In the Public Sphere.
Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.CHAPTER XVI.
When Bessy succeeded at last in having Onny once more for a comrade she thought herself about as happy as she could be, away from home. She had a good place, a mistress whom she loved almost as well as Mrs. Walters, with the great advantage of being of her own religion, and Onny for her companion. She was happy, and her life flowed on tranquility and smoothly in the cheerful performance of every duty. She heard again from home --- all was well there, too, and it seemed to Bessy that she had hardly anything to wish for. Her funds in the Savings Bank were steadily increasing, and the world was going well with her --- so well, indeed, that a secret fear was knocking at her heart, for she said to herself that such peace and contentment are not the lot of Christians here below.
Herbert she had not seen since she went to Mrs. Delany's, and she began to hope that something else had attracted his attention, and he might possibly trouble her no more. Ever since she saw him at Ned Finigan's she had carefully avoided going there, and the Finigans, at a loss for the reason of her absence, were so offended that they never went to see what it meant, so that all intercourse between them had ceased.
Month rolled by after month, and finally glided into years --- three had already passed since Bessy came to America, and somewhat over two since the CASTLE INN first "caught the passing eye" in Prince street. And how had it fared ever since with the master and mistress of the Castle? We shall see.
It was a warm sultry evening in the middle of August, and Ned Finigan was sitting in an armed chair behind the bar looking so unlike himself that no one could have recognized him for the same man who helped to keep the steerage passcngers of the Garrick alive on his way out. Dull and heavy and stolid he sat there with that drunken gravity of countenance characteristic of the hardened, inveterate drunkard. If Ned was large and somewhat bulky before, he was now unwieldy and a burden to himself. The fine manly, athletic fellow, whose Herculean proportions excited the admiration of all who saw him had changed in those few short years into that cumbrous load of blubber --- the hale, fresh, good-humored face was no longer what it had been --- broad and coarse and covered with a sort of purple hue, its unsightliness was further increased by sundry blotches and carbuncles, and the eyes, once bright and twinkling with good humor, were now dull and unmeaning, protruding far beyond their sockets. An altered man was Ned Finigan, and an altered woman, too, was his wife. What Ned had gained in flesh, Ally had lost. All that hearty plumpness that poor Ally brought with her flom the healthful plains of Tipperary had gone, leaving nothing behind but skin and bone and a fretted-looking worn consternation over which fifteen years, instead of three or four, would seem to have passed. Her dress was still good as far as material went, but there was a neglected, untidy look about everything on her that contrasted painfully with the neat, tidy "round-about'' little woman that Ally used to be. The lines of care were deeply indented on her shrunken features, and her dapper little form was bent with trouble and anxiety, if not with years. Surely things were not going as well with the Finigans as they did in days gone by. Whether wealth had been flowing into their coffers or not, they were far from being either happy or prosperous. That was plain.
And who were the two snobbish-looking fellows that entered the bar-room, arm in arm, that dull summer evening,
just as the day was fading into night? Why, one of them, to be sure, was Dandy Dixon, and the other Henry Herbert. There was not much change in either of them as to outward appearance. Dixon was still the swaggering "swell," combed and moustached as carefully as ever, with his small hat resting on the top of his frizzled locks as jauntily as could be. Herbert was still the same handsome, reckless-looking fellow, as well dressed as usual, but dissipated-looking withal; his cheek habitually flushed, and his eye habitually restless and unsteady. His habits had not been improving --- that also was plain. He and his worthy companion had been laughing obstreperously as they entered, but seeing Mrs. Finigan behind the bar with Ned, Herbert winked at the other, and coughed significantly. Nods being duly exchanged, Herbert said in his frank way:
"Good evening, Ned; what's the matter that you look so grave? Thinking of the great Repeal demonstrations at home, eh?"
"Well, no --- I wasn't thinking of anything --- in particular" ---
" You wasn't, eh? Well, anyhow, send us in three stiff brandy-and-waters — two for us and one for you, and come along in to take it --- cigars, you know, in quantity."
"Deed and he'll not, then, Mr Herbert," put in Ally, sharply; "not a drop of it he'll taste this bout, anyhow."
Herbert laughed, and Dixon smiled superciliously.
"What! little Mrs. Finigan mounting guard! --- putting on the inexpressibles!" roared Herbert. "Well, if that isn't rich!"
"Laugh as much as you like," said Ally, "it'll not do me any harm."
Ned said nothing, but kept on mixing the liquor according to order. When the three glasses stood ready on the waiter, flanked with a bunch of cigars, he ordered Ally to let him pass.
"Not a foot you'll pass here, Ned; I tell you that now!"
said the little woman with a most warlike air, and placing her arms akimbo, so as to increase her breadth. "Sit down there, and I'll send in the two glasses for the gentlemen."
"Nonsense, woman!" grunted Ned; "get out of the way with your foolery!" and he tried to shove her aside, but did not succeed.
"You may just as well sit down," said Ally, with a most determined air; "you have taken enough for this day. Give me that salver till I send it in."
Roused from his torpor by the mocking laughter of Dixon and Herbert, and the good-natured raillery of one or two others who chanced to be present, Ned raised his foot and gave poor Ally a kick that sent her far enough out of his way, and in he marched with the air of a conqueror, followed by the two worthy associates.
"Well," said Ally, raising her tearful eyes, "it's good there's a God in Heaven to see all this; if there wasn't what 'id become of the likes of me?" And smothering her tears she went on with her work, she was helping her girl to wash glasses.
"I don't see for the life of me, Ned," said Herbert, "what's got into your wife's head of late; she seems to have lost all the manners she ever had. Isn't it so, Dixon?"
"Quite so — dem it, quite so!" chimed in the submissive echo," can't get to the bottom of Mrs. Finigan's --- hem --- ha --- shall I say --- impudence?"
"Don't say impudence, Mr. Dixon! don't, if you please!" said Ned stupidly, "my little woman isn't impudent --- never was, sir --- but you see, women haven't the same notions as we have about things, and Ally has taken it into her head that I take --- ahem! --- that I take a little more than I ought by times. That's the whole truth, now, and you needn't take it to yourself, at all, Mister Herbert! nor Mister Dixon, neither. Ally thinks a power of you both, gentlemen, but --- but --- "
"Much obliged to her," said Herbert drily, " I'm bound to say, if she does, she takes a confounded queer way of showing it. No matter, we're your friends, Ned! and as long as the Castle keeps above ground or you on your legs we'll stand to both. Won't we, Dixon?"
"Undoubtedly we will," said Dixon absently.
"I'm entirely obliged to you, gentlemen, for your good wish," said Ned, "and especially Mister Herbert there in regard to the little grudge that was between us on account of that colleen, Bessy. "
"Oh! don't mention it, don't mention it!" said Herbert, magnanimously, but his color rose very high, "It's all passed now, you know, and r don't go in for ripping up old sores. Let us have another round, or rather a bottle of that same brandy! I want to hear the long.promised story of that plucky butcher, your illustrious ancestor, Ned, who kept Cromwell on the wrong side of Ardfinnan."
Ned desired nothing better, and he hurried away to get in the delectable beverage which was to season his narration of Jerry Fahey's valorous exploit. It might have been well for him if the significant nods and winks exchanged between the two he left had come under his observation, or if Ally's renewed expostulation had been attended to --- but neither was the case. Herbert and his associate took good care that their stupified host did not see what was passing between them, and Ned only gave Ally an ill.served answer for her pains, then took his way back to the inner room where his company awaited him and the bottle.
"Ned!" said Herbert, as mine host set the bottle on the table, "what has become of your lordly friend, Paul Brannigan? I haven't set eyes on him in an age."
"Well! he doesn't come here as often as he used," said Ned, "somebody told me he wasn't in the best of health these last days."
"Perhaps he has gone the way of all flesh --- eh, Ned?" This was by way of a joke, but it came harsh and bitter from the
heart. "Likely his sable majesty thinks he has served him long enough here, and wants his company down below. Ha! ha! ha!"
"Ha! h! ha!" echoed Dixon; "he's rather a queer customer, that hunchback! --- he's got an eye like a rattlesnake! --- quite fascinating, by Jupiter!"
"Well! Mister Herbert," said Ned in his dull, stolid way, "there's many a man makes a great show in the world that doesn't do so much good as the same Paul. You don't know him, sir, or you wouldn't name himself and the Old Fellow in the same breath."
"I know him like a book!" said Herbert gloomily and musingly; suddenly starting, he struck the table with his fist: "I'll tell you what it is, Ned!" he said vehemently, "I think that misshapen, misbegotten imp has an eye on your pretty cousin, Bessy Conway!"
This was turning the tables with a vengeance, and Ned, fuddled as he was, laughed long and loud at the droll idea. "Well! Master Henry," said he, "sure enough you beat the world for fun!"
"If you take that for fun you're much mistaken," Herbert gravely returned, "I never was more in earnest, I give you my word!"
"If I thought as you do," said Dixon, reaching over to light his cigar at Herbert's, "I would certainly treat the fellow to a cold bath some of these warm days to bring him back to his senses."
Little thought any of the trio who were making so merry at Paul's expense that Paul was part of the time within earshot of their discourse. It so happened, that evening, that the little man had strolled up the Bowery after his supper, and finding himself, before he was aware, as far as Prince street, he thought he would just drop in to see the Finigans. He found Ally with her eyes red and swollen, and her face more flushed than he had ever seen it. There were several persons in the
bar-room, and yet Ally could not restrain herself, but the moment she saw Paul her tears burst out anew, and she reached him her hand with a gush of feeling that astonished him.
"Bless my soul! what's this at all, Mrs. Finigan? Has anything happened Ned?"
"Nothing new, Paul! nothing new," sobbed out Ally, lowering her voice to a whisper so as to reach only the ear for which it was meant; "he's at his old trade again worse than ever. He's ruining himself as fast as he can, and there's no earthly use talking to him God help me! I don't know what to do!"
"Does Herbert frequent the house still!"
"Oh! then, indeed, he does, to our sad misfortune He has him in now himself and that big fellow, Dixon. Whatever delight they take in his company, they can't want him when they're here, if it's true to themselves."
"Could you put me anywhere near without they seein' me, Mrs. Finigan? I'd like to hear what's goin' on among them, just for a reason I have." And he nodded significantly at Ally, who, after looking him steadily in the face for a moment, opened the door of the little room adjoining the larger one, and, pointing to a small window high in the partition.wall, she placed a chair under it and whispered: "It's an inch or so open, Paul. God bless you ! and keep a watch on them, for they're up to something that's not for our good! — my trust is in you next to God himself!"
It so happened that there were no others in the room (a thing rather unusual at that hour), so the three talked without much restraint, naturally supposing themselves free from observation.
The conversation was at first desultory and with little interest for Paul. It was the ordinary "table talk" of the tavern, nothing more, nothing less, and our friend breathed many a fretful ejaculation of disappointment, for such scenes were not to his liking, and he never willingly put himself in the way
of seeing them. All at once, however, his attention was excited. Herbert laid his arm on the table, and leaning over towards Ned asked, in the most confidential way possible:
"Now do tell me, Ned! like a good, honest fellow as you are, has this business answered your expectations!"
"Well! I'll just tell you how that is, Mister Herbert!" said Ned, with a desperate effort to make his words intelligible, "I think it has --- Ally thinks it hasn't. There's no doubt but we have made money," and he set his head a little to one side and closed one eye knowingly --- " we have made money, and, you know, Mr. Herbert, that's the main thing — Money makes the mare go, as my old uncle Terence used to say --- he had a nice penny of his own, too, for he was a pigjobber, sir, and used to go to Liverpool once a fortnight or so, and, sure enough, he could pick up money like slate stones. "
"But about yourself and the Castle, Nedq You say you have made money—what more did you want?"
"It isn't me that's dissatisfied, sir! it's Ally --- she thinks --- she thinks . . . "
"Come, out with it, man! --- let us hear what she thinks! --- we're curious to know."
"Why, she thinks the business doesn't agree with me — ha! ha! ha! —s he's a mighty careful woman, you see, and thinks people ought to live by rule, and a man be as steady as a judge every day of his life. There's no come or go in Ally, Mister Herbert! --- she's a tight little screw, and nothing else. "
"Pooh! pooh! can't you screw her out a bit? Coax her a little, and oil her occasionally." He pointed significantly to his glass.
"It wouldn't do, sir, it wouldn't do," and Ned shook his head emphatically; "she doesn't touch it at all. She'd be afeard of gettin' fat like me --- ha! ha! ha! --- and, I protest she's tearin' the flesh off my bones on account of that same fat. She says I'm a burden to myself and every one else. By the
(322) laws! she's not far wrong in that!" he added, parenthetically. "What do you think's the cause of it, Mister Herbert?"
Herbert and Dixon exchanged looks, and the latter drew his hand over his face affectedly, in order to conceal the smile that would come. Herbert tried hard to preserve his gravity as he hastened to answer:
"Well! it's something new to hear a man complain of being in good condition. Isn't it a sign you live well, and haven't to work hard --- that you lead a gentleman's life, in fact?"
"Of course," subjoined Dixon, " of course. If our friend c ould only get up a good smart fit of the gout, he would pass for a born gentleman. Ha! ha ! ha!"
"He! he! he!" chuckled Ned, "I wish you could hear our Ally sometimes --- why, it was only yesterday she told me if I didn't leave off drinking, the devil would carry me off body end bones some day. Christ save us! what's that?" he cried suddenly, fixing his great staring eyes on the little window, opposite to which he was sitting.
Herbert and Dixon started up in alarm, and following the direction of Ned's eyes, glanced up at the window. Nothing was there but the white curtain.
" What the d --- I did you see?" cried Herbert angrily.
" It was just himself --- Ally was right --- oh Lord have mercy on me !"
His eyes were still fixed on the window and his words were to himself — he seemed to forget that others were present.
"The confounded fellow has lost his wits, I believe!" said Herbert to his companion; "let's see if we can't pound them into him again." So saying he struck Ned a smart thump over the shoulder. "Stir up, man! stir up! what did you see?"
" I saw the devil — he opened that window a little bit and, thrust in such a face — with a pair of eyes, Lord save us! blazing like two coals of fire!"
"Stuff!" said Herbert contemptuously. "It's the brandy getting to your head."
"I tell you," said Ned, doggedly," I save the face up there as plain as I see yours now."
"We'll soon see whether you did or not," said Herbert, and darting to the door between the rooms, he threw it open. The flood of light from the larger room pouring into the smaller, revealed every part of it with sufflcient distinctness, but no living thing was there. The window was closeds but the door was a little a.jar, which, of course, was nothing remarkable, so if Ned was quizzed unmercifully by Herbert and his friend about the visit he had had from " Old Harry," and the two laughed till their sides ached at his woe-begone expression of countenance.
Ned was quite sobered by the fright, and seeing the two worthies about to beat a retreat, he earnestly besought them not to tell Ally what had occurred.
"If you do," said he, "I'll never hear the last of it --- you see it would give her the whip.handle, and maybe she wouldn't make me smoke."
"Pooh, man ! what of her raillery!" said Herbert, with a strange gloomy look, " she wouldn't ride you on a rail, would she?"
Before Ned could ask what he meant by that, Herbert had left the room, followed closely by Dixon.
" You'd better see to that man of yours," said they to Ally, as they passed; "it isn't well to leave him alone; he has frightened us away ."
"The Lord between us and harm!" cried Ally, running in breathless, "what's the matter with you, Ned, honey?"
"What do you see wrong with me?" said Ned, gruffly, "I m just goin' out to the bar --- is there many there?"
The forced calmness of Ned's tone, and the ashy paleness of his face were both plain to Ally's eye, but seeing that he avoided her scrutiny, she deemed it unwise to press him. So they went back together to their business, and although each was occupied by painful thoughts, perhaps dark forebodings,
there was no confidence subsisting between them, and neither gave the other a hint of what was passing in their minds.
That same evening, whilst Herbert was working his evil spell on Ned Finigan, Bessy Conway was sitting alone in the kitchen --- Onny having gone out to make some purchases --- when a knock came to the basement door, and on going to open it, she saw a tall, emaciated woman, with a wretched-looking infant in her arms, and one a couple of years older clinging to her skirt.
"I want a little help," said the woman, somewhat imperatively, and whether it was the voice or the manner of speaking Bessy started, it seemed so familiar. She tried to catch a glimpse of the features, but the woman drew back into the shade and in a lower tone, renewed her request for some assistance
"My husband broke his leg three weeks ago, and is gone to hospital, said she, "and I can't leave these young ones to go to work, so we ha'nt got a thing in the house."
"God help you, poor woman!" said Bessy compassionately, "I'll go and see if there's anything for you. "
She returned in a few moments with a large slice of bread and some cold meat. The moment the child saw it she clapped her tiny hands and laughed:
"Ha! ha! mother, I guess we shunt give father any --- shall we? he's so drunk, you know, he can't eat --- can he?"
"Shut up !" said the mother angrily, and the word was hardly out of her head when Bessy darted forward and looked up in her face.
"The Lord in heaven save us ! is it you, Sally?"
"I guess you're under a mistake," said the pauper.woman sharply, "my name a'nt Sally. Come along, you young 'un!" and seizing the child by the arm she shook it fiercely, then dragged it up the area steps crying piteously.
Bessy stood a moment looking after the miserable group, wondering could it be Sally she had seen, or was it but an
optical delusion. That moment's thought convinced her that her eyes had not deceived her. The figure, the face --- altered as it was --- the voice --- the manner --- all were the same, and doubt once dispelled, Bessy's next impulse was to go up the steps and see whether the woman was still in sight. The night was dark and cloudy, but the light of the lamp revealed her long, lank figure moving rapidly along, dragging the still squalling child by the hand. She had not reached the second lamp.post when a miserable tatterdemalion of a man approached her, and Bessy could hear distinctly the voice of the child as it clung in terror to its wretched parent, crying in piteous accents:
" Oh! daddy! don't beat mammy! She ha'nt got noting --- noting at all!"
It was easy to understand this heart.moving scene, and Bessy did understand it, and as the light of the lamp fell full on the man's face she was at no loss to recognize the knight of the black moustache, the veritable Jim, for whose sweet company and the matrimonial expectations following therefrom Sally had told so many lies, spent so much money, and finaliy, lost the best place she ever had.
Bessy had seen and heard enough. She could easily imagine the altercation between such a couple in such circumstances --- the wretched, profligate husband watching the squalid partner of his misery as she made her dreary rounds in quest of food for herself and her starving little ones --- watching her with the hope that some charitable hand would give her a few pence which he might possibly succeed in obtaining from her either by threats or persuasion, to supply his insatiable maw with the vile stuff for which alone he lived. Oh! it was horrible! horrible! and Bessy was only too glad to escape back into the comfortable kitchen where vice or depravity dared not enter.
"So that is the end, thought she, of all Sally's dancing and visiting and dressing up, and lying and scheming! --- how often
I have seen her mimicking others, even those she was bound to respect --- what a sight she is now herself ! --- she wouldn't bear a word, or let any one say she did wrong, but she'd fdy at them like a wasp --- now she has to put up with everything and ask her bit from door to door, in misery and dirt and rags, with her drunken brute of a husband watching to take what she begs for herself and her children! Well! sure enough, that s a warning to me and every one like me! And when I think of how comfortable and happy that girl might be, if it wasn't her own fault! Still, it's a pity of her, and I hope she'll come round this way again, for I'd like to do what I could to help her?'
But Sally never came that way again, and when weeks and months passed and she came no more, Bessy almost persuaded herself that the dismal scene of that night was, after all, but a dream It was not a dream, unfortunately, for Sally. She had married her favorite Jim, and found, when too late, that Jim had a decided aversion for anything in the shape of work. As for taking a drop, well! that was his weakness, and she didn't mind --- not she. She'd never grumble if Jim took a drop, and a good drop, too, if he'd only keep the pot boiling brown for her, and supply her with a certain portion of those edibles commonly called bread and butter. But that would involve the necessity of work, which being opposed to Jim's principles, was altogether out of the question. So, under one pretense or another, Jim managed to evade the common law of labor, and throw the burden on Sally's shoulders. One of them had to work, that was certain, and although Sally had no great taste for work any more than Jim, hunger soon drove her to it. Bard words and soft words, scolding and wheedling were alike thrown away on Jim, he never could be got to work more than one day at a time, and that at intervals lengthening as time rolled on. At first he would go on a spree once a week or so, lounging meanwhile about home --- i. e, a very, very small back room on the fourth story of a tenement.house. After
awhile the spree extended itself gradually from day to day till it swallowed up the week, and finally Jim's whole life was one continued spree, and he became the hardened, hopeless, incurable drunkard we have seen him.
It may well be supposed that Sally's natural acerbity of temper was not sweetened any by her miserable marriage. To say the truth, if she had to work for herself and Jim she made the shabby fellow pay as well for it. She kept scolding him from morning till night, and from night till morning, but as Jim used to say to his confidential friends, it was throwing water on a drowned rnouse, and "as good luck would have it, Sally's tongue didn't blister." Such being the case, he gave her a wide berth, and seldom made her an answer, for Jim was peaceably disposed, and his drunkenness was usually of the stupid kind, rather than the wild or stormy. It was only when a brace of squalling children took up a portion of Sally's time, and sickness came upon herself and them, so that she could no longer work as she had done, that Jim's aberrations assumed a savage form, and the demon of selfishness cleared his heart of human pity and natural affection.
The sight of Bessy that night was like a barbed arrow planted in Sally's wretched heart. It tore open again the bleeding wounds half healed by custom, and seared into callous indifference. It reminded her of what she once was, and what she might have been --- of the good example and the good advice by which she never profited --- of all she had lost, and of all she had sacrificed for the worthless wretch whose specious promises had lured her on to ruin. With her brain all on fire, she was tottering down the street, with the one confused aim of getting away from Bessy, when Jim, as we have seen, popped out unexpectedly from the shade of a projecting arch. To his harsh demand for money she gave a flat denial, accompanied by some epithet true enough in its application, but not very complimentary. That and his disappointment so exasperated Jim that he first applied his foot and gave her a kick
which almost threw her to the ground, then, before she recovered her balance, followed it up with a blow that would certainly have left its mark had it reached its destination. But the uplifted arm was caught by an M. P. passing at the moment, and the valorous Jim was hauled away to the lodging provided by the State for such contumacious lieges.
The elder child renewed its cries on seeing its father so roughly handled, but Sally, absorbed in her own misery, paid little attention to one or the other. Jim's brutal assault coming at such a moment, completely paralyzed her. She succeeded in reaching her dreary abode, and lay down on a bed of sickness from which she never rose. Some charitable neighbors representing her hard case to the proper authorities, obtained her admission to one of the hospitals, where a few days closed her earthly career. She died in a state of delirium, without priest or sacrament, and her two little children, deprived of their natural protectors, were of course adopted by those benevolent individuals who make merchandize of the souls of men.
It was not for years after that this sad denouement of Sally's fate came to the knowledge of Bessy Conway, and when it did, all that remained for her to do was to breathe a prayer for her her, and drop a tear to her unhonored memory.
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