My Name is Jayne - A Short Story
My Name is Jayne
He smelled it long before he found it. It was the odor of charred wood and dead humans. He rode up behind some high rocks and dismounted, taking his glass from his bedroll. For nearly an hour, he watched and glassed the desert floor, but saw nothing but a small herd of javelina, a coyote, and several jackrabbits. At last, he mounted and rode back down the hill to the lone wagon trail he had been following.
Clyde Drago was man with a bad reputation. He was rumored to have killed six men in fair battles, and that, coupled with a permanent scowl, was enough for most folks to leave him alone. He owned a small ranch near Cow Creek, where he also had two claims staked out, and he had just banked nearly five hundred in gold. He was mounted on a big gray, and he had a pack on the other horse.
When he first spotted them, the wagon tracks were far off the trail, and headed northwest into Indian territory. That meant they were either made by damn fool greenhorns, or someone avoiding detection. Or both. In any case, it was none of his business. Drago shrugged and started to rein his horse around when something caught his eye. It was a tiny footprint in the sand.
The wagon had stopped here, probably to rest the horses, and Drago found the tracks of a man, a woman, and a child. What sort of a fool would take a woman and a child into Apache country? But, it was still none of his never-mind, so he was about to mount and ride on when he spotted the doll.
It was a homemade rag doll, and it was propped up on a flat rock, in the shade of a mesquite. There were several small rocks in a circle in front of the doll, and a round, flat rock in the center. The child then, was a little girl, and this was her tea party. The doll had been forgotten and left behind. It was hand crafted and skillfully made.
“Well, hell,” he muttered. A small boy was bad enough, but a little girl was even worse. His little sister had been lost years ago to consumption, and he had mourned her ever since. Sighing, he put the rag doll in his saddle bag, and took up the trail.
The wagon was burned down to the steel rims, and the horses had been driven off. The woman’s body was face down, and she had been scalped. The man had been tortured first, and then killed. There was no sign of a child, and no small footprints.
For a long time, Drago puzzled out the tracks. There were six Apaches, but they had not been following the wagon since they came in from the north. The wagon had halted here, and a camp had been made. Something, probably the campfire smoke, had alerted the Apaches, and they had attacked. But where was the child? Why were there no tracks?
It was an hour later when he spotted the woman’s tracks heading up the hill. He found where she had placed the child in the shade of a cottonwood to play, and there was a second, hastily made, rag doll placed on a rock. A small set of footprints led into an area of dense brush.
“Come on out, child. I will not harm you, and the Indians are gone.”
He squatted on his heels and waited. For a long time, nothing moved, and then a small face with large, round eyes appeared among the branches. She looked to be about four years old, and very frightened.
“I am Clyde Drago. I found your doll where you lost her, and I brought her back. Did you miss her?” He pulled the doll from under his shirt and held it out.
Her face was dirty and the tracks of her tears were plainly visible. Drago walked slowly to the brush and handed her the doll. Then he carefully lifted her up and out of the brush where he inspected her. Her hair was matted, and her knees were scraped. He pulled some thorns out of her arm as she silently watched, but all in all, she was in fair condition.
She looked at him and seemed to make up her mind.
“My name is Jayne.”
“No. J-a-y-n-e. Jayne.”
He carried her down the hill, and when they came in view of the bodies, she turned her head away. He got a shovel out of his pack, and began to dig two graves. He pulled two unburned boards from the ashes of the wagon, and built a small fire. He heated a cinch ring red hot in the fire and burned the date into the boards. Then he turned to Jayne.
“What was his name, child?”
“What did other people call him?”
“Hiram, I think.”
“Hiram? Hiram what?”
She shrugged her shoulders, confused.
“What is your other name? Jayne what?”
“Is that your daddy’s name then? Hiram Randall?”
Understanding at last, she nodded.
“And what is her name?”
She thought a minute, and then replied, “Martha Randall.”
He burned the names into the planks and drove them in the ground over the graves.
He gave her water, and a piece of jerky to chew as he placed her in the saddle in front of him. A mourning dove made its sad call as they rode away.
“Howdy, Drago. Them Sumpters built a school and hired themselves a schoolmarm. They put out the word that any kid in the territory who wants some learning is welcome.”
The speaker was Harry Doyle, owner of the neighboring ranch. Clyde Drago was mending fence, and Doyle was regarding him from the back of a horse.
“Jayne gets her schooling from me. She reads anything she gets her hands on, and she can do numbers fast as anyone.”
Doyle nodded. “I know you have done a splendid job of raising that child, Clyde, but at close to twelve years of age now, she’s almost a young lady. She needs the guidance of another female.”
Clyde twisted the barbed wire with his fencing pliers. “Maria Sanchez is a female.”
Maria Sanchez had worked for Drago for nearly fifteen years as his housekeeper, and when he had brought Jayne to the ranch, childless Maria had immediately taken over the mothering duties. Her husband, Carlos, was Drago’s foreman.
“Maria is a fine lady, Clyde, but she is uneducated, and knows little of the ways Jayne will encounter when she grows up. You owe this to Jayne.”
Drago removed his hat and wiped his brow as he looked off into the distance. Then he turned and looked Harry Doyle straight in the eye. Most men who knew Clyde Drago by reputation would have backed off at that point, but Harry Doyle merely gazed right back at him. At last, a small smile played across Drago’s lips.
“You do make sense, Harry, so I will look into it. Now either get down and help me finish this fence or get out of here so I can do it.” Harry Doyle dismounted and got a pair of fencing pliers out of his saddle bags.
“It’s beautiful! I see why you love it!”
Penelope Brown, the new schoolteacher, was entranced by the open beam construction of Drago’s ranch house. The logs had been peeled and squared before placement, and the coatings of varnish gave them a warm, reddish-yellow hue. The floors were covered with large, Mexican tiles and the furniture was covered in cow hide.
“My daughter is not yet home. She’s with my foreman, looking over some of the spring calves. I’m afraid she’s not a refined lady.”
“I’m sure she is delightful. Far better an accomplished horsewoman than one of the delicate and useless ladies of the east.”
Clyde Drago had decided that he very much liked Miss Penelope Brown. She was not at all what he had expected, and he was pleased at her easy going, yet refined ways. He had picked her up at the Sumpter ranch in his buggy to meet his daughter.
“Would you like to see her room? She’s quite a collector of books and the pretty things women like. She won’t mind.”
Drago watched as she marveled over the collection, and then he heard her gasp. She was holding the old and worn rag doll he had found so long ago, and she was staring at it.
“My Lord! Where did you get this? I made this for my daughter, many years ago!”
Jayne stood in the doorway, her eyes riveted on the woman in her bedroom. Penelope Brown peered back at her intently, unconsciously clutching the doll to her heart.
“Wh-what is your name child?”
“My name is Jayne. J-a-y-n-e. Are you my mother?”
An ashen Penelope Brown nodded slowly, and her answer was almost a whisper.
“All these years, I thought you were gone, but yes, Jayne, I believe I am your mother.”
“My deceitful husband and his sister, Martha, took Jayne from Kansas and also from me while I was in Iowa tending to my dying mother. All I knew was they had headed west. I put out an inquiry, and a report came back a year later that an Army patrol had discovered their marked graves. There was nothing said about Jayne, so I held out hope all these years that she was still alive, somewhere. I was surprised that she recognized me right away. She was only four when I last saw her. After a few years, I dropped Randall, and resumed my maiden name of Brown.”
Jayne handed her mother a cup of tea, and sat herself on the footstool in front of her. “I don’t remember any of that Mama, and I don’t remember the Indian raid. My memories all begin here on the ranch with Daddy. The only other memory I have is of a beautiful lady from long ago I knew as ‘Mama’, and then there you were, standing in my bedroom."
Clyde Drago watched his sleeping daughter’s slow, even breathing for a moment, and then shut her bedroom door. Penelope Brown was in deep thought when he returned.
“It seems we have a dilemma, Mister Drago. I am her mother, but she sees you as her father, as well she should. I, therefore, have a proposition to make.”
She waited as he refilled her cup.
“Please call me Clyde.”
“Very well, Clyde, and you must please call me Penny.” She glanced up at him for a moment, making up her mind.
“I’m afraid I’m a rather bold woman, Clyde, a trait my deceased husband detested, and I have a proposition to make. I am a thirty three year old widow, with a daughter of course, but my health is quite good. I would make a good wife to you, bear you children, and, after the way you have raised my daughter so unselfishly, I know you are a good man. If you’ll have me, I will learn to love you.”
Clyde Drago smiled.
“I am a man with an evil reputation, Penny. It is said that I have killed six men, a rumor I have made no move to dispel because it kept folks at a distance. In truth, I have killed no one, but I did club two men with a pick handle who tried to rob the mercantile where I was employed in Saint Louis.
I once had a sweetheart who left me for another, so I sulked about that for many years, and by the time I matured enough to let it go, I was almost too old to seek a wife. I am forty three.
You are a beautiful, warm natured woman, Penelope Brown, and as the mother of my daughter, I would be delighted to have you as my wife.”
He turned to the hallway and spoke more loudly.
“Would that please you, Jayne?”
They heard a giggle. “Goodnight Daddy. Goodnight Mama.”