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As Henry walked around the classroom, he quickly put things to rights. He liked everything to be in order with all items put in their proper place. He detested chaos since his life was chaotic on all but the very best days.
It wasn’t easy being deaf. In the 1870s, there were no interpreters to communicate one’s feelings to the public. And most people didn’t understand sign language. Writing was the only way to let others know what he needed. Let alone what he dreamed.
She would be coming to his classroom this afternoon. He tried to think about something, anything else, but all he could see was her lovely blonde hair all braided up around her head. He longed to run his fingers through those braids. Thought of it often, too often lately.
But that was no good. Even though she had completed all of her classes technically, she was still a student. She’d been tutoring a few of the younger girls this semester and might be considered for a teaching job, should she want to return in the fall. When the Dean had informed him, Henry had tried not to look too pleased with the idea.
He reminded himself that they came from two very different worlds. Her father was the mayor of a nearby city, while he was from a poor farm family. The fact that he’d been given the opportunity to go to school was by the grace of a nearby wealthy neighbor. She had been his salvation or so he had thought. The chance to find books and learn to communicate with others like himself. Yet, now that he’d been teaching these seven long years, all he could think about (besides those braids) was how much he missed the farm. And the days, when no one had wanted him to settle petty disputes or grade papers.
He remembered the lovely way the sun rose over the hills in the morning or the brilliant colors as it sank in the evening. And his horses. How he longed to have his own horse again.
He continued checking around the room, making sure everything was put away for the weekend. After this final class, he would be free for two days with the luxury to read what he liked. And thank goodness, no papers to grade this weekend. He was so involved in his thoughts that he jumped when he felt the soft touch on his shoulder.
There she was, lovely golden braids and all. God, he would love to see her with her hair down. But he pushed all such thoughts out of his head and smiled, waiting for her to sign why she was there.
Clara caught her breath and smiled at the man before her. He was a popular teacher and very well-respected at the school. He taught mainly the boys, but she had been in his science lab a few years ago and remembered how he would run his hand through his hair, when he explained the amazing wonders of the universe. He would forget and stop signing, then catch himself and go back to his lecture.
As she looked up at him this afternoon, she saw yet again those intense blue eyes. Eyes she felt she could drown in. But she stood tall and signed to him that she would like to ask him a question. “As you know, I’ve been tutoring a few of the younger girls with their studies and usually come with them to the afternoon class. Today, I am leaving early to travel home for the weekend. May I have their homework assignment, so I can leave notes for them?”
Henry nodded and walked over to his desk by the blackboard. He pulled out his notes and wrote down a few questions. This was the gist of the lecture and he knew she would have no trouble with the topic. She had done well in the class he’d taught two years ago. Back then, the braids had hung down past her shoulders. He had merely thought her a pretty girl, but was more focused on her quick intellect. Over the past few months, he had been watching her work with the two younger girls. She was so good with them. So patient. And so beautiful.
He smoothed down the sides of his jacket and took the notes over to her. “Are you looking forward to seeing your family?” he signed.
Clara was surprised by the question, as Mr. Graves was known for rarely getting involved in personal issues or even asking about what went on outside the school.
She smiled and replied, “Yes, I am happy to be going home for a few days and to be able to spend time with my sisters.”
Suddenly, not sure if she was pressing her luck, she signed another question. “Do you think I should go home after graduating next month…or possibly take a position teaching the younger girls? There’s a chance I might be asked back as a teacher this fall.”
Henry tried not to smile. Looking as serious as he could, he sat back down at his desk and inquired, “What do you want to do?” He caught himself tapping his foot ever so softly. Calm down, he thought. Don’t scare her off.
Clara smiled and replied, “I enjoy tutoring the girls very much, but I am not sure my family would support the idea of my being a teacher.” Suddenly, she found herself going too far. Maybe she just needed to confide in someone, but she added, “My family wants me to come home and get married.”
Henry looked down at his desk. Clara saw him run his hand through his hair, then slowly look up. “Of course,” he signed, “whatever you think best.”
As he turned to get up, Clara touched his arm. He looked back and she explained, “I want to get married for love. Not because some clerk wants to marry into my family’s business. My father is rich and has a great deal of influence in our community. I don’t want to be married off as some prize, but I do want a husband and children. Is that so wrong for someone like me?”
Catching herself, she blushed and ran out of the room. Henry looked after her for some time. Maybe for the first time realizing there was a lot more to this young woman than beautiful blonde braids and a quick wit.
He had to be here somewhere, thought Clara. The entire school knew he was always in the library on Sunday afternoons and she needed to find him before class the next day. She couldn’t believe she had disclosed those things to him. Why would anyone confide in a teacher about one’s family? Let alone a male teacher? And to have admitted that she wanted more than an arranged marriage. How many girls would be thrilled to have her family connections to ensure a decent match?
She had to find him or face walking into the class with her two girls and being humiliated. Better to get it out of the way today, she thought. Let it all blow over and then they could get back to their usual routine. She would tutor her girls and he would teach. Wait, now they had a routine? Time to put this to rest once and for all.
Finally! There he was in the back by the poetry section. Of course, it would be poetry. With those dark blue eyes of his. Taking a deep breath and forcing herself to stop this ridiculous fantasizing, she walked up to Henry Graves.
“Hello,” she signed. “I didn’t know you’d be in the library today.” Since it’s impossible to cross your fingers over a little white lie, while signing…she mentally did it and kept going.
Henry surprised her by smiling and indicating that she should sit down at a nearby table. “Did you enjoy your visit home?” Then realizing it might seem too eager, added, “With your sisters?”
She nodded yes and smiled, herself. Oh, those eyes. She forced herself back to the subject she wanted to discuss. “I hope you weren’t embarrassed, when I asked your opinion the other day. I know it’s not appropriate to discuss such things….”
But Henry interrupted her, signing, “Of course, it’s appropriate. You asked my opinion about teaching here and I think you would do a marvelous job…if that’s what you want.” And then he carefully put his hands on the table. He didn’t want to add anything else as he was noticing the lovely green color of her eyes. Why hadn’t he seen that before? He’d been so focused on those beautiful braids, but her eyes were even more amazing.
Clara decided to change tactics. “I was very glad for your advice, but tell me, do you play chess? My father loves to play and I miss our games. Having all girls, he insisted we learn to play, so we could keep him sharp. Mother would be wonderful, but refuses to learn.”
Oh no, I’m rambling, she thought. She continued anyway, “He said I should find someone at school to challenge me. Can you recommend any women teachers, who might play?”
Henry smiled and signed, “Yes, of course, but we have a club that meets on Wednesday evenings. Some students, a few tutors like yourself, but mostly teachers. I’m afraid we don’t have many women members, but we would welcome anyone, who enjoys the game.”
Clara looked down at the table, then raised her eyes and looked directly into his. “Would it be alright if I played against the men as well as the women?”
Henry’s eyes lit up and he rewarded her with a big smile. “Of course. We play for the game and we never have enough members to worry about that sort of thing. Whomever is the better player moves on to the next round. We’ll have our tournament at the end of the month. If you are able to attend this Wednesday, you could enter your name if you like.”
Clara smiled and stood up. “Yes, I would like that very much,” she signed. “Thank you.”
Then, she turned around and left the library, smiling to herself as she walked out the front door. So much for being embarrassed. She decided she would no longer worry about anything, but brushing up on her chess game. She would win that match and she would play in that tournament. And for the next three weeks, she would look forward to spending every Wednesday night with Henry Graves.
As she walked away, Henry watched the way the light caught her hair and for the first time, he didn’t think only of her braids. He also thought about those lovely green eyes and how rewarding it would be to look across a chess table and see her on the other side. Who knew? She might even be good at it and that would be his downfall. He was well on his way to becoming smitten, but if she really was a good chess player, he might just have to marry this girl. He wondered if she liked horses….
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