An Improper Derailment: Chapter 25

Where Mary has to survive the night

ID ch 25 web image

Catch up with Chapter 24…

Start the series from the beginning…

Mary never expected to actually miss being in the company of a large sauran, but here she is. She trusts Marshall to keep her safe, but he’s just a man.

The fire snapped and crackled as orange flames danced against the dark sky.

Marshall sat at the opening on the shallow cave poking at the fire, keeping the flames high.

Mary sat curled around herself pressed against the back wall.
The chittering sound that had warned them of sauran activity nearby had faded shortly after sunset.

Mary couldn’t get the sound out of her ears. The lowing of cattle turned terrified. She had no ideas that cows could make such terrified screaming sounds. Or maybe that was the beasts they now stayed vigilant against.

“Go to sleep, Mary.”

“If you’re going to stay awake and keep watch, then I shall as well. I can keep you company.”

“I don’t need company. I need you to be able to watch me while I sleep tomorrow.”

“You plan on sleeping do you?”

Marshall adjusted so that the fire illuminated half of his face. His eyes were on her. He was almost handsome.

“Tomorrow we want to get as far out of this area as possible. Those little saurans are territorial. We get out of their area, they leave us alone. You won’t be any good to me, or yourself if you’re tired. You’re a lady, you aren’t used to—”

“Hah!” Mary cut him off with a sharp laugh. “You admit, I’m a lady.”

“And a thorn in my side. Go to sleep, will ya. I need you to keep up in the morning.”

Mary huffed and squirmed in an attempt to get comfortable enough to rest. She slept in fits and bursts. Marshall’s strong back was always there where her eyelids drifted up, opening for a moment, before returning to unsatisfactory sleep.

Her eyes drifted open, the fire was low, too low. Marshall was gone. She felt instantly awake.

“Marshall?” she called out tentatively.

There was no answer.

She crawled forward. She heard the low rumble of some animal growl. She didn’t know if it was mammal or sauran. The stick Marshall had been tending the fire with lay discarded near where he had been sitting.

She reached out and snatched the stick, quickly cowering back against her shelter wall. Poking at the fire she got the fire blazing once more.

Movement beyond the fire caught her eye. It looked like rippling fur.

She shoved her hands into her mouth to keep from screaming. She could not stifle her whimpers of fear. The fire reflected off a pair of bright eyes, wolf eyes.

Mary poked at the fire again.

The wolf drifted into the dark. The fire’s light reflected dimly on the animal’s fur, letting Mary know it was still out there. She hoped that wherever Marshall was. he knew about the wolf.

It didn’t seem to be leaving her, waiting for a midnight snack she guessed.
At least it was on the other side of the flames, and it was keeping the nasty saurans at bay.

Mary stared at the wolf as it faded in and out. She jerked awake, and poked at the fire. It responded and burned brighter. Her eyes couldn’t focus. She thought she saw Marshall.

The next time she opened her eyes, the fire had died down. Marshall was shaking her, and the sun was up.

“Mary time to wake up, we need to get moving.”

Will they get out of the sauran’s territory in time? Find out in the next episode. January 2023

©2022 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 24

Where Mary learns they have to face another danger


Catch up with Chapter 23…

Start the series from the beginning…

When we last left Mary, she had picked up a big stick.
Now she learns she’ll have to use it.

“I’m not going to like what?” Mary demanded.

“Less chatter, more hustle. We need to get to those rocks.” Marshall took a step back to where Mary stood, wrapped his hand around her elbow, and began walking.

His pace dragged her along.

She had to quicken her step to practically a run.

“Marshall, I’m not going to like what?”

“I’ll tell you when we get to higher ground.”

She wrenched her arm out of his gasp.

“I’ll be able to move faster without you manhandling me.” She lifted the front of her skirts and picked up her pace.

“Come along. Whose dawdling now?”

Marshall chuckled and quickened his pace behind her.

“Do you know how to swing that stick of yours?”

“You mean there is an approved method? Don’t I just wave it about?”

“If you have fire on the end of it—”

“You mean a torch?”

“Yes, a torch. If you have a torch you’ll be able to just wave it about. Otherwise you’re gonna want to swing that stick for protection.”

“You intend that I hit things with it?”

“I intend that you protect yourself with it.”

“Against wolves?”

Marshall cleared his throat. “Against saurans.”

“A little stick is going to frighten off a sauran?” In Mary’s mind, and experience, saurans were large lumbering creatures. Kim was very much the size Mary considered average. Her little stick, even if used as a cudgel would have no impact on Kim.

“That little stick can crack a sauran in the head just fine.”

Mary slowed her pace. Her brows knit in consternation. “Hitting a big beast—”

“Not all saurans are big.”

“I’m sorry, what did you just say? Saurans are huge. Big and smelly.”

“And some of them are small and dangerous,” Marshall chuckled.

“When you say small and dangerous, what are we talking about?”

Marshall held up his hand about waist high. “Small, and dangerous. And we look like lunch.”

“So hit like I’m playing that game croquet?”

“What game?”

“Oh you know. Well, maybe you don’t. It’s a very sophisticated lawn game where one whacks a ball through a wicket with a mallet.”

“Smashing balls with hammers? Doesn’t sound all that sophisticated,” Marshall chuckled.

“Not when you phrase it like that. Must you sully every interaction?”

“Must you insist that everything be prim and proper? Life isn’t always so tidy Mary. It’s messy. The sooner you learn and accept that the easier all of this will be.”

Mary dropped her jaw, prepared to say something indignant.

Without warning, Marshall’s hand clamped over her mouth, and he pulled her back into the shadows of the rocks. At least she had learned enough not to fight him whenever he performed such an undignified action.

She closed her mouth, and forced herself to breathe through her nose.

Marshall’s mouth was next to her ear. She could feel his breath as he whispered. “Listen. They are closer. We need shelter, we need fire.”

Mary nodded against his hand. He removed his hand from her mouth, but he didn’t release his hold of her.

Mary wasn’t sure what to do. She felt safe in Marshall’s arms, but she knew they were both in danger.

“I’ll start picking up smaller branches for a fire as we continue. You find us a cave.”

“That’s a good plan, Mary. Smart. And to think when I first met you… never mind. We might just get through this in one piece.”

Find out in the next installment if they get through in one piece.

©2022 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 22

Where Mary gets treated like some package and pouts

Untitled design (2)

Catch up with Chapter 21…

Start the series from the beginning…

Mary pounded into Marshall’s back with weak fists and kicked.

“Hold still.” Marshall smacked the side of her hip close to her backside.

Mary gasped, “The impropriety of it all!”

“Stop wiggling, or you’re gonna fall.”

He turned and strode back to Kim’s side. Where he lifted her up until Hanska gasped her and hauled her the rest of the way onto the sauran’s back.

“You’re gonna stay up there. You want to pout you, pout up there. I’m not gonna have you behave like this while we are out in the wild. You don’t know how to hunt. You barely know how to snare a rabbit. You still haven’t succeeded in starting a fire. You barely know how to forage for what won’t kill you. And yes, your grandfather hired me to make sure you’ve made it from Chicago to San Francisco safely. And I’m going to do my job.”

At some point in time, the steady rocking motion of Kim’s forward gate lulled Mary to sleep. When she woke it was sunset and she was no longer on the back of Kim. She was curled up next to a fire. The smell of roasting rabbit filled her senses.

She looked around and saw neither man. The familiar pervasive sent of Kim let her know that the beast was nearby. Constantly guarding her. She was safe from wild predators in the presence of the tric.

Her heart hurt with her situation. She didn’t like knowing that her family saw her as nothing more than a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Knowing that her grandfather didn’t actually care for her wellbeing as much as he cared for how much money she could bring in. That’s all he had ever been concerned with.

He never got over the fact that he was too old and too late to have made his fortune in the California gold rush. But he was determined to make his fortune. Unfortunately, he lost a fortune just as frequently with his gambling problems and his poor judgment of speculation schemes.

Janie had gotten so lucky with Charles. He was handsome. He was as like-minded as Janie in her focus on things that were of little importance in the greater scheme of the world. They shared an interest in things of fashion and society. He wasn’t concerned with problems in the world or cattle drives or surviving on nothing out on the plains.

And yet, here Mary was stuck with, she had to admit they were honorable men, having done nothing but ensure her safety. There was not one single untoward glance, and they did not tend toward improper conversation in her presence. Marshall Hunt had proven by action alone he was more of a gentleman than Pythagoras Peterson would ever be.

She ground her fist into her eyes, and she sniffed away her tears. Crying never solved anything and feeling sorry for herself was going to help. And yet, she felt sorry for herself, sorry for the girl who was terrified of saurans because they were loud and smelly. And she felt sorry because no one had ever bothered to introduce her to an animal larger than a horse.

There was an entire population of creatures out in the world that she knew nothing about, in a world she knew nothing about. She felt sorry for the girl who thought horrible things of native men. When Mr. Hanska had been nothing but kind and protective.

She cast her gaze about, she was alone. A haunch of rabbit was set on a stone next to the fire, keeping the meat warm. Her mouth watered at the prospect of the fire-roasted meal. Marshall was right. She would never survive out here on her own.

What perils will Mary face next on her journey to regaining the railway? Find out in the next installment… 

©2022 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 21

Where we learn exactly how Mary’s grandfather has ruined her life.
Untitled design (1)
Catch up with Chapter 20…

Start the series from the beginning…

“When my sister, my dearest Janie, got married. And her husband took her from me and returned to his family’s bosom in Chicago, I thought I would perish. My best friend, my confidant.” Mary sniffled.

“It took months of convincing my grandfather that I would be better off in my sister’s company, instead of Languishing alone in my despair, and dreary San Francisco home. So he ordered a Pullman car, hired a maid and companion for me, and took me himself to Chicago. Once he knew that I was safe and secure with my Sister, he returned to this home.

“I didn’t hear from him for almost a full year. I thought, I thought he has left me knowing that I was capable of securing my own husband and my own fortune, my own future, and I had done so. I had the attention of Pythagoras Peterson, a cousin to the Chicago porter family, one of the richest families in America.

“I was certain in my confidence that Pythagoras was going to make an offer for my hand. He had reservations at the Palmer House. But no, that morning my grandfather sent a telegram saying that he has found a husband for me.” Mary took in a shaky breath in the middle of her dramatic retelling of the events of that fateful morning.

“I am sure that he found me some old friend of his with money. As all my grandfather has ever been interested is in money. Has he but inquired as to my situation, he would have been well pleased to have the attention of Pythagoras Peterson. He wanted me to call him Py!” She let out a small wail of desperation, mourning her past situation.

Casting her gaze about, a sauran on one side of her, trampled grasses on the other. She’d lost count of how many days she had been in the same dress. She didn’t have any means of changing her clothes. She had no idea where her things were, or what would happen to them.

A sob escaped her. “No, I’m sorry. I’ll be fine. I will survive. I will. I will show my grandfather that he knows nothing.”

There was silence. Kim let a low mournful groan, complaining.

“Even Kim agrees with me. It’s a terrible situation that I must endure.”

“Endure?” Marshall asked, he barely suppressed a wry chuckle.

“Yes, Marshall, endure. I am enduring the situation. I have been thrown into the company of…”

Mary glanced up and saw Hanska perched on top of Kim and swallowed her words. She knew what she was about to say. And those words were from her past. And she knew that they were no longer appropriate. They never had been appropriate. She felt shame at ever having thought that way about the native man.

“I’m in the company of two men. This is not proper. I’ve been kicked off of my train. And what was my grandfather thinking hiring you?”

She stormed back around to the other side of Kim and stopped in front of Marshall with her hands on her hips.

“How did he even hire you? What kind of a man are you that you can transport people from here to there like they’re nothing more than a package to be delivered?”

Marshall smirked down at her.

Mary’s palms itched to reach up and smack that smirk from his face. He was laughing at her. She was pouring out her soul and her pain. And he had the gall to step around her and continue walking alongside the sauran.

Mary stopped. Her feet stayed in place. She crossed her arms turned and watch the little company as they continue to on their track across the prairie. She didn’t even know where they were going anymore. All she knew was they had to get to the train. Weren’t there trains in Kansas City? Why weren’t they going in the same direction of the cows–cattle?

She refused to move. Yet, nobody noticed. Nobody paid her any attention. She was pitching a fit. And nobody was giving her the dignity of paying her any attention. Didn’t they know they were supposed to stop and apologize to her? Apologize for everything even if they had nothing to do with any of it. Neither man had any control over what her grandfather had done.

Neither man had any say in the way Pythagoras had behaved after she had to reject him because her grandfather had secured a proposal. Neither of them had anything to do with the beginnings of her situation. Yet they had everything to do with what was going on now. They showed no, remorse no empathy. It didn’t bother them in the least that she was a respectable young lady and she was thrown into the company of two rather rough, undignified men.

Didn’t they see what this could do to her reputation? Didn’t they care?

Perched atop the sauran, Hanska turned to look at her. “Are your feet tired? Do you need to ride? You’re going to fall too far behind if you don’t start walking.”

She stomped her foot. Uncrossed and recrossed her arms and stayed put.

“What do you think you do? I’m not going anywhere with the two of you anymore. You can just leave me out here to the wild animals and the bugs in the sun. I will simply perish and no one will care. Because clearly, no one has ever cared.”

Marshall sighed again and stomped to the few yards back to her. Looked at her and asked, “You’re not gonna walk?”

“No,” Mary turned her nose up at him.

“Fine. If you’re going to stand still like a package. I’m going to treat you like a package.”

He leaned over, grabbed Mary by her midsection, and stood up with her slung over his shoulder as if she weighed no more than a sack of potatoes.

What perils will Mary face next on her journey to regaining the railway? Find out in the next installment… 

©2022 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 20

Where Mary gets rather opinionated.

Untitled design

Catch up with Chapter 19…

Start the series from the beginning…

The dust settled and Mary looked about her. “What was that?” she asked in disbelief. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cows in one place.”

“Cattle,” Marshall corrected. “When you have that many animals, cattle.”

“I don’t care what you call it was like a veritable field of cow— cattle,” she corrected herself.

“A stampede. Probably a cattle drive gotten out of hand,” Hanska said.

“Wherever are they driving them to?”

“Kansas City, most likely.”

“Where did they come from?” Mary continued her torrent of questions.

“Cattle come from all over,” Hanska started. “Ranchers have taken over this land. When I was a child, this land was the buffalo. Buffalo as far as the eye could see. And now you don’t see any. Killed off and replaced by cows.”

“Cattle,” Marshall grumbled.

“Cattle, cows same thing. Big smelly, massive animals,” Mary stated.

“Cattle smell worse than buffalo, they smell like the land. The land smells like them.”

“Land smells like dirt and earth, not beast and excrement,” Mary crinkled up her nose. “Those creatures make Kim here smell positively like daisies in comparison.”

Hanska, still perched on top of Kim’s back, chuckled, “I don’t think anyone has ever accused Kimimela of smelling like flowers. But I am sure she will appreciate the thought.”

Mary leaned back and placed a hand against the tric. She never thought she would compare one of the giant beasts to flowers before either. She smiled. “Kim is special.”

“Kim is special because you’ve taken the time to get to know her. Not all saurans are scary.” Marshall said.

Mary crossed her arms and looked up to him. “Yes, they are. Kim is scary. Maybe she’s less scary because I’ve gotten to know her. She could still stomp on me. She could still skewer me. She could still sit on me. She is still scary.”

Marshall shook his head, “You definitely have your opinion.”

“I do. And my opinion is that animals are smelly.”

“People are animals, are you saying people smell?”

“I do not smell,” Mary protested.

Marshall tapped the side of his nose. “However, it’s not problematic.”

Uncertain what to say to that, Mary stomped over to the opposite side of Kim.

She looked out across the plains, half trampled by the raging bovine stampede.

“You know, I didn’t don’t think I saw any cowboys,” Mary pondered.

“How did you see anything?” Marshall said from the other side of the sauran.

“You didn’t see anything. You were tucked up underneath Kim,” Mary said, tartly.

“Of course, I was tucked up underneath Kim. Safest place to be.”

“I think we were safe enough on top of Kim. You’re right. I didn’t see any cowboys either. That stampede was out of control. That proves white man can’t control everything there is,” Hanska scoffed.

“They certainly do try,” Mary agreed.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Marshall was indignant.

“Really? Really? You’re asking me? What’s that supposed to mean?” Sarcasm dripped from Mary’s lips.

“I think he was asking me. It was a rhetorical question,” Hanska answered.

“There is no such thing as a rhetorical question from a white man,” Mary made a definitive statement. “I don’t think I’ve ever met one who didn’t think he knew better or was in control of the situation. Mr. Hanska, I am pleased to say that you are different. And I am happy to have made your acquaintance and learned that fact.”

“I am glad to have proven that  my people are different.”

“I don’t understand why or how you even know this man.” Mary gestured toward Marshall on the other side of the sauran. As if anyone was looking at her.

Hanska chuckled.

Marshall groaned. “Hanska saved me. I lived with his people. They took care of me.”

“What?” Mary asked in shock.

“That was a long time ago and it is a debt I will always owe them and never be able to repay.”

“Marshall has proven that he is not like other white men.”

“I beg to differ. Also, just like any other white man,” Mary paused, thinking about what she was going to say. She never realized she had had this opinion before. It was new to her. But she was determined that this was now her stance. “He showed up on the very day I received a telegram from my grandfather, another white man who, who thinks he can control me, who was trying to control me. Who is ruining my life.”

Mary kicked at a tuft of half trampled prairie grass.

“I think the only non-problematic white man I know is my brother in law. And the only reason he isn’t problematic is that he isn’t smart enough. No, he’s too stupid to know any better.”

Martial laughed.

“And you,” Mary continued. “You show up on the very day my grandfather ruined my life.”

“How did your grandfather ruin your life? Why do you say that? He’s in San Francisco. You were in Chicago.”

What perils will Mary face next on her journey to regaining the railway? Find out in the next installment… 

©2022 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 19

Where Mary faces down beasts far hairier than the gentle
sauran she’s come to accept as gentle as the butterfly she is named for.

cows (1)

Catch up with Chapter 18…

Start the series from the beginning…

Mary picked her way through the tall grass.

Kim, a fair distance to her left grazed and occasionally would cavort. There was really no other word for it. The sauran would bounce and spring, and practically dance in circles. It was rather charming, even if it did make the ground jump.

It was the primary reason Mary was keeping a safe distance from the animal as they continued to travel in a southwestern direction. She didn’t want to accidentally be pranced upon.

Mary stayed near the sauran while the men were out foraging. She was as safe as she could be near the beast. A thought that came naturally to her now. A thought that would have been so foreign a few days earlier.

Kim made a mournful lowing, and Mary glanced up. Kim nosed into the dirt, either complaining that the bug she was chasing had gone to ground, or maybe she had spied one of those prairie dogs.

Mary cast about looking for Marshall or Hanska. Neither man was visible. Clouds gathered low on the horizon to the east, and Mary could make out the faint rumble of thunder. There didn’t seem to be any wind, but she was learning that didn’t mean anything. The air could be still as a statue one minute, and the next it could be roaring so fiercely it could sweep whatever it wanted away with it, people, animals, buildings.

As a precaution, she meandered closer to the sauran. She too seemed to sense something building to the east.

Mary reached out her hand and made the soft cooing sounds Hanska had taught her. The large tric settled and Mary ran her hand over the warm rough skin of the beast’s neck.

The tric lowed and shifted, almost nervously.

“Me too, me too,” Mary said. She didn’t like the atmosphere suddenly.

“Adi, adi,” she said the command for Kim to lower and bend her leg so she could be climbed.
Mary climbed with carefully practiced foot placements.

About halfway up, Kim shifted with a loud grunt.

“No, you infernal beast!” Mary cried as she fell back, landing on her less than her normally padded backside. She had discarded the bustle early on, once their travels left the sophistication of the rail car.

Kim nosed at her.

Mary took advantage of the beast, and wrapped her hands around the nose horn, and allowed Kim’s momentum to lift her to her feet. Once upright, Mary began scolding the animal and brushing down her skirts. She wasn’t exactly sure why she bothered. Everything was already covered in dust. Another layer wouldn’t change that.

The roll of thunder seemed even closer. The impending storm must have upset the animal.

“Adi, adi,” Mary tried again.

She successfully made all the way up Kim’s back, and was just settling herself on the saddle blanket when she heard shouting. Looking up, she saw Hanska running toward them, waving his arms frantically. Mary couldn’t make out what he was saying.
“Well, go on,” she tried to coax Kim to move. It seemed silly to make the man run all the way to them, when with a few steps Kim could cover yards.
Whatever he was yelling, Kim seemed to understand. She bowed so that in a few agile Steps Hanska was crouched on the beast’s back, next to Mary.

“Hold tight,” he directed.

“Where’s Marshall? What’s happening?”

“Marshall is coming. He needs to run faster.”

The rumble of thunder grew louder, and this time the sound was constant and heading toward them. Thunder didn’t stay constant.
Mary stood and held onto Kim’s frill, so she could see what was approaching.
First, she saw Marshall, running like Hanska had been. And then she saw it, them. The cloud masked their shapes, but Mary knew it was cattle.

Hanska barked a command and Kim lowered her head. Mary squealed as the frill lowered, and the surface she stood on lowered. Hanska placed an arm around her middle.

“Brace,” he said.

“But Marshall?”

“He will…”

Hanska’s words were lost to the pounding of hooves as they were surrounded by cattle. Mary had thought the smell of a sauran was offensive. The mass of bovine bodies smelled less like grass and fresh air, as she had come to associate with Kim, but of the reek and stink of manure. But amplified.

Kim bellowed as she faced into the mass of steak dinners on legs, but she did not move.

As suddenly as they were set upon, the onslaught was over.

Mary coughed to clear her lungs of stirred-up dust. She couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her.

“Marshall!” She yelled.

She couldn’t fathom having lost him beneath the hooves of that running hoard.

Coughing came from somewhere below Mary’s perch on the sauran’s back.

“Down here,” Marshall said between coughs.

Mary slid off the sauran’s back, and tackled Marshall in a hug.

“Hey, take it easy. I made it to safety between Kim’s legs just in time.”

Mary blinked back unexpected tears, but she didn’t let go of Marshall. “She’s a good tric isn’t she?”

“Good girl Kim,” Marshall laughed, and kissed the beast on the side of her leg, and then kissed Mary on the temple.

What perils will Mary face next on her journey to regaining the railway? Find out in the next installment… 

©2021 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 18

Where Mary learns that a lady needs more than manners and social graces to survive.
camp fire for ID 18
Catch up with Chapter 17…

Start the series from the beginning…

The fire danced into the sky.

Marshal crouched on the far side of the fire from Mary as he did something more substantial than just poke at it. With his attention on the flames and the meal he tended, Mary let her eyes rest on his form.

She had watched Janey’s husband poke at a fire a time or two, it never did anything, and he always had to call in the parlor-maid to deal with it. The flames seemed to have spread out under Marshall’s knowledgeable ministrations.
He sat back on his heels. He was a big man, built for action. Yet he had put up with her impertinent attitude much longer than Mary would have. His focus was on the flames, and then on the gutted rabbit speared on a spit.

She admired how deftly he checked and turned the meat with long practically graceful fingers. Had he been born into a family of means they most certainly would have had him musically trained. He would have played the piano most beautifully.


He would be a lovely singer with the tones of his voice. She particularity found herself enjoying the way her name sounded when he said it.


Oh, Marshall was saying her name. “What?”

“Shh,” he lifted his finger to his lips. “Your humming was getting louder.”

“I wasn’t…” She hadn’t been humming. Had she?

He pointed behind her.

Several yards away, Kim let out a rumbling sound that Mary had learned was a content noise that beasts of her ilk made. After several days of travel and camping Mary, while still wary of the beast, grew accustomed to the dusty earth and grass smell.

Hanska slept peacefully tucked up next to his sauran. He worked tirelessly, hunting, and keeping Kim under control. He deserved his well-earned rest, especially after bringing in such a feast for their dinner. Not only had he snared a nice big hare, but he found a tree full of plumbs.

“Don’t eat all of these tonight, save some for our breakfast,” he said when he had displayed the bounty.

“Can’t we just go pick more?” Mary had asked.

She realized it had been a stupid question by the expression on Hanska’s face. He had probably walked for miles before he had found the fruit.

“Right,” she said chagrinned.

Both men had kept her safe, fed her, and were making sure she would get to her destination. And all she managed to do was sit around admiring their skills and fortitude. She couldn’t even claim to be halfway attractive at this point. She needed a bath. She tentatively touched her hair, probably permanently tied into a knot on the top of her head. She flinched and began rubbing at her nose, not certain if she cleared away the smudge of soot she was certain was there, or if she was making it worse. She wasn’t even decorative.

Marshall crooked his fingers at her, beckoning her to his side of the fire.

She crawled over the rock she had perched upon and sat in the dirt next to him.

“What’s with the frown? One second you were happy and humming, the next you looked like you want to cry.”

At the sound of his words, Mary did want to cry. She looked at him for a long moment, composing her words.

“I’ve come to the realization that I am completely useless. Without a society to be out in, I have nothing of value. If anything the past few days have helped me to realize society is tenuous at best. How quickly we went from social order to chaos and survival when those bandits attacked the train. And here I am, the woman in this small party, and I have no skills.”

“I was just thinking about how well you’ve been putting up with all of this. And now you go and impress me.”

He wiped a handkerchief across his brow. Smearing more dirt into the sweat on his brow. Mary plucked the square of fabric from his hands and reaching up, wiped his brow clean.

Her breathing stopped and her pulse raced as realization of her actions crashed into her as she placed the handkerchief back into Marshall’s large hand.

His thumb folded over the back of her had, holding it in place. She couldn’t take her eyes from their hands.

With a clearing of his throat, Marshall let go of her. “What do you mean you have no skills?”

“Well, I don’t know how to hunt or fish. I’m sure I could pick fruit or berries, but I have actually never done so. I certainly don’t know how to start or tend a fire. Or cook. I am useless. I have no skills. I can’t even ride a horse.”

“Oh, that can’t be Mary. I’m sure you were raised with the more refined skills that a lady needs to possess. I’d wager you play the piano quite well, and that your needlework is as delicate as the eyelash on a hummingbird.”

Mary didn’t think she had heard anything so poetic in all of her days. She had to blink a moment to clear her thoughts.

“My needlework is atrocious. I’m always stabbing myself and bleeding on the floss, ruining everything. And I’m embarrassed to admit, that while I do enjoy listening to fine musicians I never developed an ear or talent for creating music myself. I cannot play.”

“Not even the piano? Shame, even I can coax a recognizable tune from a piano.”

“I’m sure you can. After all your fingers are so long and skill full. My hands are small with stumps of fingers.” Mary had her hands up, fingers splayed before she realized in her prattling she admitted to noticing Marshall’s long fine fingers. She stared at the backs of her own hands and prayed that he had not noticed her indelicate speech.

He spread his own hands, palms up, and placed them against Mary’s.

“I’d agree your hands are mighty small. But I think I’d use the term delicate before I ever considered stumpy.”

Mary panicked at the touch. She pulled her hands back quickly instead of enjoying his touch as she wanted so desperately to do.

“I think I’d rather have capable hands over delicate ones.”

Marshall didn’t seem affronted by her sudden movement. He lifted the long stick he had tended to the fire with before and handed it to Mary.

“How about we start now,” he said.

“Start what?”

“Turning those delicate hands of yours into capable ones. Have you ever tended a fire?”

“Oh no, that’s not appropriate. That’s what the help is for.”

“Sounds like you’re saying you don’t want this?”

“Sorry,” she gulped. “I was merely attempting to coney my utter lack of knowledge on the subject. I’ve seen the maid poke at a fire and it seems to come back to life. And I’ve seen my dear sister’s husband to the same to no avail. It all simply looks like poking.”

Marshall chuckled. “In a way it is. But you want to poke with purpose. You see fire needs oxygen to burn. It’s like us, it needs air to live. But too much and it goes out.”

As he spoke he directed Mary’s hand to fat stick in the fire. Together they poked and lifted exposing the burning wood.

“What you want to do is find the places the fire is being smothered by ash, and lift it back into the air. Shift things around a bit so that air can get in.”

As they poked, the fire jumped higher. Startled Mary fell back with a small exclamation of surprise.

“There, you got it. Now get back up here.” Marshall held the stick out to Mary.

Showing her how to balance on her feet, so she could scurry away from the flames if need be.

“Don’t stoke the flames too high, we want to roast this hare, not burn it.” Marshall released his guiding hold on the stick and eased back while Mary continued to identify areas that were in need of air.

The work was hot, and smoke got in her face. The feeling of accomplishment was almost as giddy as the feeling she got when she looked over her shoulder to see Marshall grinning at her.

Will Mary dispose of her learned manners and adapt to the ways of living off the land? Find out in the next installment… 

©2021 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 17

A properly mannered Mary makes a new friend.


Catch up with Chapter 16…

Start the series from the beginning…

Mary woke to the comforting sensation of gentle rocking.

Fresh clean air, heavy with the scent of dried grass filled her senses. She was cradled in firm, contoured familiarity. A memory from being a child, held by her mother; but her mother was gone, taken before the blush of youth and beauty had left her cheeks. She nestled in against the… pillows? Too firm for pillows, too perfect to be a couch. She paid the mystery no never-mind and let herself sink back into the nothing of sleep.

A bellowing whine jolted Mary awake. The smell, the rocking, the noise. A sauran! She screamed and tried to scramble out of the cocoon of cozy she had created on the couch. She intended on screaming a second time as she realized she had been sleeping in Marshall Hunt’s arms.

Suddenly she found herself short of breath. The audacity, the arrogance, the complete and total lack of social decorum! What would Janey say? How would her grandfather react? Surely the impropriety would send him to an early grave.

“Hey, hey, you’re safe,” he said with a gentle smile.

How dare he smile at her like that!

“Calm your woman, Hunt. She’s scaring my tric.”

Mary swiveled her head to look at the man who spoke. Behind Marshall stood a painted Native man, from one of the plains tribes, a…

She gulped. She would not resort to the scare tactics of sensationalist journalism. She would form her own opinions. Besides, Marshall seemed perfectly at ease. He was ridiculously relaxed considering their perilous predicament.

“I think she’s more afraid of me than the tric,” he said with a wry chuckle. “Mary, Miss Dyer,” Marshall’s tone was commanding. “You are perfectly safe. There are no bandits; this beast has no interest in eating you. And if you insist on continuing to thrash about, I may accidentally let go, and drop you.”

Mary’s eyes went wide at the threat, all while her insides felt like molten honey, all hot and gooey from the tone of his voice.

“I… I… I’m not a personal fanatic when it comes to large animals. I can barely tolerate horses.” She managed to squeak out. She trembled in her attempt to hold still while allowing Marshall’s arm to drape around her middle like some safety strap.

She cast her gaze back to the Native man behind Marshall. “I apologize for scaring your triceratops, sir.”

“My name’s Hanska.” The man nodded. “And the tric, her name is Kim.”

“Kim?” Mary blinked in surprise. “I was expecting something more…”

She bit her tongue before she could say something offensive. She was uncertain how to ask things without sounding foolish, or worse rude. She may have grown up in the company of a certain class of people, people who frequently let their manners slip when dealing with anyone different from themselves. She did not doubt that Pythagoras would be such a flagrant snob. And to think she had been thrilled when he was courting her.

Mary believed that everyone deserved manners, no matter where they came from.

Hanska laughed. “Something more native?”

Mary felt the blush of embarrassment burn her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to offend. But I always considered Kim to be…” she paused searching for the least offensive, least ignorant way to phrase her question. “I wasn’t aware that Kim was also a native name,” she ended up blurting out.

Marshall gently chuckled around her. His shifting motion reminded her of her predicament.

“Her name is Kimimela, Kim for short,” Hanska explained.

“Kimimela,” Mary repeated, mostly to feel the way the name rolled off her tongue in a delightful tripping of sound.

The triceratops made a huffing, almost purring sound as if she recognized her name being bandied about.

“It’s a beautiful name,” she said.

“She’s a beautiful sauran,” Marshall added.

“I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that,” Mary admitted.

The beast made her nervous. Unfortunately, she wasn’t exactly certain which beast she meant at the moment. Marshall or the triceratops.

What’s in store for Mary? How will she get to San Francisco now?
Find out in the next installment… 

©2021 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 15

Where Mary doesn’t expect to disembark the train in quite that fashion…


Catch up with Chapter 14…

Start the series from the beginning…

The train car continued to rock, each new motion now with an accompanying rumble and crash.

Mary struggled into her coat as Marshall pushed her down the aisle to the front of the car.

“Hurry before they hit—”

The entire car quaked and tilted at an extreme angle before crashing back down. The impact drove Mary to her hands and knees.

Before she had time to gasp in a shocked breath Marshall had a firm hand under her arm and hauled her back to her feet.


“What was that?”

“Bandits. They’re going to derail us if the engineer doesn’t stop. Damn it!” Marshall pulled Mary up short before they reached the door that would open between cars. “Get ready to jump. When I say go, you go. Do not hesitate. Understand?”

“But Marshall?”

“Do. You. Understand?” he asked again with clipped barks of words.

Mary sucked in a resolved breath, clenched her jaw and nodded. Her focus was through the window and out on the platform she knew Marshall expected her to leap across.

In a split second, the door crashed open, the train car rocked off a set of wheels, Marsha pushed and yelled, “Jump, Now!”

Mary didn’t hesitate. She bolted through the door and jumped straight into the car opposite.

She skidded and fell among a clutter of downed packages and screaming passengers.

She was up and running the second she felt Marshall behind her. His touch lifting her to her feet and propelling her forward.

This car didn’t rock with as much force, she could tell they were farther away from whatever force these bandits were using to batter the train to a stop.

At the end of the second train car Marshall stopped Mary. He turned her so she faced him.

His grip tightened on her upper arms. “This next time we jump together.”

Mary could barely comprehend his words. Jump together. Did he mean holding hands? She nodded as the car jostled with violence that suggested the engineer was not going to stop and the bandits would have to knock the train off the rails if they really wanted to rob it.

Marshall let go of her arms and leaned over. He hiked up her skirts and handed her a handful of fabric.

“Mr. Hunt!”

“Seriously woman, now is not the time. You can berate me after I get you off this cursed train.”

With that he lifted her up as if she were a bundle, positioning her legs around his waist.

“Lock your ankles together and hold on tight,” he directed.

He tucked her head close down to his chest as she tried to turn and watch where he was headed.

“Hold tight. I’ve got you. But I need you to hold on with everything you have.”

Mary clenched Marshal as close as she could. His movements felt strong and forceful under her hold. He ran. The breath caught in her throat, and her heart stopped as Marshall launched them into the air. For a moment, she felt like she was flying. She wanted to see what the world looked like from flight, but fear kept her head down, eyes closed, and face buried into Marshall’s chest.


Find out how they get off the train… in March…

©2020,2021 Lulu M Sylvian

An Improper Derailment: Chapter 14

Where Mary discovers just how bad the situation really is…
Untitled design
Catch up with Chapter 13…

Start the series from the beginning…

With a delighted giggle Mary spread out her cards. Ace, King, Queen, and a pair of nines, all hearts.

Marshall nodded, that irresistible half-grin across his face.

“Looks like you won again,” he said as he slid a penny across the table to Mary’s side. She had a collection of pennies gathered near her elbow, a testament to her winning streak.

“This game is easy. I don’t know why Grandfather objected so strenuously to it.”

“Maybe he didn’t win with the same ease.” He folded his cards, and reached for the stack of cards.

Mary’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, stopping his motion.

“What did you have? How badly did I beat you?”

“You thoroughly whipped me.” He continued to pull the cards together.

Mary tugged against his wrist, unrelenting in her desire to see how wide of a spread she won by.

One of Marshall’s cards slipped. She snatched it.

A ten of spades. A decent card to have, but it wouldn’t do him any good if the rest were mix-matched suits and low numbers.

Mary grabbed at his cards again.

He yanked his arm away from her, and held his cards high out of her reach.

With and huff and a determined set to her chin Mary stood up and leaned far over the table, struggling to get to the cards in his outstretched hand.

“Why won’t you let me see the cards?” she asked with a frustrated grunt.

“Why do you need to see them so badly?”

Mary sat with a thump. She crossed her arms and pushed her lower lip out in a curled pout.

“A little bird’s gonna come in here and sit on that lip,” he said with a wink.

His wink flustered her. She sucked her lip back into her mouth and anchored it in place with a bite.

“Damn, if you’re gonna look at me with your eyes all big like that.” Marshall sighed heavily and slid the cards, face down across the table.

Mary squirmed in delight, she had won another battle against the intimidating Marshall Hunt. She grabbed at the cards.

The train rocked with more aggressive force than when it had been buffeted by gale winds of the night before. The passenger compartment went silent. Another hard rock, and several passengers gasped in fear.

“Never mind the cards,” Marshall yelled. “Get your coat.”

“What? But…” Mary looked at the cards in her hands. Spades a royal flush. “You let me win,” she said in a small voice.

Her heavy coat hit her in the face. She looked up at Marshall, his Stetson already rammed down onto his head.

“Put your coat on woman, we’ve got to get out of here before this train comes off its rails!”

Find out how they get off the train… in January

©2020 Lulu M Sylvian