Trail to Shasta (9781101622049) (3 page)

BOOK: Trail to Shasta (9781101622049)
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FIVE

Clint got two stevedores to carry the Shaughnessy sisters' bags to the street, where he had a cab waiting. They loaded the half a dozen bags and one trunk onto the wagon, tied them down, and then helped the ladies get in.

“Will we be going to a hotel?” Bridget asked. “My sister and I are very tired.”

“I'm sorry, Bridget,” he said, “but we're headed for the railroad station.”

“Railroad?” she asked. “Are we not to see New York City?”

“As much of it as you can see between here and the station,” he said. “We're taking a train out this afternoon.”

“Train?” Bride asked. “I thought we were to see your country on horseback?”

“Nobody said anything about horseback, ma'am,” Clint said. “We'll be taking the train as far as Saint Louis. From there we'll travel the rest of the way by wagon. That's the part of the country you want to see.”

The two sisters exchanged a glance, and then Bridget said, “Very well, Mr. Adams. We are in your hands.”

“Thank you, Miss Shaughnessy.” He leaned forward and tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Train station.”

“Right!”

At Penn Station they loaded the luggage onto the train, except for one bag each that the girls wanted to keep with them. Clint had one carpetbag that he also kept. The ladies were shown to the compartment Clint had obtained for them, and then he was shown to the one right next to it. There was a connecting door that he had no intention of using. The money for the compartments, and tickets, would be reimbursed to him when they all arrived in Shasta County.

“You can rest for a few hours,” Clint told them, “and then I'll come and get you so we can all go to the dining car.”

“That will be fine, Mr. Adams,” Bridget said.

He touched the brim of his hat and said, “Ladies,” then went to his own compartment.

* * * 

On the platform the two men looked at each other.

“Now what do we do?” Kemper asked.

“What we were hired to do,” Ahern said. “If that means we gotta take a rail trip, then we gotta do it. Come on, let's get some tickets.”

Kemper grabbed his friend's arm.

“What happens if he sees us?” he asked.

“That'll be his problem,” Ahern said. “If he forces our hand, we kill him.”

That satisfied Kemper. They went to a ticket window.

* * * 

When Clint Adams was gone, Bride said, “Bridget,” and pointed to the connecting door.

“Don't worry,” her sister told her. She went to the door and tried it. “It's firmly locked.”

“But from which side?” Bride asked.

Bridget opened her bag and took out an ancient-looking .25 caliber Webley Irish pistol.

“We are armed,” she told her sister confidently.

“I'm still afraid,” Bride said, sitting on her berth.

Bridget went and sat beside her sister, took her hand.

“Afraid of what?”

“Everything,” Bride said. “This country, that man . . . Mr. O'Neil.”

“You haven't even met Mr. O'Neil,” Bridget said.

“I know it,” Bride said, “and yet you expect me to marry him.”

“The man has a gold mine, Bride,” Bridget said. “Keep your mind on that.”

“I am,” the younger sister said. “That is what keeps me going.”

Bridget squeezed her sister's hand.

“Just do as I say,” she told her, “and we'll be fine.”

“A-All right.”

“Now get some rest.” Bridget stood up, so that her sister could recline on her berth. The upper berth had been opened by the porter, but Bridget did not climb up. She set about changing her clothes, removed her dress, and took another, simpler frock from her bag. The valley between her pert breasts was heavily freckled. She held the dress to her and thought a moment.

“He's very good looking,” she said.

“Who?” Bride asked.

“Mr. Adams. Don't you think?”

“He scares me,” Bride said again.

“Me, you.”

“But you said you weren't scared.”

“Oh, I don't mean he frightens me,” Bridget said, “he was . . . scares me a little. Here.” She touched her belly.

“Bridget,” Bride said warningly, sitting up. “No.”

“What do you mean, no?”

“You said you wouldn't do that,” Bride said. “You promised you'd control yourself.”

“Oh, I know I did,” she said, “but he's very . . . masculine, isn't he?”

“Oh God,” Bride said. She lay back down and put her hand to her forehead.

SIX

Clint went to his compartment and sat looking out the window. People were still rushing by, trying to make their trains on time. The two ladies were safely installed in their own accommodations. That part of the job was over.

He was surprised at the youth of the two women, especially considering the age of Ed O'Neil. He wondered if O'Neil knew he'd be marrying a girl forty years his junior.

It was true, women who made it out of their teens without being married used to be considered old maids, but wasn't the country—the world—a more progressive place than that? Clint had met many women over the years—in their twenties and even thirties—who were still single. Not one of them acted like an old maid. But these two were from Ireland. Things must have been different there.

He sat back, thought about taking off his boots for a couple of hours. His gun and holster were wrapped up in his pack. He had his Colt New Line stuck in his belt. As soon as they got far enough away from New York, he'd take the holster out and put it on. Then he'd feel much more comfortable.

He closed his eyes as the train jerked to a start, dozing very lightly while the train moved out of the station and began its journey . . .

* * * 

Ahern and Kemper got seats in a passenger car.

“We gotta find out where they are,” Ahern said. “But we can't let the cowboy see us.”

“Look,” Kemper said, “we're from the city, and he's from the country. If we were on his trail, maybe he'd spot us, but this is our turf.”

“You got that right,” Ahern said, “but we'll have to act separately. You take a walk, see what you can find out. I'll wait here.”

“I'm hungry.”

“We'll get somethin' to eat when you get back.”

Kemper nodded and left his seat.

* * * 

After a couple of hours Clint stood up, cleaned himself up a bit, and put on some fresh clothes. Considering himself decent enough to be in the company of two lovely Irish lasses, he left his compartment to escort them to the dining car.

* * * 

Bridget finished tying the knot at the back of Bride's dress when there was a knock on the door.

“Who could that be?” Bride asked.

“Relax,” Bridget said. “It can only be Mr. Adams.”

Bride's dress covered her from head to toe, but Bridget's showed a good portion of her freckled chest.

“Aren't you going to cover up?” Bride asked.

“Relax, dear sister,” Bridget said. “Everything will be fine.”

She went to answer the door.

* * * 

As the door opened, Clint's eye fell right where Bridget wanted it to fall, on her chest.

“Mr. Adams,” she said, giving him a smile. “Right on time.”

“Am I?”

“Yes, indeed,” she said. “We are very hungry.”

He looked past her at her sister, who appeared more frightened than tired.

“I'm here to take you to the dining car,” Clint said.

“Indeed,” Bridget said. “Are you coming, Bride?”

“Yes,” her sister said.

In the hall outside, there was no room for them to walk abreast, so rather than give each girl one of his arms, Clint indicated that they should walk ahead of him. He followed them to the dining car, where they were seated at a table.

Outside the window, the city had fallen away and countryside was whizzing by.

“We're going very fast,” Bride said.

“Yes, we are,” Clint said, “but don't worry, it's very safe.”

A white-coated, white-gloved, bow-tied black waiter came over and asked, “Somethin' fo' the ladies and the gentleman?”

“Do you have steak?” Bridget asked.

“Yes, ma'am,” the man said, “we's got mighty good steaks.”

“Oh, Bridget,” Bride said, “steak.”

“And potatoes,” the man said.

“Oh,” Bride said, “no potatoes, please.”

“But lots of other vegetables,” Bridget said. “Onions? Carrots?”

“And peas?” the waiter asked.

“Oh yes, please,” Bride said. “Sweet peas.”

“And you, suh?”

“A steak,” Clint said, “and I'll take all the potatoes the ladies aren't having.”

“Yes, suh.”

“And all the rest.”

“Suh,” the waiter said, “and to drink?”

“Tea,” Bride said.

“Tea,” Bridget said.

“Coffee,” Clint said.

“Comin' up, folks,” the waiter said.

“So,” Clint asked, “are you both relaxed?”

It was obvious that Bride was going to leave most of the talking to Bridget, who said, “Yes, we're fine. It was an arduous trip on the ship and, at times, quite frightening.”

“Were you . . . accosted at all on the ship?” he asked.

“No, no,” she said, “the crew stayed away from us for the most part. It was frightening once or twice, but we came through it quite unscathed, thanks be to the Lord.”

The waiter returned with their tea and coffee. The ladies added sugar and stirred it in for a long time. The waiter had also brought lemons, which they used. Clint simply drank his coffee black with nothing in it.

Bride sipped her tea and said to Bridget, “Oh, this is heavenly.”

“Wait until you have the steak,” Clint said.

“It's been so long since we've had beef,” Bridget said. “I mean, good beef.”

“I suppose there were hardships for you in your country?” Clint asked.

“Yes,” Bridget said, “we were living under great hardship when . . . well, when Mr. O'Neil came to our rescue.”

“And how did that occur, if I may ask?” Clint said.

The girls exchanged a look, and then Bridget said, “He did not tell you?”

“I know only what was in the letter,” Clint said. “I haven't seen Ed in some time.”

“And yet he asked you to do this?”

“We're friends,” Clint said. “It doesn't matter how long it's been since we've seen each other. We're still friends.”

“That is very admirable,” Bridget said. “Perhaps he should explain the whole thing to you when he sees you again.”

“Perhaps you're right,” Clint said. “I didn't mean to be intrusive.”

“You are very well spoken for a Westerner, Mr. Adams,” Bridget said. He didn't want to insult her, but she was better spoken than most Irish he'd met.

“I was born in the East,” he said.

“I see.”

The waiter came then with their plates, and they suspended their conversation while he laid them out. Bride's eyes went wide with glee at the sight of the steaming steak and onions, as well as all the other vegetables.

When the waiter withdrew, Clint said, “Well, I guess we'd better eat.”

The girls didn't have to be told twice.

* * * 

Kemper returned to the passenger car, sat next to Ahern.

“You see them?”

“They're in the dining car.”

“All right,” Ahern said, “we'll have to wait until they finish eating, then we can get something.”

“We gonna find out where they're sleepin'?”

“We are,” Ahern said, “but we can do that by slipping a dollar to a conductor, or porter. Just relax, Kemper. Just relax.”

SEVEN

The steak wasn't particularly good, but it was what Clint expected from railroad food. On the other hand, the Shaughnessy sisters loved their meal, consumed it with great gusto. The waiter brought them more tea to wash it all down.

When they were finished and he had cleared the plates, the waiter asked, “Would the ladies like dessert?”

“Dessert?” Bride asked.

“We have several kinds of pie—” the waiter started.

“May we have one of each?” Bride asked. She looked at Bridget, Clint, and the waiter, not at all sure who would make that decision.

“I don't see why not,” Clint said.

“Very well, suh,” the waiter said. “One slice of each pie.”

Bride slapped her hands together happily and Bridget smiled her thanks at Clint.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “She loves sweets.”

“Then she should have as much as she can take,” Clint said. “What about you?”

She looked him in the eye and said, “My pleasures run to other things.”

For a moment he wondered if she was trying to send him a message, but he didn't know her well enough to judge.

The waiter came with slices of apple, cherry, peach, and rhubarb pie. The girls gave the pie all their attention. Clint managed a small piece of rhubarb and a larger piece of peach, but other than that, the girls ate it all.

When they were done, they sat and watched the countryside go by outside the window. Clint ordered more coffee, decided not to ask the girls any more questions for the time being.

Instead, the girls began to ask him questions about the United States, which he answered as best he could. They also wanted to know about what they called “the Wild West.” During that conversation, realization dawned on Bridget, and Clint saw it on her face.

“But wait . . .” she said.

“Yes?”

“You said your name is Clint Adams?”

“That's right.”

“What is it, sister?” Bride asked.

Bridget looked back at her sister and said, “Clint Adams, Bride. We have heard stories of him.”

Then, suddenly, it also dawned on Bride.

“You mean . . . the Gunsmith?”

Both girls turned their heads and looked at Clint in awe.

“I hope this won't change our relationship in any way,” he said to them.

It was difficult for the girls to talk to him after that, so he paid the bill for the food and escorted them back to their compartment.

“Get a good night's rest,” he said. “I'll see you in the morning.”

They both nodded. He closed the door and went to his own compartment. This time when he got inside, he removed his boots and rubbed his feet. He stared out his own window for a time, and then somebody knocked on his door.

When he slid the door open, Bridget stood there.

“May I come in?”

“If it's all right with you, it's all right with me,” he said. “I can leave the door open.”

“I believe I can trust you,” she said. “After all, you are a legend.”

“Come in.”

She entered and he closed the door. He waved her to the seat he had just vacated, by the window. He sat on his berth.

“My sister and I are sorry we did not recognize you immediately,” she said. “We are sorry we questioned you.”

“It makes sense to be careful,” he said. “That's all you were doing.”

“We're honored that Mr. O'Neil sent such an important man to escort us to him.”

“Like I said,” he replied, “Ed and I are friends.”

“Then I am more impressed with him than I already was.”

“Tell me,” Clint said, “how did Ed and your sister first meet?”

“Through the mail. Mr. O'Neil still has family in Ireland. When it became known he was looking for a wife, Bridget and I stepped forward. We both exchanged letters with him. He chose her.”

“Is that all right with you?” Clint asked. “That he chose your sister over you?”

“It didn't matter which one of us he chose,” she said. “We knew we would both come to this country.”

“So you're happy the way it worked out?” Clint asked.

“Let us say we are satisfied.”

“Well,” Clint said, “if you're satisfied, so am I.”

She nodded, and stood. She stared at him for a moment, wet her lips. He looked at her freckled skin, saw that her chest was heaving. She was breathing heavily.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I am . . . fine,” she said. “I just wanted to apologize to you.”

“And you have,” Clint said. “Now why don't you go and get some rest.”

“Yes.”

“We have a few more days of rail travel—we'll switch trains once—before we get to the point where we will switch to wagon travel.”

“Is it still possible to go on horseback? My sister and I are good riders.”

“We can discuss that when the time comes,” Clint told her.

“Very well. Good night, then.”

He opened the door for her, watched her walk to her own room and enter. For a moment he thought she might try to seduce him, but maybe she didn't know how.

Or maybe she just wasn't ready.

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