An American Wake
By Rose A. Crow
This was the last night in the old home, which had sheltered the
family for five generations. The day had been full of excitement, as
by a merciful ordinance last days usually are. The final packing had
been done, the chests and boxes securely fastened and carefully
labeled. This was all looked after by Margaret, herself, amidst
interruptions by her brood of young children. Visits from friends and
relatives, living at a distance, occupied much of the day; attending
to countless minor things kept them all busy until nightfall. Even
then there was no time allowed to visit the shrine.
Margaret had a fairy shrine, to which she carried the cares of the day
and the hopes of the morrow. This charmed place was a stile over the
ivy-clad walls of the garden. There she brought her childish joys and
sorrows, and in the quiet received consolation. She had fought the
fiercest battles of her womanhood with her head resting against the
ivy-covered pillar. To-night, when she was parting from her country
and friends, there was no time to commune with her silent friend.
Shortly after dusk, in accordance with local etiquette, very stringent
on such momentous occasions, the relatives, friends and neighbors of a
lifetime began to drop in by twos and threes until every inch of wall
space was filled.
Who of all this gathering was more welcome than "John, the Fiddler"?
He was a great favorite with young and old. The sight of him carrying
his fiddle caused a feeling of emotion in the hearts of the older
people. It recalled the tragic story of John's father who years before
left for America intending to send for his wife and crippled son. A
fever contracted on shipboard deprived them of a husband and father.
It was then that John Doyle became "John, the Fiddler."
John was beckoned into the "room," where with Father O'Connell and a
few trusty friends, he was treated to a small measure of potheen. Dan
Monahan had donated a very small jug for this special occasion. To be
given the first shot from Dan's still was no small favor, as those
present knew. Before taking his seat at the end of the room, John
drank Margaret's health, wishing herself and family a safe voyage
across the water, and a happy home on the prairies of Iowa.
Each guest realized the strain of parting and generously made an
effort to conceal the gloom with a brave semblance of mirth. There was
dancing, singing of songs, and elaborate drinking of healths. With
persistent calls for Margaret's brother James, the dancing stopped.
The floor was cleared, and he was borne in on the shoulders of the
leaders, who had found him leaning against the ivy-covered wall,
gazing at the moon, floating over his old home which, alas! he would
never see again.
James MacNevin was a magnificent specimen of Irish manhood and a
charming singer. He was about twenty-three years old, tall and
broad-shouldered, with a fine head of curly auburn hair. His clear
blue eyes reflected the sadness of the group around him, while his
white teeth flashed a smile. In one hand he crushed his handkerchief,
while with the other he nervously twirled a sprig of ivy. A few
measures of "Good Night and Joy Be with You All" came from the violin.
For an instant he wavered, then throwing back his head he sang the
song, not with full volume, but with intense feeling, emphasis and a
clear ringing tone. The song seemed to voice his own feelings as his
chest rose and fell. He was no longer just James MacNevin, but a
pilgrim traveling to a strange country. His whole soul was filled with
the sentiment, and there was such pathos in its heart-throb that the
whole company was moved to tears. The last verse ended, he stood a
moment with gaze transfixed—then rousing himself, bowed, smiled and
with one hand in his sister Margaret's, the other clutching the sprig
of ivy, he passed out of the home forever.