Albert and the Animals

Highland, Wisconsin
Sunday, April 30, 1893

To the Sisters of Charity at the Foundling Hospital
175 East 68th Street
New York City
Dear Sisters,

I say at the outset that I do not want him. This is my daughter Margaret's idea, most entirely and emphatically hers. She learned of you and your good work from Father Thomas J. McCormick, at St. Michael's Church, in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Father McCormick recently visited your establishment, and spoke about it to the parish youth group. Margaret, her father, and I discussed the acquisition of a child in a most cursory manner, and without our consent or encouragement--indeed, without even our knowledge--she proceeded to write the required letters, falsely, over her father's forged signature. It pains me greatly to admit that my daughter is capable of such duplicity, even when the ostensible cause is worthy and charitable. And yet, it is true.

And then, most unexpectedly, at dinner yesterday evening she announced that a young boy is coming to us from New York City. Her tone and manner were so calm and unimpassioned that had I not paid heed, I might well have thought she had done no more than state her admiration for a new bonnet in Kaufmann's window on Main Street.


nun picture Do not think me hard of heart or uncaring, Sisters, but at fifty-three I am an old woman and not well. We are far from wealthy. The farm provides for our needs but allows no excess. Of my five living children, three are grown and gone. Patrick, the oldest, lives with us still, as does Margaret, the youngest, age thirteen. She is eager for this boy you are sending us. She says that she will tend to him and that I will not even know he is here. But I have my doubts. My husband, when he spoke of it at all, pressed for an older boy, someone to help with the chores. When he understood that the one you selected for us is only four years of age, he lost whatever small curiosity he possessed in the matter. So I fear that the burden of this child will fall heavily upon me, and frankly, good Sisters, I shall not shoulder it.

I spoke to Father McCormick today after High Mass. He urged me to write to you to withdraw Margaret's request for the child. That, as you must surmise, is the motive that prompts this letter. So if the boy has not yet left your admirable care, then keep him until a more willing and suitable family stakes its claim to him. If, on the other hand, he has already departed, please let me know when he will arrive, so that I can make adequate preparations. Father McCormick explained that should this missive arrive after the boy has left, we can send him back to you at the end of summer. Or, if you prefer, we can dispatch him to another home, at no expense to us. Please confirm this for me. I assure you, Sisters, that should the boy be on his way, I will attempt to care for him to the utmost of my abilities. All things are worth trying, so I will try this child, but for the summer only. Do bear in mind the probability of his return, since at this moment I do not want him.

I eagerly await your reply.

Most sincerely,
Mrs. Thomas O'Brien (Constance)

The New York Foundling Hospital
New York City
May 7, 1893

My Dear Mrs. O'Brien,

Thank you for your letter dated April 30th. It is my great pleasure to tell you that I do so trust in your goodness and generosity that despite your understandable misgivings, the boy is coming to you soon. I myself will put him on the train in three days' time, Wednesday, May 10. We will travel by the noon ferry to Jersey City, where Albert Joseph--that is his name--will board the Pennsylvania Railroad No. 5 (The Pennsylvania Limited) at quarter past twelve. He will arrive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at twenty minutes past two o'clock in the afternoon, and then at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at half past eleven that night. After a ten-minute stopover he will leave Pittsburgh and arrive in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at twenty minutes to eight o'clock on the morning of Thursday, May 11. He will then travel to Chicago, Illinois, where he will arrive at twelve o'clock noon on that same day. At that juncture he will transfer to the Illinois Central Railroad, leave Chicago at quarter past one P.M., and arrive in Freeport, Illinois, at five o'clock in the evening. His train will depart Freeport twenty minutes later and will arrive in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, at twenty minutes to eight P.M., still on Thursday, May 11. I am told that Dodgeville is eighteen miles from Highland, so please arrange to be there to meet his train.

The weather here is warm, so I will dress him lightly in a double-breasted wool jacket--which I believe will be useful to him in time to come (it now quite overwhelms him). He will also wear long cuffed trousers, a white cotton shirt, and good leather shoes. I do not know what the spring season will bring to Wisconsin, though I am told it is much like here, only colder.

He will have one change of clean underthings in a brown paper bag. In another bag he will have two sandwiches--cheese on rye bread, his favorite--and various fruits. For your future information, Mrs. O'Brien, Albert refuses to eat meat. Perhaps you can break him of this strange and frustrating habit. I tried diligently but failed.

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Marsha Rabe is a poet, fiction writer and essayist based in Connecticut.

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