Today's Reading

Ithaca, New York
May 1885


Nora Shipley's ears buzzed as though a thousand bees were trapped inside her head. Her back stiffened against the dining chair. She forced her grip on the May issue of The Journal of Eastern Flora and Fauna to relax, smoothing the creases at the corner of the page with her thumb.

Nora placed the journal on the table and gazed at her stepfather, Lucius Ward. Society deemed the house Nora grew up in his. But it wasn't really. Her father, Alexander Shipley, had bought this house when he secured his teaching job at Cornell University. It would always be her father's house, yet Lucius sat in her father's chair across the dining table from her, calmly eating his eggs, not realizing she barely contained an angry swarm behind her pinched lips.

Lucius wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Well, Nora, what do you think of our latest printing?"

Nora took a bite of toast to avoid answering. She flipped the periodical open to the most offensive spot, page sixteen. The advertisement, titled in a ridiculous and fanciful font, called for submissions from those willing to pay to have their articles published. As she chewed her toast into nonexistence, she silently read the destruction of her father's well-respected nature journal.

Finally, she swallowed and looked up. "Have you turned the journal into a commission publisher?"

Lucius's eyes darted to Nora's mother, who sat at the end of the table. Lydia Ward made a small sound in her throat, then placed her attention firmly on her teacup.

Putting his fork down, Lucius coughed. "I had no choice. It was no longer self-supporting."

Nora raised a brow. "Really? It did fine under my father's control."

Red infused Lucius's face. Nora couldn't tell if it was from embarrassment or anger—he looked the same with both emotions. "You forget I was his partner. We started the journal together."

Nora remained silent. She glanced at her mother, who motioned for their housemaid, Alice, to refill her cup. Mother always drank tea when she was upset.

Nora turned her attention back to the periodical and flipped through, slapping it down on the table when she found the offending article. Jabbing at the title, she lifted her eyes from the page. "Is this what you will be publishing from now on? Articles from hobbyists, rife with inaccuracies?" Nora could hardly hear her words, muffled as they were by the furious sound of the bees trapped inside her head. "As a biologist, why would you be willing to promote bad science? It's misleading. And more than that, it mocks the exceptional reputation this magazine has earned."

Lucius sighed and scrubbed his thick fingers over his jowls. "I can't pour more of my own money into it. If it doesn't generate income, it will become defunct. I know you don't want that. Neither of us do."

Nora reached for the napkin beside her plate and twisted it between her fingers. She shook her head. "But you knew the author was wrong. Why didn't you edit the article? This isn't the same academic journal you ran with Father."

Lucius had taught biology at Cornell University for twenty years, until he was abruptly released the winter before. A bright man, he dabbled in all facets of natural science—entomology, botany, chemistry—and knew the difference between solid research and vain posturing. What would their subscribers think when they read this month's issue? They couldn't possibly take it seriously.

Lucius waved his hand at the journal beside her plate. "These writers, they're so fragile. Correct them, and they pull their work and commission."

Nora shot to her feet, and the bees forced themselves out. "You'll turn my father's legacy into a laughingstock. I do not want to publish a journal that compromises his intent."

Lucius clambered from his chair and placed his knuckles on the table. He leaned forward, and Nora saw the flecks of mahogany flame against his brown eyes. Even though he spoke in a low tone, she didn't miss the warning in his voice. "It's a good thing, then, that this isn't your periodical. Nor is it, any longer, your father's."

His words stung, and Nora pressed the napkin to her middle.

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