Victoria's Family, page 1
Copyright © 2016 by Kimberly J Muse-Holliday
Cover Photo and Design by Kimberly J Muse-Holliday
All Scripture quotations in this book are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
Except for certain well-established place names, all names of persons and places mentioned in this novel are fictional.
“Where to, ma'am?” boomed the short, slender man behind the ticket counter.
Sweat started to trickle down her spine despite the cold as she stared wide-eyed at the ticket clerk. His voice betrayed his appearance. Never had she imagined such a petite gentleman would have such a voice. She did not know where she wanted to go since she was at least a head shorter than everyone else and could never read beyond the top two lines on the ticket board. Victoria closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to settle the churning in her stomach. This was for the best. It was time to leave no matter where her destination.
“Where to, ma'am?” asked the ticket clerk with a calm but even louder voice.
“Whatever is leaving now,” replied Victoria as she shoved a few bills into his hands hoping it was enough. She needed to save her money for food and lodging until she could find work. Fanning herself with her hand as she waited did nothing to extinguish the crimson she felt in her cheeks. It is just the crowd; she told herself. I am just not used to being around so many people.
“Ma'am, your ticket. They are boarding now. Everything will be just fine. Most ladies are a bit nervous the first time they travel alone. I hope you enjoy your trip.”
Her head jerked when she realized the ticket clerk had spoken. He was smiling at her displaying a row of straight, but coffee stained teeth, while holding out her ticket and change. She smiled back, accepted the offered items, stuffed everything into her handbag and then left without a second glance. It was necessary to leave and she hoped the train would not be crowded. From what she had overheard, many people passed the time talking with the person sitting next to them and she needed time to think.
“Where to, sir?”
“Same place as the lady,” Joseph declared as he watched her flee.
“I did not realize you were together.”
Joseph pondered before replying. It appeared she was running from something or someone. He was just ready to leave. There was nothing keeping him in Meadows, Missouri.
“We are cousins.” He hoped he sounded believable not wanting to cause any suspicion. “She insisted on picking our vacation destination and tends to do things on a whim.”
“Here you go, sir.”
Joseph took the ticket and sprinted to catch the train. If he were lucky, he would be able to sit next to her to wherever they were headed. Once he reached the train platform, he dropped his bags and rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath. With head held low, he scanned the crowd for the young woman. Moments later someone brushed his right shoulder as they passed while he was looking the other way. Turning quickly to see whom it was, a smile beamed across his face when he caught sight of her. He remained where he was and watched as she boarded.
With the assistance of a porter, Victoria stepped onto the train with shaky legs. This was her first time riding the train and she scanned her surroundings, taking it all in. Rows of oak wooden benches divided by a narrow center aisle with the windows trimmed in faded burgundy curtains were not what she had expected. Luxurious was how the boarders at her mother’s house had described the train. About midway down, she found a seat and hoped to blend in. No one would have to know what she had just done. She would start over wherever this train was taking her. Nothing mattered anymore. Her father was gone, her husband, and now her daughter. It did not matter what role she played in any of it. They were gone. Everything was wonderful until Daddy died.
Joseph waited to board until several people had boarded after the young lady. He studied the passengers as he searched down each row. While most people were wearing a hat, the young woman in question was not. This made it quicker to scan each row. Not that he needed the extra time; boarding was slow due to several passengers choosing the front section. After passing several families and businessmen traveling alone, he spotted her.
“Excuse me, ma'am. I would like to sit by the window.”
Victoria was grateful for the distraction. She did not like where her thoughts were just going. It served no purpose to dwell on the passing of her father. Without saying a word, she stood and moved to the aisle to let the young man by. She patiently watched as he struggled to place the bags between the seats. He must have planned a long trip; she however had only the clothes she was wearing and her handbag. Whatever compelled her to get on the boat and travel north this morning was beyond her comprehension?
After taking his seat, he tilted his head up to glimpse the young lady. He waited a moment, noticing her distant stare and blank expression before encroaching into her thoughts. “Ma'am, you can have your seat back. I finally fit my bags. I hope you do not mind that they hang over into your area a little.”
“Your bags are fine. Would it bother you if I prop my feet on them? The seat is a bit high.”
“Not at all,” Joseph replied with a big grin. She wanted to relax a little. That was a good sign. He hoped he could relax as well.
She angled her legs towards him after slipping off her shoes and placed her stocking feet on top of the bag. The gentleman appeared pleasant enough. He did have an adorable smile, definitely desirable to look at. Lawrence was always so clean-cut. This gentleman had shaggy light brown hair with a full beard providing a ruggedly handsome appearance. His broad shoulders filled the seat and his muscular legs lightly grazed her own. Chiding herself for enjoying his looks, she closed her eyes, and tried to relax.
“Where are you traveling to?” asked the handsome gentleman before Victoria could fall asleep.
“Wherever this train plans to take me,” Victoria replied dryly, not bothering to open her eyes. She did not have to answer to anyone, not her husband, her mother, or God. Not anymore.
“I am sorry if I was too personal. I have not even introduced myself. My name is Joseph Holmes. It is a pleasure to meet you. Miss.”
“Mrs. Victoria Winslow,” replied Victoria with an emphasis on Mrs. Why did he have to sit next to me? The last thing I want is to talk.
“Sorry to have bothered you, Mrs. Winslow. I was just trying to be amiable.”
Joseph adjusted in his seat to better gaze out the window with his head resting on the wall. She had failed to answer his question and he was not ready to reveal that he had no idea where he was traveling. Thankful for the window seat, he fixed his eyes far out in the distance. Being alone among others was something he had adjusted to, years ago. The outdoors would give him solace just as it always had. While he admired the beauty of the earth, he never enjoyed being a sheep farmer. It was his loving parents that told him it was time for him to go out on his own and not to come back until he could bring a wife home. They believed his dedication to the family farm had kept him from finding work elsewhere. His mother had politely informed him after his twenty-fifth birthday that it was time he started dating and the only solution was for him to leave home to find someone. A mere three weeks had passed and he missed his family terribly. He hoped to be back for Christmas. Easter would be noteworthy, but Joseph was being realistic, he was giving himself a year.
“Tickets, please,” stated the clerk in a business tone as he walked down the aisle. Victoria sighed when he reached her row. She had been anxiously waiting for him. Once they checked all the tickets, they would be on their way. Victoria removed her ticket from her lap and handed it to the cler
“Hope you have a pleasant journey, ma'am,” replied the clerk with a soft husky voice.
She had not overheard him tell anyone else to have a pleasant journey, and she blushed when replying. “Thank you, sir.”
“Sir, your ticket, please.” The clerk waited patiently, but Joseph was not paying attention.
“Sir, your ticket. We would like to get moving.” Still, Joseph did not respond.
Victoria taped Joseph on the shoulder. He shrugged as if to shoo away a fly. She peered back at the clerk. With his lips pursed and eyebrows angled down, his appearance was icy. Wanting his gentle manner to return, she thought for a moment of what she could do to get Joseph's attention quickly. A wicked smile spread across her face and she proceeded to punch Joseph in the shoulder to get his attention. The clerk's warm smile returned, and a slight chuckle escaped his lips.
“Ouch! What did you do that for? I said I was sorry.” Joseph with eyes wide and lips slightly parted briskly rubbed his right arm.
“The clerk is asking for your ticket,” replied Victoria with a gleam in her eye. She was definitely amused by his expression yet astonished over her boldness.
Joseph repeatedly patted his chest, trying to remember where he placed the ticket. Upon feeling it in his left inner jacket pocket, he quickly pulled the ticket out and handed it to the clerk. “Sorry sir. I did not mean to delay us.”
“Apology accepted, sir. Enjoy your trip.” He returned the punched ticket back to Joseph with a smile just starting to show.
The clerk continued to the next row as the smile on his face grew.
“Why did you hit me so hard?” Joseph asked as he continued to rub his shoulder while gazing out the window. He could sense her eyes on him, but if he looked he just might laugh. Her moods rapidly changed from being anxious and angry too lively and full of fun.
“Sorry, I did tap first. You just shrugged.” Victoria leaned in, leaving barely an inch between them, trying to get him to look. She was certain he was exaggerating about his arm hurting since she did not have the strength to cause any real pain. That was something she would have to work on if she were going to be on her own.
With eyes fixed out the window, he waited to see how long it would take Mrs. Winslow to look away. After what felt like ten minutes under the rhythmic movement of the train, he turned and faced her. Their lips almost touched but neither one moved.
Seconds later she scrambled back, breaking the impulse to kiss him. What had come over her?
“Where are we traveling to?” asked Joseph ignoring her odd behavior.
“Since when are the two of us together?” She guessed it did not matter to him if she were married, not that she was with Lawrence anymore.
“Since I told the ticket clerk we were cousins,” replied Joseph nervously. Why did he have to say we? He was always saying the wrong thing and it was likely the reason he never made it to a first date.
“Cousins. Why did you tell the ticket clerk we were cousins?” Victoria's voice was just above a whisper but filled with anger.
“He thought we were together.”
“Why did he think that?” replied Victoria not caring who heard this time.
“I told him I was going to the same place as you.”
Victoria leaned away from Joseph with that reply and bumped the passenger next to her.
“Sorry, sir.” The man to her right did not seem to mind. He smiled warmly and nodded his head in reply to her apology.
“Are you following me? Did my mother put you up to this?” whispered Victoria as she stared at Joseph.
“Yes and no.”
“Which one is it?” Victoria asked between clenched teeth as her nails dug into the palms of her hands, trying with all her might not to start screaming.
“Yes, I am following you, in a way, and no, your mother did not put me up to this. I do not know your mother.” Why did he think it was a good idea to follow her?
“Why are you following me?” Victoria craned her neck to look around for another seat. She relaxed back after only a minute when she realized she was stuck with this handsome but crazy gentleman next to her.
“You looked as though you were running away from something. I thought I would tag along.”
Victoria bristled. “Why do you think I am running away?”
“You seemed to be in a hurry and did not care where you were going,” replied Joseph with compassion as he gazed deeply into her eyes. He could get used to drinking in those eyes every day.
Victoria for a moment could not look away. Could this man actually be concerned about her? Victoria braced herself as the train jostled, and her composure returned.
“What if I am running away? What is it to you?”
Joseph silently giggled and ignored her gruff reply. He could tell she needed someone to care for her and he planned to be just that person.
“Can I join you?”
He watched her eyes grow wide, and then rapidly she shook her head. Her thoughts began to race, and she closed her eyes tightly trying to understand. Why on earth would he want to join me? Why would anyone want anything to do with me after what I have done?
“No, you cannot join me. Do you think I just move in with anyone?”
“I said nothing about moving in together. I do wish you would reconsider. Hold off on a decision until we get to our destination.” Joseph surprised himself with the calmness of his voice. He could not quell the butterflies churning in his stomach nor the trembling of his right thigh and hoped she did not notice.
She cocked her head to the left and pondered his reply. He would need to learn to master his emotions better since the seat vibrating proved he was anything but calm. Filled with compassion, she thought about resting her hand on the top of his thigh to calm him. A deep blush rushed into her cheeks and she quickly looked away at the realization of how forward that would be.
“Why?” replied Victoria breathlessly.
“We are stuck together until we get there. Might as well make the best of it.”
“Fine. Where are we headed anyway? I would like to know how long I am stuck with you.”
Victoria pushed Joseph in a teasing manner.
“What was that for?” replied Joseph as he pushed back, knocking Victoria into the gentlemen next to her. The man adjusted in his seat and grumbled.
“I am sorry, sir. It will not happen again.”
“Sorry about that. I will keep my hands to myself from now on.”
Joseph pulled out his ticket and read the location out loud.
“What is Mobile?” Victoria had already forgotten what they were talking about. She was too busy trying to understand this new rush of feelings. She could not recollect if she were ever this playful with a man. Was she actually flirting?
“Mobile is where we are headed.”
“Where is Mobile located?”
“You do not remember your studies.” Joseph teased.
“No, I do not. Just tell me.” Victoria could not focus on anything presently, much less something she learned years ago. She was not in the mood to be teased and turned away from him. He could be so exasperating at times.
“It is down south near the water and should be much warmer. I have not lived in the south before. Have you?”
“I grew up in Creekville. It is in the south.” Her tone was soft with remembrance.
“I believe Mobile is east of Creekville. Why were you so far north?”
“I just was. I would rather not talk about it.” He is so nosey. I need to get him to talk about himself and take the focus off me. “Why were you in Meadows?”
“It is just where I ended up.” Joseph stated matter of fact.
“What does that mean?”
“I would rather not talk about why. I go wherever I feel led. I was led to follow you on the train.”
“Why me? I am no
“You are a child of God. You are someone special in his eyes.” Joseph turned in his seat to study Victoria's reaction. Would he have the opportunity to witness? Deep breath. Do not push her.
“Are you a preacher?”
“No, not a preacher. I am a Christian. No matter what, God is always watching over us.”
“I would prefer that you not talk about God.” This was definitely going to be a long train ride. The last thing she wanted was a sermon. She knew she was a sinner and did not want anyone grinding in that fact.
“Can I have a reason?” Just maybe she will provide a glimpse of her situation. It was difficult to help not knowing what was going on.
“I do not desire to talk about it.” Victoria's voice almost betrayed her with the sadness that was overwhelming her. Tears welled up in her eyes, but did not spill over.
“OK. I will not bring it up for now. What do you plan to do once we get to Mobile?” He would be patient with her. Not wanting to talk about God implied she once had some knowledge of the creator. Something had happened in her life to make her feel unworthy. Joseph continued to gaze at Victoria in hopes that she would raise those lovely hazel eyes. There was much mystery within them. She, however, kept her eyes diverted away from him.
“I do not know. I guess I will look for a job and a place to stay.” Victoria did not know what else to say. She had not planned that far ahead.
“If you could do anything, what career would you choose?” This should be a safe topic. Everyone has dreams.
“I never thought about it. I have always had someone who provided for me.”
“You want to take care of yourself,” replied Joseph. He should have realized this sooner. It was becoming more common. Women wanted their own voice, their own say in their lives.
“I guess so. I just left. I did not plan anything.” It was failing to plan that got her into the mess she was in. If she had taken just a little bit of time, she would likely still be living with her mother and single. No, Lawrence loved her and was thrilled to marry her.
“We can figure it out together if you would like.” Joseph truly hoped that he could find a way for her to open up, at least to God, so she could heal.
“How would I be taking care of myself if I am with you? You are being ridiculous. I do not even know you.” Her voice continued to rise with each sentence.
“We will be cousins. We will each have our separate lives, but be there to help each other when needed. I do not know about you, but I do not have any family down south. It will be an adjustment for me.”
“Can we stop talking for now? I would like to think about what you have said.” She was on the verge of tears and wanted space. However, confined to an over full car she knew she would have to wait since she did not trust her legs to take a walk.
“Sure. I am going to the food car to get a light snack. Would you like anything?” Joseph needed to get away. She was a mixture of emotions and he needed some distance from the turmoil.
“I do not have the funds to cover the extras. I will wait until we get there.”
Joseph stood and squeezed past Victoria and the gentleman by the aisle. He got halfway down the car when he remembered how they inconvenienced the man and walked back to see whether he could offer anything.
“Excuse me, sir. I am sorry we bothered you earlier. I would like to make amends. May I buy you a cup of coffee?”
“That is nice of you to offer, maybe later.”
Besides the attendant, there was only one other person in the car and he sat at the back drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. A flutter, as the man turned the page, was the only noise. He would have the quiet that he needed, at least for a little while.
The attendant broke through the near silence. “What can I get for you, sir?”
Joseph turned and walked to the counter. “Not sure. My funds are a bit limited. Do you have anything discounted?”
“Just a few muffins. They are a little stale.”
“I will take two. Can you wrap one up for me so I can eat it later?”
After paying for his food, Joseph sat in a booth halfway down the car and next to the window. He prayed silently as he slowly ate the dry muffin with a glass of water since, he did not want to drink the coffee as burnt as it had smelled. Lord, what am I to do? I am not used to being away from my family. Victoria seems warm, but I do wonder what kind of trouble she is in. Knowing you are always there for me is the only thing that gets me through. My parents do not want me to return until I am married. How long is it supposed to take to find a job, settle down, meet a woman, fall in love, marry, and then go home? It has been three weeks and I am no closer than when I first left. Help me, Lord.
Joseph did not know how long he sat in the food car looking out the window praying. He had not noticed that his plate and glass had been cleared from the table. Time seemed to stand still with the silence and the view. The once nearly silent food car became suddenly deafening as patrons filled every space, prompting Joseph to return to his seat in the travel car. Maybe a nap would help pass the time, he thought, as he made his way back. Shock showed on Joseph's face when he returned to find the gentleman who had sat next to the aisle was now by the window and Joseph's bags had been moved. Not knowing what else to do Joseph took the seat next to the aisle and placed his feet on top of the bags. Victoria was still using them to prop her own feet up.
“Why is he in my seat?” Joseph asked softly.
“He wanted to take a nap and did not want you to wake him when you returned. What took you so long?” Victoria's voice showed a bit of concern.
“I lost track of time. I may have dozed off. I brought back a muffin for us to share later.” Joseph smiled showing his dimples.
“I cannot take your food.” Victoria's sharp tone had returned and she looked away.
“Why not?” Joseph was puzzled. She had seemed concerned about him, and now she was hostile again.
“I did not pay for it.” Victoria was determined not to owe anyone anything. She would only accept what she had earned and was determined to not be in debt to a man again.
“I did not ask you to. Besides, you may not even like it. It was discounted since it was stale.”
Victoria turned back to face Joseph. “Why did you buy stale muffins? You look as though you could afford fresh ones.”
Again, Joseph noticed the concern in her tone. “I am trying to make the money stretch. The train ticket was more than I planned. There is no way to know how long it will take for me to find a job once we get to Mobile.”
“If you could not afford the ticket, why did you buy it?”
“I was led to follow you.” Joseph leaned in closer to Victoria. He could tell she was not being forthcoming with information.
Victoria decided not to lean away this time and glared at Joseph. “By whom?”
“God,” replied Joseph in a soft whisper with their faces just inches apart.
“Not him again. I asked you not to bring him up.” Victoria turned her head away and closed her eyes. Why does he insist on bringing up God?
“I only answered your question,” replied Joseph with sorrow.
“Fine,” replied Victoria with a huff. “Why did you feel led to follow me?”
“I just get these feelings at times. I do not know why. I just make the best of it and hope I am following God's will.”
She did not want to talk about God. Despite his sad eyes and sorrowful tone, he would not break her resolve. Controlling her emotions had become a daily challenge the past year and she just did not have the energy to continue.
“What kind of work do you plan to do?” asked Victoria.
“I do not know.” Joseph adjusted in his seat stretching slightly.
“What would you like to do?” Victoria turned to look at him again.
“I do not know.” Joseph kept his eyes av
“If you do not know, then why did you ask me what I was going to do?” Victoria was not getting anywhere with his short answers. He was so eager to have her talk, and now he barely answered. Silence lingered between them, causing Victoria to realize she had not been any more forthcoming with her information and if she pressed him, he might try to steer the conversation back to God or insist on her sharing.
Joseph studied Victoria's dark hazel eyes before replying. “Friendly conversation. I was trying to get to know you.”
Unable to resist his pleading eyes, Victoria replied with confidence. “Fine, there is not much to tell. I am a woman who took the first train out of town.”
“I know that much. Tell me something I do not know.”
“I am the youngest of four boys. My family is in the sheep farming business.” Joseph's thoughts started to drift. He closed his eyes, trying to remember all the details of his family home. Fear washed over him knowing that the details were already starting to fade. Would he remember anything by the time he returned?
Victoria was watching Joseph intently. He seemed sad. However, she still wanted to keep the focus on him.
“Why did you not stay?”
“I would rather not talk about it, your turn. Tell me something about yourself.” He too, did not want the conversation focused on him. He hoped she would not press too much. It may be best to minimize the conversation after all.
“I am an only child. My father passed away over a year ago, and my mother runs a boarding house.”
“Did you help your mother run the boarding house?”
“We all did, even Father.” Victoria's voice softened at the mentioning of her father. She missed him so much. It was hard to believe that it had been over a year since she had seen him laughing and smiling at the dinner table.
“You must have met many interesting people.”
“Not really.” Victoria turned her face away.
Joseph lightly touched her jaw with his finger, and she turned her face back toward him. He was not expecting that reply. How could she have not met many people? She was a lovely attractive woman with flawless skin and wavy blond hair that looked golden when the light reflected off it. “Why not?” asked Joseph softly, leaning in close.
“Mother wanted to protect me. I spent most of my time in the kitchen.” Her tone became angry, and her thoughts were taking over. She sheltered me too much. It is all her fault. What am I thinking? I am the only one who is to blame. It is my sins.
Joseph waited until the anger faded from her face before replying. “You must be a good cook.”
Victoria looked away from Joseph. The only thing she loved about Lawrence was how well they worked together in the kitchen and now, that was in the past.
Joseph placed his hand on top of hers, and she turned and gazed into his eyes. He could see she was sad, but there was not a single tear.
“I am looking for a cook,” replied the man sitting next to Victoria.
Victoria and Joseph both jumped at the man's reply. She turned to face the man causing Joseph to have to remove his hand from hers.
“Excuse, me.” Victoria stared at the gentleman next to her. She could not believe he was listening to everything they were saying. If she had known he was awake, she would have talked softer. He had not even opened his eyes to look at her.
“I am looking for a cook. You need a job. Come work for me.” The gentleman sat patiently with eyes closed waiting for a reply. After waiting what seemed like five minutes, Victoria replied timidly.
“I do not know. I have never worked for pay as a cook before.”
The gentleman adjusted in his seat and opened his eyes to look at Victoria.
“What kind of work have you done?”
“I helped my mother in the kitchen at the boarding house.” Should she say anything else? Before she left home, she had spent most days preparing the meals. She had done other things to survive, but should she say.
The gentleman raised his right eyebrow as he thought on her reply.
“What have you done since then?” He gently asked sensing her reluctance.
“Nothing worth talking about.” Victoria's defenses were on high alert. She would not tell anyone the other work she had done to put food on the table and a roof over her head.
“If you are going to work for me, I would like to know your work history.” The gentleman replied with more force to his voice, but still with a tender look.
“I have not decided that I will work for you.” Victoria did not know what to think. His words indicated that he was trying to get her to confess, but his actions and gentle tone said otherwise. Sometimes she could read people by how they acted, not that she always got it right, but it helped keep her safe in the past.
“I do not even know whether it is a good offer.” Victoria decided to play along with the banter. She was not sure yet what to think about this gentleman.
“Do you normally refuse good offers?” The gentleman asked with a laugh in his voice.
“Just answer the man's question,” replied Joseph. She positively was not the wife God would want for him. Who would marry such a stubborn, emotional woman?
“Fine. I have been a maid at a hotel.”
“Any other work.”
“No.” She squeezed her eyes after her reply. The reply did not have the confidence she needed to be convincing.
“Are you sure? I think you are holding back.”
Victoria kept her eyes closed and took a deep breath. He would not surrender unless she told him something. What can I say that will be the truth without confessing? She took several slow, deep breaths before replying.
“I am ashamed,” Victoria softly replied.
“Did you earn an honest wage?”
“Were you on time and worked hard?”
“Then that is all I need to know. I have a decent size house. I will pay you a moderate wage.” The gentleman smiled with fulfillment.
Victoria sat up straight in her chair with eyes wide. “Moderate! I thought you said you had a good offer.” The man had pushed her into saying more than she wanted, and he was only offering a moderate wage. How could he?
Joseph playfully pushed Victoria's shoulder. “Let the man finish.”
Victoria leaned back against the bench, but remained tense. The gentleman did not seem bothered by her response.
“The rest of your pay will be room and board. No working on Sundays. I will expect you to attend services on Sunday.”
“What if I do not want to attend services?” This was the last thing that she wanted, a weekly reminder that she was a sinner and on her own. God had abandoned her. Where was he when she was in trouble?
“You are one stubborn lady. Just take the job. What do you have to lose? You take the first train out of town not even knowing where you are going. You get a wonderful, generous job offer and a place to stay, and you are going to turn it down because you do not want to go to church.”
“Joseph, do not get so worked up. I will take the job. I will go to church. Whatever will make the two of you happy.” She did not have a choice in the matter, and she was tired of fighting. Joseph was right. At least she would be safe.
“I do not want you to accept the job just to make someone else happy. It needs to be something you are happy with.”
Victoria released some of the tension in her shoulders and looked towards the gentleman.
“I will be happy to have a job and a place to stay. It is better than not knowing what I will have when we get to Mobile. By the way, what is your name?”
“Thank you, Mr. Rockford for the job.”
“And you, sir. What work have you done?”
“Not much.” Joseph regretted the response immediately after it was spoken. Mr. Rockford gave him a disappointing look.
“How have you supported yours
“I worked on the family farm and lived in the family house.”
“What kind of farm?”
“Sheep,” was Joseph’s short reply. He said it with more hatred than he intended to.
“I assume you did not care for the work.”
“You assume correctly, Mr. Rockford.”
“What did you do in your spare time?”
“Read. I enjoy learning about all the new discoveries. Have you heard about the 'Fly-Killer'? He had read about it, but had not seen one in action. It would have come in handy on the farm.”
“I had not heard about that one. You will have to tell me about it later. Did you help any with the business side of the farm?”
“I helped with a little bit of everything. I kept the books occasionally, worked with our vendors and even helped with the animals.”
“Good balance of skills. You are hired.”
This time it was Joseph with shock reflected on his face.
“Just accept the job, Joseph,” replied Victoria in a teasing voice as she gently pushed him.
Joseph pushed back causing Victoria to bump Mr. Rockford.
“Sorry, Mr. Rockford.”
“I plan to accept, Victoria. I just want to know what I will be doing.”
“Running a home.”
“An orphanage!” There was no way he would be enveloped by children all day. He just did not have the patience for them.
“Not exactly. This will be a home for adults with special needs.”
“I am not sure I am following.”
“Not everyone is born with the same skills and agility as you and me. Some have trouble talking, walking, or maintaining a household. I want these special people to have the independence they crave and still have the help that they need.”
“Sounds very rewarding. Does the offer include a place to live?” This could work. Maybe this was the calling God had for him.
“You can stay with me until the place is constructed. Then, I would like you to move in for a minimum of one year.”
“Why would I need to live there?” It seems Mr. Rockford always had something to add that made you doubt that you should accept. He had never been around those types of people before, much less lived among them.
“You will see why when the time comes.”
“It is so warm here,” complained Joseph as he stumpled off the train after their long trip. He unbuttoned the heavy coat he had just put on and squinted from the glare as he took in the sights around him. It was a gloomy and desolate looking place before him with barren trees and brown grass. Getting used to this dreary place would take some time. Winter in the North brought a bit of magic to everything, and he just assumed Mobile would be full of beauty despite knowing there would be no snow. When he left Meadows, there was beautiful white snow covering the ground and dazzling icicles draped from the houses. A mosquito began buzzing around his head, disrupting his musing.
“Honestly, Joseph. What did you think? We are in the South.” Victoria took in a deep refreshing breath. It felt so good to breathe in the moist salty air. To be in the South again felt wonderful. She forgot how much she missed the earthen tones. How she hated all that snow; it made such a mess all over her clean floors.
“I did not know what to expect. I have never been to the South.” Joseph continued to clumsily remove his coat.
“You did not read about it in your fancy books?” Victoria's tone was dry but with a hint of humor. Joseph was a bit easy to tease, and she was starting to enjoy the banter. It will be interesting getting to know him better while they worked for Mr. Rockford.
“It is not the same as experiencing it. The air is so moist.” Joseph wiped his sticky hands on his trousers; however, it did little good to relieve him of the clammy feeling.
“You will get used to it, or you will live elsewhere. It is part of everyday life down here.” She smiled as she looked up at him. At least she was more comfortable here. Her hands and feet never adjusted to the cold.
“She is correct, Joseph. You may find after a time that you prefer the South to the dry North where you are from. Follow me. If anyone asks, you are my niece and nephew.” Mr. Rockford wasted no time in moving away from the train depot, leaving the smoke from the engine and the noise of the people behind him.
“Do you have a niece and nephew?” asked Victoria as she hurried to keep pace.
“I do, but they never come to visit.” Mr. Rockford briefly paused in his step, and a mournful look covered his face.
“That will be a discussion for another day. Do you have all your bags?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Victoria and Joseph in unison. Victoria and Joseph looked at each other and then shrugged.
Mr. Rockford smiled.
“Victoria, I do have some clothes that we purchased for the last cook. I believe they will fit you. If not, I will purchase some items for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rockford. It is greatly appreciated.”
“Will anyone question why your niece is cooking for you?” asked Joseph. It was common for his cousin to work on the farm when they visited; however, it was not the same in this case. It certainly seemed odd to have a family member who is visiting prepare the meals.
“No. Everyone will expect it. I have worked very hard to acquire my few possessions and expect my family to share in the workload.”
“I guess that is why your family does not visit.” Joseph regretted the words as soon as he spoke them. He hung his head down in shame knowing better than to talk to anyone like that.
“Joseph, do not pry. That is a discussion for another time.” Mr. Rockford picked up his pace.
“Sorry, sir.” Joseph felt sorry for Mr. Rockford. Every holiday he spent time with his Aunt and Uncle. He practically grew up with his cousin Henry. They were together daily during the summer months, and Joseph accompanied his Aunt and Uncle when they went on family vacations each year.
“How are we getting to your house, Mr. Rockford?” It had been a long and emotional day for her, and just this short walk from the train platform to the depot was making her weary.
“I thought we would walk.” Mr. Rockford said with delight.
“What about our bags?” Joseph asked nervously. He positively did not want to carry them the whole way.
“We will have them delivered. You cannot take in the wonderful sights if you ride in an automobile. Besides, we all need to get to know each other better. We will be living in the same house together for the next few years.”
“Years. You think I am going to stay for years?” Victoria grabbed Mr. Rockford's arm, and he stopped walking. She looked into his eyes to see if he was serious. There was not a bit of deception. What had she agreed to?
“Yes, Victoria. It is time you stopped running and settled down.”
Mr. Rockford entered the train depot and instructed Joseph to turn his bags over to the clerk. The clerk was accustomed to having Mr. Rockford's bags delivered and ensured Joseph the bags would be waiting for them when they arrived at the house. After settling the payment, Mr. Rockford walked back outside and headed south. Victoria and Joseph briefly looked at each other before running to catch up.
“How soon will the home be ready for me to move into?” Joseph asked once he had reached Mr. Rockford's side. Joseph was also concerned that Mr. Rockford expected him to be with him for years. He had a wife to find so he could move back home. He could not imagine getting used to this sticky air.
“I do not know.”
“What does that mean? I do not want to be stuck here forever.”
“Forever is a long time, Joseph. Do not worry. You will see your family soon. The home is still in the planning stage. I have an idea where I would like it built. We will pass by there on the way home.”
“Planning stage?” Joseph was outraged and barely able to keep his voice low.
“I do not know whether I can commit that much time.”
“You are not putting your life on hold. It is just beginning.”
“I would like to be able to go home by Christmas.” Desperation laced Joseph's voice.
“I will not stop you.”
“I wanted to move back home.”
“Then why did you leave?” Mr. Rockford's tone was more sarcastic than he intended.
“I would rather not talk about it.”
“He would not tell me either. It seems that we all have our secrets.” Victoria stated earnestly.
“Yes, we do, dear. But, nothing is a secret from the Almighty.”
“Am I going to have to listen to God talk all the time?” His solemn reply enraged her. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at him.
“Only when appropriate. Please call me Uncle Rock. Joseph, despite the reason for leaving home, you should go back for Christmas, Easter, even, if you want. Family is important. Victoria, you should go with him.”
“Why?” She was certainly cut off guard with his last statement.
“He has a large family. How else will you get to know the man? When you marry, you will have to learn to deal with each other's families.”
“Married,” exclaimed Victoria and Joseph in unison.
“Is that so far fetched?” Mr. Rockford held back a chuckle and smiled.
“Yes. Why would I want to marry this stubborn woman?” Joseph was flushed.
“Maybe you like the challenge,” chuckled Mr. Rockford.
“Stubborn. You are just as stubborn, Joseph Holmes.” How dare he call her stubborn.
“Maybe so, Mrs. Victoria Winslow.” His temper was starting to match hers.
“Mrs., that could be a problem. I did not realize you were already married.” He paused only briefly and then picked up his pace.
“I guess you slept through that part. You were eavesdropping on everything else.”
“It was not as if you were trying to keep your conversation quiet. Besides, if I had not been listening, I would not have known you needed a job and a place to stay. I am sorry for your loss. Since you are no longer wearing black, I will assume you are through the mourning period. I will not bring it up again, Mrs. Winslow.”
Victoria did not know how to reply. She was not a widow. She was still married to Lawrence as far as she knew. She had never bothered to inquire if he had filed for a divorce.
“I guess it really is unimportant that you were married. God would want a young woman like you to find love again.”
“I agree with Uncle Rock, Victoria. We will not pry about your first husband. I do not plan to be your second, but I will support your decision to find someone else.” He was regretting his earlier remarks. To be widowed so young must have been devastating. That explains why she is so emotional.
“What makes either of you think I want to find another husband? And stop bringing God up. He has nothing to do with me.” What had she gotten herself into?
The three walked in silence for a while. They were definitely hitting a nerve with Victoria and her faith. She was running away from something. Joseph thought he should look more into the death of her husband. His parents had ways of finding things out. He would write to them tonight. They would be happy that he would be settled somewhere for a while. At least they would be able to keep in touch with each other.
Mr. Rockford stopped and looked longingly out in the distance, his eyes resting on the cresting waves of the water. A few boats could be seen in the distance gliding along. He then continued his walk home. Joseph and Victoria followed closely behind.
“This is the place, Joseph.” Mr. Rockford stated with pride, not pausing in the least.
“The place?” Joseph had no idea what Mr. Rockford was talking about.
“The place for the home for the feeble-minded.”
“How much of the area will we need?”
“Most of it.”
“It will be a large place.” Joseph looked around at the vast open area.
“I plan to have a moderate house in the middle and smaller homes surrounding it.”
“Why so many? Would it not be better if they were together in one home?”
“I do not think so. I want them to have some independence. There is no reason to just shut them up somewhere. I know that is how others do it. I plan to do things differently.”
“How would I ever manage to run such a large place?” Joseph continued looking around wide-eyed. He was bewildered that a stranger thought him capable of such an enormous task.
“The residents that will live here will work if they are able, and I will also hire others. Joseph, you will be the one to oversee the property.”
“That is a big responsibility. Why are you entrusting that responsibility to me?”
“I feel you are the one. It will not be an easy task. The laws are not very favorable for the feeble-minded. We need to make a difference.”
“Does the law allow you to have a place like this?” Joseph was looking for a way out. He was apprehensive. He did not want to do anything illegal.
“Yes, since it is privately owned. Do not worry, Joseph. I have consulted with my lawyer on this project several times.”
“What does he think about it?” Although Mr. Rockford spoke with such confidence, Joseph was still skeptical.
“He thinks I am crazy to spend my money on a home for the feeble-minded since there are so many institutions already built. I will not make any profit from it.”
“Then why do it? What will happen to the people when you run out of money?”
“Hopefully, that will not happen. I also plan to get others to help support the home financially.”
“I hope you get the funds, Uncle Rock.” Victoria was exhilarated by the prospect. Mr. Rockford’s enthusiasm was lifting her spirits. She would be siding with him in this discussion. Joseph was overly nervous.
“Thank you, Victoria. Your concern, Joseph, is valid. All I can hope for is others will step up to care for these wonderful people. Have either of you spent time with the feeble-minded?”
“No, sir,” replied Victoria and Joseph in unison.
“You two have a knack for responding simultaneously. Nice to know you are both listening.”
Mr. Rockford again stopped to take in the view. Joseph stopped also, but Victoria tripped over his foot and nearly fell to the ground. She had not been watching where she was going. Joseph's gentle hands held onto Victoria's waist just a bit longer than necessary. He was just trying to steady her, but the feel of her slender waist intrigued him. Emotions began to stir within him that he had not realized was possible. How can he be so moved by such a stubborn widowed woman?
“Joseph, I can stand on my own now. Thank you for catching me.”
Victoria too felt a sudden attraction to Joseph. But, what was she to do. She was married and even if Lawrence had gone through with the divorce, she was still a liar, just another sin to add to her list. Just another reason God would not want her.
“Victoria, please have Joseph escort you the rest of the way. I do not want you falling and hurting yourself.”
“I would rather you escort me, Uncle Rock.”
“Nonsense, child. Joseph is more than capable. I on the other hand am a bit off in my step. We both do not want to fall.”
Joseph offered his arm to Victoria. She looked at Joseph and then again at Uncle Rock. The expression on Uncle Rock's face showed he did not wish to be challenged on this request. Victoria gently laid her hand into the crook of Joseph's arm.
“Uncle Rock, if you are trying to play match maker it will not work. Besides, we are supposed to be pretending we are your niece and nephew.”
“I have changed my mind about that. Victoria you will be my niece and Joseph will be my business partner.”
“Yes, partner. Where we are standing now is where I want the main hous
“Is all of the land from here to the water yours?”
“Yes, it is. I plan to keep the view open.”
“Why not build closer to the water?”
“We get too many storms. I have seen many of my friends lose everything.”
“I look forward to living here, Uncle Rock. I mean Mr. Rockford.”
“Good. We should get going. We have another two miles to go.”
“Two more. It seems as if we have already walked two. Can we rest for a while? Please, Uncle Rock. My feet are tired.”
The three sat down on the soft grass. Victoria proceeded to take off her shoes and rub her toes.”
“Why are you wearing shoes that hurt your feet?” asked Joseph.
“Sometimes, Joseph, women buy things because they look nice regardless of comfort.”
“I never realized, Mr. Rockford.”
“I am sure you have been on a date or two. You never noticed?”
“I guess I never noticed,” replied Joseph as he looked away. The truth was that he had never been on a date to notice.
“Actually, gentlemen, I just have not broken them in yet.”
“Sorry to assume, Victoria.”
“That is OK, Uncle Rock. I am sorry. I did not mean to sound irritated. The truth is I have bought shoes in the past because I liked the look. It just was not the case this time.”
“Mr. Rockford, do you have a horse I can use during my employment?”
“I have several. I was thinking about buying an automobile, but it is not very practical yet. Riding horseback is going to be best while the construction is going on.”
“I look forward to the ride.”
“How about you, Victoria? Have you ridden?”
“No, sir. There was never the need.”
“I can teach you if you would like.”
“Thank you, Joseph. That is kind of you. I will let you know later on.”
“Are you ready to continue, Victoria?”
“Not really, but I know we have to keep going. I am sure we do not have much daylight left.”
“We should be just fine.”
Victoria gingerly slipped on her shoes. It was going to be a long two miles. Her feet were throbbing.
“Let me help you up.”
Victoria accepted Joseph's assistance and then began to walk ahead of him. Joseph quickly came up to her side and offered his arm. His emotions stirred every time they touched, and he could tell Victoria felt the same thing. Her cheeks would get a lovely pink glow. Thankfully, his body was taking control since his mind, surely did not know what to do.
“Thank you, Joseph. Hopefully, it will help ease the burden on my feet.”
Victoria was thankful for some excuse after refusing earlier. He noticed her blush. What was with her and all these emotions? She was still married and she should not be enjoying this.
“I will try not to walk too fast of a pace for you Victoria.”
“Thank you Uncle Rock. Please lead the way home.”
“Home. I like the sound of that. I guess it will be home for the three of us for a while. Mr. Rockford does anyone else live there.”
“Please call me, Otis. We are partners now. I do have a maid that lives on the premises. She has been working for me for the last twenty years.”
“What is her name?”
“Will I like her?”
“I believe you will Victoria. She will be happy that someone else will be doing the cooking besides me.”
“How long have you been without a cook?”
“It has been over ten years.”
“Then why did you hire me?”
“You needed a job.”
“Thank you for your generosity, Uncle Rock. If you would like, I can look for employment elsewhere.”
“Nonsense, child. It is about time I hired a cook. I am looking forward to more than meat and potatoes.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
“I am sure you will dear.”
“I can help if you would like.”
“I did not know you were handy in the kitchen Joseph,” replied Victoria with laughter.
“Do you think it is funny that I can cook? I have you know I am pretty good. Men can cook too Victoria.”
“I know,” replied Victoria in a soft voice just above a whisper.
Joseph caressed Victoria's hand that was resting in the crook of his arm. He did not mean to sound harsh.
“I am sorry Victoria. I was just playing along with your merriment. I also want to apologize for calling you stubborn.”
“There is no need to apologize for speaking the truth. I am stubborn at times. It is just the way that I am.”
Joseph felt Victoria stiffen up so he dropped his free hand. Women are surely difficult to understand.
“The house is just on the other side of these trees. Do either of you want to take a short break? We have one more mile to go.”
“I would rather keep going. If I stop now, I do not think I will want to start again.”
“Victoria had I knew the walk would be so difficult for you I would have had a driver take us home.”
“No need to apologize Uncle Rock. The view has been lovely. I am glad we walked. My feet just hurt.”
“We should go shopping tomorrow for some new shoes for you.”
“Joseph, if I did not have money for food on the train what makes you think I have money to buy shoes. I told you these are new.”
Victoria's stomach grumbled after her last statement.
“I almost forgot. I have a muffin we can share.”
“I still cannot accept Joseph. I did not pay for it.”
“I will pay for your share Victoria.”
“I cannot accept Uncle Rock.”
“It is not a hand out. It is an advance on your wages. May I buy a portion for myself?”
“ I should be able to divide it into thirds.”
Joseph pulled the stale muffin out of his pocket, unwrap it, and handed Victoria and Otis a portion. Victoria began to cough when the dry bread refused to go down easily. Joseph patted her back until the coughing stopped.
“How did you eat this?”
“It was better than nothing. I was hungry.”
“You must have been starving. I cannot eat any more of this. Uncle Rock, would you like my portion?”
“Certainly. It is not that bad.”
“I am glad you like it. Do you have anything in your house to eat Uncle Rock?”
“Very little I am afraid. There is likely stale bread and possibly cheese.”
“May is not cooking anything for you for when you return?”
“May does not cook for me. I cook for her.”
“What has she eaten while you have been gone? I would have thought you would have provided for her.”
“Please do not get so worked up Victoria.”
“Why not? Are you going to leave me with nothing every time you go on a trip?”
“Allow Mr. Rockford to explain, Victoria. I am sure Miss May is well taken care of.”
“That you can be certain of. May stays with a friend when I am away.”
“You do not trust her to stay in your home while you are gone?”
“Victoria calm down. Has Mr. Rockford done anything to make you think so poorly of him?”
“Then let the man talk.”
“As I was saying Victoria. May is with a friend. She is feeble-minded. It is best for her to always have someone watching over her. She can manage a few meals on her own, but nothing that requires the use of the stove.”
“What is wrong with her?” asked Victoria with sudden compassion.
“Her mother had a high fever when she was pregnant, and it affected May. She is a very hard worker and does an excellent job cleaning the house.”
“Why would you hire someone like that?”
“Like what? Victoria.”
“Someone who is feeble-minded. I thought there were places for people like that.”
“There are places for people like that. They are not the best places and are typically understaffed.”
“How is your place going to be different Mr. Rockford?”
“Like I said earlier, everyone who is able to work will work. They will have a sense of community; a place to belong.”
“I forgot about your special needs home, Uncle Rock. Sorry I blew up at you. I guess I am nervous.”
“I would think you are also a bit tired.”
“Yes, I am. I will be happy with any food you have at home. Sorry Joseph for being ugly about the muffin.”
“You have had a long day. We all have. A light supper and a good night's rest are all we need.”
“I do hope my feet feel better in the morning. I have never had so much trouble breaking in a new pair of shoes.”
“May might have a more comfortable pair you can use.”
“Do you think she will share?”
“Definitely. May would give you her only pair if you were to ask. She has a heart of gold and will be a good friend.”
“I do not know.”
“Why not? Is it because she is feeble-minded?”
“I do not know what to think since I have never been around someone like her.”
“Just keep an open mind Victoria.”
“I will try. No promises.”
“Is that your house Mr. Rockford?”
“Yes, Joseph. It is about another ten-minute walk.”
“I thought it would be bigger,” replied Victoria.
“Why is that?”
“You seem like you are wealthy. I thought the wealthy had huge homes and you have a maid.”
“I like a smaller home. It would be very lonely just me in a large house.”
“What happened to your wife?”
Otis sighed loudly.
“I am sorry Uncle Rock.”
The three walked in silence the rest of the way to the house. Mr. Rockford was no longer in the mood for conversation.