Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 12:29 pm
Julia sat down at the little desk in her room to write her Mother's obituary. Each effort seemed inadequate to express her feelings, and note a life almost legendary in their hometown. Actually, they had only moved into town a year previously from the Diamond Duce where Julia had lived her whole life.

"Mary Cortland was born January 14th, 1834 in Dinsburg, GA. She died, of heart failure on April 20, 1907. Survived only by her loving daughter, Julia Cortland, Mary was preceded in death by her loving husband, James who died of Trail Fever in 1879, and three children taken in their youth by accident and disease. Mary Cortland was noted for her keen interest in stock, horses, and marksmanship. Mrs. Cortland was one of the County's oldest pioneers, and owner of the Diamond Duce, the county's largest and most successful ranching operation."

Julia sat, still not satisfied though all of the important facts were there. It seemed so impersonal, so devoid of the strength that had characterized her Mother. She knew that her Mother and Father had come west to escape the ruin and loss left in the wake of the Late Unpleasantness. It seemed too distant not to mention that her Mother never forgot the twins taken by diphtheria when they were only four, or the loss of Jimmy Junior who fell and broke his neck trying to ride a half-broken stallion. Julia wondered what her Mother might have written as an obituary for the man who never returned from the long trail up into Kansas. Julia pushed the stationary aside, after all it was her best effort and something simply had to be done before the newspaper deadline at 5 o'clock.

Perhaps something in her Mother's keep chest might provide whatever it was that was missing in the obituary, something that would bring closure to her own feelings of being suddenly lost and alone. She found the little key in her Mother's purse, and opened the lid to her Mother's private world. The little cedar box contained only a collection of small trinkets and souvenirs whose meaning died with their owner and a small diary.

There weren't many entries in her Mother's diary, and most were very short. Julia flipped quickly through them, but found little of interest until the year 1879.

"Today James left with the cattle for Kansas, leaving me with no one to help run this miserable little ranch except Mr. Brown and Rubio. Both are feeble and wouldn't do anything except play checkers if I didn't push them off to work. Julia is a help and comfort, but oh how I wish Jimmy Junior were here." The next entry noted that Rubio's eighteen-year-old nephew, Ramon Beltran, would come up from Mexico to help out while her husband was away.

Ramon. Julia's breath caught in her throat as she remembered Ramon. He came riding in on a great chestnut gelding. Tall in the saddle, wearing a suit of soft leather studded with silver conchos. She remembered his twinkling eyes half hidden beneath long lashes and shadowed by the broad brim of his hat. Ramon, he was so different from the men on neighboring ranches, or in the little town thirty miles to the southwest.

"I've hired Rubio's nephew for a dollar a week, but don't expect much. He's a peacock and probably will bear watching." Then a week later, "I've seen Julia following Ramon with her eyes. He follows orders well enough, but has an impertinence about him. I don't believe he knows his place." Julia remembered following Ramon with more than her eyes. After supper she liked to conceal herself in the deep shadows outside the bunk house to listen as Ramon softly strummed a guitar and sang little lullabies into the cool night air. He helped her carry water from the well, and told her little jokes that made her smile. She remembered dreaming of Ramon, and some of those dreams were scandalous. She wondered what dreams Ramon had lying on his bunk as the nights gave way to new hot days.

Julia liked to walk up the little round hill behind the ranch house to watch the sunsets. It wasn't long before Ramon joined Julia and they sat commenting on the beauty of nature's unfolding colors. They searched together to discover the first star of the evening. They were careful to not to leave or return from their walks together. Their evening walks weren't exactly secret, but they were something that the young people were reluctant to share. Ramon had given her a bracelet woven from the mane of his horse, and Julia had returned his affection with the gift of a pearl broach that had belonged to her great grand Mother. Ramon pinned the broach over his heart, and swore that he would never part with it.

"Saw Julia sneaking back after dark, and that scoundrel Ramon came skulking back not ten minutes later. I think this has gone too far. If James were here, he'd whip the skin right off that greaser's back and run him off the place. I'll have to take measures. Send the SOB to mend fences out along the Whiskey range for a week."

Julia had never forgotten that day. She watched Ramon swing up into his saddle, her broach winking in the morning sunlight. Ramon then rode away without looking back, and had never returned. The time came and went when the work on the fences should have been completed, but Raman didn't come back. Afraid that Ramon had lost his mount, or had some accident a search was begun. Ramon's Uncle and Mr. Brown spent three days searching for him, but nothing was found. Word was sent to neighbors to keep a watch, but nothing was ever heard. Her Mother seemed unsurprised. "He's just gone back to chasing those senoritas", she had said, "I wonder when your Father will return?" Julia watched the southwestern horizon, and her Mother watched the horizon to the North.

Julia caught herself lost in memories, and being cast back to the day that Ramon ridden out of her life. Later that day her Mother had taken the buggy to buy supplies in town. She had been gone for four days, leaving Julia in the care of Mr. Brown and Rubio. There hadn't been any real danger of an Indian outbreak, so her Mother needed no more escort than that provided by Mr. Winchester. Did we really need supplies just at that time, Julia wondered, and startled at the thought that her Mother might have ... Julia began to sort through the keepsake box, and found amongst the trinkets an antique pearl broach.

Julia sat now across from the young man who handled the family affairs. "How can I help you today, Miss Julia?"

"I believe the Diamond Duce is worth around $80,000, is that right Henry?"

"Yes, and in just a few more years it will probably be worth far more than that."

"Very well, please sell the ranch for whatever it will bring. I need $30,000 dollars in advance. Can you do that for me Henry?"

"Certainly, but I'd advise against it. What do you propose to do, if I might ask?"

"Tell the town I've gone to Los Angeles, and throw this, please, into the trash." Julia handed the young banker the obituary wadded up into a ball, and rose from her chair. She picked up her suitcase and walked down to the train depot never looking back.
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SULLYFISH66
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 03:52 pm
Ah, Betrayal . . . the worst emotion, ever.

Enjoyed reading this!
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 04:34 pm
Thank you, I'm glad it struck a chord. I've been playing with this story for over a month, but every start fell apart. Finally, I was on the point of just chucking the whole thing and going on to something else. This morning, I decided to give it one last shot. The story unwound pretty quickly, but the editing took most of the morning. It still isn't quite what I conceived of it to be, but at least I can move on now.
0 Replies
 
gustavratzenhofer
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 04:43 pm
I would have tossed in some dancing midgets.
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 09:39 pm
In the spirit of constructive criticism ...

I like the premise, but not so crazy about the writing style, which seems a bit trite for my taste. The idea has great promise, though, to be spun out into a full-length story. I'd like to see fully developed characters and their interactions in the present, interpersed or chapter-headed with the mother's diary entries. Wonderful dénouement.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 09:47 pm
I rather like the writing style, but it is certainly old fashioned. So far, fine wih me. My only quibble is I spell it 'brooch' and always have.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 11:13 pm
Yes, it should be "brooch" and "Deuce" as several people have already pointed out. Dealing with the long time interval between 1879 and 1907 in the space of a short story was difficult for me. A whole lot had to be inferred and left to the reader. The obituary and diary were the vehicle I finally settled on to carry the story. Neither could be long, nor detailed without seeming artificial. In developing the story I worked up very detailed "back stories" for each of the characters, right down to Jimmy Junior's accident. At one point it looked like it might develop into a novel, but I'm not really up to writing anything that sustained, and I'm not so sure that Mary Cortland's "defense" of her daughter's virtue, and Julia's spinsterhood are enough.

Oh well ...
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jan, 2008 11:53 pm
I'm not uninterested so far, but don't know re novel length vs novella, vs long short story - re whatever plotting/developments you work out.
0 Replies
 
SULLYFISH66
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 11:48 am
I liked it alot. Just the right length. The only thing I'd change are these very important sentences.

I suggest:

Did we really need supplies just at that time? Julia wondered. Startled at her own thoughts, she began to sort through the keepsake box. There, amongst the trinkets and old buttons, lay an antique pearl brooch.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 12:09 pm
The novel outline had three major divisions: (1) The Cortlands, that followed the family from Georgia to ownership of the Diamond Deuce (won in a card game with the 2 of diamonds filling a straight flush). The section ends with James going off on the cattle drive to earn enough money to keep the ranch going. He dies on the trail., (2) Diamond Deuce begins in 1879 and follows Mary and Juliet's relationship through the beginning of the 20th century and is the heart of the story. Mary Cortland's strength and toughness are demonstrated throughout. Julia falls in love with the dashing Ramon (Romeo/Juliet), but he's killed by Julia's Mother. The section ends with Mary's death, (3) Julia discovers her Mother's perfidy and repudiates her old life. Julia leaves as a rich woman to go west to the end of the continent, to the City of Angels soon to become the Soddom and Gomora of American culture. This extended version no longer interests me very much.

The essentials of the story are simple, but the people are not. Mary Cortland is a murderess, but she also typifies the strength and endurance that built the American West. She takes a broken down little ranch and almost alone builds it into a little empire. She's tougher than a railroad spike, but admired and loved even by her daughter Julia. Julia might have had other romantic opportunities, but she couldn't get beyond the romanticism of a young girl's first flirtation. The two women came to depend upon one another for everything, and in some ways their world never got much bigger than it was in 1879. Only when Julia discovers her Mother's deepest secret, is she free to of the Diamond Deuce. BTW, the brand would be a diamond with the number two inside tangent upon each of the four sides. This is an old-fashioned Western without the excitement of gunfighters, wild Indians and high drama. The West was won in a much quieter way by folks like the Cortland's whose world was very different from that we know.

This stripped down version, if I get it right, will suggest those elements without clubbing the reader over the head with them. I'm hoping that the reader will fill in the blanks from the suggestions, and thus become part of the story. Here is a more cleaned up version. It still runs 1250 words, and there is still room for editorial tightening.

The Brooch

Julia sat down at the little desk in her room to write her Mother's obituary. Each effort seemed inadequate to express her feelings, and note a life almost legendary in their hometown. Actually, they had only moved into town a year previously from the Diamond Deuce where Julia had lived her whole life.

"Mary Cortland was born January 14th, 1834 in Dinsburg, GA. She died, of heart failure on April 20, 1907. Survived only by her loving daughter, Julia Cortland, Mary was preceded in death by her loving husband, James who died of Trail Fever in 1879, and three children taken in their youth by accident and disease. Mary Cortland was noted for her keen interest in stock, horses, and marksmanship. Mrs. Cortland was one of the County's oldest pioneers, and owner of the Diamond Deuce, the county's largest and most successful ranching operation."

Julia sat, still not satisfied though all of the important facts were there. It seemed so impersonal, so devoid of the strength that had characterized her Mother. She knew that her Mother and Father had come west to escape the ruin and loss left in the wake of the Late Unpleasantness. It seemed wrong not to mention how her Mother never forgot the twins taken by diphtheria when they were only four, or the loss of Jimmy Junior who fell and broke his neck trying to ride a half-broken stallion. Julia wondered what her Mother might have written as an obituary for the man who never returned from the long trail up into Kansas. Julia pushed the stationary aside, after all it was her best effort and something simply had to be done before the newspaper deadline at 5 o'clock.

Perhaps something in her Mother's keepsake chest might provide whatever it was that was missing in the obituary, something that would sooth her own feelings of being suddenly lost and alone. She found the little key in her Mother's purse, and opened the lid to her Mother's private world. The little cedar box contained only her Mother's diary and a small collection of souvenirs and trinkets and who's meaning died with their owner.

There weren't many entries in her Mother's diary, and most were very short. Julia flipped quickly through them, but found little of interest until the year 1879.

"Today James left with the cattle for Kansas, leaving me with no one to help run this miserable little ranch except Mr. Brown and Rubio. Both are feeble and wouldn't do anything except play checkers if I didn't push them off to work. Julia is a help and comfort, but oh how I wish Jimmy Junior were here." The next entry noted that Rubio's eighteen-year-old nephew, Ramon Beltran, would come up from Mexico to help out while her husband was away.

Ramon. Julia's breath caught in her throat as she remembered him riding in on a great chestnut gelding. Tall in the saddle, and wearing a suit of soft leather studded with silver conchos. She remembered his twinkling eyes half hidden beneath long lashes and shadowed by the broad brim of his hat. Ramon, he was so different from the men on neighboring ranches, or in the little town thirty miles to the southwest.

"I've hired Rubio's nephew for a dollar a week, but don't expect much. He's a peacock and probably will bear watching." Then a week later, "I've seen Julia following R. with her eyes. He follows orders well enough, but has an impertinence about him. I don't believe he knows his place." Julia remembered following Ramon with more than her eyes. After supper she liked to conceal herself in the deep shadows outside the bunkhouse to listen as he softly strummed a guitar and sang sweet lullabies into the cool night air. He helped her carry water from the well, and told her little jokes that made her smile. She remembered dreaming of Ramon, and some of those dreams were scandalous. She wondered what dreams Ramon had lying on his bunk as the nights gave way to new hot days.

Julia liked to walk up the little round hill behind the ranch house to watch the sunsets. It wasn't long before Ramon joined Julia and they sat commenting on the beauty of nature's unfolding colors. They searched together to discover the first star of the evening. They were careful to not to leave or return from their walks together. Their evening walks weren't exactly secret, but they were something that the young people were reluctant to share. Ramon gave her a bracelet woven from the mane of his horse, and Julia had returned his affection with the gift of a pearl brooch that had belonged to her great grand Mother. Ramon pinned the broach over his heart, and swore that he would never part with it.

"Saw Julia sneaking back after dark, and that scoundrel Ramon came skulking back not ten minutes later. I think this has gone too far. If James were here, he'd whip the skin right off that greaser's back and run him off the place. I'll have to take measures. Send the SOB to mend fences out along the Whiskey Range for a week."

Julia had never forgotten that day. She watched Ramon swing up into his saddle, her broach winking in the morning sunlight. Ramon rode away without looking back, never to return. The time came and went when the work on the fences should have been completed, but Ramon didn't come back. Afraid that Ramon had lost his mount, or had some accident a search was begun. Rubio and Mr. Brown spent three days searching for him, but nothing was found. Word was sent to neighbors to keep a watch, but nothing was ever heard. Her Mother seemed unsurprised. "He's just gone back to chasing those senoritas", she had said, "I wonder when your Father will return?" Julia watched the southwestern horizon, and her Mother watched the horizon to the North long after it was clear that neither would ever return.

Julia caught herself lost in memories, and cast back to the day that Ramon rode out of her life. Later that day her Mother had taken the buggy into town for supplies. She had been gone four days, leaving Julia in the care of Mr. Brown and Rubio. There hadn't been any real danger of an Indian outbreak, so her Mother needed no more escort than that provided by Mr. Winchester. Did we really need supplies just at that time, Julia wondered, and was startled at the thought that her Mother might have ... Julia began to sort through the keepsake box, and found amongst the trinkets an antique pearl brooch.

Julia sat now across from the young man who handled the family's affairs. "How can I help you today, Miss Julia?"

"I believe the Diamond Deuce is worth around $80,000, is that right Henry?"

"Yes, and in just a few more years it will probably be worth far more than that."

"Very well, please sell the ranch for whatever it will bring. I need $30,000 dollars in advance. Can you do that for me Henry?"

"Certainly, but I'd advise against it. What do you propose to do, if I might ask?"

"Tell the town I've gone to Los Angeles, and throw this, please, into the trash." Julia handed the young banker the obituary wadded up into a ball, and rose from her chair. She picked up her suitcase and walked down to the train depot never looking back.
0 Replies
 
SULLYFISH66
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 05:19 pm
I'm glad that one of your goals is to not "clubb the reader over the head."

But I still have trouble with:

"and was startled at the thought that her Mother might have ..."

THAT is clubbing!

Please see my suggestion in the post above your last re-write.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 14 Jan, 2008 05:26 pm
Somehow I missed your earlier posting Sullyfish. I rather like your breaking that sentence up. I may replace the original with your suggested replacement. I expect that I'll be making small editorial changes for a few more weeks.
0 Replies
 
 

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