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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 35


September 20, 1866

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Always the requisite two steps behind Mrs. Carnegie, I mounted the steps into the railcar bound for New York City. Following the engineer, we shimmied to the berths that Andrew had indicated down a hallway so narrow, I feared my mistress, wide in build and made wider by her skirts, would not fit. Once she managed to squeeze through the hall, the engineer opened the mahogany-and-etched-glass door and said, “Welcome to the Woodruff Silver Palace car, madam.”

In my mistress’s wake, I stepped into a railcar berth that looked like the interior of a mansion in miniature. Oriental rugs lined the floor, brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling, two sets of chocolate-brown upholstered chairs faced one another, and to my astonishment, a set of twin beds stacked upon each other hid in the rear, nearly obscured by red damask curtains that could be drawn for privacy.

This Silver Palace car was a revelation, and I could not repress a little gasp. The railcars to which I was accustomed were outfitted in hard wooden benches and floors and black-smut-encrusted windows. Or they had no seats at all. Instinctively, I wondered what my family would think of this luxury, and the thought saddened me that they were suffering with so little. I felt guilty at enjoying the Carnegies’ largesse.

“It is marvelous, isn’t it?” Andrew asked from behind me. Surprised to hear his voice, I turned around. I hadn’t realized he had already reached the station from his office.

“It is incredible, sir,” I said, adding the sir for the benefit of Mrs. Carnegie, who was occupied by the porter but still in earshot.

“This is a very special railcar, called the Woodruff Silver Palace. It usually runs on a different line, but I had it brought here for our journey.”

Ears perked at the sound of Andra’s voice, Mrs. Carnegie made her way down the berth’s narrow aisle to give her son a possessive squeeze. He smiled at me over her head. I knew the Silver Palace was not for my mistress’s benefit alone.

“Why are you talking with Clara?” she asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

“I was telling her that this is a Woodruff Silver Palace car. Remember when I first got involved with Woodruff Sleeping Cars, Mother?” he asked as he eased out of her grasp.

She turned to face him directly, so that the conversation would exclude me. “Of course. It was way back in 1858 or 1859, wasn’t it?”

He opened the circle to speak with me as well. “Yes, it was. Clara, I was traveling on the Pennsylvania Railroad for work, and I was approached by T. T. Woodruff himself about this notion of sleeping cars. He showed me a model he’d built, which I then shared with Messrs. Scott and Thomson.”

Mrs. Carnegie interrupted him, not bothering to change her posture again but speaking only to her son. “And Messrs. Scott and Thomson were so impressed with Woodruff—and with you, Andra—that they offered Woodruff Sleeping Cars a contract to place two of his cars on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and they gave you an interest in Woodruff’s company as a way of saying thanks.”

I noticed that my mistress did not mention that Messrs. Thomson and Scott also had a partial interest in the Woodruff Sleeping Car Company, which they had insisted upon before signing an agreement with Woodruff. Andrew had shared this private piece with me as I finalized my charts of the Carnegie holdings. Was it possible that his mother was unaware of the role of Messrs. Thomson and Scott in this story Andrew was spinning? Could she possibly be innocent to the fact that using insider information to invest in companies with whom they were about to enter into contracts was common for Thomson and Scott? Indeed, for executives of all sorts of companies, not only the railroads, including her son? I found it implausible that a woman as business savvy as my mistress could be blind to this routine practice, one I’d questioned in the past. Perhaps she simply wanted to elevate the role of her son in the tale.

“Your memory and business acumen are, as always, formidable, Mother.” He glanced around the berth, nodding with pride. “We have come a long way since those first two cars, haven’t we?”

My mistress ran her fingers along the silk fringe that hung from the end of the arms of the upholstered chairs. “We certainly have, Andra.” But then, her eyes narrowed, and her expression hardened. “Now, you’ve just got to beat that bloody Pullman at this sleeping car game. You will do that, won’t you, Andra?”

“Don’t I always, Mother?” he answered her with a gaze as hard as her own.

 

I busied myself with transforming the Silver Palace into an approximation of Mrs. Carnegie’s bedchamber, laying out her favorite toiletries, spritzing her perfume in the air, and unpacking her undergarments into the drawers. No one had indicated where I’d be sleeping, and I did not think my mistress would welcome me sharing her bunk beds. The upholstered chairs or even the less luxurious benches I saw in the other railcars would serve me just as well. Certainly, my bed at home in Galway was less plush than either option.

The thought of my bed at home near Tuam stopped me short. Home no longer existed. I would never see the farm with its crooked stream and the emerald hills that rolled like waves, one into the other, or our thatched-roof, white-washed farmhouse again. Had that really registered before? In all my worrying about my family’s survival in Galway City, I had not really contemplated the loss of my childhood home. It seemed insignificant when my family was barely surviving and I, by contrast, was inundated by the Carnegies’ wealth.

“Clara,” Mrs. Carnegie interrupted my unpacking. “Go ask my son when we are scheduled to dine. I need to change before dinner, and I’d like to know the exact time.”

“Certainly, ma’am,” I said and left the berth.

As I walked the short distance to Andrew’s berth, a disquiet nagged at me. I had tried to ignore its source and enjoy the unexpected luxuriousness of the journey, but my parting conversation with Mr. Ford picked away at my ebullience until I could no longer disregard it. Especially now that I would see Andrew in private.

Earlier that day, I’d been alone in the kitchen with Mr. Ford, fetching the basket of food he’d prepared for our journey. I assumed that it would be a silent transfer. Yet when I took the basket from his hands and thanked him, he said, “You shouldn’t be goin’ on this New York trip, Miss Kelley.”

Surprised that he was speaking to me, I was also confused by his statement. “I have to go where my mistress goes, Mr. Ford.”

“I think you know what I mean. I don’t think you should be traveling with Mr. Carnegie.” The judgment and hardness I’d seen in his eyes in the months since young Mr. Carnegie’s wedding softened, and I realized that he had not been avoiding me out of anger but because he was worried. And he couldn’t tolerate more pain after learning that his long-held hope for his wife and daughter might be dashed, no matter the ongoing investigation.

“Mr. Ford, I care very much for your opinion. But as I explained, there is nothing inappropriate going on between myself and Mr. Carnegie.”

“Do you want to tell me how an embrace is appropriate?”

I blushed. “The embrace itself was a mistake, I agree. Although nothing like that has happened before or since, and it was an impulsive reaction to some business news. That’s all.”

“What business news do you two have that could possibly call for a hug?” Mr. Ford asked me incredulously.

“Mr. Carnegie has been tutoring me in the business world, and in fact, he’s rewarded me for the help I’ve given him.”

“Rewarded?” He almost laughed.

“He has repaid me with shares in a company, worth quite a nice amount.”

“Has he placed the dollars in your hand? Or the shares, whatever those are?”

“No,” I answered quietly. The concern raised by Mr. Ford had been troubling me as well—I’d wondered when I’d actually receive the shares Andrew claimed were my payment—but I would not even consider asking Andrew about the whereabouts of the stock. I worried that appearing greedy for them might jeopardize my ownership of them.

Mr. Ford reached for my hands, holding them tightly in his own. “Listen, Miss Kelley, I’ve seen this situation before, and I hope you’ll take a word of caution from a tired, old man who’s seen too many masters and servants crossing the boundaries between them. It never ends well for the servant.”

 

I knocked on Andrew’s railcar door, knowing that he would answer it himself. Many men of his stature traveled with butlers or manservants of some sort, but not Andrew. He had grown up simply, he liked to proclaim, and liked to travel through the world simply as well.

Opening the door, he greeted me with his usual disarming grin. “Clara, come in.”

Mr. Ford’s words were still ringing in my ears, and I chose not to cross the threshold. “I am here to ask a single question on your mother’s behalf. She would like to know when you and she are dining tonight.”

“Dinner is at six o’clock,” he answered. “You can spare a few minutes, Clara. I want to show you a special feature in my berth that I had Woodruff design.”

His invitation sounded like precisely the sort of situation Mr. Ford warned me against. “I can see the whole of your berth from the hallway. I don’t think it’s wise for me to step inside in such close proximity to your mother’s berth,” I cautioned him.

As giddy as a child, he demonstrated a mahogany desk that he had Woodruff design that folded into the berth wall when the passenger required more space. I watched this display from the hallway.

“It is ingenious, Andrew.” I gave him the compliment he sought.

He pushed back into the tufted velvet seat that faced the desk, as if to emphasis its plushness. “When I first pushed the idea of luxury travel with these Woodruff railcars, the war was approaching, and there wasn’t much use for them. But now that transcontinental rail is expanding, people will want comfort for long journeys.”

“People who can afford it, you mean.”

“Yes, it is too expensive for the common man, sadly. And the Pullman cars are even pricier than the Woodruff cars.”

“Your mother mentioned Pullman earlier. Who—or what—is that?”

“Pullman is a competitor. Because Woodruff has got eighty-eight cars in service and contracts on the Pennsylvania Railroad and most of the major mid-Atlantic, it has dominated the sleeping car business until now. The Pullman cars have started to take control in an area in which we wanted to expand—the Middle West. And now there are rumors that the Union Pacific Railroad is getting ready to award the sleeping car franchise for its transcontinental trains.”

“So you need to put Pullman out of the running for the Union Pacific contract.”

“Exactly.”

“Tell me more about the Pullman cars and how they differ from the Woodruff cars.”

Andrew gave an overview of the engineering behind each car and the differences in structure and size, admitting that the Pullman cars were sturdier, quieter, and even a bit more comfortable. The irony, Andrew said, was that Pullman based his sleeping cars on several of Woodruff’s designs.

“It sounds as if Woodruff would be hard-pressed to beat out Pullman. What about aligning with them?”

“I’ve approached Pullman, even made a generous proposal to fold Woodruff into Pullman. I thought I’d get him with the financial offer, as I know he needs money for expansion. But he is stubborn. And wary.”

“Sounds like a worthy adversary,” I joked.

“Too worthy.”

An idea occurred to me, one I couldn’t believe Andrew had not considered and rejected for some reason. Would he laugh at me if I suggested it? I worried that it was too obvious. “You mentioned that Pullman based his sleeping cars on several of Woodruff’s designs?”

“Yes.”

“Does Woodruff have a patent on any of those designs?”

Andrew stood up and began pacing around the small berth. “A few.”

“What if you file a lawsuit that Pullman violated Woodruff’s patents? What’s that sort of case called again?”

“Patent infringement. Hmm, interesting.”

“Yes. Instead of taking a friendly approach, explain to him that you’ll sue him for patent infringement if he will not consolidate his interest with Woodruff’s. He won’t want to drain his capital defending a lawsuit right now. You might leave him with no choice but to surrender and agree.”

I thought I heard my name. When I listened hard, I did not hear it again, so I turned my attention back to Andrew.

He stared at me for a long time, and I feared his reaction. Before he said a single word, a hysterical, body-shaking laughter took hold of him. I didn’t know how to react until he finally calmed down enough to say, “Clara, I have at least ten professional advisers working on this Pullman matter, and you—my mother’s lady’s maid—have arrived at the solution. In less than a minute. You are a genius.”

“Clara!” my mistress said, her voice directly behind me. She had walked down the narrow Silver Palace aisle to fetch me from her son’s berth, and she was mad.

Pivoting to face her beet-red, livid face, I curtsied and said, “My apologies, ma’am.”

“What is taking you so long? I sent you with one question for my son. There is no reason for you two to indulge in a long conversation.”

Andrew came to the door of his berth. He had a book in his hand. “It’s my fault, Mother. I asked her to wait while I dug this book out of my luggage. I thought it might prove an interesting read for the journey.”

She huffed, then said, “All right. Clara, take the book and follow me to my room. Andrew, when do we need to be ready for dinner?”

He consulted his pocket watch and answered, “Thirty minutes.”

“Come along, Clara. You have wasted so much time at my son’s door that we will have to race to be dressed for dinner.” Of course, she placed the blame on me instead of her precious Andra.

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered as I looked down at the book in my hands. It was Andrew’s copy of Aurora Leigh.


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