Chapter One: Leaving

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Mary MacEilan clenched her hand around the five- dollar bill. It was all she had, save for the case of clothes and a few keepsakes, and the clothes on her back, and it would have to get her lodgings and food, and anything else she'd need until she got her first paycheck working in the city of Denver. She'd already spent two of her seven original dollars (half of what was in the money chest at home) to get the train ticket, leaving only the crumpled bill in her hand.

She'd gotten up extra early that morning- much earlier than her early- rising sister Anne, who normally woke up before dawn to get the chores done before going to take Jane and Maria, their little wards, to school or town. Mary had looked at her sleeping sister's face- set next to Emma's on the pillow, the fiery curls they shared, bright even in the blackness, spilled across the white linen. It was quite clear that the two were twins. Mary felt a twinge of a terrible regret- she knew that she was being awfully selfish, leaving them behind on their on, but frankly she didn't care. She was sick and tired of being so isolated here, in the tiny town of Running Creek, Colorado, when the city of Denver was not so far away.

So now Mary waited at the train station that Saturday morning for the seven- thirty train to pull into place by the glorified platform. In Denver they had proper train stations, and not just a covered slat of wood on the ground. She looked forward to it, standing and shivering there in the cool, crisp autumn air of the countryside. She'd been waiting for over two hours, buying a ticket as soon as the booth was open. With a handful of other people she waited for it, checking the time almost obsessively. The old clock on one pillar of the platform seemed to be losing to a snail in a race, and it was driving her nearly insane. She just had to get out of this tiny town where her sister had caused such tumult, and she had to go where tumult was every day and not biologically related to her.

Seven o'clock.

Seven oh five.

Seven fifteen.

Seven twenty-one.

Seven twenty- eight.

Finally the shrill whistle was heard from the south. Mary picked up her bag in perfect silence, a confident smile on her face, and handed the conductor her ticket. She stepped onto the train and looked inside, turning to the right, towards a nearly- empty car. She went to the very back, sitting by the window on the left side in an empty section, and pulled out her journal as other passengers filed on.

She waited until the train had lurched forward and was fairly steady- as steady as a train can be, anyways- before writing with the pencil she'd brought.

12 October, 1877.

I'm on a train to Denver right now, and Anne's probably as worried as all- get- out, but that's alright. I left a note saying where I was going, and now that John von Jorgadde is locked up she's perfectly safe. Besides, I never did all that much around the farm to help, and now that the Joneses- especially Jane and Liza, but I suppose Maria too- are older, they can cover for me. If Jane will look away from the mirror, that is. She's such a vain girl- pretty, to be sure, but awfully vain.

What will meet me in Denver? It's only eight in the morning, so I'll likely be there in less than an hour. If I can get lodgings by noon, I'll consider myself very blessed indeed. I said an extra long prayer this morning. Perhaps it'll help me. But I'll probably be fine on my own. I've survived twenty years of life so far, and most of it on my own. Of course, I've never been this alone before...

All I know is that I'm certainly not going to Iain for help. He may be my older brother, and his wife's parents may own an affordable boarding house, but if he finds that I've run away from Anne and Emma and Jane and Liza and Maria, he'll march me straight back home. I'm going to find my own way. I've got to. Marriage isn't an option either. I'm so sick of being told that that's all I'm good for!

Beside, Anne and Emma are sixteen now. Iain comes to visit them every so often. Emma sends money home when she works in Denver on the weekdays. They'll be just fine. I hope.

More later. The train's too bumpy to write anything else.

Mary put away the pencil and the journal, tucking them into her bag of clothes with her five- dollar- bill, folded her hands in the lap of her Sunday green calico, and turned to the window. This train came from Old Colorado City, and it would stop in Denver for a minute before continuing on to Fort Collins and then coming back to Denver that evening and back down to Running Creek and Old Colorado City, then doing the loop again. Monotony. Order. Everything that Mary was not. She was terribly proud of that, too.

She watched the buildings and fields go by in a blur, thinking about what she wanted to do in Denver. A laundress? No, too much work. A maid, like Emma is to that old lady? No, because then I'll have to put up with that old lady, and heaven knows she'd turn me out faster than you could say "I swept the hall."

A cook? Of course not, the whole family knows I can burn water.

A seamstress? Everyone knows I can't sew a single button onto a pair of pants.

Mary pushed an errant red strand of hair back into her bun, behind the edge of her green calico bonnet. Oh, I don't know what I'll do. I'll take a respectable job, the first one that's offered to me, seeing as everyone would go into a fit if I built railroads. Hmph.

Soon the city came into view, its roofs and chimneys stark against the morning- blue sky. Mary sat up straight, almost pressing her nose to the window in order to get a good look. It had been years since she seen the city. Compared to Running Creek, it was bigger than the world and busier than the creek in the springtime.

A shrill whistle blew as the train pulled into the station. Mary stood up after the car had come to a swaying, lurching stop, grasping the handles of her bag for support. It didn't do much. She lurched forwards, trying to steady herself with the nearest object- which just so happened to be the equally lurching figure of a tall, blond man.

They nearly tumbled to the floor of the train together, but he grasped Mary with one hand and the nearest seat with another.

"Terribly sorry," she gasped in terrible embarrassment, still clasping his forearms. He had a lovely pair of icy blue eyes. "I didn't- I am so awfully sorry-"

"No harm done, Miss, but it is quite obvious that you haven't been on a train for a long time- if at all." He smiled broadly.

Mary released his arms and the two began to walk towards the exit. "It's been a while. Thank ye for taking this so gracefully. I'm just so terribly clumsy." She felt her cheeks flame red under his gaze.

They stepped off of the train and onto the platform, standing in the middle of the throngs of people trying to board and get off the train. The man looked out the window, back at Mary, and stretched out his hand. "I see that my sister's come with the carriage. My name is Keith Little, and my father owns the general store on Fifth Street."

"Mary MacEilan. It has been a pleasure, sir, and before you go, I was wondering if I could ask you where I could get lodgings."

Keith raised an eyebrow quizzically for a moment, but answered without missing a beat. "There's a respectable boardinghouse down the road from Father's store. I can give you a lift if you wish."

Mary knew that the Norris boardinghouse wasn't anywhere near Fifth Street. "You seem to be trustworthy. I'd like that very much, thank you." She let herself smile at him and her grey eyes meet his blue ones, but she quickly looked down again, blushing uncharacteristically. Today was going to be a good day.

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