Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Matter of Character - Prologue and Chapter 1


A Matter Of Character


Zondervan (May 25, 2010)


by


Robin Lee Hatcher



Prologue


St. Louis, Missouri, August 1918

Propelled by a white hot fury, Joshua Crawford pushed open the door to Gregory Halifax’s office so hard it hit the wall with a loud wham. Startled, Gregory looked up a split second before Joshua slapped the newspaper onto the desk.

“What is this garbage?” Joshua demanded.

Gregory’s expression changed from one of surprise to a smirk. “So you read it.”

“Of course I read it, and I’m here to demand a retraction.”

“A retraction? For what?”

“For what you wrote about my grandfather.”

Gregory laughed softly. “You must be joking. The article is about dime novelists. The part about Richard Terrell was the words of the author, not mine.”

“But you made what Mr. Morgan wrote in his novels sound as if it was fact rather than fiction. It’s not.”

“How do you know it’s not? Tell me. What do you know about your grandfather before he settled in St. Louis? Nothing, that’s what. You’ve said so yourself.”

“Did you contact anyone in Idaho to try to confirm that the character in Morgan’s books is based on the real Richard Terrell?”

“I didn’t need to. I interviewed the publishers for my story. And again, the focus of my article is the men who write dime novels, not on the characters found in their books.”

“But in the process you’ve dragged my grandfather’s good name through the mud. I want a retraction.”

Gregory pushed back his chair and stood, the smile gone from his face. “When you prove anything I wrote is in error, then come see me again, and we’ll have this discussion. Until then, get out.”

For one moment, Joshua thought he might be able to control his temper. For one very brief moment — just before he caught Gregory’s jaw with a right hook followed by a left jab to the gut. Gregory flew backward into the wall. The glass in the office door rattled again. Joshua readied himself for the other man to fight back. To his dissatisfaction, it didn’t happen. Gregory’s eyes were still unfocused when more men poured into the office and grabbed Joshua by the arms, hauling him away. One of the men was Joshua’s boss, Langston Lee.

“You’re fired, Crawford. Collect your things and get out. I won’t have my reporters brawling. You hear me. Get out or I’ll call the police.”

Joshua longed to turn his rage onto his boss, to give Langston Lee a little of what he’d already given Gregory Halifax. But he had enough good sense left to resist the urge. He was already out of a job. He didn’t want to spend time in a jail cell besides.

But so help him, he would get a retraction out of this newspaper. He would prove Gregory Halifax was a shoddy reporter and see that he was fired. He would hear Langston Lee apologize. And he would make certain D. B. Morgan never again maligned his grandfather in print.

This wasn’t over yet.


Chapter 1


October 1918

Maybe it was time to kill Rawhide Rick. He’d served his purpose, the old rascal. He’d hunted buffalo and fought Indians and stolen gold from hardworking miners and sent men to the gallows. Now might be the time for him to meet his Maker. The trick was deciding how to kill him.

Daphne McKinley rose from her desk and walked into the parlor, where she pushed aside the curtains at the window.

A golden haze blanketed Bethlehem Springs. It had been a beautiful autumn. The prettiest one yet in her three years in this serene Idaho mountain town. The trees had been the brightest of golds, the most fiery of reds, the deepest of greens. Daphne had spent many a mild afternoon walking trails through the forest, enjoying the colors and the smells.

If Rawhide Rick — who by this point in the series of books had become the infamous Judge Richard Terrell — was dead, what would become of the dashing Bill McFarland, hero of The McFarland Chronicles? Without his arch enemy, his life might become rather dull. Or perhaps it was Daphne who would find life dull without Rawhide Rick. Wicked he was, but he certainly kept things interesting whenever he was around.

She rubbed her eyelids with the tips of her fingers, and when she pulled them away, she noticed ink stains on her right hand. Her fountain pen was leaking. Perhaps it was time to buy a typewriter. But would writing on a machine feel the same?

Daphne turned from the window, her gaze sweeping the parlor. She’d come to love this small house on Wallula Street. Since moving into it soon after Gwen — its previous owner — married Daphne’s brother, she’d delighted in making it her home, decorating and furnishing it in ways that pleased her. Daphne’s childhood homes had been large and filled with servants waiting to attend to her slightest wish. But she had often been forced to live by the timetables of others. Now she could do as she willed, when she willed. The freedom she enjoyed was intoxicating.

The best part was when she wanted to be with family, she got into her motorcar — her very own, quite wonderful McLaughlin- Buick — and drove to her brother’s home to play with her young nephew and infant niece. She was completely dotty over the two of them. She loved to crawl around on the floor with Andy — he would turn two at the end of November — the both of them squealing and giggling. And there was nothing like cuddling three-month-old Ellie. Daphne thought the baby girl smelled like sunshine.

A sigh escaped her. She hadn’t time for daydreaming about Morgan’s and Gwen’s darling children. She must decide what to do. If she was going to kill the judge, she needed to notify Elwood Shriver at once. Wavering in indecisiveness served no good purpose.

She returned to her small office. The floor around her desk was littered with wadded sheets of paper. It was always thus when words frustrated her. “So wasteful,” she scolded softly.

of the war half a world away was splashed across the front page. More than a million American men — just boys, many of them — were now fighting in Europe alongside the Allied Powers. The end was near, some said. She prayed to God they were right. Too many had died already. Others, like Woody Statham, would wear the scars from their war wounds for the remainder of their lives — if not on their bodies then in their souls.

She flipped through several more pages of the newspaper, but nothing she read captured her imagination or sparked her creativity. Besides, she’d read every article before, some of them several times.

Maybe her problem wasn’t with Rawhide Rick. Maybe the problem was Bill McFarland. Maybe she was tired of him. Maybe he should die.

“Maybe the whole lot of them should perish,” she muttered as she laid the newspaper aside.

She spun her chair toward the bookcase beneath the office window. There, on the bottom row, were copies of The McFarland Chronicles by D. B. Morgan, all ten volumes. And if she didn’t decide soon what to do about Rawhide Rick, ten volumes would be all there were.

There was no question that Daphne loved writing stories of adventure and danger in the West of forty and fifty years ago. And while she would concede that her books were not great literature, they were entertaining, for readers and for herself. But there were days like today when she was tempted to contact her editor in New York City and tell him that she (D. B. McKinley, whom Elwood Shriver thought to be a man) was retiring and thus so must D. B. Morgan (the pseudonym used on her books). However, she knew she would miss the storytelling were she to give it up. After all, it didn’t take much effort to clean her small house or cook the As she sat down, she took up the five-day-old newspaper. News occasional meal. Without her writing pursuits, what would she do with her time?

It would be nice if she could discuss her feelings with someone, but there wasn’t another person, in Bethlehem Springs or elsewhere, who knew she was the author of dime novels. She wasn’t sure her brother would believe her if she told him. The only soul who might suspect anything was Dedrik Finster, the Bethlehem Springs postmaster, because of the mail she sent and received, but his English wasn’t the best and he probably had no idea that Shriver & Sons was a publishing company. Why would he?

Maybe what she needed more than anything was a drive out to the Arlington ranch and a long visit with Griff Arlington, Gwen and Cleo’s father. That man had given her more story ideas in the last three years than she could ever hope to put on paper. It was Griff who had told her about the escapades of the real-life Richard Terrell, every bit as much a scoundrel as her fictional character, although perhaps in different ways. Yes, a visit with Griff was just what the doctor ordered.

Her mind made up, she rose and went in search of hat, gloves, and coat.

****

Joshua stepped from the passenger car onto the platform and looked about him. A large family — father, mother, and six children — were being escorted into the railroad station by a young man in a blue uniform. They were on their way to a hot springs resort located north of Bethlehem Springs. He knew this because they had spoken of little else during the journey, and Joshua couldn’t have helped but overhear their conversation as they’d been a rather boisterous group.

He, on the other hand, was headed into the town that appeared to be about a quarter mile or so up a dirt road that passed between two low-slung hills. Switching his valise to the opposite hand, he set off in that direction.

The first building he saw upon entering Bethlehem Springs was a church. All Saints Presbyterian, according to the sign out front. Catty-corner from All Saints was the Daily Herald, his destination. He crossed the street and entered the newspaper office. Familiar smells — newsprint, ink, dust — filled his nostrils.

An attractive but pale-looking woman, dressed in black, came out of the back room, hesitated when she saw him, then moved forward, stopping on the opposite side of a raised counter. “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes.” He set down his valise and removed his hat. “My name is Joshua Crawford. I’m here to see Nathan Patterson.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Crawford.” Her voice broke, and it took her a moment to continue. “Mr. Patterson passed away.” She drew a long breath and released it. “I’m his widow. Perhaps I can assist you.”

Either Nathan Patterson had been much older than his wife or he had died tragically young, for Joshua guessed the woman to be no more than in her early thirties.

“I . . . I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t know. Mr. Patterson recently offered me a job as a reporter for the Daily Herald. I’ve just arrived in Bethlehem Springs.”

“Yes. I’m sorry. I’d forgotten your name. Nathan told me to expect you.”

Joshua had counted on this job. Without it, he couldn’t afford to stay in Idaho. He would barely have enough money for train fare back to St. Louis, as long as he didn’t spend a night in the hotel, and even then he wouldn’t have much left over to buy food. He would be extremely hungry before he reached Missouri. Not to mention that he wouldn’t have a job waiting for him when he got there — unless he was successful here first.

“I’m glad you’ve come, Mr. Crawford. My husband would be heartbroken to see this newspaper fail. I assume you can do more than report?”

“Ma’am?”

“You are qualified to manage the paper, I trust.”

Manage it? That was more than he’d expected. But if it worked out . . . “Yes, I am qualified,” he answered — with more confidence than he felt.

“Good. Nathan’s final instruction was for me to offer you the job as managing editor of the Daily Herald. If you’re interested, that is.”

He hadn’t thought to be in Idaho more than a month or two. Surely he could discover the information he needed, take care of matters, and return to Missouri before Christmas. On the other hand, success as a managing editor would look good on his résumé, would give him many more opportunities than simply working as a reporter for a small paper.

“Are you interested, Mr. Crawford?”

He had few other options. None, actually. Not if he wanted to honor his grandfather’s memory. Not if he wanted to restore his own good name and get back his old job. Taking the job as managing editor didn’t mean he would be here forever. He could keep the newspaper running until Mrs. Patterson found his replacement. It was the least he could do for the man who had paid his train fare from Missouri to Idaho. “Yes, Mrs. Patterson. I’m interested.”

“The pay will be ninety-five dollars a month to start. I know it isn’t the sort of salary you must have received at a large newspaper, but you’ll have a place to live for free.” She pointed at the ceiling. “There’s an apartment above the office with a kitchen and bath. It hasn’t been used for several years, but with a bit of elbow grease, it should clean up well and prove adequate for a bachelor such as yourself.”

Ninety-five a month. Not quite twelve hundred a year. Less than Langston Lee had paid him back in St. Louis, but more than the sum Nathan Patterson had offered when he’d applied for the job with the Daily Herald. With a place to live thrown in, the salary would allow him to put money aside for when he returned to Missouri.

“That sounds fine,” he answered.

Mrs. Patterson gave him a fleeting smile. “Good. Now let me show you to your quarters. I’m sure you must be weary from your journey. We can begin work in the morning.”

****

Daphne was invited by Griff Arlington to have supper with the family and to spend the night at the ranch as she occasionally did, but she declined. Griff ’s storytelling about his early days in Idaho had done just what she’d hoped. Ideas were rolling around in her head, and she was desperate to get them on paper before they disappeared like a puff of smoke in the wind.

As soon as she walked into her house, she tossed her coat over the nearest chair, dropped her hat on the table, and hurried into her office, where she lit the lamp and began scribbling as fast as she could. It seemed she barely drew a breath for the next hour. When she looked up at last, she saw that night had fallen over Bethlehem Springs. Her stomach growled, reminding her that she’d missed supper. Still, she had little desire to cook. This seemed like a good evening to pay a visit to one of the town’s restaurants.

Daphne had three choices — the Gold Mountain, which served the most wonderful breakfasts; the restaurant inside the Washington Hotel where she liked to dine before an evening at the Opera House; and the South Fork, famous for their pies and home-style fare. She decided on the latter.

As she walked briskly along Wallula Street toward Main, her way was lit by street lamps, one of many improvements made during Mayor Gwen McKinley’s term of office, which had ended almost ten months earlier. Daphne thought it unfortunate for the town that her sister-in-law had retired from public service. She hoped that, when her nephew and niece were older, Gwen would run for office again.

As Daphne neared the office of the Daily Herald, she noticed light spilling through the windows of the apartment above it, something she’d never seen before. Was the newly widowed Christina Patterson up there, perhaps sorting through memorabilia from her marriage? Should Daphne postpone her evening meal another hour and see if she could offer the woman any comfort or assistance?

Nathan Patterson’s death had been a shock to the town. A man of thirty-seven years, he’d looked in the pink of health. To have him weaken and die so suddenly had taken everyone, especially his wife, by surprise. And even while they grieved the loss of a friend, many wondered about the future of the Daily Herald. It had been almost a week since the last edition. What would become of the newspaper without Nathan at its helm?

A shadow fell across the nearest window, and Daphne stopped on the sidewalk, still pondering what she should do. Would Christina welcome a visit from her or had she gone up there to escape intrusion? Daphne remembered all too well how difficult the death of a loved one could be. She’d been a girl of sixteen when her beloved father died, a young woman of twenty when she’d lost her mother. Even now, all these years later, she felt a painful sting in her chest, knowing she wouldn’t see either of them again this side of heaven.

She also remembered that sometimes she’d wanted to be alone with her memories, alone to cry and mourn. And so she decided not to disturb the new widow and instead moved on, rounding the corner onto Main Street and entering the South Fork Restaurant a few moments later.

Delicious scents filled the dining room, making her stomach grumble once again. It was late enough that the dinner crowd had come and gone. There were customers at only two tables — Mabel and Roscoe Finch, who worked for her brother and sister-in-law, and Ashley Thurber, the elementary school teacher. Daphne greeted each one of them before sitting at a table in the corner, her back to the wall. Whenever she dined out, she preferred similar seating. It allowed her to study others without being too obvious. She loved to watch and listen to people. She’d learned a great deal from the habit, and much of what she’d learned had made it into her stories at one time or another.

Sara Henley — a shy, plain girl of eighteen — approached Daphne, a pad in her hand and a smile on her face. “Evening, Miss McKinley.”

“Good evening, Sara.” Daphne returned the girl’s smile. “How are you?”

“Wonderful.” Sara lowered her voice. “My dad’s agreed I can study art. I won’t leave for school until spring, and I have to save every cent I earn to help cover my expenses. But all winter I can look forward to going.”

Daphne touched the back of Sara’s hand with her fingertips. “I’m glad for you. You have a wonderful talent. You must promise that you’ll write and tell me all about the school and its instructors once you’re there.”

“’Course I will. If it wasn’t for your encouragement, I never would’ve had the nerve to ask my dad to let me go.”

Daphne had done little besides tell Sara that she shouldn’t give up on her dreams, no matter how long it took, that God could open doors in surprising ways if she would simply trust Him. But she was glad Sara had found her words to be helpful and even more glad that Sara’s father had consented. “I believe art school will be the making of you. Wait and see if I’m not right.”

Sara blushed bright red. “I’d better take your order, Miss McKinley.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen. “Mr. Boyle will wonder what’s keeping me.”

“Is there any meatloaf left?”

“Sure is.”

“Then that’s what I’ll have. With gravy on the potatoes, please.”

“I’ll bring it right out.”

As Sara disappeared into the restaurant kitchen, the front door opened, letting in the cool night air along with a man Daphne had never seen before. He was tall, at least six feet, perhaps a little more. He had brown hair that was shaggy near his collar, and unless the poor light in the restaurant deceived her, there was the shadow of a beard under the skin of his jaw and upper lip.

Who was he? Not a cowboy nor a miner. That was clear by the clothes he wore. His suit appeared of good quality, but even from where she sat she could tell it had seen its share of wear. A man of trade perhaps or a salesman. Definitely not a guest of her brother’s spa, for he looked neither wealthy nor in poor health.

At that moment, the stranger turned his head and his gaze met hers. She swallowed a gasp of surprise. Good heavens! He had the most astonishing eyes. What color were they? She wished she could tell. So pale. Perhaps blue. Or maybe a silvery-gray. No, they were blue. She was sure of it. And she seemed unable to look away, even when she knew she should. Thankfully, he broke the connection and moved to a table, sitting in a chair with his right side toward her.

Daphne drew a hungry breath into her lungs. Until that moment she hadn’t known she’d held it.

Could I capture his eyes with words? What a character he would make. He could be Bill’s friend. Perhaps he could ride with him for the next few adventures. What name should I give him?

She pulled a small notebook and the stub of a pencil from her pocket and made a few notes to herself.

In Daphne’s fourth, fifth, and sixth novels, her hero, Bill McFarland, had courted a woman in Idaho City, but she’d grown tired of waiting for him to propose and had married someone else. Perhaps this new friend with his magnetic eyes could help Bill find the right woman, one who wouldn’t object to his adventurous spirit. Then again, Bill would have to watch out or his new friend might steal the right woman for himself.

The thought caused her to glance up from her notebook — only to discover he was looking in her direction. Her breath caught for a second time and a blush warmed her face as she dropped her gaze again. Oh, yes. Mr. Blue Eyes would definitely make things interesting for the readers of The McFarland Chronicles. She hoped her dinner would arrive soon. Another late-night writing session was looming.

****

December 5, 1871


There comes a time in a man’s life when it seems prudent that he look hard at his past, to remember from whence he came, to learn to be grateful for God’s mercy, perhaps even for the purpose of becoming a cautionary tale for others. And so I have decided to write an account of my life, from beginning to the present, knowing all the while that the future will be significantly different from those years that have gone before. In truth, I already know that my life will soon change for the better. I know this because, at the age of fifty, I am about to take a wife. No former associate of mine could be more surprised at this news than I am. I never believed I was the marrying kind. Nor would I have believed a woman as fine as my Annie would agree to be my wife, especially after she learned of my less than pristine past.


But I am getting ahead of myself. A record of my life should begin at the beginning. And so it shall.

****

I was born on a small farm in Missouri in the winter of 1821, the youngest of five children, all boys. My parents came to the region after the War of 1812, along with many other settlers. Like most everyone they knew, my parents were poor. They eked out a living the only way they knew how, through hard work and sweat and tears. They weren’t educated, and they yearned for something quite different for their children.


It amazes me, as I look back, that my mother managed to teach her sons so much when she never attended school a day in her life. Not that I appreciated her efforts back then. All I wanted when I was a lad was to go fishing or hunting or even just to lie on my back on a hot summer day and watch the clouds drift by. Still, despite my lack of enthusiasm, I learned to read and write and do arithmetic. I even came to appreciate, albeit many years later, the wisdom and enjoyment that could be found in books.


My parents were god-fearing people, but since there was no church within easy distance of our farm, it fell to my father and mother to see that their sons came to know the Bible and to embrace the tenants of the Christian faith. In this regard, I was even less enthusiastic. Rebellion resided in my stubborn heart, and it did not matter if my father took a strap to me or my mother sweetly entreated me. I would not yield.


Perhaps, given enough time, I might have come to know the God my parents believed in. But there wasn’t enough time. They died of the fever when I was eight years old, along with two of my brothers. Moses was ten and Oliver was nine. That was in the winter of 1829. February, I believe. There was deep snow on the ground and the temperatures were frigid. My surviving two brothers could manage no more than shallow graves as the ground was frozen hard.

I have never confessed this to a living soul, but I cried myself to sleep at night more often than not in the months that followed.


My two oldest brothers, Jefferson and Lyman, took over running the farm and raising me. They did the best they were able, them being just boys themselves, Jefferson not yet eighteen, Lyman only sixteen. I wish now that I had appreciated them more.


After I stopped crying myself to sleep at night, anger took the place of tears. I was angry with everyone, and my temper got me into plenty of trouble. I was fourteen the year I hit Lyman so hard I broke his nose. Of course, he gave me back in kind. A few weeks later, I struck out on my own.


I never knew what happened to my brothers. By the time I got to an age and a place where I wanted to get in touch with them, where I would have liked to see them again, they were gone. I was told they sold the farm and nobody knew where they went from there.


I have often wondered if they are still alive. I wonder if they think of me and wonder the same.

1 comment:

Jackie Smith said...

I love Robin's books....if this is a giveaway, please enter me. Thanks!!!
jackie.smithATdishmailDOTnet