Read CHAPTER VI - NANCY'S PHILOSOPHY of Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road , free online book, by R. Henry Mainer, on

Nancy McVeigh was in her garden behind the tavern when young John Keene called on her for the first time since his return from Chicago, after two years’ absence from the homely atmosphere of the Monk Road.

Nancy’s garden was a source of great enjoyment to her, and many happy hours she spent within the enclosure, which old Donald had built so securely that not even a chick could trespass to harm the sprouting seeds. Early spring saw her with tucked-up skirt, a starched sun-bonnet on her head, and hoe or rake in her hand, availing herself of every quiet hour in the day to plant and mark out the beds. Then followed a ceaseless watchfulness, throughout the hot summer, to regulate the watering and weeding, interspersed with pleasant speculation as to the results, and in the later months her well-merited boastings over her success.

She was picking beans for the dinner, and incidentally noting the progress of her early vegetables, when Katie Duncan ushered young John Keene through the tavern to the rear door and into the garden.

“At your old tricks, Mistress McVeigh,” the new-comer called, cheerily, as he advanced with out-stretched hand.

“Well, bless me soul, Johnny!” she exclaimed, rising and kissing him with motherly blindness to his manly appearance. “I heard yesterday that ye had returned. Mrs. Conors told me, an’ she said ye might be takin’ a wife before ye leave. She’s a rare gossip, that body, an’ knows a thing a’most before it happens,” Nancy added, in an explanatory way.

“As if you didn’t know that yourself,” young John answered, laughing.

“The two years went by so quick like, that I scarce felt the loss o’ ye. Faith, an’ the older one gets the shorter the days, it seems. The garden’s lookin’ promisin’,” she observed, inviting his opinion.

“Splendid!” he replied, giving it a hasty scrutiny.

“I’ve beans, an’ radishes, an’ new potatoes already, an’ the cucumbers and corn’ll be fit to pick in a week,” Nancy said, proudly. Then she remembered her hospitality.

“We’ll go in the house, fer it’s not a very clean place fer ye to be wi’ all yer fine clothes.”

“I’d rather we just sit down on those two chairs by the porch and have a good talk,” he suggested. They seated themselves in the shade, for the morning sun was very warm, and young John lighted a cigar.

“Have ye been doin’ well since ye left?” Nancy inquired.

“Aye, Mistress McVeigh. Corney helped me, you know. I went to work in his office the very day of my arrival in Chicago, and, thanks to your advice, I never allowed my old habits to interfere with my progress.”

“Ye didn’t think I doubted yer ability to do that?” she asked, reproachfully. Then, with a twinkle of humor in her eyes, she added, “It was yer love fer a certain young lady that kep’ ye at it.”

“Maybe,” he assented, meditatively.

“An’ I suppose Corney has a grand place, wi’ a desk and books as thick as a family Bible?”

Young John laughed. “His office is as big as your house. He has twenty desks and a clerk for each one, and a private room, all glass, and leather-bound furnishings. I tell you, Mrs. McVeigh, your son has developed a wonderful business, and you will live to see him a rich man, too,” he remarked, enthusiastically.

“Well, d’ye hear that now, the brains o’ him! I always knew it!” Nancy ejaculated, with tears of pride glistening for a moment in her eyes. “It’s been in me mind these ten years to go there an’ see him. D’ye think he’ll likely be Mayor o’ Chicago?” she asked, wistfully.

Young John quibbled with an easy conscience. “His chances are as good as the best of them,” he said. “But tell me about yourself, Nancy. How have you been keeping? And have you had any more young men to reform since I left?” he asked, suddenly changing the subject.

“Oh, barrin’ the cold I got whin Moore left the switch open at the Junction, an’ the pain at me heart over losin’ Jennie, I’m as fit as iver,” she answered, complacently. “Ye heard about Jennie’s leavin’?”

“Corney read your letter to me,” young John replied, sympathetically.

“It was a trial, to be sure, but I’m not complainin’. It’s better fer the lass, and Katie Duncan helps me a’most as much. Ye see, Johnny, I’m goin’ to be satisfied in this life, no matter what troubles I meet. I’ve plinty o’ belongin’s, an’ a deal o’ honest work to do, which leaves no time fer frettin’. I’ve had me ups and downs, an’ it seems I’ve known all the sorrows o’ me neighbors as well as me own, but I just keep smilin’ an’ fergittin’. There’s so many bright spots whin one looks hard fer them. It’s one thing to be wishin’ fer somethin’ in the future that never comes, and another to be content wi’ the blessin’s that we get every day. I try fer the last. Some people, if they had me tavern, would be wantin’ a better house, or a fresh coat o’ paint every year er two. If they had me garden they’d hope that a good angel would grow them enough fer themselves and a profit on what they could sell. They’d be always envyin’ the Raeburns’ fine horses, an’ the grand house o’ James Piper, an’ their servants, and thinkin’ the world was treatin’ them unkindly because wishin’ wouldn’t satisfy their desires. But it’s me honest pride in makin’ the best o’ things, and bein’ thankful they’re no worse, that keeps me smilin’.”

“You are quite a philosopher,” observed young John, gazing at her with the old affection lighting up his features.

“Philosopher or not, I care not a whit, but so long as Nancy McVeigh runs a tavern on the Monk Road there’ll be no lost sunshine,” she declared.

“Father tells me that the city company are building a summer hotel on the Point, and also that you may have to sell out,” young John remarked, cautiously, lest he hurt the old inn-keeper’s feelings.

“Faith, an’ he’s speakin’ the truth, too,” Nancy replied quite unconcernedly, and then she laughed quickly to herself at some recollection.

“I must tell ye about it, Johnny,” she explained. “When the agent came up from the city to go over the property, he walks up and down past the tavern wi’ a sheet o’ paper in his hand, an’ a map, or somethin’ o’ that nature. I went out on the verandah to see if he had lost his way, an’ he comes over an’ takes off his hat as politely as if I was the Queen.

“‘Your tavern stands just where we want to put the gateway,’ he remarked, consultin’ his paper.

“‘Is that so?’ says I, my temper suddenly risin’, fer I had heard a lot o’ talk about the big hotel an’ the driveway fer the carriages, an’ the parks.

“’Of course, we will allow ye a fair price fer yer property when we need it,’ he explained.

“‘If ye think yer price’ll put a gateway here, ye’re sadly mistaken,’ I said. ‘Ye can put up yer hotel, an’ every drop o’ spirits that’s sold in the country can go to ye, an’ I’ll no complain, but I warn ye that I’ve spent thirty-five years gettin’ this tavern into my keepin’, an’ it’ll take forty more to get it out again.’ I jist let him have it straight, an’ then I wint in an’ slammed the door to show me contempt fer the loikes o’ him.

“Then, a few days afterwards, two gentlemen called on me, an’ they said they wanted to make a proposition to me, but I just told them to see me lawyers about it, an’ they sort o’ fidgitted awhile, an’ then they asked me who I was employin’ to look after my interests. I just bid them go and find out if they thought it worth while, an’ I left them sittin’ there like two bad boys in school,” Nancy stopped while she laughed again, and young John broke in with a question.

“Was my father one of those two men?”

“Now, Johnny, ye needn’t be mixin’ yer father in the talk at all. Ye know he an’ I never agreed,” Nancy demurred.

“But I want to know for a reason,” he persisted. “You have a payment the last, I believe on the mortgage falling due shortly?” he inquired.

“I have,” she answered, somewhat perplexed.

“Well, my father would like you to miss making that payment, because he wants to get a commission for securing the sale of your property, and that would give him a hold on you. I can appreciate your desire to stay with the old place, so I would advise you to be early in sending him this amount. Can you raise it?” young John asked.

Nancy sat for awhile in mental perturbation, and then somewhat dubiously answered, “Yes.”

“Oh, that just reminds me that Corney bade me give you a hundred dollars,” young John said, hurriedly, his face lighting up.

“Now, John, it’s yer wish to help me that’s makin’ ye talk nonsense,” Nancy put in, but young John did not heed her.

“You will take the money?” he asked, pleadingly.

Nancy gazed back at her old ramshackle hotel, and then her eyes rested softly on young John’s face.

“You made me promise once, now it’s your turn,” he continued.

“Ye’re not deceivin’ me, John?” she said, hesitatingly.

“It’s from Corney, sure,” he affirmed, handing her the roll of bills.

“It’s in me will fer Corney an’ the girls, an’ it’s all I have to leave them. I couldn’t give it up,” she said, brokenly, as she took the money.

“Faith, it’s dinner time, an’ I’m sittin’ out a-gossipin’ when I should be at work,” she announced, springing up. “Ye’ll stay fer dinner, surely?” she asked of young John.

“I will with pleasure, Nancy,” he assented.

Miss Sophia Piper dropped into the tavern during the afternoon. She could not help it, for she was full of news, and her aversion to the premises was fast drifting from her. In her heart she loved the strange old woman with the kindly eyes and rugged manner. Her talk was all of young John Keene’s return, and she confided with happy tears stealing down her cheeks that his marriage with Miss Trevor would take place the following week.

“The wedding will take place at our house, and I’m here especially to ask you to come,” she added.

“And what would ye be thinkin’ o’ me, without fittin’ clothes, a-mixin’ wi’ all yer foine folk?” Nancy asked.

“You are my friend, Mrs. McVeigh, and your dress will not alter that. Promise you’ll come.”

“Well, it’s more than loikely I will,” Nancy assented. “I’m thinkin’ o’ givin’ up the bar and livin’ quiet loike fer the rest o’ me days,” she remarked, reflectively.

Sophia Piper’s heart gave a bound of delight, and she seized Nancy’s hands in both of hers.

“I’m so glad to hear you say it,” she burst out, and then she added, seriously, “Can you afford it?”

“Ye see,” Nancy explained, “I’ve had a letter from my son Corney, an’ he says he is goin’ to make me a steady allowance. Anyhow, I’m tired o’ the noise o’ drunken men and the accusin’ glances o’ the good folk that passes. I’ve decided that it’s not a fittin’ occupation fer the mother o’ the future mayor o’ Chicago to be sellin’ the stuff. Others want the license, an’ they can have it. I used to like the servin’ o’ the public, but somehow me mind has been changed o’ late,” she sighed.

When young John Keene and Miss Mary Trevor were made a happy unit the next week, Nancy was there with a new silk dress, which she and Katie Duncan had worked long into the previous nights to finish. Her sweet old face was radiant with smiles, and when it was all over, and she had a chance to speak alone to Sophia Piper, she whispered:

“I’m celebratin’ doubly, ye see, miss; I’ve just sold me stock o’ spirits to the summer hotel people and had a big sign put over the bar door marked ‘Privit.’”

“God bless you, Nancy McVeigh,” Sophia Piper whispered back.