15. January 2015 · Comments Off on A New Book! · Categories: Uncategorized

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titlesYes, it’s the start of another adventure … and yes, I am still working away on The Golden Road … but for some reason, I am temporarily stranded on a metaphorical sand-bar in shallow water. So what do I do, when I am stuck on one plot … why, write on another, until the feeling passes. Honestly, I was writing Quivera Trail and Daughter of Texas in alternate chapters, in the early stages.
The spark for this new adventure came about, upon reading a post by another western-romance author, who inadvertently suggested a means for how a properly-brought young woman of respectable family could go west … without having to be a schoolteacher. Since I was locked into the ‘properly-brought up young woman of respectable family … the more I thought about it, the more fun it seemed. And so here we go again…

Behold – a new adventure and a new heroine. The tentative title for his is Sunset and Steel Rails, but that may change. Or not. And as a sort of literary Easter egg for those who have read Daughter of Texas – the heroine will be Race Vining’s granddaughter by his wife in Boston

Chapter 1 – The Ending of a Life, Unobserved

Under the dour painted gaze of her great-grandfather, Lycurgus Saltinstall Vining, Sophia Brewer’s life ended on on a mild and sunny spring afternoon, on a day when the tulips were already in bloom in the Public Gardens, down the hill from Richard Brewer’s fine new Beacon Street mansion. The tall windows of the study stood open to the fresh spring breeze, barely stirring the curtains, and the bouquets of yellow tulips and blue hyacinths, which filled the tall blue and white Chinese export vases placed just so on the parlor mantel, and on the table.
“What did you say?” Sophia demanded, utterly startled out of all manners and countenance, but her upbringing and schooling was such that she quickly added, “I am sorry, Lucius – Mr. Armitage – did I hear you correctly? That you wish to break our engagement … at this moment?” Sophia gazed upon Lucius Armitage with an expression which briefly mingled disbelief with horror. How could this be happening? She was a Brewer, and even if her family had lately come on hard times – they were of an old and highly-respected lineage in Massachusetts. She and her affianced had pledged to each other long before the passing of Sophia’s mother. When required period of mourning for the widowed Sophia Vining Brewer’s mortal passing was ended, it had been understood and acceptied that her daughter would marry Robert Armitage with all proper ceremony. With a year and more passed, the younger Sophia had gradually put off mourning black and donned garments of grey and lavender, as much as the sparse allowance from her brother had allowed. The anniversary had passed – and yet no wedding date had been suggested. And now this … With an effort, Sophia disguised her shock and disappointment; a marriage to Lucius Armitage was her only escape from her older brother’s household and rule. She was not quite 21 and no reigning beauty, being slender and small in stature, with hazel-grey eyes set in a fine-boned face, and light-brown hair so tightly-curling that her childhood nurse had claimed that combing it was like carding wool – but she possessed every particle of that fierce intelligence so notable in senior ladies of her family, sharpened and refined by as an education at least the equal of any young Bostonian of means, female and male alike.
Lucius Armitage, lanky and awkward, with a brief mustache and an ambition towards fashionable whiskers which nature had not favored him to fulfill with any grace, regarded Sophia with alarm. “My father has forbidden our marriage,” he answered, in tones of misery. “Absolutely. He says that … I cannot be allowed to marry for love, not unless there is a generous inheritance attached to the settlement.”
“I have a small bequest from Mother,” Sophia replied, although behind the tight-laced corset and grey merino bodice, her heart was already breaking. She had expected so much better from Robert. “In her will … I had thought that sufficient for a marriage portion, small as it is. We are both of age … we can still wed…”
“My father forbids it,” Lucius answered, his countenance a landscape of pure misery. “He will cast me off, if I go through with an elopement without his blessing. I am sorry. Your inheritance is insufficient for me – for us – to live on in any kind of respectability. I won’t ask for return of the ring with which I pledged to you, Soph. You may keep it – a gift.”
He sketched an awkward bow and blundered towards the half-opened study door. Not fifteen minutes ago, he had presented his calling-card to the Brewer’s maid-of-all-work. Tuesday was at-home day for the Brewer ladies – Sophia and her sister-in-law Phoebe received calls in the parlor. But on this morning, Lucius had appeared, made limping conversation for some with Phoebe and Great-Aunt Minnie Vining, Minnie’s companion Miss Phelps, with Sophia’s old school friend Emma Chase and Mrs. Chase her step-mother, before asking if he might have a word in private with Sophia.
How the parlor of women had all beamed on Lucius! Sophia’s mouth tasted of ashes and gall, recollecting that Emma had whispered behind her hand, “Now he will set a date, dear Sophia – remember how we promised to be bridesmaids for each other!” and that Emma had quickly squeezed her hand. Out in the hallway, Sophia heard the heavy front door open and the treble voice of Agnes Teague – the household maid of all work – bidding him a good morning and closing the heavy door after him. Then there was naught but his quick-fading footsteps outside in Beacon Street, and the brief pause of feminine conversation in the parlor.
Sophia’s vision briefly hazed, her brother’s study – the walls of books, the tall windows, the fireplace with the Chinese vases and the portrait of Great-Grandfather Vining all blurred as if obscured by a veil of fog. She reached out with a shaking hand, found the back of one of the tall chairs set before the fireplace, and sat in it until the fog cleared – hands folded demurely in her lap and back as straight a posture as had ever been encouraged by the deportment mistress at Miss Phillips’ Academy for Young Ladies. She sat and breathed deeply until her vision cleared. The sweet scent of hyacinths hung in the room, barely overlaying the odor of her brother Richard’s pipe tobacco.
“Miss Sophia?” That was Agnes Teague’s voice. Sophia lifted her head and forced a smile upon her face, more to reassure Agnes. Such a child, Agnes – and an impoverished childhood in a famine-stricken land made her appear even more childlike, for all that she was fifteen or so. The hand-me-down black maid’s dress that Agnes wore when tending the parlor in the afternoon was too large for her, and made her appear even more childish, even swathed in a starched white apron which hitched in the too-wide waist. Sophia was very fond of Agnes, all things considered – her only intimate in the household, and certainly her only ally. “Are ye all right, noo? The gentleman left in such a rush…”
“I am,” Sophia breathed deeply, and once again. The last of the grey mist cleared. “Mr. Armitage has seen fit to tell me that his father has forbidden our marriage on account of my impoverished situation. Our engagement has ended … just now.”
“Ohhh…” Agnes Teague’s eyes rounded in her peaked countenance, increasing her resemblance to a small pale owl. “Miss … what shall ye do, now?”
“I don’t know, Agnes.” Sophia made herself to stand. “Make my excuses to the other ladies – but I think I shall go up to my room just now. This has been a … a horrible disappointment to me. I think that I need to lie down for a while.” To her secret relief, she no longer felt wobbly in her lower limbs, although she did feel slightly sick in the pit of her stomach. She had been counting on Lucius for so long, seeing in him an end to a little-rewarded place in her brother’s household.
“Yes, miss.” Agnes bobbed a brief and proper curtsey – a gesture entirely ruined by her owl-eyes overflowing with tears. “Oh, miss – I am that sorry. ‘Tis like that awful Captain George throwing over Miss Amelia Sedley when her own Da went bust! Oh, miss!” the tears began spilling down Agnes’ cheeks in earnest. “Tell me … they won’t have to sell all of the household goods to settle with Mr. Brewer’s creditors, will they? And you and Mrs. Phoebe come to live in a boarding house on Beacon Hill…”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Agnes,” Sophia answered, at once touched and braced by Agnes’s sympathy – and also diverted at how swiftly Agnes identified her own lamentable situation with the novel which Sophia was reading aloud to her, in an attempt to remedy the girl’s sad lack of any kind of education save in Papist pieties. “You live in a boarding house … and Miss Minnie and Miss Phelps live on Beacon Street.”
“Aye so – but we are poor, Da and Seamus and Declan and my sister Siobhan. We have two small rooms, wretched as they are … and Miss Minnie may live two streets away so we are neighbors in no small way – but she has the entire house, which was your Great-grand-da’s, in the day … By your counting, Miss Minnie might no’ have any great estate, but compared to us … we are poor indade. Ye may have no money, Miss Sophia, but you will never be poor.”
“You may be correct in that, Agnes,” Sophia replied, touched and yet amused at the comparison. “For I do have that bequest in my dear Mother’s will, small as it may be … and our family includes many kin and friends of some influence.” She sighed a little. Perhaps she had not been quite so much in love with Lucius Armitage as custom seemed to expect. It was … extraordinary how calmly she seemed accept withdrawal of his formal affections once the original shock had passed. From everything Sophia observed as a girl and young woman, if she were deep in love with Robert, she should have been almost incapacitated with grief, weeping helplessly and prone on the hearthrug by now. Possibly it was the prospect of freedom in a small household of her own, upon which she had set her hopes; not the charms and marital attraction of Robert himself. Certainly she was tired of dancing attendance on Phoebe, and on hers and Richards’s grotesquely-indulged small sons. The fact that she had overheard Richard and Phoebe in private conversation only the other evening only increased her general dissatisfaction with her situation. Richard expiated at length over the fact that he had been spared the cost of a governess; by taking his sister into their household had only increased their household budget by the cost of her keep and a tiny allowance. He had sounded most revoltingly smug about this. Sophia had stolen up the staircase to her own little room, wondering if there was a way for her to set aside the expectations of everyone in their circle of acquaintances. She would rather live in Great-aunt Minnie’s aging mansion, in the poor side of Beacon Hill, than here in the house which her father had purchased, back when the Brewers were well-to-do. It appeared that if she was going to be one of those grim old bluestocking spinsters, she might as well get it over and be done with it. Father had died in the War, an officer in a Massachusetts regiment, Sophia could barely remember him at all. Her brother, some fifteen years her senior had been the man of the house for as long as she could recall.
“I’ll make you some ginger-tea,” Agnes promised in a whisper as Sophia moved towards the hall door. “And I know that Mrs. Garrett kept back some of those seed-cakes she made for the ladies’ tea. I’ll bring some to your room, if ye have an appetite at all.”
“Thank you, Agnes,” Sophia replied with honest gratitude. Mrs. Garrett and Agnes were their only servants these days, the two women and sometimes Agnes’s crippled oldest brother Declan, on those few days when some task which demanded manly strength was called for. Declan might have had a wooden foot, to replace the one of flesh and bone lost to gangrene, but he was fit enough otherwise. Declan worked as a night-watchman at a shipping warehouse near the river, and was not adverse to occasional work during the day
Sophia climbed the stairs to her own room, resolutely ignoring the sounds of excited chatter in the parlor – which hushed and then broke out again, redoubled. Obviously Agnes has delivered her message. She closed the door behind her, regarding her bedroom with a feeling of bleak despair totally at odds with the pretty room – papered with flower-sprigged wallpaper, and furnished with old-fashioned furniture in pale-wood finishes. A fresh spring breeze ruffled the muslin curtains on either side of the tall window which faced out into the garden behind the Brewer mansion. Dear and familiar a refuge, it might well be a prison, she thought, savagely. What was she going to do now that Robert had broken their engagement? They had known each other from earliest childhood, frequent playmates, since their mothers were the dearest of friends.
She looked into the mirror over the washstand, seeing again her own familiar countenance; no, she was not unpleasing to the eye, or disinclined to male flirtation or to society in general; just that in the present day, what with the Brewer family’s straitened circumstances, her opportunities to meet an eligible and acceptable suitor might well be fatally limited.

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