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. He blew out a breath, frowning at the letters he was creating and comparing them to the alphabet sheet on the side. He should have asked someone to teach him the letters long before this, but he’d been too embarrassed by the time he was thirteen – and here he was at fifteen, slogging through loops and lines without knowing if he’d even picked the right letter to spell the word. He blotted the letters, set the pen in the vibrating inkwell, and retrieved the coat off of the floor, folding it before setting it next to the sleeping gentleman he traveled with.
An Englishman no less.
He fingered the coins in his pocket; coins his father would have to find a way to replace to pay the rent, coins he hoped he would never have to spend.
“They’ll get you a passage home,” his father had whispered, “should you need it. If you feel unsafe – even a little – don’t say anything. Just leave and come home. We’ll find another way.”
So far, Mr. Mordaunt had kept his word. A patron who’d looked past the things that should have prevented them from ever meeting: he’d ignored the grime of the day-labor job, dismissed the Catholic beliefs and seen only an extraordinarily gifted musician. And if the wealthy, English, Protestant man was willing to extend a hand in friendship, to pull one of their children out of the slums and send him to school – they must show some faith – or risk forever losing a chance that one of them could break the cycle immigration had thrown them into.
The neighbor’s thought they were crazy, but he knew the truth. It wasn’t insanity. It was desperation.
“Use your sense,” Da had warned, “if it feels off, it is. Don’t talk yourself into staying if your head tells you to go. But if this man is honorable, if he sends you to school and introduces you to Americans, you learn and you listen, and for God sake, don’t stop.”
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 turn backward. The further 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 while the grass grew taller and coarser.
Mr. Mordaunt lived on Galveston Island – which was really only 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, 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 ashamed of the ungrateful words he’d written. “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. He snapped open the face, then extended toward Andrew. “This is my daughter, Victoria Rose. Victoria after the queen — she was born in England, you know — 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 watch held a portrait of a young girl with wavy hair that turned into soft spirals on her shoulders. 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.
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 until she outgrew them. When she turned ten, I took her with me and we set off to see the Seven Wonders of the World.”
He frowned as he adjusted his pipe. “Then she grew up and became the Eighth. She had her pick of men with every temperament and livelihood that you could imagine, but she chose a quiet man just starting 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 become stubborn. I can make you into someone great.”
“I won’t, sir,” Andrew replied, wondering what Rose’s husband 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 most men; 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 a small boy who threw 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 and the island offered 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 and heat that he felt he could choke on it and he tugged at his collar. Starch and humidity made a terrible marriage. Robert’s 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.”
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. 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 a 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 weren’t coming after all.” The blue eyes snap to Andrew. “Hullo! Who’s this?”
Again a flush of pride crossed the old man’s face as he replied, “Andrew Callighan. He will be attending 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 man 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 car.
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 reaching his 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 onto the sun-warmed leather seat, gripping the steering wheel. The breeze picked up with the machine as it rolled forward under guidance, and a grin crept onto his mouth. He desperately wished his father could see. Alister would still be giggling to himself knowing his son was driving an automobile.
As he turned a corner, Robert chuckled. “See Vincent? This is what I meant when I described ‘careful.’”
Vincent grinned unashamedly. “‘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 is indeed,” Andrew answered, feeling his suppressed grin break 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 road created from broken shells, passing small but ornate buildings. A silver slip of the ocean peeked ahead.
“Follow Pavilion Street, and turn right on Harbor Avenue.” 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 well 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 white, framed houses with generous porches lined the streets.
Vincent’s house was one of the largest on the road, white with black shutters and a second story porch. A bright quilt draped over the railing, airing in the breeze and adding a bit of cheer to the street.
Andrew pulled the car to a rather jerky stop as Vincent leaped from the back, calling, “We’ll give them a surprise attack.”
But he attacked alone, leaving Andrew to walk around the car, offering assistance to Mr. Mordaunt.
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. A quick glance revealed an apple and pear tree alongside a tiny fig tree just beyond a carriage house and a chicken hutch. By the time Andrew’s eyes swept the grapevine, he wondered if his family would have fruit trees on their farm once they got it – if they ever managed to get one.
Apparently, this estate 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.
“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 the back porch where the house shaded two chairs on either side of the small milk window. The paint was old, but the porch was as orderly as the kitchen it led to. 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 with a greeting, “Mr. Mordaunt, it’s good to see you!”
Andrew inched toward the pantry door, moving into a corner while Robert removed his hat.
“Hannah!” Robert embraced the 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 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 did,” she replied. “Clara’s been puzzling over that sentence for a week.”
Robert chuckled, offering no explanation. “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 sent a teasing smile toward Andrew. “She might need this one too.”
Robert chuckled and 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 and long, brown curls, still swinging loose and free like the very youngest of his sisters.
Robert’s 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 as she cried over Vincent’s 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 nearly collided with the group coming 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 cherry-wood color that illuminated strands of both red and golden intertwined in the brown hair. Yet there were differences. The almond-shaped eyes lacked the vitality and charisma that had been captured in the photograph. Clara’s eyes were a 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 – oh, he didn’t know what it was.
He hesitated, then replied, “Hello, Miss Clara.”
Clara dropped half a curtsy as if she felt as unsure about the response 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. Or perhaps he simply recognized the accent, the heavy brogue that betrayed his origins from County Cork. But Clara’s face broke into a smile, and Andrew glimpse the spirit of her mother.
Her father resembled Vincent, with a straight, slender figure and the same deep blue eyes under thick eyebrows.
Hannah bustled past with a 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, giving Robert the place of honor to the right of the head of the table. 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.
Vincent leaned over to whisper, “It’s your fault we’re late. You were driving.”
Hannah did not sit, instead rushing 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 in this town?” 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 deepwater port, making the roads better and putting in 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 Mr. Callighan,” 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, resisting squirming beneath the attention.
“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 a short conversation and I had an extra ticket to a concert that night, so I invited him along. He’s a musician, you see. I wish you could’ve been there. 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 into school.”
Mr. Callaghan. Andrew’s fork stilled, again thinking of his father. The story was true. Everything Mr. Robert said really did happen. It was all the things he hadn’t said before 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 man thought of the place, Robert had treated his family with the utmost respect.
Here, the children sat quietly while their elders exchanged underhanded insults. Andrew followed Vincent’s example until Edmund turned cold blue eyes on him. A half-hearted smile gave his face the resemblance of pleasantry, but the 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 than be discovered a liar.
“Filling his lifelong dream I suppose,” Edmund muttered, reaching for his glass. “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 but before Edmund recovered enough to speak, Clara 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,” Andrew answered. 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. He played the last song he’d heard Alister 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 learned 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 under Robert’s scrutiny as Andrew was to be away from 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 Clara did.
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 himself. The hallway rang with familiar greetings of friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and Hannah began clearing places as Robert and Edmund greeted their guest. The party moved outdoors to the porch and Andrew set aside 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 a 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 with her father either. You go out there and enjoy yourself and don’t let their competing bother you.”
“It’s 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. Alistair was probably hungry, 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 fifteen years before.
I’m safe in Texas. I’ve ridden first class on a train. I have a week’s worth of clothing. I’ve even driven an 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 seemed like a dream, sometimes vivid and real, filled with aching for 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 porch to the side rail where he watched the bay.
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 blocked the pinkish glow of the sunlit railing as he stepped to the rail 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 narrow 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 for 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? You know he’s a businessman. He’ll only invest in things he believes will turn a profit.”
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 businessman 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 onto the Galveston Island before the storm took his business and his wife.
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 taken just after we got off the ship. We haven’t managed to recover.”
“No, it’s not to recover when you’ve lost everything,” Edmund agreed. “It forces you to depend on others, on their resources and money. When their whims change, you can be cut, strangled, or tied.” He glanced down at Andrew. “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 businessman, Andrew. You just sold your only asset.”