Chapter One


Killeagh[1], County Cork, Ireland, November 1888

“Sure an’ ye’ll be the death of me yet, Callandra Mae Donnelly, so ye will!”

Cally stood shivering and dripping, her body stiff as she gazed at Mammy’s red and angry face. All that matters is my treasure. She gripped her wee mirror more firmly behind her back. While Mammy ranted, Cally’s mind darted around their small farm, seeking a better hiding place from her wee eejit of a brother. Didn’t Teddy throw it in the creek in a fit of envy?

Something warm ran down from Cally’s forehead, stinging her right eye and dripping down her face. I mustn’t wipe it away, lest Mammy notice my treasure. Distracted by the sting, Mammy’s words scarcely penetrated. “Sure, an’ haven’t ye been nothin’ but trouble an’ worry for ev’ry minute of yer five years?”

Mammy paused to draw breath, and Uncle Dugan’s voice eased in, mellow and smooth. “Sure, Reeny, an’ wontcha let me peek at the wee lassie’s injury? She’s bleedin’ on yer clean floor, so she is, Maureen.”

Mammy shifted her glare to Uncle Dugan. Cally edged closer to the peat fire. The movement made her dizzy. She sank to the floor and everything went black.


“Ah, there ye are, lassie. Ye had me worried, so ye did. Now I see ye’re all right, I’ll be goin’ back to the praties.” Uncle Dugan’s voice sounded far away. Cally’s left eye opened, but her right was swollen shut. She knew two things: her head hurt, and she was warm. Uncle Dugan’s face came close to hers. “An’ don’t worry about yer mirror, Cally. It’s safe in my pocket, so it is. We’ll talk about it when yer . . .”

Cally heard no more. Fraught images chased through her exhausted sleep. Teddy waving the wee mirror before her outstretched fingers and then running like a liltie toward the creek before she could leap from the milking stool and chase after him. The glint of the metal as it spun toward the water. The shock and strength of the current as she plunged in after it. Teddy’s shriek. Her fingers closing over her treasure’s round smoothness just as she slipped and cracked her forehead on a rock. Uncle Dugan hauling her out of the water and carrying her into the cottage, where Mammy made her stand up to give an account of herself. The floor rising to smash into her face . . .

Cally moaned, her head a mighty ache that pinned her to the bed. A soothing voice reached through her distress, this time her da’s. “There now, lassie, I know it hurts. Ye’ll be more prudent in the future, I don’t doubt. Rest now, sweet one.” Softly he sang.




Hush now, don’t ye cry . . .

The familiar melody eased Cally into a different dream, of how the treasure came to be hers. Market day in town, clutching Uncle Dugan’s rough hand, Mammy’s eggs in a basket on her other arm. A carriage with a broken wheel. A boy and a fancy woman stepping down, a wee, shiny thing in her hand. The woman’s words, soft and clear, spoken oddly while the boy stared at Cally. “Oh, do you like my wee mirror, lassie? Don’t be afraid. Come. Let me show you how pretty you are.”

Uncle Dugan’s nod. For the first time, seeing her own reflection, curly red hair framing big green eyes, a wee nose, freckles everywhere. Lifting her gaze to the woman’s own lovely face. Fascination with the gentleness of her voice, the kindness in her eyes.

“Yes, it is a dainty wee thing. I found it in a street stall in Bombay. Would you like to have it, páistí? My brother is a lieutenant in India; he can send me another.” Clutching the wee mirror. Cally and Uncle Dugan gazing at the rich lady and her laddie until they disappeared into the tavern.

Her dream-vision shattered into Mammy’s brusque tones. “Sure, am I not sorry for yer pain, Cally? Wake up, now. Miss Hilda’s come to tend ye.”

Cally struggled to obey; still, only her left eye would open. At the level of her eye she saw her mammy’s tummy, round and big, pressed against the bed. Cally stretched out a finger and touched it. Another babby? Why haven’t I noticed this before?

Mammy didn’t feel Cally’s finger through her skirts. She moved back as Miss Hilda sat on the bed, slowly easing Cally to sit supported against her side.

“Drink this, lassie. It doesn’t taste good, but it will make ye feel better, so it will. Give her a few swallows whene’er she stirs, Reeny, but slowly so she won’t throw it off. It’ll comfort her some while the swellin’ goes down. Ye did well sewin’ shut the wound on her forehead.”

Miss Hilda eased Cally back onto the pillow. “She’ll be needin’ yer good broth, too, Reeny, as much as she’ll take. That was a desperate wheen of bleedin’, so it was. Ye must keep her in bed. I’ll come again in two days unless Cissy McDougal starts her birthin’.”

As her body relaxed, Cally’s mind returned to her dream. A mystery hovered: the peacefulness in the mirror-lady’s brown eyes. I never knew. Life is more. Bigger. Different than I thought. Scary and—and—happy. I didn’t know.

Cally tucked the mystery away deep inside. As deep as the hole she would ask Uncle Dugan to dig for her treasure at the back of the potato patch, with a big rock over it like all the other big rocks piled there.


“I won’t never touch yer treasure, never again, Cally. I promise, cross my heart.”

Teddy’s anxious whisper reconnected Cally to her pillow, and aching head, and the scent of burning peat. He scuttled off when he heard Mammy’s heavy footfall. Mammy must have told him not to bother me. I must get better, to ease his worry.

Cally sipped the broth Mammy brought, though her tummy heaved, and her head throbbed. Mammy held her steady and tucked another pillow behind her. Such a wonder, this unexpected kindliness. I must think about it more, when I am not so, so knackered.


January 1889

Cally held her knees tight against her tummy. I can’t hold it anymore! I could use the bucket, but Mammy will make me empty it in the morning, and last time I spilled it. The outhouse is better, so I won’t spill. Cally chuckled inside at her own humor. She carefully lifted Teddy’s hand from her arm, waited while his breathing settled, then grabbed her shawl and slipped through the back door. Sitting on the stoop, she pulled boots over her bare feet, then ran down the path, giggling at the way her steps squeaked on the new snow.

A bright moon emerged from the clouds, and Cally stopped a moment to admire it. “Cuir do phíopa ar do ghualainn trí ardú na gealaí,”[2] she whispered, her father’s bedtime song fresh in her mind. Then she dashed to her destination.

Cally slowed to a noiseless walk on her way back. Silently, she removed her boots and eased open the door, pressing icy fingers over her mouth to muffle her breathing. From her parents’ bedstead across the single room of their cottage, she heard voices.

“Sure, I hoped the accident might have tamed her, but she’s still as wild as ever, so she is.” Mammy’s voice was angry, and her words ended in a big sigh.

“Still an’ all, yer too hard on her, Reeny. She’s but a wee lassie. Can’t ye find some patience for her, as ye did when she was laid up?” Da’s voice was so quiet, Cally had to strain to hear it.

“I ne’er thought to raise a tomboy, Frank, in soul I didn’t. Just think of what she did this last day, slidin’ down the hill with her skirts over her head fer all the world to see her pantaloons. Sure, I do think sometimes she’s no daughter o’ mine.”

Mammy’s voice softened. “This one, now. I’m prayin’ to the Virgin to give me a real sweet lassie. One who loves to help me in the kitchen an’ learns her stitches an’ speaks soft as a lassie should an’—”

“Why, Reeny, that’s just not right! God gave us this precious daughter Cally, and our job is to love her, not wish to make her over. And it’s our job to be grateful fer whatever wee wean God sends us, not to go demandin’ our own selfish yearnin’s.”

Cally’s eyes flooded with tears. She hurried to her bed and buried her head under her pillow to muffle her sobs. She couldn’t breathe. I always knew Mammy is nicer to Teddy than to me. But she just said right out loud she doesn’t want me. Doesn’t even like me. She hopes the new babby is nothin’ like me.  

Cally wept softly for a long time, anger slowly rising through her grief. For a moment, she remembered Da’s words of support. But does he secretly wish me to be a different kind of lassie, like Mammy does? 

Cally thought carefully about Da and couldn’t decide. His affection was the calm center of the whirlwind always swirling around her and Mammy. But does he really love me? I must watch and listen.

It seemed but a moment after Cally finally fell asleep when Mammy shook her awake. “Must I oxter-cog ye from that bed, ye slough about? The house so cold an’ the fire not yet stirred an’ no peat to put on it. Why, yer da’s been out this long time to care fer the animals, an’ Daisy not yet milked . . .”

Cally stopped listening. She dressed quickly and hurried to her chores. Inside, she made a secret covenant with herself. Unless she makes me, I won’t speak to Mammy again. I’ll do what she bids me, but I won’t try to win her love. I’ll be as cold as this air that makes my breath come out like smoke. And I’ll watch Da and Uncle Dugan. Will they even notice I’ve changed?

Cally finished her milking and settled her plan in her mind. I hope if it’s a lassie this babby dies. Rising from the stool, she heard Da shouting and ran to the door of the barn. Uncle Dugan raced down the lane, his feet slipping on the snow. Pivoting toward the house, Cally saw a bright trail of scarlet staining the snow. “Cally! Cally! I need ye to keep an eye to Teddy!”

Terrified, Cally crept into the house. All she remembered later, as she and Teddy huddled under their bed covers for what seemed like forever, was blood. And Mammy screaming.

And then, silence, as thick as a slice of Mammy’s bread. Cally peeked out from the covers and saw Da cuddle a wee bloody body. Then he threw himself over Mammy and began to moan, a moaning that curdled Cally’s blood. Teddy shrieked. Miss Hilda hurried in. Da shouted, “Too late! Ye’re too late!” And Uncle Dugan stood by the door twisting his duncher, crying, “I tried, Frank! I tried!”

Cally knew her world had shattered. And I know it’s my fault.


[1] Killeagh is pronounced “cilla.”

[2] “Put your pipe upon your shoulder by the rising of the moon,” from an Irish folk song, “By the rising of the moon.”