Backen Books

The books and blog of Lindsey Renee Backen.

Andrew’s Arrival

f2e4679ef82c7cfdfd50ab1f73fc3ddcAndrew Callaghan

September 9, 1912

I keep thinking of my family. I haven’t played on the train at all. It seems wrong that I should be given everything while they struggle.
As if mocking his words, Andrew’s new coat slid to the floor from the table where he had set it aside. They had passed the mountains and the land grew flatter every day they traveled. He watched the scenery change from the splashes of fall colors of the north, to the densely wooded trees in the mountains. The seasons seem to change backwards. The farther south they traveled, the more stubborn the land looked; grass retained a faded shade of green, leaves still clung to sprawling twigs. As they near the coast the trees shrank, and the grass grew taller and coarser. Mr. Robert lived on an island that he explained was nothing more than a large sandbar. It seemed an odd place to build the fourth wealthiest city in the US, but Andrew kept quiet about it.
Robert grunted as he jerked awake from his afternoon nap, standing to move around the spacious cabin. “I swear, Andrew, my age is finally catching me. This trip grows longer every year. If it weren’t for Vincent and Clara, I’m not sure I’d make it.”
Andrew closed his writing book, suddenly aware of the ungrateful words springing from homesickness. “Is Clara your daughter?”
“Granddaughter,” Robert corrected. “Vincent’s sister. You’ll meet her when we take Vincent home for what little holiday he has left.”
The man seated himself, taking time to light a cigar, before fishing in his pocket for a watch that he extended toward Andrew. “This is my daughter, Victoria Rose. Victoria after the queen — she was born in England, you see — and Rose because her mother wanted it. So we called her ‘Rose,’ and she was the most beautiful girl that ever stepped foot on earth.”
The man was not simply biased. In the watch was a young girl with wavy hair the turned into spirals. High cheekbones accentuated the delicate mouth, turned upward in of smile that defied the sobriety of a formal portrait. Even her image seemed to radiate energy from the page.
Mr. Mordaunt studied it as he spoke, “Her mother died birthing her, so I hired a young woman to be her governess. Hannah raised her in England while I traveled for business. But Rose wouldn’t have it, and howled every time I left. She tried to hide in my bags, so when she turned ten I took her with me and we set off to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Then she grew up and became the Eighth.”
He frowned as he adjusted his pipe. “She had her pick of a passel of men with every temperament and livelihood that you could imagine, but she chose a quiet, serious man who was starting up a business in Galveston.” Robert’s eyes flickered as he took a slow puff. “He had promise and potential — and a stubborn streak that ruined him.” His eyes swung to Andrew. “Don’t you ever become stubborn. I can make you into someone great.”
“I won’t, sir,” Andrew replied, wondering what Edmund had protested.
Robert nodded, “You have everything you need. Determination, honesty, and you don’t complain.”
Andrew felt himself flush, hearing words so different than those hurled at him by disgruntled people; barks to keep up with his work, orders to leave the shop, even his mother’s frequent admonitions and his priest gentle chastisement. Robert had traveled the world and met hundreds of people, yet had found Andrew at his worst and still saw potential that others missed.
He shifted, knowing that the aching hope his father’s eyes, the beam of pride in Robert’s face, and the lives of his family were all wrapped up in one chance to go to school. What if he couldn’t learn?
Reaching Galveston Island required moving from the train onto a ferry. Andrew paced the railing as Robert chatted with old friends. His eyes swept the crust of land behind them, dropping to the porpoises following the boat. The bow was crowded with people looking toward home on the island, so he kept to the stern, watching the churning water. Seagulls followed with various greetings for the small boy who through the bits of cracker. Feeding human food to the birds — oh, how far he had come.
Andrew pressed his fingers to his eyelids, willing away the images from home. If he couldn’t help his family, it was easier not to think of them at all. The island gave him plenty of distraction. It resembled New York far more closely than Ireland. Men worked like ants, unloading ships in the docks, calling in odd accents.
The air was so thick with salt that he felt he could choke on it, and he tugged at his collar. Starch and humidity made a terrible marriage. Robert hand landed on his shoulder, but the man’s eyes swept the crowd as though he was seeing someone else entirely.
“Every time it gets harder to come back,” he murmured.
“Why do you?” Andrew asked.
The man set his jaw as his eyes misted. “Because my daughter is here somewhere.”
“Grandfather!”
The voice carried over the clanging bells, calling seagulls, and the hum of the red and golden-trimmed Buick driven by a stately middle-aged man. Andrew made no connection between the two, until the very personification of idealistic youth jumped from the high backed red cushions in the back of the vehicle. Vincent had brown hair that was combed to the side and eyes that darted in the direction of the twirling parasol even while long legs carried the boy toward them.
“Aren’t you a sight?” Vincent asked, stopping just in front of the pair. “I thought perhaps you changed your mind and were coming after all.” The blue eyes snap to Andrew. “Hullo. Who is this?”
Again a flush of pride crossed the old man’s face as he replied, “Andrew. He will be going to school with you next semester.”
Curiosity and amusement mingled during the formal introduction, but when they shook hands Vincent simply grinned. “Welcome to prison.”
As Andrew tried to think of an appropriate response, Robert spoke over him, directing his chauffeur to load the luggage.
“You know,” Vincent said, “my things are in the car already, and you have all of yours. It would be easiest just to turn right around on the ferry, and we could be on our way.”
Robert laughed heartily. “You forget my age, my boy.” The smile faded as the men considered, then nodded. “But I did promise Clara to come as quickly as possible. She’s no doubt been lonely this summer.”
It was a rapid reversal of plans, but Andrew was used to Robert’s changing whims by now. His heart pounded as he followed the man to the shining machine.
The trip from Galveston to Palacios turned out to be the liveliest he’d ever had. For Robert, traveling was as much for pleasure as to reach her destination. There was no sharing of bread and cheese in the corner of a steerage car. Meals were taken at fine restaurants, serving oysters and gourmet sauces. Interesting landmarks were explored, and the history of the local terrain introduced him to battles, pirates, hidden treasure, and cannibalistic Indians.
Vincent snagged the wheel somewhere between Freeport and Palacios, pushing the car to its limits and making liberal use of the horn. Robert shifted in the passenger seat to turn toward Andrew. “Your turn, Andrew. Every gentleman should learn to drive.”
His heart slammed against his ribs as Vincent applied the brakes.
“He’s right,” Vincent replied. “If you learn now, you may be allowed to drive it to the school, and you’ll have no shortage of friends.” The boy hopped out, disregarding the door handles to trade front and back with Andrew.
Andrew slid easily onto the sun warm leather seat, gripping the steering wheel. The breeze picked up with the machine rolled forward under the guidance, and he desperately wished his father could see.
As he turned around the corner, Robert chuckled. “See Vincent? This is what I meant when I described ‘careful.’”
Vincent grinned unashamed, “’Careful’ is such a dull word. There are better ones. ‘Fast’for instance. Now that is an interesting word, don’t you agree Andrew?”
“It’s a very interesting word.” Andrew suppressed grin broke through.
Robert tapped the top of his cane. “I don’t like the sound of it. It resembles ‘dangerous.’”
Vincent laughed loudly, before pouncing forward. “Left, Andrew! Left!”
Andrew coaxed the car onto a dusty road, running through modest but ornate buildings. A silver slip of the ocean peeked ahead.
“Follow Pavilion Street, and turned right on Harbor.” Vincent directed, before turning toward the back of the car. “Hallo! That’s James there. John said he’s the doctor’s apprentice now.”
“It’s good to see he did will in his studies,” Robert hinted.
“It’s not entirely my fault,” Vincent said. “I fell sick the first two weeks and never quite caught up.”
“Right here by the ice plant,” Robert ignored his grandson, to guide his charge onto the correct road. A series of ornamental houses — not stately affairs — but white, framed houses with generous porches, lined the streets.
They pulled up to a two story home with black shutters and two long porches.
Andrew pulled the car to a rather jerky stop as Vincent leaped from the back. “We’ll give them a surprise attack.”
But he attacked alone, leaving Andrew to round the car, offering assitance to the man. Robert cleared his throat, checking the car, then brushing imaginary lint from his coat.
“Well, here we are then,” the man said. “I suppose we’d better go in.”
Despite his words, he squinted around the yard as though inspecting it. The yard was more of a country dwelling than a town. A quick glance revealed an apple and pear tree alongside a tiny fig tree. There was a carriage house and a chicken hutch. By the time Andrews eyes swept the grapevine, he wondered if they’d have fruit trees on their farm.
Apparently it was not enough to win Mr. Mordaunt’s stamp of approval, for the man grunted, waving a cane toward the left side of the house. “That tree is rotting there. Edmund ought to have it cut down.”
A peel of girlish laughter floated from the screened windows and set a homelike feeling to the place.
“That’s Clara,” Robert said, and now he smiled. “She’ll be out here if we don’t go in.”
Andrew followed the man to along the back porch where the house shaded to chairs on either side of the small milk window. Three colorful quilts flopped in the breeze. The paint was old, but the place kept as orderly as the kitchen they stepped into. Andrew inched toward the pantry door, moving into a corner while Robert removed his hat.
A combination of cast iron and copper pots hung from a rack on the wall, with the exception of those sitting on a potbelly stove.
The woman tending the stove, dropped her wooden spoon, wiping her hands on a small apron before opening them. Whiting greeting, “Mr. Mordaunt, it’s good to see you!”
“Hannah!” Robert embraced the woman with a familiarity that felt foreign between the man and unrelated woman. “It’s good to see you. You get prettier every year.”
The woman huffed a laugh, touching her gray braid to ensure it was still coiled in a tight bun. “Please, I’m too old for flattery.” Sparkling blue eyes landed on to Andrew. “And who is this handsome man?”
“My boy,” Robert answered as though that should be perfectly obvious. “I wrote that I was bringing a boy.”
“You certainly dead, she” she replied. “Clara’s been puzzling over that for a week.”
Robert chuckled, offering no explanation to the topic of conversation who kept his own puzzlement as to himself. “How is Clara?”
A flicker of hesitancy past the woman’s eyes before she replied carefully, “Well enough. I’m grateful you brought Vincent home, even for the short visit. She needs that boy.”
She said to teasing smile toward Andrew. “She might need this one to.”
Robert chuckled and, as an uneven gait romped back down the stairs, he moved into the hall to meet the girl. Abandoned, Andrew stayed behind in the kitchen door peeking through a second doorway. Through the mirror in the hall, he caught a glimpse of a white cotton gown.
Roberts voice was playful as he said, “Let’s see you. Yes. She’s done well. Taller. Prettier.”
Andrew smiled, relieved to be free from the attention. Even the half glimpse he had of the girl plainly show that she was not tall at all. The assessment sounded the same the next moment when Robert continued, “Thinner. Gracious Edmund, don’t you feed this child? You could put her on a string and fly her like a kite.”
Nothing but mirth showed in the girl’s voice the she cried over Vincent laugh, “Grandfather!”
The fourth voice didn’t sound amused at all. When a man replied, “Of course, I feed her.”
Andrew swallowed, reminding himself that no one could see his own bony frame under his coat.
“Andrew, lad. Come in! Don’t be shy!”
Hannah smiled as she reached to straighten his tie, then all but pushed him into the dining room where he collided with the other coming in from the hall.
Clara looked like her mother – the smiling girl from the photograph. She had the same delicate mouth and high cheekbones. The same cherrywood color that illuminated strands of both red and golden intertwined in the brown. Yet there were differences. The almond shaped eyes lacked the vitality and charisma that had been captured in the photograph. Clara’s eyes were watercolor wash of green and brown, curiosity bleeding through the guarded expression.
“This is Andrew Callaghan,” Mr. Mordaunt said.
He tensed, waiting for whatever reaction might come from his name, but the girl looked more curious than disgusted – and perhaps frightened.
“My granddaughter, Clara.”
Clara. Should he call her Miss Mordaunt? No. Her last name wouldn’t be Mordaunt. It was… He hesitated, the replied, “Hello, Miss Clara.”
Clara dropped a curtsy. Did they curtsy in the south? It was only really half a curtsy, as if  she felt as unsure about it as he did. Was he supposed to bow?
Vincent grinned like it was some great joke, but the frown pulled at Mr. Edmund’s mouth as though he’d seen through the new clothing and rooted out the slum boy. Perhaps he simply recognized the accent. But Clara’s face broke into a smile, and Andrew glimpse the spirit of her mother.
Her father resembled Vincent, with the straight, slender figure and the same deep blue eyes under thick eyebrows. If he ever showed the humor of his son, it had long ago been stamped out.
Hannah bustle past with serving dish. “Dinner’s ready. Don’t let it get cold. You know I hate serving cold food, and I’ve kept this warm for over half an hour. That poor chicken is going to turn into sawdust.”
Vincent laughed, moving to sit at his father’s left and giving Robert the place of honor at the right of the head of the table. “Hannah, you wouldn’t serve chicken of it tasted like sawdust.”
“I might,” Hannah insisted. She planted to fists on her hips. “Would serve the lot of you right for making me wait.”
Clara did a funny little dance, as though, unsure where to sit before she slid in next to her grandfather. Andrew took the chair next to Vincent and as he sat, Vincent leaned over to whisper, “It’s your fault. You were driving.”
Hannah did not sit, instead bustling back-and-forth from the kitchen to the table like a mother hen, bringing in dishes, checking spoons, and generally hovering about. Crusty chicken, gravy, creamed potatoes, and snapped beans were served along with a white gravy Andrew had never seen.
Everyone filled their own plates, except for Clara, who waited for her father to serve her.
Robert cut his chicken, then liberally spooned the gravy onto the meat. “So tell me Edmund, what’s the local news in the big town of Palacios? Seemed to be quite a few people here today. Has it grown much?”
Edmund nodded. “The city was incorporated this year.”
“Officially on the map, I see.”
“The Palacios newspaper has changed itself to the Beacon,” Edmund said. “Mr. Stump is the editor and proprietor now. You remember him?”
“What in the world does the newspaper have to write about?” Robert asked.
“The consumption and sale of alcohol,” Clara said.
“For or against?” Vincent grinned.
“Against, of course.”
Edmund shook his head. “There is talk of a deep water port, making the roads better and putting a new water system.”
“Sewage and electricity would be nice as well,” Robert muttered.
“The railroad has been bringing in people from Wharton from noon to five every day to visit the pavilion.” Edmund said. It costs seventy-five cents for the entire trip. That alone is already securing our town’s future.”
“Well I hope it grows quickly,” Robert replied, winking at Clara. “This town could use a few hundred more people. We can’t have Clara getting too lonely.”
“I’m not lonely, Grandfather.” Clara squirmed in her chair, eyes shifting between Edmund and Robert.
“So tell me about Andrew,” Edmund kept his eyes on his food, skillfully turning the direction of the conversation.
It worked. Roberts face softened into pride, even as Andrew swallowed.
“I met Mr. Callaghan out an outdoor café in New York. I dropped some bills without realizing it, and Andrew was good enough to return them. We had short conversation and I had an extra ticket to a concert that night, so I invited him along. He’s a musician, and I wish you could’ve been there, because he replicated every song after the concert just as well as they played it on stage. I decided then and there that I must get him in school.”
Mr. Callaghan. Andrew’s fork stilled, again thinking of his father. The story was true. Everything Mr. Robertson said really did happen. It was all the things he didn’t say that made him flush. Had Mr. Mordaunt really decided then and there to send them to school? The man was confusing him with all the barbed remarks directed toward Edmund and the town the man had chosen to make his own. He had been nothing but polite when Andrew had taken to his apartment in New York. Despite his mother’s worries about what the men thought of the place, Robert had treated his family with the utmost respect.
Here, the children sat quietly while their elders exchanged underhanded barbs. Andrew followed Vincent’s example until Edmund turned cold blue eyes on him. A halfhearted smile, gave his face the resemblance of pleasantry, but tension was evident in his voice when he asked, “What does your father do?”
Andrew glanced up from his half eaten plate. He hated this question. What his father did at the moment, and what his father was capable of doing were two entirely different answers. “He works at the wharf, Sir.”
He glanced at Robert before he spoke, unsure how he should answer. If Mr. Mordaunt was trying to give the impression that he was from a wealthy family, it wouldn’t work for long. He’d rather be truthful them be discovered after making silly mistakes.
“Filling his lifelong dream I suppose,” Edmund’s face closed as he muttered. Andrew wondered if he was talking to himself were directing the barb at Andrew. Before he could analyze the man, he spoke again. “How many siblings do you have?”
Andrew thought back to his overcrowded house with a mixture of humiliation and longing. “Nine, Sir.”
He spoke as Edmund took a drink of water, and the answer left the man sputtering for breath. Andrew braced himself for whatever remarks, complaints, or ranting may be in store.
Before Edmund had recovered himself enough to speak, Clara’s stepped in. Her voice was soft, and a little timid, but she compensated with her smile as she asked, “Are they older or younger?”
“All younger.” Though he couldn’t remember being an only child. Fiona was only a year younger. Lauren two years, but she had been his companion since the cradle. “I have one brother, and the rest are sisters.”
Vincent grinned. “And you’re going to an all boys school. That should be a change.”
Edmund opened his mouth, but Robert spoke over him. “Andrew, why don’t you play something?”
Eager for the conversation to stop, Andrew slid from his chair, retrieving his violin from the corner where it sat in its new case. Its neck was worn smooth from his father’s hands, and he borrowed strength from the man. But it was the music that grounded him. He played the last song he’d heard his father play, remembering little Bridget spinning around in the room, holding her skirt out on either side. Bridget danced whenever she heard music, no matter how hungry she was.
He didn’t see his current listeners. He directed his bow into a softer song, one they would recognize and appreciate. One that made him remember riding on the hay wagon behind his grandfather, dances on the green, and the cold stones of the cathedral where he first learn to pray at his mother’s side.
As the song grew close to the ending, he peeked to survey his current audience. Robert’s sat back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, eyeing him with satisfaction that a teacher wore for a pupil. Even Edmund seemed to calm under the music, still eyeing him curiously, but the man shoulders had relaxed. Perhaps he was as relieved to be out from Robert scrutiny, as Andrew was to be out of his. Vincent wore his ever present grin, eyes roving between Andrew and Clara. Clara didn’t notice her brother; her eyes were on the violin.
Andrew watched her, until her eyes flickered from the violin to meet his for a split second. There was an eagerness coming alive in her, like spring peeking out of a long winter. Andrew smiled softly, recognizing the feeling the music invoked. None of the men understood the music — the story — that he conveyed. Most people didn’t. But he saw it in Clara.
Before he had finished playing, a knock sounded at the door. Vincent didn’t give Hannah chance to answer it, unfolding his long limbs out of the chair to go for it himself. The hallway rang with familiar greetings of friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and Hannah begin clearing places as Robert and Edmund greeted their guest. The party moved outdoors to the porch and Andrew slowly put away his violin.
More introductions. More questions he didn’t know how to answer. He procrastinated, carrying his plate from the table into the kitchen where Hannah scraped the scraps out the milk window to the dog.
“No, don’t you be worrying about cleaning up.” She ordered, moving to the sink. “And don’t you be worrying about Mr. Castle and Mr. Mordant. Someday you’ll marry a pretty girl, and you probably won’t get along very well with her father either. You go out there and enjoy yourself and don’t let their competing bother you.”
“It’s rather crowded out there,” Andrew said. The woman made no protest, simply going about her chores. He glanced at the clock, imagining his father walking home right now. Alistar was probably hungry and tired and smelling like fish. He wondered if his father was thinking about him. Andrew had done more in his life the last week, then he had the entire sixteen years before.
Dear Father, I’m safe in Texas. I’ve written first class in a train. I have a weeks worth of clothing. I’ve even driven automobile. And today I played for the first time since I left.
Andrew chewed the tip of his tongue. Even if he could pen a letter. Even if his father could read, there was no way to describe to his family what his life was like now. Already, his old life seem like a dream, sometimes vivid and real, filled with aching and the sights and smells he grown up with. Sometimes it seemed like it had never existed. Was that normal?
Andrew let the screen shut softly behind him, moving past the group on the on the porch to the side rail where he looked off to the bay. Music and voices drifted from a few blocks over where Vincent had pointed out the pavilion. So far, he had found no place in America the resembled any part of Ireland.
Bits of the conversation behind him sported the concerns of the locals. The noise brought by tourists, the need for rain, and the longing for fall.
Something stung his arm and Andrew glanced down to a tiny insect perched on his arm with a minuscule beak plunged into his arm. He slapped it, leaving a streak of black bug and red blood across his palm.
Edmund’s shadow darkened the pinkish glow of the railing as he moved beside Andrew. “You’ve got to be careful about the mosquitoes here,” Edmund said quietly. “They can carry diseases. Things in the south will suck the life out of you if you let them. You must be rugged to survive.”
Aware of the glint in the man’s voice, and of the uncomfortably small distance Edmund had placed between them, Andrew bit his tongue, willing his feet to stay in place.
“You must have made quite the impression on Robert,” the man continued, “He’s brought all sorts of things back from his travels. But never a boy. What are his plans with you?”
Andrew felt his sleeves brush the man, keeping his eyes fixed on the sunset with its fading colors. “He wants me to go to school.”
“And then what?”
Andrew’s mouth opened, waiting for an answer that was not readily apparent. “I’m not sure.”
Edmund nodded. “He hasn’t told you?”
“I intend to be a musician, Sir. I always have.” With or without help.
“You know he’s a business man? He will only invest in things he believes will turn a profit. He’ll expect interest on his investments.”
Andrew swallowed, remembering Robert’s remark about Edmund being stubborn, and wondering if the bitter words were spoken from experience. Were they true? Robert had a capricious nature, willing to part with money for whatever caught his interest. But there was no return on his many trips to the theater or symphony, except a night of enjoyment. He had been gracious to Andrew’s family, even after seeing their overcrowded home. It was the first time a non-immigrant had inquired about their story. Something had sparked again in Alistair’s eyes as he’d recounted his past in Ireland, and his hope for their future in America. Robert hadn’t laughed at their stubborn hope of leaving the tenements to gain a farm. He had reinforced the belief that in America, a man could rise to any circumstances he set his heart on. How could Andrew doubt him now, based on a bitter comment of a scorned son-in-law? He attempted to redirect the conversation. “I imagine any business man would. You seem to be quite successful yourself. You have a nice place.”His response seemed to disarm the man whose shoulders softened beneath the crisp jacket. Edmund’s eyes swept the horse and cow in the pasture across the street.
“Well enough. The hurricane took everything I had nine years ago. It’s taken a while to recover losses.”
Thus the difference between the two men. Robert had investments in states all over, while Edmund had apparently consolidated his life into the island. Andrew nodded. “When we came to America, my father had arranged to buy a farm from a former friend, who wanted to go west. But all of our possessions and money was lost before we got off the ship. It’s not easy to recover when all has been taken.”
“No, it’s not,” Edmund agreed. “It forces you to depend on others’ resources and money. When their whims change, you can be cut, strangled, or tied. You’re a long way from home if you discover you’re not meant for school life.”
It was true, and the idea panged harder than he would like. It wouldn’t come to that. Mr. Robert wouldn’t regret sending him to school, but even if he did…
“I’ve worked several jobs before,” Andrew said. “I could find my way home.”
“That’s your security? You could find your way home? It’s not much to fall back on.”
“Myself is all I’ve ever had, Sir.”
Edmund nodded, letting out a slow breath. “Which is why you’ll never be a business man, Andrew. You just sold your only asset.”

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