I was home again. I had already turned sixteen, and my mind was made up to try my luck in the United States. My father, having given up all hope of making a scholar of me, was resigned. He promised to give me my passage to New York and some money as well; also a letter to an American gentleman in New Haven whom he had had some correspondence with, and who had invited him to visit him if he ever came to the States. My father had a brother in San Francisco, he said, but that was a long way from New York, and he did not like to write him as they had been out of touch for years and he had an idea that they had not been on speaking terms before his brother went to America; though he was not sure if it was this brother or another brother, who was a Trappist monk, that he was not on speaking terms with.
Knowing that Mr. Foley was a very sensitive man I did not know just how to tell him of my decision. He had written to friends of his in the Argentine about me, and the disappointment of learning that it was to the United States I was going would be bound to make him feel slighted. I talked the matter over with Mezzim who figured out a plan to announce the decision without my appearing to take sides in the matter.
Fine and juicy, from his oysterbeds off the Clare coast; icepacked too, and served in their shells, from which Mezzim, Mr. Foley, Tom Redmond, and broncobuster Connelly sucked the salt water. Never before having eaten oysters, I hesitated now because of their resemblance to the vomitions of Towser, our watchdog. But not wishing to offend Mezzim, I looked away from one that he had squirted with a peppery red liquid of his own preparation and tried it. The second went down better.
"The taste for oysters, like Holy Orders, must be acquired," he said. "It's an oysterhound you'll be before you get through."
With the oysters he served a white wine that tasted bitter and made you feel hot. The table was laid in the parlor of Mr. Foley's lodgings over Pat Egan's hardware shop, and the occasion was a special one. This party was in my honor, for tonight, the flip of a coin would decide my fate—or so thought Mr. Foley. When nothing remained of a 'poached' pheasant but a few bones and gobs of breadsauce, Mezzim pushed back his chair and pulled an 'American Eagle' from his vest pocket and looked at me and said:
"Here you go, to God's Country or the Pampas. Heads for that grand old instution, the U.S.A., tails for the bloody bush!"
And heads it was, and Mr. Foley, the only one of us not in on the fraud (Mozzim's coin was a phoney, heads on both sides), pulled at his red moustaches and sighed while Mezzim sang The Star Spangled Banner and other appropriate selections and promised me letters of introduction to James J. Corbett and Evelyn Nesbitt and the chief of police in Brooklyn. It was dark when the party broke up. My hosts walked home with me, singing, and I sang too, for I had picked up the words from Mezzim:
"Every day the papers say there's a rob-bery in the park.
I was sitting alone in the Y.M.C.A., singing just like a lark:
There is no place like home, but I'm afraid to go home in the dark!"
And we made so much noise that lights began to flicker in windows and doorways before we got to the rectory gates, where we embraced each other, and Mr. Foley cried, being emotional from the wine.
As I walked up the drive-way, I experienced an unpleasant sensation inside me, and before I could get the door open I had left the oysters on the steps.
In the morning when I came out with my father they were still there, so he called out to the maid:
"Dora, when you go down the village for the meat, take Towser along and have the vet look him over. There's surely something serious wrong with him this time, for he hasn't returned to it."
My father had to go to Dublin a week before my boat was due to sail from Queenstown. From the look in his eyes when he said goodbye to me, I had the feeling that he thought it would not be long before I would be on the way home again.
My brother was at Chesterfield School, near Birr. He got a few days off so that he could be with me. He had already made up his mind about his own profession. Never happy unless he was around horses, he was determined to become a veterinary surgeon. We spent the remaining days going around breaking the dramatic news to my friends that I was going to America. Our last visit was with Mr. Carry. Paddy had been killed recently, having stepped in front of a moving train by mistake, and the old man was taking it badly.
"America," he said, "O Lord, O Lord, O Lord!"
Seeing he had been there, I asked him if he could give me any useful tips.
"Never travel unarmed in foreign countries," he tipped, and with that made me a present of a five-chambered revolver of the percussion-cap type.
"Better friend than the wife," he said, checking to see if it was loaded. "Night and day...never left me...O Lord, O Lord, O Lord!"
Mezzim, Mr. Foley, Tom Redmond and Connelly came to the rectory to see me off, and Tom gave me one of the Lincoln pennies he had saved from sentimental motives.
"If the worst happens, write to me," said Mr. Foley as he shook my hand. "The Pampas will still be there."
My brother drove in to Roscrea with me. During the drive he turned his head a few times, but did not cry. My father being away made it that much harder for him. By the time we got to the station we had mutually forgiven the trespasses of preceding years. At the train he clung to my arm and bit his lips. I told him I would be all right and he would be all right and everything would be all right, and he said he knew it. And then the whistle blew and we hugged each other and I boarded the train. As it pulled out I leaned out of the window and waved to him and he kissed his hands to me but did not cry. And then I saw him turn away and lean against the signal box with his face in the crook of his arm; and though I could not hear, I knew he was crying at last....Fifteen years were to pass before we would meet again, and then in a Swiss hospital at Davos Dorf. Three years in Flanders had left him with a lung and a half. He said he was lucky to have anything at all left of him above ground, which was more than was left of most of the Leinsters who had fought in France.
The day before I sailed was spent with the family of old John O'Meara's brother. Their home was on the heights overlooking Queenstown. Some units of the United States Fleet were anchored in the harbor, and in the afternoon the Misses O'Meara took me to a dance on board Admiral Kuntz's flagship. The admiral was a greyish informal man with a heavy face, and the American officers in their high-necked uniforms looked like members of a military band. They were very friendly and surprised to see I was wearing an American suit with pegtop pants and 'shoulder supremacy', which I had bought from Connelly before I left home. The Admiral's conception of American life and my own preconceived ideas were at some variance, but I put this down to his having spent most of his life at sea.
At last I was on the tender, headed out toward the White Star liner, Celtic. We passed a United States cruiser and the Admiral's flag ship. Beside me a girl with a scarf tied around her dark hair was holding a man's hand. He kept talking to her cheerfully, trying to keep up her spirits. He was a salesman in the Munster Arcade in Cork; she was on her way to Los Angeles to be a hospital nurse and her name was Eileen. When we pulled alongside the liner she began to cry, and clung to his arm the way my brother had clung to mine. And then the tender pulled away and the passengers who had come out on it went to their cabins, for the day was bitterly cold. But I gave my ticket to a steward and let him take my bag, and I stayed on deck.
I leaned over the rail and started thinking, and I realized how little thinking I had been doing of late, everything had been happening so fast. And I wondered how my brother was and how my father was, and what Mezzim and Tom and Mr. Foley and Connelly were doing... And it seemed hard to believe that I was really there leaning over the rail, and that I did not know a soul on board and that I was on the way to America where I did not know a soul either.
And as we steamed out of the harbor I saw the Stars and Stripes flying from the stern of the Admiral's flag ship, and I took off my hat. And then I heard a woman's cry and I turned, and it was the girl who had come out on the tender. She was waving the scarf that had been around her hair and her hair had come undone and was blowing long and dark, all on one side of her head, and she cried again, though there was no one to hear her but me:
...and that was the last I saw of Ireland, with the girl standing by the rail and her hair blowing and beyond her blowing the Stars and Stripes, and the grey Irish coast slipping away, slowly, and for how many years!
And lonlinesstyping error in original. came over me as it had come over my brother and over the girl. I felt my confidence leaving me, and leaving me, also, the longing to see far-off lands and the men and women who lived in them. And I wondered what was going to become of me, and if I had not been a fool. And I turned so that I would not see the Irish coast any more, for I was beginning to feel a tightening in my throat. I walked forward, bent against the wind, and crossed the deck to the starboard rail where I could see the open sea. The wind was higher on the starboard side, whipping spray from the wave-crests, and everything was grey on this side too, but here there was menace as well, the black sky, waves breaking high over the bow. And suddenly, as I looked, the sun broke through the clouds and three great shafts of sunlight lit up the sea ahead.