What the Wind Knows (Page 24)

Thomas held the door and nodded to his car parked next to the sidewalk.

“Put the parcels on the back seat,” Thomas instructed, but his eyes were on four men walking swiftly down the street toward the store. They wore khaki uniforms and tall boots with black belts and glengarry hats. The hats made me think of Scottish men and bagpipes, but these men weren’t carrying bagpipes. They had guns.

“You look like a beautiful queen, Mother!” Eoin cried, reaching for the skirt of my dress with sticky fingers. I sidestepped his attempt and grabbed his hand instead, ignoring the way his palm stuck to mine. Thomas began hustling us into the car, his eyes never leaving the approaching soldiers.

When Mr. Barry saw the men, he shoved the packages in the rear seat and urged Beatrice and the boy to go back in the store.

Thomas shut the door behind me and strode around to the front of the car. With one swift pull on the crank, the car, clearly already warm and primed, roared to life. Thomas slid behind the wheel and pulled his door shut just as the men stopped in front of the large window that featured the open pages of the Irish Times. With the backs of their rifles, they began to hit the huge window, shattering it and causing the newspaper to flutter and fall amid the broken glass. One soldier leaned down and lit the pages with a flick of a match. People on either side of the street had stopped walking, watching the vandalism.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Barry pushed through the door, his mouth gaping and his cheeks red.

“Tell Mr. Lyons he’s fomenting rebellion and violence against the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Crown. Next time he displays the paper, we’ll break all the windows,” one of the men said, his Cockney voice raised so the growing crowd across the street could hear. With a final kick at the smoldering pages, the men continued down the street, toward Hyde Bridge.

Thomas was frozen, both hands on the wheel, the car rumbling impatiently. His jaw was clenched so tight a muscle danced near his ear. People started to rush across the street to view the damage and talk among themselves, and Mr. Barry started organizing the cleanup.

“Thomas?” I whispered. Eoin’s eyes were huge, his lower lip trembling. His sucker had fallen from his mouth, and it lay forgotten beside his feet.

“Doc? Why did the Tans do that?” Eoin asked, tears threatening. Thomas patted Eoin’s leg, released the choke, and adjusted the levers by the wheel, and we eased away from the department store, leaving the destruction behind us.

“What was that about, Thomas?” I asked. He hadn’t answered Eoin, and his mouth was still tight, his eyes bleak. We’d crossed Hyde Bridge behind four constables and headed out of Sligo, back toward Dromahair. The farther away from town we moved, the more Thomas relaxed. He sighed and cast a quick glance my way before settling his gaze back on the road before us.

“Henry Lyons sends a driver to Dublin every day to get a paper. He puts it up in the store window so the people know what is happening in Dublin. The action is in Dublin. The battle for all of Ireland is being fought in Dublin. And people want to know about it. The Tans and the Auxies don’t like him posting the paper.”

“The Auxies?”

“The Auxiliaries, Anne. They’re a separate command from the regular constabulary. They’re all ex-officers of the British army and navy who have nothing to do now that the Great War is over. Their one job is to crush the IRA.”

I remembered that much from my research.

“They weren’t Tans?” Eoin asked.

“No, lad. The Auxiliaries are even worse than the Tans. You’ll always know an Auxie from his hat—and his gun belt. You saw their hats, didn’t you, Eoin?” Thomas pressed.

Eoin nodded so emphatically, his teeth chattered.

“Stay far away from the Auxies, Eoin. And the Tans. Stay the hell away from all of ’em.”

We were quiet then. Eoin was biting his lips and picking the dirt from his reclaimed sucker, clearly needing the comfort of it back in his mouth.

“We’ll wash it off when we get home, Eoin. You’ll see. It will be good again. Why don’t you show Thomas your watch and tell him the story Mr. Kelly told us?” I urged, trying to distract him, to distract us all.

Eoin unreeled the long chain from his pocket, extending the swinging timepiece in front of Thomas’s face so he was sure to see it.

“Mr. Kelly gave it to me, Doc. He said it was my dad’s. Now it’s mine. And it still ticks!”

Thomas lifted his left hand from the wheel and took the watch in his palm, surprise and sorrow twisting his lips.

“Mr. Kelly had it in a drawer. He forgot all about it until we came into the shop,” Eoin added.

Thomas’s eyes met mine, and I felt certain he already knew the story of the ring.

“I got my father’s watch, and my mother got to keep her ring, see?” Eoin patted my hand.

“Yes. I see. You’ll have to take very good care of this watch. Put it with your button somewhere safe,” Thomas said.

Eoin looked at me, a guilty expression on his sticky face. He wondered if I was going to tell Doc about his attempt to sell his treasure; I could see the dread wrinkling his nose. I helped him put the watch back into his pocket, meeting his eyes with a smile, reassuring him.

“Do you know how to tell time, Eoin?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Then I will teach you so that you can use the watch.”

“Who taught you how to tell time?” he asked.

“My grandfather,” I said softly. There must have been sadness in my face because the little boy patted my cheek with his grubby fingers, comforting me.

“Do you miss him?”

“Not anymore,” I said, and my voice quaked.

“Why?” He was shocked the way I had been once, long ago.

“Because he is still with me,” I whispered, repeating the words my grandfather had said to me as he’d rocked me in his arms. And suddenly the world shifted and the light dawned, and I wondered if my grandfather had known who I was all along.

I helped Eoin wash his hands, and together we tidied ourselves before dinner. My hair had lost its pins, and curls hung loose around my face and down my back. I set it all free, wet my fingers, and tamed each curl as best I could before pulling the bulk of it back into a loose ponytail with a piece of ribbon I’d found in Anne’s chest. I wanted nothing more than to fall, face-first, into my bed. My side screamed, my hands shook, and I had no appetite, but for the first time, I sat down at the table with the family.

Brigid sat in stony silence at dinner, her back stiff. She chewed miniscule bites of food that barely moved her jaw. Her eyes had grown wide and then narrowed to slits when she’d watched us traipse inside, arms full of parcels, shoeboxes, and hatboxes that were taken to my room. She didn’t respond to Eoin’s excited recounting of the smashed store windows or the lollipop Mrs. Geraldine Cummins had purchased for him or the wondrous toys he’d seen on the shelves. Brigid had placed the boy next to her at the table, with Thomas as the head and me on the opposite side, across from Eoin, an empty space between Thomas and me. It was an odd placement, but it saved Brigid from having to look at me and kept me as far away from Eoin and Thomas as possible.

Eleanor, Maeve’s older sister, hovered near the kitchen door, standing by in case something was needed. I smiled at her and complimented her on the fare. I didn’t have much appetite, but the food was delicious.

“That will be all, Eleanor. Run along home. Anne can clear the table and clean up when we are finished,” Brigid commanded.

After the girl excused herself, Thomas eyed Brigid with raised brows. “Reassigning chores, Mrs. Gallagher?” he asked.

“I’m happy to do it,” I interjected. “I need to contribute.”

“You are exhausted,” Thomas said, “and Eleanor is going to worry all the way home that she’s done something wrong and displeased Brigid because she always cleans up after dinner and takes the leftovers home to her family.”

“I simply think Anne owes you a great debt that she should begin repaying as soon as possible,” Brigid shot back, her color high, her voice elevated.

“I will handle my debts and those who are indebted to me, Brigid,” Thomas said, his tone quiet but clipped. Brigid flinched, and Thomas sighed.

“First two beggars and now three?” Brigid sniffed. “Is that what we are?”

“Mother isn’t a beggar with no shame, Nana. Not anymore. She sold her earbobs. Now she’s rich,” Eoin said happily.

Brigid pushed back her chair and stood abruptly. “Come, Eoin. It’s time for a bath and bed. Say good night to the doctor.”

Eoin began to protest, though his plate was empty and had been for some time. “I want Mother to tell me about the hound of Culann,” he wheedled.

“Not tonight, Eoin,” Thomas said. “It’s been a long day. Go with your nana.”

“Good night, Doc,” Eoin said sadly. “Good night, Mother.”

“Good night, Eoin,” Thomas said.

“Good night, sweet boy,” I added, blowing him a kiss. It made him smile, and he kissed his own palm and blew it back to me, as if it was the first time he’d ever done such a thing.

“Eoin,” Brigid demanded.

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