The Irish of It

HE was a curly-haired boy of about twenty-five, with a square Irish smile and an expression of sweet stupidity. He wore a blue shirt, and a red tie set off with a mother-of-pearl brooch in the shape of a Celtic harp; his baggy trousers flared and drooped about his ankles. He rushed to and fro like an eager, nosing dog among that throng of excited immigrants, who were festooned with children and bundles and shawl-straps and suit-cases, and had paper blanks in their hands which they read as they walked, submitting with a docile other-worldliness to the pushing and scolding of the Ellis Island officials.

He was a man with a mission, a creature of one idea instead of the fragments of two or three which he usually carried about with him. In this capacity he sidled shyly up to every unattached girl he saw, and asked with an ingratiating gesture of his left hand if she were Katherine O’Sullivan. As disappointment after disappointment confronted him, the beads of perspiration on his forehead merged together and rolled down his temples in two or three big drops; he wiped them off with a handkerchief of neutral tint and stood up on his rough-shod toes, peering down the oncoming line. The frown of anxiety between his eyebrows deepened.

Suddenly he smiled, a smile of widemouthed relief and delight, and laughed aloud, his worry set at rest.

‘This is Katherine O’Sullivan.’

‘It is,’ replied the girl.

She was a brisk, self-sufficient young one of eighteen. She had been watching him intently for some little time.

‘ Well, Kate,’ said Dennis, ready with a cordial kiss, ‘I’m glad to see you.’

Kate avoided him deftly, set down her suit-case, and slapped him sharply across the face.

‘It’s glad I’ll be when I see the last of you.’

‘Why did you that, Kate?’ blurted Dennis, puzzled and angry, and rubbing his cheek.

‘Move away, whoever ye are, or I ’ll speak to an officer.’

‘Me!’ exclaimed the boy, still rubbing his smarting face. ‘It’s your cousin I am, Dennis Carney. I thought you’d surely know me.’

‘That’s easy said,’ Kate answered with irony. ‘And I’ll tell ye something for yer soul’s good, Dennis Carney. I’ve been living out in Dublin for three years past, and it was there I learned there’s a deal of talk going around it’s no need to believe. I ’m not a greenhorn at all.’

Bewilderment shot into the blue eyes of Dennis.

‘Come you with me, Katherine,’ he said genially, stooping for her suitcase. ‘Is this yours?’

‘It is. Take yer hands off it.’

Dennis set it down, straightened up, and looked at her, hurt to the quick.

‘What is it, Katherine? Don’t you know me?’

‘I know yer kind, and that’s enough.’

‘What do ye mean, child ?’

Kate’s eyes were narrow with doubt born of sophistication.

‘Have n’t I been watching you with my two eyes going about, speaking to this girl and that girl? Sure, there’s no good in that kind of a man, and it’s myself that knows it. Warned I’ve been against them, thanks be to the Almighty God!’

‘And how would I know it was you then, but to ask?’ exploded Dennis, putting his hands on his hips in exasperation, ‘and I not having seen you since you were a child of six years?’

‘And how came you to know me at the latter end, so,’ parried Kate in triumph, ‘not having seen me since I was a child of six years?’

Dennis took out his handkerchief, and wiped his face and neck.

‘Why would n’t I know you when I saw you? Many’s the time it’s been given in to me that the two of us looks as much alike as if we were two peas. Why would n’t I know my own features and my own appearance when I see them before me?’

This was true, but like many truths it should not have been uttered.

Katherine reddened angrily.

‘I to look like you, is it!’ She laughed. ‘Ye should have spared yerself yer carfare, Dennis Carney, and bought a mirror instead. Ye could have made a better use of it.’

‘It wasn’t me said it, Kate,’ muttered Dennis sheepishly. ‘It’s been given in to me so.’

‘And did you think them other girls had yer own features and yer own appearance too? It seems yer own face is walking about on every pretty girl ye see.’

She tossed her head, and set her arms akimbo.

‘I did n’t rightly know it was you, Kate,’ explained Dennis slowly, feeling his way; ‘and I did n’t surely think them other girls was you. But when I was n’t certain, it seemed well to me to ask any girl who was standing waiting with no one by her — ’

‘I’m sure of it!’

‘—the way I would n’t make any mistake and you pass out unremarked.’

‘What would I be passing out for, and I waiting here for my brother, Patrick O’Sullivan?’

‘Pat had his foot hurt the way he could n’t come, and he sent me here to meet you and to take his place.’

‘That’s easy said,’ was the indifferent comment.

‘But how would I know your name, Kate, if Patrick had n’t sent me?’

Kate gave some thought to this.

‘That I don’t know,’ she said at last, slowly, ‘if ye did n’t read it in some list or in some sort of an article in one of the morning papers.’

‘ But where would I get a list or an article, Kate, that I’d read the name of Katherine O’Sullivan in?’ pleaded Dennis in desperation.

She turned this over in her mind before she answered.

‘Or you might be some sort of a false friend to Patrick. It might be it was you hurt his foot on him the way he could n’t come down.’

This was too much for Dennis.

‘What would I want hurting my cousin’s foot? ’ he burst out indignantly.

‘Or it might be you to have done away with him altogether, and to take a paper from his body with my name in it and a word saying I was coming in on the boat the day.’

‘In heaven’s name, Kate,’ exclaimed the boy in horror, ‘are you crazy? What would I want with killing Pat, that used to run through the paddocks with me when we were boys together in the Old Country!”

‘What paddocks?’ asked Kate, speaking now with real interest.

’Why the paddocks and fields in Donegal. What paddocks would it be?’

‘What would they be like, Dennis?’

‘What were they like! You ought to know, just having left them. Why, they were like any other paddocks’ — he paused, and ran his hand across his forehead, — ‘with green grass, and broken fences, and an old well standing, and the dogs running about after hares and it might be after a fox.’

Katherine rubbed her sleeve across her eyes.

‘ That’s them,’ she said, with a tremble in her throat.

Dennis picked up her bag again.

‘Come now, Kate,’ he coaxed indulgently, ‘this is some sickness is on you, brought on by the heaving of the sea. We’ll soon be home now.’

She took a moment to settle her hat, then turned to go. Suddenly she halted.

‘Stop, Dennis. Put down the bag. It might be you got it from a picture Pat would have in his pocket. It’s not a great while since I sent him a card with a picture on it of the paddocks and the fields that do be in Donegal.’

‘Got what?’ asked Dennis wearily.

Kate went over to him and put both hands on his shoulders, looking earnestly up into his bewildered face.

‘Are ye really Dennis Carney?’

‘What ails you, Kate?’ he asked with the first sign of keen annoyance.

‘ Surely you know that you won’t be let to leave this place till you see an officer on the other side of that stile the way he’ll know it’s the right one is taking you away.’ As he spoke, he gestured toward the door through which the serpentine column was winding, urged and pushed along by glum, blue-coated guards. ‘It was only an accident that I got into this room at all, and by being quick. I slipped under the feller’s arm, and he yelling out to tell a big Scotchie to come back. Them other people that’s passing through won’t now be met by them that’s belonging to them till their names is called by an officer.

They’re kept in cages in another place.’

‘But are ye Dennis Carney?’ she insisted.

‘I am.’

‘ Tell me, then, what does my mother look like that’s home in Donegal?’

‘Surely, Kate, you’ve not forgotten in so short a time!’ he exclaimed in a shocked voice.

‘Tell me.’

‘Well, then,’ he began, with his hand on his crisp, black curls, ‘as near as I can remember after twelve years, she is a thin woman with gray hair —’

‘It’s white now,’ amended Kate, wiping her eyes.


‘She’s bent on a stick now.’

‘ Her eyes are blue.’


‘She used to call you Cathy.’

Kate burst into tears. ‘It’s her,’ she sobbed, with her face in the crook of her arm.

Dennis stooped for the bag again, his expression becoming more and more alarmed.

‘Come now, Kate,’ he said gently. ‘It’ll not be long till we’re home now. Patrick will be wondering what’s keeping you.’

‘Dennis, dearie, I ’ll kiss you now,’ offered Kate, smiling through her tears.

But Dennis rubbed his cheek reminiscently. ‘There’s no time,’ he said.

Just then an official came up. ‘ Move on here,’ he commanded. ‘This ain’t a summer resort.’

Kate made a facetious dab at him as he passed. She turned to Dennis, catching his arm, and laughed up at him.

‘What, Dennis!’ she exclaimed. ‘Surely you won’t refuse to kiss yer own features and yer own appearance when ye see them before you.’

He bent and kissed her trusting, jovial face, absurdly like his own. Then, blushing, he led the way to the United States and Patrick.