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Authors: Jim Tully

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BOOK: Shanty Irish
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CHAPTER XVII
THE BEST DRESSED MAN IN ST. MARYS

W
E
turned to the left off Spruce Street.

A row of dilapidated saloons faced the railroad.

“We'll go in here,” Grandfather suggested in front of a saloon, “and rist a while. I don't want the damned rheumatiz twitchin' at the heart o' me.”

He laid a quarter on the table as we seated ourselves.

A man entered.

“Hello Hughie,” he said quickly to my grandfather.

“Why hello Jack,” my grandfather greeted the man.

Old Hughie seemed highly honored. Jack Cullen was one of the leading lawyers in that part of Ohio, and district attorney for Auglaize County. His eyes were snapping black, his face strong. His hair was sleek and combed backward in black waves. Gold nose-glasses added much to his appearance in my boyish mind. Known as “the best dressed man in St. Marys,” he patronized no local tailor. His clothes were made in Columbus, the capital of Ohio, ninety miles away. It was said that the man who made his suits had been “President McKinley's tailor.”

I had often seen him pass through the restaurant on the way to the saloon. He seemed a being from another world so wealthy and well-dressed. After watching him, I more deeply regretted my job as a washer of dishes.

“Have a drink, Hughie,” he asked cordially.

“Indade and I will, Jack,” chuckled my grandfather, starting to rise.

“Sit still, Hughie—I'll sit with you.”

The bartender brought a bottle of whisky.

“Three Star Hinnissy,” laughed Old Hughie. And Jack Cullen said:

“Remember the time, Hughie, you got drunk on that brand.”

“Which time was that?” asked Old Hughie—Then smacking his lips,

“Ga-wd—that's a drink for the Prisidint.”

“It's none too good for you, Hughie,” responded the lawyer.

“The Lord bless ye—ye know how to plaze an old man—I said to yere father long ago, I did—Jack'll be the goovernor of the state—he will—if the great heart in him don't shake the brains out of his head.”

The lawyer looked keenly at my grandfather.

“Hughie,” he said, “you should have been a politician.”

Old Hughie poured another drink.

“Not with you in the same state, Jack.”

“Thanks, Hughie. There would be room for us both.” The lawyer turned:

“Is this your grandson, Hughie?”

“Yes—it's Jim's boy.”

Then, as if anxious to change the subject Old Hughie said quickly—

“Jack—I heard a good story to-day—The praist tried to git a man to confiss—‘Is there nothin' more ye kin tell,' says he—‘Not even the slightest thing,'—

“The man thought a long time.

“‘Oh I did kill a lawyer,' he says, ‘I nearly forgot.'

“‘An' why didn't ye tell me sooner—' asked the praist—'I 'd o' give ye absolution right away.'”

Jack Cullen smiled.

“There'd be no need of lawyers, Hughie, if people kept out of trouble.”

He looked at me for some seconds. And put his hand on my shoulder.

“How long were you in the orphanage, son?” His words were an embrace.

“Six years.”

Cullen looked at my grandfather.

“Has Biddy been dead that long?”

Grandfather nodded his head.

“She was a fine woman,” said the lawyer.

“The bist of the Lawlers,” put in my grandfather.

There were at least thirty votes in the Lawler tribe.

Jack Cullen made no comment.

There was a moment's pause.

Old Hughie's face was alive. The lawyer wiped his gold nose-glasses. He looked at me.

“Well—you'll come through all right. People either do or they don't,” he said with some finality. He swallowed twice, and tried to adjust a silk scarf which was already in correct position.

He rose quickly.

“I'd like to talk to you some time, my boy—come up to my office—will you?” He spoke a word to the bartender on his way out of the saloon.

I was too confused to answer.

The bartender said to me as we left, “Mr. Cullen left this for you.” It was a five dollar bill.

“I'll take care of it for ye,” volunteered my grandfather. He still has it.

We walked down Spring Street in the direction of the cottage in which grandfather lived.

Across the street, on the second floor, was the lawyer's office. It was still well lighted.

The largest window in the town stretched across it. In a half circle above were the names of the lawyer's Irish partner and himself. Beneath were the words—“Attorneys at Law.”

The next day Jack Cullen stopped at the lunch counter and chatted with me a few moments.

He became the one man above the station of a laborer in St. Marys who talked to me without ridicule.

Like most men, he was unhappily married.

The daughter of a factory superintendent fell in love with him. She was very beautiful. Her form was perfect, her eyes dark brown, her hair long, wavy, and dark. She was graceful as a gull in the wind, and clean and trim like a hound ready for the running.

Jack Cullen was said to have been in love with her.

His wife sued for a divorce.

The beautiful girl was named.

The lawyer left town.

The divorce was granted.

The girl was said to have died by choking to death upon the core of an apple.

She was pitied by all.

All of what happened to the lawyer, no man knows.

He too became a washer of dishes on a Lake Erie steamer. Next—he begged money with a tin cup on the streets of Cleveland.

Charles Mooney, a United States congressman from a Cleveland district, was from St. Marys.

The one time brilliant lawyer called upon Mooney. Derelict and dirty, he stood in the congressman's office. Hands trembling, emaciated, half blind, the once sleek black hair was now a ghoulish gray.

His head shook from side to side.

The winner looked at the loser.

Not recognizing Cullen, Mooney asked, “Is there something I can do?”

“Not much,” replied O'Brien, “it's beyond all doing—” He assumed the posture of a young lawyer before a judge—with a half smile on his vagabond lips.

“But, Charlie—I'm glad for you—don't you remember Jack Cullen?”

The force of the man's identity overwhelmed Mooney. With quick intuition he walked toward his caller.

“Jack Cullen—I'm glad you're here.”

“Glad I'm here, are you, Charlie—in my rags and my dirt—and my heart that's broken and dead, going drunken to my death.”

The congressman put an arm around Cullen.

“Yes Jack—I'm
damned
glad you're here.”

Like many sensitive men, Cullen hid defeat with a semblance of defiance.

His battered and dissipated face became transfused with scorn. He laughed shrilly.

The congressman handled the situation carefully.

Cullen was treated as though he were a successful lawyer who had lost his first case.

Mooney advanced him one hundred dollars, and bought him a suit of clothes.

He telephoned Cullen's former wife, and persuaded her to remarry him and begin life over.

She consented.

Jack Cullen left for the train. The woman waited.

He never arrived.

He was later found in a Cleveland gutter; ragged, dead.

CHAPTER XVIII
THE MAD IRISH

A
FTER
twenty-eight years my uncle Dennis wrote to his brothers. It was the first word from him since the memorable spring in which my mother and her parents died.

A broken-down hotel porter in Oklahoma, he needed help.

His brothers were hard as only sentimental men can be.

They refused.

He was heard of no more.

Aunt Moll, bediamonded, and wealthy, grew more in favor with the brothers as the years passed.

When she died, all the brothers stood at her grave except the ex-horse thief and the man who had rescued her from the Methodist Church.

All were now on the last knoll of life, but in each heart the hot fire of drama still burned.

Tearless they stood, looking at each other, across the grave of a one time beautiful Lawler.

A final prayer for the departed died away. The expensive coffin was lowered.

“She's with Biddy now,” said an uncle.

“Not with Biddy,” returned Virginia.

All became quiet, with dramatic suddenness.

Tom Lawler screamed.

“My God, Moll—”

It startled the birds in the trees.

A shovelful of earth rattled on the coffin.

Gossip in Ohio said that my favorite uncle, whom I always liked because he was a constant source of amusement to me, in a fit of anger against his family, drove to the poor house in an expensive automobile.

He was refused admittance.

At the time of mother's death, he loaned my father two silver dollars. My father, being more practical than sentimental, used them to keep her eyes closed. Tom Lawler considered this an insult. As a consequence he did not speak to my father for twenty-five years. “I gave him the money for grub—and not to close Biddy's dead eyes,” was Tom Lawler's comment.

This man was literally a brother to tornado. He was tall, heavily-built, with a trim black mustache, Van Dyke beard, debonair, and lithe of movement, his voice musical and soft. He it was who married the daughter of the German land owner and restored the farm to the Lawlers'. Aunt Lode was gentle, patient, kindly. She loved my mother as a sister and we, children of destitution, were always treated with living consideration by her. Her eyes were always sad, she spent each day with chickens, ducks and animals on the farm.

Where he learned about wool I do not know. He was for sixteen years superintendent of a woolen mill in St. Marys. He had the blarney of an Irishman and save in anger, the soft manner of a parish priest. Anger transformed him immediately into the most tyrannical and ruthless of men.

In a rage over a trifle he once walked across his barnyard. He carried a pitch fork in his hand. A cow mooed within ten feet of him. This angered him the more. He chased the unfortunate creature with his pitchfork, “I'll teach you to moo at me—you damn four legged fool—”

The horrified cow escaped into the field.

My mother left fourteen dollars each to her six children.

One of her brothers borrowed the money. He returned it without interest, after we, in turn became of age and protested vigorously.

Even when a dollar would have appeased our hunger for several days, he made no mention of the money.

He was my father's favorite among the Lawlers.

A red-headed arrogant fellow, with heavy shoulders and heavier hands, his life was a long snarl.

On the day I became twenty-one, after seven years as a hobo, I returned to St. Marys for my fourteen dollars. Years later it occurred to me that I had tramped more than a thousand miles and had endured all the hardships of the road—to claim my small inheritance.

Full of whisky and venom I entered the saloon where stood my uncle.

He too was full of liquor and hatred toward me because I was “a disgrace to the family.”

He frowned at me.

Feeling that one could never bluff a Lawler, I stood before him prepared to fight.

“I want fourteen dollars, Pete—
now
!” I said composedly. He was capable of holding his own with any roughneck in the world. His eyes threw terrible blows at me.

Prepared to dodge either fist, I stood firm.

Every one in the saloon was expectant.

Feet scraped on the floor. The atmosphere was tense.

An intuitive master of dramatic situations, his crooked mouth broke into a smile.

He put a long muscular arm about me.

“Sure Jim—I've got it all ready for you.” He took a rubber band from a roll of bills and peeled off fourteen dollars.

“Hey men, this is my dead sister Biddy's boy—this is his birthday—Let's all drink.” He treated the house twice.

We made merriment that night together. I spent the fourteen dollars.

We never spoke to each other afterward.

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