Mill Girls

Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.



The day of parting came at last, and Bessy was permitted as a special favor to go in the carriage with the Hibbard family to see Mrs. Walters on board the Garrick. Many friends were there, and many kind wishes were exchanged, and people were coming and going to the very last. The Hibbards were amongst the last to leave the vessel, and Bessy Conway lingered behind whilst her mistress spoke with the Captain and his officers.. Mrs. Walters had kindly promised to go and see Denis Conway and his wife as soon as she returned to Garrick, where she meant to spend part of the following summer, and Bessy stood drowned in tears, with Sirs Walters' two hands clasped between her own whilst she poured out the sorrow, and the love, and the gratitude that filled her heart. Suddenly another voice spoke behind her, it was that of Henry Herbert:

"Mrs. Walters," said he," you will excuse me, I hope, for intruding myself upon you at a moment sacred to friendship and to grief. I could not allow you to depart without assuring you once again that I am deeply grateful for the generous interest you have been pleased to take in a forlorn castaway like myself. I make no professions -- people would not believe me if I did—at least it seems so -- but oh! believe me, I am the creature of circumstances. My whole life has been unfavorable to the growth of virtue -- no genial sunshine, no softening dew has fallen on my heart to fructify the germ of good


that nature, or nature's God implanted in it -- this you cannot understand, and there is no time now for explanations -- permit me once more to thank you most sincerely, and to wish you a safe and pleasant voyage. If we never meet again I shall remember you as one who spoke kindly and encourag ingly to the poor outcast -- "

Bessy had retreated to a corner, and her sobs went to Mrs. Walters' heart. Herbert turned quickly and fixed his eyes upon her with a sorrowful expression.

" Ay ! she may weep," he said to Mrs. Walters, " she love you and you were kind to her. She will find few to treat her as you did -- to appreciate her as you did. I know her value, and I would cherish her as a tender 'dower, but she will not have it so -- she 'dies me as though I were a serpent, -- and others view me through a still darker medium ! Mrs. Walters ! I do not complain, but I must say that some whom you know have not used me well -- but no matter now -- a time may come, -- If they only left me, Bessy, I could bear all, and the world might be the gainer -- now I am like a boat sent adrift on a stormy ocean without pilot or rudder -- farewell !"

" Farewell, Mr. Herbert !" said Mrs. Walters with deep feeling; "farewell! and may God give you strength to resist temptation, and follow the instincts of your better nature ! -- there -- shake hands with Bessy now -- and go quickly -- you have but a moment !"

Bessy came forward with downcast eyes, and Herbert taking her hand looked a moment on her drooping tearful face, then sighed heavily, and dropping the hand he held left the cabin without a word. Mrs. Walters looked at Bessy—the color had left her cheek and she was trembling with suppressed emotion.

"Bessy! Bessy ! take care!" said the lady in a kind and soothing tone, "I know and feel that your trial is a hard one -- but you must persevere -- all that your friends can do will not save you, unless you act firmly and -- keep him at a distance!


Let no promises, no persuasions induce you to listen to him -- were his intentions all that he says, you would be none the happier for being his wife, knowing the light in which his family would regard you Remember what I tell you, Bessy, and you will never be sorry for taking my advice. You must hurry away now, for I hear the Captain calling to me that Mrs. Hibbard is going. Goodbye, Bessy! good-bye ! I expect you to write to me very soon and I will answer your letter. God bless you, my dear girl ! and may His mighty arm protect you from all danger !"

Bessy's heart was too fall for words, but she pressed Mrs. Walters' hand again and again, and raised her eyes to heaven invoking a blessing on her head, then silently followed Mrs. Hibbard to the deck, and had barely time to say " good-bye" to the Captain when her mistress left the vessel, and they joined the crowd on shore who were waiting to see the Garrick sail. When the final moment came and the stately ship elbowed her way out through the throng of merchant craft representing almost every nation of the earth, Bessy felt as if she were alone in the world and the halfforgotten sorrow of a former parting was renewed in her mind. Small comfort did she find in the shining gold piece which Mrs. Walters had slipped into her hand at parting. "It will do for a keepsake," was her sorrowful thought as she looked at its jaunty liberty cap and its emblematic stars, then kissed it and laid it carefully away in the tiny silk purse which the fair hands of Mrs. Walters had fabricated expressly for her use

Mrs. Hibbard did her best to console Bessy, and to replace the kind mistress she had lost. But somehow she never got so tar into Bessy's heart as her kindness would seem to warrant She was a very good woman as the world goes, and meant well at all times, but there was a want of steadiness in her disposition that amounted at times to caprice, and there was also a listless indifference to the affairs of others that looked very like selfishness if anything else it could be called. Consequently she


could never be to Bessy what Mrs. Walters had been, and that the poor girl soon found out with a sinking heart. Still Mrs. Hibbard was strongly impressed with a sense of justice and desired, moreover, to make friends of her domestics if she only knew how to set properly about it. She knew very well when she was well served, and endeavored to encourage by every means in her power those whom she found faithful in the discharge of their duty. To Bessy, therefore, she was uniformly kind, and made it a practice to hold her up as an example to others, a favor with which Bessy could well have dispensed, for she knew that it vexed and annoyed her fellow-servants without at all benefiting her.

Bridget had no patience with her mistress for what she considered this unjust partiality, and she never took any pains to conceal her discontent. She contrived to make the kitchen so uncomfortable to Bessy that she spent no more time in it than was actually necessary. Still she did not complain to Mrs. Hibbard, fearing a violent concussion which would end in Bridget's expulsion. But old Wash was not so forbearing -- he thought he had borne too long, and so he made it his business to lodge a formal complaint against Bridget, telling his mistress that he could live no longer in the same house with her.

After breakfast next morning Bridget was sent for to the sitting room, and Mrs. Hibbard asked her how it happened that she made the place so disagreeable to her fellow-servants. This reused Bridget's ire, and instead of giving any satisfactory answer, she launched out into a violent tirade against the house and every one in it, man, woman and child. Mrs. Hibbard tried in vain to stop her, saying that there was no need for loud talk or angry words, but she might as well have tried to stop the rushing avalanche of the Alps or Apennines in its downward course. Everything was said by Bridget that could possibly annoy her mistress, and she wound up by telling her that she didn't know a good girl from a bad one.

"Any bogtrotter that comes the way will suit you as well


as a girl that knows her business. I an't used to that Mrs. Hibbard, and I tell you I shan't stand it any longer. I'm no greenhorn, Sirs. Hibbard ! nor I'm no stranger in New York, thanks be to God -- I have had good places, Mrs. Hibbard ! not all as one, and I know what good places are, and I an't a'going to be walked over by any one -- I'll leave to-morrow Mrs. Hibbard ! -- there !"

"Then we are both of one mind, Bridget !" said Mrs. Hibbard quietly and coldly; " that is just what I wanted to tell you. There are two weeks past of the present month, for which time I will pay you when you are ready to leave."

" Well ! Mrs. Hibbard, it's very hard" -- began Bridget in an altered tone -- she had had no idea that her mistress would take her at her word.

" I have nothing more to say to you, Bridget," said Mrs. Hibbard walking away; " you leave tomorrow forenoon."

So it was that Bridget lost a place which she knew in her heart was as good as any in New York. She blustered a great deal in the kitchen, and boasted over and over that she didn't care a snap for Mrs. Hibbard or any one else, "only in fair play ;" she abused Bessy and old Wash till, as Bessy said, " a dog wouldn't lick their blood," but neither of them made her an answer, and, indeed, they kept out of her way as much as possible, so the day passed over without any more serious catastrophe than the breaking of a kitchen bowl which Bridget flung out of her hand in one of her tantrums."

Next morning she left the house, refusing the half month's wages which was her due, and threatening to make Mrs. Hibbard pay her month in full, as she turned her away without any reason at all but just to please that spiteful old nigger, and that nasty lithe piece of consequence, Bessy Conway. Ellen was favored with a good-bye, together with a parting admonition to take care of herself, for her turn would come next.

"Smooth water runs deep, Ellen," said Bridget with an emphatic


shake of the head; " you see they never stopped till they got one out, and they'll serve you the same trick, depend upon it. I'd advise you to get pious, and thump your craw, and turn up the whites of your eyes now and then like a duck in thunder -- when you think folks are looking at you. That's the way to get along, and -- do you hear, Ellen!" she added with a mischievous glance at Bessy, "if you only do that you needn't be partic'lar as to what you do behind-backs -- voteens can make a longer tether to themselves than they're willing to give to others."

Ellen put this broad hint off with a laugh, but Bessy looked very grave, and felt strongly tempted to make a severe retort on Bridget. A moment's thought, however, served to show her how worse than useless this would be, and she allowed Bridget to depart without any allusion to what had been said.

Mrs. Hibbard had advertised for a cook the evening before, and of six or eight who presented themselves in the morning, she engaged a tall, thin, and rather delicate looking young woman named Fanny Powers. Mrs. Hibbard was almost afraid to take her, fearing that her strength might not be equal to what she undertook, but Fanny appeared so confident, and looked so tidy and so amiable, moreover, that. there was no possibility of doubting her capacity or her willingness. She was, therefore, inaugurated as cook and laundress, and her fellow-servants were all prepossessed by her appearance.

Indeed, nothing could exceed the order and neatness with which Fanny went through her work, and, of course, the com fort of the family was wonderfully increased. Her mildness and good sense were equally remarkable in her intercourse with her fellowservants, so that, in all respects, she seemed a most valuable acquisition to the household.

Bessy Conway, in particular, regarded the newcomer with admiration, and esteemed herself fortunate in obtaining such a companion, for she found that Fanny was extremely pious,


and loved going to church beyond anything else in the whole world. She could not live, she said, without going to church regularly, and she wouldn't take the best place in New York where she couldn't get going as often as she wished.

A happy girl was Bessy when, on the first night after Fanny's arrival, the two knelt together to say their beads, and after a little persuasion, and some goodnatured laughing, Ellen was at last persuaded to join them.

" Surely we're all right now," said Bessy to herself as she laid her head on the pillow that night. Undoubtedly things looked bright, but Bessy had yet to learn the truth of the old saying: " All is not gold that glitters. "

Things had gone on very smoothly and fairly for about a week, and every one was happy in the restored peace of the mansion. Old Wash spent more of his time in the kitchen than he had done for many a month, and it was a pleasure to see him as he sat of an evening by the brightly-polished range, looking alternately, with a broad grin of satisfaction, at the clear fire and the shining teakettle on top, and the sedate countenance of the new cook as she sat at the table hard by making a dress for herself. The old man thought he had never felt so comfortable, and so he told Fanny who, of course, took all the merit to herself, and thanked Wash for his good opinion.

It was a real pleasure for Bessy, too, to bring down her work to the kitchen, in the evening after tea, or perhaps read some pious or entertaining book while Fanny worked. And the old nigger pricked up his ears and listened -- he had never heard Catholic books read before and he seemed to think them the strangest reading that ever was. As a general thing he sat listening in silence, mouth and eyes open, to catch the words whose meaning was so mystical to him. Now and then, however, he would break out in exclamations of surprise, and his running comment on what reached his ear was amusing to the girls, though at times they had to call him to account


when his remarks, whether intentionally or not, made irreverently free with sacred things.

This was all very pleasant while it lasted. The stream running so beautifully clear no one in the world could suppose that there was mud to be stirred up from the bottom very soon that would discolor the sparkling water and make trouble where all was peace and contentment

Eight or nine days after Fanny came, there was a sermon to be preached on Sunday evening, in St. Mary's Church, and Fanny calculated so certainly on being present that she was full of it all the week, and could hardly speak of anything else.

She grew quite eloquent while giving an account to Bessy of sermons she had heard preached by the same eminent clergyman.

" Well! I declare," said Bessy innocently, "you were very lucky to be able to hear so many one sermons."

"I guess I was," said Fanny, " but somehow I always make that out wherever I am."

"See that now ! -- the old saying over again: ' where there's a will there's a way."'

There wasn't "a way" on that occasion, for when Sunday afternoon came round, Fanny received orders to have some supper ready for a few friends whom Mrs. Hibbard had invited to come home with her after evening service.

When Bessy went into the kitchen a little while after, she was surprised to see Fanny sitting there crying as if her heart would break.

" My goodness, Fanny dear I what's the matter with you?"

Fanny could not answer at first, but went on sobbing most piteously.

" Lord bless me !" said Bessy again in great alarm, " what's come over you at all, Fanny ? -- did you hear of any death?"

" N -- n -- no ! I didn't," sobbed Fanny, " but -- but -- but -- "

" But what ?"

"W -- can't -- can't -- get out this evening—"


"Well ! what of that?"

" Why I shan't hear -- hear Father P 's -- sermon !"

With all Bessy's goodnature she could not help laughing

" Why, then, Fanny, is that all that ails you?"

" I guess it's about enough," replied Fanny very sharply; " I don't see what you've got to laugh at, really !"

" Well ! after that" -- and Bessy held up her hands in utter amazement -- " after that I'm sure I'll not wonder at anything."

" You won't, eh? -- dear me !" ejaculated Fanny rather disdainfully, as Bessy thought, for such a pious person.

In the meantime Fanny had dried up her tears, and Bessy went on: " Well ! do you know, Fanny, I'm surprised at you -- indeed I am -- to let your mind be disturbed at such a trifle as that."

" Trifle, indeed ! it ain't a trifle, I tell you, to be disappointed like that !"

"I wish you may never have more cause to cry!" said Bessy; " if you don't you'll come off safe enough !"

" Now will you just keep your chat to yourself ?" said Fanny, with increasing ill-humor; " I an't in a state of mind to bear much at the present time, I can tell you !"

"Why, Fanny! Fanny! where's your patience gone ton Sure I often heard you say that it was a fine thing for people to have trials and troubles in this world, for that every one would be a crown to them in heaven; -- it seems you don't want to make a crown of this trial, anyhow."

But Fanny was quite too angry to listen to reason. " Well ! it an't any use talking," she exclaimed petulantly, "if I'm vexed it an't without good reason. I guess St. Peter himself couldn't bear it patiently!"

"Well! I think he could," said Bessy with a smile, ' -- and I'm sure of it, too, for I couldn't bear what St. Peter bore, I'm afraid, and I could bear this disappointment of yours as easy as could be."

" That may be," retorted Fanny, with a look so cynical and


sour that Bessy could hardly believe her eyes; " some an't as anxious to hear sermons as others."

"Well! I can say for myself," said Bessy, still smiling, " that there's no one likes better to hear instructions than I do, -- but still I'd never fret about missing one sermon; if I did, I'd be afraid that I wasn't profiting much by them that I did hear."

On this Fanny bridled up, and her eyes actually flashed fire. " I'd thank you, Bessy Conway, to keep your opinion till it is asked for, and it will be a long day before I ask it, take my word for it."

" Well ! sure you needn't be vexed with me anyhow," said Bessy mildly; "it isn't my fault that you're kept in from church."

" I don't say it is, Bessy !" rejoined Fanny, a little softened, " but I'm real angry with Mrs. Hibbard."

" Well ! I don't see why you should. Is it because she wants supper for three or four of her friends? Hasn't she a right to get what she wants in her own house?"

"Nobody says she hasn't," exclaimed Fanny with renewed warmth, " but it's the least a girl that's working like a slave all week should have Sunday evening to herself!" and again Fanny burst into a passionate flood of tears. " Here I've to go to w work amongst pots and saucepans instead of going to Church like a Christian to hear the word of God ! It's too bad, and I've a great mind to put on my things awl go off to Church."

" And lose your place tomorrow morning?"

" I don't care a cent about the place ! I'd rather be for half wages where I could save my soul!"

Seeing the state of nervous excitement into which Fanny had worked herself, Bessy was driven to her wit's end, and knee not well what to say. Still she felt as though she ought to say something.

" Well ! I don't know how it may be with you," said she,


" but for my part, I think I can save my soul here as well as if I was in a nunnery; -- and do you know what, Fanny! maybe you're doing more for your soul among the pots and saucepans to-night than if you were sitting in a pew in St. Mary's Church listening to Father P ."

" How so, pray?"

" Why, because you'd be doing your own will if you went to Church, but it's God's will for you to stay at your work, when the mistress wants you "

"Well, upon my word !" ejaculated Fanny in high disdain, " things are come to a pretty pass with us when a bit of a greenhorn undertakes to lecture us like that!"

"I hope you'll not take it ill of me," said Bessy mildly; "even if I am a greenhorn, as you say, that doesn't prevent me from knowing how to save my soul. There's as good Christians where I came from, thanks be to God, as there is anywhere else "

" Good gracious !" cried Fanny, glancing at the clock, " there its seven o'clock, and I hadn't got a thing done, not even my tea-dishes washed!"

" Well ! if you'll go on with your cooking," said Bessy, " I'll wash the dishes for you."

This welcome proposal restored Fanny's good humor, at least to a certain extent, and although she kept sighing at intervals all the evening as she thought of Father P-'s sermon, she said no more about it, for Wash came in soon after, and Bessy took care to keep other subjects afloat, so that the evening passed away without any further allusion to the exciting topic of Fanny's disappointment.

But the girls were never on the same terms after that evening. The bond of sympathy was broken between them, and their mutual confidence was much diminished if not entirely destroyed. Bessy's faith in Fanny had received a severe shock, and the subdued mildness, or rather calmness of her exterior no longer impressed her as it had done. She had dis --


covered that a deep strata of human pride lay beneath the modest and humble exterior, and that angry passions were smoldering beneath the cold surface, awaiting but occasion to fan them to a blaze.

Dancers at a Club

During the following week, Bessy went up to see Mrs. Finigan . She found the Castle Inn and every one in it in a state of exuberant hilarity. The merry sound of the fiddle was heard from the large room off the bar, mingled with snatches of songs and " voices in their glee," and laughter that rang pleasantly on the ear. Ally was behind the bar with Ned, and both seemed as though their hearts were overflowing with content and they reveling in the sense of fortune's favors. They were both glad to see Bessy, and Ally, inviting her in behind the bar, told her she was just in time for a dance .

" How is that, Mrs. Finigan?"

"Well ! the club meets to-night, you know, and they have elegant music and everything first-rate."

" What's the club!"

"Why, the Smoking Club, to be sure I thought you knew all about it. They meet here once a week."

"Well ! but what have l to do with them?" inquired Bessy.

"Bad cess to you, Bessy, is there ne'er a spree in you, at all q Didn't I tell you you were just in for a dance, and its what you question me like a lawyer."

"Why dear me! Ally, do you think I'd go in among a room full of people that's all strangers to me, and step out on the floor before them all? Sure enough I'd be fond of a dance when I'd do that !"

"Don't be botherin' me now with your airs !" and Ally gave her a push in sportive mood. " Won't Ned go in with you himself, and its glad enough the boys will be to get such a partner! why our Mary comes every meeting night and she wouldn't miss the fun for anything ! Come here, Ned !"

Ned came accordingly and joined his persuasions to Ally's,


but Bessy was proof against them all. They were forced to leave her to go to their business, and Ned especially was very angry, knowing what a stir her pretty modest face would make in the club-room.

" You may go to the mischief, then!" he said testily as he hurried back to the bar; " if Herbert was there, she'd go in a minute," he added in an under tone, " but her own equals aren't good enough for her ladyship since she has a squireen running after her !"

Vexed as Ally was, she gave Bessy a seat near where she was standing. "But maybe you'd rather go up stairs," said she in an ironical tone, " my mother is above."

Bessy was rather amused, however, by the view which she had of the club-room through the open door, and she said she would wait a little where she was before she went up to see Mrs. Murphy. It was, indeed, a scene where mirth and jollity abounded, and where the hilarious elasticity of the Celtic nature was strikingly manifested. The Smoking Club of that day is now with the past, for twenty years throws many a custom off the stage of popular favor into the gulf of things obsolete.

At the room-door sat an odd-looking genius with the drollest expression of countenance and that ceaseless flow of humor only to be found amongst those of his class and country. This individual held a plate on which was deposited, by each one on entering, the silver key which obtained him admission, in the likeness of a York shilling. Each member, it seemed, had the privilege of bringing a partner, and the pile of shillings on the plate was appropriated, first of all to paying the musicians, the remainder to be spent at the bar in refreshments for the company. The smoking-members had another room appropriated to themselves, their pipes and tobacco—cigars were held in sovereign contempt, and by common consent excluded the club-room.


Bessy enjoyed the fun mightily for some time. The whole scene was familiar, and as she watched each:

dancing pair that simply sought renown,
By holding out to tire each other down,

And the merry antics of the young men and the simpering shyness of the girls, as they gaily footed the floor to the tune of "The Rocky Road to Dublin," or "Jackson's Morning Brush," or some other traditional favorite, she could almost forget the thousands of miles that lay between her and " the big barn" where many a time she tripped it on the bare earthen floor. When the recollection of where she was did recur to her mind, a sigh and a tear were given to the lightsome heart and the homely joys of that Auld Lang Syne which seemed to have fallen a score of years back into the past, though Bessy's years were but a score.

It soon got about in the room that " old Denis Conway's daughter from Ardfinnan" was somewhere in the vicinity, and one after another, full half a dozen "Tipperary boys" made their bow and scrape before her, asking the pleasure of her company to dance. Bessy was fain to refuse them all, but no one could take offense, her smile was so sweet, and her excuses so plausible.

She was just thinking of going up stairs, when a well known voice, speaking to Ned at the bar, made her turn quickly, and there she saw Henry Herbert, his face flushed either with liquor or some strong excitement. He had just come in, accompanied by a tall showy man, whom Bessy recognized with a sinking heart as the same who had so impudently accosted her that well-remembered night in Chatham square.

The pair of friends were passing on to the smaller room adjoining the club-room, and Ned Finigan looked anxiously round in search of Bessy. To his great relief no Bessy was there.

Chapter 12

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