The School Marm: A Western Serial *parts 5 and 6*

The School Marmby Winslow Parker and Joan Myles

TSM 5

Curved and straight lines, whirls and gentle arcs appeared behind his pencil point.

“Why, Billy! That’s what I see in the mirror every morning! You’ve drawn my face just as I see it! You have a real talent!”

“Tain’t nuthin’.”

“You are wrong, Billy, this is a wonderful talent. Just look at the eyes. They seem to follow you, no matter how you move the page. That is a master artist’s touch. Who taught you?”

“Um, no one, ma’am.” He looked down, face reddening seeming both embarrassed at the praise and reveling in it.

“Would you draw more pictures for me?”

“I guess so. What of?”

“Anything you like.” She glanced to her left, along the road her aunt would be soon taking. A haze of distant dust assured her that it wouldn’t be long. “Look out there, Billy. What do you see? You can draw anything you see.”

“You mean, like cactus and things?”

“That and animals and people and mountains. I’ll pay you five cents per picture.”

“How many you want?”

“Good question. Tell me about the school house.”

“Well, ‘taint much of a house. It’s the church.”

“The church?”

“Yep, which you to be the dry goods store until it went broke.”

“Where is it?”

“You passed it on yer way here. That building with big windows in the front.”

“Oh, I remember. Well, then, I will commission ten drawings from you to decorate the school room for our first day of class.”

“Really? Fifty cents?”

“Yes. I’m impressed at your ability to calculate. You didn’t have to think even a second to have the correct answer. Let’s see, can you have them done by the first day of school?”

“Sure. Well, when is that?”

“Next Monday. Actually, I’d like to have them by Friday. Would that work?”

“What is today?”

“Tuesday. That gives you three days.”

“Lemme think a bit. Well, Maybe I can. I’ll try.”

“Good. Come to the school house on Friday and show me what you have. I’ll be arranging desks and writing lesson plans all day Friday and Saturday.”

“Gee, thanks!” Billy handed her the pencil and journal. “See ya Friday!” His bare feet left a series of small explosions in the dust behind him.

“Wait, Billy!”

He skidded in his tracks and turned.

“I have a sketch pad for you.”

She opened the trunk and rummaged among the books. “Here it is. I’m expecting more supplies by the freight wagon. When does it come in?”

“Thursday, usually.”

She pulled the sketchpad from under the pile of books. As she handed the bound pages to him, a bronze star thudded to the porch between them. She snatched it and put it back into the trunk. “It’s a remembrance of my father. He was sheriff in Yamhill County in Oregon.” She hoped he hadn’t been able to read the inscription. She didn’t want to lie to him, but it was necessary. “Let’s keep this a secret between us, Billy. It means a great deal to me and I don’t want it to become public gossip.”

“Sure, Miss Phillips. I can keep a secret.” He spat in his hand and held it out to her, then withdrew it just as fast and wiped his palm on his pants. “Sorry ma’am. Me’n my friends swear to secrecy by doin’ that.” He looked down, embarrassed.

“That’s OK. I accept your word.”

The sound of hymns drifted on a light breeze. The cloud of dust grew larger, announcing a buggy with five occupants entering the North end of the street.

“It’s the rev. See ya Miss Phillips.” He disappeared around the corner of the house sketch book tightly gripped in his fist.

She leaped to her feet and ran toward the gate.

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TSM 6

A rattling of the cart and a jingling of the horses harness was followed by a flurry of female voices and the creaking of the gate as it opened.

“Why Lucy Phillips, is that you, and all grown up? What are you doing out here in all this heat?” The nervous little woman was a bit overcome with the heat herself as she huffed up the walk, “You should be relaxing in our parlor with a lovely glass of lemonade.”

“Oh, Aunt Birdie, how nice to be with you again,” she reached out and assisted the minister’s wife up the final step, only to be swept inside as the door quickly opened.

“You’re a darling girl, Lucy, but you must not call me Aunt Birdie outside this house.”

The younger woman put a finger to her lips and whispered teasingly, “Not a peep.” Then asked, “But wasn’t it your beautiful singing voice that earned you the name?”

“That’s what your mother always claimed–oh just put your things over there, dear, Jonathan will move them when he returns from delivering the ladies and the wagon, it shouldn’t be too long–” she perched on the edge of a chair and Lucy sat across from her, “ I think my little sister just preferred Birdie over Beatrice.

She studied her niece more closely as the younger woman settled gracefully into a chair, removed her travel hat and brushed an auburn curl away from her face. But the ticking of the carved wooden clock only intensified her natural nervousness.

At length she said, “So while we have this time alone, Lucy, you must tell me for true: why in the world did you move to this town?”

*jm*

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