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W6012 TO [REV.] CALVIN MCQUESTEN from his mother, Mary Baker McQuesten
Jan 20 1908 Monday Night
To: Calvin McQuesten, Toronto
From: 'Whitehern' Hamilton

My dearest Calvin,

Was very glad to receive your letter today. Indeed it is just wonderful how much I have been able to do and have slept so well at night. This has been the secret of my keeping up so well. Yesterday of course I could not go out but dozed most of the day. In the mornings feel very tired, but manage to start again. Of course I do no work, but it is the constant looking after others. Twice I went over to the [Hamilton] Club, after missing things and to-day at last John the Carpenter is to finish boarding up the kitchen and stopping up the electric light holes.1 There are just as many little things that one has to get right. Friday Rachel worked away and got the kitchen's pantry & cellar clean. Today another woman got the stairs and halls cleaned and the big dining room. The dirt you know has been terrible. Since I wrote you I had Matthew's men up, before seeing Patterson again and decided it would be best to let Watkin's man do it. They had the best oak all ready seasoned and would put a border 20 1/2 in. besides windows all round for $35, it would then be entirely finished. I could see no special use in a floor all over and after Patterson's work was done, then Ross would have to finish it.

Then about the library, there was more than enough paper but it cannot be quite finished till Ross sees Tom and consults about colouring of ceiling: to get the right shade it would be necessary to paint ceiling, as it is so old they cannot get the colouring in Calsomine. The new carpet in grandpa's room is lovely. Edna is perfectly delighted with the colour of her room. All the bedroom carpets are down. The drawing room set came home to-day and perfectly gorgeous. All the people from Matthews say they never saw anything like them. Then our new bathroom and bath and Ross found a lovely border and put the same round little room next and Calsomined the room in green so all that paint is fresh. Finally I got to the root of what made the awful smell downstairs. The club's porter was over and I just got at him. There were 5 kegs of rotten oysters in the coal room and he had to open them and was sick enough himself as was the painter first day he went to furnace. Then in the ice under refrigerator was a lot of rotten fish. I felt better after I knew just what it was, so we have tried carbolic acid, but it is not gone yet, but to-day I got another stuff from Parke and hope to get it out finally. But with it all think we have reason to be very thankful that no real injury has been done to the house. They certainly did very stupid things taking down brackets etc. when there was no need and making trouble but these are trifles.

Hilda was very sick for one day and very miserable for a day or two after, but she is picking up by degrees. Then our baize [sic] door being off made us rather cold last week but it is so mild now, we do not feel it. Who do you think is my latest retainer for clearing snow & ice? Aleck Gourlay!2 Poor unfortunate! most thoughtful to do any jobs.

Today we were surprised by a visit from Herbert Bell, he leaves tonight for New York and sails for Plymouth, where his mother joins him and they go to Frieburg in Germany 30 miles from Switzerland.3 It seems he contracted lung trouble from a chap who roomed with him at Philadelphia, at the time this fellow's doctor feared he had bronchitis, but it was worse than that. So when H. returned in Sept. he had to go right to a sanitarium which is considered the headquarters of treatment for tuberculosis. He lived in a tent, was fed to bursting, exercised and treated till he was considered practically new. He has been a short time in North Carolina. Then the doctors ordered him to be in a climate of a certain altitude. So it was decided he should go to Freiburg. There is a university and he could go on with German. I am so pleased that his mother goes with him; she is nearly worn out at Florrie's. Their new house could not be got dried, in spite of stoves & all possible means. They all narrowly escaped pneumonia. Herbie was so sorry not to see Tom. Well, you may come up and see it as soon as we are really settled. I would not have Tom come this week, if it were not for setting up library and unless he can get away at one o'clock he also had better wait till he can. Well, I must close with much love to you both.

Your loving mother

M.B. McQuesten

[P.S.] Miss Ramsay's coming did not trouble me. She is coming up again this week, as she is going to do Mrs. Gartshore. I am very pleased, for she could not possibly do it without; the hair was all wrong, too much of it and wrong shade.4

1 The Hamilton Club had rented Whitehern from April 1907 to January 1908. Mary was indignant at the poor condition of the home when the club moved out: "Then the ledges of the bookcases had to be scraped too, so very badly stained by the wine glasses of those wretches." Also a large gas leak was found in a closet. "The only part of the house which is bad now is the sitting room and it is the most wretched place. If it were not for the pictures it would be uninhabitable; but I try to think of the people in the shades and be thankful and have patience" (W5800, W6020).

2 Aleck Gourlay was likely a grandson of Colonel William Gourlay. I have been unable to determine why he was "unfortunate." Colonel William Gourlay (1794-1867) soldier, gentleman farmer, married Emily Esther Elizabeth Whyte in 1850, daughter of Isabella Hyde Whyte, reputed to be a daughter of the Duke of Kent, about whom "clung an aura of romance and mystery which in Victorian days set whispers circulating behind fluttering fans" (Campbell 145); however, Margaret Houghton, Archivist, of Special Collections at the Hamilton Library states that this is an urban legend. They had two sons and one daughter and lived at Barton Lodge, an estate on the mountain brow. Evelyn Esther Gourlay married Edward Alexander Colquhoun in 1881, had ten children and also lived at Barton Lodge (DHB1.51, 85; W6012, W6020, W6135, W6343, W5040, W5046, W5053, W5691). For Colquhoun family, see W4549.

3 For Bell family, see W4531.

4 Miss Ramsay is the artist commissioned by Miss Isabel Elliot, Tom's lady friend, to do Mary's miniature (see also W5868, W6035, and see W-MCP3-5.074, W-MCP3-5.076, W-MCP3-5,77, W-MCP3-5.075, for more on Miss Elliot and for her photos). Mary gave a grudging acceptance of the miniature in January 1908: "Well, I think the miniature is now in a fair way to be good. Miss R. was here to-day and having friends to stay with, will come back in the morning and that will do I think. I am afraid, have been a difficult subject" (W6020). In February 1908, Mary found fault with the face and the eyes:

I was afraid you would not be satisfied with the miniature. At one time thought it was fair except lower part of face, too heavy altogether and then at the last I found she had worked at the eyes and spoiled that. I would not care, if she had been practising for her own benefit, but I am more than sorry to have you disappointed. I should have stood firm by my former experience of artists and not allowed you to be drawn in. How long will Miss R.[Ramsay] stay? You had better let Miss Elliott know, you are not yet pleased with it. With much love, dearie. (W6035)

Again in February 1908, she found fault with the nose: "find out if Miss Ramsay is coming up here again to see Mrs. Gartshore, if so she might as well come here. It occurred to me yesterday that my nose is too broad" (W6039). The miniature is in the collection at Whitehern Museum.

It is by these strategies, and others, that Mary succeeded in breaking up the relationship between Tom and Miss Elliot. See also W5868.

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Copyright 2002 Whitehern Historic House and Garden
The development of this website was directed by Mary Anderson, Ph.D. and Janelle Baldwin, M.A.
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