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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 33


June 14, 1866

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cobalt hues began to illuminate the pitch-black of the nighttime sky as I finally closed the door to Mrs. Carnegie’s bedroom. Only the harkening of dawn could cajole the revelers into ending the wedding festivities. The music of a string quartet had followed the protracted dinner, and drinks and more silver trays of delicacies had followed the music, and a boisterous farewell to the bride and groom had followed the final round of confections. Conversation lingered until Mrs. Pitcairn noticed the brightening sky and announced that the wedding guests must take their leave.

I paused in the stairwell. I wanted to check on Mr. Ford’s spirits after last evening. Would he have awakened for the morning? It would not be abnormal for him to be preparing the day’s bread or organizing the larder at this hour, and given that Mrs. Carnegie had excused the kitchen staff after the dinner concluded, he would have had a normal night’s rest. Unlike me. Thankfully, Mrs. Carnegie had surprised me by excusing me from my duties for the following morning. Perhaps she was planning on sleeping until noon herself.

I padded down the back staircase to the kitchen. Even the low gaslights Mr. Ford lit for the early-morning hours were dark. Mr. Ford must have been asleep still. Turning back to the servants’ staircase, I bumped straight into Mr. Carnegie.

My heart thumped in my chest so loudly, I thought he could hear it. “You startled me.” A few weeks before, he’d asked me to stop calling him Mr. Carnegie and to start calling him Andrew, in private of course, but I couldn’t cross the bridge to such familiarity. Instead, I’d taken to omitting any sort of name when speaking to him. In response, he’d taken to doing the same.

He laughed. “I am sorry. I did creep into the kitchen like a thief in the night, didn’t I?”

“Yes, though I cannot complain. I was lurking around in the dark myself.”

“True enough. What’s your reason? I confess to wanting a few more of the éclairs filled with coffee cream.”

“Why didn’t you ring for the staff to bring some to you?”

“There has been a frenzy of work for the past two weeks—at my mother’s insistence—and they deserve their rest.”

“I’d be happy to get the éclairs for you,” I said and started to walk toward the larder where Mr. Ford kept them.

He reached for my hand to stop me. “Please don’t. I’m perfectly capable of serving myself.”

As he heaped the remaining éclairs onto one of the kitchen plates, he said, “You never told me your reason for coming down to the kitchen when, by all rights, you should be collapsed in your bed as well.”

“I wanted to check on Mr. Ford.”

“Is something wrong?” he asked, sliding the plate of éclairs toward me and gesturing for me to select one.

I shook my head and answered, “The wedding made him rather melancholic about his own family.”

“Poor fellow,” he said. “Did you tell him about General Howard’s investigation?”

“I did. I’m hoping that after he rests, the news will lighten his mood a bit.”

“Good. I hope we can help find his family. General Howard has the ability to search the records of most plantations and conduct wide-scale investigations, of course.”

The plate of oblong éclairs, each piped with an identical flower of icing, sat between us. Neither of us reached toward the plate, although, after the interminable day, I longed for one.

“You first,” he offered.

Normally, I would have resisted, as befitted a maid, but I was too weary. And too desperate to try the confections that I’d been staring at all evening while denied a bite.

“Speaking of news, I have some rather exciting information to share with you,” he said.

The delectable coffee cream interior of the éclair filled my mouth, and I couldn’t speak.

“Your company is in the works, Miss Kelley.”

I dabbed at my mouth with a napkin and asked, “What do you mean?”

“Your telegraph company.”

“My telegraph company?”

“Yes. It’s called Keystone Telegraph Company.” His barrel-shaped chest swelled with the excitement of sharing his news. “Your idea to string public telegraph lines along the railroads was the work of genius. I ran the idea by Scott and Thomson, and they wholeheartedly agreed to grant us the necessary rights of way along the Pennsylvania Railroad, in exchange for becoming silent partners, of course. So I formed Keystone Telegraph, and at Thomson’s behest, the Pennsylvania Railroad entered into contract with Keystone Telegraph, giving it the right, for an annual fee of four dollars a mile, to string public wires along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s poles.”

I clapped my hand to my mouth. “I don’t believe it.”

He grinned at me. “Believe it. And I took the liberty of granting fifty shares in the new company to you. Much as Mr. Scott granted to me over ten years ago when I helped him with the exclusive contract Pennsylvania Railroad entered with Adams Express to transport packages between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.”

“Fifty shares to me?” I felt like giggling. A wildly inappropriate giggle at the idea of me, farm girl Clara Kelley from Galway, owning a piece of a telegraph company. I kept my hand clamped over my mouth to stifle an unseemly act.

“Yes indeed. But I haven’t even told you the most brilliant part of my news.”

“Mr. Carnegie, I cannot imagine news more marvelous than fifty shares in Keystone Telegraph!”

“Haven’t I told you to call me Andrew?”

“Andrew,” I said, although the word felt raw, even exposed. I stifled the urge to look around for witnesses to this almost-licentious behavior.

“The Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company caught wind of your idea, and they need a telegraphic connection to Philadelphia.”

Why was Mr. Carnegie—Andrew—telling me about the aspirations of the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph? I didn’t understand. What did Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph have to do with my company, Keystone Telegraph?

“So that they can string lines from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, along the route that the Pennsylvania Railroad granted to your company, Keystone Telegraph, Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph has offered to buy Keystone Telegraph in exchange for six thousand shares of Pacific and Atlantic stock and the contract to string the wires from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, which one of my companies can handle and for which we will be paid a premium. All before we dig a single hole for a telegraph pole, string even one telegraph line, or spend a single dollar.”

“Why would you—we—want to do that?”

“Because Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph is paying us, the owners of the shares of Keystone Telegraph, a huge premium. Each of your Keystone Telegraph shares is now a Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph share worth $25, for a total of $1,250.”

I didn’t feel my jaw drop at the news that I now had $1,250—an amount I never expected to earn in my entire lifetime—but it must have. Because Mr. Carnegie—Andrew—stepped closer to me and, with a single finger under my chin, closed it.

“Now it will be a bit of time before you can cash in your stocks, if in fact you even want to do that. But the money will be all yours.”

All I could think of was Eliza, Cecelia, Mum, and Dad. This wondrous boon could rescue them. The absurd amount of money was more than enough to save my family from the desperate life they were living in Galway City and bring them here. And until the “bit of time” passed before I could cash in the stock, it could bring them hope. I couldn’t wait to write Eliza with the news.

Without thinking of propriety, I hugged him. Whether as an expression of gratitude for what this meant for my family, an outpouring at our enormous good fortune, or something more, I did not know. I simply could not restrain myself. His body was stiff under my arms at first and then slackened as he wrapped his arms around me. I must have shocked him. I had, in fact, shocked myself.

“I told you it was good news, Clara,” he whispered. “Now you can really help your family.”

We stared into each other’s eyes, and I wondered what would happen next. In this moment. In the weeks to come.

And then, Mr. Ford walked into the room.


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