Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page




Bold Words at the Bridge by Sarah Orne Jewett


"`Well, now,' says I, `Mrs. Con'ly,' says I, `how ever you may tark, 't is nobody's business and I wanting to plant a few pumpkins for me cow in among me cabbages. I've got the right to plant whatever I may choose, if it's the divil of a crop of t'istles in the middle of me ground.' `No ma'am, you ain't,' says Biddy Con'ly; `you ain't got anny right to plant t'istles that's not for the public good,' says she; and I being so hasty wit' me timper, I shuk me fist in her face then, and herself shuk her fist at me. Just then Father Brady come by, as luck ardered, an' recomminded us would we keep the peace. He knew well I'd had my provocation; 't was to herself he spoke first. You'd think she owned the whole corporation. I wished I'd t'rown her over into the wather, so I did, before he come by at all. 'T was on the bridge the two of us were. I was stepping home by meself very quiet in the afthernoon to put my tay-kittle on for supper, and herself overtook me, -- ain't she the bold thing!

"`How are you the day, Mrs. Dunl'avy?' says she, so mincin' an' preenin', and I knew well she'd put her mind on having words wit' me from that minute. I'm one that likes to have peace in the neighborhood, if it wa'n't for the likes of her, that makes the top of me head lift and clat' wit' rage like a pot-lid!"

"What was the matter with the two of you?" asked a listener, with simple interest.

"Faix indeed, 't was herself had a thrifle of melons planted the other side of the fince," acknowledged Mrs. Dunleavy. "She said the pumpkins would be the ruin of them intirely. I says, and 't was thrue for me, that I'd me pumpkins planted the week before she'd dropped anny old melon seed into the ground, and thesame bein' already dwining from so manny bugs. Oh, but she's blackhearted to give me the lie about it, and say those poor things was all up, and she'd thrown lime on 'em to keep away their inemies when she first see me come out betune me cabbage rows. How well she knew what I might be doing! Me cabbages grows far apart and I'd plinty of room, and if a pumpkin vine gets attention you can entice it wherever you pl'ase and it'll grow fine and long, while the poor cabbages ates and grows fat and round, and no harm to annybody, but she must pick a quarrel with a quiet 'oman in the face of every one.

"We were on the bridge, don't you see, and plinty was passing by with their grins, and loitering and stopping afther they were behind her back to hear what was going on betune us. Annybody does be liking to get the sound of loud talk an' they having nothing better to do. Biddy Con'ly, seeing she was well watched, got the airs of a pr'acher, and set down whatever she might happen to be carrying and tried would she get the better of me for the sake of their admiration. Oh, but wa'n't she all drabbled and wet from the roads, and the world knows meself for a very tidy walker!

"`Clane the mud from your shoes if you're going to dance;' 't was all I said to her, and she being that mad she did be stepping up and down like an old turkey-hin, and shaking her fist all the time at me. `Coom now, Biddy,' says I, `what put you out so?' says I. `Sure, it creeps me skin when I looks at you! Is the pig dead,' says I, `or anny little thing happened to you, ma'am? Sure this is far beyond the rights of a few pumpkin seeds that has just cleared the ground!' and all the folks laughed. I'd no call to have tark with Biddy Con'ly before them idle b'ys and gerrls, nor to let the two of us become their laughing-stock. I tuk up me basket, being ashamed then, and I meant to go away, mad as I was. `Coom, Mrs. Con'ly!' says I, `let bygones be bygones; what's all this whillalu we're afther having about nothing?' says I very pleasant.

"`May the divil fly away with you, Mary Dunl'avy!' says she then, `spoiling me garden ground, as every one can see, and full of your bold talk. I'll let me hens out into it this afternoon, so I will,' says she, and a good deal more. `Hold off,' says I, `and remember what fell to your aunt one day when she sint her hins in to pick a neighbor's piece, and while her own back was turned they all come home and had every sprouted bean and potatie heeled out in the hot sun, and all her fine lettuces picked into Irish lace. We've lived neighbors,' says I, `thirteen years,' says I; `and we've often had words together above the fince,' says I, `but we're neighbors yet, and we've no call to stand here in such spectacles and disgracing ourselves and each other. Coom, Biddy,' says I, again, going away with me basket and remimbering Father Brady's caution whin it was too late. Some o' the b'ys went off too, thinkin' `t was all done.

"`I don't want anny o' your Coom Biddy's,' says she, stepping at me, with a black stripe across her face, she was that destroyed with rage, and I stepped back and held up me basket between us, she being bigger than I, and I getting no chance, and herself slipped and fell, and her nose got a clout with the hard edge of the basket, it would trouble the saints to say how, and then I picked her up and wint home with her to thry and quinch the blood. Sure I was sorry for the crathur an' she having such a timper boiling in her heart.

"`Look at you now, Mrs. Con'ly,' says I, kind of soft, `you 'ont be fit for mass these two Sundays with a black eye like this, and your face arl scratched, and every bliguard has gone the lingth of the town to tell tales of us. I'm a quiet 'oman,' says I, `and I don't thank you,' says I, whin the blood was stopped, -- `no, I don't thank you for disgracin' an old neighbor like me. 'T is of our prayers and the grave we should be thinkin', and not be having bold words on the bridge.' Wisha! but I t'ought I was after spaking very quiet, and up she got and caught up the basket, and I dodged it by good luck, but after that I walked off and left her to satisfy her foolishness with b'ating the wall if it pl'ased her. I'd no call for her company anny more, and I took a vow I'd never spake a work to her again while the world stood. So all is over since then betune Biddy Con'ly and me. No, I don't look at her at all!"


Some time afterward, in late summer, Mrs. Dunleavy stood, large and noisy, but generous-hearted, addressing some remarks from her front doorway to a goat on the sidewalk. He was pulling some of her cherished foxgloves through the picket fence, and eagerly devouring their flowery stalks.

"How well you rache through an honest fince, you black pirate!" she shouted; but finding that harsh words had no effect, she took a convenient broom, and advanced to strike a gallant blow upon the creature's back. This had the simple effect of making him step a little to one side and modestly begin to nibble at a tuft of grass.

"Well, if I ain't plagued!" said Mrs. Dunleavy sorrowfully; "if I ain't throubled with every wild baste, and me cow that was some use gone dry very unexpected, and a neighbor that's worse than none at all. I've nobody to have an honest word with, and the morning being so fine and pleasant. Faix, I'd move away from it, if there was anny place I'd enjoy better. I've no heart except for me garden, me poor little crops is doing so well; thanks be to God, me cabbages is very fine. There does be those that overlooked me pumpkins for the poor cow; they're no size at all wit' so much rain."

The two small white houses stood close together, with their little gardens behind them. The road was just in front, and led down to a stone bridge which crossed the river to the busy manufacturing village beyond. The air was fresh and cool at that early hour, the wind had changed after a season of dry, hot weather; it was just the morning for a good bit of gossip with a neighbor, but summer was almost done, and the friends were not reconciled. Their respective acquaintances had grown tired of hearing the story of the quarrel, and the novelty of such a pleasing excitement had long been over. Mrs. Connelly was thumping away at a handful of belated ironing, and Mrs. Dunleavy, estranged and solitary, sighed as she listened to the iron. She was sociable by nature, and she had an impulse to go in and sit down as she used at the end of the ironing table.

"Wisha, the poor thing is mad at me yet, I know that from the sounds of her iron; 't was a shame for her to go picking a quarrel with the likes of me," and Mrs. Dunleavy sighed heavily and stepped down into her flower-plot to pull the distressed foxgloves back into their places inside the fence. The seed had been sent her from the old country, and this was the first year they had come into full bloom. She had been hoping that the sight of them would melt Mrs. Connelly's heart into some expression of friendliness, since they had come from adjoining parishes in old County Kerry. The goat lifted his head, and gazed at his enemy with mild interest; he was pasturing now by the roadside, and the foxgloves had proved bitter in his mouth.

Mrs. Dunleavy stood looking at him over the fence, glad of even a goat's company.

"Go 'long there; see that fine little tuft ahead now," she advised him, forgetful of his depredations. "Oh, to think I've nobody to spake to, the day!"

At that moment a woman came in sight round the turn of the road. She was a stranger, a fellow country-woman, and she carried a large newspaper bundle and a heavy handbag. Mrs. Dunleavy stepped out of the flower-bed toward the gate, and waited there until the stranger came up and stopped to ask a question.

"Ann Bogan don't live here, do she?"

"She don't," answered the mistress of the house, with dignity.

"I t'ought she didn't; you don't know where she lives, do you?"

"I don't," said Mrs. Dunleavy.

"I don't know ayther; niver mind, I'll find her; 't is a fine day, ma'am."

Mrs. Dunleavy could hardly bear to let the stranger go away. She watched her far down the hill toward the bridge before she turned to go into the house. She seated herself by the side window next Mrs. Connelly's, and gave herself to her thoughts. The sound of the flatiron had stopped when the traveler came to the gate, and it had not begun again. Mrs. Connelly had gone to her front door; the hem of her calico dress could be plainly seen, and the bulge of her apron, and she was watching the stranger quite out of sight. She even came out to the doorstep, and for the first time in many weeks looked with friendly intent toward her neighbor's house. Then she also came and sat down at her side window. Mrs. Dunleavy's heart began to leap with excitement.

"Bad cess to her foolishness, she does be afther wanting to come round; I'll not make it too aisy for her," said Mrs. Dunleavy, seizing a piece of sewing and forbearing to look up. "I don't know who Ann Bogan is, annyway; perhaps herself does, having lived in it five or six years longer than me. Perhaps she knew this woman by her looks, and the heart is out of her with wanting to know what she asked from me. She can sit there, then, and let her irons grow cold!

"There was Bogans living down by the brick mill when I first come here, neighbors to Flaherty's folks," continued Mrs. Dunleavy, more and more aggrieved. "Biddy Con'ly ought to know the Flahertys, they being her cousins. 'T was a fine loud-talking 'oman; sure Biddy might well enough have heard her inquiring of me, and have stepped out, and said if she knew Ann Bogan, and satisfied a poor stranger that was hunting the town over. No, I don't know anny one in the name of Ann Bogan, so I don't," said Mrs. Dunleavy aloud, "and there's nobody I can ask a civil question, with every one that ought to be me neighbors stopping their mouths, and keeping black grudges whin 't was meself got all the offince."

"Faix 't was meself got the whack on me nose," responded Mrs. Connelly quite unexpectedly. She was looking squarely at the window where Mrs. Dunleavy sat behind the screen of blue mosquito netting. They were both conscious that Mrs. Connelly made a definite overture of peace.

"That one was a very civil-spoken 'oman that passed by just now," announced Mrs. Dunleavy, handsomely waiving the subject of the quarrel and coming frankly to the subject of present interest. "Faix, 't is a poor day for Ann Bogans; she'll find that out before she gets far in the place."

"Ann Bogans was plinty here once, then, God rest them! There was two Ann Bogans, mother and daughter, lived down by Flaherty's when I first come here. They died in the one year, too; 't is most thirty years ago," said Bridget Connelly, in her most friendly tone.

"`I'll find her,' says the poor 'oman as if she'd only to look; indeed, she's got the boldness," reported Mary Dunleavy, peace being fully restored.

"'T was to Flaherty's she'd go first, and they all moved to La'rence twelve years ago, and all she'll get from anny one would be the address of the cimet'ry. There was plenty here knowing to Ann Bogan once. That 'oman is one I've seen long ago, but I can't name her yet. Did she say who she was?" asked the neighbor.

"She didn't; I'm sorry for the poor 'oman, too," continued Mrs. Dunleavy, in the same spirit of friendliness. "She'd the expectin' look of one who came hoping to make a nice visit and find friends, and herself lugging a fine bundle. She'd the looks as if she'd lately come out; very decent, but old-fashioned. Her bonnet was made at home annyways, did ye mind? I'll lay it was bought in Cork when it was new, or maybe 't was from a good shop in Bantry or Kinmare, or some o' those old places. If she'd seemed satisfied to wait, I'd made her the offer of a cup of tay, but off she wint with great courage."

"I don't know but I'll slip on me bonnet in the afthernoon and go find her," said Biddy Connelly, with hospitable warmth. "I've seen her before, perhaps 't was long whiles ago at home."

"Indeed I thought of it myself," said Mrs. Dunleavy, with approval. "We'd best wait, perhaps, till she'd be coming back; there's no train now till three o'clock. She might stop here till the five, and we'll find out all about her. She'll have a very lonesome day, whoiver she is. Did you see that old goat 'ating the best of me fairy-fingers that all bloomed the day?" she asked eagerly, afraid that the conversation might come to an end at any moment; but Mrs. Connelly took no notice of so trivial a subject.

"Me melons is all getting ripe," she announced, with an air of satisfaction. "There's a big one must be ate now while we can; it's down in the cellar cooling itself, an' I'd like to be dropping it, getting down the stairs. 'T was afther picking it I was before breakfast, itself having begun to crack open. Himself was the b'y that loved a melon, an' I ain't got the heart to look at it alone. Coom over, will ye, Mary?"

"`Deed then an' I will," said Mrs. Dunleavy, whose face was close against the mosquito netting. "Them old pumpkin vines was no good anny way; did you see how one of them had the invintion, and wint away up on the fince entirely wit' its great flowers, an' there come a rain on 'em, and so they all blighted? I'd no call to grow such stramming great things in my piece annyway, 'ating up all the goodness from me beautiful cabbages."


That afternoon the reunited friends sat banqueting together and keeping an eye on the road. They had so much to talk over and found each other so agreeable that it was impossible to dwell with much regret upon the long estrangement. When the melon was only half finished the stranger of the morning, with her large unopened bundle and the heavy handbag, was seen making her way up the hill. She wore such a weary and disappointed look that she was accosted and invited in by both the women, and being proved by Mrs. Connelly to be an old acquaintance, she joined them at their feast.

"Yes, I was here seventeen years ago for the last time," she explained. "I was working in Lawrence, and I came over and spent a fortnight with Honora Flaherty; then I wint home that year to mind me old mother, and she lived to past ninety. I'd nothing to keep me then, and I was always homesick afther America, so back I come to it, but all me old frinds and neighbors is changed and gone. Faix, this is the first welcome I've got yet from anny one. 'T is a beautiful welcome, too,—I'll get me apron out of me bundle, by your l'ave, Mrs. Con'ly. You've a strong resemblance to Flaherty's folks, dear, being cousins. Well, 't is a fine thing to have good neighbors. You an' Mrs. Dunleavy is very pleasant here so close together."

"Well, we does be having a hasty word now and then, ma'am," confessed Mrs. Dunleavy, "but ourselves is good neighbors this manny years. Whin a quarrel's about nothing betune friends, it don't count for much, so it don't."

"Most quarrels is the same way," said the stranger, who did not like melons, but accepted a cup of hot tea. "Sure, it always takes two to make a quarrel, and but one to end it; that's what me mother always told me, that never gave anny one a cross word in her life."

"`T is a beautiful melon," repeated Mrs. Dunleavy for the seventh time. "Sure, I'll plant a few seed myself next year; me pumpkins is no good afther all me foolish pride wit' 'em. Maybe the land don't suit 'em, but glory be to God, me cabbages is the size of the house, an' you'll git the pick of the best, Mrs. Con'ly."

"What's melons betune friends, or cabbages ayther, that they should ever make any trouble?" answered Mrs. Connelly handsomely, and the great feud was forever ended.

But the stranger, innocent that she was the harbinger of peace, could hardly understand why Bridget Connelly insisted upon her staying all night and talking over old times, and why the two women put on their bonnets and walked, one on either hand, to see the town with her that evening. As they crossed the bridge they looked at each other shyly, and then began to laugh.

"Well, I missed it the most on Sundays going all alone to mass," confessed Mary Dunleavy. "I'm glad there's no one here seeing us go over, so I am."

"'T was ourselves had bold words at the bridge, once, that we've got the laugh about now," explained Mrs. Connelly politely to the stranger.