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Authors: Frances Devine

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BOOK: A Girl Like That
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Katie walked into the stifling room and held her breath, trying not to gag from the smell of cabbage and onions steaming from a pot on top of the small stove in the corner. The one-room, run-down shack contained two beds pushed up against opposite walls. A threadbare, faded quilt lay neatly folded at the end of each bed, and twin rickety chests stood side by side against the front wall. Four chairs, with sagging seats, hugged the uncovered table near the back door.

A colorful painting of an Irish meadow on the wall above the table, the only suggestion of color or beauty in the neat but drab room, caught Katie by surprise. As she followed Bridget and her mother, she noticed the dirt floor was swept clean and smooth. Mrs. Thornton opened the back door, and Katie sighed with relief as they walked out into the small backyard and she inhaled fresh air.

About a dozen women stood in clusters of twos and threes, seeming to ignore the nearby hodgepodge of chairs, stools, and wooden barrels.

A tiny woman, her blue eyes sparkling and black hair pulled back in a bun, turned from two others and hurried over to Mrs. Thornton. “How are ya farin’, Margaret? I hope this heat won’t be too much for ya.”

“I’m feeling much better. Thank ya, Susan.” The paleness of her lips and dark circles beneath her warm brown eyes belied the brave words, but her neighbor nodded and smiled.

“It’s glad I am to be hearing it.” She turned to Bridget and patted her on the shoulder. “And here you are working and helping your ma and the wee little one. A good thing.”

“Mrs. Bailey,” Bridget said, taking Katie’s hand, “I’d like for you to meet my friend Katie O’Shannon.”

The woman smiled. “It’s pleased I am to meet you, Miss O’Shannon. And happy that you’d be caring about the poor people of Conley’s Patch.”

Katie blushed. “Please call me Katie, ma’am. And really, it’s just an idea for child care that Bridget and I came up with.”

“Well, anything to help put food in the mouths of the children is a good idea.”

Mrs. Thornton shook her head, a worried look on her face. “I’m not sure everyone is agreein’ with you.”

“Well, and if they’re not, they should be. Now you be sittin’ down and resting yourselves.”

Katie felt a glow of pride as she sat on a stool next to Bridget. Finally, someone older was taking her seriously.

The other women gathered around and found seats then looked expectantly at Katie. Her hands sweaty and breath coming in gulps, she threw a frantic glance at Bridget. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Bridget stood and smiled at her friends and neighbors. “I’d like ya all to meet my friend Katie O’Shannon. She’s the one who helped me get my job at Harrigan’s.”

“And proud we are of you, Bridget, dear.” The gray-haired woman smiled sweetly at Bridget.

“Sure and it’s a shame on you, Granny Laurie, if you’re proud of one of our own lasses a-workin’ in a devil’s den of iniquity.” A woman, just entering the Bailey yard, flashed a hard look at Katie. “And you a-prancin’ around here callin’ yourself Irish and pretending you want to help us.”

Katie gasped. Had she heard the woman right? Surely not. Most of the ladies were frowning at the woman who’d spoken, but she noticed two or three nodding in agreement.

Mrs. Bailey stood. “The shame is on you, Bridie McDermott, for insulting a kind young stranger in our midst, as well as our own Bridget Thornton.”

Katie stood. “Maybe we should leave, Bridget,” she whispered.

“No.” Bridget grabbed Katie’s arm and tugged her back to her seat. “We’re not going to let that woman and her bitterness keep us from doing what we came to do.”

Katie, surprised at Bridget’s assertiveness, acquiesced.

“I hope you’ll stay and listen to what these young girls have to say, Bridie,” Mrs. Bailey continued. “But if you’re only here to cause trouble, you can be leaving.”

One of the women who’d seemed to agree with Bridie motioned her over to a chair next to her. With a venomous look at Katie, the angry woman walked over and sat down.

Somehow Katie managed to get through the meeting, letting Bridget do most of the talking. Bridie McDermott was right. Who was she to think she could help these women? Just because she saw a need and felt compassion didn’t mean she could do anything about the problem.

Shame washed over her. She’d been proud to think they’d listen to her and thank her and tell her how wonderful she was. She saw that now. Humiliation pounded at her temples, and by the time the meeting ended and she and Bridget left, she had a full-blown headache.

“Katie, they loved the idea of the day care. Did you hear the excitement in their voices?”

Katie stared at her friend, who continued to chatter. “Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. And where were you that you didn’t see it, too?”

Throwing her friend a sheepish grin, Katie said, “I guess I was thinking about what a failure I was.”

“Ah, Katie. But this isn’t about you now, is it?” Bridget ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I need to be buttoning my lips.”

“No. You’re right. This isn’t about me. It’s about the people of Conley’s Patch. Your people, Bridget. And if any credit is due, it’s to you, not me.”

“Not me, neither. The credit goes to God. Only God.”

The girls climbed into Harrigan’s carriage, and the driver clicked to the horse. As they rode in silence to Ma Casey’s, Katie thought about her friend’s words. So much like Grandmother’s. She hadn’t thought much about God since the day she boarded the train for Chicago. When she did think of Him, it was as though He were some unreachable, powerful Being, watching over His world from afar. Did God really intervene in the daily worries of ordinary people?

She didn’t remember Him ever intervening in hers.

Sam stood in the corridor outside Michael O’Shannon’s dressing room, his heart thumping, waiting for a reaction from Michael O’Shannon. . .any reaction.

The man merely stood there, a grim expression on his face, peering at Sam. “So you’re wanting to court my daughter, are ye?”

“Yes, sir. With your permission, of course.” Sam waited again as Katie’s father bit his bottom lip and looked up at the ceiling.

“Well,” O’Shannon said, “it’s like this, Nelson. I’m inclined to like you, and it’s true I’m beholden to you for escorting my little girl away from the Patch. But before I’ll be letting you court her, I’ll be getting to know you better.”

“I understand, sir.” Inwardly, Sam groaned. How long would it take O’Shannon to think he knew him well enough?

“So, with that in mind, I’ll be expecting you for dinner on Sunday.” He motioned with his hand, and Sam followed him into the men’s dressing room where he wrote on a small card. “Here’s the address. We sit down to table at three on Sundays, and Ma Casey frowns on anyone being late.”

Sam stuck the card in his inside jacket pocket and held out his hand to O’Shannon. “Thank you, sir. I won’t be late.”

He checked his pocket watch. Almost time for the evening performance, and he didn’t want to miss Katie’s solo. He dashed to his seat, unable to help the bounce in his step as he walked down the aisle. He’d half expected O’Shannon to give him a kick in the pants and throw him out of the theater.

Programs rustled all around as Katie walked, smiling, onto the stage. He fought the urge to stand to his feet and shush them all.

Sam caught his breath as she looked straight at him. He smiled, and she blushed and lowered her eyes. Pride arose in Sam as Katie began to sing. Her sweet ballad moved the audience to tears. His girl. His girl, Katie. Well, she would be, if he had a say in it. He’d move the ocean if he had to, because he was in love with the girl. There was no denying it, even to himself.

After the performance, he rushed backstage and tapped on the door. This time, Katie herself opened it. He complimented her on her performance, gave her a wink and a lingering glance, then tipped his hat and left. He didn’t want to take a chance on angering her father. He hoped to have a long talk with her after dinner Sunday.

As his horse trudged toward home, Sam leaned back in the buggy and wiped his linen handkerchief across his brow. For so late at night, the temperature didn’t seem to have cooled off much, if any at all.

The heat hit him as he walked into the house, although it seemed every window was open. He went into the parlor where his mother sat on the flowered cushions of a Chippendale settee, fanning herself.

“Hello, Mother.” He leaned over to kiss her cheek.

“Oh, Sam. I can’t believe this weather.”

“I know. I’m sure you’re uncomfortable.” He sat in a wingbacked chair near her.

“Yes, I am.” She held up the newspaper she’d been reading. “Did you know we’ve only had an inch and a half of rain since the Fourth of July?”

Sam nodded. “It’s terribly dry.”

“Yes. The autumn leaves won’t be pretty at all this year.”

“I know you’ll be disappointed.” She looked forward each year to the changing of summer into autumn.

“Yes, but at least we have our home.” She breathed a soft sigh. “Thank the Lord for that.”

“Harrumph.” Sam looked up to see his father standing in the doorway.

“Hello, Father.”

“Well, son, how was your evening?”

“Enjoyable. Thank you for asking.”

“Hmm, out to dinner with friends, I suppose?”

“Actually, I went to the theater,” Sam said briefly. He grinned as his mother perked up.

“Oh, how nice, dear. Did you take a young lady with you?”

“No, as a matter of fact, I went alone.”

“Oh. Which theater?”

“Harrigan’s.” Sam held his breath, afraid of what was coming. He should have been more careful.

His father was the one who responded. “Hmm. Haven’t you been going to Harrigan’s a lot lately?”

“Well, I don’t know if I’d say a lot.”

“I believe they’ve been running the same show for several weeks, haven’t they?” His father’s knowing glance seemed to bore into Sam.

Sam fixed his gaze on a vase of flowers standing on the rosewood table in the corner. Anything to avoid his father’s intense scrutiny.

“I believe so.” Once more he avoided his father’s stare.

His father turned his gaze on Sam’s mother. “Amy, I’m going on the porch to smoke. Why don’t you go up and change into something cooler. I’ll be up shortly.”

“Very well, Eugene.” She arose and sauntered from the room.

“This blasted heat is getting to her. I’m not sure how much longer she can stand it.”

Sam looked at his father in surprise. “Oh, but surely she’ll be fine.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sure you’re right.” He opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch, with Sam close behind.

They stood in silence for a moment, listening to the chorus of crickets and night birds.

“All right, Sam. Out with it. Why are you spending so much time at Harrigan’s?”

Sam took a deep breath. How could he answer truthfully without revealing too much? He knew his parents wouldn’t approve. After all, they didn’t know Katie. They’d assume the worst. “I enjoy the Irish troupe, Father. And the show is hilarious. I’ve had so much on my mind lately with the Flannigan case that I needed a diversion.”

The keen look his father shot at him said he didn’t believe a word of it. “And this diversion. . .it wouldn’t happen to wear skirts, would it, son?”

Sam could feel the heat in his face. He coughed. “Father, I’ve had a busy day. I’m going up to bed. Perhaps we can discuss this another time.”


“Good night, Father.”

Sam went up to his room. He removed his coat and flung it across a chair. A tiny white card fell out onto the floor. Katie’s address. Sam picked it up and scanned the contents.

Ma Casey’s Boardinghouse. Sam peered at the address scratched below. It was near the downtown area. Katie didn’t live at the Patch? Relief washed over him. But why in the world was she spending so much time in that dangerous shantytown?


Katie sat beside Sam on the porch steps, with the door open for propriety. A haze blanketed the moonlight, and even the gaslight on the corner was almost useless, veiled as it was by the smoke that hung over the city. Her father had given tentative permission last week for Sam to court her. He’d even allowed them to go for walks without a chaperone but only in the daytime.

“A penny for your thoughts, Miss O’Shannon.”

Katie knew it was respect that kept him from using her first name. But to be honest, she was getting a bit impatient with his continued use of “Miss.” How awkward would it be to be kissed by someone who addressed her so formally? She blushed at the direction of her thoughts. The very idea. As if she’d allow him to kiss her.

Katie cleared her throat. “I was thinking about the terrible fires across the river.” Well, she couldn’t very well tell him what she’d really been thinking.

“Yes, terrible. I hope they get them under control before the wind changes.”

Katie tensed, wishing she’d thought up a different lie. The possibility of the warehouses along the river catching fire was too frightening to talk about.

“Miss O’Shannon. . .”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, call me Katie.” At his silence, she turned her head to look at him. When her eyes met his, her stomach sank. His usual smile and that crinkle in his eyes were gone. Had she offended him? Oh, when would she learn to button her lip? “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know what you must think of me.”

The muscles in his face relaxed, and relief shot through Katie as he smiled. “I think you’re perfectly wonderful. And if you’re certain you won’t think I’m being disrespectful, I’d be delighted to call you Katie.”

“Of course I won’t. After all, it is my name.”

“Very well then, Katie it is. And it would be my pleasure if you’d call me Sam.”

Katie had been calling him Sam in her mind since she’d heard his name, but of course he didn’t know that. “All right. Sam.” There. A little bubble rose up in her stomach. Almost like a giggle, only inside. She pressed her lips together and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the smile that tilted her lips. And then she said it again, “Sam.”

He grinned, and the crinkle returned to his eyes. “Thank you.”

The screen door opened behind them, and Katie’s father stepped out on the porch. “Well now, daughter, it’s about time you were coming inside. Morning comes early.”

While Katie’s father stood with lips pursed in a silent whistle, Sam said good night.

Katie watched him drive away then followed her father inside.

Bridget, who had spent the day at her mother’s, sat in the parlor talking to Rosie. When she saw Katie, she stood. “I’m going to bed. Good night, everyone.”

Katie stared after her friend. How strange. Bridget didn’t even speak to her. Was she upset about something or perhaps coming down with a sickness?

Determined to get to the bottom of her friend’s off behavior, Katie followed Bridget upstairs, catching her as she opened the door to her bedroom. “Bridget, wait.”

The girl turned, a look of near panic on her face. Her attempt at a smile wouldn’t have fooled a tot. “Yes, Katie?”

“What’s wrong with you? You pushed right by me without so much as a glance.”

“I’m sorry. I’m tired, and I guess I didn’t see you.”

“Of course you saw me,” Katie retorted. “You can’t pretend you didn’t. Please tell me what’s wrong. Have I somehow offended you?”

Bridget’s face crumpled. “Won’t ya come inside? There’s something I need to be telling you.”

Curious and a little uneasy, Katie stepped inside Bridget’s tiny room.

“Here. You take the chair, and I’ll sit on the end of the bed,” Bridget said, still not looking at her.

Katie sat in the small cushioned rocking chair. “Now what is it?”

“I hate to be the one tellin’ ya this. I know how much ya like the man, and I don’t want to be losing your friendship.”

“Bridget!” Katie stomped her foot against the hardwood floor. “Just get on with it. Nothing could break up our friendship.”

Bridget continued to stare at her silently, and Katie began to fidget. Could it be that Bridget had feelings for Sam? Heat washed over her entire body.

“Has Mr. Nelson told you what his business is at Conley’s Patch?”

Oh, a business matter. Relief welled up in her. “Well, no, the subject never came up. I suppose he has a client there. He’s a lawyer, you know.”

“A client?” A short, humorless laugh exploded from Bridget’s mouth. “And who at the Patch do you think would have the money for a lawyer?”

“Perhaps he’s doing volunteer work.”

Bridget bit her lip and twisted her plain white handkerchief. “Have ya met my next-door neighbors, the Flannigans?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Chauncey Flannigan was severely injured while doing his job at a warehouse awhile back. He’s been unable to work, plus he has doctor and hospital bills he can’t afford to pay. His employer refused to give him any compensation at all, even denying that Chauncey was hurt there.”

“Oh, I remember seeing Sam come from that house one day.” Excitement raised Katie’s voice. “So that explains it. Sam must be representing Mr. Flannigan without charge.”

Bridget shook her head, and a vise seemed to clamp on to Katie’s heart and squeeze. She wanted to put her hands over her ears. Shout at her friend to stop talking. Sam was a good man. She knew he was.

“I’m sorry, Katie. It’s true Mr. Nelson is working on the case, but it’s not Chauncey he’s tryin’ to help. He’s working for Jeremiah Howard, the man who owns the warehouse.”

Anger like fire shot through Katie. How could he? Here she was, trying to find a way to help the people at the Patch, and he was trying to push them down further. Didn’t he believe in justice? He seemed so kind.

His arrogant look that day at the train station flashed through her mind. He hadn’t been kind then. Of course, he’d apologized for his rudeness and explained the reason without trying to excuse his behavior. But perhaps that was because he was attracted to her. “I’m sure there must be a mistake, Bridget. I’ll talk to him. But if he is indeed representing a cruel employer and refuses to listen to reason, I can assure you he won’t be coming around here anymore.”

“Katie, you don’t understand. The shanty Irish are a lazy bunch who’d rather lie, steal, and cheat than work.” Sam had arrived a half hour ago, expecting a warm welcome from Katie. Her father had finally agreed to allow him to escort her to dinner unaccompanied. He’d been looking forward to it all day.

Her face had paled. “The Irish are lazy? And have you forgotten my father is Irish and I’m half Irish? Are you saying I’m lazy? That my pa is lazy? Why, he could outwork a soft-handed evil lawyer any time of the day.”

Sam felt the blood leave his face. “No. Of course not. I didn’t say all Irish are lazy. I’m talking about the shanty Irish.”

“So you’re only referring to folks like my best friend, Bridget.” She blew a lock of golden hair from her eyes. Eyes that glared like a pair of torches.

“Katie, please be reasonable.”

“Reasonable? And is it reasonable to peg a whole com
munity of people as lazy thieves and liars? I’d like to
know where you get your information, Sam Nelson. How dare you assume that all the men in Conley’s Patch are lazy and shiftless. Aren’t there shiftless, lazy men in your neighborhood? Well? Aren’t there?”

Sam drew back. Oscar Willows who lived down the street from the Nelsons—as far as Sam knew, he’d never worked a day in his life. Lived off his mother’s family inheritance and spent his days and nights gambling and drinking whiskey. But that had nothing to do with this. “I have witnesses who say Flannigan walked away from the warehouse on his own two feet with only minor injuries. I also have signed affidavits from two men who claim to have witnessed a tavern fight in which Flannigan was injured.”

Katie placed her hands on her hips. “How very convenient for Jeremiah Howard. I wonder how much he’s paying these so-called witnesses. Perhaps you’d better go find out, Mr. Nelson.” Katie turned on her heel and walked inside, slamming the screen door behind her.

Sam slapped his hat against his leg and plopped it back on his head. With tight lips, he stalked off the porch and climbed into his buggy. Lost in his thoughts, he gave the horse its head and soon found himself near his own neighborhood. Not wishing to converse with anyone, he urged the horse around a corner, with a vague idea of finding someplace quiet to have dinner.

How could she be so unreasonable? She seemed to have tunnel vision where the people of the Patch were concerned. Why was she so certain?

Once more, doubt wormed its way into his thoughts. Should he consider again the possibility that his father was wrong about the shanty Irish, and Flannigan in particular? Katie had been so angry and so sure of herself. Doubtless she knew something about the people of Conley’s Patch. Sam was now aware of the charitable work she did there, as well as her desire to help the people, especially the children.

Deep in thought, he rode past the downtown district toward the river and soon found himself near Flannigan’s neighborhood. As he drove aimlessly through the Patch, raucous curses and bawdy laughter assailed him from the darkness. After just coming off Michigan Avenue with its gaslights and brightly lit stores, an uneasiness shot through him. Perhaps this hadn’t been the wisest course of action. The only lights, dim and flickering, came from the taverns lining the main street of Conley’s Patch. He slapped his reins, wishing he’d had the forethought of switching the buggy for his horse, Jude.

As he rounded a corner onto a pitch black, narrow street, he heard scuffling and a sharp cry. Pulling his buggy to a halt, he peered into the darkness.

A pair of shadows hunched over a kneeling figure, pounding him with their fists. Sam jumped from the buggy and ran toward them. “Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?”

Before he could reach them, the two took off running toward the river.

The victim struggled to his feet and took the hand that Sam offered. “Thank ya.”

“Are you injured?”

“Naw,” the man panted, “just me pride, I guess.”

“Were you robbed? Or did they just have a grudge against you?”

He stretched his back. “Oh, I was robbed, I was. Just comin’ home with me pay. They took every cent. Took the bread from me children’s mouths, they did.”

“I have my buggy. I’ll be glad to take you to find an officer of the law to report this.”

A short laugh emitted from between the man’s teeth. “Ain’t no officers around here. Wouldn’t be no use if there was. Me money’s long gone now. Thanks for coming to my rescue. Name’s Jack O’Hooley.”

“Sam Nelson. I’m glad I was passing by.” Sam reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some bills. “Here, buy some food for your family.”

O’Hooley drew back with a scowl. “What do ye think I am? I ain’t takin’ no charity. A man takes care of his own.” He turned and stalked off.

Sam stood staring at the money still in his hand. The fellow couldn’t have much left, and he still refused the money.

O’Hooley stopped in front of a shack midway down the street and looked back. “I thank you again for your help and your good intentions. Don’t worry none. We’ll manage. We always do.”

Stunned, Sam returned to his carriage. How could this happen to a peaceful family man walking home from work? It was almost as though the attackers had been waiting to accost their victim. Sam drove around the neighborhood, searching for a patrolman. He could at least report the incident.

Thirty minutes later, he pulled on the reins, bringing the carriage to a halt in front of a small café. Not one police officer in the whole neighborhood. Where in the world were they?

He tethered his horse and went inside. As he sat drinking a cup of coffee, he asked the man wiping the counter about the absence of patrolmen in the area.

With a laugh, the man continued wiping. “Are you nuts? They won’t come down here at night. Can’t say as I blame ’em. They’re overworked and underpaid as it is. Why risk their lives in a place like this?”

Later, in the safety of his home, Sam couldn’t fall asleep. Every time he shut his eyes, the face of the proud, hardworking O’Hooley, who’d been robbed of everything, hovered in his thoughts. That man was not shiftless or lazy. He was just a poorly paid, hardworking laborer. How many more like him lived in the Patch and other shantytowns throughout the city, barely surviving? Was Flannigan one of them?

BOOK: A Girl Like That
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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