Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.
Mrs. Hibbard and Fanny parted on the washing question, and Fanny went off in high disdain, deeming herself a much injured person. That Mrs. Hibbard should make so light of such extraordinary qualiflcations as she possessed, and actually deprive herself of her valuable services for the sake of an old nigger's "traps," was something so astounding to Fanny's self conceit that she could hardly realize it to herself. It brought her down a little, but not for her spiritual advancement. She was humbled, it is true, but her humiliation brought her no nearer to true humility, on the contrary, she was farther from it than ever. The superstructure of pride -- spiritual pride -- towered too high and too strong for such a rebuff to bring it down. She was vexed and mortified, and very angry, and would not for a moment admit the supposition that she was in the wrong. That Mrs. Hibbard was wrong, nobody need pretend to deny, -- who could, or who dare doubt that fact, but that Fanny Powers seas wrong, or could possibly be wrong, under any given circumstances, was a moral, and, moreover, a religious impossibility. Quite so, Fanny thought, and, of course, what Fanny thought must be right.
She left in a very acrid humor, her eyes darting disdain from under the half-closed lids, and the very tip of her nose suggesting the idea of vinegar, if not something still sharper and more pungent.
"Goodbye, Bessy!" said she as she took up a bundle containing some of her most necessary articles of clothing, "I
hope you'll get a better companion than I was -- and -- Mrs. Hlbbard a better servant!" which interpreted meant, "I guess you won't, though!" She might have been fishing for a compliment, too, but if so she was disappointed, for Bessy had had enough of her empty piety, and was well content to get rid of her eternal self-laudation
Fanny's place was filled next day by a little merry-faced dumpy woman somewhere in the neighborhood of forty. Her name was Onny Quigley, and she came to the house recommended by no less a person than Paul Brannigan, whose cousin she was.
"Though she's a blood-relation of my own," said Paul to Bessy, "I'm not a bit afeard to speak for her. She has been in a very good place for four or five years and I know her mistress wouldn't part her now, only she's breakin' up house, and goin' away to foreign parts I have that from the lady's own lips, and she said, by the same token, that Onny was worth her weight in gold, and she didn't believe there was such another little woman in New York city."
"Well! sure enough, there's no going beyond that," said Bessy laughing, "so on the strength of it we'll recommend Onny to Mrs. Hibbard."
She did accordingly, and neither she nor Mrs. Hibbard ever had reason to be sorry. Little fat Onny was the best and kindest and most considerate of fellow-servants, the most faithful and efficient of "help." She made no particular demonstration of piety but she said her prayers -- in Irish -- every night and morning, went to Mass hail, rain, or shine, every Sunday and holy.day, and somehow little Onny never complained of want of time, or found it hard to get out in the morning. In fact she was never in "a fuss," never behind with anything, and many a turn she was able to do for Bessy or Ellen when either of them had a little more work than usual. Yet Onny was always in good humor, her round rosy face as bright as the full moon, and her large white teeth --
perhaps too much exposed by the goodnatured smile that was ever on her lips. But nobody found fault with Onny's face, or Onny's looks, though, as Paul used to say, with the privilege of blood and long acouaintallce, " to be sure Onny was behind the door, like himself, when beauty was given out -- but no matter for that -- people needn't take the book by the cover. "
The longer they were together, Bessy and Onny were the better friends. Unlike Fanny, Onny was no reader, and never, by any chance, talked of what she knew, or extolled her own perfections in any way. If Mrs. Hibbard had occasion to find fault with anything she did, and indeed that seldom happened, Onny was neither hurt nor mortified.
"Well! I'm glad to know which way you like it done, ma'am!" was Onny's cheerful answer; "it's all the same to me, you know, only to please you." And Onny had never to be told again how that particular thing was to be done.
"How is it," said Bessy to her once, "how is it, Onny! that you are always content with whatever happens!"
"Why, child," laughed cheerful Onny, "there's no art in that. I engage to do people's work for them, and sure it isn't to please myself—it isn't my work, you see, bat theirs, so whatever way they want it done, it's all the same to Onny Quigley. One mistress wants a thing done this way, another mistress wants it that way, well! it's my business to please them all, if I can. Even if I didn't do it for their sake I'd do it for God's sake, Bessy! I haven't the learnin', you see, like some to know all about religion and everything that way, but I always feel as if I was serving God when I'm serving them. He sets over me for the time; so I do their work as well as ever I can, and, do you know, Bessy! I never got a dozen hard words since I've been at service."
"I believe you, Onny!" said Bessy, her eyes moist with tears; "I believe you well! -- she'd be a hard mistress that you wouldn't please, an' I tell you, there's few of them that
won't be pleased if a girl lays herself out to do it. Let them have what faults they may, they know the value of a faithful good girl when they meet her. To tell the truth, there's so many bad ones going that it makes people suspicious about them till they try them and see what's in them."
"True for you, Bessy!" said Onny, "there's a great deal in the girl's own hands, and I think there's many a one of them would be better off than they are if they'd only pay more attention to the old saying that 'a good servant makes a good mistress.' Well! I declare talk passes time -- doesn't it, Bessy? I never found myself doing that job, and now it's finished."
She held it up triumphantly before the light -- it was an old gray sock to which Onny had been adding a new foot now just completed. "The mistress wouldn't b'lieve me I'd have it done tonight -- what'll she say now?" And Onny laughed with the lighthearted gaity of fifteen.
Bessy in the same strain expressed her admiration; "and maybe Wash won't be pleased when he finds his old socks changed into new ones! -- God give you the worth of it, Onny!" She spoke with feeling, for she was thinking of her pious and charitable friend Fanny, who thought it so far beneath her to do anything for "the old nigger."
If Bessy had been more conversant with book-learning, she might probably have said to helself: "The Athenians know what is good, but the Lacedemonians practise it." But Bessy had no need to go to classic lore for a simile, she had one to her hand in the Gospel narrative, and as she sat with her eyes fixed on Onny's beaming face, she murmured half aloud: "Isn't Fanny's piety like that of the proud Pharisee that the priest so often tells us about? Turning up her nose at every one that isn't as pious as herself and thanking God that she isn't like them. Now here's poor Onny that scarce knows B from a bull's foot and never praises herself at all, and still she does twice as much good as Fanny. She always seems to do the very thing that's best to be done, and everything goes.
fair and smooth with her. Sure enough she's a good creature, and my heart warms to her."
A week or so after this Bessy was made happy by the receipt of a letter from home, full of that fond affection which is seldom or never found beyond the golden circle of the family. The news, too, was all good, better even than Bessy had expected. Her money was not needed, and her father advised her to put it in the Bank, as she was thinking of doing, till something turned up that she might want it herself. "As long as the Lord spares us our health, and sends us enough to eat and drink, and pay the landlord, we're well content," wrote Denis Conway; "for so far we've all that, and a little to spare, as you know yourself, Bessy, so we don't wish for anytiflng in the whole world, barrin' the little colleen bawn that was a comfort to us all, till she took it in her head to go and push her fortune beyond the sea, and och! but she left us all lonesome. God grant you may never rue it, Bessy astore! but we rue your going every day and every hour of our lives. Well! no matter, "God is good," as I tell your mother when she's down.hearted about you 'God is good,' says I, 'and He'll take care of Bessy, and maybe bring her back to us some day when we're in need of comfort. She'll come in on the floor to us, Polly! like the sun when the day's dark and dull, so leave it all to God, woman dear ! and you'll see how things will turn out.' Still it's hard to get your poor mother persuaded not to fret. For a long time after you went, she was hardly fit for anything, the way she'd cry and lament, and she used to keep watching, watching the door as if you ought to be coming back to her. Of late, she's beginnin' to be a little better reconciled, and she says if she only lives to see you again she's content to wait for God's good time." Then followed a long account of all the family affairs, and messages from all the neighbors, ay! for miles round. The priests were well, thanks be to God for it, and glad to hear from Bessy. As for the Murphys Denis thought they'd have been as well
at home, " and that's my word coming true," said he, "for I often told Peery he had best let well enough alone, and stay at home as long as he could sire at home. Sure the world knows that all that goes to America can't do well — they're not all of the right stuff for doin' well anywhere, and for one that has good luck and good guiding half a dozen has not. There's thousands of people goes out to America every year that are not fit to make a decent living at home or abroad, and myself thinks that the like of them have a worse chance abroad than they'd have at home. I suppose that's what leaves so many of them the poor creatures you say they are in America."
"So I think that's all I have to say," continued Denis, "only I was near forgettin' to ask you what's the meanin' of all this talk about you and young If Herbert? Only we know you have the grace of God about you we'd be afeard that there might be truth in it, for it would be a great temptation to most girls of your age to have the landlord's son looking after them. But you know well enough, Bessy, that it isn't for a good end he'd be talkin' to you, and you know the dirty drop that's in him, and so your mother and me doesn't feel a bit uneasy because we know you have the fear of God before your eyes, and that the Holy Mother of God can protect you in America as well as at home, and will never let you open your cars or your heart to a scape.grace like young Herbert that's only makin' game of you, maybe, or followin' you for his own bad ends. Let no one see you in his company late or early, and if you meet him on the street don't stop to bid him the time of day. That's your mother's advice and mine, and we know you'll not go beyond what we say. You never did, and you'll not do it now."
"God in Heaven forbid!" was Bessy's fervent ejaculation, as she kissed the letter again and again, and then folding it carefully placed it in her bosom as the dearest thing she had on earth. "That would be the black day for me when I disobeyed the best of fathers and mothers! Oh no! if I thought
it would ever come to that with me I'd be willin' to die the night before the morrow -- dear knots I would! As for Herbert, thank God! the greatest danger's past -- the only danger was that I might give in to marry him some time if he kept as he was -- but now -- oh! indeed there's little danger now of any such thing."
Bessy sat a long time thinking of all that was in her precious letter, and wondering would it ever be her happy lot to rest again under the old roof.tree of her childhood's home. "Unlikelier things came to pass," said she hopefully, "and because it tray come to pass, I'll work -- oh my! but I will -- and do everything I can to increase my little store -- and who knows but what my father says mtght one day or another come to pass, too! -- who knows One pleasant thought brings on another, and Bessy's face soon brightened with another possibility." And who knows but I'd be sending or giving Father Ryan something worth while for his new church and schoolhouse. Well! sure enough, if I ever have money enough to go home with, there's many a thing I can d !"
Bessy was aroused from her delicious dream by a message from Mrs. Hibbard that she wanted her down stairs. Laying aside the work which she had been doing, Bessy hastened down and found the family assembled in the back parlor for evening worship.
"Ellen!" said Mrs. Hibbard, "you can go down now for Onny." Ellen disappeared. "Bessy!" said her mistress, then, with a hesitation of manner that Bessy could not at the moment understand: "Bessy! we are going to prayers, and I want you all to join."
"Dear me!" said Bessy to herself, "this is a new move. What's in the wind now?" Aloud she said very quietly, "You know we're all Catholics, ma'am, and we can't join in your prayers."
"Bessy! did I understand you aright?" asked Mrs. Hibbard in real or affected surprise. " I thought you were too
(206) good a girl to refuse to join in the prayers of any family with whom you lived!"
"Catholics are forbidden to join in prayer, ma'am, with any except people of their own persuasion."
"And why, may l ask?" "Why, because the prayers are not the same, and the belief isn't the same either -- "
"Bessy!" said Mrs. Hibbard sharply, "we believe in the Lord Christ and His atonement!"
"I know you do, ma'am," said Bessy in a deprecating tone "but still there's many things we believe that you don't, so we couldn't pray with you at all!"
"Oh! very well!" said the lady coldly, "we'll try the others. I hope they are not all so -- so very rigid as you, Bessy!"
But the others were not much more yielding than Bessy -- Onny refused flatly and at once -- Ellen hesitated and seemed to calculate the possible consequences of a refusal, but catching the eyes of her two companions she took heart of grace and said no! she wouldn't do what would hurt her soul.
"Hurt your soul!" repeated the mistress haughtily and angrily. "Do you mean to say that it would hlllt your soul to pray with us?"
" Well! ma'am, I don't know much myself, God help me!" said Ellen stoutly, "but I'll stand by whatever Bessy and Onny say, for I know they'll say and do what's right."
"In that case," said Mrs. Hibbard sternly, "you can all -- but -- you may go down stairs for the present. Wash! you of course, remain!"
Much did the girls wonder at this sudden prayer.mania of Mrs. Hibbard's. They could not possibly unravel the mystery unless on the supposition that their mistress had turned Quaker and was moved by the spirit to move them. They were wrong in their calculations -- it was the Reverend Joel McClashen who had moved her directly, let the spiritual agency be as it
might. That reverend gentleman, a Wesleyan Methodist by profession, had been a frequent visitor of late at Mrs. Hibbard's, with the ostensible view of converting the lady from Episcopalianism, although there were not wanting some uncharitable persons of both persuasions who shrewdly surmised that the rich and still attractive widow was personally of more importance than the convert in the Rev. Joel's estimation. However that might be, the good gentleman had taken pains to convince Mrs. Hibbard that a heavy responsibility rested on her with regard to her Catholic help, and that there were no hopes of her own salvation unless she snatched those brands from the burning. As a first step in that direction, evening prayer was recommended, including, of course, Scriptural reading. Under this new and strong influence it was that Bessy Conway and her fellow.servants were summoned to assist at family.prayers, and great was Mrs. Hibbard's mortirication when they manifested so unexpectedly their Romish obstinacy.
She blamed Bessy more than any of the others, and on her head she emptied the vial of her wrath. It was in vain that the girl excused herself on the score of conscience and obedience to the Chulch, nothing she would say could extenuate the offense, for the Rev. Joel considered her conduct most contumacious, and advised Mrs. Hibbard to get rid of her by all means. At another time and under other circumstances, Mrs. Hibbard would have been most unwilling to part with Bessy, but advice from such a godly minister as the Rev. Joel McClashen was equivalent to a command, and Bessy was dismissed at a week's notice. Onny and Ellen were kept -- Mrs. Hibbard prudently calculating the unpleasant consequences to herself and family of a general clearing out, especially as Ellen had been some years in the house and Onny was -- what we have described her.
Before Bessy left the house she had an excellent place se cured with another friend of Mrs. Walters, a Catholic lady
whose family was as small as her means were large. She was the wife of an eminent physician in large and lucrative practice, yet they lived in a plain, quiet way, being both averse to parade and ostentation and the turmoil and tumult of society. Their family consisted of a daughter of ten or twelve, and a niece of the Doctor's, some years older. They had a son, too, but he was then at college preparing for his father's profession. It was just the place for Bessy, and somehow her heart told her so from the time she first set her foot within the door.
"There's a home.look about everything in it," said she to Onny, "and I think, for what I saw of them, the people are just as homely in their ways. There's nothing troubling me leaving here only parting with you, Onny, for I hardly expect to fall in with such another comrade girl."
"Hut! tut!" said Onny smiling through her tears, "don't be saying that! — don't you know the old saying 'Hope well and end well.' There's plenty of good decent girls living out in New York, and it's bad or you'll meet better than poor Onny Quigley."
Bessy shook her head, and wiped away a trickling tear, and said she didn't know about that. "At any rate," said she, "I'll be living in hopes that we'll be together again, and that maybe before long."
"Well God grant it!" was Onny's response, and they said no more about it at the time. The word was lightly said, then, but it came out true before many months went by.
Before Bessy was so happy as to get Onny again for her companion she had many a sad and comfortless day with others. It so happened that Mrs. Delany was obliged to change her cook several times during the first three months, and it also happened, probably for the same reasons, that Bessy could not make a friend of any of these birds of passage. Many a time she was tempted to tell her mistress about Onny, but being so short a time in the house herself she was
unwilling to make so free as to recommend another, and thought it best to wait a little longer.
She found as usual that one of the greatest troubles was to get these comers and goers out to Mass on Sunday mornings. Mrs. Delany being a conscientious Catholic, of course feltit her duty to see that no one in the house missed hearing Mass on days of obligation, and on the previous evening she made it a point to tell each of the girls at what hour she was to go out in the morning. One would think that should be sufficient, but no such thing. If Mrs. Delany were out early herself, her appointment with regard to the hour was of no account. Bessy was the only one that made it a point to do just as her mistress told her. It was only another girl that was kept in the house, but from the frequent changing of that one, she was ahvays a stranger. However it happened, of five or six girls who had undertaken Mrs. Delany's kitchen and laundry.work within as many months, every one was negligent, and, indeed, utterly indifferent about healing Mass. It was the same scene over and over again repeated, and if Bessy had been surprised at Sally and Bridget in Mls. Hibbard's, for their carelessness about this important duty of religion, she was shocked at those whom she saw in Mrs. Delany's, for there in a Catholic family, whose members were all attentive to their own duties and regular in their life, there seemed to be no excuse.
Every Sunday morning as regularly as the day came round, there was some trouble of this kind. When Mrs. Delany came in from eight o'clock Mass:
"Well ! Bessy, has Anne been to Mass?"
"N -- no, ma'am!"
"No ! Why you don't say so?"
Down to the kitchen goes Mrs. Delany and finds Anne moving about with a very conscious look as though she knew well she was doing wrong.
"Have you been at Church, Anne?" the mistress asks.
"No ! and why not pray? Did I not tell you to go to seven o'clock Mass?" No answer -- Anne bends over something she is doing, or pretending to do.
"Anne!" repeats the mistress a little angrily, "why did you not go to Mass at the time appointed?"
Anne tries at first to excuse herself on the usual plea, want of time -- the breakfast to be got, and so forth.
"Nonsense, girl!" says Mrs. Delany, " hat is no excuse. I told you not to wait for anything more than lighting the fire and leaving your tea.kettle on, then hurry off to Church, and by so doing you could easily be out from here full twenty minutes before the time."
"Well! Mrs. Delany," said Anne, thus driven to extremity and determined to brave it out, " well, Mrs. Delany, I an't used to going out so early and I don't like it—that's the truth of it!"
"How are we to manage, then? You cannot expect us to wait later than nine o'clock for our breakfast, and it will take at least an hour to prepare it." "Well! I an't particular about going to.day -- I'll wait till next Sunday." This with an affectation of extreme goodnature.
"But, you can't wait till next Sunday -- you must hear Mass every Sunday -- if you fail in that, without just cause of exeuse, you commit a mortal sin, and I would incur the same penalty if I allowed you to remain at home. You must get ready and go now -- if you hurry, you will be in time for nine o'clock Mass, at least the Mass cannot be far advanced."
"I can't go," says Anne, sullenly, "till I get in the breakfast."
"Never mind the breakfast -- we will see to that -- go at once, for you haven't a moment to lose."
Away tramps Anne upstairs, with a slow and heavy step -- on one of the landings meets Bessy.
" What's wrong with you, Anne! you look fretted '
"Don't be botherin' me, Bessy! purty work, indeed, about Mass, Mass -- it's no wonder that girls don't like to live in Catholic houses, it's a real bother, it is -- poking, poking after folks about Mass and all such things. I guess it's the last time I'll work in a Catholic family. Mortal sin, indeed !" This was partly to herself, partly to Bessy who was on her way down stairs; by the time Anne reached the top Bessy was at the bottom, but she could hear the grumbling voice talking all the way up.
Going down to put the breakfast on the table, as she saw Anne was only going out then, Bessy found her mistress sitting pensively in the dining-room, her fair smooth brow eontracted with a frown that was by no means habitual. She wad a tall, graceful woman in the prime of life, with those delicate, intellectual features and that peculiar modesty of expression characteristic of the genuine Irish lady. It was only necessary to hear Mrs. Delany speak to know that her youth had been passed in the polished capital of her native land. Its silvery accent was on her tongue, its frank, cordial, and most winning impress on every feature and in every gesture of her fine face. She always wore curls, short ringlets, in the fashion of her earlier days, probably because they were partieularly becoming to her small and well-formed head.
"Bessy," said Mrs. Delany, "I say to you what I wouldn't say to almost any other young person in your situation, because I know your faith is strong and lively, and your religious instruction beyond that of many others of your class. I feel humbled and mortified this day. I do, indeed, Bessy!"
"Why, dear me! how is that, ma'am?" said Bessy in some alarm, as she placed the coffee pot upon the table.
"Because of the half-heathen state to which I see so many Irish girls reduced here. You have seen a good many of them yourself since you have been in New York -- have you seen any of them fully impressed with the solemn obligation of hearing Mass on Sundays and holydays? -- for my part, I
have met very, very few during the ten or twelve years I have been employing them -- almost every one of them gives me the same trouble to get them out on Sunday morning. It makes me shudder to think how they act when in Protestant families. That will do, Bessy! -- now ring the bell! How can we account for it?"
"Well, I think; ma'am," said Bessy modestly, "it's because they're most of their time amongst Protestants and have nobody to put them in mind of their duty of they're inclined to neglect it."
"That may account for it," said Mrs. Delany thoughtfully, as she took her place at the table, "but it certahlly does not excuse it -- — being brought up in a Catholic country by Catholic parents they cannot be ignorant of their obligation to hear Mass, and it's a shame -- a disgrace to their country to see so many of them careless and indifferent -- nay, unwilling to go to the house of God. It certainly gives me great pain to see them as they are when I think of the miles and miles their parents used to travel at home in order to hear Mass, and that in all weathers. Oh! indeed it would be well for very many of them that they never left the humble roof of those pious Christian parents!"
By this time the Doctor and the young ladies had made their appearance, and Bessy finding that her presence was not required, went up stairs to do some of her own work, having first asked Mrs. Delany if she would please to ring for her when she wanted the breakfast things removed.
When she returned at the sound of the bell, she found the family still discussing the same subject which had occupied Mrs. Delany's thoughts. They had, however, diverged a little from the original idea. They were speaking of High Mass and the Doctor declared it very tiresome with its ceremonies, and its music, and all the rest. "For my part," said he, "I always feel more devotion at a Low Mass — I see you smile, Maria! Of course, your notions are altogether different — "
"Indeed they are, my dear, very different! There is nothing affords me greater happiness than to make one of the faithful assembled for solemn and public worship. I am only half satisfled, as it were, with a Low Mass, for the High Mass you know, is the Parish Mass, and I think every one that can is bound to assist at it. If they do not, they miss the sermon and that, you will allow, is something. But to me the couple of hours spent at Grand Mass are like the green spot in the desert of life -- surrounded by everything sacred and venerable, with prayer, and praise, and music, and the smoke of incense floating around, oh! those are indeed moments of peace, when the vexed and world.harassed heart throws off the burden of its week-long cares, and is at rest."
There was so much feeling and fervor in Mrs. Delany's tone and manner that it brought the tears to Bessy's eyes, and even the Doctor forgot for the time hit laughter-loving propensity. He seldom went to Grand Mass, on the plea of professional duty, but he went that day and assisted with more recollection than his wife had ever seen before.
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