Her with her milk baths, saying we were a dairy and could afford the waste. We could not. One quart, sufficient for a sponge-down, was what we settled on. Then she wanted to sell the used milk to the poorhouse at a reduction. It doesnt take a wizard to figure what she gave the orphans. She and Bill had a childless marriage. If I was called to help Doc Muswell with a delivery, Id return to a bedlam of bawling infants, for Kitty was no good with them.
Now that I was expecting again, I wished we could pack up our home and roll it down Bog Road to Watervliet on a barrow. I would have liked to pull a shade on the past and have this baby in town. I had a superstition that a childs birth predicted the course its life would take. And I was determined that my fifth would be welcomed in perfect circumstances, without any forceps or cows in the house.
It was this intention that led me to take things up with Katherine Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. Kitty begged to join my pilgrimage, and in September we boarded a steamer for Albany, followed by a train bound for the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. I had baby Dorothy in my arms, and the three runabout children, Edna, Charlotte, and my Joseph, clinging to my skirts.
The train left us off, dusty as coalmen, at the foot of the Hill of Torture. This long path wound grandly up through massive gates and meadows toward the sky. I suspected many pilgrims from the city never knew there could be such earth on earth. I shaded my eyes and gave the crowd a once-over but saw no sign of Sister Immaculata or Sister Adelaide. These relative nuns from New Jersey were meeting us and returning to the farm for their annual home visit.
Kitty put down our market basket and fanned herself with a holy card. I tried to keep baby Dorothy from grabbing it. What are you going to pray for, Mamie? she asked.
That the nuns wont stay more than three nights, I told her. They had requested courtesy at St. Cierans Home since their Rule required them to sleep in a convent. But Yours Truly would have to feed and entertain them. How to do that was the puzzle. I only knew they liked looking at the Sears catalogue to see how many things there were in the world they didnt want. Youll never guess what Im going to pray for. Kitty gnawed delicately at the holy card. But do try.
A magic lantern and a switch of store-bought hair. That was what shed told me last night. Feeling a cough coming on, I set baby Dorothy down and fished a clean handkerchief from my shirtwaist.
No. Something ever so much more important.
The cough changed its mind and I was grateful. You wouldnt be wanting a little fountain in your room that shoots perfume before falling back into a marble basin, or white satin slippers, exquisitely fitted, that do not button or lace but are cunningly sewn on in the morning and ripped off at night? You wouldnt be praying that your name become Fannie Wellbeloved, Annabel Lee, Clara Lazarus, or Evelyn Friend? Kittys pipe dreams were famous to me.
Dare I speak my heart aloud? Kitty asked. Im praying to be accepted as a nontuition scholar at the Troy School of Arts and Crafts. She gave me a cow-eyed confiding look. That saloon run by teachers excommunicated from the Emma Willard School?
Darling Mamie. It was a sweltering day, and the party next to us had a coverlet fixed to four broomsticks raised above their hats as a canopy. I wish Id brought my sundown, Kitty said. Reaching into her purse, she found a little pocket mirror, a jar of finely powdered starch and orris root, and began dusting herself. This weather is a persecution, is it not? Im dying, Im dying, Im dead.
Reprinted from The Nightingales of Troy by Alice Fulton. Copyright (c) 2008. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
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