by Sue and Terrie
                                  Art by Terrie

"Hey, Josiah!"  Nathan pushed his way through the swinging saloon doors.  "Need to talk to you a minute."

Josiah looked up to see his friend walking toward him, while a dusty
cowboy followed closely behind.  He glanced down at the sad assortment of cards in his hand, then back up at Ezra's smug expression.  "I'm out."   He
sighed and threw down his cards before turning his attention to Nathan
who had pulled up a chair from the neighboring table.  "What's going on?"

Nathan nodded toward the anxious looking man standing behind him.
" They got a lineman and his horse tangled in some barbed wire out near
Terlingua.  I'm headin' out that way now.  Gonna be a lot of stitchin' up to do - on both of 'em.  I know I promised to help you with fixin-up that house
out back for the new schoolteacher, and the church roof and all . . ."

Josiah placed a large hand on his friend's shoulder.  He had seen the
damage barbed wire could do to a man, and a horse.  "I'll go with you.  You
might need some help."

"I can handle it.  You've got your own work to do.  Maybe you can get
one of these able bodied men to lend you a hand. . . Good luck."  Nathan
grinned and rose from the chair. "We've got a lot of riding to do. Best be goin'.  Come on, Charlie."

"Safe journey, friend,"  Josiah said as he turned back to the game.

"Read 'em and weep, gentlemen . . . read 'em and weep."  Ezra 's knuckles
made a resounding crack on the tabletop as he threw down his winning

"Damn!  That's about as much punishment as a man can be expected to take
for one night."  Buck gave his cards a toss and reached across the table for
the whiskey.  Upending the bottle over his glass, he watched dismally as
the last golden drops trickled out.  "Empty," he muttered.  "Just like my

"I hear you, " Vin commiserated.   He pushed himself back from the table to
lean precariously on the rear legs of his chair.   "A drink would sure go a
long ways toward makin'  a body feel better -- and I'd buy you one too, pal,
but Ezra here tapped me out."

"Oh, for cryin' out loud!  What a bunch of momma's boys!"  Ezra stood up
and gave a tug to each of his ruffled cuffs before walking over to the bar.
When he returned, he set a fresh bottle of whiskey in front of Buck.  "Now
kindly refrain from belly-achin'."

"You're a good man, Ezra Standish.  A real gentleman."  Buck called out as
Ezra left, tipping his hat and counting a wad of bills.

 "Fellow momma's boys, this one's on the gambler."  Grasping the bottle by
the neck he filled his own glass, then Vin's.  Turning to Josiah, he held the
bottle out to him.

"None for me, thanks."  Josiah said, holding up his hand.

"Come on, Ezra bought it!  This may never happen again."

"No, I have a lot of work to get done tomorrow."  Josiah arched his back
stretching the kinks out of it.

"What kind of work ?"  Buck asked, immediately looking as if he regretted
the question.

"Getting things ready for the new school teacher.  Church roof's leakin'."
Josiah eyed first one, then the other of his companions.  "Could use some
help with Nathan gone."

"No!  No, no, no!" Buck rose and began backing away from the table  "You're
not gettin' me up on no roof!  Uh-uh!  Sorry  preacher."

Josiah looked over at Vin who seemed have his attention riveted on the
tunethe piano player was attempting.  It was plain to see that help would be
hard to come by at this table.   He turned back to Buck, a big toothy grin
on his face."My friends, are you up to a little wager?"

"Watch your step, ma'am.  It's a long way down."  The stagecoach driver
offered his arm to the trim young woman.

"Thank you."  Elizabeth stepped from the coach into the bright Texas sun
and let her eyes scan the rough frontier town which was to be her new
home.  She smiled.  This was much as she had imagined it.  There were a
few rustic stores scattered along the wooden sidewalk, a newspaper office,
a hotel,  a saloon.  But her interest went immediately to the small church
several yards  further down the dusty street.

"Can I take your bags down to the hotel,  Miss  Herrington? "

She shook her head.  "No, actually most of the things in my trunk will
belong over there at the school."
The  driver shook his head.  "Ma'am, this here town ain't got no school."

Elizabeth's smile widened into a grin.  "Mr. Holt, it does now."  In answer to
his confused response, she added, "Just take my trunk over to the church.
I'll take care of it from there."


"If you say so, ma'am."  He shook his head, obviously too tired and hurried
to argue with her as he swung her trunk from the boot  at the rear of the

Carrying two smaller bags with her, Elizabeth led the way to the church,
pausing at the base of the steps.  Her gaze  began high at the building's
belfry , and then travelled down to the small wooden porch and the open
church doors.  The entryway  led to a darkened interior where  columns of
dust sparkled in the slanted rays of sunlight streaming from the open

Depositing her trunk on the porch, the driver stepped back and touched
the brim of his hat.  "Well, I hope the town treats you right, ma'am. There
ain't many ladies out here.  I wish you well."

"Thank you, Mr. Holt."  She watched him for only a moment as he returned
to the coach, then she turned to climb the steps into the church.

 Inside, the air was heavy with the smell of  fresh sawdust, musty hymnals,
and candlewax.   After a brief hesitation, her eyes adjusted to the light and
she stepped in, setting her bags just inside the door.  A quick glance
revealed that there was no one around.

She stood empty handed, relieved that the  exhausting trip was finally
over as she tried to sort out her feelings.  Ever since she had left St.Louis,
her emotions  had alternated between the joy of high expectations and the
terror of vast uncertainties.  And now finally it came to this.  This  tiny
frame church  waited for her  on the brink of an immense wilderness.  And
with luck and her hard work, this building would begin its second  role as a

With a settling sigh, Elizabeth walked up the center aisle between the
pews, taking in every detail of the room.  Appreciating it as a place of
worship, she imagined its possibilities as a place of learning.  In her
mind, the pews gave way to school desks.

 The altar would need to be moved to one side  to allow space for her desk.
Several pieces of furniture would need to be moved  and rearranged on a
weekly basis. And the rear wall would require a blackboard where a cross
now hung.

She sighed again.  Several years earlier she had shared a facility with
an elderly clergyman.  He had been unhappy with the dual arrangement,
and it had taken a great deal of diplomacy and tact on her part  to keep
him pacified.

She had asked about the priest in this town, but no one had been able to
give her much information.  She knew only that he was the son of a
missionary and was somewhat "unorthodox".  She wasn't sure whether that
term applied to his religion or his lifestyle.  Either way, she wasn't
allowing herself to have very high expectations of him.   For the sake
of the children, she would deal with the Reverend Sanchez as it became

At the head of the aisle, she approached the lectern where a weathered
Bible lay open, its leaves fluttering slightly in a cross breeze from
the open windows.  As she was about to turn away,  she noticed a fallen
piece of fabric at the base of the stand.  Supposing that the parament
had been blown to the floor, she bent to retrieve it.  To her surprise,
when she  spread the piece between her hands, it was not a lectern
scarf, but it was, rather, a man's shirt.  It was soft and very large,
and it smelled  slightly of fresh masculine perspiration, almost  like a
musk, strangely elusive and heady.  And she surprised herself by
bringing  it up against her face for a  more lingering appreciation of
the scent.  It was then that  she heard the sound of men's voices coming
from behind the church.


"So.  What do you think?"  Buck looked up from his place at the base of
the ladder at the very back of the church.

"I think this job would've been a lot easier if you had come up here with me
and helped."  Josiah  sat  high on the church roof as he tapped the lid back
onto the container of tar.

Buck shook his head.  "I'd rather hold the ladder.  That tar stinks, and
I don't want to get it all over my best shirt."

"Hell, why'd you wear your best shirt anyway?  You knew  we had work to
do.  Besides that, you could've taken it off and left it down inside where I
left mine."  Josiah  pulled a rag from his pants pocket and wiped a trickle of

sweat from his forehead, leaving a black smudge across his cheek.

"And crawl around up there in my undershirt for the whole town to see?
Isn't it bad enough that you've offended the sensitivities of all the good
God-fearing church ladies?"

Josiah scowled down at his friend and slid the tar bucket closer to the
ladder.  Scooting to the edge of the roof,  he swung his long legs onto
the ladder and began his descent,  bringing his tools and the bucket
with him.

Holding the ladder,  Buck continued, "You didn't answer my question."

"What question?"

"What do you think?"

Josiah glanced down at his friend impatiently.  "What do I think about

"The new school marm.  They said she's coming in on the stage this
morning.  I know she's probably old and fat, but maybe she's not."

Reaching the ground, Josiah turned to his friend in realization.
"That's why you wore that  new shirt, isn't it!  You plan on sparking
the new school marm."  Not waiting for an answer, he pulled the ladder
to the ground.  "Well, you can at least help me take the ladder inside.
I've got to fix that wet spot on the ceiling before the plaster falls down."

Buck backed away avoiding the tar.  "Well, she could be pretty."  He
made a face as he watched Josiah use the rag again to wipe at a large
black smear on his red flannel sleeve.   Josiah picked up the front end
of the ladder, and Buck gingerly lifted the rear.  Together  they walked
around the side of the building while  Buck continued,  "Well, what do
you think?  Is there a chance?"

The corners of Josiah's  blue eyes crinkled as he grinned slowly.  "A
chance that she's pretty, or a chance that she'd consider sparking with

As they approached the front porch, Buck drawled, "I don't know why I'm
foolin' myself.  She's bound to be some middle-aged spinster.  If she's
not fat, she's all dried up and pruny with a face like a hatchet."

Buck was so lost in thought that he didn't notice the trunk on the front
porch, but the luggage caught Josiah's eyes immediately.

With a thoughtful frown, Josiah mounted the steps and carried his end of
the ladder into the doorway while Buck mumbled as he entered the dusky
room.  "I had a teacher like that  in the third grade...Miss Hackett.  Want to
guess what we called her?"

From the darkened area near the lectern, a gentle feminine voice floated
toward them in  response.  "If you were at all like other nine-year-old
boys, I'm quite certain you called the poor woman , 'Miss Hatchet' ."

Josiah stood, unaware of the ladder on his right arm or the bucket in
his left.  If Buck said anything,  Josiah didn't hear it.  For Josiah there was
nothing, nothing except the  figure stepping forward into a shaft of gilded
sunlight at the altar which he had built.

He had never believed in angels, not really.  But there was nothing on this
side of heaven that could be this beautiful.  She stood before them, smiling
while her green eyes danced in merriment.  She was small and slim,
dressed in a blue traveling  suit. Under a small blue hat, her honey-colored
hair was pulled back in a soft bun while softly curled tendrils escaped to
dance around her high cheek bones.

And she was holding his shirt.