The sun was a fiery orb suspended in the western sky. Jake and his crew stood on the porch at the Sleepy Z Ranch watching the sun descend towards the mountains.
Jake had brought along fifteen of his men to the Sleepy Z that day. He had told them that he and Nell Percival were going to announce their engagement and that he wanted to share the moment with them, his good friends and associates.
The day hadn’t gone quite as he had planned it. Nell was being non-cooperative.
“Gonna be dark in an hour or so,” Jake said. He turned and kneeled on the porch next to Nell. Then grabbed the rope around her ankles and dragged her across the rough hewn boards to the steps. Bound and gagged she lay at the top of the steps. Jake perched himself one step below. Hooking his finger over the top of her gag he pulled it down so that she could talk to him.
“What do you say, Nell?” he asked her. “You ready to make me the happiest man in the world?”
She looked at him with disgust and said nothing; but spat in reply. The spittle missed him but he understood what she was trying to convey and he slapped her hard across the face.
“Looky here Nell. There’s no need to get nasty. All you have’ta do is agree to marry me before the sun drops behind the Rosillos Mountains, there. Do that and I’ll send Charlie into town to fetch the preacher. Hell, we can consummate this marriage before sunrise and live on our ranch happily ever after in wedded harmony.
“I already own most of the county. With the Sleepy Z, I’ll own the whole county. When the railroad comes through, it’ll be like printing money. You’ll be the richest woman in Texas. But if the sun goes down and you haven’t said yes, I will burn this place to the ground and just take the ranch for myself … scorched earth, Nell. That’s what I’m talking about. Is that what you want? I think it would be mighty difficult to run from a house fire trussed up like this Nell.” He tweaked the ropes that bound her tightly, “What do you think?”
“If you do this, if you do either of these things, Jake Jennings you’ll burn too,” Nell broke her silence. “The difference is that you’ll burn for eternity. You’ll burn in hell. I’ll never willingly marry you so you might as well strike that match right now. There’s no need to wait for the sun to set. I may burn, all right but my torment will be short lived compared to what’s in store for you.
The setting sun had turned to crimson before it set, and Jake wondered if it was a reflection from the burning ranch house. Nell’s screams had gone quiet in coincidence with the twilight. Jake watched a little longer, then turned his horse and headed back to town with his crew. He didn’t like killing Nell but he had presented her with a choice; so realistically she brought this on herself. His life would go on.
Six months later Jake Jennings received a telegram from the railroad.
GREETINGS ON BEHALF OF THE ABILENE SANTA FE RAIL COMPANY
WE ARE PLEASED TO INFORM YOU THAT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE RIGHTS AND BENEFITS GRANTED OUR COMPANY BY THE IMMINENT DOMAIN ACT OF THE GRAND STATE OF TEXAS WE WILL BE ASSUMING CONTROL OF SOME OR ALL OF YOUR LANDS FOR RAILROAD BUSINESS
THE LAND AFFECTED IS A STRETCH ACROSS THE ENTIRE COUNTY THREE MILES WIDE
AS THE LAND HAS BEEN DESIGNATED NON-PRODUCTIVE AND UNINHABITED THE VALUE HAS BEEN SET AS MINIMAL
YOUR COMPENSATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE IMMINENT DOMAIN ACT IS LIMITED TO ONE US DOLLAR PER EACH 100 SECTIONS OF LAND
OUR REPRESENTATIVE WILL BE CONTACTING YOU SOON WITH A SURVEYING PARTY TO CALCULATE FAIR AND JUST COMPENSATION
Jake sat heavily in his chair and considered this development. A section was about one square mile, or 640 acres. It was roughly 120 miles across the county which meant they were preparing to seize 360 sections of land and were offering him only 1 dollar per 100 sections. He had borrowed heavily based on anticipated sale of lands to the railroad that now would never happen.
He was ruined.