Lanterns and Lace - By DiAnn Mills

Chapter 1

Jenny Martin would face a gang of outlaws in the hope of finding her sister’s child. Over the past several days, she’d slept upright until her back throbbed, eaten beans as hard and dry as stone, and endured the humiliation of men eyeing her because she traveled the Union Pacific without an escort.

Now, as the end of her travels grew to a close, she couldn’t help but sense an air of excitement despite the long, uncomfortable journey. She attempted to stand and walk about the car, but dizziness forced her back down onto the scratchy seat. Sleep tugged at her stinging eyes, and she closed them for an instant, but a painfully loud snore from an elderly man across the aisle kept her from giving in to the rest her body craved. Other womanly discomforts plagued her aching body, and she did her best to will them away. At least for the present.

I will never take my life as a proper lady for granted again.

The doors between the railroad cars slammed shut, and she startled. Nothing in Cleveland had prepared her for the primitive living conditions of the Wild West. A less than pleasant odor met her nostrils and threw her stomach into a whirl—no doubt from the elderly man who snored. Between that and a portly man’s foul cigar, the last few hours had been unbearable.

Jenny glanced out the window and watched the countryside slip by. This trip was supposed to have been an exciting adventure, one she’d describe to her students once school resumed in September. She’d ridden the Northern Pacific Railroad to Texas and boarded the Union Pacific en route to Kahlerville with the enthusiasm of a giddy girl. Viewing the terrain across this vast land had given her a sense of freedom, but her sentiments faded as the hours moved to one grueling day after another. Still, at the end of Jenny’s journey to Kahlerville, Texas, lived a little girl who needed her family.

She smiled despite her discomfort. The destination of her dreams was but a few miles away. Jenny resisted the urge to open the window and allow some portion of the sultry air to circulate. She wanted to disembark without a fine coating of soot darkening her face and traveling attire. Earlier, she’d changed into a clean traveling dress and a cape of slate gray lined in gray taffeta that could also serve as a mackintosh, but for her purposes it would shield her from smoke and dust. She sighed. Oh, how she’d welcome a fresh, cooling rain. The clear azure sky held no such promise. Instead, she’d think about her niece and how the child must be as beautiful as Jessica.

Within moments, it became increasingly clear that if she didn’t permit some breeze to blow in from the outside, she would surely faint. Jenny lifted the latch on the window. Soon fine black dirt settled on her hat, face, neck, cape, and dress. How foolish to change into clean clothes. Perhaps her little niece wouldn’t mind that her auntie was soiled.

She fanned herself as vigorously as propriety allowed and stared out the window. Tall pine trees grew close to the track and swayed slightly, offering a brief respite from the heat. They reminded her of the gaslights on the street corners of home. The trees passed, and an array of black-eyed Susans covered an entire field. How utterly captivating. Never had she expected such beauty in this desolate country.

The porter walked by, and Jenny lifted her gaze to offer a faint smile. “Sir, do you know what time we will arrive in Kahlerville?”

The elderly man, whose molted mustache bent below his chin, tipped his hat. “Late this afternoon, miss.”

“Thank you.” Sometimes she feared her constitution would not allow another minute on board the train. “Sir, can you tell me anything about the town?”

“It’s quite pleasant, rather homey. Let me think . . . I have an aunt and uncle living there, so I’m more familiar with Kahlerville than some of the other stops. I remember a newspaper, telegraph office, a bank, sheriff’s office, law office, barber, livery and feed store, a general store, a church, and an undertaker.” He pointed with his right index finger as though he’d memorized the businesses located up and down the street. “I think there are a few other establishments, too. A boardinghouse for one. I remember the food is especially good there. Are you visiting family?”

Jenny pondered how to answer the question. Her mother would have told