About the Author
Sara Luck taught school in Alaska for six years, spending much of that time 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Married to a retired army officer (also a novelist), Sara and her husband live on the beach in Alabama with a Jack Russell terrier named Charley.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Marci’s Desire ONE
Wells College, Aurora, New York, March 30, 1895
Marcia Diane Winters sat on a big rock on the shores of Lake Cayuga watching the sun dip behind the ridges that surrounded the lake. Her favorite subject for her paintings was this gloaming, and this evening she looked with a critical eye at her canvas. She thought she had captured the pinks and blues that were spreading throughout the low clouds.
Just then a low-flying vee of migrating geese flew into her view, and putting down her brush, she watched as the birds dutifully followed their leader, the honking sounds almost mournful as the birds wound their way toward the marshland at the end of the lake. When they were lost to her sight, she began packing up her paints and taking down her easel.
Marcia, who preferred to be called Marci, was in her third year at Wells College, and gathering up her belongings, she walked up the slope to the main building on the campus. The building was impressive without being ostentatious, in keeping with the desires of the late founder, Henry Wells. It had been his vision to provide an institution of higher learning for women that was fully equal to any men’s college in both equipment and facilities, and in Marci’s estimation the school had exceeded his stated goal.
When Marci entered the building, she heard the a cappella choir practicing in the music room. One of her roommates was Georgiana Hayden, and Marci recognized Georgiana’s voice as she began the descant portion of the song. Marci smiled as she continued past the offices and the library on her way to the residence wing of the building. This wing housed the resident teachers and a little more than ninety girls.
Her room, which was intended to house four girls, now had only three—all New York girls, Georgiana from Syracuse, Marci, technically from Roxbury, although her parents were now in Washington, and Mazie Just, a New York City girl.
When Marci entered the room, she encountered Mazie, who was sitting in the middle of the floor, crying loudly.
“What has Lucien done now?” Marci asked as she put her easel in the corner of the room.
“I don’t think he loves me. I haven’t received a post from him in four days.”
“For God’s sake, he’s a lawyer. Maybe he’s too busy to write to you this week.” Marci had a hard time keeping her patience with Mazie, who was quick to complain about everything.
“That’s easy for you to say. You get flowers from Stanton every week. Look, today he sent hyacinths. You’ll think of your lover all night long because the smell will perfume the entire room.”
“Stanton is not my lover.” Marci shook her head.
“Well, maybe not in the literal sense of the word, but in his mind he’s your lover. No one gets more notes and telegrams than you do, Marci Winters. And he’s busier than Lucien Alexander will ever be. Stanton is all over Washington, or so you say.”
“I do get a lot of attention from him,” Marci said. “Why don’t you come with me up to the gymnasium? If you work out on the Sargent apparatus, you’ll feel a lot better.”
“You go on. We’ve got a test tomorrow in zoology and botany, and unlike some people I know, I have to study.”
Marci headed for the gymnasium on the second floor. Wells College was one of only twenty-six schools to receive the wonderful apparatus invented by Dr. Dudley Sargent, a professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard University, and Marci made use of it daily. When one entered the cavernous room, it looked as if the iron frames and crossing bars were part of the ceiling, but they supported trapezes, horizontal and vertical ladders, and swinging hemp ropes.
She climbed one of the ladders and transferred to one of the bars of a trapeze. Pumping her legs, she got the swing going, then lowered her body so that she supported herself with the bend of her knees. With her arms hanging down, the feeling was exhilarating. She wished Mazie had come with her, so that she could have practiced some of the aerial somersaults she knew.
Just as she was dismounting, dropping down to the mat, which was more than a foot thick, she heard the door open and the distinct click of shoes on the gymnasium floor. Marci adjusted the split skirt of her exercise costume and stood ready to take her reprimand.
It is not becoming for a young woman to take such delight in the toning of her muscular structure.
When you take your place in society, others will look with disdain upon your prideful display of your body.
A Wells girl does not yearn to find her place among the acrobats who perform for Barnum and Bailey.
It is with much distress that I forbid you to use the apparatus for one week.
How many times had she heard Dean Smith tell her this over her three years at college?
“Miss Winters, I thought I might find you here.”
Miss Helen Fairchild Smith was the dean of the school. A short woman, she always stood erect, exuding dignity and serenity. She took it upon herself to train the girls to accept their places in society. She embodied Mr. Wells’s original philosophy in training every woman that passed through the college to realize that a woman’s true and only sphere was her influence on the home and society. It was instilled in every student that the family was the real source of influence, and whether it be for weal or woe, the woman had the most influence over the future of civilization.
“Miss Winters, following the dinner hour, I would like for you to meet with me in the library. I will expect you there by eight o’clock.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Marci listened as Dean Smith walked the length of the gymnasium, her footfall once more sounding loudly on the hardwood floor.
Dean Smith had surely known what Marci was doing on the apparatus, yet the dean had not chastised Marci. And now she was asked to meet in the library. Was she being expelled?
She could vividly recall the last evaluation the dean had written to her parents: Marci is one of my most challenging students. She is a natural leader—smart, talented, and personable. If only she weren’t so headstrong and opinionated.
Both her parents had reprimanded her for not conforming to the Wells philosophy, and DeWitt Winters had been particularly critical. He often reminded her of the privilege it was to attend the college where Frances Cleveland, the first lady of the United States, had matriculated. If Marci was being asked to leave school, how would she face her father? How would she face Stanton?
“Oh, I am sweating so,” Marci said a few minutes later, speaking to Georgiana. Marci dabbed at her face with a towel.
“Nonsense, child, Wells women never sweat. They glow, elegantly,” Georgiana said, perfectly mimicking Dean Smith.
Marci laughed out loud. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I see you got your weekly delivery of flowers.” Georgiana walked over to the table, then leaned forward to smell the fragrant pink and white hyacinths. “I didn’t read the card, but I can guess what it says. ‘With affection, Stanton Caldwell.’ ” Georgiana exaggerated the words as she said them.
“Well, this time you’re wrong. It says, ‘With much affection, Stanton Caldwell.’ ”
“Why does he always sign his first and last name? Does he think you’ll forget who he is?”
“You just don’t understand Stanton. He is a very formal person.”
“Ha! You’re about the most informal person I know.”
“Ahch!” Marci clutched at her chest as she stood in her underwear before her roommate. “You would say that to a Wells girl?”
“Yes, a Wells girl who has no modesty. I still don’t understand how you got stuck with a staid, old man like Stanton.”
“He’s not that old, and besides, I met him at President Cleveland’s inaugural ball. No one finds fault with Mrs. Cleveland for marrying a man twenty-eight years older than she is, so who can say anything if Stanton is twelve years older than I am?”
“Oh, yes, how can I forget the budding socialite on the arm of her father, the secretary of the treasury, at the inaugural ball,” Georgina said with an affected accent.
“He’s not the secretary of the treasury. He’s the second comptroller, so that means he’s just a glorified accountant, and there are a lot of very boring things he and his family are expected to attend.” Marci sucked in her cheeks, puckered her lips, then tilted her head back. “ ‘Oh, my dear,’ ” she said in a stilted voice, “ ‘how delightful that you could come to the tea of the Washington Ladies’ Society for the preservation of our little feathered friend, the needle-beaked twit.’ ”
Georgiana laughed out loud. “Well, after all, doesn’t the needle-beaked twit deserve to be preserved?”
Both Georgiana and Marci were laughing as Marci continued to dress for dinner. She chose the most conservative dress in her wardrobe as she remembered the meeting she was to have with Dean Smith. If she had to leave Wells, she would miss the friendships she had formed while she was here.
“I’m serious. What was there about Stanton that made you attracted to him? He seems so different from you.”
“Actually, he chose me, but I don’t really know how he did it, because there were about ten thousand people in the Pension Hall for the inauguration. But what really impressed me was how much he already knew about me. He knew my father’s position and that we’d moved from Roxbury and that we were now living on V Street.”
“Didn’t that make you feel a little creepy?”
“Oh, no, not when I saw how handsome he was! You know, Georgiana, he could be a model for a Norse god—blond hair, deep blue eyes set in a perfect oval face. There’s only one thing I don’t like and that’s his mustache.” Marci smiled when she thought of the tickle his mustache caused when his lips brushed against her.
“All right. We accept that he’s a good-looking man.”
“He is, isn’t he? And he’s mature. Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to remind me how lucky I am to know someone like Stanton. Last summer we saw each other almost every week. And then when I was home for the holidays, we spent as much time together as we could, but he’s always so busy.”
“Whatever he did, in my book he’s proven himself. What man sends his girlfriend flowers every week of the year?”
“Grover Cleveland,” Marci said.
“Oh, yes. It must be something about a Wells girl. I wonder if Mrs. Cleveland’s roommate knew she was going to be the wife of the president of the United States when she was getting all her bouquets. Tell me, will you invite me to your wedding?”
“Of course I will. I may even ask you to be a bridesmaid, but it may be a while, because he hasn’t even asked me yet.” Just then the clock in the hallway chimed seven. “We’d better hurry. I have a conference with Dean Smith right after dinner, and I don’t want to be late.”
“In the library?”
“Yes, how did you know that?” Marci asked.
“Because she asked me to meet her at eight o’clock.”
Marci let out a deep sigh. “Thank goodness. It’s not just me. I thought I’d done something really dreadful this time.”
Following dinner, Marci, Georgiana, and six other young ladies gathered in the library.
“What have we done?” Ellen Barker asked the group. “Does anyone know why we’re here?”
“For her to ask us to meet at eight o’clock? That’s really not characteristic of Dean Smith, especially when she knows we all have examinations tomorrow,” Georgiana said.
“No one told about us sneaking out of the dormitory and meeting the boys from Cornell last weekend, did they?” Carrie Frey asked. “Maybe someone heard when they threw rocks on the windows.”
“That was nothing,” Marci said. “There were ten girls and two boys. If anything, the boys should get in trouble.”
“Shh, I hear her coming,” Georgiana said.
Everyone grew respectfully quiet waiting for the dean. When she stepped into the library, all eight women looked like soldiers standing at attention.
Dean Smith laughed when she saw them. “Ladies, how did you know what I’m going to ask of you? Please, sit down.” She directed them toward a table, where she took the head chair.
“Every year at this time, certain women’s institutions are invited to participate in a social engagement”—Dean paused for effect—“at the United States Military Academy.”
There were several oohs and aahs as the girls tittered among themselves.
“This year, Wells College has been honored with an invitation to participate in this prestigious event, and it is my distinct pleasure to announce that you girls have been selected to represent us with your presence.” Dean Smith lowered her head and clasped her hands before her. “I must say that not all of you met with my wholehearted support, but each of you had multiple advocates from the faculty singing your praises. Therefore, I have put my imprimatur upon each one of you to represent Wells. Do not disappoint me.” The dean looked directly at Marci.
“Several of you are very close to Miss Nash in the art department, and I have selected her to act as your chaperone. Remember, ladies, it is an honor to be invited to West Point, for the United States Military Academy represents the pride of our nation.”
All the girls reacted excitedly over the prospect of going to the academy, though it was Georgiana who found the courage to ask, “What is this social engagement?”
Dean Smith paused for a moment, then smiled, perhaps as if remembering something from her younger days, when she lived at Annapolis, where her father had taught mathematics at the Naval Academy. “You’re going to a hop, my dear. A dance.”
“Oh!” Carrie Frey squealed in delight. “Oh, yes, I saw a corps of cadets marching in the Fourth of July parade in Albany. They are all so handsome!”
“When do we get to go?” Ellen asked.
“The event will be this weekend. You will take the train into the city and then travel by boat up the Hudson River. I know that many of your homes are clustered not far from the river, and I might suggest that before boarding the train, you notify your parents should they want to visit with you. We will leave tomorrow as soon as all of you have written the zoology examination.”
A general groan of dissent came from the girls.
“Why did you have to remind us of that?” Carrie asked.
“Because first and foremost, you are students. This junket is to be considered a pleasant interlude intended to enforce your academic experience. And now, ladies, I suggest you get a good night’s sleep. I’ve been told by Professor Hart that you will be tested on primates tomorrow. I trust that your venture into the night air a few evenings past was for just such study. Good night.”
“That woman knows everything,” Ellen whispered as the girls made their way back to the dormitory.
When Marci and Georgiana returned to their rooms, Georgiana was bubbling over with excitement. “Oh, isn’t this the most wonderful thing? Just think, a weekend at West Point. I wonder who I’ll dance with. Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s like Carrie said, every cadet is handsome. I think they have to be handsome in order to get into the academy.”
Marci laughed. “Don’t be silly. Do you really think they’d look at somebody and say, ‘You can’t come here because you’re too ugly’?”
“Well, it must be something like that. I’ve never seen a cadet who wasn’t handsome. I just know this will be a wonderful weekend. Aren’t you excited?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I know what she means,” Mazie said as she sat up in her bed....
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