Image from Pixabay
A Saint Maggie Short Story by Janet R. Stafford
The Norton Arms Hotel stood proud on the Blaineton town square at the corner of Second and Main Streets. It was a large establishment, built in 1864, offering the latest and best in accommodations, fine dining, and entertainment.
But before the hotel was built, another house had stood there, the details of which the new owner was woefully ignorant.
Built in 1801, the previous building had been the home of Timothy and Caroline Blaine. Timothy worked as a printer and bookbinder and was so skilled that people from other towns came to him to have their work put into print or bound as a book. He did well with his business, and it was a good thing, as Timothy and Caroline had a large family. Together they produced ten children, two of whom died early, but the other eight thrived and grew in a house with four bedrooms. The eldest of the children was Letitia, commonly known as Letty.
In those days, houses were the center of a family's life. Within their walls weddings, births, deaths, and funerals occurred. It was the natural course of things.
The first death in the Blaine family was Caroline, who passed in 1815 from complications due to childbirth. The responsibility of caring for the youngest children, with of course the help of a wet nurse to feed baby Jonah, fell to her twenty-one-year-old daughter Letitia.
For some girls this might have been a burden and a tragedy, as it took them away from their prime tas of finding a husband. However, for Letty it came as a relief. She was not the least interested in things like courtship and marriage and, from the moment her mother passed away, she took over the organization and running of the household as if she had been born to it.
In 1820, when her father, Timothy, followed his wife into the great Unknown, he left the house to Letty and the printing and bookbinding business to his eldest son, Matthew, who was 23 years of age. This gave Letty an excuse to happily eschew all young men who turned up at her door with romance and marriage on their minds. She never cared for such things, and never would.
As far as the business went, Matthew proved to be every bit as skilled as his father at the family trade, having worked with him since boyhood. And so the money continued to flow into the family coffers.
The second oldest boy, Gordon, had apprenticed with the local carriage builder when he was very young. Eventually, he married the man’s only child, a lovely girl named Deborah. When his father-in-law died, Gordon inherited the carriage business, as well as the family house on the other side of the square. The young man built the business until he had a factory that turned out fine carriages and wagons.
In time, Matthew married, too, but waited until he attained the age of 36. His life had been taken up with his trade and with working with Letty to find suitable mates for sisters Rebekah (25) and Sarah (22). A wedding also was in the offing for 19-year-old Katherine. As for Jonah, the baby, he was now 17 and had been apprenticed to the town’s apothecary. His siblings were all nearly settled, so Matthew could settle, as well, and settle he did in the old family home, with Letty continuing to serve as household manager.
Matthew soon became desirous of more space and, after conversation with Letty’, added on to the old house in the spring of 1840.
All was well for the family until a typhus epidemic hit in June of that year.
Despite Letty’s best efforts to nurse her stricken loved ones and the doctor’s attempts to provide help, Matthew, his wife, and all three of their children perished. In his will, Matthew left all of the money as well as his business to Letty. Since she knew nothing about printing and bookbinding, Letty sold the shop for a high price, something that abruptly made her a very wealthy woman.
But what of what value was all that money when she lived alone in a large house? The place now had a sad, empty feeling to it – and it echoed in Letty’s heart.
A few months later, in the summer, the extended Blaine family experienced yet another trauma: a scandal. Gordon’s son John had eloped with a young woman named Margaret Beatty. But the elopement wasn’t the problem. Rather, the difficulty had to do with the fact that the young couple’s fathers owned competing carriage manufactories.
Letty read the reports in the local newspaper and listened to Gordon when he spoke of business and expressed his anger at his son's marriage. The rivalry between the Blaines and the Beattys was intense, so it really did not surprise Letty when both families disowned the apostate couple and tossed them into the street.
Letty’s heart went out to John and Maggie. Since she was now 46 years old, and age was erasing the importance of social acceptability, she decided that she would flout convention and invited the young people to live in her own home.
Of course, her brother threatened never to speak to her again and for some years made good on his word. But Letty was adamant. John and Maggie had not broken any law. They merely, and ignorantly, had stepped into the messy politics of business and family. They did not deserve to be cut off.
Thus, Letty said, “Do as you must,” to her brother and took the young couple into her home. Although she missed speaking with Gordon, she gained something far greater: her house was now filled with laughter, love, and joy. And eventually children - three of them. They were named Lydia, Frances, and Gideon.
Things were happy and busy and noisy for ten years until another epidemic hit. This time it was rheumatic fever, and it took the lives of Letty’s nephew John and little Gideon, who was not yet three years old.
Now well into her late 50s and her wealth dwindling, Letty recognized that her time on earth might soon end, which would leave John’s young widow, Maggie Beatty Blaine on her own. And so Letty spent many a night wondering what this young woman could do with the old house set on the square that would bring her an income.
Finally, one night, in a dream, Letty got her answer. She saw the place filled with people – primarily men – who needed a place to live. They were all happy, and so was Maggie.
The next morning, Letty marched into the kitchen, where Maggie was making breakfast, and announced, “My dear, we are going to turn this old place into a boarding house!”
Maggie looked up from a pot of oatmeal, surprise all over her face. “A boarding house?”.
“Yes, indeed! And you shall be its proprietor.”
“But I know nothing about running a boarding house.”
“Neither, do I. But together, my dear, we shall learn!”
And so the house on the square changed from one family’s home to another kind of home – a place for people unrelated who became a family, nonetheless.
The boarding house was still a home that saw weddings, and births, and deaths, and funerals. But the last deaths in it were due to something other than disease. And those deaths, along with the others, echoed long after the building burned down and after the brand new hotel took its place.
The trouble was… the new owner neither knew nor cared about the lives and deaths of those who had preceded him.
And that was a pity.
Because he was about to play with fire.
Somehow. I have managed to pull it together enough to start a Saint Maggie Halloween short story. It will be posted as a daily serial and I promise that it will not be as ponderous as Charles Dickens’ serialized stories – although, mine probably won’t be as good. Ha.
As a side note, the supernatural and the paranormal have already shown up in the Saint Maggie series. The supernatural obviously in the form of prayer, spiritual promptings, and a really cheeky appearance to Eli by God disguised as Maggie. The paranormal shows up in that mysterious person (?) who knocked on the doors of all the people in the boarding house to alert them about the fire. And it can be found in Maggie’s dreams about her late husband John and, in the upcoming novel, her dream about old Mrs. Greybeal.
I have had brushes with the paranormal throughout my life. My response is an almost predictable, “Well, that was weird.” Then I may or may not get scared – or even a bit ticked off. It all depends.
Let me give you one example.
I attended graduate school and lived in a dormitory when I was in my 40s, and made friends with several other grad students, also in their 40s, and not a few who were much younger. During this time, my friends Paula, Cindy, and I made a habit of eating dinner together every Friday (gotta love it when you have donuts for Friday night dinner) and, since it was the 1990s, to follow up by watching The X Files.
One night, during the commercial break, I rushed out of the room to get a quick drink from the water fountain. When I looked up, I saw what appeared to be the tail end of a chenille bathrobe disappear around the corner at the end of the hall. Thinking it was Ann, another friend who also enjoyed The X Files, I trotted down the hall to share a “do you believe what just happened” moment from the latest episode.
I knocked on her door.
No one answered.
I knocked again. “Ann?” Nothing.
Thinking maybe the women across the hall from her were in, I knocked on their door.
What on earth did I just see?
I had no idea. I still don’t.
Upon returning to Paula’s room, I told my buds, “I think I might have just seen a ghost.” After hearing my story, we all ran out of the room, back down the hall, and using the latest in paranormal detecting devices (our hands), checked for cold spots. We thought we felt one. Or maybe we just wanted to, since the dorm was reputedly haunted.
To this day, I still wonder if what I saw was a reflection from a passing car (even though we were on the second floor) or some other sort of reflection. Also, we had been watching a spooky show, so perhaps my mind was primed for spooky stuff. But as my memory recorded it, that bathrobe really and truly appeared solid, and it looked as if someone was walking down the hall.
Back to the new story.
Starting tomorrow, the Prologue to “All Hallows’ Eve: A Saint Maggie Short Story” will be posted, followed over the next days by Chapter 1 (Getting Ready), Chapter 2 (The Ball), Chapter 3 (The Séance), and an Epilogue.
Also, be aware that these are being posted in nearly first-draft form. For an author, that’s kind of like showing up naked at a formal dinner party. So bear with the typos and grammar gaffs, and usage errors – not to mention possible redundancy and occasionally boring dialog (i.e., “Let’s go!”).
So boo to you and boo to me and boo to those we cannot see!
Yes, that's it. The new book's cover. What's cool is that the image wraps around onto the back cover. I haven't put that up because it has a mock ISBN barcode on it, and I need to get the real one on the back before I can show it.
Anyway, the design talents of Erin Vieth Brochu made this possible. She's great to work with, and I feel as if I have an artistic cover!
You probably have noticed that I did not post on Monday. I probably won't post again this coming Monday. I'm finishing up the edits on The Good Community's manuscript and then moving toward publication. This takes time.
Since a decent blog - sometimes even an indecent one! - takes a couple of hours, I really want to put that time and energy into getting the new book out. There also a couple of church activities this coming week that will keep me busy. There is a community walk on Sunday to raise funds to fight hunger. And during the rest of the week the church will be hosting homeless families from Interfaith Hospitality Network of Somerset County.
So, yeah. I'll be kind of busy.
But hang in there. I'll be back next Friday with more info on the new book's release, or a history blog, or perhaps a Halloween tale set in Blaineton, 1864. Keep your fingers crossed!
Later, gators. "Be excellent to one another," as Bill and Ted might say.
The cover image for A Good Community. (Purchased from istock;photo)
Sorry for the delay in getting this post up. Dan and I had to go to a funeral for the mother of a friend. While social media and websites and blogging are good activities, other things are more important. This was one of them.
Now for the good news.
We’re getting close to releasing A Good Community: Saint Maggie Book 5. I’m putting final touches on the manuscript and my designer Erin Vieth Brochu is working on the cover design.
Making decisions about this kind of stuff is difficult. It’s very nutsy-boltsy. I sent Erin all sorts of information about the story including thematic info: school, children, race, community, etc. Then she and I searched for appropriate images. We settled on a sketch circa the mid-1800s that features a schoolhouse with children gathered outside.
There were a couple of other images – photographs – that featured vintage school desks, chalkboards, and schoolhouses that Erin, Dan, and I liked. However, Dan pointed out that the overarching theme had to do with community as well as with Maggie’s struggle to push Blaineton into being a better (a good) community. He thought the children playing together picked up that theme more effectively than a photo of a series of desks or a schoolhouse.
Now we’re working on the design: image and cover color, how the title and my name will appear on the cover, and what the back cover will look like.
I also have written and polished the dreaded blurb. This how it reads at the moment.
Maggie Beatty Blaine Smith has a big heart and happily welcomes “down on their luck” boarders into her house. Maggie, who is white, also lives and works with friends Nate and Emily Johnson, who are black. Once Maggie ran a boarding house that sat directly on the Blaineton town square, where she and her household were clearly visible to all. Not surprisingly, the town folk wrinkled their noses at her establishment and saw her as an eccentric do-gooder.
But now it is 1864 and the members of her household are more prosperous. They have moved to the edge of Blaineton and into the spacious confines of Greybeal House. At last, Maggie is free to pursue her loving, welcoming lifestyle without having to face the town’s disapproval.
Then Mary and Addie, two orphaned girls of color, show up. Upon learning that the girls need an education, Maggie and Emily decide to enroll them in the Blaineton School. But there’s a problem: the school will not take black pupils and there is little in the way of education available for children of color.
True to form, the two women take matters into their own hands and start a school of their own, not just for Mary and Addie, but for all of Blaineton’s black children. However, as word spreads about the school, things start spinning out of control until a controversy threatens to blow Blaineton apart.
Maggie is called to stand a speak. Will she be able to bring her little town back together?
I still hate writing the blurb. *sigh*
Anyway, stay tuned. I sense a cover reveal coming our way!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder