May 12, 1896
“I don’t give a damn,” I said to Edith, “if Penelope was behind what happened to Jenny.”
We sat in our basement room at Primrose Hall. Edith was struggling to compose her essay for the impending school board assembly. Our conversation had taken a turn toward the strife at Carrington Manor, without either of us paying much mind.
“You should,” Edith replied, “you could be next if Lucy is any indication.”
“Are you forgetting Lucy is the one who set up Penelope?”
“Just because she is stupid does not make her wrong.”
“Penelope is many things, and complicated at them, but she is also a Primrose Girl and it means more to her than it ever will to Lucy.”
“I don’t trust her.” Edith bore a somber expression.
“Nor do I.” I replied stifling a yawn.
“Still not sleeping well?” Edith enquired with a touch of concern.
“No. The nightmare has changed but that same girl is always there.”
I deliberately left out the part about Penelope swinging on a noose while the three of us knelt in the grass. That part never changed nor did the pain I felt at seeing it. Somewhere, rooted deep in my psyche, lay the devout and inescapable belief, Penelope is more friend than foe.
“How has it changed?” Edith asked, curiosity dripping from her expression like sweat.
“It is no longer at night and there are a lot more people around.”
“That does not sound as frightening.”
“The people are fighting and some are dying.”
“Oh.” She said biting at her lip, “You have not been reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, have you?”
“Never mind.” She said, clearly embarrassed.
I decided to be kind and not press for an explanation.
“We should return to your essay.” I said.
Edith looked a little annoyed at my reminder but instead of saying anything she returned her attention to the page in front of her.
I, for my part, remained quiet whilst she wrote. My thoughts turned to our impending meeting with the three young men who share in Edith’s responsibility of writing for the school board.
Edith had hoped Penelope would be grateful enough to impose upon Remington and arrange a meeting. Unsurprisingly to me, she was not. After all, this was the same man who had goaded her into a public argument which had led to a public whipping for poor Penelope. Were I in her shoes I would not deign to acknowledge his existence either.
Instead, I arranged our meeting through Jonathon. I had blushed fiercely on standing face to face with him, but he pointedly ignored our embarrassing crossing of paths while Edith and I had been cursed with the most humiliating walk of shame.
“What business do you have with them?” He asked.
“If I say and you do not approve will you still arrange it?” I asked.
“Without knowing, I cannot say.”
“Then perhaps it is better you do not know.”
“Perhaps, but should I in good conscience arrange that which I am opposed or likely to be opposed, for one cannot be certain in this ambiguity?”
“You must let your conscience guide you as always it should. Our intentions are not criminal in nature. We only wish to provide a united front to the school board so as to bring this debate to an end.”
“Yes, but to what end.”
“May I enquire as to your reasoning on the matter?”
“You may not.” He stood firm.
I bit nervously at my lip while wavering between telling the whole truth and leaving it to his imagination. In the end I decided his imagination could only do worse than the truth.
“We wish to cajole them into joining us in cohesive support of the proposal.”
“My understanding is their respective experiences in Ms. Maple's classroom hardly leant themselves toward opposition.”
“Undoubtedly not, however their supportive essays, depending on content, may be weighted in non-pertinent details which may have the opposite effect of their intentions. We wish to help avoid that miscommunication.”
“Surely, there are other tasks better suited to your wisdom?”
“None so important or prominent. Will you assist us?”
I nodded my head curtly and started to walk away.
“You surrender too easily, Miss Bassett.”
I turned to face him again. I could not decide between anger or embarrassment so I remained neutral.
“It is not surrender to move on. If you will not help, there are others who still may. I have no time for games and even less of a desire to play them.”
“I am not playing. You are embarking on a journey far more dangerous than you know.”
“Should I cower in fear of the unknown?”
“You should tread carefully.”
“Sound advice in the best of times. Fear not, I will heed it always.”
I turned away again.
I stopped but did not turn.
“I will arrange the meeting.”
I smiled but let it fade before I turned to face him once more.
“You said you would not help?”
“I am not. I am arranging a meeting, nothing more. What you do from there is your business, but I caution you to think beyond the immediacy to the farther reaching repercussions. You may find in time that the right course today will lead down the wrong path for tomorrow.”
“Perhaps, but perhaps we are not solely at the mercy of the wind.”
“My father will most definitely appreciate you.”
I smiled daydreaming for a moment. No doubt the day will never come to learn of his approval for myself. Still, it is a nice dream for any moment.
“Elizabeth.” Edith said, calling me back to the here and now.
“They are on the steps.” She pointed out our tiny window.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“No, but I doubt I ever will be.”
“We should go.”
On the front steps of Primrose Hall we met as arranged. Jonathon stood to one side and introduced us all.
“Ladies, may I introduce Mr. Davis, Mr. Garrison, and Mr. Smith.”
They each nodded in turn. The one called ‘Smith’ seemed more uneasy than his companions. His eyes shifted from Edith to myself and back. Mr. Davis could hardly take his eyes off Edith and somehow his tussled hair and wrinkled suit gave him a distinguished look of unparalleled confidence. Mr. Garrison had the same reserved air of Jonathon while looking nothing like him. His short, stocky frame felt a contradiction to his style.
“Gentlemen, Miss Elizabeth Bassett and Miss Edith Bowen.” Jonathon completed the introductions.
Edith and I curtseyed in turn.
Edith seemed a touch flustered under the scrutiny of the three men. No doubt memories of her previous encounter with them were not helping but I also recalled her long standing reputation for getting her tongue tied in relations with young men.
I took the lead.
“Such a lovely day, we should walk as we discuss matters.”
No one objected. The three young men gathered around Edith, each offering her their arm as escort. She chose Mr. Davis, I would have as well. Fortunately, I had Jonathon to escort me and was not trapped with choosing the lesser of evils.
Mr. Smith chose our direction and we began a slow procession.
“What matters are we gathered to discuss?” Mr. Garrison enquired.
Edith remained quiet and still clearly flustered.
“The impending meeting of the school board.” I replied.
Mr. Garrison and Smith each eyed me. Jonathon tensed beside me.
“What business is it of yours?” Smith asked.
“Perhaps none, but the matter before it will effect us all.” I said.
“Indeed it will, but you have nothing to fear from the outcome.” Smith said visibly relaxing.
“You sound as though you know the outcome all ready.” Edith finally spoke.
“Mr. Uh, Smith, is of the opinion our words are of no consequence to the board.” Mr. Davis said.
I noted the pause before addressing ‘Smith’ and surmised my initial reaction to him was correct. He was no more ‘Smith’ than I am a Queen.
“I do enjoy the dance, but perhaps we should get to the point.” Mr. Garrison said.
Our footsteps were carrying us into a field of purple lavender in bloom. In the distance I could hear the soft sound of water crashing against sand and rock. The place seemed eerily familiar but I could not place it.
“Yes, the point is we wish to present a cohesive front in opinion on the matter to the board.” Edith said.
“I surmised as much, but what opinion do you wish to promote?” Smith asked.
Edith was about to reply, but sensing Smith’s opposition I interjected myself and hoped Edith would trust me enough to play along.
“The proposal is ludicrous of course. We must convince the board such actions will only serve to harm both schools and the students.” I said.
Edith covered her surprise well but still managed to glare at me. I could only hope our recent friendship was strong enough in trust that she would let me explain in privacy later.
“I was under the impression this was your idea, Miss Bowen.” Mr. Smith asked, putting Edith on the spot.
My breath caught in my throat and time stood still as I feared Edith’s reply.
“I made a comment which was taken out of context and then construed into an argument for that which I cannot and do not support.” Edith replied.
I breathed again.
“You have nothing to fear, the board will not follow through with this poorly conceived idea.” Smith replied.
“How can you be certain?” I asked.
“I for one am not certain of any outcome and I still strongly favor the proposal.” Mr. Garrison said.
“You opinion is worthless, the school board has only done what it had to do in order to raise tuitions and spur new infusions of alumni donations. A brilliant plan all told except for the obvious stress it has placed on these young ladies.” Smith said.
“We would be most curious as to know what precisely you plan to say to the board on these matters?”
“My words are my own and you will learn of them at the meeting and not a moment before.”
“If your views are as straightforward as you claim, I see no reason for you to cower in secrecy.” Jonathon spoke for the first time since introducing us.
“I will not be goaded by the likes of you.” Smith replied turning to Jonathon.
“Keep your secrets then.” Jonathon replied.
Smith looked around at all of us. It was clear he did not trust our intentions.
“I think we have nothing left to discuss.” Smith said and turned to walk away.
“I will happily share what I have but do not think I will be persuaded from my position.” Mr. Garrison said.
“I would not wish to persuade you from your position, only the logic behind your argument.” Edith said.
“What do you mean?” Mr. Davis asked.
“How do you stand?” Edith asked.
“With Mr. Garrison. Times are changing and Brown must do so as well.” He replied.
“Good.” Edith said. “The school board will weight your opinion much higher than my own. Tell me what focus your essays have, what reasoned logic supports your views?”
The two men looked at each other.
“You played Smith a fool?” Mr. Davis asked.
“He is no more Smith than I would oppose my own measure.” Edith replied.
Davis and Garrison smiled.
“Meet us at the library tomorrow at noon and we will bring our essays.” Garrison said.
“I will be there.” Edith replied with a smile of her own.
We came to the edge of the field of lavender. Just before us stood a lone tree in the grass. I shuddered as the place’s familiarity crystallized.
I have never before walked in this place but it was the one from my dream of Penelope. Thunder roared in the distance and a flash of lightning revealed her dangling form, swinging on a noose.
"Elizabeth." Jonathon called to me as though from a hundred miles away instead of right beside me.