While Fawn and Nana talked about furnishings for the new house Angel sat in the office section of the barn at the Browning residence. She was not alone.
The oak chair in which she sat creaked as she sat hunched over her father’s ledgers. The entry that caught her attention was for an account labeled “Jackson Holdings.” The beginning balance figure was astounding. How was it that a poor farmer in a hovel of a house could have such a large sum of money? Was Fawn holding out on her? Either Fawn was very good at keeping things close, or she was not as naive as Angel had always believed, or, and this was probably the truth: the poor ninny had no idea how well off she really was. All the better for Angel. She turned the ledger toward her companion.
Her companion stroked his neatly trimmed beard. “Interesting,” was his only response.
“This explains a few things,” Angel considered. “This is why my father is always giving the Jacksons nice things. It’s their money, not his. I have misconstrued everything. Oh, well. It doesn’t change my plans. Is everything ready?”
Her companion leaned his chair back against a wooden supporting beam. He re-positioned the toothpick in his mouth and spoke around it.
“Just a few loose ends to tie up to avoid complications. Some of that is being done as we speak. Once that’s done, we are set to move. Just don’t try to double cross me. You think you hold all the cards, but I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.”
Angel didn’t blink. She reached across the table, grabbed his wrist, and said, “You think you do. You may think I’m a wild, crazy, brazen harlot, but there’s more to me than that. It is you who had better think twice about stabbing me in the back.” Her next words were spoken through clenched jaws: “I’m not fragile and I don’t break.”
A nicer-than-average brougham pulled up in the yard of the Gardner’s house. The driver looked around and noticed the well-kept yard, vegetable garden, and white wrought iron table and chairs. A hand-carved oak plank hung from a tulip tree by two long lengths of rope. He nodded his head in appreciation. But what really caught his eye was Fawn Jackson playing ring-around-the-rosey with two young girls. They were far enough away, and making enough noise they probably had not heard the plodding of the horses nor the wheels of the carriage. He remained where he sat for some moments, considering the report he would take back to Pipestem.
At length he dismounted the conveyance and approached the front door of the neat two-story farm house. His hand was poised to knock when the door was hastily opened from the inside, Jason Gardner nearly running into him.
Jason took a quick step back as he asked, “May I help you?” It took mere seconds for him to notice the sheen of the sleek black slicker, obviously well cared for. The man’s hat sat perfectly atop a thatch of dark brown hair, neatly trimmed in front while long enough to just touch the shirt collar in the back. The back hair curled slightly below the visitor’s ears.
“Begging your pardon, sir. My name is Justin Forbes. I was told that Miss Fawn Jackson is temporarily housed here.” He removed his hat and held it in his two hands in front of him.
“May I ask the nature of your business with Miss Jackson?” Jason wasn’t about to divulge any information without a good reason.
“Mr. Wiley, the minister of our town, sent me with a message for the young lady. I have not read the letter, but was given to understand that the people of the town are ready to accept Miss Jackson as their teacher.”
Nana took one step at a time as she came down the stairs. “I heard voices and Fawn’s name,” she said.
Ellen rose from her seat as did the visitor. “Indeed you did, Nana. This gentleman is Mr. Forbes. He has come with a letter for Fawn. She. . .”
Jason and Fawn came in at that moment. They both stopped in front of Mr. Forbes. Melanie and Sarah Beth were told to stay outside and play. Mr. Forbes handed Fawn the letter. “I am supposed to wait for a reply,” he said.
Fawn opened the letter as Nana, Jason, and Ellen gathered around her. She read in silence, then handed the letter to Nana. “What should I do?”
Nana sat in the rocker behind her. She read slowly while it seemed the other family members held their breaths. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she handed the letter to Ellen. “What do you think?” she asked her closest friend.
Ellen read the letter and looked at the young man who had brought it. “Excuse us for just a few moments, please. We need to discuss this.”
The two women and Jason exited to the kitchen and sat at the table, the letter face up on that piece of furniture. Nana spoke first.
“Fawn, you need a job. We got ta have money for food and rent. I know ya want to stay here. I know yer worried about leavin’ me. But this would be good for ya, too.”
“But Nana,” Fawn started.
Ellen looked between the two and saw Nana’s set jaw. “Nana, you are most welcome to stay here. . .”