Writer Anne Higgins Petz has followed up her 2012 “Irish Crosswords: Puzzles that Bring You a Taste of the Emerald Isle” (she’s been a crossword setter for the Irish Echo and the New York Times, among others), with a novel, “Rough Seas Ahead.” In the story, prejudice, murder and intrigue beset Nancy O’Leary, who, at the age of 17, journeys from Ireland to America. The crossing is hard, but the life before her has its share of hardships as well. “Rough Seas Ahead” follows not only the difficult lives of intrepid Irish settlers in the late 1800s, but also intertwines the stories of all immigrants as the turn of the century unfolds during a defining era in American history. It’s also an exciting love story about fortune and providence in a young country. This is an excerpt from the section entitled: “Patrick In Ireland – May, 1892.” For more about the author, go to her website here and to purchase her book visit Amazon here.
By Anne Higgins Petz
“To my dear son, Patrick,
By the time you read this, I will most likely be dead. I will never know you, but you will always live in my heart. The love your mother and I had for each other brought you life. I only hope you can forgive us for not being able to keep you with us. When you read this, I pray you will have the maturity to understand human frailties and not think too badly of us. Your adoptive parents were instructed to present the cross to you on your eighteenth birthday.
In this box is my gift to you, a ring your grandmother, my mother, inherited from her family. You come from a long line of proud Irishmen, once a very wealthy clan until the invaders took our land and drove us to the barren West of Ireland. But your grandmother kept this ring as a legacy for her grandchildren, and you, above all, deserve it most. It is worth quite a bit of money, so if you choose to sell it, spend the income wisely; for your own education, or raising a family. Please go on to university. Knowledge is power! My profession was teaching. Your mother was a nurse. I wish you a happy life, my son. And may God bless you always. Your loving father.”
He had no idea of the worth of the ring, but knew he had become a rich man. His birth father’s guilt had provided him with funds it would have taken him a lifetime, if ever, to accumulate.
He took a seat at the bar. “A pint of Guinness, please.”
“Here ye go,” said the bartender. “And where might ye be from?”
“Dublin, originally. Now New York City.” Patrick thought he might take a chance and asked if there was a school nearby.
“Oh, fer sure there is. Right down the road.”
“A friend in New York knew I was going to Knock, and asked that I give his regards to his old friend, a teacher, but fer the life of me I can’t remember the man’s name.”
“It must be Sean Clarke yer friend was referring to.”
“Aye! That’s it indeed. Sean Clarke,” Patrick lied. “My friend said it was a shame what happened to poor Ellen Flynn. He said she was the teacher’s lady friend.”
“That she was. A nurse, and sweet as could be. A beautiful girl. Dark hair and eyes. Black Irish, ye know. It must be about thirty years ago when Ellen went to visit relatives in Dublin, and she was brought back in a coffin. T’was the influenza that did her in. Poor Sean Clarke. Broke the boy’s heart, it did. But he was a young lad then, and as they say, time heals all wounds. Sean married six or seven years later. He had a son who went off to America, like yerself. Told me last how well his boy is doing in America. Studying to be a doctor, he is. Sean’s so proud of him, the man beams from ear to ear at the mention of the boy’s name.”
“And what name would that be?”
“His son? Why he’s Matthew Clarke.”
Patrick asked for a double whiskey, and attempted to sort out what he had just heard. His mother was Ellen Flynn. His father was Sean Clarke. Matthew Clarke was his half-brother, and he, Patrick, was a bastard.
“If ye want to talk to Sean, just go up the road, past the church, and a half kilometer to the left you’ll find the school. He’ll be on his way home about now.”
Patrick gulped down his drink, thanked the bartender and left the pub.
Ten minutes later a man left the schoolhouse, locked the door, and mounted his horse. Patrick observed that Sean Clarke was the spitting image of Matthew, and as his horse passed Patrick on the road, Sean Clarke smiled, and waved a hello to the man he did not know was his son.
Patrick tipped his cap as his father’s horse galloped by, and with moist eyes whispered, “Goodbye, Da.”