by Jim Foreman
It was Wednesday morning and Joe paused in the middle of a letter he was writing and looked out the window of his office as the Fort Worth and Denver train puffed and chugged into town, screeching to a stop next to the wooden platform that served as the station. Today it was more or less on time for its tri-weekly trip to Amarillo. Most people insisted that it should be called the Try Weakly Railroad. The Santa Fe tracks had yet to reach Albuquerque where they would tie in with the Denver, Rio Grande and Western. When that happened, there would be several trains through each day. Joe thought to himself, "When the Santa Fe gets in full operation, they will run on time every day and we will have a real depot."
The door to the baggage car slid open and the train crew began unloading various bundles, boxes and crates, followed by two steamer trunks plastered with steamship stickers. Finally they began to bring out several pieces of expensive leather luggage, placing them carefully on a freight cart. Joe took an added interest when the man in the baggage car handed down five round hat boxes. "So the passenger is a woman. That's what we need here in Amarillo to make it more like a real city, more women."
Joe was now twenty-seven years of age but was still single. He had been far too busy building the town during the past four years to think about getting married, besides, the few eligible women who did live around there fell into two categories. They were either colorless, dowdy frumps who ducked out of sight and peeked around doors whenever a man came close or else were the rough and tumble ranch types who drank beer, wore pants, smelled like a branding corral and could whip any cowboy up to twice their size.
The conductor emerged from the passenger car, placed the step in front of the door and extended his hand to assist the passenger down the steps. Holding her skirt just high enough to expose shapely ankles and prevent tripping, she stepped lively to the platform. She had a certain bounce and enthusiasm to her step, nothing like the dirge of most of the arriving women when they got their first look at the town which was to be their new home. Joe's eyes moved upward from the exposed ankles, along the skirt which flowed smoothly over rounded hips, gathered closely around a small waist and expanded quickly to hold the most beautiful pair of breasts that he had ever seen. They didn't simply fill the dress, they struggled against it as if attempting to escape.
She wore a hat, but her long hair flowed from beneath it and cascaded over her shoulders, flashing like polished copper in the early sunlight. She turned toward the hotel, as if looking for someone, then Joe saw her face. He had seen some beautiful women in his time, but not a single one of them could hold a candle to this lady.
Never before had a woman cast such an instant spell over Joe. His heartbeat quickened, sweat popped from his palms and a primeval urge, which began in his throat, plunged straight to his groin. Driven by forces as old as mankind, he knew he had to meet this woman.
Without even pausing to replace the cap on his fountain pen, Joe dropped it on his desk and bounded down the stairs, taking them three at a time. His heart pounded with excitement, lest someone else should come along to meet the lady before he could reach her. He stepped from the porch of the hotel and walked quickly across the dirt street to where she was standing. "Good morning," he said. "I am Joseph Armitage, Mayor of Amarillo, and you look as though you could use some assistance."
She looked up at Joe and he could have drowned in those big, brown eyes. "Thank you Mr. Armitage," she replied. "But my father is meeting me."
Joe was never a person to give up quickly, and her curt reply wasn't about to deter him in his quest to become acquainted with such a beautiful woman. "Who is your father?" he asked. "I probably know him."
"I'm sure you do. He is Eldon Farris, President of the bank."
"Oh yes, I know Mr. Farris very well," replied Joe. "Since you are his daughter, you must be from Dallas. I find it rather strange that we have never met before because I'm also from there."
"Not really all that strange," Mr. Armitage. "I haven't been around Dallas or seen my parents in more than six years. I spent four years at a private boarding college in Vermont and went directly from there to France, where I studied art for the past two years."
"It is good to finally see some culture coming to Amarillo, Miss Farris. I take it that it is Miss Farris," he said, stressing the title of a single woman.
"Yes, I am single, and since I have cured your agony of wondering about my marital status, would you like to buy me a cup of good coffee?" she replied with a smile. "That stuff on the train was simply awful."
Her answer and offer came as a shock Joe, but he found her somewhat brazen attitude to be extremely exciting. They walked into the dining room of the Ellis Hotel and Joe pulled out a chair for her. "Mrs. Ellis, I'd like for you to meet Miss Farris. She's the daughter of Eldon Farris and just arrived on this morning's train."
"It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Ellis. I am Margaret Farris, but my friends call me Maggie."
Maggie! Joe had found out her first name without the embarrassment of having to ask. "Would you care for some breakfast, Maggie?" he asked.
"Just coffee, thank you," she replied.
"France!" said Joe. "I would like to go there some day. What is it like?"
"Mainly, the culture is totally different from anything that you can find here in Texas," she replied as she took a sip of the steaming coffee. "Mmmm, that is good coffee. In fact, strong black coffee is one of the things I missed the most while I was in France. They are always mixing chicory, chocolate, vanilla or something else with their coffee and simply ruining it."
"I see your father's car across the street," said Joe, wishing that he hadn't arrived so soon. "He just bought the first car to come to Amarillo. Enjoy your coffee and I'll tell him that you are here."
As Joe and Eldon Farris stepped through the door, Maggie squealed and grabbed her father around the neck, crying and kissing him. "Oh, Daddy. it has been such a long time," she sobbed. "How is Mother?"
Joe knew that they wanted to be alone for their reunion, so he went to the platform to load her smaller pieces of luggage into the car, then he told the man at the docks to deliver the trunks to the Farris house. She was drying her tears when he returned.
"I was in a meeting and the time simply got away from me," said Farris. "Thanks for taking care of my little girl until I got here."
"It was my pleasure," replied Joe. "In fact Miss Farris, there will be a dance at the fair grounds this Saturday night. May I escort you?"
"That is only three days away," she replied. "Let me get settled first and I'll let you know."
"Let's go!" said Eldon, as he spun the crank on his new car. For some reason, Joe had the feeling that Eldon Farris was being unusually cool to him.
Thursday was pure misery for Joe because he didn't hear a word from Maggie. "Is this her way of saying that she doesn't care to go with me?" thought Joe. "Or perhaps she feels that a Texas dance is too crude for her to attend."
On Friday morning, Joe dropped by the site on Polk Street where the new bank was being built. Farris was conducting business in a temporary building next door until the new building was finished. Across the street, civil engineers were drilling sample holes in the ground to test the stability of the soil in preparation for beginning construction on the new Santa Fe Building, which was destined to become the landmark for the city. Several other brick buildings were going up along Polk Street between Third and Tenth Streets. Joe looked at the busy construction and thought to himself, "Soon this street will be paved with bricks and an electric trolley will run between Tenth Street and the Railroad Station." A public service company had been formed to build an electric generating plant just north of town.
"Joe," Farris called from the door of the temporary bank, "Drop by my office before you leave."
Joe entered the bank, greeted the teller who was taking care of a half-dozen people waiting in line to deposit money. As he passed, he nodded to the bookkeeper who was wearing a green eyeshade as he hunched over his desk, carefully entering neat rows of figures into the ledger. The door was open, so Joe walked into the President's office without knocking.
"I was going to send this over to you, but since you are here, I'll deliver it in person," said Farris as he handed Joe a small white envelope.
"Mr. Armitage," was all that it said on the front in precise script. Over the tip of the flap was a dab of red wax imprinted with some sort of seal. It was so clean and neat that Joe hesitated to break it.
Joe slipped his finger under the tab of the envelope and lifted gently, popping the seal loose without breaking it. A faint hint of perfume wafted from the paper. Joe didn't recognize the aroma, but it smelled expensive and French. He withdrew the folded note and opened it. Carefully lettered in the most beautiful handwriting he had ever seen, was the message, "Dear Joseph, I would consider it an honor to accompany you to the dance Saturday night. Margaret."
Joe sent his best suit to be cleaned and pressed, then he went to the livery stable where he rented a special buggy which was usually reserved for weddings and parades. It had a glossy black frame and body with yellow wheels. The black leather seats and harness were buffed to a Sunday shoe shine and the silver buckles and fittings were polished until they sparkled like new money.
On Saturday morning, Joe stopped by the barber shop where he got a haircut and shave, had his shoes shined and asked the barber to put on a little extra tonic. "Hear that you are sparking the banker's daughter," said the barber.
"Where did you hear that?" asked Joe.
"Emmitt Knox was in here this morning, said that Warren Brewster was after her to go to the dance Saturday night, but she told him that she had already accepted an invitation from you."
"Where did Warren meet her?" asked Joe.
"The Brewsters threw a big party for her out at the ranch last night, cooked a steer and had a band. Lots of people there, figured that you would have been there too," replied the barber.
"About the only thing that the Brewsters would invite me to would be a hanging with me being the guest of honor," replied Joe.
Joe hadn't felt like this since he was sixteen years of age and going to pick up his first date for the annual Cotillion in Dallas. He knocked on the door of the Farris home at exactly seven and Margaret opened it to greet him. She was dressed in a forest green dress which made her look even more beautiful than he had remembered. The gown clung to her shoulders with an open neck plunging deeply past those beautiful breasts. "You are beautiful tonight," he stammered.
"Why, thank you Joseph," she said easily. "Would you care for a brandy with Father before we leave?"
Joe couldn't remember whether he had actually answered her or not, but he soon found himself holding a small glass of amber liquid and trying to make small talk with her parents.
Joe extended his hand to assist her into the buggy. Her hand was warm and soft as she gripped his, lifting the hem of her dress with the other in order to step aboard. The same perfume which had been on the note, drifted in the night air. She sat straight and proper, with her hands folded in her lap as they rode to the dance. Joe formulated words in his mind but was never able to speak them, fearing that they would come out awkward or foolish.
The dance had been under way for some time when they arrived and they could hear the music coming from the big building long before they reached it. A screeching fiddle, two guitars and a banjo were pounding out square dance music while the caller chanted his spiel. The music ended and the squares broke up as they entered the door and looked around to see if they could find two empty chairs.
The band struck up a different type of music and pairs of dancers began to follow the lively rhythm.
"What kind of dance is that?" she asked.
"They call it a Texas two-step or cowboy dancing," replied Joe. "It seems to be something known only to cowboys because I'd never seen it before coming to the Panhandle."
"I much prefer a waltz to something like this," she replied. "I don't know if I could ever learn to dance like that."
"Me too," replied Joe. "But that seems to be the only kind of dancing that these ranch hands know. I suppose that we can just show up for a few minutes and then leave quietly if you like."
As they walked across the room to an empty table, the musicians stopped playing and everyone turned to look at them. Joe found the unusual amount of attention they were attracting to be rather disconcerting, but Maggie seemed to take it in stride. Perhaps, because of her unusual beauty, she was accustomed to having people stop and stare at her. They sat at the table and the dance continued.
After a few dances, Warren Brewster walked up, bowed and said, "Good evening, Maggie. Just because your escort doesn't seem able to dance is no reason why you should have to sit and watch. May I have this dance?"
Maggie turned to Joe, "May I dance this one with Mr. Brewster?"
When one is placed in a situation such as this, there is very little that he can do other than to accept it gracefully. Joe rose to his feet, smiled and said, "Of course, If that is your wish, Miss Farris."
As she stood and joined hands with Warren, the musicians suddenly changed from the raunchy western music that they had been playing to a lilting waltz. All that Joe could do was to sit there and watch while Warren whirled Maggie across the dance floor.
A few dances later, when the band began to play another waltz. Joe asked, "Would you like to dance this one?"
"Of course," she replied, taking his hand. As they walked onto the dance floor, the musicians suddenly broke into foot- stomping, cowboy music again.
"I know when I'm licked," said Joe. "Shall we go?"
As they rode back to her house, she said, "There seems to have been a conspiracy to keep us from dancing."
"I'm positive that there was and I know who was behind it," replied Joe.
"Who in the world would want to do a thing like that?" she asked.
"Your friend, Warren Brewster," replied Joe. "We have never gotten along very well."
"That's hard for me to believe," she replied. "My father speaks so highly of him and he seems to be such a nice man."
Although Joe asked Maggie for a date at least a dozen times during the next two months, she accepted only two of his requests. One was to attend the grand opening of her father's new bank and the other was a special reception given in his honor when he was named President of the newly formed Amarillo Social Club. Joe had the feeling that her father had more to do with her accepting these invitations than she did.
While Joe didn't travel in the same circles as Warren Brewster, it was no secret that he and Maggie were seeing a lot of one another. Joe planned and plotted ways which would bring Maggie and him together, if for no more than a few seconds, but few of them worked. On the rare occasions when he and Maggie happened to meet, his heart would pound and his hands would become wet and sticky. Then, one day he picked up the weekly newspaper and on the front page was the announcement, "Mr. and Mrs. Eldon Farris take pleasure in announcing the engagement and approaching marriage of their daughter, Margaret Ann, to Warren Eugene Brewster...." Joe couldn't read any further.
In every instance before, when there had been a contest of wills or wits between Joe Armitage and Warren Brewster, Joe had always won easily. It was very difficult for him to accept this defeat, especially when the prize was a woman of such class and beauty and one whom Joe had loved since the first instant that he had laid eyes on her. Joe simply could not understand why she would prefer Warren over him. Warren was crude, uneducated and unskilled in social customs. He, on the other hand, was polished and far more her social equal, both in background and education. What would possess a woman of such obvious charm and class to saddle herself with someone who was nothing more than an ordinary cowboy who happened to come into enough money to enable him to hire others to do the dirty work around the ranch.
Joe secretly hoped that she would come to her senses and not marry Warren, but that was not to be. On the appointed date, she and Warren were wed and his last hope faded. Joe resigned himself to her loss and threw himself into the task of making Amarillo the biggest and best city in Texas.