To escape a greedy brother-in-law, Gregoria Marteen and her children are fleeing to America on a train after the death of her husband. A pastry chef, Gregoria’s first job in Texas is at Bettye Buford’s Bed & Table. It does not go well. Suitable for all ages.
…The conductor didn’t collect tickets until the train had left Mexico and had stopped in Laredo to pick up new passengers before it chugged its way across the Texas desert. The landscape was completely bare, and the passengers looked out across the hot, dry land without hope of seeing anything of interest through the windows of their stuffy railroad car. Not a tree. Not a bush. Not even a tarantula skittering across the desert floor.
“Tickets…tickets…tickets…,” the conductor droned as he moved down the train’s aisle. Gregoria watched him as he briefly stopped to talk to a group of cowboys who had just gotten aboard and were on their way to join a cattle drive. He politely refused when a cowboy offered him a swig of whiskey from a bottle he pulled out of a saddlebag. “There are no laws against drinking on a train as long as you’re a passenger, but rules prohibit my drinking with you,” he cheerfully explained.
The cowboys were in a good mood and looked forward to a long cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail up north toward Kansas with a big paycheck at the end. As the train rolled on, several cowboys settled in for a lengthy game of poker while a younger man softly strummed a guitar. The card players mostly ignored him now but later on in the middle of a long, boring cattle drive, they’d all come to appreciate their friend’s songs a lot more.
Gregoria held her breath when a banker in the middle of the car peppered the ticket-taker with questions about the likelihood of an Indian attack and she was relieved when the idea of seeing Indians excited the children more than frightened them. The eastern banker, a fiftyish man dressed in a three-piece suit that was much too warm for the trip, was beginning to hyperventilate. Unable to hide his nervousness, he kept up a list of questions that all started with “What if?” and ended with “What then?” The conductor tried to console him but some of his truthful answers made matters worse.
Finally, the cowboy with the bottle passed the whiskey up the aisle and told the man to take a drink. The banker gratefully took a big glug before he passed it back. When the banker noticed the soldiers on board and asked if they would protect them from robbers and Indians, the conductor had to honestly answer, “Probably not. There are only a few soldiers aboard the train and they are new recruits, unarmed, and untrained.”
Next, the banker wanted to know if there were armed guards in the boxcars to protect the bank’s money that was being transferred to Dallas. Patiently, the train employee admitted that “Company policy is to not put lives at risk to protect train shipments.”
The man’s whining was escalating and a soldier across the aisle from the panicky businessman became annoyed with the man’s cowardice and snorted underneath the cap he’d pulled down over his face, “Unless you see Geronimo and his band of Apaches,” the soldier said, “you’ll be fine. All of the other Indians are on the reservations.”
“And if I see Apaches? What then?” the banker queried.
“Then, you’ll be dead. No more problem,” the soldier answered matter-of-factly. Before he went back to sleep, he smiled at Gregoria and said out of earshot of the banker, “Don’t worry, ma’am. I’ve never heard of Geronimo chasing down a train. He seems to prefer stagecoaches…”
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