Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 4. Bad Start.

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.—George Bernard Shaw.

Chapter 4.

Bad Start.

    Even though morning had dawned only about an hour ago, the heat was already in full sway as the sun beat mercilessly from the sky. Two figures in a horse drawn wagon were making their way to Clearbrook. Both had their neckerchiefs tied around their faces, not to hide their identity, but to keep the dust out of their nose and mouth. As the neared the town, they pulled the neckerchiefs down. The taller one removed his hat and ran his hand through his messy, reddish blond hair. Placing the hat back on his head, he turned to his partner.

     "This is it. Within a couple of hours you'll be on your way to Santa Fe. It's not too late to change your mind, ya know?"

    The fellow traveler shook his head. "I've been waiting for two years for this day, Jake, nothing in this world will make me change my mind."

     "Oh, Abner, you are so naïve! Trust me, in two weeks you'll be wishing you were back on the Cora Belle! I won't be surprised if you get to Santa Fe and find out your Glenda has married some other fella and conveniently forgot to tell you."

    Abner laughed at his words. "She's not like that, Jake."

"They're all like that," Jake retorted.

    "Hey, just because you had a sad experience with the opposite sex doesn't mean you have to try and give me the same fate."

    Jake shook his head the rest of the journey was made in silence. When they arrived at Clearbrook, Jake drove his partner to the station. "You purchase you ticket and I'll go sell the yearlings. I'll come back as soon as I am finished, maybe I'll have time to see you off."

Abner nodded his head and the two men parted ways.

***

    Jake had come from the Cora Belle Ranch to sell off two yearlings to a buyer living in Clearbrook. The Cora Belle Ranch horses were known for miles around to be well bred, well trained, and worth every bit you paid for them. Since Clearbrook was the only town in Arizona with a train station, Jake had been accompanied by the former ranch hand Abner, who was on his way to marry the girl of his dreams after working hard and saving up for two years. Jake was sorry to lose Abner, the two of them had become good friends, but there was no talking him out of marriage. Abner had wanted to marry his Glenda years ago, but her stubborn grandfather had forbidden the match, saying Abner wasn't rich enough. Now Abner had finally saved enough, and only two months ago the much hated grandfather had passed away. This was Abner's moment and the young man was not going to pass it up. He was even willing to turn from cowboy to farmer if only to have his girl. Jake had always said girls could wind even the most level headed man around their fingers, and Abner had just gone and proven it true.

    Once Jake had concluded his business, he returned to the train station as promised, Abner was waiting for him.

    "The train for Santa Fe is in two hours," he told Jake in a disappointed voice. "So I'm stuck here till then."

    "And he's complaining," Jake laughed and slapped Abner on the back. "I'm stuck here till tomorrow morning. Come on, we haven't had a decent meal in three days. There's a hotel of sorts not far from the station. We'll eat and freshen up a bit and before you know it your two hours will be up."

Abner grumbled under this breath, but climbed into the wagon with Jake.

     "You're too anxious to get married," Jake once more informed him.

     "Stop telling me that," Abner barked. "One day it will be you in my shoes and you'll understand!"

     "It won't be me," Jake vehemently shook his head, "I'd soon go and hang myself than be saddled with an annoyin' woman. Trust me, lightin' will have to strike me before I can be convinced marriage is the way to go."

    They soon reached the hotel and a young man of about twenty years came out to greet them.

   "Leave your horses and wagon to me, sirs," he said. "We've got a good stable to put them in. I'll rub them down and give them a good feeding. You go and grab a bite to eat yourself."

    "Thank ya sonny," Jake said as he and Abner hopped down from the wagon. "Only be gentle with them. They've had a long, hard journey and might be out of spirits. I hope you know how to handle horses."

    "Been handling them from a cradle," The boy replied, taking the reins from Jake. "My daddy's been running hotels all his life and I've been the stable boy for as long as I can remember."

    "Is that so?" Jake laughed.

    "The honest truth, sir. You git yourself inside and out of the dust, don't worry about them horses, I'll make them good and comfortable."

    "Well then, I' guess I'll be a thank'n you," Jake replied and followed Abner through the door and into the little room.

    "Howdy and welcome," Caleb called to them. "Is there anything I can get you?"

    "A good meal would be nice," Jake said, brushing the dust from his clothes.

    "Have a seat," Caleb motioned to one of the tables, "I'll have Maggie fetch you some of the stew she's been preparing. I'll warn you right away, sir, there ain't nothing like my Maggie's stew."

    The two men nodded their thanks and Jake motioned for Abner to follow him to the table standing farthest from the door. On their way they passed by Dannie who was sitting quietly in the corner reading her Bible. Abner politely tipped his hat to the young lady, Jake hardly even acknowledged her presence.

    Dannie eyed the two men with interest as they took their seats. She had never really seen anything like them before. Both men were covered from head to toe in dust. The taller one removed his hat and revealed a head full of reddish blond hair that seemed to be sticking out in all directions. His rough, homespun clothes were old and faded. She noted the spurs on his high leather boots, and the leather hat he had just placed on the table. He seemed rugged, and rather unkept. The shorter fellow had also removed his hat, and while his hair was damp from sweat, his haircut was neat and trimmed. He was also better dressed than his companion and carried a bag with him, which he had carefully placed under the table. Dannie wondered if these men were cowboys, and noted how they looked a lot rougher than what she had seen in pictures. Somehow in the books they hadn't seemed so...dirty! Shaking her head at the uncivilized ways of the American West, Dannie turned her attention back to the Bible.

    "Here is your stew, sirs," Abby had walked up to them and placed two steaming bowls on the table. "Is there anything you want to drink?"

    "I'll have a shot of whiskey," Jake replied, digging into the meal as though he had not eaten in weeks.

   "I'll have whiskey too," Abner added, picking up his spoon.

   "Pa," Abby called, "they want whiskey, that's your department." She turned around and returned to her mother in the kitchen.

     "Here's your whiskey," Caleb brought over the drink. "You from these parts?"

    "No, we ain't," Jake replied. "Came up here for some business."

   "You boys need a bed for the night?"

   "He does," Abner pointed to Jake, "I'm leaving on the train for Santa Fe."

    "We'll be glad to have you, sir," Caleb turned to Jake. "My name is Caleb Callaway and I'm the owner of this place."

    "Jacob Wade, nice to meet you," Jake shook the hand Caleb offered.

   "Abner Shaw," Abner also shook Caleb's hand.

    "You two come from inland?"

    "Yup." Jake nodded his head.

    "Hmmmmm?" Caleb cast a glance in Dannie's direction. "You wouldn't by any chance happen to know someone who goes by the name of Christopher Martin, would you? He's a ranch owner I believe."

    "Christopher Martin," Abner spoke up. "I know a man who answers to that name. Isn't that the name of our neighbor? The fellow who owns the Circle 4?"

   "Yup, that's him," Jake agreed. "He's got the largest ranch in the area. I've done business with him on several occasions, he's a fine person and a great businessman."

    "You don't say?" Caleb's face broke into a large grin. "Tell me, is this Mr. Martin formerly from England?"

    Jake thought for a minute. "Reckon he is. Now that I think of it, I believe his roots are in British soil, but he sure as hell don't remember that. He's been living down on that ranch for well over twenty years now, don't think he even remembers what England is like. Why do you need him?"

    "I don't need him, the little Miss sitting at that table does." Caleb pointed to Dannie, who had grown alert and was listening to the entire conversation.

    Jake's pale green eyes swiftly followed Caleb's pointing finger and looked at Dannie.

    "And why would she be a wantin' Mr. Martin?"

    Dannie didn't like the way he had just spoken that sentence, his voice was filled with suspicious contempt. Rising confidently to her feet she walked over to where Jake and Abner were sitting.

    "To coin your phrase, Mr. Wade, she would be 'a wanting' to meet him."

    Her crisp accent caught Jake off guard, this lady was obviously from England. Jake looked her up and down critically, she was dressed in a black traveling suit, making her look pale, and her  hair was gathered up in a tight bun, making her look thin. There was certainly nothing special about her, granted, she wasn't ugly, but just so very plain and ordinary.

    "And why would she be a wantin' to meet him?" Jake asked at last.

    Abner kicked him under the table. "Jake," he hissed, "be nice. Would you have seat, ma'am," he kindly said to Dannie who nodded her thanks and took the chair he offered. "Abner Shaw and Jacob Wade, can we know whom we are speaking with?"

   "Danielle Preston," Dannie introduced herself. She smiled at Abner, but her face became cold when her eyes met Jake's. "My business with Mr. Martin is my own," she informed him, "and though it is not a great secret, I don't see a need to tell it to someone who is treating me with such contempt."

    Jake frowned, there was a reason he hated talking to women. "Look, Miss, I don't mean you no harm, I just find it suspicious that an obviously foreign woman would be out here searching for Mr. Martin. He's married you know."

   Abner kicked him again. Jake scowled at Abner and kicked him back.

    Dannie rolled her eyes. "Yes, and he's also old enough to be my father.  Rest assured I have not come all the way here to try and marry him?"

    "I never said that."

    "But that is what you implied. If you really must know Mr. Martin is a relative of mine and I need to find him because I have nowhere else to go."

    "And I'm wonderin', does Mr. Martin expect you?" Jake prodded.

    "No, he doesn't."

    "So, Miss, you are just going to walk into his house and say: Mr. Martin, I am your relative, please take me in and care for me. Let me tell you now, Missy, that Mr. Martin runs a ranch and doesn't have time to be burdened with troublesome women. You at least could have had the decency to write and tell him about your coming."

    "I would have written him if I bloody knew where he lived!" Dannie's patience exploded. She bit her lip when she realized what a horrible word she had spoken, but it hadn't been her fault. This man was being very tiresome. "Do you think I would be sitting out here, stranded in the middle of nowhere, if I knew where to find Mr. Martin?  I do not know what your problem is, or why you are behaving as though I am some sort of great evil coming to bring the house of Martin to utter ruin, but if you know where Mr. Martin is I would really appreciate it if you would tell me."

    Jake had been a little taken back by Dannie's outburst, but regained his composure before anyone could guess that he had lost it. Abner decided it was time for him to cut in

   "Jake, will you ever learn how to behave properly when around women?" Abner growled at Jake. "Please forgive my partner, Miss Preston, he's not all in there when it comes to manners. Mr. Martin owns the Circle 4 Ranch. It is a three day journey from here, not far from the town of Hopewing. The mail coach goes Hopewing about twice a week. It's only about half a day to the ranch. You could catch a ride with the mail and then send word to Mr. Martin from there."

    "How much is the mail coach?" Dannie inquired.

    "I think it's about fifteen dollars," Abner informed.

    "Then I can't take the mail," Dannie sighed.

    "Why not?"

    "Because I don't have enough money; I most of what I had to get this far."

    Jake chuckled and shook his head, "not very prudent of you, Miss."

    Dannie bit her lip to keep her temper in check. There were several people coming into the place and she didn't want to cause a large commotion. "It's not my fault my parents didn't leave me much money when they passed away," she snapped. "Nor am I to blame that the closest relative of mine didn't keep communication with my father. If you want the story in a nutshell, Mr. Wade, my parents passed away and I was left with nothing, so I determined to find my father's cousin, because he is the only family I have left." She fought to keep a brave face, but both men easily detected the desperation and frustration in her voice.

   "My condolences, Miss Preston," Abner's voice was filled with sympathy. "I know what it is like to lose people you love." He was thoughtful for a moment, then his face brightened up. He turned to his partner. "Jake, you could take her to Mr. Martin."

   "Me!" Jake stared at Abner in disbelief.

   "Him, take me?" Dannie was just as taken back.

   "Sure, Jake's got to get back to the Cora Belle Ranch, and he'll pass by the Circle 4. It won't be any trouble for him to take you along."

   "I don't know..." Dannie's voice trailed off. Travel alone with a man she didn't know? How horribly improper.

   "Oh, Jake is a good man, Miss Preston," Abner hurried to reassure. "We've been working together on the Cora Belle Ranch for two years and I have yet to find someone as honest and hardworking. Our boss, Clay Walkers, trusts Jake with his life. I know he's kinda rude, but he's honorable. I can honestly tell you that he is known for miles around to be the best horse breeder and cattle driver in all of Arizona, you have no idea how many ranchers are dying to get him to come and work for them. He's got a good reputation, and he'll be glad to take you to the Circle 4, and it won't cost you a penny."

   "Now wait a minute," Jake cut in, "I'm not takin' her anywhere!"

    "Oh come on, Jake," Abner argued. "It's not like she is going to be much trouble. Why anyone could see she is a fine lady."

   "Exactly, she's a fine lady!" Jake retorted. "I don't fine ladies anywhere."  

     "Is there anything wrong with fine ladies?" Dannie questioned him.

    "It's just that you have no common sense about you!"

   Abner kicked him again, why was Jake determined to be such a stick in the mud? The poor girl needed help, couldn't he just put his prejudice aside and help her

    By now Dannie had forgotten about all the people staring at her, and she raised her voice angrily. "I have no common sense about me?"

    "We'll get out there, you start whinin' and fussin', everything will be to your discomfort, and in the end you'll beg me to take you back here so you can get on the train back to the city from whence you came. How about you spare everyone the trouble and stick around Clearbrook long enough to earn the money to pay for you ticket back East. There you can find a respectable job, say as a governess perhaps. The West is no place for a refined lady like yerself."

    Dannie couldn't believe her ears. Did he just tell her to be a governess? Was that really the only thing people though her good for? She gave an angry shake of her head, "Mr. Wade, I didn't uproot myself from my home, have to endure an Irish lady talking my ears off for nearly two weeks, and be jolted about in a hot, stuffy train car only to turned down by a man whose manners are about as terrible as his speaking habits. I made it this far and I'll get to my destination. For pity's sake, why aren't you willing to help me out a little?"

   "She's right, Jake," Abner agreed. "Why should she try to make it on her own when she's got family just a few days away. You'd help me if I were in such a predicament."

    "You are a different story. This is some random English girl I just met."

    Dannie rolled her eyes and left the table, heading upstairs. Everyone in the hotel was watching the argument with great interest. Abby and Maggie were peaking from the kitchen, Caleb's son had come from the stables, Caleb himself was standing at the counter, intently listening. All the customer were pretending to be occupied with their business, while their ears were alert and picking up everything word being spoken.

   "Why do ya have to create all this drama," Abner hissed at him. "Look, I know you don't like women, but just let some compassion fill your heart. I would take her myself if I wasn't going to Santa Fe. She's obviously lost and confused and needs some assistance."

   "If she really wants to get to Mr. Martin, she can earn her fifteen dollars here. I don't want to drag her with me in the heat and dust. This is a rough place and not for the likes of her."

   "Oh, you're impossible to reason with!" Abner lost his temper.

   "I don't understand why you are so determined to help her. Who is she to you? You've only just met her."

   "I know what it is like to be alone in the world," Abner's face turned serious, "so that's why I understand. I was orphaned at the age of fourteen and I wouldn't have ended up very badly if a good man hadn't showed me kindness. I was taken in by a local rancher and it's thanks to him I'm the man I am today. I never was able to repay him but now I can return the favor."

   "By burdenin' me with a demandin' woman from England? That's a great way to return a favor!"

    Abner felt he would explode at Jake, but Dannie came down the stairs carrying her little bag, and Abner forced himself to calm down."

    "Thank you so much for the information you provided me, Mr. Shaw," she spoke kindly to Abner. "And for all the trouble you took to help me. It is not often someone will be willing to assist a stranger in need. I hope your journey to Santa Fe will be pleasant and swift."

    "So you decided to take the train back?" Jake asked her.

    "I told you I don't have the money for that," Dani snapped at him, "but now that I know where Mr. Martin's ranch is located I have no reason to linger in this town. Seeing as I cannot afford any mode of transportation that leaves me with only one option. I'll just have to get there by foot."

    "You want to WALK?" Jake and Abner burst out disbelief.

    Jake then chuckled and shook his head. Ah, fine ladies, he had been right when he had stated they were the most naïve creatures on the planet. "Look, lady, I don't know what it is like in England, but down here you can't just go walking out into the wilderness. This is wild and dangerous territory, anyone sitting here will be able to tell you that. You'll be dead before you get three miles out of this town."

     "Well, Mr. Wade," Dannie's voice was crisp, "I'll just leave that between you and your conscience, seeing as it was in your power to help me, but since you refused I was left with no other option."

    Jake blinked at the woman in disbelief.

    "Thank you for everything, Mr. Callaway," Dannie turned to Caleb, "without your help I would have never found out the information." With that Dannie headed over to the exit.

     "Jake..." Abner glared at him. Jake looked around. Ten people where all staring at him with eyes that had turned to daggers. All at once Jake realized how on the spot he was, and if he didn't come up with something quick, he was going to turn into Clearbrook's greatest villain. By this afternoon the whole town would be gossiping about the arrogant cowboy who didn't want to help the poor young lady. Groaning at what he would now have to do, he took a deep breath and called out.

    "Missy, hold on there."

     "I don't answer to the name if Melissa, sir," Dannie called over her shoulder, not bothering to even look at him.

     "That's not what I meant." Jake said, getting a little upset that Dannie wasn't stopping.

     Dannie shrugged and opened the door to step outside.

     "Jesus Christ, woman!" Jake rose to his feet.

    Dannie whirled around, fire burning in her eyes. "Never ever take the name of the Lord in vain in my presence!" She snapped.

     "What?" Jake exclaimed in disbelief. What was the matter with this female? Was he really going to tell her he would take her to the Circle 4? He knew for a fact that he would regret this decision for the rest of this life, but there was no way out of the predicament.

     Dannie in the meantime had already walked out into the streets. Jake grit his teeth, and marching up to the door, flung it open.

     "Miss Preston, for God's sake, wait, I'll take you to the Circle 4!"


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