April 1850: Charleston, South Carolina:
Edith Braxton hurried to the train station late at night cloaked in shadows. Approaching the lighted building, she looked down and mentally berated herself for not forming a better disguise than her faded cotton dress and the scarf about her head. What else she could have done in such haste, Edith wasn't sure, but it wouldn't be hard for someone to recognize her in this. Her fears proved groundless, however. The bell over the door chimed to announce her arrival, but the night porter sent her a bored and slightly disgruntled look Edith interpreted to mean she had interrupted his mid-shift nap. Edith kept her head low and spoke in a hoarse whisper, thankful that, despite its flaws as an effective disguise, the wide seams of her dress, coupled with the fact she'd chosen not to wear a corset, concealed her womanly figure well enough that hopefully her age wasn't too apparent. The man handed her ticket to Louisville over, and told her the train would leave in twenty minutes. Edith bit her lip without thinking, and hoped he didn't notice. Did she have twenty minutes to wait? Edith hoped so. She walked outside to a bench and sat down, placing her small valise on the seat beside her. It appeared she was the only one taking this train- not many of Charleston's respectable inhabitants would be out at one in the morning. Hopefully, she wouldn't be missed until much later, and by that time she would be in Louisville, Kentucky. Uneasily she watched the shadows for signs of movement, and prayed fervently that she might get away. After what seemed like an eternity, the train's mournful whistle sounded, and Edith rose and boarded, glancing over her shoulder at intervals to make sure no one was watching.
Thaddeus Mallory unobtrusively observed Miss Edith Braxton board the 1:15 train from Charleston to Louisville. Nervously, he consulted his pocket watch. Sylvester really ought to have been here by now. He couldn't afford to miss this train! He watched the minutes tick by and debated what to do. Losing track of Miss Braxton at this point could prove disastrous, as he was certain Louisville wasn't her final destination, but then leaving his post unattended would be too. The conductor issued last call, and Thaddeus grabbed his valise. Staying on Miss Braxton was more important. He was about to start running for the train, which was just beginning to move, when his colleague appeared, panting as though he'd been running.
"Where on earth have you been?" Thaddeus asked tersely, "That's her train!" He pointed to the black mechanical beast that was rapidly gaining speed.
"Sorry, I've been hurrying as fast as I could," Sylvester gasped, trying to catch his breath. "The boss kept talking to me. Here, I'm supposed to give you this." He shoved a small black box at Thaddeus, "It's-"
"I don't have time," He replied, tucking the box under his arm, "I've got to get on that train!" Thaddeus broke into a run, and pacing himself, picked just the right moment, and pulled himself up. He paused in the entryway just for a moment to straighten his cravat and smooth his hair before walking into the main compartment. This car was about five behind the one he'd seen Miss Braxton board. As it drew closer to daylight, Thaddeus would move up to be nearer her, but for now this car was fine. He glanced about furtively to be sure no one was watching. The few other passengers were sleeping like any respectable person would be, peacefully unaware of Thaddeus' arrival. He opened the box, and started a bit at its contents. Thaddeus had been presented with a beautiful new Smith and Wesson revolver. Gently he removed the weapon from its case, testing the feel of it in his hand. Carefully he then loaded the gun and concealed it in his pocket before stretching his legs out and allowing himself a nap.
Edith nervously wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt. She hadn't been able to sleep at all after boarding the train early Monday morning, and only in brief snatches last night. She knew she needed to rest so she could stay alert for the journey ahead, certain she would need her wits about her if she wanted to stay ahead of her pursuers. It had to be nearly noon now, and she heard the call that they would soon be arriving in Louisville, Kentucky. Once the train stopped, Edith carefully timed her departure so she would mingle into the crowd, and hopefully disappear from anyone following her. She milled in the crowd, following most everyone to various small restaurants and cafés near the station as it was time for luncheon. Food sounded nice, but Edith doubted she would be able to force anything past the lump in her throat. Besides, she hadn't been able to take a great amount of cash with her. She'd been able to make a few discreet withdraws at the bank over this past week, but other than that and the fund she kept for household expenses, touching any of her vast resources would have tipped at least Roland off to her plan. Roland. With a sigh, Edith thought of her brother. What had he been thinking, getting himself into such a mess? It seemed that ever sense Father went to be with the Lord two years ago, Roland had lost whatever sense he'd had. And this latest debacle; it was absolutely out of character, even for Roland. She'd managed the home since their mother's death six years ago, and that included her brother, even though he was a year older, Edith had always been more mature. Father had had his business affairs to deal with, and anytime she'd tried to sit down with him and have a chat regarding her brother's rebellious ways, he would either not pay attention, or brush off her concerns by saying, "boys will be boys".
Edith stepped into a small diner and waited until everyone else had passed before exiting and walking directly across the street to an opulent hotel. Quite forgetting her disguise, Edith strode purposefully up to the desk, and asked the clerk where one would be able to purchase a horse. He looked her up and down, and Edith realized her mistake, but it was too late. Hoping he wouldn't mention the incident to anyone, she hastily exited the building and walked down the street to a small hat shop, entered at the front door, and carefully avoiding the proprietress who was assisting a large, gray haired woman, slipped into the back room and exited via the rear door. She walked through back alleys for a few blocks, and then once certain she would have lost anyone following her, Edith crossed back onto the main street, never seeing the well-dressed man behind her.
Thaddeus took slow, measured steps down the street, pausing occasionally to look into shop windows, trying to create the illusion of someone taking a casual walk through downtown Louisville. He felt extraordinarily overdressed. Who would have thought that following a lady of Edith Braxton's quality and breeding would entail trudging through back alleys and walking in- Livery stables? Thaddeus couldn't believe his eyes. Miss Braxton had just entered a livery! Quickly he walked around to the rear of the building, thinking that perhaps this was just to be a walk-through like the millinery had been, but no, there wasn't another exit, and a few minutes later, she emerged leading a tall buckskin gelding. Quickly Thaddeus ducked behind a tall sycamore tree so Miss Braxton wouldn't see him. She further astounded him by swinging aboard the mount straddled, and then with a quick snap of the reigns, take off through the woods at a gallop. Thaddeus sighed in disgust. This was supposed to be an easy assignment for crying out loud! Hurriedly, he removed his cravat, and stuffed it in his valise, and then ran into the livery and bought a horse before following Miss Braxton's tracks through the woods. Three hours later, tired incredibly sore from the mad flight through the woods, Thaddeus emerged from a veritable forest into a quiet glen without any knowledge of where he was, or, more importantly, where Miss Braxton had disappeared to. Absently, he rubbed his left shoulder. He was still recovering from a gunshot wound sustained nearly a month ago. He was supposed to be convalescing at home, but his boss needed all the men he had, so Thaddeus had only been relegated to light duty. Tailing Miss Braxton was supposed to be an easy task, nothing strenuous whatsoever. Ha! He was going to have words with someone when this was over, and was fairly certain his doctor would have a full blown conniption fit if he knew how Thaddeus had spent this morning. After a brief investigation, he found the trail Miss Braxton must have used, and took off in pursuit.
Edith stopped at a livery as she entered Lexington, Kentucky, and sold her horse before walking to a small bakery and asking where she could buy a ready-made dress. Edith chafed at the idea of off the rack clothing, but her maid would assuredly report the lavender calico dress missing, and Roland would describe her as wearing it. Besides, she was hot and sweaty from the ride, and a fresh dress would go a long way toward making her feel human again. She entered the dry goods store, and after studying notions for a few minutes, she walked over to the ready-made clothing, and began looking for a dress. She fingered a brown taffeta. No, it would stand out too much, but it certainly would complement her hair and skin tone. She passed it by, and after some deliberation chose a navy suit with black accents. She also selected a pair of black boots, paid for the items, and exited the store. Edith stood on the boardwalk for a moment, contemplating where she could chance into her new clothing, and then realized she didn't have a hat. It was unthinkable for her to go without one, so she walked down to a small milliner's shop where she procured a small black bonnet with a dark blue feather on the side. After leaving the millinery, Edith happened to glance at the clock on City Hall, and realized it was very nearly six o'clock. She hadn't thought about the time today, and now realized she was both tired and very hungry. Not wanting to draw attention by remaining stationary for too long, so she began walking down the street, debating with herself whether or not she could risk staying here overnight. If she stayed, there was the possibility someone would catch up with her, but then if she left it was likely she would be too tired to be guarded. After contemplating the matter, Edith decided that it would be better to risk discovery than to allow herself to reach a level of exhaustion where she wouldn't be observant. Now, to decide on a hotel. Normally, Edith would unquestioningly room at the best hotel a town offered, but right now she needed to watch her pennies carefully as well as maintain a low profile. These factors prompted her to choose a well-kept, though not elegant hotel, which still afforded all the necessities as well as a dining room. Edith picked up the pen to sign the register, and then hesitated. She couldn't very well give her true name. What if the wrong person were to glance at the register? Hoping the clerk hadn't observed her angst; she quickly penned the name Elena Brighton, accepted the proffered key, and hastened up the stairs. The water in the pitcher was tepid, but Edith managed to wash herself, cringing at the dirt left in the basin when she finished. Eager to go down for supper, Edith quickly pinned up her cinnamon colored hair, donned her corset and new suit, quickly buttoned the leather boots she'd purchased earlier, and after tucking the black bonnet over her hair, stepped into the hall, carefully locked her door, tucked the key safely away in her reticule, and walked in calm, measured steps toward the staircase. Dinner, while not fancy, was adequate, and after eating, Edith retired to her room, waking early the next morning to leave. She glanced around the lobby, and observed, but did not take special notice of a man sitting on a bench near the door reading a newspaper, nor did she note that after she had walked a couple blocks, he left the hotel and began following her.
Thaddeus cautiously tailed Miss Braxton. He was almost certain that they were headed for the train depot. It had been very refreshing, staying in a nice hotel last night; he was accustomed to his query staying in more raunchy establishments, and attempting to slip out on him during the night. He'd enjoyed and uninterrupted two hours of sleep, a luxury in Thaddeus' line of work. And he'd been right about Miss Braxton. She was now entering the train station. Thaddeus lingered at the doorway, trying to decide how best to ascertain her destination. He heard a conductor call 'all aboard for Minneapolis' and Miss Braxton turned from the counter and broke into a rather unladylike run for the platform. Well, that solved his dilemma. Thaddeus hurried up to the counter and requested a ticket to Minneapoli
"I don't know if you can catch this train," the porter said, "It's pulling out now. The next one's due at-"
"No," Thaddeus cut him off abruptly, and then softened his voice, not wanting the man to remember him, "It's extremely important that I go now," He insisted, shoving money into the man's hand. "Keep the change." He snatched his ticket. Once on the train, Thaddeus relaxed. He could keep track of Miss Braxton on here. In the next hour he would change cars to be nearer her, because Thaddeus in no way believed she intended to remain onboard the train until Minneapolis, making it necessary for him to be able to see where she got off. But for now he could stow his valise under the seat, and enjoy the scenery.
Thursday afternoon, Thaddeus was eating lunch in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They had changed trains in Saint Louis, Missouri on Wednesday night, and Miss Braxton had rented a hack to transport her from Chicago to Milwaukee. She certainly was taking great pains to ensure she wasn't being followed. Thaddeus would have to take care not to arouse her suspicions. He'd already taken a great risk when she'd hailed her cab, seeing as it was quite early in the morning and there weren't any other cabs about, Thaddeus had waited until she'd turned to speak with the driver, and then slipped from the shadows and attached himself to the rear axle bar. That was neither a comfortable, nor practical way to spend six hours, but Thaddeus hadn't had any idea where Miss Braxton was going; if he lost her now, heads would roll. Primarily his and that one he very much wanted to remain intact. His tailor would be shocked to see the condition of Thaddeus' trousers after such a trip, and his boss was going to be equally appalled at how much he'd spent on this assignment. Chasing a woman halfway across the country wasn't cheap. But there would be time enough to consider that later. Thaddeus chose to put aside such concerns and attacked his steak and potato with gusto. Presently, Miss Braxton was across the street in a different restaurant enjoying her own luncheon. Thaddeus had ensure that there was only one door by which she could leave before crossing the street- wouldn't want her getting away, Milwaukee was a big city. Thaddeus had finished his second glass of tea as well as his food when she walked outside. My, but Miss Braxton did look fetching in her new suit. Probably not something he should be noticing, but Thaddeus couldn't help it. He paid for his meal and then watched Miss Braxton walk a ways down the boardwalk and enter a hotel. He followed. After allowing her sufficient time to register and exit the lobby he entered and requested a room. While signing the book, he observed that Elena Brighton was in room twelve. Fortuitously he was assigned room nine, just across the hall. Judging by the look on the clerk's face, Thaddeus' appearance was in desperate need of repair. He washed up in the basin, and after examining his trousers, decided they were beyond help. He'd been assured that following Miss Braxton would not entail getting his clothes mussed, much less explain the tear on the outside of his right trouser leg, or the mud spatters covering his shirt. Hopefully that would wash out. He tossed the shirt into a chair, and discarded his pants in the wastebasket. He would need to find a laundry service before they left Milwaukee. All he had left was the one pair of Levi's he'd packed and a plain cotton shirt. Thaddeus carefully shaved, then tied on his cravat, examining his appearance critically in the mirror. He ran the brush over his hair once more, and then decided he looked presentable. Thaddeus shrugged into his suit jacket, and dropped his revolver casually into the pocket. Perhaps he and Miss Braxton would meet tonight. Yes, Thaddeus decided as he buttoned his jacket- tonight was the night.