Becca Garfield didn’t just see red; she saw several shades of scarlet with crimson thrown in. Rachel had taken a short trip to purchase things for her wedding trip and the lessons she had left behind for Becca to follow had mysteriously gone missing, along with the two boys that given her such a difficult time the week before.
It wouldn’t have been so bad; really… if there hadn’t been a note on the desk saying that Mr. Reynolds, the superintendant was coming by for a visit.
“I will not let this fluster me… I will not let this fluster me… I’ll not-”
Becca turned around to face the class and pasted a bright smile on her face and addressed her students. “Well, due to some unforeseen problems, I do not have the lesson plan that Miss Dunne had-”
Before she was even through with her sentence the classroom had dissolved into near chaos brought on by celebrating students.
“Uh, excuse… *ahem* Excuse me, but-” when they didn’t show any signs of quieting, Becca picked up the largest book on the teacher’s desk and raising it above her head with both hands she slammed it down on the desk.
The resulting impact had the schoolroom church quiet in an instant.
Nearly sixteen heads turned in chorus to look at her.
Becca wrapped her fingers around the hem of her bodice and pulled it down; the extra exertion to quiet the class had unsettled the carefully chosen blouse. “Well, now that I have your attention, I need to finish my original statement.” She straightened her posture and continued. “I have an alternate plan of attack for today’s lesson and you will all be an integral part of it.”
Sam Moody lifted the back of his hand to his forehead and seemed to faint dead away in his chair at the thought.
She caught sight of the overly-dramatic child and nodded to his neighbor. “Helen? As Mister Moody has apparently suffered from apoplexy, it will be up to you to take up his slack until he recovers.” She visited her gaze on the rest of the class. “If you’ll all pick up your slates and chalk, follow me outside.”
Stepping down from the raised dais where the desk was located she nearly missed little Helen kick her desk-mate in the shin to get him going with the rest of the students.
Buck led the spirited pony by her halter and shook his head when she tried to pull away. “You’re not going to win this fight, you know. I have a great future in mind for you, but if you get a reputation for throwing folks off your back just because you don’t like them, we’ll have a hard time lending you out.”
With a toss that left her mane sweeping against his neck the dappled mare pranced a step or two away before he managed to get her under control.
“You’ve got it all WRONG!”
“Don’t, Matthew-” The two boys fighting were about to escalate the issue when a bell of wrinkled calico stepped in between them. The sheer width of the hoops and crinolines put a natural barrier between the two boys who now had to raise themselves up on the balls of their feet to even see ‘around’ their teacher.
Becca put a hand between the two for silence. “And until we check the math, Woody, we won’t know who has it wrong.”
The boys both glared at each other and after a moment or two it seemed as though the entire class had gathered around her. Putting one hand out in the direction of each boy she asked in a quiet tone, “Slates, please.”
They surrendered their slates with little more than a grumble which turned into indignant mutterings when she handed the slates off to other students.
“That’s not fair, Miss Garfield… they’re girls!”
“That’s not too bad when you know what I know.” The boys looked up at the man approaching behind their teacher, their mouths gaping open.”
“And what is that?” Becca turned around to take the interloper to task and stopped short. “Mr. Cross?”
“Miss Garfield,” he returned when she failed to say anything more, “I guess I should have asked if you needed, or even ‘wanted’ me to step up and offer my opinion.”
She had recovered enough to swallow her confusion and smile winningly at him and the rest of her students. “If you feel you have something to add…”
Buck handed the reins to one of the older girls and he stepped up beside the young teacher, trying to avoid touching the froth of curls that had escaped from her carefully combed coif. “One of the Express riders here in Rock Creek was a girl and-”
“That’s a lie…” babbled one of the boys, “ain’t no girl can ride for somethin’ like the Express!”
Shrugging, Buck gave the boy a steady look. “You’re Thomas Wilson’s boy, right?”
The boy looked back at him and nodded.
“Well, ask him if he remembers Lou. Louise,” he clarified for the rest of the group. “Women can do anything they want if they set their minds to it.”
Becca nodded. “Yes, Mathew, even math.” She turned to the girls that were looking up at her with anxious gazes. “Well, what’s the verdict?”
A little girl with blue ribbons in her hair spoke for both slates. “Mathew was wrong. Woody got it right.”
A chorus erupted as factions reacted for their favorites, Becca apparently wasn’t done. “Megan, can you explain why?”
The little girl looked up at Buck with something akin to hero worship and it took the liveryman a moment to realize that the little thing was waiting for him to agree.
Beaming up at him she announced in a squeaky voice. “They have four rows of corn to plant. Three stalks in each row. There has to be two feet between each stalk and everythin’ else. So Woody said we needed a box of 10 feet by 8 feet.”
“See!” Matthew crowed and pointed at the girl. “Meggy’s dumb! That’s too big.”
“Matthew Turner!” Becca’s sharp tone silenced the group and she set a calming hand on Megan’s shoulder. “There’s no call to say anything of the sort. Would you care to explain why you ‘think’ you’re right?”
He shrugged. “I will, to school you folks on real figurin’.” He looked at his teacher with a prideful smile. “Four rows, three deep… with two feet between each plant stalk. That’s three lengths one way and two lengths the other. Why, that’s six feet one way and four in the other.”
Buck raised a brow and leaned down to whisper in the boy’s ear. “You need two feet between the corn and ‘everything’ else.”
The young boy smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Dang it!”
Megan again turned her admiring gaze to Buck. “You’re so smart…”
Becca enjoyed the look of panic on the handsome horseman. It made him seem ‘human’ somehow.
Buck’s query had her stepping back, her hand covering her mouth.
“Do I look like something less than a human?”
Dropping her hand to her chest she whirled around to her students. “Now, given the measurements that Woody figured out, please take the numbers that Sally and Jack brought back from the lumber yard and calculate how much it will cost for us to build the box.”
“Are you embarrassed?”
She turned to talk to him and stopped short when she realized how close behind her he was. “I don’t think embarrassed quite addresses the shock and dismay that I feel at knowing that I may have spoken out loud some thoughts that you shouldn’t be-”
“Miss Garfield I assume?”
Becca swallowed… hard, squeezing her eyes shut as she willed the man behind her to go away.
Buck saw the pasted on smile and felt for the young woman, he’d obviously come upon her at a difficult time. She greeted the gentleman with a nod and a smile, but Buck could see her hands shaking where she clasped them behind her back. “Mr. Reynolds? I’m so glad you could come and visit our class.”
The older man pulled his pocked watch out into the sunlight and read the hands. “Isn’t it a bit early for the students to be out for play?”
“They’re not at play, Mr. Reynolds.” Her smile was slipping; the center of her forehead beneath frizzy curls had a distinct pinch to it. “They are working on an arithmetic assignment for class.”
Two little girls choose that moment to run between the two adults, giggling.
The man nearly dropped his watch as he looked after the girls disappearing around the far side of the school house. “It’s just that they seem so… joyous.”
A smile twisted up the corners of her mouth and Buck felt a laugh rumble silently through his chest.
“Yes… yes… quite right.” She stilled Mathew with a hand to his shoulder, giving him a pat of reassurance. “However they aren’t just having fun. They are learning.”
He gave her a disproving look. “Miss Garfield, please understand that while it is admirable for a teacher to think that children should enjoy their lessons, when we allowed Miss Dunne to continue as teacher it was with the understanding that she try to use a more orthodox approach to learning as we were able to provide her with adequate supplies for her students.”
Mr. Reynolds spared a look for Buck and inquired of the young woman. “And what of the gentleman here? Are the children to learn to care for a horse along with their studies?” He cleared his throat and continued on, looking away from Becca so he didn’t see the desperate panic on her face. “If you hope to be approved to continue on, you’ll have to confine your lessons to the prescribed texts and exercises that the board-”
“Miss Garfield?” Megan tugged insistently on her teacher’s sleeve and Becca leaned over to listen to the child, but Mr. Reynold’s had other ideas.
“Speak up, child. Can’t expect an adult to hear a voice that soft and wispy.”
The girl gave a little squeak of sound before her hand closed over Becca’s. “Total cost is two dollars and a bit, Miss.”
His curiosity piqued, Mr. Reynolds had the children explain the lesson and he checked the work on Megan’s slate. Giving her a pained look he slid the slate into Becca’s hand. “I’m sure you can see the problem, Miss Garfield.”
She poured over the numbers and slowly nodded her head. “Megan,” she prompted handing the slate to Buck when he held out his hand, “where is the rest of the equation?”
Mathew, much recovered from his previous confusion handed his slate to the examiner. “Nails, sir.” Leaning up against the man’s pristine suit, the young boy pointed out the equation he’d written out on his slate. “We had to figure in the cost of nails to put it all together.” He beamed up at Mr. Reynolds. “That was my idea.”
“You’re right, Mathew… good job.”
Mr. Reynolds passed off the slate to Buck, and nodded at Becca. “I’ll be back at the beginning of next week for another visit.”
“Mr. Reynolds, I-”
“While I see the value in such a ‘unique’ lesson, I’d much rather see you sticking to the lesson plans-”
“That the board has prescribed, yes sir, I’m very aware of that fact and you won’t be disappointed.”
He extricated himself from the group of milling children and gave the young aspiring teacher a nod. “I hope not, Miss Garfield… I hope not.”
When he had disappeared into the hotel Becca turned back to her class and gave them a smile that was more silly than relieved. “Well, that was odd.” She lifted her face to look at Buck and that’s when her eyes rolled back and she collapsed. Buck dropped the slates in time to keep her from falling completely into the dirt at their feet.
“Whoa.” Mathew stood over his teacher and gave Buck a shrug. “That was unexpected.”
“Yep,” echoed Woody, “ain’t never seen Miss Dunne do that before!”
The children all agreed that having their teacher faint into a puddle of fabric was an odd occurrence and amidst their chorus of voices little Megan voiced the question that Buck clung to like a lifeline over the side of a cliff. “Yes… great idea. Why don’t you all have lunch while I help Miss Garfield wake up?”
There wasn’t a single argument and while Buck thought it was probably the middle of their day he had no worry that if he’d deviated from the young woman’s schedule she’d have no problem informing him of the sin when she awoke.
It took him a moment to figure out how to take her into his arms without lifting up her skirts over the bell of her hoop and exposing her to even more embarrassment than she was in for. Megan was still standing beside him and he gave her a smile. “I’m sure Miss Garfield will be really happy to hear that all of you took her… faint in stride.”
The little girl nodded, her blue ribbons bobbing slightly in the breeze. “I seen it before,” she had a sage tone of voice that had Buck believing her instantly.
“Really now… when did you-”
“Just the other day,” the girl confided, a little smile making her cheeks plump up with glee, “my mama’s expecting’ a baby… and she fainted just like her… when do you think Miss’s baby’s going to come?”
Buck stared so long and hard at nothing in the air in front of his face that Megan lost interest and headed inside for her lunch pail. ‘A baby,’ Buck thought, ‘now that was unexpected.’