A Family Affair - Early 1839
Sam Colt sat opposite his dinner guest at a small table and turned to glance out one partly shuttered window of the old but stylish Stamford Tavern. A howling wind blew new snow into drifts, obstructing his view of carriages and riders on the cobblestone street. Colt returned his attention to Emily West and dabbed a napkin at the corner of his mouth. They’d shared a hearty meat pie, warm fruit and cream. Emily’s coal-black hair fell loose over a draped green-and-gray shoulder wrap. Sam permitted himself a small cigar while she sipped at her glass of wine.
Emily’s story had been straightforward and plausible. She was born in the northeast, probably Connecticut, the illicit child of a free woman of Color, and the woman’s employer. She’d described her early struggles as a Colored and later, her harrowing experiences in the Texas war for independence. She’d been captured at Morgan’s Point by Santa Anna’s forces just before the Battle of San Jacinto. Then she’d spent time as the Mexican General’s personal prisoner. She had successfully spied for General Houston and relayed valuable tactical information back to the Texas militia before she escaped.
West had shown Sam a handwritten document guaranteeing her safe passage as a hero of the Texas revolution. In the paper, Emily was described as “a notable citizen of the new Republic.” The document was signed “Samuel Houston, General, Republic of Texas Militia.”
She told him, too, about the Comanche hostage negotiations in Texas. But that had been more than two years ago. What had she been doing since then back here in the Northeast? And why the family quest now?
“Your exploits, Emily.… May I call you Emily?” Sam said, noting a slight nod of approval from his companion. “Your exploits make my life seem dull by comparison. One would never have guessed that the beautiful woman whose company I share is a friend of Sam Houston, has escaped the clutches of General Santa Anna and once worked to free women hostages from Indian savages. You are truly Amazonian.”
“Amazonian?” Emily West looked down at her glass. “Nothing of the sort, Mr. Colt. The war with Mexico ended well for the Republic. I had little to do with that, and I remain dismayed over my biggest failure, not gaining the young Pierce woman’s release. It pains me to think about what that poor girl and others like her may endure these days as victims of such exploitation. Quite barbaric.”
“I know nothing of Indian culture, savage or otherwise,” Colt replied. “Especially the Comanche. But I doubt they ever intended to release the girl. And as you said, it was fortunate for you, my dear, that the young Ranger sergeant was quick-witted.”
The warmth of the candlelit tavern and the excellent meal had relaxed Sam Colt. Emily’s beauty was as intoxicating as the wine, her aloofness a challenge. He reached for her arm. She flinched and raised one hand in his direction, palm up.
“Come now,” West admonished. “Let us keep this evening to business. My interest in you, Samuel Colt, extends only to tools of war. I have had quite enough romance already in my life.”
Chastened and sobered, Sam considered his next move. He had business with the Eli Whitney Company in New Haven. Emily West was on some family mission to the city. She seemed genuinely interested in the Colt repeater. If her exploits were as she’d told him, she could be useful to the Colt Arms Company. After all, he was an inventor, not a salesman. But this woman’s beauty alone would gain an audience anywhere. Perhaps she was his best hope for marketing Colt repeating pistols. A plan began to take shape in Sam Colt’s mind.
“Fine then.” Colt shrugged off West’s personal rebuff. “Perhaps I can assist you, Emily, or rather I should say, Miss West, in your personal quest in New Haven. And might you return the favor by further enlightening me as to arms sales opportunities in Texas?” He pulled a small notebook from his coat pocket. “Do you need information, contacts, official assistance in New Haven?”
“Thank you very much, Mr. Colt.” Emily West smiled. “I meant no disrespect, but I am quite tired. Perhaps as I suggested on the train, we may discuss all this more in the carriage on our way to New Haven tomorrow.”
Coat collar turned up against the bitter wind, Sam Colt stood the next morning and faced a taller man in a long hooded cloak near the open door of the Overland coach. Emily, bundled against the cold in her red wool coat, held Sam’s arm and stood close and as protected by his frame as she could. Colt’s repeating pistol was visible, cradled against his thigh in a leather holster. Weak sunlight glinted off the hammer.
“Sir,” Sam Colt bellowed at the man. “Have you the slightest notion whom you offend with your crass objections? My traveling companion is a hero of the Texas War for Independence. Neither her race nor her free status is your affair. I dare say that she, nay we, now have no intention of sharing a coach with the likes of you.”
His adversary had a long, angular face with well-trimmed mutton-chops along an iron jaw. A gold-lamé vest covered his broad chest under a brown waistcoat and open winter cloak. But no weapon was visible.
Despite the man’s size and seeming irritation, he put a hand to his hat then doffed it in token that he had understood his personal peril. He brought the hat down to his side.
“Now, now,” the man said in a voice barely above a whisper. “No call for that. I am unarmed.” He bowed, turning both palms out. “My apologies to the young woman. I am inconvenienced by the delay, but you have admirably made your point, sir.”
The man donned his hat and backed away. Sam rested one hand on his pistol handle, eyeing his opponent who turned and took the snowy steps of the inn two at a time. Colt felt the tight grip Emily kept on his arm. Warm, even affectionate.
“Seems that gentleman has poor eyesight,” Colt said gaily as he turned to Emily. “And no taste in women. But he does have an appreciation for fine hardware.”
Emily smiled. Sam Colt reveled in the moment. Would he have shot the insolent bastard? Probably not. Didn’t matter now, though.
Colt stroked his trimmed beard. “Madam, I have once again peaceably defended your honor. So you shall have to wait another day to find out just how well the Paterson Colt would have performed had I not been so persuasive.” He patted the holster.
Colt kept Emily’s arm snugged in his and guided her to the waiting coach. Their luggage had been loaded. There was freight, but no other passengers. The coach and two drivers were theirs alone for the journey.
Samuel Colt had hoped to be in New Haven by mid-afternoon, but heavy wagon traffic on the partly frozen roads between Stamford and New Haven had left deep ruts that slowed their carriage. The city was in twilight and lamplighters were about their work when the driver reined in the team in front of their lodging. After a hasty dismount from the carriage, Colt ushered Emily West up a flight of stone steps and through the main door of the fashionable Eaton Hotel On The Green.
The slow trip had at least given Samuel Colt more time to examine Emily West’s professional attributes. The woman indeed knew weapons and could handle herself in tough situations. He was convinced of that. So, despite the absence of any mutual attraction shown by Emily so far, she should be one hell of a business asset. He’d scribbled a note for the carriage driver to deliver to Nathaniel Miller of the Eli Whitney Company, post haste. Colt wanted to advise Miller that Emily would be joining them for dinner tonight as his new assistant. All that Emily needed to know was that they’d be dining this evening with an important business associate, one who could ensure production of his weapons in suitable quantities to make both him and her rich.
Less than an hour later, Samuel Colt crossed The Green, trudging through drifting snow with Emily West tight on his arm. He pushed open the heavy door of “Fin and Fowl,” New Haven’s best known eating and drinking establishment. Smells of fresh roasted game and potatoes met his nose, mixing with the odor of burning wood from the massive stone fireplace. Colt peered around in the thin light for Nathaniel Miller. He spotted the short, balding Whitney executive seated at a private table near the fireplace, sipping from an ornate pewter mug.
Sam handed his top hat to the innkeeper and helped Emily West with her heavy coat. Once their outerwear was taken care of, he guided her toward the fireplace and past tables of other dinner patrons. Nathaniel Miller waved one arm and jumped to his feet, stumbling over a chair leg and spilling ale from his mug. My God, now the man stared as though he’d seen a ghost.
Nathaniel Miller barely looked at Sam. Instead, he surveyed Emily West, wide-eyed, head to toe. She stared back, tight-lipped and speechless. Had Sam missed something about his dinner guests? Did they already know each other?
“Nathaniel Miller, Sir,” Samuel Colt announced in his most confident manner, “May I present Miss Emily West, my weapons assistant?” Sam turned to Emily. “Miss West, this is the President of the Eli Whitney Arms Company, Mr. Nathaniel Miller.”
West nodded slightly without smiling. Miller remained standing and turned his head, chin down, away from West toward the fireplace. He dabbed with his napkin at the small pool of spilled ale on the table. What in Heaven’s name could this possibly be about? Seconds dragged by.
“Mr. Colt,” Emily West put her hand on Sam’s arm and broke the silence. She was formal, cold. “A most unfortunate circumstance, one that none of us would have supposed, nor certainly could have ever predicted.” She sighed and stared at Nathaniel Miller. “Mr. Miller probably suspects, as do I, that he and I are…well…we are related. Siblings separated shortly after my birth, so one story goes. He being the legitimate son, and I the bastard daughter.” She shook her head. “A considerable embarrassment would be afforded to the Millers and the Whitneys were my existence, my heritage, ever revealed in the lofty social circles of New Haven.”
Silence hung over the table until Nathaniel Miller turned and faced Sam Colt.
“Such is indeed the nature of coincidence, Mr. Colt,” Nathaniel Miller blurted. “The woman’s admission I believe is quite accurate. This development, as you can see, is extraordinary. I’m afraid that Miss West being in your employ would make any further collaboration between us impossible. I shall be in contact within a fortnight as to the termination of our weapons agreement. Meanwhile, this entire encounter, I insist, must not go beyond the three of us.”
Without further acknowledging Emily or shaking hands with Samuel Colt, Miller made for the tavern door, snatching his topcoat and hat from the rack as he went. He brushed past the innkeeper and vanished into the cold of the New Haven evening. Samuel Colt stared at Emily West, dumbfounded.