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Whiter Than Snow

No one knew what triggered the Swandyke avalanche that began at exactly 4:10 p.m. on April 20, 1920. It might have been the dynamite charge that was set off at the end of shift on the upper level of the Fourth of July Mine. The miners claimed the blast was too far inside the mountain to be felt on the surface, and besides, they had set off dynamite hundreds, maybe thousands, of times before, and nothing bad had happened. Except for that one time when a charge failed to go off and Howard Dolan hit it with his pick when he was mucking out the stope and blew himself and his partner to kingdom come.

Still, who knew how the old mountain took retribution for having its insides clawed out.

Certainly there was nothing to suggest that the day was different from any other. It started chill and clear. The men, their coat collars turned up against the dawn cold, left for their shifts at the Fourth of July or on the dredge up the Swan River, dinner pails clutched in their mittened hands. A little later, the children went off to school, the older brothers and sisters pulling little ones on sleds. Groups of boys threw snowballs at one another. One grabbed onto the back of a wagon and slid along over the icy road behind it. The Connor girl slipped on the ice and fell over a stone embankment, hitting her head. It hurt so much that she turned around and went home crying. The others called her a crybaby, but after what happened later that day, her parents said the blessed God had taken her hand.

After the children were gone, the women washed the breakfast dishes and started the beans for dinner. Then because the sun came out bright enough to burn your skin in the thin air, came out after one of the worst blizzards they had ever encountered, they got out the washtubs and scrubbed the overalls and shirts, the boys’ knickers and the girls’ dresses. When the wash was rinsed and wrung, they climbed onto the platforms that held the clotheslines far above the snow and hung up the clothes, where they would dry stiff  as boards in the wind. Then because it was such a fine day, as fine a day as ever was, they called to one another to come and visit. There was a bit of coffee to reheat, and won’t you have a cup? Cookies, left over from the lunch pails, were set on plates on the oilcloth of the kitchen tables, and the women sat, feeling lazy and gossipy.

“You know, the Richards girl had her baby last week,” announced a woman in one of the kitchens, taking down the good china cups for coffee.

“Was her husband the father?” asked her neighbor.

“I didn’t have the nerve to ask.”

In another house, a woman confided, “The doctor says Albert has the cancer, but he won’t have his lungs cut on.”

“Then he’ll die,” her friend replied, muttering to herself, “at last.”

It was that kind of a day, one for confidences or lazy talk. The women blessed the bright sun after so many winter days of gloom. Nobody thought about an avalanche. What could cause trouble on a day the Lord had given them?

Maybe the cause was an animal --- a deer or an elk or even a mountain sheep --- making its way along the ridge of Jubilee Mountain. The weight of the beast would have been enough to loosen the snow. That happened often enough. Nobody saw an animal, but then, who was looking?

Or worthless Dave Buck might have set off the avalanche. He’d put on snowshoes and taken his gun and gone high up to hunt for a deer—a fawn, really, for Dave was too lazy to cut up the bigger carcass and haul it home. The company forbade hunting around the mine, but Dave didn’t care. He snowshoed up near timberline, where he’d seen the footprints of deer. He didn’t find any, and he stopped to drink from a pint he’d put into his pocket. One drink, and another, and he sat down beside a stunted pine and picked off the cones and slid them down the white slope. Then he tossed the bottle into that cornice of snow that dipped out over a ridge.

But perhaps it was nothing more than the spring melt. That storm a few days before had dumped five feet of snowfall on top of a dry, heavy base of winter-worn snow. The wind had driven the snow off ridges, leaving them barren, and piled it into large cornices high up. But now the day was cloudless, the sun shining down as harsh as if it had been midsummer. It was so bright that it hurt your eyes to see the glare on the white, and some of the miners rubbed charcoal under their eyes to cut the sharpness.

But who cared what the cause was? Something started the slide that roared down Jubilee Mountain in Swandyke, Colorado, and that was all that mattered.

There was a sharp crack like the sound of distant thunder, and then the cornice of snow where Dave Buck had thrown his bottle, a crusted strip two hundred feet long that flared out over the mountain ridge, fractured and fell. It landed on layers of snow that covered the mountain slope to a depth of more than six feet --- a heavy, wet, melting mass of new snow on top, falling on frozen layers of snowpack that lay on a bed of crumbled ice. That bottommost layer, a mass of loose ice crystals formed by freezing and thawing, lubricated the acres of snow lying on top of it just as much as if the bed had been made of marbles, and sent the snow careening down the mountain.

The miners called such a phenomenon a “slab avalanche” because a curtain of snow slid down the slope, picking up speed at a terrible rate, until it reached one hundred miles an hour. Nothing stood in the way of the terrifying slide, because the mountainside was bare of trees. They had been torn out forty years earlier in the second wave of mining that came after the prospectors abandoned gold pans and sluice boxes. Men had trained giant hoses on the mountain, washing dirt down the slope to be processed for precious minerals. Hydraulic mining, as it was called, also rid the mountainside of rocks and trees and underbrush that would have interfered with an avalanche --- not that anything could have held back the tons of white that slid down Jubilee Mountain that afternoon. The slide would have taken anything in its path.

This was not the first slide on Jubilee Mountain. The hillside, in fact, was known for avalanches. But it was the worst, and it spilled over into the forest at the edge of the open slope, tearing out small trees by their roots and hurling them into the rushing snow, which turned them into battering rams. A cabin that perched under the pines was wrenched from its foundation, its log walls torn asunder and broken into jackstraws.

The slide rushed onward, churning up chunks of ice the size of boxcars, gathering up abandoned hoses and machinery and the other detritus of mining that lay in its path. It hurtled on, thrashing its deadly cargo about, not slowing when it reached the bottom of the mountain, but instead rushing across the road, filling the gully with snow as heavy as wet cement and flattening the willows. The avalanche hurtled on until it started up Turnbull Mountain. Then, at last, its momentum came to an end and the slide was exhausted, the front stopping first, the back end slipping down the mountain and filling the gulch with snow higher than a two- story house.

Snow hovered in the air like a deadly mist. The debris caught up in the avalanche rolled a little and was still. A jack pine, graceful as a sled, glided to a stop in the snow covering the road. Clumps of snow fell from the trees still standing at the edge of the deadly white mass, making plopping sounds as they landed. Snowballs broke loose and rolled down the hill, leaving little trails in their wake.

For an instant, all was quiet, as silent as if the slide had occurred in a primeval forest. Then a high- pitched scream came from somewhere in the mass of snow, a child’s scream. The slide thundered down Jubilee Mountain just after the grade school let out, and it grabbed up nine of thirty-two schoolchildren in its icy grip. Five of the victims were related, the children of the Patch sisters --- Dolly’s three, who were Jack, Carrie, and Lucia, along with Lucy’s two, Rosemary and Charlie. The slide was no respecter of class, because it took Schuyler Foote, son of the manager of the Fourth of July Mine, and little Jane Cobb, the Negro girl, whose father labored in the mill, and Sophie Schnable, the daughter of a prostitute. And then there was Emmett Carter, that near-orphan boy who lived with his grandfather. All of them were swept up and carried along in that immense swirl of white.

Four of the children survived.

Lucy Patch was the smart one. People had always said that about her, ever since she was a toddling child. They still did on occasion, although she was a grown woman now, grown and married, with two children of her own. “Lucy’s the smart one,” they’d remark when Lucy was coming up. It really was not meant as a compliment, because that was only the half of what they told. “Dolly Patch is the pretty one,” they’d say at the beginning, and then add, “Lucy’s the smart one,” as if being smart was honorable mention.

Dolly, whose real name was Helen, wore her hair in yellow-white curls as long as the spiral of a drill and kept her skin as white as quartz. She was plump, with a happy disposition, and her eyes  were still the bright blue of a china doll’s, just as when she was a baby and her father had called her “Doll Baby,” and, when she was older, “Dolly.” The name had stuck, even after a packet of doll-size Patch children came along following Dolly. Everyone had called her by those names, even Lucy, who thought they were perfectly dreadful. People still did even now when Dolly was thirty-two, because she was still sunny as a summer’s day and lively in step, although she was portly in build. She still wore her hair in corkscrews, the color coming from a bottle, because with her pregnancies, her hair had darkened to the color of a mountain stream during spring runoff.

Only a year younger than Dolly, Lucy had been pretty in her way, if you were partial to dark hair and skin and girls who were too tall and angular, which most folks weren’t. Nobody remarked then or now on Lucy’s looks, although they were generous in their praise of her intelligence. She believed it herself and had always been a bit of a show-off about it. Whatever she did in school could not be done better. Lucy couldn’t help herself. If being smart was her only attribute, why pretend to be stupid? There was this thing about Lucy: She’d been told so often that she was intelligent, she thought she was smarter than anybody else. It got a little tiresome.

And incidentally, Lucy did not care for her own name, either. She wished she had been named Lucia, after the saint the Swedes in Swandyke honored with a parade each Christmas, although the Patch family was not Swedish. Lucia was romantic and exotic, and it would have been silly on someone as plain and straightforward as Lucy. Only Dolly knew Lucy preferred that name, and Dolly sometimes called her sister Lucia when the two were alone.

Although the distinctions might have pitted the girls against each other, the fact was that during their coming-up time, the two were inseparable, as close as any two sisters could be. Lucy helped Dolly with her schoolwork, because Dolly was not much taken with learning. And Dolly, who collected beaux the way an old woman collects blue columbine on a June day, was sensitive when it came to Lucy’s feelings. She told a boy on a hayride once that he ought to sit next to Lucy. “At conversation, she beats it all hollow,” Dolly said.

“Lucy’s okay if you want to hear the Gettysburg Address. Come to think of it, she is the spit of Abraham Lincoln,” he replied.

“And you’re the spit of Theodore Roosevelt,” Dolly replied, pushing him off the wagon.

Dolly was smart enough to know that her looks would fade in time --- in the bright, harsh mountain sun that turned a woman’s skin into a wrinkled brown paper bag, there wasn’t a woman over thirty-five who didn’t look as if she’d worn out four or five bodies with the same face --- but Lucy would always be smart.

By the time she was fifteen, Lucy had skipped two grades and was in her last year of high school, something for which she was sorry after she realized she would be just sixteen when she graduated. Life didn’t hold much for her after that. She would get a job in the office at the Fourth of July Mine --- her father had already discussed it with the mine manager --- and that would mean long hours performing boring tasks. Her only option was to marry, and she shuddered at the idea of being the wife of somebody who mucked out a mine.

 “I wish I could go to college,” Lucy confided to Dolly that spring, only a month before graduation.

“What in the world for?” her sister asked. For Dolly, who was made after the timid kind and never contemplated a life that went beyond marrying and raising three or four dandy- looking boys and girls, the idea was shocking. She’d never known of a Swandyke girl who had gone to college, although a few boys had done so. They’d never come back.

“There’s got to be something more than working at the mine office.”

“It’ll only be till you’re married.”

“But I don’t want to be married. I want to go to college, someplace that’s green, where I don’t have to see a brown mine tipple or a yellow mine dump every time I look up.”

“You’ll be terrible lonesome away from Swandyke,” Dolly said, then frowned. “You’d come back, wouldn’t you? I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t. You wouldn’t leave forever, would you?”

“It doesn’t matter, because I’m not going anywhere.”

“Why not, if that’s what you want? We both want something better, and we have to get it the best way we can.”

“Unless I can order a college diploma from the Sears, Roebuck catalog, there’s no way I’ll ever have one. We haven’t got a dime for school, what with all the little kids Mama and Papa have to take care of.”

“You must ask Papa to send you,” said Dolly, who had not the slightest idea what a college education cost.

Lucy scoffed. “How would he do that? He’s no good with money. Papa’s already spent his wages from now to Christmas. Mama would like for me to go. She told me so, but she won’t stand up to Papa.”

“No, he wouldn’t allow that,” Dolly agreed.

“Besides, Papa expects me to go to work to help him carry the family.”

While their father, Gus Patch, worked suitable, he made little, and his wages slipped through his fingers. He was a sucker for a hard-luck story, and many a time, he was skinned out of his pay envelope. So the family lived from hand to mouth, and in the few days before payday, there wasn’t much to put into all those mouths. In the past year, they had heard their father say often enough to this or that debtor, “When my girl Lucy goes to work at the mine office, I’ll pay that bill right off.”

The afternoon of their discussion, the sisters were sitting on a rock in the willows that filled the gully at the bottom of Jubilee Mountain. Lucy leaned back so that she could look up the mountainside, up past the barren slope that had been washed clean of rocks and topsoil by hydraulic mining, to the Fourth of July Mine. That was where their father was employed. “I told Papa I wouldn’t work there until I finished high school. Graduation’s on a Friday night. So he’s fixed it up that I start on Saturday morning.”

“You must talk to Papa anyway,” Dolly insisted. “If you explain it to him, he’s sure to go along with you. That’s what I’ve found.”

Lucy didn’t reply that as the favorite daughter, Dolly usually got her way with their father. “I did talk to him, Dolly. He said I have a responsibility to him. His exact words were, ‘I don’t care for nothing about college. I got no more use for it than one of those airplanes.’ He told me while I was in high school that he’d let me do as I pleased, but now that I’m done with it, I’ll have to do as I can.”

Dolly flung back her yellow curls and stood up. “I’ll talk to him.”

Not more than a week later, Gus Patch announced at the supper table that if Lucy could get a job in Denver to pay her way through college and would live with her aunt Alice, a sour old woman whom no one in the family cared for much, he thought he could spare her for a few years. “I expect with a college degree, you could make two or three times what you’d get typewriting letters in the mine office,” he said, stirring his potatoes and green beans together, then leaning over his plate and using a spoon to shovel the mess into his mouth.

Later, when the girls were alone, Lucy asked, “It was you who gave him the idea I could be a bookkeeper, wasn’t it, Dolly? What did it cost you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Dolly looked down at a ribbon she was ironing between her fingers. “Besides, it was Mama’s idea.”

“I know Papa as well as you do. It was you, not Mama, who had to promise him something. He’s not for giving away a thing for nothing.” Lucy grabbed Dolly’s hand so hard that her sister dropped the ribbon. “You’re not quitting high school, are you?”

“It cost less than it was worth. Besides, I don’t care so much for school.”

“I won’t let you quit.”

“Well, there’s nothing you can do about it. They keep asking me at the Prospector if I won’t come and be a waitress. I’ve made up my mind.”

“So have I, and I won’t go to college if you quit school.”

The next morning, Lucy picked up Gus’s lunch bucket and told him she would walk him to the mine. That was what the children did when they wanted to talk to their father or ask for a favor, since the old man was usually hung-over in the early mornings, and his mind was a clutter. “Dolly’s not quitting high school,” Lucy said.

“Oh, she don’t mind.”

“Well, I do, and I say she’s not.”

“I guess when you’re head of this family, you’ll have a say.”

“Papa, I won’t go to college if she has to wait tables at the Prospector.”

“Suit yourself.”

The two walked along in silence until Gus said, “Doll thinks you might not come back if you go below to school.”

Lucy didn’t reply.

“I don’t reckon we could let you do that.”

“I don’t reckon you could stop me.”

“Oh, I guess I could.”

Lucy slowed down a little as she mulled over her father’s words. She knew then what he was after.

“Wages aren’t going up at the mine. I need you to help carry us in these scarce times.”

“I could send you money. I’d do it every month.”

Gus stopped and put his foot up on a rock to tie his shoe. The leather was scuffed and worn, the toe capped with metal. Lucy stared down at the top of his head, where the hair was thin and the scalp scaly from the mountain dryness. He was asking her to help support the family, maybe carry it all herself if he lost his job. He’d barter that for college. She thought it over before she replied. If she didn’t go to college, she’d work at the mine and hand over her paycheck to her father. If she got an education, she’d do the same thing, but at least she’d have been away for four years, and she would be getting a better job. “What if I promise to come back? Will you let Doll finish high school?”

Her father pretended to think it over, but his head hurt too much for him to put much effort into it. “Well, I expect so. If you’ll promise, promise no matter what, you’ll come back.”

“Oh, I will,” Lucy said.

Gus sighed. “Then I reckon I could spare you.”

It was only later that Lucy thought she had been bought too cheaply. Both Gus and Dolly had gotten what they wanted. Lucy would be bonded to Swandyke, where she’d supplement her father’s salary and be a companion to Dolly for the rest of her life. Still, she told herself, she’d have those four years.

And so in the fall of 1905, Lucy registered at the University of Denver. At first, school wasn’t easy for her, what with classes, working as a counter girl at a drugstore on Colfax Avenue, and cleaning and cooking for her aunt Alice, who wasn’t so bad once Lucy got to know her. Still, in later years when she looked out at the yellow waste dumps on the mountains or the waist-deep snow that covered Swandyke six months of the year and heard the screeching of the gold dredge on the Swan River, she remembered those years at the University of Denver as the happiest ones of her life.

She did not major in math, which had been her intent, because the school directed girls to more feminine subjects. So she took courses in bookkeeping and business on the side and studied to become a teacher. She was surprised that she had not thought of teaching on her own, because teachers rarely lasted long in the Swandyke schools, and there was a great demand for them. The ones who came from the outside were tired out by the long winters and the harsh landscape and the noise of the mines and the gold dredge that dug up the Swan River high above town. Only half of the new teachers returned the next year.

She studied hard --- on the streetcar, during respites at the drugstore, at night, after her aunt went to bed. Aunt Alice insisted that the lamps were to be blown out at 9:00 p.m. to save on kerosene, so Lucy waited until she heard her aunt’s snores, and then she relit the lamp in her room and worked on her lessons until midnight. Only later did she realize her aunt had known all the time what she was doing, had gone to bed precisely at nine so that Lucy could get to her books.

With most hours occupied by work or study, and living with her relative, Lucy had no time for social activities. She hadn’t the money to join a sorority and didn’t care, because the sorority girls she met seemed less interested in education than in clothes and parties and getting married. She was not jealous of them, because she thought them meek as sheep and dumb as burros. Nor did she feel sorry for herself, although she was careful not to mention her family or the circumstances of her young life. At that time, when so few women attended college, the girlfriends Lucy made on campus simply assumed that Lucy’s family was no different from their own and that her reason for living with a relative was not due to lack of money but to her parents’ insistence that she not be exposed to the temptations of school life. Hers would not have been the only parents who disapproved of dormitories.

With the demands on her time, Lucy took part in only a few of the social activities on campus. But she cherished the discussions after class in a coffee shop off campus, where she spent some of her hard-earned nickel tips. Such gatherings included both boys and girls, but Lucy was not interested in boys, because, as she’d told Dolly, she did not care to marry. Besides, her father had forbidden her to date, telling her aunt, “There’ll be Old Nick to pay if some boy fools with her and she comes home with an armful.”

Lucy’s dedication paid off, and at the end of her first college year, she was awarded a scholarship. The girl did not tell her family about her good fortune. She was afraid that her father would insist she send him part of her wages. It was not that Lucy wanted to keep the money for herself, but she hoped to cut back on her hours at the drugstore once school began in the fall, so that she could enjoy herself a little. After all, she thought with some sense of sorrow, a quarter of her college years was already spent.

That summer, she stayed in Denver, still living with her aunt Alice, who had softened a little. The old woman had come to depend on Lucy, not just to clean and cook but to provide a bit of company. And on her part, Lucy had become fond of the old woman. That summer, the two sat on the porch of the little  house, shaded by trumpet vines, and listened to the evening sounds of children playing hide- and- seek or to that of the trolley as it rumbled along the next street. In the evenings, while the light was still good, Aunt Alice mended while Lucy read aloud from a poetry book. Sometimes the two popped corn or made divinity candy and shared it with their neighbors. Or they walked to the creamery, where Lucy spent her tips on ice cream for the two of them. Once, as they walked home in the darkness, stopping to smell the honeysuckle next door, Aunt Alice said, “I expect you miss your sister. I wouldn’t complain if she came for a visit.”

Lucy was so tickled that she wrote a letter to her sister that night, enclosing twenty dollars for the train fare. A week later, Dolly wired that she’d be arriving the next day. Lucy met her at the depot, met three trains that day, in fact, because Dolly had not told her which one she’d chosen. Although Lucy was exasperated, she had to admit that one of her muddled sister’s endearing qualities was that she assumed everything would turn out all right. And for Dolly, it always did.

The two girls had not been together in ten months --- the price of a ticket to go home at Christmas had been too dear --- so now they were overjoyed at seeing each other.

Dolly said college made Lucy look smarter than ever, and Lucy observed that her sister was as plump as a ptarmigan and even prettier than she had been when Lucy had bid her good- bye in the fall.

“I thought you’d be spoken for by now,” Lucy said.

“Oh, there’s plenty that’s spoke to Papa about me, but they don’t do to suit me. However, I ever remain hopeful I will meet a management man, even though they are mostly married. Of course, that wouldn’t stop them from foolery, but I won’t have it. If I slept on my rights and had an illegal baby, Mama would cry her eyes out, and Papa would bust out my brains.”

Both girls laughed, because each knew that while Gus himself had led a corruptible life, he did not intend to let his daughters stray.

“I refuse to marry a man who will give me the life I’m accustomed to, and a hoistman or a cager won’t do,” Dolly continued. “I want someone who has more than two pair of britches to his name.”

“Do you have your eye on anybody?”

“Mr. Bibb, who is the second-level boss at the Fourth of July.”

“You mean Henry Bibb, the one who’s bald and straddly- legged? He must be more than thirty.”

Doll shrugged. “Mr. Bibb’s not so bad. He’s solid as granite, although I can’t follow him when he talks about books and learning. There’s not so many to choose from as you’d think, and I can’t wait around too long. I’m in my eighteenth year, and there’s wrinkles starting around my eyes. Mama says it’s time enough I was married.”

Lucy looked but could see nothing but perfection. “Don’t sell yourself too cheap, Doll.”

“I won’t. I don’t expect a man as rich as cream, but he’s got to earn more than a mucker does. Besides Mr. Bibb, there’s a couple of men who work the gold boats I’ve got my eye on. They come into the Prospector and leave me twenty- five-cent tips, sometimes fifty, even though they order only a five-cent cup of coffee. Imagine that! One of them’s a bounder, I expect, but there’s another—he said he’s been to college --- and he thinks I’m swell. I have hopes.” She turned to Lucy suddenly. “What about you, Lucia?” she asked, using the childhood name. “You have any sharp luck meeting boys? You won’t find anybody in Swandyke smart enough for you.”

Lucy shook her head. “There’s nobody --- not that I’m looking. You know I made that promise to Papa to go back to Swandyke when I’m done here, and where am I going to find somebody who’ll move up there with me? I never knew of a person to live in Swandyke by choice.” In fact, Lucy had given the subject a certain amount of thought. It wasn’t that she didn’t care to marry one day. She did, but, like Dolly, she didn’t want a penniless miner for a husband, a man who stank of dynamite and mine mud and who’d grab at her at night with hands that would never wash clean of grease and black grit. Nor did she care to live in a cabin that smelled of cabbage and dirty diapers. No, she, too, hoped to marry a management man who’d build her a house with an indoor bathroom and a dining room so that they wouldn’t have to eat in the kitchen. But if Dolly hadn’t found such a man in Swandyke, how could she? And it was sure she wasn’t about to meet a boy in school who’d agree to live at the top of the world. “I don’t think I’ll ever marry.”

“Doesn’t that bother you awful bad?”

Lucy shrugged. “I’ll be just frank. I’m not like you, Doll. There’s things worse to me than not having a husband. And I’ll have you. I think I can stand Swandyke if you’re living there.”

“Well, where place else would I live?” Dolly replied.

The girls had taken the trolley to the university so that Lucy could show her sister the campus. Dolly had never ridden in such a conveyance, and she slid on the hard seat each time the streetcar came to a stop. When they reached the school, Lucy reached up to pull the cord, but Dolly said she wanted to do it and yanked on the cord until the big yellow car came to a stop, its steel wheels screeching against the steel rails.

Holding on to her skirts, Dolly stepped off the car. “Imagine that, paved streets and a cement walk. I wonder wherever does the water go when the snow melts if there isn’t any dirt for it to go into.” She stood on the sidewalk a moment and looked around, her mouth open, a little like Lucy had been just ten months before.

But Lucy was used to the city now and felt herself worldly next to her countrified sister. “It goes into the sewer,” Lucy replied, about to explain how the storm-sewer system worked, but Dolly wasn’t listening.

“Will you look at that.” Dolly pointed at a woman whose dress was inches above her ankles. “Is she a slut?”

The woman heard the remark and gave Dolly a hard look, while Lucy shushed her sister.

“Well, she’s dressed naked,” Dolly said. “You could put all the clothes she has on into your pocket.”

“There’s lots that dress like that here.”

Dolly watched the woman walk away. “I might could try it. I’ve got good legs, but nobody knows it. Of course, Papa would be killing mad and slap me down for a hooker.” She thought for a moment. “Do you dress like that?”

“Living with Aunt Alice? What do you think?” Lucy laughed.

“You have to admit it would be nice not to wear long skirts that drag through the snow and dirt. I get awful tired of sewing strips of material around the bottom of my hems to keep the muck from ruining them.”

Lucy led the way across the campus, and Dolly forgot her hems when the sisters passed a trio of boys. Eyeing Dolly, the young men stepped off the sidewalk to let the two girls pass. One bowed as he took a pretend cape from his shoulders and threw it across the muddy walk in front of the girls. Dolly was confused, although Lucy understood the gesture and smiled.

“Are they fresh?” Dolly whispered, and when Lucy shook her head, Dolly gave the boys a brilliant smile.

“You a freshman?” one asked.

“What?” Dolly replied.

“She’s visiting,” Lucy said.

“Just our luck.” The boy pretended to pick up the cape and put it back over his shoulders.

The two girls walked along silently, Lucy thinking nobody had ever done a Sir Walter Raleigh impression for her. “Doll, why don’t you go to college, too?” she asked.

Dolly looked up at her sister, startled. “Why would I do that? I never even liked high school.”

Lucy didn’t hear the reply, because the thought, which had come upon her suddenly, now took hold. It was a splendid idea. “In three more years, I’ll be finished. You could enroll then.

Despite what Pa says, Aunt Alice is a dear, and I know she’d let you live with her. You could study anything you wanted, maybe home economics, and you’d have your pick of boys here. You wouldn’t ever have to go back to Swandyke.” For Lucy, the idea was perfect. Because of the promise made to her father, she herself was tied to the mountains, but her sister would get away, and such was Lucy’s nature and the affection the girls had for each other that instead of being jealous, she was glad for Dolly. One of them would have a chance.

Excerpted from WHITER THAN SNOW © Copyright 2011 by Sandra Dallas. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.

Whiter Than Snow
by by Sandra Dallas

  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312663161
  • ISBN-13: 9780312663162