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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Romance/Love · #676565
Marie has just met a handsome Englishman, but her past still haunts her. Complete.
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We cannot kindle when we will

The fire which in the heart resides,

The spirit bloweth and is still,

In mystery our soul abides.

---Matthew Arnold

Chapter 1

Charleston, South Carolina

October 1875

That morning, Marie Angela Hutchison heard the tiny clink of her old engagement ring as it fell from the folds of her skirt. It skittered across the wood floor and under the bed in the flickering candlelight. At first she had thought it was a dime, but it didn’t sound heavy enough for that. She knelt down next to the bed, squinting to find it in the dim golden light.

Why did little things like that always squirrel themselves into the strangest places? She saw a dull glint in the dust under the bed and reached for it. Just a few months earlier, she had searched for the thing; now it had surfaced all by itself.

She stood up and studied it for a moment. How tiny it was— a thin gold band set with a pearl. Oh, Phillip, where are you, what are you doing now? Are you sorry you left so suddenly? She peered at it for another moment, then put it on her nightstand and continued to dress herself. She would have to do something with it later. Why had she even been looking for it?

She picked up the skirt, made of worn black brocade, put it on and adjusted it over her modest bustle. As she surveyed the skirt in the mirror, she saw the L-shaped tear on the side. That was why she had put the skirt in the bottom drawer. Bother; well, she would have to take it down to the parlor to mend it later. Maybe she could do that in the evening, if she and Aunt Carrie got home early enough, and if she had enough energy. For now, pins would have to do.

She glanced at the ring again as she sat down to pin up the tear. I wish I hadn’t found it. I wish— She left the thought unfinished.

When she finished pinning together the edges of the torn brocade, she re-examined the torn spot. The repair was noticeable if she looked closely, but it would do well enough. She’d have to be careful about the pins until she got home.

After pulling her hair back into a bun, she stood and made up the bed. She crossed the room and put her hand on the doorknob to go downstairs to start breakfast, but the ring seemed to taunt her from the nightstand. She let her hand drop, returned to where the ring lay, and picked it up again.

I wonder what it would look like if I put it on. But instead she made a tight fist around it and closed her eyes. How proud and happy Phillip had seemed when he held her hand to put the ring on. The very next day he had called on her, and they were going to plan the wedding. But I just had to tell him, didn’t I? I thought he would understand, but no, he just shouted at me and left— The flat, resigned tone in his voice rang in her mind: “You don’t have to tell me what happened next; I can guess.” She could still picture the look of disgust on his face.

But even if he ever forgave her, even if they had somehow mended the breakup and had gone through with the engagement, she knew he would have thrown it up to her later any time he was angry. Of course he was disgusted. Of course he left. She couldn’t blame him. His family would never have understood.

What if he had told others? Who else knew? Certainly she never had. It wasn’t likely anyone had said anything, but she couldn’t be sure. She could never be sure; and so she must never put herself in that situation again; never let anyone know, or have the right to know.

Perhaps he had gone on to marry, and had forgotten her by now. He had left Charleston within a few days of breaking the engagement, and the rumors had filtered back that he was in Natchez working on the riverboats. During the awkward days following the breakup, she had accepted or dodged the condolences from friends and family, the odd looks she thought she saw. Everyone had assumed Phillip and Marie would marry someday; he and she had been promised to each other, even before they themselves were old enough to agree. So naturally, everyone had tried to hide their surprise, but of course they were shocked and curious when Phillip had left.

She sighed as she glanced at the furniture in the room: her dresser, a bed, an old Federal style chair, a stack of books, her Bible on a table next to the narrow bed. She opened her hand and looked at the ring one last time. It wasn’t worth much, if she were to try to pawn it. But that would have to wait; there were too many other things to do today: teach her classes, pay the teachers, spend the evening with Aunt Carrie. And grade her papers. There were always the endless papers.

A thought came to her. If the window would open— she set the ring down, went to the window on the other side of the room and tried to lift the sash. It had been open for most of the summer, before the mosquitoes had gotten too bad, but then she had had to close it again to keep them out.

But even now with cooler weather and fewer rainy days, it seemed stuck in the frame. She held the handle at the bottom of the window and tugged, grunting with the effort, spurred on by the satisfaction of pitching the ring as far as she could, across the garden and over the neighbor’s wall, never to remind her of her past again.

She pulled as best she could, but the window moved only a half-inch or so, and then would not budge further. She looked up at the top window, but it had not been open in at least a year. Perhaps she could drag her wooden chair over and try to pull it down, but that would make too much noise, when Aunt Carrie would be knocking on her door at any minute for them to leave for school anyway.

Ah well. The clock chimed in the hall. It was already too late for breakfast; she would have to make up some tea at school. I’ll sell the stupid thing, she decided, and put it into her pocket. Perhaps she would get a spare half hour when she might speak to the man at the pawn shop.

Why would she keep it, with no one to pass it on to? She sneered to herself at the thought. Pass it on? Who would want it, my children? She smiled cynically. That’s a laugh. I’m about as far back on the shelf as I could be.

* * *

Our Father, Who art in Heaven

Hallowed by Thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

On earth, as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread—

The cadence of childish voices floated in the air as Marie glided through the school hallway toward the rear of the building. Warm afternoon sunshine had begun to stream into the classroom windows, closed against the dirt and noise of the street.

As everyone said “Amen,” Marie saw that the gray-haired teacher, Miss Caroline Duvalier, was trying to lower the awning, and stepped into the room. Aunt Carrie would never be able to move the old crank. Together, they pushed on it, and at last it gave way with a raucous squeak. But at least they did not tear the fragile canvas or break the rusty fitting. Aunt Carrie murmured, “Thank you,” and Marie smiled at her and nodded, then turned to leave the room.

The eight girls in the class were already writing their compositions. They were supposed to be working on an essay about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Marie thought; perhaps she should help grade the papers later. One of the girls, Melissa Harcourt, suppressed a giggle, and the other girls shuffled their feet restlessly. Marie cast a stern glance over the class as a silent rebuke and returned to the hallway, her face flushed from the struggle and the heat of the room. She thought she would ask Aunt Carrie to use the other classroom tomorrow if the heat were this bad.

She descended the stairs and entered her office, confronted with the mass of business papers covering her desk. It would probably take an hour to organize them, and it was already two thirty. She grimaced at the thought of plowing through the stack and shrugged. It could wait until tomorrow.

She closed her door, then sat down and sifted through the mail, looking for money. She found just one promising envelope. When she opened it, her heart sank. A dollar. Three earlier months they had sent five dollars. And hadn’t she just seen that student’s mother wearing a new hat the other day at church? Had they forgotten, or did they just not care? Marie sighed; maybe they remembered when they spotted her after the service. The daughter had tugged at her mother’s sleeve and they had swerved away from her toward the street to start walking home, in the opposite direction from their house on Tradd Street. Ah well, I can’t worry about it now. There was no point in holding a grudge; it wouldn’t help bring the money in any sooner.

She sat down to prepare the teachers’ pay. She took the money box from the locked drawer in her desk, subtracted the dollar from the fifty dollar balance the family owed, then turned to the payroll page. She proceeded to count out greenbacks, one stack for each teacher’s salary. For her own pay, she placed the dollar aside. She could get by on that, if she could pawn Phillip’s ring for a reasonable amount. Five dollars would be about right. She felt for the ring. It was still there; so she put the money into her pocket with it, and stood up. A pin poked her leg, reminding her of her repaired skirt.

Leaning against the desk, she prayed silently. Lord, You know our needs. We have tried to be faithful and do Your will. Please help us keep our school running. Our books are falling apart, our globe is over 20 years old, and the piano is out of tune and some of the strings are missing. When the northern girls leave, how will we—? She left the question unasked.

Her bookkeeping finished, she looked at the remaining money. All the bills for the month, except payroll, were paid. She thought she should write down the improvements the school needed, with their cost, and to this end began to look for a blank piece of paper. But she found nothing but ungraded papers, unanswered letters and miscellaneous notes to herself.

She gave up looking and stepped to the window of her office, curling a stray lock of dark brown hair around her finger. She turned her attention to the street, watching the Federal soldiers and citizens pass the building. Someone had broken the end off the Doctor Frank’s sign across the street, so that it now read “DENTIS.” She shook her head. Each day, the city seemed to deteriorate just a little more; each day, a new corruption scandal erupted, or the legislators in Columbia railed about injustice, and then passed another unjust law that Governor Chamberlain blustered about for a day or so, and then signed; and each day, the northerners and carpetbaggers grew bolder and more wanton in looting the state treasury and confiscating people’s homes and farms and businesses.

She sighed and returned to her desk. She could do nothing about that for now; there were things to work on here before she went home. She didn’t need to write a note; she knew by heart the cost of the work to be done at the school: the globe, the readers, the tuning. The least expensive item was tuning and repairing the piano. Not only would it please Aunt Carrie, the music teacher, but it would greatly relieve Marie, who taught in the next classroom in the mornings. After all, the sour notes were giving them both headaches; she didn’t know how Aunt Carrie could bear to play it.

She shuffled through the stacks of paper, found the order to tune the piano, and stooped to retrieve the money box again—

A knock came at her door. She pushed the stray lock of hair she had been twirling back into the bun, but before she could open the door, the receptionist entered the office instead of knocking again.

“Miss Hutchison, pardon me, but there’s a gentleman here to see the headmistress. He only just arrived. He gave me his card, and a letter of reference.” Jane Andrews held out the papers, her face flushed.

Chapter 2

The card gave a name, Mr. Edward Robert Matthews, and an address in London. The recommendation letter came from Marie’s banker, Mr. LeFavre, and mentioned Mrs. Beech, the mathematics instructor. Marie read:

“I recommend to you the character and person of my acquaintance, Mrs. George Matthews, and also her son, Mr. Edward Robert Matthews...”

Marie found her small mirror under the papers and used it to check her hair. The strand she had been twirling would not stay put, and there was no time to fix it properly. She shoved it into the arrangement as best she could and grimaced as she checked the tear in her skirt; the repair was obvious. But there was nothing she could do about it. Before she left the office, she pinched her cheeks to give them some color, and bit her lips to do the same. With their turned-up corners, she often had to frown to look serious. But seriousness was part of her mien, so one trait contradicted the other.

She stepped into the hall to observe the reception area before meeting Mr. Matthews. He sat on the edge of the worn chair, looking at his watch and glancing out at the street, where his carriage waited. His profile was turned to her; he was well dressed and carried an English bowler. His straight, dark hair was perfectly but plainly cut and styled, parted on one side and falling over his high forehead in wisps, and his well-made black suit showed his trim figure to good advantage. He was medium height, but he would be taller than Marie, as everyone was. He did not wear a beard or sideburns, nor did he maintain a mustache. He seemed to be about 35.

As he turned, Marie saw that he examined the elegant but worn chairs, faded wallpaper and threadbare rug. His face showed determination in its expression, and the shape of his square jaw carried out the impression.

If he studies the furniture too much, he might think the worst— Marie turned to Miss Andrews, “I will speak to him in Miss Duvalier’s office.” She returned the card to Jane to put away.

Miss Andrews nodded and returned to her desk.

Marie glided to the reception area. “Mr. Matthews? I am Miss Marie Hutchison, owner and headmistress of this Academy. How may I serve you?” She extended her hand for a handshake.

Mr. Matthews turned to her, and shook her hand after a slight hesitation. His gaze swept over her. Perhaps he won’t notice the torn skirt if I look him in the eye. She lifted her chin. She, like many of the women she knew, had mastered the art of the cool stare, protecting herself from scorn. She did not use it just yet, keeping that weapon in reserve if it were needed.

But his dark eyes held only respect, and he smiled pleasantly. “I am pleased to meet you, Miss Hutchison, and I am grateful that you could speak with me on such short notice. I should like to discuss my daughter’s admission to your establishment.”

“Of course. Please come with me.” She turned and led the way to Miss Duvalier’s office. “Please be seated, won’t you?”

He seated himself in the plain wooden chair, and Miss Andrews soon brought the tray of tea, smiling beautifully at both Miss Hutchison and the gentleman. After she withdrew, Marie served tea as gracefully as she could. Aunt Carrie, thank you for keeping your desk so neat.

She sat down. “You wish to learn more about my establishment, Mr. Matthews? I have a copy of an advertisement we often use.” He looked over the paper without comment. “How did you hear about us?”

He set the paper down on the desk. “Miss Hutchison, I will be direct. I come to you almost desperate.” He set down his teacup on the chipped saucer and leaned back in the chair. “Oh, I don’t mean in a sinister way, but— it’s just—” He stopped, sat forward and began again. “My daughter’s education is my greatest concern. I’ve had a bit of resistance to enrolling her, because of my history.”

Marie bit the inside of her lip and thought of the Northern girls sitting upstairs in her classrooms.

But her thoughts must have shown on her face, because her visitor added, “The reaction to me is not unique to Charleston. I experienced some of the same reaction in England, but until now Amy has been in the care of a governess. But my history is not Amy’s fault. Not her fault at all.” His voice trailed off and he dropped his gaze to the rug.

“Mr. Matthews, at the risk of shocking some of the people of Charleston, I have accepted Northern girls for the last four years, almost since my school opened. My standing in local society is a bit damaged because of that. But our school is well run, based on strong Christian principles and the highest academic standards. If you have gambling or other dissipation to live down, that is one thing. But your social standing means nothing to me, nor the fact that you are a stranger.”

He suppressed a smile. “It’s not a nefarious background, but it is— well, irregular, perhaps even scandalous. I don’t mean evil— just— to put it plainly, Miss Hutchison, I have been divorced.”

Oh, that is what he meant. Well, it’s a bit irregular, but not terrible. But Marie did not speak. Rather, she began to calculate the benefit of a full tuition, paid in advance and sitting safely in her locked money box. Whoever makes the next move will concede, she thought. So she said nothing, and an awkward silence grew.

Mr. Matthews shifted his position in the wooden chair. “In fact, if you will accept my daughter, I would be willing to pay you for two terms, in advance, to assure you of my sincerity. And of course I would provide Amy with new books of your selection.” He looked directly into Marie’s eyes, his face free of guile or pretense.

Now Marie’s mind worked furiously. She dropped her gaze to the immaculate desk. Tuition for two terms! The globe, the piano, perhaps a box of new readers, we can have them all, this month. Thank You, Lord, Thank You...

But she suddenly stopped, ashamed, and regarded her guest. He’s a person, Marie, not a personal bank account. He was not an English aristocrat. His reference letter had said he was a tradesman— a working man, as Father was a working man. How could she take advantage of him?

She looked into his eyes. “I would be pleased to accept your daughter, Mr. Matthews, upon a satisfactory interview with her. But I wouldn’t hear of taking two terms of tuition from you. It would be highly irregular, or even unethical, for me to take advantage of your distress in that way.”

Mr. Matthews smiled wryly. “But are you not concerned about the other parents? They may be shocked if you admit a divorced man’s child— they may object and withdraw their children.”

“Perhaps. But I doubt it. My students’ parents are refined, but they are working people, like me, and they merely wish their daughters to obtain a genteel education at a fair cost. I do not judge a child by her parent’s actions. I would like to interview your daughter, perhaps tomorrow?”

“You are sure, then?” He looked relieved and smiled slightly.

“Yes. I run my school in an unconventional way, Mr. Matthews. As I have told you, Northern girls are welcome here, as are Southern girls. I wish to see our country reunited again. I suppose, in a small way, I am doing my part to ‘bind up the nation’s wounds,’ as Mr. Lincoln said long ago. But, because of this, my family’s name no longer carries the social weight it once did. I have been ‘cut’ on some occasions. This action on my part will, perhaps, finish the process: I may be dead socially— after a death of a thousand ’cuts.’”

His eyes twinkled. “Perhaps this will be ’the unkindest cut of all,’ Miss Hutchison?” He chuckled at his own joke. “I shall bring my daughter here tomorrow, then, so you can meet her and speak to her. Would one o’clock be all right?”

Marie stood up, and so did her guest. “Yes, one o’clock. Until tomorrow?” She moved to the doorway, then accompanied him to the door. Another handshake, and he went out the door and into the waiting carriage.

Thank You, Lord, You always provide. She smiled when she stood at the desk and counted the remaining money, and added the total to the amount Mr. Matthews would soon give her. It was truly a windfall. She wiped her damp face, feeling her slightly square jaw and her somewhat hollow cheeks. Aunt Carrie might be pleased that they had a little extra cash.

Aunt Carrie. Marie took a deep breath, and wondered how to broach the subject later. I'll have to explain to about the new student. Aunt Carrie’s not going to be pleased at having a divorced man’s daughter at our school.

* * *

Pretending to sort through the papers on her desk, Jane turned away from the door, her face flushed. Mr. Matthews has to be the handsomest man I have ever seen— not that I need a man to make my way in the world! Jane shook her head. What would Victoria Woodhull think of a modern working girl pining away after a man like that?

She tried to concentrate on her work, but Mr. Matthews’ face kept arising in her imagination. She wondered what it would be like to kiss him, then scolded herself. Now stop that, Jane! As a writer, another suitor was the last thing she needed. Still, it might be fun to flirt a little.

She studied the simple white calling card Miss Hutchison had given her to put away, and mentally adjusted her name: Mrs. Edward Robert Matthews— Jane Matthews— yes, that would fit quite nicely. And he was obviously rich, to judge by his carriage’s elegant gold paint and the curried black horse.

She quickly surveyed her black skirt and white blouse. Miss Hutchison made all the teachers wear these dowdy clothes for school, though Jane’s clothing was stylish anyway. Her dressmaker made shirtwaists of fine cotton and the skirts of soft wool, and she wore a modern bustle. She sighed and scolded herself. She should be grateful to have this job, since Northern girls had a hard time finding anything to do in Charleston, unless they worked for the Federal Army or for another Northerner. With so many men out of work, women – Northern and Confederate alike – could hardly find positions.

Besides being outsiders, the Credit Mobilier railroad scandal in Congress had further tainted her father’s employment with the Union Pacific railroad, and the Andrews family’s isolation from Southerners in this Rebel city was nearly complete. Except for the teachers— Caroline Duvalier, Jacqueline Beech, and Marie Hutchison, Jane did not know anyone except Federal soldiers and Northern businessmen. She had no particular disdain for the Southerners, but they certainly did not seem to wish to know her better; she and Papa were closed out of the societal circles the locals frequented.

She checked the time. Another long afternoon. An hour remained before her class in domestic arts would start. She thought with vexation that she was bright enough to teach mathematics, but that intimidating Mrs. Beech taught the class. Maybe Mrs. Beech knew more advanced math, but Jane knew enough to keep ahead of these girls. It was annoying to have to teach only the lowly sewing classes. And as a writer, she certainly could teach English. Still, this job, even as unfulfilling as it was, was better than sitting at home waiting for Papa to come home, and being lonely or bored all the time.

She began sorting through the papers on her desk to be mailed and filed. She kept her desk neat, but Miss Hutchison always put new papers and notes on it for her to put away. Someday she would have a more challenging job; this was only a starting position. The next job would draw on her writing talent. It would be good to leave Charleston behind and catch up with her old friends in Boston, and then make plans to go to New York at last.

She felt her hair, but she knew it was perfectly in place, even with the modern fringe on her forehead and the braids curled around her head. The maid created the arrangement for her each day, and Jane carried herself carefully to keep it in place. She told herself that keeping up with fashion would help her to be taken seriously in the world of work. A girl needed all the advantages she could get, and a fashionable appearance was one ticket to a position as a writer.

The two years here had dragged by. She sighed and glanced at the time again, remembering her interview for the position with Miss Hutchison. Jane had been in Charleston exactly two weeks before setting out to look for a job. Jane’s mother had insisted on teaching her sewing and embroidery, and her mother’s foresight had paid off— the headmistress of the shabby school desired those very skills. Jane had worn her best walking gown, made of dark blue broadcloth, to the interview.

The impressions, more than the exact words, stayed with her. Miss Hutchison wished to hire at least one Northern teacher, to balance the staff of all Confederate women, and add a sewing teacher of above-average skill. Actually, Miss Hutchison’s Confederate friends probably refused to teach here, so the headmistress had been forced to find a Northern teacher. Besides, the Northern parents would feel more comfortable talking to a Northern girl at the front desk, and they might select the school more readily.

The headmistress had been gracious, and open-minded, although as conservative about everything as the Charleston men Papa had brought home.

The one part that lingered in Jane’s conscience was the question about her religious affiliation.

“Are you attending a church nearby, Miss Andrews?” Miss Hutchison had asked.

Jane had blushed a bit before she spoke. “Yes, I am.” She was not a regular churchgoer, and had not yet found a regular church to attend in Charleston. It was a puzzling question; what difference did her religious habits make, anyway?

But there were no other questions in this vein, and her credentials were quite good, so Jane was offered the position and accepted immediately.

Approaching voices roused her. The interview must be over. I wonder if Papa knows who Mr. Matthews is, and why he is in Charleston.

Chapter 3

After supper, Marie stood and sipped tea in the parlor with her aunt. She glanced at the mantel and at the nearby tables, but there was no place nearby to set her teacup down, with all the pictures, knick-knacks, mementos and other belongings. So she returned to the settee, sat down and put her cup on the tea table, the only clear spot in the room. She took a breath rush. “Aunt Carrie, I accepted a new student today. I’ll interview her tomorrow, but I’m sure she will be acceptable— academically.”

Caroline’s brows knit, though she did not look up from her work. “‘Acceptable academically,’ Marie? What do you mean?”

Marie picked up her cup and studied it. “Well, perhaps in other ways as well. But her father has had a minor scandal in England. He was divorced, and I think the other schools turned him down.” She looked at her aunt and the words tumbled out. “But we need the tuition, and he offered to pay in full, in advance.”

With her work resting on her lap, Caroline regarded her niece with a frown. “I suppose if you accepted her, we can admit her, but I would have sent him away with my apology. But it’s done now, so let’s not talk about it any more.” She set her work in the nearby basket and rose, rubbing the small of her back. “I’m a bit tired. Would you excuse me if I retire early?”

Marie stood up, too. “Oh, of course. When you go up, can I bring you anything? Another cup of tea?”

“No, no more tea, thank you. I need to get some sleep, and tea will keep me up.” She moved toward the door, still rubbing her back. “I’d very much like a pitcher of warm water in my room. Would you mind?”

“No, of course not.” Marie kissed Caroline goodnight and clung to her a little. How like Mother she was! “I’ll bring it to you right away.” She retreated to the kitchen, passing through the dim hallway, guarded by old family portraits. The candle flame flickered, disturbed by the drafts coming in from the windows. She had better hurry before the cheap candle burned to its stub.

She restocked the stove with coal, lit a little more kindling, and waited for it to burn hot enough to boil the water. When it was nearly hot enough, she picked up the bucket of water from the floor and poured it into the kettle. How busy the kitchen used to be before the War, with the black servants cooking and cleaning; whatever she needed, the servants provided. Now, she and Auntie did everything. She looked at her hands; they were a little rough, certainly not the soft hands her mother had been so proud of. When the water made the simmering sound, she could bank the coals and take the kettle upstairs, and retire to her own room.

At least they had enough money now to last a month or so! The piano would be completely repaired in time for Amy’s first day--- what a relief! The C above middle C would at last be strung, and the chords might actually sound like Western music instead of Chinese!

When at last the water was ready, she knocked on Caroline’s door and left the pitcher on the floor, then retired to her own room. There was just enough of the candle left to read a short passage.

She sat on her bed with her Bible on her lap, and opened it to Psalm 23. She savored the words, though she had long ago memorized this favorite passage. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want... She and Aunt Carrie were both in want, but she wondered if she had concentrated on what was lacking, and other problems, instead of thanking God for her blessings. Every time she thought she had give up control to Him, she realized she was trying to step in an do everything. Help me depend on you more, Oh Father.

She went on reading, setting the book aside after a troubling phrase: Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. The rod was for correction; she needed that, she was certain! She picked it up again and read through to the reassuring last verse, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. That promise would be fulfilled, if she had the perseverance to try to follow Jesus more diligently, and stop worrying about everything.

She closed the book. Perhaps God would find a way to bring her not only comfort, but peace.

* * *

When Mr. Matthews returned the next day, Jane watched the reception area with interest, touched by Miss Hutchison’s behavior before he came in. The headmistress tried to push her hair into place at the last minute, as if she could repair it with a pat here and there. She obviously never took time with it; she just pulled it back and fastened it tightly with pins. Poor thing, she wants to impress him, even though she’s practically a scarecrow— though her cheeks would make her almost beautiful if she weren’t so thin, Jane thought. Marie’s gray eyes looked tragic in her oval face.

But Miss Matthews— she was as beautiful a child as Jane had ever seen. The little girl gave Jane a quick smile, and there was a moment of mutual admiration between them. What a heartbreaker she’ll be when she grows up. Lucky girl— a rich father, growing up in fashionable London, and as beautiful as she is. Some people have everything!

The school’s custom with prospective new students was to serve hot tea. Without being asked, Jane went to the kitchen to prepare the tea for the adults and a glass of milk for the little girl. When she was finished, Jane took the refreshments to the Miss Duvalier’s office and set them down. Marie’s office was perpetually messy, so she used her aunt’s office for interviews with new students.

She studied the group of people in the small room. Miss Hutchison gave her a quick smile. Jane nodded and left the little office as gracefully as she could. Although, Jane had to admit she had never seen anyone walk as smoothly as Marie Hutchison did. She positively glided. Jane had practiced one day in her room at home, but her shoes had made the same racket either way. Papa had asked what she was doing, so she put off trying for another time.

Marie Hutchison was an odd mix of Southern charm and Northern practicality, which she might have picked up while she was with her father in the New York City. But she would never be as liberated as she might be if she had stayed in the north. Just look at those awful uniforms she made the girls wear— as if they couldn’t think for themselves! Poor Miss Matthews would look terrible in those ugly things.

* * *

For once, Marie wished she were more stylishly dressed, as Miss Andrews seemed to be, while still conforming to the school’s dress code. At least this skirt was in better shape than the repaired one she had worn the day she met him!

And Miss Andrews’ hair! How it stayed so perfectly curled and in place all day, Marie did not know, and could not think of a way to ask. Her own hair was stick-straight, and even a curling iron’s effects were undone quickly on a typical humid Charleston day.

I wish the building were more modern, and that the roof didn’t leak into that one upstairs room— good thing it’s closed off. Anyway, Father can’t afford all the repairs. Thank heavens the man is coming to tune the piano tomorrow. And the tour will be quick, so perhaps they won’t notice the old globes or the worn out books.

She studied the beautiful blue-eyed child sitting at Mr. Matthews’ side. “Would you like a glass of milk?”

“Yes, thank you very much,” Amy said, in her childish British accent, with a warm smile.

What a nice girl she was! After a little small talk about the climate, the interview began.

“First, Miss Matthews, how old are you?”

“Ten,” Amy said.

“And have you attended a school before?”

“No, ma’am, I have had governesses until now. Miss Castle was to come with us, but then she said she didn’t want to come to Charleston, so she stayed home— I don’t know where she went. But she said it was much too hot in America and that she should never survive a summer!”

Stay serious, Marie. “I see. And do you know how to read?”

Amy’s blue eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. “Of course! I’ve been reading for just ages! I even read on the ship in the storm.”

“Ah— good. Now, do you know American history, or only English history?”

“Well Miss Blake and Miss Castle were English, so I know about our kings and Parliament and our dear Queen Victoria. But I’d like to know about America. Everything is so modern here!”

Modern? This old town? But Marie went on to ask Amy about music, sewing, mathematics. She concluded the interview. Amy would do well in each subject. Marie stood and smiled down at her future pupil. “Would you like to take a short tour of the school?”

Amy hopped down from the tall chair with a smile. “Oh, yes, ma’am!”

Marie led them out the door, then showed them through the school’s halls. As they passed each classroom, the guests seemed unenthused, but Marie was confident that the education’s quality would overcome any negative impressions. At least the music classes were completed for the day!

They stopped at the top of the stairs. A classroom door opened and a parade of schoolgirls emerged in single file.

“Oh, Father, look— the girls wear gray uniforms.” Amy’s nose wrinkled.

But Marie immediately spoke up. “Yes, Miss Matthews: students are treated as equals. We do not recognize rank or privilege in our school. Uniforms may seem strange to you at first, but we find that it helps the less wealthy students cope with their lack of finery, while the more well-to-do students think about other things than fashion. Mr. Matthews, I know of a dressmaker who can make these uniforms for Miss Matthews on short notice. I will give you her address if you wish.”

Mr. Matthews nodded, but said nothing.

When they reached the lobby, Mr. Matthews turned to Amy. “Amy, do you wish to start school on Monday?” He looked over at Marie. “Is that all right, Miss Hutchison?”

His daughter turned her gaze away from the girls, who waited in the hallway to be dismissed. “Oh, yes, Father, please!” The girls studied Amy and murmured among themselves, and Cathy DeMonte whispered something funny into Melissa’s ear.

Marie ignored them. “Monday will do nicely, Mr. Matthews.”

“Then I shall bring her here myself on the first day.” He turned to Amy. “After that Nurse will bring you here and collect you at the end of the day. Well, that’s settled, so I’ll bid you good day, Miss Hutchison.”

“Thank you both, and good day to you too,” She watched the carriage roll away on the dusty street.

Thank You, Lord. She went to her office to write the order for new readers. When the tuition money arrived, she could post it. She searched today’s mail; a bill for a forgotten expense; a partial payment for tuition, only a little short of what was actually owed, and the last payment from a former student’s spring term, a debt she thought uncollectible. Ah well, it would be all right. God would provide for them, as He had done so far.

* * *

The Andrews and their guests sat in the brightly-lit dining room of their modern Victorian home, surrounded by dark Queen Anne furniture, fine cabinetry and walnut paneling, and forest green velvet drapes gracing the windows. The servants had cleared the table, leaving only a few china cups and saucers. Mr. Andrews had purchased the set from a local family in a discreet transaction, at a ridiculously low price.

“Papa, do you know a Mr. Matthews? He is an Englishman, and I think he’s here in Charleston on business.” Jane kept her voice casual. Papa didn’t need to know why she was asking.

Papa frowned, his bushy eyebrows knit in concentration. “I’m not sure—”

“He visited the school today. He brought his daughter to enroll her in our school.”

He smiled a little. “Yes— I know who you are talking about.” He leaned back, hooking his thumb in the elegant waistcoat that stretched over his abdomen, his bushy eyebrows arched in surprise. “And why do you want to know who he is, Jane? Another beau? Don’t you have enough of those Union soldiers around here now? I have to push them aside when I come home— it’s all I can do to get through the door.”

Oh well, he had guessed anyway. “Now, Papa, don’t exaggerate. They only come here to see me because there are so few women in this town who will talk to them or entertain them. Can I help it if they want to spend time with me?”

“I’m not exaggerating. But would it please you to know he’s coming to dinner here this week?”

She suppressed a smile and kept from looking at him. “Really? Why did you pretend not to know who he was?” She frowned at him in mock annoyance, but it was impossible to be angry with him now!

He smiled broadly. “Oh, just to tweak you, Jane. You’re getting spoiled with all these men around. You must leave some of them for the other girls.”

“Papa, you know there aren’t many other Northern girls here! And besides, I don’t think the Southern girls want to be friends with our soldiers. I’m one of the few— I don’t understand why they’re so hostile, when we’re here to help them. But anyway, when are we going to go home?”

“I don’t know, but I do know that this Matthews fellow has opened a British trade office in Charleston. He’ll be here for at least the next eight months, and he is very interested in getting railroads rebuilt here in the state. He may be able to help us get our railroad bonds back on the English stock market— his father is very influential in London. He trades in cotton, and their factory desperately needs the goods after the price rise from the blockades. He wants to get railroads built as much as we do.”

Now this was something to look forward to! Charleston might be fun for a change, at least in the next few months. “Well, that might be good for us— for your railroads, I mean, of course. So, is anyone else coming to dinner with him?”

“His banker, Mr. LeFavre, will be coming to discuss the financial situation here and how the bonds could be sold again. But we’ll make time for you, my dear. It won’t be all business talk.”


“Promise. I’ll get Sam to play piano for you after dinner so you can dance in the drawing room.”

“Not only dancing, but discussing politics and problems with the poor, and women’s rights. Remember, I do have a brain!”

“I know, I know. Dorothea Dix is your heroine. But that Victoria Woodhull— she is mad, I believe. Don’t bring up her name, Jane. You’ll chase everyone off if you do.”

“Oh, Papa, there’s no harm in talking about what’s happening in the world, even if they don’t agree with some of the most advanced ideas. Everyone says Englishmen are quite advanced!”

Papa looked skeptical. “Has Charleston been that bad for you, Jane?

“No, not completely bad, I suppose.” She shook her head. “I would like to see some of my old friends in Massachusetts, and work with them to see what progress we could make with the poor and unfortunate. I miss Boston and my friends there. But I won’t complain, if we have someone— some different friends for company.”

He smiled. “I know Charleston is a difficult town to get to know people, Jane. But don’t worry about that. Just enjoy your dinner with your new beau.”
© Copyright 2003 Victoria Earle (vdavisson at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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