11. April 2015 · Comments Off on From the Next book – Sunset and Steel Rails · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Chapter 7 – Walk Away and Never Look Back

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles (From one of the current works in progress – Previous chapter here  This will be an adventure about a proper young lady who winds up going west under … well, interesting circumstances.)

“Lock the door after us, Phelpsie,” Sophia gasped. “And if Richard comes here tonight, you don’t know where I am. You haven’t seen us at all. Tell Aunt Minnie that I am well only when she is better … goodbye, Phelpsie – don’t open the door for anyone tonight!”

“I won’t,” Phelpsie gabbled, distraught, and Sophia thought that Phelpsie – aghast at the thought of having to face an angry Richard alone – for a moment was about to beg them all to stay. But the door opened in Declan’s strong hand and closed with a thud after them, and with some distant sense of relief, Sophia heard the sound of the lock falling to. Dark had fallen entirely now, save for only a pale pink smear in the western sky.

            “Where are we going?” Sophie struggled for breath and against her own weariness; Declan went ahead, a strong wide-shouldered man, her carpetbag in one hand, his stout watchman’s cudgel swinging in the other, as they hurried up Beacon Hill in the direction of the golden dome of the state house, still gleaming faintly in the last light of day. Agnes had her arm around Sophia’s waist – and unexpectedly strong arm from her short lifetime of hard work. Sophia was grateful for the support, and that they were heading in the opposite direction of the Brewer house and unlikely to encounter Richard in the tangle of narrow old streets in the waterfront district.

            “To our home,” Agnes replied. “See … Declan an’ I, we’ve an idea to help you escape for good…”

“If you have the mettle for it, see,” Declan threw over his shoulder as he hurried ahead. “But ‘t would mean leaving Boston, so it would, Miss Brewer.”

“I’d go out to the frontier and beyond, among all the wild Indians,” Sophia answered, without thinking. “As far as it would take that I’d never have to fear my brother again?”

“Out west?” Declan grinned over his shoulder. “Among the wild Indians and gunslingers? Our Seamus can’t get enough of those tales, but you might have your chance, Miss Brewer, with pluck and luck.”

“What do you mean?” Sophia gasped; she felt as if she were being swept along by an irresistible tide. Now they had left the lights of Beacon Street, plunging into the depths of the old North Town, which had been abandoned by people of quality decades since, and left to the poor, the recent immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. The streets were narrow, the ancient brick buildings shouldering close against each other, the smells – of privy, waterfront, and cooking almost nauseating in intensity.

“Carry this, no’,” Declan passed the carpetbag to his sister. With the faint scritch of a Lucifer against the nearest wall, Declan had lightened a lantern. “’tis safe enough now for a light – his bully lordship will no’ be looking for us here, Miss Sophia.” Declan Teague sounded most particularly satisfied about that.

“I cannot help but fear that there might be others in these streets,” Sophia had recovered something of her composure, after several twists and turns, each one into a street darker and narrower than the last. “Posing even more of a danger than my brother to us all…”

Declan Teague let out a rich chuckle, “Aye, so you might think, Miss Sophia. But this is where we live, and among folk who know us and protect their own kin an’ kind. You are safer here, amongst us than you have been for a while among your kin. I am thinking. Here – this is the place, above the shop of old Mendelson the Jew. Mind the steps, then …” He held up the lantern courteously; yes, there was a narrow alley between one tall brick tenement and the next, an alley which led to a door – one which might once have been fine, when it was the house of a merchant-prince of the last century. Declan had a key for that door, and Sophia mentally blessed him for the lantern, for the hallway inside was Stygian-dark, the flight of stairs to the next floor and the one above that even darker. At the top of that flight there was another short hall, with a doorway on either side. Declan turned and made a short and awkward half-bow before the door on the right-hand side. “Our home, our fire an’ our salt, Miss Sophia. Ye are welcome, indade. I mus’ be at my place of employment. Aignéis – for that is her right name here – she will explain to you the solution which I ha’ mentioned. Sorry – I am already late. There is one thing, Miss Sophia; gi’ me your hat and mantle.”

“I cannot think why it is necessary for me to give up my clothing,” Sophia protested, although at her side, Agnes whispered,

“Do what he says, Miss … we have worked out a means of laying a false trail.”

Declan opened the door saying only, “Aignéis, she will explain, with Seamus in chorus. Y’r hat now, and be quick about it. I’ll be back in t’ morning.”

“Do as he says,” Agnes whispered at her side, “The mantle, too … oh, dinna fuss, Miss Sophia – I will explain, sure an’ I will. Ye will be safe indade – for we hae planned it all out f’ ye, an’ ye’ will ne’re fear your brother again. Do ye no’ trust us?” Agnes sounded so doleful that Sophia was moved instantly to reassurance.

“I have, all this time – and now I trust to whatever scheme you have concocted … especially since I have no better choice in the matter.” She pulled the pins out of her hat, holding them briefly in her mouth as she handed her hat to Agnes’ brother, then shrugged out of her mantle.

“Good,” Declan grinned again. He leaned down, not so very far, and kissed his sister on the forehead, as he deftly bundled up hat and garment into a small bundle under his arm. “No fear, Aignéis – I’ll be back at sunrise. You an’ Seamus explain it to her, then.”

He was gone down the stairs with his comforting cudgel and lantern, even as Agnes opened the door into a dim apartment which must once have been a generously appointed room, when it was a single chamber and not sliced up into a parlor, kitchen, and sleeping quarters for a family, even one as small as that of a widower with four grown children. There was a tiny iron stove set into the hearth of a stopped-up fireplace, a stove which obviously served as a cook-fire and to warm the premises. A single kerosene lamp provided illumination, to a cot where a boy a few years older than Richie sat cross-legged, reading from a book, which to Sophia’s eyes – in the dim light – looked like some kind of Wild West blood-and-thunder tome.

A pile of ragged clothes and blankets was piled up in the single tattered armchair, drawn close to the fire, and as the door opened and closed, the ragged pile bestirred itself, and an aging and cracked voice inquired, “Aignéis – cailín daor – is that you?”

“’Tis, Da – and I have brought Major Brewer’s daughter with me,” Agnes replied.

“To this house?” the cracked voice broke with astonishment, and the pile of old clothing convulsed. “Aignéis, why did ye do that? ‘Tis not a fitting place for her ladyship …”

“I’m not a ladyship,” Sophia protested, and Agnes answered in placating tones,

“No, Da – but she has no other place to go for this night … and wicked man that he is, Master Richard has brought the doctor at this very hour, to carry her away to the asylum … an’ she is no madder than Siobhan or I.”

The clothes and blankets heaved and reshaped themselves, becoming in the faint light, the figure of a man, bent with age and with one arm so crippled and shortened as to be strapped immobile in a sling on his chest, saying with the courtesy of a lord. “Ye are welcome to share our salt and the shelter of our roof, Miss Brewer – ‘tis little enough, but it is our honor.” So this was Declan and Agnes’ father, Sophia realized: she had often heard of him, in Agnes’ daily conversation – that he had been a soldier in her father’s regiment, and how he had been crippled for life in an accident on the docks when Agnes was little more than a baby. Now he took her hand in his good one, and inclined his head in rough courtesy.

“I thank you for it, Mr. Teague,” Sophia swayed, suddenly faint with exhaustion. “And I am more grateful for your hospitality than I can …” The wave of dizziness threatened to overwhelm her, and Mr. Teague chided his daughter.

“Call me Tim Teague, now, will ye? Settle her in my chair now, Aignéis … the poor lady is no’ well, no’ well at all. Sit there, Miss Sophia – rest ye now …”

So grateful for the consideration that she nearly wept, she sank into old Tim Teague’s chair – the only padded and comfortable chair in the room, if so shabby and broken that even thrifty Great-Aunt Minnie would have relegated it to a bonfire. Tim Teague hovered at her side, patting her hand in a way meant to be comforting, until Agnes brought another simple straight chair from the corner of the room for her father. Agnes herself settled onto a low three-legged stool at Sophie’s knee, and young Seamus set aside his book – thriftily dimming the lamp-wick by which he was reading it.

“Is it true that your brother was feeding you opium and trying to drive you mad so that he could steal your money?” he asked with intense interest.

“Seamus, be hushed!” his sister cried, in an agony of embarrassment, adding as an aside. “Forgive him, Miss Sophia – but ‘tis true that I have talked of your situation… amongst the family, mind – only with Da an’ Declan at the first. Siobhan an’ I – we have always talked about folk we were in service to. It’s an amusement, y’see. It’s one of the only ones we have, a good gossip; sometimes like a play, or the old stories.

“No, Agnes – do not chide him,” Sophia answered, around a lump of grief in her throat. Grief for the lost life she once had, grief for the illusion of the fond and protective brother, grief for herself, lost and forlorn, taking refuge in a boarding house in old North Town. “It is true, every word that your brother and sister have said. And now I have nowhere to go and no friends to turn to, aside from yourselves – is that not as dramatic as one of your books, Seamus?”

“Oh, aye,” Seamus breathed, while Agnes cleared her throat – she sounded at least as tentative and uncertain as her young brother.

“But, Miss Sophia – we have a way for ye to escape, for good an’ all – if, as Declan said – ye have the mettle.”

“She does, indade,” Old Tim Teague assured them all, patting Sophia’s hand again. “She is th’ daughter of Major Brewer o’ the 28th Massachusetts! Never was an officer cooler under fire! Nay, he were not of my company, but all knew of him. The hotter the fire again’ us, the cooler he were, striding up and down along our line, w’ lead shot fallin’ like hail from a summer storm! An’ he would say a few words to every man – humorous-like, as if on a stroll through the Common, as if he had all the time in the world, an’ no other worries than a drink in the next tavern …”

“Yes, Da,” Agnes interjected. “But we came away in such a hurry that Declan had no time to explain. She does no’ know the plan.”

“There is a plan?” Sophia still felt rather faint, considering this unexpected chance. Likely any plan was Declan – or perhaps Seamus’ notion. Agnes was as guileless as a small child. To credit her with a stratagem of any complexity was to think that Richie could suddenly emerge as a captain of industry.

(To Be Continued …)


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