The School Marm: A Western Serial*joint writing project by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles*
“Billy, wait a sec.” The lawman searched in his pocket. Finding what he sought, he withdrew his hand and flipped it to Billy. It cast bright shards of light as it danced in the air. Billy’s eyes widened as he caught it.
“Geez, sheriff,” he breathed, “a quarter? Thanks a lot!”
She smiled. “Thank you, sir, that was very kind of you.”
“’tain’t nothing ma’am. It ain’t far to the Kranes, ‘bout three blocks, I reckon. Can you make it that far on foot?”
“Of course. You’ll find I’m made of sturdier stuff than what you’re obviously thinking, sheriff. Lead on.”
He picked up her satchel and hoisted it to his shoulder, still holding the shotgun in the cradle of one arm. They walked in silence.
“Were you expecting trouble, sheriff?” she asked, pointing at his weapon.
“Nah, it’s just precaution. Never know what the stage might drag into town.”
She looked up into his eyes, then lowered them quickly.
“We don’t have much trouble hereabouts. I keep a pretty close eye on the cowboys who come to town on Saturday night and the drifters who pass through. We’ve not had a shooting in six months or so.” He paused after this long oration. “Where did you say you’re from?”
“Didn’t say, but it’s Oregon.”
“Long way away.”
“As the crow flies, about 1200 miles. By stage coach, about a month. No telling how many miles it is.”
“Looking for a teaching position and my aunt Beatrice lives here. I guess it was a natural.”
“Here we are.” He turned from the street, opened the gate in the picket fence and escorted her up the three wooden steps to the front porch.
“They have a powder room with real running water,” he said, face reddening. “Um, I’m sure they won’t mind if you freshen up a bit.”
“Thank you, sheriff.” “I can take care of myself from here.” She reached for the handle of her traveling case and opened the door. “Thank you again, sheriff. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”
He touched the brim of his hat. “If you have any needs, I live above the livery. I’m used to being called any time of the day or night.” He started to turn away. “Oh, if the Kranes don’t’ return by dinner time, come on down to the cafe. I’ll buy your meal.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine, sheriff,” she said her voice cool, “but thank you for the invitation.”
He touched his hat again and turned to leave.
A distance rumble caught her attention.
“What was that?” she asked, “it can’t be thunder, there’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“Blastin’ at the gold mine in the West face of La Mesa. Getting’ ready for tomorrow’s shovelin’. Don’t much like it cuz it brings in the worst kind of riffraff. Makes being sheriff a bit more difficult, if you know what I mean.” The expenditure of so many words at once seemed to exhaust him. He turned again and strode away.
She watched until he disappeared into the livery three blocks away. He didn’t turn to look at her, which was fine with her.
The air beneath the porch roof was somewhat cooler, but the day’s heat hung close, like something not quite welcome, not like Oregon air at all. She closed the door and sighed, remembering the scent of pines at dawn, the pools of shadow stretching long and soothing across her mother’s porch.
This is home to me now, she resolved.
She pulled her satchel to the edge of the steps, situated herself properly beside it, and unlatched the bag. Just inside, her leather journal and the pencil she kept always ready came easily into her hands. It was a new journal, beautifully tooled and smooth to the touch, fresh and open to her thoughts. A gift from her brother Dan as he put her on the train in Portland
“I know your head will be swimming with impressions,” his quiet rumble came back to her, the timbre she knew he used to mask uncomfortable emotions, “and we’ll want to hear every one of ‘em, once you’re settled in.”
She could still feel the bigness of his embrace and the stubble of his cheek, still sensed a trace of his pipe smoke in her clothes.
Even with all this dust, she mused.
Who knew when they would see each other again. Portland wasn’t an unmanageable distance, but Life was an untamed river, and the days of men like fleeting shadows.
She opened the journal and wrote:
Arrived in Furnace Wells late this afternoon.
But raspy whistling and the sound of something being dragged caught her attention. It was Billy coming through the gate, his face red with effort. He grinned broadly and touched the top of his hatless head.
“Knew I could do it,” he puffed up the steps.
“As did I,” she assured, closing the journal.
She reached out just in time to catch the boy’s arm, keeping him from toppling backward with his load.
“Whoa now!” Billy laughed. He straightened himself again, managed to tug the trunk up the final step, and stooped to retrieve the fallen journal and pencil.
“Oh, thank you, Billy,” she moved to tuck the items back into her bag.
The boy perched on the bottom step and looked up at her,, “Whatcha doin’, Ma’am?”
“Recording a few thoughts about my day. She brought the journal closer to show him. “I didn’t get very far I’m afraid.”
Noticing Billy’s eyes were fixed on the pencil, she held it out to him and turned to a blank page.
“Maybe you’d like to record something for me?”
“I only do pictures, Ma’am, don’t know many letters,” he sighed.
“All right, a picture then. You were drawing in the dust a while ago. Something like that, perhaps?”
But the pencil was already moving as Billy’s concentration focused on the lines flowing easily across the page. Miss Phillips waited.
A crow flew across her gaze and a horse whinnied somewhere down the lane, and the pencil kept moving.