“All right, class,” Miss Andrews said, closing her arithmetic for the last time this year. “You’ve all done very well. Have a pleasant summer, and I’ll see you all back here in September.”
There was a sound like subdued thunder as two dozen pairs of bare feet scampered down the aisle of the one-room schoolhouse and out the door. Lizzie Andrews smiled faintly as the last child disappeared. Lizzie could remember those days, when summer stretched before her like a carpet of green velvet, dotted with wildflowers, strewn with long, pleasant days to boat on the lake, play croquet, gossip with her friends as she paid calls to the various “cottages” in Newport (cottages? They were bigger than some castles), and dance the nights away with a parade of eligible gentlemen.
Lizzie sighed, her mouth tightening as she remembered the reality. For a moment, she looked much older than her 22 years, but then, the last year had been enough to age anyone. Her father had speculated on a gold mine in South America and had lost—everything, not only his private fortune but all the money from clients whose money he’d managed. He’d come home, locked himself in the library, and put a bullet through his head. Lizzie’s mother had suffered a complete breakdown and was now in a sanitarium. Lizzie had been left with little more than the clothes she stood up in, once the vultures from her father’s creditors had descended. All the “friends” she’d once had were gone; they’d snubbed her openly on the street or informed their butlers to tell Lizzie they weren’t “at home” that particular day. After a few rebuffs from even the girls she’d been closest to, Lizzie stopped trying. She’d been tempted to put a bullet through her own head, but then she’d seen the advertisement in the paper, for teachers in the Ozark Mountains. It was hundreds of miles away from anyone who knew that Lizzie’s father had bankrupted himself and failed his clients, so Lizzie answered the ad, thankful that eight years at Miss Porter’s School fitted her to do something. As soon as she received a reply for the school board, she packed her trunk and headed on the train to Missouri.