The Wedding Quilt – Episode 20

All eyes were focused on the doorway where Paddy Ryan was clasped in the arms of his mother, immediately surrounded by a crowd of family and friends, all talking at once and demanding to know what had happened.

“You mean you thought I was dead?” he asked, obviously trying not to laugh. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“A telegram came,” his mother cried, fumbling in the pocket of her dress. “It’s not here. I must have left it in my apron pocket. Just you stay right there while I go and fetch it.”

“Never mind that now, Ma. Just tell me what it said, eh?”

“Regret to inform you Patrick Ryan drowned on the spring drive. Unable to retrieve the remains,” his father said. “Word came in on the wire. Of course we believed you were gone. What were we to think?”

“I guess it’s some other Paddy Ryan, then, and it can’t be Red Paddy Ryan, for I see him standing there, large as life and twice as ugly.”

“Speak for yourself, man!” his friend shouted, grinning all over his red-bearded face.

To distinguish between them the two families were known by the colour of their hair as the Black Ryans and the Red Ryans.

This was the time of year when river drivers such as Black Paddy rode the logs down the turbulent rivers from the northern lumber camps, risking their lives in the process.

Listening to the banter between the two friends, Nellie Ryan spared a thought for the mother of that unknown Ryan boy, who as yet had no idea that the lad she had birthed and raised was lost to her for ever. Please God she wasn’t a widow woman, with only the one son to depend on for her keep.

Gradually the babble of talk died down. Paddy’s arm must be almost worn off by now, Beasie thought, as one by one the men seized him by the hand to congratulate him.

The older women, and some of the more daring young ones, showered him with hugs and kisses, all of which the returning hero accepted as his due.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Drusilla murmured at Beasie’s side. “I almost died when he walked through that door! I thought he was a ghost, didn’t you?”

But Beasie didn’t think he was a ghost. In fact, he seemed more real to her than before. It was as if she were drowning and her past life was flashing before her eyes, as people always said would be the case.

When Beasie was a six-year-old in the first grade at the one-roomed schoolhouse, Paddy had been the class clown in grade five. Even then he’d been known as Black Paddy, and she’d viewed his silly exploits through a haze of hero-worship.

She had listened as he gave cheek to the teacher, admiring his daring while fearing for him, then shedding a sympathetic tear when he’d been given the cane, although he endured his punishment with bravado.

Yes, Paddy Ryan had always been a daring young man. She’d written cheerful letters to him when he was away at the war, occasionally receiving one in return.

She had one of his missives yet, hidden away in her handkerchief sachet.

We’re going to put the run on the Hun, he’d written, and those brave soldiers had achieved their aim in the end, although at a terrible cost.

Paddy had come home smiling in 1918, applying for work as a river driver, the most dangerous occupation of all among the men who worked in the northern forests.

There was no doubt about it: Black Paddy Ryan laughed at danger, and there was nobody quite like him.

A voice sounded in Beasie’s ear.

“Gidday to ye, Beasie Burke! Did ye miss me?”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.