Part Two




Travel Itinerary
Boston to Morro Coyo, California
March/April 1870


Day One, Wednesday 23 March -  Day Two, Thursday 24 March

Boston – Albany – Buffalo – Chicago      New York Central and Hudson River Railroad

When Scott finalised his itinerary, the Pinkerton agent telegraphed the projected travel plans to Murdoch Lancer in California, and gave Scott an address to telegraph when he was ready to confirm his arrival date and time.

Scott raised an eyebrow.  "Who is Doctor Samuel Jenkins of Green River, may I ask, and why am I sending my telegrams to him and not direct to my… to Mister Lancer?"

But all the Pinkerton man would say that the circumstances demanded this strange level of subterfuge and that he wasn't at liberty to explain.  Indeed, he was under express instructions not to explain: Mr Lancer wished to do so when he saw his son.

Puzzled, Scott spent an hour or two seriously reconsidering his decision to go to California.  Murdoch Lancer had been silent for twenty-five years, and even now the man would only communicate through intermediaries.  It didn’t bode well for their interview.  Scott wondered if the journey would be worth it.  He wondered if he'd ever get an explanation from Murdoch Lancer or answers to the questions he had, those myriad variants on Why did you abandon me? 

In the end, he decided not to draw back, but his expectations—never high—were lowered accordingly.  His father was proving even more enigmatic now that contact (of sorts) had been made than he had been when he was silent.

His grandfather gave him a very speaking look when Scott told him of this latest development.

"All the agent would say was that my father has his reasons for this roundabout means of communication, and that he will explain when he sees me face to face."

"If the novelty of that doesn't rob him of speech," said Harlan, waspish to the last.  "I was right to be suspicious.  There's something havey-cavey going on, Scotty.  Mark my words."

"At least you have words, sir.  That seems to be rather more than Murdoch Lancer can admit to."

Harlan smiled at that, but it was mirthless.




Scott's last evening in what his grandfather persisted in calling the 'civilisation of the East', involved a sumptuous supper for two ("I believe that they subsist on beef jerky, in the West.  Eat up, Scotty, this is likely to be the last decent dinner you get until you come home.") followed by a short sleep in his own comfortable bed ("It may be that Murdoch Lancer is no longer living in the ruined mud hut to which he took your mother—he may at least had had it roofed by this time, I suppose—but I'm not sanguine about the comfort you'll find there.  Sleep well, my boy.") and he started his journey by breakfasting on beefsteak, kidneys and devilled eggs ("I've asked Mrs Reynolds to put up a hamper for you, so you'll have enough decent food for a day or two, at least.").

Despite the appallingly early start, his grandfather went with him to the station to make his final farewells, and solemnly shook hands before Scott boarded the train.  There was no embrace and little obvious emotion other than the tightening of Harlan's hand in Scott's and the patent sincerity of his quiet Come home soon, Scotty.  Scott's last sighting of him as the train pulled out on the stroke of five, was his upright figure; not waving, merely watching.  Harlan raised one hand in farewell as the train gathered speed and then Scott lost sight of him altogether.  He knew that Harlan would stand watching the train until there would be nothing to see but an empty line stretching out across a continent. 




Scott settled himself into the parlour carriage with its comfortable armchairs set at the windows or around a closed stove.  The stove—needed to take the chill from a typically raw Spring dawn—had already been claimed by a merchant who was apparently going to Buffalo on business and taking his family for a vacation.  Scott was happy enough to sink into a comfortable chair by a window, and take stock of himself and try and work out what his real expectations were. 

He'd not slept well.  For much of the night, Scott's dreams had been of very tall, broad men who'd towered over him, as if he were a small child again, and deep voices that said, gently, So, you’re Scott, are you?  He'd looked up, straining to see through the dim light, but always before he could see what Murdoch Lancer looked like, and how Murdoch Lancer looked when he was greeting his son for the first time, the owner of the tall, broad figure and the deep voice turned away into the darkness. 

Over and over, until the butler had knocked softly on his door in the cold, predawn darkness.

He'd said nothing to his grandfather about the dreams, as he'd never said anything about his childhood fantasies.  He knew the dreams were to be expected.  His doctors had said so when he came back from Libby; that in dreams our troubled spirits seek the answers they couldn't find awake.  Scott wasn't entirely sure that he had a troubled spirit, but he did have a lot of questions.  At the very least, he could use the journey to think about the coming reunion, and work out what he would ask before taking his promised thousand dollars and turning back for home.

But he had little opportunity to indulge in introspection.  It would have been a pleasant journey across the New England farmlands but for the mercantile child, who needed more discipline than his doting parents seemed able to give him.  Scott was not an ardent worshipper at the altar of childhood innocence and found the lisp all too easy to resist, but the child was a persistent little demon.  The boy showed a flattering desire for Scott's attention, coming to lean often against Scott's knee to stroke his sleeve and ask for a story.  Scott hoped that the jam could be sponged from the jacket of his travelling suit: it was one of Brooks Brothers' more successful creations and he was particularly taken with the burgundy velvet trim.

The conductor, thankfully, was able to save the day.  And the jacket.



Day Three Friday 24 March

Chicago – Council Bluffs (Omaha)            Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad


Scott met Charles Nordhoff over dinner, after a day travelling south-west from Chicago.  The CRIP Railroad dining car was crowded, and the conductor had no compunction about forcing two gentlemen travelling alone to share a table, creating enough room at neighbouring tables for a family so numerous that Scott stopped counting.  He was only grateful that the conductor didn't gift him with the overflow children as well.  If nothing else, it preserved his suit from further damage.

Nordhoff was considerably older than Scott (about forty, Scott thought), stocky and dark-haired, with a neatly trimmed beard half-obscuring the high colour in his cheeks that suggested good living, and bright, intelligent eyes.  He introduced himself with a hearty handshake and the observation, in very slightly accented English, that "At Chicago, the journey to California really begins."

"Do you think so?"  Scott welcomed the distraction from the horror of family life and added, as he accepted the proffered hand: "Scott Lancer, of Boston, sir."

"And a bachelor," Nordhoff guessed.

Scott gave a nod towards the large family.  "And likely to remain one, if that's the alternative."

Nordhoff laughed.  "It doesn't have to be so... so very numerous!  But why challenge my little aphorism about Chicago?"

"I'd have thought Council Bluffs was better qualified, myself.  At the moment we appear to be heading south as much as west."

"Doesn't trip so easily from the tongue," protested his new acquaintance, his dark, expressive face crinkling with amusement.  He took off his rimless spectacles, and folded them into his breast pocket, putting aside the magazine he had been looking at before Scott had been shown to his table.  "There's something very unpleasing about the words.  Council.  Bluffs.  No.  Not quite the right rhythm to it.  I like my words to flow and dance, Mister Lancer."

Scott, who didn't feel that the word 'Chicago' was that much more pleasing to the ear, just smiled.  "Then you must be a writer, sir."

Nordhoff, it appeared, was a journalist.  He worked for the New York Evening Post and for Harper's Monthly Magazine and, like many of his profession, was an aspiring novelist.  Scott admitted to being a subscriber and that he had the latest edition of Harper's in his valise.

"Nothing of mine in there this month," said Nordhoff.  "But I've got an article on the history of lace in Harper's Bazar."

"Lace," repeated Scott, wondering whether he should smile or not.

Nordhoff himself was cheerfully brisk about it.  "Such are the varied experiences of the journalistic life, sir.  Lace is very important to the ladies and the article was a great success.  Your wife, if we hadn't just established your reluctance to commit to matrimony, would certainly be reading it."

"I'm sure she would," said Scott, rather fascinated.  "And if I ever do marry, I'll make sure of it.  I take it that a journalist has to be able to turn his pen to any subject?"

"Indeed, yes," said Nordhoff, and the ensuing discussion led them by a winding route to Great Literature—Scott could almost see the capitals being sketched in the air as Nordhoff spoke—at which point Scott revealed that he had had read and admired Goethe while at Harvard.

"I'm devoutly Germanic when it comes to Goethe, Mister Lancer, although, I'm staunchly American on everything else," said Nordhoff, delighted, and toasted Scott in appreciation.  "You’re an educated man, sir, and it's a privilege to make your acquaintance."

Scott laughed and by the time that they'd agreed that perhaps Great Britain's Mr Dickens took the modern palm (if one forgave the monstrous injustice done to the United States by Martin Chuzzlewit), they found that they had a lot in common despite the difference in age.  Scott thought that Nordhoff would make an amusing and sympathetic travelling companion.

Nordhoff was researching a series of articles for Harper's, extolling the virtues of the new Great Transcontinental route and promoting the idea of travelling it for pleasure on family vacations.  Scott felt that the ticket prices may have to be adjusted before many families could afford to take Nordhoff's travel advice, although there were obvious exceptions and he looked pointedly at the large family at the nearby tables as he spoke.

"You have a point," conceded Nordhoff, "Despite my brief, I have had to leave Missus Nordhoff and the young Nordhoffs at home in New York—the expenses not running to a family outing—although between you, me and that all too numerous family over there, I am relishing the prospect of a short break from domesticity."  He looked at his wineglass and smiled.  "I don't mind admitting, Lancer, that Missus Nordhoff has a fine, almost operatic talent for vocalising her disappointment at being left behind, and I can’t say that I blame her.  This is quite an adventure we're embarking on and it will be all the better for your congenial company."

But he said that when Scott shared his bottle of champagne, and Scott was of the opinion that free champagne would make anyone appear to be congenial. 

"Do you travel for business, pleasure or family?" asked Nordhoff, adding rather belatedly, "If you will forgive my curiosity."

Scott hesitated, but he was both used to and adept at these superficial, surface conversations that kept him safely distanced.  There was no harm in the question, after all.  He admitted to all three reasons, and Nordhoff, perhaps unsurprisingly from what little Scott had seen of him, focused on the latter two.

"They'll be delighted to be reunited with you, of course," said Nordhoff, making the assumption about Scott's family connexions with such bright good humour that Scott couldn't be offended.  "And grateful for this wonderful form of transportation that will get you to them all the sooner.  The railroads will, I'm sure, be the remarkable tool for reuniting with loved ones separated from us by our mighty continent—"

The man talks like a book, thought Scott, suddenly tired.  He guessed though that beneath the florid language and the professional bonhomie, there lurked a sharp and analytical mind.  Nordhoff missed nothing, his gaze flickering around the carriage to see why a lady two tables away laughed, or to watch the low-voiced waiter conferring with the fussy, elderly gentleman at the corner table, or whatever other little tableaux caught his eye.

Scott let his mouth twist into a little sourness.  "Oh, not close family," he said, coolly, interrupting Nordhoff's rhapsodising.  "Not loved ones.  The gentleman I'm visiting… well, I suppose that we meet on a page in the family bible, but we’ve never met anywhere else."

He turned his head to stare out of the window, and watched the Illinois evening flicker past.  He wondered if Murdoch Lancer even had a family bible: it didn't seem likely that the man would have need of one.




Day Four, Saturday 26 March – Day Seven Tuesday 29 March

The Great Transcontinental Railroad



Omaha – Cheyenne – Laramie – Ogden            Union Pacific Railroad

Ogden – Sacramento                                      Central Pacific Railroad
Sacramento – Stockton – San Francisco             Western Pacific Railroad

They arrived at Council Bluffs after an early breakfast and transferred across the Missouri to Omaha.  Scott was a little taken aback to find all his luggage whisked away into a large shed to be reweighed and checked before he was allowed to board the Union Pacific train.

"They'd love to charge you extra poundage," said Nordhoff, with a shrug, looking around the shed and the dozens of people crowded into it. 

"I really should tell them I'm a shareholder," murmured Scott, remembering his grandfather's complaisance at the charges made by the railroads and wondering how much Harlan was profiting from the price for transporting the travellers' baggage.

Nordhoff laughed, and watched the crowds with his bright, intelligent eyes.  Scott smiled and leaned against a counter, listening with only half an ear to almost as many languages as there were people, and, like his companion, enjoying the sight of so many energetic, gesticulating, flustered people.  Immigrants from dozens of countries packed the platform—people whose entire lives were bound up in a few bags and valises and packs, people who had travelled halfway across the world for the chance of a new life.  There were English there, and Irish, but the majority seemed to be Germans and Poles and Bohemians, with a smattering of big, blond Norsemen and even a few dark, thin Russians.  There were a dozen different costumes that hinted at non-American origins, a dozen different languages, a dozen different exhortations to the excited, playful children who darted about the piles of luggage.  Scott caught one little girl who tumbled over, setting her on her feet again with a smile; she laughed at him and said something to him, and his German was good enough to accept her shy thanks in her own language.

Scott continued to smile, after she'd fluttered away back to her mother.  For all the confusion and fluster, these were people on their way to something new and exciting, and it showed on every tired face and in every eye.  These were like the Israelites in the wilderness taking their first steps out of the desert into the Promised Land, and freedom and joy and anticipation were their travelling companions.  Scott envied them.

"They all have such a lot of hope and energy," he said.

"They're on their way to a new life," said Nordhoff.  "For many of them the old one has been difficult and America and the West offers them a new beginning, a vision of something better."

Scott frowned.  "Yes," he said, slowly.

"In my own case, my father came from a relatively poor family in Eastern Prussia.  He laboured under too many disadvantages back in the Fatherland: he was the fourth son and of his three brothers, one inherited, one went into the Army and the third became a pastor.  There was nothing left for him there.  Add to that a most imprudent marriage and a son – myself – to establish, then he really had no choice but to try his luck here if he was to make his fortune.  He never regretted it."

"My father came from Scotland, I believe," said Scott.  "I don't know why he left, but possibly the same sort of reasoning, to make his own way."

"You've never asked him?" 

"I've never met the gentleman," said Scott, turning away.  He caught the ticket agent's attention and, on behalf of Nordhoff and himself, got it established that they were through travellers and therefore entitled to be amongst the first to be assigned their berths.  Nordhoff, despite giving him some speculative looks, was tactful enough to say nothing more on the subject of fathers, commenting instead on the hardiness of the emigrants who would sit upright for the entire journey while he and Scott travelled in a level of comfort that rivalled a drawing room.

Scott nodded and sympathised, and all while he thought that he'd rather like to know what vision had brought Murdoch Lancer to the Americas to steal away a Boston heiress for his wife.  He wondered if the man would tell him.  He wondered if the man would tell him anything.




The railroad ran out of Omaha and out across more prairie.  Scott, used to the rolling green hills and mountains of New England thought that the flat yellowish-green grasslands were disconcerting, stretching away to an horizon that could barely be seen. 

It reminded him of sailing.  Just as at sea, there was a sense of horizons that couldn't be measured, couldn't be gauged or determined, the feeling that he was setting off across something that couldn't be mapped or confined between the puny boundaries set by mere men.  His parents, of course, had gone to California by ship and had missed seeing the wide American plains.  He couldn’t imagine their journey, although he tried; trying to envisage the pretty, delicate looking woman of the portrait coping with the privations of the long voyage and wondered if the faceless tallness that was his father was hardier, had been there for his mother to cling to, reassuring and strong in rough seas.  He wondered if they'd experienced the same vulnerability while at sea, the same feeling of smallness and insignificance that the grasslands were giving him now.

"I feel a little like the ancient sailors must have felt," he said to Nordhoff, "sailing across an endless sea and worrying that they'd fall from the edge.  Seeing this, I could almost believe science is wrong and that the world is flat, after all!"

Science, opined Mr Nordhoff,  took all the romance and adventure from the world.  Scott could only agree, astonished when Nordhoff revealed that he'd spent several years at sea before settling to a landlubber's life as a journalist.

Scott watched as the prairies passed and thought about what it must have been like thirty years before, moving across these boundless plains on a slow wagon pulled by a span of oxen or heavy draught horses, the men and women tiny and insignificant against the world they moved in.  The train travelled in an hour more miles than those first explorers could travel in a day.  He thought that, on the whole, the pioneers had had the best of it.  There was something so very clean about the prairie then, so uncluttered and untouched by man.  Every day they had breathed new air, crumbled a new earth between their fingers and cupped their hands in cool little streams that meandered through the wild-flowers and grasses; every day they had looked up into a limitless sky and thought that they sensed the mountains at the horizon, holding it up. 

Unlike the pioneers, Scott didn't have the time to experience the wide land.  He was a traveller, not a sojourner—and, he thought, the poorer for it. 




The first time that Scott really saw Indians was on the plains beyond Omaha, before the train reached the mountains.

The train had halted at one of the railroad company's tiny depots, taking water for the great boiler from a tall water-tower and loading the open truck behind the locomotive with tons of little black nuggets of coal.  Quite a few men on the train jumped down to stretch legs aching with inactivity, Scott among them.  Nordhoff, too, clambered down from the high platform between carriages, but he was intent on scurrying off to the front of the train to watch the refuelling operations, his ever-present notebook at the ready.

The coarse buffalo grass was almost waist-high.  Scott felt as though he were wading in it, as if in a gentler sea than the Atlantic he knew.  Like the ocean, the grasses moved in endless susurration, making the same little sounds as wavelets on a shingled beach, bending and moving before the lonely prairie wind.  Everywhere Scott looked, the grasses moved and sighed and moved again, studded with little flowers in blue, and pink and yellow.  Like exotic fish, thought Scott, taking the analogy further and then laughing at himself for the ridiculous fancy.

He drew in a deep breath and smiled at the strangeness of the land.  The air was tangy with scents he didn't quite recognise; sharp and clean, cutting down into his chest and filling it with the fresh scent of the grasses.  He stretched and straightened to his full height, taking another deep breath, and looked up and west towards the mountains, wondering if he'd catch sight of them.

Something moved in the grasses.  He turned his head and watched idly as the riders came closer, travelling on a barely discernible trail that ran parallel to the railroad track to the depot buildings, the only man-made structures visible in the wide land.  There were five of them, on rough-coated, compact little ponies.

The sound of a rifle bullet being levered into the breech startled him.  Glancing to his right, he saw one of the passengers from lower down the train, a tall, rough-looking man in western dress, stand ready with his rifle in his hands, his gaze intent on the riders.

The riders came closer, moving down the trail at a walk.  Scott took in the long black hair caught in rough braids, bare chests with what almost amounted to breastplates of looped clay and turquoise beads, brightly-coloured cloth breechclouts and deer-skin leggings and moccasins.

He took another deep breath and held it, his heart hammering in his chest for a moment.  There was a soft exclamation of fright and distress from the open window of the train carriage behind him, quickly hushed.  He felt as if he were naked and alone and took a step backward until he had the cool metal of one of the carriage wheels at his back.  He glanced up and behind him, seeing the pale ovals of faces pressed against the glass.

The Indians rode by without looking right or left, their faces expressionless.  It was if the train was invisible to them, for all the interest they showed in it.  They rode on towards the depot buildings as if they didn't see the train or the frightened people crowded at the windows watching them, or the man with the rifle or Scott.  For all that, Scott didn't think for a moment that the dark eyes that refused to acknowledge him had missed any detail of the train and the people and him.  The Indians rode as if all these things were insignificant to them, of no account to the land they travelled through.  They rode on past the depot buildings and beyond, disappearing into the grasses that waved in the wind.

The man to his right turned his head and spat.  Scott looked at him.

"Crow," the man said, and shrugged.  "Or maybe Osage.  But I reckon Crow's more likely."

"Dangerous?" asked Scott, finding a voice that was unaccustomedly hoarse.

"They all is," said the man, with another shrug.  "But maybe not this time  Not only five of 'em agin the train.  They ain't stupid."

Scott nodded his understanding.  He noted the man didn't unchamber the rifle bullet and was grateful, while a little internal voice laughed at him for his fears.  It's because I wasn't expecting it, he told himself, firmly.  Because they were different.  He watched until the Indians were out of sight in the grasses.

In the safe, civilised East, the few Indians who had survived the ravages of the smallpox and measles brought by the Puritan settlers hadn’t been any sort of threat for generations.  In the East, the Indians had succumbed to civilisation, had been over-run by it as by Juggernaut's Car, their failure to withstand change inevitable against the inexorable forces ranged against them.  Here, Scott thought, on the broad flat plains, the Indians must live very much as they'd always lived.  But now that the railroads were joining coast to coast and opening up the vast plains and mountains in between, the safe civilisation that Scott was used to would surely follow, making a bigger imprint on the land than the Indians.  The Indians, Scott felt, passed over the plain very much as the wind did; the grasses bent and waved and when the Indians had gone, the grasses sprang up, and bent and waved as if they'd never been there.  The Indians conformed to the land and what it demanded of them.  The white man forced the land to conform to him and his passage was more permanently etched on the surface of the world.

Scott was still watching and thinking when Nordhoff rejoined him, full of chatter about the encounter with the wild savages who lived on the plains.

"What encounter?" asked Scott, recovering himself.  "What wild savages?  They ignored us and went their way.  They weren't interested in us, just in getting to wherever it is they're going."

"Oh well," said Nordhoff, and laughed.  "There's no story in that!"

"Perhaps," said Scott, slowly.  He looked up and down the track, at the straight iron path scored over a plain that had been unscarred by men for millennia before civilisation came.  "We're leaving them behind," he said.  "They're falling ever more behind and losing what they had.  They can't win, can they?"

Nordhoff looked at him, clearly puzzled.  "The Indians?  Well, I guess our cavalry are better equipped, so the Indians will lose in the end."

"I didn't mean that, exactly.  That's just the way they'll lose, not why.  They can't win because they move across the surface of the land and respect it, but we hunger to own it."  Scott gestured to the emigrant cars.  "The farmers in that car hunger to own it and change it."

"That's the way it's always been," said Nordhoff.  "Farmers are the greatest stabilising forces of civilisation."

"I suppose so."  Scott looked west, but the Indians had vanished completely.  "Didn't you feel that they really belonged here in a way that we don't?"

Nordhoff gave him a tolerant look.  "We belong, Lancer.  Or we will.  The farmers will make that happen, you know.  They will change this empty land."

"It isn't empty," said Scott.

"It may as well be," said Nordhoff.  "The farmers will claim it, until it belongs to us."

"I know.  Whereas the Indians belong to the land."  Scott sighed slightly, troubled by the usurpation.  "I was thinking, though, that we lose something, as well as gain.  There's a story in that, you know, and a sad one."

Nordhoff shook his head.  "I'm no Rousseau," he said, "to believe that there's more morality in natural Man than in you or I." 

"What you mean is that no-one would ever read that story."

"No," said Nordhoff.  "They wouldn't."  He mimicked Scott's gesture at the cars.  "They want the Indians to lose, of course, and they don't care how many are killed; the more the better.  As you said, the farmers want the land.  They don't see that there's a story there that matters.  Where's the romance and excitement in it?"

Scott stared at him, wondering how anyone could miss the romance of a story that was reaching its ending and could never be re-read.

"We change or we die, Lancer," said Nordhoff, with the ready sympathy that Scott had already come to expect from him.  "We know that and we've embraced the challenge.  The Indians don't.  They may be noble savages but they can't stand against this."  He slapped his hand against the side of the railroad car.  "They're of the past, you know."

Scott nodded.

"Well, then," said Nordhoff, his dark eyes bright.  "We mustn't make the mistake that they do.  We mustn't cling to the past at the expense of the present, Lancer, and certainly not sacrifice the future."

"No," said Scott, suddenly thoughtful.  "We mustn't."






Scott had taken care to ensure that he had some privacy on the journey.  He'd booked berths in the Sleeping Car with every railroad on his long journey, taking one of the small, but very good, little state rooms at the end of the carriage.  He'd paid a considerable amount for the privilege of getting a State Room to himself—he didn't ask Murdoch Lancer's Pinkerton agent to reimburse that particular cost—but it was worth every cent.  He had easy chairs and an upholstered couch in his compartment, and every evening the grey-clad chamberman arrived to convert the couch into a comfortable bed, taking the bed linen from cleverly-contrived storage lockers in the roof.  Even when his bed was made, there was still room enough for he and Nordhoff to enjoy their post-dinner brandies and watch night deepen across the wide American plains or wonder at how the mountains made mysterious shapes against starry skies.  It was absolutely worth every cent not to have to go through the fuss and bother of converting his daytime travelling seat into a bed each evening and then having to sleep on a bunk with a couple of dozen strangers in the same car with barely the privacy of a curtain between them. 

"It's a little like sleeping in a small closet," said Nordhoff.  "I have half my belongings on my feet and the other half are tied to the rail that holds the curtain.  That curtain, Lancer, is the sole protection between my modesty and the other occupants of the car, each of whom are sleeping in their own curtain-y closets."  Nordhoff rubbed at his nose, reflectively, pushing his spectacles back up into their proper place.  "The lady next to me on the Chicago train snored.  I was at a loss to know how to deal with it.  If it had been Missus Nordhoff, then a sharp, but gentle, elbow to the ribs usually does the trick, but I felt that to try that remedy with a stranger might be embarrassingly misconstrued."

"I don't envy you that," said Scott, laughing.  "I've shared close quarters in the past, and I've no desire to repeat it."

With an air of not speaking to anyone in particular, Nordhoff remarked that the accommodations were perfectly adequate if one weren't an out and out sybarite of a Boston Brahmin. 

Scott felt a little guilty about not inviting the journalist to share the room, which was certainly big enough, but while it may have been selfish to take up an entire little compartment, Scott had shared cramped quarters before.  Occasionally, he woke sweating and screaming from the dreams about it, although far less often now, it had to be said, than when he'd first been released from Libby into the makeshift hospital at Macon in Georgia whence Harlan had come to fetch him home after the Confederacy surrendered.  He had no desire ever to be in such forced intimacy again.  The Pullman car may have lacked the fleas, vermin and near starvation of the old tobacco warehouse that was Libby and, later, of Macon prison camp, but he didn't care for any reminder, however vague or fleeting.

So all he did was smile and incline his head.  "Guilty as charged, Mister Nordhoff.  Have another brandy."




The train was more luxurious than even Mr Crofutt's and Mr Hart's admiring guidebooks had led Scott to expect.  As well as enjoying the privacy of his own compartment, he could join the other first-class passengers in the parlour and dining cars, spending long enjoyable days in conversation, reading, and looking at the scenery. 

It was a lazy, restful and luxurious life, and his grandfather's fears about poor accommodations or that he wouldn't have a decent dinner until his return seemed unfounded.  Indeed, regarding the latter, the dining car menu was both moderately priced and adequate, and the Krug was bone dry, the way he preferred his champagne. 

As Scott had anticipated, while there were other men to talk to and whose company he enjoyed, Nordhoff turned out to be the most interesting of the travellers who, in the journalist's own words, "took up residence on the train".

"Another aphorism?" asked Scott, watching with amusement as Nordhoff enclosed a copy of the menu within his notebook and wrote down his latest bon mot.

Nordhoff flourished his pen and smiled, before returning to the attack on his (admittedly, slightly tough) steak and fried potatoes. "Life, my dear Lancer, is all aphorisms," he said, rather indistinctly.

Scott took a moment to answer.  "Yes," he said, and he had to try hard to keep the weariness from his tone.  "I know."

"You're too young to be a cynic," said Nordhoff and Scott smiled and changed the subject.

"Will you write a book about this?" he asked, surprising himself by asking a question so directly.  "I've noticed how you watch everyone and observe them, and I've always assumed that's how writers do it, they watch and learn."

Nordhoff pushed his spectacles back up onto the bridge of his nose—they had a habit of slipping until Nordhoff had to peer over them, Scott had noticed—and nodded.  "Quite right.  Look at how that couple in the corner seats can barely tolerate looking at each other; she turns her head away whenever he speaks and he scowls all the time.  And did you notice the elderly lady behind us, the one in Quaker grey?  She's travelling alone and intent on reading her book—her Bible, do you think?—and her spectacles keep sliding down her nose and have to be pushed back."  Nordhoff laughed.  "Mine do the same.  It's most irritating.  And that young man over there—he has the same sort of beautiful manners as your own, Lancer, that keep him captive of the old man with sad, dark eyes who's wearing a suit from thirty years ago.  And can you see that the old man's lapels are dusted with snuff?  So many stories there!"

Scott smiled.  "I thought that you missed very little," he said, glancing at each little tableau that Nordhoff mentioned.  

"In a way, the people I see are raw material.  In here—" –and Nordhoff tapped his temple—"in here, I can give them names and histories, and I can paint their stories in the brightest colours."  He laughed.  "Everything gets exaggerated on the page, Lancer."

Scott nodded slowly.  "Yes, I see."

"All writers are a little shameless about taking something from what we observe,"  Nordhoff waved a hand towards their travelling companions in the car.  "Oh, nothing they know about or would miss; but … let's see.  I might take the way that that rather portly businessman over there taps his cigar, and the mane of white hair on that gentleman in the corner and your own clipped, educated Bostonian accent.  Then the trick is to bring them all together, to fashion them into a character on the page who breathes and lives, that readers can identify with.  One day I'll make my literary fortune."

Scott smiled.  "Well, if you use my accent to help you, I'll expect an appropriate acknowledgment."

"But of course."  Nordhoff raised his wineglass.  "In dedication to Scott Lancer, Gentleman of Boston, whose euphonious accent and elegant, educated discourse is so imperfectly captured in these pages as to give only a hint of his intellect and powers, and to whom the author owes his most humble and grateful thanks."

Scott could only bow.




The journalist was the antithesis of world-weary, a word he didn’t allow in his lexicon.  He was enthusiastic and knowledgeable and quickly commandeered Scott's guide book since it was superior to Hart's Travellers Own Guide, which was all Nordhoff had had time to buy before leaving New York.  Nordhoff liked to give the book its full and sonorous title— Trans-Continental Tourist's Guide... describing 500 Cities, Towns, Villages, Forts and Camps, Mountains, Lakes, Rivers ... etc. ... Where to Look for and Hunt Buffalo, Antelope, Deer, and other Game; Trout Fishing, etc., etc. ... Where to Go, How to Go, ...While passing over the Union Pacific Railroad, Central Pacific Railroad of Cal., their Branches and Connections by Stage and Water, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. [Illustrated.] New York, Geo. A. Crofutt—and mastered it quickly.  He spent long hours pointing out everything from towns and rivers and mountains, gorges, to cañons and marvellous rock outcrops to bison and antelope and prairie dog towns, with many a "Quick Lancer!  You must see this!"


"It's a tree," said Scott.

"It’s the thousand mile tree!"  And, indeed, a painted sign saying as much swung from one of the lower branches.  "We've come exactly one thousand miles from Omaha!"

"It's still a tree," said Scott.

"It's an important tree!"

"Indeed?" said Scott, politely. "I'm very grateful to you for pointing it out."

Nordhoff smiled.  "You, young man, are altogether too constrained by your good manners.".

"I know," said Scott.  At the stop at Cheyenne, where the train metaphorically caught its breath before the long, slow climb up into the glory of the Rocky Mountains, he'd found half-a dozen volumes for sale in the railroad company's store and had bought them to help while away the journey.  He indicated the one he had been reading when Nordhoff had suddenly noticed the tree.  "Perhaps the ruder conditions of the West will beat it out of me.  My grandfather and Mister John Wesley Hardin, who is finding terrible trouble while thundering along something called The Pecos, both tell me that it's inhabited mostly by outlaws and desperadoes."

"You'll fit right in," promised Nordhoff.  "What on earth are you reading?"

Scott laughed and showed the novels to Nordhoff.  "I don’t think that these quite match the deathless prose of Mister Dickens.  The titles alone are astonishing.  What do you make of Two Guns for Pinos Altos, or Thunder along the Pecos, or Trouble along the Cimmaron?  Fantastical, aren't they?  I wonder if such men as these really exist?"

"We've written about the gunmen in our paper," said Nordhoff, reminding Scott that he also worked for the New York Evening Post.  He chuckled and looked a little shame-faced.  "They're a romantic notion to someone who's never been outside Harlem, say."

Scott nodded, remembering the odd article in The Liberator that he had tended to laugh about and skim, without taking in much detail.

One of the other passengers, an elderly Texan who had travelled the length and breadth of the continent and who was the owner of the mane of white hair that Nordhoff had considered appropriating for Literature, was sitting near them that day and took an interest in the books that Scott had scattered over the seat.  After apologising courteously for interrupting, he turned over the lurid-looking dime novels with a brisk interest. 

"All of these are about real men, sir," he said.  "John Hardin is a Texas boy, though I'm ashamed to own to it, and Dallas Stoudenmire was a Texas Ranger until a year or two ago.  I've seen Stoudenmire.  He was pointed out to me in the street down in El Paso a couple of years ago and a smaller, more insignificant man I'd defy you to find west of the Mississippi.  I don't know much about Johnny Madrid except that he's half-Mexican, so he could be from anywhere along the border.  Clay Allison's from Tennessee, I believe."

"I'd thought them mainly a construct of a journalist's imagination—with apologies, Nordhoff."

"Oh, no offence," said Nordhoff, airily.

"But if they're real…"  Scott turned back to the elderly gentleman.  "You don't suggest these tales are true, surely, sir."

"No, sir; I’d aim to doubt that.  But there'll be a kernel of truth in them.  These men all live by the gun.  They're hired guns, and fast guns.  We’re a mite too far north for them to be so well known or active here, maybe, but down south, along the border… well, that's a deadly, dangerous place, and men like these make it that way.  They're very well known down there."

"And by 'hired guns' you mean what, sir?  A sort of mercenary?"

"Nothing so noble," said the old Texan.  "Every man in the west goes armed, but only a very few—men like these—are artists with a gun.  If you're a rich landowner and there's a range war brewing over grazing or water rights, maybe, then you hire someone like Hardin or Madrid to frighten or kill the opposition.  They're hired killers." 

"What the papers in the East write about are the duels, where the one to draw his gun the fastest, wins by killing or injuring his opponent," said Nordhoff, picking up one of the novels and leafing through it. 

"It's how they earn their reputation."  The old gentleman shook his head.  "Gun-fighting's legal, but it's not civilised."

"I don't think that duels of any kind are civilised, sir," said Nordhoff.

The Texan nodded polite agreement and returned to his own book.  It didn't appear to be a dime novel, Scott noticed.

"Well, Nordhoff, there's copy for you!" said Scott, cheerfully.  He wondered if he should have packed his old Army revolver, after all.  He hadn't really believed that the West was full of the sort of violence that he'd seen during the war, where at least the bloodshed and the brutality had had huge political significance, but perhaps his grandfather was right about how uncivilised the West was in comparison with the sophistication of Boston and the East Coast.  The violence in the dime novels was so casual as to be incomprehensible.

Nordhoff shook his head and looked up from Johnny Madrid, the Border Hawk: Trouble Along the Cimmaron.  "Not for this job, thank you, Lancer.  The brief is to promote the joys and benefits of travelling west, by stressing how very civilised it is, not to frighten the passengers with tales of wicked, desperate men with sapphire eyes who quell saloons full of roughnecks with a single glance!  Perhaps when I've finished these articles."  He laughed and dropped the novel onto the seat beside Scott.  "We'll never meet anything like them in San Francisco, more's the pity!"

"I hope not!"  And Scott re-opened the fantastical, lurid covers of Thunder Along The Pecos and lost himself for an hour or two in the fantastical, lurid life of Mr John Wesley Hardin, professional gunman and desperado, as recounted therein.




And so he read and talked and looked out of the window at the endless landscapes of America; at plains, deserts and mountains, and if he still dreamed of tall shapes and remorseful fathers, the feeling he'd had since Libby of being disconnected and detached slowly faded.  Sometimes Scott found himself, in the oddest way, stretching like a man waking from sleep.  Maybe it was something in the clear, unsullied air of the plains and the Rocky Mountains, more stimulating than the jaded air of Boston; maybe it was the novelty of his journey and his companions.  But whatever it was, it was enough to force some of the lassitude from his bones.




At Ogden, they transferred to the Central Pacific Railroad train.  Scott watched, fascinated, as the Union Pacific locomotive engine was shunted into a sideline with a queer turntable at one end, that allowed it to turn and chug back along a short parallel piece of track past the now-stationary train.  It ran past the last train car and rejoined the main track, before reversing back to couple back up to a train that was now ready to travel East again.

The CPR locomotive was already coupled to their train, having made use of the turntable before the Union Pacific train pulled into Ogden.  Scott wondered, idly, if there were ever disputes about precedence and how they were resolved.  In the world of the dime novel, the combination of gun fight, nerves of steel and a draw faster than lightning appeared to be the accepted mode of settling a dispute, but he didn't think that Samuel Colt's pistols would quite fit the bill for the railroad men.  Stokers' shovels at dawn instead, perhaps. 

Nordhoff laughed at this suggestion and added it to his ever present notebook: a Lancer-special aphorism.

They walked down the long platform to where the Central Pacific train waited for them, Scott tipping his hat politely to the ladies and adroitly avoiding the children.  There were some big, rougher-looking men near the emigrant cars, their few belongings at their feet as they waited.  While none wore gun belts, most had a rifle leaning against their packs, mostly ex-Army Henrys, if Scott were any judge.  He looked for the man he'd seen when the Indians passed the train, but didn't recognise him amongst the crowd.

"Miners, I should think," said Nordhoff after they had passed. 

"I hadn't realised that the goldfields were still being worked."

"People still go to California to make their fortune," said Nordhoff. 

Scott wondered if it had been the thought of gold that had drawn Murdoch Lancer to California all those years before, taking him and his bride to a land that still belonged then to Mexico.  Why had the man gone so very far West when, if it was land hunger that drew him, there were countless millions of acres to choose from?  He wondered what answer Lancer would give him when he asked.  If he asked.  If his father answered.

(A tallness, a vague tallness that said, So you're Scott, are you? and hands seizing him in joy and a voice saying My son!)

Scott said, abruptly, "I was born in California."

Surprised, Nordhoff stared.  "Not Boston?"

"No.  Not Boston."  Scott smiled slightly.  "It was before Statehood.  I'm told California was a very lawless place then.  My mother didn't survive, and I was taken straight back to Boston by my grandfather.  I have no memory of it, of course."

"That's rather a romantic notion," said the journalist, and Scott could almost see the story-teller's instincts rising.  "So this is a homecoming, of sorts."

Scott paused and frowned, thinking about that.  "No," he said, at last.  "No.  I don't think I'd call it that.  It was never given the chance to be home."





Nordhoff was determined that Scott shouldn't miss what the guidebook said was the crowning glory of the Sierras Nevada.

"The mountains of snow," said Scott, looking pointedly out of the window.  The train was laboriously working up through the foothills towards the higher peaks, all of which gleamed cold and pale in the moonlight.  "Snow, Charles.  Cold, white snow."

"And you a New Englander!" scoffed Nordhoff, taking no notice at all, and despite his protests, Scott allowed himself to be bundled into the open-sided observation car when the train stopped briefly at Truckee at four o'clock on a bitterly cold morning.  He sat in the open car huddled into two jackets and wrapped in a comforter, with hot bricks at his feet and a lidded tin pail full of piping-hot coffee within reach in a straw-box, and threatened Nordhoff with painful retribution if it wasn't worth it.

On the other side of forty miles or so of long snowsheds where all they saw was an occasional brief glimpse of the darkling world in the gaps between the huge timbers that made up the sheds, and the Summit tunnel bored through the mountain itself, Scott poured a measure of brandy into his coffee.

"Well, that was impressive."

"Oh ye of little faith," said Nordhoff, smiling, and a little while later was justified in his perennial optimism when the train rounded Cape Horn on bright spring morning, just after dawn.


"Good God," said Scott, involuntarily, staring down several thousand feet of sheer precipice into a narrow cañon with a thread of bright ribbon at the bottom that had to be the American River.  He grinned as the train started its long swoop down to Sacramento and the coast beyond, the final leg of their long journey.

"Yes," said Nordhoff with a nod.  He swept out an arm in a wide arc to encompass the mountains and valleys, and the wide blue sky beyond.  "If He made all of this, then perhaps He is good indeed."






Day Eight, Wednesday 30 March – Day Thirteen, Monday 4 April

Scott liked San Francisco. 

He had enjoyed the long run through the Sacramento valley, admiring the vineyards and farms that covered the low hills; and was secretly thrilled by the final few thousand yards when the train ran along a great pier into the midst of ocean-going ships and fishing-smacks in the middle of San Francisco bay... well, it may not have been as dramatic as the Rockies or the Sierras Nevada, but it was a satisfying end to the long journey.  Not even the ferry ride across the bay from Oakland on a cool, damp evening dampened his spirits; he revelled instead in the contrast from Summit Tunnel that morning to the low coastlands.  And although they arrived too late for him to see much of San Francisco that night, the ferry ride had taken them west to a setting sun and the bright lights of a city, and that in itself felt welcoming.

Despite his grandfather's forebodings about one-horse western towns, the city was as sophisticated as Boston.  It had its great public buildings, its theatres and galleries; and if they were all relatively new, in comparison with old Boston, they were very grand.  Scott was very impressed with the Occidental Hotel where he and Nordhoff had booked rooms.  The hotel was as richly furnished as any that Boston or New York might boast; its chandeliers as bright and imposing, its furnishings as comfortable and luxurious, the service offered as attentive and efficient.  The men were as well-dressed and the women as elegant, fashionable and sophisticated as any who lived on Beacon Hill.  This was a rich city.

And one that forced Scott to rethink everything he had ever thought or been told about the West.  This was no western hick town inhabited by desperate gunmen.  This was no poverty-stricken land where men scratched out livings from the dirt, not the parts he'd seen, anyway.  He remembered the lush green vineyards in the Sacramento valley and the rolling grassy hills around Stockton.

Of course, Lancer was more than a hundred miles to the south, and the land could change.  But still.  It might be that the thousand dollars hadn't been scrimped and saved from a lifetime of toil.  It might be that Murdoch Lancer wasn't living a hand-to-mouth existence after all.  It might be that Murdoch Lancer could have sent for his son at any time over the last twenty-five years.  It might be that it hadn't been poverty and work that had kept Murdoch Lancer from coming to Boston to claim him.  All of which begged a question or two. 

Yes, indeed.  A question or two.




There were differences, of course,  San Francisco wasn't just a species of Boston, picked up and deposited onto a warmer coast.  The architecture was different, the pace of life was different, the food was different, the accents were different. 

And for all that it was a big city, there were sightings of that wilder, less sophisticated West that Scott had expected to see and which the dime novels had celebrated.  He saw several people in the streets in country garb—"If by country garb, you mean a six-gun, Scott," murmured Nordhoff, openly staring at a young man slouching along one of the main thoroughfares in a checked shirt and a large hat, and with a gun belted around his hips—but there were relatively few signs that this was, as Harlan had feared, a mushroom of a city without culture or refinement.  It had both in bucketloads.

"Although," observed Nordhoff, when they found themselves at the Chinese Theatre one evening, watching acrobats tumbling and listening to discordant Oriental music, "this is not a culture that I'm used to."

Scott only nodded, his eyes fixed on a Chinese beauty, dressed in rich embroidered brocades and with the most astonishing gold headdress spiked into her luxuriant black hair.  He was too distracted for conversation.  Nordhoff followed his gaze to the area opposite their box where all the Chinese women sat, and chuckled softly.

"Oh, that's the sort of culture that interests you," he said.

Scott grinned, not something he'd have done if his grandfather had been present.  "She's a beauty," he said.

"She is, but as an old married man, I know better than to let myself be dazzled.  Missus Nordhoff has a good eye and an accurate aim with the frying pan."

Scott laughed.  The pretty Chinese girl leaned back until she was screened by an obvious duenna, and he turned his attention back to his companion.  "You make married life sound so very enticing."

"Complaisance and Missus Nordhoff make me a boring married man, of course,  And if you weren't a boring Bostonian businessman, we could go to the Cliff House again for breakfast tomorrow."

"I'm sorry, Charles, but I don't think that would allow me to get back in time to meet Mister Paynter at our appointment at ten.  I hope to finalise the business with him before the weekend.  By the way, he's invited me to join him and his family at Santa Rosa—"  Scott hesitated.

"Don't hesitate on my account, Scott.  You go ahead and do the pretty with the Paytons and secure your business deal.  I have to start some serious sightseeing if I'm to 'finish' San Francisco in time for me to go with you to Stockton on Tuesday to take my trip up to Yo Semite to see the Big Trees.  This is work for me, don't forget."

"It's a hard life," sympathised Scott.  "I don't know how you bear it."




Scott had a quiet family weekend with George Paynter, whose company specialised in manufacturing the highest quality household goods and supplied many of the items of interior decor for the rich of San Francisco ("Everything from stoves to curtain rods, Mister Lancer, and our business is growing all the time.  Come and look around our Works and see for yourself.") and who was looking for investors to fund a contract with the Pullman car company and the railroads just at the time that Harlan Garrett was looking to invest.  Meetings with Paynter and representatives of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was building the Sacramento-Bakersfield-Los Angeles route and linking it to a network of local connexions, had been very productive.

Scott enjoyed his few days at the Paynters' county house just north of the city, spending his time riding and fishing.  There was a Miss Abigail Paynter (aged twenty) to be harmlessly flirted with and a Mrs Paynter to be deferred to and charmed by Scott's best Boston manners.  Both ladies succumbed with flattering alacrity, and Miss Abigail, in particular, had the most beguiling, blushing innocence about her.  Scott was a thorough gentleman and forbore to disturb it, saving his energies for the less innocent ladies in San Francisco whose acquaintance he'd already made.

Altogether, he thought that his grandfather would be pleased by the deal that he struck, and he returned to San Francisco in time for a final day's sightseeing, only slightly disadvantaged by the need to write his grandfather a long letter and report, and send him copies of the contracts by the Wells Fargo mail.  He took Mr Paynter to dinner on the strength of a successful conclusion to their business, and introduced him to Nordhoff.  The sober businessman let his hair down and the three of them had a riotous time.

Scott got only a little tipsy.  He had an early train to catch and his long journey was almost over.  He had the feeling he'd need a clear head for what lay ahead of him.

 



Next Part

Scott's Full Travel Itinerary

A note about Charles Nordhoff