The Teacher's Mail Order Bride (7 page)

BOOK: The Teacher's Mail Order Bride
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Chapter 14

s Rose continued cleaning
, sorting books and making decorations, and Mr. Tate tended to his tasks, she mulled over what she’d heard. She knew that some of her sisters hadn’t liked school very much—Sage and Pepper in particular—but they also were aware of the necessity and grudgingly did attend.

But not being allowed to attend was a completely different matter. Not welcome? She wasn’t exactly sure what he’d meant, and didn’t feel like she knew him well enough to ask. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Mr. Tate slowly go through each of the books in the schoolhouse, chewing the end of his pencil and taking notes as he went through each of the pages.

Every once in a while, he’d laugh out loud and she’d watch him scribble furiously yet again. They hadn’t spoken much for the remainder of the morning as they each went about their business. Rose was grateful that he was so engrossed in his tasks that she could be alone with her thoughts.

Each time she looked up as he laughed, she took a moment to study him—his strong cheekbones, his Roman nose and the tortoiseshell glasses that he frequently pushed back up to his dark eyebrows. He’d removed his coat hours before and his white shirtsleeves were rolled up, almost to his elbows.

She’d never known anyone who could become so immersed in books that they lost hours—anyone besides herself, that is. As she reached the final books on the last bookshelf that she had been cleaning and arranging, she opened the cover and smiled at the familiar author and title. She closed the book again, running her hand over the leather binding, and wondered who had donated this particular book, as it was her favorite. The very one she had under her pillow and read nightly.

She furrowed her brows as she wondered where it had come from. The book had only been published for maybe a decade, and it seems to take much longer than that for books to make their way to Tombstone.

Mr. Tate laughed again and she smiled, feeling oddly comfortable in his presence. Her hand flew to her stomach as it grumbled, reminding her of the lunch Maria had given her, and remembered that she’d said there was food for Mr. Tate, too.

She clutched the book as she stood and straightened her skirts, and reached up to make sure that her ringlets were still behaving and in place. She tried twice to pin back a stray ringlet that had fallen and gave up when it refused to be held by the hairpin.

Her lunch sack hung on one of the pegs by the door next to her coat and she crossed over to it, pulling it down and setting it on one of the student desks.

She untied the string around the cloth bag and peered inside. She smiled when she saw what Maria had provided. The previous evening at dinner, Mr. Tate had been very complimentary—and inquisitive—about Maria’s cooking. He’d asked question after question about what things were that he seemed unfamiliar with. So today, Maria had sent leftover homemade tamales and tortillas, all things Rose was used to having the next day without the need to heat them. “Mr. Tate, Maria packed lunch. Did you bring anything?”

“What?” he said, finishing the sentence he was writing before he lifted his head, looked in her direction and smiled. “Did you mention food?” He rubbed his stomach as he laid his pencil down and stood. “I didn’t even think to bring anything. But I don’t pretend to be a very good cook, either. I’ve grown quite fond of the meat pies at the Occidental and sometimes buy pie to take home, but I’m afraid I’ve mostly eaten out since I’ve been here. I’ll have to think about that when school starts.”

“Yes, you probably should.” Rose smiled as she picked up the bag and walked toward the back door. “It’s warmed up a bit outside. Would you like to eat on the bench? The leaves are changing color and will be gone soon.”

“That would be nice,” Mr. Tate said as he unrolled his sleeves and reached for his jacket. He pulled Rose’s off the hook and held it up, his eyebrows raised in question. “Might be a little chilly.”

“Oh, thank you.” She set the lunch bag back on the desk and turned as he held her coat open for her. His fingers brushed the back of her neck and she shivered at the heat that flashed through her chest.

“Are you cold already?” he asked as he pulled his hands away. He quickly crossed the room toward the back door, looking away from Rose.

Rose shook her head as she picked up the bag and followed. “No, I’m not. I don’t quite know what’s come over me.”

Mr. Tate opened the door for her and she stepped outside into the crisp autumn day, breathing in the scent of sage from beyond the shade tree. There weren’t many trees in Tombstone—some people were having cuttings of their favorite plants sent from abroad as the town grew. She had always been partial to this particular tree and sighed as she sat down on the bench.

Mr. Tate followed her gaze up into its canopy and reached out to catch a fiery red leaf as it fell to the ground. “I love fall,” he said as he handed her the leaf.

The lightness of the leaf on her hand surprised her, as it always did. She held it up to the sun, admiring the veins that ran through it and the vivid color. She sighed and noticed Mr. Tate staring at her, his deep brown eyes watching her intently as she studied the leaf.

She looked down quickly. She dropped the leaf and her cheeks flushed as she reached for the bag Maria had prepared. Handing him a tamale in a linen napkin, she spread another napkin on her lap and started to loosen the strip of cornhusk tied around it.

“Ah, Maria remembered that I loved this—tamale, was it? Delicious,” he said as he sat on the bench and began to unwrap his as well.

Rose laughed as she reached into the bag and handed him an empanada. “She sent this for you also.”

Mr. Tate’s eyebrows rose as he accepted the pastry and held it to his nose. “Ah, apple. That was very thoughtful of you. I mean, of her.”

“Maria’s very proud of her cooking. A few compliments will get you fed for life,” Rose chuckled before she took a bite of her tamale, the shredded beef as tender as the cornmeal. “After last night, I think you’re already in that category.”

“Please thank her for me, if you don’t mind. In a very short period of time, I’ve become quite fond of Mexican food. My mother would be shocked.”

“Shocked? Why? There is no Mexican food in Boston?” Rose asked.

He took the last corn husk from the tamale and bit into it, his eyes closed as he chewed. “Not that I was aware of, but I stayed mostly in my own neighborhood.”

“Your own neighborhood?” Rose wasn’t familiar with Boston and her curiosity got the better of her.

He looked toward the horizon, past the shade tree and onto the rolling hills scattered with cactus. “There is much about Tombstone that is different from where I grew up. The food, included.”

A sidelong glance at Mr. Tate told her that he was lost in reverie and she sensed it might be a delicate topic. So she did as her mother had always done in an awkward moment—changed the subject to food.

“What was your favorite food, then? What did you grow up eating?” She took the last bite of her tamale and wiped her hands on her napkin.

“Ah, that’s easy. Lasagne, spaghetti, gnocchi, zuppa.” His white teeth flashed with the last word, which Rose assumed mean soup. She’d heard of—and even tasted—the other things he’d mentioned and loved them.

“Oh, you’re Italian!” She clapped her hands together, her smile wide. He must have been to Italy. How exciting!

“One hundred percent. Well, both of my parents came over to Boston from Italy. So I suppose I’m a hundred percent American, as I was born here.” His eyes clouded.

“Mr. Tate, I—”

“Please, call me Michael,” he interrupted. “All of my friends and family do. I think it would make me miss them less.” With his eager smile as he bit into the empanada, she couldn’t refuse, although the thought of doing so in public made her a little uncomfortable.

“Very well...Michael.” Encouraged by his smile and nod, she said, “And please, you must call me Rose.”

He turned toward her, his head cocked to one side as he regarded her with his eyes narrowed. “Rose,” he said slowly.

As he looked at her, she fumbled with the ringlet that had escaped her chignon, heat spreading through her chest. “Yes.”

He finished his empanada and wiped the crumbs off his lap, not taking his eyes from hers. “Thank you. I shall call you that. Beautiful Rose.”

Chapter 15

ose had had
no idea what was involved to prepare for a new school year and new students, and the following week flew by. Suzanne had been in several times with Lucy and Lily, but on the last two days she’d left them home with their housekeeper. Rose and Michael had fallen into the routine of taking a break for lunch and eating together on the bench under the shade tree behind the schoolhouse.

Now, the day before school was to open, Rose rubbed her sore hands, raw from washing desks and stacking books. She, Mr. Tate, and Suzanne had held a short meeting the day before, and he had explained that today would be the day parents would come and bring their children. Rose was eager to meet the students who would occupy the schoolhouse, sit at the desks, learn how to read and write, and about the bigger world that awaited them.

She’d shared her excitement with Michael after Suzanne left. She furrowed her brows, remembering his response. “Try not to get too excited, Miss Archer. The first day of school can be fairly unpredictable, but we’ll know more after tomorrow. We’ll know which students are coming and which aren’t.”

Over the course of the past weeks as they cleaned, dusted, arranged books, helped Mr. Tate with his plans, she’d not been able to forget about what he’d said. Were there really students who wanted to be in school but couldn’t? Or parents who didn’t understand how important it was for them? She didn’t want to believe it, so she shook the thought out of her head and satisfied herself with poring over the books in the classroom and arranging them alphabetically, by author, and performing any other tasks that Mr. Tate asked of her. In the space of a week, she’d unloaded the boxes with the new primers in them, one thing she was thankful to the Widow Samson for as the older ones were in tatters.

He had asked that she and Suzanne sit at the front door of the schoolhouse to greet parents and students, take down their names and previous schooling, and direct them into the schoolhouse where he could introduce himself and answer any questions they might have. He’d also asked them to keep their eyes open for potential “helpers," as the only way to teach in a multi-age schoolhouse was to rely on the assistance of some of the older, more skilled children to assist the younger ones, he’d explained.

She’d also learned over the past week that Mr. Tate had been trained in Boston in a manner that was said to be more effective in teaching students—and that Massachusetts had required children to attend school for the past thirty years, longer than she’d been alive! How could it be so different here in the West? Even now, in the 1880s, she realized they were still behind the times in lots of ways.

Suzanne squeezed her hand, pulling her away from her thoughts as the door of the school opened and a large man with his hat in his hand ushered in two young boys who looked to be about seven and nine. Rose smiled and stood, reaching her hand out to the father with a broad smile.

“Hello, Mr. Goodwin. It’s nice to see you, and same to you, Alex and Robert.” She shook each of the boys’ hands as their ears reddened and they looked down at their feet.

“Well, hello, Miss Archer and Mrs. Davis.” The older man nodded at Suzanne.

Rose had known the Goodwin family for some time and was pleased to see that Alex and Robert would not be included in the ranks of children staying home to work for their parents. Mr. Goodwin ran the brand new ice cream parlor in town and she suspected that the boys would
be home working with their parents, so she was especially pleased that Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin felt the boys’ education more important.

“We’re very happy to have the boys back in school this year,” Rose said as she sat down and wrote the boys’ names on their list.

“Wouldn’t do anything different, Miss Archer. Running a business takes more than just scooping ice cream. I need these two to read, write, and know their numbers. Gotta keep things straight for us one day,” Mr. Goodwin said, beaming proudly at his two boys.

“Please go and introduce yourselves to Mr. Tate, boys, and have some cookies.” She winked at Mr. Goodwin who had to practically push the boys into the room.

Rose smiled at her own memory of how awkward the first day of school always was when she was younger—never knowing who would be there, what the teacher might be like if it was someone different.

Suzanne nudged her with her elbow. “Good thing Sadie brought cookies. It might make it just a little bit easier for these little ones.”

“That was very nice of her to do that. Did she make them at the Occidental?”

“She did. Even though her baby hasn’t arrived yet, I think she’s trying to bribe the teacher already,” Suzanne said, laughing and nodding in the direction of the platter filled with treats that Sadie had sent with her earlier. “With Lucy and Lily coming, I suppose I should be the one doing that.”

Rose turned to her friend, her brows furrowed. “Are you worried about them?”

“About them? No. I’m more worried about Mr. Tate.” She raised the back of her hand to her forehead. “I’m not sure he’s ready for them.”

“Oh, they’ll be fine, I’m sure. At least he won’t be alone.” She glanced at Mr. Tate as he bent down and shook the hands of both boys, his smile bright and his eyes twinkling.

Suzanne looked over at Mr. Tate and lowered her voice. “Speaking of not being alone, did you hear last night about his inquiries for his bride? We should be hearing from her soon.”

Rose’s eyebrows rose as her stomach began to flutter. She looked over to Mr. Tate and back to Suzanne, sure that she wasn’t just excited about being in the schoolhouse. What caused this reaction she was a little unclear about. She realized that it was none of her business, but couldn’t stop herself from asking, “And how did he decide? What is she like? I know that the Widow Samson has him in a rush.”

Suzanne leaned back in her chair and pulled a copy of the
Groom’s Gazette
from her pocket. She opened it and laid it on the table, her hands pressing out the folds. “It took a while, but we were able to narrow it down to two.”

“You mean women advertise as well? I thought it was the other way around, that a man advertised and women chose whether or not to write.” Rose couldn’t help but scan the advertisements in this section, wondering which two had caught Mr. Tate’s eye.

“Well, this is the 1880s after all, Rose. Things are changing. Women in larger towns sometimes are widowed or need to seek a new situation, so they advertise, too. Look at this one.”

Suzanne pointed to a short paragraph in the top right corner of the
and read aloud:

I am fair and 48, 5 feet high. Am a No. 1 lady, well fixed with no encumbrance. Am in business in the city but want a partner who lives in the West. Want an energetic man who has some means and not under 180 pounds. Of good habits.

Rose stifled a laugh with her hand. “I...I had no idea. Is that one of the ladies Mr. Tate chose to correspond with?” Rose was startled by the tightness in her chest. Surely it was no concern of hers who Mr. Tate found attractive but she also knew she very much wanted to see what he found compelling.

“Goodness, no,” Suzanne said, leaning forward and glancing at Mr. Tate. “I felt quite sorry for him. It was not an easy thing for him to do. He explained that his parents had been married for many, many years and were very much in love. And that’s what he had hoped for himself.”

Warmth spread through Rose’s chest at Suzanne’s description. Poor Mr. Tate. “I imagine it would be. Difficult, I mean.” Her cheeks burned and she didn’t understand why she wanted to see the women’s descriptions so badly.

Suzanne turned the page and pointed to one of the advertisements with a circle around it. “Here’s one,” she said, pointing to the paragraph.

Fine young lady from Kansas City seeking to travel west. Want a kind, happy man who will be a good husband. Am 25 and am told I look good enough. Want a new beginning. Must be 30 years of age or less and employed.

“He was having a difficult time finding any that he liked, but he settled for this one—oh, and this one over here.” Suzanne flipped to another page further back and pointed once again to a circled paragraph.

St. Louis no longer is the place for me. Seeking a man in the West who wants a decent wife. 22 years old, 5 feet 5 inches tall and good companion. Employed and under 30 only.

“I had no idea...” Rose’s voice trailed off as she glanced over at Mr. Tate, who was handing each boy a cookie, their smiles from ear to ear. She took in his wavy hair, deep brown eyes and olive skin, wondering what it would be like to meet and marry someone on the same day and try to make a life together. He wouldn’t be doing it, she remembered, without the insistence of the Widow Samson and the school committee, and the thought angered her.

“What is it, Rose?” Suzanne asked, covering one of Rose’s hands with her own. “Have I upset you?”

Rose shook her head quickly, hoping to remove those thoughts and move on to happier ones. This was none of her business, despite the unsettling feelings she seemed to be having when she thought of it.

“No. You haven’t upset me at all,” Rose said as she stood, ready to greet the next student who came through the door.

BOOK: The Teacher's Mail Order Bride
9.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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