Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunday, January 8, 1899

         On Friday as I was walking to work I heard a fearful noise behind me.  We had all been hearing about the new horseless carriages that were powered by some sort of steam engine, but this is the first I’d seen one.  The driver wore goggles, a big hat and a sort of big overcoat over his tweed suit, and as he drove by me he shouted, “Hello there, little lady!” in a very un-English or Scottish voice.  His machine certainly scared the horses on the road, and I heard their riders cursing it. I could hear the man laughing as he passed them.  There was a stink in the air from the smoke that came out of its backside.  Between the bicycles more and more of the lads are riding and the horseless carriages the roadways are becoming more and more busy – and dangerous for those on foot.
         That afternoon I answered the doorbell and who should be there but the gentleman of the horseless carriage.  I could see it outside the carriage house.  I took his hat, goggles and overcoat, and he said to me, “Well, we meet again!  Mr. Markam is expecting me, little lady.”  He patted me on the back and just walked into the drawing room without waiting to be announced.
“Angus, old boy, here I am, just as I promised.  And this must be your good wife.”  He shook hands with the master and then took madam’s hand and gave it a hearty shake.  “Jim Thomas at your service, ma’am.  Pleased to meet you.” 
         As I was bringing in the tea and cake, Mr. Thomas was telling them all about his voyage over, and how he brought his own automobile.  The roads in England and Scotland are terrible, he said, but he expected they would get better as more and more of the automobiles were introduced.  Driving on the hard ground of winter was certainly easier than bogging down in the mud when it was wet.
         He and Mr. Markam had met in America, and he was interested in buying wool from the mills, to use in his textile business.  Mr. Markam thought this was a fine idea, it would save him from making all those trips to sell his wool.  All he would have to do would be to have it shipped direct from the mill to Liverpool to be transported to New York.  “But right now I’d like to see some of the mills, Angus”, he said to the master.  Come on, I’ll give you your first automobile ride in my machine.  There’s some extra gear in it you can wear over your duds.”
         As the master left the room to find his suit jacket I heard Mr. Thomas ask madam if she found it difficult to find and train servants in Wick. 
         She got quite frosty with him.  “Servants are an inferior class,” she said, “ They are not difficult to find, but they must be trained carefully and constantly supervised.  They have few morals and would go off with the first apprentice who looked at them.”  That made me steaming mad, but I had to keep my face straight as I handed Mr. Wilson his things. 
         Having proved myself to Mrs. Andrew’s satisfaction I find she is treating me more pleasantly, but to madam I will always be a mindless thing with no ears to hear and no feelings.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 1, 1898

         A New Year, finally!  Imagine, this year I will turn fifteen, and my brother fourteen.  He will be apprenticed before summer is over, and he can hardly keep his excitement in check.
         Last night, New Year’s Eve, we had a wonderful celebration in our little community.  All the neighbours came to call, including Father Thomas.  It seemed funny that he was the First-Foot.  He is not exactly the dark handsome man First-Footing says it should be, but he was carrying a lump of coal in one hand and a little package in the other – a piece of shortbread and a black bun.  He had a little flask of whiskey in his pocket.  My Da and him had what they call a ‘wee dram’.  He blessed the house and then went off to the two or three other Catholic families in the neighbourhood.  Even though it was after midnight Henry and I were not the least tired.  Mam and I served shortbread and rabbit pie to the neighbours who came by while Da took Henry to call on nearby houses and drink whiskey.
         When Henry and Da came home in the wee hours, Da poured each of us a little whiskey and we toasted each other, wishing for health, wealth and happiness. 
         I woke up to hear the chickens cackling to be fed.  Henry and I let Mam and Da sleep a little later than usual, while we went out and saw to the animals.
         The weather has been quite warm this winter – no snow to speak of.  It’s been making it quite easy to walk back and forth to work.  It’s been quite a luxury to have a full day away from drudgery.  Hogmanay is the best celebration of all!

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Year's Eve, 1898

         Well, the fine wedding is over and the newly weds are off on their grand tour of Europe.  They will be gone for six months.  Mr. Connor wants Fiona to get “some polish” on the continent before he brings her back to Wick so she can be his society hostess in their fine grand new house. 
         I thought the preparations would never end!  All I really had to do was carry on with my own duties, for the reception was to be held in the new house, and Mr. Connor’s own staff prepared the refreshments.  I did help with the packing of the traveling trunks Miss Fiona took with her – four large ones, and several hatboxes.  She’ll come back with much more, for they are going to shop for some fine new Paris gowns.
         Once the wedding party had left the house seemed so quiet.  Mr. Markam just said, “Well, that’s that, then,” went into his study and closed the door.  Madam went upstairs for a nap, and I just continued cleaning.  Yesterday Mrs. Andrews told me I could leave when my duties were finished, and have all of New Year’s Day to spend with my family.  She said it almost kindly to me, and then gave me a parcel – “a little present to share with those at home,” she said, “You’re a good girl Jean, and a hard worker.  Never mind about Mr. Connor.  Just stay out of his way.”  So I wonder if he had been bothering her – as if he would dare!
         I took Mr. Markam his tea and when I came to take away the tray there was another half a crown on it.  “Get something nice for yourself, Jean.  It’s a little Hogmanay present.”
         I felt so thankful.  On the way home I bought my Da some pipe tobacco, a nice comb for Mam to put in her hair, and for Henry, a new penknife.  He broke his a while ago.  I still have a little left over to add to my little hoard.
         After Mass that evening we came home to a roast goose dinner, followed by the oranges and nuts that were in Mrs. Andrew’s parcel. How I love this time of the year!  Everyone seems kinder and nicer to each other.   If only it could be like that every day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunday, November 20, 1898

     The wedding is fixed for just before New Year’s, and Fiona is to wear a white lace wedding gown.  Mr. Connor is insisting on it, he says ever since Queen Victoria was married in white lace, back in 1840, it became all the fashion.  And by thunder, he says, he and Fiona are going to be the leaders of fashionable society in Wick!  Just because he’s English he thinks he is grander than all the Scots put together.  I know Mr. Markam doesn’t like him, I heard him muttering “insufferable prig” the other day after they had all dined together.  Madam just ignores him.  She thinks because Mr. Connor is rich and is building a fine big house on the other side of Wick he can do no wrong.         

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sunday, October 23, 1898

       It’s taken me this long to write anything.  My face still burns when I think on it.  A while ago, I was spending my half hour dinner- time reading the newspaper while chewing on my bread and cheese and drinking the left-over tea from the family’s dinner. I saw that the editor was decrying the professional football league that has been established in America, only it’s not football as we know it!  There was a drawing showing the padded uniform and leather helmets the players wear.  The ball is a funny shape, too, and the players spend a lot of time tackling each other for possession of the ball.  Not at all like our football!
         The back door opened and in sauntered Mr. Connor, as cool as you please.  Now that he and Miss Fiona are engaged he thinks he has the run of the house.  When I scrambled to my feet he told me I should learn to curtsey to him too, whenever I see him.  I bit my tongue, wanting to tell him she should learn to ring the bell when he comes to this house.  He walked over to me and then squeezed my breast, and said something about minding my betters!  I could smell whiskey on his breath.  Mrs. Andrews came into the kitchen and seemed surprised to see him, but asked him to follow her to the drawing room where Miss Fiona was waiting for him.  She gave me a right black look, and I’m sure she thought I had been flirting with him.  “Mind your place, Jean,” she hissed at me as she left the room.  I felt so ashamed and dirty, I had to go out to the privy and throw up my dinner.  I haven’t been able to tell anyone else about this, but now I make sure the back door is locked.  I don’t dare tell them at home about this. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sunday, September 18, 1898

         I’ve had a pleasant six weeks, with Madam and Fiona away.  Mr. Markam is also away on a business trip to America-New York, I heard him tell his wife  that this was a good time for it.  Madam took Mrs. Andrews with them, since she “didn’t trust” anyone else to see their clothing was well taken care of.  She looked pointedly at me when she said it- all because I scorched a tiny corner of her petticoat! 
         Mrs. Andrews gave me a great long list of duties before she left – scrub this, scrub that, polish all the windows, wash and iron anything that is possible to wash and iron.  Everything must look – what was the word she used?  Pristine, the house must look pristine.
         So that leaves Cook to keep me company.  I like cook.  She is round and jolly, with red cheeks, always smiling.  She is using the time to give the kitchen a good cleaning, scrubbing out the cupboards and pantry.  She always has the time to cook up a little treat for us to share, a little pudding, or baked apples, things like that.  It makes a nice change from the bread and cheese I carry here for my noon-time dinner.  (My dinner is actually later than that – by the time the family is fed and their tea served it’s usually closer to two, when I’m given half an hour to eat.) 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday, September 18, 1898

Mr. Markam was in high spirits last week when he heard the Conservative party had won the political elections.  He says now the businessman will be treated with respect, and will be allowed to go about his affairs without Liberal interference.
         I saw in the newspaper there has been a terrible earthquake somewhere in Europe.  I wonder what people do when their homes have been destroyed?  There was also a story about some boys in France finding a cave filled with marvelous paintings of animals, and the scientists are saying the paintings go back thousands and thousands of years, way before anyone started writing any history.
         I’m so glad I am allowed to take the newspapers.  Sometimes I don’t understand all the words but it makes me feel better about having to leave school.  Henry can’t wait to leave school.  Says it’s a waste of his time, and can’t see how it can possibly help him when he’s ‘prenticed.  I told him he’ll have to learn to read building plans, contracts and the like.  He just said he knows how to read already, just doesn’t do it unless he absolutely has to. 
         Fiona has a beau!  He’s old, about thirty, and walks like he has flat feet, but moons about Fiona making sheep’s eyes.  He’s also rich, I heard Madam say, so I expect they’ll be engaged soon.  Mrs. Markam is taking Fiona away to Aberdeen for a holiday, to visit her family there.  I think it’s also to make sure Mr. Connor misses her and will declare his intentions when they return in August.  Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sunday, July 10, 1898

        The dinner party went off just as Mrs. Markam had planned.  Cook prepared a wonderful feast, it took both of us all day.  Thank goodness Mrs. Andrews took over the job of setting the huge dinner table, I could never get all the glasses and silverware all lined up properly, let along fold all the napkins as nicely as she can.  She even arranged the flowers and candles herself, and lettered all the place cards.  It really did look beautiful.  The only thing she had me do was to place two or three chamber pots discretely behind the drapes.  “Gentlemen will use them to relieve themselves after the ladies have withdrawn to the drawing room,” she told me.  From the looks of things they certainly did!  Although I was dead on my feet after washing up after the party, I had to go back into the dining room and carry the pots out back and empty them.  What a strang stink it was!  

         The next day, though, there was a pleasant surprise.  As I was leaving for the day Mr. Markam slipped me half a crown, “for all the extra work”.  Then he put a finger alongside his nose to tell me this was just between the two of us.  I’ll keep that money for myself.  I earned it for the chamber pots if nothing else!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sunday, June 26, 1898

         Sunday, it seems, is the only day I have any time or energy to write in this journal.  Not a lot has happened in the six weeks I’ve been working – I am able to work more quickly, and can usually get done by 7.  Mr. Markam saw me looking at a day-old newspaper in the kitchen and asked me some questions, like was I interested in the news, and did I do a lot of reading when I wasn’t working?  He told me I could borrow any of the books I saw in his study, but I know what would happen if Madam or Mrs. Andrews found out!  So right now I just keep the old newspapers and read them when I get a chance, usually at home.  They fold up nicely and fit into my jacket pocket, and nobody cares about old newspapers, they’re just glad to get them out of the house.  My Ma is happy to have some extra paper to wrap vegetables in when she stores them.  She says things keep better that way.
         Fiona turns 19 at the end of this month, and Madam is planning a grandish dinner party.  I think she is hoping some of the eligible bachelors will take an interest and more than that, she is hoping someone will start walking out with Fiona.  Most girls of her standing are engaged or married by now.  She spends most of her time preparing her trousseau, so she must have some hopes.  A seamstress comes in two or three days a week to work on some gowns for the two women.  Right now she is sewing a very fancy dress for Fiona to wear to the dinner party.
This is to be the menu:
Two kinds of soup, one tureen at the head, one at the foot
One large dressed salmon
One large dish of curry
One large platter beef, one large platter turkey
One large dish macaroni and cheese
Pink raspberry cream and wine jelly for sweets
Champagne, four different kinds of wine, four jugs brown ale
Brandy served to the men at the table, tea served to ladies in the drawing room when they leave the men to their brandy.
         Mr. Markam is hiring some extra help for the party, from the town.  Mrs. Andrews told me to bring an overnight bag, since it will be too late for me to walk home.  I am to sleep on a cot in the scullery that night, after all the washing up is done.  I will be allowed to help bring in all the food, but most of my work will be in the scullery, washing up.  I will be a sight after washing so many greasy dishes and pots, but at least I will get a glimpse of the ladies and gentlemen in their finery.
         All is well at home.  The garden is all coming up, so we should have fresh vegetables before long.  The sow produced ten little piglets a few weeks ago, and they make for a noisy little party when I feed them.  One of Ma’s hens has been producing brown eggs with double yolks.  The cow’s little calf died.  It was pitiful to see her try to nudge him to get up, all the while making a sort of loud bellowing noise.  Finally Da hitched up the donkey cart and had Henry help him load the dead calf on.  They buried the poor wee thing at the far end of the field.  The cow finally let us milk her, and she seemed to settle after that.  It reminded me of the time Ma had a baby that was born too soon, and died almost right away.  She was so sad for a few days, but once she got back into her usual routine she seemed like her old self again.  I didn’t see Ma smile for a long time after that, and one day the cradle was stored under the bed.  She said there would never be a little baby to fuss over in our croft again.
         My Da is away at the Ross farm for a few days.  They are needing extra help to repair the barn and outbuildings, and that is the kind of masonry he can still do.  That’s how we get by, with him taking jobs here and there. Usually he works on the docks, helping to unload the herring and get them ready for the market.  With his bad leg he can’t work on the boats. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sunday, May 22, 1898

        It has been a week as long as a month.  First of all, I have to get up at 5 every morning to walk to work and get there by 7.  I suppose it will all get easier as time goes by, but I don’t think Mrs. Andrews will get any kinder.  The work is very hard, but I am used to that.  It’s the way she follows me around all the time, explaining things that don’t need explaining, and finding fault with everything – the way I do the corners of the sheets, the way I wash and scrub the dishes, the way I slice bread – what a fash she is!
         The master is kind to me though.  Mr. Markem is full of the news coming from South Africa.  It seems the British settlers and the Dutch settlers are at odds with each other, but I don’t know why.  He is always reading the newspaper and making comments out loud to Mrs. Markem, who doesn’t pay him any attention. 
         She is not friendly to me, and never troubles to say anything to me except to order me around.  When I try to take away the tea things before she wants a second or third cup.  Even if she looks finished I cannot be sure.  Even if I ask “Shall I clear the tea, Madam?” she doesn’t answer, but when I start to she says things like “Stupid girl, did I say I was finished?”  She’s just mean-spirited, and so is her daughter Fiona.  Mrs. Markam wants to throw a big dinner to introduce Fiona to some the eligible bachelors.  (I suppose by eligible she means rich.) 
         On Friday she told me I would also have to wash the cloths they use when they have their monthlies.  This is one of the worst parts.  My Ma and I just look after our own cloths in private, we would never tell someone else to do it for us.  I think if Fiona gets married she had better marry rich, with lots of servants, for she never lifts a finger to do anything but look after her own hair and dress herself.
         I will never see my pay, for Mr. Markam gives it to my Da when he comes for me on Sundays. My parents pick me up after they attend mass in Wick. What a luxury to ride home in the donkey cart instead of walking the four miles!  So it is another luxury for me to go home to my mother’s tea and not have to wait on others for a change.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sunday, May 15, 1898

Yesterday the parcel containing my maid’s uniforms was delivered to our door.  There were two black dresses down to my ankles, two white aprons, two frilly caps, two pairs of black stockings and one pair of black shoes.  I would have to carry the shoes back and forth, since I needed my boots for walking the four miles between home and my employment.
         “You can be sure the cost of all this will come out of her wages”, I heard my mother mutter to my Da as I stored the package under my bed in the kitchen.  Later my brother Henry teased me about having to wear a uniform, as we were both lying in bed.  There is a knothole in the boards that separate our two box beds.  “At least I can wear my own clothes when I go to be apprenticed next year”, he whispered.    We have to whisper so Mam and Da won’t hear us in the next room.  “Aye, but you’ll have to live in a bothy with the other ’prentices,” I told him, “ and fend for yourself.  You’ll have to learn to cook and mend your own clothes.  Doesn’t sound so grand to me.”  That silenced him. 
         We all have kist boxes under our beds for storage.  Henry’s is used for the pots and pans, as well as extra blankets for the cold weather.  He will take the kist with him when he leaves, and it will have to do for his clothes, dishes, pots and pans and anything else.  We moved the extra raw wool and knitting things out of my kist so I could store my uniforms in it.  Ma set them all in a big basket by her spinning wheel.  My parents still store our old cradle under their bed, and I suppose it will be mine some day. 
         But before I ever marry I want to see as much of the world as I can.  Mr. McKellar used to show us pictures of different parts of the world – China, India, and the Americas.  Some of the lads from around here have emigrated to Canada for better work and pay.  I think I just want to travel and see it all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wednesday, May 10, 1898

       I went to the market in Wick with my Da this morning, so he could take me for an employment interview.  Ma had washed my hair and helped me scrub myself clean, right down to my fingernails.  “The Madam will want to see you’re diligent and hard-working, with no bad habits.  Keep your eyes down and your replies brief.  Don’t deny we’re Catholics if she asks – but then she’ll know that about our branch of the Sinclairs.”
         There aren’t many Catholics around Wick.  My father says his great-grandfather was one of the last of our faith to worship at the Rosslyn Chapel, when our branch of the clan lived near Roslin.  Most of the other Sinclair families had already converted to the protestant faith years and years ago.  Now the Chapel belongs to the Scottish Episcopal Church.  Don’t get my Da started about that – sometimes I think he’s silly in the head about Scotland’s Catholic past, and how Queen Mary was betrayed to the ‘evil English’, and how she would spin in her grave if she had known her son took our country into permanent Protestantism. 
         Once Da had sold some chickens and bought oats and hay he took me across town to a grand-ish house.  He walked just ahead of me, when we got down from the donkey cart, and I noticed his limp was worse than usual.  (My Da often talks about the accident that crushed his leg when he was an apprentice to a mason, and how his dream of helping someday to rebuild the Sinclair castle was crushed as well.  Now he is intent on my brother becoming one, with the help of what he called “The Brotherhood”).
         While we were waiting at the service entrance for the bell to be answered I noticed him looking very carefully at the stonework around the door.  We heard a man’s voice coming through the garden.  “Ah, Sinclair, there you are!”  I was amazed to see how quickly Da whipped off his cap and bowed his head, just like a servant.  “So this is your wee maid, is it?”  My Da muttered to me to curtsey.  I did, not daring to look up.  The man wandered off again, smoking a pipe.  He must be the master of the house. At that minute the housekeeper opened the door, and showed us into the grandest kitchen I have ever been in.  Her name is Mrs. Andrews, and she is tall and thin, and seemed very stern.  She peppered my Da with a lot of questions about my character and habits, examined my fingernails and then poured my Da a cup of tea and gave him a scone, while she took me through to another grand room.  A stout lady and a younger one were seated there, doing fancy needlework. 
         “She’ll do, Madam”, giving me a nudge in the ribs to drop another curtsey.   Madam barely gave me a glance.  “She’ll start Monday, and I will order her uniforms today.”  I followed her out of the room.  She took me on a tour of the house, telling me my chores along the way.
         I remember that the kitchen, pantry, scullery, dining room and parlour are on the main floor.  The front door opens onto a grand lobby.  Upstairs there are three bedrooms, a water closet, and a large linen closet.  Outside is a carriage house with a flat over it, for the live in cook.  A gardener comes in twice a week to keep the grounds tidy.
         “You will arrive at 7 every morning, and work until about 7 each evening, except Sunday, when you may leave when you have cleaned up after the noon dinner.  You will help the cook with the meals, and deliver them to the dining room.  You will clear the table and wash the dishes.  You will make up all the beds and empty and clean the chamber pots and washbasins. You will deliver tea to madam whenever she requests it.  You will make sure the kettles are filled from the outdoor pump at all times.  On Mondays you will see to the washing and drying the clothes.  On Tuesdays you will iron and fold the linen and place it in the linen closet.  On Fridays you will make the beds with fresh linen and stack the used in the scullery, ready for washing.  Before you leave each day you will cook oatcakes on the griddle and prepare the tray for the family’s supper.  After washing up the tea things you will be free to leave.”
         I did not dare ask the salary, just hoped my Da had settled that for me.  Nor did I dare ask how I was to be fed.  When she dismissed me I scuttled back to the kitchen where my Da was waiting to walk me home.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tuesday, May 6, 1898

I turned fourteen this day.  It started out to be the worst day of my life.  Would you like to know why?  I had to leave school.  It was the rule, my parents told me this morning.  When you turn fourteen you have to leave, unless your parents can afford to send you on to some fancy British-style boarding school.  Which my Da says he would never do, even if we had the money.  “We Sinclairs are proud Scots”, he said, “We would never leave our corner of the highlands, especially to send our children off to the ‘evil English’.  Be grateful you’ve learned to read and write at our good village school”, he said.  “I have my eye on a good position for you in service.  You can start earning your keep and help your Ma and me around this place in your spare time”.  Then my parents sent me off to school to spend my last day at the one place where I’ve been truly happy.
         I took my time coming home, feeling so sad and sorry this day would start me on a new life.  I don’t want to go into service; don’t want to leave school, don’t want, don’t want.  I stopped by the creek that runs near our house and took the little hand-made card Mr. McKellar gave me out of my pocket, and read it again.  “May your path run smoothly, Jean.  You have done very well in school, and I always admired your keen mind. Keep up your reading.  Remember when you have a book in your hand you will never lack for a companion.”  He had signed it, “Your friend, Donald McKellar.”
         By the time I fed the pigs and checked all the chickens for eggs it was late.  When Ma rang the supper bell my brother and I washed up at the pump and hurried in.  We are always hungry, it seems.  Food is none too plentiful, especially at this time of the year, before the berries and early vegetables can get a start.  Tonight was different.  There was a roasted chicken, winter turnips, a bread pudding and some of last fall’s apples.  And at my place there was a parcel wrapped in brown paper.  A present!  I have never had a real birthday present before.  Open it, my Da said.  See what’s inside.  It was a fat book, with all blank pages, and it had a little lock.  “What will I do with it?” I asked him.
“It’s a journal,” my Da said, “Write in it the story of Jean Sinclair.  No one else ever has to see it.  You can take it with you wherever  you go.”
         So that is what I’m doing.  No longer a child.  Tomorrow I start life as a real grownup.  And my story, whatever it will be, will be in this book.