Josephine, off to School

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Josephine, off to School

By Dorothy A. Bell

“Wait…my trunk…somebody, my trunk. Stop the train. Stop!” Yelling, waving her arms did no good. Who could hear over the train’s whistle blasting, echoing, up the side of the mountains? Leaning out over the rail at the rear of the train, Josephine waved frantically and shouted at the boy who ran out of the ticket office. He waved back at her. Jo had no idea what that meant. She held a faint hope that it meant he recognized the problem. But she suspected him of humoring the silly girl hanging off the end of the train.

The ties that stretched back to the station began to blur as the train started to pick up speed. The late September breeze snatched at her new bonnet. She’d paid two dollars for this hat, the rusty orange velvet complimented her burnt-sugar locks to perfection, the silver, fox-hair brush on the side matched the color of her eyes. Jo had thought it a hat for a mature career-minded woman, a confident woman, a woman of purpose. Besides, it might be the last bonnet she could afford for a while. A schoolmarm wouldn’t have a lot of money to purchase bonnets and frippery things. Jo would have to economize, watch her pennies. She straightened. The car careened. She lost her balance and her hands went immediately to her precious hat. When two strong arms encircled her waist she squealed, and the hat flew off her head. She watched it take flight, doing somersaults in the air before disappearing in the sagebrush to the side of the tracks.

“Whoa now, better to lose a bonnet than break your neck, little lady.” The voice held laughter. Jo had two brothers, so it came as no surprise to turn and find the man’s brown eyes sparkled with amusement.

“I wouldn’t have fallen over, I assure you. I just bought that hat. That hat is the last new hat I will have for a good long while. I do not thank you for frightening me nearly to death and causing me to lose my hat.”

The man had his arms around her waist. He hadn’t released her. As a matter of fact, he had his leg up against her thigh, pinning her to the rail. His face, she could see every black whisker on his closely-shaved jaw. Feeling threatened, she pulled back, her drawstring bag clutched to her bosom. He needed to move away. She couldn’t breathe. “You may release me, Sir.”

He grinned at her and winked—the masher. By the look of him, Jo sized him up as a gambler, dressed in a black suit coat, black string tie and fancy white shirt with a ruffle down the front and at the wrists. He wore his black hat down low over his wide forehead, casting his laughing eyes and swarthy complexion in shadow.

“Sorry,” he said, and swept her a bow. “I heard you yelling, thought I’d come out and see if I could be of assistance.”

She didn’t like this man. He’d taken his time removing his hands from her waist. Jo poked the lock of hair tugged loose by her hatpins back behind her ear. Her fine hair didn’t want to stay in the thick, long braid she’d fashioned. She had hoped her new hat would control her silly hair. She had to spend the whole day on this train to Cherry Grove; a braid, she’d thought, would be tidy.

“I yelled because my trunk didn’t make it on the train. I know it was silly of me to yell for the train to stop. I’ll have to wire back to Baker City and tell them to put it on the next train north.”

“Ah, so you travel alone a lot, do you? You’re used to handling such occurrences on your own?”

She pulled in her chin. She didn’t care for his sarcastic tone, nor did she want him guessing and making assumptions about her traveling experiences. The best policy, give nothing, no information one way or the other. “I can take care of myself. Now, if you would excuse me, I believe I’ll take my seat inside. It has become a bit chilly out here.”

Before she opened the door to the coach car, she heard him say, “It certainly has.”

Once inside, Jo put aside the encounter, having to use all of her concentration to stay upright. The car pitched from side to side. Every seat appeared occupied. All the way back, on the right, she spied two vacant seats and started moving towards them. A porter stopped her before she could settle in. “Sorry Miss, but these seats are reserved.”

“Reserved? That’s ridiculous. Where are the occupants then? I see no one. Obviously, now that the train is moving, the person or persons that reserved the seats missed the train. And speaking of missing, I’m missing my traveling trunk. It’s back there on the loading dock. I tipped a man a quarter to get it on the train.”

The Porter shook his head at her, his blue cap sliding from side to side over his bald head. “We had a full load in the baggage car what with extra supplies and travelers—could be there wasn’t room for one more thing. The gentleman that reserved these seats stepped outside for a few seconds, but he gave me a dollar to hold’em.

“I sure am sorry about your trunk. You give me your name, and your destination, I’ll see to it a wire is sent back to Baker City.”

“I accept your offer of assistance with my trunk. My name is Josephine Buxton, and I’m on my way to Cherry Grove. Now, I’m going to sit down in one of these seats. And this absentee gentleman will simply have to share. He can’t have two seats all to himself.”

Huffing, Jo made herself comfortable in the seat nearest the window. Before the porter moved away she asked, “Why is this train so crowded today? It’s Thursday, for Heaven’s sake. Not a holiday that I know of, September twentieth.”

“Everyone’s going to the Fall Cherry Festival in Cherry Grove. A lot of these folks come from Boise. They make the trek every fall. It starts tomorrow. All kinds of competition: pies, syrups, cakes, cookies, jams, jellies, even BBQ, all made with some kind of cherry something or other. Cherry Grove is famous for its cherries.”

“I hadn’t heard about the festival. I knew about the orchards of course, but I didn’t realize Cherry Grove had claim to such notoriety. I’m on my way to Cherry Grove too.”

“Ah, what a happy circumstance,” came the voice of the gambler over the rattle and rumble of the train. “I too am bound for Cherry Grove.

“Thank you, Oscar, for saving my seat,” the gambler said with a grin and a nod to the porter.

“I tried to tell her these seats were taken, but she wouldn’t have none of it.”

“Quite alright, Oscar, I couldn’t have ordered a more delightful traveling companion, than Miss….Miss?”

Oh, for Heaven’s sake…now she had to give him her name or appear churlish. “Miss Josephine Buxton.”

“Ah, Miss Buxton. Happy to make your acquaintance. Ryder McAdam. It’s a pleasure to be able to offer you one of my seats.”

Jo pressed her lips together and put her nose in the air. She waited for the porter to move away, out of hearing distance. “This is a public car. These seats are for paying passengers. I, Sir, am one of those paying passengers. You do not have sole ownership of these seats. As a matter of fact, I wish you would find another seat.”

With lips twitching and a twinkle in his eyes he said, “I fear that’s not possible; as you can see it is a full load today, not a vacant seat to be had.”

“You could trade with someone.”

“Ah, yes, I could do that. Who would you suggest I trade with? That matron there, two rows down, with the slobbering babe on her ample shoulder and the toddler on her well-padded lap? Her spouse wouldn’t miss her, he’s asleep. Or maybe that one, the corpulent gentleman chewing on the smoldering stogie four seats up. He looks the type who would enjoy the company of a pretty young thing such as yourself. He appears to be traveling alone, too. He is having a lively conversation with the salesman next to him—talking politics I would hazard to guess. I saw both of them ogle you when you walked by. I’m sure either one of them would trade places with me in a snap.

“No, no, I have it, the perfect traveling companion for you; that pinched face old tabby hugging the window on your side, down three rows. She looks a little green about the gills to me. Motion sickness, I would hazard to guess. Oh no, look, look, she wants the porter to open her window. That’s a bad idea. Oh, dear, watch now. Wait, I think you’ll hear her protest shortly.”

The second the porter lowered the window black soot and smoke filled the crowded car. Everyone gave protest, especially the woman who had made the request. Jo, however, squeezed her eyes and mouth shut to avoid the grit. For a few moments, children screamed and cried, and the adults among the passengers expressed their displeasure to the porter. After closing the window, the porter wisely moved on down the row of passengers and disappeared into the baggage car.

Jo pursed her lips and shook her head. “Oh, very well, I’m convinced. You may keep your seat. But do keep your hands and your thoughts to yourself. I do not approve of gamblers, Mr. McAdam. And you made me lose my new hat. I will not forgive you for that.”

At first, he appeared stunned, mouth open, eyes blinking. Then his lips started to twitch. Then his broad shoulders began to shake, and he burst out laughing, tears actually seeping out the corners of his brown eyes.

“Will you shush, everyone is looking at us. Stop it, I say, stop right this minute, you’re embarrassing me.”

He started to speak, but sputtered and chuckled. After drawing in a big breath through his nose he sat up straighter in his seat and sniffed back the tears from his eyes. “What makes you think I’m a gambler, Miss Buxton?”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, I don’t wish to play games, Mr. McAdam. This is exactly the kind of nonsense I wish to avoid. I would like to enjoy the ride, watch the beautiful scenery pass by—look at the river and the fall colors on the trees reflecting in the water. Do we have to talk? You’re obviously out to make a pest of yourself. Go pester someone else. If you won’t do that, then I would appreciate it if you would sit quietly, or better yet, forget I’m here, take a nap. In your line of business you probably don’t get a lot of sleep.”

“I don’t think I’m going to fall asleep very soon, Miss Buxton, I’m far too intrigued. No, I will not rest until I find out what it is about me that says gambler. I’m eaten up with curiosity now, I have to know.”

Heaving a big sigh, Jo huffed. “Alright,” she said, pinning him down with one of her practiced glares—practiced in anticipation of subduing recalcitrant pupils, not boorish bounders.

For a moment, she forgot the subject. He had wonderful eyes, dark brown, almost black, black like savory coffee. He’d removed his hat. He had a tanned face, a straight nose, a strong chin and black hair tied back in a queue with a leather thong. The color of his complexion brought to mind warm cinnamon rolls. Or he could be part Indian. That thought gave her a jolt, and not a pleasant one. With a shake of her head, she came back to her senses. “You’re wearing a white shirt with ruffles at the cuffs and down the front…and a string tie.”

His black brows arched, and his lips twisted to the side. “I see, do go on. This is fascinating.”

“You’re wearing an expensive black suit, your hands are clean, fingernails trimmed and your boots have a nice shine. And…your hat, it looks new.”

Narrowing his eyes at her, he said, “All right, now it’s my turn to play this game. You’re sixteen, trying to look and sound twenty. Your dress is too short—I can see your ankles. You’re still growing. Wearing your hair in a braid, and those freckles across the bridge of your nose gives you away, Miss Buxton. You’ve never been away from home before, or ridden a train by yourself or you would’ve known how to get your traveling trunk on board. I don’t know if you’re running away or on your way to visit a relative, but you need someone to look after you, Miss Buxton.”

She couldn’t speak. Sixteen—outrageous. “Sixteen.” Her screech caused heads to turn. She lowered her tone, her jaw tight and teeth clenched she fought to contain her ire. “I am twenty. I am traveling to Cherry Grove where I will be teaching mathematics and geography at the Cherry Grove Ascension School For Young Ladies. I have traveled by train to Portland twice. I have never lost a piece of luggage before. That is until today. And technically, I did not lose my traveling trunk. I know exactly where it is, and I know why it did not get put in the luggage car. The porter said there wasn’t enough room what with all the travelers and shipping crates. Furthermore, I know better than to wear good clothes on a train, because of the soot and ashes, and one gets all rumpled. True, I have not traveled alone before. But I assure you, I am very capable of taking care of myself. As for falling overboard, you scared me and threw your person at me. I have very good balance. I would not have fallen overboard. If it weren’t for you, I would not have lost my new hat. I ask you again—please leave me alone. Do not talk to me. I do not wish to know anything about you. We have nothing in common, nothing.”

“Oh, but you are wrong, Miss Buxton. We have a great deal in common. Perhaps you’re right, I am a gambler of sorts. I gamble on education verses ignorance and prejudice. Allow me to introduce myself to you, Miss Buxton, Mr. Ryder McAdam, schoolteacher, subjects: science, history, literature and composition. I made the trip to San Francisco in part for a holiday, but mostly on behalf of the Ascension School for Young Ladies in Cherry Grove. You see, I retrieved much needed supplies for the school from a cargo ship while in San Francisco. My mission is nearly complete. I’ll reach my destination of Cherry Grove this evening with supplies, all of them intact. Hence, I fear I am responsible, not only for the loss of your very attractive hat, but for your traveling trunk being left behind. I truly am sorry for the loss of your new hat, it was very becoming. Perhaps if you would allow me, I could replace it.”

“That would be most unseemly, Mr. McAdam. I could not allow you to buy me such a personal item.”

He put two fingers on her lips, and Jo’s heart nearly lept out of her chest. “I’m not done, Miss Buxton. Before you say another word, I would like to defend my shirt. I happen to like ruffles. I don’t often get a chance to wear them in my profession, but a fellow on holiday will indulge in the odd whim or two. I can see now it was a mistake to succumb to vanity. I too purchased a new hat. And I know what you mean by not being able to afford a new one. I really did need a new hat. When I left my hotel this morning, I thought I looked rakish, granted a bit dangerous, but I rather liked it. But then I had no idea how dangerous. You’ve certainly opened my eyes, Miss Buxton. Yes, indeed, you certainly have taught me a lesson I won’t forget.”

He started to laugh again, loudly. All heads turned their direction. Jo tried to make herself small, but she had never been small—she took after her father.

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