The Edge of Town


By Dorothy Garlock

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The first of three kindred novels set in the American Midwest of the 1920s from national bestselling author Dorothy Garlock’s.

At 21, Julie Jones is convinced that life is passing her by. Her mother’s death four years ago left her in charge of caring for her father and five siblings, and dashed her hopes of meeting that special someone who would whisk her away to the glamorous big city. Then all at once, Julie’s predictable existence is overturned when her father finds love with an attractive widow, and Evan Johnson, the mysterious son of the town drunkard returns home and starts courting her. With his arrival, however, comes a series of devastating tragedies as Evan’s father is found murdered, and a series of brutal rapes rocks the town. In a rush to judgment, the townsfolk are all pointing to Evan as the guilty party, except for one person. Amid growing tensions, Julie Jones has been hiding a dark personal secret-and falling desperately in love.


Julie's Dream
There's loamy earth in Fertile, MO.
Men who seed, reap what they sow.
But where the dusty road grows narrow,
The rocky soil resists the harrow.
The yield is meager, profit down,
Farming on the edge of town.
If your name is Julie Jones,
You've learned to stifle inward groans,
Tending all your dead mom's brood
As a proper daughter should.
You must not let it get you down
Living on the edge of town.
But in the night by gaslight's glow
Your fears come rushing as you sew
That's when the dreadful mem'ries rise,
And bitter tears bedim your eyes.
You cut a patch and mend a gown,
Existing on the edge of town.
From children's beds comes dreaming laughter.
This farm is not "forever after."
You smile with hope that someone strong
Will someday, somehow come along
To smooth away your troubled frown
With loving on the edge of town.



Chapter 5
THE TAYLORS WERE THE FIRST TO LEAVE and the Humphreys the last, after it was decided to have another ball game on Sunday afternoon.
"We'll be here," Ruth called gaily as she lifted her two-year-old up onto the wagon bed.
"If you need help putting the roof on that cow shed, Wilbur, let me know, and me and the boys will be over to give you a hand." Jethro stepped forward to lift Elsie Stuart up into the wagon to sit beside her mother.
"It'll be a few days."
"Have you been to the revival, Julie?" Ruth asked.
"No. I'm not much for revival meetings."
"We're going Saturday night. If you want, we'll stop by for you."
"Thank you, but I don't think I'll go."
"The young people meet just before the service. This and That are going. They've got their eyes on a couple of girls," Ruth said with a wink.
"You ort to go, Sis," Jethro spoke up quickly. "I hear they got a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher."
"Then you go, Papa." Julie's words came out stronger than she intended and Jethro frowned.
"Maybe I will," he mumbled.
"We'll stop by anyway, Julie. We had a good time."
"So did we. 'Bye. See you Sunday if not before."
* * *
On Saturday morning Jethro and Jack loaded two hogs in the wagon and took them to town. The sale of the hogs would clear up the bill at Oakley's grocery store with money left over. Julie had sent a list with Jack to be filled at the store: sugar for canning, jar lids, salt and vinegar for making hominy and lye for making bar soap for washing. Julie and Jill worked in the garden after the kitchen was tidied, and Joe went over to help Evan work on his windmill.
Julie had decided to tell only Joe about her encounter on the road with Walter Johnson and about his threats to harm Jill and Jason. So far she'd had no opportunity to be alone with him. Her father had been quiet and moody lately, as if he had a lot on his mind. Julie decided not to add to his problems. He'd even been short with Joy and had made her cry, which was unusual because he doted on the child.
While Julie and Jill were setting the table for the noon meal, the wagon came down the lane.
"Jack's comin'," Joy yelled and raced through the house to the back porch. Joy never walked if she could run.
"Don't set a place for Joe. If he was coming for dinner he'd be here now," Julie said to Jill.
"I wouldn't want to eat at that old Mr. Johnson's." Jill placed the extra plate back on the shelf.
"Are you talking about the son or the father?"
"Old Mr. Johnson. Evan is . . . kind of handsome and not so old."
"But too old for you."
"Why do you always say that? I read that back in the olden days girls got married at twelve."
"And died during childbirth at thirteen."
"Is that what Mama died of? She had Joy, then died."
"Mama was weak from influenza. But tell me, has Walter Johnson ever bothered you?" Julie was suddenly breathless as she waited for her sister to answer.
"No. Katie McDonald said he pinched her sister on the butt."
"Well, for goodness' sake. Isn't her sister the teacher over at Well's Point? What was he doing way over there?"
"It's where all the bootleggers hang out."
"How do you know so much about it?"
"I ain't deaf, Julie," Jill said disgustedly. "I hear things."
"You . . . ain't?"
"I'm not." Jill rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
"If that Walter Johnson comes near you, you scream your head off. Hear? Don't let yourself get into a place where he could catch you alone, like when you're walking over to the Jacobses. If you've got to go, ask Jack or Joe to take you on the horse."
Jill paused and put her hands on her hips. "You know what they'd say if I asked them to take me to the Jacobses? They'd say, 'You got two legs. Use 'em.'"
"You won't have to ask them. I will."
"Ruby May says that Mrs. Stuart has set her cap for Evan Johnson. Mrs. Humphrey will help her get him or any other man, for that matter."
"How does Ruby May know that?"
"She heard her mother and Mrs. Humphrey talking. Mrs. Humphrey wants her out of the house. The only way she's going to do it is get her married off. That kid of hers is a brat. Ruby May says she throws a fit if a dog comes near her."
"She probably can't help being afraid."
"Bullfoot," Jill snorted. "Mrs. Humphrey told Mrs. Jacobs that her sister-in-law was lazy and only worked when Mr. Humphrey came into the house."
"Ruby May shouldn't be spreading gossip."
"Ruby told me not to tell anyone. But . . . oh, poot! If I can't tell my very own sister—"
"Papa didn't come back with Jack," Jason announced from the back door. "Jack won't say where he went, but he's smilin' real big and keeps sayin', 'Just wait, just wait.' Make him tell, Julie."
"Open the door, stinkpot." Jack came in with a fifty-pound bag of sugar on his shoulder. "Where do you want this, Sis?"
"Leave it there by the door for now. Jill and I washed the big flour and sugar tins this morning, and they might not be completely dry yet."
"What are you grinning about?" Julie studied the smile on her brother's freckled face.
"You'll see. Want me to take the vinegar to the cellar?"
"No. That's my white pickling vinegar. I'm afraid someone will come along and dump it in with that old stuff in the barrel. When will Papa be back?"
"Shall I set a place for him or not?"
"I don't know." Jack winked at Jason and hurried out.
"See? Julie, make him tell."
"For crying out loud!" Julie exclaimed. "What's got into you two?"
"Car comin'. Car comin'." Joy pushed roughly past Jason, almost upsetting him, brushed against Julie and headed for the front of the house.
"That . . . that little . . . brat!" Jason sputtered.
"See who's coming, Jason. Lord, I hope it isn't someone we'll have to invite to dinner. This is a skimpy meal."
"It's comin' 'round—" Joy ran back through the kitchen. She was out the door and onto the porch.
"Grab her, Jason," Julie shouted. "She might run right out in front of it."
"Papa's drivin' a . . . car!" Jill squealed.
"Papa's . . . drivin' a car," Joy repeated in a shrill voice over the excited barks from Sidney.
"Whose car is it?" Jill moved off the back porch and into the yard.
Julie stood in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Well, whatta ya think?" Jack's grin spread all over his face.
"Is it ours?" Jill asked.
"Papa bought it. So I guess it is."
Jethro stepped out of the car and screwed his old felt hat down on his head. He had a sheepish look on his face when he looked over the top at Julie, who had come out onto the porch.
"I didn't know you were thinking of buying a car."
"I . . . well, I hadn't thought about it much. Fred Olson down at the garage had it. It's in good shape. Well, maybe it needs a little fender work, and the top's kind of ragged, but it runs good." When Julie didn't say anything, he said rather defensively, "The boys need to know about cars."
"It's a Model T, Sis. The top folds back for good weather, but in case of rain you can snap on side curtains. The double windshield tilts out to let the breeze through. I bet we can get Evan to do some welding on the fenders." Jack lifted the engine cover on one side and Jethro lifted the other. As they stood gazing at the engine, Julie walked up beside her father.
"I didn't know that you knew how to drive, Papa."
"There's a lot you don't know about me," he said gruffly. "I don't have to explain to my kids when I buy something."
Julie backed away. "I haven't asked you to explain. Dinner is on the table." She went quickly back to the house.
The talk at the dinner table was about the car. Their father didn't say how much it cost or how he was going to pay for it. He did say that he had borrowed the money from Mr. Wood's bank.
"Can we go for a ride?" Jason asked.
Jethro gave him a broad smile. "I was planning on it right after dinner."
Not wanting to put a damper on the happy event, Julie left the dishes in the dishwater and went out to the car. Jack and Jason sat in front with Jethro. Jill, Joy and Julie climbed in back. Jack watched anxiously as his father moved a lever beneath the steering wheel and took the crank from behind the driver's seat. The motor fired after a twist or two. Jethro hurried to get back behind the wheel. He adjusted the lever again and the engine purred softly. He set the car in motion and guided it in a big circle around the yard before heading down the lane toward the road.
Joy held tightly to Julie's hand. Her eyes were bright with excitement, and for once she was still. This was the first time since she was old enough to be aware of it that she had ridden in an automobile. The other time was when she was a baby and the doctor had come out because she was running a high fever. He had suggested that Julie and Joy return to town with him and spend the night in the spare room at his office so that he could keep an eye on the child.
Julie put her arm around Joy and hugged her close. She wanted so much for this precious little girl who had been thrust into her life.
"Where are we going, Papa?" Jill moved up onto the edge of the seat.
"Just up the road a piece."
"Can we stop and show Ruby?"
"We'll not be going that far, Sis," Jethro said as they approached the Humphrey farm. "We'll turn around here."
He's hoping that Birdie Stuart will see that he's got a car. The thought popped into Julie's head and immediately, she was ashamed of it. The Humphrey children and Birdie's little girl were playing in the lane. They stopped and watched the car turn around. Jill called out and waved. When Julie looked back, she saw the children running to the house to tell the news.
"Joe'll be surprised," Jack said as his father drove back home. "He's been wishin' we had a car."
When Jethro stopped the car in the area between the barn and the house, he didn't turn off the engine.
"I suspect he will," he said, pulling up on the emergency brake. "You all get out. I'm going to take it out for a little spin—"
"Can I go?" Jason asked eagerly.
"No, son. I'm going to see if I can get her up to about thirty-five and I don't want you kids in the car."
"Thirty-five what?"
"Miles an hour. They've got cars now that go up to forty or fifty."
"Fifty miles in an hour." Jack whooped. "I'm going to do it someday. Ride in an airplane, too."
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Julie said staunchly as she lifted Joy down from the running board.
"Ah, Sis," Jack said. "I wouldn't get hurt or nothin'."
"I might stop over and see what Evan thinks about welding the fenders." Jethro released the brake.
"Be careful." Julie grasped Joy's hand and backed away from the car.
As she stood in the yard and watched the automobile bounce down the lane toward the road and then turn right toward the Humphreys', Julie felt an anguished moment of fear and dread of what the future might hold for the family. She glanced at Jack and was surprised to see that the happy grin had left his face. The look in the boy's eyes as they met hers over the heads of their younger brother and sister told Julie that she wasn't alone in her concern that their father was enamored of the young widow. Should she return his affection, it could make a drastic change in their family.
* * *
The regular meeting of the City Council of Fertile was convened at five P.M. in the back room of the furniture store. Present were Amos Wood, banker; Ronald Poole, hardware and feed store owner; Frank Adler, druggist; Herman Maddock, furniture store owner and undertaker (or funeral director, as he'd rather be called); and Ira Brady, owner of the Fertile Telephone Company and mayor. Invited to sit in on the meeting was Marshal Sanford.
The minutes of the last meeting were read and approved. The town treasurer, Herman Maddock, reported a balance of $5,672.13, after an expenditure of $323.45 to repair the water tower.
"What did they do, for Christ's sake?" Amos Wood demanded.
"You know what had to be done, Amos," Ronald Poole, who was in charge of the project, explained. "You complained when the tank had to be drained so they could prop it back up. One side of the stand it's sitting on had sunk down until it looked like that tower they got over in France or Italy or wherever the hell it is. We couldn't leave it till it fell over."
"Seems like a lot of money. I suppose you sold the hardware to the town to fix it."
"Would you rather we had gone out of town to buy it? I made a profit, but a damn little one." Poole's face took on a hard look and he jutted his chin.
Mayor Brady cleared his throat. "Do we accept the treasurer's report?" There was a murmur of ayes and no nays.
"Report accepted," Ira said firmly. "Now we've got important business to settle today, business we've had hanging for damn near a year." A chair creaked. Ira glanced at Amos as the banker settled into a new position, indicating his displeasure concerning the topic to be discussed.
"You still on that kick, Ira?" Amos asked. "We've got a marshal. Don't you think he's doing his job?"
"Of course he's doing his job," Ira retorted sharply. "He's a district marshal. He covers a fourth of the state of Missouri. That's why we need our own police."
"Why spend the money for a policeman when all he'll do is direct traffic on Saturday and arrest a drunk or two? Hell, Ira, we don't even have a county jail."
"Mr. Poole has an idea for that."
"More business for the hardware, huh, Ron?"
Ronald Poole stood. All six feet two inches towered over the banker.
"I've taken about all the slurs I'm goin' to take from you, Amos. You've got your ass over the line because, after I paid off my mortgage, I switched my account to Peterson's Savings and Loan. You've been ridin' my back ever since."
"Gentlemen, we have a guest. You can settle your personal differences outside this meeting. Amos, we passed a resolution almost a year ago that a policeman would be procured for Fertile. Unless you want to introduce a motion to repeal that resolution, this discussion is out of order." Ira waited a full minute, and when nothing more was said, he introduced the guest.
"You all know Marshal Sanford. I asked him to come today to explain fully the situation we face here."
Once the creaking of chairs and the scuffling of feet on the plank floor ceased and the room was quiet, Marshal Sanford leaned forward and put his elbows on the table.
"First let me speak on the matter of the jail. The town of Fertile should join with the county to put a jail in the basement of the courthouse. There's room down there and it would be handy. Wouldn't cost much."
"That was Ron's idea," Ira said. "We'll have to do it sooner or later as the population grows."
"It's a good idea," Frank Adler agreed.
"Well, I'll put in my two cents' worth and you can decide what you want to do." The marshal leaned back in his chair. "It's just as plain as the nose on my face, folks. I have so much territory to cover that, even with the help of my deputy, I can't possibly serve the town of Fertile as it should be served. I live thirty-five miles from here, right in the middle of my territory. I can't be running up here every time you have a neighborhood squabble or someone steals a watermelon. In my opinion anything that happens in Fertile can be handled by a man of good standing with the support of the council and my help, if needed."
Herman Maddock spoke up. "We have some petty crime here, not much traffic, but a few brawls down around Well's Point after we took it into the town limits. Any man with a good head on his shoulders and a ready fist should be able to handle the job."
"What do you plan to pay this . . . peacekeeper?" Amos Wood's voice was heavy with sarcasm.
Ira took a deep breath. "Marshal Sanford suggests fifty dollars a month and that we pay for his weapon."
Amos rolled his eyes toward the ceiling and his fat cheeks quivered as he gritted his teeth.
"Have you something else to say, Amos?" Ira asked.
"No. No. You'll just barrel on ahead. I thought I was the financial advisor on this council. When you bankrupt the town, you'll—"
"We won't come to you for a loan if I have anything to say about it," Ron Poole said firmly.
"Do you have anyone in mind?" the undertaker asked in his mild-mannered way of bringing the discussion back on track.
"Marshal Sanford has made a recommendation," Ira said. "We realized that we couldn't get an experienced man out of Kansas City or St. Louis without paying him considerably more money than we can afford. The man he recommends is from the southern part of the state, down around Joplin. He was with the military police during the war. That would make him qualified for a police job in the city, but he would rather settle down in a small town. He is a single man who lost his fiancée while he was away at war." Ira placed several pieces of paper on the table.
"I have here a copy of his army discharge, an evaluation from his superior officer and several personal endorsements. The marshal tells me that he is twenty-six years old and an excellent marksman."
"You planning on having him shoot someone, Ira?" Amos asked.
"If your bank was being robbed, wouldn't you want the policeman you called to be able to shoot straight?"
Amos grunted and looked out the window.
Marshal Sanford's chair scraped the floor as he got to his feet.
"I'll bring the man in and you can talk to him. Nice seeing you again, Ira." He extended his hand, then shook hands with the rest of the council members. "If Appleby doesn't work out, let me know. I'll see what I can do about finding another man."
Marshal Sanford left the door open when he left the room. A short while later, he returned with a tall, lean but not thin, dark-haired man with broad shoulders and a scar that sliced across one eyebrow onto his cheek. It showed a pale, threadlike line through his summer tan. He carried a brown felt hat in his hand.
"Corbin Appleby, gentlemen." Marshal Sanford made the announcement, clapped the man on the shoulder, went out and closed the door.
Mayor Ira Brady extended his hand, introduced him to the rest of the council, then invited him to take a seat.
"Why do you want to move to a town the size of Fertile?" Amos Wood began the interview with the blunt question.
Corbin Appleby looked him in the eye. "Why not? Isn't it a desirable place to live?"
"It is," the banker answered quickly. "Fertile is a quiet, law-abiding town, prosperous—"


On Sale
Apr 12, 2001
Page Count
384 pages

Dorothy Garlock

About the Author

Dorothy Garlock is the author of more than 50 novels that have sold 15 million+ combined copies and are published in 15 languages. She lives in Iowa.

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