04. July 2015 · Comments Off on From the Current WIP – Sunset and Steel Rails · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles(Yes, I have squeezed in a bit of writing on this holiday weekend – another half  chapter of Sunset and Steel Rails; how a proper young Bostonian became a Harvey Girl in the 1880s, went west, and discovered … her destiny as well as certain things about her family.)

Chapter 15 – Haunted

The attempted robbery of the Deming Harvey house would prove a nine-day wonder, long-remembered and recalled by everyone who had been present, every detail discussed and agreed upon. All agreed that Mr. Lloyd had been stalwart beyond belief; faced with two armed men and a demand for the takings for the day, and that Mr. Steinmetz had acted the very part of the hero in so promptly realizing the gravity of the situation and taking swift action in dispatching the most threatening of the two robbers.

“Miss Teague might have been harmed as well!” Selina Burnett exclaimed with much indignation. “Sophia dear, you look so dreadfully pale, as if you would faint away directly – do you want us to call for the doctor? He will attend on you at once, I am certain ….”

“No!” The vehemence in her own voice startled her very much; she shook off Selina’s concern and Mr. Steinmetz arm, feeling as if she were being slowly strangled in the cotton-wool of everyone’s insistence that she must be distraught. This was too much like how everyone had talked to her when Lucius Armitage had broken their engagement, insisting that she was upset, ill, sad – when she felt nothing in the least. “No, I don’t need the doctor, or to go upstairs and lie down. I am perfectly well.”

“You are certain?” Selina and Mr. Steinmetz both regarded her with some doubt – after all, the sheriff’s deputies had only just removed the body of the dead robber and taken away the live one in handcuffs, commanding Mr. Steinmetz himself to follow shortly, to answer questions.

Only Selina spoke, “I still think you…”

“I am fine, Selina – and there is a train coming in. I would really rather be working.”

“Sometimes it’s the best thing, to get back on the horse that threw you,” Mr. Steinmetz agreed. “But may I come and speak with you later tonight? If you like, come and sit with me on the platform when I bring Miss Kitten her late supper.”

“I might like that,” Sophia agreed and gratefully escaped to her regular duties. The day might have been disrupted for a time by the robbery – but hungry passengers cared little for that, only for a good meal, well and attentively served.

That evening, her shift completed, she slipped out of the kitchen door, saying that she needed some fresh air. A little light sifted onto the platform through the station and Harvey House windows. Not very much to her surprise, Mr. Steinmetz sat on the same bench where he had sat on Sunday morning, watching Miss Kitten eating minced cooked chicken from what looked like the same saucer. Only, this time, the dish was moved from the edge of the platform to the center. Beyond the overhanging station roof, the dark sky stretched to infinity, spangled with stars.  A cool breeze fanned her cheeks, bringing with it the scent of dust, of sagebrush dampened by a brief wandering rain shower earlier in the day.

Miss Kitten, startled by the opening door and Sophia’s quiet footsteps, looked up from the saucer, hesitating on the brink of diving for safety under the platform. But since Sophia did nothing more than sit on the bench, a little apart from Mr. Steinmetz, the cat returned to eating.

“She is a little tamer today,” Sophia observed. “Are you moving her dish a little closer, each day?”

Mr. Steinmetz nodded. “And when she eats from the dish at my feet, and lets me touch her … I will find a covered basket, and put her dish into that. Once she is accustomed to the basket, and to being petted, then I will take her to the ranch. She will have the time of her life, hunting for mice.”

“Will your house be finished, then?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps not. The workmen have only begun making mud-brick this week, now that the first well is finished. But there is always grain where there are horses, and where there is grain, there are rats and mice.”

“She looks very much like a beautiful grey kitten that I wanted to keep when I was a girl,” Sophia sighed. “But my mother would not permit me to have pets. She was afraid … well, afraid that I would be scratched, or something like that,” she added hastily.

“You didn’t live on a farm,” Mr. Steinmetz replied. “There are cats enough on a farm … dogs, too; always dogs. My old pard in my days in California, he had a little terrier that went everywhere with him. Good to have something in your place that’s glad to see you, when you return. How was the remainder of your day, Miss Teague, after all the excitement over the robbers?”

“About the same as every other day in the Harvey House,” Sophia leaned her back against the hard bench, grateful for being able to sit down, for the wandering cool breeze and Mr. Steinmetz’ undemanding company. “Very long and very tiring. Did you satisfy the Sheriff with your answers to his questions?”

“Pretty much; it seems that the dead man is a known desperado in the Territory, with a long, long list of offenses against his name. Escaped from a couple of jails suspected or convicted for robbery, stock thieving, house-breaking, assault, arson, claim-jumping … everything except forgery, which the sheriff says requires a modicum of education. This one just had just crazy-mean in him, like a rabid dog. The young chap was just one of those fools who drifted into bad company. He’ll do a term in the territorial prison, and if he learns a lesson from it – he might yet make something better of himself.”

“Such as not to disguise himself as a woman … or go about in the company of human mad dogs.” Sophia couldn’t repress a shudder. “He had such a hateful look to him … eyes like pebbles, with no expression in them at all. He would have thought no more of shooting Mr. Lloyd than of squashing a bug. I could not believe what I was seeing at first, and then that I would see eyes like…” she closed her mouth, just barely escaping mention of Richard, and the horror renewed. That momentary vision of him from six years before, superimposed over the presence of the robber in the hallway that very day, had shaken her deeply. Now she wondered if she would awake tonight from that dream of Richard beating her, throwing her to the ground and choking her. She had not been ridden by that nightmare in months. “I fear that I will dream about this matter, tonight.”

But Mr. Steinmetz only remarked, in casual sympathy, “Ah – then you have seen such before, hein? I did, as a boy, when Vati had sent me to live with my sister and her husband. All I could think was that I saw a man, with the evil eyes of a wolf. He was a horse-thief and certainly a murder, which I know for certain. But one had only to look at his eyes, when he was on a spree for killing to know that. Mutti had told us fairy tales of such, when we were still back in Bavaria. The comfort of such tales as she told us is that those creatures do receive their just reward, though it might take years to bring such about.”

“What happened to that man, whom you knew?” Sophia asked. Yes, it was an obscure comfort to think that there was some shred of divine justice in the world – that evil men with the eyes of wild wolves, or the look of cold stone in their eyes – might eventually have justice meted out to them.”

“Someone shot him,” Mr. Steinmetz answered. “Shot him dead in the streets of Fredericksburg, two years after the War was over.  And no one ever knew who pulled the trigger, yet all agreed privily that whoever had done that deed had performed a generous public service. Me, I’m a straightforward man; what I do, I’ll own to doing in the face of anyone who asks. So … Miss Teague – where had you seen such a man before, and has justice ever been properly done to him?”

“It was in Boston,” Sophie answered, warmed by his sympathy, but also guarded against saying too much; was there anyone whom she could trust entirely, since leaving Boston? Perhaps Laura, in those early days with Fred Harvey Company. Walk away and close the door. I am an orphan, without any brothers or sisters. “He was a near relation,” she confessed after a long silence in which they both watched Miss Kitty gobble down the last of her meal, and scamper cat-like, under the edge of the platform, into whatever safe burrow she had. “Once very close to me, but … he had the same look, the same expression in his eyes, when it came to tormenting the weak and helpless. He was a well-respected man in Boston society, with some wealth and many friends, so he continued in his way for many years. Eventually, I think it came out … and he was snubbed in the streets. I read in the newspapers long afterwards that he killed himself, after setting the house on fire to burn around him.”

“You see then, Miss Teague? The devil claims his own, in good time.”

“Yes, but he took his wife and two sons with him in the burning house,” Sophia replied. “I wonder if there was some taint in the blood … and his sons or I would also show the same taint in time …”

“Men are not like cows or dogs,” Mr. Steinmetz shook his head. “Neither are women. Oh, perhaps in a little way, as far as an appearance goes, for light hair or dark, or their features – that will carry on, generation after generation. You have only to look at my sister’s children, or their Vining cousins to see the family likenesses. But I have known too many brothers, or sons of fathers whose character and temperament was completely dissimilar – improvident wastrels with worthy sons, and sensible men with shiftless and quarrelsome brothers – to wholly believe in inheritable character. We are each our own man … or woman.”

Sophia considered his words for a long moment; Richard’s character was an anxiety which had begun to haunt her. How, with all the advantages of family and position, had he been capable of such horrific deeds – even from earliest childhood, given that Great-Aunt Minnie’s account of Richard and the birds was correct.

“I hope that you are correct in that matter,” she said, at long last. “You are very wise – experienced in the practical things of life. Mr. Steinmetz – I do believe that you must have received some fairer portion of that capacity between your twin and yourself than you believe.”

“Then will you sleep soundly tonight, Miss Teague?”

“I hope that I shall,” Sophia replied, as she stood. No, she had best not linger any more; Selina would be closing and locking the upstairs door into their quarters in another five minutes. Mr. Steinmetz rose, just as she did. “Thank you for … indulging my megrims, sir. It might seem little to you, but I am grateful for your consideration. Today was … extremely distressing.”

“Always a pleasure to be of service to you, Miss Teague,” he replied lightly, although Sophia sensed that there was some strong emotion underlying it – but he did nothing more than take her hand and kiss it with Continental gallantry. “And we shall meet here on Sunday, at the appropriate hour, so that I may escort you to services at St. Lukes’?”

“If course,” she replied, with demure good humor. “It seems that you were correct – that Deming is still a very rough frontier town.”




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