15. June 2015 · Comments Off on A Chapter from the WIP – Sunset and Steel Rails · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(This story is shaping up into three parts, each of them spaced about at about 5 or 7 years apart. So – go with it. Sophia is five years older, has found her feet, professionally and personally … and now embarking on a significantly new portion of her life … but still, there are some occasional hauntings from her past. Enjoy. I am trying to finish this to bring it out late this year.)Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles

Chapter 13 – Arrival in Deming

“We’ll be in Deming in ten minutes,” the Pullman porter observed, as he passed by Sophia’s seat in the regular train from Albuquerque to Guaymas in Mexico. “You all ready for the wild west, Miss Teague?”
“Don’t be funning with me, George,” Sophia replied, laying aside the book that she had been reading, and slipped it into her reticule. “I’ve been working for Fred Harvey Company five years now – and I have been singularly disappointed with the actual wildness of every place that I have been, for all the sensational newspaper stories and dime novels. Wild west indeed – I consider that the wildness is vastly overrated.”
George – whose name wasn’t really George, but all Pullman porters were called George – was a casual acquaintance of some years standing, an association farther tightened by their mutual service to the railway.
“Shush yourself, Miss Teague,” George replied, with a conspiratorial wink. “Them writer fellas mus’ have something to write about. And sometimes those range wars get to be pretty intense. I used to ride trail for the RB outfit in the Panhandle country, til’ they got sideways of a bunch of cattle thieves – it was no game for a man who wanted to live long enough to have grey hair.”
“Did you indeed?” Sophia asked, suddenly interested. Somehow she had always assumed that he had always worked for the Pullman company. “You really were a cowboy, then?”
“Indeed I was for a time, Miss Teague. But’s hard work; only a young man can endure it. Had me some fine times, though.” He grinned, in reminiscence. “I might write up an account of them, someday.”
“You ought to do that,” Sophia replied, as she stood up, reaching for the trusty old carpet-back in the rack over her head. “I would most definitely read it.”
“Allow me, Miss Teague,” George said. He lifted it down easily. “So – are you going to work in the Deming Harvey house, or jus’ stopping for a visit?”
“Work,” Sophia sighed, in happy appreciation. “One of the girls from when I started in Newton is here – Selina Burnett. She wrote and told me that there would be an opening, and Deming sounded interesting… so I requested a new posting.”
“You been all over the Atchison-Topeka Harvey Houses, haven’t you?”
“I have,” Sophia replied. She could sense the train beginning to slow. She and George stood by the end of the car, closest to the door. “La Junta, after Newton. Then a couple of months at the Montezuma Palace, in the dining room. That was a bit boring – no trains. And all the way out to California, to Barstow – there were trains but it was all sand and desert; even more boring. And then to Albuquerque … I substituted from there, to other Houses which were short-handed. I liked that – having once learned the Harvey method, I could go practically anywhere, and I had friends in every other house after the first few years … George, can you arrange with a porter, to take my trunk from the baggage car to the House lodgings? I expect that they will need me to help out today. There was a message yesterday morning before I left, saying that two girls were sick in bed and couldn’t work.”
“Mos’ certainly, Miss Teague. No rest fo’ the righteous, so it says in the Good Book,” George observed.
“Indeed,” Sophia said, although there was no real reply for that. The train slowed even more; as it curved around a bend in the track, Sophia could look out and see the tops of tall trees, and a metal daisy-field of windmills, with the railway water and coal towers thrusting up at the heart of Deming. Her heart lifted in happy anticipation.
Five years as a Harvey girl; she would not have traded the experience of that for anything in the world. She had a substantial nest egg saved from her wages, a small but elegant wardrobe, bought new and to her own taste, and she had traveled! Oh, how she had traveled, confidently and alone, for the most part; mostly for the business of the Harvey Company, which provided a train pass on the AT&SA for every one of their employees. The little pewter pin for her work pinafore now bore a number 5 on it, which made her relatively senior at any House. With seniority came responsibility; also increased authority, which Sophia relished very much. Some day she might even rise far enough to manage a Harvey House. Wouldn’t Great-aunt Minnie be amazed and proud, if she could see that!
Boston was so far behind her now. She had even stopped reading the Boston Daily Advertiser so assiduously. It just did not seem so important any more to view the activities of those whom she had once known so well at such a distance. It was long ago and far away, and of decreasing importance in her life. For the first two years, it had been in the back of her mind that Richard and Dr. Cotton, or some men working for him might suddenly step from a train brandishing warrants and papers, apprehend her as a fugitive, and pack her back to Danvers. It had never happened; she never set eyes on any acquaintance from Boston again … and anyway, she was now Miss Teague, a valued employee of Fred Harvey Company. No one west of the Mississippi would have dared lay hands on her, wild and lawless or not.
She took her carpetbag from George, with a word of thanks – for he was caught up in attending those passengers also debarking at Deming – and was down from the train before it even entirely stopped moving. She swung the carpetbag, feeling some of the joy of a child released from school; she knew the Deming station from having stopped there several times, and also because the Harvey Houses were often arranged on similar principles; everything just so. If you knew one or two of them well, then you knew them all. Just ahead of the surge of other passengers, she walked into the Harvey House, past the busboy standing ready at the gong.
“Is Miss Bennet in the dining room, or the lunch room,” she paused briefly to ask.
“Dining room,” he replied, looking beyond her at the scattered passengers making a purposeful way towards the house. “Miss Teague? You were expected on this train.”
“And now I’m here,” Sophia strode briskly into the house and stepped into the dining room, where a harassed-appearing Selina was overseeing the last few preparations. “Selina – I’ll put my bag upstairs and change immediately. Where do you need me?”
“Thank heavens,” Selina brightened. “Second room along on the right is yours – the laundry sent along your work things. The lunch room, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Sophia replied. “I’ll be down in two shakes.”
She had become accustomed to amazingly swift changes in her toilettes in the past five years. Off came her travel dress and the plain flat straw boater pinned at a daring angle on her hair, already arranged in a plain bun. She wore black shoes and stockings as a matter of habit. She was fastening her white cuffs as she ran down stairs, and through the kitchen. One of the cooks waved to her from behind the stove. The kitchen already smelt of good food excellently cooked.
“Not wasting a moment, Miss T., are you?” He had worked at the Montezuma Palace.
“Never,” she called back, moving swiftly through the doors into the lunchroom just as the first customers emerged from the other side.
“Miss T.!” chorused the duty waitresses, in relief and gratitude. She recognized all three; in fact, she had trained two of them in the Harvey method, although in separate places and the third had also worked with her at the Montezuma – a circumstance which relieved her mind no end. Today was no time to be training a new girl, when they were short-handed.
“Remember,” she whispered, bringing an answering smile to all three faces. “Left to right – and always go by the right-hand door!”

Late that night, when she finally reached the end of the shift, and wearily climbed the stairs, she found her trunk sitting in the middle of her new room. Yes – when you worked for Fred Harvey Company on the railway – you were a member of the tribe, that tribe who looked after other members.

Before she had been in Deming a week – not even long enough to have a day off on Sundays, that distant past was recalled to her in an unexpected manner, through a conversation between a pair of customers in the lunchroom. Two travelling drummers in city-cut suits and lamentably garish waistcoats came in together, amongst the usual crowd, taking seats together and continuing their conversation – a conversation which seemed to be focused on headlines in a newspaper which one of them carried. They seemed quite interested in that story, for a reason which Sophia could not quite fathom. They asked for coffee, and ordered the cheapest meal possible: she ordered their cups and bustled away towards the kitchen, and as she went, she heard one say, in tones which combined a degree of gruesome relish with sanctimonious disapproval,
“… was ruined in the bust-up of the Marine National Bank, but went on living like a lord in a big house on Beacon Street…”
Her ears pricked up: Beacon Street? The Marine National Bank? Of course, there would have been many once-wealthy men ruined in the collapse of the Marine National Bank of New York, and surely there were Beacon Streets in other towns than Boston? When she returned with a tray off plates, she cast her eyes down on the newspaper, lying carelessly between the two drummers. Judging by what she could see of the banner across the top page, it was a newspaper from New York. She could read the garish headlines up-side down, the letters big and black: Wife and Child Drugged in Fatal Fire, and in slightly smaller letters, Accused in Horrific North Town Murder.
“… thought it was an accident, ‘o course,” the first drummer said. “And the house burned so hot, it wasn’t certain for days.”
“Shocking,” the second man tucked into his lunch, hardly looking at it. He seemed to have more of an appetite for scandal than for nourishment. “So when did they think something was amiss about it all?”
“Well, he’d been cut in the street by all of his friends, after he was brought in to be questioned the first time. And people thought there was something odd going on, anyway … Miss, may I have some more coffee?”
“Certainly,” Sophia replied, and signaled the girl with the tray of jugs and carafes. Curiosity did not in the least overwhelm her sense of devotion to Harvey strictures on unnecessary conversation with customers, especially during a stop by a train. She continued taking orders from other customers, ferrying trays from kitchen to lunch counter, contriving to pass by the two drummers with the intent of overhearing their conversation. To her disappointment, they were now talking about the trials of their journey, and the eccentricities of the customers they encountered. When the train whistle sounded the alert for departure, they both gobbled the last few bites of generous quarter-slices of apple pie, flung down a few coins where they had sat, and made as if to depart for the cashier’s desk.
“Excuse me, sir,” Sophia called after them. “You have forgotten your newspaper!”
“Already read it,” the drummer in the loudest suit called back, over his shoulder. “It’s yours, if you want it.”
“Thank you, sir!” she said, as the door closed behind them. She claimed the newspaper, rolled it under her arm. Now time to read at any length, although she sneaked a look when the lunch counter was clean and fresh-laid, awaiting customers from the next train.
Mr. Richard Brewer, of Beacon Street in Boston’s most prosperous neighborhood of Back Bay, was found dead by his own hand in the burned remains of his family home on Tuesday last … the remains of his wife and youngest son were also discovered among the wreckage of what had been the ancestral mansion of one of Boston’s most prominent families …
Sophia folded up the newspaper very small. “I need to go up to my room,” she said to the closest of the young waitresses in the lunchroom. “Just for a moment – I will return to help with laying out for the next train.”

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