30. August 2012 · Comments Off on From The Quivera Trail – Chapter 9: A Sky Full of Stars · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West · Tags: , , , , ,

(From the current work in progress, which follows the experiences of Dolph Becker and his English bride, Isobel. Many of the secondary characters are from the Adelsverein Trilogy, or from Deep In the Heart. With luck and a bit, The Quivera Trail will be released late in 2013.)

“So, what did you think of her?” Hansi Richter asked of his sister-in-law late that evening. The tall windows on either side of the study stood opened to the breeze which wandered through, bearing with it the smell of the salt-sea and the night-blooming jasmine shrubs which had been planted under the windows of the house which overlooked West Bay. The faint sounds of piano music came from the parlor at the other side of the house, and the sounds of laughter, where the younger element had rolled back the parlor carpet, and brought out the latest sheet music from the east. Hansi uncorked the decanter which sat on a silver tray on the sideboard, and Magda Vogel Becker sniffed in disapproval.
“She is now Dolphchen’s wife,” she answered. “I had best think well of her.”

They had known each other all their lives, having been born in the same little Bavarian village of Albeck. Hansi had once courted her, the stepdaughter of Christian Steinmetz, the clockmaker of Ulm, whose ancestral acres were adjacent to those few owned by Hansi’s father. Thirty years and a lifetime ago, they had come from there to Texas, following the promises of the Mainzer Adelsverein; Vati Steinmetz, his wife and twin sons, his stepdaughter Magda and his daughter Liesel and her husband. Years and lives ago … now Hansi chuckled, and drew on his pipe, which glowed briefly in the twilight. Beyond the tall windows, with their blowing muslin curtains, the sky in the west still held the pale golden flush of a departing sunset.
“But what were your first thoughts, eh?” Hansi persisted, and Magda’s strong-featured, intelligent countenance bore on it an expression of fond exasperation.
“I thought – God in Heaven, he has not brought a wife, he has found three sad little orphans, gathered them up and brought them home – just as he has always brought home those poor starving dogs! Where did he find that skinny little lad, Hansi? In some English gutter, I think – and then he felt sorry for him. They all looked so terribly frightened – even Isobel, my new daughter. Are we that fearsome in our aspect, Hansi?”
“You have your moments, Margaretha,” Hansi answered, vastly amused, and Magda snorted.
“But why did he do this, Hansi – do you have any idea? Why did he want to marry the daughter of a First? We are plain people at heart; I cannot see for a moment what my son saw in her, or any advantage in marrying a woman so far outside of what we know. He had his pick of the daughters of our friends … I would that he had married someone of our own kind, like Charley Nimitz’s Bertha.”
Hansi grinned. “He’s a man, Margaretha – and a damned good-looking one. The daughter of a First or a peasant-farmer; they’re all the same in their shifts … and between the sheets. Perhaps she’s uncommonly lively in that respect.”
“You’re disgusting, Hansi,” Magda answered, without any particular heat. In truth, Magda sometimes felt oddly honored that Hansi should converse with her without reservation or guard upon his tongue, as if she was one of his men friends or associates … or sometimes as Dolph’s father would have done, in the privacy of the marriage bed. Yes, she could imagine Carl Becker – fifteen years buried in a grave in a corner of the orchard that he had planted and cherished – saying something of the sort. She could almost hear his voice, see him in candlelight with the bedding fallen to his naked waist … No. Magda wrenched her thoughts from that image. She continued. “And a ladies’ maid – indeed, what earthly use will she have for a ladies’ maid, in our summer in the hills. To assist her in dressing for the garden, for a day of weeding … or to put her apron upon her, when we retire to the kitchen to skim the cream and make cheese?” Hansi chuckled again and drew on his pipe.
“The maid? She’s a pretty little thing, too – and if I noticed it, so will the lads. I don’t think she’ll be a maid for long, in any and either case. Ah, well – Lise will be thrilled no end. There will be at least three or four occasions for your new daughter to dress in all her furbelows and fashions. Every woman of good family in San Antonio will be calling, just to see the daughter of a real First. My wife is probably already planning a whole series of parties and balls … although she needs an excuse, eh?” He puffed on his pipe, and the embers glowed briefly red, as the door to his study opened, admitting his daughter Anna.

“The boys are in bed at last,” she dropped gracefully onto the leather-upholstered sofa. “And Peter is finishing with reading their nightly bedtime story to them. Such a day … so what do you think of Dolphchen’s wife, Auntie? They were made for each other, I think. Horses and dogs, and cows, oh my. They have already gone upstairs, pleading the exhaustion of the journey as an excuse to retire early. But a good sign – they have been married only a short time. That is expected, but I think they are fond. The young ones are in the parlor, dancing to the latest music-hall songs. The prospect exhausts me. Also, Horrie plays the piano abominably.”
“I do not pretend to know if that is a basis for a marriage,” Magda answered, austerely. “But I would hope so.
“A Lucifer, Papa, if you would be so kind.” Anna opened the beaded reticule in her lap, and took out a small leather tobacco pouch and a roll of cigarette papers. She deftly rolled one for herself, and held it out towards Hansi, who struck a patent match. When it was well alight, Anna blew a trickle of smoke out of her mouth, and Magda observed.
“I wish you had not taken up that habit, Annchen – it’s very unseemly.”
“Papa and the other men love their pipes,” Anna drawled. “Tt is a very small and pleasurable vice, after all. And the doctors say it is soothing for the lungs. Why should women not indulge in the same pleasures?” The study door opened and closed softly, admitting her husband.
“Miss Lizzie is a bad influence on you,” Peter Vining observed. He leaned down from his considerable height to kiss Magda’s cheek, and then even farther to kiss his wife’s, before setting onto the other half of the sofa, with a sigh that mixed pleasant exhaustion with plain affection. “So, what are we planning? Lottchen and Mr. Bertrand, I know …”
“She may marry when she is eighteen,” Magda interjected, with a severe expression which brooked no argument. That youngest and most precious of her children had formed an attachment to this English foreigner … who at least seemed to be of an upright nature, and one with an inheritance intended to invest in American cattle. The uncle who made Sebastian Bertrand his heir had made that plain, and made a personal appeal to Magda that his nephew should be looked after. He was a good and well-spoken lad … and yet, this was Lottie whom he wished to marry, and Lottie wished to marry him, and had moped after him for months, until Magda was out of all patience with her normally sweet-tempered and affectionate daughter.
“That is four years from now,” Hansi chuckled. “Time enough for him to set himself up in the cattle business, not so? And to take his time also, in building a house for your dearest Lottie in the wild country of the Palo Duro.”
“At least as good a house as my husband built for me,” Magda answered – again, that never-vanished twist of grief in her heart. “Of stone, even if it has to hauled overland from Fort Belknap and a proper stone-mason sent from Friedrichsburg. And that is my final word.” She added, as Anna laughed indulgently.
“Auntie, the Indians are vanquished and confined to their reserves in Oklahoma … there is no need any more, for a house to be built as stoutly as a fortress! This summer, Mr. Goodnight is taking his own wife – and his investor, Mr. Adair, and Mrs. Adair, too – to make their establishment there.”
“Never the less, this is what I wish for my daughter,” Magda answered. “And Dolphchen will train him up in the proper way of managing cattle and the ranch.”
“And so,” Hansi surveyed the company gathered in his study through a cloud of pipe-smoke. “Will your new daughter accompany Dolphchen on his excursion to the Palo Duro, and establish a new fashion for a honey-moon journey? The daughter of a First, following the trail of cattle…”
“I have done so, Papa.” Anna blew a mouthful of smoke in her father’s direction, and her husband chuckled, reminiscently. “And it was a most splendid experience … there is nothing for establishing a basis for a good marriage, like seeing one’s husband, hatless and cursing, as he attempts to coax a cow knee-deep from a pool of mud.”
“You were up to your knees in the mud, too,” Peter added. “And saying words that I was glad the hands didn’t understand.”
“It was a cow worth nearly fifty dollars to the brokers in Dodge City,” Anna’s face held the same austere expression that it did when she did accounts. “We did not get to where we are by being careless about such things. I think our new cousin will expect to go with Dolphchen. When we withdrew after supper, she said something about wishing to see more of this America… that Dolphchen had rushed them here so fast that she hardly had a chance to see anything, not even the Philadelphia Exposition.”
“Well then, this will be her chance,” Hansi chuckled again. “You must take her in hand, Annchen – and let her know what to expect.”
“When are they expecting to leave for the Palo Duro?” Magda asked, with mild curiosity, and Peter answered, “Onkel Fredi wrote that the cattle will be ready by the first week in July. The trail will only be half the length that it is to Kansas in any case. He still thought to make up a list of necessities – you know Fredi and his lists of necessary things. ”
“Besides moving the herd, your son and young Bertrand must also set up the new ranch headquarters before winter,” Hansi rumbled. “You know what that means – a year and more of supplies, a couple of wagons full of sawn lumber, all that is the needful for building a house, a barn for the horses, and quarters for the hands. Young Dolph will see that he has everything in hand by the time winter sets in … by next summer, when the cows have calved, we’ll know if young Bertrand will have the skills, and has earned the respect of the hands …”
“All winter, in that wild place,” Anna shuddered delicately. “I would go mad, with nothing but the wind in the grass. And cold … it is cold beyond words. The snow comes down so thick, and the wind blows it like sand. In twenty minutes everything is frozen hard, where it was as mild as spring not an hour before. You are setting Mr. Bertrand a hard test, Papa. And your cows, too.”
“Young men need hard testing,” Hansi answered. “As for the welfare of the cattle, I have consulted with Mr. Goodnight – the canyons of the Palo Duro provide shelter, even in the worst winter. They will thrive … and so will young Bertrand … I think. In any case, we will leave him with some experienced hands and a good foreman, too.” He drew on his pipe and added. “After all, we have our own investment in this to consider – not so?”

They spent a week in Galveston, for which Isobel was grateful. During the day, her husband and the men of the family had business matters to attend, of which they explained very little. It did pique Isobel’s curiosity though – that both the acerbic Anna and Dolph’s formidable mother seemed to be much taken up in whatever business it was, although she herself hesitated to ask very much about it, and no one seemed much inclined to tell her of those concerns. During the day, Isobel was left to the company of Lottie; in itself quite enjoyable, for the girl was but three years younger than Isobel, although so forward in her address and spirit that she seemed often much older.
“La!” Isobel exclaimed to Jane several mornings after their arrival, as Jane buttoned the back of her day-dress. “It seems as if I have been traveling for months, if not years … when shall we arrive at home, Lottie? Your family home, the stone house in the hills that my husband told me of?”
“Not for another while,” Lottie answered. She was sitting on the edge of the bed in the suite of rooms set aside for guests, busily investigating the contents of Isobel’s jewel-case. “We shall have to go to San Antonio first … to Onkel Hansi’s house … and only then home for the summer. Everyone will want to meet you, you see – before Dolph and Cuz go north with the cattle to Seb’s ranch in the Palo Duro. Oh – this is lovely! Opals – Auntie Liesel has a wonderful parure of opals and diamonds set in gold that Uncle Hansi gave her … the necklace comes apart to make two bracelets, a broach and a hair ornament … but this is much more elegant. And such enormous pearls … Mama does not think I should wear any jewelry but plain little pearls.”
“My mother has a magnificent set of them,” Isobel smiled into the mirror. Lottie was sitting with her legs carelessly drawn up under her, like a schoolchild. “They came down through her family – and are famous. They were supposed to have been a gift from Queen Elizabeth – and Mama lent them to me to wear at the ball where I first danced with your brother …”
“I haven’t danced yet with Sebastian at a ball,” Lottie ventured wistfully. “I suppose I shall, once we arrive in San Antonio. Auntie Liesel lives for a party, and I suppose that she has already engaged an orchestra for dancing and sent out invitations. But Mama will not let me wear any pearls but a simple necklace … or stay up past midnight! I wish that she might – Cousin Anna says that when she and Auntie Rosalie were girls, she remembers that Mama and Papa would dance through the night at the grand Fourth of July celebrations. They used to have a whole day of parades, and competitions, and then dancing until morning … and my Papa was so handsome and gallant that Mama was quite envied.”
“It sounds quite wonderful,” Isobel answered, although secretly she could not imagine that gaunt, plain woman who was her mother-in-law dancing through the night with anyone, let alone a well-favored man. “Your father … what was he like, Lottie? Your brother says so very little about him – he talks rather to me of Uncle Hansi.”
“I don’t know,” Lottie replied, wistfully. “I never knew him, for he died before I was born. All I know was what my sister and brothers and Cuz say: he looked rather like Cuz, but was more like Dolph in manner. I wish more than anything that I did know him. A father is a wonderful thing to have, Bell … you must love yours very well.”
“I do,” Isobel sighed, and her own expression in the mirror was also wistful. “Mine own father was my most faithful champion in all the world … before I married your brother, of course. I wish still that he were closer to me. He would like Texas … given any opportunity, he would design and undertake to build a better bridge to the mainland and any number of railways. Papa likes to … build things.”
“I miss my own father,” Jane remarked, unexpectedly. “He died of the flux when I was ten, but I recall him very well. I wish that he had lived.” Jane’s pale face blushed a deep red, and Isobel wondered absently what had gotten into her; Jane who was as mum as a mouse, when she and Isobel were not alone.
“So do I,” Lottie sighed. “Everyone remembers him, but me – which is very vexing. I make up stories in my head about him, which I am sure are far from the truth that everyone else recalls. But it is all that I have – you are both fortunate in having memories to treasure.” Lottie’s face reflected a moment of melancholy, and then brightened. “Shall we go for a walk along the shore this afternoon with your wolf-dogs? Cousin Horrie can come with us – we’ll walk as far as we may, and carry a picnic with us! Jane can come, too. There is a place I know where we can gather the loveliest shells and sea-glass.”
“I would so enjoy that,” Isobel answered, although she thought that it sounded rather like a nursery excursion.

She would rather have gone for a ride, but when she had asked about that possibility the night before, her husband had only chuckled and explained that the only horses in the stable were those trained for the carriage, or to haul freight wagons. The family’s saddle horses were all on the mainland. “We do business here in Galveston, Bell,” he explained, and it sounded patronizing to Isobel. “Not pleasure. And even so … a day in the saddle is nearly always work to us – not pleasure.”
“I see,” Isobel answered, aware of a niggling feeling of disappointment. She had expected rather more of Texas, although she wasn’t quite sure what specifically that she had expected.

At the end of the week, the whole family packed up and entrained for Houston – not just Isobel and Dolph and their party, but Lottie and her mother, Mr. Vining – whom everyone called Cuz – and his family, and the man whom Jane thought of as the cattle baron, but whom everyone else called Uncle Hansi. The ride from Galveston to Houston was mercifully short; the passenger car was devoid of luxury – indeed, of every scrap of comfort itself. It was one long open car, not divided into separate compartments with padded seats – merely hard wooden benches. The sun beat down outside, and now and again a cloud of smoke from the engine blew into the open car.
“I feel like we are one of the wandering tribes of Israel,” Isobel whispered to Jane, as they waited in the First Class waiting room for the train to the east – which, Cousin Peter said cheerily, would be on time and with a private parlor car for their party hitched to it. Jane looked wistfully at the gentlemen – they stood at ease, attended by a worshipful Alf, and the other boy, Horrie, who seemed to be Mr. Vining’s ward. The men looked cooler, in their shirts and dark coats, more comfortable than Jane and the other ladies, in their shifts and corsets, and layers of petticoats and dresses. Jane scratched surreptitiously at an insect bite on her wrist; she had a number of them on her hands and neck, from those night-time flying insects that Isobel had told her were called mosquitos. Those nasty things were the reason that all the beds in Cousin George Richter’s house were hung with filmy white nets. Jane had forgotten most nights to pull the net closed, and so suffered the bites as a consequence.
“All we are lacking are a herd of goats, M’lady,” Jane whispered back. Mercifully, the waiting room was cooler – tall doors and windows stood open to catch the vagrant breeze, although this also allowed flies and other insects. Across from them, Dolph’s mother sat, fanning herself with a palm-leaf fan, a small valise in her lap which Jane had offered to carry for her, feeling that she ought to extend that courtesy to her ladyship’s mother. But the elder Mrs. Becker shook her head, and thanked Jane in broken English. Jane looked around, thoughtfully – there were not nearly as many servants in attendance on the party as there would have been in England. She and Alf were in fact the only ones. There was not even a nanny for Anna Vining’s small sons, or a a nurse to take charge of her infant daughter, asleep in a nest of ruffles and lace in the whicker pram, which her mother absently rolled back and forth with one hand, while she keep a sharp eye on her romping sons. The boys occupied themselves with sending a spinning top along the not-quite level floor of the waiting room, to the hazard of another passenger, a slight and well-dressed young gentleman who paused just inside the door, to let his eyes adjust to the relative dimness within.

Jane did not see anything alarming about the gentlemen – other than the fact that he had two long pistols in holsters at his waist. It had seemed to her quite peculiar at first – that men of every age and degree wore such weaponry openly, or veiled by the skirts of a long frock coat. It was, she decided after some consideration, a thing what was a customary accessory in Texas. Men here thought of them as an adornment, donned as casually as they put on their cuff-links, their pocket-watch and chain. But this man – his left hand rested easily on the butt of the revolver at his waist, and his eyes quickly scanned the room. Jane thought at once that he did not except to find the waiting room so crowded, and that his first impulse, quickly squelched, was to turn and go outside onto the platform again. But then the man’s pale blue eyes brightened with recognition, and something else, an expression that Jane couldn’t fathom. His fingers closed around the butt of his revolver, just as Isobel asked,
“Jane, I am perishing of thirst – is there a place here where you might find a glass of water for me?”
“I will ask the gentlemen, m’lady,” Jane answered, and rose from where she had been sitting. As she did so, the stranger tipped his hat respectfully to them both, saying,
“There is no call to trouble yourself, ma’am.” His voice was husky but light. “There is a … place serving libations across the way. I am certain they have water for a lady … an’ with ice in it, too. If you would permit me, I would be honored to fetch some for you.”
“I …” Jane began a mild protest, but the stranger said, “It is not a suitable place for ladies, although the refreshments are of the finest. I will return momentarily, ladies.” He nodded to Mr. Becker and Mr. Vining, who had suddenly stopped their conversation. Mr. Becker spoke first, saying,
“Why, if it isn’t Wes…”
“Swain,” smoothly interjected the young man. “James Swain. The boys called me Little Arkansas, when we all met up in Abilene in ’71. I’d ‘mire to swap yarns with you all, as soon as I have fetched these ladies some iced water from the establishment across the way. Gentlemen,” he nodded politely and withdrew. Jane spared a glance at the gentlemen – the Baron, and Mr. Becker – Mr. Vining as well were exchanging significant looks. Jane divined that they knew something about Mr. Swain, from the wariness in their expressions when he returned, bearing a cut-glass pitcher full of water and a number of glass tumblers. Jane took them from him with shy gratitude, at which he removed his hat again and smiled at her.
“My pleasure, ma’am,” before he looked straight at Mr. Becker and grinned. “The RB outfit’s got nice taste in womenfolk, Becker.”

Jane poured out a glass of water, clinking with ice, for Isobel, and another for Anna Vining, whose sharp, coffee-dark eyes were roving between her sons and her husband. She offered another to the elder Mrs. Becker, who … curiously enough, was unlatching the straps that held her little valise closed, and shook her head in dismissal. Irresolute, Jane set the pitcher down and took the glass for herself – she was thirsty, and the room seemed suddenly very hot.
“This lady is my wife,” Mr. Becker said, his face as dark as if a storm-cloud had passed over it. “Isobel – I must introduce you to … Mr. Swain, of Gonzales and thereabouts. He’s kin to the Taylors, a prominent family in these parts. Swain – my wife, Isobel. She’s from England – we were just married last month. Miss Goodacre is her personal attendant.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Swain grinned again, and bowed very gallantly over the gloved hand that Isobel extended towards him. “I am honored … all the way from England. ‘Amazed you didn’t turn Mormon, Becker – then you could marry the both of them.”
“Swain, you go too far,” Mr. Becker snapped, and Mr. Swain grinned again, as if he didn’t care that he was being insulting.
“My apologies to the ladies,” he drawled, but he didn’t sound apologetic at all. Barely noticed by anyone but Jane, old Mrs. Becker had opened her valise and dipped one hand deep inside. “So, Becker – you’re on the trail again? So am I; just returning from a visit to the home folks.”
“We’re just returning from our honeymoon journey,” Mr. Becker explained, an unaccustomed scowl on his face, and Jane waited for him to elaborate. Instead, he said, “But you’re a little out of your home pasture, aren’t you … Swain? Been visiting your Taylor kin?”
Mr. Swain shook his head. “I dassn’t say, Becker – the answer might be bad for my health.”
“Understand,” Mr. Becker answered, evenly. “I ain’t looking for trouble, this trip – but you ever come on to the SB range, though – I guarantee a wagon-load of it, Swain. Just so’s you know that.” And he very ostentatiously swept his own coat aside and rested his hand on the butt of the long revolver strapped to his own belt. Just for that moment, the atmosphere in the waiting room was heavy with tension – Jane could hardly breathe, it was so thick in the air, like one of those winter fogs in London, when the soot-smoke hung heavy against the windows of the Belgrave Square mansion. She was not the only one to feel it – even the sunny-natured Sam Becker had a grim expression on his countenance. In the heavy silence, a distant train whistle blew, and Mr. Swain let his coat skirts fall to. He nodded to the men, still a broad grin across his face, and touched the brim of his hat as he nodded towards the ladies.

“Alas, fair ladies, I must bid you adieu, as that is my train. You’re a lucky man, Becker – in love as in most other matters.” And Swain was gone, still with a mocking grin on his face, as the train rumbled into the station, with a roar and a rumble, a screech of metal against metal, and a hiss of steam escaping. The tension in the waiting room eased perceptibly on his departure, and there was a restful quiet for some minutes. Jane noticed that the elder Mrs. Becker was still intent on the contents of her valise; as of there was something to be rearranged in it. Briefly curious, Jane glanced down, and blinked in astonishment; was that the long, matte-metal thing a pistol barrel? She had only that momentary glimpse of the object before it was hidden underneath old Mrs. Becker’s knitting, as she turned towards her son and asked a question in German, a language that Jane couldn’t begin to understand. Out on the platform, steam escaped from the train engine with a deep hiss, and a distant voice called for passengers to board, and listing a handful of cities where that particular train was destined – to the east, Jane assumed.
“You can put away that ol’ pistol, Mama,” Mr. Becker was saying, and Mr. Vining looked very amused. “He’s gone.”
Lady Isobel asked, deeply curious, “Was this Mr. Swain a desperado of some kind?” and her husband answered with care.
“Afraid so, darlin’. His name sure wasn’t Swain when Cuz and I first met him – he was going by the moniker Wesley Clemmons then. Whatever he goes by, he has a reputation for being handy with a shooting-iron and being a little too eager to show off with it.”
“He has that look!” old Mrs. Becker exclaimed indignantly, “And I very well know that kind of man – he has killed before, Dolphchen – has he not?”
Mr. Becker and Mr. Vining exchanged a look, and then Mr. Becker answered,
“I can’t say I ever personally saw him kill anyone, Mama – but the stories about him have it that he has killed a man – black, white and Mex – for every year since he was born, and he’s about Sam’s age. Even lawmen walked warily about him. I’d guess he’s probably on the run from the law, in some jurisdiction or other – for rustling cattle, or murder, an’ likely both.”
“The city marshal in Abilene allowed him to wear his pocket-cannons into town during the trail season,” Mr. Vining added. “There wasn’t another man-jack around who was that privileged, otherwise … and nobody save Ben Thompson ever claimed that Marshal Hickok was a coward.”
“But if he is a wanted man,” Isobel exclaimed, looking from her husband to his cousin, and the other men, “Shouldn’t you inform the magistrate – the police, someone – anyone?”
Her mother-in-law made a derisive sound that sounded somewhere between a snort and a chuckle and Mr. Becker explained indulgently,
“But we don’t know nothin’ for sure, Bell – we don’t even know which is his real name; Swain, Clemmons, or mebbe something else … or what he might have done – even where … so there’d be no good to it. Just let it slide. Besides,” Lady Isobel’s husband added, in a more practical sounding voice. “He’s gone on the train east, so whoever he might be, he ain’t Texas’ problem any longer.” He consulted his own pocket watch, and snapping it shut, added, “Our own train will be along any moment … and as soon as they get Onkel Hansi’s rolling palace car attached to it, we’ll board and get settled. Bell, darlin’, you didn’t think we were going all the way to San Antone the same way we came up from Galveston?”
“I didn’t know what to think,” Lady Isobel still looked puzzled, and Jane didn’t blame her in the least. A palace car? She had never heard of any such thing, and was pretty sure that her ladyship hadn’t, either. Sam Becker chuckled at their obvious mystification.
“Onkel Hansi spent too many nights, sleeping on the ground, not to travel in style – Mama says that this is his one indulgence.”
“I travel for my business,” the cattle baron growled, although his eyes were twinkling, “So I may as well be comfortable, hey? I do not own so much property scattered here and there that I might spend every night at a place I own. This is next best.”
“Not arguing with you, Onkel,” Mr. Becker answered, and took Lady Isobel’s hand. “I’ve slept on the ground too many nights myself.”

Jane followed the party out of the waiting room – at the last instant a breathless boy with a white waiter’s apron wrapped around his waist ran into the waiting room and took up the empty water pitcher and the tumblers. Jane thanked him, and took out her own reticule, in order to pass him some coins in gratitude, but the boy blushed as red as a beet and mumbled something she couldn’t quite hear, before trotting away. Jane sighed – really, sometimes she couldn’t fathom Americans.
The dazzle of full daylight outside momentarily blinded her, even under the wide roof which overhung part of the platform. The great black steam engine, adorned with gold and red trim seemed to pant like an overheated dog, expressing steam from every aperture. It was a much larger engine than Jane had ever seen in England, and there was a fair crowd of people waiting to climb into the passenger cars. To her mystification, the Baron and his family proceeded along the platform towards the end of the train, towards an especially ornate car, painted deep green with gold trim, and adorned with a lot of brass, so highly polished it gleamed like gold. The end of the car was open, like a generous balcony, with a pair of whicker armchairs set on it. The bright brass railing had an ornate logo set in it – the letters R and B, with a lot of curlicues surrounding them, and the side gate to was open to the platform. Jane hastened her steps; there was a uniformed porter already taking up the Baron’s grip, and another rushing to assist Anna Vining with the perambulator. She caught up to her mistress, just as the porter turned towards Mr. Becker, his dark African face beaming with good cheer,
“Welcome, seh! You have had a pleasant journey, Mistah Becker? They brought your luggage around half an hour ago – James and I put your things and Missus Becker’s in the blue stateroom, since Mistah Vining and the fambly have the the yellow.”
“It’s good to be almost home, Absalom,” Mr. Becker answered, and the man looked even more cheerful than he had before. “This is my wife … and Miss Goodacre, her personal maid. I trust that you have a place for Miss Goodacre, since we will be two nights, at least – and my wife depends upon Miss Goodacre for everything.”
“We have arranged everything, Mistah Becker,” Absalom replied, with a tone of slight reproof. “Mistah Richter, he sent us a telly-gram, a week ago.”
“I am chastised, Absalom – I shouldn’t have had any doubt that you and James would cope,” Mr. Becker answered, and then he and Lady Isobel stepped from the platform onto the train. Absalom turned to Jane, the very last of their party, and courteously took her elbow. In truth, Jane was in need of it, for her eyes were so drawn to that which surrounded her that she might very easily have missed her footing entirely, out of awe and wonder.
So this was a palace car – she could scarcely believe her eyes. Absalom closed the brass gate after her, and leaned out over it, waving toward the front of the train. “May I take that fo’ you, Miss Goodacre? “ he offered. Jane let him take her own bag, but clutched Lady Isobel’s jewel case to her chest, as Absalom solicitously led Jane through the door into the main part of the car. Here she stopped again to marvel; how splendid was the room before her, a narrow room the width of a rail car, but lined on each side with glass windows, paneled with richly varnished woods and set about with comfortable furniture. There was a thick carpet underneath her feet, brilliantly colored in shades of green, red and gold – again the R and B initials intertwined woven into it. The windows were curtained in matching colors, and brass and glass lamps depended from the ceiling overhead, although they were not lit. The light from narrow windows set under a higher, central roof shed enough light into the parlor – for that is what it was, comfortably arranged, with chairs and divans, centered on marble-topped tables. There were also Gawain and Sorsha’s thick-padded beds, laid tidily in a corner. The dogs were settling onto them, tended by Alf, who was – for once – stricken to silence from sheer awe.
But not for long. “Oh, Miss G.!” Alf whispered, “What do you think o’ this! Is this the way to travel in Texas – Does ‘er Maj’ go in style like this, or not?”
Jane hardly knew what to say, but Absalom’s uniformed chest seemed to swell with pride. “There ain’t no private car anywhere in the worl’ as fine as Mistah Richter’s!” He assured them. “Them crowned heads, they ain’t got nothin’ better. Heated w’ steam, an’ with runnin’ water … an’ a kitchen, too! Mistah Richter, he can allus pack up an’ go, t’ where he needs to be an’ stay as long as he like! There ain’t no one in the worl’ take better care o’ dis here car, an’ Mistah Richter than James an’ I, between us.” He lowered his voice to a confidential rumble. “Mistah Richter, he tell me – dey wanted to display this car at dat Philadelphia Exposition! Because dey built it so fine! But Mr. Richter, he say – no, he need dis car now and he need here. He got business to do, an’ so on.”
From outside on the station platform came the whistle of the station master, and one last cry of ‘All aboard! All ab-o-o-ard!” Beneath Jane’s feet, the parlor car jerked slightly, and outside of the polished glass windows, the station building seemed to startle and then glide smoothly past. Absalom explained, “Dere’s Mistah Richter’s office, here … the dining room … an’ three staterooms … course, dey ain’t big. Two lil’ cabins, an’ den de kitchen, wid de cabin foah James an’ me.” Jane obediently followed him down the narrow corridor which opened off the end of the parlor, windowed all along one side, paneled with richly varnished wood all along the other and intermittently broken by narrow sliding doors. This was tight quarters, almost as tight as those on the paddle steamer which had carried them from New York to Galveston, and yet every inch was ornamented – and as tiny as the little space was, beyond the door which Absalom opened for her, it was outfitted with every luxury. The folding bed was drawn down, and made up with crisp white sheets and a fat down pillow. There was barely enough room to walk in and stand next to it. “Yo’ Miss Isabel, she an’ Mistah Dolph are in the next room,” Absalom explained, setting down Jane’s bag. He showed her how there was a little washbasin, which opened out of a cabinet set in the wall, with a mirror over it, and a clean white towel, and then courteously withdrew, leaving Jane to sit on her narrow bed and wonder if she were dreaming all this.