Irene saddled Pax. It was nearly unthinkable that she had never been on a horse three years ago, and now, she and Dan rode together almost daily. She had even ridden Pax to Benson several times by herself, although there was rarely a need. If she wanted to pick things up or shop on her own, she took the small wagon to town.
That was another thing. Learning to ride Pax had been thrilling but learning to drive a wagon with multiple horses was altogether different. Having that skill was practical when she needed to shop for school supplies.
She and Pax were headed to where the new school was under construction. It had been a couple of weeks since she had been there, and she was always amazed at the progress the crew had made in between her visits.
The school was quickly outgrowing the ballroom. Luckily, it was Spring now, so some of the classes were held outside.
She recalled the first day of school. There had been lots of talk, but few registrants, so she didn’t really know what to expect in terms of turnout. Everyone was surprised and elated when twenty-one wide-eyed, eager students showed up in the first fifteen minutes.
They were all clean and dressed appropriately. The girls wore colorful skirts and blouses, with ribbons and combs in their hair. The boys were in work trousers and shirts, but they had all been washed and pressed. A lot of them came barefoot but some put on soft moccasin-like shoes once they arrived.
Everyone was excited and cooperative. They were delighted to learn that they were to teach her Spanish while she taught them English.
After the first few days, reports from the children must have been very good because the following Monday, several mothers presented themselves to assist in whatever way they could. Some were in the kitchen with Maria while others helped keep order in the classroom and during breaks when the children either played quietly in the schoolroom or got to play boisterously outside, depending on the weather.
Some of the mothers already spoke English and were happy to take over Maria’s job of translating whenever necessary. Many who spoke Spanish only, listened intently to the lessons, thus beginning to learn, too. They all seemed to have such a thirst for knowledge, mothers and children alike.
After a few weeks, Irene started classes a couple of evenings a week with the men who wished to learn English and to read. Those classes were understandably small. The men worked long hours and had to have permission to leave the ranches in the evenings. As a result, the small group who came were enthusiastic, and they cooperated well, assisting each other in learning.
The ranchers were an opinionated bunch, especially where their children were concerned. It had caused a lot of harangue and if she had not been completely dedicated to and absorbed by the project, she likely would have thrown her hands in the air and given up.
Irene finally had to split the classes. Any child under the age of eight, who hadn’t yet learned to read, came in the morning, whether rancher’s or worker’s children. Any child who spoke English and had already learned to read, came late morning and assisted those who were learning English and Reading. Afternoon students were those more accomplished in reading, now learning Arithmetic.
The new school would have two more teachers, and studies of classic literature, science, history, and geography would be applied as well.
Irene arrived at the new school, surprised to find Dan there, also checking on progress, plans, and overseeing the construction. He was more often out with his men working cattle, but he was excited about the school as well. A corner of their acreage which bordered several other ranches had been carved out for the school and would be more convenient for many of the children.
“What’s new?” she asked Dan, dismounting Pax.
“Kitchen’s going in this week, and even two water closets.”
“Dan Cray, your generosity and dedication to this project is amazing,” she said.
“I’m particularly motivated,” he said, beaming at her. “My wife is the headmistress, you see.”
“Is she now?” Irene teased.
“And a great one at that. She deserves the best when it comes to seeing her project come alive, and I do anything to keep her happy.”
Dan’s generosity truly knew no bounds. He had funded the entire project himself to date. She hoped that, once the new school was complete, she would be able to get it certified and receive government funding, but at this point, it was a longshot, and they had a long way to go before they could even apply.
Irene wrote monthly progress letters which she sent to the State. She knew that by apprising them of the progress of the school periodically, it wouldn’t be an unexpected surprise when she sought State funds for it.
She had held the enrollment to twenty-five, but more teachers and staff, with more buildings, would mean many more could attend. She’d heard from families half-way to Benson that were interested.
The ballroom in the house was large enough to hold three classes at once. The youngest children sat on the floor, crowded around her for language and reading practice. Behind them were the more proficient readers who were picking up English quickly. They worked one-on-one with tutors, or in groups.
The back half of the room was for library work and independent studying. It was also there that the older children met in the afternoons.
It had worked, but she was literally running herself ragged with it all. Bless those sweet madrecitas who came to help.
Near the school, there would also be a boarding house for single teachers, and two abodes for housing teachers with families. A new crew was working on the foundations for the habitations today.
Once she and Dan had toured everything together, they rode back to the ranch. When they arrived, an unfamiliar carriage was out in front of the house.
“Looks like one of the livery rentals,” Dan said. “Must have passed on the main road while we were at the school.”
When they entered the house, a man was waiting for them in the great room. He was wearing a light grey pin-striped suit and held a fine felt derby in his hands. He stood, smiling as they entered.
“Mr. and Mrs. Cray, I presume?” Then, looking at Irene, he said, “You were Irene Brandt?”
Irene nodded, and Dan asked, “And who might you be?”
“I’m James Fredrickson, from the Pinkerton Agency out of Chicago.”
Irene’s heart leapt into her throat.
“How do you do, Mr. Fredrickson,” she said, putting out her hand to shake his. Funny, she realized, how she had adapted to this Western custom.
“Please sit,” she said. “Would you like some tea?”
“I believe it’s already in the works,” he said. “A gracious woman met me at the door and offered me tea.”
“I’ll check on it,” Irene said, but just as she started to step out of the room, Maria was coming with a tea tray.
“Please make yourself comfortable, Mr. Fredrickson,” Dan said.
They all sat as Maria served each of them.
“So, you’re from Chicago?” Irene asked, cautiously excited.
“Yes,” he said. “I was hired by your former attorney, David Anson. You’re a difficult one to track down, Mrs. Cray.”
“I wasn’t of a mind to leave forwarding information when I departed,” Irene said. Easier than telling him she wasn’t sure where she would end up when she departed Chicago.
“Fortunately, we were able to locate a person formerly in the employ of the Brandt household, a Miss Abigail Hurst.”
“Oh, Abby. Yes,” Irene said.
“I could have just sent a telegram or written you a letter, but when I understood all the circumstances under which you left Chicago, I thought you deserved an explanation in person.”
Irene knit her brow, unsure what to expect. “Go on,” she requested.
“Mr. Anson hired me not long after you left Chicago. It seems he had a heart for you, Mrs. Cray, and when he suspected some nefarious dealings, he called me at once.”
“So, then, he wasn’t responsible for what occurred after my father’s death?”
“No, but I believe he felt some guilt after he started suspecting your father’s accountant.”
“One and the same,” he replied. “Apparently, he had a hand in everything, including you losing your fortune.”
“Oh? I thought my father gambled it all away. That is what I was told.”
“Well, your father was a gambler, Mrs. Cray, and he did owe a large sum to some unsavory people. It turns out, however, that it was, in large part, due to some connections that Mr. Sullivan had arranged.”
“When he allowed your father to withdraw his money to repay the men to whom he was indebted, the plan was that they would receive the money and then split it with Mr. Sullivan.”
Dan reached for her hand. From what Irene had told him before, he realized she was about to get an explanation regarding her father’s death.
“There was no intention to kill your father. It is true that the blow to the head that he suffered when he fell was what killed him. There was apparently a struggle for the satchel. Perhaps your father was having second thoughts, so he tried to get away. The men chased him, and he tripped and fell, striking his head on a stair railing.”
He paused for a moment, recognizing that this news would have an impact.
Irene glanced at Dan, and he sat closer and put his arm around her.
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Cray,” Mr. Fredrickson said.
Dan handed her his handkerchief, and she dabbed at her eyes and sniffed.
“Mr. Sullivan was also doing the books for an organized crime family. He had just started working for them and, apparently, in an attempt to ingratiate himself with them, he arranged the loan for your father, and then made the deal with the men who were trying to recover the money.”
Irene shook her head and swallowed at the lump in her throat.
“Fortunately, thanks to Mr. Anson contacting us when he did, we were able to locate both the money and those who were responsible for your father’s death, which extended to Mr. Sullivan.”
“We were unable to recover all of the money, but the two men who met your father that afternoon, as well as Mr. Sullivan, were arrested, tried, and found guilty.”
The lump in Irene’s throat resolved. Some justice, at last. She was going to ask, but Mr. Fredrickson continued.
“They were all given prison sentences,” he said, “the longest one, thirty years to Mr. Sullivan for being a man of public trust while arranging the whole scenario. Not only did the judge pass sentence, but he levied restitution from Sullivan.”
“I believe it was the sale of your home that outraged the judge the most. That was completely unnecessary. He lied about needing the proceeds for other creditors. Since he lost out on his portion of the money taken from your father, he decided to take the proceeds from your home.”
Dan and Irene were both wide-eyed in disbelief.
“The judge felt that you were not only due the money from the sale of your home, but more for your pain and suffering, which must have been horrendous.”
Irene blinked. “I’ve fallen into fortunate circumstances now,” she said. “I can never say that my father’s death was warranted, but I likely would never have left Chicago and met this wonderful man,” she said, looking over, and smiling warmly at Dan. “The whole thing has changed me immensely, and for the better, I believe.”
“I understand, but perhaps this will help,” Fredrickson said, pulling an envelope from his inner coat pocket. “I understand you have created something extraordinary here, and perhaps this will give your project a boost.”
She opened the envelope to find a check for two thousand, one hundred dollars. She looked up, startled. “This is much, much more than the proceeds from the house.”
“Yes,” he said. “It seems that Mr. Sullivan had profited handsomely from his dealings in crime, so the judge decided he should forfeit all of it to you.”
She held Dan’s handkerchief to her face now and cried, tears of sorrow for her father but also tears of relief that she now knew the truth.
She would also send some of the money to Abigail—the woman who had guided her and been such a friend, who was displaced by all the events. Even though Irene had found her a good situation, she was owed much more.
Dan took her to him and held her for a few seconds, until Fredrickson stood.
“I hope this was somewhat of a satisfying end for you,” he said.
Irene nodded through her tears then stood, holding out her hand again to shake his. “It is an immense relief,” she said.
“I should be going,” he said. “I would like to be back in San Antonio this evening.”
“When does your train leave?” Dan asked him.
“Not for a couple of days,” he said.
“Allow me to make some recommendations for places to stay in San Antonio, and some sights you might not want to miss.”
“That would be very kind of you, Mr. Cray.”
Dan wrote down some information for him, then they saw him to the door. They stood in the outside entryway.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Fredrickson, for pursuing and resolving this matter. What do we owe you and your agency?”
Fredrickson put up his hands. “Nothing, nothing at all. Mr. Anson paid for our services.”
“I’m sorry it has taken so long,” he said. “The investigation was concluded fairly quickly but waiting on the Illinois justice system took a long time.”
“We’re grateful for the outcome, all the way around,” Dan said.
“We certainly are,” Irene said. “I also appreciate that you came in person.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said, then he tipped his hat and walked toward the livery carriage.
Irene turned to Dan, her eyes still bright with tears. “It seems Mr. Anson was the opposite of Mr. Jacobsen.”
“And Jacobsen was as nefarious as Sullivan.”
After a few moments of silence, he said, “All good things come to those who wait.”
“And everything in its own season,” she responded.
They stood with arms around each other’s waist and waved as Mr. Fredrickson drove down the road.
“It will be sunset soon,” Dan said. “Would you like to ride out to the ridge and watch it?”
“I would love it,” she said. “We haven’t done that for quite a while. The moon should rise late, so perhaps we can also get an even better view of the Milky Way.”
“The best,” he said, “just like the night you arrived.”
Readers who read this book also liked...