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Champagne Bubbles of Destiny


Scott initially heard the name, George Mortimer Pullman, spoken by The Union Club’s self-proclaimed financial experts: Harlan Garrett and Cronies. With a hint of jealous undertones, they regarded old G.M. as an inventive and innovative entrepreneur.


According to the legend often repeated while sipping a good bourbon in a smoke-filled room, an extremely uncomfortable overnight train ride from Buffalo to Westfield, New York, enlightened Pullman to the vast market desiring comfortable, clean, efficient train travel. Thus, the Pullman Palaces were born, which featured carpeting, draperies, upholstered chairs, libraries and card tables. G.M. also introduced the dining car equipped with a kitchen, the first designed solely for cooking and serving meals. Pullman cars provided luxurious seating, restaurants, sleeping compartments and top-notch customer service. Yes, the comfort of rail travel had greatly improved due to George Mortimer Pullman’s vision.


Well, thank you, George! Setting his bags down, Scott glanced around his private compartment, admiring the polished carved wood, velvet curtains and fine-woven upholstery which discreetly hid the sleeping accommodations where Pullman’s ingenuity of space and efficiency ruled. Two facing seats folded over to create a lower berth while overhead, an upper berth could be folded down at night.


Flip a coin for the bottom bunk, big brother?

No need, Johnny. The younger brother always takes the upper berth.

That some kind of Travelin’ Train Rule?

No. It’s some kind of End of Discussion Rule.

The brothers’ conversation as Kinsey’s cross-country escorts to Philadelphia didn’t seem that long ago yet, look how much had changed in their lives. Scott grinned. Truth be told, he looked forward to more privacy and no coin flipping during this current journey.


An auburn-haired blur expressing the excitement of a child on Christmas morning briefly invaded the compartment, ceasing all reminiscing with her announcement. “Champagne in the dining car!”


Shaking his head at the open doorway which no longer framed Kinsey’s silhouette, Scott released the latch of a travel bag and calmly informed neatly folded shirts of his latest epiphany. “And then again, some things will never change.”


“Is that a promising prophecy or a pessimistic prediction?” Seth, arms crossed, stood smiling where the young lady had issued her proclamation moments ago.


“When it comes to my cousin, consider my statement an irrefutable fact. And the sooner you accept it, the less gray hairs you’ll gain.”


“Well, best to consider this then.” Seth’s thumb jabbed over his shoulder. “The little lady’s insisting we toast to a safe and enjoyable trip before we pull out from the station. Wouldn’t want to get started too early on those gray hairs. There might already be a few waiting for me at the end of the line.”


“Same here.” Placing his hands on hips, Scott blessed his unpacked bags with a smirk. “Returning to Boston. An experience which could be described as bittersweet.”


Seth rubbed his chin and pondered. “I prefer… poignant.


The smirk gave way to a smile. “Tragicomic.”


“Ironical.”


“Contradictory.”


“A sting in the tail.”


Scott raised an eyebrow. “If that’s the same as a pain in the ass then we do indeed need champagne.”


After the Civil War ended in 1865, Pullman knew that there was a large pool of former slaves who would be looking for employment, thus he sought out these men to work on his sleeper cars. Their job was to carry passenger's baggage, shine shoes, set up and maintain the sleeping berths and serve passengers in the dining cars. The porter expertly filling the business partners’ glasses was one of those gentlemen. Observing the server’s kind eyes and touches of gray at the temples, Scott wondered if his Union service had finally bettered this man’s life.


Kinsey scrutinized the liquid in her champagne flute. “Like tea leaves in the bottom of a cup, I see these bubbles are forecasting safe travel ahead.”


“Why I do believe, Miss,” - The porter’s quiet southern timbre didn’t intrude but instead blended softly with the surroundings - “Those bubbles know it be The Jupiter that’s chuggin’ us across this great country. If it can deliver Mr. Stanford to pound in a golden stake, then it can get us to Boston just fine. Now, you give me a nod when a second cork needs to join that first one on the table.” The waiter nestled the bottle back into the silver ice bucket with the care of a mother holding her newborn baby.


“The Jupiter?” Kinsey’s toast stepped aside for her query.


“Old Leland likes to name the trains that run on his tracks.” Seth’s inflection invited mischievous sarcasm to further inform the young lady. “Being a modest man, he suggested one of the engines be named The Governor Stanford. Yep, that fella’s humble to the bone.”


“What our waiter failed to mention, Freckles, is The Jupiter wasn’t Stanford’s first choice for transporting him and his guests to the Golden Spike ceremony.” Scott lowered his voice for a touch of intrigue. “Originally, Stanford’s train was to be pulled by another Central Pacific locomotive, The Antelope.


Swift female judgment interrupted. “Mr. Stanford chooses strange names for his steam engines.”


Scott raised an eyebrow. “Said the girl who named a stray calf Sawyer. Now, let me finish my story before your champagne bubbles of destiny fizzle out.”


Champagne bubbles of destiny.” Seth eyeballed his glass. “I suddenly have a higher respect for the French champers.”


“As I was saying, Stanford originally chose The Antelope and, for some distance, his train followed closely behind a regularly scheduled train pulled by The Jupiter. However, at one point the two trains went through a narrow pass where a logging camp resided at the top of a hill. Apparently, the signal flag to designate another train followed closely behind hadn’t been worn byThe Jupiter. Once The Jupiter steamed by, lumberjacks rolled a large log down the mountain, which struck The Antelope. With the engine damaged, word was sent to the upcoming station to hold the approaching train so Stanford and his party could board The Jupiter and continue their journey.”


“Were there casualties?” Kinsey’s eyes widened with concern.


“No.” Scott blessed his cousin with a wink. “Unless you count the lumberjack’s nose Jane Stanford punched once she climbed the mountain.”


“You, sir, are indefensible.” The little cousin’s disapproving tsk accompanied her fiancé’s snorted snicker.


“I am.” Scott raised his glass. “Drink! And may we live among the good.”


One low whistle, a slight lurch and Engine #60, The Jupiter, headed east.


********


The late hour was reflected in Pullman’s nearly deserted library car. Scott sat in one of the overstuffed chairs that swiveled, allowing travelers to make use of a small side table or turn toward the window and watch the passing countryside. Even though his journal laid open on the table, Scott chose the window with its view of a crescent moon cutting a bright slice into the dark night sky.


“Those champagne bubbles finally convinced the little lady her destiny was to get some shut-eye.” Seth sat down and spied Scott’s journal. “My apologies. I’ve interrupted.”


“No apologies necessary. The words aren’t coming to me this evening.” Scott grinned. “The champagne bubbles have chosen a lost grasp of the King’s English as my destiny.”


The slight rocking of the train lulled the men into a moment of quiet thought until Seth broke the silence. “Those gray hairs of yours waiting in Boston - mind if I ask what handle they go by?”


“Not at all.” Scott shot a side glance at his business partner. “Mind if I ask the name of yours?”


“My pleasure.” Seth let out a heavy sigh. “Roberta Westcott.”


A slow exhale responded. “Harlan Garrett.”


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