Jessie had generously donated the first penny for postage. The response came just a few days later and Tillie felt like maybe her Robert wasn’t so far away after all. The second penny had been begged from Mrs. Brodie, but by the time the letter got to Glasgow, Robert had already left and it was returned. Tillie added a few extra words crammed in the narrow margin at the bottom and then rewrote the new address in America on the back. She did extra chores for Mrs. Pattison a few houses down to earn another penny. She flew into a small rage when the letter was again returned. Apparently, international mail, still an exciting new innovation, cost more. Two pennies wasted already, she spent her hours after school going up and down the street offering to do odd chores until she had enough money to send a letter all the way to America. She jammed more words into the side margins, writing smaller than she knew she could, and send it away with a prayer.
By the end of the week, there still wasn’t a response. She sent another letter anyway, although it took her nearly two weeks to earn the postage for it. Despite the scarcity of extra chores to be had, she sent out letter after letter with still no response. She was beginning to despair that she would ever hear from him again.
He’d most certainly died at sea, she must have thought. Or he’d forgotten her already. She couldn’t decide which would be worse.
(Maybe this is part of why I feel akin to Tillie. This part of the story reminds me a bit of Dad and I’s story. When he went away to school, I feared I might never see him again. He went all the way down to Washington and I stayed here in Alaska, with a country and an ocean between us. So much could happen and I wouldn’t be able to affect it at all; I wouldn’t even know anything was going on until he thought to inform me. He could forget about me completely and I would be left to waste away alone, never knowing what became of him. I thought I’d die of loneliness sometimes between letters and phone calls.)
Second class wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t First class, but at least Robert and James weren’t with the impoverished beggars desperate for a new start down in the dark holds with the luggage in Third class. Their tiny cabin was shared with another pair of passengers, both also from Paisley. They talked about home, family and mutual acquaintances, which struck Robert as strange since they were all four so willingly leaving the place. With most of their belongings in the large trunks down below, they lived on two outfits, a small bag of toiletries, and a blanket each for the ten day journey. A short stop in Moville, Ireland later in the first day saw the ship crowded to capacity and then she put out to sea.
Maggie wasn’t a spiteful soul. She just liked attention, I’d guess. And nothing got Tillie’s attention faster than Robert Brodie.
“Guess what I heard today,” she said to her little sister.
Tillie frowned. When it came to teasing, she could smell Maggie in action a mile off. “Gossip is unbecoming of a lady,” she informed her airily.
“And how would you know what’s ladylike?” Changing gears quickly, she asked, “I heard Robert’s got a girlfriend in Glasgow.”
She stood up quickly. “No, he doesn’t!”
She held her hands up. “Just a rumor,” she assured her. “Completely unconfirmed.” She smiled wickedly. “She’s supposed to be a right pretty lass, much closer to your boy’s age than you are. If she’s real, of course.” Tillie glared, but didn’t say anything. Provoking her further, she wondered aloud, “Do you think he’ll come back to marry her some day?”
“He’s coming back for me!”
Maggie just laughed. Tillie, who was still learning to control her temper, slapped her as hard as she could across the cheek. Maggie stared at her in surprise for a sparse moment before slapping her back. Tillie dove for her middle, plowing her to the ground, but Maggie was substantially bigger and soon had her pinned to the ground. Holding her down, she asked cruelly, “You think he’d come back for you? An arrogant, stubborn baby like you?”
“Leave her alone,” Lizzie said from behind, her voice harsh.
She released her quickly, but insisted, “Come on, Lizzie, you know how stupid this-”
“I said leave her alone! Don’t make me say it again, Margaret.”
Scoffing, Maggie stood, wiping her nose with the back of her hand, and muttered, “We all know it.”
Lizzie grabbed her arm and demanded, “You didn’t actually hear a thing, did you?” Maggie glared sullenly back and Lizzie shook her a little, asking louder, “Did you?” Maggie still didn’t reply. “Provoking a child to blows,” Lizzie sneered, shoving her. “You ought to be ashamed.”
Tears streaking down her cheeks, Tillie shouted, “I’m not a child!” Then she scrambled to her feet and ran away.
Maggie pulled away. “You shouldn’t encourage her.”
“I don’t. You shouldn’t be so cruel. Papa’d flay you if he saw this.”
“I’m doing her a kindness. It’s going to tear her apart when he ignores her.”
She sighed, saying softly, “I know it.” She looked back over at Maggie, glaring a little. “I’ll see to her, alright? You see to the laundry.”
Records: SS Furnessia Ship Manifest 1906