Upon a Midnight Clear (Chapter Two)
"Mr. Stewart, your sign says that you are afraid of no one," Kathryn said, her lips tight, and she couldn't resist a bit of sarcasm. "Why didn't you write, 'With the exception of Cole Jordan'?"
She had meant to shame him, but instead, he grinned at her. "I didn't write on there, 'Except for the devil,' either." After a pause, he looked over his shoulder to see if his wife had caught his witticism, and since she was smiling into her wool, she had.
"No sir," Mr. Stewart said, "I'll sue anybody but the devil and Jordan, which in my book is about the same thing. I'll take on murderers and thieves. I'll even take on preachers, but I'll not go against the Jordans."
For Kathryn, what she was hearing was too much like what she'd encountered in Ireland over nine years before. No one would stand up to the O'Connors then, and now no one would help her fight the Jordans. "Are you telling me that in a free country like this you'd allow one man to rule you?" "You can wave all the flags you want, ma'am, but it won't help. The Jordan family owns every inch of this town, and we all do what they say."
"How many of them are there?" Kathryn asked, eyes wide.
"A passel, but most of 'em went to Denver years ago. Only Cole stayed behind to run the town."
"This isn't a town, Mr. Stewart, this is a Den of Sin."
"It is nice, ain't it?" Mr. Stewart said, smiling fondly. "This town is a lawyer's dream-come-true. I got so much business, a dozen of me couldn't do all the work. And I can charge whatever I want."
Kathryn would have left as soon as she heard the man's cowardly attitude, but she was hungry and she knew Jeremy was too, and hunger makes a person desperate. Besides, in the last minutes she had been watching Mrs. Stewart. With every word that was exchanged, the woman's head had bent lower over her knitting, and she was now wearing a frown. Her look encouraged Kathryn.
"I have a case that you couldn't lose," Kathryn said. "I have a contract signed by Cole Jordan, and I'm sure someone in town could verify his signature. But then he admits he signed the contract. I'm no longer asking to work for him, but he does owe me money, and I need that money. I traveled a long way on his word, and now he's going back on his word. Doesn't that count for something here in America?"
"Maybe in America it does, but this here is Legend, and the United States government don't own this place, the Jordans do. They–"
"Isn't there someone who isn't afraid of him?" Kathryn asked in exasperation. "I can see by the filth of this town that the decent people here are fighting a losing battle, but surely, someone, somewhere…" She was looking at Mrs. Stewart, who still had her head low, her frown deepening. "Maybe someone with children…Surely there must be someone besides me who isn't afraid of him. Or maybe there's something he's afraid of," she said as an afterthought.
"Cole's afraid of guns," Mrs. Stewart said, speaking for the first time. "He won't touch a gun ever since he was nine years old. The boy had a dream that his whole family was killed by the people of Legend shooting at some robbers. Of course nothing like that ever happened, but that don't stop Cole. Won't touch a gun."
After that statement the woman looked back down at her knitting, and Kathryn blinked in confusion. What did that information have to do with Mr. Jordan's refusal to honor a contract? But Mr. Stewart seemed to think there was some relevance, as he had turned in his chair and was looking at his wife expectantly. "What's your point, sugar muffin?" he asked after several long moments of silence.
"Judge Harry Bascom."
The name meant nothing to Kathryn, but it seemed to mean a lot to John T. Stewart, for he turned as pale as an eggshell. Considering that he had the red face of a budding alcoholic, that was no easy task.
The lawyer turned back to Kathryn. "How much you payin' me?"
"If I gave you a hundred per cent of all I own in the world it would be nothing."
Mr. Stewart looked at Kathryn hard for a moment. "That's good. Beautiful young widow. Hmmm, almost too beautiful. You look like one of Carl's French singers."
At that Kathryn narrowed her eyes at him.
"No offense," he said, then looked back over his shoulder. "Martha, honey, can you do somethin' with her hair? Pull it back a bit and see if you can make her look less… well, less appealin'. We don't want people thinkin' she's a floozy."
"You leave it to me, Jake, I can make any woman look unappealing."
"Except for yourself, love bunny," the man said with an adoring look at his wife's bowed head.
Kathryn was embarrassed by the affectionate exchanges between the two of them; she felt as though she'd walked into a honeymoon chamber. She wouldn't have guessed that Mrs. Stewart, her face weathered by many years in the mountains and quite a few pounds overweight, could inspire the name "love bunny."
"Ahem," Kathryn said, clearing her throat and intercepting the looks they were exchanging. "Who is Judge Harry Bascom?"
Reluctantly, Mr. Stewart looked back at Kathryn. "He ain't afraid of even the Jordans."
"Or the devil," Mrs. Stewart said softly, and this witticism sent Mr. Stewart into spasms of laughter.
While Kathryn waited for him to come back to the task at hand, she glanced at Jeremy, who was quietly studying the few law books in a case against one wall. She knew Jeremy well enough to know that he was keenly interested in every word that was being spoken.
"Then you'll take my case?" Kathryn asked when the man had stopped being convulsed with laughter.
"What do you think, Bunches?" Mr. Stewart asked his wife.
Jeremy looked up from a book and mouthed, Bunches of what? to his mother, making her hide a smile behind her hand.
For a moment Mrs. Stewart looked at Kathryn, studying her, and Kathryn could see the intelligence there. No wonder Mr. Stewart asked her opinion.
"I think this woman might do some good for this town. I think it's time that someone fought the Jordans, and I think this woman and you, Jake, are just the ones to do it."
Before Mr. Stewart could say anything, Kathryn spoke up. "I don't want there to be any misunderstanding. I have no intention of helping this town, as you put it. In fact, I have no intention of staying here. I really just want enough money to get out of here so I can go somewhere else. San Francisco maybe." At this she looked at Jeremy, and his slight smile and nod were enough for her. "Yes, just the money and nothing else."
Mr. Stewart looked at his wife at the end of this speech, saw that she was smiling into her knitting, then turned back to Kathryn. "If I can get Judge Harry, I'll be glad to take on your case."
"And how likely is it that you will be able to get this judge?" At that, Mr. Stewart chuckled. "Three years ago Cole Jordan broke Judge Harry's eldest daughter's heart. He'll come. Don't you worry about that. It's just a matter of when. Now you just tell me where you're stayin' so I can contact you when it's all arranged."
"That is a bit of a problem," Kathryn said, looking down at her hands. "My son and I have no place to stay and no money to rent a room." Her head came up and her mouth tightened in anger. "I thought we were coming here to a job and a place to live. But now we have nothing."
"Oh, that's very good," the man said. "You'll do real well on the stand. Can you make them tears come at will?"
It was on the tip of Kathryn's tongue to tell him that her feelings were genuine and not something she could turn on and off, but Mrs. Stewart spoke.
"You'll have to stay with us," she said, smiling sweetly at both her and Jeremy. "You wouldn't happen to know how to sew, do you, dear?" she asked, thereby establishing that Kathryn was to be a working guest.
"My mother was a cook for a large estate and I learned a bit from her," Kathryn said modestly. "Perhaps I would be allowed to help in the kitchen."
"If you insist," Mrs. Stewart said, smiling as she looked back at her scarf.
"My mother can knit, too," Jeremy said, speaking for the first time.
For a moment Kathryn held her breath. Would Mrs. Stewart be horribly offended by his words?
But Mrs. Stewart looked up, eyes twinkling, and held aloft her long, long scarf. "Then perhaps she might teach me," she said, and all of them laughed together.
Four and a half weeks, Kathryn thought, as she twisted the black cotton gloves on her hands. She and Jeremy had been in this horrible town of Legend for four and a half long, long weeks, and during that time she had learned more than she'd ever wanted to know about Cole Jordan. She'd found out that his family owned all the land, the buildings, the mines, and, some said, he even owned the people.
She'd found out that he was massively wealthy, but he never spent a penny on the town unless he had to. He just lived on his side of the stone wall and pretended that the debauchery on the other side didn't exist.
Except when he came down to visit, that is. Visit the "girls," as they were called. And it seemed that he visited them often. "Twice a day if he ain't too busy," a woman had told her.
The day after she and Jeremy had moved in with the Stewarts, Kathryn had found herself to be regarded as a heroine, maybe even an avenging angel. "You tell him I wanta buy my place," a man told her, then Kathryn launched into a long explanation about how she had no power to make Cole Jordan do anything.
But no one seemed to hear her, for a few minutes later three women descended on her complaining about their "working" hours. Kathryn knew her face was aubergine purple when she thought about what they worked at, but the women kept on in spite of Kathryn's embarrassment.
By the end of the first week Kathryn began to carry a notepad and pencil with her wherever she went so she could write down the complaints. She had no idea what she was going to do with her list, but it seemed to be the polite thing to do.
By the end of the second week she knew half the people of Legend by name, and the wagon drivers bringing goods up from Denver always saved the best of the produce for her to use in the Stewarts' kitchen. By the third week she was known as the best cook in the country, "maybe even in the whole world" thanks to a fairly continuous round of dinner parties the Stewarts gave. So now she and Jeremy had been here over a month and she was sitting in a courtroom waiting for the trial to begin. Right after their one and only confrontation, Cole Jordan had left town and had only returned last night, so Kathryn had not seen him during her long stay in Legend.
But now she was sitting at a table on one side of the courtroom, and he was on the other, half hidden behind his three lawyers. This morning the Stewarts had dressed Kathryn all in black, pulling her dark hair back so tightly that her eyes watered, then an old-fashioned black silk poke bonnet had been pushed down onto her head. When Jeremy had seen her, his eyes had widened, and he'd said in a whisper, "You look like a Raphael Madonna." Looking in the mirror, Kathryn agreed that she looked pale and… well, untouchable.
"A virgin widow," Mr. Stewart decreed, as he put his arm around his wife's plump shoulders. "I knew you could do it, Honey Lamb," he said to his wife.
"I look ridiculous," Kathryn said, pushing at the high collar of her heavy black silk dress with the cameo at its neck.
"I think she looks beautiful, Mrs. Lamb," Jeremy said, blinking at his mother. He'd called Mrs. Stewart that behind her back for all the first week, but one night at dinner it had slipped out, and the Stewarts had laughed so hard that he'd called her that ever since. Even Kathryn had slipped twice and called her Mrs. Lamb. It was easy to do since Mrs. Stewart was kind and gentle–and ruled her home and husband with an iron fist.
So now Kathryn was sitting in the courtroom and awaiting the next moments that would decide the course of her life, for Cole Jordan had been called to the stand.
Mr. Stewart had just asked Cole why he hadn't honored his contract and given Widow Kathryn the job she so desperately needed for the support of herself and her dear little son.
"I refused to hire her because she couldn't handle my son," Cole said smoothly, ignoring Stewart's insinuations and smiling at the courtroom with absolute confidence. He even smiled up at Judge Bascom, but Kathryn was relieved to see that the judge did not smile back.
"All of you know my son," Cole continued. "He can run a whorehouse; he can gamble. But look at her. She's never drunk put of anything except porcelain, so what does she know about a boy like mine?"
John Stewart looked puzzled, as though he didn't understand Cole's comment. "But isn't that what a governess is for? To teach things like tea drinkin'? If you wanted someone to teach the boy how to drink out of a beer mug, why bother hirin' someone from Philadelphia? We got beer-drinkers right here in Legend."
At this the courtroom erupted into laughter until Judge Bascom banged his gavel.
"However," Mr. Stewart said loudly, "we concede that your son has the knowledge of a criminal and the manners of a jackass–"
"Just like his pa!" someone in the courtroom yelled, and there was more laughter until the judge shouted at everyone to shut up.
"Now, according to your story, you thought you were hiring an older woman who was experienced in dealing with incorrigibles and the criminally insane. Is that correct?" Mr. Stewart didn't wait for Cole to answer before he continued. "Then am I to believe that you wanted to hire a, shall we say, masculine woman to teach your son to be a gentleman? Can you tell me how that works, Mr. Jordan?"
As far as Kathryn could tell, Cole Jordan was unperturbed by Mr. Stewart's questions. But then she knew how people who owned everything reacted to the law. People like the Jordans made the laws; they didn't obey them.
"I need someone who can control him first before she can teach him anything," Cole said smoothly.
"Mr. Jordan," John Stewart said, "tell me, how tall are you? Over six. feet?"
"An inch or two," Cole said modestly.
"I see," Mr. Stewart said, walking away from where Cole was seated, all six feet two of him sprawled out, lounging in the chair as though he hadn't a care in the world. "Six feet two and a couple of hundred pounds, right?"
Cole gave a one-sided smile. "Better ask some of the ladies. They might know something about the size of me."
His meaning was unmistakable, and the courtroom filled with feminine laughter. Cole looked up at Kathryn. She thought maybe he expected her to smile at him, but the look she gave him would have turned him to stone if he'd had a heart. He winked at her, then looked back at Mr. Stewart.
"Mr. Jordan, what I'd like to know is, if you can't control that hellion of a son of yours, how do you expect any woman to?"
There was more laughter from the court, but the judge just waited for it to subside as he leaned across his desk and looked expectantly at Cole. "You wanta answer that question, boy?" the judge said, and Kathryn was pleased to hear the hostility in his voice. She had been told in full the story of how Cole had "jilted" Judge Bascom's eldest daughter. But, to be fair, from what Kathryn had heard, most of the pursuit had been on the daughter's side, and the complaint had been that she had not been able to snare Cole Jordan into being the husband she wanted so much.
"The point of this whole thing is," Cole said evenly, "I don't think she was going to try to control him or even to teach him." He leaned a bit forward as though confiding a secret. "I think her concerns were with the father, not the son."
"Oh?" Mr. Stewart said in a stage whisper. "What makes you say such a thing?"
Slowly, as though he had all the time in the world, Cole withdrew a newspaper clipping from a Pennsylvania paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to Mr. Stewart, who took a few moments to read it.
"I see", Mr. Stewart said after a while, then held the article up toward the courtroom. "I'd like to tell the court that this here article states that Cole Jordan of Legend, Colorado, is rollin' in dough and ain't bad to look at either." When the laughter had stopped, he turned back to Cole. "Do I have that right?" "You do," Cole said stiffly.
"So let me guess at your reasonin'," Mr. Stewart said. "You think this woman saw this article in the Philadelphia newspaper, then did everything she could to win a teaching contract from you? And she did this all for the sole purpose of tryin' to marry you?"
"In a word, yes."
With a look at Judge Bascom, Mr. Stewart said, "You seem to think a lot of women want to marry you, don't you, Mr. Stewart?"
The judge didn't bother trying to make the courtroom stop laughing at that because from the way the sentence was stated, it made his daughter seem to be one of many whom Cole Jordan had thought wanted him.
It was Mr. Stewart's booming voice that made the laughter stop. "Tell me, Mr. Jordan, how did she know what you wanted? Let me remind you of the advertisement you put in the Philadelphia paper sayin' you needed a governess. It said that you needed a mature, responsible woman. Is that correct?"
Cole gave a curt nod of assent.
"Mrs. de Longe is old enough to have a nine-year- old son and responsible enough to take care of him, so I believe she answers your request. So how did she know to send a photo of a much older woman? For all Mrs. de Longe knew, you were lookin' for a young woman." He looked at the courtroom. "For all she knew, you were a lonely cowboy lookin' for a wife."
"That's what every woman thinks a man wants, isn't it?" Cole said, but Kathryn could see by his face that he didn't get the laugh he'd expected. By now the courtroom was sitting on the edges of their seats and waiting to see where John Stewart was leading.
"Could you please tell the court what happened to make you believe Mrs. de Longe was after somethin' other than a teachin' job?"
Cole gave a one-sided grin and seemed to relax in his chair. "The first time I saw her, she threw herself into my arms. And kissed me!" He smiled at the courtroom. "Later she pretended she hadn't known who I was, that it was merely a chance meeting, but what's the likelihood of such a coincidence? No, I think she planned it all from the beginning. She may have the face of an angel, but she has the heart of a scheming, conniving little–"
Judge Bascom interrupted. "Mr. Jordan, please refrain from your comments. It is the court's job to decide what lies inside Mrs. de Longe's heart. However, I think it is safe to say that we can all agree with you that she has the face of an angel." At that there were whoops of agreement from the men in the room.
"And that's the problem," one of Cole's attorneys yelled, coming out of his seat. "This woman is too much temptation for any man. How would it be for a man to be lusting after his son's teacher? It is our belief that the woman planned all of this with matrimony in mind. Cole Jordan is an eligible bachelor and she is a widow–if she was ever married, that is. She answered the advertisement, lied about her age, even sent a bogus photograph. Not that our client isn't flattered by this elaborate hoax in an attempt to win his very rich hand, but he's just not ready for the old ball and chain yet. He—"
"I do not want to marry him!" Kathryn shouted, coming out of her seat. "I sent a photo of myself and no one else. I did not–"
"Are you trying to make us believe–" Cole's lawyer began, but the hoots of the audience and the banging of the judge's gavel made him stop.
When the noise began to subside, Mr. Stewart's voice rose as he made an elaborate show of helping Kathryn to sit back down. "I think I can clear up this matter, Your Honor, if you'd just let me call my next witness."
"Do it!" the judge said, letting everyone see that he was glad to get Cole off the stand.
"I call Zachary Jordan," he said, and immediately a hush fell over the courtroom.
In the turmoil of the last weeks Kathryn had forgotten all about the boy she was to have taken charge of, but today's testimony had made her curious. Twisting about in her seat, she first saw Jeremy, sitting just behind her. When his face began to turn an unbecoming color of purple, she knew that what was coming wasn't going to be pleasant.
Swaggering in an exaggerated imitation of his father, the boy who had fought with Jeremy on that first day moved to the front of the courtroom and took the witness seat. –
Kathryn grabbed Mr. Stewart's coat sleeve. "I just want the money due me," she said in a ragged whisper. "I don't want to try to teach that… that violent child. He and Jeremy would kill each other."
"Leave it to me," Mr. Stewart said confidently, then turned to the smirking young man slouching in the chair.
"You wanta tell everyone what you did," Mr. Stewart said, then waved his hand at the boy.
"I switched the letters," the boy said proudly. "Pa wanted to hire some old crow, so when I saw this lady's picture, I just switched 'em. Pete the forger helped me a bit with the letters, but I done a real good job, don't you think?"
When the laughter from the court had stopped, Mr. Stewart walked over to the boy. "You tampered with the United States mail?"
"Yes, sir, I did," the boy said proudly, looking about the courtroom as though he expected to be congratulated.
"I'm going to tan you," Cole said to his son, but loud enough for half the courtroom to hear him. "When I get you home–"
The judge brought down his gaveL "You can carry out your domestic quarrels at home, Jordan. This is a court of law. But it seems you were wrong and this young lady was telling the truth all along. And it seems that you need somebody to keep constant watch over that brat of yours. I hereby decree that you give her the job you promised her."
"No!!" came the combined shouts of Kathryn, Mr. Stewart, Jeremy, and Cole.
"Your Honor," Mr. Stewart said quickly. "My client just wants the money so she can leave Legend forever. She's suffered horrible distress while she's been here and she needs to–"
"Bull!" the judge bellowed. "She's become the town celebrity. Walks around with a notebook taking down orders of what people want her to get from Cole Jordan. If you ask me, the two of them deserve each other. Of course, if your client can't handle this young scalawag, then that would invalidate the contract. Does she want to back out?"
"No, Your Honor," Mr. Stewart said. "But she don't wanta stay either."
"Then she shouldn't have come here in the first place." He banged his gavel. "That's it. She stays and teaches, or she drops the whole thing. Those are the choices. Which is it gonna be?"
Mr. Stewart looked at Kathryn with apology on his face.
"I have to take the job," she whispered.
Mr. Stewart looked back at the judge. "He pays court costs?"
"He pays for everything," the judge said with just the tiniest bit of a smile.
"Then we take the job on one condition. Mrs. de Longe wants the biggest padlock this town has for her bedroom door."
As the courtroom was laughing, Mr. Stewart turned back to Kathryn. "Real sorry about the verdict. There ain't nobody can teach that brat of Jordan's. He's got bars on the kid's bedroom window, but he still escapes."
"And drinks whiskey," Kathryn said as she blinked up at Mr. Stewart, still unable to comprehend the verdict. "I have to live with the two of them?"
"Looks like that's what the judge said," Mr. Stewart said as he shoved papers back into a leather case. Kathryn was going to say more, but by then people were shoving each other to be able to congratulate both of them. To the town's mind, Kathryn had won a case against the Jordans, something no one believed would happen.
"Now you be sure and tell him what I told you," a beefy woman pumping Kathryn's hand was saying. Her breath smelled like old sheets.
"And you help me buy my own store. A man oughta own his own place," a man said as he thumped Kathryn on the back. "You tell Jordan that –"
But Kathryn wasn't hearing anymore as she looked across the people to see Cole Jordan standing and glaring at her. His look said she may have won the battle but the war was yet to come.
"Come on, Zach," she heard him say as he cupped his hand at the back of his son's head. As they turned away, the boy winked at Kathryn.
"Oh lord," she whispered to herself. "What in the world have I got myself into?"