Emma loosened her grip on Joe’s arm as she backed away to ask “ So again I find you in a interesting predicament. What pray tell were you doing?” Joe turned to Frances then changing his tone of voice deep, then replied, “This young lad has had little time for leisure ,unlike myself, there for he wanted so badly to see the play.” “ As it is the tickets are all sold out.” “ He being the less fortunate lad was desperate to see it.” He looked around to see if the lie would fly. “I couldn’t let him down,” he said exempting his self. “As a matter of fact I have seen my share and could care less.”
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The Gertrude spoke up with a question on her face. “ How old are you?” Clearing his throat as he looked down to press the wrinkles from the belly of his shirt with his hand he answered, “ I’m fourteen.” “Oh I see”. She nodded. “ Hum… it must have been in your travels for I was told this theatre has been closed for the last ten years.” With that she sharply turned to Emma leaving Joe’s ears burning and his throat dry. “Emma if they wish to see the play free this time it will be fine but I dare say Joe is old enough to earn his way.” “ I think if he is in true need of money we can see if there is an opening here.”
They followed Emma down the long narrow hall to the back steps. There they climbed to the loft where the whole theatre could be seen. The stage was extravagantly dressed with its elegant long red velvet drapes that cascaded down from either side of the stage. The bright lights hung from the rafters shimmering off the black tile floor. The room itself was divided down the middle with a wall holding one side for common people and the other for the more elite. While one had modest seating the other held cushioned velvet trimmed seats with small romantic tables adorned with candlelight. Its walls were filled with the chatter of people as they waited for the play to begin.
Joe could smell the aroma of well-prepared food. “ Um.” he breathed in. “It smells like roast duck.” “They eat here while they watch the play?” Emma smiled, “Well not all, only a chosen few who have the money for such luxuries.” “It was Von Hoke’s idea that this would bring all townsmen to the centre in hopes of getting what money that’s to be found in this town.”
Frances leaned over the edge to get a better look first spying the banker hard at work selling his bank’s credentials to a couple seated next to him when the shining head of Mr. Dobbs caught his eye. He was escorting a young lady dressed in a slinky red silk dress adorned with black feathers that swayed back and forth about her neck as she walked down the isle. The shift of her rolling hips reminded you of a ship being tossed about by the ruff sea.
As the curtain rose a hush came over the room Joe and Emma stood quietly aiming their eyes at the stage while a cold clammy feeling rushed over Frances who kept his head turned toward Mr. Dobbs and his galactic date. Frances evil looks could have burnt a hole in the back of Mr. Dobbs head as he watched him slowly lean in to kiss her on the side of the cheek. His stomach rushed to the top of his throat with the idea of his poor mother at home while he observed the sickening form of affections he was portraying in front of the whole town to this ghastly woman.
Picking at a piece of paper he had pulled out of his pocket he began to tear it into small pieces. One by one he pains taking rolled them into wet balls in side his mouth then looking around to see if any one was paying him any mind spit it toward Mr. Dobbs shining bald head. As it landed with a splat Mr. Dobbs swiftly skirmished about snatching his hands in the air like fighting flies.
Frances laughter echoed over the top of the actor’s voices as he dove down to keep from being seen leaving Emma and Joe the only ones standing. Joe’s face was of pure shock to see most eyes on them when a large robust lady giving him a keen unpleasant look pointed toward them. As he looked about the room full of people he saw the angry eyes of Mr. Dobbs and his date searching him out.
Stepping back from the light they all giggled as Joe shoved Frances “ Why in Jesus name did ya do that for you little brat?” he wailed out. Frances who still had his hand over his mouth tried to keep his joy down with his eyes dancing about in sheer happiness. “ That man,” He tried to say but lost his posture again having to slap his hand back in place as he chuckled. “ That man makes mum think she is the queen of his heart and all the while he is with one woman then the other.” He then gave Emma a strange look.
When Emma’s face turned pale and her eyes fell to the floor Joe rushed to her defense. “ Your mum could care less about him just like everyone else around here!” “He’s just a means of survival!” Frances pouting decided to stand alone to see the play keeping his shoulders shriveled up for the duration of the night with his fist tightly clutched to his chest. Joe knowing his lack of tolerance for anyone against his mother reserved his distance but kept an eye on him for safety.
At home Frances mother stood looking out the front door as the rain puddle on the make shift walk made of rock. She held herself tightly as she remembered the bitter situation and still wondered if it was in her head or had he really loved her then glanced again at the tattered letter she had received many years ago its words had faded in places as she strained to read it once more.
“ Dear Katherine,
I am writing this letter in good health. We have been called to Bowen farm. If we can oppress our enemies there we will have accomplished a great deal. But I fear with our lack of trained soldiers of who are exhausted and unequipped there maybe an uninvited change in our situation.
Our ears ring with the sound of heavy gunfire with many casualties. The sounds of crashing bombs are all around us. While many men lay at death’s door others have had grace to take them on leaving their rubble bodies a ferrous sight to comprehend.
The upheaval of the earth pooled with blood and rain sickens the heart with the air smelling of burnt flesh and heavy black smoke which stifles ones breath to even try to rest your mind.
Our orders are carried out by green and yellow dots written on paper. It is hard to realize in your mind that these plans are for the death of others.
We are lucky to have our faithful companions the dogs for they have came in a time of need. How they bravely carry on with their trained work as their weary soaked bodies leap to our needs of message carrying.
It is a shock to ones system to see the once marsh grounds now filled with the scattered mounds of bones and flesh filling up ponds that have been made by our enemies constant bombing. As there is indeed a hell we are surely in this place of devastation.
I hope this letter finds you well. For give me for having no good deeds to tell.
I will write soon perhaps by then I will have good news, Adam.
The ink on the letter once again dissolved with her flow of tears while with trembling hands she folded it neatly placing it in her pocket. Again she feared war, which roared out like a savage beast breathing over a frail animal already defeated in its trap of starvation and oppression. She worried what would become of her with no real means of support. Her once busy bread and breakfast had came to a halt leaving her with only the option of taking on the shameful disgrace of strange men’s affections which had altered with age leaving her with very little to survive on. If the war did come it would be the end and sometimes that was a welcomed thought.
Looking out the door once more to see her drunken suitor coming up the walk with a deep breath she tried to prepare her mind for what task she may find herself performing for the hope of a meal. Her breathing altered with disgust of his shiny red face as he undressed her immediately with his beady eyes while he spit tobacco on the walk. Thinking to herself to be strong was to survive she smilingly opened the door as he places his hands quickly over her breast, his breath smelled of stale ashes and cheap whiskey.
Wasting no time they entered her room while he lay her on the bed as she thought of sweeter times before the war while reaching for her bottle of liquor that had always been her solution to escape. After his disgusting performance all that he handed her were a few bruised potatoes and whiskey he had in his nap sack. Disheartened she reached for them like an injured child.
Frances like most child remained unaware of his mother’s predicament .He in the mean time was still at the theatre watching an unexpected performance where they were the only children there. “ He was beside himself as his eyes burnt with the appearance of Emma’s sister on stage dressed in a Nunn’s hat with only a girdle and garter. fought off the devil. The audience gasped at the sight as she bowed to them while men and women who were much offended scattered like rats to escape the room but yet others roared with laughter.
Frances could see that Mr. Dobbs never flinched while Mr. Grady covered his wife’s eyes as he hurried her out the door . Joe stood in mid air busting a gut with laughter. “ Oh my gosh I have never seen such a sight!” He squalled “This will never work! “ “ Too many people have ran out of the building covering their eyes!” he chuckled.
Emma laughing at the sight of him bouncing back and forth clapping his hands had tears in her eyes from shear joy.
With the commotion Frances’ mood suddenly became better joining in on the conversation as Emma burst out “That’s Von Hoke for you!” she giggled. “ He has his own style of doing things and doesn’t care who sees the play or not with enough money that it doesn’t matter one way or the other to him.”
After the play the good bye was short with Joe’s promise to come back to talk to Mr. Von Hoke about any services needed. By the time they said good night all was quite with both homes and town so they parted at Frances’ house where a small dim light shined from his mother’s window. Frances standing at the doorway waved good-bye giving a heavy sigh .He went inside with his head lowered facing a dreaded cold house and lonely quarters.
Joe’s father being of great concern for the well being of his fine crystal always kept the doors barred leaving him with no way in except through his bed room window. As he climbed in he could still smell the odor of whiskey and cheap perfume. His father with his head down on the kitchen table drunk to a stopper while his head wobbled to the sound of Joe’s footsteps through the door way suddenly staggered to the sink wiping his eyes with the back of his hand knocking over liquor bottles on his way. “ Boy!” “ You better get this up!” “Make some use of your God given hands.” He scattered to scoop up the bottle on the table before it crashed to the floor that was now rattling as it tipped back and forth while his father held to the wall half crawling off to bed then rushing over to the trash and projectile vomited pure whiskey. The smell so rank Joe’s head flew back with disgust. “ Be Jesus da!” He said holding his nose with his eyes tearing.
While Joe cleaned up the mess his father finally made his way to bed where he lay out like a corpse with his arms folded about his chest as he sucked air through his gaping mouth sounding like the sharp whiz of a hundred missiles. Joe returned to the kitchen where he ate from a plate of crumbs that had been left on the table. His tongue danced about the edges of the dish as he tried to savor every greasy stain. Then retiring for bed with the hopes of a job floating like clouds inside his mind soon for got the hollow spot in his raw stomach and fell fast a sleep.
Days and nights continued to be appalling for the citizens of Ireland while young rebels rampaged the streets out of protest of the British government’s strong arm of force the elite Black and Tans bombarded the streets for some sort of political control. The reopened theatre and occasional game of football gave little mental relief from the after effects of the Great War. Now only a short time later to be faced with more tyranny as the British president stormed threats of yet more atrocity to be endured if peace among the people and the government could not be settled. The British like Goliath in the Bible standing with arms folded with a smile of irony arrogantly waiting for any sign that small David could be even remotely considered a threat were soon standing with mouth open and eyes bulged astound at the ability of the power of the people as more and more volunteered for the cause.
Joe anxiously arrived early in hopes of seeing Mr. Von Hoke entered the building enthusiastically slinging the door open wide as the sun shot through the darkened room while he searched for any sign of the tall dark haired gentlemen that Emma had pointed out to him in the audience the night before. The owner Harold Von Hoke coming from Poland having experienced his own form of strife by his mother being a catholic Irish lady. He had not only brought the town entertainment but also the use of the theatre for the quarters in which meetings could be secretly held.
A shallow faced man with pale blue eyes that were over cast by large bushy black eyebrows. He twisting his sickle style mustache stood erroneously slumped over the bar talking to two others on the farther side of the room.
Joe having a keen eye and making it his business to know the latest news recognized Mr. Von Hoke and also felt quite sure he knew the other two men as locals known for their services with the Irish Volunteers.
As he approached the gentlemen quickly came to a halt with their deep engaged conversation. The one young man holding a black satchel under his arm, which looked to be for medical purposes seemed nervous as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His eyes darted about the room while he continually dotted his face with his handkerchief as wide drops of perspiration beaded about his forehead. Mr. Von Hoke excused himself as he guided Joe by the shoulder out of hearing distance. Standing with an air of aristocracy “What can I do for you? “ he asked slowly as he light a cigarette.
Joe shyly began his story of how he was told there might be work for him in the theatre. The man questioned coldly “ You say Emma suggested you see me?” “ Well right off hand I can not think of an opening.” “ We have just began our tour here and seem to have the appropriate amount of staff which have came with us.” “How ever I will indeed keep you in mind for any such events.”
Joe quickly went into action “ I am a real hard worker and don’t mind what ever position you might come a cross for me to do.” It makes no difference, Sir I will do any thing you say with great enthusiasm,” he babbled on as he applied a jovial face.
The man listened keeping his eyes peeled on the men as they eased their way out the exit door to the alley while they looked around suspiciously. He twisted his mustache for a moment then answered “Ok I will keep you in mind.” Replacing his hand on Joe’s shoulder he went on to say. “ I’m sorry son but we need to close for now. “I hate to rush but you understand,” he continued giving a quick wave to the two men while he rushed Joe out the front door.
Standing on the street corner in a daze from the rushed conversation Joe leaning his back against a light post pinched himself off a wad of tobacco that old man O’Toole had given him during one of their conversations. Feeling Sure as the day was long he could no longer survive on the streets with empty pockets and even worse a dull ache in the pit of his gut. The sweet taste of the tobacco juice sickens him as he gagged spitting it out on the ground.
Raising his eyes to see Mr. Von Hoke headed his way he quickly wiped his mouth. When approached Joe was surprised to hear him apologizing as he held out his hand in friendship. “Son, you must forgive my abrupt behavior.” “I feel as if we should be able to find something for you to do if not but a few hours a week.” “ Gertrude was just telling me of your predicament and I’d like to help.” “Now mind you it won’t be anything of great importance at first but if you prove yourself valuable we may work something out.”
Joe vigorously wiped the palm of his hands down his pant leg and eagerly shook his hand with a smile. “Any thing sir, I am an extremely hard worker, you will see.” “ I promise you shan’t have a regret.” “ When should I start?” he rambled on. The man grinned surprised at his enthusiasm giving him a pat on the back. “I will be gone for a few days but rest assure you can start after then.” Lets say next Monday you come by the theatre at four.” Joe could hardly contain himself for excitement pumping in his heart. “ Yes sir, Mr. Hoke I will be there!” With a skip and jump he ran off toward home to tell his father and chase down Frances.
David O’Toole stood at the end of the alley with his usual bottle of rum staggering to find a place to land. As he swung around to position himself on the ground he fell when Joe quickly came to his rescue cushioning his fall. O’Toole looked up pitifully surprised that any one would touch him much less think of helping.
His odd eyes expressed his gratitude as he tried to speak with slurred words. “Tha. Thanks chap.” he spurted out still holding to his bottle in one hand and the other oddly enough was a red dog collar. Joe looked strangely at it but never bothered to ask what it was for he had seem him with many odd things he had collected from others discarded belongings.
Looking down on the old man dressed in rags with his hands covered by tattered brown gloves he felt fortunate that he had any thing himself. David O’Toole having no family or friends nor place to live gave Joe a sense of gratitude that he had some where to go even if it was for a short time and with the hope of a job maybe he could leave this desolate city. “ You are most welcome.” How are you David?” “ It seems the rain will return soon.” He went on to say, “The clouds are low today.”
O’ Toole strained to focus squinting his eyes as he slowly raised his head. “Yes another day of rains.” “I must find cover,” he stated as he slapped his hand against the wet street.
“Here let me take you back to your place.” “ Its much warmer then staying here on this cold ground.” He begged as he try to gather his arm but O’Toole was already out on the ground like a sick cow with his legs jolting with each nudge of Joe.
The place Joe had in mind was an abandoned building that had been all but destroyed by fire, which was a place where many homeless found refuge from the weather.
As he searched for something he could at least cover the old man with his heart lay heavy for his people and country. If indeed he could escape the unfortunate trick of fate what would happen to the people he had grown so fond of through the years.
The rolling hills and stone covered paths that lay adorned with primrose would for ever burn a whole in his mind along with the horrible site of young children searching for food and shelter while their hollow eyes told the truth of the governments theft of life. What would freedom taste like, would it be sweet like a soft ripe melon or would it be as a single berry buried in a thorny bush the price to high to enjoy.
Finding only a torn box he placed it on the old man’s shoulders with a look of pity in his eyes he went on his way feeling heaviness in his heart as he slowly made his way through town. Hearing the chatter of people and children at play in the background was a sound of music to his soul. How could ones so enslaved by torment and hunger still find away to hope?
At home he went through his wardrobe in search for something he could make himself more presentable with for work finding a stained white shirt and raveled thread pants with a vest that his father had out grown. Carefully washing them by hand in the sink he hung them by the fire to dry as he retired in his father’s favorite chair.
Staring at the goblets that lined the shelf on the window he tried to understand his father’s way of thinking. What was important to his father seemed frivolous to him. Sleep came as a peaceful refuge to the reality of home as his father lie in the bedroom covered with the smell of whiskey while one hand dangled from the bed holding an unopened letter.
Frances had several weeks before proudly given his mother the letter of recommendation for his service as a alter boy. Now instituting himself busy with the concerns of church having been taken under the wing of Father Jacob he found more and more time was spent with church and less time with his mother or Joe.
He had shown great improvement with his study of the bible and had the undying attention he so greatly needed from Father Jacob or any male, as the case would be.
Being chosen to help in his quarters Frances darted about quickly to tidy up the room after the Father’s meal while he lay back for a nap in a soft wing back chair near the warmth of a fire. Frances not only found the warmth of the quarters inviting but was happy being also fed quite well himself.
Glancing up to see if Father Jacob remained asleep he quickly put a few small lemon curds in his pocket to take home to his mother as his thoughts turned to Joe. Worrying if he had found a way to eat he felt guilty with the satisfying warm feeling of fullness he felt in his belly.
The rattle of the silver platter hitting the floor while Frances was rushing to clean up. Awoken Father Jacob startled rose quickly from his chair with wide eyes stammering to his feet. “ Frances what happened, you shocked me with the noise!” “ I was deep in meditation.” He jests as he reached for his bible. The same thing he always persisted each time he took his nap.
Clearing his throat he opened the bible once again to a passage he had marked and began to read a loud. “O’ God, You have declared me perfect in your eyes.” “ You have always cared for me in my distress.“ “Now hear me as I call again.” “ Have mercy on me.” “ Hear my prayer.” he quoted now kneeling beside his chair as he peered out to see Frances’ reaction. “ Come here son and join me in this prayer that God will ever find favor in me.” He motioned him over with the wave of his hand.“ I feel some times that I am prosecuted unfairly.” Wholehearted Frances knelt beside him closing his eyes tightly and folding his small hands in front of his chin as he bowed his head. “You lead the prayer this time son.” he replied as he rubbed his hand slowly down Frances’ spine.
In his childish voice Frances repeated a prayer as the father coaxed him. “ O’ God we stand before you in your grace.” “ Give me the strength to over come my enemies at my gate and ever be thankful for friendship that I have been so blessed to find.” “ Amen”. Standing over him the Father softly pressed the back of his hand against his cheek. “ That was very good son.” “Now we must get ready for communion.” “ Please get my robe.”
Frances rose swiftly to his feet anxious to obey. After helping him dress they returned to the parish.
Passing the bank Joe spied Mr. Grady again placing an advertisement in the window. Written in bold black lettering it read: “ This it the place for you great Protestants to further your money’s worth. Come in side for further information.” Joe rolled his eyes in disgust as he passed the building. The weather now a chilling ache through his bones as a wet winter lay to rest over the city with a ferrous force. The winds cut through his thin clothes burning his skin as he put his hands under his coat to warm . The clouds burst releasing the heaven’s tears.
Daylight almost gone he hurried his way up the hill to home seeing the delighted effects of smoke roaring from the chimney as the aroma of wood burning thrilled his soul. His father was home and evidently in good spirits. Hurrying through the path of deep muddy tracts from farm wagons he leaped for joy at the thought of having a job.
Swinging open the door he jolted out “ Da’ I’m glad you are home! “ “ I have the best news and wanted to share it with you!” “ I have been informed of a job.” “ Nothing great as of yet but it has promise for such.” With his heart over zealous he forgot to latch the door. As it slammed against the wall his father jumped screaming out profanity. “ Damn nations!” “ You have a rock for a head!” “ Shut the bloody Damn door!” “ It has taken me all day to get a fire started with this wet wood.” Now here you come like we have money to burn and leave the door open.” “I tell ya chap sometimes I don’t know about you.” “ What kind of job could this be, which you have so easily lost your head?”
The joyful light drained from his eyes quickly as he tried to shake his hurt feelings. “ Nothing real important da’, probably nothing at all.” “ I’m sorry for acting so childish.” His father sharply hurled around giving him a stern look while raising his voice. “ Don’t tell me nothing after all the ruction you have made!” “ Now say what the bloody thing is!”
First with a deep Inhalation he began spitting out words like a typewriter. “ I met a girl, her name is Emma she works, uh, well any way she is very nice and she and her sister have been kind enough to ask their boss to give me a job.” “ Any way he said it won’t be much at first but if I try really hard it may become something worth having.”
Leaning his head to the side, as he looked him up and down his father then asked. “ Where is this great job as you have put it?” “What makes you so sure it will pay well?” “ Or did you forget that?”
Twisting his mouth to the side Joe responded,“ I didn’t exactly ask for the pay but anything is better than nothing at all.” “ I have a real good feeling this will be good for me in many ways and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
His father gave a sigh then left the room leaving Joe standing in shock misbelieving his reaction. He returned to the room with a letter, handing it to him he explained. “ This letter is being sent all over.” “ I am afraid there will be a price to pay but I still feel it will be well worth it.”
The letter read as: “ Dear friends and family,
We the people of the IRA which fight diligently for all our freedoms ,with whole hearts we precede but need the support of our dear people to continue this fight. A meeting will be held in the usual place at the usual time and just a reminder for any one signing up for the cause will surely be blessed by our Dear God above.
As Joe placed the note on the table his father explained. “ I feel you are old enough to join in this matter for the freedom of us all as well as myself.” “ This is a closed matter and must never leave this room.” “ There will surely be war for our dear land but the sacrifice is to great to ignore.” Joe’s heart sank as it filled up with the words of his father. “ I understand Da’ I am ready to take my place.”