What We Cannot Control

September 29, 1896
Sarah Waters

If all things happen for the best, then why do bad things happen at all? I do not really expect to find an answer but I think the question has merit. This year seems wrought with bad things and if it is indeed all for the best, the best is yet to come.

I would have preferred to remain aloof with my roommates. It was somehow easier to feel isolated and alone than to struggle to uphold the appearance of civility. I have no illusions about friendship or commonality with them although I suspect they think I do. I am not the fool though I play the part well enough when it is required.

Miss Bowen has taken too much interest in my activities of late, especially since she discovered my investigation into the death of Gloria Hill. To be honest, her interest in the matter surprised me. I assumed she was either involved or inclined to look the other way, but our conversation did not fit within that narrow view. She may well be twice the fool I sometimes pretend to be.

For the moment it seems it is of no further importance. My theories regarding Gloria’s death remain just that. Whatever evidence might exist to bring truth into the light is either well hidden or no longer in existence. I shared what I did find with my roommates and with Miss Bowen, mostly with the hope that it might help illuminate additional information, but I am left with only darker shadows obscuring the direction of light. Or so I believed.

After classes, I slipped off campus into Providence. Wish as I might that it was for a frolicking trip down Main Street, it was instead to the poorer side of town. You can tell the value of the block by the smell of rotting manure in the street. The sidewalks are dustier and the businesses are marked with carved wooden signs, creaking in the breeze, instead of etched and painted glass. No respectable lady would be found in the area and that made it the perfect place to find work.

It was made clear in the rules of Carrington Manor that no young lady in their care was allowed to seek employment of any kind. If I said I was the kind of lady to care about rules, the laughter would be deafening. That said, it has been obvious to me since my arrival, I am not well liked by those who are charged with my care. In the interest of self-preservation I have done my best to walk on the right side of the rules. I freely admit I have broken several but I do not do so lightly and so far only in situations where I was well in control and capable of deflecting any possible repercussions. Working is different.

The only control I can maintain over breaking this rule is to avoid being caught. It is, despite the risks, a necessity. I have a little money left from my first week in Providence, but it will not get me through the holiday breaks nor will prove sufficient should I need any replacement supplies. Working whenever possible now, means having money for later when I will undoubtedly need it. Considering the alternative of begging, the risk seems well worth it. Of course risk can be minimized and seeking out work in the shadow of the city goes a long way toward insuring avoidance of anyone who could compromise my illicit activity. But minimizing is not the same as eliminating.

Chen’s Laundry House sits on the deep corner of the block, near the harbor. The street parallel to the harbor runs to a dead end with a stable on the harbor side. Even at noon the street seems dark and in late afternoon it almost feels like night. I managed to get Mr. Chen to hire me for day labor on a day by day basis. Usually doing washing or ironing, but also mending or just menial chores. The pay is horrible and it will take me weeks to earn enough to buy a new dress, but I have few choices and Mr. Chen knows it.

I was more than a little surprised to walk through the door this afternoon and find myself face to face with a fellow Primrose girl. I almost did not recognize her at first. Her clothes were more common than usual and her short blonde hair was covered with a boys cap. She actually looked more like a boy than a young lady. Still the face was familiar enough and the shock of recognition was as clear on hers as it must have been on mine.

From our previous encounters, which are few, I would have assumed she was a lady of privilege. I must remind myself, appearances are often deceptive. On the spot, I could not recall her name, perhaps I did not know it, but she knew mine. Should that fact concern me?

“Miss Waters, what are you doing here?” She asked.

I looked at the ground and bit my lip for a moment considering what response would be best. Mr. Chen saved me from it.

“Laura, you late, late. Much work in the back. Quick, quick.” He said to me pointing to the back of the shop.

I nodded my head at him.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” I said.

I pushed by the young lady. Her look of recognition was replaced by one of confusion and I hoped she would remain that way. As I walked by her I noticed she had cart full of packages next to her. The obvious connection was that she, like me, worked for Mr. Chen and she was off to deliver the cleaned garments to their owners. Maybe it was foolish of me to think I was the only poor girl at Primrose College.

She left as I went into the back. The adrenaline from our meeting left me shaking and worried as I began scrubbing shirts. I broke two fingernails and scratched the side of my hand before I decided I needed to focus on the immediate tasks at hand rather than worry about the future. Still, one thought remained in my head; will she tell?

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