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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 17
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 17 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1817

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 2 - Chapter 17

PART II CHAPTER XVII

"Zur tiefen Ruh, wie er sich auch gefunden.
* * * * * *
Sein Geist ist's, der mich ruft."
Wallenstein's Tod.

Not the least troublesome part of our enlarged kit was the collection of gay-plumaged birds. Their preservation was by no means complete, and I continued it at sea. But between climate and creatures, the destructiveness of the tropics is distracting to the collector, and one or two of my finest specimens fell into heaps of mangled feathers, dust, and hideous larvae under my eyes. It was Dennis O'Moore's collection. He and his engineer friend were both good shots, and they had made an expedition on purpose to get these birds for Alister. There were some most splendid specimens, and the grandest of all, to my thinking, was a Roseate Spoonbill, a wading, fish-catching bird of all shades of rose, from pale pink to crimson. Even his long horny legs were red. But he was not a pleasant subject for my part of the work. He smelt like the _Water-Lily at her worst, before we got rid of the fish cargo.

Knowing that he had got them for Alister, I was rather surprised one day when Dennis began picking out some of the rarest birds and put them aside. It was so unlike him to keep things for himself. But as he turned over the specimens, he began to ask me about Cripple Charlie, whose letter he had read. Meanwhile he kept selecting specimens, and then, returning them to the main body again, "Ah, we mustn't be robbing Alister, or he'll never die Provost of Aberdeen." In the end he had gathered a very choice and gorgeous little lot, and then I discovered their destination. "We'll get them set up when we get home," he said; "I hope Charlie 'll like 'em. They'll put the old puffin's nose out of joint, anyway, for as big as it is!"

Our ship was a steamship, a well-found vessel, and we made a good passage. The first mate was an educated man, and fond of science. He kept a meteorological log, and the pleasantest work we ever did was in helping him to take observations. We became very much bitten with the subject, and I bought three pickle-bottles from the cook, and filled them with gulf-weed and other curiosities for Charlie, and stowed these away with the birds.

Dennis found another letter from his father awaiting him at the Halifax post-office. The squire had discovered his blunder, and sent the money, and the way in which Dennis immediately began to plan purchases of all sorts, from a birch-bark canoe to a bearskin rug, gave me a clue to the fortunes of the O'Moores. I do not think he would have had enough left to pay his passage if we had been delayed for long. But our old ship was expected any hour, and when she came in we made our way to her at once, and the upshot of it all was, that Dennis and I shipped in her for the return voyage as passengers, and Alister as a seaman.

Nothing can make the North Atlantic a pleasant sea. Of the beauty and variety of warmer waters we had nothing, but we had the excitement of some rough weather, and a good deal of sociability and singing when it was fair, and we were very glad to be with our old mates again, and yet more glad that every knot on our course was a step nearer home. Dennis and I were not idle because we were independent, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. As to Alister, there was no difficulty in seeing how well he stood with the red-bearded captain, and how good a friend his own energy and perseverance (with perhaps some touch of clannishness to boot) had gained for him. Dennis and I always shared his watches, and they were generally devoted to the discussing and re-discussing of our prospects, interspersed with fragmentary French lessons.

From the day that Alister had heard Dennis chatter to the squaw, through all our ups and downs, at sea and ashore, he had never flagged in his persistent profiting by Dennis's offer to teach him to speak French. It was not, perhaps, a very scholarly method which they pursued, but we had no time for study, so Dennis started Alister every day with a new word or sentence, and Alister hammered this into his head as he went about his work, and recapitulated what he had learned before. By the time we were on our homeward voyage, the sentences had become very complex, and it seemed probable that Alister's ambition to take part in a "two-handed crack" in French with his teacher, before the shamrock fell to pieces, would be realized.

"What he has learnt is wonderful, I can tell ye," said Dennis to me, "but his accent's horrid! And we'd get on faster than we do if he didn't argue every step we go, though he doesn't know a word that I've not taught him."

But far funnier than Alister's corrections of his teacher, was a curious jealousy which the boatswain had of the Scotch lad's new accomplishment. We could not quite make out the grounds of it, except that the boatswain himself had learned one or two words of what he called _parly voo when he was in service at the boys' school, and he was jealously careful of the importance which his shreds and scraps of education gave him in the eyes of the ordinary uneducated seaman. With Dennis and me he was uniformly friendly, and he was a most entertaining companion.

Owing to head winds, our passage was longer than the average. A strange thing happened towards the end of it. We had turned in for sleep one night, when I woke to the consciousness that Dennis had got out of his berth, and was climbing past mine, but I was so sleepy that I did not speak, and was only sure that it was not a dream, when Alister and I went on deck for the next watch, and found Dennis walking up and down in the morning mist.

"Have you had no sleep?" I asked, for his face looked haggard.

"I couldn't. For dreaming," he said, awkwardly.

I laughed at him.

"What have you been dreaming about?"

"Don't laugh, Jack. I dreamt of Barney."

"Well, that's natural enough, Dennis. This end of the voyage must recall the poor fellow."

"I wouldn't mind if it was a kindly dream. But I dreamed he'd an old woman's bonnet on and a handkerchief tied over it. It haunts me."

"Go back to bed," I advised. "Perhaps you'll dream of him again looking like himself, and that will put this out of your head."

Dennis took my advice, and I stood Alister's watch with him, and by and by Dennis appeared on deck again looking more at ease.

"Did you dream of him again?" I asked. He nodded.

"I did--just his own dear self. But he was sitting alone on the edge of some wharf gazing down into the water, and not a look could I get out of him till I woke."

The following morning Dennis was still sound asleep when I rose and went on deck. The coast of Ireland was just coming into sight through the haze when he joined me, but before pointing it out to him, I felt curious to know whether he had dreamed a third time of old Barney.

"Not I," said he; "all I dreamed of was a big rock standing up out of the sea, and two children sitting on it had hold of each other's hands."

"Children you know?"

"Oh dear, no! Just a little barefoot brother and sister."

He seemed to wish to drop the subject, and at this moment a gleam of sunshine lit up the distant coast-line with such ethereal tints, that I did not wonder to see him spring upon the bulwarks and, catching a ratlin with one hand, wave his cap above his head with the other, crying, "GOD bless the Emerald Isle!"

We reached Liverpool about four o'clock in the afternoon, and as we drew up alongside of the old wharf, my first thought was to look for Biddy Macartney. Alister had to remain on board for a time, but Dennis came willingly with me in search of the old woman and her coffee-barrow. At last we betook ourselves to the dock-gatekeeper, to make inquiries, and from him we heard a sad story. The old woman had "failed a deal of late," he said. He "_had heard she wasn't right in her mind, but whether they'd shifted her to a 'sylum or not, he couldn't say." If she was at home, she was at an address which he gave us.

"Will you go, Dennis? I must. At once."

"Of course."

Biddy was at home, and never whilst I live can I forget the "home." Four blocks of high houses enclosed a small court into which there was one entrance, an archway through one of the buildings. All the houses opened into the court. There were no back-doors, and no back premises whatever. All the dirt and (as to washing) all the cleanliness of a crowded community living in rooms in flats, the quarrelling and the love-making, the old people's resting, and the children's playing;--from emptying a slop-pail to getting a breath of evening air--this court was all there was for it. I have since been told that if we had been dressed like gentlemen, we should not have been safe in it, but I do not think we should have met with any worse welcome if we had come on the same errand--"to see old Biddy Macartney."

Roughly enough, it is true, we were directed to one of the houses, the almost intolerable stench of which increased as we went up the stairs. By the help of one inmate and another, we made our way to Biddy's door, and then we found it locked.

"The missis 'll be out," said a deformed girl who was pulling herself along by the balustrades. She was decent-looking and spoke civilly, so I ventured to ask, "Do you mean that old Biddy is out?"

"Nay, not Biddy. The woman that sees to her. When she's got to go out she locks t' old lass up to be safe," and volunteering no further help, the girl rested for a minute against the wall, with her hand to her side, and then dragged herself into one of the rooms, and shut the door in our faces.

The court without and the houses within already resounded so to the squalling of children, that I paid no attention to the fact that more of this particular noise was coming up the stairs; but in another moment a woman, shaking a screaming baby in her arms, and dragging two crying children at her skirts, clenched her disengaged fist (it had a key in it) close to our faces and said, "And which of you vagabones is t' old lass's son?"

"Neither of us," said I, "but we want to see her, if we may. Are you the woman who takes care of her?"

"I've plenty to do minding my own, I can tell ye," she grumbled, "but I couldn't abear to see t' ould lass taken to a 'sylum. They're queer places some on 'em, as I know. And as to t' House! there's a many folks says, 'Well, if t' guardians won't give her no relief, let her go in.' But she got hold on me one day, and she says, 'Sally, darling' (that's t' ould lass's way, is calling ye Darling. It sounds soft, but she is but an old Irish woman, as one may say), 'if ever,' she says, 'you hear tell of their coming to fetch me, GOD bless ye,' she says, 'just give me a look out of your eye, and I'm gone. I'll be no more trouble to any one,' she says, 'and maybe I'll make it worth your while too.'"

At this point in her narrative the woman looked mysterious, nodded her head, craned over the banisters to see that no one was near, slapped the children and shook up the baby as a sort of mechanical protest against the noise they were making (as to effects they only howled the louder), and drawing nearer to us, spoke in lower tones:

"T' old lass has money, it's my belief, though she gives me nowt for her lodging, and she spends nowt on herself. She's many a time fair clemmed, I'll assure ye, till I can't abear to see it, and I give her the bit and sup I might have had myself, for I'm not going to rob t' children neither for her nor nobody. Ye see it's her son that's preying on her mind. He wrote her a letter awhile ago, saying times was bad out yonder, and he was fair heart-broke to be so far away from her, and she's been queer ever since. She's wanted for everything herself, slaving and saving to get enough to fetch him home. Where she hides it I know no more nor you, but she wears a sight of old rags, one atop of another, and pockets in all of 'em for aught I know--hold your din, ye unrewly children!--there's folks coming. I'll let ye in. I lock t' old lass up when I go out, for she might be wandering, and there's them hereabouts that would reckon nought of putting her out of t' way and taking what she's got, if they heard tell on't."

At last the door was unlocked, and we went in. And sitting on a low box, dressed as before, even to the old coat and the spotted kerchief over her bonnet, sat Biddy Macartney.

When she lifted her face, I saw that it was much wasted, and that her fine eyes had got a restless uneasy look in them. Suddenly this ceased, and they lit up with the old intelligence. For half an instant I thought it was at the sight of me, but she did not even see me. It was on Dennis O'Moore that her eyes were bent, and they never moved as she struggled to her feet, and gazed anxiously at his face, his cap, and his seafaring clothes, whilst, for his part, Dennis gazed almost as wildly at her. At last she spoke:

"GOD save ye, squire! Has the old counthry come to this? Is the O'Moore an alien, and all?"

"No, no. I'm the squire's son," said Dennis. "But tell me quick, woman, what are you to Barney Barton?"

"Barney is it? Sure he was brother to me, as who knows better than your honour?"

"Did _you live with us, too?"

"I did, acushla. In the heighth of ease and comfort, and done nothin' for it. Wasn't I the big fool to be marryin' so early, not knowin' when I was well off!"

"I know. Barney has told me. A Cork man, your husband, wasn't he? A lazy, drunken, ill-natured rascal of a fellow."

"That's him, your honour!"

"Well, you're quit of him long since. And, as your son's in New York, and all I have left of Barney is you ----"

"She doesn't hear you, Dennis."

I interrupted him, because in his impetuosity he had not noticed that the wandering look had come back over the old woman's face, and that she sat down on the box, and fumbled among her pockets for Micky's letter, and then crouched weeping over it.

We stayed a long time with her, but she did not really revive. With infinite patience and tenderness, Dennis knelt beside her, and listened to her ramblings about Micky, and Micky's hardships, and Micky's longings for home. Once or twice, I think, she was on the point of telling about her savings, but she glanced uneasily round the room and forbore. Dennis gave the other woman some money, and told her to give Biddy a good meal--to have given money to her would have been useless--and he tried hard to convince the old woman that Micky was quite able to leave America if he wished. At last she seemed to take this in, and it gave her, I fear, undue comfort, from the conviction that, if this were so, he would soon be home.

After we left Biddy we went to seek decent lodgings for the night. For Dennis was anxious to see her again in the morning, and of course I stayed with him.

"Had you ever seen her before?" I asked, as we walked.

"Not to remember her. But, Jack, it wasn't Barney I saw in that first dream. It was Bridget."

Dennis was full of plans for getting her home with him to Ireland; but when we went back next day, we found a crowd round the archway that led into the court. Prominent in the group was the woman who "cared for" Biddy. Her baby was crying, her children were crying, and she was crying too. And with every moment that passed the crowd grew larger and larger, as few things but bad news can make a crowd grow.

We learnt it very quickly. Biddy had been so much cheered up by our visit, that when the woman went out to buy supper for them, she did not lock the door. When she came back, Biddy was gone. To do her neighbours justice, we could not doubt--considering how they talked then--that they had made inquiries in all the streets and courts around.

"And wherever t' owld lass _can ha' gone!" sobbed the woman who had been her neighbour in the noblest sense of neighbourhood.

I was beginning to comfort her when Dennis gripped me by the arm:

"I know," said he. "Come along."

His face was white, his eyes shone, and he tossed his head so wildly, he looked madder than Biddy had looked; but when he began to run, and roughs in the streets began to pursue him, I ran too, as a matter of safety. We drew breath at the dock gates.

The gatekeeper told us that old Biddy, "looking quite herself, only a bit thinner like," had gone through the evening before, to meet some one who was coming off one of the vessels, as he understood, but he had not noticed her on her return. He had heard her ask some man about a ship from New York.

I wanted to hear more, but Dennis clutched me again and dragged me on.

"I'll know the wharf when I see it," said he.

Suddenly he stopped, and pointed. A wharf, but no vessel, only the water sobbing against the stones.

"That's the wharf," he gasped. "That's where he sat and looked down. _She's there_!"

* * * * *

He was right. We found her there at ebb of tide, with no sign of turmoil or trouble about her, except the grip that never could be loosened with which she held Micky's one letter fast in her hand.

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