04. August 2015 · Comments Off on Sunset & Steel Rails – Another Half-Chapter · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles

(Oh, yes – I’m just a writing fool this week – herewith another half a chapter of Sunset and Steel Rails – where Sophia Brewer Teague’s past catches up to her, through a most unexpected visitor)

Chapter 17 – The Man from Pinkerton

            The following Sunday morning, Sophia folded up one of her older shirtwaists into the largest of her reticules, and went to meet Mr. Steinmetz for the walk to church. It was almost the end of summer, and Miss Kitten had advanced in domesticated friendliness to the point where she would actually eat from the saucer, a mere ten inches from Mr. Steinmetz’s booted feet, and only look up for a single wary moment when Sophia opened the door.

“She is nearly tame,” Sophia remarked. She would rather feel the absence of Miss Kitten – tiny, and smoke-grey, but now so nearly domesticated that she could endure the brief touch of a human hand, scratching behind her delicate grey and pink-silk ears. “When are you going to take her to your house?”

“As soon as the roof is done, and the doors and windows installed,” Mr. Steinmetz stood, offering Sophia his elbow. “Next week, I shall begin the task of accustoming her to the basket. “Once the carpenters are done, and the place is quiet … I would not want her to be frightened by noise and run away. The coyotes are dreadful bold – I believe they would take a poor little cat in broad daylight.”

“Wait until your furniture is delivered,” Sophia advised. “For that will be another great festival of noise and disruption.”

“Excellent suggestion, Miss Teague.” Mr. Steinmetz patted her hand, where it lay in the crook of his elbow. “Now – are you ready for a riding lesson, this afternoon?”

“I believe so,” Sophia replied. She must have sounded apprehensive, for Mr. Steinmetz chuckled. “Don’t worry – I have brought the gentlest and most well-mannered of our ponies for your first lesson.”

“I fear that I may be too old to really learn a new skill,” Sophia worried, and Mr. Steinmetz chuckled again. “No – I did not learn properly until I was – oh, the age of eleven or twelve, but I was hardly out of the saddle from that time on. I am not half the teacher that my brother-in-law was, but I won’t be trying to teach you some of the trick-riding stunts that he did! It’s merely practice, to accustom you to the saddle, Miss Teague – that’s all.”


To her vague surprise – no, it was neither particularly difficult nor especially frightening, when she came down from having changed her dress in Lottie’s guest bedroom for her old shirtwaist and the split riding skirt which Lottie provided as she said she would. Mr. Steinmetz led the pony from the stable behind the Thurmond’s house, already saddled and bridled – as he had promised, a gentle and well-mannered beast. In the absence of a mounting block, Mr. Steinmetz made a stirrup-step of his hands and boosted her up into the saddle – where she felt faintly dizzy at first, sitting so far above the ground, tiny movements of the horse shifting underneath her reminding at every moment that she was sitting on the back of a live creature. Mr. Steinmetz then set each of her feet properly into the stirrups, and showed her how to hold the reins in her left hand and at the proper length, while Frank and Lottie Thurmond watched, hovering like protective parents over a much-loved child.

“Hold your hand palm-up,” Mr. Steinmetz instructed her. “One rein on either side of your first finger … that’s it. Now, close your fist. This little girl is neck-trained in the western fashion – so if you would have her go to the right, touch the rein against the left side of her neck. If you would have her go left – touch the rein to the right side of her neck. To have her stop, pull back evenly … gently now!” he added as Sophia attempted to follow his instructions. “Like that – and she will back up! No – just a gentle pull on the bit as she is moving.”

“How do I make her move?” Sophia asked; this was going to be a flat failure – riding a horse! And then she remembered that very first day in the Newton Harvey House. No, after that, she could do anything. Everyone rode horses in the west! Indians rode horses, boys who couldn’t spell their names rode horses, men rode horses everywhere and all over the country! No, now that she had already attempted it – perhaps it would come to her easily. She was one of these New Women.

“You nudge her ribs with your heels,” Mr. Steinmetz answered, “But be careful in this, for the more emphatically you do so, the faster she will go. If you would like, I will take her on a leading-rein until you become used to the balance and feel.”

“No – I shall start as I mean to go on,” Sophia replied, the example and memory of Great Aunt Minnie telling her about the feelings she had, before her first Abolitionist lecture; a mere woman, speaking in public – no, if Minnie had the nerve for that, than her niece must also for the relatively simpler challenge of riding a horse astride. She tentatively nudged the small and gentle cow-pony with her heels, and to her secret relief, the pony stepped forward.

“Good!” Mr. Steinmetz exclaimed, and with a small feeling of relieved triumph, Sophia directed the obedient pony to walk around, and around the Thurmond’s stable-yard.

“May I ride out with her to our lovely spring?” Sophia asked, feeling as if she glowed like an electric lantern from that small success.

“Yes, of course,” Mr. Steinmetz replied. “But as soon as you feel the slightest ache – ride in the buggy. You will feel the unaccustomed position and exercise … probably in the next few hours, rather than right away, but it will be painful.”

“I don’t care,” Sophia was enjoying this too much. She and Mr. Steinmetz rode ahead of the buggy, almost elbow to elbow. As always, she relished the short journey itself, the angular and jagged aspect of the mountains, the breeze in her face … and in some small way, the mastery of her previous apprehension.

“You have a natural seat,” Mr. Steinmetz observed, approvingly. “Do you feel up to a short canter? That’s a smooth enough gait for a beginner.”

“I do!” Sophia exclaimed. She nudged the pony’s flanks. To her exhilaration, the pony leaped forward – and it was like a bird flying on the edge of the wind, soaring and wheeling effortlessly. Mr. Steinmetz was at her side in a moment, looking between them, and laughing like a boy.

“What do you think?” He called, and Sophia answered, gasping,

“It’s marvelous – I feel like I could go on like this forever!”

They came up on the turn in the track which led to the spring, and slowed the horses to a walk again, Mr. Steinmetz still laughing.

“You don’t want to push too hard on the first day, Miss Teague – for you will feel it in the morning for certain.”

“I might at that,” Sophia admitted, flushed pink with the excitement of the brief canter, and her hair beginning to slide from it’s pins. “But I’m having so much fun now, that I don’t really care.”

“That’s the spirit!” He replied – and though he was correct, and Sophia did begin to feel the effects of unaccustomed exercise almost at once – no, she really didn’t care.

 * * *

“Miss T., There’s a man asking for you by name,” Elsie Watkins said, breathlessly. “And he didn’t say why; just that it was urgent that he speak to you. Life and death, he said.” The mid-morning train had just pulled out, leaving relative silence behind, a swift-dissipating streak of grey coal-smoke from the smokestack and the usual disorder in the dining room – a disorder being banished even as Elsie spoke. It was several weeks after Sophia’s first riding lesson, and the first cool weather of autumn had come on Deming.

“You have a smudge on your apron, Elsie,” Sophia reproved her, her eye sweeping the abandoned dining room. She couldn’t imagine who Elsie could mean. The room was empty of customers, even if only for the moment. “As soon as you have the last table cleared, go and change it at once. I don’t see anyone …”

“He’s in the office,” Elsie looked down, abashed. “Not in the parlor. He said it were a private matter an’ made me promise to be discreet. Oh, Miss T., there ain’t been trouble at home for one o’ the girls!”

“No – he would have asked for Mr. Loftus, as manager and he would have sent for me,” Sophia answered. Her heart seemed to skip a beat. Life and death – what could that mean, unless this man was being melodramatic. “Since he has asked for me, it must be a personal matter.”

“Oh, Miss T.,” Elsie’s eyes rounded. “Is there trouble at your home, maybe?”

“I don’t see how there could be,” Sophia answered with a brisk assurance which she barely felt herself. “I am an orphan, and with no close kin living. Did this man give you a name? Is he from Boston? Perhaps he was a friend of my family.”

“A Mr. Siringo,” Elsie replied. “He doesn’t sound like a Yankee at all; not like you, Miss. T. I would say he’s a Southerner, a Texan, perhaps.”

“I’d best not keep him waiting,” Sophia patted her hair. “I hope he does not have lengthy business. We have only an hour until the next train.”

The man waiting for her in Mr. Loftus’s office turned, as she opened the door. He had been looking out of the window, his gaze fixed on the endless sweep of desert beyond the station platform, and the mountains blue-violet in the distance, a ragged edge like torn blotting-paper against the sky.

“Mr. Siringo – Elsie said that you had a matter of importance to discuss with me,” Sophia closed the door behind her and the man turned around, seeing her for the first time. He reminded her of Fred Steinmetz at first glance; a wiry fellow, of about middle age, with regular, even refined features, adorned with a drooping mustache going quite grey. “I pray that you will be brief since we are always quite busy, as you might see.”

Mr. Siringo swept of his hat – a plain city bowler – and inclined his head most politely towards Sophia. She had long become accustomed to sizing up customers. She would have guessed that he was a gentleman of sorts; well but not flashily dressed. A lawyer, perhaps; discreet, professional, soft-spoken.

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance at last, Miss Brewer,” he answered. Sophia felt as if everything around her had shattered into splinters. She blinked, certain that nothing in her expression revealed anything but polite bafflement.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Siringo – I was told you wished to speak to Miss Teague. I am Miss Teague. If this is some kind of joke, I am not amused by it.”

Under the mustache, Mr. Siringo smiled; a kindly and fatherly smile. “I am certain you are not, Miss Brewer. You went to a great deal of trouble to hide yourself these last few years. I’m an agent for Pinkerton, working for a private client. I’m not blaming you in the least for your actions, although they have put me to a lot of work! Eight months it’s been,” Mr. Siringo added, feelingly.

“I can’t think why anyone would be looking for me,” Sophia held tightly to her composure. A Pinkerton! A private detective – what reason could someone have to go to all that trouble and expense, after all this time? Great Aunt Minnie was dead, Richard also dead by his own hand, if that newspaper account of the fire in the Beacon Street mansion was any thing to go by. “There’s no law that I have broken, other than going by another name. Explain your business, Mr. Siringo – who is this client?”

“Your nephew, Richard Eaton Brewer,” Mr. Siringo answered, very earnestly. “Should we go for a stroll along the platform outside, Miss Brewer? We can talk without being overheard.” He offered her his arm, and Sophie accepted it in silence, although she realized as soon as they were outside that her silence implied assent. She looked out at the desert – so familiar to her now. Boston, Beacon Hill, Aunt Minnie; it had all happened far away and long ago and to a person that she had once been, but was now longer.

They walked the length of the empty platform, out beyond earshot of anyone else.

“Richie … he was only nine, then.” She remarked presently. “I’m surprised that he remembers me at all.”

“He does,” Mr. Siringo assured her. “And with great fondness, if I am any judge. There were things which he overheard as a boy which disturbed him, although he did not realize the full import until much, much later. He’s a fine young man – he came into some small inheritances and decided to use them to try and clear his father’s name.”

“Clear his name of what?” Sophia demanded. Those memories of her last weeks in Boston curdled her blood and haunted nights when she was especially tired and distressed.

“Of a suspicion of murder,” Mr. Siringo explained. “There was talk in Boston at the time; quiet talk, as most thought well of your brother and sympathized over his misfortunes – but some began to think that it was altogether too convenient that you would do away with yourself in a fit of insanity and leave him in charge of an inheritance which would have been yours. Miss Minerva Vining said so, and others took note of suspicious coincidences. Your brother developed an unsavory reputation. He had a taste for …” Mr. Siringo seemed embarrassed. “…Women of the lower sort; administering savage beatings, as part of his customary congress. One woman died of it, but the prosecution went nowhere. The influence of powerful friend, you see.”

“I see,” Sophia nodded. “That never got into the Boston newspaper – although the New York scandal sheets hinted at it. I never came forward, after his death. I … I am content in my life. I wished to continue unmolested by the interest of the vulgar press. I also feared Richie’s guardian; I had the tenor of my brother’s most trusted friends, Mr. Siringo. I was certain Richie’s guardian would be of the same ilk.”

“You had nothing to fear,” Mr. Siringo answered. “His guardian is the headmaster of his school … as disinterested and charitable a gentleman as could be found anywhere. The only thing which spared your brother from charges of having murdered you was that there was no body to be found. Only your bonnet and mantle, pulled from the water’s edge.”

“I see,” Sophia nodded. “When I desperately needed help, the Teagues were the only ones who gave it to me. Declan threw my bonnet and mantle into the Charles, to set a false trail.”

“Agnes, who worked as a maid and Declan who did odd jobs?” Mr. Siringo nodded. “No one recollected their surname, and it took months for me to find them. I had reason to think you were alive, but had no notion of where you had gone. All I knew was a third-hand report, that a trusty man saw you onto the early morning train to Albany.”

“The Teagues lived in rooms in Old North Town, upstairs from a pawnbroker named Mendelson,” Sophia began, “They should have been easy enough to find!”

Mr. Siringo nodded, patiently. “Yes – but old Teague’s mind began to wander, and he was living with his daughter Mrs. Elton and her family in Cambridge. His two sons followed the silver boom to Colorado; it was the work of many months to ascertain their whereabouts, and persuade them to speak with me.” Mr. Siringo cleared his throat, an expression of mild reproach on his countenance. “Young Mr. Brewer at first feared that you were dead. One of those alarming incidents that he witnessed was his mother, angry at his father, saying that he was putting ‘too much’ into that tonic you were told to take. ‘You’ll kill her!’ was what his mother kept saying; she was frightened and his father was angry. He was frightened, too, believing that his father was poisoning you and there was nothing he could do, because he was only a child and no one would believe him.”

“Richard was poisoning me,” Sophia felt very tired. “With syrup of opium. We had it in the house for my mother, when she was dying of a growth in her chest. Richard secretly fed it to me in a tonic prescribed by the doctor, either to make me an addict, or to make me sick. It doesn’t matter at this point, Mr. Siringo. When did Richie come to believe he could clear his father’s name?”

“After a conversation with Mrs. Leticia Phelps; they met by chance at the sea-side and renewed old acquaintance.”

“Phelpsie? Great-aunt Minnie’s companion? I hope that she is well.” Sophia had not considered Phelpsie in years, and felt remorseful on that account.

“She is,” and Mr. Siringo had one of those mild smiles, half-concealed under his mustache again. “I can provide you with her current address, in Newport. She lives in retirement, sharing a cottage with another older lady. At first, Mrs. Phelps intended to reassure young Mr. Brewer that you had not been murdered. When I came to interview her at the beginning of this case, I asked how she could be so very certain, as she had never laid eyes on you since the night you came to Miss Vinings’ house and then went away almost at once. Miss Phelps replied that she only had Miss Vining’s word for it. ‘But,’ she told me, ‘Their serving man assured Miss Minnie that he saw Sophia onto the Third Class coach, early the following morning, and he is a trustworthy man!’ So, of course, I had to search out any of your old servants … I believe I talked to every cook and housekeeper for every old family in Back Bay, until I found one who remembered them well, through having gone to the same parish church.”

“They were so kind.” Sophia mused. “And my brother could have done so much harm to them, if he ever suspected anything. We agreed that for safety of all, it would be best never to write, or seek them out, once I got away. But they were in my prayers, always. You have told me that you found Old Tim and Siobhan – what of Agnes and Declan?”

“Agnes Teague is in a cloistered order of nuns,” Mr. Siringo answered, very readily. “I was not able to speak with her directly. In a written communication, she said only that she would pray for the repose of your soul … leaving it a matter of conjecture if she believed your soul was located in this world or in the next. She was remarkably cagy on that score. I believe she would have endured the worst tortures devised by the Inquisition without betraying you by a single word. Considering her profession, she would have considered that an honorable martyrdom.”

Sophia laughed a little, with the fondness of memory. “She would be glad to hear of your good opinion. She was the first to suspect what was going on, with the tonic and the opium syrup. What of Declan and Seamus?”

“Declan Teague,” Mr. Siringo coughed and cleared his throat. “This is the slightly embarrassing part. He is a Pinkerton agent, now. The wooden foot hampers him but little – he cannot do undercover work very often, of course. His specialty is railway work … organized robbery gangs, targeting the railways. He found your ring in a secondary market in Kansas City, once I had distributed the word about it, and copies of the design. It’s been passed around to a number of owners since you sold it there, Miss Brewer – It’s a memorable piece of jewelry, and much sought after.”

“How did you come to find it?” Now Sophia was astounded. Mr. Siringo extended his elbow and they went at a decorous pace, down the length of the platform.

Comments closed.