Sneak Peak - First 5 pages of new book....
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
Hope Lights a Flame
Loni Kemper Moore
“ Faith does not quench desire but inflames it.”
Chapter 1 - February 24, 1929
After twenty-three years of being responsible, almost always doing what was expected of him, Walker psyched himself to jump from the train. Dalhart, Texas. Until that moment, he had no apprehensions about going west.
Each step toward town added determination to succeed. The Zane Grey book he’d read—but left behind on his dresser back home—came to life. Around him, men wore guns, tilted hats to greet him, and stepped in high-heeled boots covered in fine dust, so different from lush soil of his Indiana home. Tethered to hitching posts, horses flipped their tails at flies. Here and there, a sapling struggled to survive. Where were the mountains?
Although he’d committed each word to memory, he shielded his eyes and once again scanned the Farm Journal advertisement.
HELP WANTED. Strong, healthy, unattached men to work as cowhands near Dalhart, Texas. Good pay for hard work. The James Ranch. Ask for Andy.
Whistling to reduce concern, he leaned over and touched a blue flower with his shoes. He wondered if it was one of the blue bonnets he’d read of.
When Dalhart Building and Loan appeared on his left, he entered a dimly lit office. “May I open an account?” His savings should be safer there than in his case.
The manager licked his lips, tapped his pencil on his desk, and spoke quickly. “Where you from, stranger?” He drawled eying him with suspicion and pushing spectacles from the end of his nose.
“Indiana, but I’ll be working at the James Brothers Ranch.” He hoped it was true.
The man’s demeanor changed. “With Andy? He’s a character.”
Nodding, Walker removed the remaining dollar notes from his guitar case and stuffed a paper deposit booklet in his leather valise.
“Appreciate your business. If you ever need a loan, think of us. Any questions?”
“Know how I could get to the James Ranch or where Andy might be?”
“May have walked right past him. Was in here earlier. Prob’ly the train station. Fancies himself a cowboy philosopher like the famous Oklahoman.”
“Will Rogers?” Since the banker’s cadence, in fact, resembled the Oklahoma actor he mentioned, Walker smiled.
Walker’s anticipation rose with his heartrate as he approached the train station counter. “Is Mister Andy James here?”
The station master eyed a group of men. “Andy? The blue shirt, over there, talking.”
Walker heard Andy before he saw his face and, for the briefest instant, he wished a friend were with him as a second witness. When he compared the difference between his and the cowboys’ clothing, he pondered, as he during the trip, whether he had the guts to be a rancher.
The fellow held a light gray cowboy hat curved up on each side of a sweat-stained band. His tapered shirt emphasized broad shoulders with worn Levi’s and scuffed boots. Leathered facial skin spoke of time spent outside the confining comforts of home.
Walker stood on the edge of a circle of men without interrupting.
Andy said, “Winter so horrible five blizzards cost my brother and me the best family-owned ranch in these United States. Gov’nment and dadgum farmers plowed the healthy buffalo grass. Shot all the coyotes—” He seemed to notice Walker for the first time. “What ’cha staring at, my red-headed stranger?”
Walker set his bags on the ground before he extended his hand. “Hello, sir. The name is Walker Smythe from Indiana. Found an ad in Farm Journal magazine from a few years ago, so I came to work. I understand you’re Andy James.”
His hand hung clumsily in the air until several men shook it.
Andy’s laughter filled the station as he looked Walker over. “A Hoosier, huh? ‘Fraid you are a few years late to work the best James Ranch ever, but you’re not a cripple and, as of this afternoon, I’m short a hand. Branding’s s’pposed to start tomorrow at my brother’s ranch. Boys, I will catch you next time. Fixing to turn this Hoosier into a cowboy.” Walking outside with an entourage of men, he ground a cigarette under his boot.
Uncertain what to make of the slight, brash man, Walker lifted his belongings.
With an agility usually reserved for younger men, Andy mounted his horse as the group of men guffawed. “Joe,” He called inside to one man. “I am gonna borry Blackie to get this boy to the ranch. Bring ‘im back tomorrow.”
Walker frowned for the meaning of “borry,” but when Andy patted the rump of a black stallion, he concluded it meant to borrow.
“Hoosier, you know how to ride?”
Having only ridden horses on the farm back home, how else would he travel? Dad’s Model T, purchased for Mum, remained in pristine condition, reserved for special occasions.
Andy cleared his throat, bringing Walker to the present.
“Fine horse.” Reaching into his case, he removed the last carrot from the lunch he’d packed with too much enthusiasm three days earlier. “Yes, sir.” Walker secured his suitcase in the saddlebag and rubbed the animal’s nose.
The horse nickered appreciation for the carrot, and Walker mounted him.
Andy explained each building as they rode through town. “You need to know anything, ask me. ’Course I have opinions but been here longer than nearly anyone. The folks headed west after GrandDaddy returned from the War of Northern Aggression. My brother, Robert and I landed here after that.”
War of Northern Aggression? The fellow must mean the devastating conflict more commonly referred to as the Civil War which ended, what—he subtracted in his head—sixty-four years earlier?
Walker nodded and tried to keep up with Andy’s horse and lecture. The town boasted all it needed with fair grounds on one end and stores lining Main Street. A theater’s marquee announced The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which Walker saw in Indianapolis the previous college Christmas break. Churches circled the tallest building, the Dallam County Courthouse.
Three churches surrounded the courthouse reminding him of his mother quivering just weeks before she died. He’d leaned close to her pale lips as she whispered “If you ever move away, go to church because that’s the best place to make friends in a new town, but he had no need for friends, if they were as unreliable as those left behind.
“I came in looking for a hand. Where is your goldarned hat, boy? Cain’t survive this sun without one.” He guided his horse to a store with a suited mannequin and hats made by Stetson in one window. Large letters painted on the glass announced “Herzstein’s Haberdashery.”
Walker dismounted, secured the reins and followed Andy. He winced at the prices, intending to save money for the next adventure after he tired of ranch work—and before anyone claiming to be a friend betrayed his trust. A hat would cost him the remainder of his funds.
“Hoosier, what size are you?” Andy motioned to the cashier. “Clyde, measure this boy’s head, would ya?”
After a few minutes of negotiation, Andy handed a Stetson hat to Walker. “You eyed the black hat…but only bandits wear black. Working men need light-colored hats to keep cool. If you work out through August, the hat is yours. If not, you owe me two five spots.”
Walker knew the meaning of two five-dollar notes containing President Lincoln’s picture. “Thank you, sir.” Walker admired himself wearing the hat in the mirror. How Effie at one time would have liked to see him in a fine Stetson. Reading the words on the shoe brush the clerk gave him, he smiled. “If it’s from Herzstein’s, it’s correct.”
“Hat should keep sun off your head. Make it easier to cowboy,” Andy patted his horse.
Adjusting the Stetson and grateful for shade, Walker twisted the bill upward unsuccessfully. “What is the pay?”
“Around forty bucks a month with bed and board, if ya work hard, break nothing, and stay out of trouble.”
Not enough to develop wealth, but plenty to save and move him closer to his commitment to Mum. He would finish college, eventually.
“City boys, when they last, spend most of their pay in town for baths before the dance. Or stop in #126.” Andy motioned.
The answer didn’t clarify the reference. “What else should I know?”
“You never been to this part of Texas before, so here’s what to watch out for— rattlesnakes, lightning, and easy women, like them over at #126, the Yellow House.” Andy’s hearty laugh filled the air.
Following his pointing finger, Walker squinted at a gaudily painted house outside town.