New York to Hartford - Early 1839
Twenty-five year old entrepreneur Samuel Colt took the two steps down from a liveried carriage and into the winter chill. He hastened across the northbound train platform, a leather valise in one gloved hand. Harlem was the newest and northernmost stop on the New York-Stamford run. Samuel Colt liked the new station. Harlem was closer to his offices in town and was a progressive, culturally mixed part of the city. Too bad he had business up in Connecticut. He’d rather be here sampling the evening pleasures.
A harsh north wind watered Colt’s eyes. Snow stung his exposed cheeks above a well-trimmed beard. Another Nor’easter, the third one of the winter, fluttered his silk scarf behind him and knifed through the long, light wool coat that covered his white linen shirt, black cravat and matching wool vest. He might be stylish, but not dressed for this winter storm. Next time he’d wear a heavier coat and wrap his ears in a woolen scarf.
The relative protection of the last open passenger car beckoned, and Sam Colt rushed for the entry door. He glanced sideways and caught the eye of a striking, equally stylish young woman. High cheekbones, smooth olive skin and blue-green eyes punctuated the young woman’s angular face. A green wool scarf wrapped her head and black hair. The red wool greatcoat draped over what he could see of her matching velvet dress and down to black leather boots. Elegant. And the attire had been well chosen for protection from the bitter weather. Still, she shivered and clutched herself, waiting on the platform near the car.
Once inside, Sam found the New York-Stamford train packed. Winter body smells oppressed the close quarters. He took the last aisle seat and gazed down the crowded entryway. The striking, darkly exotic woman pushed her way along the aisle, drawing long looks from other travelers as she approached. Who could this person be? Where was she from? Why travel alone?
The woman reached the only open spot, a window seat a row ahead of Samuel Colt and across the aisle. She wrestled a carpetbag into the overhead rack. The portly, rough-dressed man on the aisle turned his head, raised an eyebrow and glared up at her. He shifted his sizable frame and used one stocky leg to block the woman’s passage to the open spot.
“Find another seat,” the man barked. “I’ll not share a journey with a Colored.”
“And I, sir,” the woman responded, looking down, “am loathe to be in the company of such rudeness and lack of couth. But I shall have that window seat.”
She nudged at the man’s outstretched leg with her knee. Samuel Colt surveyed the aisle, front-to-rear. Was the lady to have no official assistance? Where was the conductor? Should he intervene?
“If my presence would so offend you,” she persisted, one stylish boot still shoved against the man’s calf. “Perhaps someone will trade seats. That would relieve us both of a burdensome presence.”
Still no train official had appeared for the pointed exchange. Samuel Colt took his opportunity. The young entrepreneur rose and stepped into the aisle. He moved forward, valise in hand, and stood next to the woman.
“Sir,” Samuel Colt first addressed the seated man. Then he turned. “And Madam. Permit me to resolve the dilemma. I’d be pleased to share the journey to Stamford with the lady. Would the gentleman kindly remove himself to my earlier place yonder on the bench?”
Sam gestured toward his now-empty seat. The stout fellow was silent, looking up at him. Then the man stood, frowned, and grabbed a worn carpetbag. He shuffled wordlessly past Colt, back one row. The woman smiled and, at Samuel Colt’s direction, took the window seat.
Metal-to-metal clanked when the train car shuddered, jostling Colt as he tried to sit. A distant shrill whistle confirmed that the journey to Stamford was underway. Sam’s seat companion adjusted her green scarf, turned up her coat collar and gazed out the window. The train wheezed from the station into the snowy countryside north of New York City.
Minutes passed. Samuel Colt was mesmerized. The young woman’s appearance was hypnotic. He had to find out more about her.
Colt cleared his throat and spoke. “M’lady, you look quite familiar. Surely we’ve met before.”
She turned, head erect, and locked fiery green eyes on his. Unsmiling, she pulled the scarf away, shaking her head till thick hair fell loose. The woman ran long, elegant fingers with manicured nails through the shiny black mass and turned her collar down.
“Come, come,” the woman replied. “You have been quite gallant, the perfect gentleman till now. Should you be English, you could be Robin Hood. Yet you are such a clumsy flirt. From what obscure Victorian woodland might you hail, sir?”
The woman’s voice was as husky and smooth as the velvet she wore. Colt flinched, caught off-guard by her verbal sparring. The accent, what was it? Saint Domingue? Canary Islands? He doffed his beaver skin top hat and fumbled the heavy pelt to his side. He needed a moment to recover, but smiled.
“Hartford, Ma’am,” Colt replied. “Hartford, Connecticut, that is. Though I once spent a year in England and am just returned from Scotland. As for you, our paths have indeed crossed somewhere. That’s fact, not flirting.”
“So then, you have been in the Texas Republic,” the woman said, chin upturned. She kept eye contact, unblinking. “Aiding the new country? Or perhaps you work in the city. You’ve seen me in New York?”
“Certainly not in Texas,” Colt replied. “I’ve never been west, but I’d like to go. Texas and its plight as an independent republic are of particular interest to me.” The eyes of his seat companion brightened. “Presently, though, I have a small weapons manufacturing plant in New Jersey. Business takes me into the city often, to a trading office on Broadway.”
“My name is Samuel Colt,” he said. “I’m an engineer and inventor, but a man regrettably forced by skeptics to produce and market his own considerable innovations.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Colt,” The woman spoke with a slight Latin lisp, Castilian probably. “My name is Emily West, of late a New Yorker, but I consider myself more a Tejano. Tell me about some of your inventions, particularly your weapons, if they are not some deeply held secret.”
Samuel Colt sensed heat welling into his face and ears. Emily West - her name matched neither her looks nor demeanor. She might say she was Texan, but culturally the woman had to be old family Caribbean Spanish, maybe Creole French, perhaps even Mexican aristocracy.
Whoever the hell she was, the woman had no idea just how good he was at inventing things. Moreover, she likely had no understanding of weapons of war. Or did she? Only one way to find out. Colt retrieved a hard leather case from his valise, clicked the latch open and put the contents on his lap. The young woman looked down at the heavy pistol, then back to Colt and smiled. Emily West approved.
“My latest development.” Colt touched the long barrel and gleaming cylinder. “This is a five-shot repeating pistol, a device that will change warfare forever.”
She stared, eyes wide. Had he shocked her delicate sensibilities? She’d probably never seen such a weapon. He’d surely offended her.
“My sincere apologies, madam.” Colt said, nodding. “Such hardware should not be of concern to women of your background and station.”
“You apparently know nothing of women like me, Mr. Colt,” West snapped back. Her voice had a hard edge. “Though I crave civility, I’ve seen more than my share of conflict. I have smelled death and endured the company of warlords and pirates. We frontier women, we may dress and conduct ourselves as the weaker sex when in your civilization, but on the open sea and in the wilds of Texas, I and countless others could have benefitted more than once from such a weapon. May I examine it closer?”
Colt handed over the pistol, expecting his new acquaintance to struggle with its heft. Instead, she took a firm, two-handed grip on the bone handle. West had held more than one pistol in those elegant hands before. And the questions she posed – caliber, cocking, firing and how quickly reloading might be accomplished. This woman knew her guns.
“Miss West,” Colt queried. “Are you, as I am, bound for New Haven with the Overland coach tomorrow? Or does your journey only take you as far as Stamford?”
Emily West handed the weapon back to him. “I am indeed bound for New Haven in the morning. And if we are to share the coach tomorrow, perhaps we can continue our conversation. I can tell you why your repeating device there interests me, if it truly works. If nothing else, we shall relieve ourselves of some of the journey’s boredom.”
“Madam, I would be delighted,” Colt said. “And my repeater pistol most certainly works. Meanwhile, would you permit me to introduce you to Webb’s Tavern this evening, the best eating establishment in Stamford? Our discussion can already continue there. Shall we meet in the gathering room of the inn at seven?”
Emily West hesitated, then gave Colt a thin smile and an affirmative nod. Good, he’d surprised her. But before he could say more, West put her coat collar up and turned back to the window. Their train conversation was apparently finished. Colt put the pistol away and pondered what specific circumstance might have required this woman to know weaponry. Maybe she’d tell him later.