The horses hitched to the hearse jingled their harness, drawing Jane’s thoughts away from the voice of the priest. Such a cheerful sound. It shouldn’t be, not today.
Charles leaned into her. “Is Father gone to heaven yet?” His whisper was loud in the sweltering air, and annoyance rippled through the crowd.
“Is he still in that box?”
Jane swallowed her answer. She momentarily thought of hurling herself into the torn earth where James’ body indeed remained shrouded inside the wooden box.
The funeral ended, and Jane endured moist handshakes and damp embraces. The air was thick, suffocating.
“Mrs. Carlton,” Maynard Beetham breathed hotly into her face. “If it’s suitable, I shall come tomorrow and we will speak of the print shop.”
The print shop. The newspaper.
“Ezra Mortimer shall come also,” he added magnanimously, and he pushed his bulbous lips against her gloved hand.
Ezra Mortimer the banker. Of course.
Jane was confident of one thing: she would continue to operate the print shop herself, editing and publishing the newspaper each week, as she had alongside James.
They dare not dissuade me.
It was still sultry the next afternoon when Maynard Beetham and Ezra Mortimer knocked at Jane’s door, but Jane was cool and poised.
“Welcome, gentlemen.” She ushered them into the parlour, and they settled themselves while eyeing the dainty cakes and sandwiches on the table. Jane poured tea and the men murmured appreciation.
“Dearest Mrs. Carlton,” began Maynard. “Ezra and I offer our deepest sympathy and wish to support you in this time of great sorrow. A certain gentleman . . . wishes to purchase the print shop and carry on with the newspaper.”
“It is not for sale.” Jane set down her teacup.
“Come, come, Jane . . . May I call you Jane?” Ezra queried and, without hesitation, carried on. “What advantage is the print shop to you now?”
“It was James’ dream, and I intend to continue with it. He built it from nothing.”
“Surely he would not want you to spoil those lovely hands with such punishing work.” Maynard glanced oilily at Jane’s graceful fingers.
“Sirs, it was his wish and is mine also.”
Ezra tried again. “It is unseemly for a woman to work, let alone own a business. Your place is at home with your poor, fatherless boy.” He shook his head, sorrow contorting his face. “The greatest calling is motherhood. It would be prudent for you to sell, my dear.”
“No, gentlemen, I think not.”
“Women do not operate print shops. Why, it’s conceivable,” Maynard declared.
Jane countered, “Benjamin Franklin’s own sister-in-law edited and printed a newspaper. Over one hundred years ago!” Crimson blotches rouged her cheeks.
“These are not the colonies, Jane, and such desperate measures are not required nowadays, as they were in our fledgling past. This is uncivilized country, abounding with loathsome scoundrels and diabolical perils. Such barbarity would distress your gentle spirit.”
“I am familiar with such happenings, gentlemen. I edited everything James ever printed.”
The men displayed indignation. “May God forgive James for exposing you to such depravity.” Maynard folded his hands.
Ezra leaned forward. “Listen to me, Widow Carlton, I give you fair warning. No one will buy newspapers or insignificant leaflets from a woman. I shall be forced to call the note on the print shop.”
“Now, now, Ezra, no need for dire threats,” chided Maynard. “Jane, we are simply your Christian brothers, tenderly caring for your well-being. Please sell, and go back to . . . Philadelphia, was it? For your sake. For our sakes, to ease our troubled hearts.”
“You have wasted your time, gentlemen. I have no intention of selling, now or ever. I shall fulfill James’ ambition.”
“If you must persist with this foolishness of . . . er . . . editing, perhaps the new owner of the print shop would allow you to contribute appropriate topics to the newspaper: domestic issues, child-rearing, social tidbits. I have it! Teacup Talks. A modest column devoted to feminine skills,” Maynard crowed smugly.
“Kind sirs,” Jane stood. “I have many things to do, including editing this week’s paper. You must excuse me, please.”
Maynard crammed one more custard tartlet into his mouth, and Ezra stiffly extended his hand. “Good day, Widow Carlton. You will regret your stubbornness.”
“Sincere regrets for your loss.”
“Thank you. You are most kind.”
Jane eased the door closed and leaned against it.
It would be difficult, but she’d manage. With God’s grace, for Charles’ sake and in remembrance of James, she’d manage.
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