Rebecca gazed longingly out the window. The Virginia countryside started fading into the distance. The view outside changed and it kept her attention for quite some time, even put her mind at ease. But even that started to fade once the sun started to go down and her eyes adjusted to the lamps as they were lit inside the train. She was glad because she really did not want to sit in the dark.
This was the first time she had traveled on her own. She was a little bit nervous and, to be frank, a little scared. Turning around in her seat, Rebecca decided to become acquainted with what would be her new home for the next three weeks. The train wagon was nothing fancy. The inside was made of hardwood, with two oil lamps built in above the windows to provide some comfort. There were two badly cushioned benches, facing each other, that provided room for four adult passengers and a child or two to ride comfortably to their various destinations.
“Ouch,” Rebecca groaned as a bump tossed her around in her seat. She had often heard of how dangerous and uncomfortable train rides were. As this was her first one, she could understand why people didn’t like to travel for long distances. Her body would be aching by the time she finally reached her destination.
To keep her mind off the noise outside from the roaring engines, she made a note of her fellow passengers. There was an older, matronly woman sitting across from her reading the Bible. She gave Rebecca a friendly smile when she saw her looking her way. There was an older gentleman sitting next to her, sleeping softly, and a small brown-haired child whose head was tucked behind the woman’s arm. There was another fellow sitting next to Rebecca, who was sleeping with his head against the wall, cap in his hand and his jacket wrapped around him like a blanket. Above the man’s head was a list of rules posted on the wall.
Rules of Wells Fargo & Co. Railway Services. Each passenger is required to follow these rules per threat of being put off the train:
Please abstain from liquor if possible.
You may chew tobacco, but spit out of the window into the wind, not against it.
Mind your personal belongings.
Do not use your fellow passenger’s shoulder as a pillow. Fights may occur.
Gentlemen who are unchivalrous to lady passengers will be put off the train. And it is a long walk back to where you came from or where you are going.
In the event of engine failure, please remain calm. Leaping out and away from the coach in a panic could not only leave you injured, but at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians, and hungry coyotes.
Rebecca had chosen to ride on a multi-passenger stagecoach to ensure some sort of safety in case any harm came her way while she was on the road. After reading these rules she didn’t necessarily know if that was the case. All she knew was that she wanted to get as far away from Virginia and its problems as she could and start her new life without all of the troubles that her father had left behind.
She wrung her hands together and could feel the nervousness take over her. What if she couldn’t get away from her problems? What if they followed her? The thought alone made her so nervous. The fact that she had to abandon her home because of the financial difficulties left to her made it even harder. She had done whatever she could to make ends meet, but it was never enough. Counting her coins in the shadows, ignoring the hard looks from people who she had thought were friends, helped her make the decision that she couldn’t stay in Virginia. Her father’s debtors, who were now her own, would always be on her back, taking everything from her, bleeding her dry, until she paid back every single penny owed.
When everything in her life looked bleak, she had found an advertisement that called for a schoolteacher in Colorado. This was the answer to her prayers. She responded to the ad immediately. This was where her journey began. She had a feeling that her creditors wouldn’t look for her in Colorado. She bought the ticket to her new home quietly and left in the early morning before anyone would know she would be gone.
Rebecca’s body started to become accustomed to the train’s jostling. A sort of rhythm started to lull her to sleep. Wrapping her cloak closer to her to keep out the bite from the moving winter cold, she laid her head against the stagecoach wall and fell into a sound sleep.
The sound of birds chirping outside woke her up from a dreamless sleep. She hadn’t had any nightmares in days, which was good. Because some of the other passengers were disturbed by her whimpering. The cold chill against her cheek made her shiver and she could see her frozen breath in the air. A blanket of snow covered the landscape all around her and she noticed that the Midwestern terrain had changed to something rural and flat. It was not something a Virginian was used to.
She knew they must be in Colorado. She wondered how far they were from Westbrook. The thought alone scared and excited her. She was embarking on a new adventure, no matter what the circumstances were. Her life was changing and for the better. Everything she had left behind, the life she had had in Virginia, was now part of the past and today she was starting her future.
The family across from her started to rustle themselves from what looked like an uncomfortable sleep. She knew everyone would be happy to get out of here and stretch their legs. It was just the four passengers left. The fellow who had been sitting next to her had gotten off somewhere in Missouri. She had offered the seat next to her, so they could be a little bit more comfortable, but the couple politely refused. She understood why they would want to stick together. They didn’t know her very well at all. If she had been traveling with someone, she knew she would want to stick with them for a sense of security and comfort as well.
The sun started peeking its way through the curtains. Rebecca moved them aside. The sun looked beautiful rising over the snow.
“The sun looks different rising here in the West, doesn’t it?” the woman’s voice rang out.
“I don’t think I ever saw anything so grand back in Virginia,” Rebecca replied.
“Are you going to meet family here in Colorado?” the woman asked.
Rebecca realized they hadn’t spent very much time communicating during the long train ride. The woman had been spending a lot of time taking care of her young boy, who was sleeping at the moment.
“I hope that they become my new family. I accepted a post as a local schoolteacher and I’m excited to meet my new students. I am a little nervous, though. I have never taught before, but how hard could it be?” she said with enthusiasm.
“I think you will do fine. The school will provide the books and you will just have to follow from where the students left off,” the woman said with a smile.
Rebecca agreed with her and her attention went back to the view outside the window.
“Westbrook stop coming up,” one of the drivers yelled from the front of the train.
The view ahead was different from the old Virginia town she had grown up in. She had never seen anything so new. Her hometown was well over a century old. She had read that towns in the West consisted of a mix of different types of buildings. What she saw in front of her was exactly that. The buildings were a mix of mostly log and frame shacks. As the train moved through the town, she noticed a lot of people going about their business. The streets within the town were not paved but packed dirt. The walkways in front of the stores were made of logs and were built high off of the street. That not only separated them from the moving traffic of horses, carriages, and coaches, but connected all of the stores and saloons together.
The stagecoach stopped in front of the railroad to let the passengers off. The rocking surprisingly stopped as the drivers jumped down from their posts, let the reins drop to the ground, and opened up the train’s doors. Rebecca stood up and put her hand up to her face to combat the blinding sun that stared back at her. She waved goodbye to the three people who stayed inside the train wagon and stepped out into what soon would become her new home. This is where my adventure starts.
“Your bag, ma’am,” one of the porters said while holding her suitcase out to her.
“Thank you,” she responded.
He tipped his hat to her. “Are you waiting for anyone?” He looked around, searching for someone who could be waiting for her arrival.
“Not that I’m aware of,” she said. She started walking down the street and the church’s steeple came into view. There was a group of people congregating in front of the church. They turned in her direction while she was walking by.
“She’s here,” someone in the group yelled.
“Yay!” they all cheered.
A smile appeared on Rebecca’s face. No one had celebrated her presence in a really long time, and it made her feel good. She didn’t know how to respond as she stood there looking at the group of gatherers. It looked like half of the town was congregating in front of the church, celebrating their new schoolteacher.
“Thank you,” she said shyly.
“Come,” said a woman in the crowd, pulling her forward. “We are so thankful for you. Our children have been without a schoolteacher for a really long time. They are so grateful to be able to start learning again,” she said.
Everyone gathered around her and the kids were jumping up and down in excitement. Rebecca couldn’t help it. She was beaming.
The sun’s heat was bearing down on her, amid the snow. She felt a little faint and had to catch herself from falling.
“Oh dear,” a woman’s voice rang out. “Please give the young woman some space. She has had an extremely long and exhausting journey. She needs some rest and a good meal. Do you have accommodations?” the woman asked her.
“No, I don’t.”
“I’m the Mayor’s wife. We would be more than happy to book you a room at the inn for a few nights until we figure some things out,” she said.
“There is no need. I’ll provide her room and board,” a woman’s voice in the background piped up.
Daniel let out a sigh. Cold winter air exhaled from his lungs and he liked the way the cold felt all around him. He didn’t remember winters like this in South Carolina, and there was something about them that made him feel alive. He had to make a purchase in town today for the ranch and decided to take his sister Pauline with him. They were on a lovely stroll through the town and he found that he rather enjoyed her company.
“Did you hear about the barn raising party?” she asked him mischievously.
“Yes, what about it?” he asked.
“Doesn’t it sound wonderful? I think that it would be fun to get out of the house and the normal everyday routine and spend some time with friends.”
“I know you do. But it doesn’t sound very fun to me. I have a lot of work to do back at the ranch and taking time off to drink and dance with people I do not know very well does not sound like a particularly good time,” he said.
Pauline frowned at him. “Nothing sounds like a good time to you. You need to get out more, brother. You need to find a woman to make you happy and to settle down with.”
Daniel stared back at his sister and refused to respond. He had heard all of this before. He knew he wasn’t getting any younger and that he was wasting the best years of his life. It’s not that he didn’t want to find a wife and have children. That was far from the truth.
After his parents died, leaving him and Pauline orphans, he felt as though he had a huge responsibility to take care of his sister. Becoming a rancher was one of the ways he could create a successful business with his hands and take care of his family.
He wanted the business to be more successful before he decided to add more people in the mix to take care of. He also was aware of how lonely Pauline was during the day while he was working in the fields. She was used to being around a lot of people and entertaining.
Colorado was a whole new world for her. He wished he was able to fit in better, just to make it easier for her. It wasn’t right for her to go without a male chaperone and he was the only family she had.
Pauline stopped abruptly to look at a dress in one of the stores. He was not about to go inside with her and hear more about the barn raising party that he didn’t want to attend. She had more than enough friends inside the store who would encourage her about the party and help her look at dresses. With his sister entertained for the moment, he wandered off into the general store.
“Hello, Daniel,” Tom, the store owner, greeted him.
“Hello, Tom. How is the family?” he asked while he browsed the store.
“They’re doing fine. Kids are excited for the new schoolmistress that is supposed to be arriving today. They are eager to go back to school and be around their friends.”
“Oh, I heard something about that from Pauline,” he said while looking around.
Tom must have noticed that he wasn’t up for a conversation and was just being polite. “Is there something I can help you find?”
“Thank you. I have a fence on the ranch that I need to mend. Do you have any wire?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. It’s right over here,” he said as he came around the back of the counter and walked him to the very back of the store.
“I believe this is what you are looking for,” Tom said, pointing.
Daniel nodded in agreement and Tom left him alone to figure out what he was going to purchase. He picked up the amount of wire he needed and looked around the store a little bit more to figure out if he needed anything else. He was racking his brain trying to remember if the animals on the ranch all had enough food or if there was anything Pauline had told him she needed for the house. After picking up a few items, he brought them up to the front counter and laid them down for Tom to add up in his ledger.
“Did you want to pay with cash or charge it to your account?”
“I’ll pay with cash,” Daniel said as he pulled out his wallet from the inside of his jacket and pulled out a few bills to pay for his purchases. He tried hard to refrain from paying with credit. He was trying to build a successful business and being in debt was not a good business move for him. He collected his purchases and went outside in search of his sister.
“Have a good day,” Tom said as he was leaving.
Daniel stammered a response, embarrassed because of his stutter.
Tom smiled back at him, but Daniel was still embarrassed.
He wondered where his sister was and made his way back to the dress shop. A bell chimed over the door as he entered the store and looked around for Pauline. She was nowhere in sight.
“Excuse me,” he asked the clerk at the desk. “I’m looking for Pauline. Have you seen her?” he asked her slowly, hoping he would not stutter.
“She left a few minutes ago. She was accompanying some of the girls to the church. They’re going to greet the new schoolteacher,” she said.
“Thank you.” He opened the door and slipped out before he had to say anything else. He thought that was sweet of the girls to greet the newcomer. He knew she was probably out of her element. He knew that he and Pauline had felt the same way when they first had moved here. However, the townspeople were friendly and accepted them into Westbrook with no problem. That was one of the things that he liked about the town, the people were so friendly and accepting. He knew that when new people moved to town back in Charleston that his parents and their friends were the first to judge them based on where they were from and not on their merits. He never had to worry about that here. He was happy making a life here with his sister and working on the ranch.
He loved how peaceful Westbrook was. It was something about the air and the climate that made him happy. Charleston was a humid, stifling place. During the spring and summer months he felt like he never could cool off. Yes, there was heat in Colorado, but it was dry and bearable. He loved the winters here and he didn’t think he would trade them for the world. He and Pauline had made a great life for themselves here. Every morning he got up early to tend to the animals and did his chores. He felt a sense of accomplishment every day he came home from work. He had never felt that way before. It made him proud knowing that most of the food on their table came from their livestock, or from something bought or traded from the products of their ranch. All of this made him incredibly happy and he was glad they had decided to make the move to this town.
The walk to the church from the store wasn’t that far but he took his time making his way over. It was such a nice day, and he wanted to enjoy it before he made his way back to the ranch to get some more work done. It had started to warm up from that morning and he knew the snow was going to start melting as spring approached. One of his other favorite seasons. His mind wandered to all the things he needed to do to get the ranch ready for spring, which led him back to rebuilding the fence. That was his number one priority and something he needed to start on as soon as he found Pauline and got back to the ranch.
He heard the crowd of people before he saw them. The children were laughing and playing on the church’s grassy area, while the adults gathered together. Most of them were women talking about the change that this new schoolteacher would bring to the town. Everyone was excited, especially the moms. Now they would have a place to send their children during the day that would benefit them. This way the moms could take care of their business at home, while the fathers worked, and the children learned.
Everyone could go back to their normal lives that had been disrupted when the other schoolteacher had left suddenly. A few men were in the crowd, mostly the mayor and some of the people who worked for him. The pastor was there and a few members of the congregation. Whoever this schoolteacher was, she was going to be surprised at the welcoming party that was thrown in her honor.
Daniel looked again for his sister in the crowd. He saw her surrounded by some of her friends who she often visited during the week. These ladies had made her feel more at home here and were probably the ones who were gossiping about the barn raising party. He would probably bet that Pauline was trying to set him up with any one of these single women. The amount of effort she put in to making him happy put a big smile on his face. He would have to make it a point to let her know how grateful he was for everything she continued doing for him, before and after their parents died.
He wanted to yell her name to get her attention, but there was no way she would be able to hear him above the crowd. Passing behind a horse and carriage, Daniel made his way across the street to where the crowd was gathering. Everyone looked so lively and happy. It seemed as though their focus was elsewhere. They were saying their goodbyes to each other. The schoolteacher must have arrived, and they must have sent her on her merry way. Now that the gathering was over, he would be able to get Pauline’s attention and then bring her home. He located her toward the back of the group and waved his arm to get her attention.
“Pauline. Pauline. Over here,” he stuttered.
She saw his hand amidst the crowd and waved back at him. “Oh, there you are. I was hoping you might find me here,” she said.
“The girl at the shop told me where you would be,” he said. “Are you ready to go home? I found what I needed to fix the broken fence.” He showed her the parcel of wire he was holding carefully.
“Yes, we are,” she said as he looked toward the woman who was standing next to her.
“I’m sor-sorry, I di-didn’t know we were going to have any guests tonight,” Daniel said with surprise.
“Brother, let me introduce you to my new friend, Rebecca. She is the new schoolteacher in town. She just arrived from a long trip from Virginia.”
“She must be exhausted. I would be very happy to take her to where she is staying and have her come visit with us another day,” he said without so much as a glance in her direction.
Pauline frowned. She knew her brother was shy around new people, especially girls, but the way he was acting was downright rude. He hadn’t even acknowledged Rebecca’s presence, and where they came from that was not how a gentleman acted toward a lady. Rebecca might not be from South Carolina, but she was from Virginia and knew manners. After all of the nice things that Pauline had said about Daniel, he really unnerved her at times.
“That is what I have been trying to tell you. Rebecca was not able to make reasonable accommodations before she arrived and did not have a place to stay. The mayor’s wife was going to put her up at the local inn. Can you believe that? That is not a place for a lady to stay. So, I offered to have her stay here. We have extra rooms in the house that are not being used right now. It would be nice to have someone to keep me company while you are at work all day.”
“Pauline, I do not think that this nice lady would want to stay in a house full of strangers,” he said. Pauline could see the appalled look on her brother’s face.
“Well, you should be ashamed of yourself. This whole town is full of strangers. Where is your Southern hospitality? We were brought up to show hospitality to all those who came to our doorstep in Charleston. What is the difference here?” she asked him. She waited for him to answer her, but he didn’t say a word. “That is what I thought. So, please be a proper gentleman and introduce yourself,” she scolded.
“Forgive my manners. I am pl-pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am. Daniel Carpenter at your service,” he stuttered his response while he extended his hand to her. The eyes that shone back at him were beautiful. He noticed that everything about her was beautiful.
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Daniel. I am Miss Rebecca McEngells.” She shook his hand and offered him a very warm smile.
“There, now we are not strangers anymore,” Pauline said with conviction. “Now, let’s make our way home, so we can get you a proper supper.”
Daniel led the way to the house, with Pauline and Rebecca following closely behind him.
“Oh, you are going to love our home,” Pauline said as though she didn’t know her brother was having a hard time with this. She knew this might be the case when she decided to volunteer to take Rebecca as a boarder. Not only would they receive extra income from it, which could help her around the house, but she would gain another friend. She knew Daniel was aware of her loneliness. She had been hinting for him to meet someone after what had happened with the other woman he had been courting. But he was reluctant to continue, and she worried about him. She knew he was shy and embarrassed about his stutter. He was a good catch, though, and deserved to have someone in his life to make him happy. They just needed to work on his insecurities. Until then, she had someone else she could help for now. Rebecca was grateful to have somewhere to stay besides the cold ground in the forest. How would she have survived sleeping in the snow? Colorado winters were cold.
“The wagon isn’t much farther,” Daniel said to them. Pauline knew he was saying this to Rebecca, for her benefit.
Rebecca stopped for a moment to catch her breath. “Do you mind if we take a break for a moment? This suitcase is a little heavy and I haven’t eaten all day. My body is a little exhausted,” she said.
Daniel switched his parcel to the other arm and grabbed the suitcase out of Rebecca’s hand. He started walking again without another word. Both women looked at each other dumbfounded and started to run just to catch up with him. They all were out of breath when they reached the wagon. Pauline was holding her side to catch her breath. She glared at her brother, who didn’t even glance back in their direction, and tried sending a warm smile to Rebecca.
* * *
After catching her breath for the second time in just a few moments, Rebecca stepped into the rickety wagon with Daniel and Pauline. She could feel the sweat on her brow and wiped it away with the back of her hand. She felt disgusted with the amount of dirt that she saw and knew that she not only needed a hot meal, but a warm bath would be very much appreciated.
She must have gotten this filthy during the trip. The idea of a warm bed enticed her more than the other two. After sleeping sitting up on the train for three weeks, sleeping stretched out in a proper bed sounded like sheer heaven.
Rebecca didn’t want to put these young people out. That was never her intention. Actually, she was going to sleep in the woods and get acquainted with the area that she would call home. However, she was grateful that she didn’t have to sleep on the cold ground and that she had the next few days to get settled in before she started working.
If it was too much, she would thank them for their hospitality and go stay in the woods. Or maybe the mayor’s wife would still put her up at the inn. Now that she knew what the climate was like in Colorado, she really didn’t want to sleep outside in the cold if she didn’t have to. But she would do what she had to do. Pauline squeezed her hand for encouragement, and she released a breath she didn’t know she was holding.
Rebecca squeezed Pauline’s hand back and a sense of comfort washed over her. She didn’t know how she got so lucky to find such genuine people. Even though Pauline and Daniel felt differently about her staying, they both understood what it meant to be hospitable. It was nice that Daniel went along with what already had been decided. She knew their problems would be discussed in private so as not to embarrass each other. Daniel was much quieter than his sister, and it seemed as though he was a little bit more private about his life. She hoped he eventually would open up to her and that all three of them could be good friends.
The ranch came into view and Rebecca was stunned. It was nothing like the farmhouses she had seen in Virginia, but it was beautiful. It was a house made of logs, but it was two stories high. There was a wrap-around porch that went around both sides of the house, and it was decorated with a brick chimney on the left side and an attic on the top. The attic window looked like an eye that greeted everyone who came to visit the house. When the wagon pulled up closer, she saw two wooden rocking chairs set up outside on the porch and a sofa to entertain visitors on a warm summer’s day.
To the back of the ranch house, Rebecca noticed a barn, stables for horses, and a chicken coop. She wondered what type of animals they kept in the barn. She had a yearning to go out and discover whatever interesting things she could find. For a minute, all the apprehension of the day went out the window. She was happy to stay in such an exciting place.
Daniel pulled the reins on the horses and stopped the wagon in front of the ranch house. He hopped down from the wagon and stuck out his arm to help his sister down. He offered his arm to Rebecca, who took it reluctantly. While she fluffed down her skirt, Daniel took down her suitcase and set it on the porch. Before she could turn around and say thank you, he was back on the wagon and driving away.
“Let’s get you settled in; you must be tired. Daniel will be back in a little bit. He is going to feed and water the horses before he comes in to have supper with us,” Pauline said. She picked up Rebecca’s suitcase and brought it inside the house. The inside of the house wasn’t anything that she would have expected. She was standing in a house that reminded her of a Virginia socialite.
Pauline must have recognized the look on Rebecca’s face. “Isn’t it grand?” she asked. “We brought most of the furniture from our parents’ home in Charleston. Daniel knew I wanted our new home to feel like home because we were moving so far away. So, he arranged for some of our things to be brought here.”
“The house is amazing,” Rebecca said. She was standing in the foyer. The walls inside the house didn’t resemble the log walls from the outside. Someone must have taken their time to smooth them out where you could run your fingers across them without getting any splinters.
“Let me show you around,” Pauline said. She led Rebecca out of the foyer and into the hall. The hall was filled with portraits and daguerreotypes of a younger version of Pauline and Daniel and an older couple who must have been their parents. The first room that Pauline showed her was the drawing room. It was intricately adorned with a matching cream-colored sofa and settee. Mahogany end tables were set on either side of the couch, dusted with pink roses on the edges. The coffee table was a bigger version of the end tables. It made the room a little livelier because the roses matched the ones on the wallpaper that surrounded the room.
“Is supper ready yet?” Daniel asked, interrupting Rebecca’s observation of the room.
“I will start making it soon. I’m showing Rebecca the house,” she said. “Now, go along and I will call you when it’s ready.”
“Fine,” he said, stomping off and slamming the front door behind him.
Pauline paid him no mind and continued showing Rebecca the rest of the house. She showed her the kitchen, and the rest of the downstairs, then picked up her suitcase from below the stairs and started making her way up. They were met with four closed doors.
“This is your room,” she said, opening the door.
Rebecca walked into a room with a full bed, a desk and lamp and a night table.
“It’s nothing fancy, but it is better than sleeping outside. And the linens are clean,” Pauline said with a smile.
“Thank you,” Rebecca said. “I really do appreciate it.”
“Is supper ready yet?” Daniel yelled from downstairs.
“Now, he is just trying to make an excuse to check on us. Let me boil some water. Then you may draw a bath and wash the dirt from traveling off of you while I prepare supper, before Daniel has a field day. I will be back in a few minutes. Take your shoes off and rest for a few moments.” Pauline closed the door behind her and left Rebecca alone.
She smiled as the reality of what Pauline said registered with her. She took her shoes off, lay down on the bed, closed her eyes and waited for Pauline to return with her bath water.
“Are you going to eat breakfast with us this morning?” Pauline asked her brother.
“I’ll grab an apple from the orchard,” he said.
“You’re avoiding us. You don’t want to be in the house because you might have to talk to Rebecca. She is a really sweet lady. You don’t have to be insecure. She won’t say anything to hurt your feelings,” Pauline said, pressing him.
“I’m not avoiding you,” he replied. “There is just a lot of stuff to do on the ranch and I need to make sure I finish the fence before one of the animals escapes somehow.”
“That’s what you said to me yesterday when I asked you the same thing. You have been skipping out on breakfast for the past three days,” she said with a scowl.
He walked out the door before she could say anything else. He was not about to sit and argue with her when they had company in the house. He knew he had been avoiding the house, and Pauline’s accusations were correct. But he wasn’t going to admit it to her. He just was extremely nervous when Rebecca was around. He didn’t know what to say or how to act. So, he just decided to try avoiding the situation all together. His first priority was fixing the fence and he really needed to finish it before an accident happened and one of the livestock wandered through the fence and got away.
Daniel’s stomach rumbled on the way to the barn and he took a detour by the apple tree. He sang to himself as he picked a few apples for his breakfast, and topped it off with a ladle of cold water from the well.
“How are my girls today?” he asked the horses as he walked into the barn and made his way to the stables. The horses neighed their replies when they saw him. He gave them each an apple core before he brushed them and cleaned their stables. He cleaned the stables every day because no one should have to live in their own filth. Not even horses. One of the mares rubbed her nose in his hand when he petted her, and he wished it was that easy with women.
Next, he milked the cows and set the milk aside to take into the house, where Pauline could turn it into butter and cheese. He laughed as he remembered the first time he showed her how to make butter and she screamed because her cream-colored hands were soft and manual labor would make them rough. He had to explain that they both were workers now and they didn’t have to impress anyone but themselves, because they were putting their own food on the table.
Now, she was proud they did not have to rely on others to feed them. Once the cows were milked, he let them out to graze in the pasture while he fed the chickens and collected the eggs. When he was done, it was about lunchtime and a hot plate of food from the house was calling his name. But then he remembered the argument that he had had with Pauline and decided he would rather eat more apples then go inside and face her right now. He grabbed the milk and basket of eggs and set them on the back porch for Pauline to pick up and went to pick himself some more apples.
The noonday sun was high over the apple tree, blanketing it in warmth. The snow that surrounded the tree had melted two days before and the grass was dry in that area. Daniel decided to sit down under the shade of the tree, resting his head on its trunk, and eat his lunch. After he took his fill of apples, he laid his hat over his eyes and took a little nap before he went back to work.
Rustling from the back side of the house stirred him awake and he realized Pauline must have found the goodies he had left her on the back porch. Stretching his arms over his head, Daniel stood up and decided he should go mend the rest of the fence and check on his cattle. The barn was just ahead; he grabbed the wire, and a hammer to secure it in place. It took him most of the afternoon to get the wire secure and into place. It was backbreaking work, but it was worth it as long as it kept his cattle safe. Even though they were already branded, Heaven knew what would happen to them if they wandered off. Coyotes and wolves frequented the area and Daniel had had to come out at night with his shotgun to scare some of the predators away. In reality, the fence was just a way to mark his territory and keep things civil between himself and his neighbors.
After he finished installing the new part of the fence, and making sure it would not come loose, he noticed the sun was going down. He needed to corral the cattle for the night. He walked down to the pasture and called out his sheepdogs. The dogs were good at moving the cattle away from their grazing areas. Then it was easier for him to lead the bulls back to the pen, and the heifers to the barn.
Daniel whistled for the sheepdogs and the cattle followed close behind, mooing loudly at the dogs who were disturbing their meal. He chuckled at the animals and how they handled each other. It always amazed him how the animals took care of each other. They were much nicer to each other at times than people, which was one of the reasons he enjoyed spending most of his time with his animals. They took care of him and showed their affection and gratitude with ease.
He started counting all the animals as he separated the ones that went into the pen from the ones that went into the barn. He was looking particularly for an older pregnant heifer because she needed to be watched. She was about to go into labor. He was looking for an injured calf as well. But after his count he was missing two and he didn’t see them anywhere. He ran back to the pasture to see if they had been missed by the dogs. The dogs were thorough, but he wanted to check and make sure.
The pasture was empty, and he didn’t see them wandering off to any of the other areas behind the barn or by the chicken coop. He was starting to worry. What if they had snuck through the break in the fence before he fixed it? The heifer had given birth to the calf and he tended to follow her around. If she had escaped, there was a good chance he had followed close behind.
Daniel ran back to the barn, grabbed his shotgun and had one of the dogs follow him. The gap in the fence was toward the back of his property and was what separated his property from another rancher’s. The sheepdog followed at his heels as he ran and walked the miles it took to reach that side of his property. He followed his fence and searched for hours until it was late. The dog looked exhausted and hungry and Daniel was famished himself. He didn’t want to abandon his animals if they were out there. But he had kept on the same route for hours and hadn’t found them. A coyote howled in the distance and the dog whimpered at his feet.
“Okay, come on. Let’s go home,” he said. The dog jumped up and they started making the long way home. Daniel’s feet were aching by the time the ranch house came into view. All he could think about was lying down in his bed and resting for the rest of the night. He would worry about the calf and cow tomorrow when the sun was out. If he couldn’t find them, then he would visit the sheriff to see if anyone had found his stray animals and reported it.
The light from the oil lamp shone through the window that faced out from the drawing room. Pauline must be waiting up for him. His heart softened at the idea of her worrying about him after the argument they had had earlier that morning. He knew he needed to be a better brother to her. All she ever wanted to do was take care of him and make sure he was happy. She probably had dinner warm in the oven waiting for him when he came in.
He sat down in one of the porch chairs and unlaced his dirty boots. He set them down next to the chair and walked inside without dragging in any mud behind him. His toes felt squishy through his wool socks, but the throbbing had dissipated a little bit. He walked down the hallway and turned the corner to greet his sister.
“Oh,” he said. Rebecca was sitting reading under the oil lamp in the drawing room. “Wh-what are you still do-doing awake?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about you when you didn’t come in for dinner or later on this evening,” she said.
Daniel held back a smile and let out a sigh, sitting down in the chair opposite her. “I didn’t mean to make you worry, or Pauline for that matter. I thought it was her who had kept the light on.”
“She stayed up pretty late but was falling asleep in the chair. She went upstairs about an hour or two ago.” Rebecca closed her book and set it down in her lap.
“Two of my cattle went missing. They must have slipped through the fence before I mended it. I was looking for them half the night but with no luck. I will have to go ask the Sheriff tomorrow if someone reported finding them. I would hate to think they had been eaten by a coyote or wolf. I haven’t found any evidence of that, but you never know,” he said.
Rebecca looked down at her hands nervously.
“Is everything alright?” Daniel asked her.
“I wanted to thank you for letting me stay here. I know it has been a little awkward lately, having someone you do not know in your house. However, I do not want to be the reason you are not coming in to eat your meals. That makes me feel like such a burden. That was never my intention when your sister invited me to stay here,” she said.
Daniel looked at Rebecca as if he actually saw her for the first time. She was wearing a concerned look on her face and his heart softened just a little bit more. “To tell you the truth, I am grateful that you are staying here. This way I do not have to worry about Pauline’s unhappiness. She really needs a friend. Someone she can talk to while I am working long hours. With this being said, you are not a burden and I would hate for you to feel that way. I am just awkward around new people. Please do not take it personally. Now, if I recall, your first day at the school is tomorrow and you need your rest; we both need our rest. Let us get to bed before we have a harder time getting up in the morning,” he said.
“Thank you,” Rebecca said as she followed him upstairs and into her separate room, closing the door lightly behind her.
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