A Montana Women Novella
Janie and the Judge
by Nancy Pirri
Judge Simon Hopkins oversees Janie's case and sentences her. Upon her release from jail, Simon assists her in finding a job at a reputable saloon. Soon Simon, a confirmed bachelor, begins to fall in love with the calm and gentle woman.
However, Simon has put away plenty of criminals, some of whom have been released and could come gunning for him. He’d like nothing better than to marry Janie, but can he take the chance?
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Genre: Historical | Western
“Quiet!” Judge Simon Hopkins ordered, pounding his gavel on the hardwood table that served as the bench of law in Butte and Bozeman, Montana. Simon was the only circuit judge to appear in Bozeman one month, then in Butte, the next. Having given his one warning, loud voices dropped to murmurs.
He hated the atmosphere today—eagerness mixed with anticipation—for folks in Butte knew everyone appearing today had been arrested for prostitution.
“Baliff, first one?” Simon said, directing his gaze at his assistant, Jordan Peterson.
Mrs. Janie Miller, rise,” Peterson announced.
When Simon had first read the sheriff’s report of the crime, he’d found it difficult to believe a married woman would prostitute herself, but then he saw that her husband was deceased, which meant she’d likely been left destitute.
Simon shoved his spectacles higher on his nose and looked up to see a tall woman in her mid-twenties standing before him. Her black hair she’d pulled back severely from her face and she wore widow’s weeds. Looking closer, Simon saw wisps of curls framing her face. The bit of fluff softened her features. Her lips were closed tight, her small chin pointy and slightly defiant.
Good. The woman was a fighter. She’d need to be.
“Mrs. Miller, have you legal representation?”
She gaped at him and he felt more than a bit foolish. He guessed she didn’t have a lawyer because she couldn’t afford one—yet it was a standard question he asked everyone before sentencing.
“Yes, she has, your honor,” a loud voice from the back of the courtroom called.
Simon saw a stocky man, slightly receding hairline, forty or so. He was dressed well, in a fine brown summer weight suit and he used an ebony cane as ornamentation rather than need. He was also sweating profusely. Simon caught the heated look in the man’s eyes as he looked at Mrs. Miller and knew the man possessed unsavory thoughts about her.
“No!” Mrs. Miller declared. “He’s not my lawyer but my husband’s brother who only wants—”
She didn’t finish her response but looked away, that chin held high once more.
Simon met her hazel-colored eyes that begged him to understand why she didn’t finish speaking. Beneath her deceivingly plain appearance was a beauty, one who’d fallen on hard times. “He wants what?”
After a long while, when she didn’t reply, he prompted, “Mrs. Miller?”
“Me,” she whispered, looking down at her hands which she kept twisting in front of her.
Simon nodded at his bailiff.
Peterson looked at the man standing in the back of the courtroom. “Proceed to the bench, sir.”
The man walked swiftly to the front, stopping beside Mrs. Miller, who seemingly cringed away from him.
“Your name?” Simon demanded.
“Clive Miller. Mrs. Miller was married to my brother, Robert.”
“Has Mrs. Miller hired your services? Are you a solicitor?”
“I am an attorney, your honor, but alas, Mrs. Miller has too much pride to take up my offer. My poor sister-in-law has been distraught since my brother’s demise, and not thinking clearly.”
“That’s not true,” she said in a trembling voice.
“It seems the lady has a difference of opinion. She has obviously refused your offer, so that’s that. You may sit down.”
“But your honor—”
Simon’s eyes riveted on the man. “You heard me, now sit down, or leave.”
The man stalked out of the courtroom, murmurings following in his wake.
“Order!” Simon slammed his gavel down on the desk.
The voices subsided. Looking over the top of his spectacles, Simon asked, “Are you pleading not guilty, Mrs. Miller?” Poking his finger at the report in front of him, he added, “It seems there’s more than one witness to your crime at the White Pearl Saloon. Do you deny that? If so, then we go to trial. If not, then I will proceed with sentencing.”
“I am guilty,” she whispered, “but not of the act itself.”
“Finish, please,” Simon demanded, though he kept his voice soft and gentle. He knew precisely what she meant, but he had to hear her say the words, though they wouldn’t clear her. Even if she hadn’t bedded a man she’d been caught with intent to do so.
“We hadn’t fornicated yet.”
~ * ~
Louder murmuring filled the courtroom then and Janie saw the condemnation in the women’s eyes, and lewd looks from several of the men. Her cheeks burned. She glared at the judge and knew he’d known what she meant before she’d confessed the words aloud, furious he’d made her say them.
“Yet you were there, in Farley Hanson’s room at the Pearl to do exactly that, correct?”
Bowing her head, she looked down at her folded hands and nodded.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to speak up, Mrs. Miller.”
“Yes, I was.” She kept her focus on her hands, which she’d kept clasped together to control their shaking.
She looked at him, raising her brow as humiliation flooded her body. “Ex . . . excuse me?” How much more explanation did he want?
“Allow me to rephrase that. What were the circumstances that would drive you to do such a thing?”
“Why…I…oh dear,” she whispered as tears welled in her eyes.
Murmurings started again and she squeezed her eyes shut, hearing whispers of ‘whore’ among the crowd.
She caught the agitated expression on the judge’s face as he pounded the gavel again and rose. Looking at his bailiff, he said, “I want a moment of privacy with Mrs. Miller.” He strode out of the courtroom, his robes flying away from his long, lean body with each long stride.
A deputy opened the door for the judge and he sailed through it. Janie stood there, quivering, and wondering what to do. Should she just follow him? Then she saw the bailiff headed toward her and she cringed when he grasped her arm and led her the same way the judge had gone.
“No need to worry, ma’am,” the big, burly man whispered. “Judge is a fair man.”
In the judge’s dark-paneled chambers, Janie stood before his desk, in silence. She watched him look through several pieces of paper before setting them down, settling back in his chair and fixing a disconcerted look on her.
Janie clutched her hands and met his irritated gaze.
“Stop doing that,” he said. “I’m not going to eat you for my supper.”
Janie wondered about that but relaxed her hands, observing the man who would decide her fate. He was perhaps only a few inches taller than her, whipcord lean with straight black hair sprinkled with a tiny bit of gray.
His piercing dark eyes unsettled her. She caught a light shadowy color along his jaw-line, telling her he was one of those men who grew a beard an hour after shaving. He appeared to have an innate strength in him. The man made her nervous—very much so. But then, he would be the one handing down her sentence.
Heaving a deep sigh, he dropped the papers, came around the desk, pausing beside a chair. “Have a seat, Mrs. Miller.”
She slid into the hardwood chair and kept her gaze lowered to her lap.
She looked up and saw he’d folded his arms across his chest and was leaning against the desk. “Explain to me how you came to be at the White Pearl last evening, and why. What purpose did you have for going there?”
“I already said, I needed money.” Her reply was terse but she didn’t regret it. Men had been bullying her all her life and she’d had enough of that treatment.
“And prostituting yourself was the only way to go about earning your way?”
“I’d applied all over town for work but no one would hire me. I recently learned someone had been a step ahead of me and was sabotaging my chances at securing a position.”
“Your deceased husband left you with nothing? No home to possibly mortgage? Was he a rancher?”
“A farmer. Shortly after his death, I discovered he’d lost our home and the little livestock we had in a card game.”
“I have no idea,” she lied. “The day following his death some men I didn’t know arrived at our place—eighteen miles south of here—to say they owned the property now and I had forty-eight hours to vacate the premises. Believe me, I questioned them thoroughly. They told me how Robert had lost our homestead gambling.”
“Yet you don’t know who these men were?”
Janie started to shake her head but stopped when she saw him staring at her hard, obviously weighing her words for the truth. But she also saw something in his expression she hadn’t seen from any other man in her life—kindness—and decided to tell him the truth.
“The same man who won the property was the same man who claimed to be my attorney.”
Simon’s eyes widened. “You mean to tell me your brother-in-law took your home from you? Because the gambling debt was between him and his brother?”
She nodded and swiped at tears running down her cheeks. “I’m fairly certain he’s also the person standing in the way of my securing any work in Butte.”
“My husband has always had a weakness for gambling, of which I had no idea when we married. My brother-in-law has always…well, he’s always coveted me.”
~ * ~
Yes, Simon could see why a man would want Mrs. Janie Miller. She was pretty, seemingly intelligent, softly spoken, feminine, everything a man could want—even Simon—that is, if he were looking for marriage. He was like most men, wanting certain things in life; a comfortable home, bed, a decent job to make a living, wife and children. But he was also a pragmatic man and knew that in his chosen work he’d made plenty of enemies. He refused to marry and have children, which could jeopardize their safety—their lives. He’d remain a bachelor all his days, not that he hadn’t been involved with any women—he had—but not in a long while.
Simon cleared his throat. “All right. You’ve admitted your guilt, that you had every intention of fornicating with Farley Hansen. Correct?
“You understand that I’ll be sentencing you to spend the next month, incarcerated in the Bozeman jail, don’t you?”
Her eyes widened and she shook her head. “No, why, the thought never crossed my mind.”
“How did you think you’d pay for your crime? You’ve no money to pay the fine, I assume.”
“No,” she whispered.
His heart clenched at the tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’ll order the sheriff to place you in a cell by yourself for the thirty days. You’ll be well protected. Then, once you’ve served your time, I’ll be back, with a job offer for you.”
What a mixed blessing, Janie thought; a thirty-day prison sentence and the possibility of a job at the same time. Yet, doubts surfaced. Much of her life had been spent in servitude—first to an abusive father, then husband. Why should she even think to have hope in what this man had to offer? Narrowing her eyes, she asked, suspiciously, “What sort of job?”
“Help in managing a place called Katie’s Palace.”
“A saloon?” Dread filled her heart.
“It’s a lodging, restaurant and saloon in one.” She opened her mouth to tell him under no circumstances would she work in a saloon again, in any capacity when he held his hand up, stopping her.
“The place is legal and the owner, Katie Freeman, has recently had a baby and wants to spend most of her time at home caring for her baby and her little girl. Her husband is James Freeman, Bozeman’s sheriff. She’s looking for someone to manage her business. She needs a trustworthy replacement, and I’ve been told throughout my life I’m an excellent judge of character. You’d be the perfect person for the job.”
She sputtered, “But I know nothing about managing a saloon!”
“Like I said, it’s a lodging house and restaurant and you’ve managed a home before seeing as you’d been married, so I assume you’ll manage this place just fine. Of course, you’d have to move to Bozeman.”
Biting her lip, she thought about his offer. Since Clive had sabotaged her chances at getting a respectable job in Butte, and she had to survive, she decided this offer was a good one. What were the chances that a judge could be as evil as Clive, after all? She just didn’t think it possible. She met his gaze. “I have nothing here in Butte to hold me. Have you mentioned me to Mrs. Freeman?”
“I will when I return to Bozeman this week.”
She rose to her feet and stuck out her hand. “I accept your very generous offer, Judge Hopkins. Thank you. I’m just hoping Mrs. Freeman will hire me.”
“She will. She trusts my judgment in people.” He took her hand. “Don’t thank me too soon, though. The Palace is a popular place and busy most of its open hours. You’ll work hard for your money, believe me.”
“Hard work never bothered me.”
He squeezed her hand, then released it. She caught a glimmer of admiration in his eyes before he concealed it and took her arm.
“Come. I hate to do this but the law’s the law. He escorted her to the door and back into the courtroom where a full crowd still waited. People were talking loud and babies were crying. Good grief, Janie thought, how could a person bring a baby to something like this?
The judge left her at her seat and she stood, facing him as he sat behind his desk once more. He smashed his gavel down again and the room quieted. “After private conversation with Mrs. Miller, she’s admitted her guilt. The city of Butte remands Mrs. Miller to a sentence of thirty days in jail, in Bozeman. Next case!”
As the Bailiff led Janie out of the courtroom she glanced back at Judge Hopkins who’d already moved on to hearing testimony of one of the prostitutes she’d met at the White Pearl Saloon. The woman had legal representation and she wondered if this would help keep her from jail.
Later, Janie learned it hadn’t helped a bit for that same prostitute was housed for the next month in the cell next to hers. Over the next thirty days the woman kept to herself even though Janie would try and talk to her from her cell, especially when the woman’s caterwauling kept Janie awake at night.
Janie’s month in jail dragged, until Christmas. For the first time in years, Janie celebrated Christmas and enjoyed herself, even if she was behind bars. Judge Hopkins had arrived with a picnic basket luncheon he’d had a local eatery pack for them. In three days, she’d be leaving her cell and the judge would escort her to The Palace.
Janie was nervous and excited at the same time about starting a new life for herself. She didn’t know how she’d ever be able to repay this kind man for coming to her aid. She’d find a way, though, because she refused to be beholdin’ to anyone.
~ * ~
Simon sat with Sheriff James Freeman and his wife, Katie, as he told them about Janie Miller, keeping his fingers crossed that they’d trust his judgment.
“So, the woman sounds like she’s had her share of suffering in life, that’s for sure,” James Freeman said.
“Yes, she’s been dealt a raw hand,” Simon said. “I promise that she’ll work out fine for the job.”
“Simon? We believe you, and trust your judgment in people. Always have,” Katie added with a smile. She pecked Simon’s cheek then rose to her feet. “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I’ve a baby to feed.”
Simon stood up and watched Katie leave the parlor and head upstairs to feed her baby. He glanced down at James when he heard him laugh.
“That boy possesses the most voracious appetite. It seems Katie is hardly finished feedin’ him when he wants to eat all over again.”
Where’s your older kids today?”
“Luke and Hannah are out at the Lawson farm. Madeline Lawson was having a birthday party for her two.” He chuckled. “Haven’t had this much peace and quiet since the two of them were born.”
“You’re a blessed man, James.”
James came to his feet. “I am.” Tilting his head to one side, he added, “You should try marriage, Simon.”
“You know how I feel about that. I’ve plenty of enemies and refuse to put a family in harm’s way.”
“A body can’t live like that forever, and you know it. There are plenty of judges and lawmen who’ve married and have had no problems.”
“Yes. And there are just as many who have. Have you any idea how many men I’ve put behind bars, and how many of them are now free and possibly looking for revenge?”
“No idea, but like I said, you can’t live looking over your shoulder your entire life.”
“What you say makes sense, but I haven’t changed my mind on the topic.”
“Maybe because you haven’t met the right woman, yet. I was a lot like you, my friend, before meeting Katie. It’s like lightning striking and your life changes. For the better, I might add.”
“You could be right,” Simon said, thinking about Janie Miller.