Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America


(Illustration did not apper in original edition; added by editor for purpose of this hypertext edition only. Photo: The "streets of gold," Fifth Avenue between 116th and 117th, New York City, circa 1893.)

CHAPTER VI.


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For a short time all went on well in Mrs. Hibbard's household, and Sally was ever so attentive to her duties. She had received a civil hint from her mistress that brothers with black moustaches were not at all desirable about the kitchen. "You have sufficient opportunity to see your friends, both male and female, having Thursday evening to yourself, and also every second Sunday afternoon -- let that suffice, for I really cannot allow you to see your company in my kitchen."

Sulky and silent Sally flounced out of the room, but when she got to the lower regions she made ample amends for the temporary restraint she had imposed upon herself.

"Well there!" said she in a towering passion, flinging down her dustpan and brush on the table where Bridget was preparing something for the oven, "well there! if that a'nt the meanest thing!"

"What place is that for your dustpan and brush!" cried Bridget, and she in her turn flung them on the floor.

"I don't care a snap," went on Sally, "I say I won't put up with it!"

"Dear me, Sally what's the matter?" said Bessy, who chanced to be present.

"What's wrong with you note!" said Bridget.

"Why, she's just after telling me we can't have folks come to see us here any more; especially 'male citizens,"' and she mimicked Mrs. Hibbard's voice to such perfection that

(78) Bridget laughed heartily. "She says we can see them when we go out. No thanks to her for that! I tell you I'm real mad!"

"That's all along of your carrying on!" said Bridget angrily, "it was your sa'ce that did it, and now other folks must suffer for your doings! Well! I an't agoing to tell any beau any such a thing. Let her tell him herself if she has a mind to, and I shan't stay another hour in her house after it. I an't a greenhorn to let folks walk right over me. I know my rights, and I'll have them, too, and if she says one word to Tom next time he comes, don't she catch it!"

Bridget was just as angry as Sally, and both talking at the top of their voice it was a perfect confusion of tongues.

One thing, however, was sufficiently plain to Bessy, namely, that the knight of the black moustache was no brother of Sally's. As soon as she could edge in a word she ventured to say, "Why, I thought that was your brother that came for you the other night—"

"Brother, indeed!" said both in a breath, "just as if folks minded brothers!"

"But why did you tell Mrs. Hibbard he was, Sally?"

"Shut up!" cried Sally, "it an't any business of yours! what does a greenhorn like you know?"

Bessy, of course, gave in that she knew nothing, and was right glad to escape to her own part of the house. Mrs. Walters saw that she looked Curried and asked what was the matter.

"Not Mr. Herbert again, I hope?"

"Lord bless me, no, ma'am! -- it's only the girls below that I may say hunted me out of the kitchen just for one word I said, and I'm sure I had no harm in it either!"

Mrs. Walter smiled. "Oh! if that be all, Bessy, I am well content. You will soon learn to hold your own with them."

"Well ! I don't know, ma'am," said Bessy with a puzzled air, " I'm heard that's what I'll never do." She was thinking

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of another day when she had taken a strong pair of boots of her mistress down stairs to polish, when Bridget and Sally both fell upon her. One asked what business she had cleaning boots in her kitchen, and the other took her to task for doing them at all, telling her it was the likes of her that spoiled ladies, doing what they had no right to do. Couldn't she leave them for Wash? Yes, but her mistress was going out and wanted the boots and Wash was not in. No matter, she must not attempt to come there again to clean boots, if she wanted so bad to make herself busy and do dirty work, she might do it up stairs in her own place -- that was all. With this fresh in her mind Bessy answered her mistress in a very despondent tone, but still she could not bring herself to tell matters in their worst light.

Sunday came round at last, and somehow Bessy thought the week had been long, long in passing She had asked Mrs. Walters over might what hour would be most convenient for her to g o to Mass, and agreeable to her instructions, went to eight o'clock Mass in St. James's Church. On her return she found a storm raging down stairs. Bridget was alarmingly hurried trying to get the breakfast and scolding might and main because Sally wasn't in to help her.

"What's the matter, Bridget?" inquired Bessy with her sweetest smile.

"Oh! it's easy for you to say that," snapped Bridget, "it's well for you folks that can get out when you please, here's myself working like a nigger to get breakfast for you all, and Mrs. Hibbard is angry because it ain't in sooner. "

"What Mass did you go to?" said Bessy, naturally supposing that she had got in too late.

"Mass indeed ! how would I get to Mass! don't you think I've enough to do to see to the breakfast. Half past eight soon comes these short mornings."

"But my goodness! why didn't you get up and go to six o'clock Masse" said Bessy in utter amazement; "you'd have

80 been back at seven, and have plenty of time to do your work."

"Nonsense! child, don't be talking like a fool! How could I be getting up of a morning like this in time to go out at six? I tell you it a'nt possible for anybody in this kitchen to get out at all to Mass!"

"But didn't I hear you saying before now that there's Mass in St. Mary's Church in Grand street at nine o'clock!"

"I guess there is."

"Couldn't you try, then, and go to that? when breakfast is at half-past eight, I'm sure you could. "

Bridget, driven to extremity, turned sharp round at last. "Will you not be botherin' me, Bessy Conway? Mind your own business, and maybe you it find it enough ! God doesn't expect impossibilities!"

"Oh! I know that well, glory be to His name!" said Bessy, "blot it's not an impossibility for you to hear Mass -- I think it's your own fault if you don't!"

This made Bridget furious. "I vow to God I'll Scald you," she almost shrieked; "if you're wise you'll get out of my way! do you think I have nothing else to do but listen to your chat?"

"Well! well! Bridget, I'll say no more," said Bessy mildly, "I suppose Sally is out?"

"I guess she's gone to St. Mary's," said Bridget, a little mollified by Bessy's gentleness; " she went out just before you came in."

"Why, she'll be too late even for nine, then!"

"That's her own business," retorted Bridget, "not yours or mine. There! if I wasn't near scalding myself badly -- now just get along up stairs, will you? That's all your doings!"

This new version of the wolf and the lamb of course sent Bessy up stairs without further delay, and she vowed that it would be a long day before she undertook to admonish Bridget again She could not help reasoning with herself on what was

(81) to her so passing strange. "Now," thought she, "isn't it curious? For the little I've seen of Bridget, I really think she's an honest, decent girl, for all her bad temper, and then see how she sends so much of her earnings home to her mother, still she thinks nothing of losing Mass on a Sunday! Well! God help her! more's the pity!"

It appeared that Bridget complained to Sally on her return that Bessy had been making herself busy in their affairs, whereupon Sally took the first opportunity of rating her soundly.

"Now I'm just going to give you one advice, Bessy!" said she when, the family and Mrs. Walters being gone to Church, they found themselves alone together up stairs. "As long as you and I are in one houses don't ever dare to pass any remarks on me, whether I go to Mass or not. I guess you won't have to answer for my soul, so it an't any business of yours!"

"Well, but, Sally," said Bessy kindly and soothingly, " between ourselves, now isn't it a great sin, ay! and a great shame to be so careless about hearing Mass on Sunday, when you know the obligation that's on you!"

At this Sally turned and fixed her eyes disdainfully on Bessy.

"I guess there are some folks that never lose Mass that a'nt any better than other folk that a'nt so very particular. But to be sure it's a fine thing for a girl living out to have gentlemen," laying a bitter emphasis on the word, "coming to see her! I guess we a'nt blind anyhow -- we've got eyes as well as others, and can see folks parading up and down in front of the house most every evening -- ha! ha! that brings the blood to your face ! -- you see folks here are wide awake, Bessy Conway, so you'd better look out for what concerns yourself, and let others alone!" She flounced away with her broom in her hand, and banged a neighboring door after her.

Bessy was, indeed, startled by what she had heard. Was Herbert still keeping her in mind, then, and haunting like as

(82) ghost on her account the house which he might not enter. There was something in the thought that pleased her she dared not think why, though it grieved her, too, to find that "the landlord's son" was still making so little of himself and the people he belonged to.

In the afternoon she got leave from her mistress to go out, and after Vespers she thought she would go and see how Mrs. Sheehan was getting on. She found the old woman all alone and saying her beads, while her plaintive moans and the tears that streamed profusely from her eyes showed that Philip's eternal weal was the object of her supplication.

Bessy paused at the door and peeped in. Deeply touched by the sight of the old woman's grief, and respecting her pious occupation, she hesitated whether to go in or not, but the sound of a heavy foot on the stairs behind decided her at once and in she went with the old familiar greeting, "God save all here."

"God save you kindly!" said Dolly, crossing herself with her beads, and rising with the aid of a chair at which she had been kneeling. She did not at first recognize her visitor, and raised her hand to shade her tear-dimmed eyes as she peered into the smiling face before her. At last Bessy laughed out and asked did she not know her.

"Why, dear bless me! is it you, Bessy Conway? Wisha, then, but I'm overjoyed to see you. Sit down, achorra machree! and take an air of the file."

Bessy did so, and asked how Paul was.

"He's well, I'm obliged to you -- but, indeed, I'm afeard he's workin' too hard. It comes heavy on the creature to pay for the room and keep two of us up -- it makes myself ashamed, se it does ! for sure I know well enough I'm a heavy burthen on him, poor man!" '

"You should be, supposin' I had you on my back," said Paul himself as he stumped into the room, "'deed you would, Mrs. Sheehan, ma'am! on account of the load I have on it (83)

already. Why, Bessy Conway! is this yourself? how does the world use you these times!"

"Well! I can't complain, Paul! I'd be well off entirely if I only had my people near me, but it's a lonesome thing to be among strangers; no matter how good they are still you can't open your mind to them and make free with them as you would with your own."

"True for you, ma colleen dhas!" said old Dolly with great feeling.

"What about Master Henry?" asked Paul in a low voice.

"What about him, Paul?" said Bessy in some alarm, "why what do I know about him!"

"You never see him, then!"

"No more than I see them that's in Ireland! Do you -- do you ever see him yourself any time?" she added with some hesitation.

"Of an odd time I do," said Paul elevating his eyebrows with a comical gesture; "he's mighty bad with an old complaint that follied him at home."

"An old complaint!" cried Bessy, her cheek pale as ashes; "Lord bless me! what is it?"

"Oh! it's one that won't kill him -- don't be afeard!" said Paul coolly and with keen irony; "all the doctors in New York couldn't cure him -- no, nor you either, Bessy Conway! for he had it long before ever he seen you!"

Bessy's face was covered with blushes at this broad hint. "Me cure him! why, Lord bless me, Paul ! what virtue have I to cure any one! -- sure enough you're the quarest man living Then disguising her emotion, she said with a view to change the subject:

"How is Ned Finigan doing -- and the Murphys?"

"All well, and doing well -- ' like the people in America,' as they used to say at home. Ned has a fine liquor store of it somewhere about Prince street, I b'lieve they're goin' to have a dance there good for a house warming."

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"I must go and see them nest Sunday if I get out," said Bessy, " but I wanted to call and see Mary Murphy the day, for she was up two or three times to see me. God be with you all till I see you again!"

"I say, Bessy!" said Paul hurrying after her to the stairs, and raising himself on his toes to get to her ear, " take care of them you know."

"Why, botheration to you, Paul! was that all you had to say!" and Bessy ran down stairs in a real or pretended pout, the dwarf's discordant laugh ringing in her ears till she reached the door.

"Ah, then, now," said she to herself as she hurried along the narrow, crowded side walk in the direction of Chatham square, " ah, then, now, isn't it a hard case that he's a'throwing in my face go where I will, an' me never sees a sight of him. It's no wonder I was afeard of remarks bein' passed, for I see I can't escape people's tongues as long as himself and me are in the same city." And the tears rushed to her eyes. She hastily raised her gloved hand to wipe them away, when a well-known voice accosted her with:

"Bessy! my poor Bessy! what's the matter?" The words were almost spoken in a whisper, but Bessy heard every syllable, and she feared to raise her eyes or give any sign of recognition, for she knew it was Henry Herbert that spoke, and she began to have an instinctive notion that prying eyes were ever upon her, and ears ever open to find pretense for insinuation.

"Go away for God's sake!" she said without looking up, and she walked on faster than ever.

"Are you almost tired of service yet?" said the soothing voice again, and still at her side.

"No, no, if you'd only let me alone. For the love of Heaven, go away, or I'm ruined entirely. You don't know what I have to suffer on account of you. "

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"Never mind, Bessy! you'll get over it all -- I don't pity you now, though, for the fault is your own!"

Involuntarily she raised her eyes to his face, and she thought it was paler and thinner than usual. Paul's words immediately occurred to her, and she forgot for a moment her own concerns in anxiety for his health.

"Dear me! Master Henry! I'm afeard there's something the matter with you. It's true enough, then, what Paul said?"

"What Paul said' What did he says" demanded Herbert quickly, and if his face was pale before it was red enough then. " What did he tell you, Bessy?"

"Why nothing that was any harm, Master Henry, so don't be angry !"

"What did he say? Let me hear it at once!"

"Bless me! he only said that you were troubled with an old complaint of yours since you came to New York! I'm sure that was no harm."

Herbert laughed scornfully. " Oh ! of course not. But what complaint did he say it was I"

"Well! he didn't mention any in particular -- he only said that it was one the doctors couldn't cure -- I suppose he meant the doctors here!" she added by way of apology, but glancing timidly up in Herbert's face, she shuddered to see the dark scowl that was on his brow. His eyes were like living coals and his thin lips drawn oft the teeth with a strange and ghastly smile.

"Don't mind him Bessy!" he said with an absent air, as though he half forgot her presence, "he did but jest -- go home, Bessy! it isn't well for you to be abroad after dark. I do not otter to accompany you, for I know it would only frighten you if I did. But go home, I charge you, Bessy! lest evil come upon you. Such wickedness as you never dreamed of roams abroad here under cover of the night."

They had crossed the square by this time, and reached the corner of Division street, Bessy forgetting in her bewilderment

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that she and Herbert were walking side by side. All at once the impropriety of the thing occurred to her mind and she stopped. " For the Lord's sake, Master Henry, go away from me ! I'll never open my lips to you, if you come a step farther -- "

" I'll go, I'll go -- -but just tell me where are you going?"

"I intended to go to Houston Street to see Mary Murphy, but I'll not go now, it's getting so late."

" That's right -- go home as fast as you can. Ha!" he muttered as the girl turned to retrace her steps across the square, "ha! there was no time to lose! -- my poor Bessy!"

He stood looking after her a moment with a softened expression, then cast his eyes anxiously on a tall personage who had just turned the opposite corner from Catherine street. It appeared this individual had caught a glimpse of Bessy's pretty face as she passed under the lamp, and on reaching the corner he turned and walked rapidly after her. Herbert; hoped for a moment that Bessy was not the object of the man's pursuit, but he hoped in vain, for she had not gone many yards across the square when he saw him accost her, bending down to peep under her bonnet with an impertinent stare. The girl's exclamation of alarm was plainly heard by Herbert for he was already close behind, and the next moment he laid his hand on the man's arm.

"I say, Dixon, let that girl alone!" he said in a low but determined tone. The other turned on hearing his name, and a sinister smile gleamed across his sallow features.

" Ho! ho, Herbert! is it you! Am I trespassing, eh? By Jupiter! I admire your taste! -- where did you pick her up?"

"Take care what you say, Dixon I" said Herbert, and ho blushed like a young girl, "you're altogether mistaken -- come this way, I have something to tell you!" It needed not the imperative gesture which he made to induce Bessy to hurry away as fast as her feet w

ould carry her. It was hard to say at the moment which was uppermost in

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her mind—gratitude to Herbert, or sorrow to find him on familiar terms with a person who, even to her inexperienced eye, seemed anything but a good companion. Even the one glance she had dared to take at his face showed "a laughing devil in his sneer" and a look in his great black eyes that she could not think of without a shudder.

"My goodness!" said she to herself, "how did Master Henry fall in with such company as that! I'm afeard -- I'm afeard he's foolish for himself."

She sighed heavily as this idea presented itself to her mind, for she was thinking of the anxious care with which he had been urging her to go home before the evening advanced farther.

"He wishes me well, at any rate," she said to herself; " I wish to goodness he was only half as particular in regard to himself. Well! well! I suppose it can t be helped, but I hope in God he'll not be troublin' me any more!"

Well pleased to find herself at home again, she opened the area gate and was going to knock at the basement door when plump she came in the dark archway against some one standing there. The exclamation of surprise that escaped her was stifled by a hand laid on her mouth, and a voice which she knew to be Sally's whispered: "Hush -- hush! not a word for your life!"

"Oh! it's you, Sally! Well! I'm sure, if you didn't take a start out of me!"

"Push the door and go in!" said the whispered voice again.

Bessy did so, wondering much at Sally's standing out of doors such a night as that. As she closed the door the light from the hall fell upon a face with a black moustache and a pair of sharp eyes that certainly did not belong to Sally.

Deeming it the best of her play to take no notice, Bessy passed on up stairs, but just glanced into the kitchen where Wash was cleaning knives and Bridget making some biscuit for tea. Both appeared much heated, which was not sur-

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prising, for they had been discussing certain points of morality in connection with religion, and the subject being an exciting one they had grown quite hot upon it, Bridget, of course, having the best of the argument as far as talk went

Wash was not slow in appealing to Bessy as one who ought to know. The point under discussion was whether people did not pay to go to confession, or as Wash phrased it, "to get whitewashed."

"Why nonsense, Wash," said Bessy very seriously, "what puts the like of that in your head?"

"By Gosh, it's true enough," said the nigger with a grave shake of the head, "didn't I hear Rose Hagerty ask Missis for money to go to confession."

"Now, Bessy, how can we stand that?" said Bridget with a wrathful look at Wash. "There's a story for you!"

"Guess, I didn't make it," returned the nigger, "Rose knew what she was about v ell as most people, and I hear her say dat ever so often just wait I tell you. 'Spose the priest don't charge much for lying or stealing."

This home-thrust made Bridget wince. "You black devil," she said with rising choler, "you don't mean to say any one here does one or the other?"

"Can't say, Bridget," returned Wash with provoking coolness, "it an't far from stealing to throw good bread in the dirtbox and butter in the greasepot. Den for lies. Gosh!" and he chuckled to himself at the thought, "Golly! I hear as many told in dis kitchen as would fill a barrel! "

Bridget was speechless with anger, but Bessy assured the old man that no one ever paid anything for going to confession, adding that those who were capable of making such an assertion seldom troubled a priest at all.

"If they went to confession regularly," said she, " as they ought to do, Wash ! you'd never see them wasteful or extravagant about other people's things, or makin' free in any way with what didn't belong to them! no, nor you'd never hear

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them speakin' anything but the truth, or askin' for money to go to confession."

Bessy waited for no more, but hurried off up stairs vexed with herself for having delayed so long. At the same moment Mrs. Hibbard made her appearance from the dining room, which, as in most American houses, was on the basement floor.

"Well!" said she,"I have just heard what passed here on the subject of confession, and from my experience I should say Bessy is right. Those girls of whom you spoke, Wash, were about the most unprincipled that I ever had in my house. In fact I had reason to know afterwards that on some of those occasions when they asked money for going to confession on Saturday afternoon, it was to a dance house or low tavern they event for an evening's amusement. Where is Sally?"

Wash looked at Bridget and Bridget looked at Wash. They would have been in a sad quandary as to what they should say, (fearing Sally's vengeance in case they told the truth,) when luckily for them she appeared to answer for herself

"Where have you been, Sally?"

"Up with Ellen in the nursery, ma'am."

"Dear me! you look as cold as though you had been out of doors "

"It's a bad cold I have, Mrs. Hibbard."

"You should take something for it -- some hot gruel going to bed." And the lady returned to the dining-room where the family were assembling for supper.

"Hot gruel -- ahem!" and Sally coughed affectedly, whereupon Bridget was seized with a fit of laughing. To mark her appreciation of the joke she gave Sally a thump on the back. Wash was going to remonstrate, but received peremptory orders to "shut up," and did so accordingly as in duty bound.


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