The Right Priorities

November 22, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

“The sheriff says it was an accident.” Penelope said.

We were walking past the still smoldering remains of what had one been Union Station of Providence, Rhode Island. The air remained hazy and smelled of wood and oil. I could not take my eyes from the charred ashes and images of Sarah surrounded by flames invaded my thoughts for what must have been the tenth time since I had heard the news.

“I believe Sarah.” I said.

“I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. I am wondering why the sheriff would lie.” Penelope replied.

The question was a good one indeed. Edith had told me he was a man to be trusted, but the evidence at hand suggested he was either inept at his job or lying. Neither possibility is flattering for the sheriff nor do they inspire confidence in him.

“There are only two reasons men lie; to benefit themselves or to benefit someone they care about.” I said.

“Unless he started the fire himself I don’t see what benefit befalls him for lying.”

“Unfortunately, men like that Mr. Parker make finding the benefits harder because they introduce greed and coercion into the equation.”

“I think we should try to find out the truth.” Penelope said.

“To what end?” I asked.

“For the same reason we attend Primrose.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Knowledge is power, Lizzie. The more we know about the sheriff and his weaknesses the better off we’ll be.”

“You almost sound as ruthless as Rockefeller.” I said.

Penelope giggled.

“How would you know?” She asked with a smile.

Before I could answer we were interrupted by the obnoxious honking of Mr. Sumter’s horn. We spun around to the street to find him sitting in his automobile waving at us. I smiled and waved back.

“Miss Bassett, Penelope, I’ve been looking for you.” He said.

We stepped to the side of the auto.

“Unless I’m mistaken you seem to have found us.” I said.

Wilbur donned a lopsided grin and beckoned us to get in.

“That I have. Come on, I want to talk to you both.” He said.

We climbed aboard and he sped off toward his apartment. Twenty minutes later we were sitting in his living room sipping hot tea. Mr. Sumter alternated between sitting down and pacing the floor while scratching his chin.

“You’re nervous about something.” Penelope said.

“No.” He replied.

“Then sit down and tell us why we are here.” Penelope said.

He looked at her for a moment and then decided to stand still rather than sit.

“Have you come to Primrose College to be educated or to become social activists?” He asked.
Penelope and I shared a confused look.

“I think perhaps this is a conversation you should be having alone with your sister.” I said.

“No, I’ve come to realize you and my sister are intertwined in matters.”

“I am my own person, Wilbur.” Penelope stated.

“I am not going to argue the point. There is an obvious connection between the two of you and it is straying toward the dangerous.”

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

“Because this town and your college are a powder keg and you are playing with matches.” He said.

“I can’t speak for Lizzie, but I’m here to learn.” Penelope said.

“The problem is once you learn the difference between right and wrong, you can’t pretend you don’t notice the difference.” I said.

“Did you ever consider the problem might be that you have learned just enough to be dangerous and not enough to be wise?” Mr. Sumter asked.

“What are you saying?” Penelope asked.

“Only that you have a very narrow view of right and wrong. Before you go judging how things should be maybe you should learn more about why things are the way they are.” He said.

“So you want us to focus on our studies?” I said.

“Yes.” He replied.

“I realize it might have escaped you, but I don’t answer to you, Mr. Sumter.” I said.

“True enough, but Penelope does.”

“What does that mean?” Penelope said.

“It means that one way or another the two of you are going stop messing around with those feminists and start focusing on your studies.” He said.

“You can’t make me do anything Mr. Sumter.” I said.

“I can punish Penelope for your indiscretions as well as her own.” He said.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Penelope shouted.

“I would and will.” He replied.

“Not only is that cruel, it is unfair.” I said.

“You could always agree to cooperate and accept punishment for your own indiscretions.” He said.

“What makes you think I care?” I asked.

“You’re still here.” He replied.

1 comment:

sinfullyanon said...

I'm really enjoying dropping in here and reading up.

Cheers to you..
..good writing & reading.

(I linked your blog to mine. Hope
you don't mind. see: "reads" in my profile page.)