The Soft Place

My father, an English hatmaker in Dublin, died of consumption and my mother and I went into service at Harrow Hall near the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. It was the home of landed gentry and the very old Harrow family of English extraction who had established the house in the 1600s. It was a magnificently faded gothic house in the Irish countryside, far away from the view of the surrounding towns. It was said to be haunted, and indeed it was and on many fronts.

mansion in the woods

(image: Angelus YODASON)

First, the Harrow family was steeped in tragedy, with a son lost at sea a number of years before as he was on business, and a daughter who had gone mad as a result, it was said. A younger brother lived there as well, although little was known of him. My mother told me that he was about my age, which was eleven. But, she said, I must never seek him out or speak with him as despite his misfortunes in losing an older brother, he was my better.

And that was another layer of the haunted nature of Harrow Hall. If there were ghosts in that gloomy place, then surely I was to be among them. My duties were to the dusting of the great cabinetry, the polishing of the silverware, the scrubbing of the stone floors, the cleaning of the chandelier in the front hall once Mr. Purves, the butler, had seen to its careful decscent to the marble floors below. I was to be a shadow, a shade, a spectre in that house. For no one there was to converse with the family, least of all Master Harrow, who’s Christian name was Edmund. But, even the utterance of that name was forbidden by the staff. Continue reading

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Shave And A Haircut

Razor IMG 1145

Rufus Stevens was just a boy when the Men came to the farm.

It was the outlaw Duncan Chester’s men. They’d robbed a train, and the job had gone badly. The Pinkertons had set a trap for them, and several of the gang were killed when they tried to take the payroll on board. Those who weren’t shot outright bolted into the night. They rode hard through the rains, across the dark, wet fields of Missouri until they found the warm light of the Stevens homestead.

They were desparate men, intent on taking what they needed.  They took Rufus’ mother, and his sister. They shot his father and his younger brother. They took everything; food, lanterns, blankets, firewood.

But, Rufus they spared.

“Let him tell the story.” said Duncan Chester himself, looking down on a shame-faced, guilt-ridden Rufus. Chester was wounded. He’d used a shred of Rufus’ raped and murdered sister’s dress as a bandage across his cheek and under his ear, plugging the gaping wound that was the result of a Pinkerton’s bullet.

They left Rufus in the dark and broken house, the hoof beats of their horses echoing in the night, eventually leaving only a breath of wind as the rains stopped. The clouds parted to reveal a full moon, reflected in the twin pools of dark young eyes that stared upward from the floorboards of that lonely homestead.

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The Station

Church house

Adapted from a photo by: Bernt Rostad

After my grandfather passed away in the year 1854, my grandmother came to live with us in Baltimore. I was eleven. The move was against her will, having lived in Virginia for many years after immigrating from England with her husband, and arguing the point with my father with many sheets of parchment and veritable gallons of ink that comprised their correspondence.

But, my father insisted that she should leave the empty estate in Virginia and join us all in Maryland. He was a successful accountant for a textile firm, while Mother dedicated all of her waking hours rearing us. My grandmother was to join her in that role, with time for her quilting, and for her watercolors, while mother made social connections in town. Father was seeking to rise in the ranks, and Mother intended to help him through the wives. As for my Grandmother, it was the promise of the company of us children that convinced her to acquiesce to my father’s wishes, she told us later.

At age 65, my Grandmother retained the fiery spirit of someone much younger. According to my father, she’d always been outspoken, without any thought to the consequences of her words. She was impulsive. In my father’s world of carefully observed social discourse, it was something that we children greatly admired in her. To us she’d had always seemed to us to be an adventurer, even if the adventures she had pursued by the time she’d come to live with us were of a more subtle nature. There was something of the pixie about my Grandmother. It was as if she was not of her time, not because she belonged to the age previous as so many of her generation did, but more that she belonged to an age to come.
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Blondi’s Last Bark

“Who’s a good dog, then?” Fritz said in his most charming manner to the big German Shepherd who licked his fingers. He felt a little silly trying to charm an animal. The dog would see through the act, in any case. But he couldn’t act like everything was perfectly normal, could he?

“Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog, Blondi.”

It was a little dim in the kennel pantry, but Fritz shrugged and was thankful that they still had electricity at all. Those who still remained above ground just a few blocks either way would not have this most fundamental of modern amenities. Then he wondered whether it was truly a fair trade. Continue reading