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Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.

CHAPTER XVII.

Page 229

Bessy was mistaken in supposing that Herbert had forgotten her. He never lost sight of her for any length of time, and often when she thought him far away and oblivious of her existence he was nearer than she imagined. Many a time he was dogging her steps when he did not dare to approach her, for, with all his effrontery to others, he never could get rid of a certain feeling of respect in the presence of Bessy. Ever since that unlucky day, as he called it, when he forgot himself so far as to overstep the line which he had hitherto marked out for himself in his intercourse with her, he had shrunk from encountering again the withering scorn of her glance, and the aching void thus left in his heart he had endeavored to fill up by the feverish excitement of the gaming table and the uproarious mirth of the drunken carouse. He knew well that every step he took in the career of dissipation separated him just so much farther from Bessy. The thought was torture to him, and yet he made no effort to overcome the evil habits that were gathering strength from day to day. He hated himself, hated the life he was leading, for somewhere in his soul there were yearnings after something better; he hated the companions of his hollow and noisy pleasures; he hated the world and laughed to scorn the so-called virtues of its votaries; all his heart was seared and scathed save only the one green spot where Bessy Conway was enshrined. Her image, it is true, had waxed dimmer to his eyes as months passed into years and saw them still farther separated, but he

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had never entirely forgotten her -- the image was never wholly effaced.

Whether it was Ned's relationship to Bessy that kept him hovering about The Castle Inn nobody but himself could tell. Ned's faculties, never of the clearest, had become so obtuse that he could see no farther than his nose, as Paul used to say, and he had got a notion in his head that Henry Herbert was the best friend he had in the world. With the mulish obstinacy of a drunken man he rejected all counter evidence, and would hear nothing against Herbert whether it came from Ally, or Paul, or any one else. Of late, Ally had given up all hopes of ever seeing his eyes opened with regard to Herbert, and was in the habit of saying: " Unless God does it, I can do no more -- that fool of a man won't let me open my mouth to tell him the truth."

"Never mind, Mrs. Finigan!" Paul would say when she thus opened her mind to him, "God won't desert you, anyway, because you're doing all for the best."

"Ah! but, Paul dear! I'm waitin' a long time now, and you see yourself what a state that man has brought himself to. He's drunk most of his time, and he's neither fit for one thing war the other, oily sittin' there like a log o' wood, dosin' away his life-time, an' me tryin' so hard to keep on the business and make all ends meet. And worse than all that, Paul!" --and she fairly burst out crying - "I'm afeard it's a sudden death he'll get sudden and unprovided both --for there's times and you'd think there wasn't a drop of blood in his body but what's up in his head. Many a time I see him as black as a nigger almost in the face with the fair dint of liquor. Och, Paul! Paul! wasn't it the devil himself --Lord pardon me! -- that brought Mr. Herbert across us! I'm afeard he'll never quit that unfortunate fellow till he sees the last of him - he's the villain of all I ever met!"

"God help you, Mrs. Finigan, ma'am! It's you that knows nothing about it." Then lowering his voice he went on as if

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to himself, "humph! - ay! it's about time --I see there's no chance of a change -- maybe I was wrong not to do it before now. "

"Do what, Paul ?"

"Oh! nothing at all, ma'am, only a little business I have up here on Thursday evening, God willing. You needn't say anything about it to Ned or any one - you understand!"

Oh ! yes, Ally understood that part of it very well, and gave her assurance that she would keep silence on the head of it. Paul strutted away, his brain filled to overflowing with 'thick coming fancies" gradually assuming shape and form as plans and projects. Paul was a clear-headed man, and a long-headed man, too, and now his keen wits were all at work on a grand design to which he devoted as much thought as Raphael or Michael Angelo to one of their glorious conceptions.

Absorbed as he was in thought he passed Oliver street by, and taking delis way down Catharine street turned into one of the quiet shady avenues of the old Seventh Ward, following which he soon reached Dr. Delany's house, where he stopped. His timid knock at the basement door was answered by Onny who, of course, was ever so glad to see him and cordially invited him in. No, no, Paul hadn't time then, he'd come around soon, but he only wanted to speak a word with Bessy. Laughing pleasantly and saying she hoped he'd remember his promise, Onny went in and sent out Bessy.

"Why, goodness me, Paul, is this yourself? won't you come in?" said Bessy all in a flurry.

"No, no, Bessy! I haven't a minute to stay. I'm a good while out, and the old woman will be wondering what keeps me. Do you know what brought me now?"

Of course Bessy did not know, so Paul told her. "I want you to be at Ned Finigan's a Thursday evening about seven o'clock. Can you do that?"

"To be sure I can the mistress never refuses to let me out

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whenever I want to go, for she knows it isn't often I ask her. I'll be there, please God. But what's going on now, Paul? Is anything wrong at Ned's?"

"'Deed and there is, then, - plenty wrong -- but you'll know it soon enough. Say nothing of this to any one, even Onny. I'll be biddin' you good-bye, now, and mind I'll depend on you."

"You may, I'll not disappoint you."

"Dear me!" said Bessy to herself as she closed the door after him, "what has he got in his head now? If he isn't the queerest creature living! - sometimes I'm afraid of him, he looks so odd. But then he's good -- every one knows that --well ! I'd like to know what he's at now, for I see it's something past the common. I'm afraid it's about Ned - he says he's 'plenty wrong there' - ah! that's just it - God help poor Ally!"

Do as she would, however, she could not get rid of the impression that herself was somehow concerned in the business which Paul appeared to have on hands, and she felt restless and unhappy she knew not why. If her anxiety increased every moment and she looked forward to Thursday evening with a feverish impatience never felt before.

Thursday came at last, and it seemed to Bessy the longest day she had ever seen. But long and tedious as it was, it passed away, and the gathering shades warned her that the hour so eagerly expected was near at hand.

It was dark when she reached the Castle Inn, for the Autumn was already far advanced and the days were wearing short. It was a raw, cheerless evening, and as Bessy walked along Prince street after leaving the stage, she felt s chill creeping over her, and a sinking at her heart that left her hardly able to move a limb. She had never felt anything like the sensation that came over her, and she said within herself: "Lord save us! I often heard of people being bewitched - maybe it's what I got a blast of an evil eye. Christ and his Holy Mother preserve me!"

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A low smothered laugh reached her ear at the moment, so near that she started and looked up. She was not far wrong in her supposition, fanciful as it seemed, for Henry Herbert was by her side, his eyes fixed on her with the strangest look - half fond, half mocking.

"My goodness Master Henry! you frightened me!" she said almost unconsciously. His appearance and her own thoughts were so strangely connected, she could not tell how or why.

" Did I?" he said very softly. "Well! it's rather hard -- very unfortunate, indeed, that I should frighten you. But then it is so long, so very long, since we met -- yet even so, why should the sight of me alarm you? - now don't run away from me - don't, I beseech you! I am sober enough now, Bessy! so you needn't fear me! -- fear me!" he repeated bitterly, as if to himself, "why should she ever fear me? I'd be mad, indeed, when I harmed you -- Bessy! I see you're trying to escape --now, will you just listen to me for one moment?"

"For God's sake, Master Henry don't talk to me at all!'' said Bessy in a low nervous tone. "Go away, I beg of you for I don't want Ned's people to see you with me, and it's there I'm going now."

"So am I, too, Bessy! so where's the harm if we walk together?"

"It is a harm," said Bessy passionately, "and a great harm too. I'll turn back, if you don't go on, and leave me alone."

"Well ! I'll see you there, at all events," said Herbert, "so I'll do as you tell me. But mind, I must speak with you this night, so no more tricks, Bessy. If I miss seeing you at The Castle, I'll go to-morrow to Mrs. Delany's, -- choose which you will."

"I'll see you at Ned's, then, sir," said Bessy hastily, " in presence of Mrs. Finigan."

"Ah, Bessy! Bessy!" said Herbert reproachfully, as he turned away, "when will you learn to trust me?"

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"NEVER !" was the word that rose to Bessy's lips, but Herbert was gone, and the word was unsaid, at least unheard by him.

It might have been an hour later when Paul Brannigan marched up to the Castle Inn with an air as defiant as if he meant to take the fortress by storm. He had with him a smart-looking young lad, with smooth intelligent features.

Ned was sitting half asleep in his armchair behind the bar, whilst Ally was dealing out the fire-water to the nimble little waiter who, in white jacket and apron, kept running to and fro, hither and thither, at the bid of all comers.

"What will you take, Mike?" said Paul to his young companion, as though that was the special object of his visit. "But sure I needn't ask, I know you take nothing stronger than lemonade. Mrs. Finigan, ma'am! will you let us have two glasses of the nicest lemonade you can make?" Having seated Mike, he went back and whispered to Ally:

"Did Bessy come yet?"

"Yes, yes, more than an hour ago. She's with my mother abroad in the little room."

"Very good, very good. And the other person?"

"Not come yet - husht ! there he is now. Be off as fast as you can!"

It was Herbert, accompanied as usual by Dixon. Sending the latter in before him, Herbert in his turn asked Mrs. Finigan in a whisper if Bessy Conway had come.

"She did, Mister Herbert," said Ally quietly, " she's inside there," pointing to the place.

"Tell Mr. Dixon I'll be with him in a moment," said Herbert to the waiter, and he disappeared. His exclamation of angry astonishment was heard by those outside, when going in to where he thought Bessy was alone, he found Mrs. Murphy, whom he knew to be no friend of his.

"Bessy!" said he, " can I not speak half a dozen words with you without witnesses?"

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"There's nothing you can want to say to me, Master Henry!" said Bessy calmly, "but Mrs. Murphy may hear. She's my friend and well-wisher."

"God he knows that's true," observed Bridget with a kind look .

"Even that does not entitle her to hear my private affairs," said Herbert.

"If they're so very private, Master Henry!" said Bessy, with her quiet smile, " I have no right to hear them either."

He looked at her a moment without speaking, then suddenly snatched her hand and drew her to the further end of the room. " Bessy!" said he lowering his voice and speaking with a sort of nervous trepidation that at once riveted her attention, "Bessy, I have just heard of my father's death."

" My goodness! is it possible?" cried Bessy with strong emotion, "and me talking to you as I did little thinking of the trouble that was on your mind! Indeed I'm sorry, Master Henry! very sorry!"

"So am not I," Herbert replied. "There was little love between us -- he never treated me as a father ought, and, to tell the truth, I was only an indifferent son I know not where the fault lay -- I suppose we all had our share of it - but that is not the question now -- what I want to say to you is this, Bessy Conway! my father's death has removed one obstacle to our marriage - at least to our going home married - it will make me more independent, too, and I ask you once more -- for the last time, Bessy! -- will you be my dear wife? will you share my fortunes? - mind I will never ask you again - so do not - oh! do not refuse me now !" He pressed the hand he held between both his own, and looked imploringly in her face, as utterly forgetful of Bridget's presence as if no such person were in existence.

Bessy was not so oblivious, however, and she forced herself to speak calmly though her heart and brain were throbbing.

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"Lord bless me! Master Henry, what a time for you to talk of such things? "

"Answer me, Bessy!'' he said with increasing vehemence, "will you or will you not accept my offer?"

"Master Henry!" said Bessy in a faint voice, "let go my hand - I want to sit down-"

Bridget hastened to bring her a chair, and seeing her pale and trembling, told Herbert sharply to go about his business and not be bothering the decent girl.

"Woman! be silent!" he said with a look and gesture so wild that it frightened Bridget resolute as she was. "Bessy!" said he then, bending over her as she sat with a face of passionate entreaty, "Bessy! my fate and yours depend on your answer -- you may save me, body and soul, from ruin -- you can make me what you will -- but give me a mooring - do not cut the only link that holds me to virtue - do not send me adrift on this wide cold world - we will go home to Ireland -- you will be a lady -"

"For the love of God say no more, Master Henry!" said Bessy making an effort to rise; "Mrs. Murphy! hadn't we better go?"

"Am I again refused?" said Herbert, his wrath beginning to boil over.

Bessy was moving away leaning on Bridget's arm, but she stopped and raised her tearful eyes to his with a look that went to his heart, it was so beseeching, so sorrowful.

" Bessy !" he said in a softened tone, " I cannot -- will not believe you cruel -- answer me, at least, one way or the other?"

"Master Henry!" said Bessy with as much composure as she could command, "before I could consent to what you ask, there's many things would have to be cleared up."

"What are they?" he joyfully exclaimed, catching eagerly at this shadow of hope.

Before Bessy could answer, Ally made her appearance to say that Mr. Dixon was angry at being kept so long waiting.

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" I'll see you soon again," Herbert whispered as he passed Bessy. To his great surprise she and Mrs.. Murphy followed him into the larger room accompanied by Ally, and all three coolly took their seats at a table where Paul was sitting with his young friend, their lemonade untasted before them. It so happened that at the moment there were no others in the room, and as Herbert took his seat opposite Dixon at a small table, he said with an unnatural attempt at gaiety:

"I say, Dixon! we had no idea coming in, that before we left we should have

'The sky of this life open o'er us And heaven give s glimpse of its blue.

Now for ' the cup that is smiling before us,' or, at least, with a smile - what will the ladies have?"

There was an emphasis on the word ladies that was quite perceptible, and Paul answered in precisely the same tone:

" The ladies are with us -- we'll see to them."

"Ho! ! ho! old scarecrow!" said Herbert laughingly, as he went to the door to speak with Ned; "you're there, are you ?"

"If your eyes are good, you needn't ask," retorted Paul quickly; "I hope you're not forgetting your crony abroad?"

"My crony! who do you call my crony?"

"Why Ned Finigan, to be sure, don't leave him out on our account, for there's nobody-barring yourself-has a greater wish for him than I have."

"You're a bitter old coon," said Herbert consciously as he left the room.

"Go yourself," whispered Ally, and Paul went accordingly. In a few minutes he returned alone and, in answer to the inquiring looks of the woman, shook his head significantly, smiling all the time.

"He's on the hook," said he; "see what a fine take Mr. Herbert has."

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"Come along, Ned," said Herbert again making his appearance, "come along in and sit down. An' 'we'll show the stoop to friendship's growth.' Ahem!"-he looked exultingly at Paul.

" Ned !" said Ally raising her finger threateningly.

" Never mind him, Mrs. Finigan, ma'am !" said Paul cheerfully; "we have only lemonade, they have brandy, so that makes a difference. He scarce condescended to answer me when I asked him, and it the first time, too, but then he's so used to Mister Herbert now, that a body could hardly expect him to turn his back on hire."

" What brings you in her?" said Ned gruffly to his wife. "Have you nothing to do but sit up there cosherin'?"

"Why, I want to keep you company, Ned," the wife rejoined, " man and wife ought to be together, you know!"

" It's a pity we hadn't Luky Mulligan here," said Paul very composedly across the table to Mrs. Murphy.

"What do you say that for?" asked the shrewish matron bristling up.

" Why, I'm sure Mr. Herbert there would be glad to see him, for I know they're great friends entirely "

" I don't doubt it," said Bridget with a scathing look at Herbert, they say. " Birds of a feather always flock together." Every eye was turned on Paul, and Herbert made a mocking gesture at him, as though to say: " Do your worst-I defy you!"

" What do you mean by that ?" said Ned, whose ear, fuddled as he was, caught the name of Luky Mulligan

" He means to crack a joke," said Herbert, " but his jokes are rather bitter for most people's liking."

"What sort of a joke were you cracking, Mr. Herbert!" said Paul turning round on his chair to Ax his eye on him, " the night you gave Luky Mulligan the money at the corner of Roosevelt and Chatham over two years ago ?

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" An impudent fellow, dem my eyes!" ejaculated Dixon.

" Eh! what's that?" said Ned waking up a little. "You don't mean Mr. Herbert, do you ?"

" It's just himself I do mean," said Paul; " ask Mr. Herbert -'the best friend you have in the world -- ahem! what he gave that money for-"

" If he's wise he won't, you miserable wretch ! for I'd kick any man that asked me such a question."

" Well, I'm sorry to hear, Mr. Herbert," said Ned hesitatingly, "that you had any knowledge of that ill-conditioned vagabond . "

" Knowledge of him !" exclaimed Paul. " If it was only havin' knowledge of him, you'd never hear me say a word about it, for I know the pair of them were very thick at home in Ireland, and as Mrs. Murphy there says, its only natural for birds of a feather to flock together. But there's a little secret in it that I want you to hear before it goes any farther. As Mr. Herbert won't tell us himself, we'll find another that will Mike! my man, I believe solve can read us the riddle. Tell us what you heard passing that night between this gentleman and Luky Mulligan !"

" Ned Finigan!" said Herbert standing up, "I think this joke is going somewhat too far. I certainly didn't expect that you would allow me to be insulted in your house and in your presence."

" Well! it's not my wish, Mr. Herbert!" said Ned, much embarrassed, " nor neither is it my fault-it's this fool of a man that's doin' it all, you see-it's some of his pranks he's playing "

" Come on, Mike !" said Paul.

" Come away from here, Dixon !" said Herbert, in a state of nervous excitement, " I shan't stay a moment longer."

Dixon stood up, but being curious to hear as well as another he pretended to look for his hat though knowing very well where it was. Meanwhile Mike was telling what had passed between the two worthies in regard to the marriage-money.

(240) He was interrupted by sundry exclamations of surprise and indignation .

"Mr. Herbert!" cried Ned, "Mr. Herbert do that! -- Mr. Herbert that has done so much for us ?"

" There's for you!" said Ally, " there's for you, Ned! -- what do you think of that now ?"

" Oh! the villain! -- the marderin' villain !" -- screamed Bridget starting to her feet and shaking her clenched fist at him, " the black drop's in him -- he couldn't be good, an' the ould skin-flint of a father he had -- he has done for us, as well as Ned ! Oh ! the curse of a heartbroken mother on you !"

"Mrs. Murphy dear! have patience!" said Bessy trying to make her sit down again," I wouldn't speak hard of the old man now when he's dead-sit down, won't you ? he feels bad enough you may be sure !"

There was not much appearance of it if he did, for he stood looking round on each speaker with a supercilious sneer snarling his lip. At last he addressed Mike

" And who may you be that have such good ears of your own ? "

" My name is Mike Milligan, Mr. Herbert !" said the lad modestly' yet with an air of selfrespect, " I was then a newsboy, vending the Daily Herald-and many a one I sold you, sir! -- now I'm a clerk in a wholesale house in Pearl street, thanks to the teaching and good advice of my dear friend Paul Brannigan-"

"Well! Mr. Clerk in a wholesale house in Pearl street, I shall invest a small sum of money in a cow-hide some of these days for your special benefit --"

"I wouldn't if I were you," said Mike very dryly, "better keep your money, sir, for something else -- give it to some old woman to say a prayer for you."

" Very well, my lad ! very well ! I'll have my eye on you, depend on it."

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Mike answered by a gesture indicating perfect indifference. The clamor of Bridget's scolding voice, and the various exclamations of the others, were little heeded by Ned. He was concentrating his thoughts for a grand attack on Herbert, but what with the anger and the quantity of liquor he had been imbibing, he could hardly make himself intelligible. He stood up and, made an attempt to look very fierce, his eyes starting from their sockets, his limbs tottering under the weight of his bloated body, and his whole frame trembling.

" Mr. Herbert !" said he sputtering and stammering at every word, " Mr. Herbert! what did you do that for, eh? I took you -- for a friend -- (hiccup) I see I was wrong -- it was Luky Mulligan's friend you were -- sailing under false colors -- I thought you were a gentleman, Mr. Herbert ! -- but I tell you plainly -- you're no such thing -- you're a scoundrel, sir! -- get out of my house !"

" Certainly, Mr. Finigan, certainly !" said Herbert with comic gravity, " much obliged to you, Mr. Finigan!"

" Very ungrateful, 'pon honor !" ejaculated Dixon. " That's your thanks, Herbert, for all the money you spent here !"

" And all the hours I endured his company," pointing contemptuously to Ned, " all the nonsense I heroically listened to -- well! no matter, Dixon ! In the language of Scripture I have my reward."

" What's that ?" said Ned with a sudden flash of animation.

" REVENGE!" cried Herbert sternly, " Revenge! !" and he looked around with the smile of an exulting demon, his face pale with the intensity of passion, as he pointed to the ungainly figure of the landlord.

" Blessed Mother !" murmured Bessy Conway pale as death; without heeding her Herbert went on, Paul motioning to the others to keep silent.

" Neither man nor woman ever injured me with impunity. Look at Ned Finigan now and think what he was the day he made a show of me before the passengers of the Garrick."

"Ha! ha! He bears my mark on every feature and on every limb ! I made him what he is-I Henry Herbert-alas ! poor fool ! If I didn't hate you as I hate the devil I could pity you for the wretched thing you are -- I'll leave you now to your own pleasant thoughts -- as for you," turning to Paul with a dark scowl of hatred, " as for you -- your time will come !"

" I defy you !" said Paul calmly and firmly, " you can do me no harm while I walk in the way of God's commandments ! If that unfortunate man had kept from the liquor and avoided your company you couldn't have injured him either. The Lord look to him this day "

"You may well say that, Paul !" said Ned, falling helplessly into his seat, and looking all the misery that his tongue could not express; " I'm done, Paul ! I'm done ! -- there s not so poor a creature on God's earth! -- sure enough he has his revenge ! -- but oh ! what did I do to him, compared with what he has done to me ! I don't blame him, though, so much as I blame myself -- I know I was doin' wrong-poor Ally and yourself and Peery and Bridget -- everybody that wished me well told it to me many a time-but I wouldn't hear to them -- now -- no -- now -- it's too late -- the devil has his grip on me -- oh ! this business -- this business."

" Nonsense, man !" said Dixon half jest, whole earnest, " don't blame the lousiness-you have made money at it- you're a rich mall -- dammit ! you re very ungrateful !"

"Rich !" murmured Ned; " rich! ay, rich indeed ! What's riches to me now? I'd give all I'm worth in the world to be is

" Able to carry me up the companion ladder !" put in Herbert with his mocking laugh.

"Take him away!" said Ned, "take him out of my sight, or I'll be tempted to raise my hand to him, and if I do I'll kill him -- as sure as God's in heaven I will!"

Bridget and Ally were load in their threats, predicting for Herbert all sorts of woes temporal and eternal. Bessy. overwhelmed with grief not unmixed with shame, made an effort to steal away unnoticed, but Paul caught her hand and drew her back to her seat. His next move was rather singular and startled every one present. He walked deliberately and locked first one door then the other.

" Now," said he, " I'm going to tell a story, and I don't want to be disturbed, you see! Sit down, Mr. Herbert and Mr. Dixon, sit down and make yourselves comfortable. I used to be a great hand at telling stories, and maybe if I could think of a good one now, it would put you all in better humor "

One looked and another looked. They could hardly believe their ears, and so strange was the proposition, so odd the manner in which it was made, that Herbert and Dixon laughed heartily, declaring that the dwarf had lost his senses Down they both sat, and Herbert rapped the table with his knuckles !

" The story by all means! -- His lordship's story!" Paul grinned and nodded and cleared his throat.


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