“Excuse me, please.”
The voice was strident, but dripping with juvenile arrogance and mockery. Rose, who had stepped down from the buckboard turned around, her black eyes smiling - but that turned into confusion an instant later.
“Yes?” she said in a soft, mellow tone, aware that in the small school building ahead, her class of rumbling children had gathered at the door and windows, and that some of the towns people had stopped to stare in interest.
“Yes,” mimicked the owner of that voice, a lanky lad with a freckled face and a pugnacious nose. “Your kind ain’t welcome here, woman,” he added.
She raised her brows; she probably was double his age, she thought, but she didn’t want to lock horns with Bubba Pardue, the son of one of the wealthiest cattlemen around. So, she smiled again and opened her mouth to reply to him, when a low voice from the school porch cut in:
“An’ what kind would that be, kid?”
The boy glanced around the lady, at a figure lounging lazily in a chair. This was a dark-haired man, with long legs that stretched languidly out. The bronzed face was boyish, pleasant and friendly, but there was nothing amiable about the crossed cartridge belts and the low tied twin guns strapped to his supple hips.
Bubba dismissed it as a bluff and said haughtily:
“Dunno how you’d be concerned, but since you’re interested, the colour o’her skin ain’t exactly like mine. Darkies are meant to be slaves, not teachers.”
“Me thinks he needs some edjoocation,” mused the stranger aloud. “Mebbe he ain’t aware that the Confederacy collapsed, an’ that slavery is abolished.”
His eyes crinkled into a smile when he turned to Rose. “Ma’am,” he said. “Don’t let that ill-mannered kid hold you back.”
Bubba’s face twisted malevolently when Rose, with a little trepidation stepped forward. He lunged in front of her, blocking her passage to the school.
“Uh-huh, Nigger,” he sneered, roughly shoving her back.
It was all the movement the stranger needed. In four long strides he strode down from the porch, his spurs jingling on the wooden boards. With a sudden swing of his arm, he brought it down with a resounding slap on Bubba’s cheek. The boy teetered, falling backward in the dust.
With a howl of rage, he clumsily reached for his gun, aiming for the back of the man who had now turned to help the teacher to her feet. But she screamed in horror, the children shrieked in dismay and there was a deathly hush among those gathered in the street.
Sensing danger, the stranger swung around, but even as he moved, his six-gun materialized in his hand, and it was belching fire.
Bubba only felt the agony of a shattered forefinger as his gun clattered harmlessly from his hand.
“I didn’t miss,” warned the stranger, ominously. Then he turned to Rose gallantly and she accepted his offered arm.
She stepped over the boy and headed for the classroom.
© Author to be revealed at the end of the challenge
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