Luke rubbed his chin. He should make himself known. But wouldn’t it look strange, him appearing from the side of the building with no good reason for being there? Still, whatever was going on between Miss Wells and the other man wasn’t his business.
He shifted farther down the wall. Maybe he could hop over that gate near the street, then make his way back to the banquet through the front of the building.
Crack. A snapping sound reverberated against the brick building. He’d stepped on a twig. Now the arguing voices would come around the hotel and spot him plain as day. Then he’d have a heap of explaining to do.
Except they kept right on talking. He raked his hand through his hair and slumped against the wall. Did more twigs litter the ground? Maybe there was an old can he might kick? Anything else that would draw attention his way? Looked like he’d gotten himself good and stuck.
“It’s public money, already approved and given to Hayes Academy. How are we to give the money back?”
“Cancel whatever you ordered with it,” the male voice blundered. “Surely you understand why this must be done. Your father’s in a precarious political situation, and those newspaper articles have made the academy widely unpopular. If the public were to find out the school received state funds, your father’s reputation might not recover. We need the money returned by the end of next week. Your brother understood perfectly when I explained the situation to him yesterday.”
Luke held his breath. Miss Wells’s father was taking money away from the school? What kind of father took money away from his daughter because of some embittered newspaper article? If Sam needed a large amount of money for building a house in Wyoming or saving her husband’s ranch or some other cause, he’d give her the funds in an instant. Of course, she would have to be home where she belonged before he gifted her any such thing, but still, he’d never be able to hand her money one day and take it back the next.
“My brother doesn’t care about the academy,” Miss Wells’s voice quivered, whether from rage or tears, he couldn’t tell. “The school’s no more than a nuisance to him. Besides what will you do with the money after we return it?”
“As a matter of fact—”
“No, just leave. I don’t want to know what frivolous things it’ll be wasted on.”
“It won’t be wasted.”
“It’s not being wasted now.”
“There are differing opinions on that.”
“Yes, I see there are. Good night, Edward.”
* * *
Elizabeth pressed her back to the cold brick wall and stared up at the sky, vast and dark with only a handful of bright stars shining down. The chilly night air wrapped around her, causing gooseflesh to rise on her arms, but she couldn’t seek the warmth inside. Not when curious eyes and wagging tongues filled the banquet room.
Dreams were a bit like stars, weren’t they? Most swallowed up by the city lights, and only a few so bright they shined through all the busyness trying to snuff them out. She’d once thought her dreams were brilliant enough to sparkle on their own—graduate from college, get a teaching job, train young women. But even after achieving so much, her dreams risked falling pale and dry to the ground. Father remained too busy to know she had dreams, Mother wanted her married despite her dreams and Jackson smiled and promised to help with her dreams, then ended up doing nothing at all.
She’d thought she’d been following God, pleasing Him in some way by refusing to marry a man like her ex-fiancé and then training to be a teacher. She’d thought she’d be helping young women not too different from herself when she’d gotten her teaching position at Hayes. She’d thought she’d been helping the academy when she’d written that editorial about female education. But somewhere along the way, she’d ceased helping anyone and started causing trouble. When had she strayed from the path God intended for her?
Father, what have I done? She sunk her head into her hands, a foolish move, since the jostle to her precariously positioned coiffure sent the side of her hair cascading down. Lovely. Just lovely. Now when she appeared back inside, the people present would think she’d been in the yard with a man.
She felt about for the loosened pins still stuck in her tresses. She could probably shove her hair back atop her head and arrange it in a manner that wouldn’t attract too much attention.
If only fixing her other problems was as easy as jamming pins into her hair. Maybe she should stop fighting for the academy and tell the board she would abide by their decision if they closed the school. Tell Mother she’d attend that dinner next Saturday and meet whatever gentlemen had been invited. Tell her students they couldn’t return after the semester break because no one cared enough to defend the school they attended.