05. September 2015 · Comments Off on Sunset and Steel Rails – Chapter 21 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(Coming down to the final chapters of one of my next books – of Sophia Brewer Teague, who came west as a Harvey Girl and married Fredi Steinmetz – long written off by his family as a confirmed bachelor – and confronted face to face an old and long-hidden family scandal. She is a closer relation to the Vinings of Austin than everyone had assumed, thanks to Race Vining’s bigamous marriage to Margaret Becker. Sophia is also about to meet with her nephew Richie after sixteen years … but all of those old and not so old scandals are about to become secondary to mere survival. For Sophia is in Galveston, on a certain weekend in September, 1900….)

Chapter 21 – Between the Living and the Dead

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles            “What did you know of this, Fred?” Sophia waited until the household had dispersed for the night to reproach her husband in private. The suite of rooms allotted to them were at the very top of the house, and rather small, but well-fitted to a large family – and the largest of the rooms boasted a small balcony from which one could see the stretch of water dividing Galveston from the mainland. On clear nights, one could see lights twinkling on the mainland, far, far away. Sophia appreciated it most particularly as it allowed them to resume their habit of sitting together and watching the evening fall. “That my grandfather had availed himself of two wives – my grandmother being one, and Peter Vining’s mother the other?

Fred and his nephews had finally been run to ground at one of his old haunts along the Strand. By the time he returned Sophia had composed herself, and then the household had gathered for supper – and she could not bear to speak of this before anyone else. Magda Becker, Horrie and Peter Vining had all assured her of their silence and discretion – but how could Fred not have known or suspected?

“I didn’t know for certain,” Fred answered, slowly. “But I did wonder if it weren’t something of the sort. I heard plenty of stories in the earlies about men having one wife back in the East, or in San Francisco, and another one in the gold-camps. It’s almost a joke, you know – sailors who have a wife in every port – that kind of understanding, especially when you go hundreds of miles from where anyone knows who you are.” Unconsciously, he echoed his sister’s words. “Young bucks, thinking only of the day … they don’t consider anything or anyone else, much. Stupid and unthinking, I know, but that’s the long and short of it. Sopherl, darling,” and here he took her hand and brought it to his lips. “That your grandfather couldn’t keep his trousers properly buttoned in the presence of a pretty girl is none of my business, and not a speck of a reflection on you. And besides – I don’t care and never did. Not about this, or your swine of a brother. It’s only yourself and the dear little ones that I have a duty and a right to care for.” He kept her hand prisoned in his, for a long while, as they sat silent together. The last apricot of sunset had long faded in the west, and now the pale stars winked into view. The distant roar of the surf, rolling in against the shoreline blocks away seemed almost louder than the sound of someone playing a piano in the parlor on the other side of the house. Sophia, unexpectedly comforted, leaned her head on Fred’s shoulder.

“They do look enough like another set of twins,” she said, “Min and Robbie – don’t they?”

“They do, indeed.” Fred drew Sophia a little closer to him. “All of our darlings asleep, then?”

“Min is reading by candle-light,” Sophia replied. “But the others are asleep. Even Baby is asleep – for now.”

“Tomorrow,” Fred suggested after a moment, “Let’s take them all to the Midway – on the streetcar. Let them wade in the water, build sand-castles, and eat salt-water taffy and ice cream until they are sick of it. Make it a perfect holiday, umm?”

“Yes,” Sophia agreed. It seemed a lovely prospect, a day at the seashore with the children. The prospect of meeting with Richie again – all of that had unexpectedly diminished, into a matter so minor that it wasn’t worth troubling her mind over.



3 September, 1900


Dear Lottie:

At last I have a few moments to write to you! I know that you must have been wondering how we have fared during our stay in Galveston, and I apologize for not being able to write sooner than today. F.’s family have been so gracious and welcoming, in spite of some initial awkwardness. Dear F. has been so long a bachelor and a rolling stone; with the exception of his sister and younger nephew, all have been astounded to see him newly reborn as a devoted family man. We have discovered new ties of affection, and some older ties of blood which seem to have been closer than first was assumed. More of this on our return. I have met several times with my old friend Laura and her children, at her dear little house, and once for a luncheon together at the Harvey House – where we laughed and laughed over being guests there, instead of attending to the tables. Such wonderful conversations and reminiscences!

The wedding was a most splendid one, celebrated in the sanctuary of one of the oldest and most notable churches in Galveston, one founded primarily by German immigrants – indeed, the ceremony was in German entirely, as both the bride and groom’s families are of that nation, and have long been members. The sanctuary was decorated with ivy, orange blossoms, and white jasmine mixed with roses, which gloriously perfumed the air. The bride and her attendants carried bouquets of those same flowers, and the smallest attendants wore garlands of the same in their hair. The bridal gown was perfection itself – in the latest fashion, but adorned with inset panels of antique French brocade which came from a cherished but unfortunately disintegrating heirloom – a gown first worn by her grandmother, and then by many thrifty female relations for their own nuptials. There was one rather startling incident – just before ceremonies began, a pair of nuns entered the church, very quietly, and sat in the last pew. I noticed this, and made mention to F. – and he said that one of the nuns was Magda Becker’s eldest daughter – his niece, who had converted to the Catholic faith as a young woman and entered the Ursuline sisterhood! How astonishing – I wished very much to meet and converse with her, as I had a very dear friend in Boston who also became a nun, but she slipped away from the gathering before I could do so. She is a teacher at the Catholic orphanage, at the easternmost edge of the island.

The ceremonies were followed by a lavish ball at Cousin G.’s residence, where a dance floor had been laid out over part of the lawn, and a tuneful orchestra played for most of the evening. Even the older children had their fun, being permitted to remain up and dance until the middle of the evening, and to nibble as they pleased from a sumptuous buffet laid out in the dining room. Oh, I cannot tell you how marvelous was the sight of a constellation of paper Japanese lanterns swaying in the cool autumn breeze, under the brilliant stars – the music and the colors of the ladies’ gowns, swirling across the dance floor! I danced many times with dear F. – and then with other gentleman, while he danced with the ladies – such occasions are what I most longed for as a girl; splendid balls, handsome beaux and music – always music!

Of course, I needed to excuse myself now and again to tend to the children, especially Baby Christian, who did demand his usual meals, regardless of the occasion! Mrs. Jane and I were similar in our absences from the ball, to tend to our children, but I vow that the very exhilaration of the day and the quietude of our own daily lives in comparison lent us sufficient energy. As dawn came, we saw the bride and groom off at the docks to begin their honeymoon journey – a sizable party throwing confetti and rice and cheering them as the steamship departed. They are traveling to their ancestral country, to spend some months among the magnificent castles and quaint villages. I do not consider myself to be envious – do not mistake my enthusiasm for description for any envy on my part, dear Lottie. My wedding was most perfect, in itself. Dear F. and I, when recovered from the day’s exertions, took the children by streetcar, across the Island to the outer shore, for a day which I relished just as much as the evening.

We were planning to begin our return journey on Friday – but I have just received a telegram from Richie, that he is delayed until the following day. This presents the necessity of an adjustment to our plans. The train and the parlor cars for our party is already scheduled, and at this late date there is no possibility of amendment – and the children were so looking forward to continued association with their cousins, and the pleasures of the family palace car! We can hardly bear to disappoint them in this, for it may be some considerable time before they have a similar opportunity. So – F. departs as planned on Friday, with the children, save Min and Baby Christian and I. I will meet Richie on Saturday – and depart on Monday, taking a Pullman berth as far as San Antonio, there to catch up to F. and the children. We will remain for some days in San Antonio, and then return to Deming and home. As pleasant as this excursion has been, I long for the quiet of our home, and the regular routine.

Until then, my best to you and to Frank



* * *


On Thursday, Sophia and Fred made a last excursion to the shore with the children,

relishing the cooler temperatures which autumn brought; the sky was the purest of blue, and the fresh salt-smelling breeze touched the sea with sparkling whitecaps, although the water itself seemed as warm as bathwater. It was the most perfect of days; Sophia thought with sentimental regret of how it would be their last day in Galveston, now that all the excitement and celebration of the wedding was over. Now came the return journey – and that face to face encounter with Richie, at long last. She was glad that it would be a relatively private meeting – apart from the family. There would be too much to explain; to Richie about Horace Vining’s second family in Texas, and to Fred’s family about Richard.

At the very last minute as Fred and the children, with the Beckers and Vinings and all prepared to board the parlor cars at the foursquare brick tower of Galveston’s Union station – he looked at her with sudden sharp attention, as he stood just beyond the gate to the parlor car’s observation porch..

“Sopherl – do you want me to remain here with you until Monday? Magda and Anna can see to the children…”

“No – dearest Fred, they are our children; your sister is tired, and Cousin Anna has done so much already. Min and Baby and I will be along on Monday’s train.” Sophia spoke with confidence – after all, she had often been parted from Fred in time of their marriage, and never felt the slightest worry. He had business to do with the ranch which sometimes took him weeks and days … but then, a niggling little voice reminded her – that on those previous occasions, she had been home at the ranch, among folk that she trusted, and who looked to her as the wife of the ranch-owner – the patron, as the Mexican drovers called Fred

“You’re certain?” he still looked doubtful, even as he kissed her with especial tenderness. “Even traveling all that way by yourself?”

“As if I have never traveled alone on a train before!” she said. He leaned down to embrace her one last time, laughing. “Wednesday, then. If you aren’t on the first train from Galveston, I’ll come back all the way and fetch you myself. But George and Amelie – they’ll look after you and Min and Baby, whatever happens.”

“They are the kindest and most considerate hosts,” Sophia agreed, “But I cannot help thinking they will be relieved when their house at last empties of guests and they can return to their own routine of days. I know that I would be – as happy as I am to extend our hospitality.”

“Very likely, but they would never admit that by a word or gesture,” Fred scooped up Min for a kiss, and setting her down, dropped another on Baby Christian’s forehead. “Goodbye my little chicks – I will see you soon.” Far ahead, the train’s steam whistle blew, and the cars lurched – and they were away, her children waving from behind the windows of the parlor – Carlotta, the twins and little Fred Harvey. Sophie followed the departing train for a few steps along the platform, and then in her mind’s eye – seeing it roll out across the long trestle which crossed the bay.

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