Naturally, my heart goes out to the people of the Ukraine. I pray that they are able to resist and withstand invading Russian forces and this doesn’t escalate further. Call me a dreamer if you like. However, the alternatives are too awful to contemplate.
Meanwhile, the East Coast of Australia has been inundated with ridiculously heavy rain, which in parts of Queensland has been described as a “rain bomb”. I saw a video today of someone doing laps up and down their backyard on a standard suburban block. That was freaky.
How has your week been?
So, I am feeling grateful. I have a roof over my head, food, water, my family with me and our three dogs.
Actually, speaking of dogs we’re p0articularly grateful to have Lady back with us after she squeezed out the back gate yesterday when we were out and strangers brought her home and secured the gate. So kind of them!!
Despite the rain, I’ve managed to get out for a few short walks this week.
There was the Mt Penang Parklands at Kariong. Our daughter gets eyelash extensions up there every fortnight and I walk in the park while I’m waiting. However, the park itself closes at 4.30pm so I walk down to the pond and through the slushy grass (yes, it is a wetland area) and photographed the reflection of the muted sun through the reeds. It was quite stunning.
Saturday, we had our power switched off for the day for repairs, and so we went out for lunch, and then drove over to Patonga on the Hawkesbury River as it enters Broken Bay. We couldn’t walk far with our shoes on and the sodden beach wasn’t very inviting either. Thought you might appreciate the photo.
Yesterday, we drove over to Terrigal for doughnuts and a walk, which we just managed to squeeze in between heavy downpours and the naughty Lady dog getting out and necessitating a speedy trip home.
Meanwhile, my Google Earth travels through Ireland continue as I continue to research how the Irish Famine impact various branches of our family. Two of the books I’ve ordered arrived: Ciaran O Murchadha: The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony 1845-1852 and John Quealy’s book of short stories set around Loop Head in County Clare. I don’t know whether he is related to my Quealys from the region, but he provides an insight into being a local and I’m turning to Google Earth while I’m reading along to see the places he’s talking about, which really helps bring these places to life. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get over there.
Now, I need to get moving because our daughter is sitting for her Learner’s Permit and I need to find the paperwork.
Normally, our daughter works at McDonald’s on a Sunday afternoon. However, she was free this afternoon and she bounced into my room suggesting donuts and a walk at Terrigal. We had discovered this donut shop during the week and had fallen deeply in love. I also was keen to go for a walk, despite the rain. Indeed, just as we’d decided to go, the heavens opened up and the Pacific Ocean came down. We checked the weather radar, and it wasn’t hanging round long. So, off we went.
It seems strange and perhaps lacking in respect to actually enjoy oneself at the moment. Russia has invaded the Ukraine, goodness knows what that means. Of course, that situation downplays the floods in Brisbane, Gympie and the usual suspects are also appearing on the news. However, we’ve barely been out since June last year, and I make no apologies for actually having fun, or spending time with the recently turned 16, Miss.
It is strange in a way to think that with everything that’s going on, that so many places are so unaffected and the rhythms of life and nature go on as normal. C’est la vie. When Lady Luck, God or whoever, lights up your path, you’ve got to seize the chance with both hands and make a run for it.
So, we bought a tray of six very scrumptious doughnuts. I won’t go through all the variations, but they had a luscious Creme Brulee Doughnut with toffee on top and a veritable subterranean lake of custard inside. As our daughter mentioned, the doughnuts aren’t too sweet, the doughnut itself is thick and doughy and there’s a luscious generosity about them. They’re a definite treat, and probably something which should be classified as a “sometimes food”.
We headed across the road, and chose a dry section of wall by the beach, and sat down to consume our hoard. After all the rain, the ground was still wet and the beach itself was covered in seaweed and didn’t smell the best. From here we not only had a stunning view of the beach, we could also watch the brewing clouds which were getting darker, full-bodied and you didn’t need to check the radar to know rain was on its way.
Meanwhile, the promenade beside the beach was pleasantly populated with dogwalkers without being crowded. Now that out kids are older, small children have regained their charm and they were incredibly captivating. We could smile and wave without needing to keep up 24/7. We’re definitely beyond that now.
Doughnuts eaten, exercise began and we walked round the rocks on this new fangled walkway the council has constructed. It’s all terribly civilised and extends access beyond the young and intrepid adventurer, but its a huge contraption superimposed on nature and I much prefer the Terrigal of my childhood. It was an unsophisticated, regional seaside town. Now, it’s Australia’s incarnation of Monaco by the sea with high density living and something in between Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise. That, I guess, makes it uniquely Terrigal and I do like it. I love seeing all the people there and there is something to be said about living it up at times too…fine dining, dressing up, and not just getting around in kayaks, sail boats, water shoes and having a real swim at the beach.
We were enjoying watching an abundance of largish rock crabs scuttling over the rocks while large waves smashed against the rocks launching a myriad of sounds something in between an orchestra and a choir as the water flowed through holes and caves. It was magic.. nature’s music.
Then, my phone rung. The number wasn’t in my contacts, which is rather unusual for me, especially when our daughter is with us and isn’t calling from one of her friend’s phones. “I think we’ve found your dog. Do you have a Lady Newton?” In hindsight, I felt like denying all knowledge of a Lady Newton. There we were on a rare outing with our daughter. Indeed, we’d actually gone out. However, annoyance was overcome by relief and gratitude and these strangers safely secured Lady in our backyard and sealed the back gate up which had become ajar in the rain.
So, the magic was over. Like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight, we were off home.
“Often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. “
Welcome to Another Thursday Doors!
This week we’re heading off to Cloyne in County Cork, Ireland for an exciting doorscursion. While I know checking out doors isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, even before I knew Thursday Doors was a thing, I’d photograph an interesting door, especially since photography has gone digital and it’s nowhere near as expensive. We have the luxury of being able to explore every nook and cranny around us through the lens without sending ourselves broke.
Although I live in Sydney, Australia, I’ve been researching my Irish roots and that’s what took me to Cloye near Midleton in County Clare last week. I was researching my 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, who was an inmate of Midleton Workhouse during the Great Hunger (Irish Famine) and jumped on Google Earth to get a feel for her world.
While these trips of mine via Google Earth might seem rather eccentric, they’ve actually been surprisingly beneficial. While it’s nowhere near as good to being there in person, I’ve been able to pair it up with YouTube and have enjoyed traditional Irish music in a few pubs in Carrigaholt, Clare and discovered an inspiring new author in Michael Harding thanks to Midleton Bookshop. That’s what travel does. It opens doors, but unfortunately travel has been seriously curtailed for so many of us over the last two years.
Who knows what the future is going to bring. Today, Russia invaded Ukraine, and I am praying for a miracle in this region, independence for Ukraine and long term peace.
This is my first contribution to a blogshare which is right up my alley: What’s on Your Bookshelf, hosted by Deb, Sue, Donna, and Jo. I could be here for several years and you’d be long gone, if I literally went through every single book on my bookshelf, and the contents of my To-Be-Read Piles around the house could also tie us down for awhile. However, what I’ve actually reading is thankfully a much shorter list. Indeed, I’m currently reading one book.
This rather exclusive solitary read is Jules Sebastian’s Tea & Honesty. It is hard not to introduce Jules Sebastian without mentioning her famous husband musician Guy Sebastian. I don’t like linking women to their famous husbands as though they’re nothing more than an pretty accessory and that they have no world, thoughts or achievements of their own., However, I did buy this book because she was Guy’s wife, and I knew something of their personal journey beyond the music industry. I quick flick through, showed Jules was very much a powerhouse in her own right. Moreover, she shares about being naturally shy, and she is a good listener, an observer, a thinker but in a kind, gentle and encouraging way that’s very refreshing. Moreover, I found out this Jules has a few worlds a knew nothing about. and they lead an interesting and very challenging life at times and she’d have a lot to say. What I didn’t know was that Jules has her own Youtube Channel and a program Tea With Jules: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6Y0dEiUcSIClA5KkqywvJA
I’m about halfway through it now, and I’m deliberately reading it slowly to take it all in. I think it’s very timely as many of us face a restart after the last two years. Jules reflects back on interviews and gives really good advice for people starting out and wanting to start a dream from scratch and how to find a way through the jungle and towards success. That’s such an important part of the road to success we don’t often hear about. BTW I wasn’t so keen on the podcasts. I think they’re geared towards a different demographic.
Meanwhile, although this book is still in transit, I’m going to mention it anyway along with the usual way I stumbled across it. The book in question is Irish author Michael Harding’sThe Cloud Where the Birds Rise, with illustrations by Jacob Stack. I stumbled across it a few days ago when I went on a quick trip to Midleton, Cork via Google Earth and of all the places I should come across, I find a bookshop. Of course, I had to check out the books they had on offer and looked up their website. That’s when I saw the book and it was like love at first sight. However, I resisted temptation and decided to do a bit of research before I bought another book into the house. That’s when I came across a podcast where Alan Keane interviewed Michael Harding on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.
So, naturally, I can’t wait for this book to turn up, and I must confess, I bought another one while I was there (to justify the postage of course!): Staring at Lakes. I’ll report back and let you know how they go.
How are you and how was the week that’s been? I hope all has gone well for you and yours, but who are we kidding? We all know life is about ups and downs, and sometimes these intensify into mountains and valleys and the going is a veritable rollercoaster ride of extreme highs and lows. However, a cup of tea works magic and a coffee can give you that slap=in-the-face caffeine hit when you don’t feel like getting up in the morning. You can also pop over to the Weekend Coffee Share for a chat and join our motley crew.
As some of you well know, I do battle every week to get my coffee share post in before deadline. I am particularly remiss because deadline is around three o’clock Monday afternoon here in Sydney, and so it’s well and truly after the weekend here. Indeed, for me it is a Monday afternoon coffee share, and I’ve always shared about the weekend that was, rather than what was yet to come. That, of course, assumes that something happened on the weekend, which isn’t a given these days. We’re still staying very close to home.
Our daughter has been back at school for a few weeks now, and theoretically speaking, we should be back in the groove by now, despite being derailed over the last two years due to the usual culprit- covid. However, I’d forgotten that the start of terms only really took care of the beginning, and then there’s that huge avalanche which follows what with assessments rolling out and activities intensifying. In a way, all of this has nothing to do with me. It’s my daughter’s life, but I generally keep track so I know when the proverbial is going to hit the fan and I either need to pitch in or go for a very long drive.
By the way, speaking of the Miss, who some of you have known since she was about five or six years old, she turns Sweet 16 this week. She’s very excited, particularly because he can get her L plates. In case you’re not psychic and don’t understand the Aussie lingo. She’s going for her Learner’s driving permit. However, first she has to pass the written test and that can be rather unforgiving. You get one question wrong in some sections and it’s an instant fail. Personally, I find that a bit mean, especially when it’s about $50.00 just to sit the test. However, it is all about being given permission to drive a killing machine so being nice probably doesn’t cut it.
Meanwhile, trying to work out what we’re doing for her birthday is hanging in the balance. While the politicians and TV media seem to think Covid is over, my parents won’t be coming up to celebrate because they’re in a self-imposed covid lockdown like Geoff and myself, and our kids are out and about potentially bringing it home. One of her best friends has been in hospital, but is home now so she might be able to go out for the big dinner out my daughter is planning, but there are a few others who either have covid or are in quarantine. There’s also the possibility that she will develop covid before the big day on Thursday, or someone else in the house. Golly, it doesn’t take much to ruin your plans these days.
Having your Sweet 16 skittled would be very disappointing for her, but our son has his 18th Birthday 10 days later. You only get one chance at that, although putting celebrations off is often the way it is atm. Let’s hope we come out of all this soon, and we can all go back to 2019 again!
Meanwhile, although I’ve been quite flat out trying to sort things out at home, I’m still trying to advance my research and writing and get the ball rolling. So, I ended up taking a trip to Ireland this week to check out the distance between Cloyne and MIdleton in County Cork, and having a good look around. Well, as good a look around as you can have via Google Earth. You can follow in those footsteps here: https://wordpress.com/post/beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/66278
Then, while I was in Midleton, I came across Midleton Bookshop. Being an incurable book-buying addict, I just had to check out their website and see what was potentially in the shop window. Wow! It was intriguing. I don’t know what I expected to find, but surprise ! Surprise! They were mostly Irish titles, and almost immediately I found myself magnetically drawn towards a book by Michael Harding: A Cloud Where the Birds Rise; A Book About Love and Belonging, which was illustrated by Jacob Stack. I’m a bit of a sucker for clouds and birds, not to mention books. However, I did try to resist and thought I’d better have a look inside before I bought “yet another book”. That didn’t work out, but I did find an interview by Alan Keane on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.
The Internet and our beloved Google has expanded our world’s in so many incredible ways, something we particularly appreciate as bloggers posting our writing online and not only sharing it with all sorts right around the world, but also have conversations and read their work as well and gain personal insights of what it is to be someone else and live somewhere else.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve dabbled in visiting places overseas via Google Earth. Just to remind you I live in Greater Sydney, Australia and there’s a lot of ocean in between where I want to go and also several continents. Not easy to get away for the desired length of time, and there’s the expense and then covid was added to the mix. However, as bad as covid’s been, it has opened up International communication online and being able to zoom in anywhere, tune into live stream, and then there’s Google Earth and that took on another dimension when I realized that I could take photos on my phone while on my travels, and they weren’t half bad. Of course, not on par with my Nikon SLR but mostly more than adequate.
The other interesting thing about traveling via Google Earth, is that you in effect get dumped somewhere in the vicinity of where you wanted to go, and have to come to and get your bearing. So, for someone like me who gets lost in the real world and can’t read a map, there’s been no magic fix traveling via Google Earth. The only difference is that I’m not getting worn out trudging back retracing my steps like I did in Amsterdam back in 1992, and I also had a 20 kilo pack on my back to complicate matters further. It truly is wonderful, particularly as my husband and I are close to still being in lockdown. We can go out. It’s people we need to stay away from. I won’t lie. As an extrovert, it’s tough but the alternative is sobering.
What took me on this journey from Cloyne to Midleton was very simple: How far is it from Cloyne to Midleton? My 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, was an Irish Famine Orphan, and there is mention of her being born in Midleton and Cloyne and I wanted to cover my bases.
By the way, I’ve mentioned Bridget before (including my last post). In essence, Bridget was plucked out of a cesspit of starvation, fever and certain death in Midleton Workhouse and given free passage and a trunk full of goodies to start a new life in Australia.
There is also a complicating twist to this story. Two maybe three of Bridget’s sons married Aboriginal women and some of their descendants were removed from their families in a process called the “Stolen Generation”. I know of at least one descendant who was placed in an institution called the Cootamundra Girls’ Home. So tragic. I am new to all of this, and the cultural nuances involved. There seem to be parallels in how the Irish and the Aboriginal people were treated by the English under colonialization, but the Irish also moved onto Aboriginal land. So, it gets messy and I’m descended from it all, and yet innocent of the actions of my forebears. However, I am trying to undo some of my own ignorance and find out a bit more, but it’s a process.
Meanwhile, we’re in Cloyne. It’s a village of about 1, 803 people and 350 houses (2016) and it’s a whole 7.7km from Midleton. So, really only a long stone throw away. In about 560 AD, Saint Colman mac Lenene (who died in 604) founded a monastery in Cloyne, and the round tower was constructed later, and dates back to around the 10th century, and is approximately 30m high and 16.25m around when measured about 1.5m above the ground. The stone in the tower is dark purple sandstone. Since then, a lightning strike in 1749 caused some damage to the top of the tower. I’ve also read that you used to be able to climb up to the top of the tower, but the state of disrepair and the threat of being sued have conspired to keep it out of bounds, which is such a shame as the view from the top would be incredible.
However, I had a bit of a false start when I first touched down in Cloyne. I landed on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, and can’t help wondering whether the dog had fiddled with the coordinates. It happens, you know. So, I reset the dial. Phew. This time I’d landed right near Cloyne Tower.
Like something straight out of a fairy tale, of course I envisioned Bridget climbing up that metal ladder and up the wooden stairs to the top. Of course, she was just a little girl then with long, dark flowing hair and of course she ran all the way to the top with an energy I can only dream about now. It was also long before the Great Hunger ravaged Ireland, and transported her to the workhouse and ultimately Australia. Of course, this is a romantic view where she is always smiling, and laughing with her friends. There is no sorrow in this early vision. I want her to simply be a child. A child whose future isn’t darkened by looming shadows but is free, because she didn’t know what lay ahead, and neither do we.
I had a short walk around Cloyne, and managed to miss one of it’s main attractions – a monument to Christy Ring Christy Ring won eight All-Ireland senior hurling medals, nine Munster titles, four National Leagues and 18 inter provincial Railway Cup medals with Munster. However, I have to admit I don’t know much about hurling. So, that’s another aspect to my Irish heritage which has gone by the wayside, which isn’t so strange considering I’m Australian and in Monopoly parlance “just visiting”.
Anyway, I wasn’t planning to linger in Cloyne today, although the possibility of legally or illegally climbing up the tower is appealing. Rather, I’m here to get some sense of the drive from Cloyne to Midleton, and I was delighted to find River Road is the road which takes you out of Cloyne to Midleton. This River Road had been mentioned to me in one of those family history chat sites. Apparently, some of the Donovans were living there so this is a great find with something of an “X marks the spot” feel to it (except that I have no idea of where the actual x was, but it’s a darned sight closer than here.)
I follow this road through what appears to be a tunnel of trees and I’m just relishing all this lush green Irish foliage and never-ending rows of rustic stone walls.
Then, I reach a huge roundabout and I think I had to turn right to get into Midleton, but big roundabouts are no less confusing on Google Earth than they are in real life and it’s just as easy to get lost although you’re not going to wind up in the morgue if you get all your directions completely muddled up and go round the wrong way straight into a truck. No, in this regard, Google Earth was rather kind. I could sort of diagonally scoot over the top, hold my breath and much to my relief spot the sign to Midleton. I’m almost there!
I don’t know what I expected to find in Midleton. Ideally, I’d find somebody who knew all about Bridget. The bits I don’t know. After all, there are two main parts to Bridget’s story…the Irish and Australian bits and it’s not that easy to join them up, especially when I haven’t even been able to find a death for Bridget in Australia (or her husband George) and you can’t just stick a Wanted Ad up on a telegraph pole when you’re looking for your missing ancestor and where and when they were buried. That said, many would say that she’s entitled to her privacy and if she’s been this hard to track down when I’m rather relentless, perhaps it’s time to leave well enough alone. However, I’m not giving up yet. There are still a few stones left which haven’t been turned.
Anyway, I did manage to find Midleton Library. That might be helpful.
I also just enjoyed walking along these streets she and my other forebears trod all those years ago. She was 19 years old when she arrived in Sydney and I wonder if she had a sweetheart she left behind. Or, maybe, he was one of the million or so who perished during the Great Hunger. Or, he sailed to America onboard one of those dreaded “coffin ships”. I don’t know. Moreover, while we’re talking about all I don’t know, I’m wondering why we didn’t study something about Irish history over here in Australia given those so many of us have Irish heritage. Humph. I don’t really need to ask I already know. There’s lots about Australian history we didn’t touch on at school. So, I shouldn’t be surprised.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, while I didn’t find any connection to Bridget Donovan in Midleton, I a sixth sense led me to Midleton Bookshop, and it just so happened that I looked up their web site to see what might be in their front window, when i felt a magnetic attraction towards a book by Irish author, Michael Harding. I’ve since bought two of his books and listened to quite a number of his podcasts. He’s such a find. Here’s a link to that story here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2022/02/19/irish-author-michael-harding-midleton-bookshop-ireland/
Well, I might pop back later and add a few more photos. It’s really late and my head is spinning. I have really loved visiting Cloyne and Midleton, wandering around the streets and wondering about Bridget Donovan.
I would love to hear from you and hope you’ve had a great weekend.
Yesterday afternoon, I stumbled upon Irish author, Michael Harding, while I was browsing through a bookshop in Midleton, Ireland. While you’d obviously expect to find a book in a bookshop, the remarkable thing is that I was there. After all, I was visiting Midleton Bookshop via Google Earth from the comfort of my loungeroom in Umina Beach – just North of Sydney, Australia.
Being a compulsive bibliophile, of course, I had to check out their web site to better appreciate what might be displayed in their front window. The funny thing was, it was like they already knew I was coming. Their home page features a fabulous quote from Katrina Meyer: “A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair.” As it turns out, it’s not only books. It is also Google Earth.
How typical of me to go all the way to Ireland (even virtually) and find a bookshop?!! Not only that. I managed to find a book I really, really wanted too! The book in question is Michael Harding’s The Cloud Where the Birds Rise, with illustrations by Jacob Stack.
I don’t know how well you know me. Of course, most of you have never been to my house and seen the overcrowded bookshelves, and book piles breeding faster than proverbial rabbits beside my lounge chair (where I currently write), my bed and on my desk overlooking the back garden. If you had been here, you’d probably be screaming at me: “NOOOO Roweeenah! Not another book! You haven’t even read the books you’ve got, and you have more on the way. Have you no self-control?” (Said, of course, as though self-control is the pinnacle of human development, and expanding your mind is a bad thing). You might even say something truly dreadful along the lines of me being crushed to death and buried alive once my teetering book pile finally topples over. Of course, I’ve brought all this disaster on myself. All because I couldn’t say “no!”
However, in my defence, I haven’t ordered the book yet, but who am I kidding? You and I both know the sun’s not going to set today, without me clicking on that irresistible “Buy Now” button.
Meanwhile, during this rather pregnant pause between spotting the book and placing my order, I did make a brief attempt at self-control and tried to see inside the book online. That didn’t work, but I did find a podcast where Alan Keane interviewed Michael Harding on The Artists’ Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrRYg1hvCh0 Now, I was really hooked, and after enjoying this interview so much, I headed off to absorb Michael Harding’s podcasts (@hardingmichael) and I’ll be lucky to find my way out the front door for the next six months. I’m riveted.
It’s at this point that I finally realize I’ve left my virtual self paused in suspended animation outside Midleton Bookshop. Goodness knows what the proprietors think of having this stranger permanently glued to their front window. Indeed, they’ve probably already had me carted away in the paddy wagon. If I’m lucky, I might just find myself incarcerated down the road from Midleton Workhouse where my 4 x Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan, ended up during the Great Hunger. She in effect won her golden ticket out of there when she was plucked out of this sea of starving, feverish unfortunates and despatched to Sydney on board the John Knox as one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls under the Earl Grey Scheme. Indeed, she was even given a trunk of clothing, Bible and necessities to make a decent life for herself on the other side. Chasing Bridget was why I went to Midleton today. I wanted to see where she was from, and walk in her shoes for a bit.
So, I guess this leaves us in suspended animation. Are you familiar with the works (or should I say words and ideas) of Michael Harding? Have you been to Midleton, County Cork, Ireland? Or, perhaps you have some connection to the Irish Famine Orphans who were sent out to Australia? Alternatively, you might just want to say hello and that’s fine too. I’d love to hear from you. Indeed, it would be wonderful to have a cup of tea with you in person, but such is life particularly given the current state of play with covid.
Two years ago, our son was booked to go on a European history tour with his school, which included visiting the battlefields of WWI, and spending ANZAC Day at Villers-Bretonneaux. Wanting him to know what our family members had gone through, I started researching my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealey, and my husband’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was Killed in Action at the Battle of Mont St Quentin.
It was all supposed to be fairly quick, and nothing more than an overview. However, it was me doing the research, and after covid hit and his trip was cancelled, unravelling and understanding their WWI experiences dramatically expanded to become “My Covid Project”, especially as lockdowns and self-isolation continue. Once again, my passionate curiosity had led me astray.
As it turned out, there were some interesting twists to their stories. Uncle Jack’s parents were Irish, and the “Bill” Uncle Ralph mentioned in his diary might’ve been born in Tasmania, but his parents and siblings were German-born. While the Irish initially supported the Empire and got behind the war effort, the 1916 Uprising and the brutal English response, reignited longstanding animosity and called for independence. I’m Australian and we weren’t taught any Irish history at school or university and I just grew up with some scant reference to the potato famine. I had no idea parts of the family had come out more recently, and what had gone on. Ireland was simply the land of green grass and Guinness. Clearly, I’ve been on a steep upward curve trying to make sense of it all, and it’s no wonder I’ve ended up in an Irish mist so much of the time.
Anyway, this brings me to this short story I wanted to share with you. Of course, it will mean a lot more to people with Irish heritage, but I really enjoyed it as a story and was also intrigued by the grandmother who can’t see, but has incredible vision- very much like a close friend of mine.
My Grandmother And Myself
By Mary Synon
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BOARDMAN ROBINSON
My grandmother was at the basement window, peering into the street as if she were watching for someone, when I came home from school. “Is that you, John?” she asked me as I stood in the hall stamping the snow from my boots. “Sure,” I called to her. “Who’d you think I was? A spirit?”
She laughed a little as I went into the room and flung down my books. My grandmother hasn’t seen any one in ten years, though she sits day after day looking out on the street as if a parade were passing; but she knows the thump of my books on the table as well as she knows the turning of my father’s key in the lock of the door. “‘Tis a lively spirit you’d make, Shauneen,” she said with that chuckle she saves for me. “No, ’twas your father I thought was coming.”
“What’d he be doing home at this time?”
“These are queer days,” she said, “and there are queer doings in them.”
“There’s nothing queer that I can see,” I told her.
“I’m an old, blind woman,” she said, “but sometimes I see more than do they who have the sight of their two eyes.”
She said it so solemnly, folding her hands one over the other as she drew herself up in her chair, that I felt a little thrill creeping up my spine. ”What do you mean?” I asked her.
“Time’ll tell you,” she said.
My mother came in from the kitchen then. “Norah forgot to order bacon for the morning,” she said. “Will you go to the market, John, before you do anything else?”
“Oh, I’m going skating,” I protested.
“It won’t take you five minutes,” said my mother. She seemed tired and worried. The look in her eyes made me feel that there was trouble hanging over the house. My mother isn’t like my grandmother. When things go wrong, my grandmother stands up straight, and throws back her shoulders, and fronts ahead as if she were a general giving orders for attack; but my mother wilts like a hurt flower. She was drooping then while she stood in the room, so I said: “All right, I’ll go,” though I’d promised the fellows to come to the park before four o’clock.
“And look in at the shop as you go by,” my grandmother said, “and see if your father’s there now.”
“Why shouldn’t he be?” my mother asked.
There was a queer sound in her voice that urged me around past my father’s shop. My father was there in the little office, going over blue-prints with Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and a big man I’d never seen before. I told my grandmother when I went home. “I knew it,” she said. “I knew it. And I dreamed last night of my cousin Michael who died trying to escape from Van Diemen’s Land.”
“You knew what?” I asked her, for again that strange way of hers sent shivery cold over me.
“Go to your skating,” she bade me.
There wasn’t much skating at Tompkins Square, though, when I found the crowd. The sun had come out strong in the afternoon and the ice was melting. “Ground-hog must have seen his shadow last week,” Bennie Curtis said. All the fellows—Joe Carey and Jim Dean and Frank Belden and Joe Krebs and Mattie Kleiner and Fred Wendell and the rest of them—had taken off their skates and were starting a tug of war in the slush. Mattie Kleiner was the captain on one side and Frank Belden the captain on the other. Mattie had chosen Joe Krebs and Jim Dean and Joe Carey on his side. Just as I came along he shouted that he chose me. Frank Belden yelled that it was his choice and that he’d take me.
“He don’t want to be on your side!” Mattie cried. “He’s with the Germans!”
“Well, I guess not,” I said, “any more than I’m with the English. I’m an American.”
“You can’t be just an American in this battle,” Frank Belden said.
“Then I’ll stay out of it,” I told him.
They all started to yell ” Neutral!” and “‘Fraid cat!” and “Oh, you dove of peace!” at me. I got tired of it after a while, and I went after Mattie hard. When I’d finished with him he bawled at me: “Wait till your father knows, he’ll fix you!”
“What for?” I jeered.
“For going against his principles, that’s what,” Mattie Kleiner roared.
“I’d like to know what you know about my father’s principles,” I laughed at him.
“Well, I ought to know,” he cried. “I heard him take the oath.”
“What oath?” we all demanded, but Mattie went off in surly silence. Joe Krebs and Joe Carey trailed after him. I stayed with the other fellows until it was dark. Then I started for home.
Joe Carey was waiting for me at the corner. “Do you believe him, John?” he asked me. “Do you believe Mattie about the oath?”
“How’s that?” I parried. I seemed to remember having heard a man who’d been at the house a fortnight before whispering something about an oath, and I knew that I’d heard my mother say to my grandmother: “I pray to God he’ll get in no trouble with any oaths or promises.” I kept wondering if Mattie Kleiner’s father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and the big man with the blue-prints who’d been in my father’s shop had anything to do with it.
“Oh, Mattie’s talking in his sleep,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” said Joe Carey; “but he wasn’t sleeping the night they had the meeting in his house. He was on the stairs going up to the top floor, and he kept the door open a little way and he heard everything they said, and nobody at all knew he was there.”
Joe Carey’s eyes were almost popping out of his head, and so I knew that Mattie had been telling him a long story.
“I guess he didn’t hear very much,” I said.
“You bet he did,” Joe declared. “He heard them reading the letters telling people not to go on the ships because they were going to be sunk, and he heard them talking about bombs and munition factories. He says that he heard your father say that he’d gladly lay down his life for the sake of Ireland.”
“But Ireland’s not in this war!”
“Sure it is! Mattie says the Germans are going to free Ireland if they beat England. That’s why the Irish ought to be with the Germans. Mattie says your father’ll be awful ashamed that you wouldn’t go on his side. Mattie says your father…”
“I don’t give a whoop what Mattie says about my father,” I told him. “I guess I can take my own part.”
“I guess you’ll have to,” said Joe.
As I went up the street toward our house I had that queer feeling that comes sometimes after I’ve been away for a while, a fear that something terrible has happened while I’ve been gone and that I’ll be blamed for it. It was dark on the street, for people hadn’t lighted the lamps in the basement dining-rooms, and I was hurrying along when suddenly a man’s voice came over my shoulder. I hadn’t heard his step behind me at all, and I jumped when he spoke.
“Where does Mr. John Sutton live?” he asked me.
“Right there.” I pointed to our house.
“Do you know him?” he asked. Through the dark I could see that he was a tall man with sharp eyes. I knew that I had never seen him before, and that he didn’t look like any of the men who came to my father’s machine-shop. “Don’t you know Mr. Sutton?” he repeated.
“Know him well, sonny?”
“He’s my father.”
He whistled softly, then laughed, turned on his heel, and strode down the street. I watched him to see if he’d take the turn toward the shop, but he turned the other way at the corner. I thought that I’d tell my grandmother about him, but my mother was with her in the dark when I went in. They were talking very low, as if someone were dead in the house, but I heard my mother say, “If I only knew how far he’s gone in this!” and my grandmother mutter: “Sure, the farther he goes in, the farther back he’ll have to come.” I stumbled over a chair as I went into the room with them, and they both stopped talking.
I could hear the little hissing whisper my grandmother always makes while she says the rosary, but I could hear no sound from my mother at all until she rose with a sigh and lighted the gas-lamp. She looked at me as if she hadn’t known I’d been there. “Have you any homework to do to-night, John?” she asked me.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “It’s Friday.”
“Then I want you to come to church with me after your dinner,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t want to go to church,” I’d said before my grandmother spoke.
“‘Twill be a queer thing to me as long as I live,” she said, “that those who have don’t want what they have and that those who haven’t keep wanting.”
The telephone bell rang just then up in the room that my father uses for an office, and I raced up to answer it. A man’s voice, younger than that of the man who’d spoken to me, came over the wire. “Say, is this John Sutton’s residence?” it asked. “And is he home? And, if he isn’t, who are you?”
“What do you want?” I called.
“Information. This is The World. We hear that there’s to be a meeting of the clans to-night, and we want to know where it’s to be held.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Can you find out?”
“No,” I lied. “There’s nobody home.”
“Won’t your father be home for dinner?”
Even then I could hear his key turning in the lock, could hear him passing on his way up to his bedroom, but a queer kind of caution was being born in me. “No, sir,” I said. (pg227)
“Who was that?” my grandmother asked me when I went down.
I told her of the call, told her, too, of the man who had stopped me on the street. Her rosary slipped through her fingers. “I feared it,” she said. Then the whisper of her praying began again.
At dinner my father was strangely silent. Usually he talks a great deal, all about politics, and the newspapers, and the trouble with the schools, and woman-suffrage, and war. But he said nothing at all except to ask me if the skating were good. My mother was just as quiet as he, and I would have been afraid to open my mouth if my grandmother hadn’t started in to tell about New York in the days she’d come here, more than sixty-five years ago. She talked and talked about how different everything had been then, with no tall buildings and no big bridges and no subways and no elevateds. “Faith, you can be proud of your native town, John,” she said to my father.
“I wish I’d been born in Ireland,” he said.
She laughed. “And if I’d stayed in Ireland, I’d have starved,” she said, “and little chance you’d have had of being born anywhere.”
“It might have been just as well,” he said bitterly.
“Oh, no,” she said; “there’s Shauneen.”
He rose from the table, flinging down his napkin. “I won’t be home till very late,” he said to my mother.
She stood up beside him. “Do you have to go, John?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
“Oh, John,” she said, “I’m afraid.”
“Of what may happen you.”
“Nothing’ll happen me,” he said.
I wanted to tell him of the strange man who had halted me on the street, and of the telephone call, but my father’s anger was rising and I feared to fan it to flame. My grandmother said nothing until after my father had gone. Then she spoke to my mother.
“Don’t you know better,” she asked her, “and you eighteen years married to him, than to ask John not to do something you don’t want him to do?”
My mother began to cry as we heard the banging of the outer door after my father. “Well, if you can do nothing else,” my grandmother said, “you’d better be off to church. Keep your eyes open, Shauneen,” she warned me, while my mother was getting her hat and coat.
It was a grand night, with the evening star low in the sky, like a lamp, and the big yellow moon just rising in the east. The wind blew sharp and salt off the water, but there was a promise of spring in the air, saying that it must be almost baseball time. We went over to the Jesuit church, walking slowly all the way. There we knelt in the dark until I was stiff. As we came out my mother stopped at the holy-water font. “John,” she said, “will you promise me that if you ever marry you’ll never set any cause but God’s above your wife?”
“No, ma’am, I won’t,” I said, vaguely understanding that my father had hurt my mother by his refusal to stay at home, and wondering what cause he had set above her. As we walked toward the car line I remembered what Joe Carey had told me of Mattie Kleiner’s speech about my father. “Do you have to go to Ireland to die for Ireland?” I asked her. She clutched my hand. “My grandfather died for Ireland,” she said, “and he wasn’t the first of his line to die for her. But I pray God that he may have been the last.” She said no more till we came into our own house.
My grandmother was still at the window of the dining-room. There was no light, and my mother did not make one. “There was another telephone call,” my grandmother said. “Norah answered it. ‘Twas the newspaper calling again for John to ask about the meeting. She said she knew nothing about it and that no one was here to answer.”
“Do you suppose,” I said, “it was detectives?”
They said nothing, and I could feel a big lump coming up my throat. I thought they might not have heard me until my grandmother said: “Do you know, Kate, where the meeting is?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know,” my mother cried. She turned to me sharply. “Go to bed, John,” she said.
“I know where the meetings are,” (pg 228) I blurted out, eager enough for any excuse to put off the hateful order. “They’re at Mattie Kleiner’s house, because he hides on the stairs when they come, and he heard them take the oath.”
“Is that Matthew Kleiner’s boy?” my grandmother asked, so quietly that I thought she had not realized the importance of my news.
“Go to bed, Shauneen.” She repeated my mother’s order.
I went up-stairs, leaving the two of them silent in the dark. I whistled while I undressed, but I shivered after I had turned out the light and jumped between the sheets. I was going to lie awake waiting for my father’s return, but I must have dozed, for I thought that it was in the middle of the night that something woke me. I knew, as soon as I woke, that someone was in my room. I could feel him groping. I tried to speak, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Then I heard a faint whisper. “Shauneen,” it said.
So far away it seemed that I thought it might be a ghost until my grandmother spoke again. “Your mother’s in bed now,” she said. “Put on your clothes as quick as you can.”
“What is it?” I whispered.
“We’re going to Matthew Kleiner’s, you and I,” she said. “I’d go alone if I could see.”
“What time is it?”
“Between ten and eleven.”
I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could. Then stealthily as thieves we crept out from my room and down the stairs. I held my grandmother’s hand and wondered at its steadiness. When we had come outside the basement-door she halted me. “Look down the street for the tall man,” she bade me. There was no one in sight, however, and we walked along sturdily, turning corners until we came to Kleiner’s.
It was a red-brick house in a row, not a basement house like ours, but with a cellar below and an attic above its two main floors. There was no light on the first floor, but I thought that I saw a stream behind the drawn curtains upstairs. I found the bell and pushed on it hard. No one came for a long time. I rang again. I could see shadows back of the shades before Mattie Kleiner’s mother came.
“What is it?” she demanded before she opened the door.
“Tell her that your mother’s sick, and that you’ve come for your father,” my grandmother ordered me.
I repeated what she’d said.
Mrs. Kleiner opened the door. “Oh,” she cried, “it is Mrs. Sutton and little John. Oh, you did frighten me. Is the mother very sick? I shall call the father.”
“Let me go to him,” my grandmother said. We were inside the hall then, and I put her hand on the railing of the stairway. She had started up before Mrs. Kleiner tried to stop her. “I’ve a message for him,” said my grandmother. Mrs. Kleiner and I followed her. At the top of the stairs I turned her toward the front room, for I could hear the murmur of voices. I passed a door and wondered if Mattie Kleiner were hiding behind it. “Oh, we must not go in,” Mrs. Kleiner pleaded. “The men will not want us to go in.” She tried to stop us, but my grandmother turned, looking at her as if she could see her. “I’ve always followed my own conscience, ma’am,” she said, “not my husband’s, nor my son’s, nor any other man’s.”
From within the front room came the sound of the voices, growing louder and louder as we stood there, my grandmother alert, Mrs. Kleiner appalled, I myself a thrill. I could hear my father’s voice, short, sharp. “It’s our great opportunity,” he was saying. “We have only to strike the blow at England’s empire, and the empire itself will arise to aid us. Twenty thousand men flung into Canada will turn the trick. French Quebec is disaffected. What if soldiers are there? We can fight them! We may die, but what if we do? We will have started the avalanche that will destroy Carthage!”
There were cries of “Right!” to him. Then a man began to talk in German. His voice rang out harshly. From the murmurs that came out to us we knew that the men were applauding his words, but we had no idea of what the words were. Mrs. Kleiner stood wringing her hands. “Who’s in there?” my grandmother asked her.
“I do not know,” she insisted.
“Joe Krebs’s uncle is there,” I said. “I know his cough. And Mr. Winngart who keeps the delicatessen shop. And Frank Benner’s father; and that’s Mr. Carey’s voice.”
“They just meet for fun,” groaned Mrs. Kleiner.
“Sure, I saw that kind of fun before,” said my grandmother, “when the Fenians went after the Queen’s Own.”
My father’s voice rose again. “We are ready to fire the torch? We are ready to send out the word tonight for the mobilization of our sympathizers? We are ready to stand together to the bitter end?”
“We are ready!” came the shout. Then my grandmother opened the door.
Through the haze of their tobacco smoke they looked up, the dozen men crowded into the Kleiners’ front bedroom, to see my grandmother standing before them, a bent old woman in her black dress and shawl, her little jet bonnet nodding valiantly from its perch on her thin white hair. She looked around as if she could see every one of them. My father had sprung forward at her coming, and, as if to hold him off, she put up one hand.
“Is it yourself, John Sutton, who’s talking here of plots, and plans, and war?” she said. Her voice went up to a sharp edge. She flung back her head as if she defied them to answer her. All of them, my father and Joe Krebs’s uncle and Mattie Kleiner’s father and Mr. Carey and Mr. Winngart and the big man who’d had the blue-prints in the shop, and the others, stared at her as if she were a ghost. No one of them moved as she spoke.
“‘Tis a fine lot you are to be sitting here thinking ways to bring trouble on yourselves, and your wives, and your children, and your country. Who are there here of you? Is it yourself, Benedict Krebs, who’s going out to fight for Germany when your own father came to this very street to get away from Prussia? Is it you, Matthew Kleiner, who gives roof to them who plot against America, you, who came here to earn a living that you couldn’t earn at home? Is it you, Michael Carey, who’s helping them hurt the land that’s making you a rich man? Shame on you; shame on you all!”
“Why shouldn’t we fight England?” Joe Carey’s father said with a growl. “You’d be the last one, Mrs. Sutton, that I’d think’d set yourself against that.”
“‘Tis not England,” said my grandmother, “that you fight with your plots. ‘Tis America you strike when you strike here. And, as long as you stay here, be Americans and not traitors!”
They began to murmur at that, and my father said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, mother. You’d better take John home. This is no place for either of you.”
“No more than it’s a place for you,” she said. “Will you be coming home with me now?”
“I will not,” my father said.
“Faith, and you’ll all be wishing you had,” she told them, “when the jails’ll be holding you in the morning.”
“The jails!” The big man who had held the blue-prints came closer to us. “What is it you say of jails? You have told the police, then?”
“I didn’t need to,” my grandmother said. “The government men have been watching this long time. ‘Twill be at midnight that they’ll come here. But ’tis not myself they’ll be finding.”
I saw the men’s glances flash around the room through the smoky haze before she called: “Come, Shauneen.”
I took her hand again and led her out of the room. Just before the door closed after us I saw that my father’s face had grown very white and that Mattie Kleiner’s father had dropped his pipe on the floor.
Outside the house I spoke to my grandmother tremblingly. “Do the police really know?” I asked her.
She gave her dry little chuckle. “If they don’t, they should,” she answered; “but I was born an O’Brien, and I’ve never known one of them yet that ever told the police anything. No, Shauneen,” she laughed, “’twas the high hill I shot at, but I’m thinking that the shot struck. We’ll watch.”
We crossed the street and waited in the shadow of the house at the corner. For a little while all was quiet at Kleiner’s. Then I saw the tall man come out with Joe Krebs’s uncle. After a time my father came out with Mr. Winngart and Mr. Carey. They walked to the other (Pg 230) corner and stood there a moment before they separated.
“Shall we go home now?” I asked my grandmother after I had told her what I had seen.
“Not yet,” she said. “I’ve one more errand to do this night.”
I thought it might have something to do with the tall man who’d spoken to me or with the telephone call, and I wondered when she sighed. “I’m a very old woman,” she seemed to be saying to herself. “I’ll be ninety-one years come Michaelmas Day. Some of the world I’ve seen, and much of life. Out of it all I’ve brought but a few things. I’d thought to give these to my son. But—” She paused. “How old are you, Shauneen?” she asked me.
“Fourteen,” I said.
“Old enough,” she nodded. She turned her head as if she were looking for something or someone. Then: “Do you know your way to the Battery?” she asked me.
“Sure,” I told her. “Are you going there?”
It had been quiet enough in our part of town. It was quieter yet when we came to Bowling Green and walked across to the Battery. Down there, past the high buildings and the warehouses, we seemed to have come into the heart of a hush. To the north of us the sky was afire with the golden glow from the uptown lights. In front of us ran the East River and the North River. Out on Bedloe’s Island I could see the shining of the Goddess of Liberty’s torch. Every little while a ferry-boat, all yellow with lights, would shoot out on the water. A sailing-vessel moved slowly after its puffing tug. The little oyster-boats were coming in from the bay. A steamer glided along past it as I walked with my grandmother out toward the old Castle Garden.
On the Saturday before Joe Carey and I had come down to the piers, prowling all afternoon on the docks, watching the men bringing in the queer crates and boxes and bags while we told each other of the places from where the fruits and spices and coffee and wines had come. There were thousands and thousands of ships out there in the dark, I knew, and I began to tell my grandmother what some of the sailors had told us of how the trade of the world was crowding into New York, with the ships all pressing the docks for room.
“If you could only see it!” I said to her.
“I can see more than that,” she said. Then: “Take me to the edge of the waters,” she bade me.
Wondering and a little frightened, obeyed her, trying to solve the while the mystery of her whim to bring me to the deserted park in the middle of the night.
“Is Castle Garden over there?” she pointed. “Then, I’ve my bearings now.”
She stood alone, a little way off from me, staring seaward as if she counted the shadowy ships. The wind blew her thin white hair from under her bonnet and raised the folds of her shawl. There in the lateness of the night, alone at the edge of the Battery, she didn’t seem to be my grandmother at all, but some stranger. I remembered the story I’d read somewhere of an old woman who’d brought a pile of books to a King of Rome, books that she threw away, one by one, as he refused them, until there was but one book left. When he’d bought that one from her he’d found that it was the book of the future of the empire and that he’d lost all the rest through his folly. As I looked at my grandmother I thought she must be like the old woman of the story. Even her voice sounded strange and deep when she turned to me.
“It was sixty-five years ago the seventh of November that I first stood on this soil,” she said. “‘Tis a long lifetime, and, thank God, a useful one I’ve had. Burdens I’ve had, but never did I lack the strength to bear them. Looking back, I’m sorry for many a word and many a deed, but I’ve never sorrowed that I came here.”
I would have thought that she had forgotten me if she hadn’t touched my arm. “You’ve heard tell of the famine, Shauneen,” she went on, “the great famine that fell on Ireland, blighting even the potatoes in the ground? We’d a little place in Connaught then, a bit of land my father was tilling. We hadn’t much, even for the place, but we were happy enough, God knows, with our singing and dancing and the fairs and the patterns. Then, little by little, we grew poorer and poorer. I was the oldest of the seven of us. My (pg 231) Mother and myself’d be planning and scraping to find food for the rest of them. Everyday we’d see them growing thinner and thinner. Oh, mavrone, the pity of it! And they looking at us betimes as if we were cheating them of their bit of a sup! Sometimes now in the dark I see them come to my bed, with their soft eyes begging for bread, and we having naught to give them. Brigid—she was the youngest of them all—died. Then my father went.
“I used to go down to the sea and hunt the wrack for bits of food. There by the shore I would look over here to America and pray, day after day, that the Lord would send to us some help before my mother should go. You don’t know what it is to pray, Shauneen. Your father cannot teach you and your mother hopes you’ll never learn. For prayer is born in agony, avick (my son), and grief and loss and sorrow. But because you are the son of my soul I pray for you that life may teach you prayer. For when you come to the end of the road, Shauneen, you’ll know that ’tis not the smoothness of the way, but the height of it and the depth of it, that measures your travelling. Far, far down in the depths I went when I prayed over there on the bleak coast of Connaught.
“God answered my prayer. There came from America food to us. There came, too, the chance for me to come here with the promise of work to do. ‘Twas a drear day when I left home. How I cursed England as I looked back on the hills of Cork harbor, all green and smiling as if never a blight had cast its shadow behind them!
“‘Twas a long, dreary sailing. Nine weeks we were in the crossing. A lifetime I thought it was between the day I looked on the western sea from the Connaught mountains and the day when I stood here looking back toward home. Sure life is full of lifetimes like those.”
She paused a moment, but I felt as if I were under a spell that I must not break by word of mine. A cloud came over the moon and all around us grew shadowy. The big throb that the city always beats at night kept sounding like the thrumming of an orchestra waiting for the violin solo to start.
“I’d plenty of them before many years.” My grandmother’s voice came like the sound for which the thrumming had waited. “Did you ever think what it means to the poor souls who come here alone for their living? When you’ve a house of your own, Shauneen, with men servants and maid servants, don’t forget that your father’s mother worked out for someone. They were kind people, too, who took me to their homes. Don’t forget that either. For ’tis my first memory of America. Kind they were, and just. They helped me save what I earned and they showed me ways of helping my folks at home. I’d brought out Danny and James and Ellen and Mary before the war. I met each one of them right here at Castle Garden. That’s why I always think of this place as the gateway through which the Irish have come to America. Sure Ellis Island’s been for the Italians and the Jews and the Greeks. We didn’t wait outside the door. We came straight in,” she chuckled.
“My mother wouldn’t come from the old place. Long I grieved over her there in the little house where my father and Brigid had died, but after a while I knew she was happier so. Sometimes, Shauneen, I think of Ireland as an old woman, like my mother, sitting home alone in the old places, grieving, mourning, with her children out over the world, living the dreams of her nights by the fire. ‘Twas here we found the freedom the Irish had been fighting for. ‘Twas here, away from landlords and landholding, away from famine and persecution, that we found that life need not be a thing of sorrow. ‘Twas here I met your grandfather.
“I’d nothing of my own, and your grandfather had but a trifle more when we married. I suppose ’tis brave that people would call us now. We didn’t think that we were. We were young and strong and we loved each other. And we were getting along fairly well—we’d started the payments on a bit of a house of our own after your father was born— when the war came down on us.
“Your grandfather went with the brigade. Not twice did we think whether or not he should go. We knew that he owed his first duty to the country that (pg 232)had called him, and sheltered him, and given him work and hope and freedom. For he was a boy from home as I was a girl from home. I stood on the curbstone the day he marched by, with your father in my arms, and I cheered for the flag. ‘Sure he’ll be walking to meet you when you come back!’ I called, lifting up the child. Your grandfather never came back. He fell at Marye’s Heights.”
When she spoke again her voice had changed more to her every-day tone. “Well, I raised your father,” she said, “and I thought I was raising him well. My arms were strong. I worked at the wash-tub morning, noon, and night. It wasn’t long till I had a laundry of my own. I thought to give my son all that I’d ever wanted for myself. Perhaps that was where I made my mistake. I thought too much of the things that money can buy in those years when money was so hard to earn. Perhaps ’twas myself and no other who taught your father the cold, hard things of life, though, God knows, I’d no thought to do it. He’s a good man in many ways, but he’s not the man I want you to be. He’s a good hater but he’s not a good lover. And, faith, what’s there in life but love?”
I moved a little then, and my grandmother swung me around, with her two hands on my shoulders, and, blind as she is, stared at me as if she were looking right down into my heart. “Shauneen,” she said, “I have prayed, day and night, that your father might be to America the good citizen his father was. I have prayed that if America should ever need him he would stand ready for her call. I have prayed that he’d love America as I have loved America. I love Ireland, mavrone. Always in my heart do I see her hills as they looked on the morning I looked back on them from the sea. But I love America, too, and I wanted my son to love her even more than I do. I’ve wanted him to love this land as my fathers and their fathers loved Ireland. ‘Twas not that I wanted him to forget my land; when he was a lad like you, I’d tell him tales of Ireland’s glory and of Ireland’s woe. How was I to know that all it would do for him was to rouse the black hate for England? I taught him love for Ireland, but never did I teach him to set my land above his own.
“For ’twas America gave us our chance, Shauneen, when we’d no other place on earth to seek. Hard days we’ve known here, too, days when even the children jeered at us, but we’ve never felt the hand of the oppressor upon us since we touched our feet on these shores. We’ve been free and we’ve prospered. Fine houses we have and fine clothes; and ’tis a long day since I knew the pinch of hunger. This is our debt. Tell me again, Shauneen, what you see out there?”
I told her of the shining lights, of the funnels of the steamers, of the piled piers, of the little oyster-boats, of the great liners waiting the word for their sailing.
“‘Twould be a fine sight,” she sighed. “Do you think me a madwoman to bring you here?” she went on, as if she had read my thought. “Perhaps I am that. Perhaps I’m not. For you’ll remember this night when you’ve forgotten many another time, just as I remember the day when my mother took me to the shrine at Knock. For this is the shrine of your country, Shauneen, this old Castle Garden, where your people set foot in the land that’s given them liberty. Here it was that I told my brothers and my sisters of the future before them. Here it is that I’m telling you that your country will be the greatest nation of all the world if only you lads stay true to her. That’s why I’ve brought you here to-night, Shauneen. I’m an old, old woman. I’ve not long for this earth. But I’ve this message for you; it’s yours; this duty that your father shirks when he plots with black traitors who’d drag us into wars that are not of our choosing. Raise your hand, Shauneen. Say after me: ‘As long as I live, God helping me, I shall keep my country first in my heart and, after God, first in my soul!”
Through the misty moonlight there came to me the memory of my mother’s plea at the door of the church, my mother’s cry: “Promise me that you’ll set no cause but God’s before your wife!” Some battle of spirit struggled within me. For an instant I was silent. Then, suddenly, as if the moon had ridden above the cloud, I saw the right. “Since all (pg 233) true causes come from God, it is right to set my own country above anything else that may ever come. I said the words after my grandmother. She took my face between her hands and kissed me. “God keep you, Shauneen, for the woman who’ll love you, and the children you’ll teach, come.” Then through a sleeping city my grandmother and I went home.
There’s a lot to absorb and process in this story, but I wanted to share it with you first.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you and get a bit of discussion going.
Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share and wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day whatever that might mean to you. Apparently, roses are very inflated this year so I think Geoff and I will be lucky to exchange a box of chocolates. or, more likely, there’ll just be one to share and unless we go dark, the kids will tuck into them as well. Not that we don’t wish them a Happy Valentine’s Day, of course. It’s just that there are somethings you like to keep to yourself, and top of my list is chocolate!
It has been an interesting and stressful week here, but I am starting to see some progress. The kitchen table is clear, and it won’t take much to clear the couch and I actually ironed my daughter’s school uniform for the first time since she started kindergarten I suspect. We bought a couple of extra shirts and even after washing them, they were still creased from the packaging. So, a rare event occurred. I pulled out the iron. I’m not a believer in ironing, and I’ think I’ve probably only ironed a Scout shirt once in the last two years thanks to covid, associated lockdowns and becoming an endangered species. However, ironing felt strangely therapeutic. There are so many problems were can’t ort out in life, but we can pull out the iron and make those creases go away. If only we could take an iron to ourselves and magically sort ourselves out like that. Wouldn’t it be nice?!! That said, as much as I say I long for perfection and get it all sorted, I am fundamentally an erratic creative person and chasing the rabbit is much more interesting than having the perfect house.
Speaking of chasing the rabbit, I did some serious rabbit chasing this week and found myself hooning around County Clare, Ireland via Google Earth. Along the way, I stumbled into the village of Carriagaholt, in West Clare which is located on the Moyarta River where it flows into the expansive Shannon Estuary. This was the very first Irish village I have ever seen, and I’m sure I was spoilt because it was absolutely breathtakingly magical. Days later, I’m still fixed on the gorgeous white house with hearts painted on a red door. Of course, it’s great to see a house dedicated to love and goodwill. However, what really touched me about this house was it’s authentic rustic charm. It wasn’t polished, commercial or fake but that love feels real and genuine. I feel I could knock on their door, and I would be heard. To be honest, I hope my friends and family know they can knock on my door literally and figuratively speaking, even if it’s a bit hard during covid. I want to be that approachable person, and not the one who slams the door in your face, although I know I don’t always get it right and it happens. Moreover, we can’t leave out door open to everyone. A friend to all, is friend to none. We all need our inner sanctum and to preserve and nurture that.
Anyway, I really loved pottering around Carrigaholt, and I stopped into a few pubs and loved hearing some traditional Irish music including a real Irish singalong. Oh golly. Have I been missing out! I also had a cooking lesson on how to cook mussels and I’m very tempted to head down to the local fish market and have a go myself.
By the way, I should mention that my Great Great Grandfather, Edward Quealey/Quailey came from the Carrigaholt region and his family were farmers there. He emigrated to New Zealand where he married his wife, Margaret O’Neill, around 1880 and they arrived in Sydney a few years later and had seven children.
I’ve also got back to playing my violin again after almost a two year absence, as well as getting some time in on the keyboard. My violin must’ve been in a good mood, because it usually has rather acute separation anxiety and can’t bare to be neglected for more than a couple of days without throwing a stinker. However, I didn’t sound too bad. Barely a screech! Now, there’s something to be thankful for.
That wasn’t the only thing. My friend’s dog almost died this week and somehow received a miraculous reprieve. I will come back and write more about that later after I’ve performed my afternoon taxi duties.
I hope you and yours have had a great week and look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to.
Set in London, this short story first appeared in Harper’s Magazine, and was published in the The Yearbook Of The American Short Story For 1917, which has been shared via Project Gutenburg. I’d be interested to know your thoughts…
We were listening to Leila Burton’s music—her husband, and Dick Allport, and I—with the throb of London beating under us like the surge of an ocean in anger, when there rose above the smooth harmonies of the piano and the pulsing roar of the night a sound more poignant than them both, the quavering melody of a street girl’s song.
Through the purpling twilight of that St. John’s Eve I had been drifting in dreams while Leila had gone from golden splendors of chords which reflected the glow on westward-fronting windows into somber symphonies which had seemed to make vocal the turbulent soul of the city—for Dick Allport and I were topping the structure of that house of life that was to shelter the love we had long been cherishing. With Leila playing in that art which had dowered her with fame, I was visioning the glory of such love as she and Standish Burton gave each other while I watched Dick, sensing rather than seeing the dearness of him as he gave to the mounting climaxes the tense interest he always tendered to Leila’s music.
I had known, before I came to love Dick Allport, other loves and other lovers. Because I had followed will-o’-the-wisps of fancy through marshes of sentiment I could appreciate the more the truth of that flame which he and[Pg 469] I had lighted for our guidance on the road. A moody boy he had been when I first met him, full of a boy’s high chivalry and of a boy’s dark despairs. A moody man he had become in the years that had denied him the material success toward which he had striven; but something in the patience of his efforts, something in the fineness of his struggle had endeared him to me as no triumph could have done. Because he needed me, because I had come to believe that I meant to him belief in the ultimate good of living, as well as belief in womanhood, I cherished in my soul that love of him which yearned over him even as it longed for him.
Watching him in the dusk while he lounged in that concentrated quiet of attention, I went on piling the bricks of that wide house of happiness we should enter together; and, although I could see him but dimly, so well did I know every line of his face that I could fancy the little smile that quivered around his lips and that shone from the depths of his eyes as Leila played the measures we both loved. I must have been smiling in answer when the song of the girl outside rose high.
Not until that alien sound struck athwart the power and beauty of the spell did I come to know how high I had builded my castles; but the knocking at the gate toppled down the dreams as Leila swept a discord over the keyboard and crossed to the open window.
In the dusk, as she flung back the heavy curtains, I could see the bulk of Brompton Oratory set behind the houses like the looming back-drop of a painted scene. Nearer, in front of a tall house across the way, stood the singer, a thin girl whose shadowy presence seemed animated by a curious bravery. In a nasal, plaintive voice she was singing the words of a ballad of love and of loving that London, as only London can, had made curiously its own that season. The insistence of her plea—for she sang as if she cried out her life’s longing, sang as if she called on the passing crowd not for alms, but for understanding—made her for the moment, before she[Pg 470] faded back into oblivion, an artist, voicing the heartache and the heartbreak of womankind; and the artist in Leila Burton responded to the thrill.
Until the ending of the song she stood silent in front of the window, unconscious of the fact that she, and not the scene beyond her, held the center of the stage. Not for her beauty, although at times Leila Burton gave the impression of being exquisitely lovely, was she remarkable, but rather for that receptive attitude that made her an inspired listener. In me, who had known her for but a little while, she awakened my deepest and drowsiest ambition, the desire to express in pictures the light and the shade of the London I knew. With her I could feel the power, and the glory, and the fear, and the terror of the city as I never did at other times. It was not alone that she was all things to all men; it was that she led men and women who knew her to the summits of their aspirations.
Even Standish Burton, big, sullen man that he was, immersed in his engineering problems, responded to his wife’s spiritual charm with a readiness that always aroused in Dick and myself an admiration for him that our other knowledge of him did not justify. He was, aside from his relationship to Leila, a man whose hardness suggested a bitter knowledge of dark ways of life. Now, crouched down in the depths of his chair, he kept watching Leila with a gaze of smouldering adoration, revealing that love for her which had been strong enough to break down those barriers which she had erected in the years while he had worked for her in Jacob’s bondage. In her he seemed to be discovering, all over again, the vestal to tend the fires of his faith.
Dick Allport, too, bending forward over the table on which his hands fell clenched, was studying Leila with an inscrutable stare that seemed to be of query. I was wondering what it meant, wondering the more because my failure to understand its meaning hung another veil between my vision and my shrine of belief in the fullness[Pg 471] of love, when the song outside came to an end and Leila turned back to us.
Her look, winging its way to Standish, lighted her face even beyond the glow from the lamps which she switched on. For an instant his heavy countenance flared into brightness. Dick Allport sighed almost imperceptibly as he turned to me. I had a feeling that such a fire as the Burtons kindled for each other should have sprung up in the moment between Dick and me, for we had fought and labored and struggled for our love as Standish and Leila had never needed to battle. Because of our constancy I expected something better than the serene affectionateness that shone in Dick’s smile. I wanted such stormy passion of devotion as Burton gave to Leila, such love as I, remembering a night of years ago, knew that Dick could give. It was the old desire of earth, spoken in the street girl’s song, that surged in me until I could have cried out in my longing for the soul of the sacrament whose substance I had been given; but the knowledge that we were, the four of us, conventional people in a conventional setting locked my heart as it locked my lips until I could mirror the ease with which Leila bore herself.
“I have been thinking,” she said, lightly, “that I should like to be a street singer for a night. If only a piano were not so cumbersome, I should go out and play into the ears of the city the thing that girl put into her song.”
“Why not?” I asked her, “It would be an adventure, and life has too few adventures.”
“It might have too many,” Dick said.
“Not for Leila,” Standish declared. “Life’s for her a quest of joy.”
“That’s it,” Dick interposed. “Her adventures have all been joyous.”
“But they haven’t,” Leila insisted. “I’m no spoiled darling of the gods. I’ve been poor, poor as that girl out there. I’ve had heartaches, and disappointments, and misfortunes.”[Pg 472]
“Not vital ones,” Dick declared. “You’ve never had a knock-out blow.”
“She doesn’t know what one is,” Standish laughed, but there sounded a ruefulness in his laughter that told of the kind of blow he must once have suffered to bring that note in his voice. Standish Burton took life lightly, except where Leila was concerned. His manner now indicated, almost mysteriously, that something threatened his harbor of peace, but the regard Leila gave to him proved that the threat of impending danger had not come to her.
“Oh, but I do know,” she persisted.
“Vicariously,” I suggested. “All artists do.”
“No, actually,” she said.
“You’re wrong,” said Standish. “You’re the sort of woman whom the world saves from its own cruelties.”
There was something so essentially true in his appraisal of his wife that the certainty covered the banality of his statement and kept Dick and myself in agreement with him. Leila Burton, exquisitely remote from all things commonplace, was unquestionably a woman to be protected. Without envy—since my own way had its compensations in full measure—I admitted it.
“I think that you must have forgotten, if you ever knew,” she said, “how I struggled here in London for the little recognition I have won.”
“Oh, that!” Dick Allport deprecated. “That isn’t what Stan means. Every one in the world worth talking about goes through that sort of struggle. He means the flinging down from a high mountain after you’ve seen the glories, not of this world, but of another, the casting out from paradise after you’ve learned what paradise may mean. He spoke with an odd timbre of emotion in his voice, a quality that puzzled me for the moment.
“That’s it,” said Standish, gratefully. “Those are the knock-out blows.”
“Well, then, I don’t know them”—Leila admitted her defeat—”and I hope that I shall not.”
Softly she began to play the music of an accompaniment.[Pg 473] There was a familiar hauntingness in its strains that puzzled me until I associated them with the song that Burton used to whistle so often in the times when Leila was in Paris and he had turned for companionship to Dick and to me.
“I’ve heard Stan murder that often enough to be able to try it myself,” I told her.
“I didn’t know he knew it,” she said. “I heard it for the first time the other day. A girl—I didn’t hear her name—sang it for an encore at the concert of the Musicians’ Club. She sang it well, too. She was a queer girl,” Leila laughed, “a little bit of a thing, with all the air of a tragedy queen. And you should have heard how she sang that! You know the words?”—she asked me over her shoulder:
“And because I, too, am a lover, And my love is far from me, I hated the two on the sands there, And the moon, and the sands, and the sea.”
“And the moon, and the sands, and the sea,” Dick repeated. He rose, going to the window where Leila had stood, and looking outward. When he faced us again he must have seen the worry in my eyes, for he smiled at me with the old, endearing fondness and touched my hair lightly as he passed.
“What was she like—the girl?” Standish asked, lighting another cigarette.
“Oh, just ordinary and rather pretty. Big brown eyes that seemed to be forever asking a question that no one could answer, and a little pointed chin that she flung up when she sang.” Dick Allport looked quickly across at Burton, but Stan gave him no answering glance. He was staring at Leila as she went on: “I don’t believe I should have noticed her at all if she hadn’t come to me as I was leaving the hall. ‘Are you Mrs. Standish Burton?’ she asked me. When I told her that I was, she stared me full in the face, then walked off[Pg 474] without another word. I wish that I could describe to you, though, the scorn and contempt that blazed in her eyes. If I had been a singer who had robbed her of her chance at Covent Garden, I could have understood. But I’d never seen her before, and my singing wouldn’t rouse the envy of a crow!” She laughed light-heartedly over the recollection, then her face clouded. “Do you know,” she mused, “that I thought just now, when the girl was singing on the street, that I should like to know that other girl? There was something about her that I can’t forget. She was the sort that tries, and fails, and sinks. Some day, I’m afraid, she’ll be singing on the streets, and, if I ever hear her, I shall have a terrible thought that I might have saved her from it, if only I had tried!”
“Better let her sort alone,” Burton said, shortly. He struck a match and relit his cigarette with a gesture of savage annoyance. Leila looked at him in amazement, and Dick gave him a glance that seemed to counsel silence. There was a hostility about the mood into which Standish relapsed that seemed to bring in upon us some of the urgent sorrows of the city outside, as if he had drawn aside a curtain to show us a world alien to the place of beauty and of the making of beauty through which Leila moved. Even she must have felt the import of his mood, for she let her hands fall on the keys while Dick and I stared at each other before the shock of this crackle that seemed to threaten the perfection of their happiness.
From Brompton came the boom of the bell for evensong. Down Piccadilly ran the roar of the night traffic, wending a blithesome way to places of pleasure. It was the hour when London was wont to awaken to the thrill of its greatness, its power, its vastness, its strength, and its glory, and to send down luminous lanes its carnival crowd of men and women. It was the time when weltering misery shrank shrouded into merciful gloom; when the East End lay far from our hearts; when poverty and sin and shame went skulking into byways where we need never follow; when painted women held back in the[Pg 475] shadows; when the pall of night rested like a velvet carpet over the spaces of that floor that, by daylight, gave glimpses into loathsome cellars of humanity. It was, as it had been so often of late, an hour of serene beauty, that first hour of darkness in a June night with the season coming to an end, an hour of dusk to be remembered in exile or in age.
There should have come to us then the strains of an orchestra floating in with the fragrance of gardenias from a vendor’s basket, symbols of life’s call to us, luring us out beneath stars of joy. But, instead, the bell of Brompton pealed out warningly over our souls, and, when its clanging died, there drifted in the sound of a preaching voice.
Only phrases clattering across the darkness were the words from beyond—resonant through the open windows: “The Cross is always ready, and everywhere awaiteth thee…. Turn thyself upward, or turn thyself downward; turn thyself inward, or turn thyself outward; everywhere thou shalt find the Cross;… if thou fling away one Cross thou wilt find another, and perhaps a heavier.”
Like sibylline prophecy the voice of the unseen preacher struck down on us. We moved uneasily, the four of us, as he cried out challenge to the passing world before his voice went down before the surge of a hymn. Then, just as the gay whirl of cars and omnibuses beat once more upon the pavements, and London swung joyously into our hearts again, the bell of the telephone in the hall rang out with a quivering jangle that brought Leila to her feet even as Standish jumped to answer its summons.
She stood beside the piano as he gave answer to the call, watching him as if she expected evil news. Dick, who had moved back into the shadow from a lamp on the table, was staring with that same searching gaze he had bestowed on her when she had lingered beside the window. I was looking at him, when a queer cry from Standish whirled me around.
In the dim light of the hall he was standing with the[Pg 476] instrument in his hands, clutching it with the stupidity of a man who has been struck by an unexpected and unexplainable missile. His face had gone to a grayish white, and his hands trembled as he set the receiver on the hook. His eyes were bulging from emotion and he kept wetting his lips as he stood in the doorway.
“What is it?” Leila cried. “What’s happened, Stan? Can’t you tell me? What is it?”
Not to her, but to Dick Allport, he made answer. “Bessie Lowe is dead!”
I saw Dick Allport’s thunderstruck surprise before he arose. I saw his glance go from Standish to Leila with a questioning that overrode all other possible emotion in him. Then I saw him look at Burton as if he doubted his sanity. His voice, level as ever, rang sharply across the other man’s distraction.
“When did she die?” he asked him.
“Just now.” He ran his hand over his hair, gazing at Dick as if Leila and I were not there. “She—she killed herself down in the Hotel Meynard.”
“Why?” Leila’s voice, hard with terror, snapped off the word.
“She—she—I don’t know.” He stared at his wife as if he had just become conscious of her presence. The grayness in his face deepened, and his lips grew livid. Like a man condemned to death, he stared at the world he was losing.
“Who is Bessie Lowe?” Leila questioned. “And why have they called you to tell of her?” Her eyes blazed with a fire that seemed about to singe pretense from his soul.
His hand went to his throat, and I saw Leila whiten. Her hand, resting on the piano, trembled, but her face held immobile, although I knew that all the happiness of the rest of her life hung upon his answer. On what Standish Burton would tell her depended the years to come. In that moment I knew that she loved him even as I loved Dick, even as women have always loved and[Pg 477] will always love the men whom fate had marked for their caring; and in a sudden flash of vision I knew, too, that Burton, no matter what Bessie Lowe or any other girl had ever been to him, worshiped his wife with an intensity of devotion that would make all his days one long reparation for whatever wrong he might have done her. I knew, though, that, if he had done the wrong, she would never again be able to give him the eager love he desired, and I, too, an unwilling spectator, waited on his words for his future, and Leila’s; but his voice did not make answer. It was Dick Allport who spoke.
“Bessie Lowe is a girl I used to care for,” he said. “She is the girl who sang at the Musicians’ Club, the girl who spoke to you. She heard that I was going to be married. She wanted me to come back to her. I refused.”
He was standing in the shadow, looking neither at Leila nor at me, but at Standish Burton. Burton turned to him.
“Yes,” he muttered thickly, “they told me to tell you. They knew you’d be here.”
“I see,” said Leila. She looked at Standish and then at Dick Allport, and there came into her eyes a queer, glazed stare that filmed their brightness. “I am sorry that I asked questions, Mr. Allport, about something that was nothing to me. Will you forgive me?”
“There is nothing to be forgiven,” he said. He turned to her and smiled a little. She tried to answer his smile, but a gasp came from her instead.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “so sorry for her!”
It was Standish’s gaze that brought to me sudden realization that I, too, had a part in the drama. Until I found his steady stare on me I had felt apart from the play that he and Dick and Leila were going through, but with his urgent glare I awoke into knowledge that the message he had taken for Dick held for me the same significance that Leila had thought it bore for her. Like a stab from a knife came the thought that this girl—whoever[Pg 478] she was—had, in her dying, done what she had not done in life, taken Dick Allport from me. There went over me numbing waves of a great sense of loss, bearing me out on an ocean of oblivion. Against these I fought desperately to hold myself somewhere near the shore of sensibility. As if I were beholding him from a great distance, I could see Dick standing in the lamplight in front of Leila Burton. Understanding of how dear he was to me, of how vitally part of me he had grown in the years through which I had loved him—sometimes lightly, sometimes stormily, but always faithfully—beaconed me inshore; and the plank of faith in him, faith that held in itself something of forgiving charity, floated out to succor my drowning soul. I moved across the room while Standish Burton kept his unwinking gaze upon me, and Leila never looked up from the piano. I had come beside Dick before he heard me.
He looked at me as if he had only just then remembered that I was there. Into his eyes flashed a look of poignant remorse. He shrank back from me a little as I touched his hand, and I turned to Leila, who had not stirred from the place where she had listened to Standish’s cry when he took the fateful message. “We are going,” I said, “to do what we can—for her.”
She moved then to look at me, and I saw that her eyes held not the compassion I had feared, but a strange speculativeness, as if she questioned what I knew rather than what I felt. Their `contemplating quiet somehow disturbed me more than had her husband’s flashlight scrutiny, and with eyes suddenly blinded and throat drawn tight with terror I took my way beside Dick Allport out from the soft lights of the Burtons’ house into the darkness of the night.
Outside we paused a moment, waiting for a cab. For the first time since he had told Leila of Bessie Lowe, Dick spoke to me. “I think,” he said, “that it would be just as well if you didn’t come.”
“I must,” I told him, “It isn’t curiosity.[Pg 479] You understand that, don’t you? It is simply that this is the time for me to stand by you, if ever I shall do it, Dick.”
“I don’t deserve it.” There was a break in his voice. “But I shall try to, my dear. I can’t promise you much, but I can promise you that.”
Down the brightness of Piccadilly into the fuller glow of Regent Street we rode without speech. Somewhere below the Circus we turned aside and went through dim cañons of houses that opened a way past the Museum and let us into Bloomsbury. There in a wilderness of cheap hotels and lodging-houses we found the Meynard.
A gas lamp was flaring in the hall when the porter admitted us. At a desk set under the stairway a pale-faced clerk awaited us with staring insolence that shifted to annoyance when Dick asked him if we might go to Bessie Lowe’s room. “No,” he said, abruptly. “The officers won’t let any one in there. They’ve taken her to the undertaker’s.”
He gave us the location of the place with a scorn that sent us out in haste. I, at least, felt a sense of relief that I did not have to go up to the place where this unknown girl had thrown away the greatest gift. As we walked through the poorly lighted streets toward the Tottenham Court Road I felt for the first time a surge of that emotion that Leila Burton had voiced, a pity for the dead girl. And yet, stealing a look at Dick as he walked onward quietly, sadly, but with a dignity that lifted him above the sordidness of the circumstances, I felt that I could not blame him as I should. It was London, I thought, and life that had tightened the rope on the girl.
Strangely I felt a lightness of relief in the realization that the catastrophe having come, was not really as terrible as it had seemed back there in Leila’s room. It was an old story that many women had conned, and since, after all, Dick Allport was yet young, and my own, I condoned the sin for the sake of the sinner; and yet, even as I held the thought close to my aching heart, I felt that I was somehow letting slip from my shoulders the[Pg 480] cross that had been laid upon them, the cross that I should have borne, the burden of shame and sorrow for the wrong that the man I loved had done to the girl who had died for love of him.
The place where she lay, a gruesome establishment set in behind that highway of reeking cheapness, the Tottenham Court Road, was very quiet when we entered. A black-garbed man came to meet us from a room in which we saw two tall candles burning. Dick spoke to him sharply, asking if any one had come to look after the dead girl.
“No one with authority,” the man whined—”just a girl as lived with her off and on.”
He stood, rubbing his hands together as Dick went into hurried details with him, and I went past them into the room where the candles burned. For an instant, as I stood at the door, I had the desire to run away from it all, but I pulled myself together and went over to the place where lay the girl they had called Bessie Lowe.
I had drawn back the sheet and was standing looking down at the white face when I heard a sob in the room. I replaced the covering and turned to see in the corner the shadowy form of a woman whose eyes blazed at me out of the dark. While I hesitated, wondering if this were the girl who had lived occasionally with Bessie Lowe, she came closer, staring at me with scornful hate. Miserably thin, wretchedly nervous as she was, she had donned for the nonce a mantle of dignity that she seemed to be trailing as she approached, glaring at me with furious resentment. “So you thought as how you’d come here,” she demanded of me, her crimsoned face close to my own, “to see what she was like, to see what sort of a girl had him before you took him away from her? Well, I’ll tell you something, and you can forget it or remember it, as you like. Bessie Lowe was a good girl until she ran into him, and she’d have stayed good, I tell you, if he’d let her alone. She was a fool, though, and she thought that he’d marry her some day—and all the[Pg 481] time he was only waiting until you’d take him! You never think of our kind, do you, when you’re living out your lives, wondering if you care enough to marry the men who’re worshipping you while they’re playing with us? Well, perhaps it won’t be anything to you, but, all the same, there’s some kind of a God, and if He’s just He’ll punish you when He punishes Standish Burton!”
“But I—” I gasped. “Did you think that I—?”
“Aren’t you his wife?” She came near to me, peering at me in the flickering candle-light. “Aren’t you Standish Burton’s wife?”
“No,” I said.
“Oh, well”—she shrugged—”you’re her sort, and it’ll come to the same thing in the end.”
She slouched back to the corner, all anger gone from her. Outside I heard Dick’s voice, low, decisive. Swiftly I followed the girl. “You must tell me,” I pleaded with her, “if she did it because of Standish Burton.”
“I thought everybody knew that,” she said, “even his wife. What’s it to you, if you’re not that?”
“Nothing,” I replied, but I knew, as I stood where she kept vigil with Bessie Lowe, that I lied. For I saw the truth in a lightning-flash; and I knew, as I had not known when Dick perjured himself in Leila’s music-room, that I had come to the place of ultimate understanding, for I realized that not a dead girl, but a living woman, had come between us. Not Bessie Lowe, but Leila Burton, lifted the sword at the gateway of my paradise.
With the poignancy of a poisoned arrow reality came to me. Because Dick had loved Leila Burton he had laid his bond with me on the altar of his chivalry. For her sake he had sacrificed me to the hurt to which Standish would not sacrifice her. And the joke of it—the pity of it was that she hadn’t believed them! But because she was Burton’s wife, because it was too late for facing of the truth, she had pretended to believe Dick; and she had known, she must have known, that he had lied to her because he loved her.[Pg 482]
The humiliation of that knowledge beat down on me, battering me with such blows as I had not felt in my belief that Dick had not been true to me in his affair with this poor girl. Her rivalry, living or dead, I could have endured and overcome—for no Bessie Lowe could ever have won from Dick, as she could never have given to him, that thing which was mine. But against Leila Burton I could not stand, for she was of my world, of my own people, and the crown a man would give to her was the one he must take from me.
There in that shabby place I buried my idols. Not I, but a power beyond me, held the stone on which was written commandment for me. By the light of the candles above Bessie Lowe I knew that I should not marry Dick Allport.
I found him waiting for me at the doorway. I think that he knew then that the light of our guiding lantern had flickered out, but he said nothing. We crossed the garishly bright road and went in silence through quiet streets. Like children afraid of the dark we went through the strange ways of the city, two lonely stragglers from the procession of love, who, with our own dreams ended, saw clearer the world’s wild pursuit of the fleeing vision.
We had wandered back into our own land when, in front of the darkened Oratory and almost under the shadow of Leila Burton’s home, there came to us through the soft darkness the ominous plea that heralds summer into town. Out of the shadows an old woman, bent and shriveled, leaned toward us. “Get yer lavender tonight,” she pleaded. “‘Tis the first of the crop, m’lidy.”
“That means—” Dick Allport began as I paused to buy.
I fastened the sprigs at my belt, then looked up at the distant stars, since I could not yet bear to look at him. “It means the end of the season,” I said, “when the lavender comes to London.”