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Authors: Deeanne Gist

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #ebook, #book

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BOOK: Deep in the Heart of Trouble
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It was on the tip of his tongue to reveal he’d learned Spencerian penmanship, bookkeeping, banking, and business ethics at no less an establishment than the Bryant & Stratton Commercial College. But those kind of credentials didn’t measure an oilman’s fortitude.

She stood imperiously, like she was ready to shake the dust of Tony Bryant off her fancy bicycle shoes. He rose politely in response.

“Do what you want, Papa,” she said. “But I won’t take responsibility for hiring this one.”

There was no mystery now as to why this woman had never married. He watched her bloomer-clad body stride out of the room, the blue bird in her hat quivering.

Good,
he thought. Now he and the judge could talk man-toman. As soon as the door clicked shut, Spreckelmeyer smiled. “Think you could work for a woman, Mr. Bryant?”

“That one?”

The glint in the judge’s eye spoke volumes. “None other.”

“How much will you pay me?”

chapter THREE

SWEAT DRIPPED into Tony’s eyes but he never slowed his pace on the grinding wheel. Pumping his foot to keep the grindstone spinning, he pulled the drill bit across the wheel’s surface again and again, raising a burr on the stone that set off an explosion of sparks.

The wheel sat within calling distance of the rig but far enough away to quit grinding if the crew smelled gas. All it would take to blow them to smithereens was a single spark. Over his shoulder, Tony could see the cable-tool boys bailing out the hole. Soon they’d be finished and would need the drill he was sharpening.

Pulling his foot from the pedal and the chisel-like bit from the stone, he dipped the tool in and out of a water bucket to cool the steel. The grindstone whirred almost to a stop before he started it up again and laid the chisel flat on the stone, rubbing it side to side.

After a week on the job, he’d been expecting to have his mettle tested any time, but according to the others, “Grandpa” didn’t allow any hazing, harassing, or fighting on the oil patch.

Grandpa, the driller in charge of the rig at Fourth and Collin, was thirty years old and got his nickname from the way he hunched over when he walked. Skilled and proficient, he was a patient teacher, and Tony had made up his mind to be the best hand Grandpa had ever brought up through the ranks.

Most of the other men working the rigs were boomers—here today, yonder tomorrow. All they wanted was a place to sleep, food to eat, and plenty of good whiskey to wash it down. He smiled to himself. A couple just wanted the whiskey.

Not me,
he thought. He had a business to build. A mother and sister he still felt responsible for. It killed him that they had to rely on his half brother’s mercy, so Tony was determined to provide for them as soon as he could. He would work harder than any man in the patch and move up the chain of command accordingly.

Just a few more rubs and the bit would be ready.

“Ain’t ya through with that drill yet, Rope Choker?”

“I’m coming, Gramps,” Tony hollered over the sound of the wheel, giving the chisel a couple more swipes before dousing it in water.

“Wall, whatchya been doin’ all this time?”

Once the steel cooled properly, Tony jogged to the eighty-twofoot rig, holding the bit in two hands. Three cables ran up and over a pulley system in the crown block at the top of the derrick. One cable was the drilling line, one was for the bailer, and the third to lower and pull casing.

Jeremy Gillespie stood high up on the double board about thirtyfive feet above the derrick floor. The eighteen-year-old was wiry, quick, and exceptionally strong. What impressed Tony most, though, was the boy’s sense of timing.

Grandpa worked fast, expecting Jeremy to handle those cables and to run or pull pipe without missing a stand. The youth took his trips with a semi-controlled madness that made him as competent an attic hand as a person could be. Not surprisingly, he was no boomer, but a local Corsicanan.

Below him on the derrick floor stood a structure that looked like a giant seesaw. An upright post acted as fulcrum for a horizontal timber. One end of the timber extended over a band wheel. The other end extended into the derrick as far as the center of the floor. Grandpa waited there to inspect the bit.

“Good as new,” Tony said, holding the bit while Grandpa attached it to a drilling cable suspended from the timber.

“There we are. You can let her go now.”

Tony pulled his hands back and watched Grandpa gently lower the bit into a hole until it rested on the bottom. Once the cable showed some slack, he put a mark on the line three or so feet above the floor and put the rocking beam in motion, raising and dropping the bit as it pounded away at the bottom of the hole.

The chisel would only break up three feet of the black gummy soil before they’d have to stop and bail out all the rock and shale. It was nigh on noon and they’d only drilled about twenty feet.

Tony rubbed the stubble growing on his jaw and thought again of the water-well drillers from the Dakotas. The men were brothers and claimed their rotary drill could go a thousand feet in three days.

They’d set up their contraption in Beaumont and given Tony a demonstration. From all accounts, it looked as if the thing just might be as good as the brothers claimed, but before Tony could commission them, his father had died.

He couldn’t help wondering, though, if Darius had followed up. Or if Spreckelmeyer had even heard of them. Maybe he’d go to the judge’s house after work and ask him about it.

A man dressed in black with a boy in tow approached Paul Wilson, who was stacking pipe on the north side of the rig. The salty old roughneck was stout in the back, weak in the head, and had the biggest hands Tony had ever seen. He stretched one of them out and shook with the stranger.

“That’s Preacher Wortham,” Grandpa said, taking hold of the drilling line in order to judge what was going on down in the well. “Good fella.”

“Kinda young for a preacher, isn’t he?”

Grandpa glanced over at him. “Same age as us, I reckon.”

“Exactly.”

The driller shrugged. “Don’t see why God cain’t use him same as some old geezer.”

Tony studied Wortham more carefully. Nothing about him looked like any preacher he’d ever known. This one was quick to smile, broad as an ox and probably just as strong.

“That his kid?”

“He’s not married. That little fellow’s an orphan who was adopted by a local couple a few years back.”

The preacher caught sight of the derrickman up in the attic and gave a wave. “What’s the weather like up there, Jeremy?” he hollered.

“Purty near perfect, Preacher. You wanna come up and see for yourself?”

“That’s a little too high for my liking, I’m afraid.”

“Shoot. You’ve climbed plenty o’ trees in your day. This ain’t no different.”

“The difference is I got older and wiser and prefer to keep my feet planted on solid ground.”

Jeremy grabbed the casing line and leaned out over the men, dangling above them. “Well, I got older, too.”

“What about wiser?” Wortham asked.

“Married me the prettiest gal in the county, didn’t I?”

The preacher chuckled. “That you did, Jeremy Gillespie. That you did.”

“Hey there, Harley. What you doin’ out here?” Jeremy asked the kid.

The boy cracked a smile, revealing a chipped front tooth. He hooked his thumbs in the straps of his overalls and squinted up at Jeremy. “Preacher’s gonna take me fishin’ after he’s done savin’ a few souls.”

“It’s a good day fer it. Bet they’ll be biting.”

“The fish or the souls?” Harley asked.

43 Jeremy laughed. “Both, I reckon.”

Stepping up onto the derrick floor, the preacher nodded at Grandpa and offered a hand to Tony. “Howdy. I’m Ewing Wortham, pastor of the First Christian Church on Sixth Street.”

“Tony Bryant.”

“You’re new around here. Where you from?”

“Beaumont.”

“Well, welcome to town. You have a wife? Kids?”

“A mother and sister, sir.”

“Well, I’d sure like to see y’all join us on Sunday morning. Mr. Alfrey here attends our services. I’m sure he’d make room for you on the pews.”

“Sure, Bryant. You come on out with me and the missus.” Grandpa adjusted the drilling line, taking up some of the slack so it wouldn’t spring up and kink.

“Where’s your family staying?” Wortham asked. “I’d love to call on your mother and sister.”

“He don’t have no family here,” young Harley said. “He stays in Mrs. Potter’s boardinghouse and keeps purty much to himself. I ain’t never seen him go to a saloon even once.”

Tony gave the youngster a closer look. He appeared to be about ten, well fed, and with big brown eyes that, apparently, didn’t miss much.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Tony said, extending a hand.

“Howdy. I’m Harley Vandervoort.” He pumped Tony’s hand. “I have a ma and pa. If’n you come to church, you’d be able to meet ’em.”

Tony looked up at the preacher, but Wortham simply smiled.

“ ’Courst,” Harley continued, “if’n you ever go to the Slap Out, you’d see my pa there. He plays checkers near every day. ’Cept Sunday, of course. You play checkers, Mr. Bryant?”

Tony nodded. “I’ve been known to play a time or two.”

“Well, if’n you come out to the store after supper tomorrow, I’ll play you a game. But don’t feel bad if you lose. I’m the second-best player in town.”

The preacher chuckled and slapped Tony on the back. “Well, then. It’s all settled. Checkers on Wednesday. Church on Sunday.” Leaning in, he gave Tony’s shoulder a squeeze. “Though I’d wager you’ll find Sunday more to your liking. We got us some right pretty women all dressed up in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and smelling of rose water. That’s sure to be a nice change from looking at these crusty old fellows.”

Grandpa shook his head. “Everybody’s old to you. Except maybe Jeremy up there. Now go on with you. I got me a rig to run.”

Smiling, Wortham tugged on his hat. “See you Sunday.” He sauntered across the field toward the rig next door, Harley skipping behind him.

Tony had seen the mercantile called the Slap Out over on Collin Street. A game of checkers would get him out of that cramped boardinghouse and maybe even help clear his mind. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt any to visit the First Christian Church either, but he had no intention of tangling with the young ladies there. His mother and sister were counting on him. He had no time for distractions.

“Quit yer squinting at the sun, Rope Choker,” Grandpa said. “I’ve got me some tools over there that still need sharpening.”

Taking his cue, Tony returned to the grindstone and started on the next drill bit.

Marrying “down” had certainly agreed with Shirley Bunting Gillespie. The banker’s daughter had always been an attractive girl, but after her nuptials to Jeremy—a boy from the other side of the tracks—she’d come into full bloom.

Essie moved away from the refreshment table and signaled the girl with a slight nod.

Immediately, Shirley rapped her gavel on the lectern to get the group’s attention. Although she’d dressed in a no-nonsense shirtwaist of starched white cotton, trying to look more the authority figure, nothing could disguise her youthful exuberance. “It is time to resume the meeting of the Corsicana Velocipede Club, ladies.”

After making announcements, having the minutes of the last meeting read, and receiving the balance sheet—which showed the club to be in a flourishing condition both financially and numerically—Shirley had adjourned for a short break. At the sound of the gavel, the women began to make their way back to their chairs in the seed-house-turned-bicycle-club.

When the club held its weekly meeting, chairs were arranged facing the bandstand on the north wall of the massive structure, just overlooking the wooden rink that dominated the room. Bleachers flanked the rink down the length of the western wall, and on the opposite side of the building were small rooms set aside for selling bicycles and bicycle parts, along with ready-made clothing and patterns. There was also a small repair shop and an office for the staff.

“As you are all aware,” Shirley said, watching the ladies settle, “Mrs. Crook is unable to attend this evening’s meeting due to the birth of her twin baby boys a few weeks ago.”

A swelling of voices ensued as the ladies shared comments about that celebrated event.

It was sometimes difficult for the women to get away in the evenings, but with the discovery of oil, Corsicana had gone from a quiet farming community to an oil boomtown. And with that growth had come a swell of new “businesses” on the east side of Beaton Street.

And though the bicycle club had many male members, they’d not been able to attend any of the daytime meetings. In an effort to accommodate the men’s schedules—and to lure them away from the public houses—the Velocipede Club changed their Tuesday morning meetings to Tuesday evenings. Yet no men came, and the women had long since quit expecting them to.

Shirley struck the lectern three more times. “Please.”

They quieted.

“Since Mrs. Crook isn’t here to make the introductions, it is my pleasure, as your treasurer, to present our teacher, the founding member and owner of the Corsicana Velocipede Club, Miss Essie Spreckelmeyer. She is going to lead us today in a discussion about a rather delicate matter.”

The ladies tittered behind their gloved hands, not daring to speculate aloud as to what that matter might be. Shirley gave Essie an encouraging smile.

When she reached the front of the assembly, Essie placed a basket at her feet. She hadn’t braved the topic of bicycle fashion since that debacle in New York. In spite of the effusive compliments she’d received from club members for winning first place, Essie knew many of the ladies had been shocked by the newspaper accounts, most of which were grossly inaccurate.

There were only three reasons a woman’s name should ever appear in the Corsicana newspaper: being born, getting married, and keeling over dead. To provoke a full article not just in the
Corsicana Weekly
but in newspapers scattered across the country was nothing short of appalling.

BOOK: Deep in the Heart of Trouble
11.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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