A nineteenth-century tenement on the Lower East Side.

Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America


Page 118

Meanwhile Bessy Conway was "getting along first-rate" as her friends would say. Sally's conduct became at last altogether intolerable, and her mistress was obliged to part with her. Mrs. Hibbard, like many other ladies, had a great aversion to Intelligence Offices, and said to Mrs. Walters that she thought she would try an advertisement as she had to some pretty good servants by that means in times past.

"Well! you need be in no hurry, Matilda!" said Mrs. Walters, "better wait a week or son and perhaps you might hear of some good girl out of place, and Bessy will be very glad to do the housemaid's work till you get one."

This arrangement was very satisfactory to all parties, and when Bessy had been some days acting in her new capacity, Mrs. Hibbard said to her one morning: "Now, Bessy, as you seem to get along so well with my work in addition to Mrs. Walters', what do you think if you would take Sally's place, and I will give you the same wages I gave her? I am very much pleased with the manner in which you do your work, and still more so with the spirit in which you go about it."

Bessy's heart jumped at the thoughts of earning so much money, and she was scarcely less pleased to find that Mrs. Hibbard thought so well of her, but still she would not think of closing such a bargain without consulting Mrs. Walters. "Whatever she says, ma'am, I'm willing to do."

"Oh ! of course, Bessy, I did not for a moment suppose that you would engage with me without having obtained the consentof your mistress, but I am pretty certain that she will make no objection-on the contrary, she will be quite pleased with the arrangement." (119)

And so Mrs. Walters was pleased, and proud, too, she said, of her little Tipperary girl, who was able and willing to discharge the duties of such a situation in a few months after leaving her father's cottage in Ardfinnan. "You see, my dear Bessy," said she laying her hand kindly on the girl's shoulder, " you see how easy it is to please any employer when you set about it in the proper way. No doubt you have often heard Mrs. Hibbard's girls complain of her being too particular about the work."

"Why, then, indeed, I did, ma'am, many a time," said Bessy with a smile; "its what Sally used to say, and Bridget, too, for that matter,-that the devil himself wouldn't please her, and that a saint out of heaven couldn't bear her. "

Hearing this Mrs. Walters laughed. "Well, Bessy, I'm quite sure that you don't belong to the lower regions and yet you seem to please Mrs. Hibbard very much indeed, neither do I think you find it so very difficult to bear with her, although you are not yet a saint out of heaven, whatever you may be in time to come. But what will you do with all the money you are going to make!"

"Well! I'll just tell you that, ma'am," said Bessy, "I intend to write home first of all to ask my father and mother if they want any to let me know. If things go on as well with them as they did of late years, they'll not be in any present want, and so I'll leave my money in your hands till I have a good deal, and then maybe I'd go home to them some fine day when they least expect me, and help to do for the boys and girls. Wouldn't that be a grand thing entirely, Mrs. Walters" said the girl earnestly, her face all radiant with the anticipated joy of such a meeting.

"You are a good girl, Bessy !" said her mistress, her eyes full of tears; " so long as you cherish those unselfish dispositions and think more of others than of yourself, you will be sure to do well in every respect, for our good God blesses such generous devotion. But I cannot take charge of your treasure very long, for I do not know how long I may remain here, and besides your money will be better in the Savings Bank where you will get interest for it." (120)

Bridget was by no means satisfied with the change which had taken place, for Sally was a girl after her own heart, and although they fought every hour of the day when they were together, and sometimes carried their dispute so far that Wash had to use physical force to keep them from coming to blows, still there was so much in common between them that they sympathized one with 'the other after their own fashion. Bessy Conway was not long in the house when they discovered that she was not "one of them," and could not, therefore, be admitted to their confidence. Ellen, the children's maid, was one of those good-natured, harmless persons who never by any chance give offense to any one, and will rather make any concession than "raise disturbance." She was naturally well-disposed and always had the intention of doing right, but having no fixed principles and very little instruction, she was easily turned from the path of rectitude either by threats or persuasions She was, therefore, on excellent terms with the two "troopers," as Bessy called them, they were "blazers" with old Wash.

But when Sally was finally and forever turned outs and Bessy was installed with honor in her place, Bridget mounted "the high horse" and never had a civil word to spare for the new housemaid as long as they were together. She took every opportunity of insulting Bessy, accusing her of "treachery," "back-biting," "hypocrisy," and what not. It was no use for Bessy to tell her over and over that she never asked for Sally's place, never thought of asking for it, even when it was vacant. In vain she assured her that no prospect of advantage to herself would induce her to undermine or seek to injure a fellow servant-she might as well talk to the winds. Bridget had made up her mind that she was " an imp" and " a deceiver," and, moreover, that " there was a dirty turn in her after all." (121)

"Well! well!" said Bessy, " I see there's no use in contradicting you, so we'll leave the matter to God and our own conscience." " Oh ! yes, leave it to God," said Bridget with a scornful toss of her head, that's easy said, but your pious airs won't give Sally back her place, poor girl!"

"Well, now, Bridget, I declare it's too bad for you to be blamin' me for Sally losin' her place," said Bessy with some warmth; "don't you know very well how often I advised her to take more care of it than she did, and to try and please her mistress instead of workin' contradiction and givin'' back answers when she was spoken to about any thing. You know as well as I do that it wasn't Sally's work was in her head, but visitin' and cosherin' about, and raffles, and dances, and everything of the sort. If she had minded her business, and let such fooleries alone, she'd be here yet."

Wash hastened to give his testimony to the same effect, but Bridget cut them both short with an imperative order to "shut up, and not be deavin' her ears with their nonsense." She knew what she knew, and that was all about it.

A fortnight or so after Sally left, Bessy went down one day to the kitchen, and who should be sitting there but Sally in her flounced plaid silk and light velvet bonnet. She hardly condescended to return Bessy's salutation, but Bridget spoke for her

"There !" said she, "you see it's true enough that ' there never was one door shut, but there was another open'-now Sally has got a first-rate place in a first-class family up town where she hasn't scarce anything to do and has a dollar a month more wages than she had here. There an't only four of a family and they keep four in help."

"Dear me ! that must be a fine place," said Bessy; "I hope Sally will try and keep it. I'm as glad as can be that she's so well settled." (122)

Bridget and Sally both dives at her at once. One called her a liar, and the other told her she mightn't thank her for it. Luckily for Bessy, the door-bell rang at the moment and she hurried up stairs, Sally calling after her to be sure and tell Mrs. Hibbard what a fine place she had got.

"I wouldn't satisfy them to tell the truth," said Sally, "and I was real glad you made it up so slick. I guess I an't going to stay where I am, for I an't used, you know, to be up at five o'clock and it's pretty hard work cleaning after all sorts of rowdies in a saloon, for less wages, too, than I had here. Still I tell you I was glad enough to get it, for I was about tired going to that office, and besides my money was most all gone."

"Well! I guess you'd best stay where you are," said Bridget, "till you make sure of something better "

"I hear there's a kitchen-girl wanting in the Northern Hotel," said Sally; " I've a mind to go and see about it."

"What wages, did you hear?"

"Six dollars - just what I had from Mrs. Hibbard --"

"Well ! it's a great come-down, sure enough," said Bridget; " still I guess it's about the best you can do at the present time. Hard fortune to that sa'cy jade, Bessy Conway !-it was an ill wind drove her across us!"

"Never mind," rejoined Sally with a bitter smile, "every dog has his day, you know, and 'it's a long lane has no turn' -mind that, Bridget!-but I must be off-the boss is the devil of a rough customer, and the old woman takes a drop more than she should!-he! he! he! a precious pair they are!-an't they?"

So saying, Sally took herself off with a very affected nod, and " Good-bye, Bridget! take care of yourself!"

That same evening, Paul Brannigan and old Dolly went off in company on a tour of discovery to the (to them) unknown regions of the Sixth Avenue, where St. Joseph's Church rears its cross on high. They heard that Father Daly had been appointed assistant pastor of that Church, and they could not rest till they told him of their good fortune. Only for the hump, it would have been hard to recognize Paul in the new suit of clothes which Dolly insisted on buying for him the very day after she got the money, which clothes Paul put on that evening with great care, after coming from his work, " just to let his reverence see how a foolish old woman spent her money !" (123)

When the pair got to Chatham Square a short colloquy ensued, in consequence of a bright idea that occurred to Paul. " I'll tell you what, Mrs. Sheehan," said he, all at once coming to a stand, " I think we'll have a ride-you never was in a coach yet, I suppose, so it's the least you may have a ride now in one, if it's only for the honor of the thing !"

"Well, Paul, I'm agreeable, if it doesn't cost too much."

"Hut, tut, woman ! aren't these the President's coaches that I was tellin' you about awhile ago! Sure it's waitin' on the quality they are day and night !"

Having ascertained what particular stage would bring them the nearest to their destination, Paul bundled Dolly in, then mounted after her, and away they rattled over the rough pavement. As the lumbering omnibus is not the quickest conveyance in the world, we may as well go on before and see if the priest be there to receive them.

In the front parlor of St. Joseph's presbytery, three gentlemen were sitting, one writing at a desk, and the others conversing at the table, One of these was an old acquaintance, Father Daly, the other a tall stately man, with a somewhat cynical expression of countenance, long hair carefully kept, and a mien half lay, half clerical, that left you in doubt to which class he belonged. He was a priest, however, and a very good one, as the world goes, but he held some notions in regard to certain matters, not of faith, which appeared very dropping metaphor for the present, I think no one can doubt that a clergy taken from amongst the people of the country would be more efficient for good that any foreign missionaries, no matter how devoted or how exemplary!" (126)

" I don't believe a word of it," said Father Daly quickly and decidedly; " you know as well as I do that every country now within the pale of the Church was first brought in by missionaries from abroad-"

" Oh! of course, of course, that is understood-indeed it could not be well otherwise-but when the Church so established has outlived the period of infancy and grown to man's estate, is it not in the nature of things that it should try to do for itself, and manage its own business?"

This was meant as a knock-down argument by Father Seward, and even Father Molloy considered it unanswerable. He looked anxiously at his friend, and his face brightened up again when he saw him smiling.

"Certainly, my dear sir," said Bessy, "certainly you have a right to manage your own affairs, and are quite old enough to do it, but why do you no! do it?-why is it still left for the most part to foreigners s I should like to know how your spiritual wants would be supplied at this very hour were it not for the foreign priests who flock to your shores. Why, my very good friend, I am filled with admiration at the bountiful dispensation of divine Providence in your regard-indeed I am, and I cannot help thinking that it shows a want of gratitude on your part-I speak, of course, collectively-to murmur at the kind of provision made, because it is not exactly the kind you would choose."

"But we do not murmur, by no means," said Father Seward very earnestly; " I hope we are truly thankful for the spiritual succor we receive-"

"Humph!" said Father Molloy, looking round over his shoulder, "thankful, indeed ! we know how thankful you are, but that doesn't matter-the Lord conducts us here for a purpose and to do his holy will-let who may like it, we're able and willing to do it, and with a blessing so we will. As for thanks, they're not of much value, though I don't say but people like to have them when they know they're entitled to them."(127)

The other gentlemen smiled to each other at this characteristic sally, and Father Daly said: "After all, my dear friend, I think it makes little difference in which hemisphere, or under That latitude a priest was born-if he be only detached from the world, willing to crucify the old Adam within him, for the sanctification of his own soul and the edification of others, and entirely devoted to the duties of his state, he will be welcomed everywhere as a true minister of God, and no man will esteem him the less because he came from this or that particular country. We are the laborers in the vineyard-there is more work than all of us can do-let each man do his best, and what he cannot do he will not have to account for, but, in God's name, let us be united, remembering the fate of the bundle of sticks when taken one from the other. Do you think I hold your virtues in less esteem than if you came from my own parish in Roscommon County-before (hod I do not and, I think, the same spirit would actuate most foreign priests if you would only meet them half way, and, forgetting the place of their nativity, look upon them only as priests and brethren in the Lord. As your Church advances in age you will have priests of your own-at least I hope so-but God will take his own time for that He knows what is best for you. "

Father Seward was about to answer when a ring at the door made him pause and the next moment Father Daly was summoned to the hall where some persons wanted to see him. It is hardly necessary to tell the reader that it was Paul and Dolly. Father Daly was pleased to see them, and asked very kindly how they were getting on.

" Bedad, your reverence," said Paul, " we're most at the top of the wheel already-if we go on as we're doing we'll not know what to do with our money."

" Why, how is that, Paul?"

The story being told gave Father Daly so much pleasure that he asked Paul and Dolly to sit down, and went in to tell his friends. After a little he returned and took the pair of originals into the parlor.

"Now, Father Seward" said he, "-I want to make you acquainted with two of my fellow-passengers who have been particularly fortunate since they came. They have found a purse, I believe."

Dolly hastened to correct this supposed mistake. "No, no, your reverence, that wasn't it, at all-I ask your pardon for contradiction' you-we didn't find the purse, you see, but got it from-where's that it came from, Paul?"

" From Cincinnati !"

" Ay, that's the place-well ! it came from there, your reverence, and, ochone ! it never belonged to anybody else but my own poor boy, au', indeed, it was his hard, hard earnin."

" You are certainly very fortunate, my good woman !" observed Father Seward; " but what do you intend to do with it?"

"What would she do with it," put in Father Molloy with assumed gravity, "only set up a tavern, herself and this decent man, if they once know how to doctor the liquor, they can make their fortune in no time."

"Well, supposin' we did, your reverence," said Paul in a respectful tone, "we might happen to pay too dear for what we'd make, an' we wouldn't put our souls in danger for the sake of a penny of money."

" 'Deed we wouldn't, Paul, agra, 'deed we wouldn't," chimed in Dolly; " haven't we more money now than we know what to do with, and what do we want but a livin while we're here?" The priests were much amused and no little interested by this (129) singular couple, so queer and quaint and old-world like, so sterling in their simple virtues. Father Molloy, however could not resist the temptation to " poke some fun out ox them ."

"Well! Mrs. Sheehan," said he, "here's a priest from the Queen's County," and he pointed to Father Seward, "did you ever see him at home?"

Dolly drew her eyelids together so as to increase the power of her waning sight, and fixed her eyes on Father Seward who sat looking at her with a smile. A moment's observation sufficed. Old Dolly withdrew her eyes and shook her head.

"Well?" said Father Molloy with a significant glance at his brother priests.

"Well ! I never did see him at home, your reverence ! auI'd have good eyes if I did."

"How is that Mrs. Sheehan?"

"Why he's no more from the Queen's County than I'm from Jarmany! not but what he's an elegant fine gentleman all out, but if he's a priest, he's not a Queen's County priest anyhow."

" How do you know that, my good woman?" demanded Father Seward.

" Take care what you say?" whispered Paul.

" Sure I must tell him the truth when he asked me the question," said Dolly back to Paul also in a whisper. "Why don't you answer the priests," said Father Daly "how do you know that he is not from the Queen's County! " Well, then, I'll just tell your reverence that- because he's as like a minister as a priest-an' if you didn't tell me, it's for that I'd take him."

"Bother to you for an old goose !" muttered Paul between his teeth, " you've put your foot in it nicely, so you have !" Father Molloy laughed heartily and Father Daly laid his hand with a smile on the shoulder of his American friend " You see how it is, my dear sir !" said he, " this good woman has a mark on her own priests." (130)

"So I perceive," returned his friend with the slightest pos. Bible curl of his thin lip; " I should like to know what it is."

"Anan?" questioned Dolly.

" Tell his reverence," said Father Daly, " what marks and tokens you have on a priest ?"

" Well ! dear knows that's what I couldn't do," said Dolly; " I know it myself but I couldn't tell it if you were to pay me. Could you, Paul?"

" Don't be botherin' me !" was Paul's curt answer, whereat the priests all laughed and " the marks and tokens" were dropped.

After some further chat with the two originals, during which Father Seward managed to ingratiate himself wonderfully with old Dolly, Paul and she took their leave, with a promise from Father Daly to pay them a visit very soon.

Dropping a low curtsey to each of the priests, Dolly told Father Seward when she came to him, that, indeed, his reverence was more of a Priest than a body would think to look at him, and then marched after Paul.

"There's a compliment," said Father Molloy when the door closed on the visitors

"A rather equivocal one, truly," replied Father Seward as he shook back his long hair, and drew up his shirt-collar; "if I were only from the Queen's County it would make a wonderful difference!"

"Not so much as you think," said Father Daly; "it is not the mere accident of birth that influences Dolly in her estimate of you, but the want of those peculiar traits which usually characterize the priest in old Catholic countries."

" And what are they, I pray you?"

" That's right," said Father Molloy, rubbing his hands in anticipation of renewed hostilities; " that's right, Father Seward, I'd insist, if I were you, on an explanation."

" No need to insist," said Father Daly with a pleasant smile, " I am quite willing to explain The characteristics to which (131) I allude are, perhaps, incompatible with the nature of our American brethren and the construction of society here. That fatherly way of addressing his people, and that homeliness of speech and of manner which wins their confidence anti works its way to their hearts, belong more or less to all European priests, but in a peculiar manner to those of the Irish Church, whose relations to their flocks are, if possible, closer and more intimate than any others. The time is far distant if it ever comes-when the young-world priests of American birth will exhibit the marks by which old Dolly and such as she are wont to recognize ' his reverence.' You belong to a new order of things, and a new phase of society, we to an older and less artificial."

" In plain English," said Father Molloy in his humorous way, " you are flner gentlemen and seem to think a deal more of yourselves than we do. Isn't that it, Malachy."

" Well ! I should be sorry to say so," Father Daly replied "I think I have made myself sufficiently intelligible to our friend."

"Perfectly so," said Father Seward rising, "I know you meant no offense, nor will I take any. Father Patrick here is doing what he can to stir up strife between us, but I warn him he will not succeed " And he shook his finger at Father Molloy with a grave smile.

"Well! I own I was," said the person addressed, " but that was not my ultimatum. I thought to kick up a dust so as to have the pleasure of laying it again. But as we can't raise a breeze, why we must only make the most of the calm. Come along in, Father Seward, and have a bit of supper with Malachy and me. There's Jenny, my old housekeeper, beckoning like a ghost, and her patience is none of the best, I can tell you." So saying, he led the way to the supper-table.

Chapter 10
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