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Title: Agnes Shakespeare (Nesta), Alberta to "My darling Mother"
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FileShakespeare, Agnes/22
SenderShakespeare, Agnes
Sender Genderfemale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginAlberta, Canada
Recipient Genderfemale
SourceD3590/M/4/1-16: Deposited by Godfrey Higginson Skrine Esq.
ArchiveThe Public Record Office, Northern Ireland
Doc. No.9909228
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 21:09:99.
Word Count1747
TranscriptHigh River, Alberta.
June 24, 1897

My darling Mother

The dear knows when you will get this, for down
came the floods last week, and railway bridges are broken,
and the mail service of course is dislocated, and I don't
know if they will carry the letters at all between High
River and Calgary for a fortnight to come. If they do, it
will have to be across two creeks in flood, by boat somehow.
I only hope you won't take it into your head to be alarmed,
if my letters are delayed some weeks, indeed I'm sure the
last letter I wrote will be delayed too, for I took it to
Pekisko to post, and it was the very next morning that this
flood came. We have had a good deal of heavy rain of late,
and everyone was rejoicing on account of the hay. Well
Walter had promised to take me up to stay a few days with
Mrs. Bedingfeld:- the old lady has been continually asking
me; - and though we put off the start two days, on account
of the pouring rain, we thought the third day we had better
go, and I went in the wagon, instead of riding, by way of
keeping dry. It was all for politeness, and to keep the
engagement. But by the time we got to the house, the rain
was coming down in sheets, and the wind was getting up.
It didn't alarm me at all, and Walter didn't seem to mind.
We both went to bed, and slept like tops. But the poor old
lady was always recalling the time she had been actually
flooded out, in 1884, and she couldn't sleep and kept
prowling about the house. Frank Bedingfeld, her son, was
up very early, as usual, and about 7 o'clock in the morning
he came and informed her - "the creek had broken loose."
(just as if it was a horse on picket!) Then she could
contain herelf no longer, and was just obliged to wake us
up. It must have irritated her fearfully that we slept
so well that night. Walter was dressed in no time. When
I looked out, there were two perfectly new streams of water
lacing like mad one on each side of the house, besides the
legitimate creek which we had crossed the evening before,
and now no horse could have swum it. The first thing Walter
did was to jump on Billy (we had brought him too) and go for
his team; then he harnessed them to our wagon, and took it up
to safe ground, for it might have been washed away. Meantime
Frank was splashing and dashing about on a litle black mare,
rescuing his loose lumber which lay on the ground, and piling
it onto the roof. He came into breakfast as calm as a cucumber,
and Walter had a fatal inclination to laugh. The old lady was
rather bad by that time, and I'm sure it annoyed her that
I didn't get into a fuss too. The water was beginning to
flood her kitchen, and altogether - what with this and that
and everything else! But the worst time was about noon. The
rain was as hard as ever, and the creeks even harder. The
kitchen had some inches of water on the floor. It gurgled
in at one side and gurgled out through the loose boards.
Luckily the other part of the house was higher. But between
the two racing streams on each side of the house, the water had
spread and deepened, and now it was washing against the walls
below the windows. The house had a stone foundation, so we
had no fear of it falling. But when Walter and Frank came in
again, they said that unless the rain stopped very soon we
have to pitch a tent up on the hill and take blankets and
something to eat, and spend the night there: for it would be
fatal to wait for night, and then get flooded out in the dark.
Walter kept Billy all that time on a picket near the house, and
splashed off himself in long gum-boots to help Frank in the
corrals. Poor Mrs. Bedingfeld kept telling me, "It's a blessing
Frank has Mr. Skrine to help him, anyhow." For you see, the
two other men of the household were away on the round up.
And they have no servant at all. We could do nothing in the
kitchen of course. But on the fire in the living room we made
some very good potatoe-soup, with milk and the very last cold
potatoes: the cellar was completely flooded, and all the
were stored there. So I learnt [learned?] to make potatoe-soup,
as one result of the flood. But the little slithery onion, the
soul of it all, had to be omitted. It was very funny to see
Billy all this time. As the waters rose round him, he stared
and stared at them, and then at the high green hill in front
of his eyes, and he got very uneasy. I opened the door and went
out to speak to him. When he heard me he gave a little pull
at his picket rope, then threw up his head and stared at the
green hill, and neighed. I never heard a horse speak so plain.
"Let me off this blessed rope, and get up, so I can take you
right up that good green hill, out of all this water and
mess." I think animals hate to see water rising round them.
Later on I saw all the Bedingfelds horses - theirs is a horse
ranch - clustered together high up on a hill. At length
and at last, about one o'clock, it stopped raining. But
it wasn't for some hours after that, that the water began
to go down, there was such a lot of it up in the mountains.
As soon as we were quite certain that the water had sunk
half-a-foot, we decided not to pitch the tent. And I was
rather glad. The old lady is very rheumatic, and I think
a night up there on the wet ground, however wrapped up,
would have finished her. With all her faults, she is a
fine old lady; and she has chosen to be very kind to me,
whatever other people she may dislike, and she dislikes a
good many! I have discovered that the Mrs. Bedingfeld you knew
in Mauritius was someone who married Philip Bedingfeld, a
cousin of her husband's, whom she hardly knew, and has lost
sight of since. So the similarity in character is all the
odder, as you see they are no relations. She said another
cousin, an Admiral Bedingfeld, had been in Mauritius too.
I think you can hardly imagine what the amount of work is that
old lady had done in her life-time - or even in the fourteen
years she has been on that ranche with her son. Imagine
yourself in a house, however small, in which you have to do
every bit of the work yourself. If you have a cook, as we
have, it's nothing at all. But that old lady has to cook
every meal that she eats, and - which takes a great deal more
time - to wash up pots, pans, and plates afterwards. All the
house-work, from scrubbing the kitchen floor, to dusting the
sitting room is hers. I don't think she would dream of leaving
her room to get breakfast, till she had made her bed and carried
away the water. The cooking of course is simply endless. She
bakes all the bread - there are no bakers in the West - and she
makes all the butter too. There are four people to 'do for' -
as ordinarily speaking there are three men in the house, all
of them about the hardest workers in the country. When it
got fine again, one afternoon she and I went for a ride; and
it was funny the way my feelings were changing about towards
Mrs. Bedingfeld in the course of that ride. I must tell
you the old lady was once the finest rider in the country,
and I think she can't help feeling a little jealous about
"young women who think they can ride." I was on a grey
horse of theirs called 'Tom'. And after we started she
began to tell me how Tom could kick when he chose (not buck,
of course, but kick) and what spirits he had, etc. I fancied
I saw from a sort of side-look in her eye that she wanted to
see if she could frighten me. So I said "Good old Tom!" and
didn't even draw up my reins. She was not quite pleased to
see Tom taken in that nonchalant way; but you needn't think
there was any particular courage on my part, for I had a
firm conviction that Frank Bedingfeld would not have put me
up on Tom without a warning if any were wanted. Just as I
was thinking that the old lady showed herself rather small, we
came to a rather difficult place and she suddenly pushed
her horse in front, and she said she wanted to lead the way
down here, and I might follow her exactly. From her voice I
saw that she was thinking of nothing but taking proper care
of me, and would not really have had me hurt for anything.
Finally we got on a height where there was a glorious view
of the mountains, and I should have liked to stay longer
to look at them. But she said in a peculiarly hard voice,
"After fourteen years of it, I think I've looked enough at them;
and if the fire goes out while we are away the beef for supper
will be spoilt." As we rode home I was thinking what must it
be like? - fourteen years of always remembering the beef for
supper or the bread for breakfast. But that habit of
self-denial and of constantly recollecting other people's
wants must be worth all the mountain views in the world,
and all the fine sentiments they can inspire. One gets
cured of looking at everything from the aesthetic point of
view principally here. After all, that's the idler's way.
A person can't keep two minds, and both going. Well, I
do wonder when this will reach you.

Your loving daugter