The letter didn’t say much, just that he was busy with important negotiations, and he was sorry he hadn’t been able to write more often. He also said Libby was with him, back from a spy mission and acting as his translator. This made me frown. They had always been good friends. I had never thought to wonder if there was any more to it than that, but. . .
Oh, what a stupid notion! And who cares, anyway? Why do I keep worrying about the past? I wouldn’t dream of picking at a scab, but I’m willing to pick endlessly over Robert. I’m so dumb sometimes.
Sam came into the back room as I was crumpling up Robert’s letter.
His eyebrows twitched like he didn’t believe me. He poured himself a glass of tea and sat down. “So have you thought any more about my offer?”
I had, and I liked the idea of having a part-ownership in Sam’s new telephone service. But Robert’s letter had put me in a bad mood and I felt like arguing. “It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t think this is the right time.”
“When will it ever be a better time? When more people have a chance to figure it out and start their own services, driving up equipment prices and monopolizing brand loyalty?”
“But I’m still living in a barn. It’s hot in there, and for the same amount of money as you’re asking for, I could have a room in Sabine’s sister’s house, with my very own screened sleeping porch, and electric lights.”
“Oh, come on. You’re a tough girl. What’s a little heat to someone who grew up in the desert? Besides, it won’t be summer forever.”
“And then it’ll be winter and the barn will be cold.”
“And in a year’s time, when you get a raise and your investment is paying nicely, you’ll be able to rent a whole cottage, instead of just a room.”
“What would I do with a house?”
Sam shook his head like I was a hopeless case. “Fine. Eat your seed corn instead of planting it. Eat your eggs instead of—“
“—raising chickens. Yeah, I know. You told me. It’s just—“
“You’ve had a rough life and you’re tired of it all being so hard.”
I nodded and sipped my tea so I wouldn’t have to say anything.
“Come on, Diana. You can hold out a little longer. This is an investment in your future. All the things you say you want—land, horses, education—require money. You won’t get the kind of money you want by doing all the work yourself. Make your money do the heavy lifting, so that when you’re older and not so strong, you can relax and enjoy life.” He hesitated, then spoke again. “Of course, if you don’t have confidence in the investment, that’s another matter. We’ve always been straight with each other, so if that’s the problem, just say so.”
This made me smile. “No, that’s not it at all. Really. I’m just a little scared, I guess. I’ve never owned a. .. what do you call it?”
“Right. I don’t even know what one looks like. But the room at Julia’s house is nice, and at least I know what I’m getting. I mean, what if we pay this guy to fix up that old transmitter thing and it doesn’t work, or we can’t get enough people to sign up for phone service? What then? I’ll have lost my money.”
“So will I. It’s a chance we and the other investors will all be taking.”
“Sounds too risky.”
“So does traveling twelve hundred miles alone on horseback through three countries, hostile governments and outlaws, but you did it anyway.”
I felt like pointing out that what he was proposing was totally different. Out in open country, I could defend myself. But it wasn’t like I could shoot someone if they refused to buy a telephone. “I’ll think about it.”
“Well, don’t think too long. We don’t want to miss our opportunity. We’ve already got city hall, the police department and a fire station on board. The mayor promised to sign up to have a phone in his house, too, if we can get the old analog line working again or run a new one.”
I promised I would think about it some more and give an answer next week. Then I helped clean up while Sam attended to a customer, and then I headed home.
After supper I had a math lesson with Patrick. I had been doing better with my fractions, and was even starting to understand about
I hadn’t been talked to like that by a kid since I traveled with Ishkin last December! But he was right. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind. No need to take that kind of tone.”
He fidgeted. “Sorry. I just thought maybe it was something I was doing wrong. I know I ain’t no teacher.”
“You’re a fine teacher,” I said, picking up my pencil. “Let’s try again.”
He gave me another problem, but I did no better.
He slammed the math book shut. “How about science?”
He opened the physics book and flipped through the pages, looking for the place we had left off the night before. “Is there a chapter on telephones?” I asked.
“In this book?” He shook his head. “But I’ve got a book about communication systems at home. How come?”
“Well, a friend of mine asked me to invest in a telephone business he wants to start in Lexington. But I don’t know anything about it and—“
“You’re starting a phone company?” Patrick’s eyes widened.
“I’m not starting a phone company. My friend Sam is. He just wants me to help with the startup costs. He says I’ll get part of the profits, but—“
“That’s great! When will it be working? Will we have phones all the way out here?”
“I don’t think so. And I don’t even know if I’m going to do it. I haven’t decided.”
“What’s to decide? How much money does your friend need? I have savings from my summer jobs. I’ll do it. Let’s go talk to him.”
He looked so eager I was afraid he’d saddle his horse and try to ride to Lexington in the dark! It took awhile, but I finally convinced him that there was still plenty of time to invest. I said he could go with me on the mail run next week, meet Sam and talk it over. “He’ll do a better job answering your questions than I will. I barely understand what it’s all about.”
“Well, I know what we’ll be studying the next few days!”
“Okay,” I said. “Bring the book tomorrow night. We’ll read everything we can about this phone thing.”
So it looks like I’m taking a detour on my course of study. Right now I don’t feel at all confident that this is the right direction to take, but Sam is honest, and maybe once I educate myself a little, I’ll have a better idea if this is what I want to do.
Me, a part-owner of a telephone company? What a funny idea! If I could see the look on Auntie’s face on getting that kind of news, it would be worth a whole year's salary, even if I lost it all!