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

Chapter 15 – Haunted

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

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

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

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

Only Selina spoke, “I still think you…”

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

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

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

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The inside, with shelves and hanging rods reinstallad

The inside, with shelves and hanging rods reinstallad

We are limited in the time that we work on the armoire, currently parked on the back porch, by all the other things that I have to work on – for a retired person and a relatively unemployed person – our days are actually quite full. And also – by the heat and humidity, which certainly does slow down the drying time of wood glue and shellac. We began by disassembling the armoire and stripping out the various interior shelves and brass hardware, in order to facilitate re-gluing, which gave our limited number of clamps into play. We re-glued, nailed and put in new and slightly longer screws along all the angles, and cut small squares of pine to reinforce the bottom corners so that we could put in castors – to make it easier to move the thing. The skirting around the bottom will hide the rollers, once that is reinstalled.


The front skirting, repaired, reattached and varnished.

The front skirting, repaired, reattached and varnished.

This morning we got the last castor attached, and the front skirting reattached – this had been broken in two, and had to be re-glued, with a shim across the back. The arched top piece got a bit of light sanding, and then we decided to start with the shellac, which our neighbor the woodworker recommended if we wanted to keep it authentic. (His first suggestion was to slap on a coat of polyurethane and be done with it; he also said that option would basically destroy any antique value.) The sides and the doors are lightly scratched in various places; most of these scratches are in the original finish, and I did have to steel-wool the place where the front skirting had to be joined together – but we were amazed at the improvement that the first coat of shellac made. Many of the scratches and scuff-marks are immediately less visible. We intend to finish the sides and doors with as many thin coats as are required to restore the original appearance, then move it inside and re-attached the doors. I still need to repair and fabricate the side skirting panels, and to repair the top of one of the doors with epoxy putty, but after a week and a half of work on it, we are pretty pleased with how it looks.

The door veneer and detail, after first coat of shellac.

The door veneer and detail, after first coat of shellac.

So – I have the time and inclination to work on the picaresque Gold Rush adventure – about the teen-aged and wide-eyed young Fredi Steinmetz’ experiences in the California Gold Rush — which so far in first draft has him encountering Sally Skull,

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Charlie Goodnight, Jack Slade, and Leroy Bean … and then a bandit who may be Joaquin Murrieta … or not.

Chapter 10 – O’Malley’s Grand Party

Not daring to venture far from the wagon in search of the mules for fear of becoming lost in the dark, Fredi eventually settled on his bedroll underneath it, holding Nipper still firmly bundled in O’Malley’s heavy coachman’s overcoat. Much to his surprise, he fell almost at once into a very sound sleep, and remained in that condition until wakened just before sunrise by the lightening sky, the cooing of doves in nearby bushes, and the pattering of fat little quail searching for bugs in the leaf-mast under them. The night had been chill enough – and Nipper had not been tempted until then to unravel himself from the toils of O’Malley’s coat. He shook them off, trotted over to the nearest bush and cocked a leg to piss against it. Groaning, Fredi followed suit, and wondered now what he was to do – penniless and alone save for a small black terrier dog, without mules to pull the wagon. The wagon itself now represented the larger part of his and O’Malley’s fortune, and he was loath to abandon it.

Might as well go and search for the mules, first. Perhaps he would strike it lucky – and it would be about time, for there was nothing but bad luck in the last few days. And he had no appetite for breakfast, for worrying about O’Malley and the mules. He rolled up his bed-roll and blankets, pitched them into the wagon, shrugged the overcoat over his shoulders – for he felt the chill – and whistled to Nipper.

“Let’s go find those mules, hey, Nip? There’s a good dog. I know of sheep-herding dogs,” he mused aloud. “Why can’t you be a mule-herding dog?”

He examined the hoof-prints of shod beasts, trodden into the road, and into the grass to either side, but the prints of the mules were indistinguishable from those of the horses ridden by the bandits to his relatively unskilled eye, and all in a muddle anyway, on either side of and ahead of the wagon, sitting forlorn by the side of the road. He wasn’t anything like the tracker that Carl was, although he was good enough at straying cows. Fredi took his lariat from the wagon, and strode off in the direction most heavily marked by disturbance of the mud, crushed grass and small broken branches, in hopes that fortune would favor him and that three mules had not wandered very far from water. From the darker line of green at some distance, it appeared likely that they had gone in that general direction. Fredi gloomily wished that he had kept shrewd Paint, sold at Warner’s for a price in gold now gone to a bandit’s purse. It would be a damned long walk to the water, and a hard chase on foot if the mules weren’t cooperative.

Before he had ventured very far, though – he heard O’Malley’s distant voice, raised in song. Nipper, trotting at Fredi’s side one moment, made like a small black lightening-bolt in the next, soon lost in the low brush.

“You took your time about it,” Fredi gasped, when he emerged onto the track again, to see Nipper capering happily alongside the mule that O’Malley rode bare-back. Now and again the small dog leaped up, clear of the ground. “They must have showed you a grand time.”

“Oh, Freddy-boyo, they did indeed,” O’Malley groaned, even though his countenance seemed reasonably cheerful – especially considering that the bandits had deprived them of nearly all their stake. “Although ‘tis a matter of me, showing them a good time … the poor lads wanted to see someone playing a piano properly, y’see. I thought of it as a command performance, boyo. They heard all about the piano at the Headquarters Saloon an’ the wonders of m’ performances there – but bein’ in the outlaw trade, they could no’ partake of them in person.”

“Where did they take you to?” Fredi demanded, but O’Malley only shook his head.

“It was dark, an’ they tied a blindfold around me eyes, and again this morning when they led me away. It was a room in a house like Dona Vincenta’s, of that I am certain although it was only the one room that I saw – only sore neglected, an’ all covered with dust. The piano was in abominable tune an’ a torment to my own ears … but it pleased the audience well.”

“Glad that it pleased someone,” Fredi observed sourly, resenting O’Malley’s good cheer on this disastrous morning. “They stole our stake from us, O’Malley – and unless we can recover the other three mules, no chance of earning another one before spring.”

“Our stake? Pish-tush, boyo – all they took from us last night was some small coin, your revolver and my timepiece,” O’Malley’s countenance reflected such smug satisfaction that Fredi almost wanted to hit him, hit him again and again. “I took the precaution – well-justified you must admit now – of sewing the most of it, including the gold coins – into the hems of my coat, that very coat you are wearing now, leaving the lesser coin and notes as a decoy. You and Nipper between you, it was guarded well. I could not say anything to you last night. It was in my mind that Murrieta – I am certain that was him, being not dead but as alive as you or I – understood English better than he let on. Two may keep a secret if one of them is dead, you apprehend, Freddy-boyo; or one of them being a poor little doggie with no human speech at all.”

Astonished and overjoyed at this news, Fredi felt along the first hem of O’Malley’s heavy and many-caped woolen overcoat; yes, along that hem there were many small hard discs, buried in the doubled fabric. Only if you had thought to press the edge of that cape would one have detected their presence, and Fredi would have assumed them to be leaden dressmaker weights, inserted to make the ancient garment drape favorably.

“You could have told me,” he accused, and O’Malley sighed, a great and gusty sigh.

“Ah, boyo – there was not the time, and you are no actor, experienced in the intrigues among the wicked and lawless. It is indade a sadly wicked world that we live in … and the result of a bad performance is not a matter of rotten vegetables thrown upon the stage in disapproval – but a bullet aimed true at the heart or head.”

“Let’s go find those silly mules,” Fredi suggested, his heart already lightened considerably by the intelligence that O’Malley did retain a degree of low cunning about him. He set aside, with an effort, his previous conviction that O’Malley might have to be looked after as did Vati, who was dreamy and bookish, and lived life on such a high intellectual plane that realities such as Mexican bandits never impinged upon it.





(After five years working in various places as a Harvey Girl, Sophia Teague — still using another woman’s last name – arrives in Deming, New Mexico – where she encounters an old friend and makes a new one.)

Chapter 14 – Lottie

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles            The streets of Deming were filled with ruts, the occasional puddle and mound of horse-dung, and lined with unadorned frame and adobe-brick buildings, but at least the city fathers had lined a few of the main streets with wooden sidewalks. Ahead of them, Sophia could see a plain white-washed steeple which must mark the sanctuary of St. Luke’s. This was not anything like the spires of churches back in Boston – tall stone or brick, ornamented with carvings and iron-work, from which the chiming of bells rang out the hours and events. But this was the West, and Sophia had over the last six years become accustomed to it.

“I like to look out and see mountains,” she remarked, for such mountains rose all around Deming, dark-blue, tan, or rose-colored, depending on the time of day and angle of the sun. “There were none to speak of around Newton, but there were splendid ones at La Junta. Flee as a bird to the mountain … I always liked that verse, even though there were no mountains around Boston – only hills.”

“There were hills where I was raised as a boy,” Mr. Steinmetz said, and Sophia looked sideways at him – an easy undertaking for their heads were much on the same level.

“I thought that you came from Germany,” she ventured, and he nodded.

“I did. From a little village in Bavaria that no one has ever heard anything of or likely will. But when my father and my sister Liesel’s husband decided that we should take up the offer of the Verein and come to Texas, my brother and I were only seven. My mother … it was very sad – she died on the ship coming over. You remind her a little of her, Miss Teague, or so I can remember. My father was an unworldly sort; he made clocks and read books. We finished up in the hill country of Texas, two or three days’ journey north of San Antonio. What with one thing and another, Johann and I were too much for him to handle, so Vati sent Johann and I to live with my oldest sister and her husband. They had a fine little ranch on the Guadalupe River – my sister is quite formidable, you see. Magda’s husband was born American, and he was formidable in his own way. Then Johann went back to Germany to study medicine, and I got the gold fever … but in between times, I usually came back to to live at their place. Magda’s son owns it now, and he has a family…” he grinned at her, “So, I had to finally settle on my own place.”

“Was that the cattle baron?” Sophia frowned in deep puzzlement. “The man who owned all the cattle and ranches, and the parlor car?”

“That was Hansi – Liesel’s husband. Magda’s husband Carl was murdered by the hanging band during the War. He was a Unionist, you see. A long time ago, then, but she still wears black for him … may I ask the favor of sitting with you for the services, Miss Teague? I have been so long and unremitting in my absence from such observances that I fear the roof may fall in on me, so I beg the pleasure of your company.”

“Certainly,” Sophia replied, with as demure a manner as Fee had always urged upon her. “Although … I have not always been observant, either, of late.”

“The days sometimes just run away from you,” Mr. Steinmetz observed, wryly, as they approached the church, with its brave little tower lifted up into the faultlessly blue sky. There were other churchgoers ahead of them, lingering about the door greeting arriving friends before the service began. Most were men, stiff and formal in dark town suits which they only donned once a week, but there were two or three women among them – plainly wives or daughters. Sophia was rather glad to be with Mr. Steinmetz; men so usually outnumbered women in the west, and if she had come alone to church, she would have been the focus of interest – wistful on the part of single men and censorious on the part of women, single and married alike.

Gott in Himmel,” Mr. Steinmetz exclaimed, reverting into German in his surprise. “As I live and breathe, Lottie Deno! And with Frank Thermond too – so she married him at last! Good for them both, I say!”

“Who is Lottie Deno? Was she someone you knew in California?” Sophia assumed that he meant the handsome woman dressed in the height of fashion, standing at the church doorway. The woman had flaming red-gold hair, piled high under a fashionable hat, and she leaned on the arm of a tall man in a well-cut suit that was equally the match to her elaborate day-dress. Mr. Steinmetz grinned like a mischievous boy.

“No – San Antonio, when I used to amuse myself playing cards at the University Club; I confess, Miss Teague – it was a gambling den, but one of the honest ones – and she dealt poker there. She didn’t allow any bad language or liquor at her table, neither – the most lady-like dealer you ever laid eyes upon … that is, if you set foot in a gambling den at all, Miss Teague. Her right name is Charlotte Thomkins, but one night a cowboy with too much liquor in him looked at her pile of winnings and said, ‘Darlin’, with winnings like that, you outta call yourself Lotta Dinero,’ and after that, everyone began calling her Lottie Deno.” He looked sideways at her, and added. “She’s a good ‘un and a lady as well … but don’t ever bet money against her when she’s flipping those pasteboards. Might just as well give her your poke straight-out, and save time and trouble. I’ll tell you the one story about her that I saw with my own eyes …”

He was interrupted, by that handsome woman exclaiming, “Fred! Darlin’ Dutch! I knew you were in Deming, Frank relays to me all the suitable gossip, but I never in all my days expected to see you here!” She came down the steps toward them, a white swan among ducks, a sailing yacht among scows – all parting from her path like commoners before royalty. Her accent was Southern, as sweet and slow as honey dripping from a comb, and she embraced Mr. Steinmetz with as much affection as if she were a kinswoman.

“Lottie, my darling – you are as refreshing as a spring of cool fresh water in the desert,” He kissed her hand with gallant affection. “I had no idea you were in Deming until this moment – have you and Frank re-opened the University Club without telling me?  I shall have to come and sit for a game…”

“La, you are naughty, Dutch!” Lottie struck him lightly on the arm, with mock-anger. “We have given all that up, being respectable citizens now. Frank is a banker – can you imagine?”

“He certainly banked enough of my money, over time,” Mr. Steinmetz answered, laughing and Lottie struck him – again, lightly.

“And you have not introduced me to your lady! Were you born in a barn, Dutch?”

“Close to it,” Mr. Steinmetz replied, much amused, although he covered Sophia’s hand with his own in a reassuring way. “Lottie, may I present Miss Sophia Teague – a young lady of good family from Boston who has lately arrived as an employee at the Harvey House. We are acquainted from the time that she worked at a Kansas Harvey house, and have just this moment renewed the acquaintance. Miss Teague – Mrs. Charlotte Thurmond, likewise of a family most suffocatingly respectable, but also afflicted with an equally impetuous spirit of adventure …”

“Isn’t he the naughtiest,” Lottie Thurmond replied, although her brown eyes sparkled with merriment. “How can you endure him, Miss Teague?”

“With the same composure which was my family habit,” Sophia replied, and Lottie Thurmond giggled in delight.

“Yours too, Miss Teague? We must become friends, then.” To her vague surprise, Lottie Thurmond embraced her, in a froth of sweet-smelling ruffles and lace, whispering, “The Harvey House – how tremendously exciting! I will want to hear all about it! Our little outpost of civilization in a far and desolate land … oh dear – there is the bell. Come and speak to me after the service. This is our highest social occasion of the week, you see. Attention must be paid!”

The bell in the steeple above rang once, twice and once more – the last of those latecomers catching a hasty greeting from their friends on the steps before the door recalled the purpose for which they had assembled themselves on an early morning. Sophia and Mr. Steinmetz found themselves sitting in pew, side by side.

“You said that you would tell me a true story about Mrs. Thurmond,” Sophia whispered, under the murmur of other parishioners settling themselves into their own favored pews. “It’s not improper, is it? I would hate to hear something … rude, when she has been so welcoming.”

“No, it’s not improper,” Mr. Steinmetz whispered in return. “There was this one evening at the University Club when she was dealing, and two men quarreled and drew on each other … and every man jack of us hit the floor or ducked behind the bar at the first shot. When they were done exchanging lead civilities, there was Lottie, sitting as prim and calm as you please, and she said, “Gentlemen, I came here tonight to play poker, not roll around on the floor! Cool as a cucumber, she was.” Mr. Steinmetz shook his head, obviously still in awe.


The familiar words of the service were as a balm to a troubled soul; Sophia found herself comforted, recalling as they did her happiest childhood days in Boston, sitting between Mama and Great-Aunt Minnie in the Vining family pew. Why, oh why had such happy contentment not continued on as it had? If she had married Lucian Armitage as had been intended, they would have undoubtedly been blessed by children by now. When she was a little girl, she had pretended that her dolls were children – her own family. She deeply envied Laura her children.

Sitting next to Mr. Steinmetz, sharing her prayer book with him, silently pointed out the order of service and the readings – that was a balm as well. He sang well, too – a light and pleasant tenor, although he whispered to her at the end of the service,

“Doesn’t seem right to me, being in English; back in Texas when I was a boy, our church was in German, but I always fell asleep during the sermon anyway.”

“That was very naughty of you,” Sophia replied. “What did your father say, then?”

“Nothing much – he was a free-thinker. My sisters would pinch me, though. I always thought it was just because I was a boy and Pastor Altmueller’s sermons bored me. Then I grew up … and he was still boring. He’d say five sentences together, and I’d start to snore.”

“Sermons are supposed to be improving to one’s character,” Sophia reproved him.

“I always wondered about that,” he admitted. “But as I said – I think my brother Johann got most of the brains intended for the pair of us. You should be warned, Miss Teague – I believe that Lottie is waiting for you by the door.”

So she was; as soon as Sophia and Mr. Steinmetz approached, Lottie Thurmond exclaimed, “Miss Teague, Fred – you simply must join us for Sunday dinner – I must insist on it. Frank wishes to catch up on old times, and I am perishing for lack of stimulating conversation … if I listen to one more conversation between two females comparing their children’s clevernesses, and recipes for jam, I vow to you that I will scream … say that you will indulge me, Miss Teague. We will talk about books, or the diseases plaguing cattle, the difficulties in digging wells in this country, or Indian depredations, and you may tell me all about your adventures … whatever you wish.”

“Why … yes, certainly,” Sophia replied, charmed and slightly overwhelmed by the intensity of Lottie Thurmond’s interest.

“Splendid! Frank is bringing around the buggy – although it is a short way to our house, we could almost walk, but the day becomes so warm … Fred, you are building a new house, are you not?”

“Yes, ma’am, I will be doing that,” Mr. Steinmetz explained. “As soon as the wells are dug; can’t have the cattle dying of thirst, you know.”

Swept along in Lottie Thurmond’s enthusiasm and Mr. Steinmetz’ friendly interest, Sophia spent the remainder of the day most enjoyably – much more so than she had expected. The ghastly story in the New York newspaper – which still had the power to horrify – somehow did not seem to matter to her quite as much as it had when she first read of it. Boston and the events surrounding her departure from it seemed again to have receded back into the past. Late in the afternoon, Mr. Steinmetz walked with her back to the railroad station and the Harvey house, replete with good food, and an afternoon spent in the Thurmond’s congenial company.





A week ago today we brought home the old-fashioned vintage armoire that someone in the neighborhood had put out for the bulk trash pick-up, and stashed it on the back porch, to await the judgement of a neighbor who does wonderful woodworking. He came over and briefly looked at it, gave his opinion that yes, it was pretty old, a good bit of it was mahogany, recommended a good wood glue and shellac for finishing, and wished us luck – as it looked as if it would be a pretty nice piece, once repaired.

Some of the brass bits, after cleaning.

Some of the brass bits, after cleaning.

So, this week, we began taking it apart; detaching the doors and all the brass parts, the mirror, and the interior shelves. Most of the attachment was by long wood screws, augmented by thin panel nails along the angles where the top, bottom, back and sides met. Both the bottom sides had become very loose – and where the skirting around the bottom had been pulled away, there were a fair number of sharp ends of nails sticking out. So – we did a little more disassembling, and pulled out all the nails, and today we began reassembling, with an installation of fresh wood glue, new and longer panel nails and re-setting the screws which held it together at essential points. It is so humid today – more rain expected – that the glue is taking forever to harden. So – the whole thing is left for overnight, with clamps in place. My daughter is polishing and cleaning up all the brass bits – the hinges, lock and catches, et cetera.

The inside - stripped out

The inside – stripped out

We did a run to Lowe’s for glue, steel wool, a can of shellac and four casters to mount on the bottom corners, for this sucker is a heavy one. When we turned it on its side so that we could look at the bottom, we could see where there were inch-thick squares glued to each corner. It looks like the armoire had been put together with the option of installing casters if the customer wanted them, but I’ll have to cut and apply another wood square of the same dimension so that the rollers will stand slightly taller than the reinstalled skirting.

Left bottom corner re-glued - Week 1 Restoration

Lower left corner, glued, clamped and re-nailed

This first bit is is just insuring that the basic box of the armoire is all square and stable, and the angles and corners are tight. Once that is accomplished, we’ll install the casters, and turn it right side-up. Likely we’ll move it into the house before we reinstall the doors – because that makes it about twice as heavy and hard to maneuver. The eventual purpose is to make it into a media cabinet, and have it in the den with the TV on a set of folding shelves or a stand inside.

The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

This week is designated in our neighborhood for the once a year bulk trash pick-up by the city – that would be everything to big or too heavy to fit into the trash can. Basically, clapped-out appliances, wood-rotted fencing, disintegrating furniture … everything but broken concrete is fair game. Most usually, the piles begin appearing late in the week before; we say jokingly, to give amateur junkers and professional trash pickers a fair go before the city comes in with a number of huge trucks equipped with massive scoopers on the end of a hydraulic arm to scoop up what is left.

Door Handle and Detail of Veneer - Before Renow

Close-up of veneer and wooden handle

The professional junkers usually go for metal debris, everyone else goes for … well, everything else which can be made use of. I know for a fact there are crafters who scrounge weathered fence pickets to make birdhouses and other country craft items. My daughter and I freely admit to collecting perfectly good terra cotta pots, garden ornaments, a huge chiminea, a metal bracket to hang garden flags from,  a wooden chaise lounge,  plant stands and sometimes plants themselves, but this last Sunday we spotted a real prize, and inveigled a neighborhood friend with a pickup truck to help us. We beat one of the pros to it by about five minutes, and boy, did he look annoyed when he came around the corner and saw us loading it up.

The items in question is one of those tall old-fashioned armoire wardrobes, built for use in the days before houses came with built-in closets – I’d guess this one is from the 1920s, with a veneer inlay on the doors, an arched top, and rounded column-shaped corners with some ornamental carvings on them, and very nice carved wooden doors. There is a small broken part of the molding at the top of one of the doors, damage and cracks to the corners and and the base that it stands on is broken entirely away. There were some broken pieces of wood with it, which could be part of the base, but maybe not, as they do not seem to fit.

Detail of carving on corners

Detail of carving on corners

There are some small brass fittings – latches, a lock, and hinges coming loose on one door, and a narrow mirror fixed inside one door. The corners are loose, so it doesn’t stand foursquare at all, but that is something that can be fixed with wood-glue and longer screws. It’s otherwise a solid and well-made piece, not a scrap of MDF anywhere in it (although the side panels are plywood) and well within our capabilities to repair, given some advice by our neighbor who does quality wood-working. In one of my books about repairing furniture , the authors made a point of observing that something from the Forties or even earlier was almost always a solidly built piece of furniture, and well worth the time and effort spent on repairing and restoring, whereas something bought in a furniture store today – unless it was absolutely tippy-top-of-the-line and heinously expensive – is most likely a flimsy piece of trash; thin veneer over MDF. We also recalled the guy on the Antiques Road show, who bought a heavy wooden sideboard from some kids who were going to put it on the Guy Fawkes bonfire, and it turned out to be an incredibly valuable and very rare Jacobean sideboard.

Interior with single shelf

Interior with single shelf

What will we do with it? Probably use it as an entertainment center; with a removable set of shelves for the television and all, until I can afford to build my antique-filled summer vacation house in the Hill Country.

(This story is shaping up into three parts, each of them spaced about at about 5 or 7 years apart. So – go with it. Sophia is five years older, has found her feet, professionally and personally … and now embarking on a significantly new portion of her life … but still, there are some occasional hauntings from her past. Enjoy. I am trying to finish this to bring it out late this year.)Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles

Chapter 13 – Arrival in Deming

“We’ll be in Deming in ten minutes,” the Pullman porter observed, as he passed by Sophia’s seat in the regular train from Albuquerque to Guaymas in Mexico. “You all ready for the wild west, Miss Teague?”
“Don’t be funning with me, George,” Sophia replied, laying aside the book that she had been reading, and slipped it into her reticule. “I’ve been working for Fred Harvey Company five years now – and I have been singularly disappointed with the actual wildness of every place that I have been, for all the sensational newspaper stories and dime novels. Wild west indeed – I consider that the wildness is vastly overrated.”
George – whose name wasn’t really George, but all Pullman porters were called George – was a casual acquaintance of some years standing, an association farther tightened by their mutual service to the railway.
“Shush yourself, Miss Teague,” George replied, with a conspiratorial wink. “Them writer fellas mus’ have something to write about. And sometimes those range wars get to be pretty intense. I used to ride trail for the RB outfit in the Panhandle country, til’ they got sideways of a bunch of cattle thieves – it was no game for a man who wanted to live long enough to have grey hair.”
“Did you indeed?” Sophia asked, suddenly interested. Somehow she had always assumed that he had always worked for the Pullman company. “You really were a cowboy, then?”
“Indeed I was for a time, Miss Teague. But’s hard work; only a young man can endure it. Had me some fine times, though.” He grinned, in reminiscence. “I might write up an account of them, someday.”
“You ought to do that,” Sophia replied, as she stood up, reaching for the trusty old carpet-back in the rack over her head. “I would most definitely read it.”
“Allow me, Miss Teague,” George said. He lifted it down easily. “So – are you going to work in the Deming Harvey house, or jus’ stopping for a visit?”
“Work,” Sophia sighed, in happy appreciation. “One of the girls from when I started in Newton is here – Selina Burnett. She wrote and told me that there would be an opening, and Deming sounded interesting… so I requested a new posting.”
“You been all over the Atchison-Topeka Harvey Houses, haven’t you?”
“I have,” Sophia replied. She could sense the train beginning to slow. She and George stood by the end of the car, closest to the door. “La Junta, after Newton. Then a couple of months at the Montezuma Palace, in the dining room. That was a bit boring – no trains. And all the way out to California, to Barstow – there were trains but it was all sand and desert; even more boring. And then to Albuquerque … I substituted from there, to other Houses which were short-handed. I liked that – having once learned the Harvey method, I could go practically anywhere, and I had friends in every other house after the first few years … George, can you arrange with a porter, to take my trunk from the baggage car to the House lodgings? I expect that they will need me to help out today. There was a message yesterday morning before I left, saying that two girls were sick in bed and couldn’t work.”
“Mos’ certainly, Miss Teague. No rest fo’ the righteous, so it says in the Good Book,” George observed.
“Indeed,” Sophia said, although there was no real reply for that. The train slowed even more; as it curved around a bend in the track, Sophia could look out and see the tops of tall trees, and a metal daisy-field of windmills, with the railway water and coal towers thrusting up at the heart of Deming. Her heart lifted in happy anticipation.
Five years as a Harvey girl; she would not have traded the experience of that for anything in the world. She had a substantial nest egg saved from her wages, a small but elegant wardrobe, bought new and to her own taste, and she had traveled! Oh, how she had traveled, confidently and alone, for the most part; mostly for the business of the Harvey Company, which provided a train pass on the AT&SA for every one of their employees. The little pewter pin for her work pinafore now bore a number 5 on it, which made her relatively senior at any House. With seniority came responsibility; also increased authority, which Sophia relished very much. Some day she might even rise far enough to manage a Harvey House. Wouldn’t Great-aunt Minnie be amazed and proud, if she could see that!
Boston was so far behind her now. She had even stopped reading the Boston Daily Advertiser so assiduously. It just did not seem so important any more to view the activities of those whom she had once known so well at such a distance. It was long ago and far away, and of decreasing importance in her life. For the first two years, it had been in the back of her mind that Richard and Dr. Cotton, or some men working for him might suddenly step from a train brandishing warrants and papers, apprehend her as a fugitive, and pack her back to Danvers. It had never happened; she never set eyes on any acquaintance from Boston again … and anyway, she was now Miss Teague, a valued employee of Fred Harvey Company. No one west of the Mississippi would have dared lay hands on her, wild and lawless or not.
She took her carpetbag from George, with a word of thanks – for he was caught up in attending those passengers also debarking at Deming – and was down from the train before it even entirely stopped moving. She swung the carpetbag, feeling some of the joy of a child released from school; she knew the Deming station from having stopped there several times, and also because the Harvey Houses were often arranged on similar principles; everything just so. If you knew one or two of them well, then you knew them all. Just ahead of the surge of other passengers, she walked into the Harvey House, past the busboy standing ready at the gong.
“Is Miss Bennet in the dining room, or the lunch room,” she paused briefly to ask.
“Dining room,” he replied, looking beyond her at the scattered passengers making a purposeful way towards the house. “Miss Teague? You were expected on this train.”
“And now I’m here,” Sophia strode briskly into the house and stepped into the dining room, where a harassed-appearing Selina was overseeing the last few preparations. “Selina – I’ll put my bag upstairs and change immediately. Where do you need me?”
“Thank heavens,” Selina brightened. “Second room along on the right is yours – the laundry sent along your work things. The lunch room, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Sophia replied. “I’ll be down in two shakes.”
She had become accustomed to amazingly swift changes in her toilettes in the past five years. Off came her travel dress and the plain flat straw boater pinned at a daring angle on her hair, already arranged in a plain bun. She wore black shoes and stockings as a matter of habit. She was fastening her white cuffs as she ran down stairs, and through the kitchen. One of the cooks waved to her from behind the stove. The kitchen already smelt of good food excellently cooked.
“Not wasting a moment, Miss T., are you?” He had worked at the Montezuma Palace.
“Never,” she called back, moving swiftly through the doors into the lunchroom just as the first customers emerged from the other side.
“Miss T.!” chorused the duty waitresses, in relief and gratitude. She recognized all three; in fact, she had trained two of them in the Harvey method, although in separate places and the third had also worked with her at the Montezuma – a circumstance which relieved her mind no end. Today was no time to be training a new girl, when they were short-handed.
“Remember,” she whispered, bringing an answering smile to all three faces. “Left to right – and always go by the right-hand door!”

Late that night, when she finally reached the end of the shift, and wearily climbed the stairs, she found her trunk sitting in the middle of her new room. Yes – when you worked for Fred Harvey Company on the railway – you were a member of the tribe, that tribe who looked after other members.

Before she had been in Deming a week – not even long enough to have a day off on Sundays, that distant past was recalled to her in an unexpected manner, through a conversation between a pair of customers in the lunchroom. Two travelling drummers in city-cut suits and lamentably garish waistcoats came in together, amongst the usual crowd, taking seats together and continuing their conversation – a conversation which seemed to be focused on headlines in a newspaper which one of them carried. They seemed quite interested in that story, for a reason which Sophia could not quite fathom. They asked for coffee, and ordered the cheapest meal possible: she ordered their cups and bustled away towards the kitchen, and as she went, she heard one say, in tones which combined a degree of gruesome relish with sanctimonious disapproval,
“… was ruined in the bust-up of the Marine National Bank, but went on living like a lord in a big house on Beacon Street…”
Her ears pricked up: Beacon Street? The Marine National Bank? Of course, there would have been many once-wealthy men ruined in the collapse of the Marine National Bank of New York, and surely there were Beacon Streets in other towns than Boston? When she returned with a tray off plates, she cast her eyes down on the newspaper, lying carelessly between the two drummers. Judging by what she could see of the banner across the top page, it was a newspaper from New York. She could read the garish headlines up-side down, the letters big and black: Wife and Child Drugged in Fatal Fire, and in slightly smaller letters, Accused in Horrific North Town Murder.
“… thought it was an accident, ‘o course,” the first drummer said. “And the house burned so hot, it wasn’t certain for days.”
“Shocking,” the second man tucked into his lunch, hardly looking at it. He seemed to have more of an appetite for scandal than for nourishment. “So when did they think something was amiss about it all?”
“Well, he’d been cut in the street by all of his friends, after he was brought in to be questioned the first time. And people thought there was something odd going on, anyway … Miss, may I have some more coffee?”
“Certainly,” Sophia replied, and signaled the girl with the tray of jugs and carafes. Curiosity did not in the least overwhelm her sense of devotion to Harvey strictures on unnecessary conversation with customers, especially during a stop by a train. She continued taking orders from other customers, ferrying trays from kitchen to lunch counter, contriving to pass by the two drummers with the intent of overhearing their conversation. To her disappointment, they were now talking about the trials of their journey, and the eccentricities of the customers they encountered. When the train whistle sounded the alert for departure, they both gobbled the last few bites of generous quarter-slices of apple pie, flung down a few coins where they had sat, and made as if to depart for the cashier’s desk.
“Excuse me, sir,” Sophia called after them. “You have forgotten your newspaper!”
“Already read it,” the drummer in the loudest suit called back, over his shoulder. “It’s yours, if you want it.”
“Thank you, sir!” she said, as the door closed behind them. She claimed the newspaper, rolled it under her arm. Now time to read at any length, although she sneaked a look when the lunch counter was clean and fresh-laid, awaiting customers from the next train.
Mr. Richard Brewer, of Beacon Street in Boston’s most prosperous neighborhood of Back Bay, was found dead by his own hand in the burned remains of his family home on Tuesday last … the remains of his wife and youngest son were also discovered among the wreckage of what had been the ancestral mansion of one of Boston’s most prominent families …
Sophia folded up the newspaper very small. “I need to go up to my room,” she said to the closest of the young waitresses in the lunchroom. “Just for a moment – I will return to help with laying out for the next train.”

Truckee Trail CoverThe Stephens-Townsend-Greenwood-Murphy wagons struck off the main trail in the middle of August, following the wheel tracks of a group led the previous year by another mountain man and explorer, the legendary Joseph Walker. Walker’s party had followed the Humboldt River, a sluggish trickle which petered out in reed-grown marsh well short of the mountains. They had been unable to find a pass leading up into the Sierra Nevada, had gone south, abandoning their wagons near Owens Lake, and reached California by going around the mountains entirely. It would not be possible to carry sufficient supplies in packs on the backs of humans and animals for a party which contained so many women, children and babies.

Now, the Stephens-Townsend wagons set up camp at the marsh – the last substantial body of water for miles – and considered their next move. The two old mountain-men, Greenwood and Hitchcock were convinced there must be a way up into the Sierra, more or less directly west of where they were camped. They consulted in sign-language or pantomime with a curious, but seemingly friendly old Indian man who wandered into camp. Likely unknown to them, this was the chief of the Piute tribe, who had traveled with the explorer John C. Fremont the year before, and who had made it tribal policy to be courteous and friendly to those settlers and explorers passing through Piute lands. Someone modeled a range of mountains in the sand at their feet and pointed at the real mountains. The old Indian carefully remodeled the sand range to show a small river running down between two. The next day he rode ahead towards the distant mountains with Greenwood and Stephens, while the rest of the party rested. When they returned it was with good and bad news. There was a river, coming down into the desert, but it was a hard road to get to it with no water except for a small, bad-tasting hot-spring halfway there.

Having scouted the way, the small party made careful preparations: everything that could be made water-tight was filled to the brim. They cut armfuls of green rushes and brush as fodder for the cattle and their few horses. Accounts have them starting the journey at sundown, to take advantage of cooler temperatures, minimize the strain on their draft animals, and get out of the desert as soon as possible. This was the desert crossing which two years later, would break the Donner-Reed party; here, they lost much of their supplies and stock, and broke into constituent family groups. But the Stephens-Townsends held together, through the following day and night. They paused at the hot springs to feed and water the animals, and to rest a while themselves before moving on. Sometime before dawn the next morning, their weary oxen begin perking up, stepping a little faster, as the breeze coming down from the mountains brought the scent of fresh water. This presented another danger, if the teamsters could not control their thirst-maddened animals. Hastily, the men drew the wagons together and unhitched their oxen. Better they should run loose to the water they can smell, than damage the wagons in a maddened stampede. A few hours later, the men returned with the teams, sated and sodden with all the water they could drink from the old Indian’s river, forever after known as the Truckee River. All the way on that first scout, the old Indian kept saying a word which sounded like ‘tro-kay’ to Greenwood and Stephens; it actually meant ‘all right’ or ‘very well,’ but they assumed it was his name, and named the river accordingly.

The Truckee led up into the looming Sierra Nevada range; the highway and railroad line follow its course to this very day. The Stephens-Townsend party moved up the canyon with all speed, for it was now October. At mid-month they camped in meadowlands, just below where the canyon cuts deep through the mountains, the last but most difficult part of the journey. There was already snow on the ground, and they had come to where a creek joined Truckee’s River. The creek-bed looked to be easier for the wagons to follow farther up into the mountain pass, but the river might be more direct. Again, the party conferred and made a decision. They sent a small, fast-moving party on horseback along the river; six of the fittest and strongest with enough supplies to reach Sutter’s Ford, and bring back additional supplies and help. Four men and two women, including Elizabeth Townsend rode out on the 14th of November, 1844. They followed the river south, as snow continued falling. In two days they reached the shores of Lake Tahoe. They worked their way around the western shore to another small creek, which led them over the summit, and down along the Rubicon River, out of the snow, although not entirely out of danger in the rough country. The eastern slope of the Sierras is a steep palisade, the western slope more gradual, but rough, cut through with steep-banked creeks, which within five years would be the focus of the great California Gold Rush. But in this year, it was wilderness.

Early in December, the horseback party reached the safety of Sutter’s Fort, as the main body struggled along the promising creek route. They came at last to an alpine valley with a small ice-water lake at the foot of a canyon leading up to the last and highest mountain pass. At times, the only open passage along the creek was actually in the water, which was hard on the oxen’s feet. By the time they reached the lake, two feet of snow had fallen and more promising. It was time for another hard choice; leave six of the wagons at the lake, slaughter the worst-off of the oxen for food, and cache everything but food and essentials. Three young men; Elizabeth Townsend’s brother Moses Schallenberger, with Allan Montgomery and Joseph Foster volunteered to build a rough cabin and winter over, guarding the wagons and property at the lake, living from what they could hunt. The rest of the party pooled the remaining ox teams and five wagons and moved on, up into the canyon towards the crest of the Sierra Nevada, up a slope so steep they had to empty out the contents and carry everything by hand, doubling the ox teams and pulling up the wagons one by one. A sheer vertical ledge halfway up the rocky slope blocked their way. A desperate search revealed a small defile, just wide enough to lead the oxen and horses up it, single file. The teams were re-yoked at the top, and hoisted up the empty wagons by ropes and chains, while men pushed from below, and the women and children labored up the narrow footpath, carrying armfuls of precious supplies. By dint of much exhausting labor, they reached the summit on November 25th, and struggled on through the snow, while the three volunteers returned to the lake. They hastily finished their small cabin, twelve by fourteen feet square, roofed with ox-hides, and settled in for the winter, not knowing that the winter would be very much harsher than anything that any of them had experienced in the mid-West.

The main party struggled on through the gradual descent. With snow falling, cutting a trail and keeping the wagons moving was a brutally laborious job. A week, ten days of it was all that exhausted men and ox teams could handle. They set up a cold camp on the South Fork of the Yuba River, and made a calculated gamble on survival, before changing weather and diminishing food supplies forced worse conditions upon them. They would build another cabin, and arbors of brush and canvas wagon tops, and butcher the remaining oxen. The women and children would stay, with two men to protect them, while the remaining husbands and fathers took the last horses, and as little food as possible, and continued on to Sutter’s Fort, returning as soon as they could with supplies and fresh team animals. Before the men rode away, the wife of Martin Murphy’s oldest son gave birth to a daughter, who was named Elizabeth Yuba Murphy.

It was nearly two months before a rescue party was able to return to the survival camp – and just in the nick of time, for the women and children were down to eating boiled hides. Twenty miles east, the snow had piled up level to the roof of the little cabin by the ice-water lake. The three young men realized that the game they had counted on being able to hunt had all retreated below the snow, far down the mountains. What they had left would not be able to feed them through the winter. From hickory wagon bows and rawhide, Montgomery and Foster contrived three sets of snowshoes, and packed up what they could carry. In one day, they had climbed to the top of the pass, but the snowshoes were clumsy things and the snow was soft, and young Schallenberger — barely 18 at the time — was not as strong as the other two. Agonizing leg cramps left him unable to take more than a few steps. Continuing on was impossible for him, survival at the cabin impossible for three. Bravely, Moses Schallenberger volunteered to return alone to the cabin while the other two went on. He lived for the next three months on the food supplies they had not been able to carry, and trapping coyotes and foxes. When the rescue party came to the winter camp on the Yuba River in late February, one of them, Dennis Martin continued on snowshoes over the pass, hoping to find young Schallenberger still alive. With a hard crust to the snow, the two of them had an easier time of it, and caught up to the main party on the Lower Bear River.

Two years later, the little cabin in which he spent most of the winter would shelter families from the Donner Party. The irony is that everyone has heard of them, and the pass through the Sierra Nevada, which the Stephens party discovered and labored successfully to bring wagons over – increasing their strength by two born on the journey – is named for the group who lost half their number to starvation in its’ very shadow.

(This story became my first novel – To Truckee’s Trail. I thought then and still believe that it could be an absolutely riveting move — until then, the novel will have to do.)


Chapter 12 – East and West

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles“It was marvelous!” Sophia exclaimed to the waiting Jenny Maitland, on her return to the sleeping Harvey House, with the salver, pot and plate which had borne the special meal. Yawning, Sophia carried them through into the kitchen. “Mrs. Vining showed me a stateroom and the offices! There was a dining room, too – but that was where Mr. Richter’s coffin was in state. There is a tiny kitchen, and a little cabin for the staff, and everything so cunningly contrived! And she was very kind, and wanted to hear ever so much more. I would have not expected the daughter of a rich cattle baron to be so … down to earth. But she told me that when she first married, she and her husband would go up the trail between Texas and Kansas with cattle herds … and she being the only woman among them.”
“You were there for such a long time,” Jenny said. “I would have worried – but then I knew you would have to bring back the china.”
“They so appreciated the meal, and all,” Sophia assured her. “Mrs. Vining promised to send a letter of thanks directly to Mr. Harvey and Mr. Steinmetz said that it was so late at night that he would accompany me to the door. He also was very pleasant and considerate. It has been such a long time since I was able to speak German.”
“Mr. Fred Harvey doubtless will be very pleased,” Jenny agreed, yawning. “Oh, my, am I tired! This will be almost like being mentioned in dispatches, for us. Tell me all about the parlor car tomorrow – I am certain the other girls will have a thousand questions.” She yawned again, and turned to lock the door at the top of the stairs behind them, as they passed through. “Sleep well, Sophie – and bundle up the quilts on your bed tonight, for winter is on us and tonight is supposed to be cold. Mr. Boatwright had a message from the telegraphist in La Junta – there is a storm blowing east. They have had snow falling there all day. Likely we will have it tonight.”
“I hate to see summer go,” Sophia mused. “I’ve always hated being cold.”
“The benefits of having our rooms over the kitchens,” Jenny agreed. “Unpleasant in summer, but welcome in the winter. Good night, Sophia.”
“Good night, Miss Maitland.” Sophia went to her own room, made a hasty preparation for bed, her feet already cold once she removed her shoes. Laura was already asleep, her breathing the only sound within the room. A cold wind rattled the panes of glass, and in the distance, before she fell into her own sleep, Sophia heard the whistle of a steam engine, heavy wheels grinding against the rails – it seemed that the special train was already on its way, returning to Texas. The passage of it vibrated the station building very slightly, and then it was gone, leaving winter behind, with the soft rustle of the first heavy flakes of snow falling and brushing against the windows.

By the following morning, it was very obvious that winter had arrived in Kansas, and Sophia was more than grateful for her new coat, and the warmth of those flannel petticoats. The cold was a dry cold, not as damp and miserable as winters were prone to be in Kansas, but the winds were merciless. Most mornings, the windowsill was dusted with a layer of snow which had sifted through the cracks around the window-frames and the glass itself covered thick in the geometrical scrawls of frost. Not for the west a gentle veil of falling snow, whispering and rustling as it fell – no, here the wind propelled the snow in hard, gritty pellets that felt like small hail and stung the exposed flesh. The very air sometimes was so cold that it scorched like icy fire and stung in her nose and throat – no, there were some days when to walk across to the bank, Sophia must wrap her muffler twice around her face, because it would hurt to take a deep breath.
No more the excursions out to the countryside for picnics with Bill Boatwright, and Laura and her young swain. Sophia’s one day off was more likely spent in the parlor, sewing and reading, or sometimes playing children’s card games with the other girls. Nothing stopped the regular train schedule, although there were some storms which came very close to doing so. Passengers, supplies, mail and newspapers arrived from east and west without fail. On a Sunday morning in December, Sophia rewarded herself with a copy of the latest Boston Herald, and settled in for a leisurely read of it. Her feelings, on leafing through the pages of newsprint were an odd mixture of nostalgia at reading of familiar places, the scattering of familiar names as welcome as having caught sight of them in the street or walking in the Public Garden, and satisfaction that she was doing so from far, far away – as if she stood outside the bars of a cage and watched a dangerous tiger pace back and forth.
She turned the page, and her eyes fell on a familiar name – indeed, one which almost leapt at her like that tiger.
Miss Minerva Templeton Vining, late of this City.
Aunt Minnie. Sophia felt a chill in her heart, which had absolutely nothing to do with the icy draft from the closest window. She was reading the social pages, a collection of short paragraphs on the travels and doings of various prominent or near-to-prominent citizens. She found the start of the item and read it carefully, as if to distill the import of every word.
We have lately received word from a correspondent in Newport that Miss Minerva Templeton Vining, late of this City, has passed to her final heavenly reward at a private residence in Newport, attended devotedly in her final decline by her dearest friends. Our Readers of a certain age will fondly recall that dauntless lady as a stalwart speaker on behalf of the Abolitionist cause, her volunteer service with the Sanitary Commission nursing the wounded in the Late Conflict, and her devotion to and support of many other worthy and charitable causes in our City such as Temperance, Female Suffrage and the education of the Poor. Miss Vining was the last surviving offspring of Judge Lycurgus Saltinstall Vining, a magnate in the China trade, whose many descendants still inhabit this city. We offer up our most sincere consolation to her friends, associates and family, who – we are certain – will miss her lively presence on the social and charitable scene immensely. Her obituary and notice of memorial services will be published as soon as they are available to us.

I wish that I could have been able to write to her, Sophia thought, as she laid aside the Herald. Let her know that I was safe – she believed me at the last. But I couldn’t – a letter, a careless word – that would have put the both of us in danger, and the Teagues as well. I put nothing past Richard – he would have found a way, I know he would have. His viciousness in that respect was something only the readers of the worst kind of dime novels might have credited. Old Tim, Declan, Seamus and Agnes – yes, he would have done his worst on them in revenge. Richard’s malice and cunning were all too real, all too effective, being a man from an old and respected family. I hope that Mrs. Kempton wrote to her, and remembered to say that she had encountered a certain girl named Sophia in Kansas … that news might have lightened her grief, and provided comfort. Dear Great-aunt Minnie …
The door to the parlor swung open, admitting Laura, already dressed for the outdoors. “There you are, Sophie! You simply must come sleigh-riding with us – the day is so fine and clear, and the snow is packed! Mr. Belton has a sleigh and team…”
“I …” It was in her mind to refuse, but Laura cried impatiently,
“You cannot stay in the parlor all day, reading your silly newspaper – you will have cobwebs in your head. Let the fresh air blow them away!”
“All right,” Sophia agreed. She folded up the newspaper carefully, taking it to her room. No, Laura was right. Fresh air would do her good, and if winter so far was any indication, the next fair day might not fall on a Sunday.
She donned her coat and warmest hood, thrust mittens onto her hands, and ran downstairs: before the Newton station, a team of horses waited in harness to an open two-seat cutter. The bells on their harness jingled sweetly as they tossed their heads and shifted impatiently. Andrew Belton – the telegraphist who was walking out with Laura hopped down from the driver’s seat. Bill Boatwright sat with the reins in his gloved hands – he grinned at the girls, saying,
“About time! I thought you would take all morning. Andrew kissed Laura on one cheek, and said,
“Get in, girls – the time is passing and the horses are impatient!” He handed them up to the back seat, which was piled high with a pair of heavy buffalo robes. “There’s a foot-stove, down at the bottom, and some more blankets under the robes!”
“This is fun!” Laura bounced up into the cutter, pulling aside the robes and blankets. “My brothers and their friends, they used to race on winter days! As fast as the trains!”
“Settled?” Bill Boatwright asked over his shoulder, as Sophia burrowed under the robes and blankets. There was a puddle of warmth at her feet – the foot-stove, fully charged with fresh coals. “Then let ‘er rip!” He slapped the reins on the horses backs, and they set off at a lively trot. The runners made little but a faint rasp on the new snow, and the horses’ hooves were muffled by it – the loudest thing by far the jingling bells on the horse harness. The air blew ice-water cold on Sophia’s cheeks: she and Laura had the buffalo robes pulled up nearly to their shoulders, for there was no shelter from it in an open sleigh. The men were talking together, as was their custom.
“Something has made you sad, Sophia,” Laura asked, most unexpectedly. “I will listen, if you wish to tell me what it is. Was it something in your newspaper?”
“Yes,” Sophia acknowledged, at last. This was something she had kept to herself for more than half a year. The sound of the horses’ hoofs crunching on snow, their harness bells chiming provided a cover for quiet conversation. “The death of … someone who was very close to me. And I am sad not just because I will miss her very much, but that I couldn’t tell her about … where I was. In the west. Working for Mr. Harvey. She would have approved, very much, I think.”
“Why could you not write to her?” Laura sounded very puzzled.
“Because two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,” Sophia replied with a bitter laugh. “There was a man who threatened our lives. He was cruel and vicious, and stopped at nothing when he was thwarted. I had to get away, you see. And I could not tell anyone where I was going. I was afraid that this man – if he found out that my … my friends had helped me – if he even knew I was alive, then he would hurt them, somehow. I had to let everyone think that I was dead, you see. For their safety and mine.”
“So,” Laura mused. “You’re name is not really Teague? And everyone where you came from thinks that you are dead?”
“I call myself Teague, now,” Sophia insisted. “Because … they were kind and loyal to me. Not my family – to me. And I suppose that the person that I used to be is dead. At least, I know that Richard thinks so.”
“Richard?” Laura’s blue eyes widened. “You have said that name, sometimes in your sleep. Your husband?”
“No,” Sophia laughed, curt and bitter. “My brother. My older brother. I used to adore him, when I was a child. But I wonder now, if he was ever really what he seemed to be. My great-aunt’s companion said that she thought he was evil.”
“A brother?” Laura exclaimed. “But you always say that you are orphan, with no brother or sister.”
“He treated me so abominably,” Sophia answered, “That I began doubting we were truly kin to each other at all. My great-aunt said in her last letter, that sometimes my mother said she could see a demon in his eyes. Although he carried out a pretense of being an amiable and well-mannered gentleman … I had reason to think that his wife feared him. And then I began to believe that he would kill me, as he had killed the birds.”
“Oh, Sophie!” Laura fumbled for Sophie’s mitten-clad hands underneath the robe, and took them into hers. “How horrid – I would never have believed!”
“I think that he took a pleasure in tormenting animals. People, too. When I was a small child, I wanted a kitten. My mother forbade it. I thought she was unreasonable, cruel, even … but she was afraid that Richard would harm it. I think now,” Sophia’s voice dropped as she considered certain of her childhood memories. “That when I was a small girl, my mother feared that Richard might do the same with me. He never did … well, not up until the last. Then I too, began to see the demon in his eyes. But he fooled nearly everyone, Laura. And he is a … a well-respected man in Boston; a man of power and position. I could not risk the lives of my friends. I did send by a round-about means, a message to my great-aunt that I was alive and safe. I cannot be certain that she ever received it.”
The two girls sat, huddled together against the cold, warm under the buffalo robes. Now they were out at the edge of town, into snow-clad fields and meadows unrolling on either side, broken here and there with a line of leafless brush or scrub-trees casting long blue shadows on the pure white snow.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you did not believe me,” Sophia observed at last. “It must seem quite … melodramatic to you – a brother like mine.”
“No,” Laura shook her head. “Not at all. There was a boy once – the age of my oldest brothers, from the other side of town. Only son, only child. His parents farmed a little … and he was odd. So my brothers always said. They did not like him, much, although his mother and father were friends to all, and they were schoolboys together. But there was something strange about him. They said that he also liked to do cruel things to the animals, but sneaky in doing so … bungle killing a chicken, so that he could watch it running around and laugh as it died slowly. Trap a rabbit in the field, watch as it writhed in agony. He was teased as a child, for he wet the bed at night. His poor mama – who must wash the sheets and nightshirt always! And he liked watching fire. Of this my brothers said, often, when this was spoken of. He loved to start a fire – and watch it with a gloating expression. My brothers,” Laura drew in her breath with a hiss. “They said the same as you – there was a demon in his eyes at such times. I have not thought of this for many years, Sophie – this was when I was a little girl and much has happened since then.”
“What happened to this boy?” Sophia asked, hardly daring to draw a breath. Yes – this did sound dreadfully like Richard. Laura shrugged.
“There was a fire one night, which burned up the farmhouse and killed his parents together. He lost the farm, and went to work as a hired man in the next town. One night, he killed the farmer for whom he worked with a shotgun … he was tried and convicted, but everyone said he was insane. He was sent to the St. Peter State Hospital. I think he died in a fire there … my brothers wondered if he had a hand in it.”

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.


(Cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net, and at www.ncobrief.com)