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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 44

April 6, 1867

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Muck and refuse still clogged the dirt roads of Slab Town. Filthy, fatherless children still ruled the alleyways, while unemployed men gambled on street corners. Fire still sparked from the mills and foundries, dangerously close to the shanties hastily constructed up and down Rebecca Street. The smell of rotting food and human waste still permeated the air. But Slab Town could not touch me today. Andrew and I had agreed that he would speak to his mother in one week’s time, and I had written to my family to let them know their boat tickets would come soon. Only one week until my life would change.

Could this be my last visit to my cousins while employed by the Carnegies? The thought distracted me while I sidestepped piles of horse dung and dodged laundry swinging in the wind. I considered the different ways I might rescue the Lambs from this hellhole with Andrew’s resources at our shared disposal. I still hadn’t decided how I’d handle the arrival of my family with Andrew. Would I confess about my real background or embroil myself in another lie? That, I decided, was a bridge I could cross—to use one of Andrew’s favorite comparisons—once my family arrived safely. Their well-being was paramount.

Hurrying down Rebecca Street to the familiar lean-tos, I reached the rough frame of my cousins’ house. The thin door to the Lambs’ home rattled when I knocked. No one answered, even on repeated banging.

Where were they?

To my surprise, Patrick rounded the bend of Rebecca Street. “I was hoping I’d catch you, Clara.”

I was confused. “Have I come at the wrong time? Or the wrong day?”

“No, no, you’re spot on.”

“Where is everyone, then?”

“It’s just that”—he shifted his gaze to the ground, kicking at a stone—“we aren’t living here anymore.”

I wanted to ask him what happened, but I reminded myself of his pride in providing a single-family home, plentiful food, and hard-soled shoes for his family. He was obviously uncomfortable, and my inquiry might be too injurious to Patrick’s dignity. Instead, I asked, “Where are you living?”

“Follow me. I’ll take you there. Maeve and the children are waiting for you.”

We crossed Rebecca Street to the opposite side, and after walking for five city blocks, we came to a ramshackle house not unlike the Lambs’ previous house.

“Here we are.” Patrick pointed.

As we walked the remaining distance, I wondered why Patrick moved his family from one lean-to into another, essentially across the street from each other. He pushed open the thin wood door, and I expected to see Maeve and the children inside. Instead, a chestnut-haired mother with three towheaded children scampering around her feet nodded at us. An entirely different family inhabited the first floor of the house.

Our footsteps echoed as we tromped up the flimsy wooden staircase to the second floor. Once there, Maeve opened the door with her usual warm embrace. “Welcome, Clara.”

The children gathered around my legs, stumbling over each other as they hugged them. I knelt down to return their embrace, and from my pocket, I pulled a bag of cakes that Mr. Ford had slipped me before I left. As the children fought over who should get the largest cake in the bag, I stood back up and handed Maeve a basket brimming with three loaves of bread, a salted ham, baking potatoes, a side of beef, early asparagus, and apples. Maeve peeked under the cloth keeping the food safe from the dirt and soot endemic to the train travel to Allegheny City and squealed, “Clara, you shouldn’t have brought all this! This will keep us in meals for a week. What did you do, rob the Carnegies?”

Patrick chimed in. “She’s blushing again, Maeve. Will you look at that? Didn’t we warn her about having eyes for her employer?”

While I understood they were only joking, I felt unusually sensitive about the comments about the Carnegies, even protective of them. “It’s nothing like that. Mr. Ford, the Carnegies’ cook, knew I was coming to visit you, and he stocked the basket.”

Maeve sensed my unease and interjected, “Of course, we understand. Please thank Mr. Ford for us.”

As Patrick took my coat and placed it on a shipping box turned upside down to form a table, the only surface not crowded with drying clothes and Maeve’s needlework, and Maeve returned to her cooking, I got my first look at their new lodgings, a single room. Cots stacked upon each other in one corner, like the beds in the steerage of a boat crossing the Atlantic, and the room contained no other furniture save the shipping box and a single chair, which Patrick occupied. The windowless room stank of unwashed bodies, fire, refuse, and charred food, as the room had no fireplace or ventilation. Maeve cooked on a small brazier in the center of the space, with no choice but to disregard the danger of the flames. Trunks containing the remainder of their belongings were stacked in another corner, but from the filthy state of Patrick, Maeve, and the children’s clothes, the trunks had not been opened since they moved. A greasy layer of black smuts covered every surface and every person.

I was speechless at their circumstances. Was this how my family was living? Perceiving my discomfiture, Maeve offered a conversational topic. “Good to have you back from New York. We’re all looking forward to hearing stories about the big city. We are in need of some entertainment around here, Clara.”

In an attempt to avoid my obvious questions, Maeve and Patrick busied themselves with the meal and children, respectively, while I talked. When I couldn’t stand their obfuscation any longer, I asked, “Are you two going to tell me what’s going on?”

Patrick would not—or could not, perhaps—meet my gaze.

Maeve spoke for him. “Patrick lost his job in the mill.”

I was shocked. “What? Last I heard, the mill was so busy that you had to work double shifts. What happened?”

I directed my question to Patrick, but Maeve answered for him again. “You know Patrick worked as an iron founder with Iron City Forge?” she asked.

Although I knew the title of Patrick’s job, I never realized that he’d worked for Iron City Forge, one of the iron companies with which Andrew and his younger brother once had some dealings. Still, because I assumed that detail was peripheral, I nodded yes.

“About a year ago, Iron City Forge merged with a rival iron company called Cyclops Iron, forming a new company called Union Iron. This merger happened at the end of the Civil War, just as the demand for iron dropped.” Maeve continued to explain, but I began to worry about how this part of the saga—a merger of which I was familiar and knew that Andrew had orchestrated—impacted Patrick. “It seemed a change in name only at first. The mill continued at the breakneck pace to which it had grown accustomed for some months. But then, when iron prices plummeted, Union Iron decided that physical consolidation of its two parts—Iron City and Cyclops—was necessary. This meant they had too many men doing the same job. Some of the iron founders had to go, and Patrick was one of those men fired from his position.”

Perhaps this loss of employment was only temporary. Grasping at this possibility, I asked, “Surely there is work for iron founders in other mills?”

Maeve answered in her usual matter-of-fact way. “There’s no work for iron founders anywhere in Pittsburgh. The consolidation put loads of iron workers of all types out of work. We are living off savings and my needlework for now. We had to give up the house and move in with the Connors downstairs, another family that’s in the same situation, to share expenses. If Patrick doesn’t find work soon, I don’t know how we will manage.”

I felt sick with worry and guilt. “What about going home?” I clutched at prospects.

Patrick finally piped into our exchange, his voice angry. “Home? What work is there for me in Galway, Clara? Farming? My dad lost his tenancy in the famine, and my brothers have been living hand-to-mouth themselves. There’s no work in Ireland, as you yourself surely know.”

“Another city?”

“We don’t have the money for the tickets, even if there was a guarantee of a job. No, Clara, I have to find work here in Pittsburgh. Or we will be lost.”


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