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An Ominous Touch of Romance…

The girls went outside. My mother lingered long enough to say, “Poor Noreen. All that travel has worn you out. Heat yourself some porridge and have a cup of tea. Then see to the hens, please. You’ll need to reacquaint yourself with such things if you plan to come home to Ireland.”

I bit back a smile. She and my father had clearly discussed my marriage prospects. Favorably, from her bustling mood and the rapid tap of her feet as she breezed out the door to join my sisters.

I soon learned that my mother’s reason for leaving me behind had little to do with her hens. The sun was high when I left the hen house toting a basket of eggs. You’re right, Tom. Back then, most people kept their hens in the kitchen. Many landlords raised the rent when a tenant added a new outbuilding. We were lucky, for we could afford to do so, and we had a decent landlord.

As I turned up the path to the kitchen door, Martin Farrigan called hello from across the yard. Doing my best to hide my delight, I watched his sturdy legs carry him over the grass. A great strong man, my Martin was.

“Just the woman I want to see,” he said, his smiling, suntanned face accenting the white of his teeth. "You’ve wasted no time getting back into farm life.” As bold as a grenadier, he stepped closer and seemed to have no intention of stopping.

Happy to join in the sport, I raised the basket of eggs between us. “I’ve learned enough about farm life to know that it offers few idle moments. What brings you here in the middle of the day? Shouldn’t you be out in the fields, helping the neighbors build haystacks?”

He answered by— Well…

I’m not ashamed to admit it, Tom. Martin was a frisky lad. Suffice it to say, I managed to save the eggs. When he said he’d talked to my father that morning, and now he wanted to speak to me, I dismissed my fleeting concern of being alone in the house with him. Spurred by his kisses, I asked him in for a cup of tea.

He removed his cap and followed me. The house itself seemed a chaperone. He grew as respectful as if my father were present. While I wet the tea, he hung up his cap and went to the parlor to stoke the fire. He hummed as he did. A happy lad, I thought, and then it hit me.

As we sat before the fire fixing our tea, I glared accusingly at him. “How fortunate that you happened to be at the railway station just as I arrived.”

Despite his tan, he blushed. “A happy coincidence,” he said, and then he smiled. “Even if your father did chance to mention what time you’d be in. Everything about your homecoming’s happy, Noreen. You’ve always been the only girl for me.”

You’ve used that line yourself, Tom? Rascal. If Martin had used it before, my instincts led me to believe that this time he spoke it sincerely. Instincts were one thing, however. The sensible part of me had to be sure.

I sipped my tea at my ladylike best. “That’s lovely, Martin. So, I should pay no heed to the gossip I’ve heard of your gallivanting?”

“Gallivanting? If that’s what a young fella does on a Saturday night to raise his heart after working the land every day of the week from dawn until dusk, then I’m guilty. Yes, I’ve been to the dances and stood my round in the pubs hereabout. Would you hang me for it?” He reached across the table and touched my free hand. I’m chancing my arm and asking you straight out. Will you marry me, Noreen Carbury? I love you, and that’s no gallivanting, a ghrá mo chroí.”

When he called me the love of his heart, I melted. I took his hands and stood, drawing him from his chair. Then I gazed into his eyes. “I’d be proud to be your wife. We’ll make a good go of it, will we?”

“We will, acushla.” He stepped around the table and kissed me. “We’ll raise a fine family, and not in that moldy old cottage my great-grandfather slapped together. I’m already planning to build a new house. You deserve nothing less.”

I nearly cried, Tom. I was so happy. The deal was done, except for one thing. “What about your mother? Kate and I have always gotten on well, but will she accept me into the family?”

“She’s mentioned more than once that I should have married you before you escaped to America. She’ll be over the moon now.”

“I’m lucky she likes me,” I said, and then I was sorry, so very sorry I’d said it.

“‘A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing’,” he said, and then, in grand Irish style, he sang the chorus.

I nearly screamed for him to stop. Sure enough, the fire went out. The room grew cold. He cursed and said a gust of wind must have found its way down the chimney. While he crouched at the fireplace poking the turf, I stared transfixed at the shelf above him, daring Molly to show herself in the photo of Ned and me.

And there she was, glowing between us, her features set in a haughty look I’d never seen before.


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