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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Dark · #2207678
Catrina and the boys have a run-in with a rude lady. (Catrina's POV- 1904)

Catrina's POV
December 1904

         "What kind of stories do you boys like to hear," Catrina asked as she pushed open the heavy, oak door to Mrs. Ferguson's Bookstore.

Overhead, the Christmas bells jingled. She prayed the elderly owner was still fast asleep during her mid-day nap. She needed to buy the boys primers and a few novels to read but didn't wish to run into the old gossip. Mrs. Ferguson was what you called, "Old South." She married a man much older than her and bore him one son. Unfortunately, her husband was killed during the Civil War. Since then, Mrs. Ferguson loathed Yankees and adapted the Queen Victoria style of mourning. She was always seen in a heavy, black dress and a cape, even on the hottest of Texas days. Her husband was given a proper military funeral at North Hill Cemetery and she made sure fresh flowers were delivered weekly. How Mrs. Ferguson longed for a girl to be a Southern Belle like her, but her grandchildren were all boys and none of them seemed to have inherited, "Granny's" snobby lifestyle.

Jacob Ferguson III walked from behind the counter and greeted them. Swiftly, he placed his pointer finger to his lips and gestured to the attic apartments, where Granny took her naps. The boys were so in awe over the rows of expensive books, that they didn't even see Jacob's gesture.

"Mama read us poetry," Millen squealed out loud.

Catrina let the door close behind her. Judging by their wide eyes, they had never been inside a bookstore before. She couldn't help but notice Theo's eyebrows narrow down into a frown. Something was obviously on the boy's mind. When Theo made his grand re-entrance into the dentist's office, everyone noticed his swollen eyes. He's been crying! Catrina's first thought was to rush from the office and into the store demanding to know who caused this. Francis must have sensed her anger.

"Please don't say anything," he whispered eyes wide. "Theo acts this way sometimes."

Catrina reached over to squeeze Francis's hand in reassurance. Out of all the boys, Theo's teeth were the worst. While making plans to have cavities drilled, Catrina sent the boys out into the drug store to grab their bags from the doctor. Theo sullenly slid from the dentist's chair, his bag clutched tightly in his hand. He must have run into the doctor while on the way to the privy. Catrina watched him shuffle back into the store, eyes focused on the wooden floor, camel's hair coat wrapped and secured tightly around him. Something weighed heavily on the boy's mind. She wondered what it could be.

"Well, we have plenty of poetry books," Jacob led everyone to a bookcase near the register. "I'm personally not a lover of poetry, that more Mrs. Muller's department being as how she's a former schoolteacher and all."

"Former," Catrina placed her hands on her hips, casting an amused grin at the boys in front of her. "I fully plan on teaching the four of you during your stay with me. I don't care if it's the Christmas season. A few hours a day dedicated to learning won't harm anyone. As I mentioned at the kitchen table this morning, Frank and I try our best to read at least three books a week despite our busy jobs."

Millen's eyes grew huge as he processed Catrina's announcement.

"You're going to teach us to read?" He squealed.

Catrina had to smile as his Brooklyn accent came out hard. Theo gave his younger brother an annoyed look.

"You already know how to read," he rolled his eyes. "Between me working all day at the factory, I still found time to teach you and Dylan."

With a tight smile, Catrina gestured toward the primer books, "Jacob can you charge for one of each grade?"

"I would be delighted," he sailed off.

With Jacob gone, it was time to address Theo's attitude. The boy was staring at the poetry books, his face scrunched up. At that moment Catrina truly wondered if he could read the words printed on the spines: Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and of course, Edgar Allen Poe.

"Did your mother read Poe to you," Catrina reached out to grasp the slender volume, causing Theo to shrink back as if he'd been hurt?

"Are you..." she trailed off as a deep, aristocratic, southern voice boomed out over the store.

"Why, Mrs. Muller," the bookstore owner called out, causing Catrina to flinch. "Merry Christmas to you! I see you brought the boys in with you today! A word about their arrival is swiftly circulating around town! How Christian of you and Frank to take in these poor, orphaned, children for the holidays! I honestly couldn't do it."

Theo didn't bother to hide the snort escaping his nose when Catrina accidentally dropped the book on the floor.

"Well," Catrina squeaked, not knowing what to say as she picked the book up. One side of her wished to scold Theo for his manners, while the other part of her wished to scold Mrs. Ferguson for her rudeness. She decided to dismiss both of them for the moment.

"I've come to buy lesson plans and a few novels. Millen here has mentioned that they love poetry. I haven't purchased school primers in about three years, since my marriage to Frank, so I don't know what's currently up to date."

"You mean," Mrs. Ferguson's eyes grew large, as she clutched her wrinkled hands to her family heirloom brooch, which was probably older than her, "You plan on teaching these children? Do you think they're too simple-minded to read the books sold at my shop?"

Catrina could feel the blood rush to her head, as her ears burned. Out of the corner of her eyes, her vision blurred so she couldn't see the boys and the looks on their faces. Mrs. Ferguson didn't even try to hide her distaste.

"You do realize," Catrina spat. "That they can speak and hear proper English."

Pushing past the old lady she marched up to Jacob who stood frozen at the register, a pile of wrapped school books in his arms, where she added the book of poetry to the stack.

"Have my husband pay for these," her voice was as cold as the ice outside, as she took them from the boy. "Jacob it's been a pleasure as always. Do take care and have a Merry Christmas. I shall see you at our yearly party."

"Yes, ma'am," Jacob bit his bottom lip, trying hard not to laugh. "I will deliver a bill over to his shop before closing."

"Well, I never," Mrs. Ferguson began, but Catrina cut her off.

"Boys, let's go," she pointed to the door. "It's time for lunch."

With the determination of a mother bear defending her cubs, she gathered the children and escorted them in silence out into the snow. She caught Theo smirking at the old woman and knew it would reach her husband within the hour. "The orphans you allowed into your home gave me the dirtiest looks and your wife allowed it!"

Grasping a hold of the twin's hands, she led the four of them across the swept sidewalks. Her boots crunched over the frozen ground. Her body quivered in anger. Ever since they stepped out that morning, the town had been treating them with disrespect. First that awful barber and now the old bat. The only ones who had been nice and treated them with respect were Dr. Alexander, Drew the Dentist, and that wonderful boy, Conrad Hicks. All three of them were true followers of God and came from three of the wealthiest families in town. Mr. Thompson and Mrs. Ferguson also were well-to-do, but they regarded poor people as burdens to society. They sat in the front row of the church, with the others, but they were far from followers of Jesus. She needed a long talk with her husband. The boys needed to know that no one had the right to talk to them that way.

Glancing down at her guests, she noticed they were not in the least bit fazed at the incidents that occurred. They're used to being treated this way! The thought hit her hard in the stomach. She remembered catching, Mr. Woodrow yelling and cussing at the boys and the look of shame and embarrassment at being caught. The three youngest boys kept their heads lowered to the ground as if they deserved it! While Theo stood his ground. Hands-on hips, head held high. He would take the abuse for all of them. She wanted the boy to open up to her. Of course, he wouldn't. He didn't trust her, and why should he? In their old world back in Brooklyn, people used and abused them. Catrina had to teach the boys that she was not like them. What was it that she learned in her upstate boarding school?

The poor uneducated and dissolute of the world are crass for a reason. Not once in their entire life has anyone loved or shown them respect! The men are harassers, the women adulteress and the children run around like animals because not once has man shown them one drop of love and respect. If you treat a man like an animal, he will respond as so. If you show a man love and respect, he will respond as so. If you come across one of these creatures, show them respect. It might be the only time they receive it. As followers of Christ, it is your duty!

Coming to a dead stop in front of the courthouse, Catrina turned to the boys. Millen looked up at her with wide, fearful eyes, Dylan looked puzzled, Francis looked fearful and Theo just raised an eyebrow. They were nervous as to what she was about to say. Closing her eyes, Catrina imagined Jesus and tried to radiate love.

"Boys," she began, opening her eyes. "I want to apologize for the way the four of you were just treated. Mrs. Ferguson is a bitter, old woman. Her husband died during the Civil War and she has carried that burden for years. She blames all Yankees for his death. Don't go down to her level. Pray for her and pity her. She has all the money and the finest education in the world but has no heart. She is not rich, she is poor. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Studying the faces staring back at her, Catrina cracked a smile. They looked up at her in astonishment. They were surprised someone was standing up for them.

"This is not your fault," she repeated.

"Pray?" Millen whispered as he tugged at his scarf. "Like in church?"

"Yes, dear," Catrina squeezed his hand. "You can pray to Jesus anywhere and anytime, not just in church."

"Shower her with love," Theo sighed.

Catrina couldn't tell if the boy was being sarcastic or not. She decided to go with it.

"God can choose anyone to change a person," her eyes skimmed over them. "We must be like him. Don't fight when someone is mad at you. Walk away. If someone is arguing with you, agree with them. It will confuse them. If someone yells at you, smile at them. We're all children of God. Every difficult moment in our lives is a teaching lesson from God. We have the power to change someone."

The younger boys smiled back at her, even Theo looked interested.

"Good," Catrina nodded. "Let's go find Frank and have lunch at the hotel. He will tell you some stories about how he changed some of the rudest customers into his favorites."

She took hold of the twin's hands again and they continued on their way.

"When Frank first married me, the uppity people in this town looked down on him," she continued. "Frank was not going to let them do that. He did to them what I just told you to do with Mrs. Ferguson and Mr. Thompson. He showed them respect when they didn't to him and his kindness even made a woman cry in shame. We're all human and we all have weaknesses."

"People were mean to us back in Brooklyn," Dylan said out loud.

Catrina turned to him, as they walked around a patch of ice.

"They would yell at us on our way to market," he continued. "They called us names and threw trash at us."

"Why?" Catrina snapped, her face flushed in anger.

Dylan shrugged, his thin shoulders rotated under his expensive coat.

"We were poor, uneducated pieces of Irish Trash," Theo interrupted, his voice having no emotion. "We were only good for slave labor and were to be treated as such."

Catrina felt blood rush to her face, as she grew hot, despite the bitter cold temperature. She remembered her professor's lecture on the poor. The other girls in the class giggled and rolled their eyes at the lesson, only Catrina took notes. It was as if God wanted her to know this and now she knew why.

The poor are taught from a young age that they're slaves to their betters. Books, culture, and art are purposely kept from them. In their poor churches, certain scriptures are not taught to them. A well-to-do man is taught to own up to his mistakes. A poor man is taught to think like a slave and blame others for his faults. It is our duty to change this. God sees us treating our children this way and he will punish us. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day we will feel his wrath!

Remembering Mr. Woodrow, Catrina knew God had punished the man yesterday on the train platform. Taking a deep breath, she reached down and scooped Dylan into her arms. The boy's eyes grew wide and he giggled as he responded by throwing his arms around her shoulders.

"I want you boys to know right now, that you're not Irish trash, do you understand me?" She kissed Dylan on the forehead, causing him to giggle again. Millen gasped and Francis's face glowed with excitement over the gesture. Theo stood stark still, his mouth open in shock.

"God does not create trash," she firmly continued. "We all have the power to change. If a grown person, like Mrs. Ferguson, is being ugly to someone it is because she did it to herself. She needs to realize that her husband is not coming back into this life. He is waiting for her in the next and he would probably be in disarray if he knew how she had lived her life after his passing. She made herself this way. Only she can change. We can be examples to her and others."

The boys nodded, even Theo.

"I may have only had the pleasure to have known you for less than two days, but I have come to love each and every single one of you. If my husband can be taught that the way he was raised is wrong, and his brain reprogrammed, then so can you. He goes to weekly Bible Study with me and a tutor used to come to our home to teach him how to adjust to his new lifestyle. Remember, he was brought up just like the four of you, except out in the country. When we courted one another, I taught him that he was worthy of respect. Not once in his life did he ever believe that a person like me would fall in love with a person from his background."

"Why did you fall in love with him?"

Catrina and the others turned to stare at Theo, who crossed his arms and cocked his head. She wanted to scream with happiness. The boy was talking to her!

"Well, it's like we said at breakfast," she said, smiling at him. "The helper at my father's nursery was on his sick bed. An extremely important bag of seeds was mistakenly dropped off at another nursery. I agreed to take the train and fetch it. Much to my father's disapproval."

Catrina stopped to study the expressions on the boy's faces. They seemed interested, even Theo.

"So, I chatted with Frank at the nursery and was in awe over his personality. He didn't treat me like a fragile little princess like all the other young men. He treated me as his equal. Which is what I always craved from a man, even my father, and brothers. I giggled over his silly jokes. I didn't want to leave. For the first time in my life, a man didn't care if my clothes were expensive, that I lived with my father in a mansion, or that I had a fine education. Frank talked to me as if I were his sister. I invited him to have lunch with me at the hotel and I would pay. Well, word reached my father fast. After returning to Sherwood and dropping off the bag of seeds, I felt his wrath! He screamed and hollered that my teaching career would be ruined! His precious daughter was seen in public having lunch with a farmer's son and she paid for their meal!"

Catrina paused. Theo shrugged his shoulders. The boy wasn't impressed by her story.

"I can only imagine." He continued, his voice soft, unlike most sixteen-year-olds. "It seems the rules of society are the same in Texas as they are in Brooklyn. The poor and rich don't mingle. That is why Mrs. Ferguson and Mr. Thompson were rude to us. We're not worthy of you and Frank's hospitality."

Catrina stared hard at Theo. The others allowed him to talk. He was their leader, after all.

"Don't bother correcting them, Mrs. Muller," he said. "It will just cause more trouble for my brothers and me after we return."

He looked her straight in the eyes. If the boy wanted a staring contest, he was messing with the wrong woman. She allowed him to continue.

"When the four of us return to Mr. Woodrow after Christmas, and we don't have you and your husband's protection, the rude and snobby citizens of Sherwood will release their wrath, so to speak. They will retaliate. We've gone through this before."

In her arms, Dylan turned to bury his face in her shoulder. Catrina knew exactly what Theo was talking about and it saddened and angered her at the same time. The uppity Christians, who walked around Sherwood with their noses in the air, would enjoy treating the boys like servants because of the crime that she and her husband showed them kindness.
These boys needed more than a proper place to live; they needed her husband's guidance, as well as a weekly Bible session. At the same time, an urge to march over to Mr. Woodrow's house and slug him in the face raced through her body. The boys needed to be taught that they were worthy of respect and love. If she could teach her husband this lesson, then she could teach the boys.

"I think," she addressed all of them. "That it is time for lunch. Frank is meeting us at the deli. I can't wait until he sees how wonderful the four of you look with your new haircuts."

Catrina spotted Theo rolling his eyes. Today obviously wouldn't be the day the boy would warm up to her. Francis seemed to follow his older brother. As if he were afraid the boy would hit him if he didn't. The twins, on the other hand, were slowly gravitating toward her. Both of them had curled up in her arms as if she were their real mother. The flash of anger on the oldest boy's face, when she reached down to pick up Dylan and rock him in her arms, caused her to smile. The twins were coming around to her side. Hopefully, the other two will soon.

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