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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 19


November 28, 1864

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Three distracted days and three sleepless nights after our encounter in the park, I still had not laid eyes on my mistress’s elder son again. As I tended to Mrs. Carnegie in her bedchamber, the parlor, and the library, Mr. Carnegie’s statements ran through my mind. Every time someone entered a room or rounded a hallway bend, my heart leaped, whether out of excitement or fear, I could not say. My feelings about Mr. Carnegie vacillated hourly.

On the morning of the fourth day, I brought Mrs. Carnegie’s breakfast tray down to the kitchen and bumped into Mrs. Stewart, who was directing Hilda and Mary on their daily cleaning routine. “Apologies,” I said with a quick curtsy.

“Ah, Miss Kelley.” She looked away from her maids, who she treated firmly but with more affection than she’d ever shown me. “You have been so busy with your mistress that I have not had the opportunity to find you alone for some time. To deliver this.”

Reaching into the depths of her apron pocket, she handed me a letter from my sister. I wondered how long she’d kept it in there, her passive way of reminding me that, even though I was not technically in her control, she still wielded some power over me. But instead of challenging her, an act that could only cause me trouble, I said, “Thank you, Mrs. Stewart.”

Mrs. Carnegie would be expecting me in a few minutes, but I could not wait to read my sister’s words. Apprehension had been eating away at me in the weeks since Eliza told me of their acreage loss, and I needed to know that she, Mum, Dad, and Cecelia were all right. I walked up the servants’ staircase, but instead of entering my mistress’s bedchamber directly, I tiptoed into the guest bedroom. Shutting the door behind me as quietly as I could, I lowered myself onto the exquisitely embroidered apple-green coverlet.

Without shears to slit it open, I tore the paper as gently as possible. I did not want to lose a single one of Eliza’s words.

My dearest sister,

You have asked why I have not shared news with you but have only asked for yours. You were right to sense that I was holding back. Dad would not want me to write to you of our most recent happenings. Indeed, he forbade it, allowing me only the latitude to tell you we had lost acreage, but you and I have never kept secrets from one another. How can I keep one so grave?

Our family has been struck by dual blows, Clara. Dad’s fears have become manifest. Lord Martyn made good on his insinuations to rescind the tenancy completely. Citing the treasonous nature of our father’s current Fenian ties, a blatant fabrication, he took back the land. He redistributed many of the acres to our neighbors, even the apathetic Malloys, and entered into a new tenancy with the remaining five. Our land is gone.

Yet this is not the only misadventure, although the second stems from the first. When Daniel learned of the termination of Dad’s tenancy, he canceled our engagement. As the younger son, Daniel stands to inherit nothing from his own father, now that gavelkind has ended. He must marry a girl with land as dowry. And I no longer have any to share.

I understand that Daniel had no choice, Clara. But I will not pretend that my heart is not shattered.

We must leave Tuam for mother’s sister’s home near Galway City today, after selling most of our family’s furnishings for a fraction of their fair price. Aunt Catherine has offered us shelter on the third floor of her already crowded house, and the proximity of her home to the city is a blessing. We will be close enough to the factories to procure jobs if there are any, even though none of us are pleased to be moving to a place rumored to have grime and dirt in such abundance, it rivals your Pittsburgh.

As we move away from the farm, we will be more grateful than you know for the regular money you send us and more thankful than ever of your prosperity in America. Without your work and Aunt Catherine’s charity, I am not certain how we would survive this terrible time. Maintaining his usual bullishness in the face of this devastating development, Dad insists that we will prevail in Galway City and return to Tuam to reclaim our land and right ourselves, but I do not share his confidence. We may survive, but how will we thrive?

Please direct your letters to the St. Nicholas Parish Church in Galway City. Aunt Catherine thinks it is the safest way to ensure delivery of your mail. Pray for us, dear sister.

Yours,

Eliza

My body trembled with Eliza’s news. Even though Dad had sent me to America to hedge against this possibility, I never truly believed that the farm would be lost. The shock of the anticipated catastrophe becoming real was too much to bear.

Sobs wracked my body, but no tears streamed down my face. My eyes remained dry. The dispossession was a tragedy that no mere tears could capture. Unless their fortunes changed in some dramatic and inexplicable way, the fate of my entire family now rested upon me.


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