Ellen McLeskey -Four

With Ellen’s wardrobe finally coming together, if a bit loose around her bone-thin arms, Catherine decided it was time Ellen venture from their home. A week she had been in Boston and yet, aside from the initial trip ‘home’, had not set foot out the heavy wooden door of their brownstone house.

After breakfast, Catherine called for Charity to dress Ellen for a stroll. This understandably set the house into a minor flurry as bonnets and boots were retrieved, curls repinned, and petticoats straightened. Ellen would not have felt so nervous about going for a walk had not everyone else seemed to set on edge as soon as it was suggested!

Once Charity and Catherine both deemed Ellen fit for the public eye, Catherine tucked Ellen’s hand into the crook of her elbow as Matthew had done and they stepped out, Charity and Lenora trailing slightly behind.

Sometimes Ellen had worn a bonnet before, but it was an old fabric one that tended to flop around her face and so usually after a few minutes she’d shove it back to dangle behind her and no one had cared a bit. Her bonnets now wrapped around her face, obstructing her view to directly ahead of her so that she had to crane her neck to see anything around her. This made her a bit jumpier than she might otherwise have been, for she could not immediately see what clanked to her right, or stomped to her left. She quickly grew dizzy as she tried to take in everything at once, her head twisting this way and that to see what it was making all this noise on the street she’d heard through the windows.

“Don’t fidget so, Ellen,” Catherine chided, pressing on Ellen’s hand. “You needn’t see everything in one day. You’ll get used to the noises soon enough.”

“Yes ma’am,” Ellen replied when Catherine pressed her again. She remembered that ma’am rhymed with jam.

They strolled down the street on which they lived and Ellen tried to only lift her head a little to see how high the buildings went. They towered over her, narrow black chimneys barely visible, reaching up to the sky. The late August day was warm and humid, so most windows stood open, occasionally revealing glimpses of servants bustling about indoors. Flower boxes lined the windows and flower beds the walkways.

They turned at the bottom of the hill and in only a short time left the cobbled streets for a large green park. Ellen could see more buildings on the far side and to the left, so the park must not actually stretch out that far, but if she kept her eyes lowered she found she could pretend the green lawns stretched out forever around her. She found the green grass comforting, though Catherine kept her carefully on the pathway. She hadn’t realized they were so close to a green space, and found it comforted her.

“Ah, Madame McLeskey!” an unfamiliar male voice greeted. Ellen’s face tugged up to see a man and woman, strolling arm and arm in their direction. The couple slowed so the man could tip his hat.

“Mister Oglesby, Madame Oglesby,” Catherine returned with a slight bob of her head. “My daughter, Ellen.”

“Oh!” Madame Oglesby replied simply. She was an older pudgy woman, just like her rather rotund husband, and her cheeks puffed out a few times in surprise. What an odd reaction. Madame Oglesby recovered quickly though and smiled, “What a beautiful girl she is.”

Ellen felt Catherine’s hand press urgently on her and she bobbed her head as she had been taught and said quickly, “Thank you, ma’am.” It might have come out sounding a bit more like the old ‘mum’ than she had meant, but Catherine seemed satisfied and smiled at the Oglesbys as they continued past.

Ellen wanted to ask why Madame Oglesby had seemed so surprised but couldn’t find her voice out here amid the hustle-bustle of Boston. The further from home they strolled, the greater grew the number of people skipping, ambling, or stumbling past. Men in top hats, boys with caps in hand, girls with thick petticoats or no petticoats, old women with tiny dogs on short ropes, elderly men in wheeled chairs, men in dark suits with somewhere important to be, young servant girls pretending to have nowhere to be. Ellen’s dark eyes jumped from one person to the next as they wandered, her mind humming as it took in all the details. Had there been this many people in London? Ellen couldn’t remember if there had, but then she had also been so very tired and missed so much while there.

“Ellen, would you like to sit for a moment?” Catherine asked after some time. She placed her hands on Ellen’s cheeks and forehead then glanced at Charity with concern.

“A rest would do her well, I’m sure, ma’am,” Charity agreed, peering under Ellen’s bonnet as well. Ellen felt her own cheeks as Catherine and Charity led her to a bench and helped her perch on the edge. She supposed she was a bit tired, and her cheeks felt warm through her gloves. It was just all so very exciting and there was so much to see. It didn’t help that the air was a bit hot and thick to breathe.

They rested for a quarter of an hour, Catherine nodding politely at other strollers, and Charity checking occasionally on Ellen’s face to see that the red was leaving her neck and cheeks. When Charity deemed her recovered (though really Ellen had only been a bit overheated; how delicate everyone here must be!) they rose and continued on their way.

Catherine led them through the park, which Ellen realized was larger than she had expected because the buildings she had seen were taller than she had expected and further away. On the far side they crossed the road and then continued down the walk until Catherine stopped them in front of a small shop. She waited expectantly and, when Ellen appeared confused, motioned gently towards the window. Charity placed a hand on her back and guided her closer to look through the bubbled glass.

The window display housed a variety of the most delicate and finest dolls Ellen had ever seen. Tiny painted faces stared back at her from rocking chairs, stands, or wooden cradles. Some had cast porcelain hair, others real shocks of hair in every color imaginable. Ellen had never seen such fine dolls, and especially not so many in one place.

“Would you like to look closer?” Catherine asked. WIthout waiting for a response, she stepped through the propped open door. Lenora and Charity waited for Ellen to enter first.

Though the window contained the finest dolls in the store, there were more scattered throughout shelves and shelves of other sorts of toys. There were tiny wooden farms and arks with even smaller carved animals. There were tops and whistles and clappers. A whole shelf contained nothing but stuffed and carved toy cats, while another displayed a number of leather animals Ellen had never seen before in her life.

Charity was close at hand, so Ellen tapped on her arm to get her to lean closer and asked quietly, “What’s that? Those toys?”

“That’s supposed to be a camel,” Charity explained. “They live in Africa in the desert. So does that long-necked one that looks like a horse. It’s called a giraffe. And haven’t you ever heard of a lion?” Ellen shook her head. “The lion men have this wild fur around their faces, but the lion ladies don’t. They live in the savannah, which is a huge grassy, dry field. They can run very fast and roar very loud.”

“They roar?” Ellen repeated, turning over the stuffed lion in her hands. He had a golden fluffy mane around his squinched face, and a soft golden body, and a skinny tail with a tiny tuft on the end.

Charity glanced around, leaned in closer and quietly roared. It was the silliest thing she’d ever seen Charity do. Ellen giggled and opened her mouth to quietly roar back, unable to resist, but was cut off by Catherine calling her from across the store.

With the lion clamped between her arms, Ellen hurried over to Catherine just as she finished saying, “. . . my daughter, Ellen.” The girl made her small curtsy as she took her place beside Catherine.

“What is this you have?” Catherine asked, pulling the lion from Ellen’s arms. “A stuffed animal? Oh, but Ellen, have you seen these dolls?”

“We have many animal toys,” the man who ran the toy shop jumped in, coming out from behind his table. “If the young lady is interested in animal toys. See this stuffed lamb is just the thing.” He held out the small toy and Ellen took it carefully. The lamb was covered in short round locks of hair that felt just like a real lamb’s fur. She remembered playing with the Rileys’ lambs at home. Nora Riley would always come find her when a lamb was born and they’d watch him take his first steps, nuzzled along by his fat mother.

Ellen turned to Charity and motioned for her to lean close, then asked, “Do lambs live in Africa too?”

“Yes,” Charity nodded. “I’ve heard just about everything lives in Africa. Though lambs wouldn’t live with the lions or they’d get eaten up. Lions are fierce creatures.”

Ellen glanced down at the deep brown bead eyes of the lion and insisted, “Not this lion. He is lonely and shy.”

“Look, Ellen, are you too old to sit on a riding horse like this?” Catherine asked. At Ellen’s dubious glance, Catherine laughed, “Yes, I suppose you are. What about this darling tea set for your dolls? Of course you haven’t got any dolls, yet, so I suppose we shall have to remedy that. Come, sweetheart, pick out a doll you like.”

Ellen was more interested in a carved wooden cat with a long curved tail, but Catherine thrust a dark-haired doll close for her inspection. When Ellen inspected whether the lion and lamb she still held would fit seated at a little wooden doll table, Catherine showed her an intricately carved doll bed. A wooden puzzle caught Ellen’s eyes but just as the toy man began to explain it to her, Catherine asked Ellen if she preferred the golden curls on one doll or the deep brown braids on another. Ellen pointed to the braided doll.

Eventually the lamb was replaced in Ellen’s grasp with a small red fox that had a bushy tail and pointed ears. Before Ellen even asked, Charity admitted she wasn’t sure if foxes lived in Africa, but they might get along all right with a lion because they were very small and very clever. Lions might roar and jump but foxes could hide and outwit just about anything, which made them very hard to catch.

“I suppose that will do for one day,” Catherine mused, setting the third doll on the man’s counter, alongside a tea set, a cradle, a table and chairs, and a small trunk with some extra dresses for one of the dolls.

Ellen glanced down at the lion and the fox still held to her chest, weighing her options carefully. After a moment’s consideration, she decided to take a note from the lion and speak up for herself.

Stepping close, she tapped Catherine on the arm and then asked, “Might I get these animals, ma’am?”

Catherine glanced at the animals as though she hadn’t noticed them until now, then dismissed Ellen with a quick shake of her head, “No, you have no need for those. Maybe at Christmas. You should be very grateful for what we are already purchasing. Three dolls! And a small bedroom for them, as well. Did you ever think–” But whatever she was going to say, Catherine cut off her sentence. Instead she discussed numbers and delivery with the toy man. Charity held her hands out for Ellen to turn the toys over, and it took all her strength to do so. Not since arriving in Boston had she felt the urge to just sit on the floor and cry like a wee girl.

Well, wouldn’t Ma have been fit to be tied with her! Ellen here, a girl of nine, nearly in tears for not getting the toys she wanted. Toys! As though toys were so easy to come by that one could be choosy. Ellen had mostly made her own toys growing up, except for the cherished doll– the doll had been left behind though and Ellen was not inclined to think on it now. She scolded herself for her own wants and disappointment, and tried to cheer up as Catherine took her hand to lead her from the store. Three dolls was an awful lot for one little girl, even if she didn’t really want one doll even.

Ellen hardly had time at all to recover from the overwhelming toy store. Just as they stepped outside, another family approached the toy store, this one with two little girls trading hissed sentences at each other as they quickly walked. They were only a few feet away when the smaller one said something that made the taller sister stop, stomp her foot, and wail, “Mother!”

“Girls, honestly, I don’t know what I have to do to get you to– Catherine? Catherine!” The harried mother brushed right past her two daughters to kiss Catherine on the cheek. “I didn’t suspect I’d run into you! I thought you’d be home with– oh, Cathy.

The woman’s attention had jumped from Catherine to Ellen, and Ellen felt her cheeks heat again under the intense gaze. The woman’s hair was a bit lighter than Catherine’s, though twisted into a similar hairstyle, and her brown eyes seemed twice as large because of her oddly small, round face. She also had a slightly larger nose, though it was very becoming. That Ellen could look at this woman and faintly see Catherine made perfect sense when the women leaned down, pulled Ellen right into her arms and said,

“Dear, sweet girl. I am your Aunt Margaret.” She held Ellen at arm’s length to look her over again. Everything about her exuded warmth and kindness. Though so like Catherine in appearance, she seemed more relaxed, less disciplined. Ellen was fascinated.

“You are just beautiful. Just look at that sweet little face. Girls. Girls!” Behind Aunt Margaret, her girls had begun bickering again. The taller one had soft blond hair brushed behind her ears, with a ribbon tied into a bow on top her head. Her eyes were blue, her face long, and everything about her light and graceful. The smaller one had the dark hair, dark eyes, and round flat face of her mother.

Catherine put her hands on Ellen’s shoulders as Margaret scolded her daughters, then ordered, “Say hello to your cousin Ellen, girls.”

“Hello,” the taller girl said stiffly.

“Bonjour,” the younger one said, followed by a small giggle. Aunt Margaret gave her a look that managed to convey annoyance and amusement at the same time.

“Say hello to your cousins, Ellen. They are Sophie and Abigail.” Sophie the older, Abigail the younger.

This introduction out of the way, Margaret leaned in to ask Catherine something about an upcoming supper with the family, perhaps the same one Ellen had heard Matthew allude to. The cousins seized this opportunity to step closer and size Ellen up.

“You’re very small,” Abigail commented. “How old are you?”

“Nine.”

The girls’ faces both lit up at Ellen’s response and instantly they fell to mimicking the way Ellen had said the word. This filled her instantly with shame.

Sophie noticed and commanded, “Oh, don’t cry. We’re only a bit amused. You’ll have to get used to it. You’re Irish, mother said. Most people here think the Irish are idiots.”

“Oh, shut your mouth,” Abigail insisted, shoving Sophie’s arm. “You’ll scare her!” To Ellen, she explained, “I’m ten and Sophie is twelve and thinks she’s all grown up. Did you buy toys today? We saw you come out of the toy shop. Do you like dolls?”

“Of course she likes dolls,” Sophie rolled her eyes. “Only idiots don’t like dolls.”

“Well I don’t like dolls.”

“Precisely,” Sophie retorted. Ellen was glad she didn’t have to answer. She was Irish and she didn’t like dolls. She was not off to a good start.

Her attention leaping back to Ellen, Abigail asked, “How come you have so many freckles?”

Sophie sighed, “Because she’s poor.”

“She doesn’t look poor.”

“Well she’s not poor now.”

“But I thought maybe Irish people just had freckles,” Abigail pointed out. “Have you seen any rich Irish people and maybe they have freckles?”

“There isn’t any such thing as a rich Irish. Don’t you know anything?”

“I know more than you, you ugly cow,” Abigail said, crossing her arms and turning away.

Sophie ignored her and said to Ellen, “I like your dress. And your hair is such an … interesting color. I suppose it’s pretty because it’s distinct. Priscilla Scott has red hair and she’s English, but hers is lighter colored than yours.”

She spoke so quickly Ellen couldn’t get a word in, and for that she was grateful. Sophie’s voice seemed to go right to the point and knock you around a bit. Abigail seemed more flailing, less predictable, and yet she seemed to accidentally blunder into asking the questions to get just what she wanted out of you.

“How long did it take you to get here? Adam’s stableboy is from Ireland and he said it took a whole year. Were you on a boat for a year?”

“I’m not supposed to–” Ellen couldn’t finish her sentence though before both girls dissolved into giggles again. Ellen thought they must be laughing at how she sounded.

Fortunately, Margaret and Catherine had finished their conversation and pulled the girls apart, commenting on how lovely it was for them to have already met. It wasn’t until they were on the far side of the Common from Catherine’s sister that she said to Ellen,

“You must never follow too much with those girls. Sophie is going to be a beautiful and proper young lady, but I fear she’ll turn out cruel. Abigail is too curious for her own good, and a bit rough around the edges. My sister dotes on those girls, but I worry she’s spoiled them something terrible. I certainly won’t make the same mistake with you!” She seemed at this point to be talking more to herself than to Ellen, but Ellen was mostly just glad she wasn’t expected to speak back. If everyone was going to laugh at the way she spoke the way her new cousins had, she needed to change the way she spoke and fast. But how could she change something that she didn’t even do on purpose? She didn’t learn to speak a certain way, she just always had spoken like that, like her parents and grandparents and everyone she knew. Sophie’s and Abigail’s teasing and rapid sentences stuck in her brain and Ellen decided she didn’t like them much.

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