Bold Words at
the Bridge by Sarah Orne Jewett
"`Well, now,' says I, `Mrs. Con'ly,' says I, `how ever you may
tark, 't is nobody's business and I wanting to plant a few pumpkins for
me cow in among me cabbages. I've got the right to plant whatever I may
choose, if it's the divil of a crop of t'istles in the middle of me
ground.' `No ma'am, you ain't,' says Biddy Con'ly; `you ain't got anny
right to plant t'istles that's not for the public good,' says she; and
I being so hasty wit' me timper, I shuk me fist in her face then, and
herself shuk her fist at me. Just then Father Brady come by, as luck
ardered, an' recomminded us would we keep the peace. He knew well I'd
had my provocation; 't was to herself he spoke first. You'd think she
owned the whole corporation. I wished I'd t'rown her over into the
wather, so I did, before he come by at all. 'T was on the bridge the
two of us were. I was stepping home by meself very quiet in the
afthernoon to put my tay-kittle on for supper, and herself overtook me,
-- ain't she the bold thing!
"`How are you the day, Mrs. Dunl'avy?' says she, so mincin' an'
preenin', and I knew well she'd put her mind on having words wit' me
from that minute. I'm one that likes to have peace in the neighborhood,
if it wa'n't for the likes of her, that makes the top of me head lift
and clat' wit' rage like a pot-lid!"
"What was the matter with the two of you?" asked a listener, with
"Faix indeed, 't was herself had a thrifle of melons planted the
other side of the fince," acknowledged Mrs. Dunleavy. "She said the
pumpkins would be the ruin of them intirely. I says, and 't was thrue
for me, that I'd me pumpkins planted the week before she'd dropped anny
old melon seed into the ground, and thesame bein' already dwining from
so manny bugs. Oh, but she's blackhearted to give me the lie about it,
and say those poor things was all up, and she'd thrown lime on 'em to
keep away their inemies when she first see me come out betune me
cabbage rows. How well she knew what I might be doing! Me cabbages
grows far apart and I'd plinty of room, and if a pumpkin vine gets
attention you can entice it wherever you pl'ase and it'll grow fine and
long, while the poor cabbages ates and grows fat and round, and no harm
to annybody, but she must pick a quarrel with a quiet 'oman in the face
of every one.
"We were on the bridge, don't you see, and plinty was passing by
with their grins, and loitering and stopping afther they were behind
her back to hear what was going on betune us. Annybody does be liking
to get the sound of loud talk an' they having nothing better to do.
Biddy Con'ly, seeing she was well watched, got the airs of a pr'acher,
and set down whatever she might happen to be carrying and tried would
she get the better of me for the sake of their admiration. Oh, but
wa'n't she all drabbled and wet from the roads, and the world knows
meself for a very tidy walker!
"`Clane the mud from your shoes if you're going to dance;' 't was
all I said to her, and she being that mad she did be stepping up and
down like an old turkey-hin, and shaking her fist all the time at me.
`Coom now, Biddy,' says I, `what put you out so?' says I. `Sure, it
creeps me skin when I looks at you! Is the pig dead,' says I, `or anny
little thing happened to you, ma'am? Sure this is far beyond the rights
of a few pumpkin seeds that has just cleared the ground!' and all the
folks laughed. I'd no call to have tark with Biddy Con'ly before them
idle b'ys and gerrls, nor to let the two of us become their
laughing-stock. I tuk up me basket, being ashamed then, and I meant to
go away, mad as I was. `Coom, Mrs. Con'ly!' says I, `let bygones be
bygones; what's all this whillalu we're afther having about nothing?'
says I very pleasant.
"`May the divil fly away with you, Mary Dunl'avy!' says she then,
`spoiling me garden ground, as every one can see, and full of your bold
talk. I'll let me hens out into it this afternoon, so I will,' says
she, and a good deal more. `Hold off,' says I, `and remember what fell
to your aunt one day when she sint her hins in to pick a neighbor's
piece, and while her own back was turned they all come home and had
every sprouted bean and potatie heeled out in the hot sun, and all her
fine lettuces picked into Irish lace. We've lived neighbors,' says I,
`thirteen years,' says I; `and we've often had words together above the
fince,' says I, `but we're neighbors yet, and we've no call to stand
here in such spectacles and disgracing ourselves and each other. Coom,
Biddy,' says I, again, going away with me basket and remimbering Father
Brady's caution whin it was too late. Some o' the b'ys went off too,
thinkin' `t was all done.
"`I don't want anny o' your Coom Biddy's,' says she, stepping at
me, with a black stripe across her face, she was that destroyed with
rage, and I stepped back and held up me basket between us, she being
bigger than I, and I getting no chance, and herself slipped and fell,
and her nose got a clout with the hard edge of the basket, it would
trouble the saints to say how, and then I picked her up and wint home
with her to thry and quinch the blood. Sure I was sorry for the crathur
an' she having such a timper boiling in her heart.
"`Look at you now, Mrs. Con'ly,' says I, kind of soft, `you 'ont be
fit for mass these two Sundays with a black eye like this, and your
face arl scratched, and every bliguard has gone the lingth of the town
to tell tales of us. I'm a quiet 'oman,' says I, `and I don't thank
you,' says I, whin the blood was stopped, -- `no, I don't thank you for
disgracin' an old neighbor like me. 'T is of our prayers and the grave
we should be thinkin', and not be having bold words on the bridge.'
Wisha! but I t'ought I was after spaking very quiet, and up she got and
caught up the basket, and I dodged it by good luck, but after that I
walked off and left her to satisfy her foolishness with b'ating the
wall if it pl'ased her. I'd no call for her company anny more, and I
took a vow I'd never spake a work to her again while the world stood.
So all is over since then betune Biddy Con'ly and me. No, I don't look
at her at all!"
Some time afterward, in late summer, Mrs. Dunleavy stood, large and
noisy, but generous-hearted, addressing some remarks from her front
doorway to a goat on the sidewalk. He was pulling some of her cherished
foxgloves through the picket fence, and eagerly devouring their flowery
"How well you rache through an honest fince, you black pirate!" she
shouted; but finding that harsh words had no effect, she took a
convenient broom, and advanced to strike a gallant blow upon the
creature's back. This had the simple effect of making him step a little
to one side and modestly begin to nibble at a tuft of grass.
"Well, if I ain't plagued!" said Mrs. Dunleavy sorrowfully; "if I
ain't throubled with every wild baste, and me cow that was some use
gone dry very unexpected, and a neighbor that's worse than none at all.
I've nobody to have an honest word with, and the morning being so fine
and pleasant. Faix, I'd move away from it, if there was anny place I'd
enjoy better. I've no heart except for me garden, me poor little crops
is doing so well; thanks be to God, me cabbages is very fine. There
does be those that overlooked me pumpkins for the poor cow; they're no
size at all wit' so much rain."
The two small white houses stood close together, with their little
gardens behind them. The road was just in front, and led down to a
stone bridge which crossed the river to the busy manufacturing village
beyond. The air was fresh and cool at that early hour, the wind had
changed after a season of dry, hot weather; it was just the morning for
a good bit of gossip with a neighbor, but summer was almost done, and
the friends were not reconciled. Their respective acquaintances had
grown tired of hearing the story of the quarrel, and the novelty of
such a pleasing excitement had long been over. Mrs. Connelly was
thumping away at a handful of belated ironing, and Mrs. Dunleavy,
estranged and solitary, sighed as she listened to the iron. She was
sociable by nature, and she had an impulse to go in and sit down as she
used at the end of the ironing table.
"Wisha, the poor thing is mad at me yet, I know that from the
sounds of her iron; 't was a shame for her to go picking a quarrel with
the likes of me," and Mrs. Dunleavy sighed heavily and stepped down
into her flower-plot to pull the distressed foxgloves back into their
places inside the fence. The seed had been sent her from the old
country, and this was the first year they had come into full bloom. She
had been hoping that the sight of them would melt Mrs. Connelly's heart
into some expression of friendliness, since they had come from
adjoining parishes in old County Kerry. The goat lifted his head, and
gazed at his enemy with mild interest; he was pasturing now by the
roadside, and the foxgloves had proved bitter in his mouth.
Mrs. Dunleavy stood looking at him over the fence, glad of even a
"Go 'long there; see that fine little tuft ahead now," she advised
him, forgetful of his depredations. "Oh, to think I've nobody to spake
to, the day!"
At that moment a woman came in sight round the turn of the road.
She was a stranger, a fellow country-woman, and she carried a large
newspaper bundle and a heavy handbag. Mrs. Dunleavy stepped out of the
flower-bed toward the gate, and waited there until the stranger came up
and stopped to ask a question.
"Ann Bogan don't live here, do she?"
"She don't," answered the mistress of the house, with dignity.
"I t'ought she didn't; you don't know where she lives, do you?"
"I don't," said Mrs. Dunleavy.
"I don't know ayther; niver mind, I'll find her; 't is a fine day,
Mrs. Dunleavy could hardly bear to let the stranger go away. She
watched her far down the hill toward the bridge before she turned to go
into the house. She seated herself by the side window next Mrs.
Connelly's, and gave herself to her thoughts. The sound of the flatiron
had stopped when the traveler came to the gate, and it had not begun
again. Mrs. Connelly had gone to her front door; the hem of her calico
dress could be plainly seen, and the bulge of her apron, and she was
watching the stranger quite out of sight. She even came out to the
doorstep, and for the first time in many weeks looked with friendly
intent toward her neighbor's house. Then she also came and sat down at
her side window. Mrs. Dunleavy's heart began to leap with excitement.
"Bad cess to her foolishness, she does be afther wanting to come
round; I'll not make it too aisy for her," said Mrs. Dunleavy, seizing
a piece of sewing and forbearing to look up. "I don't know who Ann
Bogan is, annyway; perhaps herself does, having lived in it five or six
years longer than me. Perhaps she knew this woman by her looks, and the
heart is out of her with wanting to know what she asked from me. She
can sit there, then, and let her irons grow cold!
"There was Bogans living down by the brick mill when I first come
here, neighbors to Flaherty's folks," continued Mrs. Dunleavy, more and
more aggrieved. "Biddy Con'ly ought to know the Flahertys, they being
her cousins. 'T was a fine loud-talking 'oman; sure Biddy might well
enough have heard her inquiring of me, and have stepped out, and said
if she knew Ann Bogan, and satisfied a poor stranger that was hunting
the town over. No, I don't know anny one in the name of Ann Bogan, so I
don't," said Mrs. Dunleavy aloud, "and there's nobody I can ask a civil
question, with every one that ought to be me neighbors stopping their
mouths, and keeping black grudges whin 't was meself got all the
"Faix 't was meself got the whack on me nose," responded Mrs.
Connelly quite unexpectedly. She was looking squarely at the window
where Mrs. Dunleavy sat behind the screen of blue mosquito netting.
They were both conscious that Mrs. Connelly made a definite overture of
"That one was a very civil-spoken 'oman that passed by just now,"
announced Mrs. Dunleavy, handsomely waiving the subject of the quarrel
and coming frankly to the subject of present interest. "Faix, 't is a
poor day for Ann Bogans; she'll find that out before she gets far in
"Ann Bogans was plinty here once, then, God rest them! There was
two Ann Bogans, mother and daughter, lived down by Flaherty's when I
first come here. They died in the one year, too; 't is most thirty
years ago," said Bridget Connelly, in her most friendly tone.
"`I'll find her,' says the poor 'oman as if she'd only to look;
indeed, she's got the boldness," reported Mary Dunleavy, peace being
"'T was to Flaherty's she'd go first, and they all moved to
La'rence twelve years ago, and all she'll get from anny one would be
the address of the cimet'ry. There was plenty here knowing to Ann Bogan
once. That 'oman is one I've seen long ago, but I can't name her yet.
Did she say who she was?" asked the neighbor.
"She didn't; I'm sorry for the poor 'oman, too," continued Mrs.
Dunleavy, in the same spirit of friendliness. "She'd the expectin' look
of one who came hoping to make a nice visit and find friends, and
herself lugging a fine bundle. She'd the looks as if she'd lately come
out; very decent, but old-fashioned. Her bonnet was made at home
annyways, did ye mind? I'll lay it was bought in Cork when it was new,
or maybe 't was from a good shop in Bantry or Kinmare, or some o' those
old places. If she'd seemed satisfied to wait, I'd made her the offer
of a cup of tay, but off she wint with great courage."
"I don't know but I'll slip on me bonnet in the afthernoon and go
find her," said Biddy Connelly, with hospitable warmth. "I've seen her
before, perhaps 't was long whiles ago at home."
"Indeed I thought of it myself," said Mrs. Dunleavy, with approval.
"We'd best wait, perhaps, till she'd be coming back; there's no train
now till three o'clock. She might stop here till the five, and we'll
find out all about her. She'll have a very lonesome day, whoiver she
is. Did you see that old goat 'ating the best of me fairy-fingers that
all bloomed the day?" she asked eagerly, afraid that the conversation
might come to an end at any moment; but Mrs. Connelly took no notice of
so trivial a subject.
"Me melons is all getting ripe," she announced, with an air of
satisfaction. "There's a big one must be ate now while we can; it's
down in the cellar cooling itself, an' I'd like to be dropping it,
getting down the stairs. 'T was afther picking it I was before
breakfast, itself having begun to crack open. Himself was the b'y that
loved a melon, an' I ain't got the heart to look at it alone. Coom
over, will ye, Mary?"
"`Deed then an' I will," said Mrs. Dunleavy, whose face was close
against the mosquito netting. "Them old pumpkin vines was no good anny
way; did you see how one of them had the invintion, and wint away up on
the fince entirely wit' its great flowers, an' there come a rain on
'em, and so they all blighted? I'd no call to grow such stramming great
things in my piece annyway, 'ating up all the goodness from me
That afternoon the reunited friends sat banqueting together and
keeping an eye on the road. They had so much to talk over and found
each other so agreeable that it was impossible to dwell with much
regret upon the long estrangement. When the melon was only half
finished the stranger of the morning, with her large unopened bundle
and the heavy handbag, was seen making her way up the hill. She wore
such a weary and disappointed look that she was accosted and invited in
by both the women, and being proved by Mrs. Connelly to be an old
acquaintance, she joined them at their feast.
"Yes, I was here seventeen years ago for the last time," she
explained. "I was working in Lawrence, and I came over and spent a
fortnight with Honora Flaherty; then I wint home that year to mind me
old mother, and she lived to past ninety. I'd nothing to keep me then,
and I was always homesick afther America, so back I come to it, but all
me old frinds and neighbors is changed and gone. Faix, this is the
first welcome I've got yet from anny one. 'T is a beautiful welcome,
too,I'll get me apron out of me bundle, by your l'ave, Mrs. Con'ly.
You've a strong resemblance to Flaherty's folks, dear, being cousins.
Well, 't is a fine thing to have good neighbors. You an' Mrs. Dunleavy
is very pleasant here so close together."
"Well, we does be having a hasty word now and then, ma'am,"
confessed Mrs. Dunleavy, "but ourselves is good neighbors this manny
years. Whin a quarrel's about nothing betune friends, it don't count
for much, so it don't."
"Most quarrels is the same way," said the stranger, who did not
like melons, but accepted a cup of hot tea. "Sure, it always takes two
to make a quarrel, and but one to end it; that's what me mother always
told me, that never gave anny one a cross word in her life."
"`T is a beautiful melon," repeated Mrs. Dunleavy for the seventh
time. "Sure, I'll plant a few seed myself next year; me pumpkins is no
good afther all me foolish pride wit' 'em. Maybe the land don't suit
'em, but glory be to God, me cabbages is the size of the house, an'
you'll git the pick of the best, Mrs. Con'ly."
"What's melons betune friends, or cabbages ayther, that they should
ever make any trouble?" answered Mrs. Connelly handsomely, and the
great feud was forever ended.
But the stranger, innocent that she was the harbinger of peace,
could hardly understand why Bridget Connelly insisted upon her staying
all night and talking over old times, and why the two women put on
their bonnets and walked, one on either hand, to see the town with her
that evening. As they crossed the bridge they looked at each other
shyly, and then began to laugh.
"Well, I missed it the most on Sundays going all alone to mass,"
confessed Mary Dunleavy. "I'm glad there's no one here seeing us go
over, so I am."
"'T was ourselves had bold words at the bridge, once, that we've
got the laugh about now," explained Mrs. Connelly politely to the