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Transparent Boxing Gloves #1574830 (License: Personal Use)
One of the tensions in Saint Maggie is the presence of Maggie’s niece Leah in the boarding house after she marries Rev. Jeremiah Madison.
Leah is the daughter of Maggie’s brother, Samuel, the wealthy owner of the Beatty Carriage Manufactory. Sam and Maggie have been estranged ever since she married John Blaine, whose father owned a rival carriage factory. However, rather than ignoring his sister at the weekly church service, Sam revels in using the occasion to point out Maggie’s flaws and unacceptable behavior.
Given Sam’s feelings regarding Maggie, daughter Leah finds the Second Street Boarding House to be an unworthy accommodation for someone of her social status. She complains mightily about Maggie’s tendency of taking in people who need a hand up (a struggling young lawyer, a down-on-his luck author, and the undertaker’s assistant) and people who are at the bottom of the social ladder (an old Irishman and Maggie’s friends Nate and Emily, who are Black).
In the scene below, Maggie finds Leah and Frankie having a loud argument that centers around a boarding house secret.
All I’m saying is thank God for Eli. You’ll find out why.
A few days later, Maggie was dusting the back parlor, when she was interrupted by the sound of raised voices in the front parlor. Hurrying into the other room, she found Leah and Frankie engaged in a shouting match.
“Admit it!” Leah was snapping.
Frankie’s lower lip jutted out. “Admit what? You’re imagining things!” She whirled around to face Maggie. “Tell her, Mama. Tell her that we’re not abolitionists.”
There was an edge to Frankie’s voice. Her fear and desperation were evident.
Leah met Maggie’s eyes and produced a nasty little smile. “I know what’s down in your cellar.”
Maggie kept her face impassive. “Is that so?”
“I know about the secret door and the tunnel and the room!” Her expression was gleeful.
“You’re not supposed to be snooping around!” Frankie blurted. “None of our boarders go into the cellar.”
The other girl smirked and adjusted her skirts over her hoop cage. “Well, I wouldn’t have done so had I not seen something a few nights ago.”
By now, Emily and Nate were peering into the room from the doorway.
“I couldn’t sleep so I decided to go to the back porch for a breath of fresh air.” Her eyes were glowing. “I saw them,” she nodded at the Johnsons. “And they were not alone. They had some others with them, and they looked all raggedy. They were slaves. So now I know what you are. You’re abolitionists. You’re n***** lovers.”
“I think that girl needs to be taught some manners,” Nate growled, eyes flashing. He took a step forward.
But Emily put a restraining hand on her husband’s arm. “Nate, don’t.”
Leah folded her arms over her chest. “My, my, have I said something amiss?”
“What’s wrong?” Eli asked, as he joined the growing throng at the door. Behind him, Maggie caught a glimpse of Grandpa O’Reilly and Mr. Carson.
Nate gestured angrily in Leah’s direction. “What’s wrong? Her language, for one thing.”
Meanwhile, Frankie was hissing, “How dare you, Leah? How dare you use that word?”
“Everybody uses that word!” Leah taunted. “I wonder what happens up on the second floor at night – you and your sister and that darkie.”
Indignant, Frankie straightened her posture. “Nothing happens because Nate Johnson is a fine, well-bred gentleman.”
“A gentleman, you say? As if you would know what one of those looked like.”
There was the briefest of pauses, and then Frankie replied, “That’s really quite funny, Leah,”
“Yes. I may not know what a gentleman looks like, but I do know what ladies aren’t. And they aren’t usually with child before their wedding day.”
Leah gasped, stepped forward, and slapped Frankie hard across the face.
There was another pause – just enough time for Eli to push past Maggie and get to Frankie before the girl lunged at her cousin.
Wrapping his arms around her waist, Eli swung Frankie around and away, as she clawed and kicked at the air like an angry cat.
“Maggie,” he grunted, “are you sure this girl doesn’t know the facts of life?”
By this time, Maggie was moving, too. “That will be enough, both of you!” She advanced upon Leah. “I will not have such language and such a display in my house, do you understand?”
Leah sneered at her. “I deserve better accommodations – unless you would like the world to know your little secret!”
“What’s all this?” It was Jeremiah’s voice.
I like this scene because it does a couple of things. It highlights what a spoiled brat Leah is but also shows that Frankie not only is impulsive, but a fighter, as well. In addition, the scene reinforces how dangerous it was to be part of the Underground Railroad.
The fact that boarding house is a station on the Underground Railroad carries the risk of a hefty fine and a jail sentence should the activity be discovered. Therefore, when Leah spots Nate and Emily escorting freedom seekers to the house one night and threatens to expose the activity, the Second Street Boarding House family knows it must act.
One last point: I did not spell out the “N” word in this post, although the word is written out in the novel. One of the difficulties of writing historical fiction is that some slurs and insults were used more commonly than they are today. As a result, I decided only to use the “N” word in the novels when necessary, and this rare as other words may be used in its place. Having Leah use the word illustrates her attitude toward people of color and shows what a dangerous and obnoxious pain in the neck she can be.
Next week, I’ll pull a favorite scene from the second book in the series, Walk by Faith.
We’re having a "bit" of snow here in NJ and surrounding states along the east coast. If you’re in the area, too, please stay warm and don’t go out until things settle down. If you’re not in the area, lucky you! Have a great day!
Later, gators, and remember to be kind!
Janet R. Stafford
Heart image from: http://clipart-library.com/clip-art/transparent-heart-clipart-15.htm (Transparent Heart Clipart #1581678; License: Personal Use)
As an author I often wonder if my fellow authors have favorite parts of their stories or books. It only makes sense. When we see a movie, listen to music, see a play, or read a book there invariably is a scene or even a line that becomes a favorite. If that is the case, then why shouldn’t authors have favorite parts of their own works?
Yes, I do have favorite parts of the things I’ve written. Usually, they involve a scene in which characters suddenly reveal something about themselves.
Today’s example comes from A Good Community: Saint Maggie Series Book 5.
Let me briefly set the scene: Greybeal House, home to Maggie and her extended family, narrowly escapes being set on fire by a gang of youth. But other disturbing news quickly greets the family: Water Street and Blaineton itself is on fire.
Maggie and family hurry to the square to do what they can to help. Eli and the other men and some of the women go off to fight the fire. Maggie stays in the square helps daughter Lydia and Dr. Lightner treat people injured in the fire.
If you know anything about the Saint Maggie series, you will know that Eli – who at heart is a man of peace – usually jumps into the middle of conflict to diffuse a potentially violent situation. And he almost always gets hurt. He has been shot, stabbed, and during a retreat by the Union Army nearly blown up by a shell.
The man’s just asking for it, especially since he has a bum leg and gets around only with the help of a cane. He’s vulnerable as all get out. But he goes for it nearly every time.
As I wrote A Good Community, I found myself thinking: “Wait a minute. Eli’s off fighting a fire and Maggie’s in the square trying to help the injured. Maggie does not know what Eli is up to. What must she be thinking and fearing?”
And I realized that Maggie would be worried sick.
So… finally, in Book 5, Maggie tells hubby that enough is enough.
Scene set up:
Exhausted from working in the square all night and worried about Eli, Maggie lies down on a donated blanket and falls asleep. But she is not asleep for long.
“So there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Maggie’s eyes flew open. “Eli?” She sat up.
“One and the same.” Her husband plopped clumsily down beside her. His face, hands, and clothing were smudged with soot.
“Oh, my dear, dear love…” She placed a palm on the side of his face. “Oh, you’re all right!” And then the emotions of the night – the fear, the sorrow, the worry – hit her and hit her hard. Maggie fell into tears. “Oh, Eli, I was so worried!”
Eli gathered her up in his arms.
“You’re all right.”
“Shh,” he whispered. “I am. And so are you. We’re both fine.”
She sobbed helplessly.
“No, no, no,” he murmured, disturbed by her tears. “Maggie, don’t. I’m fine. I’m fine.”
At that, she abruptly drew back and gave his shoulder an angry push.
“Ow,” Eli yelped, more confused than hurt. “What’d you do that for?”
“Because of you! Why’d you do this? Why’d you go off like you did? I heard nothing for hours! I was so worried!”
Eli caressed her hair. Some of it had escaped her braid. He pushed a strand back behind one of her ears. “But, sweetheart…”
“No! Don’t say, ‘sweetheart,’ as if that solves anything. You’re always trying to stop something bad from happening and then it happens to you!”
“That’s because I’m a Quaker?” he stammered.
“You’re not a Quaker, Eli.”
“Well, maybe not according to them, but in my heart I am.”
“And that was what made you try to take the gun away from Carrie? That was what made you go off chasing war stories and nearly got you blown up? That was what made you jump between Mr. Norton and that terrible man at the hospital?”
Eli winced. Her words stung. “You’re right,” he admitted after a pause. “And I’m sorry. I should have told you all I intended to do was throw water on houses and bushes. I would never run into a burning building.”
“That’s because you can’t run.”
“That’s right! I can’t. My leg won’t let me.” He took her hand. “Look, I know how much you worry. I really do. And I’m sorry.” He tenderly kissed her on the cheek. “Will you forgive me? Please?”
Well, of course, Maggie forgives him! Eli’s her husband. She loves him with all her heart. But I like the fact that she gets a little physical with him to make her point. Sometimes Eli can be thick as a brick.
We might wonder, after that little scene in A Good Community, whether Eli will be more thoughtful and less impulsive? I think there’s hope for him. However, there wasn’t much he could do in book 6, A Balm in Gilead, except expose himself to typhoid fever – which thankfully he didn’t do.
The question remains... has Eli really learned his lesson?
I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see. That includes me. Do you think I honestly have any idea what Eli is going to do? Most authors will tell you that characters, once created, often call their own shots. It’s true. Really.
Anyway, later, gators! See you in a week.
As Ringo Starr says, Peace and love,
Janet R. Stafford
Image from http://clipart-library.com/clipart/273171.htm (Prosecutor Cliparts #223970: License: Personal Use)
After more research, I discovered that the term "typhoid fever" was indeed in use by 1864. In fact, Dr. William Budd, who originally made the connection between polluted drinking water and "intestinal fever" used the term as the title of his 1861 book, The Propagation of Typhoid Fever.
So... yay! I saved myself some work.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder