Calhoon laughed at this. "You've got spunk, I'll give you that. Now let's get back to Wade, shall we?"
"Calhoon, allow me to repeat for the last time that you will never find out about Rachel's whereabouts from Jake. He can't tell something he doesn't know, not to you, not to me, and not to Bessie."
"Ooooh, you know about Bessie too."
"And how do you know that she was workin' for me?"
"Jake told me."
"And how did he know?"
"Figured it out."
"I'll have to admit, there is more to Wade than I originally thought. Alright, he doesn't know where Rachel is, I think you made that clear enough, but what I am still wonderin' is just who you are to him exactly?"
Dannie bit her lip, not sure how to answer.
"Let me see, you seem to know a lot of Wade's life and he seems to have let you in on a good many secrets. You live here, Missy?"
Dannie took a loud angry breath.
"Oooh, Miz Preston, my bad. You live on the Circle 4, everyone in the town was sayin' that Jake spends a lot of time on the Circle 4 and that it should be the first place to look, even before the Cora Belle. If that really is the case then I'm thinkin'," Calhoon looked Dannie up and down. "Is he in love with you?"
Dannie remained silent.
"Who would have thought," Calhoon chuckled. "It's not like you're all that pretty. Now don't get me wrong here, you ain't ugly. I mean, I've seen plenty of hideous girls in my life and I can safely say you're not one of them. Still, compared to Bessie, who would make Venus herself turn purple with envy, I have to say you are kinda plain. I wonder what is it that made Wade fall for you. Usually, men don't fall in love with other women after Bessie."
"From what I understand, sir, men don't usually go on breathing after Bessie."
Calhoon laughed. "Very good point, Miz Preston. You're a smart one you are."
"Flattered, to be sure," Dannie's voice was flat.
"So, you and Wade are in love. How's that for hypocrite? He takes the girl I love away from me and goes on to get one for hisself."
Dannie rolled her eyes, she wasn't even going to bother arguing any further with this man.
"Is he on the ranch right now?"
"If he were on the ranch do you think I would be standing out here alone?"
"Good point there," Calhoon nodded. "So he's not here, but you are." A cold grin suddenly appeared on Calhoon's face. "I think I finally found out a way to get even with Wade. And much fun it will be too."
Dannie felt her heart beating faster, what was he leading too.
"If he took my girl away, I'm just going to take his and I'd like to see what he thinks about it."
"So...you're going to kidnap me?" Dannie hesitantly asked.
"No. What would I do with you?" Calhoon laughed. "Sorry my dear, but I'm afraid I'm gonna to kill you."
"Oh!" Dannie's voice was a little choked, but fought to keep her cool. "Oh God, help me to stay strong." She silently prayed.
Calhoon pulled his shotgun out and pointed it at her. Dannie caught her breath as she found herself staring straight down the barrel of a gun.
"Any last words?" Calhoon sneered.
"You have hurt many people beyond repair, Calhoon, but there is always hope and forgiveness in God. I hope one day you will come to discover this."
He was a little taken back by her statement. "How very poetic, Miz Preston. People don't usually say such things to me before they die."
"My father was the vicar of Collingham, and that was the policy with which he raised me," Dannie explained.
"Is that so?" Calhoon laughed, "well good for him. Okay, here's how we are going to do this. I'm going to count to three and then shoot."
"May I ask what the point of counting is?"
"Cause that's how I always do it, it adds some tension and sport to the moment. People tend to really freak out at this part, though somethin' tells me it ain't gonna work too well with you. Ah well, tradition is tradition. And don't worry, I know how to aim and I promise you'll go nice and easy, no pain whatsoever."
"How benevolent of you," Dannie retorted. "I am overwhelmed by your kindness."
Calhoon chuckled. "I like your spunk, Miz Preston, I think I'm beginnin' to understand what Jake saw in you. I'll be sure to pass on your undyin' love." He burst out laughing at his own words. Dannie rolled her eyes. Once Calhoon had laughed his full, he settled down and his finger on the trigger tensed.
"I wouldn't be too worried, Miz Preston, seein' as how you are all Bible believin', I'm sure you soul will go straight to God. You ready? One..."
Will Roy find help? Will Jake make it in time? And what about the ducks?
(Okay, the third question was random, there to lighten up the mood)