Chapter 3

1556 Words
Chapter 3 Week 3, Instructor Calendar, February 1896 “At least the freshmen won’t have to hunt for their gloves,” Miss Pomeroy remarked cheerfully. Gertrude Pomeroy, a classical languages instructor, inevitably found a sunny side. She didn’t look very professorial, though, with her fluffy hair, round baby face, and chubby cheeks. Her wire-rimmed eyeglasses were all that saved her from looking like a china doll instead of a professor. The faculty had assembled in the front parlor of DeLacey House, the women’s residence for senior faculty and administrators, to discuss how to respond to the chapel incident. DeLacey House had been named after a generous patron of the college’s early expansion project. The building was not only a residence; it accommodated students and guests for those college events customarily held by the lady principal. The Saturday afternoon string quartet, for example, was a favorite on campus. The parlor fire had been hastily stoked, but the heat had not really penetrated the chill. Concordia rubbed her hands together in an attempt to warm them, and looked around the room. The interior décor was decidedly formal, with tall paneled ceilings, several upholstered settees and chairs in dark velvet, and a grand piano in the corner. The faded draperies were the only discordant note in the room. Most ladies would never have allowed their draperies to get in such a state. But the college’s finances were tight enough, she knew. As Concordia continued idly looking around her, she noticed that both President Richter and Ruth Lyman, the college’s bursar, were missing from the group. She knew that Miss Lyman was a chronic over-sleeper and would be happy to have missed the drama, but she wondered at President Richter not being here, or at chapel, this morning. That was unusual. Concordia glanced at Miss Hamilton. She, too, was new to the college this year. Tall and angular, with hazel eyes and graying blond hair pulled back at the nape, she exuded a calm, effortless authority, born of her years as headmistress of a prestigious girls’ academy. Immediately after the chapel discovery, Miss Hamilton had quickly squelched what she termed “an indecorous display of hysterics,” and sent the girls back to their cottages in the charge of the resident matrons. No doubt Miss Hamilton was accustomed to curbing similar indecorous displays in her former post, Concordia thought. Yet she thought it unlikely Miss Hamilton had ever encountered a likeness of herself impaled on the end of a knife. Sitting next to Miss Hamilton was Edward Langdon, the dean. He matched the lady principal’s calm demeanor, although not her dignified air. He was a large man, with a decided paunch that bulged his jacket and strained the buttons. Miss Hamilton looked over at the dean, who stood and waited for silence. “We have directed the custodian to clean up the chapel,” he said. “The head teacher from each cottage will return the gloves.” “What about those…figures?” Miss Bellini asked. She was a petite woman, with dark hair and eyes, a beautifully fashioned nose completing the classic Roman features of her face. Today, she sat huddled into her shawl. Her usual olive complexion had taken on a sallow tinge. “I will be keeping those,” Miss Hamilton answered. “Perhaps there is some information to be gleaned from them.” Dean Langdon continued. “Resuming our schedule quickly will serve to diminish the pranksters’ satisfaction. I know that you ladies tend to dwell on such drama,” he smiled, oblivious to the scornful looks sent his way, “but we cannot allow this to—” “I grant you, Mr. Langdon, that some of our students may derive some thrill from this event,” Concordia interrupted, ignoring Miss Hamilton’s warning frown, “however, that should be ascribed to their immaturity, rather than their gender. The prank is disturbing, to say the least. Did you not notice the violence of feeling expressed toward Miss Hamilton?” Concordia dropped her eyes and self-consciously smoothed back a loose strand of hair. Drat, she was in for it now. Dean Langdon looked only mildly surprised. “Miss…?” “Wells,” she answered. The man still didn’t know her name? She’d been here for months. “Yes, Miss Wells, I intended no insult, my dear, I was merely inserting a bit of humor into the meeting.” A very little bit of humor, Concordia thought. She adjusted the spectacles sliding down her nose. “Miss Hamilton, President Richter, and I will see to disciplining the offenders.” The dean looked over at Miss Hamilton. “No word yet from Arthur?” She shook her head. “Well, ladies,” Dean Langdon said, gathering up his coat, “I must attend to a few things. I’ll leave you to figure out the schedule.” With a little bow, he left. Miss Bellini sniffed in disdain. “’Dwelling on drama’ indeed. Pah! Men!” Concordia smothered a laugh. “We have no time for personal animosities, Miss Bellini,” the lady principal chided. “There are plans to be made.” Lucia Bellini flushed in annoyance. Miss Pomeroy spoke up in her high-pitched voice. “Of course, Miss Hamilton, the presence of the knife is disturbing, but otherwise it seems to be a harmless…” “Harmless? Have you taken leave of your senses, Gertrude?” Miss Cowles, the librarian, interrupted. Her long, thin nose quivered. “Unbalanced minds are at work here.” Several teachers exchanged anxious glances. “Where is the bursar? Is she ill?” one teacher asked. Miss Hamilton pursed her lips in disapproval. “Perhaps, although I wasn’t notified. I’ll check on Miss Lyman shortly. At the moment, we must decide upon our course of action.” “Perhaps each teacher should question the residents of her house,” Concordia offered. “After all, the girls in question would not only have needed to sneak into freshmen bedrooms, they would have had to slip out of their cottages, travel across the grounds, get into the chapel, and then return without being detected. Someone must have noticed something unusual.” Miss Hamilton nodded in approval. Miss Bellini added, “Those dolls – they would take time to make, would they not? Perhaps other girls may have noticed a bit of the sewing, even if they did not understand the significance of it back then?” Miss Hamilton nodded again. “Very well. But I would suggest that we make it a casual, less intimidating sort of enquiry. Approach students with whom you have an established relationship of trust. We shall proceed from there.” The gathering broke up soon thereafter, with the decision to resume classes in the afternoon. The lady principal urged the faculty to stay vigilant. “Any violation of the ten o’clock rule should be swiftly dealt with.” Concordia put on her jacket and tried to slip out with the other teachers when Miss Hamilton called to her. “Miss Wells, a moment please.” Concordia, pausing, saw sympathetic glances cast her way as the others left. “Let us go to my office,” Miss Hamilton said, shrugging on a finely tailored jacket of antique gold, with bronze velvet facing on the lapels to match her skirt. It made Concordia’s own knobby blue wool, which she considered quite smart-looking when she bought it last year, seem dowdy by comparison. They stepped out the door to a temperate February day, especially welcome after the bone-chilling temperatures of last night. Concordia appreciatively breathed in the sharp scent of damp earth, a promise of spring to the winter-weary. The lady principal set a brisk and nimble pace. Concordia, more diminutive in build, struggled to keep up with her longer strides, and dodged the melting snow piles edging the path with considerably less grace. Her view more often than not was that of Miss Hamilton’s tall, straight back as she fell behind. They were approaching Founder’s Hall, a two-winged brick structure which housed the library, study rooms, a faculty lounge, and offices. Known simply on campus as “the Hall,” it was as old as the chapel and constructed in the same gabled, vaulted Gothic style. The college had quickly outgrown the Hall’s early purpose as a classroom building and had to construct another, as well as a badly needed larger dining hall. These buildings formed an open quadrangle that was the heart of the campus. There was a pond on the far side of the building cluster, a favorite for skating parties this time of year. Although perhaps not for long, she thought, glancing at the warning ropes strung across one section of the pond, where the ice had softened. Concordia loved the blend of old and new on the campus, the two-fold sense of legacy and progress. It was a small college by most standards, with three hundred current students, approximately half of whom lived in the six residential cottages, with the rest traveling daily from town by street rail. Yet the school boasted many of the same modern comforts as the larger women’s colleges in the region, such as upgraded electric lights and steam heat. The school also claimed a roster of esteemed professors among its faculty, particularly in the subjects of physics and moral philosophy. She was fortunate to be teaching here. Concordia was so preoccupied that she nearly collided with Miss Hamilton, who had finally stopped beside the door to the Hall. Fortunately, that lady seemed equally distracted, as she checked her watch. “Oh, dear, it’s later than I thought.” Miss Hamilton shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t have time today, Miss Wells, but there are matters that I wish to discuss at our earliest opportunity. I have a task in mind for you. You are finished with classes as of three o’clock tomorrow, I believe?” Concordia nodded. How the lady principal managed to keep the schedules of three dozen faculty members in mind was a feat she could not contemplate. There were times when she had difficulty remembering what day of the week it was. “Splendid. Three o’clock tomorrow, in my office, if you please,” Miss Hamilton said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for an appointment.” As Concordia watched her hurry inside, she wondered what the lady principal could possibly want her to do.
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