Anderson Crow soon slept, but he did not dream of the tragedy the next night was to bring upon Tinkletown, nor of the test his prowess was to endure.
The next night and the “spellin’-bee” at school No. 5 came on apace together. It was bitterly cold and starlight. By eight o’clock the warm schoolhouse was comfortably filled with the “spellers” of the neighbourhood, their numbers increased by competitors from Tinkletown itself. In the crowd were men and women who time after time had “spelled down” whole companies, and who were eager for the conflict. They had “studied up” on their spelling for days in anticipation of a hard battle in the words. Mrs. Borum and Mrs. Cartwill, both famous for their victories and for the rivalry that existed between them, were selected as captains of the opposing sides, and Miss Banks herself was to “give out” the words. The captains selected their forces, choosing alternately from the anxious crowd of grown folks. There were no children there, for it was understood that big words would be given out—words children could not pronounce, much less spell.
The teacher was amazingly pretty on this eventful night. She was dressed as no other woman in Bramble County, except Rosalie Gray, could have attired herself—simply, tastefully, daintily. Her face was flushed and eager and the joy of living glowed in every feature. Ed Higgins and ’Rast Little were struck senseless, nerveless by this vision of health and loveliness. Anderson Crow stealthily admitted to himself that she was a stranger in a strange land; she was not of Tinkletown or any place like it.
Just as the captains were completing their selections of spellers the door opened and three strangers entered the school-room, overcoated and furred to the tips of their noses—two men and a woman. As Miss Banks rushed forward to greet them—she had evidently been expecting them—the startled assemblage caught its breath and stared. To the further amazement of every one, Rosalie hastened to her side and joined in the effusive welcome. Every word of joyous greeting was heard by the amazed listeners and every word from the strangers was as distinct. Surely the newcomers were friends of long standing. When their heavy wraps were removed the trio stood forth before as curious an audience as ever sat spellbound. The men were young, well dressed and handsome; the woman a beauty of the most dashing type. Tinkletown’s best spellers quivered with excitement.
[Illustration: “The teacher was amazingly pretty on this eventful night”]
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Miss Banks, her voice trembling with eagerness, “let me introduce my friends, Mrs. Farnsworth, Mr. Farnsworth, and Mr. Reddon. They have driven over to attend the spelling-match.” Ed Higgins and ’Rast Little observed with sinking hearts that it was Mr. Reddon whom she led forward by the hand, and they cursed him inwardly for the look he gave her—because she blushed beneath it.