Between Mass and Vespers by Sarah Orne Jewett
This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "’Between Mass and Vespers’ first appeared in Scribner's Magazine (13:661-676) May 1893, where it was illustrated by C. D. Gibson. The story was collected in A Native of Winby, from which this text comes. Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.
"Between Mass and Vespers" appeared about six years after the construction of St. Michael Church in South Berwick, shown at right. It later contained South Berwick Public Library and still stands about a block from Jewett's home. At right St. Michael Church of South Berwick, built 1886, is shown incorrectly identified as St. Mary in a postcard from Jewett's day.
Mass was over; the noonday sun was so bright at the church door that, instead of waiting there in a sober expectant group, three middle-aged men of the parish went a few steps westward to stand in the shade of a great maple-tree. There they stood watching the people go by -- the small boys and the chattering girls. Now and then one of the older men or women said a few words in Irish to Dennis Call or John Mulligan by way of friendly salutation. They were a contented, pleasant-looking flock, these parishioners of St. Anne's; they might have lost the gayety that they would have kept in the old country but a look of good cheer had not forsaken them, though many a figure showed the thinness that comes from steady hard work, and almost every face had the deep lines that are worn only by anxiety. The pretty girls looked as their mothers had looked before them, only they were not so fair and fresh-colored, having been brought up less wholesomely and too much indoors.
"That's a nice gerrl o' Mary Finnerty's," said Dennis Call, gravely to his mates, following the charming young creature with approving eyes.
"'Deed, then, you're right, Dinny," agreed little Pat Finn, a queer old figure of a shoemaker, who was bent nearly double between the effects of his stooping trade and a natural warp in his bones. "There don't be so pritty a little gerrl as Katy Finnerty walk into church, so there don't! I like her meself; she's got the cut o' the gerrls in Tralee -- the prittiest gerrls is in it that's in the whole of Ireland."
"Coom now, then! you do always be bragging for Tralee; there's enough other places as good as it," scoffed Dennis. "Anybody that ain't a Bantry man can tark as they like, they'll have to put up wid second-best whin all's said an' done."
"Whisht now!" said John Mulligan, putting his hand to his forehead and bobbing his head respectfully at Father Ryan, the old priest, who had just come hurrying from the vestry door along a precarious footway of single boards left there since the days of spring mud.
"I hope you're feeling fine the day, sir?" said little Pat Finn, looking up with friendliness and pride at the tall old man. "We're getting good weather now, thank God, sir."
"We are that, Patrick Finn. God bless you, boys!" And Father Ryan went past them down the street to his house, while they all watched him without speaking until he had turned in at the gate with a flutter of his long coat-tails in the spring wind.
"Faix, I wisht we all had the sharp teeth for our dinners that his riverence has now," laughed Dennis. "I'll be bound he's keen for it, honest man. 'Twasto early mass over to White Mills he was, lavin' by break o' day an' just comin' back an' they sent to him for poor Mary Sullivan that's to be waked this night, God rest her; and he not home from the corp' house an' Mary just dead, but two women come screechin' for him to hurry, there was a shild to be christened waitin' in the church; 'twas one o' Jerry Hannan's wife's, that wint into black fits an' it being two hours born. Then it was high mass he had. I saw him myself puttin' a hand to his head an' humpin' wit' his shoulders, an' he before the alther. 'Tis a great dale o' worruk, so it is, for a man the age o' Father Ryan, may God help him!"
"I'd think the Bishop 'ould give him some aid now. They could sind some young missioner for a while to White Mills. 'Tis out of our own rights we do be, an' he to White Mills, day an' night wit' them French, an' one of us took hurt or dyin'. 'Tis too far to White Mills intirely," protested John Mulligan.
"Well, b'ys, the road's clear for us now, an' I'll say that I've got the match to Father Ryan's hunger in me own inside, 'tis thrue for me. Coom, Pat, now, there's no more gerrls! Get a move on you now, John, the fince is tired from ye!" And being thus suitably urged Dennis's companions started on their way. Dennis himself was a sturdy, middle-aged man, a teamster for the manufacturing company that had long ago gathered these Irish people into the staid and prosperous New England village. They had made a neighborhood by themselves, and were just now alarmed in their turn and disturbed by the presence of a few French Canadians, so thoroughly did they feel at home and believe in their rights to an adopted country. They meant to stay, at any rate, and jealously suspected their lively neighbors of only a temporary appropriation of citizenship that would take more than it gave. Dennis Call would have been a prosperous man and good citizen anywhere, with his soberness and thrift and decent notions; he was much respected by his fellow-townsfolk.
"Coom, now!" exclaimed Pat Finn, trying to keep step with his tall companions, "'Leg over leg, as the dog wint to Dover,'" he added cheerfully, "I might have been coaxing a ride home wit' Braley's folks, they had the one sate saved in the wagon, but I was idlin' me time away wit' the likes of you; a taste of tark is always the ruin of me."
"Good-day to ye, Pat," the others called after him as he crossed over to go down a side-street; but the droll, stooping figure did not turn again, and Mulligan and Dennis went on in the peaceful company. Dennis was a step ahead of his friend. You rarely see the old-fashioned Irish folk walk side by side; perhaps they keep a dim remembrance of footpaths over the open fields and moors. There is less of the formal, military sense than belongs to most Europeans, and a constant suggestion of the flock rather than the platoon.
At this moment two women who had lingered in the church overtook our friends and gave them a cordial greeting. One was the niece of Dennis Call, and almost as old as he. They lived at opposite ends of the town, and she stopped to ask him some questions about his family, while the other two, after hesitating a moment, went their way together. Sunday is the great social occasion for women who are hardly out of their houses all the rest of the week, and Dennis eagerly besought the favor of a visit. "Run home wit' me now for a bite of dinner," he urged. "'Twill be pot-luck, but the folks'll give you a grand welcome, and some of the children will be coming to vespers."
"Yirra now, I can't then, Dinny," the niece insisted, but her face shone with gratification, and they both knew that she was ready to accept.
"Oh, be friendly now an' come an' see the folks," Dennis continued. "The poor woman was in all the week wit' a bad wakeness that troubles her very bad, 'tis the stomach-bone falls down, they all says, but the docther has it that she's only wantin' a bit of strength wit' the spring weather an' all. 'Tis a dale o' work she has all the time, but the little gerrls begins to help iligant now, an' 'twill soon be aisy; they grow very fast. Little Mag is getting a foine dinner the day, Coom, Mary!"
Mary gave a sigh of compassion for the hard-worked mother, whose tiredness she well comprehended. "You're lucky then, Dinnis, and herself is lucky, the two of you bein' together and you gettin' steady work the year through. I know well herself gets a bit of the pain in her, we all gets it, faix! I knows well what it is. 'Tis our folks has hard times, wid my man dead this sivin years gone an' the old 'omen always in her bed, an' I havin' to tind poor Johnny an' herself like two babies. Wisha, wisha! I wasn't to mass -- today is four Sundays gone since I heard mass before. Well now, see! I'm goin' wid you like a little lost dog. I'm glad of a treat - but I'll help little Mag wid the dinner, so I will, 'tis a task for the shild."
A lovely readiness to help shone in Mary O'Donnell's homely face. She looked poor and anxious; her bonnet, with its brown and white plaided ribbon and ancient shape, looked as if it might have been ten years in wear. She had worn her poor mourning threadbare and returned to this headgear of an earlier and more prosperous time. She had been full of hope and cheerfulness when she bought the queer old brown bonnet, but a blessed light of hope and kindliness still shone in her eyes.
As they went along, busy with their homely talk, some one lifted a window near them and called "Dennis, Dennis!" in a tone of mild authority.
"'Tis his riverence wants you!" exclaimed Mrs. O'Donnell, flushing with excitement and pleasure. "I'll be going on slow; do you take your time. Run now Dinny!"
"I'll be there, sir," said Dennis, already inside the gate, and by the time he reached the steps, Father Ryan opened the door. "Step in," he said; "I must have a word with you. Who's that with you?"
Mary O'Donnell, she that's brother's-daughter to me, sir; 'tain't often we gets the bit of tark. She's goin' home to dinner with the folks, -- herself's at home the day, sir, she's not well."
"I'll stop an' see her one day soon. I missed her at mass. Your wife's a good woman, Dennis."
" An' Mary O'Donnell, too, has done fine -- she was afther bein' left very poor, 'tis yourself knows it well, an' has been very kind, sir. She had but the two hands of her for depindence, but we all did what we could." Dennis had blushed at the priest's good words about his wife as if he himself had been praised. "I thank God I'm prospered wit' good health, sir."
The old priest stood still in the narrow entry looking at Dennis Call as if he were not listening and were lost in his own thoughts. Dennis stood with hat in hand; the moment was strangely embarrassing. Father Ryan's strong-featured, good-humored face looked drawn and bluish as if he were really suffering from hunger and fatigue and some unforeseen perplexity beside. There was a cheerfulinsistent clatter of plates in the little dining-room beyond, and a comforting odor of roast-beef. Dennis felt more puzzled every moment, but he unconsciously smacked his lips in spite of uncertainties as to what the priest wanted.
"My heart's sick, Dennis," said his reverence, and a sudden flicker of light shone in his eyes.
Dennis shifted his weight to the other foot and passed his hat from right hand to left. "What's the matter, then, sir?" he asked anxiously. "Did anybody break the church window again I do' know?" He felt a little impatient; Mary O'Donnell would be far down the street, and the priest's good dinner made a man unbearably hungry. Still Father Ryan was frowning and planning without saying a word, and it made an honest man feel like a thief.
"Dennis, will you take a bit of dinner with me now and run afterward to Fletcher's place and get the best horse that's in, all in fifteen minutes' time? And say we're going on an errand of mercy if anybody puts a question. They'll think it's for the sick while it's for the well, God save us," said the old man.
"I'll do that, sir," said Dennis.
"Let's to dinner then," said Father Ryan. "I suppose good Mary O'Donnell's out of sound of your voice."
Dennis opened the door hastily, it was a relief to do something, and gave a loud call to Mary, who was still loitering not so very far away. "I'll not be home to my dinner," said he. "Do you go on then and tell the folks." So Mary in happy amaze, went her ways to carry the pleasing news that Dennis was kept to his dinner with the priest.
Father Ryan was already in the dining-room; the roast-beef was smoking on the table, there were onions and potatoes, and even cranberry-sauce from some secret repository of the housekeeper, who was not unmindful of the priest's long morning of hard service. Mrs. Dillon was setting another plate opposite Father Ryan's own. Dennis forgot that he was clinging to his Sunday hat, but when they had blessed themselves, and dinner was fairly begun, and the hat pushed under the table, the guest felt that he could hold his own again, and ventured a sociable remark. Dennis was as quick as he could be, but the priest finished his beef first, and impatiently waved back a noble Sunday pudding which Mrs. Dillon was proudly bringing in at the door. "Run for the mare now, if you've had enough," said he, and Dennis gave a lingering glance at the pudding and departed.
"Lord be good to us, but he's in the hurry!" he grumbled, as he went at a jog trot down the street. It was not yet one o'clock and a lovely May afternoon. The season was early, and the maples in full leaf; the prospect of a drive out into the country, with a light buggy, and possibly Fletcher's best mare, delighted Dennis Call as if he were a schoolboy. He marched into the stable yard with most important manners, and said, in the hearing of a group of stay-at-home loungers, that Father Ryan called for the best team and was in great haste.
"What's up, Dennis, a christening?" inquired an amiable idler; but Dennis plunged his hands deep into his pockets and calmly turned away, and looked up at the blue sky with an air of assurance, exactly as if he were not wishing that he knew, himself. Presently he stepped into the light carriage with the air of a lord, and whirled out of the yard.
"Which way now, sir?" he asked the priest, who was already waiting at his gate, but Father Ryan took the reins himself. "I'm afraid you might go too slow for me," he said, trying to give Dennis a droll, reassuring look, but he could not hide the provocation, and even grief, that he evidently felt. "I don't forget that you are used to heavy teaming," he added, and they both laughed and felt much more at ease. "I must be back in time for vespers," said his reverence, as they passed the church.
The sorrel mare sped along the road; her master had kept her in for his own use later that afternoon, and she was only too fresh and ready. For a while they followed the main road toward the next large town, and passed many of their acquaintances, driving or on foot, and Dennis was not without pride at being seen in the priest's company; but suddenly they turned into a rough, seldom-traveled by-way that led up among the hills. It seemed as if the errand were to some person in trouble, but presently they had left behind what appeared to be the last house. This was a strange path to follow, and for what reason had Father Ryan desired a companion, unless it were necessary in such a steep and almost dangerous ascent? Once, years before, Dennis had climbed by this deserted road, up to the woodlands of the higher hills; he had been gunning with some young men, and he remembered the small, lonely farms that they had just passed, and how poor and inhospitable they looked in the winter weather; in fact, his remembrance of the holiday was not bright in any way, because he had gained but a poor day's sport. None of the priest's flock lived in this direction, that was one sure thing.
The road seemed to grow steeper and steeper; the sorrel mare stopped once or twice, discouraged, and looked ahead at the hard climb. There were dark hemlocks and pines on either side, illuminated here and there by the vivid green of young birch saplings that stood where they caught the sunlight. The air was fresh and sweet, there were busy birds fluttering and calling; the light tread of the mare seemed to disturb the secluded region, as if nothing had passed that way since the coming of the year.
Father Ryan had not spoken for a long time; all the cheerfulness had faded from his face. "Dennis!" said he suddenly, so that the man at his side turned, startled and open-eyed, to look at him. "Dennis, you remember that smart young Dan Nolan, Tom Nolan's boy, the one that went to the seminary for a while, but left and went West to be a railroad man?"
"I does mind Danny Nolan, sir; they say he's got rich. Him an' John Finnerty's gerrl is courtin' this long time, the pritty gerrl Katy; I saw her coming out from mass the day John Finnerty do be thinking she's got a great match, the b'y always says in his letters that he's doing fine."
"May God forgive him!" said the priest, under his breath.
"Why, in course I'd know him well, sir," Dennis continued eagerly in his most communicative manner. "Wasn't he brought up next house to my own by the mill yard, until I moved to the better one I'm in now, thanks be to God, the other one being dacint to look at, but very damp an' the cause of much sickness to every one. Oh, but the fine letters the b'y does be writing home, they brings them and reads them to herself an' me; truth is Tom Nolan's put his money into a mine that Danny's knowing to, out where he is, and they've been at me wouldn't I come wid 'em. Every one says there do be a power o' money in it. The tark is all right, but for Tom not having got any papers; I'd like to see the papers they gives, first; an' I think meself, sir, it's the same with Tom, but he won't let on."
"My God!" said the old priest again.
"An' John Finnerty, the little gerrl's fadther, he sint t'ree hundred -- 'twas all he had laid by -- you know the wife's a great spinder -- an' Danny Nolan wrote back he'd find it t'ree thousand this time next year, an' herself has been in the street goin' to the shops ivery night since then, as rich-feeling as a conthractor! Katy, the young thing, sint him out her small savings she got in the mill that she was keeping to buy her wedding with. I was against that when they tould me, but she'd sint to Dan and he wrote a great letter to sind it along, an' he'd put it where it would grow. 'Too many eggs in the one basket,' says I. She's awful proud of Dan, and he do be always writin' the beautiful letters, sir; but he does be knowing his fadther works hard all the time, and at Christmas last year divil a cint came home to any one of them. They alla says it was too far entirely to be gettin' prisents, but they'd like to be showing anything they got the lingth of the town. Tell me now, sir, do ye know of anything wrong? I do be thinkin' you've heard bad news. I couldn't tell why" --
Father Ryan touched the horse and gave a queer groan before he spoke.
"The truth is that Dan Nolan's a swindler," said he. "Those poor souls'll never see their money again."
"Well, something held me back from him, thanks be to God!" protested Dennis with pride, though he looked shocked and anxious. "I come very near givin' him all I had too. Whin a craze gets amongst folks, one must be doing like all the rest; ain't it so, sir? And that Dan was the best scholar in the schools here; don't you mind the praise he'd get from every one, an' his fadther was proud as a paycock. I does be thinkin' them schools has their faults. If a man dies now an' laves a houseful of childher they don't be half so fit to earn their bread as they were in the old times. I'm thinkin' the old folks was wiser wit' the childher, Father Ryan, sir!"
"There never was a boy in any parish I had these forty-five years that I took the pains with that I took with him," said Father Ryan slowly. "I paid the most of his bills myself when he went to the seminary Poor Tom Nolan couldn't do it, with his small wages and the sickness and the trouble he used to have. Danny was my altar-boy - a pretty face there was on him, and a laughing eye. He always stood to me for a little brother of mine, and looked the very marrow of him when I first saw him, and Tom came to the mills. My little brother was my playmate, we were always together like twin lambs. I can mind myself now, and I running home alone, crying, to tell my poor mother that we'd run away to the rocks, and a great wave came in and licked him off before my very eyes, and I a bit higher up on the shore. I wake up dreaming of him, stiff with the horror and a cold sweat all over me, after a lifetime that's gone between me and that day. I'm an old man now, Dennis Call, and my mind's always been in a priest's holy business. But I've a warm Irish heart in me, and there are times when I'd like a brother's young child, or one of my sister's that I left long ago in Kerry or to see my old mother shake her head and have the laugh at me, and I sitting there in the long winter evening in my still house. And when that young Danny Nolan gave a smile at me, like the little lad that went under the sea, and never was afraid, or trying to get away from me because I was the priest, I liked him more than I knew. I couldn't see then why he shouldn't make a good man, and I helped him the best I could. I know plenty of harm of him now, God forgive him and bring him to repentance."
The old man scowled and looked away. His heart was filled with sorrow. Dennis's ready tongue was checked, but he was grumbling to himself about the black heart of Danny Nolan. "I begin to think that sharp wits are the least of all the means by which a man wins true success," said Father Ryan.
"Everybody thought well of Dan Nolan then, sir." Dennis tried to comfort him; he had seen Father Ryan angry and stern, but never cast down like this.
They came to an open, grassy space on a shelf of the great hill. At one side was the cellar where a house had stood long ago; some roses still grew about it, and there was much of the solemn little cypress plant, so often seen in country burying-grounds, growing about the crumbling foundations and straying off into the grass. There was a smooth, broad doorstep partly overgrown, and a hop-vine was sending up its determined shoots near by, where it could find nothing to twine upon. The old doorstep had evidently served as a seat for stray wanderers; there was a place before it that had been worn by feet, like the beginning of a path. The house had been gone many years, but one might have thought that its ghost was there, and the doorstep was still trodden by those unseen inhabitants who went and came. The priest may have thought this, but Dennis saw a gun wad lying by the step, and a little bird fluttered away, as if it had been finding a few stray crumbs.
There was a magnificent view of the wide-spread lower country - woods and clearings and bushy pasture-lands stretching miles upon miles, with a river dividing them like a shining ribbon; and white villages, with their tiny spires and sprinkled houses and heavy dark mills. As you turned the other way you looked up the dark hill-slope. The road appeared to end here by the deserted farmstead, but some winter wood-roads led off in different directions.
Father Ryan stopped the breathless mare and got down clumsily. "We'll walk from here, Dennis," he said, and Dennis also alighted. His face was befogged with perplexity. They plunged deep into the woods along one of the half overgrown winter tracks which led up and over a high shoulder of the great hill.
"'Tis like the way to the cave of the foxy 'omen," said Dennis, half aloud, as a dry twig whipped him in the face, and Father Ryan heard him and laughed.
"Well, it's wonderful how those old tales do stay in the mind," he said cheerfully. "I was working away with a book yesterday a fine hard knot of Latin it was, too, and I got sleepy and not a bit could I think of but how did the story of the Little Cakeen go that my old granny used to tell me before she'd give me a little cakeen herself that she'd have hidden in her blue cloak. I'd be afraid to eat it, too, after the tale. Well, I think it might be twenty years since I thought of it, but I could not rid my mind of the trick of that foolish story and it kept twirling itself round and round in my mind. It may be the way with old folks. I begin to feel old."
"'Twas a great story of the Little Cakeen," agreed Dennis solemnly. "I do be telling it to the childher; there's nothing anybody tells that they'd like so well, wit' their little screeches always in the same place. 'Twas the same way wit' my brothers and meself at home. We'd better mind, sir, lest ourselves gets on the fox's back an' into his big mout'. Do you know where you do be going?" Dennis looked about him anxiously.
The priest only laughed; a queer laugh it was that might mean one thing or another.
"Come on!" he said. "You make me think of another old tale they used to be telling at home about one Mrs. O'Flaherty's donkey that could neither go nor stand still."
At this moment, when the conversation had taken a most sociable and even merry tone, the two men found themselves on the edge of the thick woods, with an open, partly overgrown acre of land before them. The seedling pines had covered a piece of land cleared and deserted again many years before; they had grown close to the tumble-down old house, which had sometimes been used as a shelter by lumbermen who were at work among the hills, or sportsmen who might have taken refuge there in wet weather. Dennis was astonished to find himself there; he remembered the place well, but they had reached it by so short a path that the priest seemed to have brought him by the aid of magic. Dennis had taken heart at a change for the better in Father Ryan's manner, and was already preparing to laugh at the expected story about a donkey; but Father Ryan looked stern and priestly again and began to stride forward, telling Dennis by a gesture to wait outside the house. "'Tis a den of thieves I'm sure, now," muttered Dennis, but he followed his companion to the door, and stood there, strong and sturdy and not displeased, looking about him suspiciously like a wary sentinel.
The priest stepped softly on the pasture turf among the little pine-trees, and entered the door as if he did not mean to be heard. Immediately there was a scuffle and crash inside and the jar of a heavy fall, at which Dennis Call rushed in with his eyes dancing and his fists clenched.
There, in the middle of the dismal rain-stained room, by an overturned table and broken chair, Father Ryan was fighting with a younger man and getting the worst of it. Dennis pounced down and caught the fellow off by the shoulders. His great thumbs held down the cords like iron bolts; he stood the rascal back on his knees and gave him a terrible shaking. Dennis had been a tidy man at a fight when he was younger, and his rage revived the best of his experience. "Get up, sir; get up, your riverence!" he commanded, in a bold voice. "Lave the beggar to me!" and he kept his clutch with one hand while he administered a succession of sound blows with the other. "Take that, will you now, Danny Nolan, an' that wit' it!" he said scornfully. "Is it full of drink you are, l do' know to strike down an old an' rispicted man that's been a fadther to you, and he God's priest beside! I'll bate the life out of you and lave you here to the crows an' I get a saucy word out o' your head, so there, now!" and Dennis proceeded to cuff and shake his captive unmercifully.
The old priest looked shocked and shaken; he got upon his feet and tried to brush the dust from his black clothes. There was no place to sit, it was a dirty, stifling place, and he turned and went swaying with faltering steps to the door, and Dennis, holding the young man's arm in an unflinching grip, went after him.
"Sit down on the step, sir," he said, anxiously to the old man. "I hope it isn't faint you are, sir?"
Father Ryan seated himself upon the crumbling door-sill, and Dennis backed himself and his captive against a bowlder that stood in front of the old house, close by. As he turned to take a good look at Dan Nolan, a feeling of contempt stole into his honest face. In the clear light the young man looked so colorless and disreputable, wrecked and ruined by an only too evident life of vice and ignorance of every sort of decent behavior, that he seemed but a poor antagonist for a man like Dennis Call. There was little left of his boyish good looks and fine spirit. He must have thrown Father Ryan by some trick that caught him unprepared, for in spite of his age the priest looked much the stronger of the two. Dennis felt a strange anxiety as he saw how badly out of breath Father Ryan was still, and what bad color had come to his lips.
"Will I get you a sup of water, sir?" he asked eagerly. "This thing 'ont run away; or I'll just stun the poor cr'ature a bit wit' me fist so he can't step foot an' he tries. I'm afraid you're bad off, sir, so I am."
"No, no," said Father Ryan. "Let go his arm now."
"I don't dare lave him go, sir," protested Dennis.
"Let go his arm. Stand out, Dan!" and a strange light blazed in the old man's eyes. Danny Nolan, in his smart, dirty city-made clothes, stood out a step in front of Dennis, a poor wretched image of a young man as ever startled the squirrels and jays of that wild, deserted bit of country. He cast a furtive glance to the right and left, but the old priest raised a warning hand.
"No, you won't run, Dan, my boy," he said. "My old heart is ready to break at the sorry sight of you. Those poor legs of yours would throw you before you could run a rod. Take out the money that's in your pockets. Dennis, keep your eye on him now. Take it out, I say!"
Father Ryan rose to his great height with a black and angry look; his years seemed to fall off his shoulders like a cloak, and Dennis stepped forward eager for the fray. The fellow was at bay. He looked for a moment as sharp and ugly as a weasel, then the cowardice in him showed itself; he began to whimper and weaken, and so fell upon his knees.
"It is in the state's prison that you ought to be. I know it well," said Father Ryan sternly.
"Will I give him a nate kick or two, your riverence?" inquired Dennis suggestively. "May be 'twill help him to mind what you do be saying, the dirty bla'guard."
Danny Nolan, still whimpering, took something from his pocket and dropped it before him on the turf. "There, now," he said, trying to be bold, "let me go."
"Go through his pockets yourself, Dennis," said the priest, and he stood watching while this business was carefully accomplished, and a little heap of counterfeit bills was gathered at their feet, which Dennis had sought for with little tenderness. "What have you hidden in the house beside?" he demanded, looking up in black rage, as Danny Nolan stood there, surly and flushed.
"If 'twas my last word, I'd tell you the same," he answered. "There's no more but this. I was only waiting till evening, so I'd get away. There's two dollars there that's good," he sulkily added, touching the money with his foot.
"Ye'd best give it to his riverence for a collection, then," Dennis advised. "Ain't you the dirthy divil!"
"I've had awful hard luck," said Danny, in a grieved tone. "'Twas a man on the cars give me this" --
"Why didn't you come straight to those who were your friends?" said Father Ryan sadly "You have been robbing those that loved you and taking their little earnings -- you are a liar and a thief. How will you face them now and go to them for food and shelter? Who'll want to give you a day's work? You have been living with cheats and liars; see what they have done for you, and how rich and fine you come home to those that have praised you the length of the town. What do you mean to do?"
"They're out after me; the officers are out after me, sir." The poor rascal instantly turned to his old friend for help. "I can't stop here; 'twas the man that gave me this stuff to get rid of it himself, and then went and told."
"You sent down to the mills to some fellows you thought bad enough to buy this trash. Don't lie to me, Dan! You have fallen into this sort of thing by your own choice. Come now, if Dennis and I will stand by you, will you try to be decent and live honest? You'll be dead this time next year if you don't, and there's God's truth for you. I'll try you this once more, God helping me. I'll not send you home to those that aren't able to keep you. I've a little money put by, and I'll lend you something for those you have robbed and cheated with your stories about the mine."
"I was cheated myself in the first place, Father Ryan," said Nolan. Then he fell to sobbing and covered his face with both his hands. "I've been bad, you're right, sir, but oh, try me again. I don't know what'll I do. I'm starved here, and every bush that rustles turns me cold these three nights. I'll do the best I can, sir. I wouldn't have said it so easy yesterday, but I'm beat to the ground now. Everybody's turned against me. I thought some friends of mine would be here last night" --
"Come, stand up an' behave like a man!" Dennis gave him a vigorous jerk by way of stimulant. "We mane no harm by the likes of you. Do now as Father Ryan says, since he's so willing to try you." There was kindliness in his tone, though the shake was contradictory "I'll stand by you meself for Father Ryan's pleasure, but it goes hard wit' me to say the word."
"You'll come to me this evening at eight o'clock," said the priest. "I'll be thinking what's best to do. I can't stand between you and the laws you've broken. You'll stay at my house the night. Mrs. Dillon'll be washing in the morning; the first thing is to make you look decent. Then I'll find a way to talk with your father, poor honest man!"
"I'd as soon go chop at Tom Nolan wit' me ax," muttered Dennis.
The priest stooped and struck a match on the gray rock and touched it to the counterfeit bills, stirring them now and then with his foot as they smouldered. When the few ashes began to blow in the light spring wind, and there was little left but an ugly small scar in the green turf, Father Ryan held out his hand and Danny Nolan tried not to see it and turned away. The old priest could not help a sigh. Then the young man, who had known every sin, threw himself upon the mercy of this merciful old friend. No matter if Dennis stood by with his aggravating sense of honesty, his narrow experience of a stupid mill town, Dan Nolan caught hold of Father Ryan's hand and clung to it as if his whole heart were spent in love and gratitude. "O God, help me; I'll not fail you this night, sir. 'Tis the Lord sent you to me, sir. 'Tis you were always good to me when I was a little boy minding the altar, sir."
"You were always great wit' your fine words and your smart letters," grumbled Dennis, who in spite of himself was much affected. If his own sons should ever go wrong, God send them such a friend. "See now that you give his riverence satisfaction for all the trouble he's taking, and pay him back his money too. There's work enough if you'd only be dacint, but if I'd hear from any of your tricks, or you'd be doing harm among the young folks, Lord be good to me but I'd be the one to break your neck, so I would. When I think of that pritty gerrl you've fooled!" --
"Don't shame the man any more. We'll give him his chance to do better. 'Tis God does the same every day for you and me," said Father Ryan.
The May wind in the pine woods was like the sound of the sea as the two elder men turned away to go down the hill, not once looking back. The old priest left Dan Nolan behind as if he had forgotten him, and Dennis was awed into speechlessness as he walked alongside.
The sorrel mare was restless. She had unwisely browsed the sharp-thorned sprouting rosebushes, and had got the reins tangled about her feet. Father Ryan climbed into the carriage; he began to feel lame and tired, and Dennis, still silent, took the mare by the head and led her carefully down the steepest part of the road. When they came to the lowest slope of the hill he got in and took the reins, and they went quickly home. The church-bells began to ring for vespers as they neared the town.
"I'll be a trifle late, I'm sorry," said the priest. "Leave me at the church and you go on with the mare, Denny. Oh, I'm all right, 'twas fine and pleasant in the green woods. It seems long to me since mass was over."
"My saints in heaven, but ain't he the father to us!" exclaimed Dennis, a moment later. He still felt a delightful sense of excitement and adventure, but after they had parted at the church something choked him, as he thought of Father Ryan's figure as he had seen him go along the little path to the vestry, with that dust on the back of his coat. As he came back to the church himself he overtook Mary O'Donnell, who greeted him with pleasure and even curiosity, and some other friends made mention of the fact that he had been away with the priest. The parishioners were used to being ignorant about most of Father Ryan's affairs; a priest could never make talk about his errands of business and mercy as another man could.
The warm May Sunday indeed seemed long. The vesper service did not often attract Dennis Call. He was always in his place at mass, but he took his Sunday sleep and stroll in the afternoon. He made himself easy in the corner of the pew, he picked some pine-needles out of the cuff of his coat, and he said, a little grudgingly, a prayer for Danny Nolan. He noticed that there was a bruise beginning to show itself on the old priest's forehead, and how the hands trembled that were lifted at the altar. The doctor had been known to say that Father Ryan was not a sound man, that he had better not take long walks alone any more, or overtax himself as he often did, and Dennis wondered vaguely if this were not the reason he had been called upon that day for company.
"I'd like to clout the saucy bla'guard a couple o' times more," he grumbled to himself; but his heart was not without compassion. His own boys were just beginning to put on the airs and to share the ambitions of men, and poor Tom Nolan, his old friend and neighbor, must hear sad news of Danny, and that soon. Dennis blinked his sleepy eyes and looked reverently at Father Ryan's tall figure at the altar. The setting sun brought out the color and tarnished gold thread of the worn vestments. The paper flowers that a French woman had made new at Easter looked gay and almost real in the pleasant light.
"'Tis in many strange places that a priest does be having to serve God," said Dennis to himself. "I'm thinking Danny Nolan'll light out this night wit' the two dollars, an' we'll see no more of him. Faix, 'twould be best for him, the young fool; the likes of him will break every heart, stay or go!"
That night, however, just at dark, Dan Nolan came across the fields, and presently stole out from a thicket at the foot of the priest's little garden, and went into the house. The lights were bright; there was a good supper on the table. As the hungry, crestfallen offender sat there, abashed by all the light and good cheer, the old man's tired face shone with golden hopefulness. Father Ryan even persuaded himself that the look of his own young brother had come back again into Danny Nolan's eyes.
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.