Image from: http://clipart-library.com/clip-art/transparent-boxing-gloves-7.htm
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
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder