Monday, July 27, 2015

Just Another Peyton Place

Now the other day I saw that the movie Peyton Place was airing on Turner. I watched part of it and then saved the rest. (The movie was more intelligent than I thought it would be.)  I don't think I have ever seen it, although Peyton Place, the term anyway, is iconic. It was a soap opera in the sixties when I was a little girl and all my 'cool' friends watched it, but I didn't. I preferred the Avengers, not based on a true story, I imagine.

I went to Wikipedia to see that Peyton Place was a book by Grace Metalious, a HUGE bestseller, that was indeed based on true stories, but Metalious didn't admit it, but everyone knew. She got into trouble for telling the lurid stories of her prim New England town and then passing it off as fiction.

Anyway, the film (about the 40's) looks great on my big screen HD TV. In fact the Mackenzie living room is done up in my colours Orange, pink and mint green!!

From the Tighsolas letters I can see that Richmond had its share of scandals. Margaret writes "So and So is seeing another woman. His wife was out looking for him. I think he should just throw himself in the Salmon River." There was a divorce, but Margaret referred to it as 'breaking up housekeeping'.

There were no secrets in a small town. Well, that's people hoped. Certainly the Nicholons didn't everyone to know that their son Herb stole from the bank. They couldn't even see it as a theft. That would have turned their world upside down to think a son of theirs was dishonest.

This Story, Diary of a Confirmed Spinster is based on REAL Letters but it's got a BIG fiction aspect. At the BBC Radio Four, where they specialize in history programming, they have a really good term I'll use. My story is a "Re-imagining" of events that took place in 1910 and is based on Real Letters. There's no 'sex' in my story... well, actually, it's all about sex, but middle class Edwardian Style sex.

HBC has arrived.

He is sitting in our casual parlour, the back parlour,  the parlour off the kitchen,  just three feet from where I myself recline in the sturdy cherry wood rocking chair my Mother usually sits in. When she has the time to do so.

She has draped it, I notice, to cover the threadbare  cushion, in the canary yellow afghan I crocheted for her at Christmas.

HBC is staring at me with a look of confusion more than compassion, patiently, maybe anxiously. Waiting for me to say something.  This boyish-looking man with a bit of a cowlick and rather red ears, is politely allowing the shock of it all to sink in.

With his head of otherwise straight blond hair and the beige cardigan he is sporting over  broad bony shoulders, HBC indeed looks rather like a schoolboy, albeit a gangly overgrown one.

And he is so informally dressed compared to me, we make quite the ridiculous pair, but as he explained, he was heading out to Potton Springs with some Montreal friends when he decided to hop off the train at Richmond. And I had invited him to drop by at the first chance, so that is what he did.

There’s no one but God to bear witness as we sit so close together in the family room of Tighsolas, my home. An awkward couple, despite our age appropriateness. Both 27, you see.  In another universe, we could have become suitors.

HBC, the bank clerk, in my mother’s favorite rocking chair and me, the school marm, in my father’s world weary leather wingback.

HBC in his casual country-outing attire, me in my formal frilly white dress.
I look quite the eccentric. Even Miss Havisham –like. Not a look I have previously aspired to, but quite fitting these days, all considered.

When the young man first arrived, and I invited him to come in the house to sit and talk privately in our parlour, I told him to spare me nothing.

I wanted to know it all.  All about the ‘mercy’ trip to Mexico. All about the sudden job transfer to Cornwall, Ontario. All about everything leading up to and right after the fire. That fateful fire. That horrifying fire. That conflagration that converted me in the space of a week from a blushing bride to be, perhaps a little on the ripe side, to an opiate-addled spinster in training.

As HBC began, the small subtle muscles at the side of his face rippled and pulled taut, so I knew there was more to this sad story than even I had guessed. So much much more, as it happens.
I wanted to know. I had to know. Still, I wished on some level that the young man hadn’t dropped in on this particular morning, despite his standing invitation to do so, despite his obligation to do so, as my dear Charlie’s closest friend and ally at work and at leisure at the Bank of Montreal in Danville, Quebec.

Because as he ambled up the street on long, lanky legs, we were all standing out in the street having our picture taken, me, my sisters Flora and Marion and our mother Margaret.  In our white dresses. We were all wearing our spring hats, too, our Easter bonnets, and Mrs. Montgomery, our neighbour, who was taking the picture, was having to back up into the street so that our huge headdresses could get in the frame.

My hat, a huge black shape with pink flowers and Marion’s a small turned up shape, with blue blossoms, had been purchased in April at Ogilvy in downtown Montreal. Mine for 7.50. Hers for 6.50. On April 29th, to be exact, just one day before the terrible event.
 As I made one third Marion’s salary, my purchase was the most audacious, but I was feeling giddy, what with the warming late afternoon sun and the crocuses peeking out of the ground here and there on St. Catherine Street, blue, yellow, and my life on the brink of the DESIRABLE.

Mother’s hat, which she had purchased a year ago locally at Miss Hudon’s  was a profusion of turquoise Japanese peony blossoms, last year’s style. And she was still getting used to the bigness of it. She had added a yellow ribbon in way of updating. Flora’s hat, well, I don’t recall where she got it. It had no up-to-date flourishes, no velvet ribbon, just a few faded sprigs of some imaginary bloom, likely picked from the remainders basket at Miss Goyette’s, the bargain milliner in Richmond.

It was Mother’s idea to get all dolled up in our best frocks and frills  and have a tea party on the front lawn. As we had done in the past, although much later in the summer, and usually to escape the brutal heat in the kitchen.
But it was not hot on the day in early June. There were other reasons. Mother was simply desperate, that’s all. Desperate to save me from my spiralling sadness. Desperate to forget her own escalating set of problems.
So after church (Mr. Carmichael’s sermon was on the Garden of Eden) we ceremoniously slid into our white dresses, a fashion from before the turn of the century , white dresses being genteel dresses, delicate, for they stained easily – that being the point.  Women wearing white dresses had servants to do the wash. Except in our case, it wasn’t true. We washed our dresses ourselves! It took two days, at least (with one sunny day ) to wash, dry and iron our fine, frilly white dresses.

Our genteel impractical white dresses. I read  that Queen Victoria  started the fashion, decades ago, at her wedding, to promote British lace to the world.

As we sat there, teetering on our solid kitchen chairs, on the lawn, my mother’s brainstorm had quite the opposite effect on me.

I could see, through the murk of my black mood, how nonsensical we looked, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. How pretentious even, in our silly super-sized hats and  out of date white dresses.
I felt somehow released from my physical body and I understood how ridiculous we appeared from the street, and I hoped our neighbours were not watching. (But, of course, they were. They always are.)

What with the card table draped in our finest white linen tablecloth, embroidered in blue, out on the soft Spring lawn. And on that our best china and silver tea pot. I felt on display, like an animal in the zoo. Or one of those tasteless exhibits I’d heard about at Dominion Park, the singing midgets or infants in the incubator.
“Step right up ladies and gentlemen. On view the Canadian Middle Class of Prime Minister Laurier’s Time.

Aspiring to the finest life has to offer: opera, theatre, poetry, but so afraid of falling into the lower class. The puzzle is, dear people,  these specimens are actually working class on paper, only elevated by education and sense of entitlement. They have studied Latin, Botany, and Geometry, so are instilled with a love of Beauty, but not always with the means to seek it out. Like peacocks or chameleons, disguising their true domestic situation with ostentatious displays as well as lotions and creams to hide the rough and reddened skin of their hard-working hands.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is True. These particular specimens are UNIQUE to all Canadian society, in that they Wash Their Own Clothing.

Well, this has only been truly lately. Mother had plenty of help in the past, a live-in maid at the turn of the century and various washerwomen since. In the past, it was easy to find someone, often a French woman, to do your dirty work for 10 cents a day. But times have changed.

So, before I could shake myself of this unpleasant idea, I saw him now loping up the road, HBC as I always refer to him in letters. Walking up from College Street  and, I supposed, the train station.

“I was on my way to Kingsey Falls , to see a friend, so I dropped by,” he said. “We’re off on the 3.10 to Potton Springs.  To meet a group of fellows from the bank. I’m sorry, I decided to get off right then and there, about  5 minutes before the Richmond stop. There was no time for a telegram.”

“Yes, but I told you to drop by any time. So please don’t apologize,” I said, wondering if he would want the anchovy canapés we prepared for our tea. Or should I offer him some cold tongue?

We couldn’t ask him to join us for lunch; that would be too time-consuming and uncomfortable.
And it wasn’t the point, anyway. So we quickly passed into the empty house. Straight to the parlour. The casual parlour as there was not time to prepare the formal parlour for a visitor.

He asked me only for a glass of water.

“I’m sorry to have disturbed you,” he repeated. “You are celebrating something? A birthday?”
“Quite the opposite,” I assured him.

I brought him a glass of well-water in a green glass tumbler. And then I asked him to proceed. Without further delay. To tell me all he knew about the circumstances of the death of Charlie G. Right from the beginning. From the trip to Mexico in October up until that dreadful night in late April, the night Haley’s Comet  ominously passed over my Charlie.

I wanted to know the minutest details. All that Charlie was doing the three months since our informal engagement over Christmas, especially whatever he was doing that he didn’t tell me about in his letters.
He couldn’t have spent ALL his spare time in the Presbyterian Church – as he had wanted me to believe. Even I knew that he was saying this only to please me. To prove his conversion to The Way had stuck.
So HBC began, leaning back on the old couch, his right elbow at right angles to his head as he flattened the hair on the back of his head with his palm. His bicep was a muscular one, I noticed, larger than Charlie’s. I guess you call men like HBC wiry, deceptively strong.

But then suddenly taking on the posture of a much older man, possibly imitating his own father or a beloved Academy teacher, he opened his mouth to speak.  About Monterrey. About Cornwall. About the circumstances of the Rossmore Hotel Fire. I think it took about an hour in all; I can’t be sure. And, then, as it all began to sink in, the uncomfortable unpleasantness of it all, the uncleanliness of it. And  I suddenly realized,  with an invisible slap to my face, that I had been protected all these months from truth of the situation, protected by dear Charlie as well as by HBC, his best friend. Protected as we older Nicholson sisters, Marion and I, protect little Flora from the more unpleasant truths about our own dear, devoted, but deeply troubled family.

I had been protected from the real reason Charlie went to Mexico in the first place and protected from the real reason he was transferred away from Danville to Cornwall immediately upon his return.

Worst of all, I had been protected from the knowledge about myself, about my self-defeating female narcissism, my shallow self-absorbed existence.

I had spent the last year believing myself to be the damsel misused and mistreated, because I enjoyed the part of a being tossed in love. I took to my bed like some wealthy habitué in a bad novel, and, true to type, guzzled tonics to my soul’s content, more to elicit pity than to recover from debilitating grief.

HBC articulated it all to me in plain English. Plain enough. At some points I had to read between the lines.
Everything that Charlie had done in the past few months he had done for me, for love of me. Out of desire to marry me – and this as soon as possible.

He did not get cold feet in October when he left for Monterrey after the typhoon. He was not trying to weasel himself out of our understanding in March, when he asked for a transfer to Cornwall.

Charlie was trying to make this marriage happen.
I wasn’t a victim. I was a victimizer.
How could HBC look at me, now? He had to be thinking the same thing as I was.
This handsome man of the middle class, son of a prosperous farmer , now a bank clerk like Charlie (although lacking the latter’s charm)and just  like Charlie, stuck in a reasonably respectable but oh so hopeless  profession.

A reasonably well-educated man, Academy II, with no serious connections in the business world, so no real hope of bettering himself. A young man thinking of moving out West, like just about everyone else his age around the E.T., like even my own dear father.

He had to be thinking:  “If it hadn’t been for you, Charlie would still be alive.”

He would still be alive, my Charlie. And I could sense a sick sensation seeping through little spider vein  like cracks in my pitch black state of mind. I was feeling nauseous. Because the truth was sickening, I guess.  And so ugly.

“So that’s why Charlie spent his off hours in the church. Not to impress me, but to hide from those who would harm him?”

I looked HBC straight in the eye. I noticed he had green eyes, like my sister Marion, but not as watery.
HBC answered nothing. I guess there was nothing for him to say.

He examined the dark oak of the sliding doors that separate the family room from the reception room, the same woodwork my own father had installed in 1896, with such pride, as trim like this added greatly to the cost of the house. But times were good.

HBC finally spoke. “You should know. He wasn’t doing anything illegal. Strictly speaking. He’d want you to know. He wouldn’t want you to think ill of him.”

And with that final word he sprang from the chair to leave.

Think ill of him? How could I possibly. I was the villain in this piece. Not dear Charlie. Dear dead Charlie.
Burned beyond recognition. His body identified only by the tie pin nearby. In that stairwell of the Rossmore Hotel.

Half of his body anyway. (HBC hadn’t told me this first: I had read it in the Ottawa newspaper.)
“I have to catch the next train, “ he said. He had a full half hour, and the train station was 10 minutes away, but I didn’t  argue.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a salted pork sandwich for your trip? “I asked out of politeness.
“No, we are planning an early lunch at the hotel in Potton Springs.”

(Men are so lucky. They can eat anywhere, anytime.)

And with that he took his straw boater from his lap and turned about pirouetting elegantly on his lithe muscular legs.  But I knew I had to ask him something more, before he left. As out of context as it was, but there you go.

He was moving toward the door now, “I’ll see myself out, Edith.”
So I stopped him, extending a lacy fore-arm his way.
“I have one more thing to ask.”
“Do you know where I can get some. For my own use?”

Now it was his turn to be shocked.

So I explained.

“I’m running out of medicine, you see. And it’s not like the City here. Everyone knows me. Dr. Moffat is a relation. Mr. Sutherland, the druggist, is a good family friend.”

HBC stared down at me with those engaging green eyes.

“No, Edith, I don’t. I’m sss sorry, “he stuttered.

He folded his hat in his hand. And then he rushed out into the hall and out the front door. I raced into the reception room, and saw him, through the window, blow by my mother and sisters taking tea on the front lawn, without so much as tipping his hat. Well, he could hardly. He had twisted it, like a dirty rag, between his pale fists.

(This book in pdf for is atDiary of a Confirmed Spinsters

Chapter 2: I Survive
But, first, let’s go back to the beginning. But which beginning? The beginning beginning? The I AM BORN beginning? (To once again invoke David Copperfield, which despite appearances, is not my favourite novel. Middlemarch is.)

Easy enough. I am born in January 1884 in a green clapboard rental house in Melbourne, Quebec. 10 months after my parents’ marriage.

I know this because I have been told and also because the proof resides in ink strokes in my father’s Store Book for 1884.

His household accounts that he kept from 1882, before his marriage to 1921, the year he passed away.
Fifty years of family accounts, kept in little black books.

It could be claimed that he entire story of our family is told in these pocket-size volumes, the practical side at least. The down-to-earth work-a-day side.

I was born in early January 1884 because the store book has an entry on the 7thinserting baby’s birth 25 cents. I have survived my first challenge.

Under that breast pump 75 cents. Breast shield 25 cents. Along with one quart of milk 5 cents, a loaf of bread 10 cents, a gallon of coal oil, 25 cents. Two cords of wood 8 dollars and 35 cents. 11 pounds of oatmeal 38 cents. One dozen herring 20 cents. 1 ½ pounds of steak 15 cents. And rent 25 dollars a month. The staples of bodily existence then and today: shelter, heat, light and daily bread.

On February 19th a baby cradle is purchased 3 dollars. And some flannel and some cotton for baby. And on April 28, baby’s picture 25 cents. I have officially arrived. I am sketched in silver bromide.
On June 27, 1 baby carriage 6.37.

A year later, baby’s  first shoes, 1.20. I am now officially a financial burden on my parents. They would spend a great deal on shoes and boots  - and the mending of same - for their 4 children in the following decades.
October 1884, one crib. 2.75. Some wool for baby 2.60.

In June 1886, a child’s broom is purchased. 15 cents and I begin to pay for my keep. In those days they began teaching girls early the womanly arts.

Also purchased that month: baby’s first book. We are Scots after all, who value education above all else. “An education is something they cannot take away from you,” my mother always says.

Still, it’s something of a mixed message, I am being sent, as a 2 and ½ year old. But I might as well get used to it. Being a female, I will be showered with mixed messages most of my life.

Then, the narrative in numbers continues: 1890 to 1895 school fees 25 cents a month. The occasional  slate 5 cents. Bottles and bottles of cough medicine 25 cents each. (Cough medicine had kick in those days.) Later on scribblers 5 -7 cents.  Skating rink 10 cents. Soda at Sutherland’s drugstore 5 cents. (Soda had kick in those days, too.)

Later, pocket money for Edith 5 cents. I guess I was doing a lot more than sweeping by then. Oddly, my younger brother Herb received ‘wages’ for his household chores.

And then I grow up. St. Francis Academy 50 cents a month. Latin text 1.25. Euclid’s geometry 1.00. And I get stockings and gloves at Christmas, just like Mother.

We are living in our own house by 1896, built at a cost of 2,718 dollars, not including landscaping.  My father is by now a well-to-do hemlock bark dealer. Hemlock is plentiful in the E.T. and used in the leather tanning process. Father sells his bark to tanneries in Montreal, New Hampshire and Maine.

The mortgage on our house  30 dollars a month, similar to what we paid on the rental house, but “Tighsolas” or House of Light in Gaelic is ours. And it is a fine house,  a brick encased  Queen-Anne Revival in the good part of Richmond, not far from St. Francis Academy on College Street. (The kind of house seen often in Ontario but fairly rare in Quebec.) My father built the place himself, inspecting every plank, brick and tile. Tossing aside more than he used.

By now I have three siblings, a young brother, Herb and two other younger sisters, Marion and Flora, born 1885, 1887, 1892.

By 1901 I am  ‘fully out’ : corset for Edith 2.35. I start wearing my hair tied up around then, but only at dances. Combs for Edith: 20 cents.

I graduate St. Francis Academy III in 1903 and take a stenography course there. Stenography is an up and coming profession for women.  13.50 for the course. 1.28 for a shorthand book. 5 cents for a reporter’s notebook.

I graduate, with 100 words a minute in shorthand and 45 words a minute in typing, good enough to get a job, but my parents don’t want me going to the city to work. Life in the city, for young working women is a dreary business, at least according to a cousin, Jessie Beacon, in a letter to Mother. Jessie says she works until six at her insurance office, goes ‘home’ to her boarding house for a ‘lousy hash complete with garnish of housefly”  and then dresses for a predictably boring evening.

My parents are intent to save me from such a denigrating existence and seek a job for me in Richmond, but in 1904 jobs in Richmond jobs for young people are few and far between.

Still, money is plentiful at home, despite the fact my father has had to change lines of work. He now sells pulpwood instead of hemlock.  At Christmas there are watches, rings, and perfume given as gifts, over and above the usual stockings and gloves.

In 1905 my younger sister, Marion, leaves for McGill Normal School and adventures in the Big City. My determined little sister has managed to convince my wary parents that the City is safe, as long as she rooms at the YWCA on Dorchester.

And, as Herb works in Montreal, at the E.T. Bank, she is not alone, so my parents permit her to go despite the great cost: 16.50 a month.

Everything in life is timing.

And I am left alone at home with my little sister, born 9 years after me, a financial burden on my parents, who shower me with ‘gifts’ at Eastertime as they feel guilty about Marion: 5.00 for a plaid dress, as plaid voile is all the rage, I read it in the Delineator; 2.35 for a ticket to see the Madame Albani Concert in Sherbrooke. Opera singer Emma Lajeunesse, now in her middle age, is a ‘local’ girl from Chambly made good. She is world-famous, a long-time favourite at London’s Covent Garden. So, (you may have already guessed) this is a huge event. All of the. E. T. seems to want to attend.

At 22, I feel like a debutante about to make her grand appearance under the patronage of a local legend. But nothing comes of it. No young men attend the home-coming concert.

But late 1906 the pulp contracts dry up. To add fuel to this fire, we are disinherited by a wealthy Maiden Aunt on her deathbed.

My brother takes this especially hard.

“Well, now that my house is being given to someone else, I will have to give up all hope of being rich and look at it as a fortune lost,” he writes in a letter home.

“My house? MY house?,” exclaims Marion at Christmas.  She is now working  at Sherbrooke High School. “What has Father been telling him?”

I don’t tell my sister that Herb believes we were disinherited because Old Aunt Maggie did not approve of ‘working women.’

In June 1907 my father is desperate for work, with 33 dollars left in his bank account. He applies to our local Member of Parliament, E.W. Tobin, to work as inspector on the crew building the Canadian Transcontinental Railway.

He receives a polite letter from their offices in Ottawa. They say they have their full complement of inspectors. They acknowledge that Tobin has been in to see them on his behalf.

Then in August a great bridge half built collapses, the Quebec Bridge. It was to be the world’s longest suspension bridge. 78 men die, mostly Mohawks from Cawgnawaga near Montreal.

The bridge was a component of the CTR. Magically, there is a need for inspectors at end of steel and father gets the call to La Tuque, to be Timber Inspector at 100 dollars a month. .”

( It is well known that jobs on the railway are dangerous.)

My mother exchanges one worry for another.

“What is a timber inspector? Is it safe? It doesn’t sound safe. My parents take out a 1,000 insurance policy on my father’s life.

And I am still at home, no income, no prospects.

Then arrives a letter from Reverend J. R. McLeod in Three Rivers.

Three Rivers, Sept. 1907

My dear Friend,
I have but a few minutes to write as prayer meeting is starting. I was asked yesterday by the Manager of Works in a village 15 miles from here is I could find a suitable girl to teach a small school, about 10 children. My thoughts went to you. They will take you without a diploma. They offer $20.00 a month. I know you are fit for the position.

Regards, Reverend J. R. Macleod

“Should I accept now, I mean that Father is away?” I ask my mother.

“It is your decision to make,” my mother replies. She does not seem surprised at all by the letter from her cousin.

 Mother hands me another letter, just arrived in the mail, from a young  friend of the family’s, Mary Carlyle. The correspondent omits the obligatory opening pleasantries and gets straight to the irksome point:

“Dear Maggie,

I am writing you with such good news. I am to be married! He is a George White and he is from Kingsey. He is a sweet, kind man, with a good position and very good looking, in my opinion. It is such a relief. I was worried I was destined to be a burden on Father.

“Kingsey. So, that’s where all the perfect men are,” I say to Mother in a tired voice but my mind suddenly is made up. I climb the stairs to my room to scratch off a note to J.R. McLeod saying I will take the job as offered.

Chapter 3: A New Chapter

Radnor Forges is a dreary iron works company town in the December of its days, from the looks of things. Instead of the usual church spires overhead, there are chimney stacks, 40 foot high, and instead of naves, aisles, chancels and altars, we have blast furnaces, steam boilers, water pumps and rock crushers.
Two years ago the Company employed 700, today a fraction of that amount.

I’m told this fact by a handsome bachelor, Mr.C. the Manager. He and a Mr. Atkinson, his boss,  take me on a tour of the works, where bog iron is turned into household goods. I now know how Mother’s pots and pans are made.

The works are owned by the Canadian Iron Furnace Company, whose President is George Edward Drummond, not to be confused with George Alexander Drummond, the President of Red path Sugar.
I have a modest teaching load. There is another teacher, for the French,  and we have only 10 or so students.
There is a kind of social life here, mostly the parents of my students, also  a few unmarried men of quality, although most are here only to make enough money and abscond elsewhere. Mr. C. apparently has a fiancé back in Ireland.

I am not sure why I am here, as my small salary makes it impossible to save money.

I earn just enough to buy material for clothes and other necessities and to pay for my transportation home for holidays.

Still, I am earning just a few dollars less than sister Marion, who is in her second year teaching at  Sherbrooke High as elementary specialist.

Her social life is far far more active. She has many beaus. Her favorite boy, Gordon, is the son of prominent E.T. family, active in the Liberal party. I am a little green over it.

But after Christmas, I am no longer envious of her. I receive a letter from a young man who I met at a dance in Danville, Charlie Gagne.

Charlie is a clerk at the Bank of Montreal in that town and he is full of fun, handsome and always so well turned out. He is French Catholic, but he has been converted to Methodism at a Ste Hyacinthe mission where he received his education.

As a youth he travelled with the Colporteurs, the evangelists,  as far away as Mexico. His mother is a fine couturiere in Quebec City, a widow, which is why he is such a dandy dresser. All the  womenfolk in our area are on high alert.

But he has written to ME.

He has a  lovely, flamboyant hand.  He tells me about yet another dance  he attended, in January. It was nothing to the first, he says. The dresses on the Danville women put the Richmond ones to shame, but had I been there, I would have evened the score, he says.  I am flattered of course, to think the son of a society couturier admires the way I wear clothes.

I suspect he admires my work ethic, too. Were I a layabout at home in Richmond,  sitting prim in the parlour perfecting my lacework technique, I doubt he would be writing me. Absence can be an aphrodisiac, too.
I write Mother.

January 26, 1908

Radnor Forges, Quebec

Dear Mother,

Your letter received, sorry to hear that Flora has been sick and that you both missed the recital. Saw an account of it in the St. John's News.  Do you know who wrote the article. It was one of Mrs. Roes' choosing, I should judge.  How are Uncle Dan and Grandma. You have not mentioned them, but I supposed that is a good sign.

I had a letter from Christina before I got the bowl but will send her a card and thank her. My watch keeps splendid time. I showed it to Mr. Atkinson the other day. He thought it a very good one. Mr. C. took me all around the furnace and works this afternoon and now I think I understand a little about how iron is made.
 I heard that the people are very much pleased with the way the school is going and seem to think I am quite a success at it. I like the work very much and the children seem to be doing very well.  Seems there has always been some trouble with other pupils and teachers. I only hope and pray it may continue.

 Mr. Gagne asked me to send him a card some time so I did and the other day got a letter from him, said he wanted to tell me about the dance. December the 16th he was out for it and had a fine time but said everyone said it was nothing to the first. I am feeling fine, weigh 137 with my coat off so you see I have not lost any.
They say I should never leave Radnor for I always come back looking so tired out and lose all of my red cheeks. You should see the colour I have these days, you would never know me.

Your loving daughter,
Edith S. Nicholson.

Feb 10, 1908

Dear Mother,
Your letter of the 7th received yesterday and as this is Sunday I am trying to answer some back correspondence. Mr. C and I are down in the smoking room writing letters. Have written Clare Miller and Henry and will write to Mrs. Snyder after yours. Last night we were invited over to Mrs. Drysdale's for the evening, we played cards, did not come home until half past one. That was the latest I have ever been out since I came to Radnor. I think Mr. D. is just fine, she said I did not need to ask Mr. Bell for anything, I could just come to him. So in future I shall know what to do. I did not have school Thursday afternoon or all day Friday as it was so stormy and the snow is something terrible. I see in your letter that we are not the only ones having snow.

Here they think I do my hair up so nicely. Both Mr. C and Mr. A made that remark and I overheard it. So that is something new for me.  I hope you do not think Mr. C and I are getting too thick, for we are not. He is very nice to me but he is here to make money so that he can go home and marry. He is engaged to a girl in Ireland. Mrs. Vallois says we are dead in love with one another - but she says that about everyone, so that doesn't go very far with the people.

I had a long letter from Marion Friday. She is certainly having a splendid time, but I don't think much of Mae, for I think she is a great flirt and she had better not encourage him, but I don't know if it will do her any good to tell her so. Gordon is a big baby. I have never heard of anyone being as silly as he is at present time. Yes, you had better tell Bert to take my name off the roll.

I have no money to send you as yet, but will soon. I have been so laid up this week, was glad I did not have to teach. Had such a head ache. It lasted for four days. Did I tell you that Dr. Dixon said I must give up tea. You remember my last attempt, how I failed.

I am working a waist for Mrs. A. like my last one. I stamped it off for her before Christmas but she does not seem to do the eyelet very well, so I said I would do it for her.

She got a  new blue dress made at that French woman's I told you about: it looks very nice and well made.
I have not been down at Three Rivers since I came back. I was anxious to go to Grand Mere but since that Mr. Young was down there it has rather spoiled the pleasure: I do not want anything to do with him. Mr. A said he was all right but his people were not much but he was the most persistent beggar.  He would not take no for an answer. Mr. C expects to leave any day now as George Drummond wants him to take charge of some mines they are trying to lease. Don't mention anything about it in your letters as no one down here knows it - and everything is spread broad cast in a few hours. Really, I never saw such people, they are wild for some kind of news all the time.


I receive a letter from Marion in Sherbrooke, where she seems to be spending all of her free time at the rink, ice dancing with her many boyfriends. I do not know what it is about her that attracts the young men so. Empirically I am much prettier. The men actually fight each other over her attentions. Imagine! Perhaps it is her razor-sharp focus. She applies herself to courtship with the same determined energy she applies to everything in life. And her laugh, I must admit, is delightfully infectious.

Flora writes me and says she and cousin May are having a wonderful time at home, and getting strong feeding wood into the furnace. I cannot imagine Flora with muscles of any kind.

Cousin May is in her second year at St. Francis and living at Tighsolas, as her home is in Kingsbury, too far to travel to school.

Flora tells me something else in her letter, that Mother is being shunned by the ladies at our church.  The Missionary Society. Flora says they look down upon her, feeling that she should be doing more now that her husband is away and she has the time. I think the silly old women do not like our mother’s  fierce opinions, especially on women’s rights.

March 26, 1908

Dear Marion,

Your letter received and decided to write at once so you would see that I still have the power of writing though the blow was terrible when the ‘dear man’ left, but I ‘am growing’ as Uncle Donald says. Have had a very nice letter from him but as yet have not answered it. It is exactly four weeks this morning that we parted.
You certainly were very well remembered by your men folks on your birthday. How is G.N.E? Is he as nice as ever? How is Harry? What did Mother think of him and what did he think of Richmond. I wish I had been there so I could have made things more pleasant.  How you must miss me when you go home. You never say so, but, of course, it is because you feel so badly. But never mind, I will soon be back again. So you and Herb were home together. Had a letter from Bert yesterday telling me about Ethel Cleveland and Mr. Stone. She seems to think Ethel is very much taken up with him. Poor Jack must be nearly crazy. Had letters from Ross Macleod and Ethel Buggs yesterday. Ethel asked me up this summer. It would be lovely to take a Lake trip up and back. I am going to try and save enough money to take a trip somewhere if I can, but I am afraid it won’t be much further than Gore.  Will you come? Am having my new skirt made. My, but you are fine with two new suits. I am going to do with my blue for this spring.  Don’t know yet if I shall be home for Easter.

Your loving sister,

PS. What are you working your waist on. I have nearly finished the center piece I had at home.

May 28, 1908

Thursday Morning

Dear Mother,
Excuse pencil as I am writing this in school. Father gave me a great surprise as I was not looking for him until Wednesday. It made me quite lonesome after he went, it seemed such a short visit and passed so quickly. We were at Mrs. A's for tea. I was sorry to hear that you have a bad cold. Do take care of yourself and take things easy.

So Marion is going to Montreal. I am very glad. Father said not to stay here another year as it was such a lonesome place, so I am giving it my resignation this afternoon. Father said he might come down for over Sunday.

 So get ready to start sometime in the near future. I don't think my school will finish before the 26th anyway

Your loving