The School Marm: A Western Serial
by Winslow Parker and Joan Myles
She watched as the sheriff guided his horse into the mine trail.
“Another puzzle piece,” she thought to herself, “Why would he go to the mine?” She shook her head, mounted and turned toward town.
As she rounded a bend, she heard rustling and grunting in the brush beside the road a few yards ahead. She lifted the hem of her skirt and drew her pistol. A boar burst from the bushes running directly toward her, tusks gleaming in the noonday sun. Her horse shied. She turned her mount for a better shot and fired. The boar stumbled, crumpling into the dust of the road. More sounds drew her attention. A sow, obviously the boars mate, charge. She fired into the dust in front of it. It turned aside, puzzled, then turned and dashed into the brush.
Lucy dismounted, keeping a wary eye in case the pig reappeared.
She took her lariat from the saddle horn, tied it off and guided the horse to the fallen animal. She slipped a double half-hitch over one of its back legs. She pulled it tight and mounted again. Dragging the beast behind her, she rode into town. A knot of Sunday-dressed parishioners gathered in front of the sore-front church. Condemning eyes swung toward her. She ignored them.
“Drat,” she exclaimed to herself. “Forgot about church. Auntie will be very upset with me.”
Billy and five of his buddies gathered around her horse, wide-eyed. “Right between the eyes! Billy exclaimed. “Sure is a good shot! “His adoration of the new school teacher went up ten notches.
“Can any of you boys dress out a pig?”
“That ain’t no pig,” exclaimed Phillip.
Lucy turned her teacher eyes on him. “ What do you call it then?”
With the weight of her eyes on him, Phillip became more polite. “Umm, peccary, ma’am.”
She smiled. “Let me rephrase my question. Do any of you know how to dress out a peccary?”
“I do,” answered Billy.
“Me too,” said Phillip.
“OK, here’s the deal. I’ll drag this here peccary out to the town dump. Get your knives and dress it. The rest of you who want some, go get some sacks to carry the parts in. Give everyone the same amount to take home. I’m sure it will be good eating.”
The children scattered to their homes as she called after them, “Don’t forget school tomorrow morning at eight!”
Lucy coiled her rope, hung it from her saddle horn and turned it toward home. She unbridled, unsaddled , and curried the horse, then locked it in its stall. “I’ll ask Aunt Birdie your name,” she promised. “I have a feeling we’re going to become very well acquainted.”
“Lucy!” her aunt called as soon as she entered the back door.
“Oh, dear, I’m in for it now.”
“Lucy, you missed church. Where were you?”
“Well, Auntie, I took a ride and time got away from me.”
“Hmmph,” her aunt sniffed. “You should have been there. Not a good example for the children, you know.”
“You’re probably right, Auntie. But you should probably know something about me.” She sat down next to her aunt. “I’m not much of a church goer.”
“You mean you’re an atheist, a free thinker.”
“No, no, just that I feel closer to God out there,” she pointed out the window at the vast desert around them, “than I do sitting on a pew being lectured about my sins from someone who claims to know Him better than I. Could be true, of course, but I still don’t get much out of it.”
“Oh, dear! How horrible.”
“I’ll come to your church with you from now on. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“I’m sure that will be true. Our local elder, John Sweeney is quite good.” After a significant pause, she said, “He’s single, you know.” She let the words hang in the air.
“Not interested, Auntie,” Lucy said, her words tinged with a hint of ice.
Later she stared out of her bedroom window as the sun set. “I miss the green of the Willamette Valley,” she thought, “but there is a certain sere beauty to the desert as well.” She rocked in her aunt’s old rocking chair, its rhythmic creak a comfort to her.
“Tomorrow’s the big day,” she thought. “Hope they received the chalk board or at least the slates.” In her head, she reviewed her lesson plans, wondering how many students would be there the first day. “Did Billy finish all the sketches?” she wondered. “I’ll have to get there early to mount them just in case. Did I lay out my lesson plans? Hope there are enough books to go around.”
Her mind, satisfied that she was ready for the first day of school, turned to the mesa.
It was hard for Lucy to shake the sights and events of that day. Long after the heat of the sun lessened and the light of day faded away, she sat musing over her journal, recording everything she had seen– the words and appearance of the men, the camp, her initial impressions– and she struggled to make sense of it all.
The problem was, it all made perfect sense; perfect, dastardly sense.
And when she finally put thinking aside and allowed sleep to envelop her, Lucy dreamed.
In vivid detail she saw the great trees of Oregon green and swaying against a clear azure sky. She felt herself bouncing along forest trails astride her beloved Patty. And she heard the Pacific ocean rolling back and rushing fiercely toward the shore She felt free and alive, as carefree as a young girl can, embraced by Nature and love, ready to become one with the wind, to melt into the expanding horizon, looking forward easily, as easy as a pony ride, the coastline stretching on and on as she breathed the salty air, as Patty’s hooves pounded the sand.
Then a jolt.
She came suddenly awake, aware of voices, nearby, in the house, just outside her door.
“ Aunt Birdie,” she whispered to herself, “and…and is that the sheriff?”
She crept out of bed and positioned herself just behind her bedroom door.
“You know what I’m talking about, Miz Crane, how tough things can get. I’m sure you recall Jonathan’s fate.”
“I don’t know what you are bothering me about at this hour,” the voice was hushed and subdued, but it conveyed no trace of fear, “My Jonathan was a respectable citizen, a kind and decent man, a Good Shepherd to his flock, and–”
“Oh he was some kind of a shepherd, all right, all the little lambs he tried to gather to him,” Aunt Birdie’s voice let out a little gasp, a pinched sound of pain, and Lucy’s hand found the door knob with a tight grip.
But she dared not open it, not unless Aunty was in dire danger. She didn’t want to make things worse.
“Jonathan was a good and decent man,” the older woman repeated softly, firmly, “which is something you–”
Lucy opened the door and stepped forward.
“Aunty? Is everything all right?” She slipped beside her aunt and eased her gently away from the sheriff. “Why sheriff…is there a problem?”
“Well, uh…” he started, “Miz Crane here…”
“The sheriff came by because there was a ruckus at the hotel, some rowdies whooping it up and when they left all liquored up and looking for trouble, they headed this way. The sheriff just came to check in on us, knowing we’re two ladies alone and all.”
What a cool liar you are Aunty, Lucy mused, and so brave.
“That’s right, ma’am, just checkin in. And now that I see all is well, I’ll continue on down the lane to check in on the other folks.”
He touched the rim of his hat as he nodded to each of them and backed away. Then he turned and passed quickly through the front door, and into the night.