The Return (Part Two)

January 12, 1897
Sarah Waters

We had huddled together with our blankets wrapped tightly around us through the cold night while the barn walls creaked and the wind whistled passed. Dawn was a long time in coming but it did come and as the first rays of light shone through the cracks in wooden walls around us, I could see the relief on the other girls’ faces and knew it was mirrored on my own. I rose and stretched and opened the barn door to the outside world wondering what havoc awaited us, but there was only sunlight glistening over fresh snow like rays of hope guiding us into a new day.

Edith roused the few girls who had managed to find solace in sleep through the night or simply succumbed to exhaustion in the pre-dawn hours. I grabbed a shovel and began the hard work of clearing a path from the door to the street. Anna joined me much to my surprise and then several others did as well although not the likes of Penelope Sumter or Emma Chesterfield. I guess hard work is just too hard when sitting on a pedestal and trying to keep an imaginary crown from falling off your head.

With all the help, the path was cleared in less than an hour and just in time for the local sheriff to arrive. He had brought along some help and looked a bit surprised that we had already cleared our own path. The women in this town must be smart, allowing the men to do all the backbreaking work while they wait inside the warm kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee. If I had only known, I would have made coffee and waited for the chivalrous men to clear us out.

The sheriff walked passed us with only a tip of his hat and a mumbled greeting. It was clear he was looking for Edith as he stepped inside the barn. I followed mostly out of curiosity but also because I had agreed to stick around until the situation for the other girls was made clear. I think Anna would have just left them were she on her own, but I have a sense of responsibility for them, misplaced as it might be, but I am not one to just turn my back and walk away.

“Good morning. I see you ladies made it through the night.” The sheriff said.

“We endured as we always do. Have you any word from Primrose College or Carrington Manor?” Edith replied.

“We got through to Providence but your school is closed up. I’m told to get you ladies on trains home and you’ll receive word from Primrose College when you can come back.” The sheriff said.

“Are you saying Primrose College has been shut down?” I asked.

My question startled the sheriff and Edith scowled at me, but having overheard it all, I could not simply stand by quietly.

“That is what I’ve been told.” The sheriff replied.

“Was there any reason given?” Edith asked.

“I’m sorry. All I know is they want me to send all you ladies home.” The sheriff said.

“That does not make any sense.” Edith said.

“Excuse me, but who are ‘they’?” I asked.

The sheriff blinked at me like I had slapped him.

“Pardon me?” He said.

“These people who are telling you the school is closed and we need to be sent home. Who are they?” I asked.

“It was an expression Miss… Who are you anyway?”

“Miss Waters. Expression or not, you have been communicating with someone or is it you that wants us to go home?”

“I don’t much like your tone, Miss Waters.”

“I don’t much like you not answering my question.”

“Miss Waters, please. I will handle this.” Edith said.

“Handle it however you like. I just want to know who is telling the sheriff here to send us home.”

The sheriff was bristling with anger but oddly enough he remained silent. The idea that Primrose College would have closed without any notice to us, the students, seemed ludicrous at best. It is not that I suspect the sheriff of having ulterior motives but I think it is safe to assume whomever he has been speaking with does.

For Edith’s sake, I decided to walk away. I am certain the sheriff was not going to be forthcoming with the information I sought and quite probably the name he was withholding would mean nothing to me in any case. The people who pull the strings like Mr. Parker tend to do so from a distance so as to escape notice, but I notice them and unless I am wrong, so did my father.

The air outside was lighter and I breathed easier having left the mystery of Primrose’s closure in Edith’s hands. I decided I would not be turning back without finding out for myself if the sheriff was telling the truth.

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