The stationary was a pale blue, like a clear summer sky. The aura of familiarity clung to it, like must, although it had been a long while since the writer had composed a letter.
The page lay before her, naked, empty, and cloudless. It awaited only the touch of a steel-tipped pen, the scratching of devil’s black ink, the transmission of thought to paper, as easy, one might suppose, as rain issuing forth from ink-black storm clouds.
But as so often happens, the rain did not fall, and the land, parched for want of water, dried and withered. So, too, did the writer’s heart.
The woman had every excuse not to write, she told herself, adjusting the hand-knit shawl around her stooped shoulders. She was unsure of the recipient’s name; uncertain, even, how the missive would be received, if ever it found its way into the intended’s hands.
She shivered, though the late summer day was warm, not chilly. That was a symptom of old age, she imagined: being cold while others complained of heat. While not elderly by chronological years, the would-be writer was worn, not by the wearing away of decades, but rather from the constant erosion of seconds.
Working through the perfunctory task of selecting a pen, the woman's ever-active mind calculated her age. If the year were 1868, which it was, and the month September, then she was forty-two years old. Not ancient by most standards, yet she felt the weight of time pressing down upon her rock solid, New England frame.
Born of parents recently immigrated from Scotland, in the year of Our Lord 1826, Ada Carter had been a hale, hearty child, with a jaw jutting out two feet in front of her, if her father’s oft expressed words were to be believed. She was known for her temper and her ability to stare anyone - man, boy or woman - in the eye, and never blink before they did. The game was called “owl,” and at age five, Ada Carter was the owl champion of three surrounding counties.
The oldest of seven children, she had become, in effect, a second mother to her siblings. Although of hot blood and fierce temper, Ada was never heard to complain of her lot in life. Everyone, her parents included, were surprised, therefore, when she announced late one evening in June, 1842, that she had taken an advert out in several Western newspapers, offering to hire herself out as a governess, domestic or other position suitable for a “woman of dignity.”
No one had ever heard of such a thing. Yet, once the extraordinary announcement had settled in, her mother dried her tears, her father went back to sharpening the blade of his plow and the smallest Carter began crying. No more was said on the subject, and for all practical purposes, it was a dead issue.
Until the letter arrived.
Very little information was imparted to the recipient. A stage ticket was enclosed, along with seven dollars, cash money. “Miss Ada Carter” was requested to present herself in one month’s time at the residence of one Mister Adam Burnham, where she would immediately assume “such tasks and duties as befit a woman of dignity.”