Amelia Rankin owns nearly two hundred thousand acres of Texas rangeland. When her husband died, she inherited the vast holdings—and with them, a world of trouble.
When Amelia decides to fence off a portion of her land and allow farmers to tend it, she raises the ire of a powerful cattleman who would rather shed blood than see west Texas taken over by homesteaders. The men who work for Amelia vow to stand by her, but when tensions run this high, one spark of violence could set the whole prairie ablaze. Before she knows it, Amelia and her allies are fighting a battle whose outcome will determine the future of the Southwest.
From master storyteller Charles O. Locke, Amelia Rankin is an unforgettable tale of passion, violence, and pride.
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About the Author
Locke published his first novel, A Shadow of Our Own, in 1951, following it with his breakout success, The Hell Bent Kid, in 1957. The story of a young man in the 1880s who is unjustly pursued across the state of Texas by relentless enemies, this mesmerizing tale was heralded by the Western Writers of America as one of the top twenty-five Western novels of all time. 20th Century Fox adapted the book into a feature film, From Hell to Texas, in 1958.
The Southwest continued to fascinate Locke, and it provided the backdrop to two more, equally powerful novels, also set in the nineteenth century: Amelia Rankin (1959) and The Taste of Infamy: The Adventure of John Killane (1960).
Read an Excerpt
By Charles O. Locke
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1959 Curtis Publishing Company
All rights reserved.
Standing there on the high plains of Texas, Amelia Rankin wondered if she was being watched. She was inclined to think she had been watched ever since leaving the ranch house. Since range trouble started she had gotten used to the feeling, and had it every so often in driving around the considerable amount of Texas country she owned. But she knew that whoever was watching her was well hid and that it was no use to look around and behind her where her buckboard ponies raised their heads from nibbling as they stood between the widely-cast-down reins.
She knew what her husband, Henry Rankin, would have said if he was alive, in his carefree but successful managing of a one hundred and seventy-four thousand acre spread. He'd have said to hell with it, unless he felt in the mood to stalk whoever was watching and catch up with him and possibly kick him silly. His philosophy had been that most people wear themselves out doing the kind of things smarter people know are not important.
What bothered her was that she wanted to be alone. The knowledge that her competitors hired men to watch her — not so much because they hated her, but because they were worried about what they called her antics in the cattle business — had entered a certain stage in her thinking. She was an overly conscientious woman and so she was not cynical or amused by the knowledge. She had arrived at the idea that spying on her represented an issue that was slowly being drawn between her and her fellow cattlemen toward some distant day of reckoning.
What she resented was that she was kept busy during most of her waking hours and this hour she wanted to be alone in this place where she often came to think. It was a sort of vacation. She liked the quiet. She was fond of the land she lived on, and occasionally she liked to indulge her fondness all the way.
She saw one of the ponies had the bit up over his teeth, trying to shake it loose; she went and slipped the bit into place and then took up the cheek straps on both sides before going back again to look at the view. She hoped now she could relax and enjoy it. It was four hours, or as the hands would say, twenty mile to dark, and it pleasured her to know that if she wanted she could stay in this one spot all that time, listening to the dwarf wind and the whisper of the grass stems and admiring the downslope in front of her, the land's long curve. She saw once again that the curve was almost exactly like the curve of her pewter soup ladle, a family heirloom her Grandmother Nieburg had given her back in faraway Pennsylvania. The curve that began at her feet was a fact of nature that kept on sloping firmly and gently for sixty-four miles and ended where the low mesa lifted up in Flat Top, least profitable of the Rankin holdings.
A sage hen skittered forty yards to her right and rose up. As always, it made her heart jump, but then the quiet came down again like a pad on a blister. She examined the near ground. The grass was not as long as last year, the turf less rich and sponge-like. She bent over and raised her tailored skirt and lavender petticoat. One hand went up to guard the baby's-breath that trimmed her small, round, serviceable hat, and with the other she unlaced a heavy shoe that didn't match the rest of her clothes. She put her cotton-shod foot firmly on the turf, wondering if, as that travelling healer had said months ago, there really was electricity in the earth of great benefit to humans, and that folks made a mistake of not going barefoot more to get the power out of the soil God intended for them to have.
She pressed hard with her toes and felt some sort of a thrill go through her. She enjoyed it as long as it lasted and then put the shoe back on and stooped to get a pinch of the middling-dry dust and taste it as she had seen her father back in Pennsylvania test with his tongue for sour soil, claiming he could. As she did this, she thought of her deceased husband and her daughter, Mary, in terms of the land. Mary was eighteen, the age her mother had been when she first met Henry Rankin. Since Henry had died and Mary had reached maturity, there were fewer demands on her mind and heart, so that the land had become in a sense both child and husband. Like a child it needed tending and strengthening and like a husband it could be molded a little nearer to the heart's desire.
She examined the patches of broomweed here and there — thicker over to the east after a bone-dry summer. Even when there was rain, the thin turf this side of the ridge never got enough water that the high ground was shed of. The mesquite was thick, low green clouds of it; here and there a black, skeleton tree stood, where Bill Snow, her range boss, had started root-cutting in the early spring. The men had given up the work for round-up and other reasons. They hated digging as they hated anything they had to do on foot.
Her pintos stamped. So did another horse, and she looked back quickly.
She thought at first it was whoever had been watching her. She saw beyond the pitch of land to the north first a hat crown, then a head, then shoulders, and finally the full length of the rider and horse coming down toward her. He came on slowly, even timidly, giving the buckboard and team a wide berth in the circle he made toward where Amelia stood. He nodded and smiled and Amelia smiled back, wondering how fast she could make it to the buckboard and the sheathed carbine; but the man was obviously unarmed. He got off very slowly and came to her. She saw that he was tall, big-nosed, with glowing eyes, deep-set in the caves of his face. He had big hands, clumsy with the reins. He wore a dust-stained broadcloth frock coat, checkered pants, and a hat that looked as if he had the sweat band padded with newspaper, for it sat too big on his small head.
"Are you in any trouble?"
"No — just enjoying the view."
"Might I enjoy it with you, ma'am? My name's Lambert. You're Mrs. Rankin."
He dropped the reins over the horse's head and the horse began grazing. Amelia's mare whinnered, but the big bay went on nibbling.
"No fear. He's a wore-out gelding. Well now, Mrs. Rankin, I am on your land and you might want to know my business. Shall I tell you my business?"
"I'd like to know."
"I am a minister of religion."
"Couldn't quite tell you that. Don't know myself. I've tried most of them. None of them seem soul-satisfying. Maybe I don't know enough. I'm a humble man, never having had much education, and I'm short on creed and gospel — but can preach a sermon. I've done other things, too. Helped women give birth, mended busted legs, sat beside the sick and gave medicine, and went out and chopped wood for them that were too sick to leave their beds. So I've done a little of everything. But mostly I would like to preach. I am, you might say, just a small muscle in the strong right arm of the Lord. He is strong to save."
He had a wonderful speaking voice, which came in a pulpit holy-tone, and as she listened, she felt the power of his voice rather than hearing his words. She closed her eyes once or twice, sinking into the sound.
"You'll want to know why I'm here. Well, I'll tell you. I'm to fill in for a preacher in a little town south of here. He's going to leave on a trip and I'm going to take over while he's away. I won't fool you, ma'am. Until I get to be a better preacher, I'll have to keep on taking jobs like that. I'm travelling a hundred and sixteen miles on a horse to go to preach to those folks that say they'll listen. It acts on me like a powerful drug when I hear folks are willing to listen to me. And if I'd hear it on the other side of the world with an ocean between I'm not exaggerating when I say I'd swim the ocean and crawl the dry land to get the chance to talk to them."
Amelia realized she was moving her head from side to side, wondering at all this.
"But that's not the only reason I'm here, Mrs. Rankin, ma'am. I heard about you on the way down. I heard about you as far as up in Oklahoma. I heard that down here was a widow woman whose husband had died and left her a sight of land. And that she was a good manager of the land and was a smart and pretty woman, and now that I see you I'm sure of the last, for you surely are a handsome woman. But what just naturally floored me was that some of the land you was giving away. That there were men who worked for you to whom you gave land for farming. That you even gave some of your land to strangers. I sat down then and thought. Thinks I, if there's a woman like that, I want to see that woman. I aim to see that woman, to lay eyes on her and shake her hand. May I shake your hand, ma'am?"
Before Amelia could move or say anything, the man's big hand was lying open before her and she put her smaller hand with the scars of last winter's chilblains in his. She saw the fingers move around it gently, there was a pressure and a slight shake, and her hand was dropped.
"Now I'll be getting on." He turned to his horse, took a few steps. "I've got a lot of country to travel."
"Wait. Mr. Lambert."
The big man turned around. She felt she had to say it.
"I don't like to sail under false colors. I'm not a generous woman."
"I said I'm not a generous woman. The reason I'm parcelling out land to friends and people who've worked for me and others is because I've got views about the land. I think some of it should go to this, some to that. If I've got land that should grow corn, why not grow corn? It's not all fit only for cattle. It's a practical consideration."
"Say, then, that you're trying to work God's will with the land."
"Not in my mind. I never — that is, not often — think about such things."
She had hurt him and she saw it. His eyes had turned to the horizon. He looked down at his hands and the reins in them. "He works in His mysterious ways His wonders to perform." She knew he wasn't speaking to her. He mounted his horse, and he sat thoughtfully, running his hand over the saddle horn.
"Mrs. Rankin, may I say something without offense? I see a hunger in your face. I can't understand why, because I've always wondered if religion is only for those who are not self-sufficient, and you surely are self-sufficient."
"You think I need religion for the hunger you see in my face?"
"Not quite certain." He seemed shy as he said the words, like a sizable shy boy.
"The look of my face may be that I haven't quite gotten over losing my husband. We were very close. Did everything together —"
He shook his head. "I know, it's hard — I know."
"But it may be other things." She heard herself saying then that the great land of Texas often looked dismal to her and she wanted to prettify it. She ended, "Maybe that's what I feel about farmland. I was born in Pennsylvania. A farm is a mighty pretty thing."
"Oh it is, it is," he said. "And I can grow stuff. I've proved it."
She was conscious again of the spell of his voice, which made everything about him extraordinary. She closed her eyes and listened as he again quoted scripture: "And He will make the desert blossom like the rose."
She had always liked the sound of this verse, and it came to her from a great distance in the past.
"Mr. Lambert," she said impulsively, "we need men like you in this part of the country. I should hate to tell you how far my ranch house is from the nearest church. It's a good ways. I've often thought we ought to have more preaching around us." She smiled. "It all goes with my liking for milk on the place, and flowers growing, and —"
He broke in. "The things most women want and so many women miss in this country."
"When you get through with your work down south, drop in on us when you come by and visit us awhile. We like visitors."
"Thank you, ma'am. I surely will. I mean it." He gave her a look as if testing the sincerity of her invitation.
"So do I."
He started to turn his horse, then hesitated. "I think I should speak of it. I had a bite from your chuck wagon cook back up there, for which I thank you. But then, when I came around the bend of the hill away from the crick, I heard some shots. I think I heard two of them. Maybe somebody hunting."
He looked at her carefully as he said this, and she supposed he saw the way she stiffened, as she knew she did, but all she said was: "Yes, probably hunting. The men know they can take all the birds they want and any of the small game."
He looked reassured, and said goodbye.
He was gone and the place felt empty and she was surprised at her wish to call him back. He was moving his horse down the curve of the slope, his hips down firm in the saddle, his long legs stiffly pressing against the stirrups. But his hips were not quite molded to the leather arch, the way they were when she watched her hands ride, flowing with the horse, anticipating the stride, becoming part of the horse.
Even with the worry on her mind that he had put there, she was willing to wait to watch him go, as if she were in a trance that he had put her into. It was not only his voice and his appearance that charmed her, but the great wind of the past that he evoked. It rose about her, not angrily but slowly, like a soft plains zephyr of the spring, but choking her at the same time, less like wind than water.
She was still in the same state of mind when she went back to her team and looked more carefully at the cheek straps of the bit-thrower. She examined the old chafe mark where she had put the buckle after readjusting the length of the strap, and was unable to understand why it had been changed. Her watching for details like this one was the secret, if there was any, of the moderate success she had had in running the ranch after Henry's death. It had not been Henry's way at all, for he had been careless of details. As she examined the strap and stroked the pinto's cheek, her fear was bringing her out of the spell of Lambert's voice. Over toward the creek, she thought, the birds are scarce and no one would be hunting at this hour. There had been trouble in that crew, the home crew, since the hands had complained of a new assistant foreman by the name of Red Johnson. She had hired the man in a quick, weak moment, but her hiring of him had been okayed by Bill Snow. She knew that Jess Albright, who sometime was to be replaced permanently by Johnson, was glad at his age to get rid of the job. But he had also been doubtful about the new assistant, claiming that his bitter face with its pulled-down chops was the kind that makes trouble wherever it goes.
She got into the buckboard seat and absent-mindedly licked the pintos, to their surprise, so she had trouble holding them down after they wheeled too fast. They met the deeper ruts of the trail that led to the camp, went down a draw and up on the other side, stony ground where she braced for the jolting. She thought she almost lost a wheel when one of the pintos shied at a sudden bird and she had to jerk the off-front wheel away from a big boulder. She slowed as she came to the end of the ride and saw the cottonwoods, very low and sparse, and then the chuck wagon's top among the thinner mesquite.
It seemed to her from that distance that Old Wooster, the cook, was more nervous than usual, and there was nothing relaxed in the postures of the hands, walking stiff-legged as they waited for early supper. Also there were too many idle hands for this hour. She drew off her gloves. She had herself well under control as she began a slow, deliberate walk to the cook fly. She was prepared to hear Wooster say, "Eat with us?" as he always did. He was dropping raw potatoes in the skillet and the chicken-fried steaks to one side of the pan smelled good.
She stopped, slapping her gloves one against the other; Wooster, as if to match the half-defiance of her posture, faced her with the pancake flipper in his right hand. Then she knew.
"You're right." He made his voice low so as not to reach the others who were watching from a distance. "Jess Albright'll be along. There's been trouble."
"I thought so. I met the preacher you fed. He said he heard some shots by the creek and thought it was hunting."
"It wasn't. Red Johnson just shot Howard Blaine."
"Just repeat that."
"Red Johnson shot Howard Blaine."
"Shot and killed him?"
Wooster shook his head and finally met her eyes. "You know what I said about Johnson." He turned his back on her and tended to the cooking.
She sat down on a campstool under the fly and Wooster handed her a cup of coffee backhandedly, without turning or taking his eyes off the stove.
Excerpted from Amelia Rankin by Charles O. Locke. Copyright © 1959 Curtis Publishing Company. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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