“Henry, what time is that locomotive set to leave?” Jim asked as he pulled his timepiece from his pocket.
“The ticket says quarter to noon, but I don’t know what time it is now.”
“It’s damn near nine, are you packed yet. I don’t want you missing that trip. It’s a great opportunity, son. They say every day in Chicago a new building is set to be built. You need to get out of this town. Find some money, and a good looking northern gal. They say girls from the north keep the warmest bed.”
Henry rolled his eyes, as he had heard the story too many times before.
“I understand, Pa. I’ll get going, I don’t have a whole lot to pack. Since Ma died I haven’t exactly had a lot of clothes fitted for me.” Then Henry sighed, “I don’t know why yer trying to get rid of me anyway. Whose gonna help you with the harvest next fall?”
“Don’t worry bout your old man. I got enough know how to pick a couple bushels of corn, and bail up some hay without the help of some ambitious young man, like your self.”
Henry smiled at his dad’s gall. He knew his pa could figure it out, he just worried that his old age would get the best of him.
“Alright pa, Imma hold you to it now. Don’t go writin to me in a couple months telling me you need me to come back.” Henry said laughing. His father threw a baseball at him off the mantle, and Henry palmed it out of the air and threw it back. His father snatched it just the same.
“I love you son,” Jim moved in with open arms to hug his son.
“I love you too dad, take care of your self. If that ass gives you any trouble –”
Jim cut him off, “You don’t need to tell me how tame a beast son, now get!”
Henry packed his bag, strapped on his boots and hugged his dad one last time before he walked out the door. It would take him a couple hours to walk to the station, but he jogged a little bit so he could stop in town to get a hot meal before he got on the train to Chicago. It was set to be a 50 hour ride, and Henry didn’t want to be hungry for the first leg of the trip. He figured when he got to Kansas City he could eat again, or at the least grab a snack or two for the long leg to Chicago. Although he didn’t know much about trains and knew little about the inner workings of the stations. He could only hope that their would be a store or two that he could grab an apple or some jerky.
He got to Parsons in a little less than two hours and found a little diner across the road from the station. The town wasn’t too busy, but there were a couple cars parked on the road and a few carriages, and wheel trucks hoofing around. Henry had only been to town a few times. When he was a kid, he used to go into town with his mom, Eve, while his dad was working the fields. They wouldn’t do much, but it always seemed like a real treat to the young Henry. He enjoyed helping his mom load the wagon with flour and jams from the general store. The manager, Flint, was a nice man that lived on the neighboring property, so he always had a sucker or a hand full of hard candies for Henry. Flint passed away about 6 years ago, right after Eve died. Now, for the most part Flint’s son, Dale, was running the store. Dale was about 8 years older than Henry and used to be a great guy, but after his father died he lost his friendly attitude, because he was mad about his situation. In turn, Dale turned into a dishonest cheat.
Dale had hopes of becoming a doctor and had his mind set on going down to the state college to get his degree, but when his father died, he felt he had to stick around and take care of his mom, Gail and his two younger sisters. His sisters, Flora and Jinny, were twins and only ten years old. The birth left Gail paralyzed from the waist down. Dale wanted to become a doctor so that he could learn how to stop things like this from happening to other women. After his father died, Dale lost hope, started drinking and cussed at his life. Now he was trapped to be a general store owner in Parsons, Kansas. He grew bitter and mean, and it overflowed into his work ethic. He cheated people every chance he could.
Henry and Jim felt this cheating disposition every year, when a few acres of there harvest was plowed by their bitter neighbor. For this reason Henry and Dale did not get along. Jim was too passive and old to really say much about it, but Henry would voice his opinion in defense of his father whenever he felt it was necessary. Henry also decided that he wouldn’t go to the general store any more in spite of Dale’s demeanor. Instead Henry would go to the other neighboring properties and pay for what ever canned or jarred goods he could get from the old wives and young girls that would blush, when Henry would come around. Because of his good looks and polite charm, Henry got pretty good at flirting. He kept it wholesome and knew one day he would meet a girl that would help put his flirtatious nature behind him.
As Henry enjoyed his fresh batch of biscuits and gravy he looked out the window as the small town buzzed gently by. He would miss this town and knew he would have to come back as soon as possible. Despite what his father says, Henry knew Jim was going to need some help. He figured he would work in the city until fall and head home to help with the end of the harvest. For now he had to make his train. He payed his bill and rushed to the station.
As he waited for the conductor to start boarding the train, he bought a paper from a little boy yelling out headlines about the St. Louis Cardinals blowing another lead to the Cincinnati Reds. Henry heard a man cursing the Cardinals but then assured the young boy that it was still early in the season. Henry peered over his paper and looked at the crowd waiting to board the train. It was mostly men dressed in the familiar farm hand garb, dusty, weathered hats on their heads and holes patched in their pants. Every once in a while a man dressed in what appeared to be his sunday’s best would saunter in, proud with his beautiful wife on his arm. Henry could only hope that one day, his father and him could dress that way every day, but reality kept bringing him back to the newspaper threatening another dry summer.
As the conductor pulled the steam cord and yelled “ALL ABOARD!” the crowd rushed the doors of the cars. Henry was a little overwhelmed, he began rushing to the train with excitement boiling in his blood making his bones rattle around in his skin. He could already feel the clickety clak of the locomotive charging towards Kansas City, without even knowing what that feeling was like. He handed his boarding pass over and made his way through the car to a seat near the back with a view out of the window. He sat comfortably and exhaled with joy. Then he looked out the window and saw a young woman in a blue and white dress trotting in her fine heeled shoes and her straw bonnet with white lace around the rim. She was calling “Wait, Wait.” waving her ticket in the air with one hand and a nearly dragging a suitcase in the other. Henry’s heart started to flutter when he caught a glimpse of her beautiful face.
He got up and rushed to the conductor who had closed the door behind him and began walking to the car closest to the engine. Henry called out, “Mister, Conductor, sir,” he didn’t know the proper etiquette for grabbing the conductor’s attention. “There is a woman trying to board!”
The conductor didn’t hear him over the big engine blowing steam. Henry ran to the door of the car himself and pried it open. “Here you go miss, you better get in here quick.” She climbed in with Henry offering his hand to pull her in the car.
“Thank you, you are very kind.” She smiled and Henry blushed.
“It wasn’t nothing miss.” As they locked eyes she began to blush too.
“My name’s Henry, Henry Trother.” As they were already holding hands he began to shake it gently and a bit awkwardly.
“Josephine Lawrence,” she said with a short curtsy in the narrow aisle, just as the train started to move forward. It caused Josephine to fall forward, Henry grabbed her waist to keep her upright. He soon realized his hand had actually wrapped around her waist a little too far and was now resting on her butt. He blushed and his mouth went dry as she looked up at him with a bit of shock and maybe a forced looked of offense towards the gesture.
He jerked his hand away, “I’m truly sorry–”
“It’s quite alright, it’s not everyday a man helps me on the train to grope my behind, I think I can let this go. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find my seat.” She said again with a forced sense of rudeness in her voice.
“Right — I, uh am truly sorry — let me help you with your bag, please. I promise I will be a gentleman.” Henry could sense that she wasn’t really angry, but was maybe trying to appear more lady like than she was. He genuinely was sorry, but at the same time he found Josephine very alluring in the first few seconds of their introduction, that he couldn’t help but flirt a little.
“Truly, you are a kind man, but I can manage alright, thank you very much.” She pushed by him and found her seat.
Henry feeling still a bit embarrassed and slightly defeated retreated to his seat near the window. The train rattled on and the world began to clickety clak right on by towards Kansas City.