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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by lindaclarke on 10 December 2006 - 5:18pm.

The steel wheels of the train roared as they sped down the tracks. Looking out the window of the train, Melinda was in awe as she eyed the majestic Rocky Mountains before her. The jagged cliffs were magnificent and she could not take her eyes off the inspiring view. The flat, rich meadowland spread out for miles and miles between the mountains, exhibiting more shades of green and yellow than she could ever have imagined; and among all this were patches of bright red Indian paintbrush that seemed to set the land on fire. She had never seen such splendid scenery in her life, and certainly not something as grand as this. She was used to the city life with all its hustle and bustle, the street noises, the towering buildings, and the rolling hills.

Melinda noticed a deer gracefully sprinting across the field as if it were flying in midair. A hawk lazily glided through the air, searching the ground for a meal. At every bend, a romantic scene opened before her. The serenity and peace that she felt here were new to her.

Melinda was heading west. As she looked out the window at the passing scenery, she suddenly remembered Boston, her home, and the day that would change her life forever. She had received a very special letter in the mail from her father’s oldest sister, Aunt Martha, who lived out west in southern Idaho. It had been about twelve years since she had seen her favorite aunt. The last time she had seen Martha, Melinda had been only fourteen years old. They kept in contact through letters, though, and now Melinda was twenty-six, a graduate from college, and still unmarried.

Melinda pulled a letter out of her golden-flowered carpetbag and unfolded it. She smoothed it against her lap and reread it with excitement in her heart.

My dearest Melinda, How I’ve missed you! I have very exciting news for you. A teaching position has opened up out here in Paris, Idaho, and they are looking for a teacher. Will you please consider this position? You could stay with us. We have plenty of room since my last child left home for college. I am looking forward to a quick reply. Love, Aunt Martha

Out west! Melinda had never been out west before. The invitation was so enticing. She had heard stories of the West, seen pictures of the scenery in books, and deep inside herself she longed to see it up close and be a part of it.

Her mother, after hearing about the letter, was not too happy. “Melinda, you have a life here. How about James? I know that he wants to marry you.”

“But Mama, I’m not in love with him, and he knows it, too.”

“Melinda, that comes with time. It comes with marriage. Don’t expect to be swept off your feet, my dear.”

Melinda pressed her hand to her heart as she said, “Mama, that’s what I want! To be swept off my feet, to have my heart flutter at the sight of him. That’s what I want and it doesn’t happen when I’m with James.”

“But that only happens in fairy tales, sweetheart. Are you waiting for a knight in shining armor to save you from a ferocious beast and take you into his arms and ride off together on his white horse? You are now twenty-six years of age and it’s about time you settled down and stopped daydreaming about something that won’t ever happen. Be sensible. You are far too particular. James is a wonderful man and he loves you. I don’t understand what you’re waiting for.”

“Mama, it’s 1896.” Melinda said as she slammed her hand down upon the dining room table. “Women can make choices about their own lives more than ever before. I chose to go to college even though women aren’t encouraged to do so, and that choice made all the difference in the world. I’m a different person now just because of that choice. I know what I want in life and I know James isn’t the one. I want to go west. I don’t want to stay here.” Melinda had a determined tone in her voice and her mother responded to it with concern.

“But the West is too wild. I’ve read about the things that happen out there. There are dangerous outlaws, wild Indians, unruly cowboys, and uncouth ranchers. They don’t know how to treat a lady.”

“Mama, I can handle the West. Don’t worry about me.” Her mother shook her head in despair, knowing that her daughter had already made up her mind. “Melinda, I can see that you’re determined to do this and I know that I can say nothing to change your mind because you are so selfwilled. When you get an idea in your head, you won’t stop and consider whether it’s right or not.”

Melinda instantly bolted to her feet, her face creased with a look of displeasure. “Self-willed?” Melinda’s voice was laced with impatience. “I just hate it when you tell me that I’m self-willed, Mama. The fact is, I know what I want.” Melinda was exasperated. She hated that phrase and would have stormed out of the room if it were not for the respect she had for her mother.

With a calm voice, her mother said, “But you are selfwilled, Melinda. You’ve been like that ever since you were a child.”

Melinda took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then looked into her mother’s eyes. “Mama, I’m not self-willed. I’m determined. I know that there is a life out there for me. I feel it inside my heart. And my heart tells me to go.”

Melinda’s mother rose from her seat and took Melinda’s hand in hers. Softly, she said, “I don’t know why you’ve been so restless lately. What do you want in life?”

“I want to do some good in the world, and perhaps make a difference in someone’s life. Maybe I can do some good in the West by teaching school.”

To make a difference—that was it, she thought as she saw a small town appear ahead of her. Melinda had a desire to do some good and help others, to bring knowledge to the innocent minds of young children. Maybe teaching school in the West was what she needed.

The train began to slow down and she could see the terminal up ahead. With the arrival of the railroad in 1892, the town of Montpelier had become the home terminal for the Union Pacific/Oregon Short Line Trains. Peering out the window, she searched for her aunt and uncle as the train came to a screeching stop.

Melinda picked up her carpetbag and carefully walked down the steps of the train, holding her skirts up so she would not step on them. As she stepped down to the ground, the attendants and men at the terminal stared. It had been a long time since they had seen a lady like her come into town. Melinda was a strikingly beautiful woman with eyes as green as emeralds. She was an unusually tall and slender woman. Because of her height, many heads turned and Melinda found herself the object of conversation, which embarrassed and annoyed her quite a bit. People seemed to notice her simply because she was tall. Why not because she was intelligent or had a charming personality?

Melinda wiped a stray curl from her brow and nervously smoothed a few wrinkles from her dress with her hand. She was dressed in a violet muslin dress that was gathered at the shoulder with puffed sleeves to the elbow and a lace collar. To add to the elegance of this dress, it was gathered at the waist and she had plenty of petticoats beneath to give body to her skirts, which accentuated the slimness of her figure. Her creamy skin and slender throat were emphasized by her dark auburn hair, which was loosely piled upon her head with three tortoise-shell combs holding it in place.

Looking around, she felt lost. “Where are they?” she murmured aloud.

Melinda felt uncomfortable as she noticed that she was the object of conversation among the passersby and the men who worked at the terminal. She felt ill at ease as she searched the ramp for her relatives.

“Who are you looking for, ma’am?” the train attendant asked as he placed her trunk beside her.

“My aunt and uncle. They were going to meet me here.”

“Melinda!” Her aunt’s voice rang from the far end of the terminal. Aunt Martha began to run toward her and they met with outspread arms.

Uncle William followed slowly behind with a friendly smile as he watched the two women embrace. He was a short, round, heavy man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and thin graying hair. He was a jovial fellow and was loved by all. Aunt Martha was a slender woman and was as tall as her husband, about medium height. Her hair was gray and placed upon her head in a loose bun and she had a twinkle in her eyes.

After hugging one another, Aunt Martha asked, “Is this all of your luggage?”

“No, the attendant is coming with two more trunks.”

“Two more?” Uncle William gasped. “Sure hope they fit in our little carriage.”

After loading the three trunks, they headed down the street for home. Aunt Martha smiled as she put an arm around Melinda’s shoulders. “Melinda, it is so nice to see you. You have really grown since I last saw you. And you are so beautiful. I just knew you would be, even after seeing you at fourteen years old. You just had to be. My, the young men here enjoy dancing and I know that you will not be sitting on the sidelines at the dance socials, that’s certain.”

Melinda blushed. She felt embarrassed when family members would talk about her looks and discuss it in front of her. She wished they would not discuss it. It made her feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.

“The train terminal is in Montpelier, but we live in a little community called Paris, just ten miles south from here. That’s where you’ll teach.” Martha waved toward the mountains with widened eyes and excitement as she continued. “This little valley is located in the tops of the Rocky Mountains. It’s quite lovely, set comfortably between these mountains with a large lake nearby called Bear Lake, which is located ten miles south of Paris.”

“Bear Lake?”

“Yes.” Excitement seemed to fill every fiber of her being, simply because her beloved niece was finally here, a dream she had long awaited. “It’s named after the bears that roam around here. The mountain men came to this area around 1818 for trapping and hunting. Fats McKenzie attended one of the Indian gatherings at the south end of Bear Lake in 1819 and named it ‘Black Bear Lake’ because black bears were abundant in the area. But we’ve just shortened it to ‘Bear Lake.’ It’s seven-and-a-half miles wide and twenty miles long. Also, we have something that other lakes don’t have and that’s the Bonneville Cisco fish. They’re indigenous to this area. No other lake has this kind of fish that I know of.”

As the carriage sped along the road, Melinda held her hand against her hair, keeping it in place as the warm breezes swept across her face. She turned to her aunt and asked, “Did you say the Bonneville Cisco?”

“Yes, they’re quite small fish. You need to catch a lot for a satisfying meal. I’ll take you for a ride to see it after you’ve settled down.”

Uncle William gave Martha a sidelong glance and chuckled jovially. “Martha, I think that if you give Melinda any more Bear Lake history, her mind will be swimming. I suggest that you tell her a little at a time each day so she can remember it.”

Martha leaned against William’s shoulder and squeezed his arm lovingly. “Anything you say, dear.”

After traveling over a dusty and bumpy road, they arrived at their home in Paris, next to the West Mountains. Uncle William took the trunks out of the carriage and put them in the spare bedroom upstairs while Aunt Martha showed Melinda around the house.

Martha’s house was a comfortable and charming home. The living room had an attractive fireplace with a sofa and four soft chairs placed evenly around the fireplace, and a piano was set on the opposite end of the room. Straight ahead from the outside door was a white-framed door that led into a large roomy kitchen with a table and six chairs. From the living room on the right side was a staircase with a white railing that led up to the bedrooms. As Melinda ascended the stairs, she noticed pictures of family members hanging on the wall of the staircase that were placed evenly apart. She realized that her aunt was meticulous in all that she did.

After Melinda freshened up, she put on a simple pinkflowered muslin dress and Aunt Martha took her to the tiny one-room schoolhouse that was located in the center of town. It was a quaint, wood-framed schoolhouse and she noticed that it had a fresh coat of white paint.

Melinda reverently walked up the steps of the schoolhouse and opened the door. When she entered, the floor squeaked under her feet. She looked around and saw that the desks were lined up evenly in four rows with five desks in each row. The wooden desks each had a hole in the upper right hand corner for a glass inkwell. Right away, Melinda thought she would have to assign someone the job of “inkwell monitor.” This person would keep the inkwells filled. As she looked at the floor, she saw a few large blue stains on the wood floor where some of the ink had spilled. She realized that she would have to get someone with steady hands to fill the wells.

The books were piled in neat stacks on the bookshelf. Melinda took the books down to check them one at a time and found a book on Bear Lake Valley. She thumbed through it and decided to take it home with her. If she was going to be a part of this valley, then she needed to know more about it. Also, she thought it would be good to teach the children some of their own history along with that of the entire world.

But Melinda’s true love was music, and she decided that these children would have plenty of that. She had majored in music at the university and had been teaching children piano and singing lessons in Boston ever since. Melinda had a beautiful rich alto voice. Many had told her that she had a pleasing and soothing voice and that always made her very happy. Singing brought her great pleasure and it pleased her when she could bring that same joy to others.

Putting the rest of the books back, she tucked the book about Bear Lake Valley under her arm and met Aunt Martha at the door. She could tell her aunt had been watching her by the expression of unbridled enthusiasm on her face.

“Aunt Martha, could you see if someone could donate a piano for the school? I would like to teach music to the children also.”

Aunt Martha nodded with a smile.

Next, Martha decided to show Melinda their magnificent lake. As they rode toward it, Melinda eyed the valley that extended for miles and miles before her. They passed acres of farmland and pastureland, and she saw hundreds of cattle that were grazing in fenced pastures. She noticed that, since Paris was nestled in the tops of the Rocky Mountains, they seemed more like rolling hills than mountains.

When they came upon the lake, her eyes widened at its beautiful aqua color. It was not the color of the blue sky, but the most beautiful pristine aqua color that she had ever seen in her life and it shimmered as the sun sparkled upon it.

In the distance, Melinda could hear what sounded like hundreds of squawking birds. At the north end of Bear Lake, seventeen acres of marshland, grasslands, and open water was the home of these lovely birds during the summer months. What a splendid sight! There were Canada geese, ducks of all kinds, and ibis, sandhill cranes, and pelicans. The birds seemed to be singing in their own little choir. It was a glorious spectacle, and peacefulness overtook her as she listened to the waves softly lapping against the shoreline.

Melinda realized that she would need to explore this valley with short walks each day. This was now her new home.

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