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.