Story type: Literature
The speaker was a small, serious-looking old Irishman, one of those Patricks who are almost never called Pat. He was well-dressed and formal, and wore an air of dignified authority.
“I don’t know meself where’s Nora then, so I don’t,” answered his companion. “The shild would n’t stop for a sup o’ breakfast before she ‘d go out to see the town, an’ nobody ‘s seen the l’aste smitch of her since. I might sweep the streets wit’ a broom and I could n’t find her.”
“Maybe she’s strayed beyand and gone losing in the strange place,” suggested Mr. Quin, with an anxious glance. “Did n’t none o’ the folks go wit’ her?”
“How would annybody be goin’ an’ she up an’ away before there was a foot out o’ bed in the house?” answered Mike Duffy impatiently. “‘T was herself that caught sight of Nora stealin’ out o’ the door like a thief, an’ meself getting me best sleep at the time. Herself had to sit up an’ laugh in the bed and be plaguin’ me wit’ her tarkin’. ‘Look at Nora!’ says she. ‘Where’s Nora?’ says I, wit’ a great start. I thought something had happened the poor shild. ‘Oh, go to slape, you fool!’ says Mary Ann. ”T is only four o’clock,’ says she, ‘an’ that grasshopper greenhorn can’t wait for broad day till she go out an’ see the whole of Ameriky.’ So I wint off to sleep again; the first bell was biginnin’ on the mill, and I had an hour an’ a piece, good, to meself after that before Mary Ann come scoldin’. I don’t be sleepin’ so well as some folks the first part of the night.”
Mr. Patrick Quin ignored the interest of this autobiographical statement, and with a contemptuous shake of the head began to feel in his pocket for a pipe. Every one knew that Mike Duffy was a person much too fond of his ease, and that all the credit of their prosperity belonged to his hard-worked wife. She had reared a family of respectable sons and daughters, who were all settled and doing well for themselves, and now she was helping to bring out some nephews and nieces from the old country. She was proud to have been born a Quin; Patrick Quin was her brother and a man of consequence.
“‘Deed, I ‘d like well to see the poor shild,” said Patrick. “I’d no thought they ‘d land before the day or to-morrow mornin’, or I ‘d have been over last night. I suppose she brought all the news from home?”
“The folks is all well, thanks be to God,” proclaimed Mr. Duffy solemnly. “‘T was late when she come; ‘t was on the quarter to nine she got here. There ‘s been great deaths after the winther among the old folks. Old Peter Murphy’s gone, she says, an’ his brother that lived over by Ballycannon died the same week with him, and Dan Donahoe an’ Corny Donahoe’s lost their old aunt on the twelfth of March, that gave them her farm to take care of her before I came out. She was old then, too.”
“Faix, it was time for the old lady, so it was,” said Patrick Quin, with affectionate interest. “She ‘d be the oldest in the parish this tin years past.”
“Nora said ‘t was a fine funeral; they ‘d three priests to her, and everything of the best. Nora was there herself and all our folks. The b’ys was very proud of her for being so old and respicted.”
“Sure, Mary was an old woman, and I first coming out,” repeated Patrick, with feeling. “I went up to her that Monday night, and I sailing on a Wednesday, an’ she gave me her blessing and a present of five shillings. She said then she ‘d see me no more; ‘t was poor old Mary had the giving hand, God bless her and save her! I joked her that she ‘d soon be marrying and coming out to Ameriky like meself. ‘No,’ says she, ‘I ‘m too old. I ‘ll die here where I was born; this old farm is me one home o’ the world, and I ‘ll never be afther l’avin’ it; ‘t is right enough for you young folks to go,’ says she. I could n’t get my mouth open to answer her. ‘T was meself that was very homesick in me inside, coming away from the old place, but I had great boldness before every one. ‘T was old Mary saw the tears in me eyes then. ‘Don’t mind, Patsy,’ says she; ‘if you don’t do well there, come back to it an’ I ‘ll be glad to take your folks in till you ‘ll be afther getting started again.’ She had n’t the money then she got afterward from her cousin in Dublin; ‘t was the kind heart of her spoke, an’ meself being but a boy that was young to maintain himself, let alone a family. Thanks be to God, I ‘ve done well, afther all, but for me crooked leg. I does be dr’amin’ of going home sometimes; ‘t is often yet I wake up wit’ the smell o’ the wet bushes in the mornin’ when a man does be goin’ to his work at home.”
Mike Duffy looked at his brother-in-law with curiosity; the two men were sitting side by side before Mike’s house on a bit of green bank between the sidewalk and the road. It was May, and the dandelions were blooming all about them, thick in the grass. Patrick Quin readied out and touched one of them with his stick. He was a lame man, and had worked as section hand for the railroad for many years, until the bad accident which forced him to retire on one of the company’s rarely given pensions. He had prevented a great disaster on the road; those who knew him well always said that his position had never been equal to his ability, but the men who stood above him and the men who were below him held Patrick Quin at exactly the same estimate. He had limped along the road from the clean-looking little yellow house that he owned not far away on the river-bank, and his mind was upon his errand.
“I come over early to ask the shild would n’t she come home wit’ me an’ ate her dinner,” said Patrick. “Herself sent me; she’s got a great wash the day, last week being so rainy, an’ we niver got word of Nora being here till this morning, and then everybody had it that passed by, wondering what got us last night that we were n’t there.”
“‘T was on the quarter to nine she come,” said Uncle Mike, taking up the narrative with importance. “Herself an’ me had blown out the light, going to bed, when there come a scuttlin’ at the door and I heard a bit of a laugh like the first bird in the morning”–
“‘Stop where you are, Bridget,’ says I,” continued Mr. Quin, without taking any notice, “‘an’ I ‘ll take me third leg and walk over and bring Nora down to you.’ Bridget’s great for the news from home now, for all she was so sharp to be l’aving it.”
“She brought me a fine present, and the mate of it for yourself,” said Mike Duffy. “Two good thorn sticks for the two of us. They ‘re inside in the house.”
“A thorn stick, indeed! Did she now?” exclaimed Patrick, with unusual delight. “The poor shild, did she do that now? I ‘ve thought manny ‘s the time since I got me lameness how well I ‘d like one o’ those old-fashioned thorn sticks. Me own is one o’ them sticks a man ‘d carry tin years and toss it into a brook at the ind an’ not miss it.”
“They ‘re good thorn sticks, the both of them,” said Mike complacently. “I don’t know ‘ill I bring ’em out before she comes.”
“Is she a pritty slip of a gerrl, I d’ know?” asked Patrick, with increased interest.
“She ain’t, then,” answered his companion frankly. “She does be thin as a young grasshopper, and she ‘s red-headed, and she ‘s freckled, too, from the sea, like all them young things comin’ over; but she ‘s got a pritty voice, like all her mother’s folks, and a quick eye like a bird’s. The old-country talk’s fresh in her mouth, too, so it is; you ‘d think you were coming out o’ mass some spring morning at home and hearing all the girls whin they’d be chatting and funning at the boys. I do be thinking she’s a smart little girl, annyway; look at her off to see the town so early and not back yet, bad manners to her! She ‘ll be wanting some clothes, I suppose; she’s very old-fashioned looking; they does always be wanting new clothes, coming out,” and Mike gave an ostentatious sigh and suggestive glance at his brother-in-law.
“‘Deed, I ‘m willing to help her get a good start; ain’t she me own sister’s shild?” agreed Patrick Quin cheerfully. “We ‘ve been young ourselves, too. Well, then, ’tis bad news of old Mary Donahoe bein’ gone at the farm. I always thought if I ‘d go home how I ‘d go along the fields to get the great welcome from her. She was one that always liked to hear folks had done well,” and he looked down at his comfortable, clean old clothes as if they but reminded him how poor a young fellow he had come away. “I ‘m very sorry afther Mary; she was a good ‘oman, God save her!”
“Faix, it was time for her,” insisted Mike, not without sympathy. “Were you afther wanting her to live forever, the poor soul? An’ the shild said she ‘d the best funeral was ever in the parish of Dunkenny since she remimbered it. What could anny one ask more than that, and she r’aching such an age, the cr’atur’! Stop here awhile an’ you ‘ll hear all the tark from Nora; she told over to me all the folks that was there. Where has she gone wit’ herself, I don’t know? Mary Ann!” he turned his head toward the house and called in a loud, complaining tone; “where’s Nora, annyway?”
“Here’s Nora, then,” a sweet girlish voice made unexpected reply, and a light young figure flitted from the sidewalk behind him and stood lower down on the green bank.
“What’s wanting wit’ Nora?” and she stooped quickly like a child to pick some of the dandelions as if she had found gold. She had a sprig of wild-cherry blossom in her dress, which she must have found a good way out in the country.
“Come now, and speak to Patrick Quin, your mother’s own brother, that’s waiting here for you all this time you ‘ve been running over the place,” commanded Mr. Duffy, with some severity.
“An’ is it me own Uncle Patsy, dear?” exclaimed Nora, with the sweetest brogue and most affectionate sincerity. “Oh, that me mother could see him too!” and she dropped on her knees beside the lame little man and kissed him, and knelt there looking at him with delight, holding his willing hand in both her own.
“An’ ain’t you got me mother’s own looks, too? Oh, Uncle Patsy, is it yourself, dear? I often heard about you, and I brought you me mother’s heart’s love, ‘deed I did then! It’s many a lovely present of a pound you ‘ve sent us. An’ I ‘ve got a thorn stick that grew in the hedge, goin’ up the little rise of ground above the Wishin’ Brook, sir; mother said you ‘d mind the place well when I told you.”
“I do then, me shild,” said Patrick Quin, with dignity; “’tis manny the day we all played there together, for all we ‘re so scattered now and some dead, too, God rest them! Sure, you ‘re a nice little gerrl, an’ I give you great welcome and the hope you ‘ll do well. Come along wit’ me now. Your Aunty Biddy’s jealous to put her two eyes on you, an’ we never getting the news you ‘d come till late this morning. ‘I ‘ll go fetch Nora for you,’ says I, to contint her. ‘They ‘ll be tarked out at Duffy’s by this time,’ says I.”
“Oh, I ‘m full o’ tark yet!” protested Nora gayly. “Coom on, then, Uncle Patsy!” and she gave him her strong young hand as he rose.
“An’ how do you be likin’ Ameriky?” asked the pleased old man, as they walked along.
“I like Ameriky fine,” answered the girl gravely. She was taller than he, though she looked so slender and so young. “I was very downhearted, too, l’avin’ home and me mother, but I ‘ll go back to it some day, God willing, sir; I could n’t die wit’out seeing me mother again. I ‘m all over the place here since daybreak. I think I ‘d like work best on the railway,” and she turned toward him with a resolved and serious look.
“Wisha! there ‘s no work at all for a girl like you on the Road,” said Uncle Patsy patiently. “You ‘ve a bit to learn yet, sure; ‘t is the mill you mane.”
“There ‘ll be plinty work to do. I always thought at home, when I heard the folks tarking, that I ‘d get work on the railway when I ‘d come to Ameriky. Yis, indeed, sir!” continued Nora earnestly. “I was looking at the mills just now, and I heard the great n’ise from them. I ‘d never be afther shutting meself up in anny mill out of the good air. I ‘ve no call to go to jail yet in thim mill walls. Perhaps there ‘d be somebody working next me that I ‘d never get to like, sir.”
There was something so convinced and decided about these arguments that Uncle Patsy, usually the calm autocrat of his young relatives, had nothing whatever to say. Nora was gently keeping step with his slow gait. She had won his heart once for all when she called him by the old boyish name her mother used forty years before, when they played together by the Wishing Brook.
“I wonder do you know a b’y named Johnny O’Callahan?” inquired Nora presently, in a somewhat confidential tone; “a pritty b’y that’s working on the railway; I seen him last night and I coming here; he ain’t a guard at all, but a young fellow that minds the brakes. We stopped a long while out there; somethin’ got off the rails, and he adwised wit’ me, seeing I was a stranger. He said he knew you, sir.”
“Oh, yes, Johnny O’Callahan. I know him well; he ‘s a nice b’y, too,” answered Patrick Quin approvingly.
“Yis, sir, a pritty b’y,” said Nora, and her color brightened for an instant, but she said no more.
Mike Duffy and his wife came into the Quins’ kitchen one week-day night, dressed in their Sunday clothes; they had been making a visit to their well-married daughter in Lawrence. Patrick Quin’s chair was comfortably tipped back against the wall, and Bridget, who looked somewhat gloomy, was putting away the white supper-dishes.
“Where ‘s Nora?” demanded Mike Duffy, after the first salutations.
“You may well say it; I ‘m afther missing her every hour in the day,” lamented Bridget Quin.
“Nora’s gone into business on the Road then, so she has,” said Patrick, with an air of fond pride. He was smoking, and in his shirt-sleeves; his coat lay on the wooden settee at the other side of the room.
“Hand me me old coat there before you sit down; I want me pocket,” he commanded, and Mike obeyed. Mary Ann, fresh from her journey, began at once to give a spirited account of her daughter’s best room and general equipment for housekeeping, but she suddenly became aware that the tale was of secondary interest. When the narrator stopped for breath there was a polite murmur of admiration, but her husband boldly repeated his question. “Where’s Nora?” he insisted, and the Quins looked at each other and laughed.
“Ourselves is old hins that’s hatched ducks,” confessed Patrick. “Ain’t I afther telling you she’s gone into trade on the Road?” and he took his pipe from his mouth,–that after-supper pipe which neither prosperity nor adversity was apt to interrupt. “She ‘s set up for herself over-right the long switch, down there at Birch Plains. Nora ‘ll soon be rich, the cr’atur’; her mind was on it from the first start; ‘t was from one o’ them O’Callahan b’ys she got the notion, the night she come here first a greenhorn.”
“Well, well, she’s lost no time; ain’t she got the invintion!” chuckled Mr. Michael Duffy, who delighted in the activity of others. “What excuse had she for Birch Plains? There’s no town to it.”
“‘T was a chance on the Road she mint to have from the first,” explained the proud uncle, forgetting his pipe altogether; “’twas that she told me the first day she came out, an’ she walking along going home wit’ me to her dinner; ‘t was the first speech I had wit’ Nora. ”T is the mills you mane?’ says I. ‘No, no, Uncle Patsy!’ says she, ‘it ain’t the mills at all, at all; ‘t is on the Road I ‘m going.’ I t’ought she ‘d some wild notion she ‘d soon be laughing at, but she settled down very quiet-like with Aunty Biddy here, knowing yourselves to be going to Lawrence, and I told her stay as long as she had a mind. Wisha, she ‘d an old apron on her in five minutes’ time, an’ took hold wit’ the wash, and wint singing like a blackbird out in the yard at the line. ‘Sit down, Aunty!’ says she; ‘you ‘re not so light-stepping as me, an’ I ‘ll tell you all the news from home; an’ I ‘ll get the dinner, too, when I ‘ve done this,’ says she. Wisha, but she’s the good cook for such a young thing; ‘t is Bridget says it as well as meself. She made a stew that day; ‘t was like the ones her mother made Sundays, she said, if they ‘d be lucky in getting a piece of meat; ‘t was a fine-tasting stew, too; she thinks we ‘re all rich over here. ‘So we are, me dear!’ says I, ‘but every one don’t have the sinse to believe it.’”
“Spake for yourselves!” exclaimed one of the listeners. “You do be like Father Ross, always pr’achin’ that we ‘d best want less than want more. He takes honest folks for fools, poor man,” said Mary Ann Duffy, who had no patience at any time with new ideas.
“An’ so she wint on the next two or free days,” said Patrick approvingly, without noticing the interruption, “being as quiet as you ‘d ask, and being said by her aunt in everything; and she would n’t let on she was homesick, but she ‘d no tark of anything but the folks at Dunkinny. When there ‘d be nothing to do for an hour she ‘d slip out and be gone wit’ herself for a little while, and be very still comin’ in. Last Thursday, after supper, she ran out; but by the time I ‘d done me pipe, back she came flying in at the door.
“‘I ‘m going off to a place called Birch Plains to-morrow morning, on the nine, Uncle Patsy,’ says she; ‘do you know where it is?’ says she. ‘I do,’ says I; ”t was not far from it I broke me leg wit’ the dam’ derrick. ‘T was to Jerry Ryan’s house they took me first. There’s no town there at all; ‘t is the only house in it; Ryan ‘s the switchman.’
“‘Would they take me to lodge for a while, I d’ know?’ says she, havin’ great business. ‘What ‘d ye be afther in a place like that?’ says I. ‘Ryan ‘s got girls himself, an’ they ‘re all here in the mills, goin’ home Saturday nights, ‘less there’s some show or some dance. There’s no money out there.’ She laughed then an’ wint back to the door, and in come Mickey Dunn from McLoughlin’s store, lugging the size of himself of bundles. ‘What’s all this?’ says I; ”t ain’t here they belong; I bought nothing to-day.’ ‘Don’t be scolding!’ says she, and Mickey got out of it laughing. ‘I ‘m going to be cooking for meself in the morning!’ says she, with her head on one side, like a cock-sparrow. ‘You lind me the price o’ the fire and I’ll pay you in cakes,’ says she, and off she wint then to bed. ‘T was before day I heard her at the stove, and I smelt a baking that made me want to go find it, and when I come out in the kitchen she ‘d the table covered with her cakeens, large and small. ‘What’s all this whillalu, me topknot-hin?’ says I. ‘Ate that,’ says she, and hopped back to the oven-door. Her aunt come out then, scolding fine, and whin she saw the great baking she dropped down in a chair like she’d faint and her breath all gone. ‘We ‘ont ate them in ten days,’ says she; ‘no, not till the blue mould has struck them all, God help us!’ says she. ‘Don’t bother me,’ says Nora; ‘I ‘m goin’ off with them all on the nine. Uncle Patsy ‘ll help me wit’ me basket.’
“‘Uncle Patsy ‘ont now,’ says Bridget. Faix, I thought she was up with one o’ them t’ree days’ scolds she ‘d have when she was young and the childre’ all the one size. You could hear the bawls of her a mile away.
“‘Whishper, dear,’ says Nora; ‘I don’t want to be livin’ on anny of me folks, and Johnny O’Callahan said all the b’ys was wishing there was somebody would kape a clane little place out there at Birch Plains,–with something to ate and the like of a cup of tay. He says ’tis a good little chance; them big trains does all be waiting there tin minutes and fifteen minutes at a time, and everybody’s hungry. “I ‘ll thry me luck for a couple o’ days,” says I; “’tis no harm, an’ I’ve tin shillings o’ me own that Father Daley gave me wit’ a grand blessing and I l’aving home behind me.”‘”
“‘What tark you have of Johnny O’Callahan,’ says I.
“Look at this now!” continued the proud uncle, while Aunt Biddy sat triumphantly watching the astonished audience; “‘t is a letter I got from the shild last Friday night,” and he brought up a small piece of paper from his coat-pocket. “She writes a good hand, too. ‘Dear Uncle Patsy,’ says she, ‘this leaves me well, thanks be to God. I ‘m doing the roaring trade with me cakes; all Ryan’s little boys is selling on the trains. I took one pound three the first day: ‘t was a great excursion train got stuck fast and they ‘d a hot box on a wheel keeping them an hour and two more trains stopping for them; ‘t would be a very pleasant day in the old country that anybody ‘d take a pound and three shillings. Dear Uncle Patsy, I want a whole half-barrel of that same flour and ten pounds of sugar, and I ‘ll pay it back on Sunday. I sind respects and duty to Aunty Bridget and all friends; this l’aves me in great haste. I wrote me dear mother last night and sint her me first pound, God bless her.’”
“Look at that for you now!” exclaimed Mike Duffy. “Did n’t I tell every one here she was fine an’ smart?”
“She ‘ll be soon Prisident of the Road,” announced Aunt Mary Ann, who, having been energetic herself, was pleased to recognize the same quality in others.
“She don’t be so afraid of the worruk as the worruk’s afraid of her,” said Aunt Bridget admiringly. “She ‘ll have her fling for a while and be glad to go in and get a good chance in the mill, and be kaping her plants in the weave-room windows this winter with the rest of the girls. Come, tell us all about Elleneen and the baby. I ain’t heard a word about Lawrence yet,” she added politely.
“Ellen’s doing fine, an’ it’s a pritty baby. She’s got a good husband, too, that l’aves her her own way and the keep of his money every Saturday night,” said Mary Ann; and the little company proceeded to the discussion of a new and hardly less interesting subject. But before they parted, they spoke again of Nora.
“She’s a fine, crabbed little gerrl, that little Nora,” said Mr. Michael Duffy.
“Thank God, none o’ me childre’ is red-headed on me; they’re no more to be let an’ held than a flick o’ fire,” said Aunt Mary Ann. “Who ‘d ever take the notion to be setting up business out there on the Birchy Plains?”
“Ryan’s folks ‘ll look after her, sure, the same as ourselves,” insisted Uncle Patsy hopefully, as he lighted his pipe again. It was like a summer night; the kitchen windows were all open, the month of May was nearly at an end, and there was a sober croaking of frogs in the low fields that lay beyond the village.
“Where’s Nora?” Young Johnny O’Callahan was asking the question; the express had stopped for water, and he seemed to be the only passenger; this was his day off.
Mrs. Ryan was sitting on her doorstep to rest in the early evening; her husband had been promoted from switch-tender to boss of the great water-tank which was just beginning to be used, and there was talk of further improvements and promotions at Birch Plains; but the good-natured wife sensibly declared that the better off a woman was, the harder she always had to work.
She took a long look at Johnny, who was dressed even more carefully than if it were a pleasant Sunday.
“This don’t be your train, annyway,” she answered, in a meditative tone. “How come you here now all so fine, I ‘d like to know, riding in the cars like a lord; ain’t you brakeman yet on old twinty-four?”
“‘Deed I am, Mrs. Ryan; you would n’t be afther grudging a boy his day off? Where’s Nora?”
“She’s gone up the road a bitteen,” said Mrs. Ryan, as if she suddenly turned to practical affairs. “She ‘s worked hard the day, poor shild! and she took the cool of the evening, and the last bun she had left, and wint away with herself. I kep’ the taypot on the stove for her, but she ‘d have none at all, at all!”
The young man turned away, and Mrs. Ryan looked after him with an indulgent smile. “He’s a pritty b’y,” she said. “I ‘d like well if he ‘d give a look at one o’ me own gerrls; Julia, now, would look well walking with him, she ‘s so dark. He’s got money saved. I saw the first day he come after the cakeens ‘t was the one that baked them was in his mind. She’s lucky, is Nora; well, I’m glad of it.”
It was fast growing dark, and Johnny’s eyes were still dazzled by the bright lights of the train as he stepped briskly along the narrow country road. The more he had seen Nora and the better he liked her, the less she would have to say to him, and tonight he meant to find her and have a talk. He had only succeeded in getting half a dozen words at a time since the night of their first meeting on the slow train, when she had gladly recognized the peculiar brogue of her own country-side, as Johnny called the names of the stations, and Johnny’s quick eyes had seen the tired-looking, uncertain, yet cheerful little greenhorn in the corner of the car, and asked if she were not the niece that was coming out to Mrs. Duffy. He had watched the growth of her business with delight, and heard praises of the cakes and buns with willing ears; was it not his own suggestion that had laid the foundation of Nora’s prosperity? Since their first meeting they had always greeted each other like old friends, but Nora grew more and more willing to talk with any of her breathless customers who hurried up the steep bank from the trains than with him. She would never take any pay for her wares from him, and for a week he had stopped coming himself and sent by a friend his money for the cakes; but one day poor Johnny’s heart could not resist the temptation of going with the rest, and Nora had given him a happy look, straightforward and significant. There was no time for a word, but she picked out a crusty bun, and he took it and ran back without offering to pay. It was the best bun that a man ever ate. Nora was two months out now, and he had never walked with her an evening yet.
The shadows were thick under a long row of willows; there was a new moon, and a faint glow in the west still lit the sky. Johnny walked on the grassy roadside with his ears keen to hear the noise of a betraying pebble under Nora’s light foot. Presently his heart beat loud and all out of time as a young voice began to sing a little way beyond.
Nora was walking slowly away, but Johnny stopped still to listen. She was singing “A Blacksmith Courted Me,” one of the quaintest and sweetest of the old-country songs, as she strolled along in the soft-aired summer night. By the time she came to “My love ‘s gone along the fields,” Johnny hurried on to overtake her; he could hear the other verses some other time,–the bird was even sweeter than the voice.
Nora was startled for a moment, and stopped singing, as if she were truly a bird in a bush, but she did not flutter away. “Is it yourself, Mister Johnny?” she asked soberly, as if the frank affection of the song had not been assumed.
“It’s meself,” answered Johnny, with equal discretion. “I come out for a mout’ful of air; it’s very hot inside in the town. Days off are well enough in winter, but in summer you get a fine air on the train. ‘T was well we both took the same direction. How is the business? All the b’ys are saying they’d be lost without it; sure there ain’t a stomach of them but wants its bun, and they cried the length of the Road that day the thunder spoiled the baking.”
“Take this,” said Nora, as if she spoke to a child; “there’s a fine crust of sugar on the top. ‘T is one I brought out for me little supper, but I ‘m so pleased wit’ bein’ rich that I ‘ve no need at all for ‘ating. An’ I ‘m as tired as I ‘m rich,” she added, with a sigh; “‘t is few can say the same in this lazy land.”
“Sure, let’s ate it together; ’tis a big little cakeen,” urged Johnny, breaking the bun and anxiously offering Nora the larger piece. “I can like the taste of anything better by halves, if I ‘ve got company. You ought to have a good supper of tay and a piece of steak and some potaties rather than this! Don’t be giving yourself nothing but the saved cakes, an’ you working so hard!”
“‘T is plenty days I ‘d a poorer supper when I was at home,” said Nora sadly; “me father dying so young, and all of us begging at me mother’s skirts. It’s all me thought how will I get rich and give me mother all the fine things that’s in the world. I wish I ‘d come over sooner, but it broke my heart whinever I ‘d think of being out of sight of her face. She looks old now, me mother does.”
Nora may have been touched by Johnny’s affectionate interest in her supper; she forgot all her shyness and drew nearer to him as they walked along, and he drew a little closer to her.
“My mother is dead these two years,” he said simply. “It makes a man be very lonesome when his mother ‘s dead. I board with my sister that’s married; I ‘m not much there at all. I do be thinking I ‘d like a house of my own. I ‘ve plinty saved for it.”
“I said in the first of coming out that I ‘d go home again when I had fifty pounds,” said Nora hastily, and taking the other side of the narrow road. “I ‘ve got a piece of it already, and I ‘ve sent back more beside. I thought I ‘d be gone two years, but some days I think I won’t be so long as that.”
“Why don’t you be afther getting your mother out? ‘T is so warm in the winter in a good house, and no dampness like there does be at home; and her brother and her sister both being here.” There was deep anxiety in Johnny’s voice.
“Oh, I don’t know indeed!” said Nora. “She’s very wake-hearted, is me mother; she ‘d die coming away from the old place and going to sea. No, I ‘m going to work meself and go home; I ‘ll have presents, too, for everybody along the road, and the children ‘ll be running and skrieghing afther me, and they ‘ll all get sweeties from me. ‘T is a very poor neighborhood where we live, but a lovely sight of the say. It ain’t often annybody comes home to it, but ‘t will be a great day then, and the poor old folks ‘ll all be calling afther me: ‘Where’s Nora?’ ‘Show me Nora!’ ‘Nora, sure, what have you got for me?’ I ‘ont forget one of them aither, God helping me!” said Nora, in a passion of tenderness and pity. “And, oh, Johnny, then afther that I ‘ll see me mother in the door!”
Johnny was so close at her side that she slipped her hand into his, and neither of them stopped to think about so sweet and natural a pleasure. “I ‘d like well to help you, me darlin’,” said Johnny.
“Sure, an’ was n’t it yourself gave me all me good fortune?” exclaimed Nora. “I ‘d be hard-hearted an’ I forgot that so soon and you a Kerry boy, and me mother often spaking of your mother’s folks before ever I thought of coming out!”
“Sure and would n’t you spake the good word to your mother about me sometime, dear?” pleaded Johnny, openly taking the part of lover. Nora’s hand was still in his; they were walking slowly in the summer night. “I loved you the first word I heard out of your mouth,–’twas like a thrush from home singing to me there in the train. I said when I got home that night, I ‘d think of no other girl till the day I died.”
“Oh!” said Nora, frightened with the change of his voice. “Oh, Johnny, ‘t is too soon. We never walked out this way before; you ‘ll have to wait for me; perhaps you ‘d soon be tired of poor Nora, and the likes of one that’s all for saving and going home! You ‘ll marry a prittier girl than me some day,” she faltered, and let go his hand.
“Indeed, I won’t, then,” insisted Johnny O’Callahan stoutly.
“Will you let me go home to see me mother?” said Nora soberly. “I ‘m afther being very homesick, ‘t is the truth for me. I ‘d lose all me courage if it wa’n’t for the hope of that.”
“I will, indeed,” said Johnny honestly.
Nora put out her hand again, of her own accord. “I ‘ll not say no, then,” she whispered in the dark. “I can’t work long unless I do be happy, and–well, leave me free till the month’s end, and maybe then I ‘ll say yes. Stop, stop!” she let go Johnny’s hand, and hurried along by herself in the road, Johnny, in a transport of happiness, walking very fast to keep up. She reached a knoll where he could see her slender shape against the dim western sky. “Wait till I tell you; whisper!” said Nora eagerly. “You know there were some of the managers of the road, the superintendents and all those big ones, came to Birch Plains yesterday?”
“I did be hearing something,” said Johnny, wondering.
“There was a quiet-spoken, nice old gentleman came asking me at the door for something to eat, and I being there baking; ‘t is my time in the morning whin the early trains does be gone, and I ‘ve a fine stretch till the expresses are beginnin’ to screech,–the tin, and the tin-thirty-two, and the Flying Aigle. I was in a great hurry with word of an excursion coming in the afternoon and me stock very low; I ‘d been baking since four o’clock. He ‘d no coat on him, ‘t was very warm; and I thought ‘t was some tramp. Lucky for me I looked again and I said, ‘What are you wanting, sir?’ and then I saw he ‘d a beautiful shirt on him, and was very quiet and pleasant.
“‘I came away wit’out me breakfast,’ says he. ‘Can you give me something without too much throuble?’ says he. ‘Do you have anny of those buns there that I hear the men talking about?’
“‘There’s buns there, sir,’ says I, ‘and I ‘ll make you a cup of tay or a cup of coffee as quick as I can,’ says I, being pleased at the b’ys giving me buns a good name to the likes of him. He was very hungry, too, poor man, an’ I ran to Mrs. Ryan to see if she ‘d a piece of beefsteak, and my luck ran before me. He sat down in me little place and enjoyed himself well.
“‘I had no such breakfast in tin years, me dear,’ said he at the last, very quiet and thankful; and he l’aned back in the chair to rest him, and I cleared away, being in the great hurry, and he asking me how I come there, and I tolt him, and how long I ‘d been out, and I said it was two months and a piece, and she being always in me heart, I spoke of me mother, and all me great hopes.
“Then he sat and thought as if his mind wint to his own business, and I wint on wit’ me baking. Says he to me after a while, ‘We ‘re going to build a branch road across country to connect with the great mountain-roads,’ says he; ‘the junction ‘s going to be right here; ‘t will give you a big market for your buns. There ‘ll be a lunch-counter in the new station; do you think you could run it?’ says he, spaking very sober.
“‘I ‘d do my best, sir, annyway,’ says I. ‘I ‘d look out for the best of help. Do you know Patrick Quin, sir, that was hurt on the Road and gets a pinsion, sir?’
“‘I do,’ says he. ‘One of the best men that ever worked for this company,’ says he.
“‘He ‘s me mother’s own brother, then, an’ he ‘ll stand by me,’ says I; and he asked me me name and wrote it down in a book he got out of the pocket of him. ‘You shall have the place if you want it,’ says he; ‘I won’t forget,’ and off he wint as quiet as he came.”
“Tell me who was it?” said Johnny O’Callahan, listening eagerly.
“Mr. Ryan come tumbling in the next minute, spattered with water from the tank. ‘Well, then,’ says he, ‘is your fine company gone?’
“‘He is,’ says I. ‘I don’t know is it some superintendent? He ‘s a nice man, Mr. Ryan, whoiver he is,’ says I.
“”T is the Gineral Manager of the Road,’ says he; ‘that’s who he is, sure!’
“My apron was all flour, and I was in a great rage wit’ so much to do, but I did the best I could for him. I ‘d do the same for anny one so hungry,” concluded Nora modestly.
“Ain’t you got the Queen’s luck!” exclaimed Johnny admiringly. “Your fortune ‘s made, me dear. I ‘ll have to come off the road to help you.”
“Oh, two good trades ‘ll be better than one!” answered Nora gayly, “and the big station nor the branch road are n’t building yet.”
“What a fine little head you ‘ve got,” said Johnny, as they reached the house where the Ryans lived, and the train was whistling that he meant to take back to town. “Good-night, annyway, Nora; nobody ‘d know from the size of your head there could be so much inside in it!”
“I’m lucky, too,” announced Nora serenely. “No, I won’t give you me word till the ind of the month. You may be seeing another gerrl before that, and calling me the red-headed sparrow. No, I ‘ll wait a good while, and see if the two of us can’t do better. Come, run away, Johnny. I ‘ll drop asleep in the road; I ‘m up since four o’clock making me cakes for plinty b’ys like you.”
The Ryans were all abed and asleep, but there was a lamp burning in the kitchen. Nora blew it out as she stole into her hot little room. She had waited, talking eagerly with Johnny, until they saw the headlight of the express like a star, far down the long line of double track.
The summer was not ended before all the railroad men knew about Johnny O’Callahan’s wedding and all his good fortune. They boarded at the Ryans’ at first, but late in the evenings Johnny and his wife were at work, building as if they were birds. First, there was a shed with a broad counter for the cakes, and a table or two, and the boys did not fail to notice that Nora had a good sisterly work-basket ready, and was quick to see that a useful button was off or a stitch needed. The next fortnight saw a room added to this, where Nora had her own stove, and cooking went on steadily. Then there was another room with white muslin curtains at the windows, and scarlet-runner beans made haste to twine themselves to a line of strings for shade. Johnny would unload a few feet of clean pine boards from the freight train, and within a day or two they seemed to be turned into a wing of the small castle by some easy magic. The boys used to lay wagers and keep watch, and there was a cheer out of the engine-cab and all along the platforms one day when a tidy sty first appeared and a neat pig poked his nose through the fence of it. The buns and biscuits grew famous; customers sent for them from the towns up and down the long railroad line, and the story of thrifty, kind-hearted little Nora and her steady young husband was known to a surprising number of persons. When the branch road was begun, Nora and Johnny took a few of their particular friends to board, and business was further increased. On Sunday they always went into town to mass and visited their uncles and aunts and Johnny’s sister. Nora never said that she was tired, and almost never was cross. She counted her money every Saturday night, and took it to Uncle Patsy to put into the bank. She had long talks about her mother with Uncle Patsy, and he always wrote home for her when she had no time. Many a pound went across the sea in the letters, and so another summer came; and one morning when Johnny’s train stopped, Nora stood at the door of the little house and held a baby in her arms for all the boys to see. She was white as a ghost and as happy as a queen. “I ‘ll be making the buns again pretty soon,” she cried cheerfully. “Have courage, boys; ‘t won’t be long first; this one ‘ll be selling them for me on the Flying Aigle, don’t you forget it!” And there was a great ringing of the engine-bell a moment after, when the train started.
It was many and many a long month after this that an old man and a young woman and a baby were journeying in a side-car along one of the smooth Irish roads into County Kerry. They had left the railroad an hour before; they had landed early that morning at the Cove of Cork. The side-car was laden deep with bundles and boxes, but the old horse trotted briskly along until the gossoon who was driving turned into a cart-track that led through a furzy piece of wild pasture-ground up toward the dark rain-clouded hills.
“See, over there’s Kinmare!” said the old man, looking back. “Manny ‘s the day I ‘ve trudged it and home again. Oh, I know all this country; I knew it well whin ayther of you wa’n’t born!”
“God be thanked, you did, sir!” responded the gossoon, with fervent admiration. He was a pleasant-looking lad in a ragged old coat and an absolutely roofless hat, through which his bright hair waved in the summer wind. “Och, but the folks ‘ll be looking out of all the doors to see you come. I ‘ll be afther saying I never drove anny party with so rich a heart; there ain’t a poor soul that asked a pinny of us since we left Bantry but she’s got the shillin’. Look a’ the flock coming now, sir, out of that house. There’s the four-legged lady that pays the rint watchin’ afther them from the door, too. They think you ‘re a gintleman that’s shootin’, I suppose. ‘T is Tom Flaherty’s house, poor crathur; he died last winter, God rest him; ’twas very inconvanient for him an’ every one at the time, wit’ snow on the ground and a great dale of sickness and distress. Father Daley, poor man, had to go to the hospital in Dublin wit’ himself to get a leg cut off, and we ‘d nothing but rain out of the sky afther that till all the stones in the road was floatin’ to the top.”
“Son of old John Flaherty, I suppose?” asked the traveler, with a knowing air, after he had given the eager children some pennies and gingerbread, out of a great package. One of the older girls knew Nora and climbed to the spare seat at her side to join the company. “Son of old John Flaherty, I suppose, that was there before? There was Flahertys there and I l’aving home more than thirty-five years ago.”
“Sure there ‘s plinty Flahertys in it now, glory be to God!” answered the charioteer, with enthusiasm. “I ‘d have no mother meself but for the Flahertys.” He leaped down to lead the stumbling horse past a deep rut and some loose stones, and beckoned the little girl sternly from her proud seat. “Run home, now!” he said, as she obeyed: “I ‘ll give you a fine drive an’ I coming down the hill;” but she had joined the travelers with full intent, and trotted gayly alongside like a little dog.
The old passenger whispered to his companion that they ‘d best double the gossoon’s money, or warm it with two, or three shillings extra, at least, and Nora nodded her prompt approval. “The old folks are all getting away; we ‘d best give a bitteen to the young ones they ‘ve left afther them,” said Uncle Patsy, by way of excuse. “Och, there’s more beggars between here and Queenstown than you ‘d find in the whole of Ameriky.”
It seemed to Nora as if her purseful of money were warm against her breast, like another heart; the sixpences in her pocket all felt warm to her fingers and hopped by themselves into the pleading hands that were stretched out all along the way. The sweet clamor of the Irish voices, the ready blessings, the frank requests to those returning from America with their fortunes made, were all delightful to her ears. How she had dreamed of this day, and how the sun and shadows were chasing each other over these upland fields at last! How close the blue sea looked to the dark hills! It seemed as if the return of one prosperous child gave joy to the whole landscape. It was the old country the same as ever,–old Mother Ireland in her green gown, and the warm heart of her ready and unforgetting. As for Nora, she could only leave a wake of silver six-pences behind her, and when these were done, a duller trail of ha’pennies; and the air was full of blessings as she passed along the road to Dunkenny.
By this time Nora had stopped talking and laughing. At first everybody on the road seemed like her near relation, but the last minutes seemed like hours, and now and then a tear went shining down her cheek. The old man’s lips were moving,–he was saying a prayer without knowing it; they were almost within sight of home. The poor little white houses, with their high gable-ends and weather-beaten thatch, that stood about the fields among the green hedges; the light shower that suddenly fell out of the clear sky overhead, made an old man’s heart tremble in his breast. Round the next slope of the hill they should see the old place.
The wheel-track stopped where you turned off to go to the Donahoe farm, but no old Mary was there to give friendly welcome. The old man got stiffly down from the side-car and limped past the gate with a sigh; but Nora hurried ahead, carrying the big baby, not because he could n’t walk, but because he could. The young son had inherited his mother’s active disposition, and would run straight away like a spider the minute his feet were set to the ground. Now and then, at the sight of a bird or a flower in the grass, he struggled to get down. “Whisht, now!” Nora would say; “and are n’t you going to see Granny indeed? Keep aisy now, darlin’!”
The old heart and the young heart were beating alike as these exiles followed the narrow footpath round the shoulder of the great hill; they could hear the lambs bleat and the tinkling of the sheep-bells that sweet May morning. From the lower hillside came the sound of voices. The neighbors had seen them pass, and were calling to each other across the fields. Oh, it was home, home! the sight of it, and the smell of the salt air and the flowers in the bog, the look of the early white mushrooms in the sod, and the song of the larks overhead and the blackbirds in the hedges! Poor Ireland was gay-hearted in the spring weather, and Nora was there at last. “Oh, thank God, we ‘re safe home!” she said again. “Look, here’s the Wishing Brook; d’ ye mind it?” she called back to the old man.
“I mind everything the day, no fear for me,” said Patrick Quin.
The great hillside before them sloped up to meet the blue sky, the golden gorse spread its splendid tapestry against the green pasture. There was the tiny house, the one house in Ireland for Nora; its very windows watched her coming. A whiff of turf-smoke flickered above the chimney, the white walls were as white as the clouds above; there was a figure moving about inside the house, and a bent little woman in her white frilled cap and a small red shawl pinned about her shoulders came and stood in the door.
“Oh, me mother, me mother!” cried Nora; then she dropped the baby in the soft grass, and flew like a pigeon up the hill and into her mother’s arms.
The gossoon was equal to emergencies; he put down his heavier burden of goods and picked up the baby, lest it might run back to America. “God be praised, what’s this coming afther ye?” exclaimed the mother, while Nora, weeping for joy, ran past her into the house. “Oh, God bless the shild that I thought I ‘d never see. Oh!” and she looked again at the stranger, the breathless old man with the thorn stick, whom everybody had left behind. “‘T is me brother Patsy! Oh, me heart’s broke wit’ joy!” and she fell on her knees among the daisies.
“It’s meself, then!” said Mr. Patrick Quin. “How are ye the day, Mary? I always t’ought I ‘d see home again, but ‘t was Nora enticed me now. Johnny O’Callahan’s a good son to ye; he ‘d liked well to come with us, but he gets short l’ave on the Road, and he has a fine, steady job; he ‘ll see after the business, too, while we ‘re gone; no, I could n’t let the two childer cross the say alone. Coom now, don’t be sayin’ anny more prayers; sure, we ‘ll be sayin’ them together in the old church coom Sunday.
“There, don’t cry, Mary, don’t cry, now! Coom in in the house! Sure, all the folks sint their remimbrance, and hoped you ‘d come back with us and stay a long while. That’s our intintion, too, for you,” continued Patrick, none the less tearful himself because he was so full of fine importance; but nobody could stop to listen after the first moment, and the brother and sister were both crying faster than they could talk. A minute later the spirit of the hostess rose to her great occasion.
“Go, chase those white hins,” Nora’s mother commanded the gossoon, who had started back to bring up more of the rich-looking bundles from the side-car. “Run them up-hill now, or they ‘ll fly down to Kinmare. Go now, while I stir up me fire and make a cup o’ tay. ‘T is the laste I can do whin me folks is afther coming so far!”
“God save all here!” said Uncle Patsy devoutly, as he stepped into the house. There sat little Nora with the tired baby in her arms; to tell the truth, she was crying now for lack of Johnny. She looked pale, but her eyes were shining, and a ray of sunlight fell through the door and brightened her red hair. She looked quite beautiful and radiant as she sat there.
“Well, Nora, ye ‘re here, ain’t you?” said the old man.
“Only this morning,” said the mother, “whin I opened me eyes I says to meself: ‘Where’s Nora?’ says I; ‘she do be so long wit’out writing home to me;’ look at her now by me own fire! Wisha, but what’s all this whillalu and stramach down by the brook? Oh, see now! the folks have got word; all the folks is here! Coom out to them, Nora; give me the shild; coom out, Patsy boy!”
“Where ‘s Nora? Where ‘s Nora?” they could hear the loud cry coming, as all the neighbors hurried up the hill.