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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 43


April 3, 1867

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Steam rose up from the teacup. I lowered my face, allowing the warmth to rise and take the sting from my cheeks. The calendar read April, but spring had yet to reach Pittsburgh.

“Shall I ask the proprietor for cool water for your tea, Clara?” Andrew asked, lightly touching my hand with a gloved finger, his second pair of the day. The first pair blackened with the soot of downtown Pittsburgh by lunchtime and had to be discarded.

I gazed up at his dark-blue, intelligent eyes, the only ones that saw beneath the Clara Kelley I’d become into the Clara Kelley I truly was, even though he was unaware that he’d had to penetrate fabricated outer layers to reach my core. “Thank you, Andrew, but no. The heat feels good,” I said quietly.

While the warmth lessened the pain from my cheeks, nothing could soften the suffering of my heart. Poor, lovely Cecelia. I would never see her grow from a girl into a woman. I could not imagine how shattered my parents and Eliza were, having watched the life drain slowly from Cecelia. The powerlessness they must have felt then I was experiencing now. I wanted to board a ship with funds enough to rescue them myself from the Galway City hovel in which they lived and bring them here. But I could share none of this with Andrew. Not my heartbreak over the death of my sister, not the urgency of my family’s situation, not the Clara Kelley I’d been when I first arrived in Philadelphia. But how could I save my family and still maintain my facade with Andrew? How would he react when I told him that I bore none of the honesty he prized but in fact had been lying to him and his beloved mother for years? What would he say when I told him that I was nothing but a lowly farmer’s daughter whose family was dying in a Galway City slum, and that’s why I needed the money he promised me? Yet I could not think of a way to procure the money I needed from him without confessing. I braced myself for the inevitable moment.

“Spring cannot arrive soon enough. Just think, Clara, when the winter thaws, we can meet in parks instead of tea shops and the back hallways of Fairfield.”

He spoke of spring, but I could hardly think beyond today, beyond this confessional moment. My stomach lurched with the knowledge of what I must do. My American life sat upon the foundation of my initial deception, and yet I could not see a way to save my family without sacrificing my lies. And sacrificing my future with Andrew along with it.

Andrew pulled two envelopes from the inner pocket of his coat and laid them on the table between us. When I did not reach for them, he asked, “Do you not wonder what is in the envelopes?”

Envelopes did not hold much luster for me after Eliza’s letter yesterday. They seemed harbingers of tragedy, not bearers of good tidings. I found myself in no hurry to read the missive.

“I assume business papers for my review. Perhaps a proposal from an investor in the Missouri River bridge contract? I know you’ve been working hard on that financing,” I guessed.

“These documents concern a matter upon which I’ve been working much harder than the Missouri River bridge. A matter that’s been at the forefront of my mind for years, long before President Johnson announced the commission of those seven bridges.”

“What could be more important than the Missouri River bridge?” I tried to joke, but my heart contained no joviality.

“Please, Clara.” He picked up the smaller envelope and handed it to me. “I want to watch your face when you open it.”

I reached for the knife sitting on the table and slit open the envelope. A folded piece of paper sat inside. Sliding it out, I unfolded it and read aloud, “‘In the name of Clara Kelley, in the Bank of Pittsburgh Depository Account Number 24976, the sum of $1,250 is available for withdrawal by Miss Kelley.’”

“Oh, Andrew,” I whispered, incredulous. The money I needed now sat in my hand. I had rendered no confession in exchange for it.

“That is the sum you received from selling your shares in Keystone Telegraph, a company you essentially founded with your ingenious idea of stringing public telegraph wires alongside the railroad tracks, to Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph.” He grinned. “Please open the second envelope, Clara. It is compensation for the assistance and insights you gave me with the railcar business.”

To what was he referring? We had not discussed the Pullman and Woodruff railcar business since the day we road to New York City on the Woodruff Silver Palace railcar.

Hands trembling, I slit open the larger envelope. A thick piece of paper drifted out onto the table. The paper bore the distinctive look of a stock certificate. Reading aloud, I said, “Be it known that Clara Kelley is the proprietor of one hundred shares of Woodruff Railcar Company, transferable or cashable only at the offices of said company in person by said stockholder with the surrender of this certificate.”

“You no longer need to work as a lady’s maid to my mother, Clara. You are now a woman of independent means, a station in life equal to my own.”

Tears started trickling down my cheeks, but I could not speak the words of gratitude or affection that bubbled within me. Was it possible that my family could be saved and my relationship too?

Andrew lifted one of his hands from mine and wiped away my tears. “This is not a day for tears, my dearest Clara. It is time to tell my mother.”


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