10. June 2015 · Comments Off on From the Current Work in Progress – Sunset and Steel Rails · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Uncategorized


Chapter 12 – East and West

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles“It was marvelous!” Sophia exclaimed to the waiting Jenny Maitland, on her return to the sleeping Harvey House, with the salver, pot and plate which had borne the special meal. Yawning, Sophia carried them through into the kitchen. “Mrs. Vining showed me a stateroom and the offices! There was a dining room, too – but that was where Mr. Richter’s coffin was in state. There is a tiny kitchen, and a little cabin for the staff, and everything so cunningly contrived! And she was very kind, and wanted to hear ever so much more. I would have not expected the daughter of a rich cattle baron to be so … down to earth. But she told me that when she first married, she and her husband would go up the trail between Texas and Kansas with cattle herds … and she being the only woman among them.”
“You were there for such a long time,” Jenny said. “I would have worried – but then I knew you would have to bring back the china.”
“They so appreciated the meal, and all,” Sophia assured her. “Mrs. Vining promised to send a letter of thanks directly to Mr. Harvey and Mr. Steinmetz said that it was so late at night that he would accompany me to the door. He also was very pleasant and considerate. It has been such a long time since I was able to speak German.”
“Mr. Fred Harvey doubtless will be very pleased,” Jenny agreed, yawning. “Oh, my, am I tired! This will be almost like being mentioned in dispatches, for us. Tell me all about the parlor car tomorrow – I am certain the other girls will have a thousand questions.” She yawned again, and turned to lock the door at the top of the stairs behind them, as they passed through. “Sleep well, Sophie – and bundle up the quilts on your bed tonight, for winter is on us and tonight is supposed to be cold. Mr. Boatwright had a message from the telegraphist in La Junta – there is a storm blowing east. They have had snow falling there all day. Likely we will have it tonight.”
“I hate to see summer go,” Sophia mused. “I’ve always hated being cold.”
“The benefits of having our rooms over the kitchens,” Jenny agreed. “Unpleasant in summer, but welcome in the winter. Good night, Sophia.”
“Good night, Miss Maitland.” Sophia went to her own room, made a hasty preparation for bed, her feet already cold once she removed her shoes. Laura was already asleep, her breathing the only sound within the room. A cold wind rattled the panes of glass, and in the distance, before she fell into her own sleep, Sophia heard the whistle of a steam engine, heavy wheels grinding against the rails – it seemed that the special train was already on its way, returning to Texas. The passage of it vibrated the station building very slightly, and then it was gone, leaving winter behind, with the soft rustle of the first heavy flakes of snow falling and brushing against the windows.

By the following morning, it was very obvious that winter had arrived in Kansas, and Sophia was more than grateful for her new coat, and the warmth of those flannel petticoats. The cold was a dry cold, not as damp and miserable as winters were prone to be in Kansas, but the winds were merciless. Most mornings, the windowsill was dusted with a layer of snow which had sifted through the cracks around the window-frames and the glass itself covered thick in the geometrical scrawls of frost. Not for the west a gentle veil of falling snow, whispering and rustling as it fell – no, here the wind propelled the snow in hard, gritty pellets that felt like small hail and stung the exposed flesh. The very air sometimes was so cold that it scorched like icy fire and stung in her nose and throat – no, there were some days when to walk across to the bank, Sophia must wrap her muffler twice around her face, because it would hurt to take a deep breath.
No more the excursions out to the countryside for picnics with Bill Boatwright, and Laura and her young swain. Sophia’s one day off was more likely spent in the parlor, sewing and reading, or sometimes playing children’s card games with the other girls. Nothing stopped the regular train schedule, although there were some storms which came very close to doing so. Passengers, supplies, mail and newspapers arrived from east and west without fail. On a Sunday morning in December, Sophia rewarded herself with a copy of the latest Boston Herald, and settled in for a leisurely read of it. Her feelings, on leafing through the pages of newsprint were an odd mixture of nostalgia at reading of familiar places, the scattering of familiar names as welcome as having caught sight of them in the street or walking in the Public Garden, and satisfaction that she was doing so from far, far away – as if she stood outside the bars of a cage and watched a dangerous tiger pace back and forth.
She turned the page, and her eyes fell on a familiar name – indeed, one which almost leapt at her like that tiger.
Miss Minerva Templeton Vining, late of this City.
Aunt Minnie. Sophia felt a chill in her heart, which had absolutely nothing to do with the icy draft from the closest window. She was reading the social pages, a collection of short paragraphs on the travels and doings of various prominent or near-to-prominent citizens. She found the start of the item and read it carefully, as if to distill the import of every word.
We have lately received word from a correspondent in Newport that Miss Minerva Templeton Vining, late of this City, has passed to her final heavenly reward at a private residence in Newport, attended devotedly in her final decline by her dearest friends. Our Readers of a certain age will fondly recall that dauntless lady as a stalwart speaker on behalf of the Abolitionist cause, her volunteer service with the Sanitary Commission nursing the wounded in the Late Conflict, and her devotion to and support of many other worthy and charitable causes in our City such as Temperance, Female Suffrage and the education of the Poor. Miss Vining was the last surviving offspring of Judge Lycurgus Saltinstall Vining, a magnate in the China trade, whose many descendants still inhabit this city. We offer up our most sincere consolation to her friends, associates and family, who – we are certain – will miss her lively presence on the social and charitable scene immensely. Her obituary and notice of memorial services will be published as soon as they are available to us.

I wish that I could have been able to write to her, Sophia thought, as she laid aside the Herald. Let her know that I was safe – she believed me at the last. But I couldn’t – a letter, a careless word – that would have put the both of us in danger, and the Teagues as well. I put nothing past Richard – he would have found a way, I know he would have. His viciousness in that respect was something only the readers of the worst kind of dime novels might have credited. Old Tim, Declan, Seamus and Agnes – yes, he would have done his worst on them in revenge. Richard’s malice and cunning were all too real, all too effective, being a man from an old and respected family. I hope that Mrs. Kempton wrote to her, and remembered to say that she had encountered a certain girl named Sophia in Kansas … that news might have lightened her grief, and provided comfort. Dear Great-aunt Minnie …
The door to the parlor swung open, admitting Laura, already dressed for the outdoors. “There you are, Sophie! You simply must come sleigh-riding with us – the day is so fine and clear, and the snow is packed! Mr. Belton has a sleigh and team…”
“I …” It was in her mind to refuse, but Laura cried impatiently,
“You cannot stay in the parlor all day, reading your silly newspaper – you will have cobwebs in your head. Let the fresh air blow them away!”
“All right,” Sophia agreed. She folded up the newspaper carefully, taking it to her room. No, Laura was right. Fresh air would do her good, and if winter so far was any indication, the next fair day might not fall on a Sunday.
She donned her coat and warmest hood, thrust mittens onto her hands, and ran downstairs: before the Newton station, a team of horses waited in harness to an open two-seat cutter. The bells on their harness jingled sweetly as they tossed their heads and shifted impatiently. Andrew Belton – the telegraphist who was walking out with Laura hopped down from the driver’s seat. Bill Boatwright sat with the reins in his gloved hands – he grinned at the girls, saying,
“About time! I thought you would take all morning. Andrew kissed Laura on one cheek, and said,
“Get in, girls – the time is passing and the horses are impatient!” He handed them up to the back seat, which was piled high with a pair of heavy buffalo robes. “There’s a foot-stove, down at the bottom, and some more blankets under the robes!”
“This is fun!” Laura bounced up into the cutter, pulling aside the robes and blankets. “My brothers and their friends, they used to race on winter days! As fast as the trains!”
“Settled?” Bill Boatwright asked over his shoulder, as Sophia burrowed under the robes and blankets. There was a puddle of warmth at her feet – the foot-stove, fully charged with fresh coals. “Then let ‘er rip!” He slapped the reins on the horses backs, and they set off at a lively trot. The runners made little but a faint rasp on the new snow, and the horses’ hooves were muffled by it – the loudest thing by far the jingling bells on the horse harness. The air blew ice-water cold on Sophia’s cheeks: she and Laura had the buffalo robes pulled up nearly to their shoulders, for there was no shelter from it in an open sleigh. The men were talking together, as was their custom.
“Something has made you sad, Sophia,” Laura asked, most unexpectedly. “I will listen, if you wish to tell me what it is. Was it something in your newspaper?”
“Yes,” Sophia acknowledged, at last. This was something she had kept to herself for more than half a year. The sound of the horses’ hoofs crunching on snow, their harness bells chiming provided a cover for quiet conversation. “The death of … someone who was very close to me. And I am sad not just because I will miss her very much, but that I couldn’t tell her about … where I was. In the west. Working for Mr. Harvey. She would have approved, very much, I think.”
“Why could you not write to her?” Laura sounded very puzzled.
“Because two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,” Sophia replied with a bitter laugh. “There was a man who threatened our lives. He was cruel and vicious, and stopped at nothing when he was thwarted. I had to get away, you see. And I could not tell anyone where I was going. I was afraid that this man – if he found out that my … my friends had helped me – if he even knew I was alive, then he would hurt them, somehow. I had to let everyone think that I was dead, you see. For their safety and mine.”
“So,” Laura mused. “You’re name is not really Teague? And everyone where you came from thinks that you are dead?”
“I call myself Teague, now,” Sophia insisted. “Because … they were kind and loyal to me. Not my family – to me. And I suppose that the person that I used to be is dead. At least, I know that Richard thinks so.”
“Richard?” Laura’s blue eyes widened. “You have said that name, sometimes in your sleep. Your husband?”
“No,” Sophia laughed, curt and bitter. “My brother. My older brother. I used to adore him, when I was a child. But I wonder now, if he was ever really what he seemed to be. My great-aunt’s companion said that she thought he was evil.”
“A brother?” Laura exclaimed. “But you always say that you are orphan, with no brother or sister.”
“He treated me so abominably,” Sophia answered, “That I began doubting we were truly kin to each other at all. My great-aunt said in her last letter, that sometimes my mother said she could see a demon in his eyes. Although he carried out a pretense of being an amiable and well-mannered gentleman … I had reason to think that his wife feared him. And then I began to believe that he would kill me, as he had killed the birds.”
“Oh, Sophie!” Laura fumbled for Sophie’s mitten-clad hands underneath the robe, and took them into hers. “How horrid – I would never have believed!”
“I think that he took a pleasure in tormenting animals. People, too. When I was a small child, I wanted a kitten. My mother forbade it. I thought she was unreasonable, cruel, even … but she was afraid that Richard would harm it. I think now,” Sophia’s voice dropped as she considered certain of her childhood memories. “That when I was a small girl, my mother feared that Richard might do the same with me. He never did … well, not up until the last. Then I too, began to see the demon in his eyes. But he fooled nearly everyone, Laura. And he is a … a well-respected man in Boston; a man of power and position. I could not risk the lives of my friends. I did send by a round-about means, a message to my great-aunt that I was alive and safe. I cannot be certain that she ever received it.”
The two girls sat, huddled together against the cold, warm under the buffalo robes. Now they were out at the edge of town, into snow-clad fields and meadows unrolling on either side, broken here and there with a line of leafless brush or scrub-trees casting long blue shadows on the pure white snow.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you did not believe me,” Sophia observed at last. “It must seem quite … melodramatic to you – a brother like mine.”
“No,” Laura shook her head. “Not at all. There was a boy once – the age of my oldest brothers, from the other side of town. Only son, only child. His parents farmed a little … and he was odd. So my brothers always said. They did not like him, much, although his mother and father were friends to all, and they were schoolboys together. But there was something strange about him. They said that he also liked to do cruel things to the animals, but sneaky in doing so … bungle killing a chicken, so that he could watch it running around and laugh as it died slowly. Trap a rabbit in the field, watch as it writhed in agony. He was teased as a child, for he wet the bed at night. His poor mama – who must wash the sheets and nightshirt always! And he liked watching fire. Of this my brothers said, often, when this was spoken of. He loved to start a fire – and watch it with a gloating expression. My brothers,” Laura drew in her breath with a hiss. “They said the same as you – there was a demon in his eyes at such times. I have not thought of this for many years, Sophie – this was when I was a little girl and much has happened since then.”
“What happened to this boy?” Sophia asked, hardly daring to draw a breath. Yes – this did sound dreadfully like Richard. Laura shrugged.
“There was a fire one night, which burned up the farmhouse and killed his parents together. He lost the farm, and went to work as a hired man in the next town. One night, he killed the farmer for whom he worked with a shotgun … he was tried and convicted, but everyone said he was insane. He was sent to the St. Peter State Hospital. I think he died in a fire there … my brothers wondered if he had a hand in it.”

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