The Spinster (Emerson Pass Historicals #2) by Tess Thompson

Josephine





The letter from Phillip Baker came on paper as thin as our pond’s ice after a first autumn freeze. Perhaps that delicate paper should have been a clue as to what was to come. How my life would change. One could not skate on ice that thin. How right I was.

I read his correspondence twice, thinking through his offer. With a lightness in my steps that did not match my heavy heart, I walked to the window of my parents’ sitting room. A first snowfall had blanketed the valley where my father’s estate dwelt between two Colorado mountains. Our winter wonderland had come late this year. A brilliant, sunny, crisp fall had gone on for months. Given all that the last few years had bestowed upon us, we gratefully enjoyed every moment.

We’d survived the days and days of worry over my twin brothers fighting in France and the threat of the Spanish flu to the troops. Then, a second wave—the deadliest wave—of the Spanish flu had plundered the world. A third in the fall, threatening us once more. Emerson Pass had managed to remain isolated enough that we’d been spared.

Finally, though, it seemed as if the world would return to our lives before the war. Papa and Mama had seemed to be able to breathe again for the first time since the boys had enlisted, not yet seventeen, having lied about their age. Our dear friend Isak Olofsson had also survived. All three were home now. Not quite the same, but physically intact.

Not all of our boys returned to Emerson Pass. We’d lost Francis Lane. I hadn’t known him well, but he was part of us. A soul lost. Buried in a cemetery across the seas. A young man who would never know what it was like to marry, have children, grow old.

And I’d lost Walter Green. He was not one of us. No one but I mourned him here. I had enough grief for a whole town.

The first letter from Phillip Baker had come in the fall of 1918. I could remember every word.

My name is Phillip Baker. I’m not sure if Walter ever mentioned me in his letters, but we knew each other for a brief time when we were children and then, by coincidence, were assigned to the same unit for basic training and sent to France together. I’m writing to tell you that Walter was killed in action last week. I was aware of your correspondence with him and that you would want to know. I’m sorry. He died bravely and without any suffering.

Just a month before the end, he’d been killed in action. The promise of our future together snuffed out before it began. I’d had only two weeks with him. Two weeks of bliss. Now I had only the memories. They would have to sustain me for the rest of my life. I would be a spinster. A librarian spinster and auntie to my six siblings’ children.

I touched my fingertips to the cold glass. Snow fell steadily outside the windows. In Colorado, we had at least a dozen words to describe snowflakes. Today it was a dry, fat flake. Good for skiing, according to Flynn and Theo. A new sport they’d fallen in love with after their time in Europe. They’d come home determined to bring skiing here to Emerson Pass. The sport of the future, Flynn had declared. A way for our town to continue to grow and flourish. Shops would be built around the visitors. They’d seen it in the Alps. It would work here too, they’d told Papa. He’d agreed to let them use part of their trust for the investment in their future. They were now happily planning away for the new version of our town. They’d cleared trees on the northern mountain for runs and built a lodge from the logs. In the spring, they would complete the rest of the needed details. By next winter, if all went well, skiing would have come to us for good.

I returned to the letter, reading the neat handwriting.

November 20, 1919

Dear Josephine,

I hope this letter will find you well. I’m also hopeful that you’ll remember who I am. If not, I’ll be mortified. Since returning from the war, I’ve been in New York City. Unfortunately, I became very ill last year with the Spanish flu. While convalescing, I remembered your descriptions of Emerson Pass from the letters you wrote to Walter. (He often read passages to me and the other men.)

Your descriptions of the wildflowers, sky, and trees have convinced me to travel west in pursuit of my own place of belonging. I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and come to Colorado, perhaps to settle for good. I’m writing to see if I might visit you and your family? I ended up with your letters and the books you sent. I feel guilty that I haven’t sent them to you before now, as I’m sure you’d like to have them.

My request and trip may sound strange to you, but there’s nothing or no one keeping me here. I grew up in an orphanage and have never truly had a home.