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- Peg O' My Heart - 20/72 -
Every year, on the anniversary of her mother's death, O'Connell had a Mass said for the repose of Angela's soul, and he would kneel beside Peg through the service, and be silent for the rest of the day. One year he had candles, blessed by the Archbishop, lit on our Lady's altar and he stayed long after the service was over. He sent Peg home. But, although Peg obeyed him, partially, by leaving the church, she kept watch outside until her father came out. He was wiping his eyes as he saw her. He pretended to be very angry.
"Didn't I tell ye to go home?"
"Ye did, father."
"Then why didn't ye obey me?"
"Sure an' what would I be doin' at home, all alone, without you? Don't be cross with me, father."
He took her hand and they walked home in silence. He had been crying and Peg could not understand it. She had never seen him do such a thing before and it worried her. It did not seem right that a MAN should cry. It seemed a weakness--and that her father, of all men, should do it--he who was not afraid of anything nor anyone--it was wholly unaccountable to her.
When they reached home Peg busied herself about her father, trying to make him comfortable, furtively watching him all the while. When she had put him in an easy chair, and brought him his slippers, and built up the fire, she sat down on a little stool by his side. After a long silence she stroked the back of his hand and then gave him a little tug. He looked down at her.
"What is it, Peg?"
"Was my mother very beautiful, father?"
"The most beautiful woman that ever lived in all the wurrld, Peg."
"She looks beautiful in the picture ye have of her."
From the inside pocket of his coat he drew out a little beautifully- painted miniature. The frame had long since been worn and frayed. O'Connell looked at the face and his eyes shone:
"The man that painted it couldn't put the soul of her into it. That he couldn't. Not the soul of her."
"Am I like her, at all, father?" asked Peg wistfully.
"Sometimes ye are, dear: very like."
After a little pause Peg said:
"Ye loved her very much, father, didn't ye?"
He nodded. "I loved her with all the heart of me and all the strength of me."
Peg sat quiet for some minutes: then she asked him a question very quietly and hung in suspense on his answer:
"Do ye love me as much as ye loved her, father?"
"It's different, Peg--quite, quite different."
"Why is it?" She waited He did not answer.
"Sure, love is love whether ye feel it for a woman or a child," she persisted.
O'Connell remained silent.
"Did ye love her betther than ye love me, father?"
Her soul was in her great blue eyes as she waited excitedly for the answer to that, to her, momentous question.
"Why do ye ask me that?" said O'Connell.
"Because I always feel a little sharp pain right through my heart whenever ye talk about me mother. Ye see, father, I've thought all these years that I was the one ye really loved--"
"Ye're the only one I have in the wurrld, Peg."
"And ye don't love her memory betther than ye do me?"
O'Connell put both of his arms around her.
"Yer mother is with the Saints, Peg, and here are you by me side. Sure there's room in me heart for the memory of her and the love of you."
She breathed a little sigh of satisfaction and nestled onto her father's shoulder. The little fit of childish jealousy of her dead mother's place in her father's heart passed.
She wanted no one to share her father's affection with her. She gave him all of hers. She needed all of his.
When Peg was eighteen years old and they were living in Dublin, O'Connell was offered quite a good position in New York. It appealed to him. The additional money would make things easier for Peg. She was almost a woman now, and he wanted her to get the finishing touches of education that would prepare her for a position in the world if she met the man she felt she could marry. Whenever he would speak of marriage Peg would laugh scornfully:
"Who would I be of AFTHER marryin' I'd like to know? Where in the wurrld would I find a man like you?"
And no coaxing would make her carry on the discussion or consider its possibility.
It still harassed him to think he had so little to leave her if anything happened to him. The offer to go to America seemed providential. Her mother was buried there. He would take Peg to her grave.
Peg grew very thoughtful at the idea of leaving Ireland. All her little likes and dislikes--her impulsive affections and hot hatreds were all bound up in that country. She dreaded the prospect of meeting a number of new people.
Still it was for her father's good, so she turned a brave face to it and said:
"Sure it is the finest thing in the wurrld for both of us."
But the night before they left Ireland she sat by the little window in her bed-room until daylight looking back through all the years of her short life.
It seemed as if she were cutting off all that beautiful golden period. She would never again know the free, careless, happy-go- lucky, living-from-day-to-day existence, that she had loved so much.
It was a pale, wistful, tired little Peg that joined her father at breakfast next morning.
His heart was heavy, too. But he laughed and joked and sang and said how glad they ought to be--going to that wonderful new country, and by the way the country Peg was born in, too! And then he laughed again and said how FINE SHE looked and how WELL HE felt and that it seemed as if it were God's hand in it all. And Peg pretended to cheer up, and they acted theiv parts right to the end--until the last line of land disappeared and they were headed for America. Then they separated and went to their little cabins to think of all that had been. And every day they kept up the little deception with each other until they reached America.
They were cheerless days at first for O'Connell. Everything reminded him of his first landing twenty years before with his young wife-- both so full of hope, with the future stretching out like some wonderful panorama before them. He returns twenty years older to begin the fight again--this time for his daughter.
His wife was buried at a little Catholic cemetery a few miles outside New York City. There he took Peg one day and they put flowers on the little mound of earth and knelt awhile in prayer. Beneath that earth lay not only his wife's remains, but O'Connell's early hopes and ambitions were buried with her.
Neither spoke either going to or returning from the cemetery. O'Connell's heart was too full. Peg knew what was passing through his mind and sat with her hands folded in her lap--silent. But her little brain was busy thinking back.
Peg had much to think of during the early days following her arrival in New York. At first the city awed her with its huge buildings and ceaseless whirl of activity and noise. She longed to be back in her own little green, beautiful country.
O'Connell was away during those first days until late apt night.
He found a school for Peg. She did not want to go to it, hut just to please her father she agreed. She lasted in it just one week. They laughed at her brogue and teased and tormented her for her absolute lack of knowledge. Peg put up with that just as long as she could. Then one day she opened out on them and astonished them. They could not have been more amazed had a bomb exploded in their midst. The little, timid-looking, open-eyed, Titian-haired girl was a veritable virago. She attacked and belittled, and mimicked and berated them. They had talked of her BROGUE! They should listen to their own nasal utterances, that sounded as if they were speaking with their noses and not with their tongues! Even the teacher did not go unscathed. She came in for an onslaught, too. That closed Peg's career as a New York student.
Her father arranged his work so that he could be with her at certain periods of the day, and outlined her studies from his own slender stock of knowledge. He even hired a little piano for her and followed up what he had begun years before in Ireland--imbuing her with a thorough acquaintance with Moore and his delightful melodies.
One wonderful day they had an addition to their small family. A little, wiry-haired, scrubby, melancholy Irish terrier followed O'Connell for miles. He tried to drive him away. The dog would turn and run for a few seconds and the moment O'Connell would take his eyes off him he would run along and catch him up and wag his over-
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