Margaret McDonough's Restaurant
Margaret McDonough's Restaurant
THE STORY OF THE BEGINNING AND ENDING OF A BUSINESS CAREER
BY ANNE O'HAGAN.
THE scars of McDonough's parting with his wife were scarce healed upon her face when that undaunted soul was once more in the lists. Bruised, penniless, deserted by her sailor husband, she still faced the future gallantly.
"Tin dollars, Barney," she prayed Nolan, captain of the district, "tin dollars I ask ye. 'Twill be paid to ye come Satiddy night."
Barney looked at her, square-shouldered, square-waisted, with broad, honest face and eyes that held an unsubduable twinkle.
"A hundred if ye need it, Mrs. McDonough," he said in the tone of a man declaring his creed.
The ten dollars sufficed, and they were repaid on Saturday night. In the intervening time a store had reared itself against the support of the corner grocery, showing an inviting face to the car-stables across the street. A faded sail-cloth awning, palpably home-made, was stretched taut above it, and from it flapped the legend, "Margaret McDonough"'s Restaurant."
Thither between trips the car-men dashed for a cup of coffee or a sandwich. There they bought the cocoanut cakes, the apples and bananas, which stood in neat piles beneath great glass bells.
"What wid the flies an' these germs I do be hearin' so much about," explained Margaret, "it seems safer like to keep things covered when they're to be eaten. I was always finicky about me own food, any way."
Her neatness, rare in that neighborhood, the drawing power of her sunny personality, and the chivalry of the men, all of whom came to know the story of her wedded life, made her venture a success. A year had not passed before the grocer—dismal purveyor of fly-specked wares indiscriminately flavored with soap and kerosene—moved out of the store, and Margaret's sign, a proud wooden one this time, hung in front of it. It was a queer, box-like, one-storied frame building, the derelict of passing years. The elevated road cast perpetual shadow upon it. The tall tenements which had become its neighbors frowned above it. There was noise in plenty around it, trains and cars and the overflow population of the vicinity keeping up a perpetual roaring and clatter. But in the midst of dinginess it preserved, under Margaret's tenancy, a character strangely peaceful and cheerful.
Her own capable hands whitewashed the walls and painted the broad planked floor a lively yellow. They also tacked the white oilcloth smooth upon the tables: they ordained a shining cleanliness in the kitchen behind the half-high partition: eventually they set upon the ledges of the wide glass front, left by the grocer, pots of geraniums dimly visible behind muslin sash curtains. And then her jocular patrons entreated Margaret to call her place the Waldorf-Astoria.
At first she was cook, waitress, and cashier. Gradually, as the establishment throve, she dropped the two former roles, though the cuisine was still under her careful supervision, and the limping service of the one waiter, an agile cripple whose plight had moved her kind heart, were supplemented by her own.
Never were kindness and thrift more united. She had a genius for knowing when to refuse credit and a divine sympathy in extending it. When Toby Wilson lost his job in consequence of his ill-luck in running down a child, Margaret fed him and kept him sane; for he was like to have gone mad with the continual vision of a little flying figure suddenly darting before his car. When Greenow, on the other hand, applied for his second meal without settlement, she denied him, alleging to an intimate that her only reason was her dislike of his eyes.
She quelled incipient disorder in the little restaurant with a promptness and firmness not to be gainsaid. When Norris picked a quarrel with his wife there, she turned the notorious bully out, and she took tender care of the terror-stricken little creature whom he left behind him. She made Mrs. Norris visit her until Norris came, humbly praying his housekeeper, laundress, and cook to return to the protection of his roof.
Once, when Margaret sat alone late at the desk, the door opened suddenly and a man, a stranger to her, shambled in toward one of the tables. Opposite her he suddenly veered, and in a flash a revolver fronted her eyes.
"Open the drawer an' open it quick!" commanded the thief.
Margaret laughed naturally and heartily.
"I will that,'" she answered readily. "But ye great booby, did ye think it was there I'd be keepin' the day's earnings?"
She opened the till, and a few lonely dimes and nickels rattled forlornly.
"Well, get them where you do keep them, then!" commanded the marauder with an oath.
"I'll have no talk like that in me place," declared Margaret angrily. "L'arn to keep a civil tongue in your head, or——"
"Ah, don't be all night about it," interrupted the man. "I didn't mean no disrespect!"
"Well, then," murmured Mrs. McDonough, mollified, "but it's in me stockin' it is this minute, an' you can look another way while I'm gettin' it."
This scruple, from a lady who refused to tolerate blasphemy while being robbed, seemed to her caller only natural. With another adjuration to her to hurry, he turned his back upon her and stood facing the door.
Margaret bent with the heavy breathing of a stout woman, and fumbled with her skirts. Her desk was an old-fashioned affair, standing high upon four legs. Through the space made by them she reached with amazing agility, and seized the intruder around the knees. Desk and man and woman rolled over in inextricable confusion, in the midst of which the pistol went noisily and harmlessly off: and the sound summoned help from the stables across the way.
When Barney Nolan heard of this exploit, his ruddy and hirsute face grew mottled with fear, he strode down to Margaret's.
"See here, Mrs. McDonough," he began in a voice thick and unlike his own, "see here. I can't have you here like this—alone, in all kinds of danger. I—Margaret, won't you have me? I'm a plain man, but there ain't been a day since you started—it's five year now, too, that I haven't thought ye the finest woman—won't you have me?"
Margaret looked at him, burly and red-faced, his heavy features quivering with feeling.
"An' what kind of a woman do ye take me for," she answered with measured anger in her voice, "to be listenin' to any man's love talk air me wid a husband of me own?"
"Jem McDonough? He's a pretty husband!"
"You've been me kind friend, an' God knows I needed friends; ye set me on me feet, when but for ye I'd have been I don't know where. An' it's been sorrow to me that there'd be no way for me iver to make it up to ye. Rut there's no more obligation on me——"
Her voice faltered, and tears extinguished the fires of upright anger in her eyes. Barney was the miserable victim of divided feelings. Respect for her hurt pride, a traditional sympathy with her view of the sacred indissolubility of marriage, the common sense of the leader, and the protective yearning of the lover, all fought for mastery in him. Scolding and apologizing, he took his leave.
When he was gone, Margaret relaxed for a few luxurious moments to compare him—this king of men, big and powerful and kind and well-to-do—with the brute whose name she bore with so much honor. And she admitted to herself that, had things been other than they were—if Jem were really dead and she knew it—then she shook herself free of the fancy she sternly called sinful. But she gratefully acted upon Barney's suggestion that a police alarm should be attached to the edge of her desk. And she noticed with a soft thankfulness that the dingy neighborhood was well patrolled at night.
There were few patrons in the little room on the winter night when Jem returned. The big round stove in the center sent forth waves of heat to the white corners of the room. The appetizing odors of warmed-over stew and fresh coffee were in the air. Margaret sat at the desk, beaming broadly and benignantly upon the scene. The door opened, and with a stamping and shaking to rid himself of the snow upon his garments, her husband entered and advanced to the desk. He looked at Margaret and laughed.
No other ruffian, even of Jem's imposing inches, could terrify her; but with whatever sacramental grace the marriage that gave her to him had been endued, certainly it held a sacramental fear for her. Or perhaps the deeper and more mysterious power which in her youth, her prettiness, her dauntless vigor, had subdued her to the cruel domination of the man, still held her. She looked at him and blanched and shivered, all the pride and strength gone suddenly out of her.
You seem glad to see me, Maggie!" he laughed.
The men at the tables turned and watched. Margaret McDonough's Restaurant was so much their own institution, Margaret herself so much theirs, that they would have thrown her husband into the nearest snow-drift at the least hint from her. But she would not give the sign for which they longed. Instead, she answered faintly:
"You've given me small cause for gladness, far or near, Jem."
"Well," bellowed Jem, "I'm near now, do ye see, my lady? And ye can give me some supper, right now. I hear your cookin' is much praised, Mrs. McDonough."
She pushed her chair back and went meekly toward the kitchen. Her lame assistant, Sam, who tried to block her way, she brushed aside. She herself waited on her husband, setting before him meat and bread and coffee. Her eyes stared afar like the eyes of the blind as she served him. And so he came to his own again.
Margaret McDonough's Restaurant changed rapidly after the return of Jem. He was lord of the till. He and his companions, men and women, came in at any hour and filled the room with mocking noise. They frightened away more peaceable patrons. He smoked about the place, he insulted the other guests. He occupied Margaret's home in an adjoining tenement when he pleased, and was absent when he pleased. In a state of dazed misery, she watched the collapse of what she had reared so bravely.
Barney Nolan looked on with apoplectic rage; he had a crude respect for Margaret's notions and admiration for her very follies; but once or twice his impatience and disgust overleaped the restraints his respects imposed, and he besought her to divorce the brute.
"It's not for me own sake I ask it," he assured her truthfully. "I'll never say the word 'marry' to ye once. Only get rid of him. Your life's not safe. An' this I tell ye. If anything happens to you through him, I'll kill him, an' it'll be murder on your soul!"
But Margaret shook her stubborn head.
"Oh, soon he'll tire, an' he'll be off again. Last time it was for six years; next it may be foriver."
But one day she came herself hurrying to Barney—a thing she had never done before since the day she had borrowed the ten dollars. The room behind the saloon was deserted in the forenoon hour. The astonished waiter hurried with news of her visit to Barney in the bar-room. He rushed out to her. Her eyes were ablaze with more than their old light; her pale cheeks were flushed with the red badge of determination.
"Barney Nolan." she cried, "I'll do it I'll do it! It may be a sin, but I'll take Purgatory for it an' call it a little thing. Do you know what he's done now?"
Barney knew several things in Jem's conduct which might have aroused an ordinary wife to such a pitch as this. But he could not conceive of any new outrage which would arouse the obstinately meek and forbearing Margaret. He shook his head.
"What is it, Margaret?"
"The—the sign," blubbered Margaret, lying her bonneted head upon the table and crying, unashamed. "The sign! He's had my name painted out, an' his painted on—oh, Barney, Barney, Barney!"
Mr. Nolan was not one to split hairs on the subject of human motives. He did not waste time in consideration of the curious psychological fact that a woman could be abused, betrayed, and abandoned without active resentment, but cried out for vengeance over a change of letters on a signboard. Theorizing he left to others. He hastened to put in motion the machinery of the divorce courts.
Served with a summons in the case, Mr. James McDonough made loud threats as to what his course would be, what punishments he would inflict upon the person and the reputation of his wife. But perhaps the cloud of witnesses against him, or the dread dignity of the court, or the look about Barney Nolan's jaw restrained him. He made no defense, and the decree was granted with a promptness very distasteful to his feelings.
Mr. Nolan was of the opinion that a prolonged sea voyage would benefit his adversary, accustomed as Mr. McDonough was to a maritime life. He felt a fear for Margaret's safety while her husband was about with his wounds fresh to infuriate him.
"By an' by it won't matter," soliloquized the district captain. "Whin we're married, I'd like to see the man that would dare touch me wife, but—it'll be many a month before I'll so much as dare say marry to Maggie. And so meantime——"
To shanghai is an ugly word and a criminal offense as well. To suggest that a prominent citizen and an influential politician like Mr. Nolan had dealings with the providers of involuntary ship's crews would be libelous. But it is true that two nights after Mr. Nolan's soliloquy, Jem McDonough shipped for Australia.
"Barney," said Mrs. Nolan, leaning proudly on Barney's arm a few months after their marriage, "do ye know I do be likin' it that Sam and Nellie keeps the old sign on the place?"
"Ah," growled Barney in bass affection, "I don't doubt it's money in their pockets!"