School Teacher and Gunman: Chapter 1.

11 Mar

Author’s Note: The third book published in the Clint Mason series, School Teacher and Gunman is the actual beginning of the Tales of Mason. It was published on this blog serially beginning in March, 2011, running through July, 2012. This first chapter is still available and the book’s full contents may someday return to this site. Please consider picking up a copy of School Teacher and Gunman for yourself and a friend, and also look for the contents of other Clint Mason books on this site. Thank you very much for your interest.

Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Clint Mason awoke with a tremendous headache and a sore body to go with it. He found himself sitting on the side of a bunk bed looking through iron bars into the face of an older, kind-looking woman with gray hair. His mind was a complete blank. It was like he was in a dream, but the pain coming from all parts of his body was all real.

In a very firm but friendly voice, the lady pronounced that he would probably live, but if he didn’t change his ways, life might be very short for him. The sheriff was summoned and a clean set of clothes were handed to Clint through the open jail door. The sheriff then pointed out the wash basin at the end of the cell block walkway and told Clint to clean up and put on the clean clothes. The lady and the lawman turned and left him alone in his misery.

The mirror over the water basin reflected a beat up face and bloody shirt that Clint could hardly recognize. Although Clint’s body was bruised and had a few cuts, the amount of blood on his shirt could not all be his. It took all his will power to keep from screaming when he pulled off his shirt and pants. Every part of his body ached, especially the insides. His stomach was in knots and he felt like throwing up.

Clint couldn’t believe it was his body that stood before the mirror. To his own eyes, his skinny young frame looked pathetic. Gritting his teeth, he washed himself down good and put on the clean clothes. The effort exhausted him, so he returned to the open cell and flopped on the bunk. Standing up hurt and laying down hurt. He was a miserable pile of bones, without memory of how he got himself into this condition.

The sheriff brought in some food and left. Clint tried to eat a little but his stomach was too sore. The hot coffee did feel good, but his mind would not clear itself. The sun had moved across the sky as the small light square on the floor moved from one side of his cell to the other. His cell door was still open and the jailhouse was quiet. Clint just didn’t have the energy to walk out. He was thinking that a quick death from hanging may be less painful than living on in his battered body.

After dozing off for a few minutes, he awoke to hear three voices talking near the front of the jail, sounding like the woman, the sheriff, and another man. Clint was sitting on the edge of the bunk when the sheriff asked him to come into the front office. He was brought before the sheriff, an older gentleman dressed in a dark suit, and the gray-haired lady.

The three of them started asking Clint questions, to which he had no answers. Where did he come from? Where did he get the large amount of $20 gold coins found in the saddle bags he was carrying? Where did he get the top quality horse he had been riding? The lady asked if the two books found in his saddle bags belonged to him. The man in the dark suit wanted to know if he was wanted for any crimes. How did he learn to play poker so well? Had he killed anyone before? What was his name? Where was he born? The questions went on and on, but Clint had no answer for anything.

A little later, another man came in and introduced himself as Doctor Hopkins. The doctor went over several more questions which Clint could not answer. A fairly thorough exam of his eyes, head, chest and back proceeded with everyone looking on. He was asked to breathe in and out as big as he could. His chest and ribs hurt so much that a small moan slipped through his lips. The doctor finally stopped his probing and declared that the young man would live.

Then, the four adults entered into a discussion about him as though he wasn’t there. The sheriff said that the killings were self-defense and no crime as far as he knew had been committed by the young man. The man in the dark suit was addressed by the sheriff as Judge Brown. He felt that the boy should be in protective custody or monitored some way until more was found out about him and the source of all that gold. The doctor felt that the blow to the boy’s head had caused the loss of memory. If complications did not develop in the coming week, the boy should recover. His memory may or may not come back… only time would tell. The boy would need rest for several weeks, with someone watching out for any unusual behavior or continued headaches.

The older lady finally spoke up and suggested that the boy be released to her custody. She would put him to work at her school. If he was able to read the books he was carrying in his saddle bags, then his education level was rather high.

The sheriff was concerned about the lady’s safety, due not only to the uncertainty of the boy’s background, but also to the strong possibility of revenge from family or friends of the two dead men. Though the doctor said that the third man under treatment for knife and gunshot wounds in the nearby hotel room may not live, that man also posed a potential threat to the boy and anyone around him.

This discussion of men dead and wounded put Clint in an alarmed state. He could not remember any of the apparent ruthless fight, though his body confirmed he had been a focal point of it.

The judge asked Clint if he was willing to stay at the lady’s school and work for her until he was better and the sheriff could find out more about him. The fight had convinced the sheriff that this boy didn’t need much protection, but his presence at the school could put the teacher at risk. How did Clint feel about providing protection for the school and the teacher? The sheriff would return the set of fine Colt revolvers and repeater rifle if the boy would promise to obey the law.

Clint agreed to everything because he had no idea what else to do. The doctor suggested that the teacher take the boy in her buggy out to the school and lodge. He did not think the boy should be riding a horse for at least a week or more. The doctor would come to the school in a few days to check on the boy’s condition.

Everyone then agreed what their plan was for the boy, almost as if Clint wasn’t present or had no say in his life choices. This was completely satisfactory to Clint because he had none of the will, knowledge or energy to make any choices on his own.

Getting into the buggy was almost too much pain to keep from screaming out, but Clint held it all in. He could see a look between the adults that showed a type of respect for the toughness of this boy or more aptly, young man. This young man had been caught up in a fight with three of the toughest thugs in San Francisco and came out alive. Nearly a dozen men over the past year had not survived a clash with these three. The sheriff had never been able to catch them, but he was sure they had been involved in many muggings, robberies, and gambling frauds. The sheriff’s big concern was that these three may be a part of a larger gang, but he had never been able to make any connections.

If the word got out that a young man had done this much damage to these three big tough bullies, the friends of these thugs may seek revenge and the teacher could get hurt in the process. The sheriff had a lot of respect for this fine lady school teacher and the work she was doing for a lot of kids. She ran a private school for select children that could and wanted to learn. She had no patience for lazy or undisciplined children. The sheriff could not understand what potential she saw in this skinny, but tough boy that had at least two killings on his hands. True, the killings were self-defense, but where did this young man get so much money and professional grade weapons with the skill to use them? He was not at ease with the teacher’s decision to house this boy, or young man, at her boarding school. However, he had been working with Ms. Jamison for several years and respected her judgment and her strong will when she wanted to do something.

The process was started and the sheriff promised himself that he would keep a close watch around the school. The school was in the hills some distance from the main drag of San Francisco, but he would make the extra effort to expand his watch tour out to the boarding school. The doctor reported the next morning that the third man had died overnight. That meant that this young man had battled and killed three fully grown and fully armed men in a single battle. This young man was no ordinary skinny lad. Luck could account for some things, but skill and knowledge was more likely in this case. It had been reported at the gambling tables where the fight broke out that this young man had taken the three for a lot of money. As far as anyone could tell, the young man had beaten them fair and square. That was even more cause for their anger and humiliation.

The buggy ride out to the school was painful, but the fresh air was clearing his head a little. The school was an adobe, Spanish-type mission structure with an open courtyard in the center. The buggy was stopped at a big wooden door. Two young boys, maybe ten or twelve years old came out to help Ms. Jamison and Clint into the building. Then, one of the boys took the buggy and Clint’s horse through a large opening in the courtyard into an attached stable.

Clint was led down a hallway to his small room. He counted at least a dozen doors just like the one to his room. This must be the boarding part of the school. The entrance foyer was a two-story section with a balcony on the second floor. It was Clint’s guess that another hallway and another dozen rooms were up there. The building was in excellent shape and very clean, but sparsely furnished. His room had a small bed, chest, desk with one chair and some hooks on the wall. A small table with a wash bowl, pitcher and night pot were in one corner.

Clint settled down on his bed and was asleep instantly. The pale sunlight of the morning sunrise was just starting to show through his window when a knock on the door and a call to breakfast brought him to full alert. When he set up, the intense pain was a reminder of his wounds. He made his way down the hall and followed the noise to the dining hall where about twenty kids were seated, all looking at this new arrival with intense curiosity. Clint was shown a seat across the table from another boy about his age. As Clint looked down the table, each child nodded his head in recognition as Ms. Jamison introduced them. Ms. Jamison was taking her place at the head of the table next to Clint when an older Spanish-looking lady asked Clint if he felt like eating. The lady had asked in Spanish and before Clint had even thought, he answered in clear Spanish. Clint could see out of the corner of his eye that Ms. Jamison had quickly taken this in with a curious look on her face.

Clint ate his food slowly. His stomach was still very sore and his head was throbbing. He was listening to every word trying to find out where he was, who he was, and what his next move should be. He had the uneasy feeling that he should be hiding or trying to escape from someone or something.

Ms. Jamison had introduced Clint as CM. Those initials had been found on the inside of his gun belt. The students were told that CM or Mr. C would be helping around the mission for a period of time. He had been hurt down in San Francisco, but would be better very soon.

After breakfast everyone took their dishes to a wet sink, washed and dried them, and placed them neatly on a dish table. The students then dispersed as if by magic into separate directions all at once. Ms. Jamison told Clint to be seated so she could go over her plan for his stay at the school. The first order of business was for Clint to rest as much as he could until his headaches were more manageable. She would like for him to set in on the class lectures of the older students which were held for three hours each day, Monday through Friday, right after lunch. As he felt like more activity, he should help the two oldest boys with the horses and other livestock and other work around the stable and garden out back. These chores were done in the morning hours after breakfast while the youngest children were taking their three hours of school classes. The school’s small library was available any time and Ms. Jamison would be available after dinner most evenings in the library to help students with their lessons. Everyone was expected to keep their rooms clean and beds made at all times. Three meals a day were served in the dining hall at specific times. If you missed a meal or got hungry at any time, bread and honey was kept available in the bread box and cabinet at the end of the dining hall. Most students were picked up Friday after classes and brought back either Sunday night or Monday morning by their parents or family driver.

If a student did not follow the rules or did not put the effort into learning as Ms. Jamison expected, the family was asked to no longer send the student to her school. She impressed on Clint that her school had an excellent reputation and some of the wealthiest families in San Francisco were sending their children to her. The school had only a limited number of spaces for each age group. She had a waiting list where other families were trying to get their children into her school.

Clint’s extra jobs would be to serve as the school’s driver and/or escort. The sheriff was concerned that trouble may follow this young man. The sheriff had told Ms. Jamison that this young man could probably take some care of himself as soon as he felt better. Ms. Jamison then went over to a book rack along the dining room wall and returned with an old, hard bound book. She asked Clint to look over the book and try to read the first few pages. To Clint’s surprise, when he started reading the book out loud it seemed very familiar and easy to read. Ms. Jamison said that was a typical history book used in the upper grades of elementary schools back east. His reading ability suggested to her that he had completed at least eight to ten grade levels in school somewhere.

After asking him if he felt like taking a math test, she presented to him a two-page list of math problems for him to solve. She would be down the hall with the other school teacher and the lower grade students. She would give him one hour to work on these problems. If he got tired or just wanted to stop at any time, he could come down to the classroom and knock on the door. As Clint looked over the two pages of math problems, he realized that most of them were familiar and easy to solve.

Two of the other problems took a little time, but he had no doubt that his answers were correct. It had taken him less than thirty minutes to complete all the problems. Rather than go down to the classroom and let Ms. Jamison know he had finished early, he selected another book from the shelf and started to read with pleasure. When the hour was up, Ms. Jamison came over to his table and quickly scanned the two sheets. A big smile came over her face as she looked over the table into Clint’s eyes. She confessed that none of her students had ever completed all the problems, with correct answers, in a one-hour timed session. Clint said his head was hurting and would like to retire to his room until lunch. Clint could see a spark of joy in the teacher’s kind, but wrinkled, older face. It made Clint feel good that he could give this kind lady some pleasure. He was hoping he could make her proud of him. He would definitely try.

It was toward the end of the first week before Doctor Hopkins came by the school to check on the injuries of the young man. He spent a lot of time looking into Clint’s eyes, ears and mouth. Clint was asked to stand on one foot with eyes closed, then the other foot. Clint had to touch his nose with his eyes closed. They all seemed like silly tasks, but Clint did as he was requested without difficulty. Clint’s stomach and ribs were still sore, but he could take deep breaths without too much pain. The doctor checked his reflexes and judged them excellent. The patient was in excellent health except for a few cracked ribs, sore stomach and temporary loss of some memory. Ms. Jamison reported the young man’s ability to read and solve math problems. The doctor concluded that there was no serious injury to the young man’s brain and that it wouldn’t surprise him if all memory returned in a few weeks or at most a month.

The sheriff then came into the room. He had apparently traveled out to the school with Dr. Hopkins. The sheriff was to report back to Judge Brown about the condition of the young man and Ms. Jamison’s opinion about his staying at the school for awhile. Ms. Jamison was more than eager to have this young man help at the school. She reported that she might, with CM’s permission, turn over some of the math lectures to him. The sheriff warned Ms. Jamison not to gamble in cards with this young man. It may be more than good math skills. The sheriff had quizzed several men at the saloon where this young man had been gambling. None of the men had ever seen any cheating, but he sure was very lucky or very good at card playing.

A month’s time passed without Clint noticing. He was enjoying the physical work with the horses, barn chores and tending the large garden. He agreed to present a chapter of math each week to the oldest class, but he did not like classroom work. Ms. Jamison soon realized that teaching young children wasn’t this young man’s thing, so she let him off the hook, but assigned additional study for him. Clint was good in the reading group discussions that Ms. Jamison held each week on history, finance, or philosophy.

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