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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 16


August 8, 1864

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Loosen the thread, Clara,” Mrs. Carnegie ordered.

Unlooping one skein of yarn from my hands, I slackened the line connecting us. My mistress’s sharp knitting needles clicked as they scooped up the charcoal woolen threads and seamlessly integrated them into the scarf she was knitting for her beloved Andrew.

“Tell me more about Thomas Miller’s recent business dealings,” she demanded. Since Mr. Carnegie had entered the library a full hour ago, they had been discussing Cyclops Iron Company. Mr. Miller, a hot-tempered Irishman who was a friend of the elder Mr. Carnegie, had founded the company after he had been bought out of another iron company—called Iron City Forge—by other founders John Phipps, the Kloman brothers, and the younger Mr. Carnegie, at the elder’s behest. The buyout had ruffled Mr. Miller’s feathers for a time, but the charming Mr. Carnegie quickly smoothed over relations and helped create the new ownership structure in Iron City Forge and Cyclops Iron as well.

Iron. It was a constant topic of conversation between my mistress and her son. In the wartime climate, even I knew that the hunger for iron was nearly savage—for ironclad warships, for railroad tracks to carry supplies and troops, and for weaponry and ammunition. From snippets of overheard conversations, I understood that the Carnegies wanted to be major players in the industry, and they were taking necessary steps to bring that dream to fruition.

“Ah, Mother, you’ve known Thomas Miller for years, as long as he’s been a close friend. What more can I tell you? And anyway, I cannot remember any more details about his businesses other than his iron venture,” he answered good-naturedly.

“Andra,” she scolded him, “you could memorize a poem and recite it back to me when you were three. Do you think for a single minute that I believe that you don’t have Thomas Miller’s entire business history at your fingertips? That you are not privy to the ventures he’s only thinking about forming? You’re just being lazy. Or defensive. Tell me what’s going on.”

A fiery-red blush spread across his cheeks, and he glanced over at me to see if I’d witnessed his humiliation. I averted my eyes as if the yarn I held mesmerized me. He knew, of course, I was only pretending, but I didn’t want to heighten his embarrassment by meeting his gaze.

He reiterated Mr. Miller’s history with Iron City Forge as well as some other ventures his friend had dabbled in before forming Cyclops Iron. His mother was correct that he knew even the smallest details of Mr. Miller’s business dealings. What was his reason for obfuscation? The relationship between Mrs. Carnegie and her son seemed that of the closest confidantes, and I’d only ever heard him be totally forthcoming with her.

I followed their discourse, trying to connect it to the chart I’d made the evening before about the Carnegies’ business interests. Oftentimes, while I helped Mrs. Carnegie as she sewed or knitted, Mr. Carnegie stopped in the library to engage her in business conversations as an adviser. I wanted to be ready should she raise these issues with me one day. Who knew where the discussions might lead?

Mrs. Carnegie continued with her knitting, uncharacteristically quiet, and I allowed my thoughts to drift to the letter I’d received from Eliza earlier in the week. In a brief letter written without Mum and Dad’s knowledge, she confessed that the Martyns had been taking away actual acreage from the family farm since spring, not just bits and pieces as they had in the months leading up to my departure. Acre by acre, they had been giving away pieces of the farm to neighboring tenants, citing Dad’s political views. My family still had eight acres, land to raise diverse enough crops to survive, but just barely. The wages I had been sending over had been transformed from safeguard to lifeline. I felt sick with helplessness.

The line slackened, and my mistress stopped knitting. From her sharp intake of breath, I knew she was about to bestow an order on her older son, couched as emphatic advice, when the younger Mr. Carnegie entered the library.

The fair-haired, twenty-one-year-old man walked past the bookcases that held not only leather-bound volumes but also pigeonholes for documents and drawers for games and sat down in the empty chair across from his mother. He did not glance at his brother at all. His face normally bore a placid expression, which hid a quiet intelligence and an eager friendliness reserved for his few close mates. But there was nothing placid about his face now.

“Did I hear you talking about Cyclops Iron and Iron City Forge?” he asked my mistress, directing his question only to her.

She shot the elder Mr. Carnegie an almost imperceptible look. “We were just wrapping up, Tom. Minor details only. Nothing to trouble yourself about.”

“Mother, I’m surprised to hear you describe my concerns about my rather large stake in Iron City Forge as ‘nothing to trouble yourself about.’” His voice was trembling, whether with nerves or anger, I couldn’t tell. His demeanor shocked me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she answered, her voice guarded in a manner I’d never heard before.

“Surely Andrew has told you about his decision to invest in Tom Miller’s Cyclops Iron Company? A venture that will rival Iron City Forge—my company—for all the big iron contracts.” The younger Mr. Carnegie was furious, and he nearly knocked over his chair as he stood to pour himself a whiskey from the sideboard.

I couldn’t help but think that the younger Mr. Carnegie must be mistaken. One of the qualities I admired in his elder brother was his loyalty to his family, a trait I shared.

Surprise flitted across my mistress’s face, but she quickly masked it. Instead, she snapped, “Tom, isn’t it a bit early in the day for a drink?”

“Don’t change the subject, Mother.”

The elder Mr. Carnegie rose from his position on the couch. “Don’t you dare speak to Mother that way, Tom.”

The younger Mr. Carnegie turned toward his brother for the first time since entering the room. “That’s rich, Andrew, taking the high road when your own feet are filthy with the muck of your dirty dealings.”

I almost gasped at the strong accusation. I had never witnessed anything but solidarity between the brothers, under the elder Mr. Carnegie’s guidance, of course.

“You’re talking nonsense, Tom. Maybe that’s not your first drink of the day.”

The brothers drew closer to one another until they stood face-to-face, highlighting the elder brother’s shorter stature. But this disparity did nothing to make the elder Mr. Carnegie back down, even when his younger brother raised himself even taller in order to intimidate. The elder Mr. Carnegie’s eyes flashed with an anger I’d never seen in him before, but then, I supposed I’d be furious if one of my family members accused me of deception. Was this hypocritical of me? I had not exactly told my family the entire truth about my own situation.

“Your nasty secret is out. I know about your planned ownership stake in Cyclops Iron,” Tom said in a seething tone. “And I know what it will do to my stake in Iron City Forge. As do you.”

“Your stake in Iron City Forge? Who gave you the money for that stake, Tom?” The elder Mr. Carnegie’s face was red again, although now from rage, not from shame.

“No matter where the money came from, the stake is in my name. And it’s going to be worth far less once Cyclops Iron competes for the same contracts as Iron City Forge.”

Mrs. Carnegie put down her knitting needles and reached out for my hand. She wanted to stand between her two beloved sons and stop their fighting. I helped her to rise, and then stood by, feeling like an intruder in a private moment. But my mistress had not given me leave to exit the room, and in truth, I wanted to see how this battle would be won.

The elder Mr. Carnegie’s eyes narrowed. “Think about it, Tom. Why would I want to harm the stake I funded in Iron City Forge? Isn’t it possible that I have a larger plan in mind? One that benefits both Cyclops Iron and Iron City Forge? One that benefits our family?”

Mrs. Carnegie’s mouth opened as if she wanted to chime in, but then she clamped it shut. She wanted to see what her younger son’s response would be. And so did I. To my surprise, it seemed that the elder Mr. Carnegie had engaged in some dishonesty with his younger brother as well as possible chicanery. Was it defensible because he meant it for the entire family’s betterment? Mr. Carnegie seemed to think so.

The younger Mr. Carnegie didn’t answer at first, only quaffed down his drink and stared at his brother. “Why should I believe you?”

The elder Mr. Carnegie’s face fell with his brother’s words, and I swear I saw the glisten of tears in his eyes. Or was this another manipulation? “Why wouldn’t you believe me, Tom? Since you were five years old and we arrived in Pittsburgh from Dunfermline, I’ve been taking care of you. How you can doubt my intentions?”

The younger Mr. Carnegie replied, his eyes flashing with anger. “Have you forgotten that I’ve been working for this family since I was fourteen? You may have taken care of me when I was a child, and I may have started out as your assistant, Andrew, but I’m a grown man now with a strong reputation as an astute, trustworthy businessman. One who smooths over the feathers you constantly ruffle.”

“I am sorry, Tom. Forgive an older brother who sometimes forgets that you are no longer a lad but a man,” his elder brother apologized, although I detected a hint of condescension in his tone. Mr. Carnegie wanted something from his younger brother, and he would say what was necessary to get it. I recognized this because it was a quality I shared, especially now with my family’s well-being at stake. But I did not think I’d be capable of lying to and exploiting my family to do so, even if it was for their welfare.

After a brief pause, Mr. Carnegie continued, “And you’re correct. You have an impeccable reputation, and I rely on you utterly to run aspects of our businesses. I hope my thoughtless words don’t turn you away from this plan. I will need you to see it through.”

The younger Mr. Carnegie’s face softened a bit, but his eyes still bore a suspicious squint. “What is this plan, Andrew?”

A ruthless glee flashed across the elder Mr. Carnegie’s face, and I saw the harder, more determined man who lurked beneath his affable exterior. “I am helping Tom Miller to create Cyclops Iron and investing in it only so I can merge it with Iron City Forge to make one massive iron company, one that can service the war’s desire for the metal now and supply the massive rebuilding and growth that will undoubtedly follow the war. With the majority stake owned by the Carnegie family. And you at the helm.”

The younger Mr. Carnegie’s eyes widened at his brother’s words. “Don’t sell me a dog, Andrew.”

Mr. Carnegie guffawed. “I wouldn’t lie to you about this, Tom. You are my man inside the Trojan horse at Iron City Forge. When the time is right, you’ll spring out, and together, we will take over Iron City and merge it with Cyclops. We will own a single, enormous company that will corner the iron market, engulfing all the small outfits into our behemoth.”

But before the younger Mr. Carnegie could say a word—of apology or continued anger—his mother interjected. “See, Tom, Andra always has your best interests at heart.” She said not a word about the machinations through which her elder son put the younger to attain those “best interests.”

“If that’s true, Mother, why didn’t he tell me? Why did I have to hear rumors about it from the Kloman brothers?”

From the fleeting look of surprise on her face earlier, I guessed that my mistress knew nothing of this plan and likely had much the same questions. But she would never break ranks with the elder Mr. Carnegie and admit as much. When she didn’t answer the question, her elder son interposed, “Because you’re so kind, Tom. So good. I didn’t want to sully you with the darker side of business and make you tell lies until the deal is done. But I was wrong to keep my plan to myself.”

“I’m not a child, Andrew, in need of protection. And you should never lie to your family.”

“I’m sorry, Brother. Old habits die hard. The protection I mean, of course. And this will be a long, tricky business involving the deception of old friends. But necessary if we want to control iron.” He stretched out his hand for his brother to shake. “Can I be forgiven?”

The younger Mr. Carnegie’s hand trembled as he extended it, and the brothers shook hands and then resumed their seats. An uncomfortable silence filled the room, and in a few seconds, Mrs. Carnegie lowered herself to her seat, and her needles began clicking again. As if nothing had transpired, she asked, “Tom, will you be calling upon Miss Coleman this afternoon?”

The younger Mr. Carnegie stared over at his mother as if he couldn’t believe—at this tenuous moment—she would actually ask about his nascent relationship with the daughter of iron-manufacturing magnate William Coleman.

But I wasn’t surprised at the directness of my mistress. She was only reminding her younger son about his familial duty to cement a relationship that would serve the Carnegies well in their quest to control iron. She wanted everyone to be very clear about where they ranked and what they were expected to do. In her own way, Mrs. Carnegie was every bit as unrelenting as her eldest son.

The knitting needles stopped clicking as she noticed her younger son’s expression. “Why are you looking at me that way, Tom? You cannot leave everything to Andra. We all have our role to play.” Her voice was hard and unyielding.

“Clara, tighten up that yarn,” she barked at me, reminding me that I too had my role to play and that I better play it well.


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