Through the Thorns
BethanyAs Lillian strolled through the meadow grass on the way to her job, she mused over how her life had changed since Louise had married the doctor and moved to Atlanta. The charge of caring for the house and its occupants had fallen to Bethany and the girl had tried to be content, but her dreams persisted. The books her mother had been so fond of became Bethany’s comfort. Each word became as valued as the money that hardly stayed two hours in Mr. O’Reilly’s wallet. Mr. O’Reilly had turned to drink, and when he came home after a few hours at an ale house and found a dirty house, no dinner ready, and Bethany curled up on her mother’s old sofa poring over this book or that one, he simply became irate. At first, Bethany had only thought her father mildly irritated, but as time wore on and she neglected her duties for reading more often, she realized how deeply her father was hurting. What she never realized was that it was not her mother’s death that angered her father, but the anger at his own anger. Mr. O’Reilly saw himself becoming eaten up by despair, and that made him angry at himself for being weak. He found himself taking all of his feelings out on his children, and Bethany bore the brunt of his wrath. From the first time he discovered her reading, and; with her dark auburn hair and brown eyes, looking eerily like her mother, his anger had been building. Bethany would swiftly prepare everything as soon as her father stormed into her sanctuary of thought and demanded food, but day after day she continued to complete only half of her tasks. Let it not be said that Mr. O’Reilly was not a patient man, he dealt with his situation as best he could for a year. Still, he couldn’t understand Bethany’s need to reach out and embrace learning. Books had always been worthless in his eyes, nothing but paper in-between slabs of wood. The fact that his daughter had a larger vocabulary than he had, and that she could read and he couldn’t, embarrassed Mr. O’Reilly to no end. One day, early in summer, Mr. O’Reilly came home early. Why he expected to find anything other than the dirty house that was usually there later in the day he did not know, but he had drunk more than usual, and earlier than usual, as he had been fired from his job quite a few months back. As soon as he stepped through the door to find that the breakfast dishes were still piled in the sink, dirt was thickly laid on the floor, and a feeling of chaos still reigned throughout the house, though all of the smaller ones had left for school. Mr. O’Reilly became furious. He began yelling. “Stupid little girl! Where are you? Think you’re above such things, huh? Think you can shirk off? I’ll show you a thing or two! I’ll show you!” He wrenched open the door to the sitting room. Bethany had heard her father ranting and had shrunk even more into the sofa, hoping that he would pass out before she was discovered. It was not to be, however. Mr. O’Reilly took one look at his daughters face and cowed a little, until he saw what was in her hand. “What? Reading this garbage again?” Mr. O’Reilly grabbed for the book. Quite protective when it came to her closest friends and the keys to beyond the back-woods, Bethany’s fist caught her father’s nose. Mr. O’Reilly fell to his knees as blood began to trickle down his face. He began screaming Gaelic at her. “Cailleach! Imeacht gan teacht ort!” Being raised in a purely Irish home, Bethany was no stranger to the Gaelic terms. She stood and hovered over her father. Her brown eyes glinting the way only hers could. Mr. O’Reilly was not the only one that could scream Gaelic, but Bethany responded much more calmly. “Mise agus tusa. Le do thoil dean ni deonu dti righ cailleach!” She and her father stared at each other for a full minute. Then Mr. O’Reilly smiled and stood, still holding his nose. “You have guts girl, I’ll give you that. But you won’t leave. I see it in you.” He turned and strode to the door, just as he reached the frame, he turned and looked at her. “I will have it known that the next time I find you reading, the books will be used as firewood. Ceart go leor?” With that, he turned and left the room, leaving Bethany a trembling, white, fearful creature.
After that episode, Bethany worked, and worked hard. Mr. O’Reilly was astonished every time the house was clean at the end of the day. He felt bad for scaring her, but a clean house, he reasoned, was worth it. Had Mr. O’Reilly known what was running through his daughters head during these times, he would surely have been uncontrollably angry. Bethany had decided to take matters into her own hands. After the kids left in the morning, and her pa went to wander around town, Bethany would go to work. She had found a job at the big house her mother worked at. During all of the washing, baking, carrying, serving, and sewing, Bethany gained a new respect for her mother. The tasks left her weary, but she was saving the money she earned. No one in her family knew about her job, it would be too costly. Her father would demand the money from her and Bethany would be right back where she started. So Bethany had saved for five months, her total soon becoming quite large in her eyes, and to her excitement she had almost enough for a ticket to Atlanta! Everyone was surprised at Bethany’s energy, including herself. Bethany did not enjoy housework, but she did not want her father angry again. Mr. O’Reilly saw how tired his daughter was becoming, and the memories of his wife’s sudden death, and the guilt that ate at him for his empty threats and wallet, caused him to be concerned for Bethany’s health. He looked around for house-help. All he could ever find was a young boy by the name of Jonathan Grover. Quite curious as to why the boy chose this profession, Mr. O’Reilly went to see him. To his shock the “boy” was in fact nineteen years old and orphaned. Their meeting was brief, thirty minutes at the most, but much was said. “I heard it spread ‘round town that you do pretty housework.” Said Mr. O’Reilly. Jonathan nodded. “Yes sir, I clean and cook for money if that’s what you mean.” Mr. O’Reilly nodded and was silent for a moment. “If I offered you a warm bed and hot food for free, would you come and help my girl take care of the house?” Jonathan thought for a moment. He had heard of Mrs. O’Reilly’s death and was sorry for the O’Reilly family, but he had also seen the O’Reilly girls and was concerned for himself. The eldest , Louise, he believed, had recently been married. That meant that Bethany O’Reilly was in charge of the O’Reilly household. Jonathan would accept the job of course, but he had gone to school with the O’Reilly girls for a few years and had been quite taken with Bethany’s spunk. Amazingly conceited, Jonathan was worried that Bethany would fall at his feet. Jonathan Grover was a handsome young man, and more than one girl’s heart had skipped when he so much as glanced their way, but all of the extra attention he had received had gone to his head. Jonathan now considered himself the most irresistible man on earth. “Yes, I’ll take the job, I need the money.” He thought. “But at the first sign of trouble, I’m out of there!” Jonathan agreed to Mr. O’Reilly’s terms. The men shook hands and Mr. O’Reilly left feeling very proud of himself. Bethany wouldn’t look tired anymore and he would have some male companionship around the house.
Tuesday was never a good day around the O’Reilly household, but this particular Tuesday was the worst. Bethany had overslept, leaving the others to be thrown off in even the most mundane tasks. Breakfast was barely salvaged, and even then, barely edible. Bethany had woken quickly and was still maneuvering the six young ones around the kitchen and dining room area in her robe and curlers. Mr. O’Reilly had just returned from a two day visit to the bars around town and was still suffering a severe hangover, when a knock sounded at the door. Lillian ran to open the door. A few minutes passed before Bethany realized that the children in the dining room had grown eerily silent. With a puzzled expression on her face she strode out of the kitchen to end whatever new mischief was afoot. What Bethany saw made her feel as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice cold water over her. The word that escaped her lips was anything but ladylike as she observed, what was possibly, her worst nightmare was sitting in the chair opposite her father. Jonathan looked up and gave a half smile, Mr. O’Reilly had turned sharply at Bethany’s voice. “Young lady! You will never speak that word in my presence again! Is that understood? And cover yourself up! You aren’t a hussy, yet.” Bethany turned red, partly from the anger her father’s words had brought, and partly from the embarrassment of finding a man she so wholly loathed being treated as a member of the family. Bethany tilted her chin up and spun on her heel. “All right, the lunches are packed. Now off with you before Miss. Harrison wondering if you’ve all been frozen in place!” A chorus of giggles followed this announcement, and Bethany gave them each a kiss as they left for school. Immediately after the last one, Thomas, was out the door, Bethany heaved a sigh of relief and shut the door. She meant to quietly sneak into the kitchen to finish cleaning and wait for their guest to leave. To her shock, Jonathan had premeditated her. By the time she was back in the kitchen he had finished the dishes and swept. Suddenly very self-conscious, Bethany pulled her robe tighter around her. “What are you doing?” Jonathan looked up from where he was sweeping and smiled. “Helping.” Was all he said. Bethany leaned against the door-frame. “Uh, why?” He looked up again. “That is what I’m paid for.” Bethany straightened. “What ?” “Your father is paying me to help out around the house.’ Jonathan calmly went back to sweeping. Bethany, on the other hand, was furious. She wheeled around. “Pa! Pa!” Mr. O’Reilly knew what would happen, and had hidden himself in the parlor. It didn’t take as long as he’d hoped for Bethany to hunt him down. She flew through the door red faced and angry. “Why on earth do you think that I need any help? And going behind my back? Tuilli!” At that, Mr. O’Reilly’s temper flared. His hand came out of nowhere and Bethany suddenly saw sparks. Her right cheek felt numb and she couldn’t hear anything. Determined not to cry, she bit her lip as the blinding pain shot through her jaw. Bethany’s hearing returned in time for her to feel the sting of the names her father was adding to her legal one. Still, she forbade tears. Mr. O’Reilly, instead of letting his anger fade, grew even angrier as he tried to justify his actions against his daughter. Finally, he couldn’t continue. He made sure to slam the door on his way out. Bethany made her way to the sofa and sat in the corner of it, tucking her legs underneath her. Finally she released her tears. Jonathan had been forgotten by both father and daughter, and he witnessed the scene with no little shock. He had assumed that Mr. O’Reilly cared for his daughter, the daughter that had given up school and any social life she might have had, to stay at home all day and cook, clean, and care for seven people. However compelled Jonathan might have been that what Mr. O’Reilly was doing was wrong, he was not compelled to stop it. Jonathan was only partially worried about Bethany, he was mostly worried about his job. Mr. O’Reilly would surely fire Jonathan if he interfered. So Jonathan turned a blind eye as he straightened the dining room. Not a sound issued from the small parlor but Mr. O’Reilly’s curses.