Mama was livid.
“Judge Dunne proposed and you refused him? Minna, I’ve been sewing your trousseau since Christmas. You said you had him hook, line, and sinker.”
I did say that. But during six months of parlor-sitting with Milroy Dunne, I started thinking about Papa. When he was Colonel Veazey of the Texas Militia, he took the whole family to the war down in Cuba.
Milroy would never measure up to Papa. Marrying him would be like marrying a legal brief.
In June, Judge Dunne and I were outside watching fireflies when he dropped to one knee. I helped him up and told him I was taking my new teaching certificate and heading west.
“Don’t worry, Mama,” I said. “The Judge will survive. And I’ll be the best-dressed teacher west of the Pecos.”
As it happened, I was the best-dressed anything west of the Pecos. Around Wrangle, Texas, at least. Tea gowns didn’t serve for mopping floors or comforting a child with a revolted stomach. White linen didn’t serve for battling Harvey Lubeck.
Harvey was sixteen, too old for school but he’d been kept back. He was smart but idle. He proposed to drive me crazy.
Not overtly, of course. Dirt in the water bucket. A snake in Imogene Culpepper’s desk. Ink spilled on the floor, a permanent stain. A string of disasters, and Harvey’s blue eyes always twinkling from across the room.
Then one day he asked to be excused. Suspicious, I followed. He disappeared behind the boys’ privy and returned carrying the biggest, nastiest vinegarroon I ever saw.
“You hellion.” I grabbed his ear and dragged him inside, vinegarroon and all.
“Bend over.” I unhooked the board of education from its peg and whacked him three times on his backside. Then I stood panting, my knees all wobbly.
Harvey’s lower lip trembled. “You’ll git it now, Miss Petticoats. My daddy’ll fix you.” He tore out of the building.
“His daddy’s mean,” said Imogene.
After school, as usual, I swept and straightened. Then I sat down to wait.
Two hours later, I heard hoof beats. I was alone in a gray waste of cenizo and prickly pear.
When I heard boots ascending the steps, I willed myself to stand and hold my head high.
A burly, red-haired man opened the door. “You the one whupped my boy?”
He lumbered up the aisle, then stopped and removed his sweat-stained hat. “Ma’am, I thank you for what you done. Boy’s been needin’ a good whuppin’.”
He stuck out his hand. We shook.
“Harvey says you’re pretty as the Jersey Lily. We seen her when she come through Langtry a few years back. B’lieve Harvey’s right.” He put his hat back on. “You keep that boy in line, now. Make him act proper.”
Nodding, he headed for the door.
I sank onto my chair.
When my hands stopped quivering, I took up pen and paper and began: “Dear Judge Dunne.”
According to Mama’s last letter, the Judge was still pining.
“Minna” first appeared in Chaos West of the Pecos, vol. 15 (2011), under the title “A Day in the Life of a One-room School Teacher.”
Image of Lillie Langtry by John Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons