Mr. Byrne coughed a queer cough behind his paper and shifted in his seat. Perhaps his recent brush with the Earl had affected him, for this was uncharacteristic of Patrick Byrne. He heaved again on the bench, then dropped the paper and patted Ivy’s hand.
“Er—Ivy, me dear. Um,”
In all her life Ivy Byrne had never heard her father at a loss for words. He always said what he meant without blathering. And until that moment she had never known that the expressions ‘er’ and ‘um’ were even a part of his vocabulary.
–From The Good Adventurers, by Lydia Carns
Patrick Byrne is one of the puzzling but important characters writers are prone to encountering. It’s like the opening to the Boxcar children, paraphrased:
‘One warm night, four characters stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them, no one knew where they had come from. . .’
As it is, he waltzed over from the Emerald Isle with a brogue and a violin and a splendid backstory I couldn’t pass up, and now I can’t imagine the story without him.
Where were you born?
Carrigeenduff, Wicklow, Ireland. It was a wild and lonely place. Not a tree or person to be found for several miles around us. Only empty peat bogs and heathery uplands, and that is where I grew up with me brother and sister. The Dublin mountains of me upbringing are one of the prettiest places on the earth.
When did you decide that you would become a violinist?
I always knew it. I decided to leave when I was sixteen. I heard of a violinist who had studied under the masters since the age of three and was only makin’ his debut at twenty. I saw then that I was disadvantaged because of me age. I was afraid that if I didn’t go soon I could never succeed. I was almost right.
I saved up money by playing me father’s violin down the valley at the country balls which were held at the nearest farmhouse. The man who owned it was a sight more moneyed than we, so I always washed me hands and face beforehand.
How did you leave?
I just walked away, as though I was goin’ to play at the MacCarthy’s. Father guessed when I didn’t come home that night. He caught me before I’d gotten out of the mountains. When he had thrashed me good an’ well he made a demonstration by burnin’ his violin, which I had taken. I have a feelin’ that it was a rare one; he bragged about how it’d been given to his father by a squire in those parts many years before. I imagine it must’ve taken some courage to burn it.
Luckily, I hadn’t spent any of me money as I had no violin to play at the dances with to earn more.
When did you finally begin to study?
I was a full seventeen years before I had earned enough to buy the cheapest violin I could find and seek a teacher. I saw one, who then sent me to Worcester, for he thought Edward Elgar would like to hear me play.
Did you resent your father’s treatment?
He was a traditional man. (He disproved of our neighbors immigrating to America.) I don’t have any hard feelin’ toward him. I know he loved music, and he probably wanted to do as I did once, but he had his priorities straight and believed that there is more to life than merely music.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I waver between the raisin’ of Ivy and the fact that I experienced any success at all on the stage. I am very proud of my compositions, too.
Do you have a peculiar habit?
It isn’t a habit, exactly, but I never allow potatoes to be served at me table. I don’t dislike ’em, but they remind me of poverty. Another is me brogue. I could learn to speak without it, but I like havin’ it, so I’m keepin’ it.
What is your favorite song?
There are two kinds of songs: Irish songs and performin’ songs. I keep those first ones to meself. It may be selfish, perhaps, but they’re too bittersweet for me too play publicly. I don’t have a favorite. I love them all too much to like one best.
What is something you would change about your past?
I killed a man once to protect me daughter. It was deemed that I was in the right, but I’m not sure what the recordin’ angel put down, so that bothers me. I’d a’ rather left it to the hangman.
What was your education?
I had no proper education. No one of us on the mountain could read or write, and father didn’t understand music notation. But we could speak Gaelic and English. Less of the latter. When I came to England me brogue was so thick I could hardly be understood.
What is your religious background?
I was raised a Roman Catholic, and I continued to practice the religion for years after I left England because I found it comforted my homesickness. But I wasn’t deeply rooted in it. Elizaveta was from Russia and had a background in Orthodoxy and Judaism. I brought up Ivy Anglican at her wishes. It struck us as a nice balance.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear greatly for the future of me homeland. I have been detached for much of me life from the politics there, so I can say nothing certain, but every bit of news touches me deeply.
What is your most treasured possession?
Me daughter. She looks like her old father; the Irish runs strong. But Ivy is tiny and sweet and has the mannerisms of her mother, whose memory I hold very dear.
I hope you’re not lookin’ for pity.” Mr. Byrne took another bite of his bun.
“I’m not looking for pity. I’m looking for advice.”
“Do you want me to intervene again?”
“You’d best not, sir. He’d likely be choleric and separate me and Ivy. He doesn’t think well of you, I’m afraid.”
“You can tell him when you see him that the feelin’ is mutual.”
–From The Good Adventurers, by Lydia Carns