Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) - Maureen Johnson


Photographic image of letter received at the Ellingham residence on April 8, 1936.

April 13, 1936, 6:00 p.m.

You know I can’t let you leave. . . .


It was not her first time there.

Dolores Epstein wasn’t sent for any of the normal reasons—fighting, cheating, failing, absence. Dottie would get called down for more complicated matters: designing her own chemistry experiments, questioning her teacher’s understanding of non-euclidian geometry, or reading books in class because there was nothing new to be learned, so the time might as well be spent doing something useful.

“Dolores,” the principal would say. “You can’t go around acting like you’re smarter than everyone else.”

“But I am,” she would reply. Not out of arrogance, but because it was true.

This time, Dottie wasn’t sure what she had done. She had broken into the library to look for a book, but she was pretty sure no one knew about that. Dottie had been in every corner of this school, had worked out every lock and peered in all the cupboards and closets and nooks. There was no malicious intent. It was usually to find something or just to see if it could be done.

When she reached the office, Mr. Phillips, the principal, was sitting at his massive desk. There was someone else there as well—a man with salt-and-pepper hair and a marvelous gray suit. He sat off to the side, bathed in a striped beam of sunlight from the window blinds. He was just like someone from the movies. He actually was someone from the movies, in a way.

“Dolores,” Mr. Phillips said. “This is Mr. Albert Ellingham. Do you know who Mr. Ellingham is?”

Of course she did. Everyone did. Albert Ellingham owned American Steel, the New York Evening Star, and Fantastic Pictures. He was rich beyond measure. He was the kind of person you might imagine would actually be on money.

“Mr. Ellingham has something wonderful to tell you. You are a very lucky girl.”

“Come sit down, Dolores,” Mr. Ellingham said, using an open hand to indicate the empty chair in front of Mr. Phillips’s desk.

Dottie sat, and the famous Mr. Ellingham leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and bringing his large, suntanned hands together in a knot. Dottie had never seen anyone with a suntan in March before. This, more than anything, was the most powerful sign of Mr. Ellingham’s wealth. He could have the sun itself.

“I’ve heard a lot about you, Dolores,” he said. “Mr. Phillips has told me how very bright you are. Fourteen years old and in eleventh grade. You’ve taught yourself Latin and Greek? I understand you do translations?”

Dottie nodded shyly.

“Do you sometimes get bored here in school?” he asked.

Dottie looked at the principal nervously, but he smiled and nodded encouragement.

“Sometimes,” Dottie said. “But it’s not the school’s fault.”

Both men chuckled at this, and Dottie relaxed a little. Not much, but a little.

“I’ve started a school, Dolores,” Mr. Ellingham went on. “A new school where special people like you can learn at their own pace, in their own way, in whatever manner suits them. I believe learning is a game, a wonderful game.”

Mr. Phillips looked down at his desk blotter for a moment. Most principals probably didn’t think of learning as a game, but no one would contradict the great Albert Ellingham. If he said learning was a game, it was a game. If he’d said learning was a roller-skating elephant in a green dress, they would go along with that too. When you have enough power and money, you can dictate the meanings of words.

“I’ve chosen thirty students from a variety of backgrounds to join the school, and I’d like you to be one of them,” Mr. Ellingham went on. “You’ll have no restrictions to your learning and access to whatever you need. Wouldn’t you like that?”

Dottie liked that idea very much. But she saw an immediate and inescapable problem.

“My parents don’t have any money,” she said plainly.

“Money should never stand in the way of learning,” Mr. Ellingham said kindly. “My school is free. You are there as my guest, if you’ll accept.”

It sounded too good to be real—but it was true. Albert Ellingham sent her a train ticket and fifty dollars in pocket money. A few months later, Dottie Epstein, who had never been out of New York her entire life, was on her way to the mountains of Vermont and surrounded by more trees than