Chapter Three—The Good

     There were a lot of decent religious people in the town of Silver Creek, and some of them tended to be a little superstitious. Or overly religious. Or maybe they were right. But whatever the reason, they literally thought she was an angel who was living among them. After all, the Bible says that some people have entertained angels unawares.
     Her name was Missy Jacobs. She was certainly as lovely, externally and internally, as an angel. About 5’4”, she had golden brown hair that shaped her face and ended at her shoulders. Her skin was soft, lightly tan, and almost transparent. Her eyes were slender, and of a dazzling shade of green. Her nose, lips, and chin were proportioned perfectly. She wasn’t large anywhere, but again, everything on her fit precisely. Missy wasn’t a classical beauty, but there wasn’t a man in Silver Creek—or a woman—who didn’t find her exceedingly attractive. Most of the females were jealous of the way she looked, but they all loved her. Everybody loved Missy.
     She always had a soft smile and a kind word. She was never loud or ostentatious. She moved gracefully, but easily, and no one ever thought she was trying to draw attention to herself or that she expected anything from anyone. Missy was a quiet, selfless, unassuming, helpful…angel. If she ever had a bad thought about anyone, it never escaped her lips.
     And given her upbringing, this was all the more amazing….

     Missy was one of the local schoolteachers. Silver Creek was a small town, perhaps 350 people, though the farm and ranch population in the area that the town serviced expanded that figure somewhat. There were enough children for two schools, and oddly, they had been built on opposite ends of town. Missy taught the younger ones, up through the sixth grade. Only 21 years old, she had moved to Silver Creek from back east a couple of years before because her grandmother needed her. Missy hadn’t especially been excited about the move, but she felt a duty to her older relative, so she came. The school teaching job had been promised to her before she arrived at Silver Creek, so she was able to live fairly comfortably. It was the grandmother….more about her in a moment.
     Back to Missy’s early life. It was, in a word, horrible. She was raised by a drunken brawler and a whore, with a sadistic, unhinged grandmother frequently thrown into the mix. She was the only child of Henry and Francis Jacobs. Missy’s earliest memories were of different places, moving around a lot. Her father was unable to hold a job because he couldn’t stay away from a bottle. Missy was scared to death of him because, when he came home drunk, which was most nights, if her mother wasn’t there, he would whip his daughter mercilessly with a belt. Francis, as often as not, was with another man, something that didn’t bother Henry too much. He had Missy to take it out on.
     Henry, however, left the family when Missy was 7 years old—for good. He was killed in a saloon fight in western Kansas. Francis supported herself and her daughter by going to work at that saloon, mostly in the upstairs rooms. Missy went to school and did what little odd jobs she could that might bring in a nickel or a dime occasionally. She was a bright, intelligent, sweet girl; the tragedy of her home life didn’t seem to affect her disposition at all—except she tended to be very quiet. But she had a heart of gold. She would stop and pet every dog or cat she saw—none of them ever ran from her. Butterflies would land on her outstretched finger, even deer would come up to her and let her stroke and feed them. She seemed as innocent and as harmless as a lamb. There wasn’t a deceitful bone in her body. And everybody but her father and mother recognized it.
     But life was difficult. She realized, by the time she was 12, exactly what her mother was doing. It saddened her, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. They lived in a dirty, drafty boarding house; Missy, literally, might not see her mother for 3 or 4 days. Francis worked at night and Missy went to school during the day. Francis, often, would already be at the saloon by the time her daughter arrived home from school, and then Missy would be in bed when her mother got home. And then gone to school before Francis got up the next morning. Missy learned to take care of herself.
     This less-than-idyllic life was also unpleasantly interrupted every year by her grandmother, Francis’ mother. Judy Boatner was her name, and she was the embodiment of the sanctimonious spinster. Tall, thin, bespectacled, with her hair in a bun, she never married. Francis was the child of a tryst, but Judy told her daughter that her father—lawfully wedded to Judy—died when Francis was just a baby. Francis learned otherwise, but it didn’t bother her. Nothing really bothered her much. She wasn’t endowed with an overly active conscience or a driving ambition; being a soiled dove and letting her daughter fend for herself suited her just fine.
     Judy also tended towards mental instability. She could go from sadistic witch to thoughtful maiden, and then back again, within a very short period of time. “Schizophrenic” would be the eventual term, but “crazy” was the current one.
     Anyway, Judy came for a visit each year between Missy’s 8th and 16th birthdays. She stayed about six weeks on each occasion. Being the self-righteous prude that she was, she believed unreservedly in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Missy’s mother had never really disciplined her—the girl hadn’t needed it—but to Judy, her granddaughter was as wild as an unbroken filly. So Missy spent a lot of time over Judy’s knee, her bare bottom getting intimately acquainted and reacquainted—and reacquainted—with her grandmother’s wooden paddle—for such offenses as overcooking the potatoes, or churning the butter too fast, or neglecting to make her bed before breakfast. Missy never complained or balked; she accepted her “punishment” without murmur, always hugged her grandmother afterwards, and promised to do better. Judy’s last visit was when Missy was 16 years old, and grandmother hadn’t changed a bit, still thinking of her granddaughter as a spoiled child who needed firm backside discipline—“firm” when grandma was in a “thoughtful” mood, but pitiless when she was a witch. And she dished it out to Missy several times in the six weeks she stayed. But, as always, Missy didn’t fight or argue—and was even sad to see the train with her grandmother on it leave the depot, even though Judy had spanked her soundly that very morning—and not in the “firm” mode. "When will she be back?” Missy had asked her mother, with a tear in her eye, waving to her departing “Grandma” as the train rolled away from the station.
     Francis, as noted, had never disciplined Missy, and had often giggled softly upon seeing her daughter lying across her grandmother’s lap—“now you know what I went through when I was growing up.” But when Missy asked when Judy was returning, mother looked at daughter like the girl was out of her mind.
     It wasn’t long after that that Francis left town with a man. And left her daughter stranded. Within a few days, Missy was desperate. She didn’t have a job, couldn’t get one that paid more than 5 cents a day, and didn’t have any money. The solution that presented itself was appalling.
     The owner of the saloon, Harry Bixby, approached her. “You can have your mother’s old job. Be there at 3 PM today.” And then he walked away.
     Missy was horrified. I could NEVER do that. She didn’t go that day, but had nothing to eat. The rent was due and she had no money to pay it. “You give me some money by noon day after tomorrow, first of the month,” her landlady, Nora, had told her, “or you’ll be sleeping in the street that night.”
     Bixby came to Missy again at noon the next day and said, “If you aren’t there today at 3 PM, you’ll never work for me.” Missy was on the verge of tears. Her rent was due the following day, she hadn’t had a meal in two days, and she had no other prospects. At least she could get something to eat at the saloon. Oh, how horrible…horrible… horrible…She dropped her head in her hands and wept.
     But at 3 PM, she was at the saloon. She had never been in such a place before and she was trembling all over. To Missy, the place was filthy. Sawdust covered floor, tables with whiskey and tobacco stains on them, a dirty bar, a picture of a reclining naked woman above a scratched, cracked mirror, smelly spittoons everywhere—it took all of the girl’s will power not to turn and run out the swinging doors.
     Bixby saw her. “Ah. Miss Jacobs. Come on in and have a seat. You’ll do well taking your mother’s place, I’m sure.” He looked her up and down, like a wolf about to devour a lamb.
     Missy sat at the table across from Bixby, her hands in her lap. Her insides were churning, but she took a deep breath to calm herself. I guess I have no choice… ”What…will my job be?”
     Bixby, who was a slimy looking character, mid-40s, balding, small, thin, beady snake eyes, and crooked yellow teeth, smiled wickedly at her. “Well, you’ll help me make money. And make some of your own.”
     “How do I do that?”
     Bixby narrowed his devious eyes at her even more. “How old are you?”
     “Then you’re old enough to know. I’ll give you the outfit you are to wear. You start at 5 each night, when the crowd begins to come in. You mingle, smile, laugh, flirt, try to get the men to drink as much as possible. If they want to pinch you on the rump, you let them pinch you on the rump. If someone wants you to sit in his lap, you sit in his lap. If one of them wants to take you upstairs, you go upstairs. Charge him $5 for that. 25 cents of it will be yours, plus any tips he might give you. A quarter dollar is a good tip; doubles your pay. Try to keep the sessions down to 30 minutes.” He shrugged. “The more tricks you turn, the more money you make.”
     Missy, who’d never been “pinched on the rump” by anybody before, was about to scream, but she contained herself. “Tricks?”
     “Yeah. You get a guy into bed. That’s your main job. We close at about 3 or 4 AM, or when the last patron leaves.” He smiled, a wicked, sickening smile. “As good looking as you are, girl, you could easily make $5-10 a night. More if you do a good job and get some nice tips. Your mother did pretty well, but not as good as you can do. I think $4.50 was her best night.” The man was a first class cheat, but Missy didn’t know that. Then Bixby smiled as depraved a smile as Missy had ever seen on a human face. “Of course, I’ll need to find out, personally, if you’re…worthy…of working for me. We’ll do that in just a few minutes.”
     Missy stared at him. She understood perfectly what he meant. This is horrible…horrible…I can’t do this…I don’t care how much money I make…Missy had never been with a man before. She knew what her mother had been doing, of course, but Missy never intended to follow her into this profession. It never crossed her mind. But desperation…
     I won’t do it…She stood up. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bixby, I’d rather die than do what you suggest.” And she meant it. She turned and walked out of the saloon.
     “Don’t come back to me begging for a job,” Bixby called after her. “You won’t get one.”
     Missy ran all the way back to the boarding house, tears streaming down her cheeks.

     She was met at the door by her landlady, Nora. “Do you have the rent?”
     “No,” Missy said meekly.
     Nora, who was almost as big as the side of a huge barn, said, “Noon tomorrow.” Then waddled away.
     Missy watched her. What am I going to do?…

     She was saved, almost at the last moment. Benton Crawford was a local merchant who knew Missy—well, everybody did, everybody knew everybody else in small towns—and he knew her situation. Before noon the next day, he came to Missy and invited her home to stay with him and his wife.
     “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” Missy said. “That would be imposing…I…couldn’t, I just couldn’t.”
     Benton smiled compassionately at her. “Well, if that’s the way you feel. I’m sure the saloon would love to have you. And all the filthy, disgusting men who go in there…”
     Missy lowered her head and cried. “I’ll go with you,” she said, barely above a whisper. And Benton and Bertha Crawford welcomed the helpless girl into their home.
     But not for long because Benton had other plans for her. “There is a boarding school in Chicago I want you to go to, Missy. You can get more schooling, train in some trade, and get a job in a few years. It’s just what you need.”
     Missy’s eyes got wide. “But…Mr. Crawford…how will I pay for it? I have no money.”
     Well, to make a long story short, Crawford had intended to send his daughter to the school, but the girl had died when she was 14. He had already paid the school in advance for his daughter’s education, so he simply sent Missy to take her place. “Bertha and I want to do this for you, Missy. Please let us. It would make us both so happy to see you become what we know you can become.”
     Missy’s tender heart gushed forth the tears. And she went to Chicago.

     And she did very well. Head of her class. And she learned some etiquette that she had never learned at home—couldn’t have learned at home. It was a girl’s boarding school, of course, and she was as well-received and well-loved there as she had been everywhere she had gone. She met a few men, but they weren’t important in her life yet. She felt an obligation to Benton and Bertha Crawford to do as well as she could. And she excelled. She wrote to them twice a month, unfailingly. And she never failed to express her undying love and gratitude for her benefactors. Missy had cold chills thinking about what her life might have become without the Crawfords. I’d probably be working in that saloon now… She could hardly think about Benton and Bertha without tears coming to her eyes.
     The school had a four-year program and Missy was studying elementary education; she wanted to teach children. Her heart ached when she saw the condition of some of the homeless urchins that roamed the streets of Chicago, just trying to survive. She knew a lot of the girls ended up in prostitution. There but for the grace of God and the Crawfords go I…Missy had become devoutly religious. It was one (more?) thing she really thanked her grandmother Judy for—taking her to church, though she often puzzled over some of the things her grandmother said about people; it sounded like gossip to Missy. But she would never be judgmental; I’m sure Grandma Judy knows best. Much of Missy’s goodness was innate, but when she learned about God, she wanted all the more to be good. Her frequent encounters with her grandmother’s paddle convinced her that she was far, far from divine grace—her Grandma Judy was never unfair, not to Missy—and thus the girl’s religion became a source of comfort to her as well as an inspiration to try to better herself morally. Not that she needed much of the latter.
     Then, when she was 19, a letter came from a man named Oscar Morris. He lived in Silver Creek, Montana Territory—where her grandmother Judy lived—and the school needed another teacher. He knew about Missy from Judy, and offered the girl the teaching job. Missy would probably not have taken it, for two reasons. One, she hadn’t finished school yet, and two, she wanted to go back to Kansas and be with the Crawfords and hopefully find a teaching job there. Or at least in a town relatively close by. But in Oscar Morris’s letter, he said that grandmother Judy was not in good health. Her mind was wandering and she was doing some dangerous things—like leaving the fire in the stove burning when she left her house. Morris believed the situation would be perfect for Missy—she could have the teaching job and look after her grandmother as well. Missy had to do it, of course. She would have gone to take care of Grandma Judy even without the job offer. She tried to teach me when my mother wouldn’t…I’ve got to go take care of her, I’m all she’s got…Missy hadn’t heard from her mother since the latter had run off with a man, and she never expected to. And as stuffy and sadistic as Judy could be, Missy…would never think evil of her. Or anyone else, for that matter.
     So, she wrote the Crawfords and explained. Of course, they gave her 100% support—and even sent her the money for the train ticket to Montana. Missy had a little money of her own; the school gave the girls an allowance, and Missy gave much of it to the children she saw in the city. But she had enough for a train ticket to Kansas, so she went and spent a few days with the Crawfords. It was a tearful reunion, and then a tearful departure a few days later.
     Missy Jacobs was on her way to her new life.