Winnie neighs softly and nuzzles my hand. She’s lookin’ for a treat. An apple or sugar cube, but the apple barrel’s empty; the sugar jar dry. I take her out and let her loose in the meadow so she can graze.
“Sister!” cries Ryan in his wee six-year-old voice. He’s runnin’ toward me from the house. “Come quick! Somethin’s happened!”
He takes my hand and we rush next door. Mama is standin’ with the cryin’ Mrs. Gallagher and looks solemn. Papa is a ways a way talkin’ in low voices with Rory, the Gallaghers’ oldest son. Seamus, their wee little one, takes my hand and looks up at me with big, sad eyes. I give his hand a squeeze, doin’ my best to reassure him.
Later, in the Parlor, Mama and I tend t’ Mr. Gallagher. Mama says he’s real sick and there’s nothin’ we can do. That he’s dyin’. Mrs. Gallagher is in Mama’s bedroom sobbin’ quietly with Seamus in her arms. He’s cryin’ too.
“Mama, is Papa goin’ t’ be okay?”
“I don’t know” she whispers.
He died this mornin’, Mr. Gallagher. Mrs. Gallagher almost went with him. Almost died o’ heartbreak. But she says “No. I can’t leave my children. I can’t leave my babies.” She’s rockin’ in the rockin’ chair, back and forth real slow, starin’ out the window at nothin’. Seamus stays by my side, his little hand in mine. I do what I can t’ comfort him but it ain’t much. The whole house is gloomy and solemn.
Mama’s in the kitchen cookin’ supper. ‘Tis never much, but now that the Gallaghers’ have lost their home, ‘tis even less than usual. I watch expressionless as Mama cleans and peels our few meager potatoes. Seamus is pickin’ up the peels and feedin’ ‘em t’ our terrier, Siobahn, but even she seems depressed.
I leave Seamus in the kitchen and go upstairs t’ practice my readin’. Papa says I’m not supposed t’. That we’ll get in trouble. But I can’t help it. I want t’ learn.
“Katherine!” He sees the little book and whisks it out o’ my hands. “What’ve I told ye? This is against the law!”
He shakes it angrily and throws it down. Tears well in my eyes. “I’m sorry, Papa.”
His face softens. “Don’t cry, child. I’m just tryin’ t’ keep us safe.”
“I know, Papa.
He wraps me in his strong arms. I want t’ stay there forever but nothin’ good can last that long.
There’s a loud bangin’ downstairs and Mama calls “Doyle, you’d better come down.”
“Stay here,” says Papa before he leaves my room. After he’s gone, I creep out ont’ the stairs. Papa is in the parlor talkin’ to a greedy lookin’ man with a pinched mouth and tiny eyes. I can’t hear what he’s sayin’, but he looks worried.
I overheard Mama and Papa talkin’ last night. It seems I’m to be shipped off t’ America. Papa knows I know, as I walk around with my head down, starin’ at my feet.
He takes my arm and pulls me close.
“I just want ye to have a better life.”
I say nothin’ and go on.
“Hello, Siobahn,” I greet the little dog as she trots up and dejectedly licks my ankle. All my dresses are gettin’ too short now and I’ve got but one bonnet. Mama is tryin’ her best but without the money it just ain’t enough.
Mr. Carleton is his name, the man with the small, piggish eye. He’s back today. Papa says he’ll be escortin’ me to America. Pennsylvania, he says.
“I don’t want t’ go Papa!” I sob. “Please don’t make me leave! I want t’ stay here with you and Mama and Ryan!”
“Katherine, hush yerself now. This good man has offered t’ take ye t’ America with him,” Papa says to me. “It’s fer yer own good, darlin’. Mama and I can’t raise ye right here. Ye’ll see.”
I cross my arms and stamp my foot stubbornly. “You can raise me just fine here, Papa. I don’t want t’ go with him. I don’t like him!”
“Well, I don’t! He’s greedy lookin’! You see the way he’s always rubbin’ his hands together like some kind o’ miser.”
Papa grabs me by the arm and drags me int’ the kitchen.
“Katherine, this man has given us money! Enough t’ buy ye some new clothin’! Clothin’ for every day o’ the week. Ye won’t have to wash every night!
“I don’t care, Papa! I don’t care if I have t’ wash every night as long as I’m here! ‘Tis home t’ me. I don’t want t’ leave!”
The day has come. My new clothes have been packed in my new trunk and carried aboard. Mama and Ryan are tearful. Papa stands in stony silence.
“I love you, Papa!” I cry as I throw myself into his stiff arms.
He softens. “I love ye too, darlin’,” he says quietly. “But ‘tis time for ye t’ go.”
I bury my head in his broad chest for a moment, takin’ in the familiar smell of home. Then I move on to Mama.
“Goodbye, Mama,” I whisper with tears in my eyes. “I love you.”
She nods silently and wraps her arms around me, stroking my hair. Ryan clings to my leg.
“Don’t go!” he wails.
“I have t’,” I tell him as I take his wee face in my hands and place a kiss on his forehead. “But I’ll see you again. I promise. Be good for Mama.”
He nods and lets go, clingin’ t’ Mama’s hand instead.
Mr. Carleton clears his throat and I am ushered aboard the ship.