“No, but it would help if you found some way for your sister to graduate.”
“Tell you what. I’ll let Sam go to classes at Hayes for as long as we stay.” One of the servants could probably sort through Grandpa’s bedroom, or even him—if he ever dug himself out from underneath all the paperwork in Grandpa’s office.
Miss Wells gasped, a small, happy sound, and her hands flew up to cover her mouth. “You mean it, then? You’ll really let her come back to school? And you’ll speak to the office about arrangements after that so she can graduate?”
He scowled. “You care an awful lot about my sister graduating.”
“I care an awful lot about every student graduating. Have you thought anymore about making a donation to Hayes?”
“Yes,” he grumbled. Far more than should have.
“Yes? As in you agree? Or as in you’ve thought of it?” Miss Wells’s hands gripped his forearm, her tiny nails digging through the fabric of his sleeve. Her eyes sparkled with hope, and her lips curved in a full-out grin.
And how could he say no when she looked at him like that? He was making a new business policy, here and now. No more decision making when womenfolk were around. They could get a man to sign over his entire life’s holding by looking at him thataway.
“Yes, as in I’ve thought on it, but I’ll have to do some more thinking before I’ve got an answer.”
“I understand.” She released his arm and stepped away, her brilliant smile fading.
And now he’d just let her down. Teach him to open his mouth and answer without thinking while she was around.
Miss Wells shifted from one foot to the other, as though suddenly nervous, and gestured to the parlor and tea service. “I would offer you tea and discuss the possibility of a donation further, but, um, my housemates are still at the academy, and with Samantha gone, your being here is hardly proper.”
He looked around the quiet hallway and parlor. Yep, they were alone all right, and he’d probably broken a couple dozen rules of society by coming here at all. “I’ll get on home.”
But as he turned, he knocked an already-open newspaper off the small table in the hall. “Sorry about that.” He bent and reached for it, then his eyes landed on the headline, and he sprang back up. “He did this? That scoundrel of a reporter published another article?”
Miss Wells’s eyes seemed to dull even more. “What did you expect Mr. Higsley to do after Saturday evening?”
“Turn tail and run. What else?”
“That’s not the way reporters work. Indeed, one can’t have a worse enemy than a reporter.”
“Perhaps if I hadn’t scared him off...”
“My tongue angered him before you arrived.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “I anticipated an article such as this.”
He ran his thumb over a crease in the paper, his eyes scanning the basics of the article. “He attacked you personally.”
She shrugged, the gesture small and hopeless for a woman comprised of steel and fire and determination. “It’s nothing new.”
“Does this mean the board will close the school?”
“I told you as much on Saturday.”
But he hadn’t quite believed her then. Holding this paper, with an article he could have prevented had he cared to, made the situation more real. More his fault. He glanced at the writing desk against the far wall, where Miss Wells had been not twenty minutes ago, instructing Samantha in a subject too complicated for him to comprehend. “You’re so concerned about Samantha not graduating. What will happen to the other girls in Samantha’s class if the school closes? Will they be able to finish out the year?”
“There are sixteen other students in Samantha’s class. And I don’t know what will happen to them. The school board will decide that, not me.”
“But you think they’ll just close the school and wish the girls well, as they find various other places to finish out their last semester of high school?”
“Yes, very much so.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
She shrugged. It was the first time he’d seen such an unladylike gesture from her. “I hardly think treating the students fairly is the board’s foremost concern.”
And suddenly it became clear. Like it had yesterday, when he’d stood in the drawing room filled with his servants, and today when he’d told Mr. Byron to start finding potential managers for the insurance and accounting corporation. He could stop Hayes Academy from closing, at least for this school year. The school was as much his responsibility as the corporation and his servants—at least until he returned West and handed the reins to somebody else. And he wasn’t going to be responsible for sending nearly a hundred students off in the middle of a school year.