Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.
The storm had passed away and with it the danger, the mainmast was replaced by another as stout and staunch, which had lain on the deck in provision for such contingency, and the Harris was again under full sail speeding away westward. The passengers released from their gloomy prison, and restored to hope and confidence, were all the more cheerful and hilarious for the cloud that had obscured their prospects. Now that the danger was passed, they could afford to talk, and even laugh, over their previous terrors, and discuss at their leisure the impressions made on their minds by the scenes they had witnessed It was drawing towards evening on the day following that first awful night at sea when the Garrick passed within sight of the Irish coast, and oh ! how beautiful it looked in the roseate light of the setting sun! How dear it was each one felt at that last sad moment -- they knew not before how much they loved that "Isle of beauty" till the wellspring in their hearts gushed forth at the sight of the land which had hitherto been their home -- the land of childhood's happy days, where dead friends lay in their quiet graves awaiting the Resurrection, and living hearts still beat warmly for them, and sadly mourned their departure. As the wanderers gazed through the mist of tears on that fastfading dream of beauty they thought that nothing could ever repay them for the sacrifice they were making, and as the last point of the well-loved island disappeared amid the waves on the distant horizon it seemed as though the last hold of life were snapped asunder. (50)
Bessy Conway had stolen out to take a last look at the fading shores of her native land, and stationed herself, as she thought, unobserved, between the end of the galley and the cabin door. She was thinking with a saddened heart on the many ties that bound her to the Old Land so rapidly passing from her view, when the voice of Herbert struck mournfully on her ear, and turning quickly she saw him at her side pale and haggard. He smiled sadly as her eyes met his.
"Thinking of home, Bessy! well it is hard to turn one's back on a country like that," and he cast his eyes languidly on the picturesque coast before them." Still your grief is not bitter; there is no dark thought of sin or shame coming between you and the fair land you love so well. Oh Bessy! were every heart here as innocent as yours, sorrow would be almost joy."
Bessy dried her own tears and looked up in surprise. She had never heard Herbert talk so before, and there was some thing in the tone of his voice that went to her heart, she knew not why. His face was turned towards the land, and he seemed so lost in his own thoughts, that he took no heed of her presence. It was but for a moment, however, for suddenly he laid his hand on her shoulder and looked her full In the face.
"Bessy," said he, "in all probability you saved my life last night when you ventured out through wind and rain to seek me. I'll never forget that to you, Bessy ! I'm not so hardened as some may think; don't cry, my little girl, and don't turn away your head. I'll be your friend if you'll only let me. I will indeed, indeed! Bessy, I have money enough for both, and you shall never know a sorrow or a want that I can prevent.
"Oh Master Henry!" said Bessy in a voice half choked with sobs, "don't don't talk so -- it is not right for me to hear you !" (51)
"And why, Bessy? why is it not right?" -- and he tried to take her hand, which she resolutely withheld -- "what care I now for the opinion of those who were called my equals? -- I am going to a country where my name is no more than yours -- share my lot, then, and I will share yours, and we shall be all the world to each other! -- you shall find that Henry Herbert is not so black as they paint him!"
"The devil himself is no blacker!" said a squeaking voice from behind, and the ill-favored countenance of the hunchback protruded itself between the two in strange and startling contrast.
At the same moment a rough heavy hand laid hold of Herbert's arm, and the Stentorian lungs of Ned Finigan vociferated. "What's goin' on here? Go about your business, my young chap! this is no place for you!"
"And who are you that dares to say so!" asked Herbert haughtily.
"It's nothing to you who I am, but take yourself off, or I'll do it for you!" The hunchback grinned from ear to ear, but Bessy, frightened by Ned's menacing look, laid her hand on his arm and whispered: "Don't look so cross, Ned! don't now! -- speak him fair and he'll do whatever you want !"
Still Herbert showed no intention of moving, but stood eyeing the big man and the little with a smile of supercilious mockery.
"You won't go, then?" said Ned very quietly as it seemed.
"Not at your bidding, most assuredly!"
Shaking off Bessy's hand as though it were a feather, Ned Finigan laid hold of Herbert, and taking him across his arms as one would a little child he mounted the companion-ladder and placed him astride on the railing which marked the boundary of the quarter deck, Herbert the while kicking and plunging as vainly in his grasp as though it were a vice that held him. (52)
"There's a fine seat for you now," said Ned in a voice loud enough to attract general attention," where the ladies can all get a sight of you. Man alive! don't twist and turn that way or you'll fall and break your bones! Steady now! steady!"
Both decks were crowded at the moment and all eyes were instantly turned on the actors in this strange scene. Shouts of laughter arose from the main deck where some notions had got abroad rather unfavorable to "the half-sir," whilst even the more polished cabin passengers at the other end were unable to restrain their mirth within the bounds of politeness. Some few there were who pitied the aggrieved person, especially when they recognized him as one of their own number.
Amongst these was Mrs. Walters, whose gentle heart was ever open to kindly sympathy. She felt anxious to see how Herbert would act under such trying circumstances, and though more than suspecting the cause of Ned's singular freak, still she was vexed at so public an exposure of the good-looking young Irishman who, after all, might be guilty of no worse crime than a liking for her pretty maid. She fully expected to see him slink away overwhelmed with shame and confusion, but she found herself mistaken.
Whatever might have been his inward emotions he managed to conceal them and that in a way that astonished every one. Stepping lightly down from his awkward position he forced a smile that made his wan face look ghastly, and turned to Ned Finigan who stood at the top of the ladder, waiting, doubtless, to enjoy his confusion.
"That was well done," said he, "very well done indeed. I really had no idea of your prodigious strength. Why, man, if you choose to enter the ring in New York you will beat Yan kee Sullivan hollow! ha! ha! ha! to take me in his arms up the ladder! Upon my honor! that is good!"
This was addressed to a gentleman standing near who had been one of the flrst to indulge his mirth at Herbert's expense. Being a stranger he could not detect the unnatural sternness (52)
that was hidden beneath that ironical laugh, or the anguish indicated by the halfuttered words. He only saw an assumption of dignity and selfpossession which surprised him under the circumstances. So it was with all the others, and as Herbert walked up the deck, still preserving the same air halfdefiant, halfhumorous, the smile and the laugh died away on every lip, and people followed him with their eyes as a person deserving of some attention. Having made a turn up and down the deck, and exchanged a few civil words with Mrs. Walters who had kindly inquired how he found himself after the night's adventure, he leaned for a few monuments against the bulwark, apparently taking a last fond look at the blue misty line which marked the outline of his native shore, then walked very composedly down the ladder and was seen no more that evening
"He's a confounded queer fellow that Herbert!" said Captain Walters to his wife the next time they were alone together; "I happened to be where I had a full view of the proceedings, and I give you my honor, Addie Walters, he played his part well to turn the laugh on the big fellow as he did. I fancy he must have felt rather small, for he made his retreat very quietly."
"Well! I know not how it is," observed the lady," but I have more sympathy with that young man than I ever thought to have. He may be bad and have bad designs, but there is nothing of the Villain about him as far as I can judge. Now tell me this, William ! if the countenance be the index of the mind, whether is Herbert or that ill-looking dwarf the mob reliable!"
"Did you never hear the old saying, Addie, that the book is not to be taken by the cover!"
"Yes, yes, but I have no faith in it; people will take the book by the cover were there fifty axioms to the contrary. I tell you I cannot believe Herbert a villain!''
"Don't trust him for all that. Addie! take my advice!" (54)
Bessy coming in at the moment the subject was, of course, dropped. The captain applied himself to his logbook, and his wife had leisure to observe that there was an angry blush on Bessy's cheek and a frown on her fair brow.
"What's the matter, Bessy?" said the mistress in a low voice.
"Oh! nothing at all, ma'am!"
"Are you sure, now!"
"Well! nothing worth speaking of -- it was only some words I had with a cousin of mine!"
Mrs. Walters smiled but said nothing. Ned has been catching it!" she said to herself, "small thanks he will get from Bessy for his offlcious meddling!"
Ned had come to about the same conclusion himself by that time. He and Bessy had quarrelled on the head of his late escapade, and she had told him pretty plainly to mind his on n business, whereupon Ned answered that he was minding his business when chastising Herbert, "for" said he, "I see well enough how things would go if I let people have their way, and if shame or blame came on my own blood, wouldn't I have my share of the disgrace! It is my own business, Bessy Conway! and there isn't a time I catch you colloguin' with that scape grace but I'll make a show of you both!" "And what good will that do you?" "Good or no good, I'll try it anyhow -- so now you're warned, and don't blame me if I have to do what I say!" Not another word would Ned hear.
What wonder was it that Bessy's brow was clouded that evening, and her mind ill at ease?
Whether it was from fear of Ned's threat or a prudent desire to avoid Herbert, the girl kept so close to Mrs. Walters' cabin for the next eight or ten days that no one could get a sight of her. Meanwhile Ned Finigan and Henry Herbert had come to an understanding, and no very amicable one either. They had been rather avoiding each other since the affair of "the chairing," as Ned's friends facetiously called Herbert's involuntary ascent to the quarter deck), but it so happened that (55)
they found themselves face to face one moonlight night about a week after, when most of the passengers were sitting in groups here and there beguiling the time with song and story.
"Ned Finigan (if that be your name)," said Herbert in a low hissing tone, "I've an account to settle with you, but the chances are against me for the present. The means are not at my disposal just now, but I have a good memory, Ned, and you will find yourself paid with reasonable interest some day when you least expect it. You understand me, I hope!"
"Indeed then I do, and I give you free leave and liberty to do your worst. I don't care that for you, Henry Herbert !" and he snapped his fingers close to his face." You understand me, I hope?" mimicking the other's tone. Herbert smiled ghastly smile, and nodded, and passed on up the ladder to join the company on the quarter deck. There was a deep red spot on either cheek and a lurid light in his eyes that boded no good, but he glided into the shade of the awning, and no one thought of observing him at the moment. Ned stood looking after him with a curious expression, half ridicule, half wonder, then turned carelessly on his heel and strode along the deck to where he saw the Murphys, and Paul Brannigan, and old Dolly Sheehan, sitting near the forecastle.
"What's that he was sayin' to you?" whispered Paul, as Ned took possession of the place which Ally Murphy bashfully made for him next herself.
"Why, bad manners to you, Paul, have you eyes in the back of your head?" said Ned with a light-hearted laugh. " I didn't think you could see us from here?"
"You see I did, then; what did he say?"
"I'll tell you again. 'Hem!" raising his voice, "weren't you saying Ally, that you'd wish to hear ' The Shannon Side?"'
"Well ! if it's pleasin' to you, Mr. Finigan, I would, then." Clearing his throat vociferously, Ned commenced his " stave," and before he had got through the first verse his loud clear voice had attracted scores of the passengers to the spot, and (56)
the wellknown air was caught up at each refrain and repeated in a full chorus that sounded rich and musical on the stilly air, and rolled away in murmuring echoes over the moonlit waves.
Amongst the cabin passengers there was a gentleman of thin spare proportions who sat much alone, generally reading, as some of the ladies observed, " in a very curious-looking black book, which, for aught they knew, might be something akin to that taken from the wizard's grave, and the dead man's hand in fair Melrose, by ' William of Deloraine, good at need.' "
The book, indeed, and the quiet gentlemanly owner thereof were frequent subjects of speculation amongst the fair idlers of the promenade-deck, and more than once the grave and somewhat pensive countenance of this studious personage brightened with a humorous smile as he heard light, stealthy footsteps passing behind him as he sat, and knew that fair prying eyes were endeavoring to get a peep over his shoulder at the book in his hand, whose illuminated pages certainly presented a strange symbolical character.
Captain Walters contributed not a little to increase the feeling of curiosity that existed with regard to the gentleman in black who was known amongst his fellow passengers as Mr. Daly. When questioned concerning him he shook his head and either evaded the subject altogether or answered only by some hints of a very mysterious nature.
What made the matter more strange was the sort of confidential intercourse going on between Mr. Daly and certain of the steerage passengers. Ned Finigan had sundry private interviews with him, during which Ned's demeanor was observed to be of a very bashful kind as he stood before him with head uncovered, twirling his fingers, and otherwise laudably employed in kicking away some chips which luckily lay at his feet. Then the dwarf was seen in close conversation with the owner of the black book who actually testified some emotion as he listened to the little man, and lo! at Paul's next visit he (57)
brought with him no less a person than old Dolly Sheehan, and strange enough, the dark, silent, and rather dignified gentleman shook the old crone's hand very kindly and bent his head and listened quite graciously to what she had to say. This was all passing strange, and the lady passengers of the Garrick were exceedingly anxious to know what it meant, but unfortunately none of them were endowed with such organs of hearing as Prince Fine Ear in the fairy tale, and the unreasonable man in black always contrived to hold his levee and transact whatever business he had just where they could see but not hear. It vvas too bad they all agreed, but worse was yet to come, for, one fine morning comes up from the steerage in gala dress arrayed, "the biggest man on board," and with him Peery Murphy and his wife and daughters, ay! and sons, too, and last of all the dwarf, with Dolly Sheehan close by his side. In they all marched to the captain's cabin, and when the door was opened by Bessy Conway, drest in her best and radiant with smiles, who should be seen sitting within but Mr. Daly as provokingly calm and quiet as though there were no mystery about him.
All day curiosity was at its height in the cabin of the Garrick. If any there knew or suspected what was going on, they kept the secret to themselves, doubtless enjoying the mystification of the others. It so happened that most of the cabin passengers were English, with a very few Americans, and a small sprinkling of Irish None of them were Catholics, and their surmises and speculations received a solution towards evening, for which they were by no means prepared. Some of the gentlemen had gallantly volunteered to penetrate the mystery, and great merit was claimed by the lucky individual who succeeded.
"Well ! and what is it all about?"
"Who is the gentleman in black?"
"You wouldn't guess, ladies!" said Henry Herbert with assumed gravity He had known from the first all about it. (57)
"Well, then, the gentleman in black is -- is -- "
"What ! who!"
"A Catholic priest! "
"There, Bella, didn't I tell you he was a Jesuit?'
"You told me no such thing, Elly !"
"Why, do tell ! a Catholic priest !"
"Well! what more!"
"There's been a wedding today," said another gentleman taking up the tale, "the Irish giant has been taking to himself the little Goody two shoes in the blue cloak."
"And the dwarf and the old woman -- have they come together, too?"
"Well no, not exactly, I suppose they think themselves ' O'er young to marry yet!' Why, ladies, you seem disappointed. Not a word of thanks for all my trouble?"
"La ! it don't amount to anything after all If I had known he was only a Popish priest, I wouldn't have taken the trouble even to look at him! If he had turned out to be a spy, or a Turkish dervise "
"Or a foreign magician, you know!"
"Or one of those Irish Agitators. Why, he might have been O'Connell himself, and then, only think what an item that would have been for one's journal! But a common Popish priest ! well really now it is too bad!"
Leaving the gentlemen to enjoy the discomfiture of their fair friends on the fall of their pretty card castle, let us, in virtue of our privilege, take a peep at what was going on in the captain's cabin.
The marriage ceremony was concluded and the company had all paid their respects and offered their congratulations to the happy couple (and indeed it was hard to tell which was the happiest couple there, for Peery Murphy and his wife were about as near the summit of bliss as the new-made (59)
spouses themselves), when Paul Branigan stood forward and addressed the priest in the following terms:
"Please your reverence, Father Daly, I want to make a bargain with old Mrs. Sheehan here while you and this good company is to the fore." Every one smiled, and the priest asked in a jocular way, "Is it going to make a match of it you are?"
"Deed, then, it isn't, your reverence; there's neither of us such a fool as that, askin' your reverence's pardon, but I want you all. So bear witness that if Mrs. Sheehan doesn't find her son Philip in America where she's goin' to look for him, I'm willln' to take her for a mother and do for her as if she was my own."
Before any one could express the emotion that stirred every heart, the old woman turned sharply on the hunchback:
"Get away wid you now, Paul!" she cried vehemently, "Isn't it all nonsense for you to talk that way? What would ail me but I'd find my son? Not but what I'm entirely obliged to you for your good wish, but I want no son but Philip. While God spares him to me I want no other, and I'll hare no other till I see him! He! he! an me goin' straight to Philip out in O-hi-o !"
Father Daly had been interrogating Paul by signs, the dwarf having drawn back a step or two behind Dolly, and he laid his hand gently on the old woman's shoulder and asked her what certainty she had that her son was alive.
"Wisha, then, what certainty could I have, your reverence, only that I know God would never be so cruel as to take away my boy from me, an' him all I have, an' me neither able to work or want."
The priest shook his head with a melancholy smile. "My dear woman, the ways of God are not our ways," he said in a solemn tone, "God is never cruel, but He sometimes sends us in His great mercy, very heavy afflictions just to try our faith and to withdraw our hearts from the things of this world. (60)
Your son must die one day or another like all the rest of mankind, and who knows but his turn has come before now. "
"It has not, your reference! no, no, no! The art of man wouldn't make me b'lieve it !" And the excited old creature burst into tears from the very excess of her agitation. "Please the Lord he'll see me down first, anyhow, as he ought, in the course of nature."
"Don't be too sure, now, Mrs. Sheehan, ma'am!" said the hunchback with sudden vivacity; "I don't like people to be too self-willed altogether, an' I'm not pleased with you, so I'm not. Still I'm willin' to stand to my word if you'll only act like a sensible woman and make the best of the worst ."
" I'll have nothing to say to you one way or the other," said Dolly snappishly; "don't be botherin' me, I tell you onst for all. Hegh! a purty son you'd make!" and she looked so disdainfully at Paul that the little man could stand it no longer.
"Bad as I am, maybe I'm better than none," said he tartly; "I'm all the son you'll ever have now! D'ye hear that, madam!"
"I do, you poor little sprissawn of a creature!" cried Dolly in an elevated tone, "but I don't b'lieve one word of it. You're just sayin' it to spite me!"
"Out with it, man !" said the priest in a low voice, " you'll never have a better time."
"To spite you!" repeated Paul, and he fixed his keen little eyes on her face; "ah then, it's little you know Paul Brannigan when you say that! I'd give more money than I'll ever have to see Philip Sheehan alive and well comin' to meet the ould mofber that he used to talk so much of!"
"But sure he will come to meet me. Some day; say he will. God bless you, now, and do!" and Dolly took hold of the dwarf by both arms and looked down into his face. A sad misgiving smote her breast—perhaps for the first time.
Paul looked one side, and then the other, but there was no evading the old eyes that were searching his very soul. At (61)
last, he looked up into Dolly's face with a sort of desperation -- his whole frame shook with strong emotion.
" I can't say what's not true, Mrs. Sheehan! Your son is dead. Dead."
For a moment there was not a word spoken -- the two still stood looking into each other's eyes, and the spectators were all, as it were, spellbound.
At last old Dolly spoke, in a whisper, "Are you sure of that?"
" Indeed I am, poor woman! I wish I was as sure of heaven!"
" An' you tell me I have no son to go to?"
"Sorry I am to say it!"
"And I'll never see Philip more ?"
"Not in this world," said Father Daly, making an effort to restrain his tears, and taking the old woman's hand tenderly "but in heaven you'll see him, I hope, for all eternity"
"I hope so, your reverence, I hope so !" murmured Dolly in a dreary, half-conscious way, " but then, I have no son, you see!" She turned towards the door without either a sigh or a groan, but seeing every one in tears as she passed, she stopped and looked kindly at each.
"Well! it's very good of you all to cry for a poor lone creature like me, but somehow I can't cry myself. An' they tell me Philip's dead. Dead. Well, maybe he is! maybe he is! will some one let me out?" The door was opened and she tottered out apparently but half realizing what she had heard.
Paul would fain have followed, but the priest detained him to tell the manner of Philip's death.
The women hastened after Dolly and conveyed her to her berth, where she lay for three days in a sort of stupor, neither easing nor drinking, and showing consciousness only by putting her hand occasionally to her head, muttering ever. "They say Philip's dead. Maybe he is!"