Compiled for the first time in book form, seven-time Spur Award-winning author Elmer Kelton's short story collection, Wild West.
From rodeos to rustlers, from ranch life to the outlaw trail, Elmer Kelton offers us tales of the American West, both modern and mythical. Readers will meet a rodeo clown who seeks redemption through romance, a recently-released prisoner trying to reform himself via ranch work, and an embattled veteran with just enough courage left to conquer his last foewhen a town and the love of his life are at stake. Every bit as important as the men are Kelton’s powerful womena cattle buyer’s daughter who can hold her own with any man on the trail, a renowned outlaw who rules her gang with her gun, and a judge’s daughter who is determined to end local mob rule now that “the day of the gun is almost over.” These are characters whom you’ll never forget, every one of whom shows us how life was back then: simpler, but harder, with danger always present.
As in all of Elmer Kelton’s work, readers will, once again, encounter the timeless strength of the human heart and the human spirit when everything else has gone awry. Filled with adventure and imbued with a love of the time, the people, and the place, these stories take us from the earliest days of the Wild West well into the twentieth century, each one embodying a passion for life that’s as wide as Texas sky.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
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A HECK OF A PROMISE
It happened and was over with so quickly that it was a moment before Chuck Sloan realized what had taken place. He had driven into the rodeo grounds and started around the arena toward the horse stalls, about half- angry because a flat tire on his old horse trailer had made him miss seeing Rosabelle Lee perform in the barrel race.
Not that he didn't know how it came out. Barring accidents, Rosabelle always won.
Then Buzz Whitney had come tearing toward him in his red convertible. Chuck glimpsed Rosabelle's laughing face beside Buzz. Water filled the ruts on the side of Whitney's car. The handsome cowboy swerved out toward Chuck to keep from splashing mud on his convertible.
Chuck whipped back to the right to avoid Whitney. He heard a woman's scream and the rending crash of splitting lumber.
Heart rubbing his Adam's apple, Chuck jammed on the brakes and jumped out. He caught a glimpse of Rosabelle and Buzz looking back and laughing, then driving on.
Chuck's trailer had hooked onto a corner of a refreshment stand and ripped off the front of the flimsy structure. Splintered lumber lay across the trailer.
"Our stand, our stand," a girl's voice wailed.
"My horse," Chuck cried. Breathlessly he jumped up onto the trailer hitch and started shoving aside the broken boards.
"Oh, Tommy." he breathed with relief as he examined his nervous bay roping horse. "You're all right."
"Maybe your horse is all right, but you've sure made a wreck out of our refreshment stand," a girl's voice said angrily.
Chuck looked down at her. She looked to be in her early twenties, and she looked to be plenty mad. She stood with fists doubled belligerently on her slim hips. A tight apron revealed a figure that Chuck guessed would look good in a bathing suit. Even if her face was flushed with anger, it was sort of pretty. Not like Rosabelle's, of course. More like his sister, Jenny.
"I didn't do it, ma'am," he said apologetically. "Buzz Whitney pushed me over with that red convertible of his."
She kept glaring at him. He stepped meekly down from the trailer hitch.
"I didn't see any car but that heap of yours," she said sharply. "All I know is that the home demonstration club ladies worked all day yesterday getting this stand fixed up. Now look at it!"
Chuck fumbled in his billfold and came up with a ten-dollar bill and a five. "Reckon this'll patch things up?"
She glanced at the money and back at the stand. "Well, it was just scrap lumber, covered with crepe paper. And you broke about a dozen pop bottles and a glass coffee pot. I guess this ought to do." She paused, then said, "But money won't help poor Mrs. Lockstetter. You've scared her out of her wits."
The girl nodded toward a portly woman who sat in a corner of the rickety stand, wailing to two ladies who were trying to comfort her. Spilled coffee dripped from her skirt.
Chuck timidly stepped toward her, hat in hand. "I'm real sorry, ma'am. If I'd ..."
She took a look at him and screamed, "Cowboys! The most careless humans on earth! You ought to be in jail!"
Chuck jumped backward as if he were snakebitten. Red-faced, he turned quickly around and trotted back to the door of his car. The girl stood there. "She's right, you know," she said accusingly.
Chuck pleaded, "I told you how it happened. Now look — I don't want to leave a town and have a bunch of people there mad at me. I'd like to make this up to you some way."
She crossed her arms. "How?"
He studied her a minute. He couldn't help liking this girl, even if she did seem a little bit like a wildcat. "Well, I might take you to supper tonight."
He suddenly remembered what she had said about the home demonstration club. "Or maybe you're married."
"No, I'm not married. I'm the county home demonstration agent here. And I don't usually make dates with strangers."
Chuck waved his hand at the wreckage. "After all this, do you call me a stranger?"
She broke down and grinned. "No, I guess not. My name's Mary McIntyre."
It was a typical West Texas town and a typical West Texas cafe, with cowboy pictures painted on the walls and Mexican food cooked up by someone who had probably never been south of San Angelo.
Chuck didn't know why it was, but every time he started a conversation with a girl he wound up telling her all about Rosabelle Lee.
"Rosabelle's a real rodeo girl," he told Mary. "I've got me a little ranch up north of Big Lake, close to the Centralia Draw. Bought it when I got out of the Army. Of course, I had to borrow a lot, and the debt's still pretty heavy on it.
"Rosabelle's been wantin' me to sell it," he went on. "She says I'm made to follow rodeos and enjoy life like she does, not to be tied down to some little old place and work myself to death."
Mary Mclntyre frowned. "There's a lot of satisfaction in having a place of your own and working on it. Rosabelle might be wrong."
Chuck leaned forward as if about to tell a secret. "I've asked her to marry me."
For just a second Chuck thought he saw disappointment in the girl's blue eyes. But he guessed he was wrong.
"What did Rosabelle say?"
"She just said we ought to wait a little bit. I think she's afraid she'll have to go out and live on the ranch. But she won't."
Chuck heard a girl's voice behind him. His heart warmed as he stood up and turned around. "Come on over and sit down, Rosabelle. I want you to meet Mary McIntyre."
He imagined he saw a cold look pass between the two girls. But then he guessed he was wrong again. They didn't have any reason not to like each other.
Chuck swallowed when Rosabelle leaned in front of him to hang her wide-brimmed green rodeo hat on a hook. Her blond hair tumbled smartly down about her shoulders. A thrill went through him as her body touched his for a second. He couldn't help noticing how tightly her fringed leather jacket and her blue riding britches fitted.
"Buzz and I got the biggest bang out of you this afternoon," Rosabelle laughed. "We thought we would die laughing when you hit that refreshment stand and all those old ladies started wringing their hands."
Chuck ducked his chin. He felt warmth creeping into his cheeks as he glanced at Mary. He could tell she was a little angry, but she kept quiet.
"I hear you won today, Miss Lee," Mary said finally.
"Oh, sure. I always do."
"You must have a very fine horse."
"Oh, Golden Lad's all right." Rosabelle frowned. "After all, the rider's the main thing, you know."
He stood the silence as long as he could. Then, "Rosabelle, I've been wanting to ask you ..." He glanced at Mary. It was awkward to be out with one girl and ask another for a date. But with Buzz Whitney around, he couldn't afford to wait. "There's a rodeo dance tonight. I'd like to take you."
"Sorry." Rosabelle smiled. "Buzz has already asked me to go with him tonight. We're driving over to the next town. There's a swell night spot there. Why, here comes Buzz now."
Chuck felt a sour taste in his mouth. He took one good glance at Buzz coming through the cafe door, his tailored Western suit pressed and his brown-and-white boots spotless. There was no denying Buzz was a top rodeo hand. But just three years ago he had had his name in a magazine's "deadbeat" column for skipping out on a hotel bill after a rodeo. Rosabelle, of course, didn't know that. She saw only his flashy surface.
It just happened that his father had been a tightfisted old gent who saved ninety cents out of every dollar he made. He had had no one but Buzz to leave it to.
"Ready to go, Palomino?" Buzz asked. Annoyance tingled in Chuck as he noticed Buzz's hands placed familiarly on Rosabelle's shoulders.
The cowgirl bid Chuck and Mary good night, and headed for the door. Buzz held back a moment and leaned over close to Chuck's ear.
"Bad news for you, buster. Tonight I'm asking Rosabelle to marry me."
Chuck stood up angrily. But in a few seconds the couple was outside, and he saw them whiz by in the red convertible. Darkly he sank back down.
Mary watched him sympathetically. Finally she spoke. "Maybe it's better like this. If she tells him yes, you're saved from a marriage that wouldn't have worked out anyway. If she says no, you're still in the running."
Chuck doubled his fist. "If it wasn't for that ranch, we might be married now. But I know what it would be like for her. I grew up on one close to Rankin. Seemed the first thing my dad always did of a morning was to step out on the front porch and look for some sign of a rain. It was awful seldom he ever saw any. Rosabelle's never known that kind of a life. And I won't have her working herself to death on a run-down place with a mortgage as heavy as a truckload of steers."
Mary frowned. "Did your mother ever complain?"
"No. I guess she kind of liked it. In fact, I did, too."
Anger flashed in Mary's blue eyes. "Then it's high time you quit feeling sorry for yourself, or for Rosabelle. Hard work and debt didn't keep my mother and dad from enjoying life and loving each other. Dad had a place at Fort Stockton, irrigated a farm out of Comanche Springs and ran cattle on grazing land.
"When I was a little girl it seemed like I spent all my extra time wading in the cold water and the mud with a shovel, helping my tired old dad irrigate. We worked from daylight to dark sometimes, then lit the lanterns so we could keep on working. We finally got the debt paid off, and we loved it." She paused, then went on, "If Rosabelle loved you, she wouldn't care if she had to live the same way."
Mary stood up, purse in her hand. "Now I think I'll go home."
Chuck reached across the table and touched her hand. It felt warm. "Please don't. No use to waste the evening. Won't you go to the dance with me?"
Annoyance showed in her eyes. "As your second choice?"
Chuck grinned. "We'll forget I asked anybody else. Just for tonight we'll forget there is anybody else. What do you say?"
Mary looked at him a long moment, her blue eyes somehow beautiful. She smiled and nodded. Chuck wondered why he felt warm inside.
She danced as lightly as any girl he had ever known, and it was a joy to hold her in his arms. She didn't squeeze up tight, maybe, as Rosabelle did. But then Rosabelle did everything a little bit different from anyone else. Chuck couldn't get nearly so much dancing as he wanted, though. Seemed like everybody in town came by and had something pleasant to say to Mary.
"How long have you been here, anyway?" he asked her finally. "Looks like everybody and his dog knows you."
Her smile was good to see. "I came here two years ago, soon as I finished college."
"Why hasn't a popular girl like you gotten married?"
She flushed a little. "Too many fellows want excitement and adventure. I guess I just want a good home and a man I love. Besides, I promised Mrs. Malone I wouldn't get married for at least three years after I came here."
"Mrs. Malone? Who's she?"
"The district home demonstration agent. Boss of all us county HD agents. She never can get enough girls to fill the vacancies in her district. And she needs them to keep girls' 4-H club work going."
Chuck snorted. "Sounds like a heck of a promise to me."
When the dance was over, Chuck drove Mary to her home, one side of a small frame duplex house. A windmill out back creaked as its wheel turned slowly in the night breeze.
He stood on the front porch with her, holding one of her smooth, warm hands in his. He couldn't think how best to tell her good night. Somehow he didn't want to.
"Don't forget what I said about not feeling sorry for yourself or for Rosabelle," she said quietly.
He shook his head. "I won't, Mary. Do you think you could live on the ranch with me ..."
He noted the way her eyes widened sharply.
"... I mean, if you were Rosabelle?" he said quickly.
She lowered her eyes. "I'd go with you anywhere — if I were Rosabelle. Good night, Chuck."
She stepped quickly into the house, and before Chuck had a chance to say another word or ask another question, closed the door behind her.
Chuck was out at the fairgrounds early the next morning. He yawned as he poured out some feed and ran clean water into a bucket for Tommy. He must have rolled a hundred miles, just tossing back and forth in bed last night, he thought.
He had kept dreaming about Mary in Rosabelle's clothes and astride Rosabelle's Palomino. It hadn't seemed right. Then he saw Mary in her white apron, sweeping off the front porch of his little ranch house north of Big Lake. Rosabelle and Buzz had passed by in the red convertible and jeered at her, and Chuck dreamed she had gotten mad.
Crazy stuff, he thought, shrugging it off. Probably came from the Mexican food.
The thought of Buzz Whitney proposing to Rosabelle worried him all the time he was exercising Tommy. He kept watching the highway, hoping to see Rosabelle drive up. His heart leaped when Rosabelle's green sedan finally pulled in at the gate. Excitedly he spurred out to meet her. But his heart slid down again.
It was only her younger brother, Danny, come out to feed and curry Golden Lad. That was usually Danny's chore. Rosabelle didn't like to fool with horses much, except to ride them.
Despondently, Chuck rode over to Golden Lad's pen and watched Danny brush the sleek Palomino down while the horse munched oats out of a small galvanized bucket.
"Seen Rosabelle this morning, Danny?" he asked at last.
"Did she — did she say anything?"
Danny grunted. "Yeah. She said I'd have to take care of the Lad this morning."
Chuck's hands shook a little. "Didn't she say anything about last night?"
Danny snickered. "She didn't have to. I heard her come in myself — at four o'clock this morning."
His heart sick, Chuck turned and rode away.
A little after noon, Mary drove up to the rebuilt refreshment stand with three home demonstration club ladies. They started unloading hotdog and hamburger material for the afternoon crowd.
When Chuck could stand the temptation no longer, he started over to talk to her. He slowed up as he saw the portly Mrs. Lockstetter glaring at him. But the woman turned around, and he went on up to the stand.
Mary's face was composed, but somehow Chuck thought he saw joy in her eyes. A glow spread through him, and he couldn't think what to say.
"What about Rosabelle?" Mary asked. "What's her verdict?"
He shook his head. "Haven't seen her. It's time she was here."
Mary said nothing more for a little. Silently she sliced hotdog and hamburger buns and slipped them back into their waxed paper bags. A frown knitted her brow as she worked.
"Chuck," she said suddenly, "I — I've been wanting to say ..."
"To say what?" he pressed eagerly.
She flushed and looked back down at her buns. "Oh, nothing. I guess you'll — have to find out for yourself."
Buzz's convertible sped in at the front gate, leaving a trail of rolling dust behind it. Buzz braked to a quick stop close to the refreshment stand to let Rosabelle out. Then he spun the tires and sped on around the arena.
Chuck greeted Rosabelle nervously and bought her a cold drink at the refreshment stand. He dug the toe of his boot into the ground and felt his ears getting warm. "Buzz said he was going to ask you to marry him."
Chuck swallowed. "Wh — what did you say?"
Rosabelle smiled and looked off to where Buzz's dust was just now settling. "I told him I'd think about it. You know, Chuck, he really shows a girl a nice time. Nothing cheap about Buzz. He doesn't have any old ranch to worry about."
Despair choked Chuck. He licked his lips and fought for strength. "I — I could sell the ranch, Rosabelle, if you really wanted it that way."
Another girl's voice broke in angrily. Chuck whirled and saw Mary standing there, warm red in her cheeks and fire in her eyes. "I didn't want to say anything," she said sharply, "but I'm not letting you do this, Chuck. Say you sold the ranch. It wouldn't take you long to spend the money on her!"
She turned heatedly to Rosabelle. "And just how long would you stay with him after all his money was gone?"
Rosabelle's face was dark, and her teeth showed a little more than they usually did. "That's pretty strong talk for a hotdog maker."
Anger made Mary breathe hard. "At least I don't claim to be something I'm not. I don't paint myself up and wear clothes that make men whistle from two hundred yards away. And I don't try to spellbind them by making them think I'm a super-duper cowgirl when it's really my horse that does the job!"
Rosabelle bristled up at that. "I don't take any prizes I don't win. It's the rider that counts, not the horse."
"You bought Golden Lad after somebody else trained him," Mary declared. "It's him that knows how to barrel race. Without your own horse, you couldn't even win a booby prize!"
Chuck's throat was dry. He was afraid he would have to step between the girls.
"It isn't so! It isn't so!" Rosabelle screeched.
Mary held her doubled fists against her hips. "Maybe you'd like to ride a barrel race against me."
"I'd be glad to, sister! I'll show the world that no hotdog maker's in the same class with Rosabelle Lee!"
Chuck thought he saw triumph in Mary's eyes. "All right, then. Suppose you ride Chuck's horse. Chuck, has Tommy ever run barrels before?"
He shook his head. "Nope. Tommy's a specialist. Calf roping."
Excerpted from "Wild West"
Copyright © 2018 Elmer Stephen Kelton Estate.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Heck of a Promise
2. Blind Canyon
3. Bullets from the Past
4. Climb the Big Rim
5. Colt Size
6. Land with No Law
7. No Epitaph for Me
8. One Son
10. Ride a Straight Road
11. Deadly Homecoming