“Aunt Felicity, have you seen my pencils anywhere? I must have put them down somewhere.” Charlotte Mann was trying to collect her things together to take to school.
“This teaching position has got you so excited,” Felicity replied as she came into the room. She smiled and picked up the drawstring bag with the pencils and pens inside.
“Right under your nose,” she said and held the bag out to her niece. Charlotte laughed and tucked the bag into her satchel that had the things she needed for work.
“I love this job,” Charlotte confided to her aunt. “You have made it possible for me to be a teacher by letting me stay here with you. Six weeks has flown by.”
“My pleasure,” Felicity told her. She giggled. “Method in my madness. You are a great cook and a real help around here.”
“I can’t believe how well things are working out,” Charlotte said and took a seat as her aunt did the same.
“I love having another woman around to chatter to as well,” she told her niece. “I love your Uncle John, but he is not really interested in fashion and who is wearing what in the big city.”
“I knew my dad would be furious that I backed out of the wedding with Josh, but he seems to have realized that I could not go ahead and,” she paused, “he has increased my allowance. That means that I am not really out of favor.” She laughed. “It seemed a risky thing to do but maybe it was the right thing to do.”
“You are the best dressed woman around. No doubt about that,” Felicity said.
“It is lovely to be able to dress as I feel I would like to. I am twenty-four. It is about time that I had a life of my own. I did have to be the older sister and help my mama a lot of the time. Seven other brothers and sisters made for a noisy household. Here I can actually sit and read a book.” She paused and thought for a moment. “You have given me my freedom.”
“And you are writing stories all of the time as well,” Felicity added. Charlotte smiled and picked up a notebook that she was taking to school the next day.
“They are just short adventures to keep the children interested.”
“But good. Don’t lose any of them. One day they could be a collection.”
“Flatterer,” Charlotte said. “Is that because there is a whole lot of apples waiting to be made into a pie?”
“You spotted it,” Felicity laughed.
“I will go and do that now,” Charlotte told her and went to the kitchen. Over her shoulder she called that it was good to have a whole kitchen to herself. “At home there are so many servants that you never find an empty space.”
“Oh, for a houseful of servants,” Felicity said and lay on the sofa with her eyes closed. “Enjoy my kitchen, Charlotte.”
Charlotte sang a little song as she peeled the apples and put them on to soften. Her mind was already on the lessons of the next day and wondering if the headmaster would allow her to try to form a choir. She had enjoyed a very expensive education and enjoyed singing in the school choir.
“Pie is in the oven.” She told her aunt.
“Thank you,” Felicity answered and stood up to go into the kitchen herself. Charlotte sat at the piano and started to play an accompaniment to the simple hymns that she would choose for the choir if she could try out her idea.
The following morning, Charlotte ate breakfast and collected her things for school. She walked down the main street of the small town in Idaho saying good morning to several people as they greeted her. She glanced at the stores, the sheriff’s office and other places along her way. The place suited Charlotte well. There were never hundreds of people around and most folk said howdy even if they did not know who you were. Down the side of the closed shop that had been a barber but was now not operating was the sight and sound of the blacksmith’s shop signaling he was already hard at work.
At the end of the main street was the wooden school building with a corral behind it as some pupils came on horseback from the outlying farms and ranches. Three ponies were already grazing and the three boys who had ridden to school were playing with some hoops and sticks.
“Mornin’,” Carter Jenkins, the headmaster, greeted her as she came inside.
“Morning, Mr. Jenkins,” she replied. “It is a beautiful morning.” The two of them went over the plan for the lessons that day. Carter knew that she always cleared her throat when she wanted to suggest something new. “Oh no, I have been caught out already,” she cried. He shook his head.
“You have good ideas Charlotte. Maybe we can be as good as that expensive school for young ladies that you attended.” She laughed because she often mentioned her old school in the same way.
“I wondered,” she started, “if I could try and have the children sing together, and if it sounded pleasant and they enjoyed it, maybe we could have a small choir. We could sing hymns and if they were really good, we could offer to sing in the church.”
“I have heard you explain something by singing,” he said with a grin. “Maybe it would be something else that makes them interested in school.”
“I thought about asking them to sing back to me when I go over the register,” Charlotte laughed. “School should be enjoyable as well as hard work.”
“This afternoon we will have a new session at the end of the afternoon. We will call it music and not singing. That could cover a multitude of things that we could do.” He paused. “I will stay nearby and catch up with some marking and you can try and get everyone to sing.”
“Thank you,” she said and went to ring the handbell to bring everyone to the door. The students lined up and she allowed them to file in, put lunch pails in the corner and take their seats.
“Good morning, Ridgeview School.” Mr. Jenkins greeted them.
“Good morning Mr. Jenkins and Miss Mann,” the pupils dutifully chanted back at him. He told them to take their seats.
“We have our usual Monday work. Younger pupils with Miss Mann and older ones with me. Find your books and pencils and take your seats.”
The children sorted themselves out and the lessons were underway with the classroom in a working silence. Charlotte had the younger children in a corner at a smaller table and asked them to read out loud to her from the book they were using. They did well and when she asked them to write down the words that she read out, she was pleased with the result.
“Can we hear your story now please?” little Betty asked her.
“Did you get all the spellings correct?” Charlotte asked, knowing full well that she had. The little girl nodded, and the story was read out.
There was a break, and the two teachers had a coffee before changing groups and Charlotte had the older ones for English as the head teacher took mathematics. Charlotte had harder reading, spelling and writing for this group and was pleased with the way they worked hard.
The three boys who had ridden to school on ponies were the oldest in the school and there were two girls of fourteen as well as another boy and girl of twelve. The two fourteen-year-old girls were by far the best readers.
“Marylou, will you read the first part of the new story that we are starting?” She handed the notepad to the girl and Marylou started to read. It was an action story written by herself, but Charlotte did not say that. In the first paragraph, there were two boys falling from the roof of a shed as they tried to steal apples. The farmer came out and chased them with a pitchfork. Marylou started to read more quickly as the action became fiercer and the farmer trapped the boys beside the apple tree.
“Right, we will stop there and save the rest for tomorrow,” Charlotte said. There was a communal sigh.
“Can we not just see if they got away?” Mr. Jenkins’s voice came across the room.
“Yes please, Miss,” Billy Morgan said. The others added their voices.
“Okay, Marylou, let us hear the next part.”
Marylou opened the pad and read the next part that included another boy in the apple tree dropping apples and throwing them at the farmer. The two on the ground threw apples as well and as the farmer tried to defend himself, the three boys vaulted over the fence and ran away as fast as their legs would carry them.
“Well, I enjoyed the first part of this book. I will look forward to the next reading,” Mr. Jenkins said and sent them out to lunch. The pupils took their pails with food and went to sit outside. The adults had coffee and whatever they had brought as well.
“Apple pie is extra, if you would like some,” Charlotte laughed and said that she had not meant to follow on from the story of the apple tree.
“I would love some,” Carter Jenkins answered. They managed the sticky apple pie and cleared away the remains of the meal. They chatted over coffee and Mr. Jenkins went out to see if everyone was behaving.
The door creaked open, and Billy Morgan put his head around it.
“Come in, Billy. Is there something wrong?”
The lad came over and asked if he could talk to Mr. Jenkins.
“He went outside. I am surprised that you didn’t see him. Can I help?” Billy hesitated.
“I might not be in school for a few days,” he offered.
“Come and sit down and tell me why,” she said. The lad sat on a bench that was beside one of the big worktables. Carter Jenkins came back in, and Charlotte said that Billy was worried about something.
“Spit it out, lad. What is on your mind.” Carter sat on a chair and waited.
“I might not be in school for a few days.”
“Why?” the headmaster persisted. Billy shuffled.
It cannot be that bad,” Charlotte encouraged. “Are you poorly?” Billy shook his head.
“My dad is poorly,” Billy managed, and she could see that he was trying not to cry.
“I can give you work to do at home. I know that you like to keep your work up to date,” Charlotte suggested.
“We can both give you work to do and maybe talk to your dad about making sure you get to school,” the headmaster added.
“I have to pass where you live on the way home. Would you like me to see if your dad will talk to me,” Charlotte suggested. “Would that be alright with you, Mr. Jenkins?”
The headmaster nodded and said it was a good idea.
“We will work something out. Go and ring the bell for me, Billy.” The two teachers glanced at each other.
“We will do what we can to figure out a way to help,” the headmaster said. Charlotte nodded.
The lad jumped up and grabbed the handbell before rushing to the door and heaving the bell up and down. It was heavy and a bit of a struggle for him. The students all lined up and Mr. Jenkins waited until they were standing quietly before allowing them inside.
Charlotte spent the first half of the afternoon working at embroidery with the girls as Mr. Jenkins took the boys into the barn outside to show them the basics of woodworking skills. There was a short break and then the headmaster told them that they were starting a new lesson and wondered if they would enjoy it.
“Miss Mann went to a very good school where they taught music. You have heard her sing sometimes in lessons and she also plays the piano. She is going to try a few things out with you, and we will have a discussion about it afterwards.”
He went and sat at his desk and pretended to do some marking, but he was interested to see how the children reacted.
“Right,” Charlotte said as she stood up. “Everyone needs to stand up. Just as good runners practice running every day, singers practice breathing and exercising their voices.” She laughed. “We all breathe all the time but for singing you must breathe properly. Stand up and put the tallest ones at the back.” The children shuffled about, and Charlotte asked them all to take a deep breath. Then she laughed.
“Almost all of you lifted your shoulders. That just means that your chin sinks down, and you cannot sing at all. You have to breathe into your tummy.” There was silence as they all looked at her. “Put your hand on your tummy. When I say breathe in, I want you to take a breath and keep your shoulders down. As the air goes into you, the tummy becomes bigger, and you can feel it. Watch.” She turned sideways, put her hand on her tummy and took a long deep breath into her diaphragm. The hand was lifted as the air filled the space. The class gasped.
“You have to imagine that you can see the air going down into your tummy. Pretend you can see it. Keep the shoulders down and make your tummy bigger because it is full of air.” She looked around them. “Ready? I will count to three and then we all breathe in.” She paused and counted to three and watched them as they all tried hard to do as she asked.
“Marylou that was great. You as well Billy and Tom did a really good try there as well. Try it again everyone. One two three.” After another two tries, even the little ones managed it.
“Now,” Charlotte said, “we are going to see how long you can let the air out and say oooo at the same time. Watch.” She took a breath and then with a small sounding ooo, she kept on going for about thirty seconds. The children actually clapped. “After three. Let us see who keeps going the longest.” They all tried so hard and most of them had to stop or they would fall over. There was much laughter and Billy Morgan had done it longer than anyone else.
“Gold star for that, Billy,” Mr. Jenkins said from the back of the room.
“Now you have to take breaths like that all the time you are singing. She chose a nursery rhyme that they all knew and started the song off herself. They all took a breath and sang the nursery rhyme.
“Wonderful,” Charlotte said. “You all sound good. Try not to sing too loudly. It sounds better if it is gentle. Now we will try a hymn that you all know.” She sang the first verse and then counted to four. They sang the hymn. Mr. Jenkins clapped.
“One more thing before we finish,” Charlotte said. “You all sing that again and take no notice of what I am singing. Do not be put off by me singing something different.” She counted in with four and the children sang the hymn and then Charlotte sang a simple alleluia over the top of the words by the class. When they finished there was a stunned silence. Charlotte smiled at them.
“You see how good we could be?”
There was a chorus of agreements. Mr. Jenkins came and asked them how they felt about singing. Charlotte stood back and listened to them enthusing about it. Carter Jenkins turned around.
“I think you have a choir, Miss Mann.”
Marylou’s friend called Catherine put up her hand. When Charlotte asked her what she was going to say, she had a surprising reply.
“My sister plays the fiddle and knows all of those hymns and the songs people sing.”
“How old is your sister?” Charlotte asked.
“Eighteen,” Catherine answered.
“It would be interesting to see what the choir sounded like with music as well. Would your sister like to help do you think?” Catherine smiled and nodded.
“She will do anything that lets her play the fiddle.” The class laughed and the ones that knew her sister added that she was very good.
School finished the day with a prayer and they were allowed out of the classroom. Billy waited to see if Miss Mann was going to come home with him.
“I will just collect my bag and things,” she told him, said goodbye to the head teacher and walked down the main street. When they reached the closed barber shop, Billy opened the door and went inside.
“I thought you lived down the side of this building,” Charlotte said. Billy shook his head.
“Dad is a great barber but has not worked for a while.” He put his head into the room behind and asked his dad if the teacher from the school could come in and speak to him.
“Is there something wrong?” a man’s voice said, “Please come in. I am sorry the place is a mess.”
Charlotte went inside and saw a man of just under six feet tall with straight brown hair tied back out of the way. He had brown eyes and a sun-tanned look about him that was very attractive. He seemed to be in his thirties and that was to be expected with a twelve-year-old boy. She was momentarily stopped in her tracks as she felt a sudden little twist in her insides at meeting this man. She recovered herself and held out a hand.
“I am Charlotte Mann,” she told him. “I have been at the school for six weeks. You must be Billy’s dad.”
“Have a seat,” Thomas Morgan said. “Has Billy done something bad?”
“Billy is a good boy and works hard. There are no worries there, but he is worried himself that you are not well.” Thomas looked at her and frowned.
“He thinks too much,” Thomas told her.” I am just not sure that I can get through each day without resting.”
“If he has to stay at home sometimes to help you, Mr. Jenkins says that we can leave work for him to do at home. He said that you are just to send a message if that is the case. Billy is a hard worker. He will catch up.”
“That is so kind of both of you. I want Billy to get an education. Thanks for coming by.” He paused and Charlotte could see that he was trying to be hospitable. It was a struggle for him. “Would you like a drink of lemonade?” he asked.
“That would be lovely,” she answered and caught the look of surprise on Billy’s face before he went into the kitchen to bring the drinks. “You used to be the barber here,” she said by way of breaking the ice.
“I still do some barber work for friends and people who were customers for a long time. They know that I am not always well, but the work gives us some income. Sometimes I can’t get my breath.”
Billy handed her a glass and she said thank you.
She took the glass of lemonade and sipped the drink.
“You know what Miss Mann did this afternoon,” Billy started and glanced at her. “She started a choir.”
For the first time since she met this man, he showed a real spark of interest and seemed to relax a little.
“Have you had a choir before?” he asked and smiled slightly. It gave his face a whole new look and made him seem even more handsome than he already was. She could not help but smile back and told him that she had been to a very good ladies’ college, and they always had singing and music of all sorts.
“My Dad sings sometimes,” Billy dropped into the conversation.
“You do?” she asked. “What sort of thing do you sing?” The man looked slightly embarrassed.
“When you cut peoples’ hair, it is sometimes almost automatic to hum a tune or sing a little line or two. When you are shaving a man with a very sharp razor, it eases the situation.”
“Well, I never thought about that before,” she said. “How interesting.” She flicked at her own hair without realizing that she was doing it and his eyes followed the movement.
“This hair of mine does need a trim at the bottom to keep it smart.” Then she put her hand to her mouth. “I was not asking for a haircut,” she added. Thomas shook his head.
“No offence taken,” he said. “It is unusual to see long, black hair with blue eyes,” he ventured. “I can trim the bottom for you, if it needs to be done.”
“I will remember that,” she said with a smile. The black hair and blue eyes are from my mother’s Irish heritage.” She put down the glass and stood up. “I have taken too much of your time, but it was lovely to meet you. If Billy is needed here, just let us know and we will send him work to keep his education going.”
“Thank you,” Thomas said and stood up as well. As he took a couple of steps across the room, he suddenly froze into position and Billy rushed to grab hold of his dad around the waist. The man was seemingly unable to move.
“This is what I mean,” Billy managed to say. “It goes away again. I just stand and try to help him.” Charlotte came over to be beside the man and his son.
“Can I do anything to help?”
“Just help me to hold on until it goes away.”
Charlotte put her arm around the man’s shoulder and felt him shake slightly. Her face was quite close to his ear, and she felt that she should say something. It was a situation that she had never been in before.
“Mr. Morgan, you are safe and in your living room. Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” the man whispered. “It will go away soon.”
“Then I will hold on until you recover.” She put both of her arms around his shoulders and knew that Billy was doing the same thing around his dad’s waist. It occurred to her that holding onto this man that she had only just met was producing a feeling of connection that she had never felt in her life before. Charlotte was thinking that when she felt him stir and she loosened the arms.
“Are you feeling better?”
Thomas Morgan shook his arms and legs and looked as if he were over the sudden attack.
“Thank you. Yes. I am sorry that you had to see me have one of these strange upsets.”
“I am glad,” she said. “I know what Billy means now and I am happy to help if I can. Don’t be embarrassed about it. Have you seen a doctor?” The man shook his head.
“In between times I am fine.”
“If you need help send Billy. I am living with my aunt and uncle. They are Felicity and John Mann.”
“I know them well,” he answered. “Felicity and I were at school together.”
Charlotte went back through the barber’s shop and saw the two chairs and the other equipment needed for the work.
“It is a pity that you are not using this,” she said. “The town does need a barber.”
“Maybe one day,” he answered and held out a hand to shake.
She took the hand and felt a tremor run up her arm at his touch. He smiled at her as if he had felt the same thing.
“Thanks for coming,” he managed as she closed the shop door behind her.
“Healing his Shattered Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Longing for independence and purpose, Charlotte Mann leaves her privileged upbringing behind for a life as a schoolteacher, in the rugged town of Ridgeview. There, she meets a spirited student and his distant father who unintentionally draw her into their complicated lives. While being pulled into a web of secrets and hidden pains she cannot resist, her own heart starts to ache…
Can her growing feelings mend the fractured souls that have captured her heart?
Thomas Morgan, Ridgeview’s brooding barber, bears the weight of profound losses and has sealed his heart off from the world. His only concern is taking care of his son, despite his troubled health. Charlotte’s arrival challenges his self-imposed isolation, igniting a spark of hope in his somber existence. Yet as his health falters, love will clash with fear, intertwining their fates in unexpected ways…
Can he break free from the chains of his own prison and accept love again?
Charlotte and Thomas must navigate a landscape full of challenges, as their love begins to bloom against the odds. Amidst swirling doubts, unforeseen setbacks and unexpected hope, haunting memories test the depths of their devotion. Can their hearts heal and find solace, defying all hardships and uncertainty? Will love triumph?
“Healing his Shattered Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.