Altars & Blackboards - Part I
           by Rosemarie

"Miss Herrington," someone greeted her as she left the hotel. The man --
Buck, she remembered -- pulled his hat and flashed her a smile. Elizabeth
gave him a small nod and made her way over toward the little church that soon was to be her classroom as well.

Buck caught up with her, almost tripping over his own feet in his effort to
draw her attention. "How do you like it here so far?" he inquired
cheerfully, walking backwards to look into her face as he waited for her

"It may be a little early to answer that," she replied evasively as they
reached the steps leading up to the church. She stopped and turned to
indicate the children playing noisily in the street. "It seems there´s a lot
of work to be done and I intend to start it as soon as I possibly can."

Buck didn´t appear to notice that he had just been dismissed. He preceded her up the stairs and held open the door for her. "I´d be pleased, Ma´am, if I could be of any help."

Buck was still talking, but Elizabeth forgot to listen as she caught sight
of the tall figure busying himself with putting up a blackboard where the
altar had been. She looked about the room and detected it in the corner
where he had put it until it was needed again.

"Hey, Josiah," Buck called out. "Look who I brought." Elizabeth thought
wryly that he sounded very much as if it was his achievement that she was
here now. But the thought was forgotten the moment Josiah straightened and turned to look at her. There was sawdust in his full, silvery hair, and once again she noticed the silent intensity of his gaze.

"Mr.Sanchez," she began.

"Josiah," he offered with a smile full of genuine warmth.

"Josiah," she repeated, smiling in return. The look in his eyes was steady
and slightly inquisitive, and she had to make an effort to remember what she had been about to say.

"I thought you might want to start teaching as soon as possible," Josiah
suggested, indicating the blackboard with a gesture of his head.

"That´s why I´m here," Elizabeth replied. "Thank you, Josiah."

"I´m going to get you some chalk and a rag for the blackboard," Buck´s eager voice came from some place behind her, and she all but started, because she had completely forgotten he was there.

"Thank you, Mr..."

"Buck," he offered with a grin.

She inclined her head. "That´s very kind of you."

"Buck, Josiah!" a young man called from the street below. "There´s a fight
in the saloon. I need your help."

Buck pulled his hat before turning to leave. "Excuse us, Miss Herrington. I´m coming J.D.!"

Elizabeth watched as Josiah retrieved his coat and hat and headed for the
door. Pausing, he cast her a look of concern as he passed by her. "Please
stay here," he advised, and she gave him a slight nod. His eyes lingered on
her face for a moment before he resumed his way. She looked after him as he crossed the street and headed toward the saloon. With a pensive smile she turned and approached the blackboard Josiah had crafted for her classroom. Running her fingers over the smooth wooden frame, she wondered yet again what it was that touched her about this silent man who was a priest and at the same time didn´t seem to be. He puzzled and confused her, and yet she felt she could trust him. She smiled as she thought of how he had foreseen what she needed the most to start her classes and how he had simply provided it without her having to ask. No fight this time, she thought gratefully, comparing Josiah to the elderly clergyman who had been so reluctant to share his space with her.

"At least not about altars and blackboards," she murmured to herself, taking a seat in the front pew. There was something about Josiah that she couldn´t quite figure out. He was different from other men she had met, quieter, deeper. With most men she only needed a limited repertoire of words and actions to get along with them. With Josiah nothing she did or said seemed to be enough to meet the requirements of the moment. It´s probably the way he looks at people, she mused. It feels as if he were seeing right down to the bottom of who you are. With a sigh Elizabeth straightened and folded her hands in her lap, waiting for Josiah´s return. She needed to talk about her first class tomorrow morning, hoping he would be able to provide her with some advice as to how to convince the children to come to school instead of spending their time out on the street. Somehow she had a feeling Josiah was good at convincing people.