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"Students! I'd like to introduce your new classmate, Lindsay Hopkins. Lindsay is new here from Barnhill. Let's all do our best to make her feel welcome," Miss Marks announced as she stood in front of the tidy rows of desks filled with children and presented the little girl. After the announcement, the teacher patted the woven bun on the back of her head and sent a stiff smile to the class.
From the back of the room, a young boy saw the new girl look around the room, then watched as shyness directed her dark gaze to the worn boards of the schoolhouse floor. He wondered if she felt the stares from the many pairs of eyes on her. He wondered why her new pa made her come to school so soon. Not even a week gone by and he put her into a room with so many new faces.
"Lindsay, take the seat next to Patty." The teacher's outstretched motion pointed the new girl to the second to the last desk where Patty sat and Lindsay took the seat alongside. "Now, everyone, please take out your slates and we will begin work on our arithmetic."
At the mention of arithmetic, a boy in the back of the room groaned.
"Luc, I trust you've completed your homework, as usual," Miss Marks began as if her words alone would quiet the ruckus, "so please refrain from making noises that disturb others."
Luc Fricke frowned. He didn't groan. His desk partner, Awful Ernie Atkins, groaned. Awful Ernie was always trying to get him in trouble with Miss Marks.
"Yes, ma'am." Luc seceded anyway to keep the peace. He forced himself to ignore the pretty new girl who sat down directly in front of him. Not that it was possible. Until then, Luc only saw her from a distance.Fricke land bordered the Pass' with Rock Creek as a boundary. It just began to rain when Luc first noticed her while he packed up his fishing gear at the creek and Sheriff Nate Horner brought her to Travis'. The minute he saw the sheriff lower Lindsay from his horse, Luc knew he had to meet her.
In the classroom, against the observant eyes of Miss Marks, Luc watched as the new girl fingered a piece of chalk. Her sugar and creamy coffee colored skin betrayed her Italian heritage--same as her pa, Travis Eversby-Pass. Luc wondered if the rumors about Lindsay Anne were true. Her pa was Travis Pass. Travis was an orphan Joseph and Frances Kubat took in on their way to Oklahoma. Luc didn't know how the Kubats came to be in General, Nebraska, but when they got there, the gossip went, they had two babies--their daughter, Aggie, and the orphaned Travis. When the two babies grew up, they married each other. Luc wasn't sure how Lindsay figured into the situation because she was Travis' daughter, but not Aggie's. The mystery intrigued him and so, when he saw the sheriff bring the seven-year-old girl to the Pass homestead, Luc was curious.
Awful Ernie Atkins saw his desk partner continue to stare at the new girl and whispered, "Luc loves Lindsay. Luc loves Lindsay!"
Vehemently, Luc expelled, "Do not!"
"Do, too!" Awful Ernie leered.
"Boys! I will see you after school for one hour," Miss Marks chastised. "Class, your arithmetic."
The hot summer sun beamed down on the dirt street. Several horses trod past, leaving clouds of dry, gray dust in the wake of their hooves. The clomp, clompity-clomp of Joseph Kubat's pair of well-bred, chestnut Morgans made the boards in the sidewalk vibrate under the feet of a group of men as they sat discussing the latest weather report. They looked up just enough to admire the team before continuing with their conversation.
"I heard it rained two weeks ago in Barnhill and missed us completely!" one man said as he leaned his broad shoulders against the wooden whitewashed siding of the barbershop.
Another scratched his head under his hat. "It's too early in the season to worry about rain."
"You can say that because you're just a young buck. You don't have any land you need to tend. Give yourself a couple of years to buy some property and find yourself a woman, maybe have a little family, and then you'll be concerned enough."
The younger man smiled. "Actually, I just bought a parcel of land today. That piece just downstream from my pa's place along Rock Creek has been for sale for a while now, so I bought it."
"Old Joe Harvestad's land? I wondered who bought that. Glad to hear it was you, Luc. Now," the man snickered, "you got yourself a woman in mind to make you some babies to help you cultivate that land?"
Luc grinned. He did, but he wasn't going to tell Ben Marshall. "Can't say that I do; can't say that I don't. Let's just leave that to me."
Before Ben could offer a smart reply, Lindsay Pass walked in front of them in a rush and excused herself.
Directly behind her, a couple of young men pursued her as vigilant as buzzards on a carcass. The most boisterous of them jeered, "Come on, Miss Hopkins. Everybody knows your history and how you came to these parts. We're just tryin' ta have some fun."