"Happy Laundry Girls,"
Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.
Father Daly was no sooner gone that evening than Ally went off post.haste to acquaint her father and mother of the news he had brought concerning Mary. Just as she had expected they were grieved beyond measure. They had never suspected Mary of carrying on such under.hand doings, and even the knowledge that she was, was bad enough in itself, but when they heard who the bead was they were struck speechless with anger and astonishment. At first nothing would serve Bridget but she must don her blue cloak and herself and Peery go straight up to Houston street. After some persuasion, however, she was so far pacified as to agree to let one of the boys go up for Mary, Ally to wait there till she came.
"Oh! the faggot! — the faggot!" cried Bridget clapping her hands in a sudden burst of grief and indignation, "was it to take up with a scape.grace like Luke Mulligan that she came to America! A fellow she wouldn't look at at home! To disgrace all belongin' to her ! Oh wirra! terra! what's comin' over us, at all?" and she burst into a passionate fiood of tears.
Ally and her father tried to calm this wild excitement but for some time they could not succeed.
"Don't you know, mother, we all feel as bad as you do?" said Ally, "but it's time enough to grieve when the harm is done It's not too late yet to prevent it — at least I'd fain hope so."
"Now, Ally dear! what's the use of talkin' to me that way?" said the mother looking up through her tears; "you know well enough that whatever that foolish creature takes in her head she'll see it out, come what may! And God knows it's as much on your account an' the dacent man that's married to you as anything else that I'm troubled!"
"Take it easy, Bridget!" was Peery's characteristic exhortation; "if you fret yourself black in the face it'll not make matters any better, an' be sure, now, if Mary comes you'll not fly in a passion with her — if you do you'll ruin us all."
But Bridget's patience was not put to that test. Her son returned breathless after half an hour's absence with the news that Mary was not in and that Becky was afraid she was gone off to be married.
This set the whole family in a commotion. The mother was inconsolable and sat rocking herself on her low bench in the corner with her apron to her eyes, sobbing and crying as if her heart would break. "Oh sure I knew it! sure I knew it well, for the heavy load came over my heart the minute I heard Luke Mulligan's name mentioned. Och! och! if it was under board she was before me there the night, it wouldn't crush me half so sore! Oh Mary! Mary! it's too proud I was out of you, ma colleen dhas! an' it's you that's bringin' shame an' sorrow on us all!"
"Sure enough I often told you," said Peery, "that the foolery she was gettin' on with since she came here wouldn't turn out well. Didn't I now, Bridget? I vow to God it made me ashamed many a time to see the airs she put on her — an' them dances she'd be goin' to. Bridget! my poor woman! my heart's bleedin' for you, so it is! — but you know well how yoa used to laugh at me, yourself and Mary, when I'd be tryin' to put sense in the colleen's head."
"But, Lord bless me, Tommy?" said Ally to her brother, "what did Becky say? Did you ask her any questions?"
"I did, then," said the lad gloomily—he and his brother
felt the disgrace of an alliance with Luke Mulligan, perhaps even more sensibly than any of the others; "I asked her if she knew how Mary got in with Luky, and she told me ' yes,' that it was at one of the Saturday.night dances she met him, and that she only seen him five or six times, off an' on, till they made a match of it. She says the reason they kept it secret from us all was because Mary knew well enough you'd never give your consent."
The question, then, was "what's to be done!" and at Ally's suggestion her father and Tommy went up with her to get Ned to go with them in search of Mary. "He can't go," said Ally, "unless I'm there to mind the bar, so I must leave you with Peter, mother dear! hopin' that they'll soon be able to bring us back better news than we have now."
The search was, for some time, unsuccessful — indeed some hours were spent going from one priest's house to another without ending any trace of the fugitives. They had applied at St. Patrick's and were refused marriage by the pastor there, for the same reason that had actuated Father Daly at St. Joseph's. He said he feared the couple were married somewhere before that time, as he had heard the intended groom say on leaving his door: " If the next doesn't marry us she'll go to a minister — that's all."
But the next they went to did marry them, fearing worse and more scandalous consequences. The wedding party, four in number, was just coming out after having the knot tied, when the others met them at the door.
The scene that followed baffles description. The half-bashful, half-confident air with which Mary answered her father's agitated question: "Are you married?" The swaggering assurance of Luky Mulligan accosting Ned: "How are you, Ned? -— you see we stole a march on you, Mary and me." Whereto Ned responded by knocking the fellow down. Mary and her bridesmaid screamed and "the best man" made a show of fight, asking with the air of a genuine bully:
"What the d—--I do you do that for?"
"Ask my foot!" was Ned's polite answer as he shook his fist at the fellow to keep out of his reach. By this time Luky had gathered himself up with Mary's assistance, and shying off from Ned, he attempted to shake hands with his father-in-law, but Peery, inert and sluggish as was his nature, had the Tipperary blood in his veins, and he dashed away the proffered hand with the contempt due to " a rascal of a ragman," as he styled Luky.
"Don't speak to me, Luky Mulligan!" said the angry parent, "howsomever you got yor comether put on this fool of a girl here, you'll never be any the nearer to us, — an' it's the best of your play to keep away from us. "
"Father dear !" said Mary, "don't be so hard on poor Luke — you don't know him."
"I know him far too well, Mary! an' I don't know what came over your what low dhrop broke out in you when you had anything to say to Luky Mulligan the ragman!"
Mary bristled up at this and said Luke was just as good as she was, which made her father still more exasperated, and after sundry other passages equally polite and complimentary, Peery told his daughter never to darken his door, for if he met her on the street he wouldn't speak to her. Mary was too much offended to attempt conciliating her father, and Luky, taking her arm within his, said, "Come along, Mary! you needn't care a rap for any of them now — I'll do for you better than they would, for all their talk!"
" 'Deed you will, Luky!" said Ned looking back over his shoulder; "I know theway you'll do for her — the way you always do for yourself. Get along, the pair of you — you're well met — if you weren't you wouldn't come together!"
"Don't holla till you're out of the wood, Ned Finigan!" said Luky turning his head in turn; " there's them above ground that'll do for you, any way! Put that in your pipe an' smoke it."
"What's that he says?" asked Peery of Ned.
"I hardly know myself!" said Ned, no little puzzled by what. he heard; "I believe it's threatenin' me the omadhaun is — if that's it, he may talk till he's black in the face! — ho! ho! ho!"
So this was the news brought back to Bridget and Ally, and this was the last the Murphys saw of Mary for many a long day to come. She made her own bed, her mother said, and be it hard or soft she'd lie in it for them!
A day or two after, Paul, going home from his work in the evening, was accosted by his young friend and pupil Mike Milligan. "Look here, Mister Branigan! I've got something to tell you."
"You have, eh? and what is it, Mike, my boy? But stay! you'd best come and tell me inside. I'm just on my step going home."
"Well ! now, Mike, let us hear the secret!" said Paul when they were seated in front of the little cooking.stove wherein a bright fire was burning under Dolly's tea-kettle, where it sat singing the merriest of tunes, in very joy for Paul's return.
"I think Mr. Herbert is up to something these days," said Mike spreading out his hands in front of the grate to catch the genial warmth; "I heard him three or four nights ago talking with a chap that he called Luke Mulligan — most a namesake of my own — about some gal that Luke wanted to marry but her people wouldn't hear of it —"
"Lord bless me!" ejaculated Paul, "that's Mary's man that is now — go on, Mike! what more passed between them?"
"It seems they're from the same place at home —"
"To be sare they are — to be sure — well, Mike?"
"So Mister Herbert told the other fellow to go right ahead and not to mind the confounded set. 'But, hang it! Master Henry!' says Mulligan, 'I haven't a rap to jingle on a tombstone. Where's the marriage.money to come from?' With that, Mister Herbert put his hand in his pocket and ' here it's for you,' says he, — 'I've a score to settle with some belonging
to her, and I think it will pay a trifle of it off to help you to make Mistress Mulligan of Mary Murphy — ha! ha! ha! eh, Luky? Well now, Master Henry!" says the other back to him, "you needn't be makin' so little of a fellow as all that comes to — there's them that carries a high head that isn't any better than their neighbors, if the truth was known."
"Ha! an' what did he say to that — Herbert, I meanI"
"I guess he wasn't very well pleased, for he began to bite his lips till you'd think he'd bite them through, but he took out his pocketbook and gave Mulligan some bills, and told him to go and get married as fast as ever he could, and never to show his face to him again till the job was done."
When the boy ended Paul drew a long breath, and then sat silent for awhile looking into the fire, with his hands resting on his knees. At last he started from his reverie and looking round smiled at Mike in his strange way. "He's runnin' his rig, sure enough," said he, and he nodded at Mike as if Mike knew all about it. "Maybe his tether is long enough — eh, Mike!"
Mike had no opinion to offer, but he looked so wise and so cute that Paul was sure he could speak, if he wished. He nodded at Mike accordingly, and Mike nodded at him, and so the matter ended for that time, and Paul told Mrs. Sheehan to stir herself and get the tea till Mike got a cup to warm him before he went. The interval was employed by Paul in a cursory examination of Mike in the Christian Doctrine. The result was highly satisfactory, and Paul rubbed his hands and smiled gleefully, and thought how glad Nancy Leary would be if that lamented individual were still in the mesh to take cognizance of her adopted son's sebolastic attainments.
"Bedad, Mike, if you go on so," said Paul, "you'll soon know as much as I do myself, an' more, too, maybe—then you'll leave off sellin' papers, Mike, and you'll go to a trade, or some business, and then you'll get on from less to more till
you'd be — oh, dear me! don't know what I'd wish you to be!"
Mike laughed. " Maybe a President, or a Judge. "
"Not so high as that," said Paul with a shake of his massive head, "but sure my wishin' won't make you one thing or the other. God grant you grace to live and die a good Christian, anyhow! — if you're that there's no fear but you'll do well in every way. Sit over now, Mike, and take your tea."
The next evening Bessy was down to Ned Finigan's to ask it it was true about Mary's marriage. She had heard a flying report of it, but could hardly believe it possible, so she thought she would ask leave of Mrs. Hibbard to go out for an hour or so till she'd see how it was. She found Mrs Murphy up stairs with Ally, the two of them crying as if some one belonging to them was lying dead before their eyes. The sight of Bessy renewed their grief, and Bessy saw at a glance that the news was only too true.
"Oh Bessy! Bessy!" cried the mother clapping her hands in a fresh burst of sorrow, "hadn't we the hard, hard fortune to come to America? Astore machree! did you hear what came on us?"
"Indeed I did," Bessy replied, "but I couldn't let it in on me at all that there was any truth in it. I declare, Mrs. Murphy, I'd as soon hear of Mary's death in a manner."
"Her death!" repeated Ally in high disdain, "her death! oh! if it was only her death that troubled us we'd soon get over that — by the time the grass was green over her, we'd be gettin' reconciled to our loss — but now — oh Bessy! you know as well as any of us the shame and disgrace she has brought on us all — what we'll never get over — never — never!" and throwing her black apron over her face Ally broke out again into a hysterical fit of crying and sobbing.
Bessy did her best to console the disconsolate pair but her efforts had little success. "Even time itself," the mother said, "couldn't wear that sorrow away. Oh dear! oh dear!
Luky Mulligan the ragman! a fellow that at home darn't look the side of the road Mary Murphy would walk . Och ! och ! if he was honest or dacent, or had a good name, sure rags an' all, try'd try to make the best of it, but the greatest scamp in the seven parishes — an' comin' from a bad breed into the bargain — arrah Bessy Conway! what'll we do, at all? what'll the neighbors say at home when they hear it? — God help us! what can they say?"
"But, my goodness, Mrs Murphy!" said Bessy earnestly, "how in the world did Mary fall in with him, of all people?"
"At the dances dear!" the mother replied with angry emphasis, "at them rascally shin.digs, if its that they call them — I'm thinkin' it's devil digs they ought to call then, in place of shin.digs. Oh Bessy! achorra machree! if any unlucky villain had only kept away from such places, as you and every other sensible girl does, it isn't this way it would be with us now. My curse an' the curse of God be about them for dances, for it's them that has left me a heartbroken poor woman this blessed night!"
"If curses would put a stop to gatherings like them, mother," said Ally, "there wouldn't be many of them goin' on, for there's many a mother an' father, too, gets heavier sorrow and disgrace by them than you've got — and it's bad enough, God knows! Oh the villain of the world! couldn't she have dancin' enough here with ourselves where there was no strangers — but that wasn't low enough — we hadn't any Luke Mulligans here! well ! well! God look on us all, anyway!"
Bessy was just thinking what she could say by way of consoling her friends, when a tap came to the door, and in answer to Ally's "Come in!" Henry Herbert made his appearance. There was a flush on his cheek that was not natural, and a glassy look in his eyes that Bessy, at least, had never seen there before, and she shrank back in alarm she could hardly have told why.
Herbert did not notice her at first but addressed himself at once to Mrs. Finigan.
"I heard you were in great trouble, Mrs. Finigan, about your sister's marriage, so I thought I would just step up stairs to offer my sincere condolence. Perhaps — perhaps it may not turn out quite so bad after all. Luky Mulligan is not a bad sort of fellow — I knew him at home when he was no bigger than the table. He used to hang about our stable-door, helping the groom of an odd time, and picking up scraps about the kitchen that kept the life in him. Ha ! ha ! ha a many a good kick I administered to Luky's posterior when he made bold to turn his tongue on me. That was before he took to the rags, you know!" And again he laughed with that maudlin glee whose origin can never be mistaken.
Bridget found it hard to keep her tongue off Herbert. She could tell him things, if she chose to speak, that would pull him down a peg, for there was something in his manner that, coupled with his words, showed his intentions to be anything but friendly. She looked at Ally, as much as to say: "Will I tell him his own or note" but Ally made a gesture enjoining silence, and after clearing her throat she spoke herself:
"We don't want any one to tell us, Mr. Herbert, what Luky Mulligan is — if Mary Murphy was mean enough to marry him, we didn't, an' it's only herself that has to do with him. You must think very little of Ned an' the rest of us, sir, when you'd even it to us to be on terms with Luky Finigan."
Herbert laughed, or rather chuckled. "Oh! very well, Mistress Ned Finigan! I see there is no room for my interference. I thought to serve you all by effecting a general reconciliation, which, of course, would be for your own interest, seeing that honest Luky is in the family now, and if you snuff up your noses till you snuff them off, it won't put him out of it."
"I'd thank you, Mr. Herbert !" said Ally making another sign to her mother, whose anger she saw was about boiling over, "I'd thank you not to mention the fellow's name in our hearing! It's no credit to your father's son to have anything to say to such vagabonds — "
"Take care Mistress Finigan! take care! if you throw dirt on your respectable brother.in.law some of it will fall on yourself. Be wise in time, ma'am — "
"Take care you, Master Henry Herbert!" said Mrs. Murphy, provoked beyond endurance, and, rising slowly from her seat, she stood before the astonished young man with a look like that of an ancient Pythoness when about to deliver the oracular decision: "Take care you, an' don't make Bridget Murphy speak. We know you" — and she raised the fore.finger of her right hand with a warning gesture — "we know yourself an' you father, too — an' you'd best keep a civil tongue in your head when we're to the fore. Do you mind what I'm sayin' to you, now?"
Herbert was awed in spite of himself by the old woman's solemnity, and his bold eye fell before the fiery look that she fixed upon him. He muttered something about minding his own business for the time to come, and was turning away to leave the room when he caught sight of Bessy where she had retreated to the farther end of the room. Forgetting all about Luliy Mulligan, he went up to her and made to take her hand.
"Why, Bessy, are you here? — how did I happen to overlook the blooming rose of Ardfinnan? — what! you won't shake hands with me?"
"I'd be obliged to you not to make so free, Mr. Herbert!" said Bessy, her cheek crimson with anger. "Ha! ha! that's good," and Herbert laughed in a scoffing way that annoyed Bessy still more; "little Bossy puttmg on airs — copying after the Murphy family, upon my honor! Won't you give me your hand!"
"No, sir, I will not!" said Bessy with becomhlg spirit; "I don't want anything at all to do with you!"
"You don't, eh I" in an incredulous tone.
"No, I don't, sir!" said Bessy with unmistakeable sincerity, "believe my word, I don't!" And turning away coldly she asked Mrs. Finigan if she was going down stairs.
"Yes, Ally was going down, and so was her mother. "In that case I may go, too," said Herbert with a forced laugh. He was both grieved and mortified by the change in Bessy's manner, a change which, half drunk as he was, he was at no loss to understand.
"If you'll go first, then, Mr. Herbert!" said Ally in as civil tone as she could command. "It wouldn't be mannerly to leave you here after us."
"Bessy!" said Herbert with a strong effort to speak calmly, "Bessy! I have just a word to say, if you'll stop one minute."
"Not one word I'll hear, Mr. Herbert!" said Bessy with unusual vehemence, and she darted to the door as if anxious to escape the very sound of his voice; "I tell you I've nothing at all to do with you!" And before he could make any further effort to detain her, she was down stairs. Bidding Ned a hasty "good night" as she passed out, she hurried to put a safe distance between herself and Herbert.
"When it comes to that with him," said she to herself as she stepped lightly along Prince street to take the omnibus in the Bowery, "when it's come to that with him so soon, how will it be hereafter!" Thank God! oh! thank God I happened to see him!"
"That little cousin of yours has grown very saucy since she came to New York," said Herbert to Ned Finigan with the easy familiarity of their present intercourse, and he threw himself on a seat behind the bar.
Ned was a little surprised at first, but a moment's reflection and a glance at llerbert's face gave him to understand how the matter stood, and he laughed in his sleeve as he replied good-humoredly:
"I'm afraid, Mister Herbert, New York spoils many a one as well as Bessy."
"That's true," said Herbert, with apparent carelessness, "for there are your wife and mother.in.law up stairs, who
have been rating me like a pair of troopers — only the regard I have for yourself, Ned, I'd swear against ever crossing your threshold again. "
"Hut, tut, Mr. Herbert!" said Ned evasively, "you have more sense than to mind what the likes of theen say. I suppose it's makin' fun they were, an' yon took it in earnest— that's all!"
"It may be so, Ned, it may be so! nolla! Dixon! is that you, old fellow?" And starting up he hurried to the door while he had caught a glimpse of his worthy companion making signs for him to go out.
When Bessy reached home that evening, sorely troubled in ulind, she found Fanny with a most ungracious aspect, sewing in the kitchen.
"What's kept you?" she said in answer to Bessy's salutation. "I wonder at you to stay out so late."
"Why, it's only a quarter past nine," said Bessy as cheerfully as she could; "you don't call that late, do you?"
"It's late enough, and too late for a respectable female to be out alone. What do you think Mls. Hibbard's been a.doing "'
"I'm sure I don't know," said Bessy, taking off her bonnet and shawl.
"Why, she's been and given me a tablecloth to him, and I hurrying so with my own dress."
"Well! what of that? haven't you dresses enough for Sunday?"
"I know I have," Fanny replied with increasing petulance, "but that an't any reason why Mrs. Hibbard should ask me to do any sewing for her . I tell you it an t right."
"What did you say to Mrs. Hibbard when she asked you to do it?"
"Well! I just told her that I didn't engage to sewing for her, and didn't want to do it. I said that I didn't wish to refuse but that I'd rather not do any more. She said I had a
right to do it as it was for the servant's table, but I said, says I, that don't make any difference, Mrs. Hibbard! it an't my business and I shan't do it! I know my duty and I'm willing to do what's right, but nothing more!"
Fanny always enunciated her words most distinctly, bringing out every syllable with marked emphasis. Everything she said, therefore, was spoken in a decided and somewhat dictatorial tone that was anything but agreeable to the ear, and did not at all connport with the Christian humility so constantly professed by Fanny.
"Another thing I told Mrs. Hibbard," she went on, "that I shan't wash any more for that old nigger. I an't accustomed to do such washing, and I'm determined not to do it."
"Tell, but, Fanny!" said Bessy, in her most persuasive tone, "poor Wash has always had his washing done in the house, and cross as Bridget was I never heard her object to it."
"I don't care what any one objects to," said Fanny loftily. "Nobody can teach me what is right or what is wrong — thank God! I know my duty, and I'm willing to do it at all times, but I didn't engage to wash for that old darkey, and I shan't do it."
Bessy smiled. She was just thinking: "There it is over again," but she took care to keep her thoughts to herself, knowing the truth of the old proverb: "It's ill playing with edged tools."
Still she thought she would venture another word of expostulation.
"But don't you know it's a charity, even, to wash the poor old man's clothes? He has no one to do it for him, and he couldn't very well afford to be paying out for it."
"Dear me! but we're charitable!" said Fanny with a toss of her head. "I guess I know what charity is, and I an't afraid but I'm doing my share of it. A girl that pays to three or four Confraternities out of her month's wages is surely not behind others in charity."
"Well! that's true enough, Fanny," said Bessy feelingly; "I know it's a good deal for you to do, and I hope God will reward you and every one else that helps to keep up the Confraternities, for, sure we all know what good they do, — but still my notion is, that it's just as much charity to do our old man's washing, and help to keep him clean and comfortable. Even if Mrs. Hibbard wishes it done, I think one will have their reward for doing it, as they would for any other act of charity, if they only do it with good will."
"That may be your notion, but it an't mine," Fanny replied in her authoritative way; "I'd rather do charity in some other way than washing for that old Wash."
"Oh! very well!" said Bessy, as she left the kitchen; "you can settle that with Mrs. Hibbard."
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