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Nevada Barr - Bittersweet.docx
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Imogene sang softly, an old lullaby imperfectly remembered from childhood.

            Early the next morning, Imogene ate a hasty breakfast and left the hotel. It was clear and cool; the day’s traffic had yet to fill the air with dust. She walked half the length of town, turning off Virginia Street when she reached the Truckee River.

            Down the river, about a fifteen-minute walk through the sage from the railway station, a three-story building stood on a knoll, facing south over the Truckee. A fancy cupola graced the top, and there was an ornate, pillared, porticoed entrance. The building was not yet completed; it lacked paint, and the front door was leaning against the stair railing, off its hinges. Piles of dirt and brick took the place of lawn and landscaping.

            Impeccably groomed and dressed in a short black jacket over a gray bustled dress, Imogene climbed the knoll, carrying her skirt up out of the dust. The clean, pungent smell of sage was swept up by her trailing skirts to mix with the scent of pine borne down from the mountains.

            When she reached the summit, she turned and looked back over the river while she caught her breath. It was an ideal place for a school, within walking distance of town but not crowded around with shops, private homes, and other noisy distractions.

            No one came out to greet her and there was no sign of life visible through any of the windows. She climbed the long staircase and rapped on the doorframe. Above it, balanced on the sill, not yet nailed in place, was a brass plaque reading BISHOP WHITAKER’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

            Imogene knocked again and called out, “Hello! Excuse me! Hello!”

            Her voice echoed through the unfinished building. She stepped inside and called again. The room was spacious and well lighted; sawdust covered the floor, and several of the window sashes were propped against the wall waiting to be installed. The smell of new-cut lumber filled the room. Through the window openings, the river sparkled below the deep blue wall of the Sierra. A shadow fell across the rectangle of sunlight on the floor, and Imogene turned.

            “I’m Kate Sills. How do you do.” The woman in the doorway shifted the cardboard box she was carrying to her hip and thrust out her hand in the manner of a man.

            Imogene took it. “I’m Imogene Grelznik. There didn’t seem to be anyone here. I apologize for letting myself in. I was told this was to be a school for girls, and my curiosity got the better of my manners.”

            “Understandable. This may be the last time you’ll see it so quiet; we’ve forty-five girls coming in October. Do you have a school-aged daughter?”

            “I’m a teacher. I just came west…from Philadelphia. I’d like to apply for a position.”

            Kate Sills studied her with new interest, and Imogene looked back frankly. Kate was a short woman, squarely built, with a fine, strong head set solidly above broad shoulders. She was thick-middled, in her early forties, with glossy brown hair untouched by gray; she seemed a warm and capable woman.

            “I don’t expect you’ve many discipline problems,” Kate said, enjoying Imogene’s towering height.

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