It was impossible to ignore the differences between them: Chloe with her plain gray muslin with pink sprigs, Sarah with her bustle of rich green fabric and blue fringe; Chloe with her dark hair drawn into a simple knot at the base of her neck, Sarah with her golden curls. It was impossible to not notice that, were they in any other social arrangement, they would be on far sides of the room, moving in far different circles.
It was not impossible, however, to feel the genuine warmth and friendliness in Sarah’s smile.
“Oh, it’s quite alright,” the young woman said, “it’s my fault really…these skirts are so difficult to manage at times.” As she glanced over the girl’s shoulder to the bonnets, her smile remained warm, and friendly, as she nodded to one bonnet in particular. “And you really should try the yellow one…or, oh, that blue one there..The color would be -lovely- with your complexion. I’m Sarah, by the way…Sarah Prescott, and you are?”
“Do you think so?” Chloe asked, flattered by the compliment.
“I very much think so.. the yellow is so bright, and ‘springy,’ don’t you think? And the blue one would look lovely with your coloring? Ooooh, but there’s the green, how splendid that would look!”
Chloe held out her hand and introduced herself, adding, “I’m new here…just recently arrived yesterday, as a matter of fact. I’m the new schoolteacher.”
The delight in Sarah’s voice was genuine as she shook Chloe’s with her own kid-gloved hand.
“A school teacher? How marvelous! Such a noble profession! An education is a priceless gift to give the children. It must be quite challenging, though, I should imagine. We’re only visiting…my Father and I, he has business here in Tucson, but he has quite a heart for philanthropy, and I’m certain if there are any needs you may have, he’d be quite willing to make a donation to your school, for books…or whatever. ”
Naturally, Chloe warmed to her. Apart from Belulah and Mrs. Kingsley, very few people expressed admiration for her role as teacher. They’d either had very little education or a poor experience of it, and while everyone acknowledged that learning the three ‘R’s was important, most often the reminder of it in her person gained more irritation or bafflement than anything else. Why wasn’t she married and raising kids by now? Was she so disadvantaged?
“Well, back in Spring Creek, where I was born, I did have a one or two students that required extra work…but they were all worth it,” she replied, modestly. “I do enjoy seeing that look they get in their eyes when they understand something or when they are interested in what I have to tell them. The people of Tucson have been kind to me thus far even though I have yet to start the classes. It seems I have a bit of a reprieve. I start Monday.”
“Spring Creek?” A curious expression lingered in the young lady’s eyes, a cant of her head, sending golden ringlets to fall over her shoulder. “Is that very near to here?”
“It’s only a small town east of here, about forty miles. Not many would know we are there.”
“Really? Forty miles? That’s rather close, I should think, in Western miles anyway..given how far away everything seems to be here.” An apologetic note lingered in her voice, as her nose wrinkled prettily, her smile brightening. “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m a bit lacking in my knowledge of the local area..” laughing softly, she sighed and grinned, with a hint of mischief, as her voice lowered, “I can stitch absolutely every embroidery stitch known to man, but when it comes to the lay of the land where I’m at…I’ve not a whit of knowledge. Priorities, I suppose.”
“Maybe you and I could stitch a map sometime?,” Chloe joked. “Wouldn’t that make a colorful hat?” She couldn’t help expressing her own odd sense of humor.
Sarah giggled. “A map? Oh, I think it’s a delightful idea for your class, perhaps a project for some of your older girls? And it could be quite impressive, I think, to your employers.”
Chloe bit back the desire to interrogate Sarah about her dress and whether or not it was the latest thing from the East; her Mama’s instructions to keep her nose clean was strongly imprinted. She fell back on the choice of bonnets. “It’s so hard to choose a color, isn’t it? I wish I could have one for every color of the rainbow…but then, I’d want to wear them all at once!”
“It’s a pity they don’t have a rainbow one, then isn’t it? I once saw a bonnet…Boston, I think? Perhaps it was New York? Oh, I can’t remember, but it had the most marvelous ribbons, in every hue.. it was quite lovely. My Aunt found it quite garish, but I found the colors simply lovely.”
Chloe tried to keep her expression neutral, if only to stop her eyes from bulging in admiration of the places this young lady had been. Far, indeed! She then blushed, thinking of her journey to Tucson and how monumental that change in homes had been. For some odd reason at that moment, she had a strange pang of homesickness. Chloe hadn’t figured on feeling so out of place in a town like Tucson, nor so out of her element.
“I’m not much on geography myself,” she stammered slightly, “although I do like maps. My father carried a few and taught me how to read them.” She almost added that she never thought she’d get a chance to actually go to some of the places in the map, but it was the memory of her father that made it a pleasurable hobby.
Sarah seemed to be as equally curious about her.
“Your family must be quite delighted that you’re not too dreadfully far away,” the young woman said, smiling again at her. “I’m sure they’re already looking forward to you visiting.”
Chloe bit her lower lip and fiddled with the worn out tassel of her reticule, trying to think of something convivial, otherwise she would ruin the conversation with emotion.
“I am on my own, I am afraid,” she finally said, trying to state the facts as briefly as possible. “But Ms. Belulah at the boarding house where I stay has been very welcoming, I almost feel at home already.”
She saw Sarah’s eyes widen as she instantly realized the discomfort of the moment, and it sealed Chloe’s liking of her, giving great credit for her compassion as Sarah replied,
“I’m so very sorry…it is my sincere belief there is much to be said for the truth that home is where the heart is.” Sarah’s eyes and smile were kind as she went on, “perhaps here in Tucson, you’ll find your heart and your truest home, Miss Grey. One never knows what the future may bring, after all. ”
Her voice took on a more pleasant tone as she tactfully returned the conversation to the education of the children of Tucson. “And how delightful that the founding fathers of town place such a value upon education! It will serve them well, I’m certain…and congratulations on your post…and your time of rest before. I’m certain, as energetic as children can be, you shall need that rest soon enough. And if, by chance, you do find yourself lacking in supplies or whatever, do, please, let us know. My Father and I would very much like to contribute whatever we may.”
“I don’t know about the founding fathers, but I was happy they chose me to come teach,” Chloe replied, and so that Sarah would not think her insensitive to the offers of generosity, she added, “I would very much appreciate whatever supplies you can offer. I have not yet had a chance yet to find out what is needed. I should probably do that today.”
“Well, you’re just getting settled in, of course, you haven’t had the chance to take inventory yet, and there are -always- those things that you don’t realize you need until you need them! Take your time, I’m certain the Mayor and his staff will understand.. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all? Isn’t that what they say? And I’m certain that whatever you need, Father will happily help to provide. Education, after all, -is- the foundation of the future.”
“Will you be very long in Tucson?” Chloe asked.
Sarah’s radiant smile faded slightly at her question.
“I’m not really certain how long we’ll remain here in Tucson,” Sarah replied. “That’s quite dependent on my Father’s business here, really. We’ve quite lovely accommodations at the Hotel – have you met Mrs. Kingsley? Such a charming lady, she’s been so very kind. Our rooms there are quite comfortable, and the town seems quite charming… the people here seem so warm, and friendly. I’m hoping we may stay awhile.”
Chloe fidgeted somewhat – another rule from Mama loomed in her mind: be careful what you say, words have a way of growing like weeds.
“I have, indeed, met her,” she informed Sarah in neutral tones. It was a sure bet that Mrs. Kingsley had not been willing to puncture Sarah’s privacy as she had Chloe’s. How amazing people could be! Chloe thought; and what a difference between Mrs. Kingsley arrogance and Sarah’s open and cheerful acceptance. It was another truth in saying one could not let themselves be deceived by appearances, or class. She smiled happily at the young woman, feeling grateful for the gift of encouragement that Sarah offered. She picked up the blue bonnet and handed it to Mattie for wrapping. “Good. I am glad to hear you may be a while. I have decided to follow your elegant suggestion, Sarah, and hopefully it will compliment the dress I will wear to the dance this Friday. Will you be going as well?”
Her choice brought a bright laugh and smile to the young woman’s lips, as Sarah clapped her hands together. “Oh, that’s splendid! It’ll look lovely on you. You’ll be the belle of the ball, I’m certain, Miss Grey! Do they have the gloves to match the hat? That would be perfect!” Casually, she continued, “I’ll likely be attending with my Father, but…” Sarah’s voice lowered as she grinned, leant in and spoke conspiratorially, “I do hope to at least have one dance with a handsome young man. Have you an escort in mind? You must have a ton of gentleman callers already, so many to choose from…well, unless you’re already spoken for?”
Once more Mrs. Kingsley’s severe expression in regards to a boyfriend came up in Chloe’s mind, but this time it made her laugh.
“No, not spoken for, and no gentleman callers.” She was about to repeat her admonition to Mrs. Kingsley about avoiding such things, when a familiar mustachioed face appeared outside the window of the shop. Virgil Earp had no qualms about propping his head against the windowpane and peering into a quintessentially feminine world. He apparently spotted her, too, because he gave her a goofy broad smile and a short wave of the hand before opening the door and stepping in.
“Mr. Earp, what a surprise,” Chloe said to him as he doffed his own hat and nodded to Mattie, the milliner. “Let me introduce you to Sarah Prescott, newly arrived herself. Sarah, this is Virgil Earp. He is a deputy here in Tucson. He saved me from a near unfortunate mishap.”
Dee & Sharon
“Oh, how very fortunate for all of us that he was there to save you…and a deputy? How delightful! What a pleasure and honour to meet one of Tucson’s finest lawmen!” Sarah smiled politely, her head inclining graciously to the man. “Thank you for your service, Sir. Men like you are truly the unsung heroes of the West.”
Glancing between Chloe and the gentleman, she couldn’t help but smile. Oh, there was a spark there, yes, there was! It was adorably romantic and sweet, and should, of course, be nurtured. The two needed a little time to speak in private, the young lady surmised with a grin.
“Regretfully , however, I must beg your pardon, both of you, as I’ve quite lost track of time, and really must be going. Miss Grey, it was lovely speaking with you, perhaps we may meet again soon. Mr. Earp, a pleasure”
Turning then, she looked past the bonnets a headpiece adorned with ribbons and flowers crafted of a blue silk, the young woman grinned. “And I think, perhaps, I shall buy that one for myself.” Looking to the storekeep, she nodded, with a very pleasant tone and smile. “Could you wrap that for me, Miss? Oh, and if you have a pair of gloves, trimmed with lace, I’ll take a pair of those, as well. ”