Miss Josephine

Reads: 43  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


overcoming adversity.. a young school teacher in the old west.

Submitted: August 11, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 11, 2018

A A A

A A A



Miss Josephine

 It's a quiet day with a light breeze blowing in the tree tops. I love the walk home after a day of teaching in the one room school house. It's my first year of teaching and the ten students keep me on my toes.. Now the year is winding down and in a few days school would be out. I have been offered my job for another year and I'm feeling blessed. A couple of boys chasing a ball down the street stop to wave as I go by. "Hi Miss Joan, have a nice night." They hadn't always been so friendly it had taken some time to gain their trust but now it's a pleasure to go to work each day.
I'm jerked out of my reverie when I enter the house, I come home to find someone has been here. On the table sits an opened jar of pickled pigs feet, a gift from one of my students. Someone has helped themselves and a few knuckle bones are scattered on the table, the smell of vinegar is in the air and the jelled contents smear the table. I quickly look around and find my books are upended all over the floor, papers from my small writing desk are strewn around. I have nothing of value, who would do this? And why? I feel the hair on my neck raise as I approach the bedroom, as I look into the room I see my dressing table mirror, on it is written. "What ever happened to Miss Josephine?" I sink to the floor. I can't breathe. Who has followed me here? How did they find me and most of all, what do they want?
I had been home alone when it happened. The letter that would change my life. The ladies had all gone out for the day to do a bit of shopping and there it was, my future in my hands. Now to tell them all what I had planned. I hadn't allowed myself to believe it would actually happen. It was beyond my wildest dreams to leave this life behind and begin over as a respectable lady again. A school marm, a widow, which is true, in need of supporting herself. It had been a long 7 years since I was left a widow at the age of eighteen, just a few short months after my marriage. All I had been left with after the end of the war was this house and some debt. I don't even remember when the first of the girls showed up, alone, fighting to survive. We were a motley crew, a couple of others like me left alone but they had nothing, some newly freed slaves, not only of color but indentured white ones who had either escaped or were released when their owners knew there was to be no choice. I remember the day we made the decision to band together and build a business that we knew would make us money. I went to the banker, a lecherous old man, with my business plan and was able to borrow a bit of money to make some changes and open Miss Josephine's. I hired Big Jake to make sure the rules were followed, no violence against the girls, nor rowdiness. It was to be a 'respectable' house. Bathing rooms were open, cleanliness a must and a modicum of decorum was our standard. I was able to pay the loan back early; our group of ladies grew when others learned how they were treated at Miss Josephine's. Then about a year ago I had gained an unwanted admirer. Mr. Peabody had decided he was going to rescue me from my life and began to cause problems. He would try to sneak in even after I'd told him he was no longer welcome and his attention was unwanted. He would stand in the street out front and preach about hell fire and damnation and when that hadn't worked he decided to forcibly remove me for my own good. It was during that altercations, as he was trying to drag me out through the kitchen to his buggy that I grabbed a knife and slashed the side of his face. Hank had heard the ruckus and threw him out, threatening him if he should ever come close again. He vowed he'd get his revenge. It was then I began to plot a plan to leave my home and business to the ladies and begin over again in the west. I would leave all that I had ever known, bury Miss Josephine and using my first name Joan take a job as a teacher. Yet here I am in this little town in Wyoming and someone from my past had found me.
Finally, the last day of school is over. I've struggled this week to keep it together after finding my house ransacked. I was torn whether to let Sheriff Thomas know or not but in the end I decided it was best to just clean up the mess. To put one foot in front of the other and not run away, at least until I'd brought these students to their last day. I've kept my doors locked and been vigilant as I've gone about my days and nights. There has been nothing further since that message on the mirror. Maybe whoever it is has decided to leave me alone. I can only pray that is true. I've kept my eye out for Mr. Peabody but I've not seen anyone who resembles him, it would be hard to miss that tall lanky body as he stands head and shoulders above most; plus, now he probably wears the mark of our last encounter on his handsome face. I take that as a good sign. It's time now to take my leave of the festivities and begin my escape plan from this little town that has been my home. The first place that's truly felt like home since I was a child. I don't want to leave but I would hate for these lovely people to learn of my past. I couldn't bear the judgment and disappointment I'd see in their faces if they learned their children had been taught by a Madam for the past year. It's better to leave, to start over again. I've plenty of money to do it banked in Kansas City. The ladies have been faithful in their deposits to pay for the house and my share of the business. They refused to take it as a gift so the money has been growing as I've lived off of my meager teachers' pay. As I approach my door, I reach into my bag for my key. I feel a paper, pull it out and in shock I read. "Soon, Miss Josephine, soon"
I fumble with the key, drop it and as I'm bending to retrieve it I hear. "Good evening Joan, I'm surprised to see you here. I thought you'd probably still be at the festivities." I try to sound normal. "Oh, hi Elenore, I have a bit of a headache so I thought I'd duck out and rest a bit." I try to insert the key in the lock but drop it again. "Here, let me help you. You're the only person I know who locks their door." She picks up the key and deftly opens the door and enters into the house. "Why don't I make you a cup of tea, you just put up your feet and rest. After all, you deserve a reward for all you've done for the students this year. Everyone in town sings your praises, they say you even managed to find the money for new books. That an unidentified philanthropist just had them shipped to the school. Did you ever find out who that was?" She bustles around the kitchen, making a fire to heat the water for tea, setting out the cups and looking into the cupboards for what she needs. As I watch I realize I know little about her, she'd moved here a few months ago and opened up a small dress shop and she is quite a seamstress. I've even had her make me a couple of dresses and she does excellent work. She's always been quite talkative and friendly when I've been in. "You know Joan, we old maids should get to know each other better, I know I get a bit lonely at times and I'm sure you do to. I understand you've only lived here about a year so you're not much better acquainted than I." She sets a small plate with a cupcake down beside me. "That's right Elenore, I moved here last spring after I was accepted for the teachers position and I've not regretted it, and where did you find this delicious looking cupcake. I don't think I have any. "I was bringing them over to drop off for you. I thought it would be a nice surprise for you when you got home, but you beat me here. Eat up, they are quite good even if I do say so myself, and especially with a nice hot cup of tea. Do you use sugar or milk?" " A spoon full of sugar but no milk. And thank you so much." I take a bite or two of the cupcake, a carrot cake with delicious cream frosting. It is delicious but I note an odd flavor." These are wonderful, you must give me your recipe, I detect a note of something I can't quite put my finger on." "Oh, it's an old family recipe and I'm afraid I can't give away my family secrets." She settles down in the only other overstuffed chair in the room after handing me my cup of tea. We sit in silence as I nibble on the cake. I find her watchfulness a bit disconcerting. I begin to yawn. "I'm so sorry Elenore, I guess I must be more tired than I realized." "That's okay my dear Miss Josephine, you're going to be a bit tired, we have some talking to do, wanton women who steal other's fiancé's need to realize the damage they have done. You can run but I am a patient woman and it didn't take much to find you." I try to stand but fine my body doesn't respond, I drop my cup of tea as fear begins to wash over me.
I hear glass breaking, I must have fallen asleep. I peek through slitted eyelids to see Elenore dropping my mom's Blue willow dishes one at a time. I gasp "What are you doing?" I try to rise and realize my hands and feet are tied. I'm still feeling the effects of whatever she has drugged me with. At the sound of my voice she whirls around, picks up the carving knife from the table and comes towards me. "Well, good morning sunshine. Did we have a nice nap? Sorry about the lovely dishes, I'm such a butter finger." "Why, Elenore, why?" "Oh, she wants to know why? Well how about a young girl getting ready for her wedding. The day had been set, the dress made and the countdown to the walk down the aisle had begun. Then one day she and her intended are walking down the boardwalk and come upon a group of women out shopping. The 'leader' of the pack, a redhead, has her head back laughing most unlady like. My Mr. Peabody stops in his tracks mesmerized like under a spell. From that day on nothing was ever the same again. He became obsessed in finding out who that 'lady' was. But we both know she was no lady. Was she Miss Josephine?" "But Elenore, I never asked for or accepted his advances. He was treated just like any other gentleman who showed up on our doorstep. When I realized his obsession I discouraged him every way I knew how. "Oh yes, you discouraged him after you found out he wanted to rescue from your life of sin." "I didn't need to be rescued, Miss Josephine's had done that for me and the ladies who live there. We were all castaways. All I had after my husband died was that house and a bunch of stray women who knew it was a safe place. Anyone of them who chose to trade their wares for money made that choice freely. Those who didn't had other chores around the house that they were paid for by a percentage from the working ladies. My job was to see that everything ran smoothly and none of the ladies got hurt or abused. If that seems sinful to you I'm sorry. To me it was better than having them abused and mistreated or starving and alone." "My how the high and mighty lady sees herself as a savior does she? The whore, the enticer is the innocent? I think not. No, I see you Miss Josephine you are the
 siren of the sea, enticing men from their respectable women then throwing them away when you tire of them. But why did you have to mark him? Why did you have to scar that face for all to see?" She gulps a sob as a tear traces down her cheek. "Because he tried to kidnap me and I feared for my life." I scream. "I thought he had found me when I saw the message on the mirror. Please Elenore, we were both hurt by him, please let me go. I won't tell anyone about this. I'm packed and ready to move away. I'm still afraid Mr. Peabody might find me. I know you don't really want to hurt me." She stares at me as I talk, hopefully I'm getting through to her, then she jabs at me with the knife and throws her head back as a loud cackling laugh fills the air. "Oh, my dear Miss J. you never need to worry about Mr. Peabody finding you. He'll never bother you or anybody again. Can you believe he came crawling to me that night expecting me to 'fix' that beautiful face you'd cut so deeply? Can you imagine the shock when he realized the tea I'd given him would be the last he would ever taste and my face not yours would be the last he'd ever see? No, Miss Josephine he is resting for eternity in the plains of Kansas where I left him."
A sharp rap on the door, “Miss Joan, it’s Mary, are you here?”  Elenore takes hold of my hair and presses the knife against my cheek.  “Don’t warn her, or we’ll invite her into the party.”  I hold my breath, hoping she’ll just go away. But another more persistent knock tells me differently. “Miss Joan, are you okay? You left early and I was worried you might be sick.”  “It’s okay Mary, just a little headache, why don’t you come back in the morning and we’ll finish that project we started.”  “ But?”  I’m a little tied up right now Mary, sorry I can’t invite you in. And if you should see Helen would you tell her that I’m looking forward to our dinner tomorrow evening. I’m really looking forward to the Rattlesnake soup.”  “B-but?” “ Now run along Mary. I’m going to lie down for a bit.”  Elenore pushes the knife into my cheek drawing blood, I gasp and let out a yelp. “Miss Joan! What happened?” I hear concern in Mary’s voice as she tries to turn the doorknob. “It’s okay Mary, I just stubbed my toe on the bedstead.” tears begin to roll down my cheek as I try my best to get my only hope to leave so that she doesn’t get hurt.  “W-well if you’re sure you’re okay?” I hear the hesitation and question in her voice. “Please dear, run along I’m going to get some sleep now. I’ll be finer then frogs hair tomorrow.” This brings a chuckle from her and I hear her footsteps moving away from the door. “Don’t forget my message to Helen” I shout after her before my mouth is covered by Elenore’s hand and the knife presses deeper, I feel a trickle of blood on my cheek as she slowly pulls the knife downward. A muffled scream escapes. “Now see what you’ve made me do.” I look into her wild eyes and know that it will take all I have to survive this night. “Where were we before we got interrupted. That’s right I was explaining how you needn’t  worry about poor Mr. Peabody wasn’t I?” I quit listening to her prattle on, trying to find a way to distract her and find a way to save myself. I’m not sure how long I sat there as she railed on about life’s injustices, all the while ransacking my home. The blood dripped onto my collar and the pain still seared.  I see a shadow in the window and try not to react. I don’t know who it is peaking in but I can only pray that help is here. Suddenly the door crashes in and Sheriff Thomas hurls himself through the door with gun drawn. Eleanor makes a lunge toward me with knife raised. Just as the blade comes down a gunshot rings out, the knife drops and her arm drops. But still she throws herself at me clawing and screaming. Blood is flying everywhere from the hand that held the knife where Sheriff Thomas had hit his mark. A part of me wishes he’d have aimed for her heart and no one would know my secret. She turns her fury on him as he pulls her off me. “What are you doing here?” She screams “Has she bewitched you too? You don’t know what kind of woman she is, she’s a devil who steals other women’s men.”  “Shut up Eleanor, you’re lucky I only hit your hand.”  He calmly puts her in handcuffs, one he attaches to the table to keep her from running away. All the while she’s screeching about the horrible person I am.  He gently unties me, gets a wet washrag and places it on my cheek. “Hold this tight until I can get Doc. Johnson.” Mary and Helen run into the room to help administer to me and they try to stem the flow of blood from Eleanor but she spits and kicks to keep them away. “What did you do you witch? How did he know you needed help?” She screamed. “Oh that was easy Eleanor. When Mary came to the house and told us her concerns about Joan’s reaction when she knocked on the door we knew something might be wrong, but when she told us Joan said she was looking forward to eating Rattlesnake soup I knew that she was definitely in trouble. You see she told me just yesterday that she wouldn’t eat that even if she were dying.” 
It is said that time heals all wounds and I’m praying it is true. It’s been a little over two years since that horrible night, some things have changed but much stays the same. My life story was spread out for people to read over the next few months as the trial went on. I immediately resigned from my teaching position and was packed and ready to move on to begin again. The salacious stories finally were replaced by stories of  train robberies and the hunt for the outlaws. I was relieved when my face and story was no longer front and center in the papers. Eleanor was never the same again and in the end her story is much sadder than mine. They found Mr. Peabody’s body and she was prosecuted for the murder she had confessed to. She is spending the rest of her days in the Prison in Cheyenne.  I was surprised at the support I got from many of the townspeople and that is what played a part in my decision to stay where I was planted. Ironically I was able to purchase Eleanor’s  dress shop and convert it into something more appropriate to my abilities. I was surprised how many people came up and shared their stories of beginning over including Helen Sheriff Thomas’ wife. Her story wasn’t much different from mine, she had met him while working as a saloon girl in Oklahoma and they too had moved to Wyoming to begin again, as have many townspeople I realized.  Of course there were those who turned their backs on me and shunned me in the beginning. What hurt the most is the parent’s who no longer wanted their children to have anything to do with me. I love my students. I doubt I’ll ever forget the horrors of that night and if I do I have the scar on my face to remind me.  Now I spend my days here at JJ Abram’s Books, Baubles and Bites where people can find a book, a trinket or have a bite to eat. It’s my haven against the world. A book store, with a reading area, hot coffee soup and sandwiches to nosh on  plus you can find a small gift for a loved one. In the beginning I spent most of my days alone but lately business has picked up and even some of those who refused to have anything to do with me are beginning to come around. And those men who felt it was appropriate to tap on my door in the dark of the night suggesting I open up my old business have finally given up and leave me alone. My life is good and in my spare time I’ve decided to try my hand a writing a book. What do you think? How about the title? “What Ever Happened to Miss Josephine”  by JJ Abrams?  After all if the story is to be told why not by the one who lived it?
 


© Copyright 2018 glpjr. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments: