Chapter Seventeen

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Thursday Morning – First Week

“And as we depart, dear friends,” Viola Kingsley waxed lyrical, “reflect upon the magnificence of a culture that ensures its literature and refinement in knowledge, of societies that decay when ignorance is allowed to run rampant. We must enjoin the nobler hearts of our community here to cement and establish our natural desire to conquer that ignorance through a library.”

A murmur of assent went through the room.  Several gloved hands created muffled claps and not a few highly pitched exclamations were made in approval.

“Sure, an’ you’d have thought she’d invented the idea of libraries,” said someone behind Chloe, a voice with soft Irish lilt and confident in its ability to speak sotto. Chloe put her hand up to her mouth to cover the smile that threatened to bloom – it was exactly what she was thinking.  Leave it to Mrs. Kingsley to milk her audience for all it was worth.

Mrs Kingsley was not finished.

“I also hope you will impress upon your husbands and friends the desperate need of new schoolbooks.  As you know, our store house burned not long after…well, not long after the Incident.”

Sympathetic nods and murmurs of well-worn shock over the past of the previous teacher’s indiscretions (whatever they had been.)

“Miss Grey discovered our…lack only yesterday…” she paused with a look of consternation, “before I had the chance to explain…and perhaps guide her towards a more substantial course of action…”

Chloe was sitting front row of a rather large cluster of Tucson’s ladies gathered in Mrs Kingsley’s parlor in the Grand Hotel, a collection of the socialites and mavens invited by Viola to (ostensibly) meet Chloe, their new teacher, and induct her into the Tucson Society for Education and Reform.  The apparent dovetail to this was discussion of a new project buzzing along gossip lines that a generous benefactor had proposed to set up a new library…or at least offer his collection of books to the public at large. The gentleman in question, Aloysius John Baumberg, sat in a position of honor nearby, facing the host of women, beaming and nodding his head in deference to Viola Kingsley.  He looked both pleased and enervated by the attention.

At the mention of her name, however, Chloe sat up, startled. Had Viola heard? Chloe wished she had forgotten her completely. Standing up before a group of children never bothered her: they were usually so willing to defer to her age and experience; but this room was filled with the sum of its worldly femininity, who were used to finer manners than Chloe’s mama had been able to convey and used to even finer ways of speaking. They now turned their sharp eyes upon her.

“Ah…yes, ma’am…ladies,” she stammered as she turned to acknowledge them all. “I only wished to acquaint myself with what was to be had…at my disposal.” Chloe had to clear her throat here, nervous and sensitive to the others’ reactions.  Viola had a way of making her feel very small indeed.

“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Kingsley said, impatiently. “But tell them why I asked you here.”

“Mr. Earp, that is, Marshal Virgil Earp, let me in. Let me reassure you, I have worked with far less than what we find ourselves in, but now…with a new library at hand…” she glanced over to Baumberger who seemed to be studying her intently, “I know Tucson will be better off!”

“Anything else?” Viola intoned, as if Chloe had suddenly become as dumb as an ox.

“Oh! It was made known to me that you have discussed a book drive to raise funds for the children!” Her mind went blank and she tried not to turn an accusatory glare on her host. If she had known she’d be expected to give a sales pitch to the Society she would have prepared something. As it was, Viola had led her to believe she was only meeting people.

Viola stepped in to fulfill the expectation that she’d apparently had of Chloe and all ladies gave more nods of approval. Their comments to Chloe of support were kind, but she knew her cheeks were pink with embarrassment.

As they broke ranks and moved into the dining room to eat the prepared buffet, Chloe saw a young woman about her age with glorious red hair and green eyes step up to greet her.

“I’m Laurie Drake,” she said and extended her hand with a brilliant smile. “I am a seamstress here, although I don’t know why Mrs Kingsley invited me. I don’t have any children. I do know Portia and Paula are wishing to meet you.”

“Are they your sisters?”

“Oh, no!” Laurie laughed. “They only work for me. Only so many needles I can hold,” she added, holding up her fingers. “They’re darling lasses. Look for them to be some of your best students. I am glad she invited me, though,” Laurie went on in a low tone. “Don’t let her intimidate you. She should remember you’re an adult in full control of your faculties.”

“That’s not how I felt,” Chloe breathed. “I wanted to sink into the carpet right there.”

“Don’t you be worrying. T’will be an honor to help your school in any way we can.”

“Thank you,” Chloe replied, unable to think of anything else to say.

“And if you become just sick of looking at books and wish to ply your will to something other than literature and mathematical figgurs, come by my shop. T’will be good to have someone new to gossip with.” With a mischeivous gleam in her eye, Laurie leant in a little closer and added, with a lift of her chin in Viola Kingsely’s unwitting direction, “…and I can tell you a tale or two about this town, before it sprung up with the more likely articles.”

“Even the teacher before me?” Chloe whispered back. “I hate being the last one to know anything, and she’s refused to tell me much more than warnings about the dangers of too much socializing.”

“Especially her,” Laurie said, eyes twinkling.

“You may never get rid of me, then,” Chloe laughed.

Sharon

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