Time travel. Ghosts. It is amazing how ordinary and humdrum even the most bizarre situations can become. They used to say that familiarity breeds contempt. Not that I feel contempt for time travel and ghostly manifestations, it is simply that it has become so ho hum, here we go again. I am not at all contemptuous of the life I have built up for myself in 1845 and 6. I like being here. And while it is true that I do go back to the year 2015 on occasion to visit my friends, I feel as though the life I have made for myself in the nineteenth century is far more meaningful than the life I was leading in the twenty-first. Besides, for what would I go back? Television? Cell phones? I would rather be talking to and thinking about the people who are around me.
When the internet first became popular, I joined a few chat groups online. In those I met people from all over the world. That was exciting. In the evening when I got home from work, I enjoyed being able to send messages back and forth with some of those people. Bit-by-bit, though, the internet took over in our lives, till we all depended on it for everything. Now, when I return to the twenty-first century, I hear that our stoves and refrigerators, and even our mattresses will report to the cloud how many times, and in what ways we use those things. I am still uncertain just what this cloud is, but in any event, I do not believe it needs to know anything about me. That tracking chip still lies in the back of my neck, so I never like to stay for more than a few hours in the twenty-first century.
My brother-in-law, Charles, says that the lawyers he meets with in Boston, here in the nineteenth century, dream of the day when there may be instant communication between people, wired through teletype into every home. He saw that, in the form of computers, when he came up to the twenty-first century with me. At first he thought it was marvelous that people could communicate almost instantly with each other. Then he began to understand the insidious way that computers would take over people’s lives— their addiction to the technology preventing them from even speaking to each other, without a cell phone to send their messages. When he saw hordes of people walking down the street talking only to their cell phones he was horrified. He was even more horrified to learn that there are scores of young people who cannot talk with each other when they are sitting face-to-face in the same room. They can only communicate through their cell phones. He says he only laughs when his colleagues say they dream of such things. He tells me that he debates on whether or how often he should tell them that progress is not always good.
The Reverend Lloyd Matthews has come calling several times since I moved in with Ethan Brown, my father. The older members of his congregation, here in Wilton are looking forward to our getting married. While I am deeply flattered by his attention, I am not certain I would make a good minister’s wife. He is a good and kind man, however his wife would be expected to play a well defined role within the congregation. She would have to show at all times, through the way she lives, the ideal of what a good Christian woman should be. For the most part, these are ideals that were lost in the twentieth century and not even heard of in the twenty-first. They were replaced by the notion that a woman should be thin and rich. She could even be a man if she felt like doing that, but being good and kind and steadfast was only for losers.
Papa tells me that Parson Matthews would be a wonderful match for me, and that most any of the young women around here would be proud to be his wife. In some ways, I would be proud too. But, having to constantly live up to expectations when I am uncertain what they are is not my cup of tea.
In this world, in 1846, it is up to the woman to make a castle of her home for the sake of the men in her life — especially her father and her husband. Their wishes are her commands, so to speak. Along with catering to their needs, it is her job to bring culture into the home, and to keep the moral standards of everyone around her high. She should know how to sing and to play an instrument, in order to impress her husband’s colleagues. She should also be an artist, to be able to draw and paint what she sees — at least well enough to be able to recognize good art when she sees it. Besides all this, she should be ready to remind those around her what is right and proper behavior. And especially for the minister’s wife, she should be ready at all times to help those in need with food, nursing care and household assistance.
Rudi, the lawyer I worked for as an accountant from 2004 to 2014, still comes every couple of weeks to visit us in the nineteenth century. When he comes, he spends most of his time talking with Charles, or Ethan, and only in passing does he say hello and goodby to me. Even so, there are times, in the evening after supper, when he sits in his chair on the porch and stares fixedly at me, and I am not at all certain what he is thinking.
My stepmother Maggie comes to call every few days. She tells me that I have become entirely too complacent, and that it is time I did something to liven things up. She insisted that if I did not, she would do it for me. The last time she was here, Rudi and I were sitting out on the porch together, enjoying the breeze, after a long, warm day. Maggie plopped herself down in the rocking chair by mine, and prattled on about wanting me to take bulls by their horns. As far as I could see, the nearest bull was in a farmer’s field, about half a mile down the road, and I had no desire to take him by his horns.
Rudi sat across from us, listening to every word she said. Even so, she did not acknowledge his presence during most of her monologue. He placidly stared at the two of us as though we were fascinating specimens of a life form he had never encountered. Sometimes he laughed outright over something Maggie said, but she only ignored him.
Before I go any further, I want to say that while I have always wished Rudi were the sort of man who would confide in me. I had to accept that, where I was concerned, he would always keep his thoughts to himself. Sometimes, he flared up over something that was not to his liking, or that had not worked out as he had expected it should, and I found his temper rather off-putting. Perhaps, in another life we could have got along better.
“You are becoming too complacent, Josepha,” Maggie told me as she rocked back and forth in her cchair.
Rudi had taken up smoking a pipe, and he was complacently blowing smoke rings out into the evening air. I did not appreciate his smoking. However, I refrained from saying much, as I was not certain how a nineteenth century woman was supposd to deal with such things.
“Maggie, I enjoy what I am doing,” I said in protest. “I might just marry Parson Matthews. He is a very nice man.”
“Humph,” Maggie and Rudi grunted together.
“And you,” Maggie shouted, turning to face Rudi for the first time in days. “You need to learn something about communication.”
“I?” Rudi said, raising his eyebrows.
“Just because you are able to emote in front of a jury, convincing them of so-called facts that are only half true, does not mean you know the first thing about real communication!”
“I beg your pardon,” Rudi said, getting up from his chair and strolling out to the lane. There he happened to meet Charles, who was walking back from a late evening at work. The two of them leisurely walked back to the house, barely nodding at Maggie and me as they passed. Maggie beamed at me and said, “Look, I know you don’t want to go back to 2015. I can understand that. It is not only bleak for you there, but it has the odious nature that too much familiarity breeds. You need to expand your horizons, though. And I have just the solution.” Maggie laughed as she took off down the lane, nearly running to get back to wherever, or whenever she was staying.
I will not say that Maggie is a witch, however she has the ability to travel through time at a baffling rate. She has been encouraging me to perfect that skill, and I have done so, reluctantly. Being able to travel through time at will depends on a form of concentration, along with the presence of a sacred stone. In truth, many stones would do, but stones that have had a concentration of psychic energy poured into them work best.
I should have paid better attention to what Maggie said that evening. I really should have. I should have warned Rudi — but I wasn’t feeling too kindly towards him at that moment. Really, I had lived with Maggie through most of my childhood, and I should have remembered that when Maggie runs off chortling, as she did that summer evening, that those around her had best beware, especially if she has just given them a piece of her mind. When Maggie giggles like that, it is because some great scheme of mischief has occurred to her. I wish I had paid attention. If I had — if I had not felt so complacent over where and when I was, I would have told Rudi to run away, and I would have left for parts unknown. But, life isn’t fair. And, even if I had warned Rudi, he wouldn’t have listened to me — not in the mood he was in. And really, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Learning how to become a good minister’s wife seemed noble, and so it was attractive to me. In some ways, I was better educated than many of the women around me, except that I was utterly lacking in the social skills most people believed were necessary. Singing? I could sing, if pressed, but not the sort of music these people appreciated. Nursing the sick? Well, I supposed I could do that as well as most anyone else, though I was not as familiar with the healing herbs women used, as I would like to be. Housework? I was learning. I considered that to be a work in progress. Isn’t keeping a clean and attractive home always a work in progress? Living the rest of my life forever subordinate to a man? I wasn’t sure about that. Intellectually, I felt the equal of most of the men I knew. I would have to give this some very serious thought.
Those were my feelings about the situation I was in that year. And to be honest, I didn’t give another thought to Rudi. I knew that my stepmother’s temper could be unpredictable. Sometimes she might say a few pointed words, and her anger would blow over as soon as the words were out. And then there were times when she took a vicious satisfaction in what she called, teaching those people a lesson. I may never know the full lengths she went to when exacting retribution from people she deemed worthy of that honor. What she did to Rudi and me, well, I still don’t know what to think. I don’t know whether I can ever really forgive her. What she did was nearly as bad as what the DCCs had done to me. And, I had hoped that by staying in the nineteenth century, I would be safe from problems like that.
I have been rattling on for quite a while, as you know from my first story, When Mother Calls. So, I believe I will let Rudi speak for himself now, for he was the one who was most deeply affected by what she did.
* * *
When Margaret Brown first showed me the secret of the stone in Wayfarer’s Park, I considered that knowledge to be a blessing, and I have shared its secret with only a few people. Perhaps, I should never have shared the secret at all. However, she told me to do some good with it, and to use the stone’s power to help people who need that sort of help. I have endeavored to do that ever since, though deciding what I should do with the secret, and how to use it has never been easy.
It was a mild evening, about the middle of June. I had spent what had felt to me like a productive day, studying case law as it existed in 1846, and philosophizing with my friend Frederick Fisher, an attorney in Wilton of the nineteenth century. I had spent part of the afternoon setting Josepha’s caravan to rights, as she had sadly neglected it ever since she moved in with her father. Running his household, even though his needs are simple, while learning how to fit in with nineteenth century society took more of her time than she had anticipated.
But back to Margaret Brown; I was totally surprised that summer evening when she turned on me so angrily. As I was saying, Maggie and I were companionably seated on Charles’ front porch, with Josepha. The two of them were seated across from me, amiably talking, and I had moved my chair into a shadow, out of the direct sun. I was harmlessly smoking my pipe and enjoying the evening in general. I had not been paying much attention to what they were talking about till Josepha said she might just marry Parson Matthews. The idea seemed so ridiculous that I nearly burst out laughing, but managed to keep my reaction down to a snort.
Book number two in the Josepha Chronicles series is being written as you read this notice. If you have read the first book in the series: When Mother Calls, then you will know that Rudi Strauss is Josepha's boss in the twenty-first century.
Maggie Brown, Josepha's stepmother, sends Rudi back to the early twelfth century in England, to teach him a much needed lesson in communication. But, what does he really learn, while he iis so far back in time?
Excerpts from this book are soon to appear on this page.
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