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Historical Fiction

1889 June 12

Dear Millicent,

I was so relieved to read your letter about the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania. My goodness, to think you and your husband and your dear babies were out of harm's way! I do worry about you all living in such a large, untamed land.

Situations here are becoming more and more difficult. We are down to only six staff! Maggie (our cook), her daughter Gretta, and Gretta's young boy are still here. They all do so much more work now that three maids left to work in the weaving factories. I can't pay them much more, since we lost our funds after Henry died. He had so many unpaid debts!

We still have the house and land, but had to sell the hounds, all but two carriage horses and two to work the fields. There is only one stable worker now, Jake, we still have two milk cows

I do what I can for Cook, Gretta, and the boy. I think his name is Jimmy or maybe Timmy. I give them extra candles and food and clothing. I don't know what I'd do without those three!

We discovered why our eggs were disappearing. Two young children from across the meadow were taking them! The smaller one, a girl, about age three, climbed on her brother's shoulders, lifted the latch on the hen house (under the dark of night), and carried eggs in the girl's apron. Jake, caught them when he went outside to relieve himself, he made a little room for himself and lives in the barn.

I sent Jake to talk with the parents. But he discovered to his horror, there were no parents! It's so terribly sad. The mother's corpse was still in her bed and the father was nowhere to be found! Those two babies were trying to survive and finally became desperate enough to risk being sent to an orphanage, or worse for theft just to get something to eat! Jake said they were sucking raw eggs out of the shells!

They live here now as well, so two more mouths to feed. I served as a volunteer in an orphanage during my University days and it was deplorable! I just couldn't send those children away. Also, I'm lonely now that I'm a widow and both of our children are living abroad.

I must get this to the post before noon or it won't go out until Monday.

Yours, with love, Agnes

My Dearest Agnes,

Your letter arrived today and my goodness how things have changed for all of us! I don't know how you keep the place going with so little help.

The Johnstown flood and the aftermath are unthinkable. All that death and misery because rich men built a damn. I'm so relieved that we stayed in Boston rather than move farther west. Bodies from Johnstown are still washing up as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio! Whole families were swept away. So much sorrow and loss.

Matthew and I light a candle for Henry every Sunday. It is hard to believe he's been gone nearly a year!

I'm sorry this is such a short missive, but Captain and Mrs. Anderson are coming for dinner tonight and if I don't supervise the cook and maids, chaos may reign!

Much Love and Prayers, Millie

1889 December 3

Dear Agnes,

I'm sorry I've sent such short and untimely letters. I hope you understand.

Things are going from bad to worse here! Remember Robson, Henry's Butler? He's so old now, we keep him on. He spends a lot of his time near the fire in the kitchen in a rocking chair Jake brought down from the third-floor sitting room. We closed the top three floors to save on coal. I spend much of my time in the kitchen recently because it's much warmer there.

As for Hobson, Jake heard a ruckus in the staff's outhouse and feared we had more egg thieves. It was around midnight and I drank a wee glass of sherry to help me sleep and didn't hear a thing!

Greta told me the entire story. It wasn't egg thieves, the noise came from the outhouse due to Hobson beating on the wall with his walking stick. Greta said Jake came running into the kitchen took the tea kettle off the hook and ran outside with it! Cook ran after Jake because nobody touches that kettle but her and myself! Then Cook ran back to the kitchen and grabbed some rags and carried them out to the loo. All is well now, but poor old Hobson fell asleep on the seat and his bottom froze to the wood! Can you believe it? Jake and Cook applied warmed rags to him and got him loose! I just never know what I'll wake up to each morning.

Gretta and Cook saw all this because they were working well into the night, preparing for the Reverend Jones and his wife's luncheon here tomorrow, and told me all about it. I'm so grateful to Cook and Gretta! The Reverend and his wife will most likely arrive early, they always do. So improper.

December 4, 1889

I didn't get this to the post in time yesterday, so I'll continue.

You will not believe it! The two little mites we took in are trying to help out when they can and the most embarrassing things come of it. Their names are Robert and Emily. They asked if they could explore the third floor to look for toys. I'd told them there was once a nursery up there. Well, they didn't find any toys, but found my mother's chamber pot! It was the one she had made in France with hand-painted roses around the sides. Thank goodness it was empty and clean! The Reverend his wife and I were in the sitting room and the little ones rushed in with the chamber pot as a gift to me because they broke one of my best serving bowls! Emily announced, “Here, Misses! You can use this for your serving bowl! It's even prettier than the one we broke!”

Gretta ran in and saved the day by making excuses for the children and hiding the chamber pot behind her as she backed out of the room. Robert protested and Emily began to cry because Gretta spoiled their surprise gift!

I really have my hands full these days. I even make my own breakfast, just bread and jam, and tea, but still! We no longer have elevenses either, trying to save money. We're getting the overdue accounts settled and should have a better time of it soon.

Take care and give my love to Matthew and the children.

Agnes

August 26, 2023 02:01

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8 comments

Delbert Griffith
11:01 Aug 30, 2023

What a great look at life in two different places in the late nineteenth century. The Johnstown Flood was horrific! So many people dying needlessly. You spun a great tale with the back-and-forth letters, Patricia. Well done! I was totally engaged in these lives. Cheers!

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Mary Bendickson
02:27 Aug 28, 2023

Makes me want to look up Johnstown flood. Short on time at moment. After much prayers.. Shouldn't it be dear Millie

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15:20 Aug 28, 2023

thank you! It was a devastating flood - took out the whole town! I grappled with 'Millie" - wasn't sure if it was too informal for that long ago? thanks again so much for your feedback!xo

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Mary Bendickson
15:48 Aug 28, 2023

Millie was fine, I think I meant the next letter started with dear Agnes but I thought it was Agnes writing it to Millie

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16:59 Aug 28, 2023

I was afraid I'd do that. It wasn't submitted to the contest anyway - we had a storm and power went out and my paypal payment couldn't go through. I really appreciate your help - xo

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Mary Bendickson
18:39 Aug 28, 2023

Always at the worse times.⛈️

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Mary Bendickson
00:29 Aug 31, 2023

Thanks for liking my donuts

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Mary Bendickson
00:29 Aug 31, 2023

Thanks for liking my donuts

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