The Last Runaway

Free The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

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Authors: Tracy Chevalier
Tags: Fiction, Literary, General, Historical
5th 1850
Dear Mother and Father,
It has been a very long journey from Bridport to Faithwell. The best part of my arrival was not lying down in a bed I knew I would not have to leave the next day, but seeing your letter awaiting me. Adam Cox told me it has been here two weeks: how can it have arrived so long before me when it had to make the same journey? I cried when I saw thy hand, Mother. Even though it was written just a week after I left, I relished every bit of news, because it made me feel I was still at home, taking part in all the daily events of the community. I had to remind myself by looking at the date of the letter that thy words and the things thee describes are two months old. Such a delay is so disorienting.
I am sorry to have to tell you that Matthew Cox has passed: the consumption he suffered from overtook him four weeks ago. This means the Faithwell household I have joined is now very different from what was anticipated. Instead of two married couples and me, there are just three of us, with tenuous ties to one another. It is awkward, though it is early days yet and I hope to feel more settled eventually, rather than a visitor, as I do now. Adam and Abigail, Matthew’s widow, have been welcoming. But Grace’s death has been a great shock to Adam, who of course had been looking forward to marrying and settling his wife into a new life in Ohio. My appearance was also a surprise, for the letter informing him that I had decided to accompany Grace to America never arrived.
I often find myself thinking of how Grace would have coped, how she would have smoothed the rough edges of the circumstances with her laughter and good humour. I try to emulate her, but it is not easy.
Adam’s house in Faithwell—or Abigail’s house, perhaps I should say, for she owned it with Matthew—is so different from what I am used to. I feel when I am in it as if the air around me has shifted and is not the same air I breathed and moved in back in England, but is some other substance. Can a building do such a thing? It is a new house, built about three years ago, of rough pine boards that smell of resin. The wood makes me think of a doll’s house: it lacks the solidity of stone that made our own home on East Street feel so safe. The house creaks constantly, with the wood responding to the wind and the moisture in the air—it is very humid here, and they say it will get worse later in the summer. Apart from my bedroom it is spacious, for one thing America has is much land on which to build. There are two floors, and everyone knows when others go from one to the other, as the boards squeak so. The downstairs comprises a parlour, kitchen and what Americans call the sick room—a bedroom off the kitchen where whoever is ill at the time stays to be looked after. Apparently Americans get fever so often that they need such a room set aside for them—which is troubling, given what I have just witnessed with Grace.
There are three bedrooms upstairs: the largest, which Abigail would have shared with her husband, a medium-sized that Adam was expecting to share with Grace, and a tiny room that would have been for the baby if there were one. They have put me there, for now; the arrangement feels temporary, though what would be more permanent, I cannot say. Although there is room for little other than a bed, I do not mind. When I shut the door it is mine. The furnishings are adequate, though, as in many other American houses where I have stayed, they too have a temporary feel about them, as if they have been knocked together until there is time to build something more permanent. I always sit carefully in chairs, for fear they may break. The table legs often have splinters because they have not been properly sanded and finished. They are mostly made of maple or ash, which makes me miss the timelessness of our oak furniture.
The kitchen is not so different in principle from that on East Street: there is a hearth, a range, a long table and

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