An Irresistible TemptationBy: Sydney Jane Baily
I offer heartfelt gratitude to my enthusiastic beta readers: Renee Sevelitte, who found the first major story flaws; Tammy Thompson, who went above and beyond the task, meticulously pointing out typos, while giving me the honest truth about the first chapter; Pamela Hodgin, who earnestly read my story despite it being out of her normal genre of interest; and Holly Meyerhoff, who is almost too polite to be a beta reader, but made me rethink the latter half of the story.
Thanks to the young man at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum (whose name I didn’t get), who gave me valuable information. And to Wendy Kramer, librarian in the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library for sending much-needed primary sources.
Thanks to my cheering section. You know who you are. And, of course, thanks to my mom, who read the nearly final draft, chapter by chapter, right along with me. We had a fun time.
Spring City, Colorado
The train rocked sharply to the left and Sophie smacked her head against the window for the umpteenth time that day. Really! She rubbed her temple, running her hand over her dark hair. This was certainly not the smooth ride between New York and Boston, or even between Paris and Rome, for that matter. This was the West. This was freedom, she thought to herself with the merest hint of a smile.
As the train crossed over into Colorado, heading for tiny Spring City, none of the other passengers would suspect she was anyone out of the ordinary. Looking at her, in her well-appointed blue dress, her hands folded in her lap, no one would know or care that she was a world-class pianist. Her studies at The Boston Conservatory of Music under its famed director Julius Eichberg and then at The National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome were of little use to her at that moment.
Sophie stretched delicately before turning her face once again to the window. Briefly, she caught sight of her own reflection. Although the man she’d believed she would marry had torn her heart asunder the previous year, destroying her composure with all the roughness of a piano’s dissonant second interval, she decided her appearance was unchanged.
Well, perhaps a bit weary-looking around her eyes, which stared solemnly back at her. On the inside, however, Sophie struggled to regain the self-possession she’d felt before Philip went to Oxford University to study philosophy—without her.
What was the point, she had wondered aloud to him, to debate life and God and Heaven and whatnot? When she played her pianoforte, she knew the meaning of life. And she even suspected she’d heard the sounds of Heaven in many a concerto. Why debate and deliberate? Why not just live life and be grateful?
Philip had not invited her to Oxford, and she’d left Rome alone, returning home to Boston.
She focused on the vastness outside the train, feeling a little disappointed at having seen so few buffalo. No great herds were left. Her sister-in-law, Charlotte, who had lived in Colorado until she’d met Sophie’s brother nearly a year and a half earlier, had told her about the wide open spaces. Sophie had never seen the magnificent open plains before, and, in that respect, she had not been disappointed.
However, she had to admit that each time the train pulled into a station, no matter how small the pocket of civilization, she would breathe a sigh of relief. And when the long sequence of passenger cars, sleeper car, dining car, and baggage car, all pulled by a strong locomotive and guarded at the rear by the caboose, left a town behind and wound its way farther across the deserted prairie, anxiety gripped her anew. She felt as though she were on a tiny boat in a nearly limitless ocean.
When she finally arrived in Spring City, Colorado, Sophie stood on the station platform, looking expectantly for Doctor Cuthins and his wife; Doc and Sarah were old friends of Charlotte, who was now the toast of Boston’s literary society and Sophie’s brother’s adored bride. They had attended her wedding in Boston the year before. Having them there, representing Spring City, had been a generous gift to Charlotte. Sophie’s gift to her brother, Reed, and her new sister-in-law was an original composition, which she played at the reception hall while they danced.
After the wedding, she’d waited patiently through the long winter that turned into spring and then the insufferably hot months for their first baby to be born. At last, she made her escape from Boston’s smothering atmosphere in early August.
And here she stood, thousands of miles from home.
Sophie waited and waited, until the train had departed and the platform was empty. She was thirsty. Offering—no, insisting—on handling the task of packing up Charlotte’s things had seemed a brilliant idea a few months ago. Despite her own brother’s hesitation over her safety and despite Charlotte’s brother’s offer to complete the task himself, Sophie had claimed the job; she’d dismissed Reed’s concerns and then pointed out Thaddeus’s lack of reliability—Charlotte’s brother was still a bit of an unknown entity, who never stayed in one place very long. It was the perfect excuse for Sophie to get away, see the west, and forget Philip. Or at least, she would try to.
She sat down on her trunk, her carpet bag on her lap and wondered what she should do. This was not Boston. No cabriolets happened by to take stranded passengers to their destinations.
She sighed. It was not the first time she’d found herself either alone or stranded, or both, in a strange city. But this was the first time she’d seen a mule pass by, looking as if it were more composed than she, in fact, felt. Now that she was off the train, the big open space all around the small town seemed even bigger, and the town, itself, seemed to shrink, becoming the littlest oasis in a massive landscape.
Humming to herself, she jiggled her leg, checked the pins holding her hat, and desperately wished for a cafe offering some strong Turkish brew and a pastry.
Just then a strange noise took her attention to the sky; an ugly black bird with a small head and large black body was cruising lazily back and forth, making a warbled bark. She shuddered. This was the “wild west,” indeed, as Thomas Reid had described it, and not for the first time, she wished she hadn’t read her younger sister’s copy of The Scalp Hunters before traveling.
So, what to do? Obviously, there was no telephone nearby, and a telegraph office wouldn’t help her now. Even the ticket window was closed and shuttered.
With resolve, Sophie half pushed, half dragged her trunk until it landed in the dirt next to the platform. She took the two steps down to street level and grabbed the handle. Luckily, having traveled extensively, she was not one to over pack. Still, it was a struggle as she resorted to pulling the trunk along the dusty road with her carpet bag perched on top.
Spring City was not big by any standard, and the station was at one end of the town, but which end was Charlotte’s home? That, Sophie did not know.
“Main Street” stated the sign, as she approached the first block of buildings and she paused. It had to be a joke as she saw no other streets at all. But on the horizon were mountains, grand, even awe-inspiring. She shivered despite the heat of the day and the difficult task at hand. She really was on the edge of nowhere.
All the buildings looked similar, with flat fronts and squared off tops, though she could see behind the frontage that the roofs were slanted as any in the east. Some had a second story, with two windows over two, but that was the highest she saw. No wonder her sister-in-law had walked Boston’s streets staring up at the buildings for months after she’d arrived.