That was the signal for the unofficial end of class. Chairs scraped on the floor, papers rustled, a book fell, and the noise level increased dramatically. The strident voice of Carly Carson broke through the uproar.
"Miss Greenway, will you look at my story, please?"
I walked to the back of the room where a girl in a purple cheerleader's uniform sat at a table by herself, surrounded by pages of the Free Press.
"Is this okay?" she asked, handing me a neatly clipped article.
The words of the headline slammed into me like separate jolts. 'Owner's Will Condemns Dog to Die'. A familiar face looked back at me from the accompanying illustration, her hand resting on the head of a collie.
Oh no! The girl in the picture was Nikki Holland. The doomed dog was Magic.
As I read the story, my initial shock turned to anger. In her will, Marla Holland had ordered the humane destruction of the collie, Malindra Black Magic, giving no reason for her decision. The attempts of the deceased woman's lawyer to take possession of the dog were being thwarted by Mrs. Holland's niece, so far successfully. "No one has the right to will an animal to death," Nikki Holland said. "I will not turn Magic over to Ansel McLaren."
"I cannot in good conscience fail to carry out my late client's directive," McLaren countered.
Nikki had enlisted the aid of the Humane Society and Foxglove Corners' respected veterinarian, Dr. Alice Foster, who refused to put the animal down. The rest of the story dealt with possible court intervention and the liability of Ellen Grove, whose daughter had allowed Nikki to remove the dog from Colliegrove Kennels.
Nikki had found her cause, and I knew I was going to play a part in it, even though it might place me nearer to the murder case.
"Is anything wrong, Miss Greenway?" Carly asked.
"This entire situation," I said.
"Can I still use the article?"
Remembering that I was a Journalism teacher, I said, "Of course. The lead tells us who and what, and it's written in classic, inverted-pyramid construction. You could cut off the last two paragraphs and still have the basic story."
"They can't really kill that dog, can they?" she asked.
"I'm not sure what the law says, but there's a great difference between legality and justice. This is unjust. It's wrong."
Not everyone would think so. Crane, to whom the law was absolute, would most likely agree with the lawyer, unless a court ruled otherwise. But I felt that people would rally around Nikki. The facts, along with the picture, were guaranteed to evoke strong emotion in a reader. Everyone loved a dog-in-peril story and a good battle. I imagined that soon Nikki's plight would attract more influential help.
I returned the clipping to Carly. "Nikki Holland chose a powerful ally."
"The Humane Society, you mean?"
"Yes, but especially the press. Everyone who reads this story will want to save the dog. No one is going to side with the lawyer. I'm pretty sure he's going to lose this fight, but in the meantime it's painful for everyone involved."
Especially for Nikki who had just discovered Magic and for the dog who had found a good home at last, only to face execution. Tears burned my eyes as I remembered my last glimpse of the beautiful black collie, her soft, warm fur, and the dignity in her dark eyes.
Marla Holland must have been crazy to want a healthy young dog euthanized. Or any dog. But why was I surprised? I'd met the woman.
"This story would make a good movie," Carly said.
"Only if it has a happy ending."
The bell rang, and the class dashed out of the room, dropping assignments, jars of rubber cement, and scissors on my desk. Carly rose more slowly, reassembling the newspaper and tucking it inside her notebook. "Can't we do something?"
"Maybe. I'll talk about the story in class tomorrow, and we can write letters to the Editor. Remember the power of the written word."
"I'll start working on one tonight," she said.
Carly left, and the silence I'd longed for descended on the room. I closed the windows and tightened the tops on the rubber cement, all the while thinking about the woman who continued to stir up trouble for people from her grave. The questions kept coming. What vendetta could Marla have had against the black collie? Why board Magic at Colliegrove, only to order her destruction in a will?
Because Marla was demented? That was the only possible explanation.
Leonora appeared in the doorway, carrying her raincoat and a single textbook. She looked as fresh as she had this morning, with every blonde hair in its proper place and her blue shirtwaist dress unwrinkled.
"Are you ready, Jen?" she asked.
"In just one minute."
I shoved everything in my desk drawers and grabbed my purse and cardigan.
"Another day down, and I'm ready for the weekend," Leonora said. "Do you have any exciting plans?"
"Crane and I are driving up north on Saturday to look at some acreage he wants to buy."
"Nice," she said. "This is a perfect time of year for a day trip."
As I locked the door, I told Leonora about the battle to save Magic from a death sentence.
"And you'll be in the middle of it, I'll bet," she said. "That's your kind of fight. I hope it doesn't turn dangerous."
"Even if it does, this is one I can't pass up. Thousands of unwanted dogs are put to death every day, but Magic has a home. Killing her would be a crime."
"Let me know if I can help," Leonora said.
We walked down the quiet halls and through the cafeteria to the back door, weaving our way through the stragglers who preferred staying in school to going home. Outside, the air was warm and the wooded park that adjoined the school was rich with glorious fall color. Maple leaves as red as blood and golden weeping trees. Again I felt the sting of tears.
"All of life is a gift," I said. "No one has the right to trash it."