Read CHAPTER V - JENNIE of Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road , free online book, by R. Henry Mainer, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Lawrence Hyden stayed at Nancy McVeigh’s tavern on the Monk Road while his leg, which had received a severe crushing in the railroad accident at the Junction, healed sufficiently for him to depart for his home in the city. During his sojourn the widow McVeigh was ofttimes sorely tempted to take him out and stand him on his head in the horse-trough, so cantankerous was he over his enforced idleness. She had plenty and to spare of compassion for weaklings, who had not physical strength such as hers to carry them through troubles, but this irate old man only annoyed her. She had not been well herself since that long night’s work in the rain, when half of the passenger train had toppled into the ditch, and her patience was correspondingly short-lived. The doctor who attended Mr. Hyden noticed the weary look about her eyes, and offered his advice.

“You should go to bed for at least a fortnight,” he suggested.

Nancy smiled as she replied: “’Twould be a merry riot, surely, doctor, if I gave in to my complaints, with noisy customers downstairs and two cranky patients above.”

However, she gave over the attendance on the obdurate old gentleman, who from force of necessity was her guest, to Jennie, her adopted daughter.

“If he finds too many faults, Jennie, just leave him a spell without his food. That’ll teach him to value the fare with a kinder grace,” she explained.

Contrary to Nancy’s expectations, Jennie wrought a wonderful change for the better in her patient. Mr. Hyden seemed to form an attachment for the girl from the very beginning.

“You remind me of someone,” he remarked during the first few hours of her service; and afterwards he would listen to Jennie for a whole evening while she struggled through some reading matter. One evening he told her about a grandchild of his whom he had lost through being over-harsh with the mother, and his words impressed Jennie so much that she retailed them to Mistress McVeigh the very next morning.

“It’s no unloike yer own mother’s troubles,” Nancy observed, critically.

“And will ye tell me of them, Granny?” Jennie asked, eagerly, for it had often been hinted to her that Nancy McVeigh was not her grandmother.

“It’s a burden o’ sorrow, dear, and not fit for young ears to listen to,” Nancy replied, evasively. Jennie, however, was not satisfied, and the next time that Mr. Hyden was in a talkative mood she introduced the subject to him. He seemed deeply interested, and promised that he would endeavor to persuade Mistress McVeigh to divulge her secret. After Mr. Hyden could hobble from his room to other parts of the house, a photo of Jennie’s, taken when she was a very young child, disappeared from the upstairs parlor, and Nancy suspected at once that her guest had taken it. She told Jennie to look for it when she was cleaning up his room, and sure enough, she found it amongst a miscellany of papers and letters which littered his table. This was enough to rouse Nancy’s ire to a point where an understanding of all grievances up-to-date was necessary, so she proceeded upstairs, with a sparkle in her eye which boded ill for the victim of her wrath. He was in his room, writing, and without waiting for him to finish, as was her custom, she demanded the lost photo.

“I have it, Mistress McVeigh. I meant to put it back in its place, but it slipped my memory,” he stammered, guiltily; and then he asked her, frankly, “May I keep it?”

“Kape the swate child’s picture, the only wan I have, barrin’ her own silf! Ye have great assurance to ask it!” Nancy exclaimed, though somewhat mollified at his mild explanation.

“My son married beneath him, and I treated his wife very badly. They had one child, a girl, and I have often wished since that I could discover her whereabouts. I have a sort of guilty feeling that I was not exactly honorable in my dealings with my daughter-in-law, and it has so preyed on my mind that I think every strange child may be hers. I remember seeing the mother two or three times, and her face peers at me now when I am in reverie. A vengeance of fate for a social crime, I expect,” he said, laughing nervously. Then he continued: “You may wonder, Mistress McVeigh, why I am telling you this, but your Jennie’s face is that of my son’s wife. It may be the result of long years of remorse which have created a myth in my brain, but when she comes to wait on me the likeness is very real. I hope you will excuse my action in taking that photo, and perhaps you will sell it.” Mr. Hyden spoke seriously, lest Nancy should suspect him of subterfuge.

“Sure, sir, ye think it is like yer own flesh and blood?” Nancy questioned, softly, her eyes filling suddenly.

Mr. Hyden’s brow contracted into a frown, and he seemed on the point of regretting the confidences which he had spoken, but Nancy interrupted him.

“Jennie is not my own,” she said, sadly.

“Not your own!” he ejaculated, pausing in the act of handing back the photo. “I knew it, for that child is no more of your family than I am, even to the eyes of a stranger, begging pardon if I speak too freely.”

“Perhaps ye would care fer the story?” Nancy asked, beaming with renewed friendliness.

“Please tell it, Mistress McVeigh,” he answered, eagerly, as he pushed a chair towards Nancy and seated himself. Nancy gave herself over to silent musing for a few minutes, and Mr. Hyden prepared his pipe in the interval.

“Jennie’ll be eighteen come twentieth o’ March,” Nancy began, then checked herself while she counted on her fingers. “No, maybe nineteen,” meditatively. “Ye see, Mr. Hyden, times on the Monk Road are so much the same that one fergits the exact date o’ things. Anyhow, it all occurred the year before the railroad was completed through these parts, fer well I remember takin’ Jennie in me arms across the fields to see the first passenger train go by the Junction, with her engine all flags, and banners hung the length o’ the cars with mottoes in big red letters on them. Dan Sullivan, Heaven rest his soul, was the engineer that day, and fer five years afterwards he took time fer lunch at the tavern until he was killed up the line somewheres. There were a lot o’ officials on board that day, too, and the Superintendent came out o’ his car to pat Jennie’s head. He could not help it, fer the child had a winsome mass o’ golden curls, if I do say it meself.” Nancy paused to sigh, and Mr. Hyden interposed:

“I was on that train, Mistress McVeigh, and I remember the scene, now you mention it.”

“Were ye?” Nancy exclaimed, incredulously.

“To finish about Jennie’s comin’ to me. It was the previous year that they built the bridge over the Narrows a mile or two back from the Junction. I had most o’ the men stayin’ at the tavern, and the likes o’ the business I have never had since. But I was younger then, and the work never tired me. The foreman’s name was Green, and he occupied the big room with the gable window.”

“The scamp er I beg your pardon, Mistress McVeigh, but I knew that fellow, and his name wasn’t Green,” interrupted Mr. Hyden.

“I thought as much, sir,” continued Nancy, “for he carried on something awful with the table help and the girls along the road, and it was just his way to leave no traces o’ his real name behind him. But he was not a bad fellow, mind ye. As liberal in his spendin’ as if he couldn’t abide the feelin’ o’ money, and as nice a gentleman about the house as any one could wish fer. He was a handsome chap, too, and lively with his tongue. The pick o’ the whole countryside was his, and it was the joke o’ the tavern, who’d be his next love. I was terrible busy at the time, but I heard the men talkin’ at the bar and at their meals, an’ I knew there was scarcely two girls on speakin’ terms with each other over him. Finally he settled down to courtin’ Florence Raeburn, the daughter of old Silas, who owns the big stock farm on the fourth concession. The Raeburns were English, an’ they had high notions o’ their position. The mother was dead, and the three girls managed the home. Florence was the youngest, and the other two were older than her by ten years or more. Consequently, they thought her a bit flighty, an’ needin’ o’ some restriction. They did not let her associate with any o’ the neighbors, an’ a great fuss they raised when she made friends with me while her horse took a drink at the trough when she was passing. I pitied the child, fer she had a pretty face, an’ big, sad eyes that seemed to yearn fer companions. After that, the sisters drove her in to town to school in the old buggy which their father had brought from England. However, she managed to see me quite often, and I encouraged her, although, mind ye, I never let her know the looseness o’ the ways o’ a tavern. The sisters had the Methodist parson picked out fer her, an’ he, poor man, was fair crazy fer her heart, too, but she had the givin’ o’ it herself, and this it was that caused all the trouble.

“Green, the foreman, spied her talkin’ to me on the verandah one day, an’ he came out an’ praised her horse a sure way to win her approval, fer she was very fond o’ the animal. I believe the young minx had seen him before, fer she was over-ready to converse with him, an’ whin I left them they were talkin’ and laughin’ like old friends. That was the beginnin’, and soon the rumor went about that the foreman had at last met his match. She occupied his time so much that the bridge work was like to suffer, an’ I heard that a letter came from the city askin’ about the delay. The sisters bitterly resented the clandestine meetings when they heard o’ them, an’ Florence had a weary time o’ it between their scoldin’s and the tongues of envious neighbors, but she was a wilful child an’ liked to have her own way regardless o’ their interferin’. I was afeard o’ the outcome mesel’, an’ I spoke my mind freely to Mr. Green. He resented my words at first, an’ then, whin he saw that I was really anxious, he told me that he loved her an’ would do what was honorable in the matter. I knew that he was earnin’ big pay, an’ was well brought up an’ educated, so I tried to convince meself that he would make Florence a good husband; but I can’t abide people flyin’ in the faces o’ their families in such matters, an’ I told Florence so one day when she had dropped in fer a drink o’ buttermilk. She just took my hands in hers, an’, lookin’ me in the eye, said, ’Mrs. McVeigh, ye do not understand. He is a fine, strong man, an’ will take me away to the city, where my sisters can’t make my life a burden. They are like ye, and doubt the worth o’ him, but I have had more chance than any o’ ye to study his character, and I know that he can make me happy.’ I just couldn’t reason with her against that opinion, so I prayed every night that she wouldn’t be disappointed, and every day I lectured Green about his sinful habits, an’ impressed him with the sweet smile that fortune was beamin’ upon him, and how careful he must be not to shake the maid’s faith in him. ‘Never fear, Mistress McVeigh, I’m solid forever now,’ he answered, laughing at my seriousness.

“’Twas only a short while afterwards that a telegram came to Green to go to the city. He told me o’ it with a very grave face, an’, says he, ‘We must be married to-night, an’ I will return in a week, after I have completed my arrangements in the city.’ I knew he meant it to be a secret ceremony at my tavern, fer the sisters would niver permit it at home. I worried all day long, wonderin’ what was my duty in the matter, one moment ready to go over an’ tell the family o’ their plans, an’ nixt feelin’ guilty at my disloyalty to the brave girl. The preacher came, an’ they were married that night.”

“They were married that night?” interrogated Mr. Hyden, who had been following Nancy’s story intently.

“They were, surely,” declared Nancy, positively, as if resenting the interruption.

“Thank God!” he muttered, as he resumed the smoking of his pipe.

Nancy gazed at him queerly for a few moments, and then continued: “Green left for the city nixt mornin’, an’ Florence went back to her home with my kiss on her lips as a weddin’ gift. A month passed, an’ I was wonderin’ why Florence had not been over to see me, an’ then Silas Raeburn came into my tavern in a mighty rage. ’Ye old witch, where’s my girl?’ he roared.

“I was so surprised at his words that I didn’t know what to say, but I knew my face was a guilty one to him.

“’Ye have encouraged her in her disobedience against her own family, and then ye let a drunken rascal steal her from me to crown our disgrace,’ he went on fiercely. Fer once in my life I stood silent, too ashamed to answer him, while he heaped words upon me that would be unfit to repeat in decent company. He was fair torn with anguish and temper, an’ I let him have his say. Then, when he was calmer, I told him all I knew, from the first meetin’ o’ Florence with the bridge foreman. He listened, breathing sort o’ sharp, as if my words hurt him, an’ then of a sudden he went white an’ tremblin’, an’ dashed out into the darkness o’ the night.

“I hoped that Florence had met her husband in the city, an’ that they were happy, an’ I comforted myself with these reflections, but always had to fight a doubtin’. The people talked o’ it fer a long while, but it was a forbidden subject in my house, an’ one man went out o’ my bar with more speed than dignity, for mentionin’ her name in my hearin’.

“One bitterly cold night in December, a farmer came in from the road with strange news. ‘I found a woman an’ child freezin’ by the roadside, an’ I just brought them on to ye,’ he said. ’Bring them in an’ welcome,’ I answered, an’ then the woman slipped by him an’ was sobbin’ in my arms.

“‘Florence, darlin’, is it ye?’ I asked, with my own feelin’s stirred so that I could scarcely speak. She pushed me away from her with a sort o’ frenzy, an’ she says, ‘Ye should not shelter the likes o’ me, whose own people have turned their backs fer the shame o’ it.’

“‘Ye trust me, surely, darlint,’ I answered, takin’ her baby from her arms, an’ leadin’ the way to the kitchen, where we would be alone, with a great, cracklin’ fire in the stove to sit by. I gave her food and comforted her, an’ tended the baby, while she told me about hersilf, with an occasional spell o’ cryin’ an’ a wild, weird expression on her face that gave me bad dreams fer many a night.

“‘He was more than bridge foreman,’ she said, ‘he was a son o’ the contractor himself, an’ when he left for the city, the mornin’ after our marriage, it was to go away to forrin parts, South America or some other outlandish place. His father made him do it, fer he was full o’ pride, and wanted no country lass as a wife fer his son. I stayed at home as long as I could, an’ then my sisters discovered the truth. They scolded me dreadfully, an’ my father threatened to lock me up. That evening I walked into town, an’ took the train fer the city. I searched fer two or three days before I learned the true name o’ my husband, an’ when I went to his home, which was grander than any building I had seen before, they told me I was crazy. I had married a man named Green, and he was not their son. I knew that they were deceivin’ me, but I was frightened an’ I hurried away. I struggled fer a while alone, an’ then, when the baby came, a good woman out o’ pity took me in an’ kept me till I could go to my work again. Then his family heard o’ the child an’ sent fer me. When I called, they told me that they were sorry for me an’ wished to help me, although they would not admit that they were bound by law to do so. They had secured permission to place my baby in a home, an’ I was glad enough o’ the chance, fer I was afeared that I could never support it myself. I had the privilege of seeing her once or twice a week, an’ those visits were the bright spots in my life. I worked very hard, thinkin’ that it would cure my broken spirit an’ the yearnin’ which I had fer my child. But it seemed useless to try, fer my will power was weakened by my sufferin’, so I went over to the home, an’ the good people, knowin’ that I was her mother, let me take her out with me for an airin’. I just couldn’t part with her again, so I went to my rooms, gathered my clothes into a bundle, and started fer home. I was sort o’ wild then, an’ did not know what I was doing, but now I know that I did wrong, fer there is no welcome fer me under my father’s roof.

“‘Will ye keep me fer a week, till I am stronger, Nancy McVeigh?’ says she, ‘an’ then I’ll go back, an’ perhaps I’ll be more content.’

“I tell ye, Mr. Hyden, my heart bled fer the lass. The likes o’ her pleadin’ with a rough old tavern-keeper fer her very livin’. ’Ye did right to come home to me, Florence Raeburn. I’m not ashamed to have ye here,’ I answered her.”

Mrs. McVeigh paused in her story to wipe away the tears which were stealing down the furrows in her cheeks, but Hyden, in a strange, hard voice, bade her proceed.

“The mother died two weeks afterwards, sir. I think it was her lungs that were affected, but never a word of it did I send to Silas Raeburn or his people. I could not fergit the sting of the words he had spoken to me. I felt that it was my secret, an’ when I took the baby from Florence’s arms fer the last time, she smiled and whispered, ’Ye’ll no give Jennie up, Nancy. Ye’ll be a mother to her yersilf?’”

“I am judged! I am judged!” broke in Mr. Hyden, standing before her, his features working in a desperate struggle with his emotions. Then he spoke with more calmness. “She is my grandchild,” he said.

The days that followed were full of torture for the old keeper of the inn. Mr. Hyden wanted to take Jennie back to the city with him to be educated. He would do for her all that he could, as the repentance for his harshness to Jennie’s mother was upon him. He waited day by day, until Nancy could make up her mind. Of all Nancy’s troubles this was the sorest, for Jennie had been closer to her than her own son. Her years were creeping over her, and she leaned on the young girl for sympathy and advice. Yet in her heart she knew that Jennie must go, and it was her duty to permit it. Her victory came suddenly, and one morning saw her face free from clouds, and in their place a glimpse of her old kindly smile.

“Take her, Mr. Hyden, an’ make her a lady, fer the lass is above the best that I can give her. You’ll let her come to see me sometimes, an’ ye’ll promise to be good to her?” she asked, wistfully. So it was that Jennie left the old tavern on the Monk Road, jubilant in her innocent way at the happy prospects which old Nancy painted for her, but when she was gone Nancy turned to her work again with a heavy heart.