Green-eyed and honey-haired Kathleen O’Shea swept into the observation car to sit on a tufted, velvet cushion. Her back was to another patron of the train whom she had just encountered in the dining car having an early breakfast, the same as she. They sat in silence, looking out their respective windows at what seemed an endless barren wilderness crossing west Texas.
She was grateful her trip hadn’t all been made up of this terrain, or she likely would have gotten off a long time ago. Now she was too near her destination to give up.
She wandered restlessly throughout the train, from car to car, returning to the dining car in mid-afternoon. She wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, but she met the most interesting people there from all over the world. Most of them were travelling to California—some to go up the coast into Canada, some to embark on a ship to Australia, and others to see the sights within the state. A few were going to Arizona, like herself, but they were all going to the cities. No one was going to Benson. She began to wonder how terrible a destination it might be.
After lunch, she stopped the conductor to ask him when he thought they would arrive in Benson.
“We’re just pulling into Ft. Stockton now,” he said. “That means we should be in Benson around this same time tomorrow afternoon.”
She sighed. The trip had been smooth, albeit long to be cooped up in the same place with the same people, dining, sitting, and even sleeping with them since the overnight arrangements were in stacked berths. It would have been far, far worse on a stagecoach, though, she knew, and she wondered how anyone, especially women, had managed it before there were trains.
When she changed trains in Chicago, she was delighted to discover that by taking a southern route instead of going west towards the central hub in Omaha, she could shorten her trip by a day. She had immediately wired Dan Gallagher in Benson, telling him of her early arrival, hoping it would not inconvenience him too much.
Her imagination had been set afire when they stopped for a few hours in New Orleans before she changed trains for the West. A French couple, with whom she had conversed much along the way, hired a carriage and took her with them to the Café du Monde. The chicory coffee was a new experience. She thought she had eaten beignets from a French bakery in Boston, but she wasn’t sure. New Orleans was certainly a colourful place, much more than Boston which could be quite drab in February. It was just a few days before Mardi Gras, and the sidewalks were lined with street musicians and their devotees.
New Orleans was the French couple’s destination, and they begged her to stay with them for a couple of days. Kathleen was sorely tempted and began to wish she hadn’t wired Mr. Gallagher about her early arrival. But it would be rude to change it again, and she certainly did not want to start off in a new place having estranged her intended.
Anyone who asked the purpose for her trip, and most everyone did, she told them only that she was going there to meet her fiancé who had come out several months prior to get them established. A half-truth, she knew, but one that couldn’t hurt anyone. Fortunately, she was always able to change the subject quickly by asking questions about themselves. She knew everyone’s favorite subject was themselves, but in this case, she had good reason for it not to be hers.
Having the knowledge that they were on the final leg of the trip enabled her to calm her restlessness. It was yet a couple of hours until the first service of dinner, so she decided to retire to her berth to close her eyes for a bit.
It was not meant to be, however, just as she had feared. Every time she let down her guard and tried to relax, she was immediately beset by the reasons that had brought her here. Reasons! She could hardly call them that. She had been driven to come West. She knew the circumstances, but she had come so late to the bigger picture that everything danced in her head like merry madmen at a carnival show.
For her, it had all started at fifteen when her father arranged a violin recital for her, accompanied by her best friend, Siobhan. The recital had been held in their recently built third-floor conservatory—Kathleen’s favourite place on earth. She had helped to decide on the decorative elements—a gabled, glass ceiling, terrazzo tile, wrought iron filigree, and a glorious fountain with fat cherubs. Together with their gardener, she had helped cultivate a huge cascade of blooming jasmine which trailed from the ceiling to the fountain.
Mr O’Shea had invited all of his business associates, including her uncle, Elias Appleton, one of her father’s business partners. He wasn’t really her uncle, but she had started calling him that shortly after they had moved from their home in Charlestown to the brownstone in Back Bay, an up-and-coming Boston neighbourhood. Mr. Appleton became a frequent fixture around the O’Shea home, coming often for dinner and staying up with her father into the night, discussing business over expensive, single malt Scotch.
A few days before the recital, her father had made what had seemed to her to be an odd request—that Kathleen decide on something special for her final piece of the evening, and to present it to Mr Appleton, not overtly, but by looking demurely his way a few times in the execution of it.
That evening, as Kathleen stepped forward to present her final piece of the evening, she took a deep breath. She knew her father would be angry because of the piece she had chosen—her mother and father thought popular music to be quite gauche—but in her first youthful act of defiance, the piece Kathleen had chosen for Mr Appleton was Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.” She thought of it bitterly now—how ironic that choice had been.
She could see herself that night; she had played it over and over in her head. Instead of standing in the roped-off stage area, she had come out more into the room, slightly left of centre, so that she could see Mr Appleton’s face. Not that all that would have been necessary, Mr Appleton was head and shoulders above anyone else in the audience.
She had tuned and preened, at last turning to Siobhan for the intro to the piece. Such emotion emanated from Kathleen’s instrument that there was hardly a dry eye in the audience when she finished and curtsied, turning slightly toward Appleton.
He was the first on his feet with applause, and everyone followed suit.
Her father obviously missed the emotional impact of the piece because his face was dour as he hurried to Mr Appleton, presumably to apologize for her choice. Mr Appleton nodded to him but brushed past him as politely as he could.
Kathleen remembered Siobhan coming forward, standing at her side. Someone brought flowers, but Kathleen barely noticed the offering as Mr Appleton stepped forward, taking her hand, bending and kissing it.
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” he said. “I dearly love Stephen Foster. Your piece and Beautiful Dreamer are my two favourites.”
He turned towards Siobhan as well and kissed her hand, albeit in a much more polite and distant manner.
“Miss O’Shea,” he had said, resuming his clasp on her hand, holding it high, towards his chest. “Miss O’Shea, would you do me the honor of allowing me to send you to the Boston Conservatory? Pay your tuition, be your patron.”
Kathleen had suspected this might be her father’s design, but now it was no longer a mystery. Siobhan’s eyes shone. “Oh, please say yes, Kathleen! I hadn’t told you of my acceptance to the Conservatory because I was afraid it would spoil our friendship.”
“Oh, Siobhan, I would have been exceedingly happy for you, but now I am exceedingly happy to accept Mr Appleton’s offer.”
“Excellent!” Appleton said. “I shall make the arrangements at once.”
Kathleen stepped back and curtsied to him as he stood there beaming.
Kathleen tossed in the berth. That had been the beginning, and how fortuitous it had seemed. Could it really be that it had only been a year ago, on her eighteenth birthday, that the wheels had turned towards her current fate?
Thanks to her “dear Uncle Elias” as she had so affectionately referred to him, she and Siobhan had been two of the very first young women to graduate from Boston Conservatory.
On that birthday, about to graduate from the Conservatory, Kathleen had been thinking about what she wanted to do with her life. What were the options for an accomplished female musician?
She was sure the average person assumed that she would take on the traditional role of wife and mother and use her talent to entertain friends. But that seemed like a great waste of such a prestigious education.
It was a particularly quiet evening without Siobhan or Mr Appleton. She thought the quiet was odd; she had expected that her parents would arrange a party. Perhaps a surprise party, she thought. Everyone was very polite, but no one offered birthday greetings. She convinced herself all through dinner that there must be a surprise party in the works.
Kathleen lay in the berth with her hands over her ears as if she could silence the conversation playing out in her mind. But it ensued as clearly as if she were experiencing it at that moment.
In the midst of her thoughts at dinner, her father had laid down his napkin and cleared his throat. Her mother glanced at him but, after, kept her eyes on her plate, cutting her food and eating slowly. Kathleen stopped eating, looking back and forth between the two of them.
“We have a great surprise for your birthday, one that brings us as much pleasure to bestow as will be yours to receive.”
He reached over, taking her mother’s hand, forcing her to put down her cutlery and to look up.
What could it be? Kathleen had trembled with excitement. Would they send her abroad? Perhaps she and Siobhan together? How wonderful would that have been?
Mr O’Shea glanced down, cleared his throat again, then looked up at Kathleen.
“Your mother and I have betrothed you to Mr Appleton,” he announced, and she recalled his ridiculous, half-hopeful smile.
“Is there a young Mr Appleton whom I have not yet met?” Kathleen had asked, unable to fathom any other possibility. The Uncle Elias Appleton she knew was in his fifties, handsome, silver-haired, but definitely not someone she would choose to marry.
Met with silence, she had drawn her own conclusions.
“I thought we had come a long way from an era of arranged marriages,” she said, the comment still reverberating in her ears.
“Not so far,” her father had said. “Not when there is a good reason for it.”
“And what reason would that be, Father? Do you think I am not otherwise marriageable?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Jonas said. “This is just more advantageous—for all of us.”
Again, she had looked back and forth between her parents. “For all of us?”
“He provided your education, and I’m sure he would provide you much, much more—anything you could possibly desire.”
“Provided my education? I never knew that patronage came with those kinds of strings attached.”
“Then you’re naïve, my dear,” her mother said. “Patronages come with all sorts of strings attached.”
“And here I thought he was quite taken with my musical talent.”
“Oh, he was quite taken with you, all right. Your musical talent was just a bonus.”
“You have to give me credit,” said Jonas. “I made him wait until you turned eighteen.”
Kathleen’s eyebrows went up. “When did he first indicate an interest?”
Her parents were silent for a moment, looking at each other; then her mother spoke up. “When you were fourteen.”
Kathleen threw her napkin down and got up from her chair. “Fourteen? What kind of lecher …?”
“Now, now,” her mother said, trying to soothe her. “In bygone eras, women were married and often had children by the time they were fourteen.”
“Yes, in bygone eras. I thought this family was somewhat more progressive than that. Daddy! You are a newspaper publisher. You see every day the advancement of the world. How did you ever get tangled up, get me tangled up, in such an Old World arrangement?”
Her father stood now, too.
“I do see the advancement of the world every day. But I also see the dangers it brings. For all of us. I ultimately want to protect you.”
Kathleen sounded her distaste for her father’s dodge. She turned to leave the room.
“He is calling tomorrow afternoon to take you into public, alone, so that people can begin to see you together,” Aileen said.
Without another word, Kathleen had turned, running up the stairs to her room.
Kathleen had actually tried to make the best of it for a while. She remembered their first outing. The evening was warm despite the air rolling in from the bay. Kathleen had worn a delicate pink linen dress, white kid shoes decorated with tiny pink silk roses in a slightly darker shade than her dress, and a delicate cream-puff of a hat of white woven straw, the sheerest of pink lace, dark pink roses, and a rose-coloured hat band. She had wrapped a sheer scarf around her shoulders in case the breeze from the bay became too much.
He had appreciated it, calling her “delicious” as he looked her up and down which had made her very self-conscious. She had determined at that moment that it was time to buy some clothes that didn’t make her look like such a child.
At times she had wondered whether it would actually be possible for her to love him, to be his wife, to do his bidding, to perform her music for him. Her previous affection for him, however, had cooled considerably once she knew his design.
She recalled now the fateful evening that had broken it all—had made the whole thing completely repugnant in her mind. Out for their evening buggy ride, they had stopped along the bay to watch the sun disappear over the horizon.
“That’s the way I feel life is becoming for me,” he said indicating the setting sun. “But you—you still have the blush of sunrise about you, and I sense you will be my fountain of youth.” He removed her gloves, kissing her hand, and rubbing the back of her knuckles over his cheeks.
Kathleen took a deep breath. Her heart was pounding. She felt he was close to kissing her on the mouth, so she took matters into her hands to otherwise engage him.
“Mr Appleton, I’ve meant to ask you for a long time …”
“Anything, my dear,” he said, not relinquishing her hand.
“Why did you undertake my patronage?”
“Why? That’s easy to answer—because I thought you to be an extraordinarily talented young musician.”
Kathleen looked at him, not averting her eyes. “Not because of a debt you owed to my father?”
The genuine look of shock that crossed his face told her she was on the wrong track.
“No, no, of course not. Why would you even think such a thing?”
“My parents tell me you actually asked them for my hand when I was barely fourteen.”
He looked straight out into the bay as the flaming red sun flashed once and dipped beneath the waves. She watched him struggle, then he set his jaw.
“Actually, it was before then. You were only thirteen at the time.”
“And you were …?”
“My age then? 49. But I assure you our ages had nothing to do with it.”
“Oh?” Kathleen asked. “I see the way you look at me, Mr Appleton. Why do I feel if I were a rich 30-year-old heiress who dressed showing ample cleavage, that you wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in me?”
He laughed. “If you were a rich 30-year-old heiress, you wouldn’t be sitting here asking me these foolish questions.”
“Because you wouldn’t need me to marry you.”
“‘Need’ you to marry me?”
He turned away from her briefly as if deciding whether or not to tell her something. “It is inappropriate to have this discussion right now, Miss O’Shea.” He picked up the reins, turning the buggy around, heading back to the brownstone. They had been completely silent the return trip.
He had come into the house with her and went directly to her father’s den.
That evening, as Kathleen had stood briefly outside the door, she could hear the two men talking in slightly raised voices and sensed the tension between them.
As soon as she could get out of the house that evening, Kathleen had slipped out of the house unseen and headed straight for Siobhan’s. Siobhan was already in her nightdress, but she invited Kathleen in.
“I must talk to you,” Kathleen whispered.
“Alice put the kettle on. Miss O’Shea and I require some refreshment.” She turned toward Kathleen. “Is everything all right?”
“I—I’m not sure. I really need to talk to you right now.”
“In my room,” Siobhan said.
Kathleen had related the evening’s incidents to Siobhan. Siobhan sat at her vanity, brushing her hair. When Kathleen finished, she set the brush down, turning towards her.
“You really don’t know, do you?”
Siobhan sighed. “Do you remember when you moved into Back Bay? Did you ever wonder where your father got the money for everything?”
Kathleen looked at her cock-eyed, confused. “Well, he has a successful business, and I know he made a windfall in the stock market.”
“A windfall? Is that what he told you?”
“That’s what my mother told me.”
Siobhan turned back towards the vanity mirror. She sat where she could see Kathleen’s reflection in the mirror, but where she didn’t have to look at her directly.
“Do you know something different?” Kathleen’s voice was insistent.
“I—I know what I heard my parents talking about one evening.”
After a few seconds’ hesitation, she responded. “Apparently, your father had the opposite of a windfall. He lost everything he had in the market. Everything.”
Kathleen felt a cold rush in her stomach. “What else?”
Siobhan swallowed. “Mr Appleton offered your father the money to get his business back up and running, the money for your education, and a whole lot more, apparently.”
Kathleen looked at her, open-mouthed. “How long have you known this? And why didn’t you tell me?” She jumped up and leapt towards Siobhan.
Siobhan stood up and whirled towards her.
“I’ve only known about it a few weeks. My parents were talking about it one evening, a while after you started your outings with Mr Appleton.”
“Even if you heard only yesterday, why didn’t you come to me immediately?”
“Kathleen, I haven’t seen you in forever. You’ve not really allowed me to be involved. I have no idea how you feel about Mr Appleton. If you were happy with your lot, far be it from me to say anything to spoil it.”
“With my lot? Is that how you think of it, as my ‘lot’?”
“I don’t know what you would have me say.”
Kathleen took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
“So, what does all of this mean?” Kathleen asked.
“I’m afraid you have to draw that conclusion yourself.”
It was so unlike Siobhan to be dismissive. Kathleen narrowed her eyes. “What is it you don’t want to say, Siobhan? Is there more I should know?”
“I believe you have all the necessary pieces. You just need to put them together.”
Kathleen leaned over with her elbows on her knees and her hands covering her face.
“You seem to think my betrothal has something to do with the rest of this mess.”
“Think about it, Kathleen. The man told you himself that the deal was struck when you were thirteen.”
“The man’s a lecher?”
“Well, that’s one possibility. But not the main one.”
“Mr Appleton and your father have been friends for a long time. Your parents are what people call nouveau-riche. Appleton is old, prestigious money.”
Kathleen nodded, searching her mind for the connection.
“When your father’s business was about to go under, and your family would have lost everything, Appleton stepped in. He offered to make your father even richer than before. He gave your father money to build a house in an up-and-coming neighbourhood. He promised your father that you would have the best education.”
“Are you blind? Naïve? You are going to make me say it, aren’t you?” Siobhan’s face was red with frustration at Kathleen’s innocence, the innocence that she was going to be responsible for spoiling.
“Mr Appleton, of course, took a large interest in your father’s business, but still knowing your father would never be able to repay the debt, he made his offer to your father in exchange for the betrothal.”
“For my betrothal,” Kathleen repeated, contemplating the breadth of that meaning. “So, I have never had a say in it. The promise was made many years ago. The only thing lacking is a publishing of banns to make it official.”
Siobhan’s lips were pressed together, unwilling to say anything further.
By this time, remembering everything had riled her and given her a headache. With all that Siobhan had told her, she had finally been able to see the depth of the deception. Did her feelings count for nothing?
How ironic that her desire to deflect Mr Appleton’s kiss had blown everything wide open— lifting the veil of mystery from it all. And how ironic—it made her heart pound to think that, had she never discovered any of it, if Mr. Appleton had just asked her to marry him, she might very well have considered it. But after all the deceit on the part of her parents, even after telling her of the betrothal yet never telling her why, or how it had come to pass in the first place, she felt like an orphan—that she didn’t know these people whom she called her parents.
Then had followed the confrontations. They soon realized they had no prim, proper daughter, but one who dared to think she should have a say about her life. She had spent her nights sobbing until she made herself ill.
It effectively ended her outings with Mr Appleton, but this only added to her parents’ agitation. They were in a terrible bind—couldn’t she see that? Mr Appleton’s generosity had been such that if they didn’t keep their word to him, they would lose everything again, even possibly living on the street.
It twisted Kathleen so profoundly inside that she lost all empathy for her parents’ plight. This wasn’t 18th-century Europe, and she was no child of nobility to be married for political gain. She had read plenty of tales of young women who were betrothed into loveless marriages for their parents to attain higher social standing, but, she had thought, those were stories of an era long gone.
When at last she could stop wringing her hands over the situation and begin to think about what to do, she had first thought of taking a ship to England or the continent. But that would not be much easier than hiding in Boston—so many families of their acquaintance went abroad often, and she would surely be found out.
It had been Siobhan who proposed that Kathleen go west. The only thing Kathleen knew about the western territories was that they were savage, barbarian lands and that the people who inhabited them were no different than savages or barbarians, no matter what race or creed.
But when Siobhan started telling her stories that she knew of the West, it began to sound romantic. At first, they had talked about going together, but when Siobhan received an invitation to graduate school, she decided that was the path she should take.
Kathleen begged her to come along, even if just for the summer, but Siobhan pointed out that when she returned without Kathleen, she would be forced to reveal Kathleen’s whereabouts.
So, they began to scheme as to the safest way for Kathleen to have a place to land when she arrived out West, and they began to research which city was the most civilized place to go. San Francisco seemed like a good bet for culture and civility, and yet Kathleen worried that the attraction of a new West city might be as high as the attraction for those going abroad. She might be discovered at some point.
Kathleen began to devour everything she could find at the library or in bookshops and newspapers about the West.
Siobhan had brought home a gazette in which men out west advertised for women to come west to be their brides. Some wanted a governess for their children, some wanted a house manager or teacher, but most were lonely hearts looking for romance.
They pored over many ads. Many were comical in a sad way. Many were too bitter, or too desperate; some sounded like they were looking for new women for a brothel.
Siobhan brought home two more later in the week, another gazette, and one digest. The digest was full of ads, some written as far back as two years ago, and some only a few days prior.
The girls thought they were coming to another dead end when Kathleen grabbed the magazine from Siobhan’s hands. “Look at this one. Look at this one!” Kathleen said. She pushed it back at Siobhan. “I can’t look—read it to me.”
Siobhan saw Kathleen trembling. She pointed out the particular ad to which she was referring. Siobhan read it to herself first, then read it aloud.
“I have a huge ranch in the Arizona territory, too far from anywhere to find society. I crave a companion, loyal and trustworthy, a handsome woman who I can honour and protect, and to whom I can pledge my heart.”
Kathleen squealed. “That’s it! That’s the one!”
Siobhan looked at her, open-mouthed. “How can you think this is the one for you? Did you not hear the words ‘too far from anywhere’?”
“It’s perfect! Too far from anywhere means somewhere I will never be found.”
“Or somewhere that only your bones will be found,” Siobhan scoffed. “It sounds creepy to me. What kind of a man would condemn a woman to life on a lonely ranch?”
Kathleen had given her a steely-eyed look. She distinctly recalled her retort, “What kind of man sells his daughter into captivity? It sounds like something as dark as an Old Testament story or a tawdry pre-Civil War book.”
“Touché,” Siobhan said. “But you know nothing about this man.”
“You’re the one who suggested this. Are you getting cold feet for me? Besides, I’ll write him a letter and get one back from him and see where it goes from there.”
“Are you going to give him your real name?” Siobhan had wanted to know.
“I—I hadn’t thought about it? Why wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know. I’m just afraid for you. What if someone intercepted the letters?”
“What if they do. It’s not exactly like they can lock me up.”
“They can, only in a worse way than you might think.”
Siobhan had gone on to explain how young women were being locked up in insane asylums and forgotten for the rest of their lives.
“For doing what exactly?” Kathleen had asked.
Siobhan shrugged. “Just about anything that someone deems immoral or unbalanced behaviour.”
“Sometimes I think you just tell me these stories to frighten me.”
“Perhaps someone told them to me to frighten me, too, but I’ve heard them more than once.”
At first, Kathleen had wanted to deny the possibility of such a thing happening to her, but when she realized how she was trying her parents now, along with her behaviour, which she knew must seem irrational to them, it likely wouldn’t take much to push them over the edge.
“I’ll be careful,” she told Siobhan.
Dan Gallagher sat down in his father’s office in a large, golden oak chair with the seat and back covered with the brown and white spotted hide of a Longhorn steer. The horns of the steer decorated the wall behind him, stretching nearly the length of the enormous executive desk. He had gotten a letter at the post office in Benson but forced himself to wait until he was home before reading it. He roughly opened the envelope, and a violet-scented sheet of stationery fluttered out.
Kathleen O’Shea had written the letter using the name Kaitlin McKenna, describing herself and her accomplishments and told him of her love of music. She told him of her love of art and her gardening and decorating projects. Lastly, she told him of her love of horses, and of her desire to be a helpmate to one who wanted to love and protect her. She looked it over when she finished. How much of it was true, she wondered?
Dan Gallagher, overcome by the sweet scent of violets and the heady words, knew he must respond to this woman immediately lest someone else lay claim to her first. Not much of one for flowery words himself, he decided to send her a telegram which would reach her more expeditiously. It would take him longer to write a letter than it would to ride to Benson to post a telegram.
Without another thought, he saddled his best mare and took off for Benson. He took the cutoff from Middlemarch which bypassed Tombstone and got him to Benson as quickly as possible. He arrived just before the telegraph office closed for the day.
“You look like you just blew into town,” the telegraph operator said as Dan stepped through the door of the office. “Did you go home and come back?”
Dan just nodded once not wanting to engage in conversation. He bent over the form with the pencil, and then opened his wallet, handing the operator a thousand dollars plus the charge for the telegram.
“Send it to the office in this station,” Dan said, writing down the station in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.
The telegraph operator took the message and money. He read through the message and glanced up at Dan, not bothering to veil his surprise, but immediately sat down and began to send the message.
Kathleen had rented a box in Fenway Station to receive Mr Gallagher’s replies. She waited several days to check it, not dreaming that he would send a telegram instead of a letter.
When she got to Fenway, she had been surprised to find a slip in her box telling her she had a telegram.
Bewildered at first when the Station Manager counted out a thousand dollars to her, her heart beat like the wings of a captured bird when he handed her the accompanying telegram. Astonishment, dismay, and outright cold fear had passed through her as she read the few words before her.
Take next poss train to Benson Arizona STOP
Telegraph with your date of arrival STOP
I will meet you there STOP
So, the only words about him she was going to get in advance were those she had read in his ad. She considered looking for a different ad or thinking of some other way to bring an end to her ordeal, but she knew that she and Siobhan had exhausted all other possibilities, and her situation was becoming more precarious every moment.
Her mother had taken to her bed, and her father was gone all hours of the day and night, supposedly at his publishing house. She knew it would be just a matter of time before things came to a head like a pustule on a pox.
She booked her passage to Chicago and began to get her things ready. There was no way out of taking a trunk. Kathleen had no real idea what clothing would be like for a woman in the West, but if the place was as desolate as Mr Gallagher let on, who knew how long it would be before she could buy something appropriate?
Kathleen had always been the type of person who could push her emotions inward to accomplish something, and that was just what she had done. She was going through the motions of getting ready for the trip without thinking about where she was going, what she was getting into, and least of all, what might be the consequences of her running away. She pushed that down the farthest because Kathleen feared changing her mind. She couldn’t allow that to happen.
That had been just a little over a week ago. She had spoken to a carriage driver the night before she left, asking him to pick her up just before daylight.
The carriage was there at six. Kathleen had the gardener carry the trunk down to the transport and load it. She thanked him for all his kindness, gave him an impetuous hug and five dollars without saying a word. He would know what it was for.
She realized now that the hush money hadn’t been necessary. The gardener didn’t have any idea where she was going, so he couldn’t have told anything other than that he had seen her leave, but also because as the carriage was pulling away, she looked up at the window in her parents’ bedroom and saw her mother standing there, watching her departure.
So much for a clean getaway. She and Siobhan had already discussed her strategy if anything like this happened, so she had the cab driver take her in a different direction than planned. He let her off with her trunk, and once he was gone, she hailed another carriage where she directed the carriage driver to circle around to the Back Bay Station, the only one she could take to Chicago. It was risky, she knew, but she also knew her father was not at home, and her mother would hardly come looking for her.
She had watched them load her trunk onto the baggage car, and she got onto the train, sitting in one of the comfortable, deep-piled silk velvet seats. She fidgeted until the train pulled out of the station, but not until they cleared Boston into the countryside did she breathe again.
There, Kathleen thought, she knew she had to begin thinking of herself as Kaitlin now; she had recounted the entire debacle in her mind for the umpteenth time. Did that help her to fall asleep at last? It did. But not ten minutes later, the head waiter from the dining car came through to announce the first seating for dinner.
Kathleen awoke and sighed. She decided to wait for the third call. After that, it was open seating. She would feel more rested, so she turned onto her side and fell back to sleep for an hour.
When she heard the third bell and the call for third seating, she got up and changed clothes, performing a small toilette to freshen herself. She brushed out her hair, pulling it into a chignon, and put on a little pearl-coloured hat to contrast the silk brocade dress she was wearing.
Everyone looked up as she entered the dining car. The maître d’ seated her at the table with another woman and two gentlemen. The man and woman across from her were husband and wife, and the handsome man sitting next to her seemed to be alone. He ordered wine for the table.
The waiter brought Salisbury steak and asparagus tips with an apple torte for dessert. Kathleen didn’t touch the steak, and she toyed with her asparagus tips until just before dessert.
Shortly after, the couple across from her left, and the gentleman next to her politely asked for her to allow him out, but he asked her to wait for him. Kathleen didn’t mind as she was savouring the torte. When he returned, he sat down across from her.
“Where are you headed, lovely lady?”
“Arizona Territory,” she said, hoping he would allow her not to be any more specific than that.
“You don’t say. I’m headed to Tucson myself. I just bought a ranch southeast of there, and I’m going out to check on my investment.”
Kathleen smiled but had nothing, in particular, to say to a strange gentleman.
“Forgive me, Jim Ringgold,” he said, “most recently of Independence, Missouri.”
Ah, she thought. That must be the accent she was detecting. She certainly could tell he wasn’t from anywhere in New England.
He held out his hand. This gesture was new. Kathleen had seen this since leaving Boston, men shaking hands, but she had never seen a hand proffered to a lady in such a manner. She demurely touched his fingertips and quickly withdrew. She realized she was supposed to return his introduction.
“Kaitlin,” she said, clearing her throat. “Kaitlin McKenna.”
She was tempted to say Chicago, but she had better not lie about someplace she’d never been, or she might be found out.
“Most recently of Baltimore,” Kathleen responded.
“Ah, I’d have taken that for more of a Boston accent.”
“I grew up in Boston and attended the Boston Conservatory of Music, after which I moved to Baltimore to find a position with the symphony there.”
“The Baltimore Symphony?” Jim questioned. “I would have thought more likely the Boston Symphony.”
He didn’t belabour the point for which she was grateful.
“So, recently graduated, moved to Baltimore, and now Arizona?”
Kathleen blushed. She had never told as many lies in her entire life as in the past few weeks. “I was recently engaged to be married. When my fiancé had an opportunity to come out to Arizona to purchase land, like yourself, he took it. He arrived several months ago and is getting settled, so he sent for me.”
“Well, you’re going to have to keep right on going to San Francisco or Seattle to find a symphony, I’m afraid. There will be one in Phoenix and another in Tucson someday, but not anytime soon.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ve completely changed my perspective now and can be quite content to be a ranch wife and mother, and to use my talent to play for my neighbours.”
“Is that true?” Jim asked. His air of skepticism was not lost on her. “Having attended the Boston Conservatory, especially as a woman, is quite a feather in your cap. Don’t you feel like you’ll be hiding your talent under a bushel basket?”
She demurred. Lying did not come quickly to her. Each time she looked for a way to make it as true as possible without revealing too much. “Perhaps someday I’ll get to play publicly. As the territory grows, who knows? But at this moment, I am riding high on love and romance, with the land as much as with my intended.”
That one surprised her. She tended to keep it short and sweet, but perhaps it would be more convincing this way.
He nodded. “You might, indeed, especially if your passion remains high.”
They spoke at length of music, of the new popular American music that was developing, and she felt more at ease with this man. She didn’t know a lot about Missouri, but she hadn’t expected to find such culture and refinement. She was learning so much every day.
The waiter seemed anxious to close the dining car, so Kathleen and her new acquaintance stepped back into the coach; Kathleen realized that she really must retire or risk looking improper. Besides, a few hours’ sleep would bring her that much nearer to Benson.
She rose, making her excuses to depart. Mr Ringgold took her hand and kissed it, in a polite and honourable manner.
“This has been a pleasant evening,” he said. “I always enjoy conversation with a charming and fearless young woman like yourself. It’s rare to have the opportunity.”
Kathleen withdrew her hand, gave him a nod, and returned to her berth. She was grateful this section was occupied only by women, and with curtains on either end as well as over the berths, so that she could undress quickly with minimal exposure and could keep her dresses in better condition.
It was strange that Mr Ringgold had referred to her as fearless. More likely, she was too ignorant of possible dangers to be afraid. Since leaving Chicago, she had been inside this capsule, debarking only with the rest of the passengers from time to time to walk about, breathe, and purchase necessities from depot way-stations. Many people ate at those stations because the dining car was much more expensive, but she preferred the dining car.
Perhaps that was a fear; she couldn’t imagine anything much worse than being ill aboard a train. But she knew she had been obsessing so much about the past that she had not thought about what was to come.
There it was, she thought. That was the fear. She wasn’t thinking about it because it was like a big, black hole of unknown.
“Love on Her Own Terms” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Kathleen is Boston born and bred, with a degree from the Boston Conservatory of Music. On her 18th birthday, her parents announce that she has been betrothed to a longtime friend—one she has always known as Uncle Elias. She ponders that fate, but not until she finds out that the betrothal was actually a deal struck in order to save her father’s ailing business! As a bold response, she answers a Mail-Order Bride ad for one Dan Gallagher, a ranch owner in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, without knowing what future awaits her…
Dan Gallagher struggles to keep the ranch that his belated father left behind alive, which seems like a difficult feat. His hardships with his brother and his loneliness lead him to send for a mail-order bride, with the expectation to fill his otherwise empty life. He hasn’t even seen her, nor has she, which makes it even more difficult for them to meet…
Her adventure begins when she leaves Boston, but as it unfolds, she starts to wonder who was the mysterious gentleman she met at the train station. Was it the real Dan Gallagher? How does she find herself accused of conspiring to commit murder? Despite the way they meet and all the duplicity around her, who will save whom and, most importantly, will she find love on her own terms?
“Love on Her Own Terms” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.