The Sooty Schoolmarm


*photo credit below
Nell leaned the broom against the wall and wiped her brow with the sleeve of her worn calico dress.  She had scraped peeling paint and scrubbed layers of dirt from the walls of the long-neglected school house all morning. The desks were as clean as she could get them and ready for her new students. Next on the agenda - shovel the old ash from the pot-belly stove and clean off the grime so it would be ready when the cold weather swept through the Montana plains.

She looked again at what she had written on the large chalk slate hanging on the front wall.

 "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." Ecclesiastes 9:10

She eyed the sooty stove with grim determination and grabbed the small shovel hanging from a nail behind the stove. "You're next," she said. Thirty minutes later, she again wiped her brow with the sleeve of her dress, smearing the soot that had collected there across her damp forehead, then she leaned down and grabbed the handle of the overflowing bucket of ash she'd just dug out of the stove.

"Thank you, Lord, for the strength you've given me this morning. Now, if you could just give me a little more," she grunted, "I'll tote this load outside and be done with it."

As she hoisted the bucket with both hands. Her eyes swept the cleaned room again...except it wasn't - clean, that is. A fine layer of black soot now dusted every freshly scrubbed desk in the room as well as her clean-swept floor.

"Oh, fiddle-faddle! I should have cleaned the stove first." she snapped, "Now, I'll have to clean everything all over again!"

A deep chuckle wafted through the open doorway, startling her so that she dropped the bucket, spilling the entire contents in a pile at her feet. Make that on her feet.

Jed Clayton stepped through the door with a sheepish grin. "Sorry Ma'am. Didn't mean to startle you."

Nell fought to keep her mouth from spitting out what her mind was thinking. It didn't work. "Jed, you big oaf, you scared me half to death!" She shook some of the soot from her shoes. "And what's with the "Ma'am" bit? We've known each other since we six years old and you've always called me by my given name. Why so formal, now?"

Jed grinned again, "Well, I didn't always call you by your given name. Sometimes I called you Nelly-Belly-full-of-Jelly, but yer a schoolmarm now, and that wouldn't be proper like, would it?"

She felt heat crawl up her neck and spread across her cheeks. Her fingers curled in on themselves. "I told you never to call me that again, Jed Clayton!" In two seconds she'd crossed the room and began pounding her soot-covered fists against the man's broad chest.

Two strong arms wrapped themselves around her, pinning her to him. She could feel his heart beating against her clenched fist. Her own pulse quicken.  She struggled to free herself. "Turn me loose, you clod!"

"Not til you kiss me Nell Jean Smith, and tell me that by the first day of school you'll be Mrs Jed Clayton."

She ceased her struggling. Neither of them spoke or moved...or breathed for several seconds.

Jed broke the silence, his voice low and husky. "Nell, darlin', I've loved you forever. From the first time we sat on the banks of the creek and spit melon seeds into the water - til the day you announced that you were going to be an independent woman with a teaching career."

"But, Jed. you said...and I quote, "No woman of mine will ever hold down a job!"

He put his finger to her lips. "Hush woman. I know what I said - I'm an idiot!"

He pulled her even closer. "Marry me, Nell. You can have your career as long as at the end of the school day, you'll be comin' home to me."

He wiped a black smudge from her lips with his fingertips, causing her heart to tremble so, that she had to look away. Her eyes fell on the words she'd written on the chalk slate earlier that morning...

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might...".

She wiggled her arms free and opened her fists. Reaching up, she cradled his handsome face in her hands, then stood on the tiptoes of her sooty little feet and kissed him with all her might.  She was, after all, a God-fearin' woman. Who was she to ignore scripture?

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*Photo credit: This story was inspired by the photo above, taken by my aunt, Sandra Glaze Kisselburg

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved that!