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By Dana Fuller Ross
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 1984 Book Creations, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBy the late summer of 1869, people who lived within sight of the railroad tracks that now spanned America, from the cities on the Atlantic Seaboard to those on the Pacific Coast, had grown sufficiently accustomed to the trains rushing past that they no longer raced outside to watch them. These Americans now took it for granted that people or goods could cross the continent, not in three or four months as before, but in less than a week.
Certainly the curiosity of these people would have been aroused if they had realized that attached to the rear of one train making its way westward through the Rocky Mountains was a private railroad car. Such cars were as new as the transcontinental railroad itself and were reserved for the very well-to-do. This particular car was sumptuously furnished, with a bedroom at either end, two full baths, and a handsome sitting room, as well as its own dining room and kitchen. It was paneled with heavy, dark wood; there were glittering brass sconces on the walls; and thick, ruby-red carpeting imported from Persia covered the floors. A railroad porter was provided to make and serve the meals.
The car had been rented in New York for an indefinite period by Edward Blackstone, a debonair, polished young English gentleman, who had acquired it quietly, without fanfare. That was the way he liked to operate.
A lean and hard man, with dark hair and a pencil-thin mustache, Blackstone was quite wealthy. He had inherited a fortune, which he had multiplied several times by investing wisely and shrewdly. He was endowed with a quick, charismatic smile that caused men to like him and women to regard him as exceptionally handsome.
Always a realist, Edward had not rented the car to bolster a sense of self-importance but rather to become acquainted with the United States, where he had recently made some major investments. He found the railroad the fastest and most comfortable mode of travel and preferred renting a car for the sake of privacy. He was traveling now to Ogden, Utah, to pay a visit to his cousins, a Baltimore veteran of the Civil War, Jim Randall, and the dark-haired Millicent Randall, a flutist to whom music meant almost everything.
Accompanying Edward on the journey and occupying the second bedroom of the private car was his next-door neighbor in rural Sussex, Pamela Drake, an independent, free-spirited, and proud young woman. Most young ladies of the era would have scrupulously avoided traveling on such an intimate basis with a man for fear of compromising their reputations. But Pamela was indifferent to what people said about her.
Pamela, a beautiful young woman with wheat-blond hair, shared Edward's restlessness and love of adventure. She was accompanying him on his journey because it provided her with a fresh sense of excitement and a life very different from the stultifying existence she led as daughter of a very wealthy and elderly industrialist who had retired to his lavish estate in the English countryside. She had been courted by any number of boring young English gentlemen, but her chief desire was to have fun, not to settle down with a man.
Actually, she and Edward had indulged in a brief affair several years earlier but had discovered that they had no sexual appeal for each other, although both of them were enormously attractive. Since that time, they had been content to enjoy a friendship that was far less personal.
Edward had completed his morning toilet and now sat in a horsehair-stuffed easy chair in his bedroom, looking out an oversized window at the magnificent panorama of Utah that unfolded before him. The sky overhead was a bright, dazzling blue, a color peculiar to the vast American West. In the distance, majestic, white-capped mountains rose to meet the sky, and nearby were endless, rolling hills. Here and there herds of wild horses or bison could be seen grazing, but there was no sign of human habitation in these endless acres.
Suddenly, for no discernible reason, the train began to move more slowly. Finally it ground to a jarring halt.
Flicking the lace cuffs that hung down over his hands, Edward adjusted the silk cravat at his throat, then stood and absently tightened the fringed tie of his velvet smoking jacket. Walking quickly to the bedchamber at the opposite end of the private car, he tapped politely at the door.
"Pamela," he called, "I'm going to find out why we've stopped. Do you want to come with me?"
"Of course!" she replied in her clear, English soprano. "I'll be with you in just a moment."
The door opened, and a smiling Pamela Drake emerged into the open. A critic would have said that her use of cosmetics was a trifle too lavish, that she used more rouge on her lips and cheeks and more kohl on her eyes than befitted a lady. Her dress of red and green silk fitted her a little too snugly, and its neckline was just a bit too low for good taste. Regardless, she radiated a clear, wholesome beauty.
As they walked together to the exit, Pamela asked, "Where are we?"
Edward chuckled. "As nearly as I can tell, my dear," he said, "we're in the middle of nowhere." He descended the train's steps, then turned and assisted her.
Pamela took his arm, and together they strolled up the track toward the front of the train. There, near the engine, they saw a knot of men conferring and recognized the train's passenger conductor. Talking with him and gesticulating wildly were several men in flannel shirts and heavy work pants, who carried long picks or shovels. They appeared to be laborers employed by the railroad line. As the couple drew nearer, it was plain to them that a heated altercation was in process.
"What seems to be the trouble, Mr. White?" Edward asked the conductor during a pause in the argument.
The man's voice shook with rage as he replied, "It's this work crew, Mr. Blackstone. They're supposed to be working for the railroad in the town of Ogden, but here they are, blackmailing us. They're demanding that we pay them a hundred dollars in cash, or they're threatening to tear up the line in front of the train and stop our journey right here and now."
"Oh, I say," Edward murmured. "Such conduct is strictly against the law, isn't it?"
The leader of the crew, a burly man with a barrel chest and hamlike hands, looked at the Englishman contemptuously. "Oh, I say," he declared, mimicking Edward's speech. "These naughty chaps are breaking the law, aren't they? I shall have to slap their wrists." Suddenly his tone changed, and his manner became menacing. "Go about your own business, mister, if you know what's good for you."
Edward's lips parted in a forced smile, revealing two rows of even, white teeth. But he made no move.
"Do something useful," the man snarled. "Take your doxy to bed and bounce her on the sheets, if you're able. If not, I'll take care of her myself as soon as I've settled my business with the engineer and conductor of this here train."
An ominous look crossed Edward's face. The wretch had insulted Pamela, which was going too far.
Enjoying himself, the other man addressed Pamela directly. "You look like you could tolerate some loving by a real man, honey."
Edward, his dark eyes fixed intently on the man, removed his smoking jacket and, after folding it with great care, handed it to Pamela. "I thank you for looking after this for me, my dear," he said, and then he removed his silk cravat, which he also folded and gave to her. As though he had all the time in the world at his disposal, he removed his gold cuff links, put them in his pocket, then carefully rolled up his sleeves above his elbows.
Watching him, the members of the work crew chuckled. But their laughter died in their throats when he suddenly whirled about, becoming a dynamo. His left fist abruptly lashed out, snapping the crew leader's head upward, and then his right crashed into the man's nose, causing it to bleed profusely. The man roared in pain and anger and then waddled forward, his movements bearlike as his arms flailed. Edward stepped nimbly inside his opponent's loose guard and struck two more blows, the first to the pit of his stomach, which doubled the man over, and the second to his chin, which straightened him again and caused him to lose his balance.
The bigger man was frantic, as well as furiously angry, and his arms were swinging wildly in roundhouse punches. Had one of his punches connected with Edward's chin, the fight would have ended then and there.
But the Englishman avoided the lethal blows and continued to pepper his foe with devastating punches of his own. Dancing effortlessly on the balls of his feet, he moved in and out, his fists flying so rapidly that it was impossible to follow them.
Blood began to trickle from a gash on the burly man's cheekbone, and one of his eyes became swollen shut. The man's blows became wilder but more feeble. It was clear that he was getting the worst of the confrontation.
Edward sensed precisely the right moment to end the fight. He moved in swiftly and launched a series of short, sharp jabs that rocked his opponent back and forth and finally sent him crashing to the ground, where he lay unconscious, blood streaming from his face.
Sighing gently, Edward took several backward steps, lowered his sleeves with meticulous care, and fastened them at his wrists with the gold cuff links. He took his clothing from Pamela and smiled at her after donning his jacket and adjusting his cravat.
The woman returned his smile warmly. She showed no surprise over the development; she had obviously expected no other outcome of the fight.
Edward turned to the other line workers, who were staring at him openmouthed as he nudged their unconscious leader with the tip of one boot. "You may remove this person's body," he said, "and then please do clear the tracks. Mr. White, I would also appreciate your requesting the engineer to proceed. We're now behind schedule." Offering his arm to Pamela, he walked with her to the private car, helped her aboard, and then disappeared into it.
As was his custom, Ah-Sing, the Chinese man who for years had been the cook for Ralph Granger's ranch, had prepared a meal far too large for two people to eat. Granger, his former employer—from whose estate the cousins Millicent and Jim Randall had purchased the vast property—had always insisted on a variety of dishes. Ah-Sing had found it difficult to limit his meal preparations when the Randalls had purchased and taken charge of the ranch immediately after Granger's self-inflicted death nearly half a year earlier.
Standing in the doorway of the dining room, Millicent Randall looked with dismay at the platters and bowls of food that comprised the noon meal and absently tucked a wisp of dark hair into the mass at the crown of her neat head. She hated waste, and AhSing's bounty disturbed her sense of propriety. Not that the food would really be wasted, of course; the ranch hands employed by her cousin, Jim, would be delighted to eat the roast beef, the browned potatoes, the four or five vegetables, and the enormous salad, not to mention the Chinese cook's generous dessert, which usually consisted of pie and ice cream. "Oh, dear," she murmured.
A suntanned Jim Randall, who wore a patch over one eye, had spent the morning riding the range and now, having washed up outside, came into the house for the noon meal. He heard his cousin sigh, and coming up behind her, he demanded jovially, "What's wrong, Millie?"
The woman sighed again. "Ah-Sing is just too much," she told him. "He insists on preparing meals for an army."
"The hired hands here eat better than the employees of any other ranch between Ogden and Salt Lake City," he replied, laughing.
Millicent stared at him indignantly. "It's no laughing matter!" she protested. "The expense—"
"Hang the expense," he told her. "Let's eat."
As Millicent took her place at the table opposite him, she knew she had no real cause for complaint. Never had she known anyone to adjust so well and so quickly to a completely new life, as Jim had. Instead of being a disgruntled, disabled veteran of the Civil War, living in idleness in their native Baltimore, Jim had become a self-confident, successful rancher, who, despite the loss of an eye, was proving to be good at his chosen vocation.
Jim began to carve the roast, while Millicent ladled potatoes and vegetables onto their plates and then served the salad. At that moment they heard the hoofbeats of an approaching horse, which halted near the hitching posts outside the front door. Millicent looked at her cousin and raised an eyebrow, but Jim shrugged and continued to carve the meat.
A few minutes later Ah-Sing came into the room, treading softly in his felt-soled slippers. "Mr. Burns come to see you," he said.
The cousins looked at each other blankly.
"He work for Judge Brennan," Ah-Sing explained.
Jim Randall's face cleared. "Of course." U.S. Circuit Court Judge J.B. Brennan, who visited Ogden frequently, had a young law clerk named Burns. "Show him in, Ah-Sing."
Moments later the young law clerk came into the room, full of apologies for disturbing them at a meal. The cousins would not acknowledge his arrival as a disturbance, though, and Jim insisted he join them for dinner, which pleased Millicent, for less of the abundant meal would be going to waste.
They heaped the young law clerk's plate high, but their generosity seemed only to add to his discomfort. "I—I have some bad news, and I don't quite know how to break it to you," he said.
Jim nodded complacently as he skewered a choice bit of beef with his fork.
"Old Ralph Granger," Burns said uncomfortably, "killed himself too soon when he heard that his nephew was killed in that stagecoach ambush, because Paul Granger—the young fellow who graduated last spring from Yale College—turned up at the judge's office today, and he's very much alive."
Jim lowered his fork to his plate, the beef on it untouched. "You say that Paul Granger is alive?" he asked blankly.
"Yes, sir," Burns said. "It seems that young Granger's name was mistakenly put on the list of passengers, and of course after the Indians got through with their massacre of those on the stagecoach, there was no way to identify any of the bodies. No, the fact is young Granger was delayed back East and came out on a later stage, and he showed up today. Now he wants to know what he has to do to get hold of this property, which his uncle left him under the terms of his will."
Jim grasped the edge of the table with both hands, his knuckles white beneath his tan. "Paul Granger won't have to go to court for any property that's rightfully his," he said hoarsely. "All I want in return for this ranch is the money that we put into it, plus the extras we spent since we've acquired it."
The law clerk was greatly relieved. "Judge Brennan was sure you would feel that way," he said. "He told Granger that if ever there has been a gentleman in Utah, you're it, Mr. Randall!"
A scant two hours later the cousins were seated in the chambers of a sympathetic Judge Brennan. Jim Randall was grim-faced and tense, while Millicent succeeded only in showing utter bewilderment.
"Paul Granger," the judge said, "is every bit a gentleman, just as you are, Jim. I conveyed your offer to him, and he accepted it with thanks. Just let me know what he owes you for improvements and such, and he'll write you a bank check immediately from his uncle's estate, which I'll then validate as a trustee. Of course, the money you paid initially for the property will be refunded to you by the territory of Utah, which was administering Granger's estate."
Jim wearily took a sheet of paper from an inner pocket and unfolded it. "Here," he said, pointing, "is what we paid for the ranch, as you will have down in your own records. And here is what we laid out for the herds and for the improvement of the house. All we want is to get our money back. Well," he added, looking sadly at Millicent, "there go our dreams."
"These figures are correct and fair," the judge replied. "I neither question nor dispute them in any way."
"I'd like to make one thing very clear, Your Honor," Jim said. "This has been a severe blow to us, as you well know, but Millicent and I are determined to buy another ranch, whether in this area or elsewhere in the West, we don't yet know. That will depend on what's available."
The judge nodded.
"Ah-Sing, the cook we inherited when we bought the ranch, wants to come with us wherever we go," Millicent blurted, "and I've promised him that no matter where we settle, he has a job."
Excerpted from IDAHO! by Dana Fuller Ross Copyright © 1984 by Book Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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