Read The Teacher's Mail Order Bride Online
Authors: Cindy Caldwell
Copyright © 2015 by Cindy Caldwell
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osemary Archer sighed
at the happy faces in the shadow of the tall, brick schoolhouse, both young and old, almost all of them eating ice cream at the fundraiser for Tombstone’s growing schoolhouse. School would be starting in a couple of weeks, and as in other growing Western towns, the funds allocated for schooling local children was not quite keeping pace with private ventures—saloons, theaters, and restaurants most among them.
Rose looked up at the bell at the top of the school, smiling at the memory of having spent her school years in this very building. She closed her eyes and the images were so vivid that she almost heard the school bell ringing, the wind in her pigtails as she ran toward it. She never wanted to miss a single minute, her books tied together and flopping behind her as she raced toward the open doors.
“Where are you, Rose?” Rose’s eyes flew open to see the smiling face of her friend, Suzanne, each of her hands holding one of identical twin girls.
“Why are you standing there with your eyes closed?” Lily, one of the five-year-old blonde twins, asked.
“Shush, now, Lily.” Suzanne gave her daughter’s hand a squeeze. Lily’s brows drew together and she looked up at her mother.
“Why? She was.” Lily pulled her hand from her mother’s and crossed her arms over her chest, her bottom lip extended as far as it could be.
“You look silly with that face,” Lucy, her twin sister, said as she regarded Lily around her mother’s full skirts.
Rose laughed at the clear difference in personality of the twins, thankful that there was at least that to know which one was which. Without that, with their identical faces and the same long, golden hair it would be impossible to tell.
“How could you tell them apart before they could talk?” she asked Suzanne.
Suzanne shook her head slowly. “We couldn’t for the longest time. I had to get them different color rompers until we could. Even now, if they don’t want us to, it’s difficult.” She craned her neck, surveying the crowd. “I need to introduce myself to the new headmaster and apologize in advance as they start school this year,” she said with a chuckle and another affectionate squeeze of the twins’ hands.
“Mama, can we have some more ice cream?” Lucy gazed up at her mother with warm, pleading eyes that Rose thought could probably melt anyone’s heart.
“I can’t do that now, love. I need to sell some more raffle tickets to buy new books.” She turned again, her eyes cast toward a group by the tree. “If I could just find your father...”
“Oh, Suzanne, let me take them. I’d love to,” Rose said. She was met with delighted squeals and a look of gratitude from Suzanne as she reached for the twins’ hands. She headed toward the tables where mothers were serving bowls of what she hoped would be peach ice cream—her favorite—and passed by the small play yard of the schoolhouse. Rose glanced over at a small group of children sitting under the large pecan tree that had provided the only shade in the play yard behind the school for as long as she could remember.
“Girls, do you know who those children over there are?” she asked, confusion clouding her face. “Why aren’t they here having ice cream?”
“I don’t know,” Lucy said as she turned to look in the direction Rose had nodded her head.
“I don’t either, but let’s go get them,” Lily said. “Everyone should have ice cream because we don’t get to very much.”
Rose stopped in her tracks after the three of them had walked several steps toward the small group of children under the tree. Her eyebrows rose as her eyes met those of a young boy, about the age of the twins, his eyes growing wide as he saw her approach. Her heart pinched as he turned, said something to the group and they scattered as if they were spores of a dandelion blown by the wind.
“That’s odd,” she said under her breath, watching as they turned the far corner of the schoolhouse and disappeared.
“I haven’t been able to speak to them yet,” said a deep male voice behind her and she started in surprise.
Turning back toward the ice cream—and the voice—Rose found herself looking up at one of the tallest men she’d ever met, a full head taller than she was, and followed his concerned gaze to where the children had been.
“Hello, Mr. Tate,” the twins said in unison, and Rose suddenly realized she was standing in front of the new headmaster, the man the school committee had brought all the way from Boston. The memory of her father’s assessment—tall, seemed decent, well-educated and no cause for concern—flashed through her mind as she tilted her head and looked into his deep, brown eyes. She hadn’t asked at the time, but she wondered now what her father had meant by no cause for concern.
The handsome man in front of her removed his bowler hat, a lock of wavy, brown hair falling forward as he placed his hat on his chest and took a small bow. As he stood and replaced his hat, he said, “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Mr. Tate, the new headmaster.”
Rose smiled as Lily giggled and said, “We just said that, Mr. Tate.”
“Well, it bears repeating as a formal introduction, Lucy,” Mr. Tate said.
Rose tried to stifle her laugh with her hand as she knew what was coming. “I’m Lily, Mr. Tate. When will you ever learn?” Lily said as she pulled her hand from Rose’s and ran over to the ice cream table, having lost all of her remaining patience.
“Come on, she’ll eat all the ice cream.” Lucy tugged at Rose’s hand, pulling her away from the adult introductions and toward the peach ice cream.
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Tate,” Rose said over her shoulder as she turned to see him staring after her, his lips turned up in a grin and his head cocked to one side as she disappeared into the crowd.
ose stepped back
from the warm embrace she’d been pulled into by her sister, Meg, when they’d both arrived at the serving table.
She looked her sister over for any hint that she was unhappy. Not finding a single thing to give her that impression, she smiled up at her new brother-in-law, Sam Allen, his arm over his wife’s shoulder as he beamed down at her.
“Don’t you two look the picture of happiness,” Rose said as she squeezed her sister’s hand.
She noted the pink creeping onto Meg’s face as she looked down at her feet and then up at Sam. “I hope we do, because we surely are. Happy, I mean.”
“No doubt about that. When I asked for a mail-order bride, I never thought this could happen.” Sam said as he looked around his wife at the commotion at the serving table.
“Young lady, I think you need an adult to help you with that,” said an older woman dressed in black from head to toe, her mourning jewelry pinned to her chest.
“Oh, no,” Rose groaned as she watched the tug of war commencing between Lily and Widow Samson, the newly elected school committee chairman who had been widowed at least four years prior and continued to behave as if her husband’s demise was as recent as the last church service.
“I’ll help,” Sam said as his arms swooped down and retrieved the two bowls of ice cream, the eyes of Lucy and Lily—and Mrs. Samson—not leaving their quarry.
“Come over to the table, girls. Aunt Sadie is waiting for us,” he said as he turned toward the far corner of the schoolyard, watching as the girls raced ahead of him and plopped onto the bench beside Sadie, her hand protectively placed on her pregnant belly.
“I’d better get some ice cream and catch up,” Meg whispered to Rose. “Talk later?”
Rose nodded and turned to smile at Mrs. Samson, whose lips were pinched together, her frown radiating disapproval. Rose was fairly confident that there was no other expression that the widow was capable of—at least she’d never seen one, not even when the widow’s husband was still alive.
“Hello, Mrs. Samson,” Rose mustered, receiving a nod in return, but no greeting as the Widow Samson glared at the retreating twins.
Rose spent the following hour with Suzanne, selling raffle tickets and enjoying greeting many of her friends that she rarely got to see as she’d fallen into the role of chief egg-collector and cow-milker at Archer Ranch when her older sister had recently left to marry Sam Allen.
Her pinching boots nagged at her enough that she looked around for a place to sit for a moment. The crowd hadn’t thinned much and she looked around the corner of the schoolhouse to see if the bench that had been up against the wall when she was in school was still there.
Happy that it was, and that there was no one on this side of the building and she might be able to sit in quiet for a spell, she walked over and sat down. She loosened the laces on her boots a moment and leaned back against the cool wall under the shade of the pecan tree.
She rested her head against the cool brick, wondering how many times she’d done so under the shade of this very tree, and closed her eyes as the coolness of the bricks and the shade rustled up fond memories.
She sat up as she heard the latch of the schoolhouse side door click. Its brass handle clicked and the door opened into the building.
Her eyes widened as the figure of a small boy, maybe eight or ten, his black hair slicked back from his face, backed out of the door. He clutched two books in his arms as he stared at the door and pulled it slowly closed, taking care not to make any noise.
He let out a deep sigh and looked longingly at the books, rubbing his hand slowly over the leather. He gazed back at the schoolhouse for a moment, his eyes clouded.
“Hello,” Rose said softly, and her hand flew to her chest as he jumped back from her, the books flying out of his hands and falling to the ground with a thud.
His brown eyes wide, he looked from Rose toward the area that held the gathering and back to Rose.
“Let me help you,” she said, standing and moving toward him to help collect the books.
“No, no, please,” he said, his voice trembling.
“Really, I am happy to,” Rose said, bending to pick up the books from the ground. As she reached for them, she noted his boots were very worn and looked maybe a size or two too big—which did not prevent him from turning tail and running as fast as his legs could carry him toward the west side of town. She walked a few steps in the direction he’d gone, shading her eyes with her hand to try to see him, but he’d been fast and was long gone.
She sat back down on the bench to re-tie her boots and set the books beside her. Once done, she picked up the books and opened the door to the schoolhouse, taking in the familiar smell as she looked around.
She hadn’t been back for some time, and was pleased that it looked much the same—from the small desks all in a row facing toward the front to the teacher’s desk, books piled high, ready for instruction.
Walking between the rows of desks, she set the books down on the first one and moved onward toward the back of the room. Turning and facing the chalkboard in front, she wondered what it would be like to be a teacher. She’d always loved to read—loved learning anything at all—and was disappointed when her schooling had come to an end.
She walked to the front and picked up a piece of chalk, glancing out the window toward the crowd. Satisfied they couldn’t see her, she tentatively put chalk to board, writing, “Teacher: Rose Archer,” before she giggled, grabbing the cloth and removing any trace of her silliness.
Ready to re-join the group, she was almost to the door when she stopped for a moment and turned back toward the books she’d set down—the ones the boy had dropped. She picked them up and turned the leather spines face up, smiling at the titles. “Who would ever have thought?” she asked out loud, setting the books back on the desk and heading for the door.