Defining Moment

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In Which Maggie Boards a Steamer

August 31, 18––

Dear Eustace,

I received your letter today and cannot rest until I have replied to it. What a good deal you seem to tell me in few words! I can picture the place, your ward, Walter's bruises, the fireworks... You say you are not an artist, though I know you are, for you paint with words what brush strokes cannot tell, and create a living image more vivid than the most skillful of sketching... I have enclosed a picture of the garden now – I hope you like it. Since you never saw it in it's previous state I fear that the great contrast will be all but lost upon you, but it will be good for my vanity, for I am altogether inordinately proud of my work.

What you see along the stone-lined pathway is creeping loose-strife and heath, and around the fountain – which used to be in such dreadful condition, though I cannot say it will yet hold water – is the tallest goldenrod I could find. It has taken rather well; bindweed blossoms pink in front of the shed, along with campanula (I think I am spelling that right) and agrimony. I fear my poor little picture and list of wildflowers hardly does it justice, but if you are wondering about that, read my remark above on the subject.

On to other things. Did I ever tell you of the deal of trouble I have had in properly lighting my gloomy dark manor? It is so terribly dim – something I had not fully realized until I began to go out more, and I have had the sudden urge to illuminate the rooms which I primarily spend my time in. Candles and oil lamps doing no good, I have found a ladder and set myself to work cleaning and learning to use the mechanism that raises and lowers a great chandelier that hangs over the staircase in the main atrium, and another similar to it in the dining hall. What is to be done about the chambers I cannot imagine, but I have been having a terribly merry and dirty time clambering about on ladders, pulling chains and polishing brass. With any luck, I will supply them both with fresh candles and raise them either tomorrow or the next day. Then I will really feel as if the place is mine, and will revel in it anew.

Upon that subject, I wish to speak to you before I close. Apparently my godfather had anticipated his sudden death, or rather, was wisely planning for his fortune after his death lest their be squabbling and despoiling; at any rate, I have discovered his will, which is dated the year I was born, and in it, my godfather wills all he owns upon this earth, to me. Not a mention of you was made in the will – of course, ascertaining the date, I realize that was the year you came to live with him. But did he pen the will before that time, or after? You told me he knew of you before that time, but made no indication if his knowledge in either word or deed. Surely his sending for you proved that he was not altogether hard-hearted, and the end I have been puzzling my wits to is this – aren't you his rightful heir?

I know you will thrust this page from you and disregard my speculations. "Oh, dear," you will say. "This is all a great amount of silliness." But it isn't, Eustace. You are his son. I know not for certain whether he considered himself married to your mother when you were conceived, if it was secretly done, or just hasty actions upon their parts, and thus, in the eyes of the law, you are at this point considered illegitimate. Tears fill my eyes to write this of my dear Eustace – but you have known this for years. That is why you are Eustace Reid, and not Eustace Cadogan.

All of those things are difficult to put into consideration, especially as I am of no blood-relation to Mortimer Cadogan Esq., nor even his official ward. There is no record that he ever legally became my guardian. It was merely his wish, and the wish of my mother, that he care for me. Tell me what I must do. I beg you, think of yourself in answering me. Do not acquiesce and be such a gentleman – we are talking of a great deal of money, and properties and railroad shares and files and files of I know not what. We are talking of your father's inheritance – which I, a stranger, cannot rightfully accept.

My whole heart, and half my mind (I am preserving the other half for our work – when it is completed, it will be yours to keep),

Maggie


September 18, 18––

Dearest Maggie,

My, what a great burden you lay upon me in telling me what I should do! (Forgive my lack of greeting – I feel we should get directly to business, even though my heart aches it is so full of all the fond things I wish I could tell you.) You ask me to tell you further of my history, to tell the circumstances in which I was formed within my mother, not taking into account the probability that I have little or no memory of the event, to tell you my father's intentions at the time of the the writing of his will, to tell you his mind at full upon the subject of the child his ill-fated passion bore with a country girl, and finally, to tell you what should be done with his entire legacy when he so clearly intended it to go to you! You really do astonish me sometimes.

Can I be more clear? It is yours, and no other's. As you said, I am illegitimate. The world gives a dreadful name to those children, a word used as a curse now, when God never said, "let only the little children whose parents were married come unto to me"! Do not misunderstand me – Mortimer Cadogan and Flora Reid committed a great wrong upon that night, and it's consequences were keenly felt. Her premature death and the death, in fact, of the heart of the guilt-wracked young lover were God's words upon the subject. Yet He has no words for me that He has not given to every man! I bear no guilt, but neither must I take my place among the outside world. Legally, there is no record of me; morally, I should not have existed. But I do. And I must live and die with this seal upon my fate. Do not pity me. I told you once – before I could seem to see my whole life pass before me like an open history, as I do now – that I have had the happiest life imaginable. And who is to say I haven't? My work is the one thing not under the curse of ignominy I bear. I will pass into nothingness, from whence I came. But, God willing, my years of study and labor have not been in vain. I will have lived to tell the world that history cannot be disregarded, for it is sacred, and to study it, a most satisfying adventure.

Enough, then, of my sermons. This morning there was frost upon the windowpane of my room, but by nine o'clock it had melted into long running rivulets upon the glass, and it was a warm beautiful day. The leaves upon the mountains have begun to turn the most brilliant shades of amber, ocher, and russet, and I feast my eyes upon it each day. I am no longer in the ward with Walter and the others, but in a room to myself. I was not told the reason for this seclusion – whether I am growing better, or worse. I rather hope the former, but I rather fear the latter. At any rate, there is a splendid view, and I can have my library unpacked here as I could not in the common ward.

Let me describe my room to you. From the inside, one would never guess the sort of structure that juxtapositions it as is; one would merely assume that they were in a room, one of many, upon the back of the house which overlooked a lake. But from the outside – I did not believe this until an orderly took me in out in a wheeled chair to see for myself – it is actually jutting away from the rest of the house, held up from the ground, which has fallen away beneath, by great timbers,and surmounted by it's own tiny gabled roof. Beneath me is a porch, but there is rarely anyone on it, for it faces north and is continually in shadow. A wooden walkway has been built from the side of the embankment, running along the length of the structure. A door does not open to it from my room, so even if I did feel strong enough, I would have to go out the front of the house, and then follow it as it wrapped all the way around, to look through the windows at my own chamber. A solitary tree grows on the west side, and it's branches o'er-hang this walkway, which is rarely used except by visitors seeking a good view, or the most hardy of patients.

Since I have waxed eloquent in describing my new surroundings, I must ask you in your turn how you like your chandeliers; I must confess I had overlooked their existence. It must be lovely to behold, but a deal of work – hauling them up and down on their great chains! I know you will use caution for my sake (forgive me, I could not resist).

Please know that I am right in what I say about Mortimer Cadogan's fortune – and Mortimer Clancy's. Read what I wrote again if you must. You know I am right. Pray, do not be so hard-headed as to refuse the wishes of a dead man and the pleas of his yet living son.

Yours for all eternity,

Eustace


October 7, 18––

Dear Eustace,

How I envy you in your descriptions of the fine weather and beautiful views! It has been most horrid here, "for the rain, it raineth ev'ry day," as Shakespeare puts it, and has been bitterly cold. My garden, alas, looked green and verdant for the first weeks of this weather, but the morning after the first hard freeze, everything was blackened by frost, and the full blossoms of the loose-strife were cast upon the frosty ground. It grew steadily worse after that, so I can only bear to look at it thinking of it's state the day I buried dear Scrabble, and forgetting it's glory this past summer.

I took to heart what you said about the Cadogan inheritance, and came to this conclusion. It has been willed to me, and so it must be, though you must know that I searched his library and his chambers top to bottom looking for a will of later date. None being in existence, I have resolved that the wishes of the dead must be honored – and hear me, that if my dearest dream is realized, when you return, we shall be married and thus will share everything. There is a happy compromise! I am feeling quite diplomatic and proud of myself.

I was reading some of your first letters over again today, and laughed aloud at your talk of little Dustfried. Do you still see him at all? I was happy to hear you have been moved at last to a room of your own. It must have been so queer for you to sleep in a row of beds with many others. I remember the first night I spent at the boarding school, where there was a similar arrangement. The first night I cried, and several of the girls came and asked me my name and were kind to me, telling me that all new girls behaved in such a way. At that I dried my tears, and would only lay awake at night, feeling, rather than hearing the girls around me slumbering. But soon I grew accustomed to it, and would sleep soundly just like the others.

I hope you can forgive me if I begin to close here. It is late and my candle is burning low. The room is also quite cold, and I am going to bathe, dress myself for bed, and dream of you in health, walking the streets of the city with me, and working in a sunny library with the windows thrown wide open.

~ Maggie

There was no response to this epistle. Maggie waited for several weeks, and then posted a second letter to the Adirondacks, eagerly awaiting Eustace's reply.

November 6, 18––

Dear Eustace,

I was distressed at not receiving a response from you, but I know you would not wish me to worry. Rest, and enjoy this second letter from me. But I do long to hear from you – do write when you can.

Meanwhile I shall amuse you with tales of my escapades... To-day I awakened to the most wondrous sight – a thick snow had fallen during the night, and shrouded all about us. I rose, shivering so that I thought my very ears would freeze from my head, and dressed hurriedly, kindling a blaze in the fireplace to thaw the water in my basin. It is always good fun to play in the snow, and so I dressed myself warmly and ventured out, with my sights set upon the park, where half a dozen boys and girls were already frolicking.

Before I knew what had happened, I was caught in the cross-fire of a deadly hail of snowballs, and was hurriedly conscripted to one side of the pond, taking shelter behind a wall which was rapidly being packed together by two tall boys and a little lass wearing so many layers she could hardly walk. A volley from the opposing side soon returned upon us, and while one of the boys and the girl, brother and sister, I think, sallied forth with shouts to attack the enemy in their stronghold of the summer-house, I was yanked behind the wall by a friendly arm and found myself face to face with the lad I had met over the spring, whose uncle owns Burn's Print Shop.

"Well, hello again," I said, wondering if he recognized me. It took him a moment, but soon he smiled, and stuck out his snow-caked paw.

"Hello, miss. Haven't seen you in awhile."

The return of our spies who required immediate aid prevented further conversation, and so we shouted and pelted each other with snow until we were hoarse and red-cheeked, and leaving subsequent warriors to mind our snow fortresses, the original six, myself included, bade each other farewell and dispersed indoors to thaw and sip warm cider. I returned home and made quite a mess in the atruim, stripping down to my shift, which was the only layer not soaked with melting snow, and then dashing upstairs for a dry frock, beginning to comb the leaves and twigs from my wet tangled hair. I was quite a sight, I assure you, and by the time I had plaited my hair back from my face and returned to my pile of clothes, I had warmed up sufficiently to take them into the kitchen and set up a system of drying them.

I hope you have been amused by my adventures today, and will get a good laugh out if imagining your tall Maggie leaping about with little lads and lasses, packing snowball after snowball, and screaming myself hoarse. At last, I settled down to write to you again, since I don't know how long it will be before you can manage to write to me.

Do write when you get this, even if it is the least bit. Any line or two from you I will treasure always. I look at the pictures of Flora every day, trying to see you in them, and always somehow praying that you will be unchanged by your weakness, that your cheek will not be thin, and your eyes hollow, your lips pale. This is not for vain reasons that I wish this, but merely because I will always think of you as I first saw you – a young scholar, seated in a huge chair before a cluttered desk, ink upon your fingers, your eyes bright, your hair mussed, and your face beautiful.

May the Lord keep watch between us while we are apart.

Ever yours,

Maggie

It was the first day of December that saw a well-wrapped figure, with an old-fashioned gladstone bag let herself out of an enormous forbidding manor, and carefully lock the door behind her. Wrapping her face against the chill wind, she turned her steps to the train station, and boarded the first-class car, beginning her journey across England to Liverpool, where she was seen by many – made noticeable by her pale drawn face, her worried eyes, and flaming red hair – boarding a steamer bound for America.


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