This month, due to popular demand, and because I just came off finishing 56,752 words for NaNoWriMo, I'm going to share another excerpt from that novel I'm researching. It's part of a 3-book series entitled "Wyoming Paintbrush."
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Sketches in Calico
Chapter One, Part Two
“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.
The 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.
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“Arriving, Rock Springs. Next stop, Green River!”
The conductor’s voice boomed through the closed door. Katherine placed the last of her personal items in her satchel.
The train squealed and slowed, its wheels struggling against the brakes in a tug-of-war challenge of motion. And the brakes won as the train came to a halt.
Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory.
After what felt like a month of travel and crossing seven states, Katherine had finally arrived at her stop. The Great Plains were the worst. Those miles seemed to take three times as long. If only this town could be the final destination. She still had a bumpy stagecoach ride to endure. At least on the train, she had a cushion as a seat and privacy. The stage wouldn’t be so kind.
“Can I help you with your luggage, Miss?”
Katherine looked up as she reached the top step. “Thank you. Yes. I would appreciate that very much. Dawson is the name on the trunks.” She accepted the attendant’s hand as he helped her to the platform and presented her claim tags. Solid ground again. For the moment, anyway.
“Will you be staying here in Rock Springs? I can recommend a nice boardinghouse with the best veal and pot roast this side of the Green River.”
Her mouth watered at the possibility of another good meal. “Actually, I need to secure passage to Twin Creeks by stage.”
With any luck, the next stage wouldn’t be there until tomorrow. Perhaps she’d have a chance to check out that boardinghouse and take a warm bath to rid herself of the travel grime.
“Oh! Then you best be getting to the ticket window, Miss. That stage is here and it leaves in less than fifteen minutes!” He signaled to another attendant, then pointed toward a window at the opposite end of the platform. “I’ll make sure your belongings get transferred to the stage. You mosey on over to that counter and take care of your ticket.”
So much for a hot meal and the chance to freshen up a bit. Katherine made her way down the wooden planks, worn in notable spots yet providing a walkway free of any dirt or debris. She might be exhausted, but her eyes still caught every meticulous detail and logged it in her mind.
With her final ticket in hand, she followed the ticketmaster’s instructions and headed for the waiting stagecoach. True to his word, the attendant oversaw the transfer of her trunks to the top of the stage. A matronly woman barked orders and gestured with both arms in an agitated manner. Her shrill voice carried on the wind to Katherine’s ears, each piercing command making her cringe. The oversized feather plume—tucked into a hat with far too many ribbons and a brim that would fit a horse’s head—flapped as she spoke.
Was that woman going to be one of her companions on the ride to Twin Creeks? Perhaps Katherine could plead a headache and endure the ride with her eyes closed.
“Ah, Miss Dawson!” the attendant called as soon as she neared the stage. “Your trunks have been loaded, and there is space for one more, so you’re in luck.” His engaging smile reminded her of Thomas, her older brother. That man could charm a spider from its web, and this gentleman seemed capable of the same.
“Thank you, Mr…” She dragged out the formal address, waiting for him to supply the rest.
“Just Willie, Miss. No need for anything fancy out here.” He tipped his cap. “And it were my pleasure. Helping a pretty lady like yourself makes the more trying tasks worthwhile.”
Willie made a barely perceptible visible motion of his eyes toward the matron Katherine had heard only moments before. Katherine fought hard to control the giggle which threatened to escape. She settled for a slight grin and a wink, which Willie returned. If only he could join them on the ride. It might not be as bad.
“Will you also be riding with us?” asked the woman with the shrill voice. Only this time, she sounded much more pleasant.
It took Katherine a moment to realize the woman was addressing her. “Yes, ma’am. I am.”
“Well, thank goodness! At least we’ll have some civilized company along. I was worried there’d be nothing but uncouth men chewing tobacco and letting loose with their offensive language.” The woman took the hand of the stagecoach driver and placed her foot on the step. The stage tilted toward them under her ample girth, then it settled once the woman took her seat.
“Miss Dawson, I hope your journey will be quick and comfortable.”
Katherine again smiled and dipped her head. “Thank you, Willie. For everything.” She withdrew a few coins from her reticule and pressed them into his hand. “Have a nice day.”
Once seated herself, Katherine made a silent determination to only speak if someone spoke to her. Otherwise, she’d be content to sit in silence and observe her other companions. More material for her sketchbooks as soon as she again had the chance to add to them. And with the man who reeked of body odor, the scruffy lad in need of a shave and a haircut, and the presumptuous matron who now sat opposite her, Katherine was sure she’d have more than enough unique characters to add depth to her many sketched scenes.
Were all three of these other passengers also residents of Twin Creeks? Then it might behoove her to be more cognizant of making a good first impression. Only the ride would tell.
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NOW IT'S YOUR TURN:
* Have you ever been on a journey by bus, train, or even car where you encountered or traveled with fellow passengers who would provide amazing material for a sketch or book? Share about one of them.
* When have travel plans gone a bit awry and a much-needed or much-desired chance to freshen up became impossible? What was the result?
* What did you like most about today's post?
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out. She is also an educational consultant with Usborne Books.
She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and a Retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.