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Nevada Barr - Bittersweet.docx
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Imogene thought for a moment. “Yes.” The one word carried the weight of her life’s worth.

            The bishop seemed pleased. “I have hired six instructors and the matron.” The bishop regarded her for a minute. He was thinking. He sat across from her as solid and easy as a tree. Imogene, too, was still, but the line of her back and the set of her jaw indicated that it was more a matter of control than of nature. A pendulous ticking sounded from a dark, ornate clock on the mantel behind the bishop’s chair. Imogene did not look at it.

            “My girls will be Nevadans, most from small mining towns in the desert. Many, I hope, will be given scholarships according to need. They’ll come from all walks of life. A lot of them won’t have a primary education that’s up to our standards.” His pale eyes twinkled. “When we’re old enough to have standards,” he amended.

            “Bishop Whitaker’s is a high school. We’ll need a teacher to take these girls from the desert and bring them up to entrance level—a preparatory school the girls can attend while they’re enrolled in other classes, until they’ve caught up. I’ve not yet found a teacher for my preparatory classes.”

            “For the last three years I taught first through eighth grades in a one-room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania.”

            “I’ll need your references.”

Imogene sat like a stone. Her jaw jerked once before she spoke. “Of course.” She was overly loud. “I’ll bring the address by tomorrow, if that would be convenient.”

            Ozi Whitaker escorted her to the front hall.

            “Forgive my manners,” the bishop said as Imogene started down the porch steps. “I haven’t asked your name.”

            “Imogene Grelznik.”

            “Tomorrow then, Miss Grelznik.”

            Sarah was out of bed, sitting by the window in her nightgown, when Imogene got back to the hotel. Imogene apologized for having been gone so long, and hurried down to the kitchen to bring up a cold lunch. While they ate, she told Sarah of Bishop Whitaker’s School For Girls. Some of the light that had come into her face as Kate Sills was showing her the rooms returned as she talked. Sarah left off picking at the food and watched her intently. Imogene was laughing, telling of the bunny and the bishop when she broke off suddenly and her smile faded as she told Sarah, “He wants a reference.”

            The significance of the request slowly registered on Sarah’s face. “You want this, don’t you?”

            “Very much.”

            “What are you going to do?”

            “Write one myself?” Imogene smiled wryly.

            “You can’t! It’s not honest!”

            “No, I suppose I can’t. Bishop Whitaker’s going to write to Philadelphia. I’ll have to write to Mr. Utterback and tell him Mr. Aiken’s venom has done it again. I hope that he has returned from Holland, and that my letter reaches him before the bishop’s. I’ll post it this afternoon.”

            When she finished writing the letter, she read it to Sarah. The younger woman listened quietly, her eyes fixed on her folded hands. “What do you think?” Imogene asked. Sarah shook her head without speaking.

            Imogene sat aside the letter. “I’m sorry. I’ve made you go through it again, haven’t I?”

            Sarah waved her hand, a frustrated, negative little gesture. “It’s not just that.” She looked up and the tears made her eyes seem enormous. “It’s that you’ll be teaching again and they’ll all be so bright and pretty and sure to love you.”

            The schoolteacher sat down on the bed. “You mustn’t worry. It hurts me when you do, as if you don’t believe in me. Or think so little of me you think I could forget.” She stroked Sarah’s cheek. “You can be a little jealous to flatter me, but you mustn’t ever believe it.”


            WEEKS PASSED AND THERE WAS STILL NO WORD FROM WILLIAM Utterback. The money that Imogene was able to earn by teaching her adult students was inadequate and inconsistent; they paid by the lesson and often didn’t come at appointed times. Lutie and Fred, though openhearted, began to feel the financial drain; the summer months were their busy time, and a room and two places at board paying only partial rates would be felt when money got tight the following winter. They were too kind to say anything, but it showed in their faces when Imogene returned from the bishop’s with no news. They, too, were waiting for the letter.

            The last week in July, the bishop took Imogene into the formal parlor and closed the door. “I’m seeing a young man about the position today. As fond as Mrs. Whitaker and I have grown of you, I can’t in good conscience hire you without references, not when everyone else was asked to give them.”

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