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Written with the charm and surprise of the 1850s Gold Rush days, the easy-reading style of this series has met with great approval. A Place in the Sun opens with the dramatic events in Miracle Springs leading up to the November presidential and mayor's elections, as Corrie Belle comes to be recognized as one of California's "known" young reporters.
Pa walked out of the schoolhouse with a big smile on his face.
He took the stairs two at a time and ran over to where the rest of us were standing by the wagon. "Well, I reckon that's that," he said, still smiling. "Now all we gotta do is wait!"
Of course, since the rest of us were under twenty-one, we couldn't have voted, anyway—at least not Zack or Tad. But neither could Almeda, even though she was the one who got everybody for miles around interested in the political future of Miracle Springs by jumping into the mayor's race against Franklin Royce. People soon enough found out that she didn't consider being a woman to be a handicap to anything she wanted to do!
And so she stood there waiting with the rest of us while Pa went into the schoolhouse with the other men and voted. When he rejoined her, their eyes met, and they gave each other a special smile. I was well on my way past nineteen to twenty, and I'd been through a lot of growing up experiences in the last couple of years, so I was beginning to understand a little about what it felt like to be an adult. But even as the oldest of the young Hollister generation, I could have only but a bare glimpse into all that look between Pa and Almeda must have meant. If the Lord ever saw fit, maybe I would know one day what it felt to care about someone so deeply in that special way. For today, however, I was content to observe the love between the two persons I called Father and Mother.
A moment later Uncle Nick emerged from the schoolhouse, and came down the steps and across the grass to join his wife Katie and fifteen-month-old son Erich, who were both with us.
"Well, Drum," he said, giving Pa a slap on the back, "we come a ways from the New York days, I'll say that!"
Pa laughed. "Who'd have thought when we headed west we'd be standing here in California one day as family men again—and you with a wife and a son!"
"Or doing what we was just doing in there!" Uncle Nick added. "I reckon that's just about the craziest, most unexpected thing I ever done in my life! If only my pa, old grandpa Belle, and Aggie could see us now!"
A brief cloud passed over Pa's face. He and I had both had to fight the same inner battle over memories of Ma. We had both come to terms with her death—not without tears—and were now at peace, both with the past and the present.
As to the future—who could tell?
A lot would depend on what Rev. Rutledge and the government man from Sacramento found out when they added up all the votes later that day. For the moment, Pa and Uncle Nick had cast their ballots in the long-anticipated election for mayor of Miracle Springs, and in the Fremont-Buchanan presidential voting. I couldn't have known it yet, but my own personal future was as bound up in the latter election as the former. I had already invested a lot in the Fremont cause, and I couldn't help but feel involved in its outcome—almost as involved as in the local election for mayor.
But for the moment, the future would have to wait a spell. As Pa had said, there was nothing else to do but wait.
We piled in our two wagons. Pa gave the reins a snap, and off we rumbled back to our home on the claim on Miracle Springs Creek. Pa and Almeda sat up front. In the back I sat with my lanky seventeen-year-old brother Zack, who was a good five inches taller than me, thirteen-year-old Becky, and eleven-year-old Tad. Emily, now fifteen, rode with Uncle Nick and Katie, carrying her little nephew.
That was election day, November 4, 1856, a day to remember!
But there'd been so much that had happened leading up to the voting, I reckon I ought to back up a bit and tell you about it....CHAPTER 2
Patrick Shaw's Problem
After I got back from my adventure in Sonora six weeks earlier, I was certainly surprised by Almeda's unexpected news.
I had just filed my story on the Fremont-Buchanan race with Mr. Kemble at the Alta. After that and Derrick Gregory and the double-dealings of that ne'er-do-well Robin O'Flaridy, I sometimes wonder if anything could surprise me! But I'll have to say I was sure excited when I got home and Almeda said, "You'll never believe it, Corrie, but your father and I are going to have a baby!" An adventure, a baby, and two elections were almost more than I could handle!
Three or four days after I returned from Sonora, we got the first inkling that Franklin Royce, the town banker, was up to his old mischief. One afternoon Patrick Shaw rode up to the house. One look at his face, and you could tell right off that he was in some kind of trouble.
Neither Pa nor Almeda had to say anything to get him talking or ask what the trouble was. It was out of his mouth the instant he lit off his horse.
"He's gonna run us off our place, Drum!" he said. "But me and Chloe and the kids, we ain't got no place else to go. What am I gonna do, Drum? I don't know nothing but ranching, and with a family and the gold drying up everywhere, I can't pack up and try to find some new claim!"
"Hold on, Pat," said Pa. "What in tarnation are you talking about?"
"He's fixing to run us out, just like I told ya!"
"Who else—Royce! There it is—look for yerself!"
He thrust a piece of paper he'd been holding in Pa's direction. Pa took it and scanned it over quickly. He then handed it to Almeda.
"He says we got thirty days to get out!" Mr. Shaw's face went red, then white. If he hadn't been a man, he probably would have started crying.
Almeda read the paper over, taking longer than Pa, her forehead crinkling in a frown.
"It might as well be an eviction notice," she said finally, looking up at the two men. "And if I know Franklin, it's no doubt iron-clad and completely legal."
"What happened, Pat?" Pa asked. "How'd you get into this fix?"
"Well, it ain't no secret my claim's just about played out. I wasn't lucky enough to have any of your vein run across to my side of the hill. Though I suspect Royce thought it did, the way he's been after my place."
"What do you mean?" asked Almeda.
"Why, he's come out offering to buy the place three or four times the last couple of years."
"And so now he figures he'll get your place without paying a cent for it!" said Pa, the heat rising in his voice.
"A few of my cattle got that blamed infection last spring when my pond had the dead skunk in it. It spread around the herd, and I wound up losing thirty or forty head. I missed a good sale I was gonna make, and so couldn't make a few payments to the bank."
"So how much do you owe him—how far behind are you now?"
"I pay him a hundred sixty-seven a month."
"So you're—let's see ... what, about six, seven hundred behind," said Pa, scratching his head. "I'll help you with it, Pat. I can loan you that much."
"No good, Drum! I already thought of that. I knew you'd help if you could, so when Royce delivered me that there paper, I said to him, 'I'll get you the $668—that's how much he said I was in arrears, is what he called it. I told him I'd get it to him in a few days, because I knew you'd help me if you could. But he said it wouldn't help. He said now that I defaulted, the whole loan was due immediately, and that if I didn't come up with the whole thing in thirty days, the claim and the house and the whole 250 acres and what cattle I got left—he said it'd all be his."
"How much is your loan, Mr. Shaw?" Almeda asked. "What do you still owe the bank?"
"Seventeen thousand something."
Pa let out a sigh and a low whistle. "Well, that's a bundle all right, Pat," he said. "I'm afraid there ain't much I can do to help with that. Nick and I couldn't scrape together more than three or four thousand between us."
"What about me, Drummond Hollister?" said Almeda, pretending to get in a huff. "I'm part of this family now too, you know! Or had you forgotten?"
"I ain't likely to do that anytime soon," replied Pa smiling.
"Well then, I insist on being part of this. Parrish Mine and Freight could add, perhaps, two or three thousand."
"I appreciate what you're trying to do," said Mr. Shaw, his voice forlorn. "But I could never let you loan me that kind of money, everything you got in the bank. It don't matter anyhow. Between all of us, we ain't even got half of what it'd take!"
"Yes, you're right," sighed Almeda. "And it wouldn't surprise me one bit if your loan had a thirty-day call on it even if you weren't behind in your payments. Franklin as much as told me that's how he structured all the loans around here. Of course, I couldn't say for certain without seeing the loan document, but my hunch is that your getting behind is only an excuse for the foreclosure, that legally he is perfectly justified in calling your note due at any time and giving you no more than thirty days' notice."
A little more talk followed. But there wasn't much more to be said. Mr. Royce had the Shaws in a pickle, and nobody could see anything they could do about it.CHAPTER 3
The next surprise came a couple of days later.
Almeda had been rather quiet ever since Mr. Shaw's visit. The terrible news of what Mr. Royce had done seemed to weigh on her, and I knew she felt almost desperate to find some way to help him. Yet there just wasn't enough money to get him out from under the call on his loan.
It was getting on toward late in the evening, Pa was sitting with Tad and Becky in his lap reading them a story. I was trying to draw a picture of Zack from memory. Zack had taken Rayo Rojo for a ride that afternoon, and for one moment, just after he'd mounted, she reared up on her hind legs. Zack leaned forward, his feet tight into her flanks, one hand flying in the air, and his eyes flashing with the closest thing to pure delight I'd ever seen. The sketch wasn't turning out too well, but I didn't want to let myself forget the mental picture of that wonderful moment.
Suddenly Almeda's voice broke out loudly, as if she had been struggling all day to keep the words in and couldn't hold back the dam a second longer.
"It's just not right for a man like that to be mayor!" she exclaimed. "Drummond, I'm sorry for acting rashly, and I hope you'll forgive me, but I just don't know what else to do. We've just got to stop him, that's all there is to it! Pregnant or not, and despite his threats, and even if I am a woman—I don't know what I can do but go ahead with it! It must be done for the good of this community—I am going to run for mayor after all!"
For a few seconds there was silence. Everyone stopped and looked at her. Pa was still holding the book steady on his lap, but his and Tad's and Becky's eyes all focused intently on Almeda where she stood over by the stove.
"If that don't beat all!" Pa said finally, shaking off the two kids from his lap, climbing to his feet, and walking over to her. "Sometimes I wonder whether I married me a wife or a hurricane! Well, if I'm gonna have me a new son or daughter, he might as well have a ma for a mayor to make up for the fact that his pa's such an old man!" He smiled and gave Almeda a big hug. I knew he was proud of her decision, even though maybe it wasn't the same one he would have made if he had to decide.
So many things immediately began to run through my heart!
What about all those threats Mr. Royce had made about what he would do to Almeda if she didn't keep out of the race? He said he'd cause trouble for Pa and Uncle Nick with the law, that he'd investigate the ownership of the land and their claim! All along we'd worried about what Royce might do to all the miners and ranchers and people around Miracle Springs who owed money to his bank if he didn't win. The incident with Patrick Shaw showed that he wasn't fooling, and I didn't see how Almeda's running would help, even if she won.
Worst of all, he had threatened me too! He had told me to stop interviewing and talking to people about the election, and as good as said that if I didn't, he would let it be known to powerful slavery people that I was a pro-Fremont reporter, and that I would be in danger. And after what had happened in Sonora I knew it was no empty threat! The powers behind the scenes in the national election were real ... and were dangerous! For all I knew Royce might be somehow connected to Senator Goldwin and his people! After my story appeared in the Alta exposing the falsehood of Mr. Gregory's claims against Fremont, they might try to track me down and do something to punish me. I was still so new to this whole world of politics and news reporting, I had no idea what to expect. And I certainly didn't want Mr. Royce getting me in more trouble than I was already in!
With all this worrying about Mr. Royce and his threats against me, I hardly even remembered at first what he'd said about opening a supplies outlet and freight service of his own, and putting Parrish Mine and Freight out of business.
But Almeda hadn't forgotten. She weighed everything, and over the next few days talked to Pa a lot. They prayed, and in the end they both concluded that her decision to run was the right one after all, and that they had to go ahead and see the election out to its conclusion on November 4.
I think Almeda felt a little like I had with the Fremont story, that there was more at stake than just the outcome of the election itself. She felt that it was her duty to fight against what Franklin Royce stood for, to fight against his underhanded and deceitful methods. She felt she was standing up for what was right. Even if she lost, she felt she needed to take a stand in the community for what was right and honest and true.
It was not an easy decision. Everything Royce had said was true. He could hurt her and her family if he chose to. He could put Parrish Freight out of business. He could challenge Pa and Uncle Nick's ownership of their land. He could hurt a lot of other people in the community, just like he was doing to Patrick Shaw, if he decided to start calling loans due. Franklin Royce was a powerful man!
But in the end Almeda and Pa decided to take the risk—because it was the right thing to do. Maybe it wouldn't help the Shaws keep their claim and their ranch and their home. But they had to do something to show that Royce couldn't just do whatever he wanted without any opposition. A man like that simply shouldn't be allowed to work his will in a town and come to power without anyone standing up to him. Sometimes you just have to do what's right, no matter what the consequences.
Realizing all the risks involved for Pa and Almeda in their decision, within a day or two of Almeda's surprise announcement to the family, I made a decision of my own.
I decided to start up again with my article on the Miracle Springs mayor's election. And whether Franklin Royce liked it or not, I was going to pick up where I'd left off interviewing people. I would write at least one article, maybe two, on the election. There wasn't much time left before November, but what there was I would use. And I wouldn't settle for one dollar an article either! If Mr. Kemble wasn't willing to pay me at least three or four dollars, I'd submit it to another editor—even the Globe, if I had to! But I was sure the Daily and Weekly Times in Sacramento would print it. Sacramento was closer, and both Mr. Royce and Almeda were a little bit known there.
Excerpted from A Place in the Sun by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1991 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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