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  • Mj Pettengill

The Other Side: A Woeful Heart


Old Europe Antique Home Furnishings .jpg
Old Europe Antique Home Furnishings .jpg

It was our first Thanksgiving in Fall River. In the past, it was customary for our servants to spend several days in preparation, as Mother insisted on having a large gathering. In an effort to avoid a woeful heart, I kept busy.

Usually, Father’s brother, Chase, and his family traveled down from New Hampshire. In turn, we celebrated the Fourth of July at their lovely home on the lake, staying for at least three days.

Father’s former associate and his family used to join us as well. After an elegant dinner, we played games, and weather permitting, walked along the Charles River. I was particularly fond of Madelene, and although a bit younger, she was quite jolly. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we faithfully promised to get together throughout the year, a promise never kept.

We expected Father’s new partner, his wife, and their three young boys to come. I met them once before, and the boys were full of the devil. Spending an entire afternoon with them was unimaginable. I tried but was unable to find the patience necessary to tolerate such rowdy behavior. Their mother was a timid thing, too mild to raise three sons.

The previous day, during my lesson and at the last moment, Mother barged in with a red face and heightened frazzled look about her.

“Mr. Carver, would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow?” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow and fiddled with his beard. I had learned that he was not one to respond in a timely manner. He preferred to ponder each word and review his options before offering a reply. When we first met, I thought that he didn’t hear me, but it was the opposite.

“I’m honored,” he said.

We stood in painful silence, unsure of whose turn it was to speak while wondering if it was an acceptance or regret. I was about to say something when he finally came around and completed his sentence.

“I would like that very much,” he said. His smile brightened the room. “What time would you like me to arrive?”

I was greatly relieved that we had come to a conclusion, somewhat concerned that we had just mixed business with pleasure, and surprised that Mother had broken her own rules—a sure sign of ill-breeding.

My piano teacher coming for dinner was a perfect distraction. Occupying my mind with such nonsense, instead of pining away for Boston, had its value. It was odd to think of Mr. Carver sitting at our table and not beside me at the piano. Other than music, I didn’t know what we would talk about.

I got up earlier than usual. As always, Tempy tended to my bath, arranged my hair, and prepared my dress and accessories in time for us to attend a special Thanksgiving church service. I preferred to stay home, as the sky threatened snow, and I had no desire to bundle up and go out in it, but none of that mattered. It was not debatable.

By the time we returned home, the house was quite cozy and filled with the aroma of spices, roasted meats, vegetables, and baked goods.

I had to convince Mother that my desire to help arrange flowers was a creative, artistic activity, and not a chore or servant’s job. I was not trying to ease their burdens, but I actually loved flowers. After a stern word, she said yes, but just that one time.

When the guests arrived at two o’clock, I was more than ready. The women were handsomely dressed, and the men wore the usual dinner attire. It would be impolite for me to speak about the three boys, for I hadn’t a nice thing to say. In trying, I could mention that they were charming to look at, but my temples throbbed within moments of their arrival. I tried several times to give Mother a look, but she purposely avoided making eye contact with me.

Dinner was to be served at four o’clock. From three o’clock on, I began to fret. In anticipation of Mr. Carver’s arrival, I found myself checking the clock and looking out the window.

“Bess, I wonder where Mr. Carver is?” Mother asked.

“You invited him, Mother. I am not his keeper,” I said, noticing that I was biting my fingernails, a disgusting habit that I had long outgrown.

“We’ll have to start without him.” She stormed out of the room.

I followed her into the dining room, where everyone was waiting to be seated. Mother whispered something to Siobhan, one of the newest servants, who quickly took away the extra place setting.

Our dinner began with oyster soup, followed by fresh cod with a special egg sauce. Of course, we had boiled ham, chicken pie, and a plump roast turkey with chestnut stuffing.

As she did every year, Mother raved about the cranberry sauce. Her relatives owned a well-known bog in Plymouth and shipped a crate to us for the holidays. We also had an assortment of pickles and fruits, such as mangoes, candied peaches, apples, nuts, and raisins.

Except for the corn, which came in a can, all of our vegetables were fresh. Our newest cook created delights, such as mince and pumpkin pies, apple tarts, and my favorite, Indian pudding with cream.

Just as I was about to taste the pudding, there was a rap at the door. With my spoon in midair, I stopped and looked towards the hallway, where Davis was escorting Mr. Carver into the room.

“Come in, Mr. Carver,” Father said, rising to his feet.

“Forgive me for being late,” he said. “There was a fire at the house next door, and I had to wait to be cleared.”

I became quite blushful and stared down at the table. I twisted my linen napkin in my hands and became noticeably shaky when he stood beside me. Davis prepared his setting and pulled a chair up to the table. He sat down, his arm touching mine. I felt as if I would faint and had no understanding as to why.

“Is the fire out, Mr. Carver?” Mother asked.

“Please, call me Joseph,” he said. “Yes, the fire is out. It was a kitchen fire, and luckily it was contained.”

All of the talking resumed as everyone wanted to know more about the fire, the engines, how many people were evacuated, and why they did not hear the fire bell.

I sat quietly and watched as he politely answered questions while remaining calm and self-assured, even though he was grievously late for dinner. When he stole a glance at me and smiled, my heart could not resist. No longer known solely as Mr. Carver caused an uninvited stir. Being Joseph had changed everything. Bess

November 28, 1872 Excerpt: The Angels' Lament Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, Book Two ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Note: Writing Bess's narrative was an insightful process, providing relief from the constant hardships of the underbelly of society. Of course, the intent of my work is to acknowledge and re-member those lost via historical amnesia. It is important to be mindful of various levels of the spectrum. ~ MjP ~