Irma was singing to herself, as she watched the children at play. She had thirty-two youngsters on the roll of the schoolhouse and she and Betty had had to take on extra help to cope.
The children were playing in the yard behind the schoolhouse which, in later years, had been fenced off with a neatly painted white fence, over which lay the ranch and prairie stretching off into the distance. It was a bright breezy day, the sort of day which Liza would have said was good for hanging out washing.
“They sure look happy all playing like that,” Betty said, coming over to sit next to Irma with a smile on her face.
“Oh, to be a child again,” Irma said, shaking her head, “and to have only the next game or meal to worry about.”
“They’ll grow up, but hopefully ready to take on anything this world has to throw at them,” Betty said, “we might have the next President of the United States right here in this schoolyard.”
“Or the next great inventor, one of these children might change the world for us all and that’s what I love about being a teacher,” Irma said, preparing to ring the bell and call the children back inside to their lesson.
“If you’d told me five years ago I’d be teaching children their A, B, C I’d have laughed you out of town,” Betty said, standing up.
“You did, if I remember rightly,” Irma said, laughing and ringing the bell.
“Is there room for a little one,” a voice came from over the fence.
Irma turned and smiled at the sight of Anthony carrying little baby Joseph in his arms. He was only a year old but already a big strong boy and Irma held out her arms for him, as Anthony passed the child over the fence.
“Oh, look at you, big strong boy. Have you been helping your daddy on the ranch? Oh, yes, you have. We’ll make a rancher out of you yet, won’t we?” Irma said, bouncing the baby in her arms and smiling at him.
“I swear that child gets bigger every day. What are you feeding him?” Betty said, holding out her finger to Joseph who batted playfully at it.
“Just good fresh prairie air and lots of milk,” Irma replied, handing Joseph back across the fence, as he began to wail, “that’s right, you cry for your daddy, your mommy’s got work to do. Come on now children, let’s get inside,” and turned back to the schoolyard.
“You’re quite a natural at all this, aren’t you?” Betty said, smiling at Anthony, as he bounced Joseph up and down in his arms and shushed him.
“It just takes a bit of practice, I guess,” Anthony replied, “you’ll be just as good at it when the time comes,” and he smiled at her.
Betty put her hand to her stomach and nodded.
“You’d better give Leo the time off though, or at least let him bring the baby to the ranch with you and Joseph,” Betty said, shaking her head.
“You want to turn the milking parlor into a nursery?” Anthony said, laughing, “won’t your father look after him?”
“Him? How do you know it’s a boy? I’m hoping for a girl, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway, we’d best be getting these children back to their lessons, it looks like you’ve got your hands full,” Betty said, and nodding to Anthony, she followed Irma and the children back into the schoolhouse.
“A friend for you little Joseph,” Anthony said, kissing his son’s forehead and carrying him back across the ranch yard.
The schoolhouse had been built on the track heading towards the trail off to Thornedge. Irma had got her wish that it be painted red and the little clock and bell which hung above looked mighty fine, or so Anthony thought to himself. It had now been five years since the schoolhouse had opened and every day the children of the surrounding ranches and homesteads would come to learn their lessons from Irma and Betty.
Anthony was proud of his wife for all she had done. Not only was she a good mother to Joseph but she was also like a mother to so many of the children who came to her school. Over the past five years, she’d done more to help the children of Thornedge County than anyone and she was liked and respected by all.
As he came to the ranch house, Joseph began to cry again and it seemed like he was hungry. Anthony took him inside, where Margaret and Liza were busy baking.
“Let me guess, another church bazaar. They come around more often than Sunday service,” Anthony said, as Margaret took her great-grandson in her arms and shushed him.
“There, there, little Joe Maynard, what’s the matter with you,” she said and she began to sing a lullaby which Anthony remembered her singing when he was a boy too.
“These cakes are for no church bazar, Mr. Maynard. They’re for Mrs. Maynard’s schoolhouse benefit on Thursday, don’t you remember? She wants to buy new exercise books for the children and an aba … an abu … oh, you know, one of those counting things,” Liza said, laughing, as she pulled out a cake from the oven.
Anthony had completely forgotten about the benefit sale but he knew that Irma would expect him to be there. They shared everything together, the closest of friends as well as husband and wife. But he wouldn’t have it any other way and ever since their marriage he’d followed Reverend Wayne’s sound advice and each day found a way to fall more in love with Irma than ever.
It was the day of the benefit and Irma had had Anthony and Leo up early to hang bunting around the schoolhouse. She’d invited what seemed like the whole town and the children would be presenting a pageant on the geography of the United States. The refreshments stall was laden under the weight of any number of cakes and there was lemonade for sale, not to mention some of Mr. Patrick Holt’s excellent homemade wine.
“Now, I want you to be here to greet people,” Irma said, as Anthony clambered down a ladder propped up against the schoolhouse wall.
“I was going to look after Joseph,” Anthony said, wishing for as little involvement as possible.
“Your grandmother has him,” Irma said, smiling at her husband, whom she knew disliked gatherings such as this.
“And don’t think you’re getting out of it either,” Betty said, pointing to Leo, “a lady in my state can’t be expected to stand all this time,” and she laughed, as Leo and Anthony reluctantly followed their wives to the entrance to the schoolyard
Despite it being early, the invited guests were already beginning to arrive. Sheriff Ferrell and several of the deputies had just ridden up and Doctor Isherwood and his wife were pulling up in their horse and trap. Even John Dobson was there, accompanied by his daughter Thelma, who had decided not to stay in Chicago after all. It was a most merry gathering and as Irma lined the children up in their costumes, she felt ever so proud of all they had achieved together at the schoolhouse.
“Now children,” she said, clapping her hands together, “we’ve rehearsed all this time and again. Each of you knows your lines and I know you’ll do me and Mrs. Costello proud, won’t you?”
The children all shook their heads and Irma beamed at them.
“There’s no time like the present,” Betty said and began to usher the children onto the little makeshift stage which had been set up in the schoolyard.
The guests had taken their seats and the mayor of Thornedge and his wife had just arrived, greeted by Anthony at the gate.
“I’m so glad you could make it Mr. Mayor, it’s an honor to have you here,” Anthony said, greeting him warmly.
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Maynard. I love a school pageant,” the mayor said, taking his seat, as Irma took to the stage.
“Well, good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is an honor to welcome you to Maynard School. As you know, our children have been working very hard to prepare this pageant for you and I ask you to be generous in helping them too. We want to buy beautiful new exercise books and pencils along with an abacus to help the children learn their counting. All the money we raise today will go towards helping them and I hope you will give generously,” Irma said, looking out over the crowd with a smile on her face.
“On behalf of the town, I would like to thank you, Mrs. Maynard, for all you do for these children. This schoolhouse is a credit to you and we’re all mighty pleased that you’re here,” the mayor said and a round of applause went up from the crowd.
“Well thank you, Mr. Mayor, and now it is my great pl …” Irma began, but as she did so her head became faint and a sudden wave of nausea overcame her.
She stumbled and Betty leapt forward to catch her as she fell. A gasp went up from the crowd and the children were looking on aghast as Anthony rushed forward onto the stage.
“Irma, what’s wrong?” he said, “is Doctor Isherwood here still? Someone call him, please” and he looked around in panic.
Through the crowd pushed the elderly physician and he was soon at Irma’s side, as a silence descended over the schoolyard.
“Well now, have you felt like this before?” Doctor Isherwood said, feeling Irma’s brow and then her pulse.
“I … well, yes,” she stammered, still overcome by the nausea, “a few days ago, in the morning.”
Doctor Isherwood smiled and placed his hand on her stomach.
“I think I can feel what the problem is here and it’s no problem at all. Mr. Maynard, you’re going to be a father again,” the doctor said, smiling at Anthony, who looked at him open-mouthed.
“A father? You mean … oh, Irma … oh, everyone, it’s alright,” Anthony cried, as he and doctor Isherwood helped Irma to her feet, “a new Maynard is on the way.”
At these words, a great cheer went up from the crowd and the children all clapped wildly.
“Don’t stop the pageant just for me,” Irma said to Betty, as Anthony and Doctor Isherwood led her to a chair at the side of the stage.
“I wasn’t going to,” Betty replied, laughing, “if I can carry my child during it then so can you,” and Irma smiled.
The pageant was a great success and the benefit raised more than enough money to buy the exercise books and an abacus, as well as leaving enough money over for the children to enjoy a tea party at the town’s expense. Irma kept on teaching until the baby was born and luckily, she persuaded Abilene and Suzy to take on some responsibilities at the school whilst she and Betty were caring for their newborns.
Irma and Anthony became proud parents to a little girl, whom they named Louisa. A friend for Betty’s baby, who fortunately turned out to be a girl too. She and Leo named her Cora and they were soon the best of friends, no doubt taking the example of their mothers whose friendship had grown so strong.
Life at Maynard Ranch was good. It had taken some hardship to get there and neither Irma nor Anthony never truly forget the ordeal they had endured for the love they now shared. But both would agree that the trials and tribulations they’d faced were worth it and that now all which lay ahead was the happiness of the future, a future of friends, family and love.
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