Authors: Frances Devine
Ma Casey’s dining room rang with laughter.
“Yes, it canna’ be denied. Bobby Brown is a fine young lad, and he most definitely has taken a shine to our Katie girl.”
Katie laughed at the good-natured bantering and turned her attention to the teasing Pat Devine. Old enough to be her grandfather, he’d taken it upon himself to tease her unmercifully and almost continuously for the entire month she’d been in Chicago.
She loved everything about this city. The theater. The boisterous troupe. Celebration parties at the boardinghouse after a successful night. And the bantering. But most of all, she loved the familiar feel of show business and show people. If only her mother were here, everything would be perfect again.
With a toss of her head, she shoved the pain away and planted her hands on her hips. She tossed Pat a fake scowl. “And what business is it of yours, mister, if he has? And what business would it be of yours if I returned his affection? Which I don’t.”
The room exploded with another round of laughter. It was no secret that Bobby Brown, one of the stagehands, was sweet on her, but she’d told him in no uncertain terms she wasn’t interested. And it had nothing to do with the handsome face of the man from the station that continued to invade her thoughts and had even slid its way into her dreams once or twice.
“All right now. That’s enough harping on my daughter.” Michael’s booming voice got their attention. “Come on now, it’s almost noon. We need to get to the theater.”
Father coming to her rescue, as always. Although, Katie was plenty able to hold her own with this rowdy crew. She’d been embarrassed and confused the first few days among the Irish troupe but had quickly come to realize their teasing was all in fun. The entire troupe had taken her under their wing, so she might as well get used to it.
Katie picked up her dishes and took them into the kitchen.
Ma Casey took them from her with a gentle smile. “They don’t mean any harm. Don’t you be paying them any mind now.”
“I won’t, Ma. Thanks for the wonderful meal. The oat cakes were the best I’ve ever eaten.”
“Ah, go on with you.” The tall, robust woman, who took care of them all, gave Katie a swat on the backside with her dish towel.
One by one, the members of the Irish troupe got up and cleared their dishes from the table. Gathering their things together, they headed out the door.
Katie always found this moment exciting. This was when her day really began.
Turning a deaf ear to Katie’s own pleading, Father still thwarted the manager’s attempts to add Katie to the cast of the show. But he’d reluctantly agreed she could work backstage until she found other means of employment.
Katie was happy to at least be working at the theater, but she had in no way given up her dream.
As she walked the five short blocks to the theater, she noticed the smell of smoke seemed stronger today. “Father, do you think there was another fire last night? My throat burns, and the smell is awful.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me, sweetheart. But look at the sky. Rain clouds are coming in. That’ll put an end to the fires.”
Hardly a day passed that at least one fire didn’t break out somewhere in the rain-deprived city or surrounding area. The last letter from Katie’s grandmother had revealed that rain had been almost as scarce in southern Illinois, and Gramps was getting a little worried about the crops.
As they neared the theater, a disturbance across the street drew Katie’s attention.
A young man struggled to free himself from the tight grip of a patrolman. “Get your hands off me. I didn’t do anything.” The young man squirmed loose and took off running with the officer close behind.
The troupe had stopped, and Katie noticed the dark clouds upon their faces as they watched the incident.
“Another Irishman persecuted,” Pa grumbled.
“Now, Michael, we don’t know that. It looked to me like the man had stolen something.” Rosie Riley’s voice was soft as she patted Michael’s arm.
“And why, do you suppose, would that be? They’re starving down there in Conley’s Patch. Yes, and in all the other immigrant shacks across the city.”
Katie followed the others into the theater. She caught her father’s arm before he could step into the men’s dressing room. “Father, what did you mean? Who is starving?”
“Never you mind, daughter. There’s not a blessed thing we can do about it except be charitable whenever we’re able.” A shadow crossed her father’s face as he looked absently at Katie. “Be getting to your work now.”
Puzzled, Katie stood, hands on hips, as her father walked away. She stomped toward the women’s dressing area, where she had been assigned to work. She knew who would tell her what she wanted to know. And she’d find out before the day was over.
Katie spent most of the day with needle in hand, mending costumes. After the afternoon show, she took a break and found Bobby Brown behind the stage repairing ropes. “Bobby, I have a question for you.” She put on her sweetest smile for the young man. A twinge of guilt afflicted her, but she quickly pushed it aside. She couldn’t help it if he liked her more than she liked him.
Staring at her with near adoration, Bobby jumped up. He was
a nice-looking young man, with blond curls and honest eyes.
Katie told him about the incident outside the theater. “Who
is starving, and what is Conley’s Patch?” she questioned.
“Irish immigrants,” Bobby stated, his expression somber.
“What do you mean?” Katie stared at him. “Most of the folks in this troupe are immigrants, including my father. I don’t understand.”
Bobby scratched his ear. “These immigrants are different, Katie. They came in throngs after the potato famine. They weren’t received very well. It was hard for them to find jobs in the beginning. Things are better now, employment-wise. But they’re shamefully underpaid, and most live in shacks in communities that are called shantytowns.”
Katie tapped her foot impatiently. “So, what about that Patch place?”
He took a deep breath. “Conley’s Patch is the worst of them all. The crime rate is high, and poverty and sickness affect near about every family. Some resort to stealing just to keep their families from starving.”
“But isn’t there some sort of aid for them?” Katie’s heart picked up rhythm at the very thought of those poor people. “Surely they aren’t just ignored.”
“Of course. There are a number of societies that provide food and medical attention. But most of the folks who live there are too proud to take charity except in dire circumstances.”
Sleep evaded Katie that night as she tossed and turned on the soft feather bed. How could a whole group of people be treated so badly? Especially right here in America. What if she could do something to help?
“So. You’re mooning over a girl you saw once for thirty seconds.” Jack shook his head and grinned across the table at Sam. “That must have been some meeting.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it mooning,” Sam retorted, stirring sugar into his coffee. “Of course I noticed her. She was beautiful. And it’s only natural I’d think of her now and then, because of my conscience at the way I treated her.”
“Oh, I see,” Jack said with a chuckle. “It’s your conscience that’s preventing you from pursuing the lovely Janet, who has made it fairly plain she wouldn’t find said pursuit distasteful.”
Sam tossed his friend a sheepish look. “I know. You’re right. So. . .you think Janet’s interested?”
“Good. You’re coming to your senses,” Jack said. “Of course she’s interested. Want me to set up another double date?”
Sam couldn’t honestly say he was all that interested in the pretty young woman, but she was a nice diversion from his hectic life. “I guess. But don’t make her any promises on my behalf.”
“Would I do anything like that?”
“Yes, so don’t. I don’t mind taking her to dinner or the theater, but marriage to a stuffy socialite is out of the question.”
“Isn’t that sort of reverse snobbery?”
Sam shrugged. “Call it what you wish.” He wasn’t sure exactly why the young women in his parents’ circle of friends had never appealed to him.
Jack grinned again. “All right, I’ll leave out the proposal of matrimony when I send her the invitation to dinner and a show.”
Sam turned his attention back to work. He had to finish some research for one of his father’s senior partners before he could turn his attention to his own case. By early afternoon, he had completed his task and headed out to the hospital where Chauncey Flannigan had been treated.
Despite Sam’s power of persuasion, the doctor who had performed Mr. Flannigan’s surgery refused to speak with Sam without permission from Flannigan, so Sam left and went to the courthouse. After a few minutes with Judge Cohen, a friend of Sam’s father, he returned to the hospital with a court order to release information to the Nelson Law Firm.
Dr. Voss sat, his eyes stormy, the lines of his face deep and forbidding as he stared across his desk. Without offering Sam a seat, he gave a detailed report on Flannigan’s injuries. According to the doctor, the head injury had been serious and, without surgery, could have been fatal. The other injuries involved a broken leg and wrist.
Sam gave him a grudging nod and turned toward the door to leave.
The sound of the doctor’s voice stopped him short. “The conditions at the warehouses and lumberyards are appalling. And the mills are even worse. Why the owners won’t do something about it is beyond my understanding. The cost would be nothing compared to the bodily harm inflicted.”
Sam eyed the doctor who, it seemed, was hostile to Jeremiah Howard. “There are those who say Mr. Flannigan’s injuries have nothing to do with the lumberyard.”
The look of surprise on the doctor’s face couldn’t have been fabricated. “What else could have caused it?”
“There are witnesses who have stated there were only minor injuries from the accident at the lumberyard. There are also witnesses who claim the major injuries were the result of a tavern brawl.”
He stared at Sam. “That’s ridiculous. Mr. Flannigan came to me unconscious. And not from any tavern.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“His neighbor carried him across his back for miles. Neither was drunk nor appeared to have been in a fight. His injuries are consistent with an accident.”
“Then are you prepared to swear on oath that Flannigan’s injuries could only have been inflicted by the incident at work?”
“Well. . .” The doctor hesitated. “Of course, I didn’t actually see the accident.”
“When did Flannigan arrive at the hospital, Dr. Voss?”
“The morning after the accident. His wife had been trying to get him to come since the night before, but he wouldn’t hear of it. No money. When Mrs. Flannigan couldn’t wake him the next morning, she banged on the neighbor’s door.”
Sam couldn’t deny the doctor sounded convincing. But the doctor didn’t deal with liars and cheats every day the way an attorney did. Sam’s evidence came from witnesses. The doctor was only guessing. “I see.” Sam wrote in his notebook. “Then you can’t be certain the injuries didn’t occur at the tavern the night of the accident, as the witnesses have stated.”
“Well, no, but. . .”
“Thank you, doctor. You’ve been very helpful.” Sam tucked the pencil into his breast pocket.
The doctor stepped forward as Sam started to walk out the door. With a pained look on his face, he spoke. “Maybe I can’t swear to what happened. But I believe with everything in me that Flannigan is speaking the truth. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to treat injuries that occurred at one of Howard’s places of business.”
“I’m sure it isn’t,” Sam said. “Injuries happen every day. I wouldn’t want your job.”
“And I wouldn’t want yours, young man.”
Sam, his confidence a little shaken, stared in surprise as the doctor turned away. Why was the man so sure of Flannigan’s innocence? He shrugged and left the hospital. The injured man must be a good actor. But then, most con men were.
He returned to the office and looked over the witness affidavits. They were definitely legal. And what reason would the men have to lie?
He finished up his work for the day and went home to get ready for a visit to Sally Reynolds’s house to see Janet. As he dressed, he tried to remember what the young woman looked like. He remembered her auburn hair and a rather annoying laugh, but when he tried to remember her eyes, all he could see were the brilliant blue eyes of the girl at the crowded depot.
Shaking himself free from the memory, Sam walked out the door. He would get to know Janet better. Who knew? Maybe she wasn’t like other girls in their social set.
Four hours later, he stood in his bedroom once more, changing into pajamas and robe. His evening with Janet had been pleasant. She was a nice girl and very entertaining. But she chattered incessantly. He sighed, wishing he had stayed home and done some more reviewing of the Flannigan case.
He went to open his window and noticed a pink sky in the distance. Another fire. This time in the direction of the river. He hoped some family hadn’t lost their home tonight. The sky had been cloudy that morning, promising rain, but hopes were dashed when the sun had come out before noon.
He extinguished the overhead gaslight and climbed into bed. His mind began to go over plans for the following day. He yawned and closed his eyes. The sound of Dr. Voss’s angry voice seemed to shout into his brain. Sam knew it was time he met the man who’d instilled such loyalty into the doctor. Very soon, he intended to pay a visit to Chauncey Flannigan.
The clatter of dishes and the aroma of cabbage and onions assailed Katie as she ladled out bowl after bowl of hot soup.
The kitchen had opened at noon, and two hours later, the line still coiled through the door and down the wooden sidewalk outside. Mrs. Carter, the director and, as it seemed to Katie, the most untiring worker, handed out thick slices of bread and words of encouragement to the downtrodden throng who passed through. Katie had learned that the Irish had no monopoly on poverty. The people who came here for food were of every race and nationality.
Katie had inquired about and found the location of this food kitchen three days ago, right after Bobby had told her of the existence of the charitable organizations. Mrs. Carter, happy to have another pair of hands, had put her to work on the spot. Katie could only work her days off at the theater, so this was her first day on the job.
A tall man with enormous arms and not a tooth in his mouth carried a full pot of soup from the kitchen. He grunted when Katie thanked him. He grabbed the empty pot and disappeared behind the door without a word.
Katie hoped there was plenty more soup back there. She didn’t think she could stand to turn anyone away hungry.
A girl, who appeared to be around Katie’s age or perhaps a little older, stepped up in front of Katie. Red curls escaped from the pulled-back bun and fell across an oval face. She lifted hazel eyes to Katie. “Miss, would it be at all possible for me to take a wee bit of food home to Ma and my little sister?” The girl’s voice wasn’t much more than a whisper and sounded weak.
“Why. . .I don’t know. I suppose it would be all right.” Katie glanced at Mrs. Carter, who shook her head.
“But. . .”
The director sighed and spoke directly to the girl. “I’m sorry, dear. It’s against the rules for us to send food off the premises. But, if you’ll bring your family here, we’ll be happy to give them something to eat.”
An imploring, almost desperate look washed over the girl’s face. “But you see, my sister is ill, and my ma would never be able to walk this far.”
Regret crossed Mrs. Carter’s countenance, and sympathy filled her eyes as she looked at the girl. “As I said, I’m not allowed to do that. Nothing can leave the premises.”
A choked sound emitted from the girl’s lips as she turned and walked away. As she reached the door, she stumbled then caught herself and stepped out on the sidewalk.
Katie swallowed around the knot in her throat and, without a word, handed her ladle to Mrs. Carter. Tearing off her apron, she tossed it onto a stool. “Sorry, I have to go after her. I’ll return when I can.” She threw the words over her shoulder as she hurried toward the door.
The girl was halfway down the street. Just as Katie started after her, she saw her sway and fall to the sidewalk. Pedestrians hurried past her, hardly slowing to even glance at the fallen girl.
With a cry of indignation, Katie pushed her way through the crowd and knelt beside the unconscious girl. Frightened, she rubbed the chapped hands and patted the pale face. “Come on now, wake up. Please.” She felt the girl’s pulse, relieved to find it strong.
“Wha. . . ? What happened?” The girl struggled to get up, and Katie took a firm grip on her arm and helped her to her feet.
“You fainted,” Katie said, still holding on. “Have you been ill?”
“Oh. No, I’m just—” She stopped, a red flush washing over her face.
“When did you eat last?” Katie’s no-nonsense tone seemed to calm the girl.
“I’m not sure. A couple of days ago, I think.”
“Oh my goodness!” Katie, who had never skipped a meal in her life, couldn’t imagine such a thing. “Come on, we’ll fix that right now.”
“No, no. I couldn’t possibly eat anything when Ma and Betty are hungry. Betty had the last of the soup last night.” She stopped and blushed again, apparently realizing she’d just shared personal information with a stranger. “I’ve been trying to find work, but no one wants to hire me.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be able to work if you did find employment. You’re much too weak.” Katie threw a quick prayer for wisdom up to heaven. How could she get some food into this girl without touching her pride? Noticing a small park bench at the end of the street, she guided the girl toward it and sat beside her. “I’m Katie O’Shannon,” she said. “What is your name, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Bridget. Bridget Thornton.”
“Listen, Bridget. The best thing you can do for your mother and sister is to get some nourishment into your body so that you’ll have the strength to help them.”
The girl sighed but said nothing.
“I’ll tell you what. While you sit here and rest, I’ll get you something to eat. Then we’ll take some food to your home.”
Katie’s heart ached as she saw hunger and pride battle for predominance on the girl’s face.
“All right,” Bridget whispered. “I don’t know what Ma will say, but I can’t let them starve to death.”
A half hour later, Katie and Bridget stepped out of a cab in front of a tiny, weathered shack—one among rows of the same lined up on either side of the narrow dirt street. Curious neighbors stared as Katie reached up and paid the carriage driver. Then they went inside.
The Thornton home was clean in spite of the evident poverty. As the grateful mother and little sister ate, Katie learned from Bridget that the family had arrived from Ireland a year earlier.
“Things were na’ so bad at first. Hard, but Da always made sure we had food on the table. Then, two months ago. . .” Bridget’s eyes filled with tears as she continued. “A fire broke out in a house down by the river. Da went to help. He saved a woman and her three children. But he didn’t make it out of the house.” A sob caught her throat, and she stopped.
Katie knew the Thorntons weren’t the only family in dire straits. She could see poverty and grief in every inch of Conley’s Patch. She didn’t know what she could do. But she knew she would do something.
The shacks were lined up so close they were almost touching on each side of the road. Between the rows, a canal running down the middle of the street carried waste of all kinds.
Sam looked on in disbelief, touching his fingers to his nose to ward off the stench of waste and garbage.
Chickens and children ran here and there. Raucous laughter rang out from somewhere up the street, and sounds of an argument proceeded from a house across the street from Chauncey Flannigan’s.
Sam stepped up onto the ramshackle porch and knocked on the door. The sound of a chair scraping the floor assured Sam his knock had been heard.
The door swung open, and a woman just past her first youth stared at him. Her warm brown eyes held a questioning look.
Sam removed his hat. “Mrs. Flannigan?”
“My name is Sam Nelson. Is your husband at home?”
“Who is it, Sarah?” The booming voice came from across the room.
Sarah turned. “A fellow by the name of Sam Nelson. He’s wanting to see you.”
“Well, what does he want?” The voice sounded impatient.
Mrs. Flannigan turned inquiring eyes to Sam. “And what would you be wanting, sir?”
Amused, Sam answered, “Please tell your husband I’m an attorney and wish to speak with him about his injuries.”
“I heard him. Let him in.”
The tiny woman stood aside and allowed Sam to pass into the room.
Whereas the outside of the home had been little more than a shack, Mrs. Flannigan had apparently tried to turn the inside into something resembling a cozy home. Clean, crisp curtains hung on the lone window looking out at the filthy street. The worn, broken plank floor was brushed clean, and the walls shone as though they had been freshly scrubbed. It was obvious the Flannigans had seen better times, for a cuckoo clock hung upon the wall over the fireplace and several porcelain knickknacks held places of importance on the mantle.
Chauncey Flannigan was rugged, or he would have been had the color not been drained from his sunken cheeks and his eyes not circled with dark rings that marked nights of worry. His thin body bespoke more than a few missed meals. His dark brown eyes squinted with suspicion from the sofa on which he sat. A crutch leaned against the wall beside him, and something steamed from the mug he held.
He motioned for Sam to sit on a nearby chair. “What can I do for you, Mr. Nelson? I can’t afford a lawyer, so if it’s me business you’re after, I’m afraid you’re wasting your time.” He raised his eyebrows, questioning.
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Flannigan, I’m not here to solicit you as a client. Our firm has been retained by Jeremiah Howard.”
For a fraction of a moment, a scowl appeared on Flannigan’s face. “I see. Howard is still determined not to pay my hospital bills. I’d hoped he might be having a conscience in there somewhere and just maybe he’d be changing his mind.”
“Ungrateful wretch of a man,” Flannigan’s wife said as she stood over a pot at the stove. She seemed not to be speaking to the men at all. “After Chauncey never missed a day of work. Not even when he had pneumonia.”
“Please, Sarah, let me speak with Mr. Nelson.”
She turned innocent eyes on her husband. “And who’s stopping you? I was just stating my opinion.”
Sam hid his grin beneath a cough. He opened his briefcase and pulled out a copy of the witnesses’ statements, having left out the names for the sake of privacy. He handed the papers to Flannigan.
The injured man glanced through the papers, and
confusion filled his eyes. “But why would anyone be saying such things about me?” He looked at Sam and shook his head. “I can’t imagine, sir. But I wouldn’t darken the door of a tavern. My Sarah would have my hide.”
“And ain’t that the truth of it?” the woman said, stirring her pot. “What are they sayin’ about you, Chauncey?”
“That I left the lumberyard with only a few scrapes and bruises.”
She gasped, turning, the ladle in her hand like a scepter. “Chauncey Flannigan leaving his job over a few scrapes and bruises? Losing wages? Taking food out of his children’s mouths
over a few scrapes and bruises? Never. It’s a pack of lies.”
“Well, Mrs. Flannigan, my client doesn’t think they are lies. And I haven’t found any evidence that they’re anything but the truth.”
“So that’s the way the land lies.” Flannigan’s voice took on a hard note. “I’ll be saying good-bye to you now, sir. But let me tell you this. I’m an honest man. And I’ll not sit by and let a bunch of greedy liars, paid off by Howard, ruin my good name.” He thrust the papers back at Sam. “You can be showing yourself to the door.”
Sam slipped the papers back into his briefcase and left. He stood on the porch for a moment, glancing around at the neighborhood. A wave of nausea arose in his throat. How could people live like this? His breath caught as he glanced at the house next to the Flannigans’.
The young woman from the train station stood knocking on the rickety door, a cloth-covered basket on her arm. She turned and absently glanced in his direction, and a startled look of recognition crossed her face.
A sudden puff of wind caught at the napkin, and it flew off the basket and down the steps.
As if instinct took over, Sam ran to the napkin, which had stopped just before reaching the filthy canal. He picked it up and walked to the side of the porch where she stood, her eyes wide. He grinned as he handed her the cloth. “I doubt you’ll want this now, but here it is.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, taking the napkin by one corner. “It will wash.”
Sam cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you remember me. We ran into each other at the train station a couple of months ago.”
“I remember,” she murmured, lowering her eyes.
“Well. . .”
Get it out, Sam. Since when were you ever tongue-tied in the presence of a beautiful woman?
“I’d like to apologize for my manners. I was in a terrible hurry, but that’s no excuse to be rude. Especially to a lady.”
As Sam stood with bated breath, the girl raised her beautiful eyes to him and flashed him a smile that seemed to light up everything in Sam’s line of vision. “I forgive you, sir.”
The door jerked open. “Katie, I knew you’d come today!” A laughing little girl grabbed the young woman’s hand, dragged her inside, and slammed the door.
Sam took one impulsive step forward, tempted to climb the steps and knock. Then he stopped. Of course he couldn’t do any such thing.
He walked to his buggy and untied the horse. So the girl of his dreams was an Irish immigrant from shantytown. That rather surprised him. But at least now he could put a name to the face that haunted his every waking moment.
He drove away from Conley’s Point, musing.
Now I know where to find you, Katie girl. So don’t be surprised if you see me again very soon.