Summary: A young lady traveling west to pursue her dream meets a colorful storytelling character and the Cartwright brothers which helps her find her future and is serendipity for a certain Cartwright too.
Rating = G Word count = 3,095
Stage Coach Journal
Entry 1 On the stagecoach to Virginia City, I met a man who told the most entertaining stories. They were wild exaggerations of course, but they kept my mind from the dust, the incessant bouncing around in the coach, and of course the smells emanating from my fellow passengers in this heat. One lady whispered to me at a stop that she was sure the man was Mark Twain, but I asked her what a prominent writer such as him would be doing out here. He must have overheard her and so began a series of stories of his life in the gold fields and then his time as a writer for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. One of his most delightful and humorous stories was about a family of fighting men as he called them that he met there early in his career.
“Met a strange family in Virginia City. They were all men: a father and his three sons. Now none of the sons resembled any one of the others because they all had different mothers. The father was married three times and widowed thrice. Now the littlest and youngest one can leap on a horse from a standing start and race out of town before you unhitched yours from the rail. He’d probably kiss a dozen girls on the way too. The oldest is so smart, he knows what will happen tomorrow. He doesn’t have to race after any women. They faint if he walks by and gives them a grin with one of those smiles of his with a dimple big enough to be seen from the next town. But the middle brother is a tall powerful beast. I swear! He is at least eight feet tall! It might just scare women away except he has eyes so blue they make the sky jealous. It is the only reason they ever have rain there. The sky cries every now and then because they can’t match the blue eyes of the man with the biggest heart the world has ever seen.”
Now he was so sincere when he was talking, you almost had to believe him until you started thinking on what he said and knew he was exaggerating to the point of almost lunacy. It was funny enough though and made time seem to go so much faster. Story after story poured out of the man until we reached the buildings on the outskirts of Virginia City. As the coach entered the city limits, he gathered his things as he planned to stay in the city for a time.
Entry 2 When the stage lurched to a stop at the stage depot, we had time to get out and stretch for a bit. The driver said we could even go get a meal or do a bit of shopping as the next part of the run was an express and wouldn’t be stopping until we reached Sacramento. Well it would stop to change horses and such, but he meant no long meal stops and no overnight stops. This was our only chance to get freshened up and get a good meal. I had no idea I was the only one who was continuing on. As I needed a few things, my first destination was the general store. When I turned to enter the establishment, there was a large man there with blue eyes so beautiful, they made me stop and stare as I was reminded of the tale the storyteller on the coach had first regaled us with. The giant of a man who had these beautiful eyes called to a small man and told him to hurry. That younger small man sauntered along until he got to me and then he stopped to flirt a bit. He was a charmer, but I wasn’t going to fall for any of that. I’ve met his kind before. Without delay, I turned away from him and promptly banged right into another man knocking him to the floor as he had been carrying a stack of packages and didn’t realize at all that I was going to be barreling into him. That would have been bad enough except I lost my balance and fell right on top of him. He looked up at me as I lay on him, and he grinned. Oh, my, but I think I met the three brothers that man on the stage had been describing. That dimple of his and that grin nearly melted my heart. Now, as an artist, what I saw there beneath me inspired me so that I was far more bold than I ever had been in my life.
“Oh, my, sir, I am sorry.”
“Not a problem, my lady. This has been the most fun I’ve had in some time.”
Oh, but he did have a wicked grin as he said that to me. He helped me to stand as the other two men picked up the packages he had dropped. Then I blurted out what I was thinking.
“I would love sometime if you would take off your shirt and pose for me.”
That made him grin even more. I know he knew what I must have meant, but he wasn’t going to let me escape with any dignity from this encounter. He let his younger brother take the lead.
“Hey, Adam, you ought to oblige her. That’s the best offer I think you’ve ever had.”
“Yeah, older brother, you ain’t getting any younger, and now they’re falling all over ya and offering to have you take off your clothes. What more could you ask for?”
Excuse the language, but the damn man only grinned at me and waited to let me extricate myself from the situation with no help from him.
“I am an artist. I only meant that he would make a good model for my work.”
“Oh, miss, I think he’d be happy to let you work on him. But you see, he’s leaving for San Francisco soon, so you’re going to be disappointed. However I am available. Hoss here can take the supplies home, and I could take off my shirt and let you work on me.”
“Oh, I have to get some dinner. You men are most disagreeable.”
“Not at all, miss. I was trying to be as agreeable as possible.”
With that, I stormed from that store and headed to the nearest restaurant, but I heard the most unpleasant cackle from that young man after his last comment to me. The big man had a rumbling laugh that would have been pleasant but only under other circumstances. The man who was dressed all in black was silent at least.
Once in the restaurant, I thought to have some peace, but that man from the stage was there, and to my everlasting embarrassment, the man I had ‘tackled’ in the store showed up too greeting his friend as Sam and sitting down to dinner with him. I saw them look over at me a time or two, and then at one point laugh uproariously. I’m sure I was the subject of their conversation. When I saw Sam writing furiously after that I worried that my embarrassing moment was going to be fodder for his storytelling. I could only hope it would not appear in print as he had made some reference to working for a newspaper in this city. Dinner was delicious and indigestion the result. When it was time to pay for my meal, the waiter said it was already paid, and I turned to see that man tip his hat to me as he too was departing the restaurant. The waiter confirmed he had paid my bill. It only increased my anger, and I hurried to the stage depot anxious to leave this town and my humiliation behind.
Entry 3 When the stage coach driver said to climb aboard, my relief was immense until a man stepped behind me and offered his arm to assist me aboard. I was going to thank him until I saw who it was. My face felt like the noonday sun was burning it with my shame for it was that man on whom I had fallen. He helped me into the stage and then climbed in beside me. On the opposite seat were only packages and mailbags strapped in with netting barely leaving him room for his long legs. When the stage began to move, I realized with horror that we were to be the only two passengers for perhaps as many as twenty-four hours together. I thought I would never choose death willingly, but at that moment, it seemed a reasonable alternative.
“The northern route is closed due to some early season storms. The telegraph lines are down as well. It’s why I have to make this trip but also why we have so much extra mail and packages packed in with us.”
“I knew that.”
Of course, I didn’t know that, but I didn’t want him to think me ignorant. I was, but I didn’t want him to think it. He had an irritating little smirk as an answer to my response though so he knew I was lying. I thought I best not do that again. Changing the subject seemed a better avenue to pursue.
“That man you were having dinner with was on the stage with me on the way here. He told the most amusing stories, but he never introduced himself. Who was that?”
“You had the privilege then of hearing original stories from Mark Twain.”
“Mark Twain! But you called him Sam.”
“Because that’s his name.”
“His name is Samuel Clemens, but his nom de plume is Mark Twain.”
I was going to say ‘I knew that’ but thought better of it and simply nodded. He smiled at that as if he knew what I had intended to say but held back. Instead I asked a sensible question.
“Is nom de plume a fancy way of saying penname?”
“Yes, it is.”
“But you know Mark Twain?”
“May I ask how you know him?”
“I think you just did.”
“Listen, we have a long time to be together, and if you keep talking like that to me, it’s going to be a very unpleasant time together. You don’t suppose you could try to be nice to me, do you?”
Entry 4 That was the beginning of us having a more civil conversation. I had heard my father speak of men who did not suffer fools well. Now I had met one. I had to drop all pretense and speak honestly. As I did, he proved himself to be an attentive and resourceful conversationalist. He asked about my art. I showed him my sketchbook including the many studies of men with their shirts off, and he asked why I did that.
“My father was my art teacher. One of the things he taught me was that to draw a person properly with clothing on is to know what is under that clothing. I want to do some paintings of cowboys out here. In order to do that, I need to see what they look like under their clothing. I can see their costumes or clothing anywhere. It is much more difficult to see what is under that clothing that gives the distinctive form to the person.”
“That makes a great deal of sense. I like to design buildings, and it is the interior structure of the building that defines the exterior shape.”
“You’re a cowboy who designs buildings?”
“Maybe I’m an architect and engineer who herds cattle and breaks horses.”
As he waited for my response, I had to decide whether to admit my prejudices to try to hold onto what little pride I had left. Somehow I knew though that trying to do the latter was never going to work. I chose the former and never regretted it.
“I guess I have some presumptions of men of the west that I should re-examine.”
“Perhaps of the women of the west too. There aren’t enough of anyone out here. Many people have to do more than one job to be successful or for communities to be successful. On the census, they only allow women to check off one box for occupation. It is so misleading. Most women of course check that they run their homes. But many of them have occupations such as teacher, nurse, clerk, cook, or any number of other jobs and even sometimes more than one other job. There are more jobs than people. We all have to fill those or they don’t get done.”
“What kind of jobs do you do?”
“I oversee our timber and lumber operations, I inspect our mining investments and recommend improvements as needed, I design buildings as needed, and herd cattle, build fences, and break horses or whatever else needs to be done.”
“Which of those are you doing on this trip?”
“None of those. I’m going to San Francisco to finalize a contract for selling some lumber. My father negotiated the contract this time because I was on a buying trip to Denver. However, another meeting was scheduled after he left San Francisco. With the northern route home closed and the lines down, we don’t know where he is and have no way to reach him to tell him about the second meeting. Therefore, I’m on the express to Sacramento, and I’ll be in a rush to get to the Bay in time for the next meeting.”
“You don’t seem too worried.”
“There’s not much I can do about it. I’ll get there or I won’t.”
“Will your father be upset if you don’t?”
“Oh, yes, he will. He will thunder about for a time.”
“That bothers you, doesn’t it?”
That query he didn’t answer. It was probably too personal and I didn’t actually expect him to answer. He didn’t have to answer though. I could see from how he looked and the shift in his posture how much it bothered him. A man like him at his age to be berated for something over which he had no control must be frustrating. I wondered what he would do when that level of frustration grew to be too much. But then I thought I knew that too.
“When are you planning to leave?”
“When my father died, he left me a note. He told me he had done his best, but he said that now it was my turn. He told me to follow my dreams and not let anything or anyone stand in my way. Well, my mother asked me if I was ready to give up that foolishness now that my father was gone and no longer putting crazy ideas in my head. She wanted me to marry and be like every other young woman she knew. She had no care for what I wanted. It was her vision of the future for our family that mattered. Well, after a year or so of that, I left. I do illustrations for magazines to make enough money to support myself, and I have enough to travel to keep my dream alive. I may never create the great works of art that I envision, but at least I have a chance to try.”
He nodded then, and I was sure he knew exactly how I had felt.
“You have dreams too, don’t you, but no one seems to care what they are. The only way your dreams can take form is for you to get away from those who seek to stop you from dreaming. Maybe things won’t work out and maybe they will. Can things be any worse than they are for you? You’re not happy now. Can you be less happy? As my father said to me, it’s your turn. I hope to be able to live in California and work on my art.”
“Far from my mother, I’ve never been there, and I’ve heard that it has beautiful scenery that will make wonderful backdrops for my paintings.”
Entry 5 We talked quite a bit more but eventually we grew tired and napped. We woke for stops, talked more, and eventually reached our destination. He asked if he could call on me when he had concluded his business and treat me to dinner as a way of apologizing for his ungentlemanly behavior in Virginia City. I agreed. That dinner was wonderful, but then he did more introducing me to his friends in the art world and in publishing. I did get that chance to draw him too. I wonder if his family ever recognized him in the illustrations I did for magazines because I used his image to inspire me a number of times. In my mind when I drew men who had to be bigger than life, romantic figures, or heroes, he was the man I saw. His insights into the west and the people there led me to paint some realistic portraits of the west that were different from any other artist. That got me interest in the art world, commissions, and a steady income as well as some recognition. Eventually I met a man who was willing to accept that a woman could have a dream too.
Entry 1776 I had heard he left his home and never returned. That was sad in a way, but I hoped he had found happiness wherever he had gone. Then I took the train to Nevada to deliver a painting to Carson City. I had been commissioned to do one for the Governor’s mansion. My husband carried our bags and went up the steps first. As I moved to get on the train, a man who walked up behind me took my elbow to help me up the first steep step. I didn’t need to turn around when I heard that velvet voice. I did turn to find him changed but in good ways. A woman came to stand beside him and a boy was with her.
“Monette, this is my counselor who gave me the advice that changed my life and sent me to you.”
“Thank you so much, my dear.”
The smile he had, the cut of the suit, the way he stood proud and tall with his arm gently around the lady’s shoulder told me he had found his dream. I hoped we could share stories as we traveled for I guessed they would be even better this time.
Other Stories by this Author
- What Would Adam Do? (by BettyHT)
- We Done Our Share (by BettyHT)
- Another Stranger In Town (by BettyHT)
- Fuji stories (by BettyHT)
- Lessons (by BettyHT)