Alex, our cover artist (and younger brother!) has stitched together four different photographs for the cover art of Sunset and Steel Rails; the steel rails is his, the landscape background and storm clouds are mine, and the vintage engine is by Bernadette Durbin!
This is just a preliminary version – it will be cleaned up and the titles added later, but I like it already!
So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)
Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak.
We watched the whole two-part distillation of the Trilogy – enjoying the scenic views of Daniel Craig no end – but the miniseries kind of left us cold. I suspect that re-reading the Trilogy entire would also leave us rather cold. Apparently in the purview of the Great and Good English Literature Establishment, The Trilogy is held to be one of the Majorly Significant Novels dealing with WWII … to which I blow a large raspberry. (That all you got, English Literary Establishment? Really…) Yes, Evelyn Waugh was a magnificent prose stylist, and his satiric novels in the 1930s are bitchy and hilarious, Return to Brideshead is elegiac and heartbreaking … but the Sword of Honor Trilogy is a very odd fish. The first volume was true to the bitchy and satiric form; frankly, I found it very funny because … well, it was to do with the weirdness of the military. Of any age and country, really; a sort of inside black humor, best appreciated by those who have lived through and endured. (G. M. Fraser’s McAuslan cycle is a wonderful example of this, only not burdened by the weight of being A Majorly Significant Novel, so it can be appreciated for its own merits. What a lovely miniseries the McAuslan cycle would make – I can’t imagine why it has been overlooked in this respect… anyway, back to the subject…)
The rest of the TV version – and take into consideration the fact that I am trying to recall the source novels that I read a lifetime ago – rather fell flat for both of us. We agreed that Waugh couldn’t really write women – although he did have the manipulative bitch subset of the species down cold. It was just rather depressing that just about all the various characters which the hero character tried to help in some way came to rather awful ends. Perhaps that was the inclination of the screenwriters; but really – the message is that it’s useless and futile to be a decent person and do the right thing? How nihilistic is that?
I wonder also if trying to write a novel about current events isn’t rather a trap for the writer; in retrospect it certainly seemed so for Waugh; the Holocaust together with the Communist aggression in Eastern Europe were just too horrific for a satirist to manage within the scope of a serio-comic novel.
Sunset and Steel Rails — the first draft is finished as of about fifteen minutes ago! So … now to the Alpha reader and editor, and the latest novel in “Barsetshire with Cypress Trees and Lots of Sidearms” will be ready for launch in November.
And now for finishing up the Tales of Luna City …
So, a week or so ago I was telling one of our regular clients of the Tiny Publishing Bidness about the Luna City Chronicles — which the Daughter Unit and I are writing together — and he suggested that we lock in the domain name for Luna City, or Luna City Texas. It seems that only the second was available, which would suit me down to the ground. I got the domain, and started setting up the site – and voila! Here it is!
This is a book that will be a good bit different from the others – and worthy of a dedicated website and blog of its own. Check it out and enjoy!
(All right – the final chapter in the book which will be released in November. In another week or so, I’ll set up a page for pre-orders. This is the story concerting Sophia Brewer Teague, who came west as a Harvey Girl in 1885, and made some startling discoveries about herself … and about some long-buried family secrets. But just as she discovers the one even more startling than her older brother trying to drive her mad … she is caught in Galveston, Texas, on a certain fateful weekend…)
Chapter 23 – Sunrise in Lyonesse
With Min clinging to her side, Sophia went to tend to Baby – relieved to find little Christian no more than moderately fussy, laying in a cradle moved to the corner of the elder Richter’s palatial bedroom. She cuddled him close to her, almost crying in relief, for now they were all three safe, dry and together. Christian nursed with vigor, and fell asleep in her arms, while outside the wind howled like a wolf, striking the side of the house seemingly in fury at being balked and refused admittance. The few candles that relieved the darkness flickered and smoked behind glass chimneys – of course, a careful housekeeper like Amelie would worry about a lit candle falling, and perhaps setting a fire. The bedroom door stood partway open, to the tramping of feet on the stairs and in the hallway as the men carried furniture, and rolled-up rugs upstairs.
“The water is still rising, Sopherl,” Amelie said, when she brought in a mantel clock and an elaborate arrangement of wax flowers under a dome which had formerly adorned the parlor. “We have sent everyone to shelter on the second floor, on the side away from the wind.” The house – with the windows closed and shutters fastened tightly over them – was not only dark, but close and hot. Sophia could see that Amelie’s face shone with perspiration.
“Let me help you, then,” Sophia blurted, overcome with housewifely sympathy. Amelie was a little younger than Mama had been when she died – and had been a gracious hostess all this time. “Min … stay with Baby, and look after him.”
“Mama…” Min protested only with a single word, but her grave little face reflected fear and desolation.
“I will be within the house,” Sophia detached Min’s frantic hand from the skirt of her dress. “There is nothing to fear, darling. We are safe within these walls. Cousin George’s house is the biggest and strongest there is in Galveston.”
“Those houses fell down, Mama,” Min replied. “And the people in them thought they were safe within their walls.”
“Min, dear – I must help Amelie,” Sophia kissed her daughter, and her son, and put on an expression of resolution. “Be brave for me – and for your dear Papa, and for your little brother.”
Min gulped and nodded, her eyes filling. Sophia felt her own eyes welling up with tears that she dare not let fall. It would frighten Min, who was already frightened enough. She followed Amelie; the upstairs was already crowded, mostly with strangers – some of whom seemed to be known to the Richters and their sons, nearly all of them soaking wet, frightened and yet grateful for refuge between sturdy walls. For a wonder, the dreadful howling wind had ceased, and the silence itself was as deafening as the noise had been. Sophia looked into the front hall, from the broad landing halfway down. The downstairs rooms had been stripped of their rugs – and just in time, for there was a pool of water seeping from under the front door, and spreading from other rooms, ink-dark in the light of a single lantern. She caught up to Amelie on the landing, looking down with horror on the invading water. George stood with his arm close around her.
“We have fifty-six people in our house,” she overheard heard him murmur to his wife, in German, in that silence. “And Old Mr. Pascoe with his wife and her niece are coming from their house, which is falling to bits. Ambrose and Young Pascoe have gone to help them across the way. They tell me that wind has dropped.”
“Does it mean that the storm has passed over?” Amelie asked, and George shook his head.
“No … it means that we are now in the center of it.” The knocking on the front door sounded very loud in the silence. George sprang down the staircase with an energy which belied his age and the weariness piled on him by this dreadful day, and unbarred the door to admit the new party; Ambrose, another young man, and the three refugees; the oldest carried among them. “The water is rising,” George observed, and made as if to close and bar the door on the darkness and the driving rain outside, but before he could do so, the tide went in one smooth motion from a puddle at his feet to almost his chest, flowing into the hallway, the parlor and the other rooms. “Upstairs, everyone!” he shouted, as there came the crash of breaking glass and wood from within. Sophia fled up stairs, stumbling in her panic. The storm had breached the final fortress. And now the wind howled around its walls with renewed energy.
She sat at the foot of the Richter’s bedstead, with Christian in her lap, and Min pressed close to her side, with the Teague’s old plaid woolen shawl wrapped around them all. Min had always treasured it as a blanket, since her own babyhood, for some inexplicable reason, and now sought comfort in those rough and scratchy folds. George and Amelie sat at the head of the bed, with Henry and Ambrose beside them, or pacing the crowded room; some of the other refugees from the storm lay on the floor, or leaned against the walls. Candlelight flickered over their tense faces. An old woman – Mrs. Pascoe – lay on Amelie’s chaise longue, her lips moving in a silent desperate prayer. The atmosphere in the room was hot, humid with the scent of terror and desperation, waiting for the storm to break open the brick walls as though breaking an eggshell. Richie sat on the floor at their feet; he alone seemed at ease. The noise of the wind was such that words could not be heard across the room unless shouted. Time stood still, as still as the hands of Amelie’s parlor clock … and yet, the walls of George Richter’s house held; battered by rain, by flying slates and timbers which crashed against the windward walls. A queer kind of thumping came from under their feet; at last, Sophia realized that it must be the remaining furniture downstairs, driven to and fro, dashed against interior walls by the high tide within.
Min fell asleep at last, exhausted; without disturbing the child’s slumber, Sophia laid her daughter across the middle of the bed with Baby Christian and covered them both with the plaid shawl. Silently, Richie took Min’s place. It was comforting to lean against him, to have the support of a man’s shoulder on this terrifying day. Sophia desperately wished that it was Fred’s – but Richie’s would do.
Presently, Sophia ventured, “You know – we would not have been here, but for the delay in your travel plans. We would have been on our way home by now.”
“I know,” Richie answered. “I’m sorry for that, Auntie … it seems like we have been nothing but trouble and danger for you, in every way.”
“No … not you, Richie – never; this storm is just a terrible coincidence. I might just as soon blame myself. I should have been agreeable to corresponding with you. You and I are the only two left. I should not have been so afraid … old habits die hard, you know. I was about to marry Fred. I wanted to leave all of that in the past, where it belonged … but of course that is not possible. The past is not so easily abandoned as all that.”
“No,” Richie sighed. “That is what Rosy said. Professor Rosemont … he was the headmaster at school. Dear old Rosy; he became my guardian after Papa did what he did. A decent old stick; he called me into his office and broke the news to me. About Papa and Mama; I suppose that I blubbed a bit, and asked him where I should go when the term was over, and Rosy handed me a handkerchief and said, ‘To me and Mrs. Rosemont, of course.’ And that was the end of it. Rosy settled it with the lawyers. I did have to say to a judge that I preferred them to be my guardians over any other, but Rosy and Mrs. Rosy turned out to be as fair and good to me as any parent might have been … although Rosy was a bit irate when I enlisted in the Colonel Wood’s volunteer cavalry to fight in Cuba.”
“You were in the Rough Riders?” Sophia exclaimed, quite astonished, and Richie laughed.
“More like the Weary Walkers,” he answered. “It was a bit of an adventure, I made some friends among them – stout fellows, every one – and when we were mustered out, I didn’t want to go back to Boston and spend my days looking at the walls of an insurance office. I liked the looks of what I saw of the West, so …” he shrugged. “I decided to chance it. Coming to see you was just a part of it. My pal – his family has a spread in Arizona … and a pretty sister I have an understanding with. I met her once, in San Antonio, and she wrote to me when we shipped out of Tampa. She’s a clever woman – you would like her. Especially since she worked as a Harvey Girl too. Likely I’m going to settle down with her, once I’ve built up enough of a stake …” The wind dealt the side of the Richter house an especially violent blow, which silenced conversation for a moment. “You see – Auntie Soph – I can’t possibly die in this storm tonight. I have plans. I just wanted to square things with you, once and for all. To make it right, in a small way.”
“You have already made it right,” Sophia clasped his hand in hers. “I should not have been so afraid.”
“You had good reason, once, Auntie Soph,” Richie kissed her cheek very gently. “It just takes some guts to face up to them, once and for all.”
“And then to see that they weren’t all that fearsome at all,” Sophia felt a sense of calm peace overtake her, as if she and Richie sat together with the sleeping children in that quiet place in the heart of the storm. As time passed, she dozed, waking with a start now and again, her head on Richie’s shoulder in that candle-lit room, vaguely surprised at each wakening that the walls still held, as solidly as the castle and refuge that the Richter house had first appeared to be.
“There is something that I need to tell you, also…” Sophia ventured, at one of these wakings, when the wind seemed to have diminished. “It’s about Grandfather Vining … remember, Great-Aunt Minnie’s brother; it seems that we may yet have closer kin here in Texas than we thought …”
Richie listened without interruption, a particularly thoughtful expression on his face. When she had finished, he mused, “I never really considered that … but it makes sense of a sort. He went out West as a young man, spent most of his life here … what are they like, these half-cousins of ours?”
“Very pleasant and worthy people, I think. And at least as embarrassed by the connection as I was.”
“In the past, Auntie Soph,” Richie answered, with an air of finality. “And considering what is happening outside this very minute – not a matter I’m going to trouble myself with, over much – tonight or tomorrow, should we live to see it.”
At that final awakening, Sophia discovered that she had slept for some time; that Richie had moved her fully onto the bed and she lay next to Min and Baby. Amelie also slept, fully-clothed – and that dim daylight was leaking through the cracks and edges of the storm shutters. Mrs. Pascoe snored gently on the chaise longue. Sophia, still feeling as if she had just finished a particularly exhausting shift at a Harvey House, slid from the bed without disturbing the children, and tiptoed quietly to the hallway, and the staircase up to Cousin George’s marvelous tower. Pearlescent sunshine poured down the staircase – blindingly bright after the darkness in the Richter’s bedroom. Most of the window were smashed, and broken glass littered the floor. The wicker chairs and settee were tumbled to one side, their cushions soaked with water.
Cousin George stood at the north-facing window with Ambrose and Richie; A mild breeze stirred the bedraggled curtains, a breeze that smelt of the familiar salt sea … and a wisp of something else, something less savory. and went to the window.
“Oh, my dear lord,” she exclaimed. There was nothing outside resembling in the least what had been there, a mere twenty-four hours before. The Richters’ garden – the lawn where the children had played – was a wilderness of shattered lengths of lumber, of whole small structures like outhouses and chicken coops tumbled together, trunks of palm trees like limp feather-dusters, and the bodies of dead horses. Not the two which had been left tethered on the front porch the night before – they were grazing moodily on those stretches of lawn now left exposed between the debris. Sophia also saw what she first thought to be bundles of clothes or bedding, and realized only slowly that they were bodies … bodies entangled in the rose-bushes, and in the hedges which enclosed Amelie’s garden. The water – which she could see had been nearly up to the second story of those scattered surviving buildings – had drained away. A few tall buildings and church spires still stood, and the occasional partly-shattered house, tottering on remaining pilings, or tipped entirely on one side. The sky overhead was a pale, rain-washed blue, and the desolation of broken boards, bodies and wrecked houses went nearly as far as they could see – to the north where lay the Strand, the wharves, and the significant buildings of Galveston.
“I must see if my friends are safe,” Richie said, huskily. Cousin George squinted into the distance.
“I think the Tremont is still standing,” he said. “They went there, did they not? And the Levy building remains.”
“But what is that?” Sophia asked. She crunched across the glass to the south-facing window, the one looking out towards the open gulf. A tangled moraine of wreckage ran from out of sight in one direction, dropping across the center of what had been neat rows of houses and gardens … a shoal of broken planks and wreckage on the near side … and a sweep of empty sand on the other. She blinked … Laura’s house was gone, the bright painted yellow walls and gallery vanished as cleanly as if they had never been, as if some great broom had swept the sea-front and several blocks behind it clean. Not a scrap remained, that she could seen save a bedraggled salt-cedar tree, which she thought had been at the corner of Q Street, three doors down.
“It’s is what the high sea brought last night,” Cousin George’s voice sounded heavy with grief. “Nearly the opposite of what happened in Indianola … there, the water rushed out from the bayou and pushed all out into the bay – here it smashed everything to pieces – and pushed it into land.”
“My dear friend Laura and her husband live on Q Street, not three blocks from the sea,” Sophia’s chest hurt, for thinking of her friend, and her three children – the oldest a boy two or three years older than Min – and that pretty little cottage that Laura had been so proud of.
“They may have chosen to shelter in a safer place,” Richie squeezed her hand, comfortingly. “We’ll go and look for them in a while. There are plenty of buildings still standing … they are certain to have sheltered as many as were safe here last night.”
He sounded very certain of that; looking out at the desolation, Sophia wondered how he could be so sure.
Egg at last, Egg at last, good god almighty, Egg at last! We came home from the Giddings Word Wrangler Festival last night (of which more to follow) to find that one of our two hens had produced an egg! And this morning, there were two more eggs! Three eggs – ah-hah-hah-hah)
More to follow, tomorrow. I shall make a country omelet out of them for tomorrow’s dinner, and at last we will know what really fresh, free-range eggs really taste like.
Well … a deep subject as the old gag goes. I spent much of my working day yesterday polishing off the next-to-last chapter of Sunset and Steel Rails; just one more chapter, to deal with an emotional climax in the life of the heroine – just as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is putting the whole place under water. This has me reading and rereading accounts of the hurricane itself, and teasing out certain details. I sat out a typhoon once, in Misawa in the late 1970s, and one of the things that I remembered most vividly was how very powerful the storm winds were, and how exhausting it was to try and walk against them, even when slacked off to about 75MPH, when we were all permitted to leave quarters. Misawa – about ten miles inland, was maybe a foot above sea level on the main part of the base, so … the authorities paid attention to disastrous possibilities.
Eh – the book will likely top out at about 300 pages, once the editing and the review by the Alpha reader is finished, but I hope to have it done and ready for launch this coming holiday season. This is the book about a proper young Bostonian who comes west as a Harvey Girl, marries Magda Becker’s scapegrace and apparently-confirmed bachelor brother Fredi, and discovers belatedly that a) he is much better husband materiel than previously assumed and b) she is more closely related to the extended Becker-Vining clan than she thought at first. Her motivation for a sudden career change and departure to the Far West is due to the machinations of her sociopathic older brother … but enough of that. Dramatic possibilities galore and just leave it at that.
The rest of the afternoon was given over to printing up flyers on nice expensive heavy paper for this week’s first Book Event of the Season. Likely I have killed much of the printer ink in the color and black cartridges by this exercise … but, the Giddings Word Wrangler event is one that I am thrilled to be a part of, since it was by application and invitation, and it is in association with a library … ah, libraries. When I was a kidlet and a young adult, I practically lived in libraries. Now I also live in a library, but it is an ordinary house with a lot of books stuffed in it. Yes, the last time I moved from overseas, the guys packing the household goods had a bet going, on how many boxes of books there would be. IIRC, it topped out at 63, and that was in 1990, so one can only imagine how many more there are now.
There is also stuff to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness – other people’s books besides my own. Wrapped up a book for a regular client, have a big meet scheduled to maybe wrap up another one, some potential new client books to spec out … yeah, the days are full. And then there is the semi-regular brush and tree-trimming collection in my neighborhood. Blondie and I spent several days with a pruning saw and dragging branches from small trees out to what is now a substantial pile in front. As it is still eye-bleedingly hot in this part of Texas, this constituted a perfectly exhausting effort on our part.
Finally, our Pullet Surprise; yes, the backyard chickens – still no eggs yet, although the three of them are supposedly closing in on maturity, and ever-more-close-to delivering on the promise of eggs, which is why we started down this line of back-yard farming in May. It seems, alas, that the science of sexing juvenile chickens was not all that advanced at the poultry farm where we purchased the girls. The biggest of the three so-called pullets – which we had previously assumed was just older and more developed – is a rooster. We’ve both gone and compared pictures of mature Barred Rock roosters with our chicken critter … Yep; we can’t escape science. Got spurs developing, longer tail-feathers, impressively dark red crest and magnificent jowls, and a bigger and more impressive set of neck-feathers. Not good in one way – we wanted eggs, dammit, but good in another. The other two girls will be protected against hawks, feral cats and other chicken-slaughtering wildlife, and if we do want to start chicken-raising in a mild way; well, here is the raw materiel. Larry, Maureen and Carly – welcome to our (slightly adjusted) enterprise.
We rather like the chickens, BTW. Maureen is entirely agreeable to being picked up, and having her chin scratched, Carly is not quite so cooperative, and neither is Larry – but he does like having his chin rubbed, too. And that was my week ….
Ok, so I have set aside time this morning to filling out forms and money orders for various fall events. Yes, it is that time of year again – and as a matter of fact it is starting for me this week, with the 10th Annual Texas Word Wrangler Book Festival in Giddings this Thursday and Friday. This is all happening at the Giddings Public Library & Cultural Center, 276 N. Orange Street, Giddings. I’ll take the camera and make another Road Trip adventure out of it. We are planning to stop at Buckee’s in Bastrop, by the way. Besides having the funniest roadside advertising around, they also have the most palatial restrooms on the planet outside of some dump like … Versailles or Buckingham Palace.
October 3 – another road trip; this one for the Author Extravaganza at the Llano County Library, which will be all day at Llano County Library, 102 E. Haynie in Llano.
November has two events – the Bulverde-Spring Branch Craft Fair, which will be in the Activity Center at 30280 Cougar Bend, Bulverde, on Saturday the 14th. This is just as much for my daughter’s origami creations as it is for my books.
And then on the 20th and 21st, I’m planning on a table in the Hall of Authors – which is the corridor at the New Braunfels Civic Center for Weinachtsmarkt. So – yay, and wish me fortunate traveling. Likely there will be at least two more events in December, but they are not firmed up at this point. I hope to have two new books out this year – Sunset and Steel Rails, and a contemporary collection of humorous essays and short stories about Luna City, Texas – a place that the railway bypassed in 1885, but which has grown in eccentricity ever since.
(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
“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
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.