The Teacher's Mail Order Bride (2 page)

BOOK: The Teacher's Mail Order Bride
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Chapter 3

ose rejoined
her friends and family at the table. Mr. Tate had his bowler in his hand and ran his hands through his dark, wavy hair. His brown eyes never left whatever newspaper Suzanne held in her hand. As she walked up, she heard Suzanne say, “It really isn’t unusual, Mr. Tate, with the number of single men in tombstone and the lack of available women.”

may be a little unusual, and your deadline,” Sadie added with a smile. “But your need certainly is not.”

Michael let out a sigh and replaced his hat and sighed loudly. “I certainly never thought it would ever come to this. When I decided to come out West I assumed that they had the same social awareness and sensitivities that they do back east. Apparently, I was mistaken.” He stole a glance over at the Widow Samson who had yet to avert her eyes from the twins, and seemed to have found new interest in Mr. Tate and his interaction with Suzanne and Sadie. “I never for a moment thought they would require me to be married to keep my contract at the school.”

“Oh, Mr. Tate, it’s not that bad here in Tombstone. Just a little slow is all.” Sam clapped him on the back and pointed down Allen Street. “For a town this far out, to have two newspapers, over a hundred saloons...”

Tripp coughed loudly into his hand as the others laughed.

Sam glanced at Tripp and said, “And some very nice restaurants, including Tripp and Sadie’s Occidental and even a bowling alley. Give us a chance. We’ll catch up.”

“I was and am very happy to be here. I was not prepared, however, for the additional requirement of being married, and I can’t imagine how I could make that happen in such a short period of time with such an unavailability of single women.”

“That’s where the
Groom’s Gazette
can help.” Suzanne opened the paper and held it up for Michael to see. “You don’t even have to write an advertisement first. Look at all the women advertising, wanting to come out West.”

“Oh, my.” Michael’s eyes widened as he looked over the ads in the newspaper. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And look at that warning about mail order brides not telling the truth. False body parts? Does that happen?”

Rose hid a laugh behind her hand at the look of horror on Mr. Tate’s face and her friends had the same reaction. She’d never consider being a mail order bride, although she did hope that someday she would have suitors. She looked around at the successful unions that her family and friends had and hoped the same for Mr. Tate.

“My mother would faint if she knew.” Mr. Tate pushed his hat back and wiped at the sheen on his forehead with a white linen handkerchief. He tucked it in his pocket and held out his hand for the
Groom’s Gazette
, holding it between two fingers as if it would bite him when Suzanne gave it to him.

“We can help, if you like, Mr. Tate. It appears that the task may feel a little daunting.” Sadie placed a hand on Mr. Tate’s arm.

“Thank you, that would be very helpful. I’m a little overwhelmed. That’s not my only problem.”

Rose was curious to know what other problem he had, this interesting man from far away. She thought she’d detected a slight accent of some kind—just occasionally—but couldn’t quite place it. Maybe he had been to see the tallest building in the world, or been to see Pirates of Penzance like her mother and father had. She’d dreamed of going to New York one day, like her parents, and to San Francisco. They’d come back from their travels full of stories, and one of her greatest sorrows was not to have traveled with her mother before she’d passed away several years before.

Rose’s sister-in-law’s eyebrows drew together as Mr. Tate’s eyes clouded. “What is that, Mr. Tate? Maybe we can help with that also.”

He glanced over at Widow Samson, his eyes darkening. “On top of requiring me to find a wife at the beginning of a very busy school season I was given the student list. It doesn’t always happen this way, but this school year, there will be students in almost each level. In a single-room schoolhouse, that’s very challenging.”

“Oh,” Suzanne said, her hand on her chest. “I can’t imagine trying to teach the twins alongside older children on my own.”

“Precisely.” Mr. Tate pulled his eyes away from the ice cream table and the school board president. “I’ve requested funding for an assistant, but I’m not sure yet whether it will be approved. I sure hope it does, though, and fast.”

Rose closed her eyes, visualizing the small schoolhouse with its desks in neat rows. She opened them, glancing at the twins, wondering how it might be possible for Mr. Tate to teach students the likes of her sixteen-year-old sister, Pepper, and Lucy and Lily at the same time. She glanced over at the Widow Samson and took a step backwards as she approached Mr. Tate.

The widow pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her cheeks and neck, and Rose squinted her eyes to see what the odd-looking brooch on her shoulder represented. A dove? A panther?

“What are you staring at, young lady?” The widow pounded her parasol onto the dirt as she glared at Rose.

Rose looked at her feet as her heart clenched. She hadn’t meant to cause a problem, although it was a fairly simple thing to do with Widow Samson. “I was just admiring your brooch, ma’am.” Rose looked up to see the widow stroking the brooch.

“Ah, thank you, my dear. It is my mourning brooch and contains a lock of Mr. Samson’s hair.” She smiled down at it and dabbed at her eyes.

Rose glanced at the others and relief washed over her as she noticed the looks between them. Although such items were common, it was not common to continue wearing them four years on, and she was pleased to know that her friends and family felt the same.

The Widow Samson shook her head and turned to Mr. Tate. “I wanted to let you know, young man, that the committee had an impromptu meeting and decided that with all of the supplies and books required for this school year—and your
high salary—we will be unable to approve your request for an assistant. I would hope, with your very lofty credentials, however, that you would be able to manage perfectly well on your own.” She turned on her heel and headed toward her seat at the ice cream table, tucking a strand of wiry, gray hair under her hat and patting her broach.

The cool autumn breeze rustled through the pecan tree and Mr. Tate looked up as the leaves fell, holding his hands out to catch some while the others either shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot or looked at their feet in the awkward silence.

Rose opened her hand, feeling the cool leaves falling onto her palm. “Maybe we could get some volunteers.”

“That’s a brilliant idea, Rose.” Suzanne clapped her hands together in delight. “I would love to volunteer, but could only do it part time as I need to be at the mercantile for at least the late mornings.”

Rose’s head snapped up. She hadn’t realized that thought had escaped and turned into words. She dropped the leaves and smoothed her skirt.

Mr. Tate smiled, his eyes bright. “Well, thank you, Miss...Miss...I don’t believe I caught your name earlier.” He took off his hat and held in to his chest.

“Rose. Rose Archer.”

“I believe you may have found a good solution, Miss Archer. At least for one of my difficulties. Thank you.” He bowed slightly in her direction and turned back to Suzanne. “I’d be delighted, Mrs. Davis, if you could volunteer, even if not every day.” He frowned and looked over at the Widow Samson. “If I meet with approval for the idea, I will see if I can find any other volunteers.”

Heat crept up Rose’s neck as he turned his deep brown eyes toward her again, his eyes twinkling. “I believe you may have saved me.”

As they watched him stride over to the serving table, Rose sat down on the bench, seeing in her mind’s eye what she’d written on the chalkboard—Teacher: Miss Archer. Volunteering wouldn’t exactly be the same as teaching, but it might be a good place to start. She missed school, everything about it from the smell of the books, the feel of the chairs and the sound of the chalk on the board.

Maybe she could do that as well as gather eggs and milk cows. Or maybe she could share those duties with her sisters. Her heart sank, though, as she remembered the biggest obstacle of all: her father, Beau Archer.

Chapter 4

ichael Tate hung
his bowler hat on the peg by the front door of the schoolhouse and closed it behind him, leaning against it as he gazed at his new workplace. The floorboards had been recently polished, but beyond that, it looked like it could use some care and attention. He’d arrived just a week before, hoping for enough time before school started to fully prepare. This was his first job as a headmaster—granted, headmaster and teacher all in one—and his first job as a teacher out of his native Boston.

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out an advertisement torn from a newspaper, one that had guided him almost completely across the country.

Town of Tombstone seeking new headmaster for one-room schoolhouse. Salary discussed in correspondence. School begins in mid-September. Must have impeccable credentials and be of good moral character. School supplies provided.

It wasn’t a very complete advertisement, he admitted to himself, but after having read about the boomtown of Tombstone in the Boston newspaper, he’d been intrigued and written away immediately for more information. Mrs. Samson, the head of the school committee, had responded immediately, describing Tombstone much differently than the rough-and-tumble, lawless town he’d read about.

Even though it didn’t seem
as exciting as he’d read, it was far away, in a completely different environment than where he’d grown up, the North End of Boston. He’d tried to describe the appeal of the surrounding cactus, the silver mine, the many people flocking to Tombstone to his parents, but had sighed at the blank stares he’d received. Blank stares in the beginning, that is—until his mother began to cry and beg him to reconsider, his father consoling her as she wailed. In the end, he’d agreed to a two-year contract and promised to return each summer, when school was out, to visit.

He walked toward his desk, running his hands along the student desks lined up in between the door and the chalkboard in front. The number of desks was a bit intimidating, even for him, as the age groups were so varied—which meant their abilities would be, too. He let out a sigh of relief that Mrs. Samson earlier approved his request to seek volunteers, as well as approve the participation of Suzanne.

He hadn’t yet cleaned the board and some chalk remained, he assumed from the previous teacher. He stood aside a bit, trying to make out the faintly written words, adjusting his tortoiseshell glasses, but he couldn’t make out anything more than an “A”.

He turned back toward the desks, smiling at the thought that they would be full of students shortly, young people he could help open the world up to through books. That was where he found out everything he had learned—and he’d spent many an evening lost in one book or another. He glanced down at a familiar one, bound in red leather set on top of the first student desk. He hadn’t noticed it out of place before, but he knew exactly what book it was.

He picked it up, holding it to his nose as he breathed deeply, inhaling his favorite scent. He’d spent hours upon hours in the Boston library, and if they’d bottled the scent of stacks of books, he’d have bought it. It was his favorite.

He’d just set the book on his desk when the door opened behind him, the Widow Samson bustling in. The ice cream social had ended over an hour ago, and he had hoped that she had returned to wherever she’d come from. He was already sure that he and she did not share his opinions about education. Unfortunately.

“Mr. Tate, I stopped by to see how you were faring. Is your room at the boarding house suiting you well? You know, we do want you to be happy here.” She closed her parasol and tapped it on the wooden floor.

He couldn’t help his eyebrows from traveling upward, but said, “Thank you. It’s kind of you to be concerned for my welfare.” He folded his arms over his chest and leaned back against his desk.

Mrs. Samson looked down at the floor and cleared her throat. “I do imagine that the additional requirement of you not being a single man has taken you a bit by surprise, but I am sure you understand our reasoning,” she said after a few moments when Michael said nothing further, only waited for her to continue. She looked away at the window. “I’m sure you have some sort of plan so as to not jeopardize your contract.”

Michael took off his spectacles and closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yes, ma’am, I do have a plan.”

Mrs. Samson pulled at her black gloves, securing them more tightly over her hands before she looked up at him. “I can’t imagine what that could be. There certainly isn’t enough time to court anyone here in Tombstone, I don’t think. I do wish you good luck, and I know you’re aware that I take my responsibility very seriously. The children’s welfare rests in my hands, you see.”

Michael did see, but from his encounters with her since he’d arrived he wondered exactly whose best interests she had in mind. It didn’t seem to him it was the children.

She tapped her parasol once more before turning toward the door, standing still in front of it and clearing her throat again as she turned to look at Michael.

He stifled a smile and pushed himself away from the desk, crossing to the door and opening it for her. “Good day, Mrs. Samson. Thank you for stopping by.”

She nodded in his direction, her eyes closed. “You’re welcome, and I do hope that the school year opens well. Last year was a disaster, and we’ve paid a higher salary to you based on your fine training. Do know, however, that we are a simple lot, and teaching these students reading and writing will do just fine.”

Michael resisted the urge to push the door shut harder than he should as she passed through it, knowing that wouldn’t help his cause. Just reading and writing? Was that their only expectations for the students of their town?

He walked back to his desk, watching the waning light shine through the windows, casting shadows over the student desks all lined up, waiting for their charges.

“We’ll see about that, won’t we,” he said to the empty room, certain that he would know exactly what to do when the students arrived.

BOOK: The Teacher's Mail Order Bride
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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