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Authors: Marita Conlon-Mckenna

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Greenbay, Boston

PEGGY O’DRISCOLL WAS JADED
, just jaded. She had washed and scrubbed and polished every floor and door and piece of furniture in Rushton House, in Greenbay, Boston. She had worked from sun-up to sun-down for the past week. Poor Mrs O’Connor, the cook, lay flopped down in her big kitchen chair, out cold with exhaustion. Normally, Peggy would have giggled at her loud snores, but today she knew that Cook, like the rest of them, was worn out with the preparations for Miss Roxanne’s wedding.

Kitty, the other maid, was all uppity, as she was helping Roxanne to prepare her trousseau and pack her things and organise her wedding gifts.

Peggy dawdled in the kitchen, helping herself to a
glass of cold water and an oatmeal biscuit.

‘Mrs O’Connor! Mrs O’Connor!’ She shook the woman’s arm gently. ‘Maybe it’s time for bed!’

The old cook yawned. ‘Did I fall asleep again, Peggy?’

‘Aye.’

‘You know, Peggy, I’m done in. I’m not getting any younger. Thanks be to God that the Rowans have only one daughter to get wed! I wouldn’t be able for a family of them!’

Peggy grimaced. A family of Roxannes! It didn’t bear thinking about. Roxanne was one of the vainest and most annoying and most aggravating creatures ever; Mrs O’Connor said it was a miracle that she was getting married. What young man would put up with her tantrums and bossiness and constant preening and admiring herself?

Still, Roxanne had found him. His name was Fletcher P. Parker. Peggy had seen him a few times.

He was about eight years older than Roxanne and of about average height. He had curly fair hair and his skin was pale and slightly blotchy. He was an attorney-at-law and he came from Baltimore. He had concluded some business with Mr Rowan and had been invited to the house for dinner. Miss Roxanne sat beside him. He made pleasant conversation with her and as the meal progressed Peggy watched as the
young mistress flirted outrageously with him.

‘The fish took the bait,’ was all Mrs O’Connor would say.

Mr and Mrs Rowan seemed to approve as Fletcher Parker escorted Roxanne to a round of balls and operas and dinner parties and picnics. This had culminated in their betrothal and now their marriage.

‘Help me up from the chair, lassie! My hip is playing up on me again!’

Peggy helped Mrs O’Connor to her feet. Up close she could see the pattern of laughter-lines and wrinkles that covered the cook’s plump, pink-toned face.

‘Mrs O’Connor, I’ll bring you a cup of tea in the morning before you get up. ‘Twill be a long day tomorrow.’

‘Thank you, Peggy child! That would be grand. You know, you’re the kindest lassie I know.’

Peggy smiled to herself as they both left the darkened kitchen, the pantry and store cupboards full to bursting with all the fine food for tomorrow’s wedding. She sighed as she climbed the narrow, wooden stairs to her attic bedroom. She hoped Kitty would be asleep already. She was too tired for chit-chat, especially about the wedding.

But Kitty was sitting on the bed, busy tying up her normally straight fine hair with rags.

‘Peggy! I need you to do some of the pieces at the
back,’ said Kitty brightly.

‘It’s too late!’ yawned Peggy. ‘Why’re you doing your hair at this hour anyway?’

‘I want to have a few curls tomorrow so it’ll look softer,’ said the other girl wistfully.

‘’Tisn’t you that’s getting married!’ snapped Peggy.

‘But I’m assisting her and that’s special. I’m her right-hand woman,’ Kitty said importantly.

Peggy tried to stifle a laugh. ‘Here, pass me a bit of that cloth, you silly old thing,’ she said, and she grabbed a piece of her friend’s mouse-brown hair and wrapped it around her finger before tying it with a tight bow.

‘Peggy! I’ve something to tell you.’

‘Hmm!’ answered Peggy, picking out another piece of hair.

‘Promise you won’t get cross!’

‘I promise.’

‘Roxanne has asked me to go and work for herself and Mister Fletcher Parker in the new house in Baltimore.’

Peggy dropped the piece of hair. ‘I hope you told her no, Kitty!’

A heavy silence hung between them.

‘Well, that’s just it, Peggy. I told her yes, that I’d like to go.’

‘Why, you miserable little … Are you crazy! Work for that shrew? She’ll beat you black and blue and scream
at you and make your life a misery.’

‘But I’ll be her personal maid, with higher wages, and sort of chief housekeeper too. They’ll take on a cook and a skivvy. She said I can advise her on household management and the like.’

Peggy swallowed a bitter lump of jealousy. It was ridiculous – Kitty advise anyone! It was just too stupid.

‘What about the household accounts and bills?’ questioned Peggy.

‘Well, Miss Roxanne intends to keep the books herself, but I should be able to manage the day-to-day stuff,’ Kitty said. ‘Thanks to you teaching me to read and write,’ she added.

Tears came into Peggy’s eyes. Kitty was going away and leaving her! ‘Kitty! Won’t you miss the house and Greenbay?’ Peggy asked. But what she really wanted to say was, Won’t you miss me?

‘But I’ll come here. Miss Roxanne will often come to visit her parents and naturally I’ll travel with her.’ Kitty looked shyly at her friend. ‘And I’ll still get to see you, Peggy. You don’t think I’d forget about my best and dearest friend.’

Peggy swallowed hard. She looked around the small bedroom with its two brass beds and cold linoleum floor. The washstand with its jug and bowl. The window with the stiff catch, their eye on the world. The glass pitcher with its now dried-out flowers. The
two samplers they had spent weeks working on, hanging on the wall above their beds: BE GOOD SWEET MAID and FRIENDSHIP IS A GIFT, worked in multicoloured embroidery threads. Peggy couldn’t imagine this room without Kitty.

When Peggy had first arrived, homesick and miserable, missing her home in Ireland, it was Kitty who had made her smile, and helped her settle into this new life.

‘Oh God, Kitty, I’ll miss you so much,’ sobbed Peggy. The two girls hugged each other. ‘It’ll be so lonesome here without you.’

CHAPTER 6

The Wedding

SUNSHINE STREAMED ACROSS
the whole of Greenbay and seemed to dance and jiggle through every window of Rushton House. The big house basked in the warmth of a special family day. The garden was heavy with blooms, and pink roses clung to the trellising and the bower, and trailed along near the front porch and across the terrace. Swags of cream magnolia blossoms decorated the huge trees in front of the house. The mistress had had a team of gardeners tending the lawns and filling the flower-beds for months, so now there wasn’t a weed to be seen, only a blaze of stunning colour.

There’s nothing like a summer wedding, thought Peggy wistfully, as she gazed across the beautiful gardens.

Kitty and herself had been up at the crack of dawn.
Kitty was so excited you’d think she was to be bridesmaid or something, thought Peggy. They grabbed an early breakfast for themselves in the kitchen. The family had theirs on trays in their rooms, as the dining table and breakfast table were already laid for the wedding banquet.

Peggy couldn’t stop herself yawning. She had hardly slept a wink, thinking of Kitty leaving.

The minute Mrs O’Connor stepped into the kitchen it was as if the whole household staff were sucked into a whirlwind.

Young Simon was sent up and down the stairs with cups of lemon tea for the ladies. He provided the kitchen staff with a running account of the goings-on upstairs: ‘Momma has the vapours’; ‘Roxanne says she thinks her feet have swollen and her shoes are too small’; ‘Pappa is unable to find his new collar buttons!’

Mrs Whitman, the housekeeper, supervised the delivery of fresh flowers, cooled white wine, and last-minute wedding gifts and tokens, as well as showing the Rowan cousins, who had arrived to stay, to their rooms.

Luckily, Peggy caught Bonaparte, the scamp of a dog, hiding under the heavy linen tablecloth chewing a bit of old bone! Wouldn’t that be a fine to-do for one of the guests, to put their hand down to pick up a napkin and discover a mouldy old dog’s bone!

‘Go outside, you bad dog!’ shouted Peggy, and she watched as he scampered across the dining room and out through the french doors.

By mid-day steam ran down the kitchen walls and dripped onto the floor. Peggy had a go at it every now and then with the mop, but it was a waste of effort. All the doors were open in the hope of catching some little bit of cooling breeze.

No expense had been spared and there were joints of beef roasting, chicken coated in white, creamy sauce and lobster dripping in butter. There were baby new potatoes, corn and greens and all sorts of vegetables. No guest would leave the wedding table hungry – Mrs O’Connor had made sure of that. She surveyed the laden side-tables, where tarts and frosted cakes and heavy fruitcakes, sodden with brandy, fought for attention. Well satisfied, the cook beckoned to Peggy.

‘I’m going up to change, Peggy, you keep an eye on things here.’ Mrs O’Connor’s blouse clung damply to her plump folds of skin and her face was hot and flushed with all the cooking. Peggy took the opportunity to flop down on a stool near the back door.

After a little while Mrs O’Connor returned, looking refreshed and wearing a crisp white cotton blouse. ‘That’s a bit better, Peggy, I feel like a new woman now. Come on, Miss Roxanne is dressed and ready.’

The cook and Peggy stepped out into the crowded hallway just as the bride came down the winding, polished stairs.

Peggy had to admit that Roxanne Rowan looked for all the world like an angel on this her wedding day. Her blond hair hung in soft waves around her face, the back part coiled and looped around a spray of rosebuds. Her dress was pure, soft, cream silk with tiny pearl buttons up the front and from cuff to elbow. The material clung to Roxanne’s slim figure and swept back in folds at her feet. Her skin shone and her eyes were full of happiness.

An ‘Aah!’ of pleasure filled the air as the assembled household staff took in her beauty.

‘Good luck, Miss Roxanne!’ beamed Mrs O’Connor, hugging her.

‘Every happiness to you and Mister Fletcher Parker,’ said Miss Whitman, her thin face eager as she shook the bride’s hand.

Peggy stood transfixed. It was her turn. Normally she would just mumble and say as little as possible to the girl who had once made her life so miserable – the girl who had teased and jeered her and even accused her of stealing. A slight blush of colour came into the other girl’s cheeks. Peggy lifted her eyes to meet the pale blue of Roxanne’s. There she saw happiness and hope and nervousness and sadness all jumbled together.
They were no longer enemies.

‘I wish you happiness and many, many good things in the future, Miss Roxanne, I really do!’ said Peggy warmly.

Roxanne smiled. ‘Thank you, Peggy, I appreciate it,’ she said, shaking Peggy’s hand before moving on to the next person.

Peggy blinked, surprised at herself. She really had meant it. She wished only happiness for this girl who was leaving her mother and father and going off to make a new life for herself with Mr Fletcher Parker. Kitty, who was standing on the stairs, caught Peggy’s eye and winked.

Mr Fletcher Parker and his family and the other guests were already outdoors in the beautiful summer gardens of Rushton, for that was where the marriage ceremony would take place. A shady spot had been chosen and the Reverend Samuel Brooke stood waiting there.

A hush fell over the garden as Roxanne, holding her father’s arm, walked out to join her future husband. Back in the kitchen Peggy and Kitty and Mrs O’Connor stood at the open door listening to the simple words of the bible drifting across the hedge as Roxanne Rowan was wed. Then Peggy and Kitty moved outside, offering the guests a glass of cooling summer punch before the meal was served.

Peggy felt such a stab of loneliness as she watched cousins and aunts, and uncles and grandchildren, all hug and greet each other. She thought of Eily and Michael, and Aunt Nano and all of them – her own family so far away from her.

BOOK: Fields of Home
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