Illustration added by editor of this hypertext edition.
Photograph : Katie, Hannah and Mary, Irish domestic servants circa 1896.

Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America


Page 62

Six or eight weeks had passed away since the Garrick landed her passengers on the quay of New York. Of the hundreds who had crossed the great sea within her "wooden walls" very few remained together. Scattered abroad over the face of the country they were lost sight of amid the surging waves of the population. Mrs. Walters was spending the winter with a friend in New York, whose house was located in the then fashionable Seventh Ward, somewhere about Madison street. The captain was, of course, gone back with the Garrick, and Bessy's duties, light in themselves, were made lighter still by the gentleness and goodness of her mistress. The lady of the house was a widow in good circumstances, with a large family, and there were three girls to do the work besides Betsy. There was also a colored man-servant who acted in the capacity of coachman, a groom was wholly unnecessary, as Mrs. Hibbard's horses boarded out, and her carriage, too, was kept at the Livery Stable. Altogether, it seemed a pleasant house to live in, and Bessy fancied she was going to find herself very comfortable and very much at home. Her comrade-girls, as she called them, welcomed her kindly, and cheered her heart with the assurance that they were all Irish and ever so glad to see her.


Only a few blocks from where Bessy lived, a little way up in Catherine street, there was a small shoe store kept by one Michael Dooley, who had some five or six hands constantly at work in a little room behind the store. Amongst these mightbe seen our friend, Paul Brannigan, plying the awl from morn till night, and after night, too, for it was the dull dark month of November. But Paul never tired of his work, and many a night he remained at it after hours when most of the others had gone home. What was the thought that made Paul's work so light to him, and kept him cheerful and contented and full of fun, as he sat hour after hour in that dark little shop? It vvas the thought that his labor was keeping the life in old Dolly Sheehan, and providing a shelter for her helpless ago. They had a little room to themselves in a tenement-house in Oliver street hard by, and the old woman was doing her best to keep Paul from feeling the want of a younger and more active housekeeper. Ever since she recovered from the first dreadful shock she seemed to attach herself wholly to Paul as the only person who had known Philip, and could speak to her of him. It was strange, however, that she never inquired as to the particulars of his death. She would talk of him for hours if Paul could only listen, retracing every circumstance connected with his early days, and dwellin g with a mother's fondness on all his good qualities Then she would ask Paul to tell her how Philip looked, what clothes he used to wear, and all Puch minute particulars concerning him, that the hunchback was sometimes puzzled how to answer her Yet with all this, she never once put a question relating to his death. She saw that Paul avoided that part of the subject, and so did she, too, so that by a sort of tacit agreement, it was never alluded to in any way. This was a great relief to Paul's mind, for he had an idea that if the old woman knew how her son died it would certainly be the death of her. Many a time he said within himself "Now, in case she did question me about it, and wouldn't be satisfled unless I told her, how on earth could I bring myself to do it? how could I tell her that her one son, the pulse of her heart, perished in the flames when the boat he was waiter in was burned on the Big Lakes. Now, Paul Brannigan, do you think you could tell her that? No,


indeed, nor the deuce a word of it. It's bad enough as it is, but that 'id be worse than all. Well! at any rate if she did come too hard on me, I'd get Father Daly to tell her, an' she'd take it better from him than from me or anybody else."

Father Daly was staying for the present at the house of a college friend who was pastor of one of the city churches. When he presented himself to the bishop immediately after his arrival, the prelate was much prepossessed in his favor and promised to place him in the first vacancy that offered. lie took a lively interest in the affairs of the acquaintances he had made on board the Garrick, but the dwarf and old Dolly were the special objects of his charitable solicitude. The heroic devotion with which Paul attached himself to the lone old woman whom he had, as it were, adopted as a mother, could not fail to inspire so good a priest with sentiments of respect for the lithe man. Accordingly he did hold him in high esteem, and took pleasure in drawing him out of the crusty shell of reserve which often grows over such natures under the keen sense of deformity.

Peery Murphy and his two sons after sundry disappointments and delays were at length all employed in one way or another, and Mary had got a situation as housemaid in a respectable family somewhere in Houston street. Mary's looks were much in her favor, and there was a certain air of smartness about her and also of neatness that made her a very promising servant. And the little damsel seemed fully aware of her personal advantages, judging by the self-sufflcient smile that was generally seen on her pretty face. There was only another girl in the house where Mary lived, a staid elderly person who acted as cook and laundress. She was an American by birth and also by parentage, as she often boasted, and a Protestant, moreover, yet a very good girl in her way and dir posed to do her duty as far as she knew it. Rebecca, or Becky as she was generally called, took quite an interest in tho young Irish girl "just come out," and seeing that she was


naturally smart and intelligent, had great hopes of her doing well

Ally Murphy -- we beg her pardon -- Mistress Finigan, was as yet staying with her mother, until such time as Ned could see his way before him and decide on what he was going to do. Ned was well disposed to take the world easy, and would rather live on his money awhile waiting for "something to turn up, ' than go seek employment where he might possibly have harder work than he cared to undertake. He had already hunted up a number of people from his own place, and it was his pleasure to saunter around from one house to another asking advice from this one and that one regarding the best way to invest his money. Amongst other places, he frequented Paul Brannigan's room, and often dropped in of an evening "to have a chat."

One evening about the middle of November he mounted as usual the three pairs of stairs leading to Paul's habitation, and nodding pleasantly to Paul and the old woman took his accus tomed seat near the stove, and stretching his legs to their full-length and thrusting his hands to the very bottom of his breeches pockets, turned to Paul who had laid down on his entrance a well-worn copy of Cobbett's Reformation.

"Well, Paul !" said Ned in his cheerful way," I b'lieve I'll be makin' a start one of these days."

"How is that?"

"Well ! I'm goin' to commence business."

"Ay! and what business!"

"I was thinkin' of the liquor business. They tell me there's nothing like it here for makin' money, if a man has only enough to start it."

"An' have you enough to start it?"

"Why, it doesn't take much to do that, by all accounts," said Ned with an easy contented laugh. " If you have only a matter of twenty dollars or so you can go to a Mr. McRory that's in great business here -- a fine Irishman they sav he is -- and jist tell him what you want and pay him as far as your money goes, an' my dear ! he'll set you up in elegant style, an' send you in kegs of all kinds of liquor; then you get some empty ones to fill up the shelves, and there you have a beautiful liquor store. Now, isn't that the greatest thing ever you heard, Paul? I'm sure you'd be a long day in Ireland before you'd find a man to do that much for you!"

"I'd be a long day anywhere," said Paul curtly, " for the reason that I wouldn't trouble any man to do it."

"You wouldn't? and why so?"

"Because it's a business I'd have nothing to do with. I'd rather and break stones."

Ned laughed good-humoredly. "Ha! ha! ha! I'm thinkin' it isn't much stones you'd break. Howsomever, I'd like to know what you have to say again the liquor business, Paul! You can't deny but what it's an easy business, an' a moneymakin' business, too -- eh, Paul?"

"Well ! I suppose it's what you say it is, Ned, but still it's a bad way of makin' a living an' the money that's made at it never wears well or does much good to them that has it."

"Ho! ho! ho! d'ye hear that, Mrs. Sheehan? Doesn't this man beat the world for gab! What do you think of it, ma'am!"

"Wisha, then, Mister Finigan," said old Dolly who sat on a low bench by the stove knitting a stocking, "wishy then, dear knows it's a business I have neither love nor likin' for. I can't put words on it like Paul there, but to tell you the truth, I'd rather see you at anything else. That I mayn't sin but I would. "

Ned still tried to laugh it off, but Paul straightened up his poor back as well as he could and laid his hand on the big man's knee and looked him in the face. "You don't heed what we say to you, Ned,'" he asked very earnestly.

"Well! it doesn't signify what any one says," answered Ned carelessly, "for Ally and me have made up our minds about it an' the store is taken, an' I was down this mornin' with Mister McRory, God bless him! an' he's goin' to send up the stock tomorrow or next day," and Ned raised his head still higher on the strength of the stock that was to be his, and looked exultingly from one to the other.

"If thats the case," said Paul, "I may as well hold my tongue, but still as you asked my opinion at the start, I'll give it to you now I told you before that money made by sellin' liquor never wears well and sure that's no wonder, anyhow. "

"An' why wouldn't it wear well?" demanded Ned, a little ruffled or so at Paul's utter indifference to his new-blown honors, " why wouldn't it wear as well as any other?"

"Because there's a curse on it. "

"A curse! what curse?" said Ned starting to his feet. "The curse of sin," returned the dwarf also rising, and looking up into Ned's face with the energy that marked his character; " what's the cause of the misery and the wickedness we see around us? Isn't it drunkenness, Ned, an' nothing else? When you see a naked, starved-lookin' creature of a man comin' in to take his glass, don't you know very well that the money he throws down on your counter has the curse of a heart-broken wife on it, an' that a whole family may be shiverin' with cold an' perishin' with hunger while that beast of a man is gettin' drunk on your stock, as you call itq Ah! that's the stock that brings down the wrath of God on them that sell it an' them that buy it now, Ned, you're a Godfearin' man -- I know that myself -- an' so is your wife, too -- "

"Another God-fearin' man," said Ned with a forced laugh.

"No matter, you know what I mean -- well! I'm sure you'll not be long at the business till you find out that poor Paul Brannigan wasn't so far wrong after all. There's neither of you but 'ill find it hard work to be humorin' drunken men, an' waitin' on them at all hours, an' listenin' o their oaths and curses an' bad discourse of every kind."

Old Dolly had dropped her knitting and sat with mouth and eyes open listening

(67) entranced to Paul's seething words. Ever and anon she nodded her head at Ned, as much as to say "That's the man for you!"

Ned himself was more deeply impressed by the dwarf's harangue than he chose to acknowledge, but he saw no use in giving in, as he said to himself, so he still tried to make a laughing matter of it.

"I wish to the Lord somebody had made a counsellor of you, Paul," he said with well-feigned good humor; "only for the hump you'd have made a tarnatiou fine priest, but if you had got learnin' for a counsellor now, I'm thinkin' Dan himself couldn't hould a candle to you. But I was forgettin' entirely what brought me here. Did you see or hear anything of Herbert since he eame to New York!"

"Not much, he was into the store where I was once or twice, and the last time he said he was goin' to Boston to an uncle of his that's very rich there."

"How long is that ago?"

"Well ! it's about a month or five weeks."

"Humph! I'm thinkin' he hasn't left New York -- if he's a livin' man I seen him last night."

"You don't say so, Ned?"

"But I do! Ally an' her nuother an' myself were comin' along down the Bowery from Houston street where we were up seein' Mary, an' just as we got to the corner of Prince street (I think it was), who should step out to us but Herbert, awnd he passed me as close as what you are now."

"Had he any one with him?"

"Oh then, indeed he had a flne tall gentleman dressed like the lord of the land, an', my dears ! you'd think the two were hand an' glove together, for they were talkin' like fifty, an' so much taken up with their own discoorse that Herbert never noticed one of us, though I don't know how he could miss seein' us."

" What kind of a place did he come out of!"


"Well! the sorra one of me knows -- there was nothing here that I could see but tables and chairs and them big screens theyhave in public houses here. "

"Bumph! a saloon, I suppose," said Paul thoughtfully. "Well! well! let him go, as long as he keeps out of our way, let him ' follow his old vagary still.' You don't think he had found Bessy out -- do you!"

"Well! indeed, that's more than I can tell you, for Bessy and I are not the best of friends, and I don't go nest or near her. "

Paul said no more on the subject, and Ned soon after went away, tramp, tramp, down the three pairs of stairs, whistling "The Dusty Miller." That same evening Bessy Conway was called to the halldoor to see a gentleman.

"A gentleman! my goodness! what gentleman wants to see me!" As Bessy left the room flurried and excited she caught Mrs. Walters' significant glance, and scarce knowing what she did she turned back.

"I'm sure it's him, Mrs. Walters! I'm sure it is. What in the world will I do!"

"I will tell you that," said her mistress who really pitied her distress; "if you wish to put an end to all this, suffer me to go in your stead. I will dismiss him sooner than you could."

"Oh! ma'am dear, if you'll only do that !" cried Best clasping her hands, "it'll be the best thing you ever done for me!"

Down stairs tripped Mrs. Walters, and in the hall she found Henry Herbert looking as dark as possible

"Mr. Herbert," said the lady, after returning his haughty bow, "was it my servant you wished to see—if so, you should have applied at the basement door."

"Madam!" said Herbert with an angry flush on his cheek, "I am not accustomed to apply at basement doors "

"That may be, sir, but if you have business with any of the


servants it is there you must see them, not here. But now that you are here, Mr. Herbert, allow me to ask what your business is with Bessy! You will pardon the liberty I take, but as I have mainly induced the girl to leave her parents, I consider myself bound to supply their place in her regard. "

"Oh! of course, of course!" said Herbert, with some embarrassment, "that is understood, but still I can hardly recognize your right to question me. I do not intend to run away with Bessy -- is that a satisfactory answers"

"No, Mr. Herbert!" replied Mrs Walters very gravely, "it is not satisfactory, and I wish you to understand that Bessy Conway, being under my protection, must not be exposed to uncharitable remarks. You know what I mean!"

"I do perfectly, madam, but I wish you in return to understand that I am free to go where I please and visit as I please."

"I am then reduced to the necessity of forbidding yml this house," said Mrs. Walters with more determination than one would expect from her usually gentle manner; "I shall give orders at once to that effect."

"In that case, madam," said Herbert going to the door, "I must only try to see Bessy by other means -- that is, if I desire to see her. Good evening, Mrs. Walters!"

"Mr. Herbert!" said the lady moving a step or two nearer him, "you are, then, bent on justifying all the evil things I heard said of you!"

"Evil things!" repeated Herbert with a look of surprise and alarm. "What did you hear, then?"

"Nothing in particular, but a great deal in general. For myself I hoped and do still hope better things of you, Mr. Herbert -- see that you do not deceive my expectations!"

Herbert eagerly approached her, his whole face lit up with a new feeling of satisfaction. "Did you say you had bopes of me, Mrs. Walters? That you did not, -- do not believe what you heard of me!"


"I have told you so," said Mrs. Walters much surprised by his sudden change of manner.

"Then, upon my word and honor, madam, your good opinion shall not be thrown away. It is something to know that one pure, and good, and generous as you still entertains hopes of me. Adieu, Mrs. Walters!" and taking her hand he bowed respectfully over it. "Your charity makes me think better of mankind, and it may be that you have saved me from ruin Be so good as to tell Bessy that I will not forget her, but that I will trouble her no more till -- till -- oh! I cannot say when!"

He opened the door very quickly and was gone before Mrs. Walters had recovered sufficiently from her surprise to attempt an answer. Slowly she retraced her way up stairs, thinking of what she should say to Bessy, and wondering whether Herbert would keep his word.

"Was it Mr. Herbert, Madame," said Bessy timidly, after waiting a little to see if her mistress would give the information voluntarily.

"It was, Bessy," Mrs. Walters replied, "but I trust we have seen the last of him. I gave him to understand very plainly that as you cannot receive his visits without impropriety, he cannot be allowed to continue them."

"And what did he say, ma'am!"

"Oh she said what I took for a promise that he would trouble you no more."

Mrs. Walters was much relieved when Bessy clasped her hands and fervently thanked God. "And I'm thankful to you, too, Mrs. Walters," she added with unmistakeable sincerity, her eyes full of tears, "I'm thankful for the trouble you have taken -- you don't know how glad I am!"

A little while after Bessy descended to the kitchen and was surprised to see all there in an uproar. Cook, housemaid, and nurse were talking at the top of their voice, while Wash, the colored man, sat grinning in a corner enjoying the fun.

Bessy bad no time to inquire the meaning of what she saw,for she was instantly appealed to by Sally, the housemaid, who was dressed for going out. " Now, Bessy, a'nt this too bad. Ant it?"

"I say it's mean," cried the cook much excited.

"What is it?" slipped in Bessy.

"Why, only think!" -- exclaimed Sally, with a very emphatic gesture, "here am I dressed to go out, and Mrs. Hibbard sends down word that I can't go this evening."

"And her evening out!" put in the nurse.

"And her beau coming to take her to a dance!" said cook.

"Guess Jim won't like it," said darkey maliciously; "shouldn't wonder if he took another gal for spite."

"He a'nt going to have the chance," said Sally, drawing on her light kid glove with a very determined air; "I'll go if I lose my place for it. I a'nt so green that folks can treat mo so," and she shook out the folds of her plaid silk dress as though it were a flag of defiance. "A nice thing indeed to be told that you can't go out, when you've had the trouble of dressing."

"But, dear me!" said Bessy, when she could get in a word, "why didn't you ask leave to go out before you dressed?"

"Ask leave indeed!" repeated Sally with a disdainful toss of her Plead; "I tell you it's my evening out, and if Mrs. Glibbard expects company, Ellen can do what is to be done." Ellen was silent but Bessy spoke.

"Why, how can Ellen be down stairs, Sally? don't you know Miss Lizzy is very sick, and the poor child doesn't like to be left alone?"

"Well ! it an't any matter about that, I'm going out if Jim comes!"

"I would, if I was you !" said cook. "I'd let them see that I'd have my rights!"

"Sartin!" chimed in Wash with his broad grin; "I go in for having one's rights! This is a free country!"

While Bessy was examining with curious eyes the various

(72) gew-gaws which went to make up Sally's flaunting attire, a knock came to the basement door, and the parlor bell rang at the same moment.

Wash hastening to the door ushered into the kitchen a strapping young man with a huge black moustache, who proved to be the identical Jim for whom Sally was waiting. Whilst greetings were exchanged all round, the bell rang again and great excitement followed.

"There now ! who is to answer the bell?" said cook.

"Why, Ellen, who else?" said Sally.

"Well, but, what will I say if she asks why you didn't come I" said Ellen to Sally. Before Sally could answer Mrs. Hibbard's voice was heard on the basement stairs. "Are you all asleep here, or what is the matter?" She came to the kitchen door and looked in. "Why, Ellen, I thought you were in the nursery. That poor sick child ought not to be left alone."

Ellen disappeared.

"But, Sally!" said Mrs. Hibbard, "you are not going oat, are you, after the message I sent you?"

Whatever Sally might have done at another time, she certainly would not give in before Jim. "I guess I am, Mrs. Hibbard!" she said with unblushing confidence, "it's my evening out, you know!"

"Yes, but I want you in the house!"

"I can't help that, Mrs. Hibbard! you might have told me before."

"I thought it unnecessary to tell you to stay in this evening for I thought you knew that I expected company. Ellen having the children to see to cannot wait on the door, or the company either, and Bridget has her own work to do in the kitchen."

"Well, Mrs. Hibbard ! it a'nt any use talking -- my brother has come after me and go I must. Come along, Jim! I guess mother will be most frozen waiting for us."


Jim looked at Wash and stroked down his black moustache, and Wash put his finger to his fiat nose with sly meaning.

"Very well, Sally!" said Mrs. Hibbard as she left the kitchen, "you need not return here to.night. Come tomorrow for your things, and I will pay you -- what I owe you." There was a meaning in the last words that Sally alone understood. Mrs. Hibbard did not owe her one cent. iller last month's wages hung on the back of her head in the shape of a stylish bonnet. Still she would have "the bully word."

"You needn't a told me to leave, Mrs. Hibbard," she said sailing eat of the kitchen with Jim in tow; "it a'nt hard to get a better place than yours!"

Mrs. Hibbard walked up stairs after telling Bessy that she would ask Mrs Walters to allow her to take Sally's place that evening.

"By Gosh!" said Wash, shaking his woolly head very gravely, "by Gosh! I think Sally's a knocking her head agin de wall dis time! -- hu! hu! hu!"

Bessy had been a silent and curious witness of this scene. She looked and listened like one in a dream. When the kitchen was again quiet, she said in an absent way as if following the train of her own thoughts:

"My goodness! isn't Sally the queer girl all out tow."

"What do you say that for tow demanded cook sharply."

"Why, sure no one in their senses would go on that way. What right had she to go out when her mistress wanted her in the house tow."

"What right had she to,"exclaimed Bridget placing her arms akimbo; "why, she had every right!—didn't you hear that it was her evening to go out?"

"To be sure I heard it," Bessy replied very gently, "but what of that? Couldn't she stay at home for this one evening t Maybe she'd be better off if she staid in every evening."

"That's nothing," said Bridget, " a bargain's a bargain, and


I guess I'd have told Mrs. Hibbard her own if I was in Sally's place. I wouldn't have let her off so easy ! company indeed ! it's bothered we are with her old company!"

"Well, Bridget! after that," began Bessy, but the doorbell rang at the moment, and she ran up stairs to answer it, saying to herself as she hurried along the hall: "Are they losin' their senses, or what's the matter with them at all!"

Next day towards evening when Sally came for her clothes she appeared a different person altogether. It was a dreary, drizzling day, and she looked cold and miserable. Having got her things together she brought them down to the kitchen, tad, drawing a chair in front of the bright cheerful fire, commenced a whispered colloquy with Bridget, who sat picking feathers near the range.

"What on earth am I to do," said Sally, "I haven't got but fifty cents in the world, and I must give that to the man in the offfice!"

"A'nt there anything coming to you here?"

"Not a red cent. Do you think you could lend me a dollar or two till such times as I get a place?"

"I wish to God I could, Sally, but you know I sent home all I could scrape together last week."

"Lord bless me! what will I do, at all? Do you think Mrs. Hibbard would take me back?"

"I'm sure I don't know. You might try her, anyhow."

A bright thought struck Sally, and up stairs she went, on and on till she came to Mrs. Walters' room, where she knocked at the door, and was admitted by Bessy, who looked at her with surprise.

"Dear me ! what is she about?" thought Bessy, as she cast her eyes compassionately over her draggled apparel.

The object of Sally's visit was to solicit Mrs. Walters' intercession with her justly-offended mistress.

"Well, really,Sally!" said Mrs.Walters very gravely, "I


can hardly make up my mind to do it. I am sorry for you -- very sorry indeed -- but from what Mrs. Hibbard told me, I think you were very much to blame. You had a good place of it here, and you have lost it by your own fault. What dependence could Mrs. Hibbard ever place in you after your conduct of last nights."

"Well, ma'am," said Sally with a very humble, penitent air, "if Mrs Hibbard will only forgive me this once, I will promise never to do so again. Won't you ask her, Mrs. Walters? I'll just tell you the truth. ma'am! I han't got any money to pay my board."

"You should have thought of that in time," said Mrs. Walters, but her kind heart was touched, and she told Sally to go down stairs and wait. She would go and speak to Mrs. Hibbard and see what could be done. Depending on Sally's promises, her mistress took her back at Mrs. Walter's request to give her another trial.

Bessy saw and heard all this, and she laid it up in her heart as a useful lesson.

Chapter 6
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