Story type: Literature
The old beggar women of Bantry streets had seldom showered their blessings upon a departing group of emigrants with such hearty good will as they did upon Mike Bogan and his little household one May morning.
Peggy Muldoon, she of the game leg and green-patched eye and limber tongue, steadied herself well back against the battered wall at the street corner and gave her whole energy to a torrent of speech unusual to even her noble powers. She would not let Mike Bogan go to America unsaluted and unblessed; she meant to do full honor to this second cousin, once removed, on the mother’s side.
“Yirra, Mike Bogan, is it yerself thin, goyn away beyant the says?” she began with true dramatic fervor. “Let poor owld Peg take her last look on your laughing face me darlin’. She’ll be under the ground this time next year, God give her grace, and you far away lavin’ to strange spades the worruk of hapin’ the sods of her grave. Give me one last look at me darlin’ lad wid his swate Biddy an’ the shild. Oh that I live to see this day!”
Peg’s companions, old Marget Dunn and Biddy O’Hern and no-legged Tom Whinn, the fragment of a once active sailor who propelled himself by a low truckle cart and two short sticks; these interesting members of society heard the shrill note of their leader’s eloquence and suddenly appeared like beetles out of unsuspected crevices near by. The side car, upon which Mike Bogan and his wife and child were riding from their little farm outside the town to the place of departure, was stopped at the side of the narrow street. A lank yellow-haired lad, with eyes red from weeping sat swinging his long legs from the car side, another car followed, heavily laden with Mike’s sister’s family, and a mourning yet envious group of acquaintances footed it in the rear. It was an excited, picturesque little procession; the town was quickly aware of its presence, and windows went up from house to house, and heads came out of the second and third stories and even in the top attics all along the street. The air was thick with blessings, the quiet of Bantry was permanently broken.
“Lard bliss us and save us!” cried Peggy, her shrill voice piercing the chatter and triumphantly lifting itself in audible relief above the din,–“Lard bliss us an’ save us for the flower o’ Bantry is lavin’ us this day. Break my heart wid yer goyn will ye Micky Bogan and make it black night to the one eye that’s left in me gray head this fine mornin’ o’ spring. I that hushed the mother of you and the father of you babies in me arms, and that was a wake old woman followin’ and crapin’ to see yerself christened. Oh may the saints be good to you Micky Bogan and Biddy Flaherty the wife, and forgive you the sin an’ shame of turning yer proud backs on ould Ireland. Ain’t there pigs and praties enough for ye in poor Bantry town that her crabbedest childer must lave her. Oh wisha wisha, I’ll see your face no more, may the luck o’ the Bogans follow you, that failed none o’ the Bogans yet. May the sun shine upon you and grow two heads of cabbage in the same sprout, may the little b’y live long and get him a good wife, and if she ain’t good to him may she die from him. May every hair on both your heads turn into a blessed candle to light your ways to heaven, but not yit me darlin’s–not yit!”
The jaunting car had been surrounded by this time and Mike and his wife were shaking hands and trying to respond impartially to the friendly farewells and blessings of their friends. There never had been such a leave-taking in Bantry. Peggy Muldoon felt that her eloquence was in danger of being ignored and made a final shrill appeal. “Who’ll bury me now?” she screamed with a long wail which silenced the whole group; “who’ll lay me in the grave, Micky bein’ gone from me that always gave me the kind word and the pinny or trippence ivery market day, and the wife of him Biddy Flaherty the rose of Glengariff; many’s the fine meal she’s put before old Peggy Muldoon that is old and blind.”
“Awh, give the ould sowl a pinny now,” said a sympathetic voice, “‘t will bring you luck, more power to you.” And Mike Bogan, the tears streaming down his honest cheeks, plunged deep into his pocket and threw the old beggar a broad five-shilling piece. It was a monstrous fortune to Peggy. Her one eye glared with joy, the jaunting car moved away while she fell flat on the ground in apparent excess of emotion. The farewells were louder for a minute–then they were stopped; the excitable neighborhood returned to its business or idleness and the street was still. Peggy rose rubbing an elbow, and said with the air of a queen to her retinue, “Coom away now poor crathurs, so we’ll drink long life to him.” And Marget Dunn and Biddy O’Hern and no-legged Tom Whinn with his truckle cart disappeared into an alley.
“What’s all this whillalu?” asked a sober-looking, clerical gentleman who came riding by.
“‘T is the Bogans going to Ameriky, yer reverence,” responded Jim Kalehan, the shoemaker, from his low window. “The folks gived them their wake whilst they were here to enjoy it and them was the keeners that was goin’ hippety with lame legs and fine joy down the convanient alley for beer, God bless the poor souls!”
Mike Bogan and Biddy his wife looked behind them again and again. Mike blessed himself fervently as he caught a last glimpse of the old church on the hill where he was christened and married, where his father and his grandfather had been christened and married and buried. He remembered the day when he had first seen his wife, who was there from Glengariff to stay with her old aunt, and coming to early mass, had looked to him like a strange sweet flower abloom on the gray stone pavement where she knelt. The old church had long stood on the steep height at the head of Bantry street and watched and waited for her children. He would never again come in from his little farm in the early morning–he never again would be one of the Bantry men. The golden stories of life in America turned to paltry tinsel, and a love and pride of the old country, never forgotten by her sons and daughters, burned with fierce flame on the inmost altar of his heart. It had all been very easy to dream fine dreams of wealth and landownership, but in that moment the least of the pink daisies that were just opening on the roadside was dearer to the simple-hearted emigrant than all the world beside.
“Lave me down for a bit of sod,” he commanded the wondering young driver, who would have liked above all things to sail for the new world. The square of turf from the hedge foot, sparkling with dew and green with shamrock and gay with tiny flowers, was carefully wrapped in Mike’s best Sunday handkerchief as they went their way. Biddy had covered her head with her shawl–it was she who had made the plan of going to America, it was she who was eager to join some successful members of her family who had always complained at home of their unjust rent and the difficulties of the crops. Everybody said that the times were going to be harder than ever that summer, and she was quick to catch at the inflammable speeches of some lawless townsfolk who were never satisfied with anything. As for Mike, the times always seemed alike, he did not grudge hard work and he never found fault with the good Irish weather. His nature was not resentful, he only laughed when Biddy assured him that the gorse would soon grow in the thatch of his head as it did on their cabin chimney. It was only when she said that, in America they could make a gentleman of baby Dan, that the father’s blue eyes glistened and a look of determination came into his face.
“God grant we’ll come back to it some day,” said Mike softly. “I didn’t know, faix indeed, how sorry I’d be for lavin’ the owld place. Awh Biddy girl ‘t is many the weary day we’ll think of the home we’ve left,” and Biddy removed the shawl one instant from her face only to cover it again and burst into a new shower of tears. The next day but one they were sailing away out of Queenstown harbor to the high seas. Old Ireland was blurring its green and purple coasts moment by moment; Kinsale lay low, and they had lost sight of the white cabins on the hillsides and the pastures golden with furze. Hours before the old women on the wharves had turned away from them shaking their great cap borders. Hours before their own feet had trodden the soil of Ireland for the last time. Mike Bogan and Biddy had left home, they were well on their way to America. Luckily nobody had been with them at last to say good-by–they had taken a more or less active part in the piteous general leave-taking at Queenstown, but those were not the faces of their own mothers or brothers to which they looked back as the ship slid away through the green water.
“Well, sure, we’re gone now,” said Mike setting his face westward and tramping the steerage deck. “I like the say too, I belave, me own grandfather was a sailor, an’ ‘t is a fine life for a man. Here’s little Dan goin’ to Ameriky and niver mistrustin’. We’ll be sindin’ the gossoon back again, rich and fine, to the owld place by and by, ’tis thrue for us, Biddy.”
But Biddy, like many another woman, had set great changes in motion and then longed to escape from their consequences. She was much discomposed by the ship’s unsteadiness. She accused patient Mike of having dragged her away from home and friends. She grew very white in the face, and was helped to her hard steerage berth where she had plenty of time for reflection upon the vicissitudes of seafaring. As for Mike, he grew more and more enthusiastic day by day over their prospects as he sat in the shelter of the bulkhead and tended little Dan and talked with his companions as they sailed westward.
Who of us have made enough kindly allowance for the homesick quick-witted ambitious Irish men and women, who have landed every year with such high hopes on our shores. There are some of a worse sort, of whom their native country might think itself well rid–but what thrifty New England housekeeper who takes into her home one of the pleasant-faced little captive maids, from Southern Ireland, has half understood the change of surroundings. That was a life in the open air under falling showers and warm sunshine, a life of wit and humor, of lavishness and lack of provision for more than the passing day–of constant companionship with one’s neighbors, and a cheerful serenity and lack of nervous anticipation born of the vicinity of the Gulf Stream. The climate makes the characteristics of Cork and Kerry; the fierce energy of the Celtic race in America is forced and stimulated by our own keen air. The beauty of Ireland is little hinted at by an average orderly New England town–many a young girl and many a blundering sturdy fellow is heartsick with the homesickness and restraint of his first year in this golden country of hard work. To so many of them a house has been but a shelter for the night–a sleeping-place: if you remember that, you do not wonder at fumbling fingers or impatience with our houses full of trinkets. Our needless tangle of furnishing bewilders those who still think the flowers that grow of themselves in the Irish thatch more beautiful than anything under the cover of our prosaic shingled roofs.
“Faix, a fellow on deck was telling me a nate story the day,” said Mike to Biddy Bogan, by way of kindly amusement. “Says he to me, ‘Mike,’ says he, ‘did ye ever hear of wan Pathrick O’Brien that heard some bla’guard tell how in Ameriky you picked up money in the streets?’ ‘No,’ says I. ‘He wint ashore in a place,’ says he, ‘and he walked along and he come to a sign on a wall. Silver Street was on it. “I ‘ont stap here,” says he, “it ain’t wort my while at all, at all. I’ll go on to Gold Street,” says he, but he walked ever since and he ain’t got there yet.’”
Biddy opened her eyes and laughed feebly. Mike looked so bronzed and ruddy and above all so happy, that she took heart. “We’re sound and young, thanks be to God, and we’ll earn an honest living,” said Mike, proudly. “‘T is the childher I’m thinkin’ of all the time, an’ how they’ll get a chance the best of us niver had at home. God bless old Bantry forever in spite of it. An’ there’s a smart rid-headed man that has every bother to me why ‘ont I go with him and keep a tidy bar. He’s been in the same business this four year gone since he come out, and twenty pince in his pocket when he landed, and this year he took a month off and went over to see the ould folks and build ’em a dacint house intirely, and hire a man to farm wid ’em now the old ones is old. He says will I put in my money wid him, an he’ll give me a great start I wouldn’t have in three years else.”
“Did you have the fool’s head on you then and let out to him what manes you had?” whispered Biddy, fiercely and lifting herself to look at him.
“I did then; ‘t was no harm,” answered the unsuspecting Mike.
“‘T was a black-hearted rascal won the truth from you!” and Biddy roused her waning forces and that very afternoon appeared on deck. The red-headed man knew that he had lost the day when he caught her first scornful glance.
“God pity the old folks of him an’ their house,” muttered the sharp-witted wife to Mike, as she looked at the low-lived scheming fellow whom she suspected of treachery.
“He said thim was old clothes he was wearin’ on the sea,” apologized Mike for his friend, looking down somewhat consciously at his own comfortable corduroys. He and Biddy had been well to do on their little farm, and on good terms with their landlord the old squire. Poor old gentleman, it had been a sorrow to him to let the young people go. He was a generous, kindly old man, but he suffered from the evil repute of some shortsighted neighbors. “If I gave up all I had in the world and went to the almshouse myself, they would still damn me for a landlord,” he said, desperately one day. “But I never thought Mike Bogan would throw up his good chances. I suppose some worthless fellow called him stick-in-the-mud and off he must go.”
There was some unhappiness at first for the young people in America. They went about the streets of their chosen town for a day or two, heavy-hearted with disappointment. Their old neighbors were not housed in palaces after all, as the letters home had suggested, and after a few evenings of visiting and giving of messages, and a few days of aimless straying about, Mike and Biddy hired two rooms at a large rent up three flights of stairs, and went to housekeeping. Litte Dan rolled down one flight the first day; no more tumbling on the green turf among the daisies for him, poor baby boy. His father got work at the forge of a carriage shop, having served a few months with a smith at home, and so taking rank almost as a skilled laborer. He was a great favorite speedily, his pay was good, at least it would have been good if he had lived on the old place among the fields, but he and Biddy did not know how to make the most of it here, and Dan had a baby sister presently to keep him company, and then another and another, and there they lived up-stairs in the heat, in the cold, in daisy time and snow time, and Dan was put to school and came home with a knowledge of sums in arithmetic which set his father’s eyes dancing with delight, but with a knowledge besides of foul language and a brutal way of treating his little sisters when nobody was looking on.
Mike Bogan was young and strong when he came to America, and his good red blood lasted well, but it was against his nature to work in a hot half-lighted shop, and in a very few years he began to look pale about the mouth and shaky in the shoulders, and then the enthusiastic promises of the red-headed man on the ship, borne out, we must allow, by Mike’s own observation, inclined him and his hard earned capital to the purchase of a tidy looking drinking shop on a side street of the town. The owner had died and his widow wished to go West to live with her son. She knew the Bogans and was a respectable soul in her way. She and her husband had kept a quiet place, everybody acknowledged, and everybody was thankful that since drinking shops must be kept, so decent a man as Mike Bogan was taking up the business.
The luck of the Bogans proved to be holding true in this generation. Their proverbial good fortune seemed to come rather from an absence of bad fortune than any special distinction granted the generation or two before Mike’s time. The good fellow sometimes reminded himself gratefully of Peggy Muldoon’s blessing, and once sent her a pound to keep Christmas upon. If he had only known it, that unworthy woman bestowed curses enough upon him because he did not repeat it the next year, to cancel any favors that might have been anticipated. Good news flew back to Bantry of his prosperity, and his comfortable home above the store was a place of reception and generous assistance to all the westward straying children of Bantry. There was a bit of garden that belonged to the estate, the fences were trig and neat, and neither Mike nor Biddy were persons to let things look shabby while they had plenty of money to keep them clean and whole. It was Mike who walked behind the priest on Sundays when the collection was taken. It was Mike whom good Father Miles trusted more than any other member of his flock, whom he confided in and consulted, whom perhaps his reverence loved best of all the parish because they were both Bantry men, born and bred. And nobody but Father Miles and Biddy and Mike Bogan knew the full extent of the father’s and mother’s pride and hope in the cleverness and beauty of their only son. Nothing was too great, and no success seemed impossible when they tried to picture the glorious career of little Dan.
Mike was a kind father to his little daughters, but all his hope was for Dan. It was for Dan that he was pleased when people called him Mr. Bogan in respectful tones, and when he was given a minor place of trust at town elections, he thought with humble gladness that Dan would have less cause to be ashamed of him by and by when he took his own place as gentleman and scholar. For there was something different about Dan from the rest of them, plain Irish folk that they were. Dan was his father’s idea of a young lord; he would have liked to show the boy to the old squire, and see his look of surprise. Money came in at the shop door in a steady stream, there was plenty of it put away in the bank and Dan must wear well-made clothes and look like the best fellows at the school. He was handsomer than any of them, he was the best and quickest scholar of his class. The president of the great carriage company had said that he was a very promising boy more than once, and had put his hand on Mike’s shoulder as he spoke. Mike and Biddy, dressed in their best, went to the school examinations year after year and heard their son do better than the rest, and saw him noticed and admired. For Dan’s sake no noisy men were allowed to stay about the shop. Dan himself was forbidden to linger there, and so far the boy had clear honest eyes, and an affectionate way with his father that almost broke that honest heart with joy. They talked together when they went to walk on Sundays, and there was a plan, increasingly interesting to both, of going to old Bantry some summer–just for a treat. Oh happy days! They must end as summer days do, in winter weather.
There was an outside stair to the two upper stories where the Bogans lived above their place of business, and late one evening, when the shop shutters were being clasped together below, Biddy Bogan heard a familiar heavy step and hastened to hold her brightest lamp in the doorway.
“God save you,” said his reverence Father Miles, who was coming up slowly, and Biddy dropped a decent courtesy and devout blessing in return. His reverence looked pale and tired, and seated himself wearily in a chair by the window–while Biddy coasted round by a bedroom door to “whist” at two wakeful daughters who were teasing each other and chattering in bed.
“‘T is long since we saw you here, sir,” she said, respectfully. “‘T is warm weather indade for you to be about the town, and folks sick an’ dyin’ and needing your help, sir. Mike’ll be up now, your reverence. I hear him below.”
Biddy had grown into a stout mother of a family, red-faced and bustling; there was little likeness left to the rose of Glengariff with whom Mike had fallen in love at early mass in Bantry church. But the change had been so gradual that Mike himself had never become conscious of any damaging difference. She took a fresh loaf of bread and cut some generous slices and put a piece of cheese and a knife on the table within reach of Father Miles’s hand. “I suppose ’tis waste of time to give you more, so it is,” she said to him. “Bread an’ cheese and no better will you ate I suppose, sir,” and she folded her arms across her breast and stood looking at him.
“How is the luck of the Bogans to-day?” asked the kind old man. “The head of the school I make no doubt?” and at this moment Mike came up the stairs and greeted his priest with reverent affection.
“You’re looking faint, sir,” he urged. “Biddy get a glass now, we’re quite by ourselves sir–and I’ve something for sickness that’s very soft and fine entirely.”
“Well, well, this once then,” answered Father Miles, doubtfully. “I’ve had a hard day.”
He held the glass in his hand for a moment and then pushed it away from him on the table. “Indeed it’s not wrong in itself,” said the good priest looking up presently, as if he had made something clear to his mind. “The wrong is in ourselves to make beasts of ourselves with taking too much of it. I don’t shame me with this glass of the best that you’ve poured for me. My own sin is in the coffee-pot. It wilds my head when I’ve got most use for it, and I’m sure of an aching pate–God forgive me for indulgence; but I must have it for my breakfast now, and then. Give me a bit of bread and cheese; yes, that’s what I want Bridget,” and he pushed the glass still farther away.
“I’ve been at a sorry place this night,” he went on a moment later, “the smell of the stuff can’t but remind me. ‘T is a comfort to come here and find your house so clean and decent, and both of you looking me in the face. God save all poor sinners!” and Mike and his wife murmured assent.
“I wish to God you were out of this business and every honest man with you,” said the priest, suddenly dropping his fatherly, Bantry good fellowship and making his host conscious of the solemnity of the church altar. “‘T is a decent shop you keep, Mike, my lad, I know. I know no harm of it, but there are weak souls that can’t master themselves, and the drink drags them down. There’s little use in doing away with the shops though. We’ve got to make young men strong enough to let drink alone. The drink will always be in the world. Here’s your bright young son; what are they teaching him at his school, do ye know? Has his characther grown, do ye think Mike Bogan, and is he going to be a man for good, and to help decent things get a start and bad things to keep their place? I don’t care how he does his sums, so I don’t, if he has no characther, and they may fight about beer and fight about temperance and carry their Father Matthew flags flying high, so they may, and it’s all no good, lessen we can raise the young folks up above the place where drink and shame can touch them. God grant us help,” he whispered, dropping his head on his breast. “I’m getting to be an old man myself, and I’ve never known the temptation that’s like a hounding devil to many men. I can let drink alone, God pity those who can’t. Keep the young lads out from it Mike. You’re a good fellow, you’re careful, but poor human souls are weak, God knows!”
“‘T is thrue for you indade sir!” responded Biddy. Her eyes were full of tears at Father Miles’s tone and earnestness, but she could not have made clear to herself what he had said.
“Will I put a dhrap more of wather in it, your riverence?” she suggested, but the priest shook his head gently, and, taking a handful of parish papers out of his pocket, proceeded to hold conference with the master of the house. Biddy waited a while and at last ventured to clear away the good priest’s frugal supper. She left the glass, but he went away without touching it, and in the very afterglow of his parting blessing she announced that she had the makings of a pain within, and took the cordial with apparent approval.
Mike did not make any comment; he was tired and it was late, and long past their bedtime.
Biddy was wide awake and talkative from her tonic, and soon pursued the subject of conversation.
“What set the father out wid talking I do’ know?” she inquired a little ill-humoredly. “‘T was thrue for him that we kape a dacint shop anyhow, an’ how will it be in the way of poor Danny when it’s finding the manes to put him where he is?”
“‘T wa’n’t that he mint at all,” answered Mike from his pillow. “Didn’t ye hear what he said?” after endeavoring fruitlessly to repeat it in his own words–“He’s right, sure, about a b’y’s getting thim books and having no characther. He thinks well of Danny, and he knows no harm of him. Wisha! what ‘ll we do wid that b’y, Biddy, I do’ know! ‘Fadther,’ says he to me today, ‘why couldn’t ye wait an’ bring me into the wurruld on American soil,’ says he ‘and maybe I’d been prisident,’ says he, and ‘t was the thruth for him.”
“I’d rather for him to be a priest meself,” replied the mother.
“That’s what Father Miles said himself the other day,” announced Mike wide awake now. “‘I wish he’d the makings of a good priest,’ said he. ‘There’ll soon be need of good men and hard picking for ’em too,’ said he, and he let a great sigh. ”T is money they want and place they want, most o’ them bla’guard b’ys in the siminary. ‘T is the old fashioned min like mesilf that think however will they get souls through this life and through heaven’s gate at last, wid clane names and God-fearin’, dacint names left after them.’ Thim was his own words indade.”
“Idication was his cry always,” said Bridget, blessing herself in the dark. “‘T was only last confission he took no note of me own sins while he redded himself in the face with why don’t I kape Mary Ellen to the school, and myself not an hour in the day to rest my poor bones. ‘I have to kape her in, to mind the shmall childer,’ says I, an’ ‘t was thrue for me, so it was.” She gave a jerk under the blankets, which represented the courtesy of the occasion. She had a great respect and some awe for Father Miles, but she considered herself to have held her ground in that discussion.
“We’ll do our best by them all, sure,” answered Mike. “‘T is tribbling me money I am ivery day,” he added, gayly. “The lord-liftinant himsilf is no surer of a good bury-in’ than you an’ me. What if we made a priest of Dan intirely?” with a great outburst of proper pride. “A son of your own at the alther saying mass for you, Biddy Flaherty from Glengariff!”
“He’s no mind for it, more’s the grief,” answered the mother, unexpectedly, shaking her head gloomily on the pillow, “but marruk me wuds now, he’ll ride in his carriage when I’m under the sods, give me grace and you too Mike Bogan! Look at the airs of him and the toss of his head. ‘Mother,’ says he to me, ‘I’m goin’ to be a big man!’ says he, ‘whin I grow up. D’ ye think anybody ‘ll take me fer an Irishman?’”
“Bad cess to the bla’guard fer that then!” said Mike. “It’s spoilin’ him you are. ‘T is me own pride of heart to come from old Bantry, an’ he lied to me yesterday gone, saying would I take him to see the old place. Wisha! he’s got too much tongue, and he’s spindin’ me money for me.”
But Biddy pretended to be falling asleep. This was not the first time that the honest pair had felt anxiety creeping into their pride about Dan. He frightened them sometimes; he was cleverer than they, and the mother had already stormed at the boy for his misdemeanors, in her garrulous fashion, but covered them from his father notwithstanding. She felt an assurance of the merely temporary damage of wild oats; she believed it was just as well for a boy to have his freedom and his fling. She even treated his known lies as if they were truth. An easy-going comfortable soul was Biddy, who with much shrewdness and only a trace of shrewishness got through this evil world as best she might.
The months flew by. Mike Bogan was a middle-aged man, and he and his wife looked somewhat elderly as they went to their pew in the broad aisle on Sunday morning. Danny usually came too, and the girls, but Dan looked contemptuous as he sat next his father and said his prayers perfunctorily. Sometimes he was not there at all, and Mike had a heavy heart under his stiff best coat. He was richer than any other member of Father Miles’s parish, and he was known and respected everywhere as a good citizen. Even the most ardent believers in the temperance cause were known to say that little mischief would be done if all the rumsellers were such men as Mr. Bogan. He was generous and in his limited way public spirited. He did his duty to his neighbor as he saw it. Every one used liquor more or less, somebody must sell it, but a low groggery was as much a thing of shame to him as to any man. He never sold to boys, or to men who had had too much already. His shop was clean and wholesome, and in the evening when a dozen or more of his respectable acquaintances gathered after work for a social hour or two and a glass of whiskey to rest and cheer them after exposure, there was not a little good talk about affairs from their point of view, and plenty of honest fun. In their own houses very likely the rooms were close and hot, and the chairs hard and unrestful. The wife had taken her bit of recreation by daylight and visited her friends. This was their comfortable club-room, Mike Bogan’s shop, and Mike himself the leader of the assembly. There was a sober-mindedness in the man; his companions were contented though he only looked on tolerantly at their fun, for the most part, without taking any active share himself.
One cool October evening the company was well gathered in, there was even a glow of wood fire in the stove, and two of the old men were sitting close beside it. Corny Sullivan had been a soldier in the British army for many years, he had been wounded at last at Sebastopol, and yet here he was, full of military lore and glory, and propped by a wooden leg. Corny was usually addressed an Timber-toes by his familiars; he was an irascible old follow to deal with, but as clean as a whistle from long habit and even stately to look at in his arm-chair. He had a nephew with whom he made his home, who would give him an arm presently and get him home to bed. His mate was an old sailor much bent in the back by rheumatism, Jerry Bogan; who, though no relation, was tenderly treated by Mike, being old and poor. His score was never kept, but he seldom wanted for his evening grog. Jerry Bogan was a cheerful soul; the wit of the Celts and their pathetic wilfulness were delightful in him. The priest liked him, the doctor half loved him, this old-fashioned Irishman who had a graceful compliment or a thrust of wit for whoever came in his way. What a treasury of old Irish lore and legend was this old sailor! What broadness and good cheer and charity had been fostered in his sailor heart! The delight of little children with his clever tales and mysterious performances with bits of soft pine and a sharp jackknife, a very Baron Munchausen of adventure, and here he sat, round backed and head pushed forward like an old turtle, by the fire. The other men sat or stood about the low-walled room. Mike was serving his friends; there was a clink of glass and a stirring and shaking, a pungent odor of tobacco, and much laughter.
“Soombody, whoiver it was, thrun a cat down in Tom Auley’s well las’ night,” announced Corny Sullivan with more than usual gravity.
“They’ll have no luck thin,” says Jerry. “Anybody that meddles wid wather ‘ill have no luck while they live, faix they ‘ont thin.”
“Tom Auley’s been up watchin’ this three nights now,” confides the other old gossip. “Thim dirty b’y’s troublin’ his pigs in the sthy, and having every stramash about the place, all for revinge upon him for gettin’ the police afther thim when they sthole his hins. ‘T was as well for him too, they’re dirty bligards, the whole box and dice of them.”
“Whishper now!” and Jerry pokes his great head closer to his friend. “The divil of ’em all is young Dan Bogan, Mike’s son. Sorra a bit o’ good is all his schoolin’, and Mike’s heart ‘ll be soon broke from him. I see him goin’ about wid his nose in the air. He’s a pritty boy, but the divil is in him an’ ‘t is he ought to have been a praste wid his chances and Father Miles himself tarkin and tarkin wid him tryin’ to make him a crown of pride to his people after all they did for him. There was niver a spade in his hand to touch the ground yet. Look at his poor father now! Look at Mike, that’s grown old and gray since winther time.” And they turned their eyes to the bar to refresh their memories with the sight of the disappointed face behind it.
There was a rattling at the door-latch just then and loud voices outside, and as the old men looked, young Dan Bogan came stumbling into the shop. Behind him were two low fellows, the worst in the town, they had all been drinking more than was good for them, and for the first time Mike Bogan saw his only son’s boyish face reddened and stupid with whiskey. It had been an unbroken law that Dan should keep out of the shop with his comrades; now he strode forward with an absurd travesty of manliness, and demanded liquor for himself and his friends at his father’s hands.
Mike staggered, his eyes glared with anger. His fatherly pride made him long to uphold the poor boy before so many witnesses. He reached for a glass, then he pushed it away–and with quick step reached Dan’s side, caught him by the collar, and held him. One or two of the spectators chuckled with weak excitement, but the rest pitied Mike Bogan as he would have pitied them.
The angry father pointed his son’s companions to the door, and after a moment’s hesitation they went skulking out, and father and son disappeared up the stairway. Dan was a coward, he was glad to be thrust into his own bedroom upstairs, his head was dizzy, and he muttered only a feeble oath. Several of Mike Bogan’s customers had kindly disappeared when he returned trying to look the same as ever, but one after another the great tears rolled down his cheeks. He never had faced despair till now; he turned his back to the men, and fumbled aimlessly among the bottles on the shelf. Some one came, in unconscious of the pitiful scene, and impatiently repeated his order to the shopkeeper.
“God help me, boys, I can’t sell more this night!” he said brokenly. “Go home now and lave me to myself.”
They were glad to go, though it cut the evening short. Jerry Bogan bundled his way last with his two canes. “Sind the b’y to say,” he advised in a gruff whisper. “Sind him out wid a good captain now, Mike,’t will make a man of him yet.”
A man of him yet! alas, alas–for the hopes that had been growing so many years. Alas for the pride of a simple heart, alas for the day Mike Bogan came away from sunshiny old Bantry with his baby son in his arms for the sake of making that son a gentleman.
Winter had fairly set in, but the snow had not come, and the street was bleak and cold. The wind was stinging men’s faces and piercing the wooden houses. A hard night for sailors coming on the coast–a bitter night for poor people everywhere.
From one house and another the lights went out in the street where the Bogans lived; at last there was no other lamp than theirs, in a window that lighted the outer stairs. Sometimes a woman’s shadow passed across the curtain and waited there, drawing it away from the panes a moment as if to listen the better for a footstep that did not come. Poor Biddy had waited many a night before this. Her husband was far from well, the doctor said that his heart was not working right, and that he must be very careful, but the truth was that Mike’s heart was almost broken by grief. Dan was going the downhill road, he had been drinking harder and harder, and spending a great deal of money. He had smashed more than one carriage and lamed more than one horse from the livery stables, and he had kept the lowest company in vilest dens. Now he threatened to go to New York, and it had come at last to being the only possible joy that he should come home at any time of night rather than disappear no one knew where. He had laughed in Father Miles’s face when the good old man, after pleading with him, had tried to threaten him.
Biddy was in an agony of suspense as the night wore on. She dozed a little only to wake with a start, and listen for some welcome sound out in the cold night. Was her boy freezing to death somewhere? Other mothers only scolded if their sons were wild, but this was killing her and Mike, they had set their hopes so high. Mike was groaning dreadfully in his sleep to-night–the fire was burning low, and she did not dare to stir it. She took her worn rosary again and tried to tell its beads. “Mother of Pity, pray for us!” she said, wearily dropping the beads in her lap.
There was a sound in the street at last, but it was not of one man’s stumbling feet, but of many. She was stiff with cold, she had slept long, and it was almost day. She rushed with strange apprehension to the doorway and stood with the flaring lamp in her hand at the top of the stairs. The voices were suddenly hushed. “Go for Father Miles!” said somebody in a hoarse voice, and she heard the words. They were carrying a burden, they brought it tip to the mother who waited. In their arms lay her son stone dead; he had been stabbed in a fight, he had struck a man down who had sprung back at him like a tiger. Dan, little Dan, was dead, the luck of the Bogans, the end was here, and a wail that pierced the night, and chilled the hearts that heard it, was the first message of sorrow to the poor father in his uneasy sleep.
The group of men stood by–some of them had been drinking, but they were all awed and shocked. You would have believed every one of them to be on the side of law and order. Mike Bogan knew that the worst had happened. Biddy had rushed to him and fallen across the bed; for one minute her aggravating shrieks had stopped; he began to dress himself, but he was shaking too much; he stepped out to the kitchen and faced the frightened crowd.
“Is my son dead, then?” asked Mike Bogan of Bantry, with a piteous quiver of the lip, and nobody spoke. There was something glistening and awful about his pleasant Irish face. He tottered where he stood, he caught at a chair to steady himself. “The luck o’ the Bogans is it?” and he smiled strangely, then a fierce hardness came across his face and changed it utterly. “Come down, come down!” he shouted, and snatching the key of the shop went down the stairs himself with great sure-footed leaps. What was in Mike? was he crazy with grief? They stood out of his way and saw him fling out bottle after bottle and shatter them against the wall. They saw him roll one cask after another to the doorway, and out into the street in the gray light of morning, and break through the staves with a heavy axe. Nobody dared to restrain his fury–there was a devil in him, they were afraid of the man in his blinded rage The odor of whiskey and gin filled the cold air–some of them would have stolen the wasted liquor if they could, but no man there dared to move or speak, and it was not until the tall figure of Father Miles came along the street, and the patient eyes that seemed always to keep vigil, and the calm voice with its flavor of Bantry brogue, came to Mike Bogan’s help, that he let himself be taken out of the wrecked shop and away from the spilt liquors to the shelter of his home.
A week later he was only a shadow of his sturdy self, he was lying on his bed dreaming of Bantry Bay and the road to Glengariff–the hedge roses were in bloom, and he was trudging along the road to see Biddy. He was working on the old farm at home and could not put the seed potatoes in their trench, for little Dan kept falling in and getting in his way. “Dan’s not going to be plagued with the bad craps,” he muttered to Father Miles who sat beside the bed. “Dan will be a fine squire in Ameriky,” but the priest only stroked his hand as it twitched and lifted on the coverlet. What was Biddy doing, crying and putting the candles about him? Then Mike’s poor brain grew steady.
“Oh, my God, if we were back in Bantry! I saw the gorse bloomin’ in the t’atch d’ ye know. Oh wisha wisha the poor ould home an’ the green praties that day we come from it–with our luck smilin’ us in the face.”
“Whist darlin’: kape aisy darlin’!” mourned Biddy, with a great sob. Father Miles sat straight and stem in his chair by the pillow–he had said the prayers for the dying, and the holy oil was already shining on Mike Bogan’s forehead. The keeners were swaying themselves to and fro, there where they waited in the next room.