Mission: Chapter 10: Brakes on a Train
Aunt Beaufort lowered her periodical to glare at Ophelia over the rims of her pince-nez.
"You shouldn't gamble" she chided "It's a most unbecoming preoccupation for a young lady of your breeding and refinement"
"I'd say it was practically required," Ophelia protested "and besides: Poker's a game of skill and memory; it's hardly gambling"
Reaching across the breakfast table, she grumpily helped herself to a slice of buttered toast, which she used to belligerently mop the remains of the egg up from her plate.
Her Aunt huffed and rustled the journal she was pretending to read "All the same young lady, I'm sure your father would be appalled by last night’s behaviour"
Ophelia's lips compressed into a thin line at this and she cast her untouched toast down onto her plate in irritation "I don’t see how he could legitimately justify an opinion on the matter" she retorted, struggling to conceal her indignation “He fritters money away on horses!”
Aunt Beaufort gave her a withering glare before turning her attention back to her periodical, leaving Ophelia under no illusions that the conversation was well and truly over.
Exhaling a soft but defiant sigh, Ophelia settled back into her chair and cast her gaze out across the busy dining carriage. Truth be told, she was quite angry. Her Aunt had quietly sunk more than half a bottle of gin last night and had made no complaint or any effort at dissuading her from gaming - and had even gone so far as to congratulate her on wining near fifty dollars!
The evils of drink and double standards, it seemed, were quite acceptable to the old battle-axe, whereas a harmless little wager was quite beyond the pale.
Shaking her head in disgust, Ophelia turned her attention to her fellow diners; many of whom she knew either by reputation or previous acquaintance, although she had to admit that she was relieved she hadn't previously encountered the ill-mannered savages on the table next to them - one of whom, a governess of some sort, seemed barely able to lift a croissant to her mouth without making a mess.
Decorum, of course, prevented Ophelia from staring or even acknowledging such gauche behaviour; so instead, she gazed out of the window at the scenery slipping past outside. The mountains in the far distance looked picturesque enough, but the flat plain the train was hurtling across was just a dry wasteland of rough scrub, punctuated by nothing more interesting than the occasional twisted tree - It was, she glumly surmised, hardly surprising that she had got involved in a card game when this was all there was to look at!
One of the Great Eastern Railway liveried waiters moved past to pour coffee for the table next to them "There you go, Madame Peacock" the man intoned after a moment.
This made Ophelia start and glance sharply back at her Aunt in time to catch the briefest flicker of a reaction crossing her face as she read her journal. The waiter who had spoken finished pouring coffee and politely withdrew, leaving Ophelia to obliquely scrutinise the party on the table next to them with renewed interest.
As was usually the case, Aunt Beaufort, had made discreet enquiries about their travelling companions on the commencement of their journey, and had learned that the Peacock's, a wealthy East Coast family, were travelling with them in one of the private carriages.
To Ophelia's knowledge, the Peacock's were a small and insular clan of old money (or at least as old as you could get out here in the colonies), and she was sure she had met the entire family on previous occasions; so discounting the ill-mannered governess, who was merely the hired help, it seemed strange that Ophelia recognised neither of the other two individuals, leaving her to assume that they must be some distant branch of the Peacock family.
Of course, entirely possible that these people were members of a completely different family of the same name, but the sort of wealth required to travel in a private carriage never went unnoticed in the circles she moved in, so it was improbable for her not to be acquainted with or to at least recognise these people.
The mystery further deepened when all three suddenly got to their feet and left the table in the greatest of hurries, leaving even Aunt Beaufort to raise her eyebrows in surprise.
Watching them go in as disinterested a manner as she was able to muster, Ophelia eventually scrunched her napkin up with her thin fingers and sat forward in her chair to drop it onto the table.
"Should we take a promenade?"
"Yes" replied her Aunt, neatly folding her periodical and taking off her spectacles "I think that we might"
It would have been unseemly to simply follow the Peacock's out of the dining carriage with the intention of engineering a "chance" encounter with them; which was a pity since had Ophelia and her Aunt done just that, they'd probably have observed the furore the Pirates caused as they accosted the woman they were following and would, as a result, have been able to alert the Train Marshals who would likely have had the entire crew detained or executed before the next dawn.
Instead Ophelia and her Aunt threaded their way through the busy dining carriage towards the plushly appointed First Class lounge in the adjacent car. There, they spent a pleasurable hour or so perusing the library and making small-talk with other well to do passengers over tea.
Eventually Aunt Beaufort rose from her armchair and smoothed her dress down with her gloved hands
"I think," she said airily "that it's high time we called on our good friends the Peacock's" she gestured vaguely "Do come along Ophelia"
The two women took the stairs out of the lounge and down onto the main concourse to promenade through the shops, eventually finding their way back into the First Class accommodation where before long they stood before the entrance to the Peacock's car.
Raising a hand, Aunt Beaufort seized the door knocker and used it to rap four times on the door in a quick staccato beat.
"This would be so much easier had we not sent the servants ahead to Carson City" she murmured while they waited for the door to be answered "We could have simply sent one to deliver a card in our stead"
A hatch slid back in the door, revealing a pair of eyes.
"Yes?" the owner of the eyes demanded.
"Viscountess Frida Beaufort," Aunt Beaufort announced rather stiffly above the sounds of sudden, exuberant shouting from within the Peacock’s carriage "and Lady Ophelia Fortesque-Grey of the Duchy of Wessex"
Ophelia frowned. From her different vantage point, she could see past the person who had answered the door and into the main carriage beyond, where a number of rough looking cut throats seemed to be lounging around .
"Aunty..." she said, nervously plucking at her chaperone’s sleeve and backing away "I don’t think we should be here"