Fort Worth, 1881
She had struggled for years to escape the flyspeck town of her birth, and now twenty-six-year-old Miss Dashwell’s bid to put Pilot Knob, Texas far behind her had gone astray just hours after starting out. Nobody had told her there would be stops and train changes interrupting her flight, and she was certain nobody had told her the steam locomotive’s belching smoke would leave her clothes and exposed skin sooty and smudged before she’d gone a hundred miles. Her bonnet was a fright, and even under the long cotton duster her new gingham blouse and blue twill skirt would soon be the color of coal.
And now it was raining.
“My hair!” She pushed grimy strands back under her bonnet. “I must look a pitiful sight.”
She saw no train to board for the next stage of her trip.
The man at the station window wrung his hands as he spoke. “I’m sorry. The El Paso train broke down in Dallas this morning. It will arrive at noon tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I don’t understand. There’s no train until then?”
“I’m sorry. May I suggest you take a room at the convenient and close-by Pickwick Hotel? You will find their guest carriage waiting in front of the station.”
“But I’ve only come thirty miles, and now—”
“The railroad will care for whatever belongings you do not require for this one night, and for their loading on tomorrow’s train.”
“I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do.”
Deflated, she retrieved her overnight case from the baggage cart and found her way through the passenger station in time to see the Pickwick carriage drive away. The sole remaining buggy said “Transcontinental Hot l” on the side. With a little groan, she gave a last look at the disappearing Pickwick carriage and handed her bag to the bent, bald, and bewhiskered Transcontinental coachman.
“D’ya have a reservation?” he wheezed, struggling to lift the five pound bag onto the carriage.
“No sir. I haven’t. Will that be a problem?” All she needed at this moment was for the only hotel left to be full.