After departing Belulah’s place, Virgil sauntered back to the main street, mulling things over. Lots of fresh faces…and some not so fresh…came through Tucson all the time. Friendly young women made his head turn at least once a week, but Chloe was making the blood stir a different way. He grinned ruefully under his thick mustache. Poor thing had looked so lost standing by the coach, how could he not see she needed a guiding hand? Well, it was a good thing he’d been there – all too many of the young women who came to town ended up in the wrong hands. He’d have to make sure she settled into this rough gem of a town before the worst elements had their chance.
As he loped down the boardwalk of the town, he passed a flyer pinned to one of the pillars in front of the saloon: “Fandango Friday – Come one, come all…”
Every week, the town would host a dance for the locals, when the ladies of the town had a chance to show off their finery and the men had a chance to show their better natures. He didn’t pause in his stride, but instantly started thinking of how he’d escort Chloe to the dance…wouldn’t it be fine to show up with the new schoolteacher on his arm? He was so pleased with that idea, he very nearly missed one of the very people he’d been on alert for when the stagecoach approached the town.
Lounging under the darker eaves of the now-empty blacksmith shop, trying to look inconspicuous while scouting the place for the missing owner, was a rascal that annoyed Virgil to no end. If the reprobate had actually done anything dangerous, Virgil would have been all too glad to meet him head-on in any fight. Instead, this pernicious rip constantly got underfoot like some wayward calf…and half the time it was for some bungled attempt at robbery.
He circled the blacksmith’s quietly, found the blacksmith loading up a coal hamper for the fire, and held one finger to his lips to indicate he needed quiet. Then slipping in behind the hunched figure of Tommy Lillard, who had apparently been so intent on watching out for the law, did not pay attention to what was behind him.
“You thinkin’ about goin’ after that coach?” Virgil growled, and Tommy leapt forward, coming dangerously near the fire. The blacksmith, coming in behind Virgil, laughed.
“Virgil, you old coot,” Tommy griped. “What the hell are you doin’ sneakin’ up on people for? Cain’t you see I’m hidin’?”
“What have you done now, Tommy?” Virgil asked patiently.
“That fool brother of yours got it in head that I was gonna bring in some rustlers to raise some ruckus on the old Spitfire Ranch,” Tommy answered, his tone offended. “Don’t matter they left me high and dry while they took off in the other direction.”
“Leadership not one of your God-given gifts, is it?”
“Wull…I dunno…but Morgan saw me going after them and…”
“Never mind, Tommy,” Virgil shook his head. “Robberies and rustlin’ just ain’t innit for you. Maybe it’s high time you think about something more serious…”
Tommy’s lip curled in mockery. “Like gambling?”
“Were you gonna do anything with those rustlers, Tommy?” Virgil asked, giving the Frisco Kid a shake.
Tommy paused just long enough before he blustered, “now…why would I be so tom-fool as to…”
“Yup, that’s you all over, Tommy.” The handcuffs at Virgil’s belt spun in his hands as easily as a pistol as he grabbed Tommy’s wrists and locked them up. Tommy groaned when he realized where he was going. “Just a tom-fool…”
“You don’t have any proof,” the outlaw complained, but he didn’t struggle too much. He knew what Virgil could do, and the blacksmith already had his hammer and tongs in hand, ready to do battle himself.
“We’ll go talk to Morgan and Cort, straighten all of this out,” Virgil told him as he pushed Tommy out into the street.
Boy, they’d all have a lot to talk about at supper tonight…
“Aw, for Pete’s sake!” Cort looked up. “That dumb cluck, Lillard must be in trouble again. Virgil’s bringing him in.”
Cort returned to his paper. He couldn’t imagine how someone so inept at everything could get into so much trouble doing anything.
“I saw him with some rustlers the other day. Word was, the Spitfire Ranch was gonna get hit,” Morgan said.
Cort sighed. He kind of liked Tommy; he really wasn’t a bad person. But he kept hanging out with bad people; and, as Cort knew personally, that will always bring you trouble. “Is there any proof Tommy was involved? Did anyone hear talk he was going rustling?”
“No…nothing exactly. But you know where there’s trouble, he’s always close by. Sometimes I want to smack him.”
“With a hammer, no doubt.”
“If I thought it would knock some sense in him I would use a hammer.”
Chloe hung her few articles of clothing in the wardrobe and freshened up as best she could with a quick splash of water to her face and a quick dab of toilet water – a parting gift from Mrs Renfroe back in Spring Creek, a friend of the family who looked after her after Mama and Papa died. She didn’t expect she looked much better than she had when she arrived, but she felt a little better. A shy little knock on the door: it was one of the little girls that had been playing in the front yard. The child looked up at her with wide brown eyes. She couldn’t have been more than nine years old.
“Are you the new teacher?” she asked. In one hand she held a rag-doll, looking almost as dusty and road-weary as Chloe had felt.
Chloe wanted to reach out and play with the white blonde curls ringing the child’s face, but she just clasped her hands in front of her and looked down.
“I am indeed. You may call me Miss Grey,” she replied formally. “And who might you be?”
“Rosalie Barnes, ma’am,” the child answered. “Mama said to tell you that you could come to the parlor. She’s got apple pie down there. And lemonade.”
“We’ll I’d better hurry up, hadn’t I?” Chloe closed the door behind her and followed the girl down the stairs and into the front parlor. Belulah half reclined, half perched on a worn out armchair and gestured to the green settee nearby. In a second arm-chair, and apparently it was the one that was in the best condition, sat an older lady of distinct refinement, whose clothes were obviously a cut above both hers and Belulah’s. Chloe could not stop herself from a few seconds of obvious staring, for the dress was of dark green moiré, with yards of ruching and yellow piping, and a bundled flourish of padded pillows of the same material discreetly set to the ladies side, a bustle that would be of impressive bulk once she stood.
“Miss Grey, this is Mrs. Kingsley. Her husband runs the Grand Hotel here in Tucson. They were one of the original settlers here.” Chloe saw Belulah glance over at the fine lady, as if to make sure that her speech contained all the necessary and required information that a lady of her station demanded. “Mrs. Kingsley, this is our new school teacher, Miss Grey. She just arrived from Spring Creek this afternoon.”
“Miss Grey, it’s obvious you haven’t had enough time to get settled yet, but I don’t think you’ll mind if I am here to welcome you to Tucson and perhaps bring you information that you might find useful,” Mrs Kingsley said.
“Thank you,” Chloe said, “but first I must thank Rosalie for doing so well in bringing me to this room.”
“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, but sometimes she gets so excited she forgets her manners,” Belulah said, and Chloe could hear and see that she was a bit nervous.
“We introduced ourselves very well,” Chloe said with smile. Rosalie grinned shyly at her from behind her mother’s chair. “Will she be one of my students?”
“Oh yes!” Rosalie burst, and then cut herself short as Belulah gave her the Mama-eye.
“She was one of the top pupils when Miss Dora was here,” Belulah announced proudly, but Mrs Jenkins couldn’t allow the distraction any more.
“That’s what I was hoping we could talk about, Miss Grey. I am most interested in what you are bringing with you in the way of experience and education yourself…”
They discussed the past history of the school and what Mrs. Kingsley thought might be some of the problems that needed to be fixed. Seemed every town had at least one person who considered themselves to be the overseer – seemed like a teacher’s job was as much about placating the parents as it was instructing the students and Chloe found herself second guessing the future once or twice again, swallowing down panic with Belulah’s homemade blend of tea. She’d taught back in Spring Creek because she’d known everyone, and everyone had treated her with kid gloves because they knew her circumstance. But here, with total strangers, she wasn’t sure she’d measure up.
“…and Friday is the dance. Do you dance?”
This last question was a bit more coy than the others Mrs Kingsley had asked, but Chloe answered without much hesitation,
“I love to dance. I always tried to attend the dances Spring Creek held. I wasn’t always able to do so though, and I would miss it so.”
Mrs Kingsley’s eyebrows shot up but she said nothing, a pause long enough for Chloe to twig the notion that the wife of the hotel owner wanted her to go on. Belulah looked slightly green.
“It was the music, you see,” Chloe added, wondering briefly what could have happened with the other teacher to make Mrs Kingsley’s mouth pucker like she had found a lemon peel in her mouth. “There was such a fine fiddle player in Spring Creek and whenever he could get together with other musicians they made music that would fill the dance floor and make the tin roof ring. The people were lovely, Miss Jenkins, but I really needed the music sometimes. It made me forget my troubles.”
“Oh, I do so love a good reel,” Belulah chimed in and reached over to pat her on the knee. “I had many a beau whirl me around and Lord a-mighty…”
“I had many a beau as well, Mrs Barnes,” Mrs Kingsley interjected coldly. “Music is, indeed, a fine thing, but its the kind of music that makes the difference does it not? Well, in regards to our dances, they are quite enjoyable, although I do wish the Earp brothers would follow my recommendations to monitor the patrons. In any case, I don’t imagine Miss Grey’s beau will be able to make it to the dance. Is that right, Miss Grey?”
“I don’t have a beau,” Chloe confessed, but her tone had an edge to it. Anger was starting to encroach. She knew she was treading on dangerous ground and it wasn’t even the first day in Tucson! “I haven’t had the time or the will to spark some young man, not since I decided to teach.”
There, that ought to settle her hash. Will probably spread the news about who she was and how she sat on the settee sometime between now and when the dance started. Not even Mrs Renfroe had been so presumptious of her personal life.
“It’s just we were so happy when we had a teacher here,” Belulah said, as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “All those deputies try so hard to keep law and order here, and they do a fine job of it, but I think women are what’s gonna settle the West, Miss Grey. It’s women who bring order and civilization. Mrs Kingsley often says its education that’ll do it.”
“Quite right. And if you appreciate music as much as you say you do, Miss Grey, I think there may be hope yet,” Mrs Kingsley conceded and stood up. “Well, I must be on my way. My seamstress sent me a message to meet with her. Good day.”
The moment the front door clicked back into place, both Chloe and Belulah wilted into their seats, then burst out laughing when they exchanged glances.
“Welcome to Tucson,” Belulah sighed.