Options No Options – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 38

How could such a small thing create so much distress? A mere three weeks since she buried her husband, this is what remained of her marriage, Mary thought, holding the slender envelope in her hand.

Mrs. James Doran, written in a flowing script; the black ink elegantly inscribed the letters on the neatly folded paper. The postman had delivered the note earlier that morrning, and now she held the letter tentatively in her hand; its texture, smooth and cool. Sitting
alone at her writing desk, Mary’s eyes glanced at her collection of portraits. Jimmy was none too happy to bother with such things. To prepare all five little ones ready and keep them still had drawn all her energy, but she had insisted –  thankfully. The photograph was one of the few the family had taken together. Mary slid the drawer towards her and retrieved her letter opener.

Her hands  trembled as she slid the implement into the gap and ripped the envelope open. She read the note, and was  reminded of her expanded obligations. The words revealed a polite message, as expected, but looking at the plainly stated request caused Mary to shiver, shedding her cocoon of safety. Soon her precise circumstance would be clear.

December, 1897

Dear Mrs. Doran

We offer our sincere condolences on the death of your husband, James Joseph Doran. A dutiful servant to her Majesty, Queen Victoria, our government is indebted to his service.

I would be pleased to meet with you this afternoon at 3:00 to discuss the concerns  you have about the ongoing pension entitlement and any other matters you may wish to review.

Yours very truly,

Mary folded the note and gazed up from the desk. Over the last few weeks she had occupied her days tending to the emotions of her children. Kathleen, her eldest, would be eighteen in just a few months. Mary thought back to when she was just that age. She remembered the thrill of her pending independence as she had prepared to marry Jimmy. She grimaced slightly as she thought back to how quickly reality set in and her entire world turned on end.

Kathie now looked out upon the landscape of her own future with determination to embrace all possibilities. Mary relied on Kathie for her calm resolve. She was a good student, and would soon complete her studies to become a teacher.

Maggie was also home. She returned early from her school term when news of her father’s decline reached her. His death affected her deeply. She felt a deep attachment to her father, and tried throughout her life to please him. Towards the end of his life, she was one of the few who could still elicit that wonderful grin from behind his mask of repentance. Maggie’s moods demonstrated a deep contemplative and serious style. Her fifteen years could not shield her from the impact of such a profound event, and a protective armour rose around her like the layering of bricks and mortar to build a well-fortified wall. She had matured so much in these last few weeks. She had to.

May, barely twelve, was fully angry, and protested  her father abandoned her. She didn’t like that her sisters had so much more time with him. She lashed out at her younger siblings, scolding them for their propensity to simply carry on with their play.

Mary worried the most about her son, Jimmy. Eight years old is no time for a boy to lose his father. Boys need structure and discipline in life to learn how to conduct themselves and get on in the world. Her son, a sensitive lad, withdrew into his own world, feeling alone and ill-prepared to be the man of the house. Once again, he seemed to be letting his father down. Of course, Mary had no expectation her son would be the man of the house, but the words a father shares for the last time echo in one’s soul for eternity. Mary tried to help her son, but she too could not fully understand why God had decided her husband’s life was complete at such a young age.

Norah, the youngest, seemed unaffected, at least for the moment. She went about her day with childlike delight desperately annoying her siblings as she begged them to play with her. The ayah became her closest companion. She ensured Norah was well fed, and wrapped her in loving arms as the others behaved so strangely around her.

Mary heard the soft knock behind her. “Ma, may we speak with you?” Kathie spoke, her sister Maggie tucked in behind her shoulder.

“Of course,” replied Mary. “What is it?”

The girls knew their mother was still saddened and somewhat overwhelmed. “We’ve come to ask if you have decided what we are to do.” Maggie said.

“No decisions yet, girls,” said their mother. “I will consider our options once I have met with the camp commander. He invited me to meet with him,” Mary waved the note, stirring the air around her face.

Kathie added, “I am ever so glad we stayed here in Poona, Mama. I like it so much. My training is almost complete. I shall soon have a teaching position. The income won’t be much in the beginning, but you could have whatever I do earn.”

“I would like to help too,” Maggie said, hopefully, looking at her mother.

“Maggie, you will do no such thing. Your full-time occupation is to complete your schooling, and do a first-rate job at that.” Mary said. “There are still many things to consider. Let’s leave it at that for the moment.”

Changing her tone, Mary said, “while I am out, why don’t you girls take the children to the market to get some small things for our Christmas celebration?”

Maggie perked up at the thought of an outing, and Kathie responded, “perhaps that would cheer them.”

After the girls left, Mary set about writing a quick note to the camp commander. She decided she would make a stop to visit Father Belez on her way home. Mary needed to consider all her options. She fully anticipated the commander would confirm her fears, and she may have to find some way to augment her family income. In the past she had often used her nursing experience and midwifery skills to tend to the care of others. Perhaps there would be some way they could make ends meet. She made up her mind to enquire about that possibility. Perhaps they would have ideas on how she could do just that.

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Mary Bids Goodbye – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part

Author’s Note:  We are skipping ahead a few posts as I continue to research what happened with the family between 1894-1896. We begin this post, in November 1897 in Poona, India.

 

The small community of buildings tucked alongside the military compound provided shelter for the Doran family. A deep, mysterious sky, pitched like a black canvas tent with millions of pinprick points-of-light, draped overhead.  Although Jimmy had recently retired, he and Mary remained in Poona, their last active posting in India.  Jimmy’s meagre income from his pension provided some comforts that included a few servants and access to social clubs, education and medical support. Poona was ideal for retirement and the climate helped provide relief for Jimmy’s chronic rheumatism. The children were accustomed to the lifestyle, and Mary had found a home in the community of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Given the closeness to Bombay, the city had access to fresh Western ideas. Mary sat by her husband’s bedside in their modest bungalow, far from any support of their families, still in England and Ireland, facing the most profound experience of their eighteen years together.

The soft light flickered from the lamp, barely illuminating the figures in the room. The air, still yet fragrant from the intensely sweet smell of tuber-roses, sent an intoxicating scent to soothe Mary as she rested in the chair. Her dark hair pulled back from her face had loosened as wispy tendrils curled around her temples. Jimmy had finally slipped into a restful sleep after she administered his tonic to dull the agony inflicted by his raw, angry stomach.  Still dressed in her day clothes, she had meant to pause for a moment when she fell asleep. Her slender frame, weary from the weeks of nursing her husband, folded into the cushions, her hands and her rosary across her lap.

Jimmy lay under a loose covering, his skeletal bones pronounced from the months he had been unable to eat.  Behind his head, the teak lattice, with ornately carved designs, cast shadows against the wall as if the spirits were dancing around him.  The subtle hint of violet water that wafted towards Jimmy reminded him of a long time ago. Mary seldom wore any fragrance. She had chided her sister, Lizzie, for sending such a trifle all the way from England, yet now Mary yearned to be connected with her roots.

The pain from his inflamed stomach overwhelmed Jimmy.  “Arggh!” he cried, as the sharp stab woke him.

Startled, Mary rushed to Jimmy as her fingers polished the surface of her rosary beads with habitual repetition. She took his hand in hers, “There Jimmy, shhh! I am here.”

She murmured words of comfort. Jimmy felt the cool cloth on his face; a droplet of water making its way to his matted hairline. He strained to focus on his wife, squeezing her hands as if to force his eyes open.  Those brown eyes, now prominent on his emaciated face, stared out at Mary, searching for answers, pleading for understanding. Mary looked into his eyes as if she was seeing into his soul. His mouth curled up in a smile, and Mary felt a tenderness rise. Amidst the frustration, the disappointment and the anger there was love nestled there, a deep, solid love. She smiled reassuringly, and Jimmy closed his eyes again. She knew his time was coming to an end. The ticking clock marched in step with his short, shallow breath like a precision military unit.  Tick-tock, tick-tock. She wondered if this next breath might be his last. She continued to watch and listen as he inhaled a small amount of air to the top of his lungs and then let it slip away. The clock will trudge on well past his faint breath.

Mary reflected on the words he had spoken to her a few days ago, “Is this it, then Mary? Is this all I get?” Forty-six years was not a long life, and he still had young ones who needed a father’s care. Death hovered in the corner of the room, watching and waiting, prickling the skin on Mary’s arms. The bile rose up with such bitterness as the fear of her pending responsibility became real.

Mary had taken her fears and confided to her pastor. “How will I manage, Father? The children still need to be schooled and clothed and fed.”

Father Belez offered what consolation he truly believed; “Our Lord calls home His children for His purpose. It is not for us to question when or why.  Mary, have faith. He will provide.”

Maintaining her faith was a daily ritual for Mary. This message had been reinforced time and again. Mary thought about the precious children the Lord had ‘called home’. She knew, in her heart, the Lord now called upon her to find the strength to provide for her family.

As if on cue, the sun streaked into the bedroom to signal a new day. Mary heard the birds conversing with each other. The yellow babblers called out greetings, starting with a series of chirps, first near, and then far, escalating in urgency as their whistles intensified – their concert, punctuated by the screech from the peacock living under the bushes by the bedroom window, asserting its dominance in the world of bird song. Mary was often reminded of her little ones when she appreciated the glory of nature. The birds sounded so playful and hopeful; yet they had their mates and soon she would not.

From the kitchen, she could hear the muted clatter of meal preparation as her Ayah began her daily chores. Mary made her way out to the kitchen area. The wise woman, who had been part of her family for years, glanced at Mary knowingly. Mary accepted the fragrant cup of tea as the ayah handed her the comforting, steaming brew. Mary inhaled deeply to gather her strength. The hot liquid washed over her tongue with a sharp, chalky tang, cleansing her palette from the long night.

“It’s time to send for Father Belez,” she said. Her faith temporarily suspended in the inevitability of the event to come.

Startled back to reality, Mary heard the screech of delight before she saw her young daughter, Norah. “Mama, mama,” said Norah, running to envelope her mother in a big hug!

“Hello, my beautiful girl – Happy Birthday to you. Four years old already,” she said, embracing her daughter in return. She relished the warmth of her youngest, gathering from her the joy and enthusiasm little ones hold so naturally.

Later that morning, Father Belez arrived to give Jimmy his blessing and take his confession. Jimmy had slipped into a gentle rest and he emanated a sense of acceptance seeming at peace with no energy left to resist. His body fought long and hard. He was resigned to his end and before nightfall, Jimmy had taken his last breath. Mary sat vigil by his side and heard the slow, final exhalation. As she breathed the air into her own lungs, Mary tasted the saltiness from the tears that trickled down her face. She took a moment to reflect, and as the air flowed from her lungs, she knew her life had forever changed.

The next day the body of Jimmy Doran was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery in Poona. Father Belez opened the heavy book to write in the parish records. In his careful hand he noted the death of James Doran, aged 44 years, Pensioner, 2nd B. Leinster Regiment, on November 26, 1897, from stomach inflammation.

Mary and the children followed the dusty roads from the Cathedral back towards their bungalow next to the military camp. The sun shone intensely over the bustle of the day. They navigated the clatter of local people carrying on with life; driving their carts, herding their cattle, and selling their wares. Mary led her family back into the oasis of their small home; the scent of freshly laundered linens permeated the space. Her discerning eye noted the precise orderliness of the place. She knew her Ayah had been busy, scrubbing to put the past in the past and set things straight to give the family a chance for a new beginning. What her Ayah did not know was that this place would likely not be their home for much longer. Mary remained uncertain about what her income as a widow would be and her most immediate challenge, as the head of the family, was to find a suitable place for them to live.

 

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A Pause, Reflection and Call for Insight -MLB

In preparation for this week’s post, trying to build a story around the facts at this stage in Jimmy and Mary’s life, I realized last week’s post was not factually correct. I now know, the Leinster Regiment was called back to Ireland in 1894 and Jimmy was on a ship in December 1894. The Ashanti uprising did not happen until the end of 1895, after Jimmy’s discharge.  Hhmmmm what did happen?

So, this week I need to take a step back and re-think. Perhaps you might like to weigh in on what you think the circumstances in their lives might have been.

analysis blackboard board bubble

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here are some facts about Jimmy:

Joined Leinster Regiment 1/1/94 as Private.

Good conduct pay restored 14/4/94.

Leinster Regiment recalled to Ireland 1894.

Jimmy Departs  India in 1894 (this fact presumed as medical record includes entries for S.S.Dilwara on 22/12/94 and for Tipperary Ireland on 14/1/1895.

3/9/1895 Discharged at his own request after 18 years Service.

My dilemma is …. I cannot find any evidence that Mary and the family went back to Ireland. If they did, why did they return to India? (without spoiling the story, I know the family was in India by 1897.

I propose Mary and the family stayed in India when the Regiment was recalled. But, why would they? If they stayed, it would explain why Jimmy returned. Perhaps the entire family went back to Ireland only to find the climate was not good for Jimmy’s  rheumatism and they returned for health reasons. One might speculate the standard of living would be better in India also, on a small pension but the passage back to India might have been costly. I have not hear any family lore around the return home by the Doran family. Is anyone familiar with that possibility?

It would be awesome to locate a passenger record that shows James Joseph Doran or Jimmy Doran traveling from Ireland (possibly Queenston) to Bombay India, after his discharge in September 1895. Alternatively, passenger information that includes the whole or part of the family. My research about the s.s. Dilwara has not been helpful yet, as all the queries seems to point to a ship built much later.

So readers, give me your ideas and your reasoning. We shall see what slant we put on the story. Thanks for the readership thus far, and I hope to get some ideas from you to allow the story to continue.

I plan to rewrite last week’s posting  sometime this week and you will be able to catch up following this link.

Jimmy Sets Sail- Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 35

 

 

 

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Jimmy Sets Sail- Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 35

 

Leinster_Regiment_Cap_Badge

Confusion swirled around the orders for The First Leinster Regiment to report to Tipperary. Some talk suggested the battalion was being consolidated in Ireland before being dispatched to the Northwest coast of Africa. The Ashanti tribes, largely established inland, were causing havoc amongst the coastal Fante tribe and their European trading partners. This was the fourth time forces were assembled to enforce peace in the area.

Mary gathered her children along with her courage as she prepared to escort Jimmy to the rail station in Poona. The 1st Battalion of The Leinster Regiment would travel to Bombay where they boarded the H.M.S. Diliwara bound for Ireland.

Previously, Mary had spent time alone in her marriage, but never before would such a distance come between them. In Jimmy’s spotted career he had rarely been deployed into an active arena. Jimmy was near the end of his commitment. Should the family return home?

Since his demotion to the rank of private Jimmy had been subdued. This morning was no exception as he quietly gathered his things. The stress from the last year aggravated his rheumatism and Mary could tell he suffered with pain and stiffness. His face carried his experiences deep in the folds of skin, as an artist would capture a subject in stone. The separation would be difficult. Their relationship had been strained, and under better circumstances, the break might have mended the hurt she felt. Mary contained the fear she felt thinking of the possible danger facing Jimmy. She knew any regiment could be pressed into service to preserve the freedom of any part of the British Empire, but she still could not come to terms with its remoteness. “It hardly seems right you are leaving the week before Christmas. What is the urgency?”

“These things must be dealt with immediately, Mary. The Ashanti are causing havoc for the British civilians and our allies. The sooner we go the sooner we can return the area to peace and we can return home.”

What did she feel for him? Sadness, mostly. Her initial anger gave way to frustration, then resignation, followed by determination.

“I will miss you,” Mary offered. “The children will miss you too, Jimmy.” She looked over to her husband hoping he might pause and face her.

Jimmy glanced her way, “Ay, the children are growing up just fine, aren’t they?” He turned his gaze back to his satchel, “Perhaps it will be for the best to have me away for a spell. The older ones can focus on their school work. It cannot have been easy for them this last little while.” Jimmy looked back over towards his wife, thinking, this separation will be trying for Mary. She must care for the household and the children for the next while, but she is a strong woman and fully capable. I surely made a good match.

Jimmy gathered his things. “We best be going then.”

Poona Railway station 1900

The Station as it might have looked in 1894/5

On the platform, Jimmy took Norah from Mary. He held her close and inhaled her sweet innocence. “Don’t you grow too much, Norah!”

Jimmy then turned to his son. “James Michael,” he said as he stood up straight and saluted his son. “Work hard on your lessons, young man. There are plenty of options available for a lad who is disciplined.”

Next he turned towards May. “Well, little lady, you help your ma with the baby. You will be a big help, won’t you?”

Maggie was next in line. “I expect you will be helping your ma too, Maggie. Keep up your school work, young miss.” Jimmy reached over and gently cupped her chin.

He moved his attention towards his eldest, Kathie. His voice softened, “Look at you, just like your ma. She especially counts on you, Kathie. Do keep an eye on your sisters and brother and help your mama as best you can. You’re are becoming a fine young woman, lass.”

Jimmy turned back to face Mary thinking, Perhaps I will prove myself a worthy soldier in this conflict and make up for past mistakes. “Good-bye, Mary. Take good care of yourself. I will send word as soon as I am able.” His tone more formal and hesitant. Mary understood this was his way of telling her he was not proud of what had happened.

The children gathered around their mother, then all of them watched as Jimmy stooped to gather his bag. With a curt nod, he stepped onto the railway car. Mary clung to Norah as she reached deeply inside herself to calm the inner turmoil. Her thoughts drifted to a distant time and place. Fifteen years ago, she and Jimmy, so recently married, stood on the rail platform in Weymouth ready to depart. She pictured her family saying goodbye; her mother, Josephine, clinging to her baby sister. How she missed her Ma, she thought, and she is still imparting lessons to me.

The sound of the whistle pierced the air bringing Mary back to her reality. The engine chugged and strained carrying Jimmy and The Leinster Regiment away from the station. The dust swirled, and the pungent fumes enveloped the little groups standing on the platform watching the train disappear. In spite of the squirming child in her arms and the restless youngsters around her skirt, Mary felt quite alone.

 

 

 

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

 

More about The First Leinster

 

Heritage History: Ashanti Wars

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To The First Leinster – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 34

The year had ended poorly for Jimmy and his family. Mary looked over at her husband as he buttoned up his collar. He reached for his hairbrush and slowly passed it over his hair, deftly combing out from the part. He worked his way methodically from the front, sweeping the strands behind his ears, then smoothing out the hair at the back. He placed the brush down, and for good measure repeated the process with his hand.

Mary stood up carrying Norah still sleeping in her arms – drunk with milk from her feeding. She walked over to Jimmy and placed a hand on his cheek. “You look just fine, Jimmy,” she said. It pained her to see the anguish lying beneath his eyes. Regret is a thief. It hoards the promises of good times to come and suppresses the flame of hope. With the pending relocation of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and the limited time left to complete his commitment, Jimmy could not say how this meeting with his commander would go.

He gave her a nod, placed his hand on Norah’s head and said, “I am so sorry it has come to this, Mary.”

Poor Jimmy, she thought. He had a weakness in his character, but there certainly is a kindness underneath that bravado. Mary had wrestled with his charges in her mind – ‘misappropriating regimental funds!’ – what was he thinking. Well, nothing to be done about that now. Mary strengthened her resolve, smiled at her husband and said, “We will get through this Jimmy. We always do. The Lord will guide us. He sends these trials to strengthen us.”

The formal meeting was crisp and short. The commander had a plan in place and the one-sided negotiation was completed. James Doran would not move to Quetta with his regiment in July. His time with the Lancashire Fusiliers was now over. Jimmy would transfer to the Irish troop, The First Leinster Regiment, effective January 1, 1894, to complete his military commitment.

“A fresh start, Jimmy,” Mary suggested faintly.

“I’m done with that other lot! These blokes understand us Irish better,” he responded. “We’ll start off 1894, with these new lads. Things will get better for us, Mary.”

Mary had no idea if the change would be good for her husband or not. She prayed he would find his contentment. Likely, Jimmy had not considered what this change would mean for Mary. Everyone she socialized with was attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers. This was her family. The women she had sailed with when they left Ireland were the same ones she comforted as they buried their angels in this foreign land; the very same women who showed up when she grieved, the friends who got caught up in the gossip of the servants and other families. All the good and the weak characteristics of these people, her circle, were preparing to leave Poona, and she was to stay behind.

Mary’s community left in July, and she found herself drawn more and more to her congregation and serving the unfortunate poor. Perhaps it was her stage of life, or the profound sense of the fragility of happiness and health that drew Mary to nursing, but little by little she found more and more of her time consumed with helping others. As the monsoons arrived in Poona that summer, disease broke out. High fever was common and the authorities were constantly on the look out for those contagious diseases, such as cholera and plague. Mary arrived home one afternoon to find all three of the older girls listless and pale. She put down her things and went straight to Kathie. She stroked her forehead and felt for swelling on her throat.

“Ma, my throat is so sore,” Kathie said. “There were a number of children away from school today.”

“Let’s get you some honey and water to drink, shall we?” Both Maggie and May seemed equally flushed and lethargic.

“Right then,” Mary said, “Off to bed with the lot of you.” The three girls left their mother as they walked over to their shared space. With the help of their Ayah, they took off the layers of clothing and slipped into their night shifts. None of them complained. They were simply too tired. Mary arrived with three mugs of soothing liquid. Kathie and Maggie sat up to take their drinks. Nine-year-old May did not manage to drink at all. Mary wrung a cool cloth and gently placed it onto May’s forehead. She ran her fingers through her daughter’s long locks. Her damp curls, covered in sticky sweat, clung around her sweet little girl’s face.

A sick fear settled into Mary’s gut. She had been tending many in the community who suffered with high fevers. Many did not survive. Oh, my beautiful girls. Dear Lord, I pray you keep them safe. Spare these little ones.

The next morning both Kathie and Maggie seemed to have pushed the fever away. Mary had sat vigil through the night, and was relieved to find them resting comfortably in the dawn. May was the focus of her care now. The illness had not released its grip. Her flushed cheeks and parched lips, taught on her young face, confirmed the fever’s hold on her. Mary spent the night applying cool cloths. The punkwallah worked through the hours to stir the air above all the girls. Still, May’s sheets were soaked with sweat. As dawn broke, Mary spoke to her Ayah. “Fetch the scissors,” she said gesturing with her fingers in a clipping motion. The eyes of her Ayah opened wide, poised with the question, ‘How could you?’ Mary just waved her hand in the direction of her desk, “Do not look at me like that. Just go!”

The Ayah obediently shuffled out of the room. She returned with the scissors lying across both hands. She bowed down as she made the offering to her memsahib. Mary took the scissors, and instructed the young girl to lift May up. It was unfortunate, but it would have to be done. May will be heartbroken, but there was no choice. Mary grabbed a handful of hair and began to snip off the long lengths. She had to try everything to cool the child. Within minutes, the beautiful wavy hair was in a pile on the floor. Mary proceeded to wash down her daughter’s scalp with cool water. The shock caused May to flutter her eyes and whimper in distress.

“Shush my little one. You are a strong girl. You can fight this.” Mary whispered in her ear.

As if God had heard her pleas, the fever broke later that day. May gradually regained strength, though her health would remain somewhat fragile for many years.

In the early autumn of 1894, Jimmy arrived home with news. So much had happened with the family in the thirteen years since they arrived in Bombay. He announced, “I am sorry Mary, but you will have to manage for some time without me. I have been ordered to travel to Ireland in January. My instructions are to report in Tipperary.”

Mary looked at him in shock. The thought of home trickled into her consciousness. She tried to envision the green pastures and soft rain. She strained to hear the bleating sheep and the crashing waves. The memories were distant and vague. Why, oh why, should he be going? She made up her mind. She used the news to press him. “Well, if that is what is to be, we will be taking that family portrait. And, I will not have any of your objections.”

Jimmy knew that once she made up her mind, Mary was not to be denied. He hated the thought of a photograph, but then he knew she was right. He was not certain how long he would be away.

The family gathered for the portrait sitting just as the monsoons were ending. Mary dressed carefully that day. She gazed into the looking glass as she smoothed her wispy curls. She fingered the cherished brooch given to her by her mother on her wedding day, then brushed her broadening figure with both hands. Not such a bad figure for eight children, Mary thought. But, still not quite as slim as on my wedding day!

doran-family-c-1894The photographer guided them into position. Jimmy stood in uniform, hoping the whole affair would be over soon. Mary sat with Norah glowering on her lap. To her left, five-year-old Jimmy peered into the camera with suspicion, leaning slightly into his mother. On her right hand side, Kathie stood beside her father with her hands neatly clasped. Maggie glanced cautiously towards the photographer. May, with her freshly sheared hair, perched at the front. As the photographer hid behind his camera, he commanded, “Hold that pose!” Snap.

 

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

Leinster Regiment Website

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Crash, Boom, Baby – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 33

Military life had never been easy for Jimmy. Now, not quite twenty years into his career, he faced another precipitous fall from grace. The charges were serious and Jimmy was to meet with his commander to answer for his actions.

Mary laboured under the additional weight she carried. She was beyond seven months in her pregnancy. Her daily burdens harnessed her into routine activity like a pair of experienced plough horses pulling their way through the field, row after row.

She looked through the screened lattice with a vacant gaze as she fingered the beads on her rosary. Why has the Lord sent her another trial? Had she not been a loyal wife? Had she not given back to the Lord three of her babies? Had she not travelled far from her loved ones? Had she not established herself time and time again, with each congregation, packing up their meager belongings and making a home for her family? Mary placed her hand on her abdomen. The child poked out in response to its mother’s touch then rolled to settle in a more comfortable position. In a month’s time this baby would enter the world searching for love, acceptance, and for life.

Jimmy had floundered in his career. His long struggle to rise to the rank of sergeant was stripped away in a heartbeat and he was reduced to private. For a man with a young growing family to care for, and approaching the end of his career, this was a sorry place to be.

The Lancashire Fusiliers were preparing for their next posting in Quetta, a post in the northern reaches of India. In 1887, Jimmy had re-engaged to serve a twenty-one year term with the military, and he had 14 months remaining on that commitment. His careless behaviour made his future with the regiment unclear.

Norah Millicent pushed herself into the world at the end of November. The strain in the relationship between Mary and Jimmy was still fresh and was not overcome by the joy of another child. Norah arrived at a time of faint hope in their lives. A miracle, a gift from God, and as soft and sweet smelling as all eight of Mary’s little ones had been, but still, she was not capable of lifting the family out of its current despair.

Doran_Nora(h)_Millicent_BAP_1893.png

Early the next morning Father Hillenkamp stepped in through the doorway of the Doran bungalow. “Well, I have been told, we are to welcome a new soul to the flock.” He had arrived to bless and baptize Norah. Mary felt the strength from his words fortify her resolve. This little girl needed her mother to be strong and to raise her with a commitment to her faith. Lord knows how He has sustained her through so many of the valleys.

Oncenvironment-fan-palm-garden-788488e the priest had left Mary made her way to the desk overlooking the garden. The air, tinged with the sweet fragrance of jasmine, floated into the room. She reached for her Bible and opened to the family record. Seeing the writing, Mary traced the fifteen years since the first notation. Fond remembrance affected all the senses of her body as she recalled her wedding day, the first entry on the page. Casually, her fingertips traced the arrival of each of her precious children. She lingered over the names of those taken into the embrace of Jesus as if she might will them back into existence. Their souls seemed to hover around her like a veil of protection and courage. Mary picked up her pen, dipped into the black ink, and formed the letters, Norah Millicent, born November 26, 1893.

 

Begin Mary’s Story Here – The Prologue

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Happy Birthday – Mary Lucy Byrne – Part 32

Eddie’s death cast a long shadow over the Doran family. Poona was chaotic, bustling with people, and more lonely than any other place Mary had been in India. Jimmy spent more time away claiming demands from his regiment required he participate with the men. He fell into the social scene when work was done. Sporting events and club associations were part of the expected participation. Mary, left to guide the children and manage the household staff, found it difficult to engage with women from British society. Events organized on a frequent basis always involved the same group of people. Novel conversation was close to impossible. Chatter fell to idle gossip like a gaggle of geese squawking about other families or their servants. Mary was drawn to the native people, but developing relationships among them was definitely considered taboo. Cultural divisions were very clear between the British and the locals. Even in the Indian population innumerable sects or castes existed to separate groups of people from each other. It was all rather daunting to understand. Mary found more affinity with her servants, who grieved with her after the loss of Eddie, than with her British community who found life in Poona filled to the brim with social activities. Many of her friends within the regiment took to the welcome change of pace and embraced all the gaiety they could.

Rosary beadsDay by day Mary became more withdrawn. She turned inward, devoting much of her day to prayer and reading scripture. St. Patrick’s Cathedral became her salvation. With hardly a glance, two years passed.

In August 1893, on the eve of her 33rd birthday, Mary was surrounded by her children. Her youngest, Jimmy, now just over four years old, had decorated a special greeting for his mama. His sister, Kathie, older than Jimmy by nine years, had helped him express his love. Maggie, aged eleven and May, soon to be nine, created beautiful images using pressed flowers glued onto sheets of paper. Mary hoped Jimmy might arrive home before their bedtime to see their thoughtfulness, but there was no sign of him.

“Isn’t this special. You have all made me feel so loved. Thank you very much,” she said.

“Happy Birthday, Mama,” Maggie said. Kathie came to give her mother a warm hug. Young Jimmy tugged at her skirt. She lifted him to her lap and he snuggled in for a cuddle. Mary was keenly aware of his desire for her attention. She absorbed his love like a dry cloth mopping up a spill.

There was the familiar stomp up their front step and across the verandah before the door clattered open. There was Jimmy. Grinning broadly, he announced, “I heard there was a birthday party somewhere.”

May called out, “Papa!” The children were excited to see their father. He didn’t often get home before they were sent to bed.

background-beautiful-bloom-1039106From behind his back, he produced a handful of flowers. “For the lady of the day,” he held the posies out to Mary as he swept his other arm in a grand bow.

Mary smiled. She loved to see Jimmy happy, though he seemed a little too happy. She suspected he had made a stop before coming home, but she was truly pleased he arrived when he did.

Jimmy approached Mary to give her a kiss on her cheek. “Well, it looks like you have the king’s ransom today.” He reached out to gently tap her protruding belly. “And how is this little bun doing today?”

She could smell the hint of some drink as his whiskers scraped along her cheek. “This one is wearing me out,” she said. “But then, I am not as young as I used to be. We will certainly have a busy Christmas with another little one.”

Mary turned attention to their youngsters. “Now children, say goodnight to your father, and off to bed with you all. I will be by to tuck you in momentarily.”

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