Miss Wells. Lovely. He could just imagine how that conversation would go. Howdy, Miss Wells. Now that I’ve pulled my sister out of your school, I want to scrutinize every last figure you’ve recorded in your books. “How much, then?”
Byron’s eyebrows furrowed together. “How much what?”
“How much money did Grandpa’s will bequest to them?” Luke spread the papers into a bigger mess across the top of the desk. “For all the figures on these papers, I can’t find the amount.”
“Your grandfather made no bequests for a single charity. Everything was given to you, with the exception of the sums for Cynthia and your sister. He probably assumed once you saw the extent of his philanthropic endeavors, you would continue donating in his stead.”
Luke stuck a finger in his collar and tugged. Likely another way for good old Grandpa to trap him in this uppity little eastern town. “How much did my grandfather usually donate?”
The lawyer pointed to a number on one of the sheets.
“Two thousand dollars for one school year?” Luke jumped to his feet, the thunderous words reverberating off the office walls. He could understand five hundred dollars, or maybe even a thousand. But two thousand dollars so girls could learn fancy mathematics? “That seems a little extreme.”
The lawyer’s eyes darkened, and he jerked the paper away. “On the contrary. As I already mentioned, your grandfather advocated educating women, and it’s only natural he use his money toward that end. Since its inception, the school has been very successful at seeing its graduates enter colleges across the country.”
Luke leafed through the pages. “But it looks like donations are down...enrollment, too. It isn’t much to say the graduates go to college, when there’s no one to graduate.”
“That is hardly the fault of the school,” Byron insisted. “The current economic state has, of course, caused some students to delay their educations. And of late, there has been a bit of local opposition to the school.”
Byron handed him two newspaper articles: An Editorial on the Necessity of Educating Young Women by Miss Elizabeth Wells, and Excessive Amount of Charity Money Wasted on Hayes Academy for Girls by a certain Mr. Reginald Higsley.
Luke let the papers fall to the desk. “The derogatory article appeared at the beginning of the week. Has the school board printed an answer?”
The lawyer shook his head. “Your grandfather always handled situations such as this personally. But if you’re concerned about the articles, you may find it interesting that your grandfather was a rather large investor in the Morning Times.”
Luke sunk his head in his hands. “I see.”
And he did. He hadn’t even been in Valley Falls a day, and his life had been upended, flipped around and spun sideways a couple times. He was never going to survive here for a month.
“These numbers don’t look good.” Samantha frowned and glanced up from the ledger she’d had her face buried in for the past fifteen minutes. “Do you think the school will close?”
“I don’t know.” Elizabeth moved the chalk in her hand deftly across her slate, finishing up some ciphering with yet another depressing result.
She and Samantha had spread a blanket beneath a large maple tree overlooking the back fields on the Hayes estate. The afternoon sky boasted a brilliant blue, and the breeze snapped with autumn’s crispness; birds circled the air above, and the nearby brook babbled gaily as it flowed over rock and sticks.
In short, it was a perfect autumn afternoon. But Elizabeth could hardly enjoy it when her time with the ledgers last night had revealed a frighteningly small amount of money left in the bank account. The academy barely had enough funds to pay teacher salaries and outstanding bills, and it was only October. They hadn’t even purchased the coal for the boiler system yet.
Elizabeth set her chalk down. “The school board will make the final decision about the academy closing. But Jackson’s findings will be a big part of it.”
Samantha blushed and ducked her head at the mention of Jackson’s name. “That doesn’t sound very promising.”
“No. Did you spot any mistakes in my mathematics?”
Samantha shook her head and shifted the still-open book to the ground beside her.
Elizabeth sighed. If only there had been a mistake, an extra five hundred dollars tucked into an account somewhere. But Samantha would have caught something so glaring. Goodness, Samantha would have caught a mistake ten times smaller than that. The girl was a pure genius when it came to ciphering.
“I don’t suppose it matters much either way for me.” Samantha gave a careless shrug of her shoulders—hardly a ladylike gesture—and slumped back against the tree trunk. “It’s not as if I’ll be around.”