Can’t wait for the next Sweet Town novel? I’ve got a little tease here for you, for what’s coming up next…
Late September, 1879
The porch of the school house annex faced in a sort of northerly direction, away from town, and what hustle and bustle there was along Main Street. Augusta stood there, looking off into the distance, wishing something would happen. Anything. After her middle sister Maressa got married and hied off to Paris, France, it seemed like life slowed down. Another sister was also recently married but so starry eyed over her new husband that it liked to make Augusta sick to her stomach and she avoided the love birds as much as possible.
The annex, a white clapboard sided extension of the one-room school had been built for a library, a special project of the school teacher’s wife. Her name was Hannah and she was as light and pale as Augusta was dark. When the two of them were together though, Augusta forgot that Hannah was a Swede and she was born to slaves. They were just two young ladies fixing up the library and giggling over that old lady who gossip said was going to have a baby.
“Imagine,” Hannah had whispered. “She must be all of forty with her husband a grizzled old man and they’re expecting.”
Augusta had allowed that it was nearly scandalous. “I didn’t know such old people even had relations,” she’d whispered back, causing both girls to explode in silent paroxysms of laughter.
They kept quiet because in the schoolhouse proper, Hannah’s husband Nate was teaching a class of scholars. They could hear the voices of the children chanting in a bored, mechanical tone, verb tenses. “Have, had, have had,” they said together, causing another round of shoulder shaking giggling since it seemed a response to Augusta’s own comment.
But now Hannah had gone off to the hotel down the street and left Augusta there by herself.
All it would take was a moment alone and melancholy would strike her. She was lonely for her sisters, even the ones who were still there in town, but lost to her because they were married and busy with grown lady thoughts and not the adventures of childhood.
A small cloud of dust rose in the distance and she watched it. Perhaps a miner or farmer were coming into town, and ground her teeth against the thought that nothing more exciting than that ever happened. Of course, she reminded herself, still watching the dust trail grow, she was now a young lady, no longer a girl, and shouldn’t be looking for adventure. She supposed that hideous illness known as ‘falling in love’ would strike her, too, someday and then she would care more about some stinky man’s hungers than she would her own interests. “Gah,” she snarled out loud. It would be better to be an old maid, though how could she support herself without a husband?
If only she weren’t so slight, she bemoaned. She’d put on a man’s shirt and striped trousers and cut her hair and hire herself out as a private investigator. Now, wouldn’t that be something? She grinned at the idea.
The dust cloud was fairly close now, not moving fast but moving nearer just the same, and two figures on horseback could be see like a silhouette in front of the haze.
The exact moment when Augusta realized that the pair approaching her were Indians caused her head to swim and she gasped. She’d never seen real live wild western Indians before. Naturally she’d met a few of those who lived in Georgia. They’d traveled the traces and traded at the general store. They even wore regular clothes. But these two looked like savages. As much as her feet were telling her to run away, she couldn’t. She’d asked for an adventure and it was being delivered to her forthwith.
She stood there on the porch gaping as the two horses came close and then stopped. The man was darker than the folks in town, though lighter skinned than Augusta. His black hair was straight and pulled back in a braid, tied with a length of leather or sinew. With his high cheekbones, and narrow eyes, his expression didn’t give anything away. She decided that as long as he would stare at her she would look back, and neither one spoke for several moments.
The other horse held a woman, as dramatic looking as the man, wearing a leather dress with fringe that hung down and tickled the tops of high moccasins. But Augusta didn’t look at her; she just noted that the lady was there as she continued her staring contest.
Some flicker of something ran across his face and though he neither smiled nor winked, some of the severity eased. “Greetings,” he said and there was a melodious quality to his voice that Augusta thought delightful.
She nodded at him, gripping the rail of the porch and hoping someone from town was peeking out their window just then so she could prove this whole exchange had actually happened.
The woman’s horse side stepped a little and she cleared her throat. “We’re looking for a missing child.”
Well, that was interesting, Augusta considered. As far as she knew no unattached youngun had shown up in town. “I haven’t heard of any kids without folks coming into town but if anyone would know it would be Mrs. Price over there at the mercantile,” she said gesturing behind herself. The opportunity to prolong this meeting was too great to ignore and impulsively she offered her assistance. “Follow me and I’ll show you where.”