August 26, 2006


The house in which the Widow Burke and her daughter lived was a very humble one. It had not been painted for many years, and the original coat had worn off, leaving it dark and time-stained. But when Mrs. Burke came to town, a short time before, it was the only dwelling she could hire that was held at a rent within her means. So she and Mary, who was now eleven years old, had moved in their scanty furniture and made it look as much like a home as possible. Mrs. Burke had not always been as poor as now. She was the daughter of an Irish tradesman, and had received quite a good education. In due time she married a small farmer, who was considered to be in fair circumstances, but there came a bad year, and misfortunes of various kinds came together. The last and heaviest of all was fever, which prostrated her husband on a bed of sickness. Though his wife watched over him night and day with all the devotion of love, it was all of no avail. He died, and she found herself left with about a hundred pounds--after his debts were paid. She was advised to go to America with her two children, and did so. That was five years before. They had lived in various places--but the little sum she had left over, after the passage of the three was paid, had long since melted away, and she was forced to get a living as she could. Since she had come to Crampton, leaving Andy at work for a farmer in the place where they had last lived, she had obtained what sewing she could from the families in the village, and had besides obtained a chance to help about the ironing at Colonel Preston's. Washing was too hard for her, for her strength was not great. At the time of our introduction she was engaged in making a shirt, one of half a dozen which she had engaged to make for Dr. Plympton, the village doctor. She had no idea that Andy was so near, having heard nothing of his having left his place, but it was of him she was speaking. "I wish I could see Andy," she sighed, looking up from her work. "So do I, mother." "The sight of him would do my eyes good, he's such a lively lad, Andy is--always in good spirits." "Shure, he's got a good heart, mother dear. It wouldn't be so lonely like if he was here." "I would send for him if there was anything to do, Mary; but we are so poor that we must all of us stay where we can get work." "When do you go to Colonel Preston's, mother? Is it to-morrow?" "Yes, my dear." "I'm always lonely when you are away." "Perhaps you would come with me, Mary, dear. Mrs. Preston wouldn't object, I'm thinkin'." "If Andy was at home I wouldn't feel so lonely." While she was speaking Andy himself had crept under the window, and heard her words. He was planning a surprise, but waited for the last moment to announce himself. He waited to hear what reply his mother would say. "I think we'll see him soon, Mary, dear." "What makes you say so, mother?" "I don't know. I've got a feeling in my bones that we'll soon meet. The blessed saints grant that it may be so." "Your bones are right this time, mother," said a merry voice. And Andy, popping up from his stooping position, showed himself at the window. There was a simultaneous scream from Mary and her mother. "Is it you, Andy?" exclaimed Mary. "It isn't nobody else," said Andy, rather ungrammatically. "Come in, Andy, my darling--come in, and tell me if you are well," said his mother, dropping the shirt on which she was at work, and rising to her feet. "I'll be with you in a jiffy," said Andy. And, with a light leap, he cleared the window sill, and stood in the presence of his mother and sister, who vied with each other in hugging the returned prodigal. "You'll choke me, Sister Mary," said Andy, good-humoredly. "Maybe you think I'm your beau." "Don't speak to her of beaux, and she only eleven years old," said his mother. "But you haven't told us why you came." "Faith, mother, it was because the work gave out, and I thought I'd pack my trunk and come and see you and Mary. That's all." "We are glad to see you, Andy, dear, but," continued his mother, taking a survey of her son's appearance for the first time, "you're lookin' like a beggar, with your clothes all in rags." Andy laughed. "Faith, it's about so, mother. There was no one to mend 'em for me, and I'm more used to the hoe than the needle." "I will sew up some of the holes when you're gone to bed, Andy. Are you sure you're well, lad?" "Well, mother? Jist wait till you see me atin', mother. You'll think I've got a healthy appetite." "I never thought, Andy. The poor lad must be hungry. Mary, see what there is in the closet." "There's nothing but some bread, mother," said Mary. Indeed bread and potatoes were the main living of the mother and daughter, adopted because they were cheap. They seldom ventured on the extravagance of meat, and that was one reason, doubtless, for Mrs. Burke's want of strength and sometimes feeling faint and dizzy while working at her needle. "Is there no meat in the house, Mary?" "Not a bit, mother." "Then go and see if there's an egg outside." The widow kept a few hens, having a henhouse in one corner of the back yard. The eggs she usually sold, but Andy was at home now, and needed something hearty, so they must be more extravagant than usual. Mary went out, and quickly returned with a couple of eggs. "Here they are, mother, two of them. The black hen was settin' on them, but I drove her away, and you can hear her cackling. Shure, Andy needs them more than she does." "Will you have them boiled or fried, Andy?" asked his mother. "Any way, mother. I'm hungry enough to ate 'em raw. It's hungry work walkin' ten miles wid a bundle on your back, let alone the fightin'." "Fighting!" exclaimed Mrs. Burke, pausing in drawing out the table. "Fightin', Andy?" chimed in Mary, in chorus. "Yes, mother," said Andy. "And who did you fight with?" asked the widow, anxiously. "With a boy that feels as big as a king; maybe bigger." "What's his name?" "I heard his father call him Godfrey." "What, Godfrey Preston?" exclaimed Mrs. Burke in something like consternation. "Yes, that's the name. He lives in a big house a mile up the road." "What made you fight with him, Andy?" inquired his mother, anxiously. "He began it." "What could he have against you? He didn't know you." "He thought as I only was an Irish boy he could insult me, and call me names, but I was too much for him." "I hope you didn't hurt him?" "I throwed him twice, mother, but then his father came up and that put a stop to the fight." "And what did his father say?" "He took my part, mother, when he found out how it was, and scolded his son. Shure, he's a gentleman." "Yes, Colonel Preston is a gentleman." "And that's where he isn't like his son, I'm thinkin'." "No. Godfrey isn't like his father. It's his mother he favors." "Faith, and I don't call it favoring," said Andy. Is the old lady as ugly and big-feelin' as the son?" "She's rather a hard woman, Andy. I go up to work there one day every week." "Do you, mother?" said Andy, not wholly pleased to hear that his mother was employed by the mother of his young enemy. "Yes, Andy." "What is it you do?" "I help about the ironing. To-morrow's my day for going there." "I wish you could stay at home, and not go out to work, mother," said Andy, soberly. "You don't look strong, mother, dear. I'm afraid you're not well." "Oh, yes, Andy, I am quite well. I shall be better, too, now that you are at home. I missed you very much. It seemed lonely without you." "I must find out some way to earn money, mother," said Andy. "I'm young and strong, and I ought to support you." "You can help me, Andy," said Mrs. Burke, cheerfully. She took up the shirt and resumed her sewing. "I'm afraid you're too steady at the work, mother," said Andy. "I shall be ironing to-morrow. It's a change from sewing, Andy. Mary, it's time to take off the eggs." Andy was soon partaking of the frugal meal set before him. He enjoyed it, simple as it was, and left not a particle of the egg or a crumb of the bread.

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