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Carnegie’s Maid: A Novel: Chapter 47


April 11, 1867

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Packing my small traveling bag took mere minutes. Changing into the black secondhand gown that I’d purchased from Mrs. Seeley over two years ago as I wiped away the tears streaming down my face, I left behind my servant’s uniforms and the cerulean-blue gown that I’d worn to the Academy of Music. I had no need of them where I was going. I had traveled lightly into this world of the false Clara Kelley, and I would travel lightly as I left it behind.

Only my copy of Aurora Leigh and my envelopes from Andrew with the stock certificates and bank account information would journey along with me. Symbols of a love forgone and a new future for my family embraced.

Treading quietly down the servants’ hall, I crept down the back staircase to the kitchen. I had no wish to call attention to my departure and planned on passing through the kitchen to the servants’ door as inconspicuously as possible. But Mr. Ford was not going to let that happen.

Spotting me as I landed on the final step, he pulled me into the larder and closed the door behind us in a clear attempt to avoid the prying eyes of Hilda and Anne, who were working in the scullery. “Where do you think you’re going with that traveling bag, Miss Kelley?” he whispered.

“You were right, Mr. Ford. It always ends badly for the servants.”

Folding my hands into his, he sighed. “The masters are all cut from the same cloth, slaver or not.”

“Mr. Carnegie is not to blame. In fact, I am in his debt. I brought this situation upon myself by pretending to be someone I am not.”

“If that was a crime, we’d all be in jail, Miss Kelley. We are all pretending in this life. One way or another.”

A loud thud sounded throughout the kitchen. Assuming it was Hilda or Anne dropping a platter or bowl upon the floor, we grew even quieter. I willed my breath to still.

“Is she in the kitchen, Mother?” a male voice yelled.

It was not Hilda or Anne making all the noise in the kitchen. It was Andrew.

The recognizable footfall of Mrs. Carnegie clattered on the pine floorboards. She was following Andrew into the kitchen. “I told you she was gone, Andra. You can look in the kitchen, in the servants’ quarters, in the library, in any nook or cranny of this house, and you will not find her. She gave her notice, and she left.” My mistress was trying to sound matter-of-fact, but she could not keep the self-satisfied tone out of her voice.

“Clara wouldn’t just leave, Mother.”

“Maybe you don’t know Clara as well as you think you do,” she taunted him.

Was she going to reveal my secret? Please no, I prayed, not before I got the money out of the account. My heart started beating louder, and I began to feel nauseated. I mouthed a silent Hail Mary that Mrs. Carnegie would keep her word that if I left without notifying Andrew, she would not tell him the truth about me.

“It’s you who doesn’t know Clara. She wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye. In fact, she wouldn’t leave at all.” He took three deliberate-sounding steps. I imagined he was drawing closer to his mother. “What did you do to her?”

“Why would I bother to do anything to her, Andra? She’s just a lady’s maid. One I can easily replace. As can you.” Ever crafty, Mrs. Carnegie was offering Andrew a path out of his tirade by reminding him of my status. It was an honorable way to walk away from me. “Anyway, why do you care so much?”

“Clara means a great deal to me, Mother, whether you like it or not. We had plans, she and I.” Hearing Andrew say those words, hearing him defy his mother for me, I was tempted to step out of the larder and reveal myself to him. But what would become of those feelings when his mother divulged my true identity? What retribution might he exact? The tiny chance that he might still love me when faced with the truth was not worth the damage he might inflict on my family. I had to leave him.

Andrew took one step more, and his voice grew even louder. “I will look in every corner of this house, interview every servant, locate her family, even visit rail stations and carriage stops to track her down. Make no mistake, Mother. I will find her.”

The sound of their footsteps leaving the kitchen echoed in the larder where Mr. Ford and I were hiding. I started crying, and he hugged me tightly. Sinking into the warm folds of his generous build, I was consoled for a moment. “You’ve been a good friend to me, Mr. Ford. My only one in this house,” I whispered, choking back more tears.

“You’ve been a good friend to me too, Miss Kelley. The only one who ever covered for me with a master or mistress. And the only one who ever helped me with my family,” he whispered back.

“I wish you all the luck in the world finding them. General Howard is still searching.”

I spotted Mrs. Stewart’s inventory of the larder hanging on the wall, with a slate pencil on the shelf nearby. Hurriedly, I tore off a corner of the inventory and scribbled down the Lambs’ address. Handing it to Mr. Ford, I said, “This is for you alone. Please let me know when you find your family.”

“Thank you. But you better get going, unless you want to be found.”

I slipped out of Mr. Ford’s embrace, and he stepped out of the larder to make sure no one was in the hallway. I heard the rising chatter of Hilda and Anne, who’d grown silent during the confrontation between Andrew and his mother, and prayed they’d stay put for at least another minute so I could sneak out the servants’ door.

Mr. Ford stuck his head back into the larder. “Come on,” he said, guiding me to leave.

With a final squeeze of his hand, I stepped through the servants’ door out into the night. The moon swelled in the sky, lighting my way to Reynolds Street. Clear and crisp, the air felt refreshing. My lungs expanded, and I breathed more deeply than I had in some time.

I had played at so many roles in the years since landing in America, I had lost myself. Sacrificed myself to one set of ideals and then another—American and Irish, commercial and altruistic, Fenian and Chartist and Democratic, Andrew’s and my own, new and old—until I no longer knew my own mind. No more.

I stepped out into the night, onto my own fresh path.


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