It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. - Seneca

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chapter 1 of, "The Legacy," by Diane Amos

Chapter 1

June 2, 1887

You cold-hearted varmint,
Was it up to me, I wouldn't send this letter.
But your pa needs to see you one last time.
Hurry. One more thing, if you arrive before he dies, the ranch will be yours.

Bitterness crept up the back of Jeremiah T. Dalton's throat as he reread the words filled with contempt. He slipped the letter back in its envelope and dabbed the perspiration from his brow with the silk handkerchief normally tucked in his suit pocket just for show.

Lowdown, Texas was hot as hell, which seemed fitting, considering he was about to meet the devil himself.

An old cowpoke, sitting in the stagecoach on the seat opposite him, gave Jeremiah a slow perusal. "You ain't from round these parts."

"No, I'm not."

"What brings you out this way?"

He noted the old geezer's grin with missing front teeth and the wide black hat that shadowed his face. Jeremiah straightened his Derby on the seat beside him and smiled politely.

"Family business."

"That so." The old man scratched his whiskered jaw, then reached out. "Buck Ridley, here."
Jeremiah shook his hand. "Jeremiah T. Dalton."

"Can tell from your accent you're from back East a ways."
Jeremiah nodded.

Buck pulled out a crushed box of Battle Ax Plug tobacco from his shirt pocket, bit off a chunk and offered Jeremiah what remained. "Do you chew?"

"No, thanks. It's not one of my vices."

Buck stuck the additional wad in his cheek and seemed content to ride in silence.

Jeremiah leaned back against the seat, closed his eyes and thought back to his childhood.

Not once had his mother uttered a kind word about the man responsible for his birth. According to her, his father was a conniving, fast-talking good-for-nothing.

One fact was indisputable; his old man had never given a damn about him.

As a boy, Jeremiah wrote countless letters that went unanswered. Finally, he gave up hope of ever seeing his father again.

As an adult, Jeremiah wanted nothing to do with his father, although he preferred the term sensible to cold-hearted as the letter had indicated.

"Wedding or funeral?"

Jeremiah glanced up. "Huh?"

"Wedding or funeral brung you here?"

"Someone's taken ill."

"Didya say Dalton ? Wouldn't happen to be related to N.H. Dalton?"

"My father," he replied, the words sticking in his throat like a sharp bone.

"Well, I'll be diggered. Didn't know N.H. had himself a son."

Realizing his father had kept his existence a secret, Jeremiah's gut coiled with anger. He was grateful when Buck turned his attention to the view from the window.

As the stagecoach rolled into town, Jeremiah studied each building and tried to recall something from his past. Ridley's Livery, a large wooden structure, stood off by itself, and though Jeremiah could imagine himself as a small boy admiring the horses, nothing about the livery looked familiar.

Several stores came next, among them Fred's Barbershop, The Dressmaker, and Bufford's Mercantile. From the opened double doors of the general store, he saw packed shelves and narrow aisles. Its overflowing merchandise spilled onto the crooked boardwalk where two men sat on a crude wooden bench, playing checkers, surrounded by shovels, brooms, baskets, and barrels.

A surprising thought surfaced. Bufford's sold the best candy for miles around. Was this a memory or merely his sweet tooth on the trail of licorice whips and lemon drops?

An hour later Jeremiah sat on a bench outside The Lowdown Federal Bank, his patience in no better shape than the white shirt plastered to his body. He'd telegraphed his time of arrival and had received a response that someone would meet his stagecoach.

The rumble of wagon wheels and an approaching dust cloud interrupted his thoughts. He stood, cupping a hand over his eyes and spotted a rickety wagon heading toward him. He was about to jump aside when the driver, a tall boy, pulled back on the brake.

"Whoa," he shouted in a high-pitched voice.

Beside him sat a little girl with probing eyes and a mean frown.

The slightly built driver hopped down from the wagon. "You Jeremiah Dalton?"

"Yes, what took you so long?"

"Had things to do."

"That's it? No explanation?"

A satisfied grin surfaced beneath the rim of the western-style hat.

Jeremiah plunked his Derby on his head. Salvaging what remained of his manners, he smiled tolerantly, grabbed his heavy bag, and gestured for the lad to take the other. Much to his amazement, the youngster climbed onto the wagon without lifting a finger.

"Young man, might I remind you that in time you'll be working for me?" He mimicked the tone his future father-in-law used effectively with the servants.

The youngster hopped down and stood inches from his chest. "I'll work for you when rattlers sprout legs!"

The raised voice was clear, defiant, and definitely not masculine. Caught off guard, he bent to look under the brim of the hat.

Cold green eyes glared back at him. He studied the heart-shaped face and the small nose splattered with rusty freckles. As he straightened, he noticed the wilted daisy sticking from the hatband.

Big mistake, he realized, feeling like a fool. What would possess a woman to wear men's trousers and a shapeless shirt?

She yanked her hat off her head and slapped it against her thigh, raising dust and setting free a riot of bright curls the color of carrots, a vegetable he detested.
* * * * *

Eyes the color of polished pewter held Abigail Wilcox captive. Her heart skipped a beat as she studied the features much like his father's. The similarities ended there, however, for N. H. Dalton was a kind and loving man.

Determined to make Jeremiah Dalton's ride to the ranch as miserable as possible, Abigail had chosen this small wagon with broken springs and a front seat barely wide enough for her and Clarissa.

Her daughter had kicked up a fuss about coming, but Abigail had insisted, which explained the child's sour mood.

Standing with her back to the wagon, Abigail gazed into the flint-gray eyes filled with disbelief. She pushed aside unruly curls that had tumbled over her forehead, and, sucking in her breath, thrust out small breasts. Why had Jeremiah Dalton's mistake hurt so much?
The tension stretched between them until Clarissa leaned over Abigail's shoulder. "Ma, how long you two gonna gawk at each other?"

Clearly uncomfortable, Jeremiah ran a finger inside the stiff collar of his stained white shirt. "I apologize for the error, Mrs. … "

Abigail straightened her shoulders. "It's Miss and don't worry none about the mistake."

Shock flickered over his features before she turned and hopped onto the wagon.

She didn't care diddly what he thought.

If only that were true.

Shame had carved a crater the size of Texas in her heart. At first she'd hidden her secret behind a cheap gold band, but word got around.

People looked down their noses at her. So instead of prolonging the inevitable, she preferred to set the record straight from the start.

Jeremiah walked to the back of the wagon, heaved his bags onto the planks, and hopped aboard. He pushed aside the hay with his shoe before sitting down. Abigail released the brake and flicked the reins. She expected him to grumble.

He dug in his pocket and produced a crumpled paper bag. "Lemon drops, anybody?"

Lemon drops were Abigail's favorite, but taking one seemed traitorous.

Clarissa had no such qualms. "Thanks," she said, grabbing two.

Abigail bit her lip and concentrated on hitting the pothole in the middle of the road.

For the next hour, Jeremiah tried unsuccessfully to cushion his rattling bones. Each time the wagon struck a hole, the loose boards beneath him separated just enough to pinch his backside.

For years he'd heard tales of his father's ranch, a sprawling twelve thousand-acre spread with a large Hacienda-style house staffed with servants.

As Jeremiah bounced along in the rickety wagon, he wondered if these reports were more of his mother's exaggerations. If this chariot was an indication of the condition of the Dalton ranch, Jeremiah would be on the next train heading East.

As he reached up and rubbed his hand along the back of his aching neck, he spotted a familiar cluster of four cacti resembling the silhouette of a cowboy with Stetson and pipe.

If he hadn't seen the large sign swaying from the top of a stone archway, he'd have voiced his suspicions; they'd been traveling in circles.

He read the words, Dalton Ranch.

The gold lettering above the carved image of a steer spoke of wealth and power. Stone walls bordered either side of the winding road that led to an adobe-colored two-story building.

From the recesses of his mind came the vision of a small boy rocking on a wooden porch swing. Before he could question his rambling thoughts, the wagon entered a courtyard, and that same porch swing appeared.

An unexpected shiver raced down his spine as Jeremiah spotted a man sitting in the shadows on an oversized rocker. He didn't realize the wagon had stopped until the young girl dashed toward the old man and kissed his cheek.

"How ya feeling, Grandpa Dalton?"

Until now, Jeremiah's memories had been dim, but those of his father were vivid.

And painful.

Jeremiah unclenched his fists and breathed in deeply. For years he'd promised himself if this day ever came, he'd greet his father with aloofness.

He unfolded his stiff frame from the wagon and reluctantly strolled toward the porch.

Jeremiah couldn't make out his father's face, but he felt his penetrating gaze.

Though he'd told himself he wouldn't so much as shake hands with this man, as he neared the porch, Noah stretched out trembling arms. This wasn't the person Jeremiah remembered, but a frail old man.

For a moment Jeremiah stood there staring down at the gnarled fingers covered with parchment-like flesh, and his resolve crumbled.

a moment of weakness, he clasped his father's hand.


Alexis Walker said...

I'm so excited for you Diane! The Legacy sounds very interesting. I could see it all clearly. Was curious as to what year it takes place? I'm not that up on western history, despite living here :-)

Dariel Raye said...

"The Legacy" sounds wonderful! Get ready to write your screenplay for Hallmark channel :)

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