The coach ride was done. The dust fairies had returned to their tribe and promised to come for visits in Opal’s new home. Long, long days ago Angel Father had gone far away to go explores in a strange new land, and then on to heaven where he was waiting. Angel Mother had sad feels and was filled with longing for Angel Father, so she had gone on ahead to be with him there after a long, quiet ride in a boat.
Some big people had brought her across the great wide sea and then to the coach where she had met her new friends. It was taking her to a new place that would be like home, the big people said.
And now Opal was here. But not where she should be, because it was not like home at all. She had thinks this was a place of temporary abiding, this Oregon place. But it would do, as there was no home left to her, and this place was better than the other place where all the people wore white, and no one understood.
So this house was not “home,” but “the house where she did live.” And these big people were not Angel Mother, and Angel Father, but “The Mama” and “The Papa,” and “The Grandpa,” and “The Grandma.” In this place, big people talked like some of the famous men Angel Father had told her about in the great books. But when she spoke, people looked at her with worry lines. And she had to explain many times that she really was a princess, and that this was not her true home. It was most confusing, especially to the big people.
The boards of the one-room schoolhouse creaked beneath Opal’s feet. She looked to her right, through the open window, out into the yard. She could hear the laughing riviére there, across the road, gurgling over shining rocks.
Old Caligula crouched in the winter grass beside the privy. Opal closed her eyes and listened hard – she could hear him making his low purr-growl. She opened them to see a black dot of a spider climbing a silver strand just above Caligula’s head, but there were no fairies. Fairies did not particularly enjoy the company of spiders, for they would often come to visit the sticky house and not be able to leave. Opal thought about her new friend, tucked away in the nest she had fashioned from leaves and sticks at the near corner of the privy. She prayed that he might be safe, and that old Caligula wouldn’t find him out.
She thought about Larry and Jean, the young couple she had seen in the lane on the way to school. They were standing by the old stump talking, and hadn’t seen her at first, so she stayed still so as not to disturb them, because Jean was crying and Larry was patting her on the shoulder to make her better, and he was speaking softly some poetry just in her hearing. ”There, little girl, don’t cry, I’ll come back and marry you by-and-by.” And then Opal said “hello,” and they both jumped. Then they were very nice, and Jean wiped away her tears and smiled a kindness on her. Opal thought she looked with the looks of an angel.
“Opal, eyes front. Now, Miss!”
Teacher’s voice yanked her back to the schoolroom. It wasn’t an unkind voice – the way the sound of a typing machine wasn’t unkind. Teacher clacked out her words one at a time, and left them, hanging in the air. She was as easy to read as the seven short and tall books she had lined up in a neat row on her desk. Opal turned from the corner to face Teacher, and the rest of the students.
“Ma’am?” she asked.
“You know the rules. Not a peep. Have you learned your lesson yet?”
“Beg pardon,” Opal said softly. “I was somewhere else.”
Etta Mae Hopgood (third row, second from the right – Opal knew where each girl sat, and especially Etta Mae) snorted, then, whispered something to Cora Jamison who giggled in turn. Both girls turned back to consider Opal through pinched eyes. Etta Mae’s laughter was sharp as splinters of glass. She was the first to laugh when another girl fell, or when Caligula caught a wounded robin. Etta Mae laughed at things she didn’t understand yet. She was not an understanding soul. Not like dear Sadie McKibben.
“That’s enough,” Teacher said, rapping her knuckles twice sharply on the oak desktop, and the girls stopped giggling. She adjusted her small gold-rimmed glasses, lifting them daintily with the tips of the first two fingers of both hands, then, settling them into precisely the same position on the bridge of her thin nose. Teacher did this, Opal had noticed, when she was making up her mind about how to punish a disobedient child. Opal had only been in the class two weeks since moving to Walden, and she had already been sent to the corner on several occasions for not paying attention.
But she was. Just not to Teacher.
Teacher folded her arms and stared at Opal. Then she spoke to the class. “You will all take out your slates and begin your arithmetic exercise.” She explained the exercise then she walked to the door of the classroom. Opal began to move toward her desk, but Teacher stopped her with her voice. “Opal,” she said crooking her finger. Opal hesitated, looking for a switch in her hand. But Teacher wasn’t like the Mama. She didn’t always have a switch close to hand. So Opal followed her out onto the steps of the schoolhouse.