Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chapter 28: Sheriff Charley Brown

Josie found herself both perplexed and apprehensive when Charley failed to contact her during the following days after the library social. She found herself making excuses for him, imagining he was busy at public duties, or working on his farm. Perhaps he was even southwest at the town of Hamilton where he had business interests.

As more days passed she confided her concern to Charley's Mother. "I just can't understand it. When we left the library supper I thought we would reestablish our relationship. Now it seems he is purposely avoiding me."

Eliza made light of the situation. "Be patient my dear. He'll come around soon, I've seen to that."

She smiled smugly, "I broke up his association with that breed girl. I told her he was going to marry you. After all, she is nothing but trash; I told her so."

Josey suspected something had happened, but could hardly believe the so-proper Eliza would do such a despicable thing. Then she recalled long ago when she and Charley were teenagers; he had mentioned the many times he was angry at his father and mother, especially with his mother's constant meddling in his affairs.

Inquisitive, she asked, "When and where did this take place?"

"I visited the girl at the Geroux Hotel a few days ago. That horrid Mrs. Geroux broke in on us, told me to leave the building and not come back. Why, she's just another quarter-breed herself. A pox on her!"

"Oh, Eliza, how could you be so cruel? No wonder Charley is upset. He must know what you have done. I've noticed he hasn't come around for days; he used to drop by frequently."

"So he'll sulk awhile, but he'll eventually see the light. He'll realize it's all for the best. Be patient, nothing is lost. It's just a matter of time.”

"I'm not so sure. Why didn't you leave things as they were? Charley is not a youngster, he is over thirty, been through a war, even escaped from that horrible southern prison in Richmond. Since leaving the Army he has made a successful life here."

"Yes, he has evidently found his niche, a job as sheriff, the same as his Father. Still, to my mind, he still needs a prod in the right direction."

Josie felt her temper rising. "Well, I've thought it over and made up my mind. The children and I will stay for another two weeks, but if Charley doesn't seek me out by then, our remaining here will be pointless. I believe we could have a wonderful, satisfying life together and I've told him so. I only wish I knew what is on his mind."

"Why don't you force the issue? You are a woman, go to his home at a late hour and confront him. You should know what to do."

Josie protested, "That's not the way to his heart. I don't think I could do that. It seems tawdry and disgusting!"

"What's fair in love or war? Perhaps seduction is what he needs. You are a beautiful, warm woman. You are not lowering yourself; if you want him, you must fight for him!"

"You really are pushing me, aren't you?”

"My dear, I've always wanted you for a daughter. But are you really up to it?"

"I'll work something out, but please don't bring it up again. I'll have to give it serious thought."

After going to bed that evening she found herself mulling it over. Would it work? Could she throw caution to the winds? Her sleep was restless as she began making plans. The children were no problem; they were tucked in bed long before 11 p.m. Which night should she approach him, knowing he worked quite late at the saloon? Another question presented itself; did he leave the door leading up to his rooms unlocked?

To be on the safe side, the very next morning she purchased a skeleton key from the hardware section of Myrick's store. She knew that most common cast iron locks could be opened with one.

"Don't sell many of these keys, Mrs. Watkins. I keep track of who buys them too." Myrick smiled. "Having trouble with the door locks at Mrs. Brown's?"

Josie nodded, "It's the back door lock, it seems to stick occasionally."

"Use a little oil in the keyhole and slide, it's been a dry and dusty summer. Need an oil can?"

"No, nothing like that. Eliza and I can no doubt fix it." She could feel a blush of embarrassment at her fib and turned hurriedly to leave.

It was nearing midnight on Saturday when she furtively slipped out through the back door. She knew she must bypass several stores to get to Charley's door. She also knew that anyone she chanced to meet on the street would be puzzled at her presence at this late hour. They would no doubt ask what she was about. Luckily, both Stutsman and Cavalier Streets were totally deserted with the exception of an untended team and wagon and three horses tied in front of Geraldine's Hotel. As she passed she could hear a violin and singing from within.

Finally, by Lyon's Grocery she stopped at the side entrance to Charley's quarters. Tied to the rack in front of the saloon were two saddle horses, heads hung low. One perked up, watching her movement. Directly across the street was another untended team and wagon. No one appeared to be in sight. Trying the doorknob she found the door locked. Fumbling for the key, she inserted it. After a brief twist she felt the slide move. Stepping inside, she quickly closed the door. A brief sense of relief came, thankfully no one had seen her. In the total darkness she could hear activity and the hum of voices coming through the wall to her right. From a pocket she removed several sulfur matches. Leaning forward, she struck one on a gritty step. Carefully she made her way up the stairs, cautiously sliding her hand along the rail. Finally reaching the upper landing she found the door to Charley's flat open. After lighting another match she located the lamp hanging from the center of the room. Standing on tiptoe she was able to raise the chimney and touch the match to the wick. Twisting the roller she lowered the wick, adjusting it to a dim light. Seating herself on a convenient chair by a small writing desk she removed her shoes to mute any steps that might be heard below. Now, accustomed to the limited glow she stood to explore the rooms.

There was a small bedroom just inside the outer door, but she deemed it to be an extra sleeping room. Moonlight from outside partially illuminated the kitchen, outlining the door. Now she was able to make out a table, chairs and a glass-fronted cupboard. The shadowy outline of a kerosene cook stove stood opposite the table. Noting the heat and stuffiness in the room she silently raised the window sash, inserting the stick lying on the sill. Turning back, she found the entrance to a larger bedroom and suddenly froze. Something inside had moved! After long seconds she realized a large mirror over the dresser had caught her image.

His bed was narrow, with wrought iron ends. As near as she could tell it was made up with a blue coverlet. She suddenly realized that everything in his quarters seemed neat, unusually clean. A puzzling thought came; does he have a housekeeper or some other girl I don't know about?

Then she remembered how fussy and methodical he had been as a youth. She smiled, that was his mother's early training! Again, unable to cope with the fetid air in the room she raised both east bedroom windows facing the street. Returning to the living room she noted the rectangular dining table with chairs. Behind it stood a huge glass-fronted bookcase almost totally filled with rows of books. One glass-fronted section was open showing a few books missing. Across the room was an overstuffed divan with matching easy chair.

Picking up her shoes she raised the glass of the ceiling lamp to blow it out, then entered Charley's bedroom. After seating herself on the bed, she placed her shoes on the floor, then lay back and relaxed. "What should I do now?" She debated. She knew she should remove her clothes and get under the covers, but her conscience rebelled. Making herself as comfortable as possible she wondered what Charley's reaction would be when he found her on his bed. She knew she was throwing herself at him like a trollop. Would he take her? After long minutes she doubled the single pillow under her head, and cupped her fingers behind her neck, interlacing them. After long minutes the tenseness faded and fatigue set in. She finally fell into a deep sleep.