The following is a work of historical fiction.
© Copyright by Julie Jeffery Manwarren, 2019. All rights reserved.
References to actual events, places or persons of the past are purposeful. However, the story is a work of fiction. I enjoy taking what truth can be found and filling what is left with what I deem most probable and creatively satisfying.
The Case of Ella Twomey
What a miserable wretch of a woman she was. Wanting nothing else ‘cept to voice every bit what ails her and without any sense to hold back in a decent manner. She prattled on endlessly while I sat feigning patience, sipping my tea. I was determined to get what I came for and even her poisoned bitterness could not cause me to flee without knowing the whereabouts of my beloved Ella.
“Madam, I must take my leave, but I beg of you one thing. I have sat with you this last hour and enjoyed your fine tea and I do not wish to cause you any more inconvenience, but if it be not too much trouble, would you kindly make me aware of where the widow Twomey resides? I have heard that she has lived many years in this town but I’ve yet to locate her residence.”
“Widow Twomey?" Mrs. Sisson asked. "What would you want with that treacherous creature? She would as soon turn you out on you being American as she would because you are a man.”
“Please,” I begged, “it is quite important that I speak to her.”
Mrs. Sisson leaned in too close and with an eyebrow raised responded, “Well, sir, I do not wish to reveal a woman’s whereabouts to a perfect stranger without just cause. What might be the matter of importance you speak about?”
“I...” my hat turned in my hands as I pondered my words carefully. “I need to speak to her about her daughter.”
“Ella.” Her eyes narrowed into slits as she spoke my love’s name aloud. Her plump tongue slid out thoughtfully to the side of her mouth. “Her girl Ella has been missing 'bout a year and I can’t imagine what matter you would have with her.”
“Well, the thing is, I have reason to believe she has returned and I beg you to point me in the direction of the Twomey residence so that I can see if it be true.”
It took some doing, but eventually I obtained directions and found my way up the cobblestone streets. A modest but poor home, it had a large door with an iron ring upon which I raised to knock. My breath caught in my throat. Fear welled up within me as I contemplated why my Ella had not returned. Did she catch ill? Had she been injured? I hoped a reunion would soon be forthcoming.
My mind went back to when first I saw her. I was at work in my restaurant on Dearborn Street in the city and the World’s Fair was in full swing. I was gratefully busy and welcomed the happy fair goers. One Ella Twomey entered. A bit disheveled and appearing distressed, I offered her a cup of tea and plate of eggs and toast though she informed me that she could not pay. She ate with a hunger of a street dog, starved.
I took pity on the pretty girl and fed her a full meal and offered that if she came back later she was welcome to what I had left from our dinner service. She returned and we enjoyed such amiable conversation. I was at once attracted to her bright eyes and delightful countenance that I asked her to accept a position at my restaurant. I found and paid for a boarding room at Mrs. Walton’s not far from my establishment. I had discovered that Ella had left home in Ontario and travelled in the hopes of attending the World’s Fair, but on the train, she awoke and found that she had been robbed as she slept. Having neither money nor bag, for the thief had taken her entire satchel, she landed upon the city destitute and alone. I took such pity to her but also a great liking and admiration as I watched her work each day. She was a hard worker and friendly to my customers. Her cheerful countenance and youthful smile brightened my days and within weeks I found myself hopelessly smitten.
She knew she had bewitched me, yet I did not want Ella Twomey to choose me for need of charity. As beholden as she was to me, I needed to be sure that I was accepted and desired for myself, though I be twice her age. One evening as I walked her back to Mrs. Walton’s, she slipped her small hand into mine and it was then that I knew.
I asked her at the door, “Ella, if I ever dared to hope that you could want me or learn to love me, I would ask you now to be my wife. Yet, I know you have left your mother all alone in Canada and must be longing for your home country. I would not keep you from it if that is what you long for. But if there is any reason for me to dare hope, would you give me a sign that I might?”
It was then that she kissed me. Oh what a beautiful kiss. Full of innocence and sincerity and I tear now at the thought of it. So, I did dare hope. And the next day, I did dare ask. She accepted and we were married not two weeks later on Valentine’s day, 1896. A travelling Methodist preacher officiated our humble ceremony in the restaurant. We shared a slice of pie and I paid for the town photographer to capture our likeness. My bride wore a pale blue dress that I had financed for her.
Those were the happiest days of my life. The lonely years of work and batchelorhood gone, I found comfort in Ella’s arms, in the sun of her smile. She cared for me as kindly and as faithfully as any man could dare to hope and I cared for her. We were a pair, my Ella and I, and we found an easy rhythm as we worked, loved and lived alongside each other. Months passed before Ella mentioned her home to me.
“John, I needs be visiting my mum. She hasn’t seen me since I left her and she hasn’t written nor returned the letters you sent. Might I get a train ticket to go to see her? Once she sees how happy I am, I know it will rest her spirit that I am well.”
I readily agreed, though it pained me that she would be gone for two weeks. I could not leave the restaurant, but took a morning off to take her to the station. She stepped onto the train in her prettiest coat and a new blue satchel bag that I had purchased for her. She held my face and kissed me.
“I shall see you by Thanksgiving, my dear. We shall celebrate with a great feast and much gaiety. I shall bring you back stories from Ontario.”
Chicago's Central Station in 1893, accessed via chicagology.com
I smiled and waved her off as I watched the train take her away from me. I knew not then that no Thanksgiving feast or happy return of my Ella was to occur. Instead that November day I waited eight hours until the last train had arrived. The morbid silence of the station at night greeted me like a cold Canadian wind.
Though I barely slept I kept myself calm with reasonable, sensible explanations for her absence at the station. But day after day, she didn’t appear. I went back to the restaurant, having left instructions with the station master that if my Ella returned he was to pay for her carriage home and I would compensate him for his trouble.
After a week, I left my restaurant in the hands of incompetent employees, knowing I might have to count a loss but not willing to accept a loss much greater. I travelled to Ontario and asked around only knowing Ella’s mother to be a widow and without siblings. I had no address and only a maiden name to go by. After two days I came upon Mrs. Sisson who, although tiresome in speech, proved to be helpful in finding the widow Twomey.
And that is how I came to be at the door where I now stand. Waiting patiently, my hat in hand and my sparse hair plastered to my brow as I shiver in the cold.
Royalty free image, by RDLH. Used with permission.
to be continued....
Read part two here.