Westbound (Love Travels West, Book 1)

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Chapter 7. A Measure of Pity.

More helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us--George Eliot

Chapter 7.

A Measure of Pity.

   "I hate you, Jake, I HATE YOU!"

   Jake opened his eyes. "Well, that's a great memory to wake up with," he grumbled. The sun was just starting to appear on the horizon, but the shadows of the night where still clinging to the air. Glancing over at the smoky remains of the fire, he noticed that Dannie was still asleep. "Maybe that's why I don't like you," he quietly said, "you remind me too much of Rachel."

Rubbing his eyes, Jake stretched and stood up. He opened his canteen and drank some water, after which he poured it over his face and behind his neck.

"Nothin' in this world beats an Arizona sunrise," Jake thought, as he paused to admire the beauty of the rising sun as it cast a reddish pink glow over the dusty landscape, dotted with shrubbery and cacti. At last he turned his attention from the view to matters of breakfast. He froze when he noticed a large rattlesnake had crawled up and was right next to Dannie, who was just waking up.

   "Miss Preston, don't move," he called, pulling out the colt revolver from his gun holder. Dannie froze, not understanding what was wrong, but sensing the tension in Jake's voice. A loud gunshot right next to her caused her to shriek.

   "Are you trying to kill me, sir!" She gasped, jumping out of her bedroll in terror.

   Jake walked up and picked up the dead snake. "This here is a rattler, and they've got a terrible amount of poison in their fangs."

   Dannie shuddered at the sight of the rattlesnake. "Was it going to bite me?"

   Jake shook his head. "Nah, they only attack you if you threaten them."

   "Then why did you shoot it?"

   "Cause it was right in your way and you would have rolled over and pinned it and it would have bitten you for sure. And second," Jake grinned broadly, "I just found us breakfast."

   "You want me to eat a snake?" Dannie stared at it in disgust. "What of the venom?"

   "All the venom is in his fangs," Jake replied, walking over to the fire, "we'll cut the head off and we're good!Trust me, it ain't that bad."

   "Trust you?" Dannie folded her hands in front of her and placed her weight on one leg, cause her hip to stick out.

   "Let's not go there!" Jake growled, remembering last night's conversation about trust. Dannie tried to keep her disgust off her face as she attempted to wash. She felt sticky and dirty in her bulky dress, but there was not enough water to completely submerge, and she had to make do with just her hands and face. All this just reminded Dannie how much she hated traveling and why she never bothered to do it before. She rolled up her bedroll and went over to where Jake had already skinned the snake and was busy roasting the meat. It did not look appetizing, but Dannie was ready to try it. After all, it might taste better than it looked.

  "I'm guessin' you won't be a wanting to drink my coffee again?" Jake said as she approached.

   "No, I wouldn't, but I would like you to show me just how you do it over an open fire."

   "Why would you want to know?"

   "Maybe so the next time I meet with a rude cowboy who asks me if I can cook over an open fire I will be able to look him straight in the face and say yes."

   Jake couldn't help but chuckle at this. "Alright, if you put it that way, might as well teach you somethin' useful while we are on this trip. Tell me, is knittin' and sewin' all you can do?

   "Really, Mr. Wade, it seems you are determined to be my worst critic." Dannie shook her head. "I can play the piano and read Latin for example."

   "And what good is that?"

   "Out here, I guess it isn't much good," Dannie shrugged, "but I wasn't brought up to live out here. Yes, maybe I can't milk cows and cook over and open fire, but I can host a dinner party and keep all the guests entertained, or hold a meeting for the lady's aide."

   "And you actually thing those things useful?"

   "Once again, out here, of course not. They are useful for the life I led in England. Yes, perhaps I will make a bad pioneer wife, but for a doctor, minister, or lawyer, I would be just the thing. I could handle the pressures of their work, the needs of their lifestyle and entertain the sort of people they came across. Our skill are suited to the surroundings we live in, and I think it unfair to say my skills are useless, they are just meant for a completely different form of life. What is more, Mr. Wade, just because you think that form of life silly doesn't necessarily make it so. If there were no doctors or lawyers, your life would could become pretty miserable."

   Dannie had a point, only Jake didn't want to admit it. "I'd appreciate if you wouldn't call me Mr. Wade," he grumbled, ignoring the rest of Dannie's words, "it makes me feel like an old man."

   Dannie pulled her lips into a thin line at the uncivilized ways of this man.

   The snake was soon ready and Dannie dared to try it. It tasted, in one word, horrible! After the first bite Dannie opted for eating the leftovers of the bread Maggie Callaway had sent. Bread and water was better than Jake's coffee and rattlesnake meat. When breakfast was over, they started collecting their things and arrange them back in the wagon. Dannie walked to one side of the wagon to put her hair up, while Jake stuffed the bedrolls in slots between the supplies he had purchased at Clearbrook. He noticed that Dannie's bag was open and a neat stack of three books was lying next to it. Glancing around to make sure Dannie wasn't looking, he stooped down and picked up the top book.

   "A Bible," he chuckled to himself. "Yup, she's a preacher's kid through and through." A paper slipped out and he hastily picked it up. Another glance to make sure the coast was clear, Jake unfolded the slip.

   To my dearest Danielle, 

  When darkness covers your life, and you are lost and afraid, remember Isaiah  41:13 and Isaiah 41: 17-18 and know that God will guide you through the night and bring you to the sunrise.

    Your Papa.

  Jake heard footsteps and hastily stuffed the note back in the Bible and returned it to its proper place. He busied himself with putting out the fire and when Dannie came back to Jake's side of the wagon, it was impossible to guess that Jake had been snooping around her things. Dannie picked up her books and began tucking them into her bag. Jake glanced at her and noticed something small and blue tumble out of one of the books.

   "You dropped somethin'," he pointed, "looks like a pressed flower."

   Dannie's eyes followed Jake's finger. Sure enough, three little forget-me-nots were lying on the dusty ground. Dannie gasped angrily and scooping them from the ground, tossed them into the fire heap, burying them in the ashes with her foot. "I was sure I had rid myself of all the memories," she hissed. "But that's what happens when you don't put all your eggs in one basket."

   Jake had watched the whole scene with eyebrows raised in surprise. "Where those some dead flowers of the man you were supposed to marry?" He joked.

    Dannie frowned at him. "Mr. Wade, you are terribly good at guessing things."

   "Oh, so you are tellin' me you were engaged once?" Jake asked with a laugh.

   "I was actually."

   "Were what?" Jake stopped laughing and looked over at Dannie.

   "Engaged."

   "But?"

   "Obviously not anymore. If I were engaged do you think I would be stuck out here with you?"

   "Oh." Jake wanted to know more, but didn't really feel comfortable asking. Dannie of course wasn't going to talk about it and busied herself with putting her bag in the wagon and climbing up on front. Jake climbed up next to her and soon they were back on the road.

   "Mr. Wade, have you known Mr. Martin for long?" Dannie asked.

   "Quit callin' me Mr. Wade," Jake growled.

   "Why do you have such a problem with it?"

   "Why do you have a problem being called Missy?"

   "Because it is disrespectful," Dannie answered, "when you call me that it makes me feel cheap."

   "Well, when you call me Mr. Wade I feel like you are talkin' to my dead father."

   "Oh, I'm sorry, my condolences."

   "It was a long time ago," Jake shrugged. "And no," he quickly added just as Dannie opened her mouth, "I don't want to talk about it! You were askin' me about Mr. Martin."

   "I just wanted to know if you could tell me something about Mr. Martin."

   "He's a good sort of man, and pretty rich. He's got a great cattle business, a huge herd, makes a lot of money off of it. He's the riches rancher in the area. Who is he to you exactly?"

   "He's my father's cousin." Dannie explained, trying to imagine what he could be like and praying that he would be a good man. "Mr...."

  Jake glared at her.

"Jake," Dannie hastily switched, "what is your middle name?".

   Jake was taken back by the question. "And why would you be wantin' to know?"

   "Just wondering. Next time I get very mad at you and will want to call you something terrible, I'll just switch to your full name and save myself from having to say some sort of profanity."

   "No way, Miss Preston, there is no way I am givin' you my name so you can use it as a substitute for profane language."

   "Oh, that is not how I meant it."

   "But that is how I understood it."

   Dannie rolled her eyes, "Is it really so hard to tell me your full name?"

   Jake thought for a minute. "Fine, I'll give you my full name if you will give me yours, deal?"

   "Fair enough," Dannie nodded her head.

   "My middle name is Carver."

   "So that would make you Jacob Carver Wade," Dannie said each name slowly then nodded her head in approval. "The three names go well together."

   "Well thank you," Jake couldn't help being a little sarcastic, "it's nice to hear a compliment from you at last."

   "Maybe that's because it's the first thing about you that I actually like," Dannie retorted.

   "So what's your middle name?"

   "Frances."

   "Frances huh?" An amused smile appeared on Jake's face.

   "What's so funny?" Dannie became indignant.

   "Danielle Frances, so for short you would be Danny Fanny?"

   Dannie grew thoughtful for a moment; then let out a giggle, "Yes, I guess I would, I never thought about it like that before."

   Jake looked at the girl with wide eyes, "Did you just laugh at a joke I made?"

   "And what of it?"

   "Nothing, I just didn't think there was any I would say that would make you laugh."

   "Well, it's not my fault that this is the first thing you've managed to say that was a little amusing."

   "Shucks, I've got two points in one day, first thing about me you like and first thing I said that was actually funny."

   "Yes, well, don't press your luck," Dannie felt her face going hot for some reason, she wasn't really sure why. "Do you have any family, Jake?"

"A sister and a brother, but I thought I made it clear I don't want to talk about them, so please stop askin'

   "Why?" Dannie was taken back at his forceful statement  

   "Just because."

   "Alright," Dannie frowned, wondering why every time his family was brought into the conversation Jake would become so cross and disagreeable.

***

   "Why are we stopping?" Dannie asked in surprise as Jake pulled the horses to a halt.

   "This here is a trading post and I need to do some business. Wait out here till I come out." Before Dannie could protest, he hopped down from the wagon and reached over to pull out some supplies to trade.

   "Damn it," Jake growled when his finger cut on a loose nail. He expected to hear a loud reprimand from Dannie on the subject of swearing, but he only heard a quick gasp. Looking over at her, he saw Dannie had turned away.

   "Somethin' wrong, Miss Preston," he asked, not quite understanding her reaction to his bad language.

   "I'm sorry, Jake," Dannie mumbled, keeping her face turned away from him, "but I cannot stand the sight of blood."

   "Oh, but this is just a little cut," Jake argued, reaching out his hand to show her it was nothing serious.

   "Don't show it to me," Dannie gasped, "I get nauseous just from the thought of it. Here," Dannie handed him her handkerchief, "wrap it up please."

   Jake shrugged and grabbing the hankie, bound up the little cut. "You'd make a terrible nurse, you know," he stated.

   "Oh, I know," Dannie first peeked to make sure the cut was truly bound up, before turning her pale face back to Jake. "My fear of blood was the only reason I didn't go to study nursing."

   Jake tried to hide just how amused he was at the scene and grabbing his supplies stepped inside the little door. Dannie waited nervously for Jake to come back out, praying nonstop all the while that nothing terrible would happen to her. After what seemed like forever, Jake finally came out with a couple of blankets in his hands.

   "Indian blankets," he explained to Dannie, "this here is an Indian trading post."

   "Oh?"

   "Yup, at the moment we are on an Indian reservation, but were nearly at the end of it so don't go getting all scared."

   "Scared over what?"

   "You're not afraid of the Indians?"

   "Should I be?"

   Jake shrugged, "most everyone is."

   "I should have thought you would have realized by now that I'm not like 'most everyone'."

   "Good point," Jake chuckled.

   "What took you so long?"

   "Had to bargain these here, and to top it off, the little fellow there didn't know a word of English, only Apache and Spanish, and I don't know neither language. You don't happen to know Spanish by any chance, do you?"

   "No, sorry, only French and Italian."

   Jake was about to climb up onto the wagon but paused in surprise, "you know French and Italian?"

   "Yes, only don't think that I ever travel abroad, I didn't, I learned both languages with a tutor."

   "You're parents were that rich, huh?"

   Dannie burst out laughing. "No, not at all, my parents would have never been able to afford a tutor. It went like this. One of the women in Papa's parish, a Mrs. Lancer, had two daughters and she was bringing them up in the way of fashion. Three times a week I would go to the Lancers and act as companion to Mrs. Lancer's invalid mother-in-law. Instead of paying me for all the time I would spend reading and playing music to the old lady, Mamma arranged that I should also be tutored in French and Italian with the young Miss Lancers, hence I know both languages."

   "Seems like your momma was a very prudent woman."

   "She was," Dannie sighed and fought to keep the tears away. "You know I still can't believe that she is gone." Dannie found herself confessing. "It's like, I'm waiting for her to come running after me asking if I've completely lost my mind and if I remember anything she ever taught me about weighing out all the factors before jumping into decisions."

   "Was her death very unexpected?" Jake felt stupid for asking the question.

   "Papa got sick with scarlet fever, none of us had had it before, and Mamma sent me away so I wouldn't get it, but she herself stayed to look after father, and she caught the fever. The two of them died in the same day, Mamma even went before Papa." Dannie felt the tears flowing down her cheek, and tried her best to stop them. "I buried them together on the same day...it was the worst day of my life." Dannie shuddered as that horrid day flashed through her mind, Paul walking up to her, the words he told her, and all this while the memory of her dead parents lying in their coffins still fresh in her mind.

   "I'm sorry Miss Preston, I shouldn't have brought it up," Jake felt bad about the conversation; it was obviously still very hard for Dannie to talk about. For the first time since he had met her, Jake found himself feeling something other than dislike for Miss Preston. Oh there was still a good dose of dislike, but now it had been diluted with a measure of pity.

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Fun fact: I actually ate a snake once. It was at a re-enactment festival in 2012. It was at the end and most everyone had left and this one fellow caught a snake and offered to cook it for us. He roasted it over a fire and we each got a piece. Yeah, I did NOT like it at all. Tasted something like a fish and frog mixed together. My sister on the other hand thought it rather tasty :P


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