After school I was still upset by the morning so I rushed off to Uncle John’s and then to home and Pa said not to stay another day with Mrs. Mac. But the roads were knee deep in mud and I could not get to school from home, so Uncle John came in with me and gave the old lady and her daughters some plain old Anglo Saxon. He made it clear that I was only to stay there if I had all rights and liberties and if on one point offended I’d leave on the very moment. He told me private that he thought it best to stay on under the circumstances lest people say I was driven off at this particular time and give credence to the rumours the old lady would spread. I am so bothered and I’ve worried so much that I am half sick. I feel almost like doing some rash and foolish thing. But things will soon brighten and then all will be well.
I am so happy that the hours spent with my students absorb me completely. I have no time to think on the bitterness of my life as a boarder with Mrs. Mac. Even if she was my old teacher and once deserving of my respect I say, Bah! let her be deserving of my respect and friendship now.
Here I am again. I’ve prepared my lessons and I will finish this very long letter.
After Mrs. Mac had severely chastised me, Miss Sarah then attacked. “You only have that teaching job because I didn’t apply. I have sufficient reason to be cold to you. You told the students that I applied and didn’t get the job. You lied to make yourself more important. Too good for me, too good for my brother..”
Now, the affair was not completely groundless as I had it from the trustees that she actually did make application and was not accepted. She grew even more angry when I reminded her of that but could not deny the truth and flew into a perfect frenzy, screaming that I would never be the teacher she was. I had not said anything to the students, so I was very cool. “ Be careful here,” I spoke calmly, “or I will have something to say to the trustees about that”.
By now, the kitchen was over-heated as were we all. A little sense remained to me so I snatched up my dinner pail and my books and stormed out of the house. “I will not be home for dinner this evening.”
“Good,” Miss Kate shouted after me. “We will enjoy the peace. But mind, you must be in by eight o’clock. We will not have the neighbours talking about us because of your wanton ways and evil disposition.”
So you see, Nell, why I am so bothered with this every day. Please write,
Well, here I am again, ever so much more rested than last night and first finished my lessons. I will tell you about my troubles just as it occurs every morning.
My landlady, Mrs. Mac is given to moody. If she is displeased with me as often happens of late, breakfast is delayed or cold. I must eat and make my lunch before I leave for school and lately I am also making my dinner to take with me. So, I get dressed and go down. I step firmly down the narrow stairs telling myself that I have paid for my room and board and it had better be ready or I’ll give her a good blowing over. She knows that Pa or Uncle John will be here again if all is not just right for me.
This morning the kitchen is warm and I gratefully pour myself a cup of tea and serve myself porridge from the pot on the black stove. I stand close to the glowing behemoth savouring the warmth before I move to the scrubbed wooden table to eat my meal. The old lady is already seated and glowers at me over her tea. I brace myself for the questions I know are coming but I am determined not to be baited.
“I take it bad your going out so much since our Neilie came home,” she starts in on me. ”The whole neighbourhood will be remarking on your going out so much when my son is home. Indeed they already are.”
I could feel my face flush in anger but I did not reply. T’was none of their business if I went out and I was always careful to be brought home by some two or three from any household I visited so nothing could be said to that. Still not speaking, I made to rise from the table when the old lady’s daughters Miss Kate and Miss Sarah entered the room. Miss Sarah stood blocking the door and watched me gather up some bread and cheese and pickle for my lunch and dinner.
Miss Kate spoke sharply. “You’ve paid for your meals. That means you should take them here and be a bit more sociable especially when our brother is here.”
I whirled around to face her and replied just as sharp. “’Tis no loss to you when I go out and when I paid for my meals I could surely do as I chose.” I clenched my hands so tightly I could feel my nails digging in as I fought for control over my temper.
The old lady chided me again. ”Such an evil temper you have, Miss Jennie, but if you want to see real temper you will.” By now she was shouting. ”Why do you go out so much of an evening? And where do you go?”
Nell, at that my determination to remain calm evaporated and my response was sharp enough to halt their barrage. “There is sufficient reason for my absence as I am frozen by your coolness to me when I was not immediately smitten by Neil’s presence. Perhaps you thought it was my duty to be enamoured of your son? Who by the way, has been most courteous, far more so that any of you.”
”You could do much worse young woman. Neilie is a fine catch.”
By now I could not control my words and the anger and frustration of the past weeks poured out.“Yes, Neil is a fine man. Yes, he is ‘specially courteous. No, I am not interested in him or in marriage. You have all plotted and planned to throw us together in the house. I have a job, I have lessons to prepare, I have papers to grade. I cannot work here if you are forever pushing Neil at me. It is embarrassing for both of us. And, I have other friends who welcome me to visit.
“Don’t scream at me young woman” The old lady was white with rage. ”Your job means nothing. Women should only work until they find a husband and Neil is an excellent choice”
Oh, Nell, even writing this makes me angry. I must to bed. More tomorrow.
A short note to tell you how much I have been bothered this year. It is not my new school, I like it well enough and my students are very good. During the first part of the year my attendance was large. And I have to stand all day. I have had more trouble with my back and it is not quite well yet. If I get the least little bit of bother the whole trouble seems to bother my back and I am unwell right away. For two months I was unwell every two weeks but I am stronger now. But if I cannot sort things out with my landlady I will be unwell again. I have a great deal to tell you but it is now 10:55 PM and I have not got a lesson prepared yet for tomorrow.
I have a new school in Egremont which is even farther from home than Calderwod, but it offers me more pay and a longer contract if I do well.
But I must be unstoppable in the mornings to get to my school early enough to light the stove and have all ready when my students arrive.
It is black- dark when my little watch chimes at 4:30 AM and I arise somewhat stiffly, reluctant to leave my quilts to enter the frozen room that surrounds my warm cocoon. The instant my feet touch the icy floorboards I am jolted awake. I break the skim of ice on my water basin and cup my hands to bring the frozen slush to my face. Then quick, quick into my woolen dress and heavy knit stockings stuffed into my boots. Then dress my hair and gather up my books.
Will there be tea and porridge downstairs? My mind is on the letter I must find time to write to Nell tonight. It seems years since I saw her. I feel years older than my last birthday and I must write to tell Nell of my trials with my new boarding house and Mrs. Mac, my landlady.
Calderwood, December 1894
Dear Nell, I have had three of my largest girls standing up for giggling inappropriately, that most abominable habit, and I have given them a regular blowing up. I always get myself in such a state when I discipline my students. I shake like a leaf and I cannot bear it. I must walk around until I settle down again. I seldom need to say anything, perhaps once in two months. Pa always told me that my temper would undo me. He was right.
I bought a two piece bedroom set for my new room here, Ma said it was a good price at $2.75. She is going to paint the floor of my room and I will paint the walls and window trim. It will look quite fresh and I have my own dear little stove to keep the room warm when the bitter cold comes.
I am having doubts about the teaching and wonder if I would be better as a hired girl, do you think they get good wages? Pa says I am too sassy to be a hired girl and my back bothers me so much so the heavy lifting would not be possible for me.
The school is terribly cold this winter. We all feel the cold a great deal and my rheumatism is bad when it is cold no matter how warmly I dress. The students wear their coats and mufflers and gloves on their hands to write. We do have about fifteen cords of good dry maple wood so that I can make a good fire in the stove when I arrive in the morning and we keep it burning all day. I hope it will last till spring. Yesterday I was well, today barely able to speak with my back and legs so painful.
I had to let the students go at noon even with the fire we were all so cold. The wind is fierce and it blows through all the cracks in the walls. I could not walk home so one of my students got her Pa to come with a sleigh to take me to my boarding house. Even with blankets and hot stones at my feet in the sleigh I was in pain. It hurts me to move my arms.
I speak too much of myself. How is your family? I had such a happy time in Sudbury with all of you. I long for your news but I know with your medical practice and your family you will be so very busy. Please write.
I think very kindly of you always
Nell has another baby, another girl, she is called Grace Lee. I am going to Sudbury to see her and the children soon. It is a long way to go but Pa says the train journey makes it possible now. I am very excited to be going, it will be a holiday for me.
A Visit to Sudbury, Fall 1893
It was hard to leave Nell and her family. The town of Sudbury is very rough and seems far away from everyone and everything. But Nell is happy and busy. Her practice takes in the town and a large part of the surrounding area. She has traveled to see her patients on an odd railway car called a pumper. You can see the rails beneath you as the men pump it along. It is better than going by canoe with all the portages she says. TJ worries about her health especially now that she is expecting another little stranger.
Calderwood will seem very tame after Sudbury but I have many friends and I like my teaching fine. I am independent and earning a good salary now, but I may look for a new place to board where I can have a larger room and my own stove.
I was so sad when you and your family left. Please kiss baby for me every day. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to hold her in my arms. I am preparing now for the next term. The deep snow has meant my attendance is down but I must prepare lessons anyway and it is good to have some students here or my pay will be lessened and I cannot save as much. You did not seem too impressed by the dentistry idea but I am still thinking about it for next year if I have enough money. I must do my lessons now,
Love to all, kisses to baby,
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