After she’d started teaching at Hayes Academy, Jonah Hayes had approached her about buying a house, specifically the one which she and two other teachers had been renting from him. He’d said she needed the property in her name for investment purposes, and she could make monthly payments to him. She’d nearly swooned when the lawyer came to her house after Jonah’s death and told her that he’d left her the house in his will.
She lingered a moment on the walkway and gazed up at the two stories. Hers, from the peak of the gabled roof to the flower beds at the base of the walls. And she took care of it, tending the lawn and gardens, calling a repairman at the first sign of trouble, filling the interior with furniture and decorations.
She climbed the steps to the porch, the paper she’d passed earlier still resting on the wooden planks beside the door. Sighing, she picked it up and unrolled it. At least nothing about Hayes Academy was printed on the first page. She opened to the second page, and the letters stood bold and stark at the top.
Hayes Academy for Girls Employs Bribery and Accusations While Continuing to Waste Money
Charitable organizations and taxpayers have already wasted an exorbitant amount of money on Hayes Academy for Girls. Yet in the face of our current economic depression, that institution seems determined to waste more. Saturday evening...
And Higsley went on to describe the banquet. “Overly elaborate,” he called it. “Wasteful...a disgrace to the area’s needy,” with his own invitation to the event derided as “an attempt to bribe him into silence.” Then he claimed to endure the rudest behavior and most harrowing of accusations from a certain Miss Wells.
Surely this teacher’s qualifications must be examined, as no one with such a venomous mind ought be allowed anywhere near society’s young ladies.
She gulped air and fanned her face with the paper, even as tears stung the back of her eyes.
Venomous mind? Qualifications examined? What nonsense. Yet if people believed the raving reporter’s words this time, as they had his previous article, the wretched man might well see her fired before the school even closed.
The front door opened and Miss Loretta Atkins, the literature and drama teacher, poked her head out. “Oh, there you are, dear. Miss Torneau made some oatmeal for breakfast, but we couldn’t find you.”
“I just...” she fisted her hand in the paper “...went for a morning walk, is all.”
Miss Atkins’s eyes landed on the Morning Times. “Oh, no. That reporter didn’t print another, did he?”
Elizabeth handed over the paper. No point in hiding what the rest of the world would be reading in another hour or two.
“My, my.” Miss Atkins clucked her tongue. “You don’t think the school will close because of this reporter, do you?”
She watched the older woman, her forehead wrinkled as she glanced at the article. It would be nice, just for a moment, to be like Miss Atkins—a pleasant old spinster who had never fallen in love or had any suitors, to hear her tell it. She’d started teaching decades ago, always living in a house or apartment somebody else owned. She smiled gently when she heard news, whether good or bad, and never took it upon herself to take a stand or push for change. In another week or two, when she learned the school would close, she would frown and cluck her tongue. Perhaps she would say something like “such a shame, that is” and then go about her daily routine.
Elizabeth swallowed. Would it be better to live out her days like Miss Atkins? Not overly involved in anything? Not caring when she failed because she never tried to achieve anything in the first place? Maybe she should attempt it, the calm complacency, the blind acceptance of whatever was handed her.
“Do you mind if I take this back to the kitchen? Miss Torneau will want to see it.”
“Fine,” Elizabeth croaked.
Miss Atkins stepped back inside and held the door open. “You come in, too, dear. Those fingers look to have a touch of frostbite.”
She glanced down at her red chapped hands, nearly numb from the cold. “I’ll be in shortly.”
The door closed, and she leaned against the post, sucking the chilled air deep into her lungs. She needed one moment, maybe two, of peace before the whirlwind of her day began. Miss Bowen would have seen the article, as well as the students, the other teachers, the school board members. Goodness, but the article might well bring a couple board members to the academy today. If only she could hide in bed and claim she was ill. It wouldn’t be a lie, not really. Because somewhere deep inside, where her heart beat heavily and her stomach twisted into knots, she was very, very sick.