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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 22


December 14, 1864

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Mother, you should not have been going through my papers.”

I froze. Knitting bag in hand, I had been heading to the parlor to help Mrs. Carnegie with a new scarf for the younger Mr. Carnegie. But I didn’t dare enter the parlor now. I had never heard the elder Mr. Carnegie speak harshly to his mother. Their exchanges took the form either of gentle ribbing or serious business conversations. This anger was unprecedented, and a troubling thought occurred to me. Did he have something in his papers about me?

“Are you accusing me of nosing about where I am not permitted, Andra? Since when am I not allowed access to your business papers?” My mistress was almost yelling at her beloved son.

“Those were not business papers, Mother. You read a draft of personal correspondence from me to Tom Scott.”

Relief coursed through me at hearing that Mr. Scott was the intended recipient of the letter. But I still didn’t enter the parlor. I waited in the servants’ back hallway instead. I hadn’t seen Mr. Carnegie since our encounter in the library two days ago, and I certainly did not want this tumultuous moment to be the first time.

“Personal correspondence?” She snorted. “I would hardly describe as personal a letter to your superior at the Pennsylvania Railroad, a man who has figured in our business discussions for years.”

“This particular letter was personal.” His voice was low, but his tone was seething.

“Do you consider personal a request to Mr. Scott that he help find you a position as American consul in Glasgow? A position that would leave behind me and Tom to handle the businesses you created, a responsibility for which Tom is not ready. How can something be personal when it affects our entire family?”

He was thinking of leaving for Scotland? Why? Because I pushed him away? Despite my efforts to bury any hope of a connection between us, I felt upset at the thought of this house—this life—without his presence. Stop, I told myself. It is for the best. Without Mr. Carnegie, there would be no temptation to stray from my duty.

“Mother, I am a successful twenty-eight-year-old man with my own private reasons for my request. A position in Scotland is the only enterprise I can contemplate at the moment. That’s all you need to know.”

“Andra, you know what they say. Any fool can earn money, but it takes a wise man to keep it. Right now, leaving behind the fortune you’ve amassed with only your inexperienced brother to tend to it, I’d say you’re acting the fool.”

“Mother, I don’t plan to leave without making certain that all the proper measures are in place, not only to keep the wealth we’ve made, but to expand it as well. You must trust me.”

She began sobbing. “Andra, I simply don’t understand. We have always talked through decisions. Why didn’t you discuss this with me first? Why won’t you talk to me about it now? How can you leave me and Tom?”

Mr. Carnegie did not answer. The man who had a ready quip for every remark was rendered silent by his mother’s grief.

Footsteps entered the room, and I heard the younger Mr. Carnegie ask, “What is going on in here? I could hear your voices all the way in the study, and the pair of you look mad as hops.”

I wanted to stay for Mr. Carnegie’s answer to his brother’s question, but I heard the clatter of my mistress’s feet on the main staircase. She’d had enough of her son. I raced through the kitchen—past a gawking Mr. Ford and Hilda who had been listening to the heated exchange between our master and mistress—and up the back staircase. I reached Mrs. Carnegie’s bedroom door before she arrived. I did not want her to think I’d been privy to the fight downstairs.

“May I help you, ma’am?” I asked as she huffed up the final stair toward the door.

“Yes, Clara,” she said, pushing past me into her bedchamber.

I followed her into her bedroom. Reaching for her elbow, I steadied my mistress as she settled back onto her chaise longue. Turning her back to me, she began to quietly weep.

I brought her a freshly ironed handkerchief from her drawer and asked, “Can I bring you something to calm you, ma’am? Your knitting perhaps? A book from the library?”

“I cannot think of a single object that would calm me, Clara.”

“Some tea and biscuits then? A small glass of brandy?”

“The only thing that would console me right now is the allegiance of my eldest son. And I do not think that is something you can deliver.”

Of that, I was certain. In fact, I think I had been the one to deliver his disloyalty.


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