The Librarian of Boone's Hollow
OneMid-May 1936Lexington, KentuckyAddie Cowherd
During her three years as a student at the University of Kentucky, Addie had never been summoned to a dean’s office. Until today. Her roommate, Felicity, had proclaimed with typical dramatic flair that being asked to meet with Dean Crane first thing on a Friday morning would have cast her into an endless pit of nervousness. Addie wasn’t nervous. Curious? Most certainly. But not nervous. At least not much.
She traveled the wide hallways of the campus’s main building, the heels of her freshly polished black patent pumps clicking a steady rhythm on the marble tile. Why did Dean Crane want to see her? Felicity suggested perhaps she’d been voted one of the campus beauties. Last night before bed, she had fluffed Addie’s hair with her hands and exclaimed, “Oh, to have hair that lays in such delightful waves, all on its own accord! And what a wondrous color—blended pecan and caramel. Mine’s as straight as a pin and so blond it’s almost white. Surely I’m not the only one who’s taken note of your physical attributes.”
Addie’s heart now gave a little flutter. Could it be? What girl wouldn’t be flattered by the title of campus beauty? But then she dismissed the idea. She was too tall, too thin, too . . . bookish to be a beauty. The petite girls with button noses, sparkling blue eyes, and infectious giggles—the ones like Felicity—always seemed the top picks for popularity. Besides, senior girls were chosen as campus beauties, and Addie was only a junior.
She climbed the stairs to the building’s second level, other possibilities creeping through her brain. Were her latest test scores the top in her class? Did he want her to mentor a younger, less confident student? Probably not the latter, as the year was nearly over, but the former could be true. Wouldn’t Mother and Daddy be proud when she told them? She rounded the final corner and approached the secretary’s desk positioned outside the dean’s office door.
She smiled at the gray-haired, thin-faced woman sitting behind the oversized desk. “Hello, I’m Addie—er, Adelaide—Cowherd. Dean Crane sent a message saying he wishes to speak to me.”
“Adelaide Cowherd . . .” The woman checked a notebook lying open on the desk’s pull-out shelf. “Yes, his nine-fifteen appointment. You’re right on time.” She pressed a button on a little box and leaned close to it. “Dean Crane, Miss Cowherd is here.”
“Send her in,” a voice crackled from the box.
The secretary gestured to the richly stained raised-panel wooden door behind her. “Right through there, young lady.”
Addie took one step and then paused. Should she have worn her Sunday suit? Although at least two years old, the navy-and-white plaid shirtwaist she’d selected from her array of everyday dresses showed no frays or stains. Even so, perhaps it was too casual an outfit for meeting with someone as important as the dean of students.
“Miss Cowherd, Dean Crane has a busy morning ahead. Please don’t keep him waiting.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Too late to worry about her dress. She’d have to go in. But she smoothed the front of her pleated skirt, centered her belt buckle, and straightened her spine—no slouching, Mother always said, even if she was tall for a girl—before giving the brass doorknob a twist. The door swung open on silent hinges, and she crossed the threshold. She sucked in a startled breath. Built-in bookcases packed with books, some standing vertically and others stacked horizontally, filled three walls all the way from the floor to the ceiling in the spacious, windowless office. She’d thought Daddy’s study at home and his collection of printed works impressive, but Daddy had only two stacks of barrister shelves, four sections each. A desire to peruse the dean’s shelves made her insides twitch.
Addie forced her attention to the dean, who stood beside a gleaming mahogany desk in a slash of pale lamplight, his pose as dignified as that of a judge overseeing a courtroom. Some of the rowdier students called Dean Crane Ol’ Ichabod, a title Addie had always found offensive, but seeing the unusually tall, thin man up close, she understood the nickname. “Yes, sir?”
The dean peered at her over the top of a pair of wire-rimmed half-moon glasses, which sat precariously at the end of his narrow, hooked nose. “Please close the door and have a seat.”
Addie snapped the door into its casing, shutting out the bright light from the hallway’s many hanging pendants, and crossed the thick carpet to a pair of matching round-back, padded armchairs facing his desk. She perched on the brocade seat of the one on the right and placed her laced hands in her lap. She offered the dean a smile.
Fine tufts of white hair that stuck up like dandelion fluff on top of his head and bushy salt-and-pepper muttonchop whiskers gave him an almost comical appearance. But his stern frown spoiled any cheerful effect. A curtain of dread fell around her, and her stomach performed little flip-flops. A man who appeared so dire wouldn’t deliver good news. Felicity’s endless pit of nervousness suddenly seemed less far-fetched.
He settled in his chair. “Thank you for coming, Miss Cowherd. I know this is a busy time for students, preparing for final examinations.”
“Yes, sir, it is.” She forced herself to speak calmly. “But I presumed it was something important.”
“You presumed correctly.” He opened a folder that lay on an exceptionally large blotter, his movements slow and painstaking, giving the impression the card stock folder was actually formed from a slab of stone. He tapped the top page of the short stack of papers inside the folder with his long, bony finger. “Your academic achievements are impressive, Miss Cowherd. Yours are among the highest scores in the junior class.”
The acrobats in her stomach slowed their leaping. Perhaps his grim countenance was by habit. Even Preacher Finley back home in Georgetown was a somber man who rarely smiled but had a very kind heart. She placed her hands on the chair’s carved wooden armrests and crossed her ankles, allowing her tense muscles to relax. “Thank you, sir.”
He slid the sheet of paper aside, his gaze seeming to follow its path, then lifted a second page and squinted at it. “Every report from your professors is positive, praising your deportment, responsibility, and morals.”
Addie lowered her chin, battling a wave of pride. Her mother stressed humility. She wouldn’t shame Mother by gloating, but it surely sounded as if she were about to receive some sort of award. She coached herself to respond appropriately when the dean finally explained why he’d called her to his office.
“Which is why it saddens me to dismiss you as a student.”
She jerked her head upright so abruptly her neck popped. A spot below her left ear burned as if someone had touched a match to her flesh. She rubbed the spot and gaped at the man. “Dismiss me? But why?”
He closed the folder. “Lack of payment.”
Addie’s jaw dropped. “L-lack . . .” She shook her head. “There must be a mistake.”
“There’s no mistake, Miss Cowherd. The tuition and board payments ceased to arrive in February. Your parents were allowed our standard three-month grace period, but despite repeated letters requesting payment, no monies were sent. Thus, we have no choice but to prohibit you from attending classes.”
“But it’s only a week to the end of the term. Won’t I be allowed to take my final examinations?”
“I’m afraid not.” The man’s expression and tone revealed he took no pleasure in delivering the mandate, but that recognition did little to comfort her. “Campus personnel and each of your instructors have been informed of the decision. Any attempts to enter classrooms or the cafeteria will be met with an immediate response from security officers.”
Who would escort her away in humiliation. She’d witnessed such happenings more times than she cared to recall during her years at the college. With so many families struggling financially due to the stock market crash of ’29, college was a luxury many couldn’t afford. She never thought she’d be one of the unfortunate ones, though.
She shifted to the edge of the chair and implored the man with her eyes. “Dean Crane, there must be some sort of mistake. I’ll call my parents. I’m positive they’ll send the money right away.” They’d never denied her anything she truly needed. And she needed her degree. “If they promise to do so, may I stay?”
“It’s been three months, Miss Cowherd.”
Fear and worry battled for prominence. “But my father never lets bills go unpaid. Not ever. The payments must have gotten lost in the mail. Or stolen.” Yes, that had to be it. She stood. “Aren’t there desperate people everywhere? Someone must have known there was money in the envelopes and taken them before they could reach the college. There can be no other explanation.”