The Librarian of Boone’s Hollow – Kim Vogel Sawyer

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 pullout 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.

“Miss Cowherd?” 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.” Dean Crane stared at her for several seconds, lips set in a grim line, beady eyes narrowed. Finally, he sighed. “Very well. Contact your parents. Ask if they sent payments for March, April, or May.” He pulled a gold watch from his vest pocket and scowled at it. “Come back at three o’clock and apprise me of their response. If there’s been, as you suspect, a mistake, I’ll speak with the committee about making an exception.

” Addie nearly collapsed from relief. “Thank you, sir.” “Although you may not attend classes or take meals in the cafeteria until the financial matter is rectified, you may remain in the dormitory until the end of term. I understand from the business office manager that your room bill is current.” “Yes, sir. I work all day Saturday and a few hours each Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday cataloging books at the city library to pay for my room.” “Very commendable.” “Thank you.” Daddy had insisted she contribute toward her education, claiming she would appreciate it more if she helped pay the bill. She’d resented it at first, but she’d come to realize he was right.

Even though she had to give nearly every penny she earned to the college, it gave her a sense of pride and satisfaction to know she was helping to pay her way. “Dean Crane,” the secretary’s voice intruded from the little box on the corner of the dean’s desk, “your next appointment is here.” He rose with a slow unfolding of his legs and rounded the desk, gesturing for Addie to precede him. At the door, he offered the closest thing to a smile she’d seen since she entered the room. “I wish you well in your search for answers, Miss Cowherd. I’ll see you at three.” Addie scurried out, avoiding eye contact with the student waiting to enter. Was he facing a similar fate? She set a quick pace up the hallway, grateful the pleats in her skirt allowed her to take long strides. The sooner she reached a public telephone and called Mother, the sooner this embarrassing situation would be put to right. She pattered down the stairs to the first floor and joined the flow of students.

The scent of waffles and syrup wafted from the cafeteria. Her stomach growled, and she placed her hand against her belly, grimacing. She’d skipped breakfast after taking a little extra time preparing for her meeting with the dean. If she’d gone with Felicity for her customary coffee and toast with jam earlier that morning, would she have been barred from entering the cafeteria? Imagining the humiliating scene was enough to make her cheeks burn. She needed to straighten out this embarrassing situation as quickly as possible. She wove between others, perspiration prickling her skin. Not yet ten o’clock, and already the air creeping through the open windows was hot and humid. She’d likely need a change of clothes before she met with Dean Crane again. At the very least, she’d give herself a quick wash in the dormitory lavatory. What a relief to know she wouldn’t be booted from the campus, thanks to her paying her room bill separately.

She wouldn’t receive another paycheck from the library until the end of the month, and she didn’t have enough money for train fare to go home to Scott County. But how could she remain on the campus and not attend classes without feeling completely out of place? Although only five and a half years old when she was ushered through the door of the Kentucky Orphans’ Asylum, she’d never forgotten the feeling of displacement, of knowing she didn’t belong. She had no desire to revisit that uncomfortable feeling. She reached the section of the building that housed the business office. Swiping away the perspiration tickling her temples, she trotted the last few yards to the end of the wide hallway, where a row of booths holding telephones were available for the students’ use. A female student stood in the far right booth, chattering animatedly about attending a recent fraternity dance. Addie took the booth at the far left. She sent up a quick prayer that the girl wouldn’t overhear her conversation, then lifted the handset from its cradle. Placing it to her ear, she poked her finger in the little circle for 0 and rotated the dial. She cringed at the discordant ack-ack-ack as the dial spun back into place.

An operator answered. Addie cupped her hand around her mouth. “Yes, would you please connect me to the operator in Georgetown, Kentucky?” “One moment, miss.” Addie tapped her foot and sent surreptitious glances over her shoulder while she waited for a connection. When she thought her chest might burst from impatience, a voice crackled in her ear. “Georgetown. Your number, please.” Addie recited her family’s number and pressed the phone tight against her ear while shifting from foot to foot. She willed Mother to answer quickly and ease her fears, as she’d done since Addie was a child of six. Even though she hadn’t been born to Penrose and Fern Cowherd, they’d always treated her as if she had.

How she loved and appreciated them for taking in a sad little orphaned girl and giving her such a grand life. “Miss?” Addie groaned. The operator’s voice again. Which meant the line must be busy. Sociable Mother was probably talking to one of her many friends. “That number is not in service.” Addie drew back and frowned at the telephone. Had she given the wrong series of numbers? Granted, she hadn’t called for quite a while, but surely she hadn’t forgotten her parents’ number. She closed her eyes and searched her memory. No, she’d been correct.

“Are you sure you connected it properly?” A huff met her ear. “Yes, miss, I’m sure. The number is not in service.” Maybe the telephone was broken. Telephones could break, couldn’t they? Addie took a slow breath, forcing her racing pulse to calm. Daddy would be at the bank. Although she hated to bother him at work, this was an emergency. “All right, then, please dial Georgetown Citizens Bank.” She gave the number and gnawed a hangnail on her thumb, her pulse galloping. “Citizens Bank.

May I help you?” Addie didn’t recognize the man’s voice, but she’d been away long enough to forget many of her father’s coworkers. At least she’d reached the right place. “Yes. I’d like to speak to Mr. Cowherd, please.” “Penrose Cowherd?” How many men with the surname Cowherd worked at the bank? “Yes, Penrose Cowherd.” “He’s no longer employed here, miss.” Addie’s legs turned to jelly. She slumped against the wall and slid down until her bottom met the narrow bench. She clung to the telephone receiver the way a drowning man gripped a life preserver.

“What do you mean he isn’t employed there? He’s been employed there my whole life.” Except for the two-year period when the bank was forced to close its doors. But the moment they’d opened again, the president had put Daddy back to work. “Am I speaking to Addie?” She managed a raspy yes. “Addie, this is Mr. Bowles.

.

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