Unfortunately, I'm under a tight deadline right now. We're also working hard to move into a new house, and I'm only 7 weeks away from delivering my second baby...a boy! So, I haven't had a lot of time to research. Instead, following Lena's lead, I'm going to share the first 2 scenes of chapter 1 in a novel Harvest House is considering. It's part of a 3-book series entitled "Wyoming Paintbrush."
* * * * *
Sketches in Calico
Katherine Cambridge made her way down the corridor of the second train car. The door to every compartment she’d passed had been closed. Her satchel felt like it was filled with lead, and her shoulders ached. At least two layers of soot and grime covered her skin and clothes, and she could barely keep her eyes open. She needed a bath, a fresh gown, and something more to eat than half-cooked vegetables or chicken in desperate need of some seasoning.
And Chicago was just barely the halfway point.
She had more than one thousand miles yet to go. Her body needed to rest. Her stomach needed something substantial. And her feet would love to remain on solid, unmoving ground for more than ten or twenty minutes at a time. What she wouldn’t have given to have had enough funds to purchase travel on a Pullman car. Her family had always traveled on those. An entire car to themselves, complete with a servant to see to all their needs. It would have been nice to have some traveling companions too. Not this time, though. She couldn’t afford the luxury, as much as her weary bones, lonely soul, and fastidious palate would have liked.
The purser had assured her there were plenty of available compartments, but it appeared as if each and every one of them was occupied. Now, where had the purser gone? She glanced up just as the crimson color of the man’s uniform appeared around the wall at the other end of the car.
“Excuse me,” she called.
The man looked up and hurried toward her. “Yes, Miss?”
Katherine inhaled a deep breath to tap into what little extra energy she could find. “Sir, I—”
He placed a hand across the gold buttons running down the center of his chest. “Please, call me Mr. Withers. If I’m to be at your service while you ride this train, we should at least be introduced properly.”
“Yes, Mr. Withers. My name is Katherine Dawson.”
Withers nodded. “Miss Dawson. How can I help you?”
“I’ve recently come on board for the second leg of my journey, and I can’t seem to find any unoccupied private compartments. We spoke a few moments ago, and you pointed me in this direction.”
“Yes, yes. We did.” The purser’s brow furrowed. “And that simply can’t be. I walked through these cars myself before we took on the additional passengers. Opened each one of these doors not ten minutes ago. It’s impossible they’ve all been claimed in such a short time.”
The man turned to the nearest door and gave it two short knocks. No sound came from within, so he placed his fingers on the handle and slid open the door.
The purser scratched his head. “Now, that’s odd. Why would this door be closed if there’s no one inside?”
He moved to the next compartment. Same result. The purser repeated his actions for the next four compartments, each one of them as empty as a tomb. The very place in which Katherine might as well be buried if she didn’t find a place of her own to lie down soon. As much as she’d love to help, she didn’t have the strength to stand here and wait for the purser to solve this mystery.
“Sir, I’m sorry about this dilemma, but I do appreciate your assistance. I believe I’ll simply take this compartment here.” She nodded to the one immediately to her right. “I hope you find out what happened and why the doors—”
A childish giggle interrupted Katherine’s statement. Both she and the purser turned to look behind her. There, peering around the wall near the entrance to the car stood a young lad with a face full of freckles, an unruly shock of auburn hair, and an impish gleam in his chocolate eyes. His hand covered his mouth as he snickered.
“Ah-ha!” The purser brushed past her and grabbed hold of the lad’s arm before the boy could escape. “I do believe we’ve found our culprit.”
Katherine stared. How many young boys like this would she find in her classroom at the school in Twin Creeks? A part of her wanted to reprimand the child, but another part couldn’t fault him. She and her brothers and sister had pulled harmless pranks like that far too many times to count. Besides, the boy didn’t appear to be a threat in any way. He merely looked starved for attention. The way he peered up at the purser said far more than his actions.
“Do accept my apologies, Miss. We often have mischievous urchins such as this stealing aboard our trains and causing trouble for our passengers.” He reached down and clasped the young lad’s chin in his free hand, giving the boy a stern verbal warning coupled with an amused glint in his eyes. “I can assure you, it won’t happen again.” Turning to lead the child off the train, the purser cast a glance back over his shoulder. “Please, feel free to choose any one of those compartments you deem suitable, and again, I am sorry.”
The man disappeared with the boy before she had a chance to respond. So, Katherine hefted her satchel yet again and stepped toward the nearest bench, sliding the door shut behind her. She almost fell against the lone seat, her eyes closing the moment her head touched the cushion. Finally. Rest again.
* * * * *
“Tickets! Tickets, please.”
The conductor’s voice grew louder as he approached. His firm knock on each door of the private compartments preceded brief mumbled conversation before he resumed his call in the general corridor.
Katherine awoke from her slumber, then reached into her cloak pocket and pinched the folded letter inside the envelope for the thousandth time. As if touching it would make this journey any more real. Still, it helped to have something tangible to remind her she had a purpose in traveling all the way across the country. Her family might not feel the same way. In fact, she was sure they wouldn’t. And they were no doubt shocked to discover her letter the morning after she slipped away during the night. But she didn’t have a choice. Life in Philadelphia had been crushing her dreams. If she had any chance of making it as an artist and pursuing her passion, she had to get away.
So she did.
Now, more than halfway to her destination, the first pangs of conscience and uneasiness struck. Katherine had been so caught up in what she’d discover once she arrived in Twin Creeks, Wyoming, she hadn’t allowed any thoughts to deter her from her plan. Not even her younger sister could persuade her otherwise.
A firm knock sounded on the door to her compartment. “Tickets, please.”
Katherine rose and opened the door, greeting the conductor with as much of a smile as she could muster. Weariness made every muscle ache and her eyelids feel heavy. She handed her ticket to the man, her artist’s eye taking note of his well-pressed navy uniform.
he two buttons on each sleeve as well as the four buttons down the front of his coat were polished to a brilliant shine. Had it not been for the detailed insignia on each one, Katherine had no doubt she’d be able to see her reflection in them if she leaned close enough. Even the four external pockets had been ironed so they almost blended in with the coat. Not a wrinkle to be found, other than the minor creases at his elbows. Such a humble occupation, yet this man took obvious pride in his appearance. And it showed in the way he held himself, as well as the direct eye contact he made. He was content in the work he did and gave it his all, right down to the shine on his black leather shoes.
“Going all the way to Rock Springs, Miss?”
Katherine snapped up her head and returned his gaze as she nodded. “Yes, sir. And then on to Twin Creeks.”
He pursed his lips and glanced down again at her ticket, then gave her a slow, but not indiscreet, perusal. “Nice little town, Rock Springs. Don’t know much about Twin Creeks, other than it’s a might bit to the south. Folks there are real sociable.” He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, as if sizing her up and comparing her to some preconceived notion in his mind. “You got family there?”
The conductor certainly was the curious sort. Personable too. But Katherine wasn’t sure just how much information she should be giving him. They were well past Chicago and crossing the Plains, so it wasn’t as if anyone within a thousand miles would be looking for her. Still, better to err on the side of caution than risk putting an end to her adventure before it truly began.
“No, sir. I’m traveling west to take a teaching position there. I responded to an advertisement in one of the papers back East, and they accepted.” She forced a cheerful quality to her tone. “So, here I am.”
“Hmm. Yes.” He reached up and stroked his clean-shaven chin with his free hand. “I’ve met my fair share of young ladies traveling west for one reason or another. Lots of opportunities, there for the taking…if you’ve got the gumption.” Katherine straightened to her full five-foot, five inches and squared her shoulders. Something between a cough and a chuckle escaped from the conductor’s mouth. “And something tells me, little lady, that you do.” He tipped his head over his shoulder to the right. “Be sure and visit our dining car. Some of the best meals on the line, in my opinion. And I’ve traveled a lot of these rails. The roast pheasant and the braised beef are not to be missed.”
Katherine’s stomach rumbled. Her cheeks warmed at the conductor’s chuckle, and she placed a hand over her abdomen. “I appreciate the recommendation,” she replied above her chagrin.
"My pleasure. We’ve still got quite a ways to Rock Springs. If there’s anything else I can do to make your travels more comfortable, don’t hesitate to come find me. The name’s Stanley.” He returned her ticket and took one step backward. “Now, I best be getting back to my duties.” Tipping his hat, he offered a kind smile. “You have a nice remainder to your journey.”
“Thank you, sir. You’ve been extremely kind and helpful. I’ll be sure to leave word of your exemplary performance with the railroad company at my first opportunity.”
Without another word, the conductor bowed and turned on his heel to continue his task. Katherine slid the door closed and returned to the padded bench, sinking into the plush cushion. It was so easy to remain secluded for the entire journey when she had purchased a private compartment. But Stanley was right. She should venture out and explore the train, take advantage of all it had to offer. The sights out of her window provided a wealth of material for sketching, but she’d seen nothing of the interior since she’d boarded.
It was time to do some exploring.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an author, speaker, online marketing specialist, and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have 1 daughter and a baby boy on the way, plus an Australian Shepherd/retriever mix.
She has sold eleven books and one novella so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine, AFictionado, and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com/.