Beautiful, rebellious Bess Fitzmaurice is mesmerized by Dan McCaffrey, an American of Irish descent who has come to Ireland to aid the Fenian revolt against British tyranny. He appears in her home on May Eve 1865, fleeing British forces. To Bess, Dan is the mythical Donal Ogue, the hero of a famous Irish poem, returned to rescue Ireland--but right now, he is an American Civil War veteran on the run. Bess and her brother, Michael, get Dan to a ship, and they flee to America.In 1865, America is a nation ravaged by four years of Civil War. Bess discovers that among the Irish-American Fenians money and power and patriotism are entangled in bewildering and demoralizing ways, while Dan McCaffrey surrenders to the corruption of New York City politics. The Fenians' invasion of Canada and their goal of holding the English colony hostage for a free Ireland become a hot issue in a power struggle between Democrats and Republicans. When the American federal government double-crosses the Fenians, forcing thousands of Irish Civil War veterans to abandon the Canadian invasion after winning the first battle, acrimony engulfs the movement, leading to feuds, name-calling--and murder. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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December 01, 2008
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Excerpt from A Passionate Girl by Thomas Fleming
A PASSIONATE GIRL (Chapter One)You Might as Well Let Him Have Me, Mother
I can remember as if it were yesterday the moment when our lives changed forever. We were kneeling in the parlor on the night before May Eve, in 1865, reciting the rosary. Before we began, Mother had asked us to remember the soul of Peter Malloy, our cook's oldest son, who had been killed in a great battle in Virginia, one of the rebel states of America. We had heard the sad news on the same day that we learned that the war between the northern and southern parts of America had finally ended. As Mother was halfway through the third decade of the rosary, my brother, Michael, entered the room. He looked neither right nor left, nor at Mother, nor at me or my sister Mary, nor at the two maids who knelt with us. He walked past us as if we were invisible and took Father's hunting gun from the wall and turned again to vanish into the night. As the door closed, I heard one of the maids whisper, "God be on the road with you."
I looked at Mother and saw death on her face. But I felt not a shred of pity for her, though I can feel it now. I felt only pride, passion, fury. I was a living, breathing contradiction of the soft, sweet words of the rosary. "Hail Mary, full of grace," Mother said, continuing the decade as if nothing had happened. But she knew, as I knew, what it meant. Michael had defied Father and joined the Fenians, the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He had sworn an oath that cut him off from the sacraments of the Church and the forgiveness of God and promised to commit any crime, even murder, to free Ireland from the British. In my heart I had sworn the same oath.
That night, in our bedroom, I rejoiced in Michael's courage. "I wish I were a man. I would have walked out with him," I said. My sister Mary could only think of the pain he was causing Mother and Father and wondered why Michael had had to make his declaration so brutal, almost sacrilegious. "Couldn't he have waited until we finished the rosary?" she said.
"It's that kind of thinking that has made slaves of Irishmen and Ireland for the last six centuries," I replied.
"Oh, Bessie, Bessie," Mary said. "Remember what Father told us only last week, when we were talking about old Ireland?"
"I remember," I said. "I hated him for it."
"Bessie," Mary cried. "That's a sin. Even to say it."
"I love him, too, as much as you do. But not when he talks like a coward."
That was Bess Fitzmaurice to the inch in those days. Loving and hating within the space of a breath and meaning both to the utmost throb of her wayward heart. Mother used to blame it on my Fitzmaurice blood, plus a draught from my paternal grandmother, who was an O'Brien, thus combining two of the wildest families in old Ireland. The Fitzmaurices were royal bastards (signified by the "Fitz"), and the O'Briens, the ancient kings of Thomond, were famous for the way they blinded their enemies when they captured them. Mother's people, the MacNamaras, were the opposite sort, all peace-loving scholars. Which explained my gentle, obedient sister Mary.
Father had told us these bits of lore, along with a lot of other things about old Ireland, at supper one night. He was trying to explain to me and my glowering brother why he would never join the Fenians nor any of the other wild men who thought they could right Ireland's wrongs with a gun. Wrongs there were aplenty, he admitted, but we were one of the families who were exempt from the worst of them. We had one of the finest farms in the county of Limerick, on the shores of shining Lake Fergus. True, we did not own it, we had to rent it from Lord Gort, whose ancestors had no doubt seized it from an Irishman long ago. But the rent was fair, and we had enough money to hire four families to do much of the work and show an honest profit at the year's end.
Would it have been better to have had such a farm in old Ireland? Father asked. The answer was no, he said. If you stopped to think of it, the British had done some good things in Ireland along with the bad. They had made a nation where before there had been three or four hundred petty chiefs, each of them calling himself a king. "Sure the country was a puzzle map," Father said, "never at peace long enough to let an honest man get in a harvest. There was always King This or King That cantering down the road on a rough little pony at the head of his army of barelegged gossoons to fight the king over the river or the king beyond the bog."
"Better to fight and die as free men than farm as slaves," I said.
I was the only one who would dare to talk back to Father, but this time even I went too far. He ordered me away from the table, and the next morning Mother made me apologize to him.
On the morning after Michael took the gun, there was nothing but gloom at the breakfast table. Mother had told the news to Father when he returned from the meeting of his Freemasons lodge in Limerick. Father was a Protestant, which was how he had come to obtain our handsome farm in the first place. His grandfather or his great-grandfather had quit being a Catholic to avoid the laws and prejudices that prevented any man of the old faith from rising in Ireland. But Father put no stock in creeds and articles of religion. What counted with him was an honest and loving heart, he often said, looking at Mother while he spoke. He had no objection to our being raised Catholic, even Michael, his only son, because he was sure the old prejudices were dying away on both sides.
But this new passion swirling through the land, this fury for Ireland's freedom, found him totally unprepared, especially when it confronted him in his own home. Michael had caught the fever at the university in Dublin and had passed it on to me. All Father could do that morning was stare past us at the empty place above the mantel where his gun had hung. Mother had warned me in advance to say nothing, and for once I thought it prudent to obey.
Our maids, Bridget and Peggy, were in a pother because it was the day of May Eve, when the old gods were supposed to come back to earth and the fairies were out in throngs looking for victims. Bridget, the fat one, strewed primroses at the front and back doors to keep the little people out and told us how she had been sure to make the sign of the cross with the froth from the milk pails first thing. No food was given to any beggar on May Eve for fear that he might be one of the little people in disguise come to steal a coal from the fire and weave an evil spell around the house. We believed none of this, of course, but Mother had long since given up trying to change the minds of the maids and other country people who worked for us.
Peggy, the thin maid (the skinny melink, we called her), undid Father by asking him in all seriousness what she should do if a man on the run came to the door. "What in God's name do you mean by that?" Father snapped.
"Sure there's going to be a row, is there not?" Peggy said in her brainless way. "Hasn't Master Michael gone to fight with the Fenians in Limerick city? I heard him telling Miss Bessie here the other day that they had taken a vow to avenge the old treaty or die."
She was talking about the Treaty of Limerick, which the Irish signed in 1691, surrendering their army to England. The treacherous British promptly violated the treaty, creating one law for Protestants and another for the Catholic majority.
Father looked like he might weep at any moment. I had never seen him so undone. "Any man who comes to this door will be given the charity of the road, even though it is May Eve," he said. "We will ask no questions about where he is going or where he has been."
Mother thought this a good time to summon me and Mary to help her with the breakfast dishes. Further contriving methods to get me out of Father's way, she announced that I was to accompany her to Mrs. Malloy's cottage on the lakeshore to see if she was all right. I groaned but acquiesced. To tell the truth, down deep I was a little frightened about what might happen to Michael with that gun in his hand. He was no soldier. At heart he was a poet, a writer. Indeed I may be writing these words now, so many years later, as an attempt to tell, in place of him, the history that engulfed us.
Obedient as my sister Mary for a change, I put on my cloak and seized the basket of meat and vegetables Mother packed for old Mrs. Malloy. The poor thing was a dear person, but she tended to be tiresome, now that I was a grown woman of nineteen. More than anyone, perhaps even more than Mother, Malloy knew I felt cast under by the beauty of my older sisters, Annie and Mary. Not that I was ugly. But they had Mother's pure white skin and calm presence and dark green MacNamara eyes. They were always perfectly composed, every ringlet and ruffle in place, while I was always in disarray, my hair flying, my lip curling. I was out of tune with the times, which treasured women like Annie and Mary, delicate creatures who seemed to breathe poetry, when actually they had scant use for it.
Although Malloy wearied me somewhat now, I was loyal to her forever because of what she had done for me when I was eleven or twelve. My mother's nephew, Barry MacNamara, was visiting us. He saw me with Annie and Mary and called me the Ugly Duckling. I ran crying into the kitchen, where I collided with Malloy. When I sobbed out my woe, she grew vastly indignant. Her round red cheeks inflated like a balloon until I thought she would explode.
"Sure you're never cryin' about the face that God Almighty chose for ye!" she said. "Haven't ye a nice white skin where there's many a one born black as our ould turkey and blacker! Haven't ye soft fair hair and a fine pair of eyes when there's them that's born white-headed with eyes as red as a pet rabbit's? And haven't ye a mouthful of strong teeth when ye might have them black and crumblin' like Casey's youngest, her with the hump and the squinny eyes, God help her?"
She swept me to her ample bosom and dried my eyes. "Cushla mavourneen," she said. "Did I ever tell ye the tale of the duke's son who got sot on a poor lovely young girl? 'I'll marry ye, poor as ye are,' he said to her, 'if ye'll promise me ye'll hold up your head and not care a tinker's curse what anyone says to cheapen ye.'"
"'I will,' says she. 'I will hold up my head.' And what'd she do but go into a little lane and cut a twig of furze and pin it in her dress so that every time she hung down her face the way poor folk do the furze druv it up with its sharp spikes and by the next day she held her head as high as the queen of England."
Mother would never have told me a story like that, because she did not want to make me proud. Her faith taught her that humility and forgiveness were the great virtues. I instinctively disagreed with her, and Malloy's folk wisdom gave me a first glimpse of why. There was something in me, a spirit, a voice, call it what you like, that despised the thought of bowing my head, begging pardon, turning the other cheek, all the habits of meekness that a woman was supposed to cultivate. I imitated Malloy's heroine from that day and cultivated the habit of holding my head high and looking everyone straight in the eye.