The year 1806 is not a good time to be Catholic in Boston. When a man is brutally killed on the Boston Post Road, two unsuspecting Irishmen are charged with the crime. For five months they rot in prison, denied a lawyer until just two days before the hearing. It is a mockery of justice—a one-day trial that results in a unanimous verdict: The Irishmen will be hanged, dissected, and dismembered.
Comforting them falls to Father Cheverus, a French émigré struggling to adapt to life in the New World. It is his duty to help the condemned find peace, but any overture he makes to the prisoners will be met with an anti-Catholic backlash that could destroy his fledgling congregation. As he walks a fraught path, the priest must decide: Is his obligation to his flock, or to God?
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About the Author
When not writing, White teaches fiction workshops at Fairfield University and the University of Southern Maine. He lives and writes by a lake in Guilford, Connecticut.
Hometown:Guilford, CT, USA
Date of Birth:1952
Place of Birth:Hartford, CT, USA
Education:University of Connecticut - B.A., English; M.A., English, 1975, 1977; University of Denver - Ph.D., English
Read an Excerpt
A cold, pewter-gray rain fell like a scourge upon the city. It buffeted the ships in the harbor and swept unobstructed over Long and India wharves, strafing the recently closed business establishments on State Street and wreaking havoc in the crowded Faneuil Hall market. Winter-raw and relentless, the rain turned the cobbled thoroughfares slippery and the unpaved back lanes into dangerous quagmires. Horses lost their footing and pedestrians slogged through the mud and filth and sewage runoff. At the end of a long workday, the city hummed with weary activity. Hackney coaches conveyed well-to-do businessmen to Bowdoin Square or Beacon Hill, or to the Hancock Tavern for a late supper. Having closed their stores, shopkeepers were briskly making their way homeward. Wagons drawn by oxen carried farmers out to Dorchester after a day of selling milk or eggs or livestock at market, while now-empty carts pushed by fishmongers headed down toward the docks. Workers from the sail-duck factory or one of the many ropewalks moved with tired steps toward a home they hadn't seen since before dawn. Eager to get out of the driving rain, they pushed and jostled those they passed in the street.
Among them, a smallish figure dressed in black made his way along State Street, near the old Capitol building. He was concentrating on not losing the man he was following through the crowded streets and wasn't watching where he was going. As he made to cross the street, he very nearly stepped into the oncoming path of a large roan horse pulling a cart loaded with steaming dung.
"Hell, man, watch where you're going," the driver scolded him.
The small man looked up at the driver and mumbled an embarrassed apology.
The man swore, gave the reins a smart crack, and moved on down the street.
Little did the driver know that the darkly clad figure he had just cursed was a priest. Then again, in the gathering darkness and with the bulky capote hiding both his cassock and the large silver cross that dangled from his neck, he would not have been recognized as one. With his small stature and boyish features, he could easily have passed for a student returning to his lodgings after a day's reading at the Athenaeum. Besides, though the city could now boast some twenty-five thousand souls, its inhabitants were still unaccustomed to the sight of a priest. A papist clergyman remained a rarity even in Federalist Boston, which counted among its ministers only two Roman Catholic clerics. The small man recognized the advantage of blending in, his occupation hidden from the common view, particularly in certain questionable sections of the city, and especially of late.
The man was Jean Louis Anne Madeleine Lefebvre de Cheverus, thirty-eight years old, a French émigré who had fled the Revolution. He had come to America ten years earlier to assist Father Matignon in the founding of the Catholic mission in New England. Cheverus hardly looked like a man to found much of anything. He stood an inch under five feet tall, small-boned, as finely fashioned as a hummingbird, though in the past few years he had developed a slight paunch. He had smooth, pale skin, an unusually large head for his tiny body, and brooding, chestnut-colored eyes. His nose was long and thin, his small mouth usually pursed in an attitude of vaguely recalled regret. His once soft, delicate hands, now roughened from ceaseless physical labor, still retained the cautious poise of one used to conveying fragile things from one distant place to another.
With his short, slightly bowed legs, he had all he could do to keep pace with the larger figure he was following in the press of people and vehicles and horses. What was more, he'd recently been bedridden with an ague fever and was still feeling its effects. His body had been racked by chills and night sweats. He had lost weight, and his hands still trembled. It was only in the past day or so that he had begun to feel a slight improvement in his health and had felt well enough to sit up and take some broth. Even now, his face felt flushed and his head throbbed, and each time he took a breath of the icy evening air, the middle of his chest bloomed with bright petals of pain. Mon Dieu, he thought, believing it had been a mistake to come on this errand.
Earlier, they had passed Faneuil Market and were now making their way up Fish Street toward the city's North End, when he was forced to stop to catch his breath.
"A moment please, Tom," he called to the man.
Leaning against a hitching post, he thought perhaps he ought to turn back. Whatever it was Rose Daley wanted, it would simply have to wait until tomorrow, when Father Matignon would be able to go in his stead. He closed his eyes, took long, deep breaths, trying to regulate his breathing. Pain, and its attendant, fear, were merely the result of a lack of will, he liked to tell himself. A lazy mind given to distraction. Though he would be the first to admit he wasn't always able to conquer it, he firmly believed that it was only through an intimate knowledge of suffering that one truly knew God. Out of habit, he fingered the cross that hung beneath his cloak. He could feel the well-worn engraving, the delicate filigree of silver cool against his skin. "Je suis lˆ," his mother's voice came to him suddenly from the darkness, "mon petit chou." She had called him that: her little cabbage. He was a boy once more, and they were kneeling together in the grand cathedral in his hometown of Mayenne. They were praying to a beautiful wooden statuette of the Blessed Virgin with the baby Jesus holding a bunch of grapes: Our Lady of the Miracles, it was called. He saw his mother's head bowed, the curve of her long, swan-like neck, the shapely hands holding her cross-the same one he now wore. A woman of delicate, fragile beauty.
Maman, he whispered to her.
Oui, mon petit chérubin. . . .
"Should I call for a coach, Father?" The priest opened his eyes, momentarily suspended between two worlds. The coarse countenance of the Irishman replaced that of his mother. The man was leaning solicitously toward him, his face close. Cheverus could smell the fumes of the raw poteen on his breath. The odor turned his stomach, and he had to repress the urge to retch.
"No need," Cheverus replied. Don't be sick, he chided himself. He knew it would be all over the parish by morning, how the little French priest had vomited right there in the street, like some besotted wretch.
"Are ye sure, Father? I saw one just back a ways."
"No, Thomas. I can make it."
He hardly ever hired a carriage, even when he was called upon to brave a nor'easter to make a sickbed visit up in Salem, fifteen miles away. Father Matignon was always chastising him for endangering his ever-frail health. To Cheverus, though, it was a matter both of frugality and of pride. They were a poor parish, hardly able to buy votive candles or communion wine. The collection plate never provided nearly what was needed, and every penny counted. Besides, there was his pride. Most of his parishioners were, like this fellow Tom, newly arrived Irish immigrants, unlettered farmers and laborers and indentured servants, a hardy, rough-hewn, peasant stock. He himself was so unlike them, coming from such a different world, one of education and culture and refinement, a world of certain luxuries. He knew what they thought of him, what they said of him behind his back: that he was soft, weak, effeminate. And worst of all, French. Once, just after he'd arrived in America, he had overheard an Irish charwoman say to another, "Be glad I will when they send us a real priest instead of that uppity little Frenchman." So he was always trying hard to prove them wrong, that he wasn't weak, in body or in spirit, that he was capable of bearing up under all the demands, all the hardships of this wild, unforgiving land.
"I could carry you, Father," the big Irishman said to him.
Cheverus glanced at him, saw that he was serious. "Heavens, no. That won't be necessary, Tom," he told the man, embarrassed. "Lead on. I will follow."
The Irishman had come to the rectory behind Holy Cross Church an hour earlier. When the parish housekeeper, Yvette, answered the knock at the door, the man asked to speak to one of the two resident priests. Yvette was a thin, light-complected Negro from Guadeloupe, a former slave whom Father Matignon had brought north to Boston. She had a nasty, contentious disposition with everyone, except for Father Matignon. Even with Cheverus she could be brusque, impatient, sometimes rude. In her island patois, she informed the visitor that Pére Matignon was away in Quincy and not expected back until late, and that Pére Cheverus was confined to bed by illness.
"You must come back," the woman declared. "Demain matin."
"But I need to see the priest," the Irishman stated emphatically.
"Father Cheverus seek. Malade de la fievre. Tu comprends?"
"Please," the man begged. "It's important I speak to him."
"Non, non. You must come back. Now go," she commanded sternly.
They went back and forth, their voices growing heated. Cheverus could hear all this from his bedroom at the top of the stairs. He had awakened earlier from a feverish dream and had been lying in bed in the growing darkness of twilight. As a child he'd always been afraid of the dark. He would cry out in the night, and his mother would come to his room to reassure him, to sit by him and stroke his head. That's when he heard the voices below. They grew louder. When he could no longer ignore them, he got up, threw on his robe, and went downstairs.
"Go back to bed, Father," Yvette insisted in French.
"What is the matter?" he snapped at her in English. He usually spoke English with her as it tended to put her on the defensive, to give him an advantage. He was not normally a man to lose his temper, not even with Yvette, but his mind was restive, on other matters. His face was unshaven, the flesh around his eyes drawn and haggard. He had not been out of bed for days, and his skin had a sickly bluish hue to it.
"Forgive me, mon Pere," the woman said, taken aback by his curt tone. She was closing the door on a figure standing just outside in the rain. "I handle it."
"Who is it? What does he want?"
"Je ne sais pas," she said with a shrug. "I tell him Pere Matignon is no here and you seek."
Then she added contemptuously, "Poivrot irlandais," and crossed herself. Drunken Irishman. Though a former slave, she nonetheless held the Irish in great disdain. A sentiment she had acquired since arriving in Boston.
"Well, have the poor man come in out of the rain," he said.
Yvette, reluctant to have her authority questioned, frowned but opened the door.
"Wipe you feet," she scolded the man as she showed him in. She took up a position behind the priest, arms folded sternly over her flat chest. The Irishman stood silently in the entryway, head down, nervously fingering his woolen workcap in his large hands. His greatcoat was soaked and his boots covered with mud. The rain had matted his thinning gray hair to his skull, and water dribbled down the lines in his face and fell to the floor. He was a man of impressive size, well over six feet, broad-shouldered, with a long horse-like face. A flatness between the eyes made the face seem all the more equine. It took Cheverus a moment to recognize Tom Daley.
"Good evening, Thomas," he said finally.
"Evenin', Father. Sorry for disturbin' you," he replied, wiping his face.
"Come and warm yourself by the fire."
"I think not. I'd get your floor all dirty," he said, glancing warily at the housekeeper.
"What may I do for you?"
"You didn't hear then?" he said, his face sagging with disappointment. The man looked down at the cap in his hands. "Word come today. From the attorney general."
"I see," Cheverus said. So that was why he was here. Confined to bed for the past fortnight, the priest had not read any of the city's papers, nor had he spoken to a soul save Yvette and of course the old abbé. Still, he should have guessed as soon as he saw the man here that it had something to do with his son.
"Have they set a trial date, Tom?"
He nodded. "They did, Father." The man's tongue flicked out and licked moisture from his upper lip. He didn't look the priest in the eye, almost as if he were embarrassed by all this. "It's to be on the twenty-second."
"Why that's only . . ." but Cheverus had lost track of the day.
"Three days from tomorrow," the man replied for him.
"Three days! That is all the time they're giving them to prepare a defense?"
"That's what they tell us."
"Well," Cheverus said, running his hand over his unshaven jaw. His beard, reddish with streaks of gray in it, made him appear older, his mouth small and callous. The news, that they were at last going to try the two Irishmen after all these months, hardly came as a surprise. The case had been in all the Boston papers, the talk of the taverns and grog shops, the markets and coffee shops, even the pulpits. From everything he'd heard, Cheverus gathered the outcome of the trial, whenever it took place, would hardly be in doubt. But it surprised him that they were only being granted three days to prepare a defense. After all, the commonwealth had had months.
"How has Rose taken the news?"
h"You know her, Father," the man replied. "She's a tough old bird. She's seen bad times before this."
"Ah. Not so good. She's got the little one to think about."
"Of course," the priest said. Finola Daley, whose husband, Dominic, was one of the accused, would come by the church with her baby in tow to light a candle and pray to the Blessed Virgin. Cheverus would come over and try to console her, tell her she must not lose hope, when in his heart he knew there was little cause for hope. After she left, he would find himself still thinking about her. "Please tell Finola that Dominic will be in my prayers."
"Thank you, Father," he said. "She'd like that. But you see . . . why I come is . . . well, Rose was wantin' to speak to you herself." The man looked up and his gaze met the priest's for the first time. His eyes were red, slick as glass beads soaked in lamp oil.
"Did she say what she wanted? Is it about your son's case?"
He hesitated in a way that told the priest he was about to lie. "I'm not sure, Father. She could tell you herself."
Some months previous, after she had made confession, Rose Daley had asked Cheverus if he would go out to the Northampton jail where her son was being held and hear his confession, too. He had told her that, while of course he would very much like to, he was then far too busy with his normal pastoral duties to spend the four days' coach ride out and back. Perhaps when he had a moment's free time, he'd told her. And then, just a few weeks before this, he had received a letter from the prisoners themselves asking that he come out to hear their confession. He didn't respond. Though it was certainly true that the two priests were very busy, it was more that they didn't want to involve the Church in this matter. Father Matignon had talked to him about the case, warning how it might prove damaging for the parish.
"She'd a come herself, but she's abed now with the cough," the man explained. "Got herself a bad clogher, she does."
"Father Matignon is away," the priest replied. "He's expected back tonight but with the weather who can say? And I'm afraid I, too, have been unwell."
"She was wantin' to speak to a priest."
"Could it not wait till morning? Father Matignon will be back by then." He felt guilty. Despite the fact that he was ill and should have been in bed, he knew he was foisting the responsibility of dealing with the family onto his colleague.
"It's just there's not much time before the trial," the Irishman said.
"So it does have to do with the trial," Cheverus said. The man, caught in his lie, nodded like a child exposed for telling a falsehood. "I would like to go, Tom. But the doctor has not permitted me to venture out of bed."
"I understand, Father. I wouldn't want you gettin' sick on our account. You've done enough for us."
What have I done for them, he thought. He'd offered some prayers. He'd consoled Dominic's wife when she'd come by the church. He'd organized a small collection to help the family out financially. A pittance, really. That's all he'd done.
"Perhaps I could come by tomorrow," he offered.
"Tomorrow it'll have to be then, Father. Sorry for wakin' you. G'night."
The tall Irishman put his soaking cap on and turned to leave. How can you deny them, Cheverus thought to himself. How can you refuse them whatever small comfort your presence might mean at a time like this? Besides, the Daleys were good Catholics. They came to Mass each week and made confession regularly. Just last October, Dominic and his young wife had had their baby baptized at Holy Cross. Cheverus could remember Daley, a great big lout of a man like his father, standing there, holding his tiny son in the crook of his arm, beaming with pride; and the mother, Finola, a thin nervous woman with wide olive-colored eyes and a doleful mouth, staring at her child with such deep love. And though the Daleys were dirt poor, they gave what little they could for the support of the parish. When they hadn't money, they gave in other ways. After Father Cheverus had said a funeral Mass for Rose and Tom's youngest child, William, who'd been carried away by the yellow fever outbreak a few years back, Rose had repaid the priest by knitting him a pair of socks. Now and then, though she could hardly feed her own large brood, she'd drop off at the rectory something she'd made, a fish pie or some potato dish. What was more, Tom and his oldest son Dominic, the very one who now waited in prison, had pitched in with the digging of the foundation of the new church several years before.
And how had the Church repaid the Daleys' loyal support? By doing absolutely nothing. It had cautiously, albeit prudently, kept its distance. Given the public outcry over the murder, Father Matignon had thought that best. And Cheverus, seeing the logic of such a course, had quietly acquiesced. Neither priest had been to visit the imprisoned son out in the western part of the state. Nor had they offered a word of support from the pulpit or used whatever little influence they had in Boston to see that the two prisoners received fair treatment, legal counsel, a timely trial. They had done nothing whatsoever to protest what was, by any reasonable standards, a gross miscarriage of justice-even if they were guilty.
"Wait, Tom," he said finally. He didn't relish the thought of venturing out on such a night feeling the way he did. And he knew that Father Matignon, when he found out, would frown on his going. Still, he decided to accompany the man and see what it was Rose wanted. That was the least he could do. "Give me a moment to get dressed."
"Mon Pere." the housekeeper said, taking him aside. "You must stay in bed."
"I am fine, Yvette. When Father returns, inform him where I have gone."
Upstairs in his room, he changed quickly. The fire in the fireplace had almost burned out, and the room was chilly and dark. He jabbed a piece of pine kindling into the still-live coals and used it as a taper to light a candle on his bedside table. From the drawer of the escritoire, he withdrew his cross, kissed it, and placed it around his neck. He then took up his stole and his well-worn silver pyx box containing hosts, in case Rose Daley wished to take communion, and slipped them into the deep pockets of his cassock. Before he closed the desk drawer, his eye happened to fall upon the several letters lying there. The letters from home he had not yet answered-did not know how to answer. They had remained there for weeks.
He blew out the candle, but for some reason he remained standing in the darkened room for a moment. He felt light-headed, his legs unsteady, a slight tremor in his hands-the residual effects of the ague fever he'd had. Yet there was another feeling, one beneath the effects of the fever, something which he recognized as an uncomfortable heaviness in the region of his heart. Like a great stone sitting on his chest. A sensation that had been growing for several weeks now, one he'd been aware of even before the sickness had come upon him, though being confined to bed had intensified the feeling, brought it to a head, like a boil to which a heated knife had been placed. Lying in bed day and night with nothing to do but think. He couldn't say exactly what caused it, though he was convinced the letters sitting in his drawer had something to do with it.
He closed his eyes for a moment and recalled the dream he'd had earlier. Distorted as images are in dreams, it was, he knew all too well, the garden attached to the Convent of the Carmes. The bright courtyard garden gleamed in his mind, brilliant, gem-like. The high, whitewashed walls, the late-summer lushness of the flowers, the trees heavy with fruit, a ripe, almost cloying odor hanging in the dull torpid air. The profound stillness of the place, so quiet he could hear the bees' low drone, flitting from flower to flower, the soft wind from the Seine in the treetops, the low murmur of prayers. And sometimes, as now, he even saw the men there, too. Dressed in their long black robes and cassocks, some kneeling in the heat, heads bent, hands folded over breviaries or rosaries, others reading letters from home or reclining on the soft grass of the convent garden. . . .
This too he thought was part of it. Part of that feeling of heaviness in his chest. He knelt by his bed and prayed. O, Dieu de miséricorde. Me pardonnerex-vous jamais? Most merciful Lord. Can you ever forgive me? He waited quietly in the cool darkness of his room, waited for the voice of God to come to him as it always used to in the past. Instead, there was only silence. But your iniquities have separated between you and your god, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
They kept walking, the tall Irishman in front, the small priest following along behind. He'd managed to weather the wave of nausea, though his stomach was still queasy and his head continued to throb. The rain swept in off the water, stinging his face. From Fish Street, he could make out the lantern lights and masts of a half dozen newly arrived ships anchored in the harbor. He heard the bells from the New North Church over on Hanover, a few streets away. They passed on into a squalid, run-down part of the city down near the wharves. The Daleys lived in a neighborhood of slovenly homes, of dungheaps and sewage oozing into the streets, of crime and poverty, of dirty, ragged children selling apples on the corners and working fourteen-hour days in the ropewalks. The stench of rotting fish mingled with the pungent odors of rum and molasses, pine pitch and spices. Raucous laughter and the harsh language of caulkers and carpenters and sailors slipped from the numerous taverns and public houses along the way. He was often called here, since it was where many of his parishioners cf0lived. To a sickbed. To hear a final confession. In daylight it was an unsavory place, but as night drew on it became even more disheartening and bleak.
Mostly the area was occupied by the Irish now. When he'd first arrived in Boston a decade earlier, there were only a handful of Irish in the entire city and those were mostly the Protestants from Ulster, somber, hard-edged people, successful merchants and traders and shipping captains. Back then, the Catholics of his tiny parish were made up of the French who had moved down from Quebec after the Revolutionary War, a few prosperous Germans or Italians or Poles whose business affairs brought them to America, the family of Don Juan Stoughton, the Spanish counsel. Or Frenchmen like himself, émigrés having fled the Revolution, clergymen and aristocrats and intellectuals. For the most part, they were Catholics of education and culture and breeding. They often came from the upper classes of French society. But over time, most of those people had packed up and moved westward, to better situations out in New York or Pennsylvania, where they established orderly farms or ran successful businesses.
Now his parish was almost exclusively Irish, brutally poor, mostly illiterate. Each year more and more arrived on the ships that put into Boston harbor. Especially after the persecution and wholesale slaughter that followed on the heels of the failed Rebellion of '98 back home. They came here, Cheverus knew, to get away from the English and the landlords, pursuing the dream of freedom and opportunity, hoping for enough to feed their children, a piece of land that was their own, a place to worship as they saw fit. What they often found, though, was only more of the same-prejudice, oppression, poverty, hatred. If they didn't die of fever on the crossing, they spilled down the gangplanks with their emaciated brood, their meager possessions on their backs, and joined those already here. Entire families shared a single room in some back alley down by the docks, living in filthy, rat-infested quarters, working for wages even a freed slave would refuse, or actually becoming a slave for seven years of indentured servitude. The work no one else wanted fell to the Irish, the backbreaking or dangerous or demeaning jobs of digging canals or draining the fetid swamps that ringed the city or emptying the chamber pots of the wealthy. And when the yellow fever or typhus broke out as it did every few years, their neighborhoods were always the hardest hit. The death rolls posted around the city were filled with the O'Briens and the O'Donnells, the Doyles and Duggans, the Mahoneys and McCarthys. Father Cheverus knew all too well, because it fell to him to utter the humble words over their graves, to make sense of their too-short, brutish lives.
As their priest, Cheverus saw firsthand the bigotry and prejudice and hatred that greeted the Irish that landed on these shores. They were considered little more than vermin, carriers of disease. They were thought to be ignorant and lazy and licentious. They were overly fond of their drink, everyone knew, and when drunk they became violent and wild, little better than animals. They had large families they couldn't feed or clothe adequately, or raise to be law-abiding citizens. Only a few years before, Harrison Gray Otis, a wealthy congressman from Boston, had given a fiery speech in congress, in which he gave voice to the unspoken fears of many Americans regarding the growing influx of Irish immigrants. Americans, he had said, no longer wished to invite "hordes of wild Irishmen" to come here with a view to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility.
And what were his own feelings for them, these poor, misunderstood Irish? Pity, certainly.
Except perhaps for the Indians he ministered to up in Maine, no group was so traduced and maligned. Why even the Negroes, freed almost twenty years ago in Massachusetts, fared better. Admiration, too. The Irish were generous, often to a fault. They gave of themselves when they had nothing more to give. They offered their help when they could hardly help themselves. And despite their unlimited capacity for-and seeming enjoyment of-suffering, they loved life as no other people. Not even his beloved French peasants savored living as did these Irish. They liked to sing and dance and laugh, even through the worst of times-especially through the worst of times. They were like children-poorly behaved, hungry, filthy children. How many wakes had he attended which seemed more celebration than mourning, with their drinking and storytelling and laughter? And then there was their faith. The English were said to believe in God with their heads, the French with their eyes, the Italians and Spaniards with their hands and tongues. But the Irish! They believed with every ounce of themselves, with their whole being. Their faith surrounded and encompassed them, every moment of every day. Cheverus had slowly come to understand that their belief in God was like a dreadful, crushing weight, a millstone they labored to carry each day with quiet humility, yet one that sustained and nurtured them at the same time. He admired that terrible faith of theirs, longed to emulate it, and in some way he couldn't quite explain, feared it a little, too.
But in his heart of hearts, Cheverus also felt a certain uneasiness with the Irish. He felt uncomfortable when he was around them. Not with all of them. With some he'd managed to establish a close bond, a friendly rapport. There was Mr. Herlihy, one of the church wardens, with whom he would have lively but cordial discussions of politics. And Liam Broderick, who ran the bookseller's shop on Cornhill Street and who would lend him volumes for free. And of course young Máirtin, one of the altar boys, a clever and serious youth who might someday, Cheverus fervently hoped, have a calling. But with many of the Irish, especially the poor ones newly fled from the oppression back home, he felt this distance, as if he were an outsider among them: he with his education and his cultured upbringing, with his delicate French mannerisms, and they with their ignorance, their roughness and coarseness, with the odd tongue they sometimes slipped into to keep him from knowing what it was they were saying. At times he found himself annoyed by their backward and superstitious ways, frustrated by their obstinate acceptance of suffering, repulsed by the filth and squalor they often lived in, as if by choice. Though he had worked among them for ten long years now, baptizing them and hearing their confessions, marrying them and easing their passing when the time came, he couldn't say he fully understood them. Although he felt their respect, he wasn't sure he had their love-would ever have their love. In many ways, their hearts remained an enigma to him.
On the other side was the Protestant majority, the Yankee descendants of those grim and unyielding Puritans. They were always looking suspiciously at the two "papists" and their small, curious congregation. Watching them, waiting for trouble, for their prejudices to be confirmed. And just when it seemed the Church was making a little progress, when it was beginning to be, if not quite accepted, at least left alone, something would happen and the image of Catholics was set back years. An Irishman would be caught stealing something, and there would be the public spectacle of him being flogged or put in the stocks or losing an ear on the Boston Common. Or there would be some scathing anti-Catholic diatribe in the papers, about how they were idolaters or that Rome condoned sin by selling indulgences. Not long before, the Columbian Centinel published a vicious unsigned attack on the Catholic Church and its welcomed collapse under Bonaparte: "If the papacy be justly designated by the title of Antichrist," the writer had said, "what Christian can grieve on account of its extinction." Or an Irish ship would put in to port and supposedly be the cause of a fever outbreak. And once more the prevailing stereotypes and animosities were proved all too true: that Catholics, and especially Irish Catholics, only brought trouble with them wherever they went.
And now this latest incident-the brutal murder of a Yankee farmboy by a couple of Irishmen. It couldn't have come at a worse time, when Irish immigrants were starting to stream into the harbor, when French Catholics were again placed under suspicion because of Napoleon and the French privateers that seized American ships on the high seas. Since November, the entire commonwealth had been eagerly awaiting word about when the trial out in the western part of the state would start, or more precisely, when those two would get what was coming to them. It was said that Dominic Daley, Tom and Rose Daley's son, and another man, a drifter named Halligan, had robbed and murdered a young farmer named Marcus Lyon along the Boston Road. According to published reports, they'd shot him, pulled him from his mount, and viciously stove in his head. Then-and it was this last bit of savagery that really inflamed people-tossed his body into a nearby river and placed a large stone on it to hide their handiwork. Cheverus at first found it hard to believe that Dominic had had a hand in this. He'd known Daley to be a gentle person, a loving husband, a good Catholic. But all the evidence suggested otherwise. Supposedly, witnesses had spotted the two Irishmen near the scene of the murder, and one even said he'd seen them in possession of the dead man's horse. When apprehended, they had money on them which they couldn't explain and no plausible alibi. Everything pointed to their being guilty. They had waited in jail for five months, while public opinion mounted against them-and against all Irish Catholics for that matter.
The case had played upon the people's unstated fears, even as far away as Boston. Governor Strong, facing a tough reelection, had offered the unbelievable sum of five hundred dollars for their capture. The heinousness of the crime combined with the fact that the accused were Irish Catholics had aroused the deep-seated but always latent prejudices of the populace.
Immigrants in general and Irish-Catholic immigrants in particular felt threatened. Pope's Day, November 5th, had taken place only a few days before word reached Boston about the murder, so anti-papist feelings were still running high. Though officially banned since the Revolutionary War, the celebration had continued among the lower classes, bringing out drunken packs of Catholic-hating youths from the North and South End gangs. The celebration of the old Guy Fawkes Day was more than anything an excuse for them to become inebriated and terrorize the town for a night. Carrying torches and pushing a large cart with effigies of the pope and men dressed as devils, they wandered the streets of Boston, singing and destroying property and generally causing mayhem. And this year, on hearing of the murder by a pair of Catholics, the same rabble element again took to the streets, this time, instead of fighting each other, looking to accost anyone with a brogue or wearing a crucifix or seen coming out of Holy Cross Church. Several Irish homes had had windows broken, and a few walking home from church were harassed or threatened. One man, Declan O'Brien, while returning home from his job at the sail-duck factory, had been accosted by a group of thugs and badly beaten. In the Catholic portion of the Central Burial Grounds, a number of gravestones had been overturned or vandalized. And a note had been nailed to the Daleys' door making vague threats if they didn't return to Ireland. Since November church attendance was down, as many parishioners were fearful of retribution. Even such a reasonably well liked and respected man as Cheverus was, on several occasions, called names by those he passed in the streets-filthy papist, Catholic whore.
That sort of behavior he could chalk up to ignorance, the usual prejudice against Irish and papists. Far worse was the fact that educated Bostonians, prominent citizens, even Cheverus's fellow clergy had also weighed in with incendiary comments-against the Irish and the rising tide of Catholic immigrants. There were editorials in the papers and broadsides put up here and there throughout the city, railing against the threat posed by "foreigners" and "aliens." Some writers decried the abandonment of former President Adams's Alien and Sedition laws and the leniency of the immigration policies under Jefferson, that atheistic jacobin. Even the man who was to prosecute the case, Attorney General Sullivan, well known for his hostility toward Catholics, had made inflammatory statements concerning Irish and Catholics. Indeed, the Church already had enough enemies without this latest incident.
Here we go, Father," Tom Daley said, leading him into a decrepit three-story, wood-frame building down by the waterfront. The place was unpainted, slowly rotting from the harsh salt winds and winter storms.
The priest had not been to the Daleys' since the wake for their youngest boy Willie several years before. He found himself in a smoky, low-ceilinged room. Though a charcoal fire smoldered at one end, it was cold and drafty, the sodden dampness of the night seeping right through the wooden walls. A lone cruisie lamp on a table cast a feeble light. The room had the familiar smell of such places, a bitter odor of sour milk and sweat and unwashed flesh, of lurking angers and festering hopes. The priest felt his stomach lurch. Though he had been in similar homes a thousand times, they always repulsed him. Several black-shawled women from the neighborhood murmured off in one corner, while the men congregated near the fire smoking clay pipes and talking animatedly in their strange tongue. Scrawny, raggedly dressed children of various ages huddled in the shadows playing some sort of game. With her back to him, a slight woman with reddish-blond hair squatted before a blackened pot suspended over the fire. He recognized Finola Daley, Dominic's wife.
When they saw him, a hush fell over those in the room. Some of the men removed their caps and nodded deferentially, while the women made the sign of the cross and bowed their heads.
None came up to greet him.
Tom led him into an even smaller room at the back, no bigger than a cell. There was no window in the room, and it smelled strongly of sickness. Lying in a narrow bed, a rosary wrapped tightly around a plump hand, a gray-haired woman smiled when she saw him. It was Rose Daley, Tom's wife. On a night table burned a taper in a tin stand. Beside it was a bloody rag. With difficulty the woman sat up, her face brightening a little.
"Ah, God keep you for comin' out on such a night, Father," said the woman.
"Good evening, Rose," the priest replied, taking her hand. The skin was cool but rough as that on a dogfish. The foul odor of the sickroom was overpowering.
"Tom," she commanded, "don't just stand there like an egit. Take Father's cape and give it to Finola to hang by the fire," she directed. "And tell her to come in here. Please sit down, Father," Rose said, indicating the only chair in the room.
Rose Daley was a sturdy woman, with a large sagging bosom, fleshy, pink arms, and a belly that strained against her unclean shift. Though she was probably only fifty, she looked much older, wrinkled, her hands gnarled, weather-scarred. Her puffy cheeks shone with an unnatural brightness from the disease that was slowly ravaging her lungs. Her mouth was pinched and sunken, her nostrils flared, straining for breath. She wore a dark shawl loosely draped over her head and shoulders. Her gray eyes were red-rimmed, hollow looking. He saw nothing of her son Dominic in her except perhaps for the smile. Despite her illness, she gave one the formidable impression of some large immovable object: a tree trunk struck by lightning, a boulder. Whenever Cheverus spoke with the woman-in the street, the confessional-her sheer force of will always intimidated him a little.
Finola Daley poked her head in the doorway. "Yes, mam?" she said.
"Would you care for something to drink, Father?" Rose asked.
"No, thank you."
"Are ye quite sure? A bit o' the craythur p'haps. The best thing on a night like this," she said with a mischievous wink of a young girl.
The Irish, he knew, were fiercely hospitable. They took offense easily and held grudges for ages. Though his stomach hardly felt like whiskey, so as not to offend the woman, he said, "Well, perhaps just a little."
"Bring us some whiskey, macushla," the old woman said to her daughter-in-law. "And a nice hot pot a tay."
"Yes, mam," the young woman replied and left.
"Tom just made up a batch of the stuff. Take the nip out of your bones, it will."
"It is cold out," Cheverus offered, blowing on his hands.
They sat silently for a moment. "So Tom told you we heard about the trial?" she said at last.
"Three days is all they're givin' 'em. Three blasted days," she cursed. She shook her head, holding her mouth pinched tight, like a purse that contained coins she wanted to guard. Her dull gray eyes flashed with sudden anger. "Why they-" but she began to cough. Her shoulders lurched, her large bosom heaving. This soon led to a paroxysm of coughing that made the color blaze in her plump cheeks while the rest of her face was transformed to a deathly pallor. She picked up the bloody rag from the night table and hawked something into it.
"Is there anything I can do, Rose?" Cheverus asked.
She held up one finger to show she would be all right in a moment. He waited patiently for her to catch her breath. Whatever it was Rose wished to ask him, he wanted to have it over, so that he could be gone, back in his own warm bed. After a while the woman's coughing fit slowly died down, and at last she was able to take several shallow breathes. Her breathing was irregular, punctuated by ghastly wheezing sounds.
parFinola returned carrying a tray, which she set on the night table. She smiled self-consciously at Cheverus, the way she sometimes did after Mass or if she happened to meet him when she'd come to light a candle and pray. But there was something else to the smile that he wasn't sure of. He nodded to the young woman. Finola went over to her mother-in-law and began rubbing her back.
"Are you all right, mam?" she asked tenderly. "Did you have another fit?"
"Aye. A wee small one. I'm fine now, love."
From a stone jug on the tray, she poured some saffron-colored liquid into one of the cups and handed it to her mother-in-law. The cup's handle had been broken off.
"Drink this, mam," she said.
"Oh, thank ye, alannah," the old woman replied, taking a sip. The draught seemed actually to regulate her breathing a little. And it brought some normal color back into her face.
"Good evenin' to you, Father," the young woman finally said.
"Hello, Finola," he replied.
"Much obliged you could come. Especially on such a foul night. I gave your cloak a good brushing. It's drying by the fire."
In her twenties, Finola was a slight, somewhat retiring woman. She wore a dirty apron over a blue skirt of homespun material. Where her mother-in-law was heavy, thick-waisted, substantial despite the wasting effects of her illness, Finola was frail, almost fragile looking. She wasn't pretty, her face too angular, fleshless and drawn, the bones straining against the pale, almost transparent skin. Her dull, yellowish-green eyes were too large for her thin face and always appeared startled somehow. Despite this, there was something not altogether unpleasant about her looks. Her mouth was oddly generous, full and soft and pliant, and there was something about her that suggested an intimacy with suffering. Without her husband working, she'd had to find employment to support her and the baby. She'd taken a job in the ropewalks making ropes. Since her husband's arrest, she had come several times to the church to pray for her husband. Once or twice Cheverus had joined her. Her eyes glossy and tense, she looked as if she might cry at any moment, though usually she didn't. He felt pity for her, her husband in jail, her six-month-old child Michael perhaps to be left fatherless. But she would stare at him in such a way that also made him uncomfortable. He couldn't say why. Did he detect in it some sort of scorn, unstated though it may have been? The younger woman poured some more whiskey into a second cup and handed it to the priest.
"Here we go, Father," Finola said. "You'll want to go easy on that."
He'd partaken of their wretched-tasting homemade brew before, though not in some time. He took a quick gulp of the whiskey, hoping to get it over in one swallow. He should have known better, though. The strong-tasting liquor scorched the back of his throat and made his eyes water. When it hit bottom, for a moment he thought he would be sick. "Heavens!" he cried.
"It does take some gettin' used to," offered Rose, suppressing a smile. "G'on and have you a bit more, Father. Good for what ails you."
Finola refilled his cup. He took another sip, more cautiously this time. As the burning liquid slid down his throat, now a sweet warmth spread across his chest and fanned out luxuriantly throughout his entire body. He felt the chill of the night being slowly driven from his bones.
"Yes, indeed," he offered, smiling.
"We call it usquebaugh, Father," Rose said. "It means the water of life."
"The water of life," he repeated.
The young woman sat on the bed beside her mother-in-law and placed her arm around her. Finola stared silently at him with her too-large eyes, a challenge almost. Finally, the priest said to Rose, "So Dominic is to stand trial at last."
"Yes, Father," Rose said.
"Let us pray he is found innocent," he offered.
"Ochone," Rose scoffed. "They're bound and determined to see him hang."
"You mustn't talk like that, mam," the younger woman pleaded.
" 'Sure and we know it's the truth, love. What chance do the poor lads have?"
"We got to keep up our hopes," Finola said, looking over at him.
"Finola is right," he said to Rose. "You must pray to God. Ask Him for strength."
af0 "Been doing that night and day for five months," the old woman replied. "I think He's turned a deaf ear on us."
"He always hears us," the priest said. Yet he recalled the silence in his room earlier when he'd invoked God's name. The dark silence that seemed to surround his prayers lately.
"I still can't believe any of this is happenin'," Rose said. "Dom was always a good lad. Never done nothin' bad to nobody."
"That's true," agreed Finola. "Dom always had a good heart in him."
Cheverus noted the tense of their verbs. They didn't even seem to be aware of it.
"My son was a good Catholic, Father. You know I speak true."
He nodded. What else could he do?
"As bad as it was back home, I wish we'd never left," Rose lamented. "Least there when we died, we could rest in our own soil. I curse this land, Father."
"You mustn't despair," he said.
"It has stolen two of me boys."
He thought he would try to get her to see things from a different perspective. "We mustn't forget, another mother lost her son, too."
Rose shot him a hard, searing look.
"I feel bad for any mother losing a child. But my son had nothing to do with that. He's not a murderer," she hissed. "I raised him up a good Christian. You know Dominic, Father. You know him. He'd not a done something like this."
"Trust in God," was all Cheverus said in reply. Her son's guilt or innocence was not a matter for him to weigh in on. "Would you care to pray with me, Rose?"
"Forgive me, Father, but I'm not in a praying mood," she said, waving her fist in the air. "I'm mad at them what's done this to me boy."
"They've not been treated right," Finola Daley said. "The government's had all this time to prepare their case and my husband just three days. Does that seem fair to you, Father?"
"I suppose not," the priest said hesitantly, wanting to keep his distance. Not wanting to commit himself or the Church to a course that he would come to regret.
"You speak the God's truth, Father," Rose said.
"When was the last time you saw him?" the priest asked.
"Not since his arrest back in November," Rose said. "We took the stage out there a couple of months back, Finola and the little one and me. To visit with Dom. Only the jailer there wouldn't let us in. Six dollars we spent for the coach and lodging."
"Why wouldn't he let you see him?" Cheverus asked.
Finola shrugged. "Only that he had orders from the attorney general the prisoners were to have no visitors."
"So we went to see himself. That Mr. Sullivan," Rose said scornfully. "The fellow who wants to be governor."
"He wouldn't even talk to us," Finola scoffed. "We was told he was too busy. The filthy mac diabhail."
"What would it hurt to let us see me son, Father?" Rose asked. "He's been locked away in that stinkin' jail for months. Him and the other poor devil. What's his name, Finola? The one who writes such a fine hand."
"Halligan, mam," she replied.
"Aye, that's it. Halligan." Rose was breathing hard again and she paused to catch her breath. Her eyes strained with each intake and her nostrils turned white at the edges. She looked over at Cheverus. "Would you be willing to talk to him, Father?"
"To whom?" he asked.
"That Sullivan fellow."
So, he thought. They did want him to help with her son's case.
"Rose," Cheverus began, "I'm afraid the Church really can't get involved in legal disputes of this nature."
"In Ireland when we had a problem with the law, we'd go to Father Morin."
"This is not Ireland, Rose. The Church and State are separate here."
"But we got no one else to turn to," Finola said, her bony face held rigid, a fragile mask that might break into pieces at any moment.
"I can appreciate your situation," the priest said.
"Appreciate!" the young woman mocked. Rose touched her hand. "Sorry, Father. I meant no disrespect."
"You ought to have an attorney speak for you. Not a priest. What do I know about the law?"
"This ain't about law," Finola said. "It's about what's right and wrong."
"Please, Father. Help us," Rose pleaded.
"I would like to. Really," he said, the lie turning sour in his stomach. "It's just that the attorney general and the Church, well, we have not exactly seen eye to eye," he offered. The fact of the matter was Sullivan and the Church had been at loggerheads for some time. The attorney general had been involved in two legal actions against the Diocese of the Catholic Church in the past, and little love was lost between the two men. The last thing Cheverus wanted was to have to go and plead their case before a man he disliked as intensely as he did James Sullivan.
"But you and Father Matignon are important people in this city," Rose pleaded. "The man'll have to listen to you."
Shaking his head, he said, "I think you overestimate the Church's influence. Sullivan is hardly a supporter of Catholics."
"But you're my son's priest," Rose said. "And they're being treated like dogs."
"Worse than dogs, mam," said Finola. "My husband writes they've not been allowed out of their cell, not to bathe nor walk about nor anything, in all this time. Dom says the cell stinks like a hog's pen. Mother o' God," she sighed. She closed her eyes for a moment. Her lips were parted, her face angled upward, an expression of inconsolable sorrow on her thin, haggard countenance. When she did this, she reminded Cheverus of something he'd seen before. Mary Magdalene in a painting he'd seen at the Louvre? Some grieving Madonna in a pietˆ? "Oh, my poor Dom. My poor love," she wailed. Sudden tears streamed down her cheeks and fell onto her dirty apron. Her sobs convulsed her slender body.
"There, there, darlin'." Now it was Rose doing the consoling. "Asthore, love. It's all right."
The old woman stroked Finola's hair, wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Here, Finola," the priest said, offering the young woman his hand-kerchief.
"Thank ye, Father," she said, wiping her eyes.
"I wish there was something I could do, Finola," he offered. "But . . ."
They were silent for a moment. Then Rose said, "Finola and I are planning on taking the stage out there for the trial."
"Do you think that's wise?" Cheverus asked of Rose. "I mean, in your condition?"
"My son needs me there, Father," she said determinedly. "I have to go."
"It might not be safe for the two of you," Cheverus advised. "There might be trouble."
"Father," Finola said, staring at him, her olive eyes narrowing. "Our place is there. We'll take our chances."
The two women looked at each other. Cheverus suddenly felt an overwhelming pity for them.
What would it hurt to talk to Sullivan, he thought. Just talk. You're their priest, he told himself. They've come to you for help.
"Perhaps I could speak to the attorney general after all," he offered. "But I would first have to get permission from Father Matignon."
"Of course, Father," said Finola, smiling through her tears.
"If I am able to speak to him, what would you wish me to ask?"
"If we could be allowed to see him," said the old woman.
"And try to get them more time before the trial starts," Finola added. "So they'd have a fighting chance. Oh, and if they might have a bath and some clean clothes."
"I shall look into the matter."
"Oh, thank you, Father," Rose said, folding her hands in prayer.
"I cannot guarantee anything," he explained. "With the trial this close, the attorney general may already have left for Northampton. Or he may not have time to see me."
"We'd appreciate anything you could do, Father," Rose said. "Anything."
He nodded, wondering if he would come to regret his decision.
"Would you care to take communion?" he asked. He hadn't seen Rose at Mass for a while.
"Aye, Father. If it's not too much trouble," the old woman replied.
After he had given her communion, he said, "I should be on my way."
"Finola, love, get Father's cape. And have Tom see him home."
"That's not necessary," he said.
"Are you sure?" Rose asked. " 'Tis a devil of a night. And the neighborhood, well, it ain't so safe to be walkin' about by yourself."
"I'll be fine. Goodnight, Rose."
"Bless you for coming, Father."
Finola got his cape and walked with him to the door. The men were still seated around the fire, drinking and smoking pipes; the women were huddled together on their knees, rocking back and forth, saying the rosary.
"Thank you for agreeing to help us, Father," Finola said to him softly at the door, as if telling him a secret. "I can't tell you how much it means to us."
"I don't know how much help I can be. Sullivan may not even agree to see me."
"At least someone's on our side. With the whole countryside against us, it's good to know someone believes them innocent."
He nodded, unsure whether he did or not. Then again, that wasn't his job. That was the job of a court to decide. His was to prepare them for the next life.
"Dom hasn't said confession in a while, Father. Maybe you could come with us?"
He pursed his lips. "I am very busy, Finola."
"Of course. Och, I nearly forgot. Here," she said, taking from her pocket his handkerchief. "I could wash it for you and bring it by the rectory tomorrow."
"That won't be necessary."
He looked up into her face. She was taller than him by half a head. Her too-large eyes made him think of the nervous eyes of a deer, wary, about to bolt. They were glossy, filled with a liquid sadness, the flesh around them drawn and wan-looking. He stared at her mouth, the ample lips slightly parted. This close the severity of her face took on a certain comeliness-the sort inspired by pain, the transcendent glow of suffering. He had seen such a face somewhere before. Where, he wondered. Perhaps a fleeting glimpse of a woman's face, some aristocrat he'd seen in a cart approaching the guillotine in the Place de la Revolution? He stared at her until it became awkward for both of them and then, coughing, he averted his gaze.
"God bless you, Finola," he said. "I'll pray for your husband." He drew his hood up and was about to go out into the night when she laid her hand on the bare skin of his wrist. Her fingertips were cool, surprisingly so, and a shiver went coursing through him. His head swirled, both from her touch as well as from the liquor he'd drunk. She leaned into him, her full mouth slightly parted, her large eyes fixing him. She was close enough that he could smell her: a peculiar odor of smoke and sour breast milk. But of something else, too. Something sweet, a honeyed ripeness.
"I'll pray for you, too, Father," she said.
He pulled his hand back from her as from a flame. He stared at her for another moment. Then he turned and hurried out into the cold, dark night.
Copyright 2004 by Michael C. White
What People are Saying About This
"A perfect example of setting the record straight for the little guy...a revelation...gripping...plenty of suspense."
- The Boston Globe
"A clear account of the bitter, crushing prejudices against early Irish Catholic settlers... White seems to effortlessly evoke early 19th Century life...impressive."
- The Hartford Courant
"Writing with a good feel for the period, White manages to get the history right and keep the narrative taut."
- ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
"A tale that weaves historical fact and literary imagination into a compelling story."
- IRISH ECHO
"I have placed THE GARDEN OF MARTYRS in the pantheon of the best historical novels I've ever read. I was totally engrossed...[Michael C. White's] writing is so fluid and reads so beautifully...I was mesmerized."
- Jim Curran, as quoted in the SUNDAY REPUBLICAN
"A winning read.... Compelling...superbly written...[a] heartbreakingly beautiful book."
- Maine Sunday Telegram
"A vibrant and deeply-felt tale....The end is inevitable, but Michael White's portrayals of characters caught in fierce moral dilemmas provide the narrative drive necessary to make the pages turn."
- The Historical Novels Review
Reading Group Guide
Two Irish Catholic immigrants, Dominic Daley and James Halligan, were traveling west on the Boston Post Road, headed for New York. A man named Marcus Lyon was robbed and killed along the same road. Though the two Irishmen denied any knowledge of the crime, they were arrested and accused of the murder. They spent five months in jail. Only two days before their trial they were allowed to consult with a lawyer. The trial, a mockery of justice, lasted only one day. The two were sentenced to be hanged by the neck and, as the presiding judge said, "their bodies dissected and anatomized."
Father Cheverus, an émigré priest from France and one of only two Roman Catholic priests in all of New England at the time, is asked by Daley's wife and mother to go to the cell to comfort them, listen to their confessions, offer them communion. Father Cheverus, who escaped the Terror of the French Revolution, is a man plagued by his own past. Daley, a simple family man with a young son, and Halligan, a slick type with a checkered past and a lost love, face their deaths bravely, only to be exonerated in 1984.
Michael White has used his considerable talent to capture the political, social and cultural aspects of New England. In this heartbreaking story, he shows that the anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiments of that period in some ways reflect ongoing prejudice today.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an outstanding novel about a not often written about time in the growth of the United States. It is a study in prejudice, persecution and hatred against foreigners immigrating to the Boston era in 1805-6. Based around a real trial of two Irish Roman Catholic immigrants Dominic Daley and James Halligan (pardoned finally by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1984), it explores the climate of that time ~ and how the two were basically found guilty on who they were (there was no evidence to speak of). It was quite a sad learning experience, but what an outstanding novel. The third character is a French priest who came to the area to escape persecution himself during the Revolution. There are beautiful explorations on what it means to help someone, what it means to sacrifice and being ready to die for what you believe in. Never preachy (quite a task), but very informative historically, I heartily recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in that time, the development of the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish American immigrant experience of that time. I also am an attorney and tend to avoid "trial books" like the plague, but this one is very well done, pretty accurate on what goes on in the courtroom. Just a great novel, period.
With little to go on beyond the dry facts of the Halligan-Daley Murder Trial, Michael White has pulled off a literary feat. He has invented characters full of humanity and depth and placed them into a convincingly realized portrait of New England two hundred years ago. He writes with sympathy, wisdom, and skill. There is no surprise ending here, except the one that will come to you when you realize you've just finished a great book.
The moving story of two Irish Catholic men accused of a murder in 1806 in western Massachusetts. Set against the political,ethnic and religious tensions of the time the men face their fate with the help of a visiting priest. The priest is dealing with sorting out his own conflicts as he reaches out to the men in a time of desperate need. The book is beautifully written, with living, breathing characters and a story that pulls the reader page by page.I believe the mark of a good storyteller is that you are still thinking about the characters in the book long after you have finished reading it.Michael C. White has succeeded in making me think of Halligan and Daley and Cheverus long after I finished The Garden of Martyrs.