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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by lindaclarke on 21 February 2007 - 5:19pm.

One by one, the permission slips arrived on her desk. By the end of the week, Melinda counted them up and found one note was missing. Jenny had not brought her note from home.

While the students worked on their math, she took the opportunity to ask Jenny why she did not bring her note. Jenny’s desk still sat next to Melinda’s, for Jenny liked it that way and she seemed to study better when she was near her teacher. It seemed that she lacked confidence and being near Melinda helped assure her of her abilities.

“Jenny, I need to talk to you.”

Jenny’s head rose from her work and she smiled at Melinda.

“Jenny, did you forget to bring a note from home?”

“No.”

“But I don’t have a note here saying you can go to the mountains.”

Jenny lowered her head and looked at her desk. “That’s ’cause my pa won’t let me go.”

“Why, Jenny?”

“He says it’s too dangerous.”

“But I’ll be there and we’re going to eat our lunches in the mountains next to the spring. I wouldn’t let any harm come to you. The other parents have written notes. They seem to think it’s all right.”

“But my pa doesn’t think so.” Jenny looked into Melinda’s eyes and frowned. “He never lets me do anything. He says that I might get hurt. The fact is I can’t do much of anything, Miss Gamble, because he worries too much. He doesn’t want me to wander off alone and he doesn’t have time to take me where I want to go because he’s too busy.”

Jenny looked out the window and spoke as if she were reminiscing about the past. “One time, a neighbor’s cat had kittens and she was giving them away and my pa was too busy to take me to her house to get one because he said he didn’t have the time.” She turned and looked at her teacher with soberness and a bit of sadness in her eyes. “When Pa finally had extra time, all the kittens were given away and it was too late. I wanted a kitten so bad.”

“Do you have any little pets at all?” Melinda asked curiously.

Jenny shook her head.

Melinda’s heart went out to Jenny and she wanted to help. She knew that the formative years of a child were very important and having a pet was essential to her growth so she could learn responsibility. Melinda also knew it was a part of life and helped with the shaping and development of a child’s character. She remembered all too well.

She had learned firsthand how a small animal was able to help a child emotionally. The memory of it warmed her soul as she remembered her childhood days, and how her faithful dog had helped her through many a tough time as she poured her feelings out to him. She remembered how this loving animal had licked her tears away and then snuggled up close as if to comfort her. She remembered the softness of his fur against her face and the enormous amount of love she had for this animal. Her dog had been her friend, her confidant, and had remained faithful to the end. Why hadn’t Jenny’s father cared enough to go with her to get a kitten?

“Jenny, is it all right with you if I talk to your father and ask his permission for you to go on this trip?”

Jenny looked doubtful that her father would give in, but it was worth a try. “Yes, but it won’t do no good.”

“You mean that it won’t do ‘any’ good, Jenny.”

“Yup. That’s what I said.”

Melinda smiled and let the English lesson go for now.

The following day was Saturday and Melinda got ready to visit Jenny’s father. She wore an attractive lavender muslin dress that fit perfectly on her slender figure. It had puffed sleeves and was gathered at the waist, hanging gracefully over her hips. As she pulled her hair loosely upon her head, she tried to think of what she should say to Jenny’s father.

It did not take long to arrive at Mr. Roberts’s home. It was a large, beautiful house and the grounds were neat and clean. The house had shrubs around it and there was a small lawn in front. She reined in the horse and, holding her skirts with one hand, stepped down from the carriage.

Melinda looked up and found Gilbert standing on the porch, leaning against the post with his arms folded across his chest, watching her intently. She could tell that he was a very strong man as she glanced at the many tanned muscles in his arms. Trying not to stare at his bulging biceps, Melinda walked gracefully toward him. As she approached, she noticed that he was watching her carefully in a curious manner.

“Mr. Roberts, I’m here about Jenny. I’m Miss Gamble, her teacher.”

Gilbert’s eyes widened in disbelief and his eyebrows lifted. “You’re Jenny’s teacher? You’re the one I saw at the creek walking barefooted right in the middle of the stream.”

Melinda blushed with embarrassment. “Yes, I’m afraid I was and I should have asked permission from you since it was your property.”

“No harm done.”

Wiping her hands nervously against her skirt, she continued. “Speaking of permission, I’m here to get permission from you to take Jenny to the mountains.”

“I’m real glad the way you’ve been treating my Jenny. You’re a real good teacher, better than the other one she had. She likes you and talks about you a lot. But, Miss Gamble, I can’t give permission.”

“Why not?”

“Too dangerous.” His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, as if challenging Melinda to contradict him.

“I would never take the children into harm’s way,” she insisted. “And the other parents have given permission. They must think it’s all right. So, please won’t you...”

Gilbert dropped his hands to his side, apparently annoyed with her persistence. “Miss Gamble, I thank you for this visit, but I must go now. I have work to do.” Then he stepped down from the porch.

Melinda felt that she could not allow him to leave until she had told him exactly how she felt. She immediately raised her voice a bit and said firmly, “Mr. Roberts, please don’t leave. I want Jenny to go. Please listen to what I have to say.”

Gilbert was clearly surprised by her persistence but he turned around to face her, folded his arms across his chest once again, and looked at her intently as she spoke.

Looking at his imposing frame, she swallowed. “Mr. Roberts, Jenny needs to feel like she’s part of the class. These children have shunned her just because their former teacher was judgmental and helped them to form wrong opinions about her. I want to undo all that. I want her to be accepted. But she needs to socialize with these students in a fun atmosphere outside the classroom. Please let her go.”

Gilbert gazed into Melinda’s eyes as she spoke and he began to grin. “That was a nice speech, Miss Gamble. But it doesn’t lessen the fact that she might get hurt.”

“Then come with us to the mountains.”

Gilbert raised his eyebrows. “Me? I’m too busy.” Then he turned and started toward the barn in large strides.

Melinda became frustrated with his attitude and quickly picked her skirts up and followed him. As soon as she caught up to him, she asked, “Mr. Roberts, is this your answer to everything? When you are done talking, then you simply walk away whether or not the other person is done talking?”

“Are you still here, Miss Gamble?” Gilbert asked, as if wearied by her presence.

“Yes, and I’m not leaving until we talk about this further.” Melinda was slightly out of breath as she tried to keep up with Gilbert’s fast pace.

“Miss Gamble, I’m done talking.”

“But I’m not.” Melinda said with a firm and stubborn tone in her voice.

Gilbert suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned to look into her eyes. Her determination was annoying him greatly. “It seems to me, Miss Gamble, that unless I give in to your demands, you won’t leave me alone. Is that correct?”

Melinda did not like the way he put that. But, when she thought about it, he was right. The fact was, she wanted to convince Gilbert that Jenny really needed this outing and she was fairly certain that she could convince him of it.

Without waiting for her answer, Gilbert turned and continued striding toward the barn.

“Mr. Roberts, please wait,” Melinda begged as she tried to catch up to him. “You said that you won’t come with us to the mountains because you are too busy.”

“That is correct, Miss Gamble.”

“Isn’t your daughter more important than work?” It had come out sharper than she had planned but she was not sorry and continued. “It’s only a half-day away from work. Isn’t your daughter worth it?”

Melinda had emphasized the words “worth it” in a firm tone of voice, hoping he would get the point and respond to it. But the response she had triggered was not what she had expected.

He had gotten the point all right because suddenly Gilbert came to an abrupt stop and stared into Melinda’s eyes. His broad chest seemed to puff out and his eyes were cold. He stood rigid and unbending. His jaw became stiff and his voice was stern.

“This is none of your business. My relationship with my daughter is no concern of yours, Miss Gamble.” He had snapped at her, and Melinda unconsciously took a step back.

She took a deep breath and regained her courage. Then, with firmness and determination in her voice, she continued, “Oh, but I beg to differ with you, Mr. Roberts. The way you treat your daughter affects her behavior and she brings it to school with her. She brings her joy, her frustrations, her disappointments, and her happiness with her each day. I see it in her eyes when she arrives at school. She is a very happy little girl when she first arrives from home and then the children will pull her down. Suddenly she’s not the same person anymore. I’m trying to change all that, but I can’t do it alone. I need your help.”

Gilbert searched her face as she spoke and did not say a word.

Melinda stared into his eyes, wondering what he was thinking. Had she been too forthright? She had stood up to him and she had not cowered to the firmness of his voice. Was this affecting him in some way? She had pulled her shoulders back and spoke with confidence. Perhaps no one had ever spoken to him in this manner before and he was offended. But that did not matter to Melinda. It was Jenny who mattered.

“Mr. Roberts, please help me,” Melinda went on. “I want these children to accept Jenny. Will you accompany your daughter and put your work second just this once? And I promise that I won’t ask any more of you.” She paused. “Unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Gilbert did not take his eyes off Melinda. He breathed in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “You win, Miss Gamble. Besides, it’s the only way to get you to leave. I don’t need you following me around all day.”

Melinda smiled. “Nor would I want to follow you around all day, Mr. Roberts. But if I had to, I would.”

“I believe you would, Miss Gamble.” Gilbert had a slight smirk on his face, as if he were amused by this unexpected confrontation.

“Thank you very much,” Melinda said with a smile. “You will not regret it. Meet us at the school Monday morning at nine thirty.” With a big grin, she added, “Wear a jacket and sturdy shoes. It will be a short climb and the mountains will be chilly.”

Then Melinda turned on her heels and strode back to the carriage, grinning all the way. She felt like singing. She had won a very important battle.

Gilbert watched her as she walked away from him. “Dad blame it, but she’s a stubborn and strong-willed woman,” he murmured.

Aside from her strong will, Gilbert had noticed a few things about her that he liked. He liked the way she defended his daughter. Jenny had told him how Miss Gamble would compliment her at school and he liked that, too. Another thing he liked was Melinda’s self-confidence and determined attitude. He also noticed how beautiful she was, which was not difficult to see. He noticed her expressive green eyes as she spoke and how they flamed when she was annoyed with him. And last, he noticed how graceful she was as she walked away from him, her skirts swaying with each step she took.

He remembered her delightful laughter at the stream and how happy she had seemed. She seemed unfettered and free, and there had been an almost ethereal beauty about her as Gilbert had watched her walk in the middle of the stream. When she held her skirts above the water, he had noticed her shapely legs and slender ankles as she walked toward him and Gilbert knew he should not have noticed such things, but they seemed to add to her charm.

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