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Imogene kissed the golden crown of hair. “Take care of yourself, Sarah. Your love is more than a net under me. It is the tower from which I shout down the world.”

            Next morning, armed with a basket of paints, paper, glue, and bits of cloth, Sarah again took possession of the recitation room. When Imogene peeked in before the noon break, all the children were happily absorbed in making Christmas ornaments. She mouthed a silent “Congratulations” to Sarah and closed the door noiselessly.

            “They are warming to me,” Sarah reported as she and Imogene ate in the school lunchroom. “The eight of us had a good time this morning. I taught them something, too. While we worked, I told them the story of Christmas and how it is celebrated in Holland and Italy. You told those stories to me, years ago. Remember?” There was a scuffle and commotion in the hall. Several of the teachers, including Imogene, left the table. Half a minute later, Imogene poked her head back into the lunchroom.

            “Maybelle has skinned her knee on the ice. She says no one is to touch it but Mrs. Ebbitt.”

           

            Sarah stayed at Bishop Whitaker’s School through the winter, and by spring she was teaching fine needlework to the older girls and assisting in the classroom during the afternoons. Sarah never spoke of Wolf, though she would sometimes talk to him when she knew she was alone, and she never forgot her pact with God.

28

            HEADS BOWED OVER THEIR BOOKS, BRAIDS AND CURLS TUMBLING over their cheeks, the bishop’s girls scratched answers on their final examination papers. Occasionally they glanced up at the test questions Imogene had written on the board. Sunlight streamed through the windows, warm on Imogene’s face and hands. Careful not to disturb her scholars, she slid the sash up and leaned out. Eva Quaiffe, the music teacher, had laughed, telling Imogene that spring was short-lived in the eastern Sierra. “It came on Tuesday last year,” she’d remarked. But now the bitterbrush was in bloom on the mountainside, and the sweet scent of the yellow flowers drifted down, mingling with the sharpness of sage. Imogene breathed deeply and closed her eyes.

            “Soon all your girls will be gone,” said a voice at her elbow.

            “They are your girls too, Kate. What will you do with the summer?”

            The principal settled her elbows on the sill by Imogene’s and looked to the mountains east of town. “I’ll be here most of it. The bishop has finally gotten the money to have the drive landscaped, and I want to be here when it’s done. Catch up on my back work. But I’m going back East for a month, I hope, to see my sister in St. Louis.”

            A chair scraped, drawing their attention back inside. The chairscraper was a ten-year-old girl, small for her age, with an angular face and frizzy brown curls that pushed defiantly from under her hair ribbons. Her hand bobbed above her head and she periodically bounced herself several inches out of her chair, the increased height of her hand designed to bring the teacher more promptly.

            From a small desk near the rear of the room, Sarah rose and crossed noiselessly to the little girl’s desk. Imogene and Kate watched the two in whispered conference for a moment before turning back to their former positions. Imogene smiled as she leaned near Kate. “This ought to be good for discipline, the principal and one of the teachers hanging out of the window after we’ve scolded the girls about it half a hundred times.”

            “That’s why it is better to be a woman than a girl,” Kate returned. “Your new assistant seems to be getting on nicely.”

            “Sarah Mary is good with little children.”

            Kate glanced back at the young woman. “She will be a good teacher if she ever overcomes her shyness. The older girls adore her. How is she? It’s been five months since the little boy died, hasn’t it?”

            “She seems better, but she’s so quiet, even at home. She doesn’t talk about it much.”

            “You’re looking after her, Imogene. She’ll come back to herself.”

            “Unless someone else starts working on her. Sometimes she talks of marrying Mr. Weldrick. He could press her into it, in the state she’s in now. She sometimes thinks Wolf’s death was God’s way of telling her she is living wrong.” Imogene smiled without humor.

            “That’s nonsense. God isn’t a matchmaker.”

            “Tell that to Sarah. She talks of marrying Nate one minute, and the next of how he put Wolf out in the rain. I don’t know how she will resolve the two things if Mr. Weldrick ever comes back.” Imogene looked across the hills, blue with sage, toward the cemetery north of town. Flowers were planted on the little mound, and it was free of weeds; Imogene tended the sad little garden religiously. “It was good of you and the bishop to agree to take her on as my assistant—I don’t like her to be alone.”

            Kate laid her hand on Imogene’s for a moment. “She’s turned out to be a great help to us.”

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