Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America
Paul Brannigan was in no hurry, it would seem, to avail himself of Ned Finigan's invitation to call and see "the mistress," for five, six, eight weeks had passed away since the Castle Inn by E. Finigan was first descried in yellow letters on a blue swinging sign in a street not far from Prince street, and yet Paul had never once crossed the threshold. Whether it was on this account, or from the pressure of business attending a dashing "opening," Ned's visits to the tenement house in Oliver street were discontinued, and so it was that Paul and he had not seen each other for the space of time mentioned.
One cold frosty evening towards the end of January, Ned was sanding behind the counter dealing out a something which he called brandy to three men whose begrimed faces indicated craftsmen, most probably workers in iron. These were taking "a standing dram" and as yet they were sober, but from the room adjoining the shop came sounds which indicated that men were there who had taken more than "a standing dram." Paul Brannigan shuddered as the sounds from within smote his ear and he shrank back in disgust from the fumes of whiskey and tobacco which filled the place, but he wanted to speak with Ned and so made up his mind to wait awhile in hopes that "mine host" would be disengaged. Not sorry to perceive that his entrance was unnoticed by Ned, he quietly retired to a corner where a low bench ran along the wall, and there established himself for the purpose of general observation.
He soon found that Ned's brandy was working wonders on the men at the bar. The calm and rational way in which they had been talking very soon gave way to louder tones and more excited gestures, together with a certain incoherence of sense which struck Paul forcibly. As their heads grew muddled their hearts grew softer; sundry expressions of goodwill were exchanged, and hands were shook ever so often with wonderful cordiality. They waxed generous, too, and must needs treat the landlord, ay! every one of them, for sure when one asked Ned to drink, another could be no worse, and, of coarse, Ned could refuse none without giving offense. So he took a small drop with each, just for good fellowship, cracking jokes the while with a fullness of good humor and pleasantry that won all hear s and went to establish his character as "a real jolly fellow."
Meanwhile others came in, some passing on into the room, some taking their stand at the counter. What with the influx of customers and the silver stream flowing therefrom into his drawer, and the various "treats" which he had been sharing, Ned was growing quite merry on it, and his big heart expanding in the warmth of the hour, he talked right and left with a superabundance of cordiality that would have been quite refreshing had his entertainment been nowise connected with dollars and cents.
Very soon Ally had to be sent for to lend a hand at the bar, and Paul could hardly believe his eyes when he saw her in the full glory of artificial flowers, and ribbons, and lace, looking as consequential as that "Woman of Three Cows" famed in Irish song. Still Mistress Finigan was not above her business, it would seem, with all her fine dress, for she went to work with right good will to serve the customers in waiting. Her quick eye was not slow in perceiving Paul, and her exclamation of friendly recognition made Ned aware of the hunchback's presence.
"So you've come at last," he said in a voice which somehow
sounded unfamiliar to Paul's ear; " well! it was most time, but no matter for that, I'm glad to see you here. Come over and have something to drink!"
"I don't wish for anything at the present time," said Paul, "I thank you all the same, though."
"Hut tut, man, the night's cold and raw, you'll be the better of a drop to warm you."
"Well, do you know, Ned, I never take liquor to warm me, for I have a notion it only makes one feel the cold more afterwards."
"Well! honest man," said one of those at the counter, as he turned a curious look on Paul, " I'd be loath to say you were a fool, but, upon my credit, you're not as wise as you look. Here's to your good health and a better understanding to you."
"I'm entirely obliged to you," answered Paul gravely; " they say every fool thinks himself the wisest, and maybe I'm foolish enough to be of the same notion."
"Ha! ha! Tommy!" said one of the other men with a good-natured laugh, "I'm afeard you happened on an edged tool this time. Hurry up, now, and let us be off."
"How is Mrs. Sheehan!" said Ally, addressing Paul across the counter. "Well, then, she's only middlin' these days, Mrs. Finigan! She's bothered entirely dreamin' of Philip."
While Ned was enlightening some of the men on the nature of the connection between Paul and Mrs. Sheehan, one who had not yet spoken turned his head quickly: "Philip!" he repeated, "Mrs. Sheehan! -- who are they?"
" Friends of mine!" said the little man shortly, with a look that meant " what's that to you?"
" Well! but I've a reason for asking who they are," said the other, whose name was Cassidy; "where is your Philip Sheehan now?"
"He's where God pleases," said Paul still in the same curt manner. and looking him full in the face."
"Tell a fool that!" said Cassidy, "but I want to know is he living or dead?"
"He's dead, then! will that please you?"
Cassidy smiled. "It will, but it'll please me better if you'll tell me something more about it." Paul was just coming out with another short answer, but Ned interposed. "Don't mind Paul, or Cassidy, he has a mighty droll way with him, and a bony that didn't know him might think he was downright in earnest sometimes when he's only joking. I'll just tell you all I know myself in regard to Philip Sheehan."
"I wouldn't satisfy him," put in Paul.
Regardless of the interruption Ned went on to state what he had heard of Philip Sheehan and his tragical death, winding up with a glowing panegyric on Paul for his generous devotion to the old woman.
As he proceeded in his brief narrative, Cassidy's face lighted up under the coat of coal dust that made his origin very questionable. When Ned told of Philip's occupation he nodded and said, "Exactly," and again when he heard of his untimely death he smiled and rubbed his hands together as though he was delighted to hear it. His satisfaction was not shared by Paul."
"Are you done now?" he said with real or pretended anger when Ned came to a stop. "Did you say enough q Anything you know might as well be on the market cross, Ned Finigan! -- 'deed it might!"
"Ho ! ho! ho -- "
"It's my turn now," said Cassidy, making a sign for Ned to restrain his ill-timed mirth; " give me your hand, my little hero!"
"Well! there it is, if it's any use to you," said Paul, "but for my part I think you're a little too fond of puttin' your nose in other people's porridge."
"No matter what you think or what you say," said Cassidy,
shaking the large bony hand which the dwarf held out to him; "you're the heart's blood of a brave fellow -- that's what you are. Now, I've good news for you!"
"You have, eh! and what is it?" asked Paul half in jest, half in earnest, "has the counselor got Repale, or maybe 'the French are on the seas' at long last to give poor Ireland a lift'!''
"Neither one nor the other," said Cassidy, looking round with sufficient self-importance on the eager listeners; "but I'm going home with you tonight to pay my respects to that old woman of yours !"
"No, nor the devil a step," said Paul angrily, while various expressions of disappointment escaped the others. "I want none of your tom.foolery my good fellow!—d'ye hear that now?"
"I don't want to hear it," said Cassidy with sly humor, " if I did, I might be thinking hard of them that taught you manners. I've a little business with Mrs. Sheehan—ahem !"
"What business have you with her!"
"Don't be jealous now, and I'll tell you. I only wanted to see if she'd have any objection to a little money that's laid up for her. That's all."
"Money laid up for her!" cried Ned.
"For old Dolly Sheehan?" exclaimed Ally In amazement Paul said nothing, but he looked as if he would like to hear more.
"For old Dolly Sheehan!" repeated Cassidy, "it's proud I am to tell it ;" and the tears came into his eyes as he glanced meaningly over Paul's garments woefully thin and disfigured with more than one unsightly patch. "There's a good three hundred dollars waiting for her out in Cincinnati. Her son was saving up intending to go home in a year or two when he'd have something worth taking along, and now the money is there after him, and nobody for it but the old mother."
"The Lord in heaven be praised!" said Ally almost crying
for Joy. Paul said nothing but his lips quivered, and he looked very hard at Cassidy to ascertain what truth was in his marvelous story.
"Lord! the old woman will go out of her senses!" said Ned; "it's best not let her know too suddenly."
"What fools we are!" said Paul abruptly breaking silence. "Don't we know very well that if Philip Sheehan did leave money behind him, no bank that has it would give it to an old creature that they knew nothing about." "True enough," said Cassidy, "but supposin' it isn't a bank that has it, but one of the priests there -- how would that be?"'
"Oh ! bedad, that's a different story," said Paul with sudden animation; "if the priest has it, it's all right -- he'll not miss doubt Dolly's word. But how will she get to Cincinnati?"
"Why, in one of them elegant, fine coaches you were tellin' us about, Paul," said Ned jocosely, for he was really as mend as if the good news had been to himself. "Them with the velvet cushions, you know, that takes people for nothing wherever they want to go!"
The joke was lost on Paul whose attention was fixed on Cassidy.
"No need at all for her to go," the latter replied, "The priest knows Dolly here?"
"Father B of St. James's knows all about her."
"Very good. If you'll just get Father B to write to Father P -- in Cincinnati, and certify that he knows Mrs. Sheehan to be the right woman, stating the townland and parish that she's from in the Queen's County, that's all you have to do, for I heard Father P asking information of her in the Church two or three different times, and he said he had learned from her parish priest at home that she had come out to America, and that it would be an act of charity to help to find her out."
"I'll be biddin' you good night, Ned !" said Paul abstractedly, and he reached his hand across the counter.
"Is it goin' you'd be, Paul, after hearin' such good news without as much as thankin' the decent man for tellin' you!"
"But isn't he comin' home with me to see Dolly?"
"He may when I'm done with him, and you, too," said Ned, "but I'll floor the first man that attempts to go without my leave. Sit down there on the benches every man of you till I make you a rousing tumbler of punch to drink old Dolly's health, and a long lease to her and somebody we'll not mention !'
In vain Paul objected, the others were all quite willing to accept Ned's treat, and Paul being left in a minority of one was at length forced to give in. At another time the little man might have cut the matter short with an ill-served answer, but he was really more elated than he chose to acknowledge, and felt disposed to meet Ned's kindness at least half way. So down he sat with Cassidy by his side, thinking, in the fullness of his heart, how he could show his gratitude to that individual.
"By Jemini! that's it!" said he as his eye fell on Cassidy's feet, not over well protected from the cold.
"What are you about, man?" said Cassidy. Paul had unconsciously spoken aloud, and, moreover, slapped his neighbor lustily on the knee. "I bar that play, anyhow!" The laugh that followed made Paul ashamed, and he put on a very cross face, as was his wont, when trying to conceal his feelings.
"I say, Paul," said Ned, after the proposed toast had been duly drunk, " did you see the Castle?"
"Castle ! what Castle?"
"Why, my Castle, to be sure."
"Your Castle! I didn't know you had one "
"Well ! you see I have -- ha! ha! ha! I'm a greater man than my forebearer that only saved a castle for others -- I've one of my own." Ned's pleasant laugh was echoed by the others who understood the jest, but Paul looked sufficiently puzzled.
"And where may your Castle be?" he said; "I suppose it's up in the air like the one that was atop of Jack's Bean Stalk long ago."
"Faith, an' that's just where it is," said Ned, rubbing his hands together in great glee; "mine's up in the air sure enough, but it beats Jack's castle hollow, for it comes and goes with every blast of wind. Didn't you see it as you came in?"
"Oh ho!" said Paul, "it's the sign you mean. Well! indeed, I never thought of lookin' up, but I'll go and have a peep at it now."
Out went Paul and out went Ned to indicate the perfections of his castle. It was a sight to see the two standing together like the giant and the dwarf in a penny show, Paul with one eye closed looking up at the swinging sign with the air of a connoisseur, and Ned looking down at his face to note the effect of his observation.
"Well!" said Ned, "what do you think of it? -- isn't it beautiful?"
"Bedad it is," said Paul with a very grave face; " it's a fine"—the word castle stuck in his throat, for Paul was a lover of truth -- " it's mighty well done," said he, " mighty well done, I declare!"
"Well! it isn't as like the castle as I'd wish," said Ned very much in earnest, as they returned into the house, " but you know it isn't to be expected that you'd get a castle painted here as you would at home ! -- ha ! ha ! ha ! it's little they know of castles in America! -- still it makes a fine show, and the Tipperary boys are as proud of it as can be !"
"Why, what castle is it?" demanded Paul immediately.
"Well then, now Paul ! what castle would it be ?"
" Why, Dublin Castle, I suppose."
"Dublin Castle!" cried Ned contemptuously, "a fig for Dublin Castle and them that owns it!—no, sir ! its Ardfinnan Castle ! that's what it is, and I wonder at you, Paul, not to know it!"
"Well!" said Paul hard pushed for an excuse, "I suppose it's because Ardfinnan castle now is, like myself, the worse for
the wear, and your castle is bran new -- still I am proud to see it where it is, and that it may last as long as its namesake ! that's the worst I wish it." Paul emptied his glass with a most emphatic gesture, looking into it with widely distended eyes as though the castle were daguerreotyped on the bottom.
When himself and his new friend Cassidy were buttoned up ready to start, the little man suddenly remembered the object of his visit, and tapping Ned on the elbow he asked if he might have a word with him in private before he went.
Leaving Ally in charge of the bar, Ned took the hunchback into a small room communicating with the other by a door then closed. Having ascertained that it was so, Ned returned to Paul and having made him sit down asked what he wanted.
"Well, I don't want much," said Paul smiling very graciously, " nothing but a little information. Did you hear anything new about Herbert since I seen you?"
"Hush! hush! No, I didn't -- did you?"
Ned spoke almost in a whisper, but Paul answered in his usual shrill tone, higher than usual Ned thought: "I did," said he, "I did, Ned! I hear he's keepin' very low company."
"Bad cess to you, Paul! can't you speak lower?"
"I can't," says Paul, raising his voice still higher as if for contradiction. "Attend to what I'm sayin'!"
"But what is it to me what company Mister -- ahem, what company any one keeps?"
Paul was suddenly seized with a fit of deafness. "And?" said he leaning forward, and putting his hand to the ear neat to Ned.
"That I mayn't die in sin," said Ned in his natural voice, "if you're not the contrariest creature that ever man or mortal met! You heard well enough what I said -- so you did!"
"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't!"
"I'll tell you again, then, but mind you hear it this time, or you may travel farther for news." So he repeated what
(99) he had said, and Paul nodded a gruff assent -- but he leered up into Ned's face with a smile that was bitter as gall.
"But what if Bessy Conway was still keepin' him company underhand? would that make any difference?"
"But you don't mean to say she is!" cried Ned starting to his feet with a fierce gesture.
"That's just what I mean," said Paul, "and nothing else."
Without saying another word Ned opened the door leading to the adjoining room, and before Paul had time to think of what he was about, back he came with Henry Herbert by the arm; flinging the door after him, Ned marched his astonished companion to the middle of the room, and planted him, as it were, right in front of Paul.
"I want to know is that true?" said Ned, while the others regarded each other with no very friendly aspect. "Is it true, Mr. Herbert, or is it not?"
"I can't say till I know what it is."
"Are Bessy Conway and you keepin' company? Does she encourage you to be runnin' after her, makin' a show of her?"
"Who says she does?" demanded Herbert, with a withering glance at Paul.
"I say so!" said the dwarf, raising himself on his toes to be nearly on a level with Herbert's face.
"I never thought you were a liar -- whatever else you might be," said the young man coldly, and he drew back a step. " Whatever else I might be!" repeated the hunchback slowly, "and what else do you think I am, Mister Herbert?"
"A busy meddling creature -- to say the least of it -- a sort of a Paul Pry !" he added with a poor attempt to make a joke of it, for there was that in Paul's eye that made him wince.
"It's well you've no worse than that to say," said the dwarf pointedly. "No need for me to be a vagabond on the earth if that's all that's against me in the Book!"
A mortal paleness overspread Herbert's face, and his trembling lips could scarce articulate a word, yet he tried to laugh,
and gave Paul a slap on the shoulder by way of sport. "Well really, Paul, you are the drollest fellow! -- upon -- my honor! you -- you make me laugh!"
"But what about Bessy?" said Ned, as much to relieve Herbert as anything else.
"Ay! what about Bessy?" repeated the hunchback.
" Well ! as regards Bessy," said Herbert, making a violent effort to recover his composure, " I give you my word of honor that she never met me even once -- by her own consent -- in anyplace or at any time."
"Look me in the face, now," said Paul, "and tell me that yourself and her weren't out walkin' together last Sunday was a fortnight ! Come now, tell the truth!"
"I don't deny it," said Herbert, the angry blood rushing to his cheek; " but it was not with Bessy's will -- I happened to see her passing along Oliver street and she seemed in trouble -- I felt sorry to see her looking so sad, and I certainly did speak to her, and although she begged me not to do so, I walked with her a little way."
"There now!" cried Paul exultingly, fully expecting that Ned would take up the matter, but no such thing. Ned all at once discovered that he was staying too long, and merely said, laying his big hand on Herbert's shoulder: "I thought you promised us before, Mister Herbert, that you'd let that girl alone. Now I hope you'd keep your word better for the time to come." .
"Lord bless me!" said Paul to himself, "didn't he cool down mighty sudden!" Herbert turned at the moment as he disappeared through the same door by which he had entered, and fixed a look on Paul that made him start, with all his coolness and self.possession. It was as though he had said:
"The game is in my hand -- look out for yourself now !"
"He's worth a watching -- that same lad !" thought the dwarf, "but I see I needn't count any more on Ned. Hum -- Hum -- I see how is. He brings lots of customers to the Castle I suppose
-- well ! sure enough he's a deep fellow for all that smilin' face of his !"
Ned was already at his post again eager to make up for lost time. Ally was going up stairs with her sister who had just come in. Paul would have passed them by with a parting nod to Mrs. Finigan, but the latter hailed him with: " Is that the way you treat old acquaintances, Paul ? -- don't you see our Mary ?"
"That your Mary !" shading his eyes with his hand. " Why then, indeed, Mrs. Finigan, ma'am, I thought it was some grand lady was in it ! By the laws, Mary ! but you're an altered girl since I seen you ! How are you, at all !"
"Well! I thank you!" said Mary very stiffly, for Paul's appearance was not such as warranted familiarity, especially before strangers. "I guess you have the advantage of me !" she added, as she stooped to gather up the folds of her dress. " There ! if you hadn't your great filthy boot right on my new silk dress ! -- dear ! how awkward some people are !" and with a toss of her head which set the flowers on her bonnet a dancing merrily, on she swept towards the stairs.
Paul stood looking after her with a comical look of wonder on his thin spare face, then turning to her sister he said with mock earnestness: "Now, you don't mean to tell me that that's your sister Mary?"
"Why, to be sure it is, Paul!" said Mrs. Finigan, a little nettled, "who else would it be?"
"Well! after that," said Paul, holding up his hands, "nobody need wonder at anything ! A good evening to you, Mrs. Finigan! -- ahem ! Give my compliments, ma'am, to the young lady within -- I suppose we must call her Miss Mary Maria Murphy! Good Lord! ' my nice silk dress!"'
Mrs. Finigan was very indignant, and made her exit in smiling silence, but Ned hearing what had passed, laughed in his good-humored way as Paul shook hands with him across the counter.
"You'll make them all afraid of you, Paul!"
"I say, Ned, does she dress in that fashion every day?"
102 "Hut, tut, man ! no, she doesn't, but you see we're going to have a hop tonight, and that's what made her dress up ! -- We've a smoking club that meets here two evenings in the week, and this is one of their nights; it's them that's gettin' up the dance."
" Oh! I see! I see to it! Mister Cassidy, I think we'll be going, it's wearing late."
Cassidy would just as soon not have gone, for he and his companions felt themselves very comfortable just then over a fresh " round" of punch, and he was loath to exchange the snug barroom for the cold bleak streets and the wintry blast that was making the doors and windows quiver, and buffeting Ardfinnan Castle as if it blew from the mouths of Cromwell's cannon. Still when he thought of the pleasant task he had before him, he jumped to his feet at once, and having made sure of what remained in his tumbler, "just to keep out the cold," he bade his companions and the landlord good night, and, buttoning up their thin coats, so as to obtain the greatest amount of protection they could give against the piercing blast, the two dived out into the darkness and disappeared.
Continue to Chapter 8
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